Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sweating the Small Things -- Advice for Our Kids

I confess to being one of those people who grew up trying at all costs to avoid work, and would do a pretty poor job at something if I didn't want to be asked to do again.  That tack didn't work too often, but I still tried it.  Growing out of that approach was a lot harder than I thought it would.

So ... the other day, on my exercise bike, I saw a clip of a commencement address given at a university by Bret Baier, the TV news reporter who works for the Fox News organization.  One part of it made me sit up and take notice, especially given my corrupt youth as someone looking to avoid work where possible.

I couldn't readily find a copy of the speech, but memory serves me well enough to convey the point that Baier made.  In essence, addressing the young men and women getting their degrees and charging off into the real world, his message was this:  

You will have some small tasks to do, and you may think they're terrible or boring or menial.  Do them anyway.  Do them well.  Because someone above you will always notice.

Wow, I thought, what a great piece of advice to give anyone.  Not just college graduates, from the mouth of a commencement speaker, but to much younger people, varying the maturity of the message for the age of the recipient.  

I thought about that quite a bit.  At 64 in a week or so, I have quite often been the person doing the small task, and I have also quite often been the "someone above" who is supposed to notice when someone else does the task well.  Now, I don't expect ever to be that person again; I expect to be a consultant the remainder of my career, which means that there will always be a "someone above" to please -- my client.

But particularly, I thought about how I had reacted in the past to the efforts of subordinates and people in organizations I had led.  Strange, I thought -- Baier was right; I always noticed when they did their assignments well and on time.  I relied upon people who did that, even though I sometimes didn't consciously think that way but rather, just did it.

I think if it were I, not Bret Baier, making that speech, from my own experience and my gut, I would have said something like this:

"Employers don't just give jobs away; they create them out of need.  As a result, they look at your productivity and attitude -- particularly your productivity -- the same way they look at any asset they have spent money on.  You are a laptop, or a copier, or a health insurance policy.  If you don't do as expected, you are no longer worth what you are paid.  If you do perform, if you at least do all the things we expect you to do in your job, you add value to the company and to the "brand" that you have created for yourself for that employer.

"If you do perform, your employer will start asking whether you can do more, and when they do, and when you are able to take on more, you add still further value to your brand.  You will rise because of that value -- for that employer or another.  Employers will be willing to invest in you, because you have proven the return on their investment is there, and the risk is less.

"And all of that, new graduates, is because you did what you were asked to do and, however small the task, you did it well, you did it on time.  May God hold you in the palm of his hand."

I expect Mr. Baier probably said it differently, and perhaps a little better and more articulately.  The message, regardless, is the same.

Do what you are asked.  Do it well, and do it on time.  Someone above you will notice.

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What, Now Gays Can Be Hypocrites, Too?

Someone has to explain this one to me.  I know that a lot of my columns are structured by showing the left in a "do as I say, not as I do" moment, or their behaving one way in a certain situation but hypocritically opposite in another, that has a political basis.  Well, this sure is one.

So now two gay hotel owners were bullied into a public apology for an event hosted at their hotel, even though the event was done with their full cooperation.  Their crime?  A capital offense; the event was a dinner for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a candidate to be the president of the USA.

“I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days,” Ian Reisner, one of the hoteliers, wrote on Facebook. “I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely [sic] understand all of his positions on gay rights.”

Let me get this straight (pun intended, with vigor and relish).

A pizzeria in Indiana is the subject of intense hatred and venom, and is forced to shut down, because they answered an ambush-reporter's question about serving a gay wedding, saying that they probably would decline to cater it on Christian religious grounds.

The hatred and venom spewed by the left in this case was in spite of the fact that the young woman who answered the question was stating her Christian religious views (Muslims, after all, are not exactly fans of gay weddings either).  The hatred and venom spewed by the left was also in spite of the fact that the catering-a-gay-wedding scenario was completely hypothetical; they had not only never been asked to cater a gay wedding in actuality, but had undoubtedly served plenty of gay patrons over the years.

So you and I, and normal, right-thinking, sensible people everywhere, would take from this that the left believes that a provider of products or services, whether pizza or hotel rooms, should serve everyone regardless of the customer's race, gender, political orientation, height, weight or country of national origin -- or position on gay rights, right? 

What else could you infer from l'affaire pizza?

Well, we might think that's what the left is saying, but I guess we'd be totally incorrect.  Because here, two gay hoteliers are forced to apologize, in profuse embarrassment, for having a dinner for Ted Cruz in their home.  Ted Cruz knew they were gay, but at least he had the decency to set aside whatever he had to set aside, treat them as human beings, and join them to break bread.  Oh, the sin.

Who exactly is the &(#@$ hypocrite here?  Come on, left, get your story straight (pun again intended)!  Either support the pizzeria for standing up for their own views, or support the hoteliers for having Ted Cruz in their home and doing what you wish the pizzeria owners would do.

You just can't have it both ways, but darned if it ever stops you from trying.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We are Finally Forgiven, and We Can Thank Ben Affleck

It must be insanely difficult to be a liberal.  How can they possibly keep straight all of the various statements they would need, to reconcile all the various interest groups they need to avoid offending -- if they want to keep their Politically Correct card.

Exhibit A: Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt, affectionately known as Matt Damon's best friend or, to us, just good old Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck, as you probably have heard by now, was the topic-of-the-week recently, when it came out that he had lobbied the producers of the Sony-produced TV show "Finding Your Roots", asking them to omit all the facts about an ancestor of his who had apparently been a slave-owner, sometime in the distant past.

The "past" would be the period of the USA in which people actually legally owned other people, in an institution called "slavery."  That would be prior to the War Between the States and before the Emancipation Proclamation.  Among the slave-owners that Affleck's progenitor shares that attribute with are a few U.S. presidents, revered ones like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and less-famous ones like John Tyler.

Now, none of my ancestors lived in the USA as early as 1865, and my wife's family were all in Italy back then, so I cannot say how I would feel if it were discovered that one of them had been a slave-owner.  But happily, I don't have to -- not only do I not have any ancestral slave-owners, but I'm not a liberal, so I really don't have to care!

No; it's not that I think that slavery is worthwhile or a good or decent thing; I simply don't believe in the stupidity of applying 21st-Century values to 18th and 19th-Century people, even if I had happened to have been descended from them.  People thought differently then, good people who created our country, as well as some not-so-good people.  Slavery was controversial, but it was accepted, however grudgingly.  Different times, different morès.

But Ben Affleck, well Lordy, is he ever in a pickle.  As a typical Hollywood lefty, when the story came out that he didn't want aired -- not the slavery part, but that he had pushed to omit it to protect himself (we of the Watergate era call that a "cover-up") -- he needed to figure out what to say.  As a flaming liberal, he had to say the right, ultra-PC thing, but what even is the right thing?  How does he condemn his own ancestor?

Ben somehow came up with this which, in true 2015 style, he posted to his Facebook page:
“We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery [Editor's note: no; the "interest in the story" is your hypocrisy in trying to cover up an ancestor's actions]. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.”

So what are we to make of this?

Here's what I make of it: In an effort to protect his own hide and his ultra-liberal bona fides, he made a statement about our accountability for our ancestors' actions that could bite liberals in the backside, if we choose to handle it properly.

What he was trying to say was that very last statement in his post, the one he didn't get to fast enough without tripping over his keyboard.  He figured that, like any liberal, he would call for "dialogue", in this case about slavery, and that he was happy "we're talking about it because of him".

Why we need to talk about it is quite another thing; I challenge you to find anyone in the USA with an IQ above 80 and an age above 10 who doesn't know (A) that there was slavery in the USA until 150 years ago, and (B) that we had long since decided it was not a good thing and stopped it.

Sure, Ben, we need to keep talking about that slavery thing, even though the last actual slave died about 100 years ago and the last slavery ended 150 years ago, and everyone hates slavery.  Yeah, sure, thanks that your cover-up has us talking about it.

I will choose to focus on what he actually wrote: "We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors ..."   Yep, Ben, that's the one part that I agree 100% with.  Our ancestors' values are theirs, not ours, and we owe not a shred for what they did, or thought, or felt -- not one bit.  We can love them, and we should.  But we deserve no credit for their wonders and no blame for their flaws.

Of course, the implications of that statement, coming as they do from a loud liberal, are far more wide-ranging than he ever thought in his haste to cover up his own cover-up.

First, if we "deserve neither credit nor blame" for our ancestors, then we need immediately to stop apologizing for the very thing Affleck brought up to disassociate himself from his ancestor -- slavery.  The slave-owners are all long dead, and their children are long dead (grandchildren, such as the two of President Tyler's who are actually still alive, are the closest).  We deserve no blame for the actions of people who are ancestors, so according to Ben Affleck, slavery is officially forgiven.  Hip hip hooray!  Now stop babbling about it!

Let us cease all the chatter about "reparations" to the descendants of slaves; they deserve no credit for the long-ago sacrifices and hard work of their ancestors.  Black Americans who are descended from slaves can claim no entitlement over those, like Barack Obama, with not a shred of the descendent blood of slaves.  You're all the same once you were born; in fact, you're the same as I am -- I whose ancestors all came to the USA after slavery was banned.

Right Ben?  "We deserve neither credit nor blame."

How about the descendants of the Turks who massacred Armenians in huge numbers a hundred years ago?  They're all dead now, right?  Their descendants?  They're in the clear.  Was your grandfather a Nazi?  Hey, there's only a few of those left -- they get the blame, but their children and grandchildren are safe, thanks to Ben Affleck.

And here's the thing -- I agree with him!  All my life I have been asking people to think what they do of me based on what I do, what I say, not what my father, a lifelong Army officer, or my grandfather who died 28 years before I was born, ever said or did.  I love and respect their memory, but judge me on my actions, not theirs.

And for that, while we may revere our antecedents, we may neither take credit for them, nor risk being blamed for them.  Ben says so, and I agree.

It is worth noting here that the actor and director Bill Paxton had a similar situation on the TLC network show "Who Do You Think You Are", a show with a very similar premise.  The segment on Paxton aired last week,  We discovered, as did Paxton, that an ancestor of his, who had fought as a 14-year-old in the American Revolution, grew up to own a few slaves in Virginia.  Let's just say that Paxton was disappointed, but he had the good sense not only to leave the scene in (I don't guess that he had a choice), but also to shake his head, weigh the ancestor's full life against that fact, and recognize the difference of the time and the acceptability of the practice (The next week, the singer Melissa Etheridge discovered on an episode of the same show that she was also descended from a slave owner.  Same reaction -- "part of our past, I guess.")

Ben Affleck, meet Bill Paxton and learn.

How hard it must be to be a liberal.  You have to manage to say you're promoting dialogue, when it's only about issues (like slavery) that have only one answer.  You have to say that you believe in diversity, when you don't believe in diversity of opinion.  And when you are caught in hypocrisy, as Hillary Clinton has been half a dozen times this year, or Ben Affleck was in this case, it becomes impossible to defend yourself without contradicting some other liberal orthodoxy.

But be comforted.  No one will blame your grandchildren for your sins.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 27, 2015

Evaluating First-Term Senators: The "Reid Effect"

We are currently in the throes of the second term of a president who has been, in no uncertain terms, quite terrible at his job.  As an administrator, he alternates between despotic and ineffectual, a terrible combination, and a profile not unsurprising for someone with essentially no experience whatsoever running anything.

Although the press did not make an issue of it in 2008, Mr. Obama was coming to the election from very little experience at anything relevant to the ability to be president.  He was, in essence, a community organizer (whatever that is), then briefly in the Illinois legislature with no record of leadership or even voting most of the time, then a U.S. Senator from Illinois.  As senator, his principal activity was running for the presidency, for which the taxpayer paid his salary.

The result of all this is that he has given a bad name to the idea of one-term senators running for president anymore.  This is a very interesting in the upcoming election, given the number of one-term Republican senators expected to run for president.

That any are running at all is interesting from a historical perspective.  It may surprise you that until the election of Warren G. Harding in 1920, no sitting senator had ever been elected to the presidency.  Since then, only John Kennedy in 1960 and the incumbent in 2008 have been elected straight from the Senate.

But run they are, and already the hypocrisy chants are rising.  How, they ask, can we support Marco Rubio or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, for example, when they are "one-term senators" just like Obama, whom we claim to have been inexperienced and accordingly ineffective as president?

Well, "they" have a point there.  Marco Rubio became a senator in January 2011, as did Rand Paul.   Ted Cruz took his seat in January 2013.  What record can they have accumulated to rationalize voting for them, or even running, predicated on their accomplishments in the Senate?

OK, obviously their Senate careers do not define them.  Marco Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House back to 2006 and has a defined track record from that experience prior to the Senate.  Ted Cruz was Solicitor General for the state of Texas for five years, and was the director of the Office of Policy Planning at FTC, and an associate attorney general at the Department of Justice.

But all that aside -- and as younger candidates (Paul is 52, the other two in their early-mid 40s), their experience will be what it is -- they all do have to be able to distinguish their short Senate tenure and record as senators with the logical criticism leveled at Obama for his time in the Senate.

And that, friends, is actually very curious.

What, that is, could they have actually done?

In case you forgot, during all of the Senate careers of Rubio, Paul and Cruz, until this January, the Senate agenda was controlled by the Majority Leader, and that would be the esteemed Harry Reid of Nevada.  Reid, in an effort to ensure that the USA was not represented by an actual voting chamber after the House of Representatives was lost to the Republicans in 2010, refused to submit bills passed by the House to the Senate for votes.

How absurd was this?  Well, as of August of last year, the Republican-led House passed no fewer than 356 bills and submitted them to Reid and the Senate.  Lest you quibble about partisanship, I'll point out that about 200 of those bills passed the House unanimously (i.e., including all the Democrat congressmen), and 100 of them passed with at least 75% of the Democrats voting for them.

Every one of those bills, when Reid was voted out of the Majority Leader's job by a country sick of the Democrats, sat on his desk, never to be voted on by the Senate.  There was no vote, no consideration and, sadly, no mention of this by the left-leaning USA press and the networks.  No, the press had to promote the Obama narrative about a "do-nothing Congress", and must have felt it was too difficult for their audience to understand that the Republican House was actually doing plenty, while Reid had simply shut down the Senate.  Of course -- he knew he would get away with it given the compliant press.

So here's where we are.  Actually being a Senator -- of either party, actually -- during the Reid years, can't really be thought of as a very accurate example of anyone's leadership.  How could it?  Outside of committee chairmen holding a hearing here and there, under Harry Reid there was essentially nothing for them to do!

This "Reid effect" is a particularly interesting phenomenon.  What does a Ted Cruz, for example, tout as his accomplishments in the Senate, when effectively he, like Rubio and Paul, have only been able to do any work since this January, and have been spending significant time campaigning, and less than full time legislating.

Cruz could certainly point this out, except for a couple things.  First, the press would spin it as something other than Reid playing political intransigent, because to do otherwise would corrupt their narrative.  Second, it really doesn't matter -- whatever the reason, the three Senators simply weren't able to accumulate a voting record or prominent leadership experience.

As a result, they're going to have to work around that.  They can't just blame Reid; however accurate it is, that just becomes an excuse.  We don't want to hear why they were prevented from doing anything in the Senate; that ultimately doesn't tell us anything.  We want to know what they have done, so we can discern what they will do. 

I think that Rubio, a former House Speaker in Florida, is probably best prepared of the three to work around that situation, with Cruz close.  Rand Paul, half a dozen years older but an ophthalmologist for most of his professional life, is least able to work around the accusations of inexperience.

Whatever the outcome, I believe that this is something that we will see soon, and we may not realize the impact of Reid's actions on the three Senators.  I don't know that Reid is smart enough to have done that intentionally, i.e., to have said "If I do nothing, the Republican senators won't be able to gain experience to help them run for president", but the impact is the same.

Harry Reid sat on 356 bills, and if the effect itself wasn't bad enough, it has also hurt our ability to assess some actual candidates for the presidency.

It kind of makes you sick.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, April 24, 2015

Gold Gloves and Nobel Prizes Devalued Equally

In 1993, Chloe "Toni" Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for having written something or other that was deemed worthy that year.  In that same year, a young shortstop named Derek Jeter was toiling for the single-A level Greensboro team in the South Atlantic League, committing 56 errors in 126 games (hint -- that's not very good).

You would think that a poet/author and a minor-league shortstop might not have a great deal in common, but I thought of the latter when I heard some news about the former.

Toni Morrison is one of those revered old (84ish) people whose color has elevated their stature, or allowed us to think higher of them, or in her case, gotten her a Nobel Prize.  Unfortunately our adulation can easily lead to enablement, and to facilitate their doing or, in her case, saying, something that is contemptible beyond belief, but where our previous enablement makes it harder to criticize.

To wit: As reported recently, in an interview with the London Telegraph, Morrison was talking about her favorite subject, "race."  In the interview, she claimed: “People keep saying [that] we need to have a conversation about race. This is the conversation. I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back.  And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’ I will say ‘yes'.

I mean, if that's her criterion, then it should be, in her words, "over", and she should shut up.  It happens, although it doesn't fit the media narrative and therefore is not widely reported.  One black cop shooting a white unarmed man, for example, occurred right after the Ferguson incident last year.  Did you hear about it?  I know I didn't; in fact, I was only able to find it searching for corroboration for this column.

She might have a far more difficult time getting "over" it, though, if she insists on also finding a case of a white man convicted for raping a black woman.  That is not for the reason she would think, however.  It isn't that judges and juries don't want to convict white males for raping black females.  No, it's because that particular racial profile for rape practically never happens.

I confess that I wasn't aware of a disproportionate ratio of rape case reporting, and I'll bet you weren't either.  So here is the reality. In the United States, in a typical year, more than 30,000 white females will be sexually assaulted or raped by a black man, while between zero and ten black females will be sexually assaulted or raped by a white man. In 2008, for example, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Statistical Tables for Criminal Victimization in the United States for 2008, there were no white-on-black rapes recorded the entire year.

That apparently is unknown to Mrs. Morrison.  Also unknown to her are, apparently, decency and propriety.  Either of those would have stopped her from making a statement calling for shootings and rapes.  I'm just thinking that those Nobel folks over in Stockholm and Oslo are probably wishing this would all blow over.

I'm thinking that the current president, Mr. Obama, who awarded the murder-and-rape proponent the Presidential Medal of Freedom, would be embarrassed (if he had the capacity to be embarrassed), especially given his frequent comments about how much he loves her work.

Besides, Obama has his own Nobel Prize to polish up, the peace prize given him in 2009 for not being George W. Bush.  I suggested he politely return it, as it was an insult to his predecessor and to the office he serves, but I guess he doesn't read UberThoughtsUSA.  His loss.

So ... Derek Jeter?  I'm sure that Jeter, who went on to a long career with the New York Yankees, is reading this and wondering what possible connection he has, given his rather above-board and scandal-free career, to a lady who grew up to be an advocate for murder and rape.

Well, they do have one thing in common.  They are the recipients, as is Obama, of awards whose subsequent honorees get devalued versions because of who got them first.

In Jeter's case, it has to do with his long and sad career in the field.  In spite of his playing on five championship teams, and hitting for a high average over a long career, his record will always be tarnished by having been awarded five Gold Gloves.  The Gold Glove is given, ostensibly, to the best fielder at his position in each league.  Derek Jeter was not only never the best fielder at his position in his own league, but several times he was the worst-fielding shortstop, by contemporary metrics, in both leagues.

If this shocks you, it is simply because for so many years, having successfully repaired the error-proneness of his minor league days, he had far fewer errors in his 20 years at short.  Low error counts and high fielding percentages were long thought as the metric for fielding competence.

Those stuck in that evaluative methodology should note that we now are able to look not just at the plays made, but the plays that should be made, i.e., the fielder's range.  And Jeter, who played far longer at short than his skills would suggest he should have, was a virtual stone-foot out there.  He made the plays he got to, sure, but he got to far fewer plays than a league-average shortstop would.  Accordingly, he cost his teams 236 runs over his career at short vs. a league-average glove, 40 more career runs lost than any other player at any position in the history of the game.

And yet ... in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010, Jeter was awarded Gold Gloves at short, including seasons in which he rated out at 8, 11, 15 and 24 runs below league average at his position.

So what is the value, not just of those Gold Gloves, but every other one at every other position?  Does the guy who won one last year wonder, "Well, cheez, what the &%$# is this worth if they gave one to Jeter five times?"

Well, I would wonder.  No, I wouldn't give it back, but it is devalued considerably by the haphazard way it must have been given.  And I notice that Barack Obama, who earned his "Nobel Prize" even less, hasn't given his back either.  And Toni Morrison, advocate for murder, rape and personal lack of accountability, well, she's got one of those things now.

How would you like to have a Nobel Prize now and look back and wonder if maybe it isn't worth nearly as much.

I'll take the Gold Glove, thanks.  Jeter may not have deserved it, but he at least honored it.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

One vs. A Dozen or So

I believe that newspapers such as the Washington Post (published 40 miles down the road) have a very curious ethical conundrum.  Not, of course, that the Post has a sterling reputation for ethics, mind you, but because there are all kinds of conflicts to deal with.

As I've mentioned, the Post takes to doing a front-page bashing article each time a new Republican presidential candidate emerges or declares his or her candidacy.  That's not a surprise, of course, given the rampant leftism that pervades their ownership.

But here's the struggle they have to engage in.  On the Republican side, there are maybe a dozen legitimate contenders, declared or otherwise -- Rubio, Paul, Bush, Walker, Carson, Fiorina, Christie, Kasich, Cruz, Jindal -- shoot; that's ten off the top of my head without even thinking hard or even mentioning Donald Trump.  On the Democratic side, there is only Hillary Clinton, tootling around in Her Van Scooby, trying futilely to connect with the poor people she insists that she was one of, after she left the White House in 2001.

Of course, the Post has done its obligatory but occasional piece about Mrs. Clinton, too, even this morning, although they have been far more supportive of her even in the pieces that addressed some shortcoming (like, say, her putrid track record when she actually was paid to do a government job).  But how many should they do?

There's the rub.  Do the Posts of the world believe that their obligation is to balance by candidate volume, or by political leaning?  In other words, for every bashing news article on any Republican contender, do they need to balance it with a Hillary-screwed-up article?  Or is the balance by candidates, so that they only need to do one article on Hillary once they have done one on each of the Republican candidates, equal time by person, not by party?

It does seem that they have come down on the latter answer.  Certainly it is easier, given that Hillary isn't exactly forthcoming with the press, to where we have to have these embarrassing scenes of the press corps chasing after Her Van Scooby in hopes of getting a word from Her Majesty to write about.

But only that would explain the utter lack of coverage of what should be a blatantly corrupt scene back in Iowa.  As you recall, Hillary's people put together what was made to look like a conversation between her and a set of what would be presumed to be everyday Iowans.  The Post's article certainly gave that impression, along with the "Oh, gee, she was just like normal people" gushing from the people that she met.

Of course, that would barely make sense if they were indeed everyday Iowans.  But the Post glossed over the fact that they, well, weren't.  Austin Bird, for example, was an Obama campaign intern; Carter Bell the president of the University of Iowa College Democrats.  Sara Sedlacek, who gushed for the Post article, is on the staff of, you guessed it, Planned Parenthood.

I'm happy to say that planting political types and passing them off as everyday Iowans certainly borders on the corrupt.  Just do the "Flip the Party" test -- what would the Post have written if, say, a small group of pre-selected Minnesota Republicans had been invited to meet with Ted Cruz and gushed over his oratory skills?  Right -- I don't even have to write the answer.

Back to the question at hand -- what constitutes "balance"?  Well, first, I have to wave the flag of journalistic integrity and note that news is not supposed to be opinion.  The news pages of the Post are for actual news stories, not opinions disguised as news.  If the paper feels it needs to cover all the candidates, then it needs to write about Hillary (and, in fairness, any other Democrat threatening her coronation) about as often as it writes about all the Republicans combined.  That means a lot more than they do.

Of course, forced as it might be to report on Mrs. Clinton that often, they might do a lot better than the journalistic community did in looking into the bona fides of the current president (laughable example here), and actually find the cogliones to write about things like stuffing a meeting with political plants and trying to pass it off as empathy for the great State of Iowa.  And on writing them, perhaps they might actually behave like reporters and expose corruption and hypocrisy when they see it.

Because, oh Washington Post, someone will.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

He, He, He ... Hegemony

It hasn't gotten a lot of ink in the USA, but last week there was an interesting incident on a refugee boat from Libya in north Africa.  Apparently members of the majority Muslim population of the boat got into an argument with the handful of Christians from Ghana and elsewhere, and ended up throwing 12 of them overboard to their deaths.

Of course, a number of the Muslims responsible were arrested when the boat was intercepted by the Italian Navy and the passengers put on a Panamanian vessel that ultimately reached Palermo.  And, of course, it can be assumed that the rest of the Muslims are now happily in Italy setting up their enclaves, same as they have done in France and England and, for that matter, in the USA -- just check out the Somali population in Minneapolis.

Those enclaves are being run as close to being under sharia law as they can get away with, having taken over towns and communities and voted in their own leadership.  No one seems to be willing to protest very loudly, lest they be called bigots (see what the unintended consequence of elevating bigotry to the level of murder and rape is?), and the press is completely silent about it -- even when it involves the rape of young girls.  Apparently racism is even worse than rape

Interestingly, the Russians and Chinese are pretty silent as well, and that seems a little hypocritical.  The USA has invaded other countries in the past ... Iraq, Afghanistan, France, Germany and Italy in and out of wartime, for example.  In particular, our forays into places like Grenada, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan drew predictable cries from the Russians and Chinese.

"Hegemony", they hollered.  The Americans were trying to take over and annex these countries and dominate them for the long term from within as American puppets.  Of course, the USA left France right after the war, the Germans run their own country (although, in fairness, we still have military bases there by agreement with them).  Nobody is running Iraq except maybe ISIS and Iran, we're certainly not governing Afghanistan, if anyone ever could, and the Kuwaitis are on their own.

We, certainly, are not spreading America as a conquering empire.  We haven't, certainly, and with a president who isn't a fan of his own country, we sure are not doing so.  But we're the hegemonists and the Russians and Chinese scream and holler, even as the Chinese are building islands in international waters and the Russians are biting off huge chunks of Ukraine, a sovereign nation, while we watch limply.

So, then, what do we call the Muslims who are creeping into country after country, sometimes by force but mostly just by moving and creating the mini-worlds they want wherever they go?  Yes, those folks who use their own law and cry "racism" when anyone protests -- what do you call them?

Well, we can call them "successful" because, well, they are.  Religious zealots that they are, they can wait us out even it it takes 500 years.  So they can practice their hegemony town by town, country by country, until our infernal fear of being called racists drives us to concede and let them have the earth as their caliphate.

But mostly, they are practicing the exact hegemony that the Russians and Chinese are, but who accuse the USA of doing.  And if it is bad when we do it, benign folks that we are, it is bloody evil when fanatic Islamists do it for real.

Can't wait, though, till they start trying that sharia stuff in Putin's Russia.  I'll buy a ticket to watch that.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mr. Sharpton Strikes Out on Hunger

Some of my overseas readers may be unaware, but our attorney general, Eric Holder, has announced to near-universal delight that he is stepping down, and the president, Barack Obama, has nominated a replacement, Loretta Lynch, for confirmation by the Senate.

The Senate, however, has not voted on her confirmation yet.  The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, sets the agenda for the Senate, and he has sequenced the voting on Miss Lynch to be after a vote on a law dealing with human trafficking.  And the Democrat minority in the Senate is using the filibuster, a delaying tactic, to hold up a vote on that bill.  No vote on human trafficking, says the majority leader, no vote on Miss Lynch.

This disturbs the "Reverend" Al Sharpton, because his taxes are used to pay those Democrat senators (he lives in New York) who are holding up the vote on Miss Lynch who is, of course, black.  OK, maybe not his taxes, since he still owes $4.5 million in taxes that the White House seems terribly disinterested in getting back, and which the IRS seems less interested in getting than legal cash from innocent farmers.

But I digress.

Mr. Sharpton has decided that the frustration the majority leader feels at the minority using the filibuster is not why Miss Lynch isn't being voted on; no, it must be racism.  So he has to do something, because racism is evil and must be addressed above all else, even if it means not eating.

Yes, not eating.  This announcement was quoted in a story in the leftist site Politico:

The advocacy group [National Action Network] founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are planning the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed to replace Eric Holder at the Justice Department. Dubbed “Confirm Loretta Lynch Fast,” the new tactic is designed in the mold of actions by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, organizers said.

Oh, there's so much to amuse ourselves with in that.  Let's get past Sharpton calling himself "reverend" and start with the really good stuff.

"Female civil rights leaders", the quote starts. OK, is that leaders for female civil rights, or is it civil rights leaders with just X chromosomes?  Is this a female civil rights issue, that Miss Lynch's confirmation vote is being delayed, not because the Democrats are filibustering the preceding bill, but because she is a woman?  I guess not; we didn't hear from Sharpton when Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood were pulled by Bill Clinton as Attorney General nominees.  Of course there was that little mess with not paying Social Security taxes on household employees with those two, but who really cares.

So no, it must be "civil rights leaders who are female."  Well, does gender matter or doesn't it?  If we shouldn't care if the Attorney General is female (or, for that matter, the president), then what difference does it make if the fasting people are male or female?

OK, so ... "fasting."  Right now, there is a lady in Russia, a Ukrainian pilot, doing an actual hunger strike for an actual cause -- her own unlawful capture and incarceration by the Russians.  She could teach Al Sharpton a ton about hunger strikes, the first part of which would be "Alternate-day fasting is not a hunger strike."

It does have a name, though.  It's called a "diet."

I just wonder, though, what Loretta Lynch is thinking.  If she has a shred of self-respect and a modicum of intelligence, she must be embarrassed that a clown like Sharpton is taking up arms on her behalf.  I have to believe that she prays each night that she will be voted on in the due course of things and that her appointment, confirmation and legacy will all be disassociated with Al Sharpton.  But that's too late, I believe.

Of course, the Democrats could always drop their filibuster and let the vote proceed.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 20, 2015

How About Worrying about How Many $20 Bills We Owe?

Somewhere out on the fringes of the news for a few days, has been this thing about getting Andrew Jackson's 1820-era face off the USA's $20 bill and putting a woman there in his place.  Any woman will do, certainly as long as she represents some liberal cause, or her fame, such as it may be, represents such a cause in vogue now.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman,Susan B. Anthony -- you'd be OK.  Not so fast on Ida McKinley, or Grace Coolidge or Carrie Nation.  No Elizabeth Seton, either; you can be good enough to be a saint, but you were far, far too Christian for this administration.  Maybe not Eleanor Roosevelt, either; Andrew Jackson is, well, prettier.  How about Bruce Jenner?

Of course, Andrew Jackson was not kind to Indians ... excuse me, Native Americans.  I mean, he adopted one as his son, so it couldn't have been racist or personal, but he did fight them, and that in today's ultra-PC world causes his presence on the $20 bill to be problematic.

Al Sharpton, for example, finds the Jackson 20 so prejudicial that he's holding off on paying his taxes until he can pay them in bills that have someone else on them like, maybe, Snoop Dogg.

Obviously you see the problem.  Had there been a female president with a stellar track record, or a great utero-American leader of the past, we would have already done something like that and put her on a bill.  Which should be the way it goes.  Earn your stripes first, and maybe then you can be put on a bill.  Of course, by law you have to die in the middle of all that, which thins out the herd even more.

And being the first woman to do X or Y doesn't count, either.  Being first clearly doesn't equate to being good.  Just look at the first black president, Bill Clinton Barack Obama. He'll have schools named after him for being the first, but boy, has he stunk at being president.  Not only do our friends now hate us and our enemies don't fear us, but we now owe $18 trillion to our national creditors.

I'm not even sure why this is a topic, this $20 bill thing.  Here we are, with a few folks worried about whose face is on the 20, and who seem not to care at all that we owe nearly one trillion of those $20 bills, many of them to people who like, or tolerate, us like the Canadians, but most of which are owed to our sworn enemies like the Chinese, the Russians, and a few other countries worth of people who make me uncomfortable to be in their debt.

So here's my thought.  Let us keep good old Andrew Jackson, general and president, the hero of New Orleans, right where he is on the $20 bill for the time being.  The next woman -- shoot, how about the next anybody -- whose efforts lead directly to the elimination of the national debt, can be ensconced for the indefinite future where General Andy's stylish mane is now located.

If we're going to talk about faces on money, how about we talk about the faces of people who actually remember that it belongs to the taxpayers, and honor someone who puts it back there by getting rid of our debt.

Do that, and I won't even care if Al Sharpton pays his taxes.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Reconciling Conservatism and Tobacco Distaste

It is certainly not a secret that I am politically conservative, and have come to my views by a long life trying to look at things realistically -- liberalism, after all, does not work and has never worked; it, and its associated perversions such as socialism and communism, cannot work in that they disincentivize productivity in their effort to make everyone the same.

Way back when (September), when I was writing my very first columns, I pointed out that people's opinions on issues tended to assort.  What makes someone a liberal or conservative on one issue is the same thing that compels them to a corresponding (liberal or conservative) view on a majority of other issues.

We each, though, have issues colored not by our political leanings, but by personal experience or learned prejudice.  And I have mine.

I suspect if you were to do the binary issue treatment (pick an extreme and only an extreme, between two opposite views) on this issue, there would be a predictable outcome.  The binary treatment would be to select either:
(1) People should be free to smoke tobacco wherever and whenever without controls
(2) Tobacco should be banned from sale or use anywhere in the USA.

Liberals would tend to come down on the #2 answer, while conservatives would be a higher percentage of the #1 respondents.

I get that.  Conservatives lean toward personal freedom and minimized regulation and government intrusion.  But I am firmly on the "ban it" side.  Tobacco is a far, far different beast, for a few reasons:
(1) Nicotine is an addictive drug, comparable to heroin in addictive properties
(2) Cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system which use an array of carcinogens to deliver nicotine
(3) Very few people begin smoking cigarettes after 18 (the legal age to buy them, where it isn't 21)
(4) People under 18 are not fully capable of making rational health decisions (e.g., not smoking)
(5) Smoking kills a third of its practitioners overtly, through cancer, heart disease, COPD, etc.

Given (3) and (4), it was incumbent on the tobacco companies to find a way decades back to capitalize on the powerful addictive quality of their product and the moral weakness inherent in youth.

So they, for decades, glamorized cigarette smoking.  They paid movie producers to feature smoking (Sylvester Stallone got $500,000 from R.J. Reynolds once for a single movie).  They sponsored 1950s news broadcasts and contractually required a lit cigarette in front of Edward R. Murrow and other newsmen at all time.  And, when the first Surgeon General's reports came out in the early 1950s suggesting that smoking was not exactly healthy, they built an entire phony-baloney "research laboratory" concept to show otherwise and make believe they cared about their customers.

Oh yeah -- they also made gargantuan contributions to politicians in tobacco states, on both sides of the aisle, to protect their cash cow.

The result?  At times, as many as 40% of teenagers -- who by law could not buy tobacco -- smoked.  They were hooked before they reached the age of sane decision-making, and most remained addicted until their lungs rotted and their coronary arteries clogged.

Eventually, the tobacco companies got sued and had to settle for enormous penalties, although even the funds designated from the settlement to be used for cessation programs got diverted in states like, well, mine -- Virginia.  Ultimately smoking became much less prevalent, although as I sit in a Starbucks writing this, a few late-teens are hanging out outside, puffing on cigarettes.  Stupidity cannot easily be legislated away.

So ... conservatism.  It is in the nature of conservatives to resist regulation innately, but in my case I view the smoker as victim.  Victim, yes, of the tobacco companies using moral force to hook them, get them physically addicted -- before they could legally purchase the product, and before they had sufficient maturity to realize that smoking was a bloody stupid thing to do.

But conservatives are people, too.  We despise abuse as much as anyone, and the actions of Big Tobacco were systematic abuse of generations.  I was so embarrassed by Bob Dole in 1996 comparing tobacco to milk, that I voted for the other guy, the only time I ever voted for a Democrat.  Really, Senator, no amount of campaign cash justified that comment.  You embarrassed conservatives.

So this is a message.  To Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader from a tobacco state (Kentucky).  To John Boehner, Speaker of the House and a heavy smoker.  You lead all conservatives, including those of us who lost relatives, like my grandfather, to cigarettes.  I have enough trouble looking at the leadership in Congress that represents my party and my views, and seeing tobacco on your resumes.  Just know, sirs, that being a conservative does not mean we support tobacco use or defense of tobacco companies or acceptance of their donations.

Aside ... When the first connection of cigarettes to health risk was aired in the early 1950s, my father -- who would lose his own dad to cigarette-induced cancer ten years later -- asked his doctor about it.  "Oh yeah", the doctor said, "if you saw the reports you'd quit, just like I did."  Dad tossed his pack in the trash right there and never smoked another cigarette for the rest of his wonderful, 95-year life.

No, tobacco is the single largest source of political corruption the last hundred years, and I do not want conservatism associated with its support.  I do not want it associated with the Republican Party.

Because, guys, lots of conservatives detest tobacco -- and Lordy, we vote, too.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

We All Admire Jackie Robinson, But Really ...

I certainly do -- admire Jackie Robinson, that is.  UCLA man, served in WW II, fine athlete chosen by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier in major league baseball -- at least, to do so before Bill Veeck could sign a black player over in the American League.

Jackie Robinson had to have the playing ability to back up his signing (he did, as Rookie of the Year in 1947), but he also had to grit his teeth and take the verbal assault that would be expected to follow his signing -- and not fight back.  As Rickey told him, he needed to show the courage not to fight back.  And he did, all the way through the first years of a Hall of Fame career.

I write this on tax day, which is also celebrated in baseball as "Jackie Robinson Day."  Now, there were certainly greater players with greater careers than Robinson, but as a Hall of Famer with the character needed to integrate the majors, if there is to be one day in the season that just one player is to be honored, well, they could do a lot worse.

Since the latter part of the 1990s, though, when the first Jackie Robinson Day was held, baseball has taken its usual weird tack.  They didn't just retire Robinson's uniform number 42, which was a bit excessive but not terribly unreasonable; no, they directed that on each April 15th, every player would wear 42.  As I watch, out of the corner of my eye, the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox playing their game, well, there are two lineups whose uniforms are without names and all bear the number 42.

Now, how silly is that?

I mean, let's go back to the purpose of the day, which is to honor the memory of Jackie Robinson. I certainly hope it isn't to make us resent him, but I'm already halfway there.  It's now the sixth inning, and there's a field full of 42s confusing the crap out of me.  In comes a reliever for the Nats, number -- you guessed it -- 42.  I was on the phone, or in the bathroom when he came in ... who is he?  Can't tell from the number.  Royal pain in the backside.  Who is batting?  Oh, yeah, #42 ... that would be ... oh, wait, I've got no idea!  Dang that Jackie Robinson!

If I were Jackie Robinson's ghost looking in on all this, I would be livid.  "Do you hate me?", he might be asking major league baseball.  "Why are you annoying fans in my memory?"

And the ghost would be right.  How simple it would be, if the purpose is a positive, honoring expression, to replace the stupidity of the universal 42s with a tasteful, two-minute or three-minute ceremony before the game, remembering Robinson's career.  Same speech and same ceremony at each park.  For that time, we're all remembering Robinson, which is the purpose of the Day in the first place, right?

As with so many things involving "celebrating" something about a black person, it is incredibly difficult to undo it, though, without accusations of bigotry from the race industry.  Think about it ... what does need to happen is for the new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, to announce that, henceforth, baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day with a planned, uniformly done ceremony at every park highlighting his career, his courage and his accomplishments.  Announce, however, that it will no longer have all the players wear #42, for no better reason than it is distracting to the game and to the fans' enjoyment of it.

I can hear Al Sharpton now.  But he needs to shut up (well, he always needs to shut up), because the ceremony approach would be a better, more respectful recognition of the player than the universal #42 nonsense.  Jackie Robinson, a tough but very modest man, whose number is already retired, would surely prefer it, and that's pretty much what matters.

He certainly wouldn't want his memory to be an annoying one.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Emperor's New Clothes, Sixty Years Later

For hundreds of years, "instrumental music" was produced by assemblies of woodwinds, brass, percussion and string instruments played by people, in large groups (orchestras) and subsets (woodwind quintets, string quartets, brass choirs, etc.).  The option for large performances was the "band", without strings but with a greater role for the woodwinds -- you pretty much can't march with a cello or bass.

Singers could actually sing, whether in intimate rooms ("chambers") or on the grand stage in recital, oratorio or opera.  They had talent -- couldn't go very far otherwise -- as did the instrumentalists who rose in their field to accompany them.

Of that there is no shadow of doubt, no possible doubt whatever.

You have, of course, heard the story of the Emperor's New Clothes.  You've heard how a couple of con men convince an emperor that they have spun a cloth so exquisitely fine that only the noble could actually see it; how they claim to have made him elegant clothing out of that cloth, and how the emperor, not willing to admit it, says that he can see it and how wonderful it is.  You recall how all the people, hearing the same story, claim to see it when the emperor goes out in his "clothing", and ooh and aah over clothing not really there, lest they be thought ignoble -- the fairy tale version of "not cool."

And you recall how a little child, freed by his youth from the need to be thought hip and "with it", sees the unclothed emperor on parade and says for all to hear, what no one dare say, that "the emperor has no clothes."

We humans are so like those people lining the streets.  So fearful are we of not being cool, that we go along with hype passing as talent; with hubris passing as ability; with silliness passing as good ideas; with hope passing as strategy.

And in today's piece, with mediocrity passing as music.

What evil did music ever do to humanity to justify the evil that humanity has done to music?  For centuries, music brought beauty, shape, color, drama and emotion to the human being.  Somewhere along the line, however, contemporary con men brought the idea along that "music" is a guitar, electric bass, drum set and, maybe, an electronic keyboard.  That's it; nothing else need apply.

Somewhere along the line, sixty years or so, the children's music that was 1950s rock and roll crowded out everything else, and music slid quickly downhill from there.

Somewhere along the line, actual talent was pushed aside in favor of pap.

I think the end of it for me was a commercial for some product or other, where in one scene a fellow with an English accent says "If I got a guitar and a group, I could be something!", and no one thought a thing about it.  Well, not no one.  I remember seeing that ad so many years ago and thinking "A guitar and a group?  How about some talent, maybe a decade's worth of lessons first?"

"No one thought a thing about it", because by that time neither talent nor ability had anything to do with popularity, not composing talent nor performing talent.  Melody, a vital component of the beauty in music, had all but disappeared and, by the time "rap" happened, melody was lost for good.  Absent melody, harmony fled the scene with nothing to hang on to.

And yet, and yet -- there still are plenty of performers hawking their recordings on iTunes, and plenty of people in the industry without a shred of guilt.  They peddle something, call it the musical equivalent of that "art" we so often see that makes you think "my four-year-old could have drawn that."  Whiny pop tarts with auto-tuned voices and inarticulate lyrics.  There is no real musical value, and it takes no talent to perform it.  But boy, do they sell recordings.

Not because of the talent of the performer, but because no one wants to be uncool.  How sad.

Let me; yes, let me be that little innocent child on the path of the parade, listening to what has happened to music the past 60 years.  Let me be the one mourning for the loss of respect for the great composers, lyricists and performers, in favor of hyped celebrities.  Let me mourn that our children know of Taylor Swift but not Wynton Marsalis, of Eminem but not Yo-Yo Ma, of Snoop Dogg but not Katherine Jenkins.

And let me then, as did the little child in the fable, point out that the emperor, indeed, has no clothes.

Whatever, we must ask, drives us to be so conformist, so fearful of missing the fad, that we watch idly by as actual talented performers confront utter lack of demand for their ability ... that hacks with the right friends, the right manager or the right look make obscene money, while virtuoso performers languish in obscurity; with demand for their talent driven from the scene in favor of the hack, their abilities lay unappreciated.

The emperor has never been more naked, but it's really OK.  Nobody really cares.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Matt Damon as Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is an established rule of the 21st Century that if you speak about race, you are, ipso facto, a rotten, horrible racist bigot.  Of course, if you are black, that doesn't apply, so I am going to pull out my "black" card that was earned with great difficulty.

For this piece, I am black.  I think I'm going to need to be.

Once in a while, I do write about entertainment and the performing arts industries.  I have some experience there, not the least of which being knocking poor, elderly Lucille Ball on her backside in 1987.  Certainly after 40 years on stage I have enough to be a modestly credible commentator on the subject.

One thing I try to bring in to pieces about entertainment is the concept of "suspension of disbelief."  Suspending disbelief is what performers ask their audiences to do in live performances, and it is simply asking the audience to forget that they are watching a performer tell a story that is not really happening, and to transport themselves into the story as a participant or observer.  "Do not disbelieve me", the performer asks -- suspend your natural tendencies and let your mind get inside this story, even though you're sitting on a couch watching TV or in the eleventh row at a show.

The best performers do this with ease -- think Frank Sinatra singing a story through song, or a great actor becoming the part and taking you with him.  James Earl Jones in "Field of Dreams."  Even a comedic actor has to make you believe the role, like the great work done by the principals in a TV show like, say, "Friends", developing their characters and letting you inside.

The single greatest enemy of suspension of disbelief is, of course, distraction -- anything that gets in the way of your being part of the story.  Distraction immediately reinstates disbelief, reminding the audience member, that he or she is, well, an audience member and critic, rather than a participant.  A distraction can be anything that gets us out of being "in" the story -- as simple as a note sung flat, or a missed dialogue cue.

Or bad casting.

Today, I write to address the curious insertion of actors and actresses (and, for that matter, of other ethnicity) into roles that are racially unsuitable for them.  By "unsuitable", I certainly don't mean that the performer is not capable of acting the role.  What I mean, very specifically, is that at a certain level of professional performance, actors need to be able to be believable not only in their performance, but in their appearance.

The examples abound -- think black pirates in that hideous televised Peter Pan a few months back -- but I think that the inspiration for this column was actually the casting of an exotic-hued (actually Hispanic) actress as Maid Marian in the TV show "Once Upon a Time."  This show, as you know if you watch it, is an entertaining fantasy about fairy tale characters from many different and unrelated stories being transported to a fictional current-day hamlet in Maine.

The show has always had issues about suspending disbelief, and not just because of the premise, but because of the accents of the actors.  A mix of mostly American, English and Scots actors, the accent muddle is a perpetual source of distraction.  Compounding that is that while Robert Carlyle, the wonderful Scottish actor playing Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) softens his "real" accent to one we can actually understand, Michael Socha (who plays Will Scarlet), born in Derbyshire, England, is really hard for an American ear to decipher.  Bang -- instant disbelief.

Then there's Maid Marian.  The lady friend of Robin Hood in the legend, and his wife in the show, is played by the Canadian actress Christie Laing.  Miss Laing is a perfectly fine actress, except that she is of Honduran descent, sufficiently so as to produce a skin tone that, well, Maid Marian of fable would not have. When I, and I assume most viewers as well, see her, we do not see Marian of fable; our minds wander to "Why did they cast a Latina actress who does not look like a Middle-Ages Englishwoman?" -- and our minds wander away from the plot.  Certainly it distracted me; shoot, I'm writing about it!

I would like to hope that we can actually say this: Maid Marian, fictional though she may be, was, well, not Hispanic. I'm still wondering what the casting people were thinking about all the mixed accents, and here I have to get distracted by their casting of a Marian who couldn't be one.

Note -- the show has also featured some non-white actors in roles that are not racially specific (think "genies") and I've no problem there, since there is no racial expectation of many other characters (think "Middle Eastern character" for example), a priori.  No anachronism, no incongruity, no distraction.

I suppose that I must think that casting directors are trying to show how contemporary they are, sort of the way it seems half of the physicians on "Grey's Anatomy" are black, even though only 4% of graduating physicians are.  OK, sure, fine; I'd far rather have physicians as role models for black youth than rappers and basketball players.  Could happen, so no real foul there.  Congratulations, casting director, you are officially free from being called racist.

So all this leads up to my real question, then.  When will it be OK to do it the other way around?

Yes, that's right.  Martin Luther King, Ray Charles, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, heck, all of the Kings of Comedy in that movie ... all those people had movies about them, and every one of these black characters was played by a black actor.

What would have happened if, say, Matt Damon had auditioned to be Martin Luther King?

What would the casting director have said?  Would she have said "Um, Matt, you DO know that Martin Luther King was black, right?"  Would that have been OK?  Would it have been any less OK if she had worked "Once Upon a Time" and told Christie Laing "Um, Christie, you DO know that Maid Marian was a white Englishwoman, right?"

Here's a worse one -- What would have happened if Matt Damon had auditioned to play Maid Marian, or Christie Laing auditioned to play Martin Luther King?  At what point, then, does someone actually stand up and say that if you cast an actor in a role that defies the audience's expectations of what that character is -- especially a character that, fact or fiction, is known by the audience -- you will fail to suspend the audience's disbelief, and thus fail to transport them!

Of course, it has to end at some point.  But if we fail to have that dialogue, if we fail to do the reductio ad absurdum argument that shows the fallacy, then eventually the most absurd casting will actually happen, and theater will simply go the way of college basketball and Beta videotapes.

But before that happens, I will pay to see Meryl Streep play James Earl Jones in the story of his life.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 13, 2015

"Oh, Hill, No" (Quoth Bill)

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton made the announcement that she is running, once again, for president of the United States.  In what was, of course, a tremendously anti-climactic announcement, the former first lady told the world that ... oh, I don't know what she said.  I didn't watch, since I can't really imagine that she said anything we haven't already heard the last eight years, and because she has no real credibility.

Besides, I was more interested in the Masters.

All that said, I did do some contemplating between shots.  Not, of course, of the "What would Hillary do as president" kind of thing, because we already know that.  Think the abuses of the Obama administration's IRS and Justice Department, and then triple it to reflect oversight by a much more vengeful White House.

No; I was contemplating the role of the former president to whom she is still, remarkably, married.  That would be William Jefferson Clinton, once sax-player-in-chief, and now a half-million-per-speech celebrity, running around the world getting paid to pal around with friends.  Let us, if we can, try to imagine Bill Clinton as first lady.

The mind boggles.

Obviously, the Clinton Foundation, which raises tons of money to spend a little on left-wing causes and presumably a lot on salaries for the Clintons -- Bill gets about $10 million a year for his speeches -- would be devastated.  With one Clinton as the sitting president and another as First Whatever, the Foundation contributions would have to switch from predominantly foreign influence-buyers to predominantly something else -- domestic, maybe.

But even that is troublesome.  How does one legally segregate contributions to a foundation from the perception of influencing the president whose name is on it?  Well, you can't.  But the next person to tell the Clintons -- particularly Hillary -- what they can and cannot do will be the first.  Heck, Obama couldn't even get her to use a Department of State email address, and he was the president!

Still, that wasn't as much my wandering thinking Sunday as was trying to imagine a scenario where Bill actually wants Hillary to run.  Seriously?  In his mind, he has "earned" the right to live the life he has now, living where he wants, going where he wants, flush with cash and female attention (not, of course, of the domestic tranquility type), world traveler, speechifier, golfer, friend of the wealthy in countries we're not at all friendly with, friend of the wealthy in countries that don't exactly treat women really well.

Oh, yeah, Bill, that all will have to go.  You will have to come up with a new role as the dutiful husband living in the White House (ostensibly), under a doubled level of Secret Service support while trying to get as far from Hillary as you can.

Bill Clinton is not a stupid man.  He sees this just the same as I do.  And it took a ton of inevitability for him not to tell Hillary that if she ran, he would not support her efforts.  But he wasn't able to stop the inevitability of her candidacy.

And all he can now hope for is that the Republicans come up with someone who can win enough states to beat her in November 2016.

If it makes you feel better, Bill, I'm squarely with you on that one.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, April 10, 2015

Your Tax Dollars Not at Work, Part Deux

I just know that if the first sentence of an essay has the words "government cost accounting" in it, it will be a lot to expect that readers will still be around for the end.  But hold, ye!  I'll make the story short and hope to sustain your interest ... and possibly enrage you at least a little.

Since the days of the $700 hammers, defense contractors have been obliged to keep rigorous records of every penny they spend.  Each cent must be classified into a category, and then is billed to the government, either "directly" (i.e., the government bought a box and that's the cost of the box), or "indirectly" (the contractor's cost of doing business, like rent, erasers, secretaries, health insurance and management).

When the government buys the box, it pays the contractor the cost of the box, plus a percentage that covers those "indirect" costs, plus a tiny profit.  That's the system, and it actually protects the taxpayer from overpaying ... sometimes.

One of those "indirect costs" is the costs of writing proposals which, of course, I do for a living.  The Government puts out a request for, say, five years of IT support at Fort Umpdesquat, or at the Department of Hosiery, and ten companies write proposals that say how well they'd do it and what great people they are and have great processes and stuff.  And they bid a price to do the work.

Ultimately, because proposal writing is an indirect cost, the government ends up reimbursing the contractors.  Not directly, penny for penny, but inside the percentage(s) that are added on when they do win something.  So yes, we do pay for that.

There is a 465-pound set of regulations that govern the Feds buying stuff and buying services.  It's called the "FAR", for "Federal Acquisition Regulations", and it covers a lot.  But it doesn't always get followed, particularly when it encourages communication.

Generally after I'm done writing a proposal, I move on and forget about it.  I'm not going to be asked to work on the program if it is won, since I'm not an employee of any of my client contractors.  But I just heard about one that my client lost, and it's head-shaking.

During the six weeks of writing the proposal last fall (and over Christmas), my client repeatedly asked the customer (the agency shall remain nameless, but its initials are "United States Air Force") about how many staff members were thought to be required.  We knew how many were currently working for the contractor whose contract was expiring, and the number had been slowly drawing down.  Was there a budget telling the customer that for the next three years they'd only be able to afford 2/3 of the current staff count?

The United States Government wouldn't say.

"We cannot tell you how to do your proposal" was the answer.

So now we find out that the incumbent contractor was awarded the new contract, and that they bid 30% fewer staff members than we did, 30% fewer than they themselves had working there.  Asking around to other contractors (you can't do that till after the award), we find that the incumbent bid 30% fewer staff members than every other bidder, not just my client.

Well, gee, how did they know to do that?  Because as incumbent, they knew that the budgets had been cut -- something that the customer refused to tell us, or answer questions about during the proposal process.  So the incumbent knew how many technical staff members were affordable.

Hmmmmm.   So by not telling the competitors, they ensured the incumbent would win.  Intended or not, they ensured that, since the difference in price was so great, a much better quality proposal offering a much better solution would not be considered -- if a losing bidder had known about the price ceiling, they (and the other eight losing bidders) might have gotten a lot more creative coming up with a not-as-good-but-affordable-in-the-new-budget solution.

But here's the thing ... based on the typical cost to do a proposal, the losing bidders wasted as much as $12 million in proposal costs on bids that they could not win.  That money was actually spent, and will, eventually, get charged to the Government as indirect costs on programs that are won.  Moreover, it came out of finite corporate budgets, meaning that by bidding on this unwinnable opportunity, they could not bid on a possibly-winnable opportunity, over here at this other agency.

Boys and girls, this crap happens all the time and there is a cost to it.  There's also a cure.  Contracting officers of Federal customers need to have free-flowing, open conversations with industry about their budgets and about ongoing work.  "We cannot tell you how to write your proposal" is an offensive answer to reasonable questions asked by contractors who deserve the same level of knowledge as incumbents already have.

It's really simple.  Stop hiding and talk to industry.  The taxpayer deserves it as much as industry does.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Disposition of Steroid Contracts

There's a big old Comments section at the bottom of this piece, and there's plenty of room for you all to weigh in on this one.  Which is probably a good idea, you see, since I don't necessarily have the answer.

The major league baseball season opened this week.  Right before it started, we had our first explosion when Ervin Santana, a pitcher signed to a large multi-year contract in the offseason by the Minnesota Twins, was hit with an 80-game suspension after testing positive for the steroid Winstrol (stanozolol).

So one could make the rather interesting assumption that Santana had been using long enough to get his performance level up to where he could earn a gargantuan, unchangeable contract under which he will be performing -- after his unpaid suspension -- at a level no longer enhanced by steroid supplements.

Either way, the Twins, who expected Santana to be for several years the anchor in their rotation that they paid for, now will never have the Ervin Santana that they signed -- by the time he is back with the team he will have retreated physically to his pre-steroid capability.  So they have a legitimate gripe, do the Twins, and rightly might be asking whether the contract can be voided (hint: it can't; see Union, Players).

Now, the Twins have said nothing publicly about voiding the contract, at least nothing that I have heard, not that I have looked.  But let's look at the parties involved. 

Santana -- he gets suspended and loses 80 games salary, sure, but he has an ironclad contract that will ensure the financial security of his family for a hundred years.  Nothing can change that.  He deserves punishment and gets it, but he ends up OK.

Minnesota -- they lose a bulwark of their rotation for 80 games (about half his projected starts) and will now need about 15 starts this season to be made by pitchers who otherwise would not even have been in the rotation, essentially having to replace their #1 starter with a #6.  That should be expected to cost the team 5-6 wins.  They get punished in the standings, even though they did nothing wrong (unless you accuse them of inadequate vetting of their pitcher).

But ... there is one other party here:

The Rest of the AL Central Division -- each one benefits at the expense of the teams that don't play Minnesota as often as they do, and don't get the advantage of opposing a #6 starter.

What should be done?  Should the contract be voided?

Here's where the complexity of the luxury tax -- yes, the luxury tax -- comes in.  As you know, there is no salary cap in MLB, but there is a tax paid per dollar when a team's payroll exceeds a fixed amount.  Maybe 2-4 teams will do so this year, Dodgers, Yankees, maybe another.  Minnesota, a small-city franchise, will not be close to doing so.

Let's suppose that, instead of the Santana contract, fresh ink and in its first year, we're talking about a player suspended for steroids in the seventh year of a ten year contract -- for a whole year.  Say the guy is a position player, 39 years old and barely able to play anymore -- but with 3-4 years left and $90 million left to pay him.  Let's call him, say, "Alex Rodriguez."  And let's say that the team he plays for is already over the luxury tax threshold.

Now let's go back to the impacts from above.  The player situation is the same -- still gets paid and all, after the suspension.  But the impact on the team is much different.  They effectively shed, at least for a year, the salary obligation of a wildly overpaid but ineffective player.  They can replace his roster spot with someone else and have a lot of payroll flexibility to do so.

And the impact on the division competitors is even more extreme.  Since the player is no longer effective, the competitors face a strengthened team because of the suspension.  So the competitors are, in effect, punished because a team that otherwise would have to have played an ineffective player is free to replace him for a year.

And even worse for the competitors, the team's obligation against the luxury threshold is benefited by the removal of the suspended salary year.  A team, oh, let's call them the "Yankees" for convenience, could really gain if the savings allowed them to spend a season under the threshold, since the payments for being over the limit get progressively higher each successive year and a single year under the limit resets the penalty.  That un-penalized season and the percentage reset could allow them to sign a huge contract in the off-season that they would not otherwise have been able to afford -- benefiting the team that issued a stupid contract.

No wonder the "actual" Yankees tried so hard to void the actual Rodriguez's contract.  And no wonder that their competitors in the AL East howled that the Yankees got luxury tax relief for Rodriguez's suspended contract for 2014 (note -- the Yankees ultimately were not able to get under the threshold for 2014, so they still pay the higher consecutive-years rate).

I present the contrasting situations and the disparate impact, because one way or the other, the Players Union is going to have to deal with pressure to allow the voiding of contracts for morals clause violations, with the clauses expanded to encompass steroid use.

Accordingly, I am intently waving around the Law of Unintended Consequences on this one.  I want to see the guilty punished, yes, but I don't want the complicit, the accomplices or the innocent either benefited or injured incorrectly.  I don't want to see the Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox having to face a beefed-up Yankee team who got threshold relief and were able to enhance their team -- even though they offered the stupid contract.

But I want to see the users appropriately punished with no secondary benefit or secondary punishment to another party.  I think that this situation, or these situations, need to be thought out in depth, with all impacts, before leaping into a solution regarding the voiding of contracts.  There are far too many Unintended Consequences and, as the Santana and Rodriguez situations conversely show, they're not always the same and can actually be opposite in suitability depending on the contract and the player.

I do think that it's fine if the team gets the "cash" benefit of not paying the salary during a suspension, and during a voidance if that becomes possible.  But I do think that the team should retain the suspended or voided salary amount on their books against the luxury tax ceiling -- in other words, they don't have to pay the actual dollars, but the dollars count against the luxury tax whether they're paid out or not.  That way, the team gets no secondary benefit where the luxury tax is concerned -- they lose the suspended or contract-voided player's services, but they don't have to pay them -- and they retain the obligation they signed for in the form of the luxury tax.

Can you see how many parameters would have to be worked out, and how many different situations could arise that a single labor agreement clause would have to cover and produce a reasonable result in all of them?

The Comments section is there; there's lots of room for ideas.  Maybe we can come up with a reasonable suggested outcome to pass on to the new Commissioner for the next Labor Agreement.

It won't be worse than what's there now.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Data The Administration Doesn't Want, Apparently

Last week, I wrote about the Administration, in the person of Eric Holder's "Justice" Department, turning on the wolverines in the IRS to seize money from citizens for no other reason than they had withdrawn $5,000 in cash from their account.  The banks were being pressured to report such transactions and the IRS or FBI could then seize the money without even a charge being filed.

So they're pounding on the banks to rat out their customers.  They want that data, for sure.  They're spying on citizens, as we know from leaked information and scandalous relationships with the large consumer retailers and service providers.  They want that data, too.  Seems like they want just about all the data they can get on just about anybody you name.

With one little exception.

If you crossed the border into the USA illegally, well, it doesn't appear that they're very interested in that kind of data, not height and weight, or name, or country of origin.  Or batting average.  They're not interested in party affiliation, either.  In the same way that the Administration and the Democrats take for granted that black voters will check the old Democrat box (even though nobody has shafted black America collectively worse than Democrats), they take it for granted that immigrants here illegally will find a way to vote -- and vote for them, not the people who could actually help them find work.

To make sure that happens, they're conspiring to find ways to give aid, education, preferences, drivers licenses and cash from the Federal treasury and from every state that can be coerced to do so, to people whose names they don't want to know.  "Come on over the border", they say, "and bring your kids -- absolutely your kids too.  That will make it harder to deport your illegal backsides."

Just don't tell us your name.

The folk in the White House want to know when legal citizens take many out of the bank, or log into their Amazon accounts, or use Google or Yahoo, or eat a steak.  They want to know when you leave your house, and what restaurant you eat at, and whether you write a blog that may be occasionally critical of your policies.  I'm looking both ways as I type this.

But if you're here illegally, well, may God, or whatever pantheistic deity you may choose to worship in your own way which we will protect with our FBI unless of course you are Christian, bless you.

Give us your tired, your poor.  May they vote Republican and render the last laugh on the president.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Overestimating Esteem

I'm getting a bit steamed about esteem.

OK, so maybe it's just the word, but I've been bothered a lot lately by lies repeated often enough that people think they're truth, and perhaps this is more like a non-truth repeated too often.

I'm speaking, of course, about children and the oddly-used concept of "self-esteem" in regard to decisions made about them.  The principle, if my inference is close, is that children should not be made to feel bad about themselves, which is probably reasonable (or even allowed to, which is just stupid, but I digress parenthetically).  The words used, however, i.e., "self-esteem", convey the corollary, which is that kids should think they are great, which is a real crock of butter-slathered hooey.

Kids, and adults for that matter, should think they are great when and if they do something great.  Self-esteem is simply thinking that you are great at something, or have done something great, and feeling good about yourself for that.  You earn self-esteem.  Not everyone has it, and not everyone deserves it.  Welcome to earth.

What kids and adults, and the rest of us who don't fit into either category somehow, should have is something different, and that is called self-respect.  The big lie, I believe, is the notion that the two are the same thing, when they are far from it and have nothing to do with one another.  Moreover, the lessons we teach when we favor one over the other are the wrong lessons.

Here's the thing.  Self-respect is the idea that as a human being, you are granted the dignity of humanity by your Creator.  It is the notion that human rights apply to you every bit as much as they do to the other seven billion-odd earthlings, even to liberals.

So the lesson we should be teaching children is that as human beings, they do not have to allow themselves to be subjected to subhuman treatment, like bullying in all its forms, whether from Butchy Lonigan and his toady, or from the Obama IRS, or ISIS.  We should be teaching our young girls to respect themselves enough to make good decisions where guys are concerned, if'n you know what I mean.  That, friends, is called "self-respect."

Instead, we keep referring to this concept of "self-esteem", and that just doesn't cut it.  Poor little Johnny or Mary has "low self-esteem" and we have to fix it.   Grrrrrrr.

Earth to Johnny and Mary's parents: if your kid has low self-esteem, it's generally because there's no reason for them to be esteemed.  That's right, your kid is probably perfectly normal, which means good over here, not-so-good over there, netting out to a normal kid.  Garrison Keillor might not let you in his town, but otherwise no worries.  Learn to parent a normal child, por favor.

The problem with all this is that we end up "esteeming" things that are not worthy of esteem, and that totally undermines the value system we should be trying to impart to them.  We give trophies for "participating", trash awards that make kids think they actually accomplished something, and God forbid anyone actually, you know, win.

You know what?  Just go achieve something in academics or athletics or the arts or service, and earn self-esteem.  Self-esteem is an honor, and honors are not for everyone, lest they no longer become honorable.

No one explained this (or anything else) better than W.S. Gilbert, in a song from The Gondoliers, where the Grand Inquisitor of Spain tells the story of a king who wanted everyone as rich as he was, so he promoted the entire populace to high posts.  Naturally, it didn't work, as he sings:

"That King, although no one denies his heart was of abnormal size,
Yet he'd have acted otherwise, if he had been acuter.
The end is easily foretold, when every blessed thing you hold
Is made of silver, or of gold, you long for simple pewter.
When you have nothing else to wear but cloth of gold and satins rare,
For cloth of gold you cease to care -- up goes the price of shoddy.
In short, whoever you may be, to this conclusion you'll agree,
When every one is "somebodee", then no one's anybody!"

Let us turn, then, to promoting nothing; rather, let us commit ourselves to raising our children to respect themselves rather than overvaluing themselves.  "To thine own self be true, then canst thou be not false to any man", wrote Shakespeare, and the principle remains 400 years since.  If we teach our kids to lie to themselves about who or what they are, they have no compunction about growing up and saying things like, well, I don't know, "If you like your insurance policy you can keep it" -- that sort of thing.

Save the esteem for the properly esteemed, and the trophies to them who have earned them.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 6, 2015

The Next Phi Kappa Psi

In the aftermath of the University of Virginia non-rape story and the lack of any substantive apologies to the fraternity or Rolling Stone firings as a result, one's mind is necessarily going to wander.  The "Jackie" character who made up the story is still a student at UVa, and the "Dr. Teresa Sullivan" character is still running the university as its president, even though her overreaction led to an absurd shutdown of sororities (yes, you read that correctly) as well as all the fraternities.  Neither has been punished, nor will either be.

It seems much clearer now.  "Jackie" came to UVa a somewhat disturbed person, as evidenced by her aggressively going after a male fellow student who had no romantic interest in her, and then engaging him to try to check out another male fellow student's interest in her.  That student, well, didn't exist and "Jackie" had set up a private phone number to "be" him.  Not really stable, that girl.

When some of that started to fall apart, she made up a story about being gang-raped, assuming she'd be made out the victim and wouldn't have to defend herself very hard.  Of course, when you make up the story with dates of events that didn't happen, and refuse to complain to the police who could have helped, your credibility sinks lower than that of the current president.  And, as it turned out, she made the whole thing up -- part of the syndrome and totally in character for what we have learned about this person.

Back to the aftermath.

We know that people are sexually assaulted.  We know it happens on campus, and we know that there are predatory males armed with alcohol and drugs and pickup lines.  We would like that behavior to end -- and I mean this second.  We would like there to be an environment where the victims of such assaults can go straight to the police and feel comfortable reporting it.

However -- we also know that when you extract the violence aspect of rape, you are left with sex -- and sex can be a perfectly consensual act.  This means that the physical evidence, and the testimony of the participants, are vital in determining which one, if any, actually happened when rape is claimed.  It's far too easy for a participant to claim lack of consent the next day, after having been entirely consenting during the act, but angry about something thereafter.  That's a pretty hard case to adjudicate.

And now we also know something.  We know that a rape claim can be a weapon, some might say a cry for help regarding something that has nothing to do with an actual rape.  We have now seen that the institutional response is likely to be very dramatic, and if this is in response to a fake claim, it gives the complainant a lot of the attention and publicity they want -- even if their name is never raised, their persona is publicized.

But of course, it is exactly the dramatic over-response that is the problem, because that reaction involves punishment of the innocent, and that -- a loss of due process -- should offend us mightily.  If I were a UVa Phi Kappa Psi member, I would be knocking on every door of the administration building in Charlottesville daily and asking "Excuse me, ma'am, but what office do I see to get my reputation back?"

There will be a next fake-rape UVa-type story at some college somewhere.  What will that school's Teresa Sullivan do?  Will he or she shut down the whole sorority system as well as the fraternities?  Or will he or she immediately call for cool heads and note that due process mandates that nothing be done without a reasonable police investigation into the facts?  (If you're in Vegas, bet on "A")

"Jackie" has caused great problems for actual rape victims everywhere, and she owes a lot of people an apology -- the Phi Kappa Psi chapter at UVa; the whole Phi Kappa Psi national organization and its members; the entire UVa Greek system, all for the aspersions cast upon them and the unwarranted punishment they received.  She should apologize to Teresa Sullivan for setting her up to look stupid, though I gather Dr. Sullivan was quite capable of doing that on her own.

Most of all, "Jackie" has clouded the response to future incidents -- and for that she owes everyone an apology.

Of course, like that from Teresa Sullivan, we'll be waiting a long time for it.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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