Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Was Howard Stern Thinking (at least in this case)?

As many of you have read, I did a piece last year on the curious manner with which the competition TV show "America's Got Talent" regards what is and is not actual talent.  Certainly there are some amazing acts that make it; it's the ones that are not so amazing that this piece is about.

The 2015 version of the show concluded a week or so ago, with the grand prize going to an amazing British ventriloquist named Paul Zerdin.  Zerdin's performance in the finals was very good; I suspect though, that in this viewer-voting model they use, he actually won the audience with the semifinals, when he turned judge Howie Mandel into his puppet ... ahhh, you had to see it -- so here you go.  It was so good that it allowed him to retain enough audience love to win the following week.

Today's piece is not about the winner, nor the runner-up.  In fact, I'm most curious about an act that made the semifinals but pretty much ended there.  They were a rock band called "3 Shades of Blue", consisting of the usual instrumentation, the usual voices and singing the usual material -- in other words, songs that everyone but me appeared to be familiar with.  Generic as all-get-out.

Despite their mundanity, Howard Stern, the judge at the far left, gushed over them.  We really needed a rock band to do well, he insisted, and they were the ones to do it.  A big fan of theirs, he insisted.  Every week they returned, it was more of the same.

And I simply didn't get it.  As a rock band, they were simply another rock band.  They did nothing that 1,000 other bands weren't doing or couldn't do.  Moreover, they brought nothing new to an entertainment form that has done pretty much nothing for the musical art in at least 50 years.

I don't particularly need to write "The Emperor's New Clothes" essay all over again, but if it is so blatantly clear to me that this band was simply another band, then why was Howard Stern salivating over them?  He was never able to say anything specific about why he thought they should contend, just that they should.  Were they the best rock band in the competition?  Maybe; how easy is it to compare two rock bands when the entertainment form is so useless; it's like comparing two mice, or two trees, or two government buildings.  In other words, why does it matter?

I tried the FTM approach, which works most of the time, but following the money didn't seem to apply.  Howard Stern is richer than Croesus; he doesn't need to plug an undistinguished band for what wouldn't be any real payoff.  Did the network tell him to?  Beats me; this was his last season anyway as a judge.  He could have told NBC to go pound sand.

I can only imagine that among stand-up comics, magicians, ventriloquists and other acts not necessarily geared to a younger audience, Howard Stern felt the need to appear hip by advocating for a rock band, and 3 Shades of Blue were pretty much all that was left.  At 61, with an empire on Sirius-XM satellite radio, maybe he needs to attract new listeners.

Earth to Howard: it made you look sillier.

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who Buried the Boehner Story before Friday?

I'm not excited about back-to-back stories being in regard to John Boehner, so let's decide in advance that yesterday's was about Boehner, but today's is really, really not - even though he's central to the topic.

I was musing a little bit on Friday right after the news came out about the Speaker's announcement of his upcoming resignation.  The more that came out, trickle by drip, the more it appeared that the reason he was resigning was because he faced some form of no-confidence vote, or re-election battle, that he was going to lose.  In other words, he was quitting before the rank-and-file in Congress fired him.

By the latter part of the afternoon, as this background information started to surface, the "wait a minute" part of my brain started to kick in.  That's the part that often says, "Hold on there; this doesn't smell quite right."

Here's what smelled fishy: If there was an imminent fight over a no-confidence vote or an impending ouster of the Speaker, then why the heck was it not front-page news in every paper in the USA a week earlier?  Why was it not leading the evening news?  Why did even any word of the revolt trickle out a bit only after the announcement of the resignation?

Doesn't that occur to you as well?  I mean, I follow the news as much or more than most people.  Not a lot more, but I certainly stay attuned.  And while I certainly recall grumbling by the presidential candidates about perceived impotence on the part of Republican leadership in Congress, there was nothing out there saying that Boehner was in any imminent danger of being replaced.  If you heard something like that, well, there's a big ol' Comments section below for you to quote it.

No, the media were amazingly silent.

Here's the thing -- they had to know!  I mean, come on, these guys live on their sources, right?  Congressmen talk, and they certainly talk to reporters.  So the networks, or at least their press corps, knew of an impending revolt, but it didn't get on TV or printed.  There can be only two reasons for that:
(1) They didn't think it was newsworthy, or
(2) They didn't want to report it.

Reporters and the media are famous for not wanting to report things, whether it be John Kennedy running women in and out of the White House, or Barack Obama's college transcripts, or anything good that a conservative ever does or says.  We know the congressional revolt was newsworthy, since Boehner's tanned, tobacco-rotted face has been plastered all over the news since Friday, once the resignation was a fait accompli.

So it must be that the press did not want to give publicity or credence to a story which you would think would tickle their little leftist chipmunk heads.  "Fighting, controversy engulfs the Republicans in Congress" -- that would be a logical headline.

But we never saw it!

This is a scandal of journalistic abdication.  And so I can only conclude that the press did not want John Boehner to resign.  They did not want to give air time and ink to the opponents of his inactive leadership, lest there be an actual public debate, a forum in which the public -- which loudly rejected the left in 2014 -- might very well decide that the Planned Parenthood scandal was indeed important; that endless borrowing from China is indeed a hideous way to run a government; that the people who swept in a Republican Congress in 2014 indeed expected repudiation and rejection of Barack Obama's dictatorial executive orders from it.

No; the press wanted good old Boehner to stay in office, to capitulate to the White House on demand, to roll over and let Obama have his way.  And to shun the spotlight and not try to make his case to the people.  How else to explain how, when last the government was shut down, it was Republicans allegedly obstructing a Democratic Senate who were blamed, but when this time it is Democrats filibustering the Senate to shut down government, it is still the Republicans who are blamed?

I don't know how the story of the revolt against Boehner stayed buried before the resignation, but there should be some networks asking themselves why their Capitol Hill reporters aren't writing stories they were clearly privy to.  And if they didn't write the stories they were privy to, then what the heck are they being paid for?

Unless, of course, the networks killed the story, in which case the problem is much, much bigger.

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Newt for Speaker!

The last few days, we've been contemplating the resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, and the implications for the Republican Party, for the conservative movement, for the USA and, frankly, for the world.  Of course, it is not simply that he will soon be gone -- it isn't that at all.  His presence seemed so inconsequential that his absence will barely be noticed.

Save, of course, of the vacancy and the fillage thereof.

Back a few months, when I analyzed how I would want to choose which presidential candidate I would support most vigorously, I put a lot of stress on communication as a leadership trait.  "Communication", as in being the public face of the principles for which he or she would be speaking, so that the public would get the message from someone with the capability of making a compelling case.

Why?  Because we have critical issues.  We have $20 trillion in debt and it is increasing; ISIS is on our borders, which are leaky where they even exist; Obamacare is crushing business; the labor participation rate is low and getting lower.  Our cities are a disaster and they keep reelecting the leftist mayors who got them that way -- and are keeping them that way.

That's where we start.  The Democrats have shown no capability to solve, well, any problem -- but they own the press, and so get a pass as they cling to power.  So for the conservative right even to get the chance to show what it can do, it needs to be led by someone who can go to the public and make the case.

That is true of the Speaker's office every bit as much as the presidency, particularly when the White House is of the other party.  When a leftist Democrat is president, it falls to a Republican Speaker to articulate the reasoning behind the legislation he proposes, supports, or is pressing.

And that has not been John Boehner.  Boehner, whatever he may have done in the privacy of his office meeting with allies and opponents, forgot that he was, ex officio, the official public face of what the Republican agenda was to be.  He needed -- especially with the press not on the side of his agenda -- to make his case to the public the best he could.

But John Boehner either had no stomach for the role, or never realized it was part of the job.  Perhaps, had he been dealing with a Republican president, the role might have suited him better, but there wasn't -- and it didn't.  Believing that his job was simply to do the best he could with the caucus as it was, he went along to get along.  And the USA suffered because of it.

Now we are engaged in a great pursuit of the Speaker's office, and before we decide who that should be, we should decide what we need.  And that, friends, is the leader of the conservative legislative agenda. Because that's the opposition to the White House, that person must be able to lead, and also make the case in public -- "Here is what we want to do, here is how we will do it, here is why we are doing it, and here is where it has worked before."

Who can do that?  Who can get the press coverage against a cynical, leftist press?  And who is brilliant enough to "get" every aspect of both the legislative, the political and the PR battle?  Well, there are probably a few, including more than one currently running for the presidency.  But I have the logical candidate.

That would be the former Speaker, the Hon. Newton Leroy Gingrich.

As everyone should know by now, the Speaker does not need to be a sitting congressman; that has only been a tradition and does not reflect the Constitution.  Newt was the Speaker; Lord knows he understands the role.  He is unquestionably brilliant, with immense command of the issues.  But most importantly, he is a fabulous speaker who understands, after a long career, the importance of making the case for a legislative agenda to the public.

We know, in his seventies, he would see the job as the architect of a time-bound legislative correction -- in fact, were a Republican to become president after the 2016 elections, he could readily step down and back into private life, and hand the job over to someone with comparable skills.

The press would not have such an easy time with Newt Gingrich, since he is smarter than pretty much all of them, so they would try to rip the heck out of him.  But he has been through worse, and surely has the ability to get his messages past the firewall of the leftist media.

I like the idea.  In fact, even talking about the possibility is something that the Republicans need, getting away from their introspective mindset and toward getting the message out to the voter.

Now the former Speaker needs to consider coming back.

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hasta La Vista, Lawdie Berra

Lawrence Peter Berra, "Yogi" to most of us and "Lawdie" (a corruption of Lawrence) to the few, like Joe Garagiola, still around to remember his childhood, left this earth this week.

Yogi Berra was undoubtedly one of the luckiest individuals on the earth the past 90 years, as if God ran out of good looks when He made Yogi, and so gave him luck to make up for it.  He certainly was not a baseball player, or a Hall of Fame-level one at that, because of luck.  Far from it; God also gave him the diligence to pursue that career and the talent to make it.

Yogi was lucky in life, the "other" game that we can certainly say he won at.  He had a wife, Carmen, devoted to him through their 65 years together until her passing last year, and him to her.  Everything he touched in business turned into money, most noteworthily his investment in the old chocolate drink Yoo-Hoo, from which he did very well indeed, as they say.

He was given an extraordinary talent for saying things that were a little off, that no one else would say, but which would have a kernel of truth deep inside -- sometimes very deep, but there.  That was the talent -- the luck was that a few of those clever lines later, people began to ascribe equally clever, odd lines to him that he never actually said himself.

In perhaps the greatest piece of luck, he grew up in the Hill section of St. Louis, colloquially "Dago Hill" for reasons you can readily guess, literally across the street from another young Italian-American who would grow up to be a major-league catcher, the aforementioned Joe Garagiola.

Why was that lucky?  Because Garagiola's gift was as a storyteller more than a catcher (though he won a World Series ring in 1946, before any of Yogi's ten).  And Yogi was such a fascinating character, that he essentially made Garagiola's post-baseball career for him by giving him unending grist for his storytelling mill.  If Yogi didn't say half of the things he was credited for having said, you may credit -- not blame, but credit -- his good fortune in childhood neighbors.

Even his teammates knew what a lucky soul Yogi was.  There's a recollection in Jim Bouton's great 1970 book "Ball Four", of Yankee teammates in a moment of boredom, pondering the headlines if the team plane were to have crashed.  "Mantle, others lost in airplane crash", they figured it would say.  The sub-heading?  "Berra OK; took later flight."

I was lucky enough to have seen Yogi play live, in 1959 (he went 0 for 2, but I had to look it up -- my memory is not that good, and I was certainly never a Yankee fan) in a game that Ted Williams also played in.  That, however, is not the most striking memory I have of him in uniform.  That, friends, would be on TV, watching the 1956 World Series and seeing him leap into Don Larsen's grasp after the last out of his perfect game against Brooklyn.  I have a picture of that moment, autographed by both of them.  Still can't figure out how Larsen didn't end up with a double hernia from that.

Yogi went on to become a manager in the majors, and even that was a stroke of luck.  Ralph Houk was not going to manage the Yankees after the 1963 season and the loss to the Dodgers in the World Series.  A few reporters were idly discussing how fast they could drop a rumor in a bar and have it get back to them.  They thought "What is the most ridiculous rumor we could start?" and came up with "Yogi Berra will manage the Yankees in 1964."  Trust me, that was not a logical thought in 1963.

Sure enough, not only did the rumor get back to them in record time, it also hit the papers and made him a logical candidate.  Sure enough, Yogi was now an "official contender" for the position, got the job and took the Yankees to the seventh game of the Series, whereupon he was fired for losing it.  Luck doesn't go that far, although Yogi did plenty of managing in later years.

My son Jay, a guest columnist a few weeks back, was born in 1981 and never saw Yogi play, of course.  But even he had to eulogize him, and I asked permission to copy his Facebook post here to show how another generation saw him.  He wrote this:


"The recently passed and sorely missed Yogi Berra had a way with words.  Granted that's like saying "Kobe Bryant had a way with women" or "Michael Vick had a way with dogs", but the man could certainly make a phrase stick.

"One of Berra's favorite victims was percentages.  Whether he was saying that 90% of the game was half mental,  or calling on his teammates to give 100% in the first half of the game and then give the rest if that doesn't work, Berra could never seem to get the numbers right.  Over the last two weeks, I feel like I've been dragged through Hell.  I've given 100%, had another 100% bled out of me, and been told I still need to give another 1000%.  I've been really sick, and so 90% of my time was spent feeling like death, 40% of it wishing for death, and 85% of it wishing for death on others.  About 70% of my brain is only effective 20% of the time, and the rest just doesn't work.


Jay's grandfather, my father-in-law, was a big Yankee fan (which didn't help our relationship), who died shortly after 9-11.  Accordingly, the end of the piece invoked him:  "*Sigh* Maybe Pop and Yogi are having a beer right now.  And Yogi's looking down and shouting, "Don't worry, kid!  It gets better, unless it doesn't."

There won't be a "fork in the road to take", to remember one of his great Yogiisms, on Lawdie Berra's journey to Heaven, just a straight shot.

A straight shot.  Think I could use one of those.  Jay, want to join me?

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Constitutes "Presidential"?

Now that we have had this week to try to digest the results of the second debate, the CNN version, the polls have suggested some movement.  Nothing seismic, of course, but in a few cases they are worth noting.  It does, after all, take a pretty substantially memorable performance to move the needle even a bit in such a large field.

We should, of course, start with this: CNN did a particularly poor job, if their intent had been to deliver information to the voting public.  If their intent was to sell advertising time, which is of course their raison d'etre, I suppose they'll call it successful down in Atlanta.  But as a concerned voter trying to decide whom to vote for next March -- and next November -- I have to say their delivery was just pathetic.

A quarter of the questions were about or mentioned Donald Trump.  Earth to CNN: I don't care if Trump is the leader in the polls.  My economic situation is problematic because of the guy in the White House now, not because of Donald Trump.  Because you asked so many questions about him, you short-shrifted what really matters, like the USA economy, national defense, Islamic terrorists, etc.  And that was with a debate that was an hour too long to begin with.

So what is this piece even about?

With eleven candidates across the stage, and with the moderators asking simply awful questions, we could see more of the person behind each lectern than we could what their plans or approaches might be.  We saw whether each was serene, or testy.  Or "presidential."

"Presidentialness" may mean different things to different viewers.  And it might not even be an indicator of whether someone would actually be, you know, a good president.  But I think I know what most people are looking for when you ask if a candidate appeared presidential.  Confidence in his or her demeanor.  A comfort level and command of the issues and an appropriate familiarity with the significant details (not a policy-wonk level of detail but comfort).

Absent substance in CNN's questions, we have to ask -- who came across presidential?

Granted, to whom questions were actually asked was really key.  How, for example, could Mike Huckabee, who has marvelous command of the issues and is a brilliant debater, show himself presidential in all of, what, three questions asked of him?

But I did think there was at least a little opportunity, and I thought a couple of the candidates came across that way.  I thought Carly Fiorina not only did a good job in an adversarial situation, but when able to deliver a point without interruption -- a rarity given the format -- she was in command, portraying leadership -- even defining it at one point.  Would you follow her if, for example, you didn't speak English but watched anyway?  I think you would.

The other who, in my view, led me as he spoke, should not be all that surprising, because it was Sen. Marco Rubio.  Rubio performed just as well in the first debate in the time he was given; this time he was seemingly able to have a fraction more air time, and he spoke with the command and confidence of someone fifteen years older.

I can't say Rubio hasn't been in the top tier of my consideration; he has. It hasn't been because of his personal story, or his Cuban roots -- none of that really matters to me.  I have just found the kind of compulsion in his presentations and his speech, that make me believe his conviction in what he is saying -- what I mean by "presidential."  I believe that people who need to follow him would be inspired to do so.  I believe his maturity belies his age -- more cubbyholes than someone his age should have, possibly because of his background.

The polls following the debate seem to reflect this; Mrs. Fiorina zoomed up into second place, while Sen. Rubio made a substantial break from the pack to challenge Dr. Carson in the upper tier.  I doubt that anyone can point to many specific policy points made by anyone that affected the polls that much.

But we are, indeed, susceptible to being influenced by someone appearing sufficiently more presidential in an environment where that quality is prized.  And I think two of the pack did so indeed.

Do you share that view?
 
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beyond Time to Dump the VA Hospital System

A study released this past week by a consortium of researches including Grant Thornton, MITRE, the RAND Corporation and McKinsey, trashed the VA hospital system and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  Visiting 87 different VA facilities, it concluded that:

“The assessments … provided evidence that the organization is plagued by many problems: growing bureaucracy, leadership and staffing challenges, and an unsustainable trajectory of capital costs."

That was a fairly polite way of saying that the 300,000 American military veterans who died awaiting treatment at a VA hospital died not just from their ailments but from suffocation under a bureaucracy -- one designed not so much to provide quality health care for the veterans of our military, but career, entitled government jobs for an administrative class.

Can we not simply decide this: Start with the actual goal.  The goal is to provide an efficient and effective system for providing health care to American military veterans.  Ask, study, do what is needed to determine the best model for doing so, not based on what we now have, but based on what we need.  Based on what works.  Based on what saves lives and treats veterans most efficiently.

And let us not be bound to any model based on any other criterion, especially because it is what is already there.

Oh, yes -- there is that one other little component to the discussion, and that is the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the one that suggests that perhaps the Federal government ought not to try to do things it is not equipped to do, as if the Framers had a little foresight.

And so I ask for the next president to do this -- and for at least one candidate to stand up and advocate for this: Let us propose to take no more than six months to evaluate the concept of privatizing every one of the VA hospitals in the USA, selling their assets to private hospital corporations and turning them back into commercial, community, state or non-profit institutions no longer under the ownership or control of the U.S. government.  The proposal would convert the VHA from the hospital administration organization it has failed at, into essentially a management agency only coordinating the medical benefits of veterans.

Carly Fiorina says that "leadership is a willingness to challenge the status quo."  Here is her chance.

It should take no more than six months to orchestrate that study, because it is that important.  The study would validate the idea of selling every VA hospital to private or other non-Federal entities and making them simply "hospitals" -- or closing them.  We would then turn the VHA into something other than an administrator of hospitals; it obviously cannot do that.  The VHA would simply shrink by 95% and just administer the rights defined for our veterans.

Instead of a veteran going to a VA hospital -- no, applying to go to a VA hospital (and dying while waiting), he or she would go to the nearest hospital pre-approved to treat veterans, and get the same care any civilian would get there.  The only difference would be how the payment is made; in the case of the vet the "insurance company" would be the VHA, which would make sure the bills get paid and that the standards of quality care are enforced.

There may be certain institutions -- again, private or community hospitals, not Federal outposts -- which may be specially certified to treat certain veteran-specific issues such as PTSD, but that should be no different from certain hospitals today which have specialties in heart disease or cancer but which treat all comers.

Six months.  Evaluate whether the end state would provide more efficient and effective care.  Decide whether it will work and put in a three-year plan -- that's all that's needed if it is that important -- to implement it.  Pay for much or all of the cost of the study and the actual effort using the proceeds from the sale of assets.  There are a lot of VA hospitals, and that's a lot of real estate.

Those men and women who put on the uniform put their lives on the line to protect my freedoms.  I'm willing to shake up the existing unworkable, ineffective and contemptible system to save their health and their lives.

Come on, candidates -- who's with me?

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

But It Looked Like a Clock ... Oops

President Obama decided to invite to the White House this week a student who was picked up by the police for bringing to school a science project.  While, normally, that would seem to be an innocuous story, this one had taken a rather curious turn.

The student, as we all know, is a Muslim.  The clock, as almost no one knows, was a disassembled clock made by Radio Shack's Micronta subsidiary, and then reassembled by Ahmed Mohamed, the student.  It was reassembled, of course, into a briefcase, which, given the prominence of the printed circuit board, made it look remarkably like a homemade bomb.  Hopefully you have seen the pictures.

The teacher, assuming a 14-year-old shouldn't be expected to build a printed circuit board, got a little panicky, as did the school -- Muslims toting things that look like bombs tend to scare people when Al Qaeda and ISIS are out there recruiting children of all ages to become suicide bombers.  The police were called, and young Ahmed found himself hauled off to jail to protect the students from imminent danger.

Of course, young Ahmed's "crime" seemed to be more one of electronic plagiarism than of imminent terrorism, so he was released on his own recognizance and sent back home.  Obama, seeing an opportunity to make a point about forgiveness for patent infringement (that's it, right?), tweeted out an invitation to young Ahmed to visit the White House and demonstrate his brilliant invention.

And the world was treated to our White House's version of political correctness.

So let's imagine, for a moment, that instead of Ahmed Mohamed having brought the clock to his class to show his amazing ability to deconstruct and reassemble someone else's invention, he had brought it to ... the White House.  Let's say it was on a tour.

Let's see, on the heels of 9-11, Charlie Hebdo, the Boston Marathon, the conference in Dallas, etc., etc., a Muslim kid brings a briefcase full of electronics to the White House.  Barack Obama would welcome him with open arms, give him a big hug, tell him how creative he was, and ...

Oh, give me a break.  The Secret Service would have been all over him from the moment he got within 100 yards of the place, and would have blown the "clock" up into bits.  The kid would have been hauled off to a holding tank and his whole history examined.  And Barack Obama knows this.

Ahmed Mohamed did not cause the attitude that Americans have about the world's Muslim community by himself -- in fact, he obviously really had nothing to do with it.  But he can help fix it.  He's going to the White House?  Great.  Let him ask, before he gets there, for a moment to read a statement.  He needs now to speak up and say this:

"Thank you, Mr. President, but I respectfully decline your offer to come to the White House; I will accept an invitation when I have earned it, not when I am just a symbol of something and not deserving of honor.

"Rather, I would like to use this message and this 15-minute bully pulpit to say this to the Muslim community across the world -- I went to jail not for my sins but yours.  I went to jail because your actions have made all followers of Allah suspect and deemed to be terrorists before the fact.  So I ask you to put down your 7th Century attitudes and your weapons, lay down your arms and embrace Christians, Jews, Buddhists and followers of every other faith as fellow children of God in His many names."
 
Some time ago, I wrote a piece asking the USA's most famous Muslim -- Muhammad Ali -- to seize the day, stand up and condemn the violence by the world's Islamic terrorists.  No other Muslim carried the position that Ali has.  Somehow, we have not seen the old guy get up and say anything.  Imagine that.

But young Ahmed, well, he has the chance.  And if his words stop one other Muslim kid in the USA from turning terrorist, cause one Muslim American to embrace his fellow American despite his Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism -- or, better, because of it -- it will be a better world.

Then he needs to learn to build his own inventions.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.



Monday, September 21, 2015

Trump, The View and Apologies

As I write this, two curiously intertwined stories are circulating around the news media, which suggests that perhaps the media are trying very hard not to have us see how bad the Iran nuclear deal is for Americans.  Anything else, apparently, no matter how trivial or silly, should get our attention instead.

And so, we are treated to the non-apology of Donald Trump (a familiar and oddly reasonable posture on The Donald's part) for an exchange with a Trump shirt-wearing questioner during a campaign event.  In the course of asking the actual question, which was what Trump was going to do about Muslim terrorist camps being built in the USA, the fellow started off with statements about Barack Obama being a Muslim himself, and not an American.

Trump, as you saw, started answering by saying jokingly that, sure, this was the question he "really needed to have to answer as the first one" -- even before the fellow finished the question.  Now, his answer was certainly more what we should care about -- a very typical Trump answer for this stage of the campaign, how "we'll take care of that", no specifics.

The "issue", such as it was, was that Trump should have taken the questioner to task for saying that Obama was a Muslim ("We know our current president is one ...") and not an American.  Even some other candidates were contending -- only for political reasons, but they were -- that he should have said something and should do so now.

At the same time, on the leftist, pathetic waste of American bandwidth called "The View", one of the hostesses, Michelle Collins, criticized one of the contestants in the just-concluded Miss America pageant.  Miss Colorado had used the talent competition part to show her comedic skills, in a nurse's uniform, and Miss Collins said she "basically read her emails out loud."  Another, Joy Behar, followed immediately, asking "why a nurse would have a doctor's stethoscope on".

We can be happy for Miss Behar that she apparently has been so healthy all her life as not to see a nurse on duty, since many walk their hospital duties with a stethoscope routinely, as if I have to point this out to you.

The reaction to the comments on The View was strong.  Nurses everywhere, and defenders of nurses everywhere, were aghast.  Several of the sponsors, including the health-product supply company Johnson and Johnson, felt they had to pull their advertising from the show, and others were moved to suspend their ads.

So where are we at this point?  Donald Trump is supposed to defend Barack Obama's religion, and hosts on The View are not supposed to make jokes about non-controversial topics like nurses?

I will admit that when I first heard of each case, I had a maybe 5% reaction (i.e., I really didn't care).  I thought the guy asking Trump the question was a bit over the top, and I thought the two hosts on The View had pretty much done what they always had done -- been not funny.  If Trump had responded to the questioner by saying that Obama was actually American and Christian, I wouldn't have been surprised, nor was I when he didn't defend the president -- it wasn't his job.  I saw the clip of The View and had no reaction at all; it was simply dull.

So I'll tell you what I think.  First, barely enough people even watch The View for anything said there to register on our national conscience.  My best girl, while taking care of her infirm mother, changes channels when The View comes on, to watch ... well almost anything else.  So I can't imagine that the ratings for The View are high enough for Johnson and Johnson to have had much skin in the game in the first place.

But Michelle Collins is supposed to be a comedienne.  She is on there to help the show's dismal ratings after cycling through so many hostesses.  She's supposed to make jokes and, since they talk about people on that show, the jokes are going to be at someone's expense.  Joy Behar is just ignorant, but she's been ignorant on that show for a long time and it hasn't offended Johnson and Johnson, or Snuggle, or Party City, or McCormick Overpriced Spices, all of which also pulled their ads.  Now it's nurses?

Aw, c'mon.  If you have been advertising for this show, you knew what was on it.  And this is not like companies that sponsor shows featuring hip, with-it street comedians, and then pulling their ads when the hip, with-it street comedian says something offensive.  This was simply a flat joke.  I don't get the PC aspect of this at all.

I don't know if it's a PC issue to expect that, if someone tangentially accuses the president of being a Muslim (note that the media-used word is "accuses", as if practicing Islam is somehow innately evil), the richest person in the room is supposed to correct them.

Well, I tried to put myself in The Donald's place.  The fellow was putting some statements in the beginning of a question, much as the press or congressional committee members do.  You wait until they're done, and then try to process everything they said, fast enough to reply to the actual question in context.

The Donald did just that.  He could be criticized for what was in the answer (i.e., nothing) a lot more than for not defending the indefensible president.  But it is not his job to determine what Barack Obama's religion is, and frankly, he would be just as offensive (to me at least) if he took too much time to elaborate on his view of what the president actually believed.

But that, friends, passes for news as, whatever his faith, the president sells our security down the river to Iran.

As Charlie Brown would say, "Auuuugggggghhhhhh!!!!!!"

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Now HERE'S a Check I Didn't Need

The saddest words of tongue or pen
Perhaps may be "It might have been."
The sweetest words, we know, by heck
Are simply these: "Enclosed: find check." 
                         -- ascribed to several sources, early 1900s.

The above poem was the solution to an acrostic I solved 50 years ago or so.  It obviously resonated, since I can still quote it.

On Monday I received one of those checks, but I could have lived happily without its implications, for sure.  It came from the Aetna Insurance Company, as a rebate of about 1% of my premiums paid to Aetna over the past year.  The rebate was a part of the Obamacare disaster law that states that insurance companies must spend 80% of their premium dollars received on medical payouts.  Any shortage in payments below 80% is to be rebated proportionally to policyholders.

Aetna's Virginia policyholders were responsible for somewhat less than 79% utilization of premium dollars, so we got back small rebates.  Yippee. I promise not to spend all $78.66 of it on candy.

Since American policyholders were so badly scrod (pardon my French) under Obamacare, I'm surprised that even this limp provision was incorporated into the law.  After all, the American people were simply not represented in the back-room deals swung with the insurance industry, the unions, etc., when the "law" was shoved through a groveling Congress.  That anything was even thought of to the benefit of the actual patient is rather startling, unless it was put there so it didn't look completely one-sided.

I think I have ripped Obamacare a few times too few, perhaps.  Our particular household situation is a salient example of how badly the "law" was assembled.  As documented here, here, here and here -- and I really want you to read these links -- our household, which had exactly zero "sick visits" to any health care provider in 2014, saw our monthly premium rise from $550 in 2014 to $1,090 in 2015.

The reason that our premiums rose as ridiculously as they did is not because we cost the medical community anything; as noted in the links, we did not.  What did happen is that the "law" forced citizens to pay, in cases such as ours, for far more coverage than we actually wanted.  Instead of the low-cost, high-deductible policy we were very happy with and which fit our situation, we were forced to buy a low-deductible policy at twice the price of our 2014 coverage.

See it this way -- we were happy with a Chevy, but the White House forced us to buy a Cadillac.  The only people who benefit in that deal are the Cadillac dealers -- i.e., the insurance companies (and, of course, the campaigns of the Democrats who got heavy donations from those insurance companies).  Aetna and its pals make out like bandits, same as would a Cadillac dealer if the White House shoved through a law mandating that everyone buy a Cadillac.

So you can tell that I happily would walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, take my $78.66 check there and tell Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. where he could "file" it, if only I didn't have to take $6,400 more out of my family's 2015 budget to give to Aetna.  I'm actually a very nice person, so in fact the president won't have to provide a recommended orifice for the check.

I would not be surprised if Aetna and its ilk will be out there with commercials telling the world how much it saved its customers, and what big rebates they gave back to policyholders.  They might be very proud of themselves, as they laugh all the way to the bank.

Me?  I just want to congratulate their lobbyists on a job well done for their clients in the insurance biz.  I know that if ever I need lobbying done, well, it's pretty clear where to go.

I just wonder how much lobbying I can get done for $78.66.  Probably can't even get a lobby swept out for that little.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

First-Guessing the Great Debate

Let us start today's piece with an interesting premise.  I am actually writing this on Wednesday morning, six hours before the undercard Republican debate and more than that before the actual candidates in contention mount the stage for the main event.  I'm going to publish this afterwards as a form of self-embarrassment -- this is what I expected to have happened, but it seems like it would be more entertaining to publish it thereafter.

I promise that I will not have changed a word of this even though I may have been proven totally wrong by the events that follow.  I'll comment on my own piece, but I won't change it.

After all, as I constantly write, whether something is good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, whether a governmental policy, a law or a televised primary debate, depends on what its purpose is in the first place.  And no matter what CNN wants it to be, the purpose of the debate should be to present the basics of the policy leanings of each of the candidates, and to try to distinguish those basics across the field.

Tonight, however, I expect that the questions will be intended to foment arguments among the candidates, particularly between the also-running (meaning everyone other than Donald Trump and Ben Carson) and The Donald.  In that it is CNN and not an actual, unbiased network -- there is no such animal -- there will be a great deal more fomented arguing about topics other than the actual issues about which the USA cares -- and about petty details that are far less important to the voter than the basic issues.

For example -- I assume there will not be a question such as "How high should the wall with Mexico be?", but there will have been several such sillinesses.  That kind of question is silly and counterproductive, and completely unhelpful to the viewer unless the viewer is tuning in for a battle and not to, you know, learn.

It is not important to the actual purpose (for the voter, not for CNN) how high such a wall should be, or even if there should be one.  That's all messy detail and irrelevant, and just an example anyway.  What is important is what the candidates' views on the role of immigration in the USA are; or more particularly, what do they envision as the appropriate future immigration structure.  Now that would make for an interesting question for all the candidates and a tremendously enlightening exchange, educational for the viewers.

CNN, of course, wants to sell advertising and therefore will ask questions meant to stimulate not "debate" but rather yelling and screaming.  If there is one "first guess" I'm sure about, it is that one.

Here is the tough part -- predicting successes and failures.  And "success" means holding one's own or being surprisingly effective in what they say.  "Failure" means not doing oneself enough good to stay in the race, even if you have a famous name.

So here is the prediction of what will happen tonight.

First, no one from the undercard will make enough of a splash to stay in the race.  The over/under on how many of them will be gone from the race by the time this is published is two.  Don't know which, but two.

Second, six will have a good night, at least in the sense of their supporters being pleased with what they were able to accomplish.  Those will be Trump, Carson, Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina and Kasich.

Five will accomplish nothing to help their cause, or say or do something that will hurt them.  Those will be Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Paul and Christie.  I say that knowing that I would be content if almost any of those five would be president, so there's no real prejudice in my choices.

I simply believe that the debate format is not set up to advance their candidacies.  I believe that in the case of Bush and Walker, they need to accomplish something they're not really set up to do.  Paul and Christie will not be effective in appearing "presidential", whatever that means, because the questioning will be designed to expose them.  Mike Huckabee, like Hillary Clinton, has attracted all the support he will ever get, and ought to return to the news commentary he does really well.

The moments that we will be told we are supposed to remember will be an exchange between Trump and someone -- it matters not whom.  The other candidate will be trying to make themselves known; Trump will respond in kind.  In that the topic will not be a policy-level one we actually want to care about, it will not hurt Trump a bit among his supporters and may gain him some.  It will probably take the antagonist out of the race within ten days.

As I write this, I'm looking forward to "tonight's" encounter.  Let's see if I'm any good as a seer.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Indoctrinator-in-Chief Striking Again

This past weekend, Barack Obama took his weekly radio address, whether or not anyone actually listens to it, to announce the release of a report from the ever-superfluous Department of Education.  It categorizes colleges and universities according to the graduation rates and the loan repayment rates of those who get Federal financial aid (almost all college loans come from the Bank of the American Taxpayer anymore).

It should not be a surprise that the loan repayment rate is somewhere south of putrid.  Fully 20% of student borrowers made no student loan repayments in the past year.  If the American taxpayer were reasonably aware of that fact, we might stop electing representatives who keep lending our tax dollars to deadbeats and tolerating their non-repayment.

Now, there is a real problem here.  It starts with the notion that Barack Obama actually wants high school graduates to go on to college (perfectly OK), and it ends with the fact that he thinks there is a role for the Federal government in making that happen (oh, so wrong).  Obviously, I believe that it is a good thing if qualified, capable high school graduates go on to higher education.  It is a good thing if the governmental level implicitly charged in the Constitution with facilitating that is, actually, the level that does.

And it is not the Federal government -- it is the states.

That, of course, clashes loudly with the Obamist notion that every child needs to go to college, which is so they can be indoctrinated into the far-left political notions that one gets if one spends enough time in academia.  Having gotten to where the unions governing the K-12 teachers are now somewhat left of Bernie Sanders, it is time for the social engineers to move on to college, so it is a White House imperative that the "finishing school" for turning out shiny, new budding socialists be well-populated.

Now, as I scan the various Republican candidates on the dais for the debate Wednesday, I will be looking for an attitude that says this:

"College educations are wonderful things.  But they are optional.  It is not in its charter for the Federal government to do anything either to encourage American students to pursue education at any level, or to discourage them.  Education is a state-chartered mandate from the Constitution.  

"Therefore, I am moving today to work with Congress to dissolve the Department of Education and separate out the components which will be allowed to survive. My standard for which parts of the soon-to-be-former Department of Education can remain is twofold:  (1) Is the function consistent with the constitutional mandate that education, as a "power not delegated", be the province of the states; and (2) Is the function worth borrowing money from China to pay for it."

Yes, I will be looking for that attitude.  I'm betting I will see it in Ted Cruz.  I'm hoping I will see it in a few of the others, particularly Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  I will not be worried about how Donald Trump feels, not because I question his commitment to disposing of unnecessary Federal entities, but because I want to see some of his more imminent specific proposals first, to see a coherent, consolidated strategy.  To his credit, he is supposed to be laying out such things shortly.

It is telling that, at the same time, I'm quite anxious that we on the right (and in the right) nominate a candidate with the right approach to attacking needless Federal components, I worry about the feasibility of doing so.  And it is not whether it can get snuck by the bought-and-paid-for-by-the-NEA Democrats in Congress, but whether the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader have the moral fiber to fight for the American taxpayer.

How sad we have to think like that.

So please understand, I learned something in my five years in full-time studies after high school.  Not all of it was in the classroom; in fact, with a B.S. in biology and time in med school, I have more capacity to translate complex medical jargon than the average guy.  Of course, I write Federal proposals for a living, so the educational value of my education is pretty much nil.  I've said for nearly forty years that my having a degree from M.I.T. has served me far more than anything I learned there.

I just think there is no way on earth that the American taxpayer should have been involved in subsidizing, in any way, the educational decisions I chose to make on my own behalf.  Nor should the American taxpayer be funding anyone else's college.  The Feds do not need to have a loan program (nor a grant program) when banks are a good alternative for those loans, anymore than there should be "Federal flood insurance" when there are perfectly good, greedy insurance companies crawling with actuaries who can do the same thing.

Dismantling Education will be a great start.  Now which candidate will take the lead?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Privilege of ... Dating?

Back in February I dealt with the way that human beings mature in a piece that is actually one of the most commonly quoted and retweeted that I've ever done.  In essence, I explained ... well, please go ahead and read it.  You'll enjoy the notion.

I did cite the old story about Clemen├žeau, the French leader, being told that his son had joined the Communist Party.  "If he had not become a Communist by the time he was 20, I would have disowned him", the president said.  "If he is still a Communist at 30 I will disown him then." 

This came to mind over the weekend as I perused the Sunday magazine of the Washington Post (still love those italics), which ironically arrives on Saturday.  The magazine has a regular feature called "Date Lab", where applicants, matching whatever mystical criteria the editors use, are put together on a blind date and then interviewed.  Typically it does not work out, but the concept at least fills two pages each week.

This week, they matched up Rob Neill, a financial security policy guy and Bernie Sanders admirer, and Jori Breslawski, who is working on a Ph.D. in communist theory political science from an institution not noted in the article.  Both are 23, meaning that on the level of the cubbyhole scale (you did read the referenced link, right?), they have far too few cubbyholes to have many rational thoughts.

For example, and I quote from the very first sentence out of the young lady's mouth: "He was cute;  he was just, um, and I hate sounding shallow like this, but I usually go for taller, muscular guys, and he was my height and I'm really short.  I've never dated short guys before.  Like I'm not really even attracted to them."

Like, I hope her Ph.D. thesis doesn't, like, have "like" all through it, or her review panel may not, you know, "like" it.  I also hope they're all taller than she, especially if they regularly read "Date Lab".

But I digress.

Her third statement was fascinating, and again I quote: "We ended up talking ... about white privilege and how a lot of people aren't self-aware enough to really realize the privilege that they have."

Now, let me remind you, because at this point I feel I have to.  This was a date!  This was supposed to be two people figuring out if they have enough of a mutual attraction to want to meet again and consider a relationship, and they're talking about white privilege.  The hormones must really have been racing at that point.  This from a girl who will only date someone who has "height privilege."

White privilege.  Now, it is worth mentioning that there are not a lot of people named "Breslawski" in the USA, and there are fewer than 400 entries in Ancestry.com for that name over the last 150 years in New York State, where the article mentions she hails from (yes, they wrote "hail").  The fewer-than-400 entries represent only about 20 different actual individuals, and the census records tell a story, consistent across the names.

Place of Birth ... "Poland." "Austria." "Po-A" (census speak for a broad Eastern European area).

Occupation ... "Farmer."  "Factory Worker."  "Laborer."

You don't have to watch a lot of episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are" to get the picture; Jori is descended from ethnic Polish immigrants who left Eastern Europe in the 1880-1920 period (as documented by Ancestry's immigrant-ship passenger lists).  They came to the USA, settled in New York (both in Queens and further upstate, in Rochester), and found whatever work the men could do -- none of it white-collar.

Eventually they built modest families, and their offspring eventually led to a single young woman who will eventually, if successful, earn a doctoral degree, albeit in political science.  You would think that Nikolas (1894-1984) and Anna (1896-1993) Breslawski, who came over here around the turn of the 20th Century to find a better life -- or two of the several of that surname who immigrated and are her actual progenitors -- would be very proud to have a descendant earning a doctorate -- again, albeit in political science.

I just wonder if they would feel that, in  the 90+ years of each of their long lives, either of them would ever, even once, have felt like they had a life "privileged" by the color of their skin.  I can see it now, 23-year-old Jori trying to explain it to old Nickolas, who escaped Eastern Europe not because of the color of his skin, but because of feared ethnic cleansing, or religious bigotry, or the risk of starvation -- or all the above.

"You aren't self-aware enough, great-grandfather, to realize the privilege you have being a white man.  Don't you understand how privileged you are?"  Old Nickolas shakes his head, looks up at her from his splintery bench and says this:

"I was privileged to have been able to make a life for myself in this country on the sweat of my back, not because of the color of my skin but the content of my character.  My brothers and sisters and I -- your aunts and uncles -- worked on the farms here; we labored; we sweated in factories so that you wouldn't have to.  They hated us in Poland, and they didn't like us here much either.  But we had arms and legs and a willingness to work because we knew it would be better for you.  And because at least they weren't trying to kill us like in Poland.

"Don't you try to tell me about white privilege, little girl.  Take that phrase out of your speech, because you don't know what you are talking about.  And by the way, short men, like me and the writer of this piece, make better husbands."

Next fall, this girl is going to go to the polls and vote for Hillary Clinton, assuming Mrs. C. is not in jail by then.  She will feel that she's pulling a lever to fight "white privilege" and the sad guilt she feels, for something that neither she nor her ancestors ever were able to take advantage of.  She lives in Washington, so her vote will be lost among the overwhelming leftist vote the District delivers, and that's a good thing.  What is not good is that there's almost no hope of her learning why it's a good thing, until perhaps she is 30.

When, hopefully, she is married to a very short man, who will take good care of her.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Erasers, Typewriters and the "Phone Company"

I was mindlessly listening to a commercial for Comcast on the radio between talk segments last week, pointedly ignoring what they were saying, being, you know, not in the market for faster Internet speeds this week.  Comcast also does not operate in my neighborhood, which was additional incentive not to listen.

But road noises faded, and my memory ear started replaying the previous seconds' commercialese, stimulated by this statement (forgive the paraphrase): "Comcast Internet achieves more reliable speeds than Internet from the phone company."  They went on to refute claims that this "phone company" would tout its speeds as being "up to" some number of gigaflops per cubic papameter, while no, Comcast actually said such-and-such speed and actually delivered it.  Yippee.

Well, I really didn't care about the Internet speeds, not nearly as much as I had my curiosity roused about the reference to a "phone company."  I couldn't help a "Two and a Half Men" flashback -- OK, here it is for you, pardon the commercial first -- and ask the question:

Who is this "phone company" you speak of?

As those of a certain age recall, we grew up in an era with one really large, actual "phone company" called American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) and a few smaller ones like GTE, and a few tiny local ones (I used the "Chapel Hill Telephone Company" for a while and dialed "access codes" to make a call).  But there was a single dominant force in electronic communications, and that was AT&T.

When you said "the phone company", you were talking about old AT&T, Big Bell, which owned the lines, the switching centers and even the actual dial phones you had in your kitchen.  You meant something when you said "phone company", sort of like "eraser" meant that thing on the end of a pencil; and you knew what a pencil was.  And a typewriter.

All that ended in 1982, when a judge settled a lawsuit by ordering the dissolution of AT&T into a number of regional companies.  These were called "regional Bell operating companies", or "RBOCs", and a bit derisively called "Baby Bells", reflecting that AT&T was also the ultimate title of the Bell system (for Alexander Graham Bell, of course).  We remember these as the midwestern "Ameritech", the southern "Bell South", the northeastern "Nynex" and so on.  They were still "phone companies", and when you said "the phone company" in the 1980s, you meant your RBOC.

But all that evolved (or devolved) as the RBOCs started offering other services, and cell phones and the Internet and cable completely changed the array of offerings from, you know, "phone service".  Then the RBOCs started buying each other and reassembling -- four of the seven original RBOCs eventually were legally reacquired by AT&T, while Bell Atlantic became "Verizon" and a huge AT&T competitor.  And there's Comcast, too, the presenter of that commercial casting aspersions on the "phone company" -- although, by the way, Comcast is now the third-largest provider of home telephone service in the USA.

If you have read to this point, thank you.

Here is my question.  Before 1982, we said "phone company" and meant a big old, all-controlling monopolistic communications giant.  A commercial using that phrase as Comcast did would be capitalizing on the public's disrespect for big old, all-controlling monopolistic companies.  It would have made perfect sense, and there certainly were derogatory references to "the phone company" then.

But this is now 33 years after the breakup!  There are lots of companies supplying phone service all over the place, including online varieties with no brick-and-mortar stores, with names like they were peeled off an eyechart.  Calling your perceived competitor "the phone company" doesn't even make sense!  Whom are they actually talking about offering those "up to" Internet speeds?  I've no idea.

How old was the guy who came up with that commercial copy?  I mean, if you're not at least 50, you have to tell me -- what image do you have in your mind when you hear a commercial knocking the "phone company"?  I use Verizon for my home phone and cell, but my best girl uses AT&T for cell, and we use DirecTV for TV service.  When I hear "phone company", I don't have a clue whom they're talking about, and I don't ever use the phrase.

And I'm 64.

I guess Comcast has figured it would just create a strawman, or bogeyman, or whatever, to make their offering sound better than that of a company that -- well, hasn't existed for 33 years.  Their ironic portrayal of a mythical "phone company", when they are the world's largest broadcaster and cable company in the world, and the third-largest home phone provider, just shows what has to be contempt for the intelligence of the consumer.

Or forgetting our inability to look up a thing or two on Wikipedia.

"Better than the phone company."  Cheesh ... we need to be better than that.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Friday, September 11, 2015

They Have to Have Done SOMETHING Good, Right?

One of the problems of living in northern Virginia is that the pollen season includes almost all the months of the year with letters in their names, and all the days ending in "y."  So you have to seek out offsetting benefits, like knowing that if you're going to sneeze all year, at least you're not living in Maryland.

And there is always the fact that you can turn your FM dial appropriately and catch Chris Plante on WMAL radio in the later morning.  Plante is an outspoken conservative talk-show host; much the same as ex-smokers become the most enthusiastic advocates for kicking tobacco, former liberals who have seen the light become the best advocates for conservatism.  As the son of the long-time CBS reporter Bill Plante, Chris was exposed in his youth to excessive doses of the reporting of the left, but eventually his actual reasoning mind took over and he found the right of the Right.

On Thursday morning I was fortunately in my car to hear the opening of his show.  I say this as a lead-in because, while I think up 80% of the ideas in this column, if someone hits a point we haven't previously heard, I have enough journalistic integrity (it's not always an oxymoron) to give credit where it is due.

Plante started out with some critique of Hillary Clinton and her script-writers, and who may be coming up with her jokes for her, and all the other things it is so easy to criticize her for before you even get into the flat-out lies and the like.  But he then took a turn.

"I've been noodling around some thoughts", Plante said (I'll put all this in quotes but I'm paraphrasing).  "We know that the press is simply another arm of the Democrat Party and the left in general.  We know that they have a slobbering allegiance to the Clintons and regularly perform acts of Journalistic Gratification upon them.

"We also know that the Clinton Foundation has taken in hundreds of millions from around the world and provided the Clintons with a wonderful life, flying around the world in private jets spewing plenty of carbon into the air."  Now, I really paraphrased the last part, but he said something like that.

"So if (A) the press is slavishly obedient to the Clintons, and if (B) the Clinton Foundation has taken in so much from foreign governments, foreign power brokers and domestic political contributors, then shouldn't they have a long list of worthwhile projects and successes to point to?  And if they do have a long list of accomplishments, and the press is in their pocket, then why are there no articles anywhere in the enslaved media touting all the wonderful things the Clinton Foundation is doing?  Haiti?  Have they done anything in Haiti?

"Clearly, the Foundation exists only to give the Clintons a fat income by selling access and power to people who shouldn't have either -- because if it had done anything worth writing about, the press would have plastered it on billboards all over the USA."

As I was driving around listening to that, I was literally pointing at my radio going "Yes, yes, why has no one pointed that out before?", or comparable words.

Do you remember way, way back last September or October -- OK, it was October -- when I wrote a piece about how you could put elements of a story together that didn't quite add up, and realize something was wrong?  I know it was about global warming, but it was still true.  The liars do not want you to investigate too hard, lest you come up with why the lie is what it is.

The Clintons are worth millions, and the Hillary campaign certainly has enough money to pay actual political consultants to try to get her to do the right thing to get her elected.  Granted, they have little to work with there, but they certainly have to be the best that money can buy (winking at the irony).  Would not even one of those campaign strategists be offering up the notion that the "good works of the Foundation" could be fed to the lapdog press to be made to associate Hillary with some positive achievement?

The press has not bothered to investigate what the Clinton Foundation has done with all that money it raised by pimping the former president out to speak to foreign sleazeballs.  The media haven't done it on their own, because they already know there's no "there" there.  The campaign brains in the Hillary campaign haven't used the good works of the Foundation to help boost her hideous unlikeability numbers, because there aren't any they could tout, that would survive even a cursory review by the Sanders or Biden camps, let alone Fox News -- or Chris Plante.

I don't know if Hillary Clinton will be out of jail in time for the 2016 election, but if she is, and if she is the candidate, somebody -- Carly Fiorina would rip this one to shreds -- is going to make capital of this incredible gap in what should be the campaign focus of the Hillary-for-president effort.

She can't have it both ways; there is a Clinton Foundation; they did pay the Clintons millions; it has supported a lavish lifestyle for them -- an apparently it has accomplished nothing worthy of mention by an otherwise lapdog press. 

Chris Plante says a lot of things for three hours on the air each day.  Some are throwaway lines, but most are really interesting observations on the state of the world.

This time, his "noodling" absolutely nailed a point that had gotten no press at all.  If there had been something good the Clinton Foundation had done, the press would have blasted it to the world.  Clearly, it has not done squat. Hopefully this piece documents his insight for future reference.

Two and two have now been put together.  Thanks, Chris Plante, for the arithmetic lesson.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Yeats and the USA of 2015

I was watching a show on TV the other day, when a character -- this was a reality show, mind you, so it was theoretically unrehearsed -- quoted a few lines of a poem that sounded more 1900 than 2015:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The poem, as any English major would hopefully know (should I quiz my brother?), was from the pen of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats after the end of World War I.  I'm sure that most English majors would have an idea of the points that Yeats was making, and that most philosophy majors would think they knew what he was writing about, and likely be wrong.

Yeats has been dead almost 80 years now, so he's not around to tell us, and in fact it really doesn't matter.  He wasn't talking of ISIS when he wrote of the "blood-dimmed tide"; he wasn't referring to murders of police officers when he gave us "the ceremony of innocence is drowned."

He was not referring to the frustration and sense of resignation of the underemployed, or the waste of the wisdom of older workers when he gave us "the best lack all conviction."

You wonder, though, if he were foretelling the rise of Barack Obama in "the worst are full of passionate intensity."  Yeats himself, at least at that time, though an Irish nationalist and a Protestant, was certainly one who shied away from excessive confrontation and the revolutionary fringes.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity ..."

Maybe it really doesn't matter of what Yeats was specifically writing.  Perhaps it is a far, far better thing we take away from his poetry by seeing that line as a warning.  Let us not confuse passion with being actually right, any more than we confuse the lack of passion with being unmotivated inwardly.

Let us look, for example, at radical Islamists.  May we not, as the Obamists do, regard their passion as worthy of accommodation or compromise but, rather, as a mask deceiving us into believing that there is a shred of correctness in their murderous interpretation of what they call  "faith."

Let us look at people marching down the street calling for the murder of policemen and not let their energy, their chants, their enthusiasm be seen as anything other than a smokescreen covering up their attempt to get the populace to sanctify their murders.

Let us look at the leadership in the White House pulling the strings of puppet fringe movements like "Black Lives Matter"; cutting deals with the nation's enemies in Iran; pulling our punches with Islamic murderers in ISIS; throwing open the borders of our own country with a passionate display of welcome despite no assets to accommodate them.

Let us learn to question when we see "passionate intensity" and replace our admiration for it with a search for wisdom.  For "mere anarchy" is indeed being "loosed upon the world", to be replaced eventually by the most passionate.

And right now, those with the "passionate intensity" are murdering the innocent.


And others are sitting in the White House, ignoring it and letting it happen.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Is Obama Stupid or Just Completely Political?

So it is probably no secret -- he certainly didn't want it to be one -- that Barack Obama put out an Executive Order that is supposed to provide paid sick leave for some 300,000 employees of contractors to the Federal government.  And he did it on Labor Day.  Oh, goody.  The union thugs must be grinning behind their brass knuckles.

I can't tell you how many columns I've written the past year about this topic.  Whether explaining what companies would do if a silly proposal like this were passed, or just explaining the unintended consequences of pretty much anything, I've tried to point out that actions like this, pure political actions with no real concern for actually accomplishing anything, can be pernicious at worst, and neutral at best.

If we're lucky, this one will be no worse than neutral.  But the more I think about it, the more I think it might tilt toward the pernicious side -- and here's why.

The Executive Order mandates that employers grant an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of actual work.  Obama hilariously pointed out that it could be used for a few things not exactly related to actual illness, but that's not the point.  The point, friends, is to look at what will be different.

A typical government contractor would have phased out specific sick leave a long time ago, but not to discourage use of sick leave.  In the old days, you got maybe two weeks of "vacation" and a week of "sick" leave.  When you took sick leave, it had to be because you were actually, you know, "sick."  And the employer had to keep records of that sort of thing, back when personnel departments were called "Personnel" and not "Human Resources", and were more austere and far less pompous.

To make things easier and more flexible, companies, particularly in the Federal contracting world, simply lumped it all into something called "paid leave", which you could use for anything, including vacations, illness and watching the World Series highlights on DVD.  As an employee, you only had to tell your employer you were taking time, and then you got permission and took it.

From the employer perspective, the oppressive rules of Federal cost accounting are a bit more easily handled by simply calling all leave "paid leave" or "paid time off" (PTO), which means one account to manage on the books, not two.  Win for employees (flexibility), win for employers (simplicity).

Then along comes Barack Obama, struggling to jam his precious "legacy" down our throats regardless of the value of the proposal, knowing a slavish press would sing hosannas to him, and would not think about things like unintended consequences.  "Thou shalt give sick leave", quoth His Majesty.

OK, so I'm a typical Federal contractor subject to this dictate from on high.  Here's what I will do.  I will shrug my shoulders, bow three times to the White House, and restructure my leave policy -- to strip the number of shiny new "sick days" that I'm giving out, away from existing paid time off, so my costs do not go up.

The employee gets the same number of leave days he or she had before the Executive Order, except some of them can no longer be used for vacation.  If the employee wants to take a longer vacation, he or she has to lie to the boss and risk being hauled up before "Human Resources" for improper use of sick leave -- that a week ago was simply usable vacation hours.  Oh yeah, that's a lot better.

So we have to ask ourselves -- look, I certainly know how contractors are going to respond, and I'm just a dumb old consultant.  Shouldn't the President of the United States have had even one person around him, astute enough to be able to tell him what the response will be, and whisper, "uh, Barry, this isn't going to accomplish anything."

I think as the Valerie Jarrett column I referenced above points out, it probably isn't because Obama is too stupid to see the point -- he's a socialist ideologue, not an idiot.  It's because his presidency, like his life, is about show, not substance; about politics, not about actually helping anyone.  Unintended consequences are of no moment to Barack Obama. 

Outcomes pale before optics.

How sad for the nation.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.