Monday, November 30, 2015

Inflexibility on Global Warming at MIT? Of Course!

My alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sent me an email this week along with all the rest of its far-more-distinguished alumni.  M.I.T., it would seem, apparently has a "Climate Change Plan", and they want our input.  Or, as the email stated ...

"Alumni are invited to share ideas and proposals in the MIT Climate CoLab contest, which is gathering concrete ways to advance the new MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change.  The winners will present their proposals at a campus conference.  Dozens of ideas have been submitted so far, such as launching a green careers hub and transforming existing [MIT campus] buildings to 'net zero' energy use."

Naturally, I am going to bite my tongue and refrain from forwarding along to the "Climate CoLab contest" any of my previous writings on the topic of global warming.  I just get the sense that they might not be taken in the spirit in which they were written, particularly this one in which I happily suggest we simply give up the fight and live with, say, palm trees in Connecticut.  And there's this one, where I call BS on the political motivation behind the movement.

But yes, I have to say that I was really taken aback by the "steamroller" nature of the email -- it is happening; it is man-made; we can do something about it; and we should do something about it, whatever the consequences.  Fait accompli.  Don't brook a moment of discussion about any of those, thank you for not being allowed to offer opposing thoughts.

Now ... let us again be candid.  I think it is a wonderful idea if M.I.T. decides to transform existing buildings on campus to being net zero consumers of energy, producing without fuel the energy that the building and its users require.  Of course it's a good idea, if for no other reason than any reasonable, cost-free step which reduces demand for oil anywhere drives down the price of oil to those miserable despots, tyrants and other fine folk who rule the oil-producing countries of the Middle East.  ISIS is getting a million dollars a day selling oil.  If it were, say, cat pee they were selling, they would have more trouble buying arms to murder innocents.

So yes, in that sense I'm a little "green."  But my greenitude has nothing to do with influence on the climate; rather, eventually we're going to run out of fossil fuels and the sooner we develop cost-effective options to produce energy, the better -- to a point.

For example, energy is not a "completely fungible resource", in the sense that all sources of power are not alike.  You're not going to power a car directly with coal or a nuclear reactor -- yet.  But if you are able to turn as many possible consuming areas of energy use that can be converted away from fossil fuels, we get to where we're only using fossil fuels where we need to -- like cars -- and we're generating electricity from sources like nuclear power, which are not only cleaner, but don't prop up Middle Eastern petromaniacal dictators and thugs.  And -- we can get down to where the USA demand for fossil fuels is reduced -- and production increased -- to where we're a net exporter of them.

If that makes me a little green, OK, fine.  I suspect in that sense we all are.  Of course, my motives, as opposed to the anti-nuke types, are at least honest.

I just wish that my esteemed alma mater, forever on the leading edge of technological thought, would have considered that its contest might also include ways to deal with temperatures eking up a degree here and there for the next century -- dealing with it, not just fixing it.  Accepting the fact that India and China, each with at least three times our population and not a shred of interest in cutting their fossil use, will eventually swamp our own impact on the atmosphere.

That would have taken a modicum of courage on the part of the nation's leading technological institution of higher learning.  I think we'll wait a while to see that.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Odd Afterthought of Not Buying Endorsed Products

This past weekend my best girl and I were doing some shopping, and that included a trip to a cosmetics store that is part of a large retail cosmetics chain.  I did what dutiful husbands do, which is to carry the store-branded carrying bag while the "expert" picked out the items she needed ("This", she is fond of saying, "doesn't just happen!").

So in the course of the expedition wandering through aisles of products of which I had not the slightest understanding, we came upon the section devoted to scents -- perfume, eau de toilette, that sort of thing.  They even had a little remote corner for men, but I digress.

In that perfume section, there was among the many options, a number of scent lines bearing the name of this celebrity or that who had endorsed -- possibly, if you read their websites, even once actually smelled -- the fragrance in the expensive bottles aligned under their name.  And then I noticed one name that got me thinking.

Ariana Grande.

Ariana Grande, as you know, is the Italian-American 22-year-old singer who got herself into a pile o' trouble this past year for a petulant little rant in a little bakery where she licked doughnuts or cupcakes for sale and declared famously that she "hates America and hates Americans." While Americans are typically not big fans of petulant 22-year-old girls who lick baked goods offered for sale, either, that's beside the point.

I have an opinion of Ariana Grande, shaped by that episode, and it is naturally not a good one.  So my reaction on seeing that she had a fragrance product line, after joking that it ought to smell like fresh baked goods, was that we would not be buying anything she endorsed.  Not only no, but heck no, we wouldn't.

Then I really started thinking.  To be fair, if we were not going to buy a product branded with the name of the doughnut-licking, immature singer, then I'd have to be really careful about the products endorsed with the name of other people, right?  For example, the fragrances available included names like Kors, Armani, Taylor, Gaultier, Versace, Smith and the like.  How do I know that those individuals haven't had some equally disgusting episodes?

Or that they're communists.  Or sweat-shop owners.  Or ISIS sympathizers.  Or liberals.

Of course, the answer is that I don't have a clue.  And for a bottle of cologne, I'm not going to take the time to look up anything; if I don't already have a memory of an episode the particular named person was involved with, then I guess I'm going to be in the dark.

But if I'm never going to buy anything named with "Ariana Grande" because of what she did, then I guess I'm going to have to presume that the other people whose names are on such products may just have likely done something offensive that, had I known about it, would have bent me toward ignoring their endorsed lines.  I don't know what that might have been, but given what celebrities do these days, it seems like a pretty reasonable thing.  After all, I will never watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, not that I ever had before or planned to.

So I think my default position is going to be that by buying a product with someone's name on it, I'm tacitly endorsing their lifestyle, their views and their politics, and it just seems a whole lot safer to have a policy of not buying products with celebrity names on them, ever.  Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Now, about those Donald Trump ties ...

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, November 23, 2015

But Why DON'T We Know What Obama is Thinking?

 I think we pretty much all are aghast at the President of the United States right now.  Even on the heels of ISIS murdering dozens of innocents in Paris and causing Brussels to shut down, Barack Obama wants to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States, as in here, next to you and me (not him).

That's also in light of the fact that at least some of those ISIS murderers came into Europe pretending to be Syrian refugees.  And that the population of alleged "Syrian refugees" coming into Europe somehow defies demographic realities, being well over 70% young males of, let's say, military age.  And that they don't speak English but Obama thinks it a good idea to put them in an English-speaking country.  And that the USA is not at all a culturally similar place to Syria (even if that's where some of them turned out to have come from).  Or that the Saudi rulers, whose population does speak the same language and religion, are letting in exactly none of them -- as if, you know, they know something we don't.

Let me cut myself short -- it's a stupid idea.  We all know that.

Here's what I actually don't know, and that's beyond the easy question of why he is doing it in the first place.  I don't know why we do not know his motivation.  Whatever the motivation is, and I confess to having no clue and assuming it is just something terribly political, why is he not sharing it with the American people?

Look at it this way: from the perspective of the average American, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist, ISIS is beyond being just a terrorist threat.  They are going to do something terrible here in our country.  We all know that.  So why is our esteemed president not going to the people to make his case as to why he is doing something that so clearly flies in the face of logic -- you don't invite murderers into your country.

His passion, such as it is, appears to be far, far from protecting the citizens of the USA and our Constitution -- the one he swore twice to uphold.  It appears, when it does, merely to be used to attack Republicans when they reasonably question his intentions in inviting murderers to come on over to our country and, by the way, go immediately on the taxpayers' nickel.  Nickels which, it needs to be said, we will borrow from China to turn around and give, obligation-free, to a bunch of people who really don't want to be here, and others, interspersed amongst the innocent, who are laughing at our willingness to borrow money from our "other" enemy to bring them over to commit acts of terror and insanity right here.

Tell us, Mr. President.  Tell us why you want to do this.  Don't give us that crap about how we're such a warm and welcoming country -- we know that.  Within the context of immigration law, we will bring in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, all that.  But only the ones yearning to breathe free.  Not the ones yearning to breathe fire and rain it down on us -- and if you, Mr. President, and the FBI and the border-protection people can't tell the difference, then for the love of God, err on the side of the protection of the American people.

Let the Saudis have them.  But please, trust our intelligence, Barack Obama, and explain to us what you are thinking.  Tell us why, when your sworn duty is to protect us, you readily bring over, on the taxpayers' debt log, people who include among them those with an equally sworn duty to kill as many of us as they can before they do their 72 virgins thingly (musing ... what did ISIS tell the "cowgirl" in Paris who used to do bathtub selfies and blew herself up last week, about what was waiting for her while the guys were getting the 72 virgins?  Don't you want to know too?  I do). 

I don't just want to know why he's doing it.  I want to know why he isn't explaining it to you and me.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Come On, Mel B, Give It Some Thought

I seriously didn't think I would emerge from hiatus writing about "America's Got Talent" again, given ISIS on our doorstep and the heat of the political campaigns.  But for some reason they keep doing things that trip my trigger, and when my trigger gets tripped, especially by one of its judges, I write.

I've had a lot to say about the "AGT" show over the past year (disclaimer -- I was actually on it a few years back as documented here), if for no other reason than it gives us a lot to discuss.  And the fact that it is currently on its hiatus, until next season, means that I should really move on for the moment.

But ....

When AGT is actually running, we see weeks and weeks of the "local" auditions held around the country.  Judges buzz contestants into oblivion or pass them through to the next round, weeks and weeks worth.  Finally, the alleged cream of the crop move through to the final weeks in New York.

During the last weeks, a few dozen acts are gradually winnowed down -- each episode a "new" dozen who made it from the local auditions are seen by the TV audience, who then vote overnight.  The following night, the top five or so are picked -- first the overnight audience's top three, then one more is picked by instant Twitter/Facebook/Whatever voting from those placing 4-6 as going through.  Finally, the judges themselves -- Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Melanie "Mel B" Brown and Howie Mandel -- vote on one of the remaining two of the 4-6 group.

And there, friends, is my issue.  By the time the show -- and it's live TV, by the way -- gets to the point where the judges decide the last survivor, we are at about 59 minutes and 30 seconds of a 60-minute show.  There is NO time left to stammer; the judges need to decide and go.  But they do not do that well -- at all.

Look through the eyes of the competitors.  By the time the two acts reach the nervous point on stage, they have prepared hard, passed a local audition, passed a regional audition, gone through a round or two in New York, and had to create and perfect new acts for each round in which they compete.  That's a lot of effort.  AGT and its judges owe these acts the respect due to human beings who have worked as hard as they have to get to that point.

But that's not what you get. No, you get the fidgeting four judges in their part of the thirty seconds going "Oh, this is so hard to decide, blah blah blah."  You particularly get this from "Mel B", who appears never to have given this a moment of thought until suddenly 50 million people are watching her, with eight seconds left to make up her mind.  And I really don't think she realizes how bad she (and each other judge) comes off when suddenly they blurt out "I'll vote for the Professional Bowling Ball Eater" without appearing to have thought about it.

So I'll tell you -- You look insincere, thoughtless, and utterly disrespectful of the performers.

And here's why.  The acts last performed the night before; they do not perform on elimination night.  Therefore, nothing the acts did that night changed your opinion of them.  Given that, anyone else who was paid a bazillion dollars to judge talent acts would have taken one or two of the previous 24 hours to rank all twelve acts from 1 to 12.  Write the order on a 3x5" card and put it in front of you.  Voila, no matter what two acts come before you to pick, you already should know which one you like better!

By not doing that, you make it look like, even though the fate of the careers of two acts rests uncomfortably in your hands, you don't really care that much.  You make a blurted decision to vote for one or the other, and you look really bad.  This is the performers' livelihood, people!  What would look good?  An answer like this:
"I spent a lot of time today, before the show, considering all the acts that we saw last night.  While I truly respect Act A for its hard work and skills, I believe that Act B performed better, was more entertaining, and would play best as a Vegas act.  I vote for Act B."

Thoughtful, considerate -- and looking like you actually earned your pay as a professional judge of talent.  Now that answer would make me respect you a whole lot more than "B-bu-bu-but there's no time, I'll vote for, uh, uh, you!"  Even the loser would at least think you considered it.

Whatcha think, there, "Mel"?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.