Thursday, August 31, 2017

Melania's Shoes and the Sad Press

I already told my classmate Ed, who writes here occasionally, that he was not going to like this particular column.  That's fair; I shouldn't have to write it, actually.  Let's just say it does not say a lot about where we are as a nation, and he strongly agrees.

Southeast Texas is trying to emerge from a multi-day hurricane/tropical storm event that inundated the greater Houston area and many miles around it, with as much as four feet of rain.  I mean, we were in the path of Hurricane Matthew last fall -- the eye actually went over us here -- and we only got about four inches of rain.  Four feet is unfathomable.

OK, it actually is "fathomable"; it's two-thirds of a fathom.  Nerdulence alert over.

As is appropriate, given that all recent presidents have done so after a major storm, President Trump and his wife Melania got into Air Force One a couple days after the storm hit to go down and survey the damage, and as much to reassure the dampened citizenry that their plight had the full attention and urgency of the Federal government, and to make sure that both the local and state governmental bodies would be supported by Washington, and that the Federal agencies, specifically FEMA and DHS, would be responded to quickly.  Lots to do.

We should note that it appears from the commentary of those local leaders, such as the governors of Texas and Louisiana, that they felt very confident from their communications with the president that he was absolutely doing what they needed.  At the least, those responses suggested that the media would have a lot of trouble claiming that President Trump had not done what presidents should.

Oh, it didn't stop Jen Psaki, the communications director for Hillary Clinton's abysmal "How-do-we-make-the-Clintons-richer" State Department, from actually writing that he should not have gone so soon.  The piece was laughable (I'd be embarrassed to link it), because you know and I know, and Jen Psaki knows, that if he had waited until a couple days later -- i.e., today -- to go, she would have written the same piece saying he should have gone two days earlier.  We know that.

I think it was Mike Huckabee, I believe, who said something yesterday like "If Donald Trump had flown to Texas, stood there and physically inhaled every drop of the 50 inches of rain they got in south Texas and spit it all back into the sea, there would be four networks out there complaining that he spit all that water out in the wrong place."  He can't win.

So President Trump gets on board Air Force One with his wife and a few days worth of clothing.  And that's where things got a bit dicey -- yes, clothing.  You see, Melania Trump, who is notably and famously a wearer of distinctive, stylish clothing as a former model, actually boarded Air Force One in Washington wearing high heels.

Oh, the shame.

So any number of journalistic porn stars came out with their horror that Melania Trump, the First Lady, would board a plane headed for flooded Texas wearing high heels.  I remember hearing that Hollywood Reporter and Politico were definitely two of them, an the other couple three were even more prominent outlets of fake news.  I don't want to guess, and it doesn't matter.

I can't decide which part of this story was worse.  I mean, if Jackie Kennedy or Michelle Obama had worn heels to board Air Force One to go to a natural disaster survey, well, it's hard to imagine that Politico would take her to task.  So there's the depressing bias side of the story.  But we should also apply an inconvenient truth to apply here.

She wasn't wearing them when they landed in Texas.

That's a bit problematic for the fake news types, but yes, Melania Trump had on sneakers when she got off the plane in Houston.  That means, of course, that the outrage needed to be confined to her attire in Washington, DC.  The First Lady did her touring of the flooded areas wearing sneakers, the footwear the guardians of style in Politico had wanted her to wear.  But they went to press anyway.

What do we say, folks?  Thirty people or so have died in the floods that the president is in Texas trying to help the area recover from, and Politico is concerned about what the First Lady is wearing when she gets on a plane in Washington.

I don't care if they had ten other articles on the hurricane and floods and this was an afterthought.  It was a contemptible minimization of the importance of what actually happened that is an affront to everyone who got a drop of rain on them this week.  It should be about the victims and the first responders, the stories of the people, the heroes and the tragedies.  It is for us.

I don't mean to tell even the most contemptible journalistic rag what they should or shouldn't write about.  But when you put out a non-story (it is a non-story, given, you know, the sneakers) that is shamelessly obviously there to embarrass the president and not convey a shred of actual information, well, I think I will tell you.

This, friends, is where journalism has gone in the 21st Century.

We should be so proud.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

OK, Dobie Is Still With Us

Yesterday I mentioned Dobie Gillis.  And I got lots of "Who?" messages.

If you are not of an age to recall who or what that is, well, I am so abysmally tired of politics this morning that it just needs to be that today's column is a random wandering, however brief.

Dobie Gillis  -- OK, actually "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" -- was a TV show from the 1950s and early 1960s (1959-63, in fact), which starred the still-around-at-83 Dwayne Hickman as the late-teen Dobie.  Dobie's parents, Herbert T. Gillis (Frank Faylen) and Winnie (Florida Friebus) owned a grocery store in whatever town they lived in.

Dobie was a simple young fellow who was in love with only one actual person, Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld), who felt she had to marry higher than her current station, meaning not Dobie.  Thalia, of course, feeling that way, would hang out with the rich and preppy young Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (Steven Franken), which of course drove Dobie nuts.  He knew that Thalia really preferred Dobie to Chatsworth, and ... oh, you get it.

The reason, of course, that those of us who remember the show actually do remember the show, was not about the Gillises or Thalia or Chatsworth either.  It wasn't about Zelda Gilroy (Sheila James), who was the plainer girl who loved Dobie and waited patiently for him while he pined for Thalia.  And it wasn't really about Dobie himself, or the replica of "The Thinker", the Rodin sculpture, that sat outside their school and where Dobie would go to think and assume the statue's pose each week.

Nope, we remember most the character of Dobie's best friend.  That was Maynard G. Krebs, as played by the truly inimitable Bob Denver as Maynard, who was what we back then called a "beatnik."  I have to hope you know what a beatnik was, because it seems a challenge to describe, even though it's hard for those of us of a certain age to imagine that some will not know the term.  Combine the millennial's disinclination to work with the dress habits of a stevedore, the conversational skills of a long-term drug user, and the chin stubble of the 19-year-old you surely know who tries to grow a beard but can't.

Did I mention a disinclination to work?  Whenever the word "work" itself was uttered in a sentence in his presence, Maynard would panic and say "Work!" in a high-pitched squeal that was meant to be a spinal-level reflex.  You probably don't get the idea, but what the heck.

Maynard was always there for Dobie, apparently because he knew no one else would be there to pull his chestnuts out of the fire when he messed up something.  Maynard was not a bad guy, nope, in no way, but he just looked at things a little differently.  Bob Denver would, a year after Dobie Gillis ended its run, go on to become Gilligan on the iconic "Gilligan's Island."  So just youthen up Gilligan a bit -- surely you remember Gilligan -- and you probably have Maynard.

I was eight when the Dobie Gillis show debuted, and 12 when it ended, so the fact that I remember any of it says something that can't reflect well on me.  But I do remember that the "G." in "Maynard G. Krebs" stood for "Walter."  I can still picture him going "Work!?!!" in panic that someone might actually ask him to do some of it.

Dwayne Hickman is still alive and kicking, as is Tuesday Weld and also Sheila James.  All the rest of the actors have left us, with the exception of another rich kid on the show named Milton Armitage, who was in 5-6 episodes or so.  He was played by Warren Beatty, of all people, which says something or other.

Back in 1988, over 25 years after the last episode, the characters were brought back in a movie entitled "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis", using a scenario ripped off from the plot of a 1950s play ("The Visit") by a Swiss playwright that I had actually read in a German class at M.I.T.  All the characters were back and the actors still alive at the time were featured in it.  I remember having looked so forward to it ... and turned it off after half of it because it was so bad.

I'll remember the show, and though I don't know that any oldies network has been running it, I am hoping that some legal content provider will come up with it.

Maybe no politics this week.  Probably a good thing.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Where is TV Going?

I've mentioned a few times that our cable service is provided by a small local cable company that does only advanced fiber-optic transmission and pretty modern technology in its receivers and other electronics.  We have had them for about five months and are certainly happy with what they provide.

Accordingly, we had some discussions with friends who were visiting us from Virginia this past weekend and who have not changed cable providers in a long time.  I was struck by the nature of the conversation.

What is TV these days?

I'm 66 years old, and I go back to being three or four years old, living on a farm, and having one television, a black-and-white affair with a big ol' honking antenna on the roof of our house, which I assume my dad put up there at some point.  It would be ever thus for many years before the next innovation, which was color TV in the 1960s.

Now, what we watched was a whole 'nother thing, and that is where we hop off for discussion this fine morning.  You see, back then there were three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, and our big ol' honking antenna on the roof pulled the most-local station for each -- and gave us whatever choice of shows we could see.

We grew up with three options to watch, plus another couple independent, not network-affiliated stations that we could occasionally get.  Five program choices at any one time was it.  Or you could go outside and play, or read a book.

I went off to college in 1969, and lived in a fraternity house in Boston the whole four years.  There was a TV there, but no cable had come into being in the neighborhood, and it would not -- TV programs arrived via rabbit ears on the set itself.  As a senior, I had a little portable TV in my room, with rabbit ears and iffy reception.

After getting married and settling down, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we were still back to the antenna on (or inside) the roof routine, since we were in a pretty rural area up in the foothills without cable.  We could get our signal from DC, and by now there were a few more UHF channels to pick up, but not much improvement.  It would be 1995, when were still out in the mountains, when we became very early adopters of DirecTV service, the first within a number of miles.  I was 44.

[Note -- "how" early adopters we were is indicated by the fact that current DirecTV user IDs are eight-digit numbers, reflecting the fact that they have well over 20 million users. Our user ID was six digits.  Sometimes we would be talking to a customer service agent on the phone who had never seen a six-digit ID, and one in particular who was not born when we got our service]

Immediately, of course, we had 300 more choices at one time to watch than we had had in 1994.  That was a paradigm shift, of course, and we discovered networks we had never seen at home, like ESPN and CNN.  And the Food Network, of course.  The function of TV in our house really changed.

Over the 21 years we had satellite service, not a lot changed.  New networks were added; HD TV became a reality, and eventually packages came out that allowed us to watch every MLB baseball and NFL football game.  The technology improved dramatically to where it was pretty much all wireless.  And most importantly, the DVR allowed us no longer to be tethered to our TV lest we miss the week's episode of this or that show.

But then, streaming happened.

Now I don't necessarily have my arms wrapped around streaming.  I know that you can log into Netflix if you have an account and watch all the TV shows that are offered there, including past episodes and, of course, those series that are produced by or for Netflix.  There are also apps on the Amazon FireStick I've heard about that allow you to access pretty much everything that's ever been on TV anywhere, back to Dobie Gillis and even earlier.  Of course, I don't think they're particularly legal.

What I do know is that somewhere along the line, it became unnecessary to have a cable or satellite service.  I don't know how that works, but my younger son is 36 and he does not have cable service.  He uses only a tiny device (I assume it's a FireStick; we can assume it is) and is able to watch whatever he wants, and that's just with the normal, "legal" apps on it.  No cable, no satellite.

Clearly his setup is being replicated by Gen Ys and millennials all over the place.  And we have to ask ourselves whether there is a point where cable service will just dry up in favor of just an "on demand" capability, for everything except news and live sports shows, and maybe for customers over 60.

It's a big shift coming.  AT&T bought out DirecTV, and I'm reading that within five years they expect to be more of a content-delivery model without the need for individual satellite service.  I don't know if that's overly ambitious, but they're talking about it.

I may just be searching a local cable guide for reruns of 1960 episodes of Dobie Gillis.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The White House and the Swamp

So now, Steve Bannon is no longer in the White House as a chief strategist to President Trump.  That was coming, no doubt, and the removal a couple weeks back is not the first under Gen. Kelly, the chief of staff, and won't be the last -- probably.

Donald Trump, the candidate, ran on the notion that he wanted to "drain the swamp" -- a term that I don't know that a lot of people understood, and I'm sure that even Trump himself didn't necessarily appreciate the magnitude and impossibility of the task until he had been there a while.

I lived and worked in the DC area for many decades.  I have a plenty-good-enough notion of what that swamp is, and it has a few parts to it, in no specific order.

First, there is the entrenchment of Congress.  Many court rulings that mandated majority-minority districts (on the sad, bigoted notion that only, say, a Latino can represent a mostly-Latino population; only a black could represent a mostly-black population -- you get the idiocy) have created such districts as being less diverse and more likely to elect more leftist Democrats and more conservative Republicans.

That leaves us with more extreme, longer-serving congressmen, getting better committee assignments and chairmanships, and puts less-accommodating, less willing-to-compromise congressmen in charge.

Second, there is the Deep State.  That is a fun term for a sadly-real situation.  The Federal Government, as currently constituted (read: "bloated"), has hundreds of thousands of employees in DC.  Few of those go away after a change in administrations, and even those who do, such as Cabinet secretaries, leave a couple layers of political appointees below them, among the thousands who need to get Senate confirmation of a successor before they are replaced.

John Koskinen, the contemptible political hack who ran the IRS during the Obama years, is still running the IRS.  You think somehow that he actually agrees with his chief executive on anything related to the IRS and its doings?  But it is seven months into the Trump Administration and the guy is still there, even after a censuring by Congress.  And his is an appointed position.

The Deep State is meant to reflect the tens of thousands whose careers are in the Federal government, senior enough to have influence on policy and who (after an eight-year administration) are likely to have only had their senior roles under a president completely different in policy from the one they now serve.  That means that the current president's will is likely to be soft-pedaled or even subverted by everyone in senior positions in his government, except for the Cabinet and the few Cabinet-agency deputies who have gotten through the Senate while Chick Schumer is slow-rolling the process.

That, friends, is a big part of the swamp.  That kind of influence, between the entrenchment in the legislative branch and the entrenchment in the not-quite-most-senior levels of the executive branch, is huge.  In both cases, their influence raises the value of access to them by the contracting industry, which in turn increases their influence to another level.  It's the kind of access that, in the case of the Defense Department, Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the "military-industrial complex", a not-so-healthy relationship between the public and private sectors.

That's power, and no one relinquishes power readily.  You think any of those Deputy Undersecretaries from the Obama years are rushing to go find new jobs when it's going to take months and months to replace them?

So, the White House.

It seems a curious thing, but when I see the people coming and going inside the White House staff, I have to think of the swamp.  I would like to see Gen. Kelly get rid of the influencers in the White House who are keeping the place from running smoothly.  Admittedly, Bannon was the one with the list of the president's legislative priorities, but he was a lightning rod, and either way he was simply not being effective at advancing them.

I think that the good general should be -- and most certainly is -- doing his own form of managing the agenda by thinning the ranks and reorganizing (and restaffing) with people whose principal reason for being there is to advance this president's agenda, executive and legislative both.  Anyone not on board is a swamp denizen, and needs to be, well, drained.

Here's hoping.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, August 25, 2017

War By Golf

So the fat panda, in charge of North Korea under penalty of having done to you what dictators do, well, he has been threatening to send missiles against the USA and our territories like Guam, or had been, before backing down in the face of a president with an actual spine.  At the same time, it looks funny as heck to have this kid in pictures, surrounded by generals in uniform who must lay in bed at night what they did to deserve him as their boss?

But think of the consequences in the worst case.  The FPIC (that's Kim Jong-un, the fat panda in charge), nutso to start with, lofts a couple missiles toward Guam.  The USA responds by vaporizing some North Korean military base, and then FPIC lofts a nuke at Seoul.  Millions of innocents are killed and nothing is really resolved, unless the FPIC happens to be at the vaporized base -- or, given that our intel probably knows where he is every minute, that's where the vaporizing happens.

Either way, we'll all be sitting here thinking there must be a better way.

And there is.

Who you are as a country should have a lot more to do with your economy and productivity, your art, your culture, than how big your army and navy are.  That has, of course, never been the case in the recorded history of the world, but there's no better time to start.

Now, W.C. Fields is famous for having said that instead of continuing World War II, it would be better if Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill and Mussolini met in the Rose Bowl and fought it out with socks filled with horse manure.  Maybe Roosevelt, a wheelchair-bound cripple, could have brought in his first vice-president, John Nance Garner, wielding a bucket of warm pee, which is what he said the vice-presidency was, in fact, not worth.

But that is a bit messy, and people might not pay to watch.  We need something better.

How about this.  Instead of engaging all manner of military might and risking millions of lives, let's have the leaders of the two nations compete themselves.  Not in a fight, no, no, no.  We're trying to defuse tensions, not maintain the connection between disagreement and fisticuffs.

So let's propose this.  President Trump challenges Kim Jong-un to a round of ... golf.  The winner has to concede some economic thing, like imports or duties or something.

I don't expect that the FPIC plays golf; heck, he doesn't look like he could manage a club.  But he could learn; after all, the president is 71 years old, almost 40 years older than Kim, so even if you gave him a couple months to learn the game and perfect his swing, they might be close.  Hey, maybe President Trump could teach him the game himself!  They'd get to know each other and Kim could learn something besides golf, like how to feed his people.

The president could explain that Americans haven't been called "Yankees" in decades, and in fact, there are parts of the USA where it is quickly heard as the name of a baseball team that is hated more than the FPIC hates what he thinks are actual Yankees.

And oh, yeah, after a reasonable time for Kim to learn the game, they can play 18.  You think that might be a stressful round for both of them?  Maybe they can hold it in a neutral place like Singapore.  Sure, the security would be a nightmare, but wouldn't you kick in for a pay-per-view of it?

North Korea must have a national sport other than political assassination.  I know they have platform divers, because I wrote about their Olympians in that sport.  Maybe the two leaders could compete in whatever that is.  I'd pay to see that too.

But can't we start down that path and consider other ways to settle our differences in ways that don't involve weaponry, and bombs and killing?  Competitions involving the potential embarrassment of our world leaders, well, I'd love to see us figure out how that could work.

Even if it involves horse manure.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

If Only It Weren't True

On Saturday, the football team of the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville landmark founded by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, will play a game.  The game is to be against another venerable institution of the Commonwealth, that being the College of William and Mary.

It will be broadcast by ESPN, the granddaddy of all sports networks, which now occupies about a half a dozen separate channels or so on every cable or satellite provider's guide.

Once upon a time, ESPN was respected for its commitment to all things sporting; you knew that there was always something on, that the red-blooded American male would watch.  ESPN launched the careers of many personalities who are now household names, and many legendary calls, even some that grew sickening over the years.  Chris Berman, an original personality over there, was responsible for many terms I hope I never again hear.

Then one day, ESPN became part of the Walt Disney Company.  Disney is the same entity which owns the ABC network, which thinks that George Stephanopoulos is a "journalist" who belongs in that role.  Naturally, in recent years ESPN followed the path of its fellow network and began tilting hard to the leftward direction.

You'll recall that I am not a big fan of ESPN, and occasionally (such as here) take them to task for things like trying to make us be interested in foreign soccer scores we don't care about, and injuries to foreign soccer players we don't care about, and anything else to make us seem part of a global community.  Yes, they are lefties and not particularly American in their orientation.

Which all would have made the joke about the broadcasting of the Virginia-William and Mary game really funny.  What joke was that, you ask?  Why, the one about ESPN pulling an Asian broadcaster named "Robert Lee" from doing the sideline reporting, because his name would be too similar to "Robert E. Lee", and it would have caused trouble in Charlottesville.


Except for one little thing.  It was, in fact, quite true.  Yes, indeed, as you must know if you watch the right networks (I can't swear that CNN, or ABC, NBC or CBS mentioned it), ESPN actually did pull its commentator Robert Lee from the game, and assigned him elsewhere.  Allegedly, they were concerned about seeming "insensitive" by sending someone with that name to the game.

Even though, as you can tell, Robert Lee is quite Asian, obviously not descended from the Lees of Old Virginia, and this is a football game.  Pardon my insensitivity.

So let's think of the mindset that went into this.  Someone inside the ESPN bowels noticed that the name of their assigned commentator resembled that of the distinguished USA and Confederate general (he served both brilliantly) whose statue, in the town of the university of his beloved state, was causing the hard-left class a lot of angst they apparently had not noticed until this month.

What, he or she asked, should we do?  Either we'll get some odd tweets here at ESPN, laughing at us for the juxtaposition of the names, or we send him to another game and no one will be the wiser.  And they chose the latter course, which would have been fine -- except someone inside was appropriately disgusted and tipped off a media type who is a big critic of ESPN's leftishness.

Now, if I were the head of ESPN, I would have said in the first place that even leftists have to be given boundaries, and if we here at the network thought Robert Lee should do the Virginia game, then send Robert Lee to the Virginia game -- let the problem be the critics' issue, not ours.  I would have thought the risk of being ridiculed for acute over-sensitivity to snowflakes was far too great.

But they moved him, the word got out, and now ESPN is getting accusations of stupidity heaped on their stupid heads for doing something that, well, stupid.  How many times in the last day and a half have commentators included in their criticism of ESPN the idea that "this story could have been in The Onion."

And still there are no boundaries.  ESPN will not budge from their leftism even though they are now the subject of immense ridicule.  They will not apologize; they will continue to give fumbling rationalizations for something they did because they thought they would not be caught.

And we will set back, shake our heads, and cancel our subscriptions to their Magazine, as we look at their advertisers and take pity on them.

But I swear that they would move Robert Lee to another game if this happened tomorrow.  Leftists, despite their being all over colleges, still cannot learn.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What Freaking Eclipse?

This past Monday, people all across the USA were absolutely nutso over the solar eclipse.  Folks were driving or even flying hours to be where they could witness the totality, and to experience whatever it is you experience when the sun is completely blotted out by the passing moon.

I must have missed it.

I live and work really close to the path, in a home that was in the 98.5% totality zone, meaning that the moon would be covering 98.5% of the visible surface area of the sun.  Now, I know that within an hour's drive or so, the sun would disappear and it would get so dark midday that you could see stars.  And that was what I was expecting, or close to it.

Maybe not stars, but certainly for much or most of the sun's light to be blotted out, and for it to be one of those weird, vaguely yellow-hazed crepuscular experiences.  I remember the solar eclipse in 1979, I was in Boston and it really got weird, even though that one wasn't total locally either (and 1979 Boston started from a pretty weird place).

So as it got to be a bit after one in the afternoon, and things were supposed to start, I was looking out my window at the day's light level.  It was a partly cloudy day, so the light was changing from time to time just based on that, but I was really bracing for the weirdness to come upon us.  I mean, you know, 98.5%.  That's a lot of percent.

I had no plans to look up at the sun, with or without those nifty plastic 3-D glasses you were supposed to have on.  I know what Pac-Man looks like, and it really wasn't necessary to see, actually see the sun get eclipsed.  No, I was particularly looking forward with trepidation to the deep twilight at 2:30 or so in the afternoon, kind of like northern Alaska in winter.

Well, not so much.

At a half-hour before peak, with no discernible change, I told my best girl that it must be that the darkness descends in a hurry, just before the appropriate time, and lightens just as quickly thereafter.  So we walked outdoors, at ten minutes before the peak time, to wait for whatever was coming.

And waited ... and waited.  It was still partly to mostly cloudy, with not a lot of blue to be seen.  The illumination of the sun was what you would have expected on a mostly cloudy day.  The peak time, according to the geniuses at NOAA or whoever was putting out the word, came and went.


Now I have a degree from M.I.T., albeit in biology, and probably not wonderfully relevant, but I do think that my expectations should have been reasonable, even if I had only one experience from 40 years back to have as a reference.  But I expected a natural miracle, darn it, and I got no more darkness in a "98.5% zone" than I would have gotten on any of 200 other days here when the clouds go by.

Surely the big deal was that if you did look at the sun directly, or if you were to cut a hole in a piece of something and let the shadow go through, you'd see that Pac-Man shape and go "Oooohh, Pac-Man."  I didn't seem to feel the need to do that, and I was suitably disappointed.

Maybe next time, I'll drive to an actual place of totality.  Or just watch it on TV.  There were some neat views on TV.

Or I'll just wait for the next cloudy day and pretend.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Statues and Statues, Durham and Mosul

For a week or so we have been hearing all manner of discussion about the tearing down of statues to Confederate generals across various states in the South.  And that brings up all manner of discussion, much of which misses the point.

Actually, it isn't clear what the biggest "point" is.  But there is one that dominates everything.  And that is that whether statues go up or statues go down needs to be an orderly process, managed appropriately by the local government entity under which they were approved to go up in the first place.

If a town put up a statue, then the town -- its elected and appointed representatives -- need to be the ones to decide to take it down.  It cannot be allowed to be done by an unelected mob of rioters committing vandalism on the community.  When places I once lived, like Durham, NC, which had a statue just pulled down, do not have their police force immediately stop the vandalism, and then arrest and jail the participants, it is sanctioning the violence.

You want to debate whether those statues should come down?  Hey, have at it, and I'll happily join in because I'm sure I'll have an opinion of some kind.  I may even be inclined to agree with you.  But I will have a principle, i.e., that, for the most part, we should think twice before we second-guess the decisions made by communities 125 years ago.

As far as Confederate generals go, if they served their cause -- the Confederacy -- honorably, well, having a statue in a town that was actually in the Confederacy is recording the history of that town.  If it wanted to honor what it regarded as brave soldiers when the statue was put up, by memorializing their general in granite, well, let the town properly decide, in an orderly way, what to do.

But let me remind you of this, from a piece I wrote a while back:

In case you hadn't seen anything on this story, our friends in ISIS this week destroyed statues in the city of Mosul, Iraq.  They included ancient Assyrian and Akkadian artifacts from as far back as the 7th Century B.C.; according to the article referenced, the wonderful people from ISIS condemned the artifacts, since they were "worshiped instead of Allah."  Of course, Mohamed didn't even get born for another thousand years, but what the heck.  As one of the brain surgeons noted while pickaxing away, "We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time, when they conquered countries ..."

At what point do the rioters and vandals in Durham meld gracelessly but smoothly into ISIS members and sympathizers?  I would contend that there is essentially no difference whatsoever.  A mob not representing the properly-voiced wishes of the community chooses, on its own, to destroy historical artifacts that were created at a time when people felt differently from the mob members.  Whether the artifacts were created in 1886 or 655 B.C., their destruction by a group who took things into their own hands rather than going through the local order is a travesty.  This is America, not ISIS-land.

The Durham rioters should have been regarded the same way.  They were ISIS, tearing down historical construction because it didn't align with their world-view.  No difference at all.

Except that this isn't Mosul, Iraq, where the nation is immensely fragmented and the national government is not the most stable one, even as it tries to fight off the threat from ISIS in its north, and its Shi'ite older brother Iran tries to dominate it as well.  This is the USA, with Federal, state and local governments that are stable, even in California (yes, you can be stable and still be stupid).

What is even more ironic is that the other extremists, the neo-Nazis who dominated the news reporting of the rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia during a protest of the planned removal of a statue there -- their effort was exemplified by a domestic terrorist who used a speeding car as a murder weapon -- same as was done by ISIS in Barcelona Thursday, and in Nice, France and too many et ceteras to date.

So we have the amazing juxtaposition of the two extremes in the same set of events -- the leftist radicals destroying historical artifacts and the neo-Nazi white supremacists murdering with motor vehicles -- both using tactics that have come to us from ISIS.  They must be so proud, and so must the leaders of ISIS that are left.

As I write this, four people have been subsequently arrested in Durham (note -- not at the time of the riot) and supposedly there will be more, as identifications from video at the time are made.  I will be interested if the city and/or county, whichever jurisdiction applies, gets appropriately tough with these people.  I will be interested to see if they consider them morally equivalent to the ISIS clowns who destroyed the Assyrian and Akkadian artifacts.

And I will be interested if the city decides to replace the statue -- and, if so, with what.  And if the community actually get to provide some input there.

Because history can't really be destroyed, as long as we remember it.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The ISIS World's Fair

Aaaaannnd I'm back.  Thanks for your patience.

- - - -

You would never believe this, but there are still World's Fairs.  Of course, you have to recall that there were such things as World's Fairs in the first place, since there has not been one in the USA since 1984, when there was supposedly one in New Orleans.  I'm pretty sure that I didn't know about that one while it was going on, so I'm to be forgiven for not knowing that it was the last.

There have been four in the last five years, in South Korea, Turkey, Italy and Kazakhstan (that one as we speak).  I missed the email and any mention of them in the news, of which there was presumably none, at least in the media I see and hear.  I was, however, surprised to discover that there is pretty much one every year, somewhere.  I am happy to refer to Kazakhstan as "somewhere", as I intend no disrespect to any of the host countries.

I attended Expo '67, which you may infer properly was a World's Fair held in 1967.  That one was in Montreal, Canada, and was the first time I had gone to Canada.  Strangely, amid the rides and exhibits and all, I left with the still-there impression that people from different countries can be really, really different from us.  Except the Canadians, who by comparison might as well be us.

I'm not talking race; I'm talking culture.  We are a pretty strait-laced, Puritanical people even now, while the French a big exhibitor there -- well, let's say they do things differently.  Their morals are decidedly different.

But to tell you the truth, none of that is relevant.  I digress a lot.

The good old Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as "ISIS", is getting kicked around a lot, now that our Administration has made it a bit more obvious that we are not putting up with any crap from them (or North Korea or Cuba).  Recruiting is down, and their leaders are getting killed at a sunny rate.

In short, they need help.

What they need most of all is a makeover.  You see, the ideal of the Islamism they fight for is to take us back to the 7th Century or so (those pre-Middle Ages centuries run together a bit).  They want a world caliphate, run by them, of course, wherein life exists as it did then, in the prophet Mohammed's day.

We assume that when that happens, they will get rid of their cell phones and stop tweeting.  Mohammed, after all, did not tweet his message to his followers.  In fact, with technology to be set back 1300 years or so, they will have to figure out how to get their message across after the caliphate is established, since we won't have TV or radio, no Internet, no smart phones.  No newspapers either, I guess.

But they will have some nifty 7th-Century technology, and I'm really interested in how they're going to do that.  So I have a great idea for them to let us know about it.

"Expo '18: The ISIS World's Fair"

What do you think?  They can have it in Syria or maybe some part of Iraq that they haven't evacuated yet, if they can assume that they'll still have control of it by next year.

They can invite every country on earth to have an exhibit of the way they will operate under the worldwide caliphate.  Perhaps the Burkina Fasoites can display the animals that will be their beasts of burden under the new world order.  Syria can display its weapons of war in those days when firearms are banned, as not having been really invented and perfected then.

The ISISists themselves can have a big recruiting booth and an information desk where we can all learn about their peaceful philosophy and beautiful religion.   And some weapons displays, too, as they ratchet their armaments back to the year 788 and we can see spears and trebuchets and battle-rams.

Tickets can be all-events.  Caveats on the tickets might include "Non-refundable.  If you ask for a refund, we will kill you.  If you don't attend every exhibit, we will kill you.  If you can't recite ten pages of the Koran, we will kill you.  If we don't like you, we will kill you.  And we might kill you anyway."

Admittedly, attendance might be down, since with a ban on all technology after the year 700, travel may take a long time.  In fact, it will be hard to tell anyone it is even happening.  So maybe 2018 is a bit optimistic, given that you'd have to expect that the grand most-high caliph has to approve any country's submission of the plans for its exhibits.  That communication may really take a long time.

Ooh, ooh -- rides.  There have to be rides, especially since we can't expect cotton candy.  Camel rides will be a big thing; they can be sponsored by Libya.  The Indians can bring elephants, and the Australians -- well, you can't really ride a kangaroo, so they'll have to try something else.  Maybe just an exhibit with a petting zoo.

So hey, these are just some ideas, but ISIS needs an image upgrade, and they might as well show their faces to the world as a bit higher on the cuddliness spectrum.  Maybe a World's Fair is just what they need.

If they haven't been wiped out by then.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rooting for Laundry

I'm going to be taking a little time off the column; hiatuses ("hiati"?) are good for the health and probably give time to accumulate a few topics for future columns.  Plus, I actually work for a living, and every once in a while it gets more than a little busy -- particularly in the last couple months of the fiscal year.

So, laundry.

Baseball, as is often said, is not without its charms.  OK, it hasn't been said here, but people do say it.  And among its many charms is the, well, "charming" patois spoken by its practitioners in the major leagues.

In the major-league dugout, for example, "moss" is not the stuff on the side of trees; it is what grows on the heads of humans.  "Moss" is a player's hair, much like a player's stomach is referred to as a "boiler."  When you have a stomach ache, which is conveyed to the press as "intestinal turmoil", the player is said to have "the bad boiler."

Note the definite article there, which appears superfluous, but is used regardless, in the same way as non-baseball players will refer to hyperuricemic inflammatory arthritis as "the gout", perhaps because of the awkward construction if you were to say "He's got gout."

Arms are "hose" and shoes are "kicks."  And when the "hose" tosses a good fastball, it's referred to as "cheese."  So, laundry.

You root for the team that you, well, root for, for whatever reason that may be.  But the roster of that team is likely to have 45-50 guys play for it in a typical season, even though only 25 can be on the active major-league roster at any one time (OK, 26 on those rare doubleheader days, the league allows teams to add one player for just that day).

So you find yourself rooting for whomever happens to be wearing the uniform on a given day, of course, but when you think about it, it's the uniform as much as the player.  The players move too much, too few are with their teams and stay long enough for you to get excited about them.  And that is called "rooting for the laundry."  Or against.

Makes sense.  I mean, I could really like a player on some team, particularly the Red Sox, for whom I root.  Could be a great guy, donates time to charity, all-American type.  Or all Dominican, that's fine too, Papi.  But ... put the guy in the wrong laundry -- and by "wrong laundry", I'm talking about the Yankees -- and he becomes a completely despicable person, scum of the earth, worst of the worst.  It's the uniform that matters.

Now, that's true for me even though I know all the players on the Red Sox major-league (25-man) roster and am pretty familiar with most of the top prospects in the minors.  Imagine if I rooted, but didn't really follow, the team.

For example, well, there's football.  Or college basketball.  I really think I recall that North Carolina won the NCAA basketball tournament last year, but I'm not sure.  You see, the finals game didn't start until almost bedtime, and the first half of a basketball game is irrelevant anyway most of the time.

The point, of course, is that I went to Carolina for med school, and they are the college team I most want to win.  You know how many current Tar Heel players I can name?  Zero.  I can't even get close to naming one.  They don't stay in school more than a year or two, so you can't really root for players.  Say it with me -- you root for the laundry.

I actually have some of that laundry, a Red Sox home jersey that I bought at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on a trip in 1981.  It still fits, by the way.  And it's the laundry I still root for, even if I didn't grow up anywhere near there.

I just don't think it's right.  I think that you should root for the team and the player on it, and be promised a relatively long association between that team and, at least, its better players.  But you end up rooting for laundry, because that's the constant.

Can you tell I need a little break?

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

That Pesky Debt Ceiling

Yesterday there was a tweet from Ari Fleischer, a former Bush-era press secretary, calling for an end to the debt ceiling.  "It served no purpose", Fleischer noted, except to cause the risk of shutdowns and general antagonism in Congress.

The debt ceiling, of course, is the law, as amended and amended and amended, ad nauseum, wherein the USA is limited in the amount of debt it can take on.  In turn, that limits the spending that Congress can authorize to only that which is funded with actual Treasury funds and what is left to borrow, up to the ceiling.

Now, I like Ari Fleischer, but I would oppose the eliminate the debt ceiling for exactly the same reason that I oppose legalizing addictive, psychoactive drugs.  Proponents of legalizing drugs generally point out that so much crime and violence are caused by the black market in those drugs, and that their legalizing would generate a lot of tax revenues for the government.

The thing is, if it is wrong, it is wrong.  Handing addictive drugs over to the unregulated economy violates our collective security, at least to the extent that we are unwilling to allow soaring addiction rates, dangerously psychotic people out on the streets fearlessly, and a drain on our health-care capacity.

And that's the issue here.

What is wrong, specifically, with eliminating the debt ceiling, is that deficit spending is itself wrong and cannot and must not be tolerated.  We don't actually need a debt ceiling, we need to eliminate new debt.

No action should be taken on the debt ceiling that is not part of a defined and congressionally (or constitutionally) mandated program to require a balanced budget.  States, of course, mostly require that, and it is not really the debt ceiling that facilitates our current $20 trillion debt as much as the lack of a mandated incentive not to borrow, not to spend more than is taken in.

No one is doing that at this moment, although I bet that it is President Trump's inclination to try to get Congress to do something to move to a balanced budget and ban deficit spending.  It was, in fact, laughable that Chuck Schumer, of all people, in having the gall to make "demands" on the majority in the coming tax debate, included one that it would "not affect the deficit."  Democrats.  Making "demands", after being thrashed in several elections.  And insisting on preventing an increase in the deficit.  One has to laugh, perhaps a Sheldon Cooper laugh (link).

So I'm of a mind to insist not only that the debt ceiling be left in place for now, but that the next legislation to increase it build in mandatory reductions over ten years until the 2027 budget is required to be balanced.  Of course, we have to start paying principal, which we don't do now, but that's a really good thing to do also, much as we are required to do as individuals.

Who aren't, you know, "on" something.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We Don't Need Help, We Need You to Be Better

If you're a baseball fan, you know that July 31 of each year is a special day.  It is called, formally, the "non-waiver trade deadline", and is generally called "the deadline."

July 31 is the last day of the season when teams can trade with each other on an unrestricted basis.  After that date -- actually, 4:00pm Eastern Time on July 31 -- in order to trade a player to another team, you have to place that player on "revocable waivers"; in essence, dangling that player out there for any other team to claim him; however, if another team does claim him, you are able to pull him back from waivers, in which case you can no longer trade him.

Every team gets to claim waived players, in worst-to-first order of the standings.  If no team claims a player in the allotted time, the team is free to trade that player wherever it wants, as long as it can make a deal with another team for only other unrestricted players (minor leaguers and waiver-cleared major leaguers).

Because trading after the deadline is so complex, there is usually a rush to jam in a lot of trades on the 31st.  Trades can't be later because of the waiver rules, and they can't be much earlier because the teams are holding out to get the best deal.  There are lots of sports program focused on baseball that afternoon, for sure, with Twitter wires heating up as news breaks.

As for the players, the ones rumored to be on the block are well aware of this.  So are the ones who figure not to be traded, as they look to see what teammates may be leaving and who might come back -- particularly someone who plays your position.

Monday came and went, of course, and as usual there were a lot of deals.  One team with a curious outcome, however, was the Boston Red Sox -- my team.

I say "curious" because there was only one trade of note for them that day, acquiring a set-up reliever, Addison Reed, from the Mets for a trio of minor leaguers without a lot of future in the Red Sox organization.  That relative inaction was noteworthy, because the need of the Red Sox was to upgrade its hitting, possibly more so than even the relief pitcher spot that they did fill.

Most teams in the same situation would trade for a position player likely to hit a lot better than the one manning that position already.  So it was a bit of a surprise to some that Boston did not acquire a position player at the deadline, save for a trade a week earlier to acquire Eduardo Nunez, a utility infielder but a better hitter than a fielder.

Interestingly, the reaction in the press was that there was a message in the whole process.  It was, they felt (correctly, I bet) that the message was to its position-player core, with the entire outfield, shortstop, third base, and catching positions -- 67% of the lineup -- between 20 and 27 years old.

That message was "We don't need another hitter in the lineup.  We need YOU to hit better!"

That's quite a message.  With the exception of catcher Christian Vazquez (26) and just-called-up third baseman Rafael Devers (20), the other young players are all hitting markedly below what they have shown to be capable of based on their major league track record.  There's obviously nothing to be gained by trading for anyone in those positions, since the Red Sox have a talented young player already there in each one.

The team responded by actually scoring six runs in the first game after the deadline, which wouldn't sound like much except for the previously anemic offense of recent games -- and the fact that their pitching had barely been allowing three runs a game on a consistent basis; their starters' ERA at this writing is the best in the American League.

And naturally, last night, in their second game after the "warning", they scored twelve, including a walk-off home run by Vazquez.  So perhaps the message "took."

I like the message.  "It is your job; we won't be replacing you, at least now.  The team needs you to bear down, concentrate, take pitches, have good at-bats.  We're not getting help.  You are good enough; we need to be closer to what you have shown to be.  Get off your butts and work harder."

That's America, and the American work ethic.  This is America.  Go Sox.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"Mooching" the White House

Anthony Scaramucci is on his way back to the Export-Import Bank, having tendered his resignation as White House communications director, presumably (at this writing) at the request of the brand-new chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly.

I have to step back a bit on this one.  I mean, you had to appreciate the bringing in of Scaramucci to the White House team as a loud, brash New Yorker in the mold of his boss, the president.

But the bigger issue is chain of command, and I'm trying to psych out what happened -- and I don't think it's that hard and I don't think it is particularly scandalous.  Remember that the sequence of events was that Scaramucci came in, then Sean Spicer resigned as spokesman, then Reince Priebus left as chief of staff, John Kelly came in as chief of staff, and Scaramucci went out.

The key is the reporting order and chain of command.

Scaramucci was reporting directly to the president, which bypassed Priebus and was likely OK with Priebus, at least somewhat.  That all blew up when it became obvious to Scaramucci that Priebus was a real problem as far as leaking, or allowing leaks, or tolerating them.  Scaramucci went to the President, and Priebus had to go.

But President Trump had wanted Gen. Kelly to come in and be the chief of staff, and a retired four-star Marine general was not going to have Anthony Scaramucci, in any capacity, not reporting through him.  That would violate every precept of chain-of-command, of course, and is perfectly reasonable.

Plus, Gen. Kelly is from Boston and Scaramucci is from New York.  Want to guess how long before the whole Red Sox-Yankees thing blew up in a very ugly scene?  Trust me, that wouldn't be good, and Kelly is a Taurus, too -- we share a birthday.

So I think that if you look at all this as a logical chain of command situation, it makes perfect sense.  No scandal, just a logical sequencing.

I'm good with that.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.