Friday, September 29, 2017

Irrelevant Juniors

It's Friday, and somehow my Friday pieces have started to wander off into the vast field of "who cares" topics.  I'm going to wander off here, if for no other reason than this one has caught my eye for a few months and I've never gotten around to writing the actual piece.

I am a "senior."  I am a senior, not in the sense that I am in my fourth year of high school or college (I did both already, with uneven success), but in the meaning that out there exists a "junior", one of my sons who has the same name as I do.  Many such people choose not to use the "Sr." suffix in their formal correspondence, but I do, as I expected long ago that there would be need to distinguish us in correspondence.  We ended up working in the same place a few times, too, so it was reasonably decent foresight.

A very high percentage of those "juniors", however, use the "Jr." suffix to distinguish themselves from their fathers.  In fact, it's pretty rare when they don't (Jimmy Carter, who was president 40 years ago, is James Earl Carter, Jr., but never used "Jr." and signed everything formally as "Jimmy").  And that is today's piece.

Back around 1960, the Chicago White Sox first started putting the last names of players on the back of their uniform.  That notoriously didn't go quite so well; the slugging first-baseman Ted Kluszewski, who had recently joined Chicago after a long career in Cincinnati, played a bit with his name misspelled -- and the "z" sewn on backward -- a lovely testimony to the "look for the union label" types.  But I digress.

Eventually all teams not named "Yankees" followed suit with their road uniforms, and most with their home uniforms as well. Today, you expect to know the names of the players as much for the name on the back, or more, than by their number.

So I don't know when this started, but at some point recently, some players who are "juniors" took to adding the "Jr." to their uniform name.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. of the Red Sox does, Odell Beckham of the NFL's New York Giants as well.  There are players I've seen with "III" as well as other "Jr." names and maybe a "Sr." or two.

So I'm kind of wondering this ... why are they doing that?

You see, what goes on the back of the uniform is the last name, and the "Jr." is part of the first name.  My last name is "Sutton", and my first is "Robert", informally "Bob" and formally "Robert, Sr.".  The intent of the suffix is not to distinguish the last name but the first, and to distinguish one from one's father (or son), not one's brother.

So I don't really care why Jackie Bradley, Jr. has "Bradley Jr." on his uniform, but it's unnecessary.  It's also caused some odd broadcasting, too.  I've often heard announcers refer to him as "Bradley Junior" for some reason, which makes no sense.  If you refer to John Smith as "Smith" and Tom Brown as "Brown", well, you refer to Jackie Bradley, Jr. as "Bradley" and that's enough -- remember, "Junior" is a reference to his first name, not his last.

[And for the record, there was a time when both Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr., father and son, were on the same Reds team in Cincinnati.  I'd have been fine had their uniforms had "Griffey Jr. and Griffey Sr. on them, because the distinction was necessary, same as when you have two unrelated Smiths on the same team and need a "J. Smith" and "R. Smith" with the initials on the jersey.  But otherwise there's no reason for the suffix.]

I imagine that some of the players with the suffixes are saying that they want to "honor their father", and that's fine.  Bless them and the love they have for their fathers.  I never said this was a very important topic, remember?

I just suppose that I have to wonder how "honored" Odell Beckham's father must feel when he scores a touchdown and celebrates by getting down on all fours in the end zone and peeing like a dog -- giving his own team a 15-yard penalty.  Yeah, "Sr." must be pretty proud, and thanks to his peeing offspring, everyone knows Dad's name.  I think I'd be calling my kid and telling him to peel the "Jr." off his uniform.

Well, I have two boys I'm really proud of, and each of them can stand on his own quite well.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Using the Draft, Perhaps?

I had a very interesting exchange with my brother recently about things in general.  Periodically, as I have mentioned, he'll drop me a thought that could become an article or essay, to see if I agreed with him and his point.

This one was tough.  The notion was whether we should consider revitalizing the draft, and getting gangs, protestors and those depressing NFL kneeling types off the streets.

See what I mean?  There are a lot of facets to such an idea.  First of all, I am not in favor of what had been the traditional military draft up until the early 1970s when it was abandoned as an active source of recruiting for the armed services.  I never liked the idea, because to me it was the confluence of two mutually-exclusive aims.

Stocking the armed services by declaring that every 18-year-old without being in college (or whatever deferment criteria are used) produces an unwilling military such as we had in Vietnam.  Military success depends on cohesion as a team, and I doubt you could find a general officer who served both before and after the end of the draft, who would favor drafting as a means to produce the most effective service.

Get it?  The goal of "stocking the services" means stocking the services with people who will become part of a cohesive, effective military.  You don't make that up by using people who don't want to be serving, with no commitment to country or to their service, let alone to the mission.  That's why I don't support a draft as a recruiting tool; as is seen by the general officer community, it is destructive to its own aims.

That is separate from the notion of "mandatory service", as is done in many countries where everyone, regardless of gender, is required to provide a year or two of service in some manner, which can be other than military.  I have no problem with that part.  Lots of types of support can be performed by people not crazy about mandatory service; it's just that the military should not be one of them.

Then there's the other part, which is how punitive this type of service can become.  NFL kneeling morons are different from gang members, if only because the football players were able to get to the point that someone would pay them for their talents.  The gang types are criminals who need to be punished; the NFL types are simply too stupid to know which side their bread is buttered.  The protestors are ... well, I don't know what they are, since none of them appears to be able to articulate what they're against, as they heave chairs through Starbucks windows.

I will tell you that there is plenty of stuff that needs to get done, particularly in North Dakota in the winter, that I'd be delighted to take people off the street and send them to work on.  Sort of an updated Job Corps, you know.  Get some training in infrastructure repair -- our president knows a fair amount about that and might have some valuable input into creating such a program.

I can't help but think that a lot of young Americans -- all, probably -- would benefit by having put some skin in the game, and having a service-to-the-nation with an option of how to perform it, with the military being but one of them.  As long as the options are not political, I'm good there too.  They can be deferred until after college, or there can be some teaching options where the NEA has not already metastasized, perhaps.

Then there's gender.  If we draft, we'd have to draft females as well, lest the fluid-gender types start rebelling and asking for equal treatment -- or claiming gender fluidity to get out of service if we didn't.  Where is the money going to come from to pay twice as many draftees, when we don't actually need all that manpower?  I'd be fine if the mandatory service included private sector options, but I don't believe that the notion of mandatory service for all means heavy debt to do so.

Smarter people than I can work the details.  I don't want to bring back the draft, for sure; I want the military to be a well-functioning volunteer service as it is now.  But I sure think some of these entitled morons might sing a different tune if they actually had to serve the country whose flag they spit on with their actions.

Lots to think about.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Seeds of the NFL's Collapse

"Cornelius MacGillicuddy" is a name that may not ring any bells with you, unless you are of a certain age and a baseball historian, or at least someone interested in the game and its history.

For those who do not recognize the name, please don't fret.  It was the formal, birth-certificate name of one of the greatest managers of all time, the great Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League from its inception until he finally retired -- fifty years later.

Connie Mack's Athletics were not the most well-funded teams; Mack himself had owned the team in part or in majority for all that time, and was never in the best position to acquire ballplayers.  However, his astute eye for talent helped the team reach peaks that led to world championships in the early 1910s (three) and then two more in the late 1920s.

Connie Mack's teams that had won championships in 1910, 1911 and 1913 looked inevitable in 1914, but fell to the "Miracle" Boston Braves in the World Series in a phenomenal upset.  So Mack started to dismantle the team, selling off its stars and building younger lineups, trying that formula for fifteen years until his 1929 team -- with Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx -- brought him another title.

When his Athletics lost in 1914, Mack made the unusual step of dismantling the team, as I said, but he did it fairly publicly.  "Every successful team", Mack is said to have stated then, "contains the seeds of its own demise."

What he saw, of course, was the fact that successful teams are not able to stay together; underlying that success are factors that can't be controlled, from the aging of the participants to personal disputes, to egos and other stresses on teams.  The exceptions -- the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, for example -- are able to get players to buy in to a team philosophy and subjugate their collective egos to a greater aim.  But in 1914, Mack understood how rare something like that, 100 years later, would be.

It took Connie Mack many years to return to prominence with a championship team, particularly as the New York Yankees instituted the money-is-power philosophy in the 1920s and made it more difficult to compete.  But his team's recovery is not as important as his philosophy.

Successful teams do indeed contain the seeds of their own demise, and successful organizations are the same way.  Amazon is roaring right now, as is Apple.  Microsoft is doing quite well, thank you.  But then, so was Kodak.  So was Digital Equipment, and so was Toys R Us.  And Compaq.  And the Democrats.

And so, my friends, was the NFL.

Five years back, there was simply no stopping the National Football League.  The money was enormous, the competition was strong.  The fans in most cities enjoyed the fact that, with a salary-capped league, your team's sustained success would rely on strong management and coaching, not buying players but buying the right players.  The TV payments to the NFL were huge, because the league could almost guarantee high ratings.

Gambling?  Oh, Lord yes.  Every company had pools on games or a week's slate of games, scoring squares, you name it.  The NFL was a prime sport for betting, over-under and whatever.  All of it served to keep the NFL in the public eye.  And the value of franchises was soaring as well, to where an average NFL owner had an asset worth in excess of $2 billion, with a "b."

But every successful organization bears the seeds of its own demise.  And this past week -- some are calling September 24, 2017 "The day the NFL died" -- we saw what some of those seeds were, and could project what they could grow into.

You know what happened.  All across the NFL, players and whole teams were spitting on the military, on veterans and on patriotic Americans by failing to stand for the National Anthem.  Some teams stayed in the locker during the anthem (despite being subject to an NFL fine for doing so, that one NFL official is reported to have said will not be levied).  Many individual players got on one knee.  No one got fined.

Exactly what they were "protesting" is murky as heck.  It's supposed to be something about how "people of color" are not getting justice, although we don't know who, where or what the injustices are.  It certainly is not the thousands of "people of color" who have died on the streets of Rahm Emanuel's Chicago, because none of those players appear to be doing anything to stop it.

But even that is not the point.  The point of this piece is that the NFL has exactly one week to get this whole thing resolved before the "seeds of its demise" get fertilized.  You see, the ticket-buying public is not interested in having those multi-million-dollar athletes spit on the caskets of our war heroes and on the shoes of those who have served.

Sports is where we go to get away from the problems of the world, to recharge us and our emotions to be able to get set to attack our and the nation's problems the next day.  NFL players have now polluted our refreshment time with their ill-defined political statements that offend the nation, and that ticket-buying public is not happy.

How do we know?  Well, as of Tuesday, the top-selling NFL jersey was that of ... no, not Tom Brady, not J.J. Watt or Eli Manning or Richard Sherman.  No quarterback, running back, corner or receiver.  Nope.  For what may be the first time ever, the highest-selling jersey is that of Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive lineman.

In case you are wondering who that is, Villanueva is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  More importantly, to me at least, is that he is a West Pointer, a former Army Ranger awarded a Bronze Star for his heroism in three tours of duty in Afghanistan.  And while his teammates waited in the locker room before Sunday's game while the Anthem was being performed, Alejandro Villanueva stood in public at the entrance to the team tunnel, in full Steelers uniform and reverently acknowledging the flag for which he fought.

Villanueva was the same military hero he was two weeks ago, long before his uniform was a best-seller.  But those now buying that uniform are making their own statement, and the NFL ignores that statement at its own peril.  Because they're the same people who buy tickets to the games, they're the ones who make those franchises worth what they are.  If and when they stop attending games, stop buying tickets and overpriced beer and hot dogs, those franchises are worth less.  If we stop watching, the networks know immediately -- and so do the advertisers.

The players are too shortsighted to see any of this.  They get paid what they do because the advertisers pay the networks (for ratings), which pay the NFL (for ratings), whose teams pay the players (for performance).  When those ratings fade because the ticket-buyers prefer the patriotism of Alejandro Villanueva to the political leftism and blatant anti-Americanism of the take-a-knee-for-the-anthem crowd, the money available to pay those gargantuan salaries runs a bit drier.

The players won't be happy, and neither will the owners.  The NFL and its leaders won't be happy either, and if they react by taking the same pandering, pro-player, pro-protest stance they did this past week, the paying audience won't be happy.  And that audience is the source of that money they all obviously want.

Every successful organization bears the seeds of its own demise.  Those seeds are greedy players who spit on the fans.  We don't need them.  There are other amusements on Sunday afternoons.  For years, I have managed to forget during the spring and summer the "me, me, me" preening and dancing the players do after simply doing what they're paid to do.  Then comes the first game, the first touchdown dance, the first over-the-top choreographed celebration, and I remember why I often watch football with some reluctance.

There are players on the teams I root for whom I cannot stand.  Their ego transcends their "laundry" to where I simply wish that the team would hand the ball to someone else, or throw to someone else, just to avoid seeming to reward childish behavior by pampered leftist millionaires posing as football players.

The seeds of its own demise.  Will there even be an NFL next year?  Stand by ...

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

You Want to Be a Sanctuary?

By the time this is published, it is not inconceivable that the State of California, long known accurately as the "land of fruits and nuts", will have completed passage of a law designating itself a "sanctuary state", and celebrating the wonderful attributes of inclusion, diversity and ... well, murder.

Before the desk of the governor, Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown (D, of course), is such a bill, and it is assumed that he will sign it.  At that point, the State of California will cease to cooperate with Federal laws regarding the processing of criminal illegal aliens in the state, releasing them to walk among its citizens without risk of the state notifying Federal immigration officers that they're holding criminal aliens before they are released.

The state will have declared itself a "welcoming" place to people who are here illegally and have committed crimes -- it is critical to mention that, because we're not talking about being "welcoming" and "inclusive" as much as we are talking about the treatment of a certain class of criminals.  We would expect, in the sense of normal order, that state and local law enforcement who are obligated by Federal law to hold such criminals for processing by the USA, would do just that.

If anything, it would mean less work for state and local officials, by getting the feds to deport criminal aliens who are likely to come back and repeat their crimes if they're left in the state and community.

Well, California, or at least its elected legislature and governor, apparently don't really care so much about those citizens and the victims of the crimes against them, as they do about the presumed votes they think they'll gain if those illegals and their families somehow get legalized -- and California decides who can vote in California state and local elections, remember.

So here goes.

Every political statement -- and this surely is one -- runs the risk of its victims acting in their own interest, which is why businesses and jobs are already leaving California, even before some minimum-wage hikes in the state forced more of them out.  People afraid of having criminal aliens become a "protected class" are leaving as well.

But the real slap in the face was to the citizens of the USA and to the Federal government, which as we know is led by President Donald Trump.  There are many things we can say about President Trump, and one of them is that he fights back when offended.  And this is a directed offense against him, folks.

I think that the president should take California at its word.  "You want to be welcoming, I'll show you welcoming.  You want to protect criminals, well, let's see how you like this ..."

California does not want the USA to deport anyone, even criminals.  So OK, we won't deport them, we'll send them to California.  Dump them in downtown San Francisco.  Maybe arm them, since the state appears to think they're afraid of something, and they need protection.  In fact, if the state is so welcoming to criminals, maybe the next ten Federal prisons should be built in California, too.

There are some serious dollars spent on the military in California as well.  San Diego is practically the mainland home of the Navy in the Pacific, and that isn't going to change anytime.  A bit north of that is Camp Pendleton, one of three Marine Expeditionary Force locations in the world.  There are Air Force bases and Army installations as well.

But unlike the State of California, the Federal government actually is concerned about criminal aliens running free without ICE agents being notified.  And we have to protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.  Period.

So one urgent step would be for the President and Secretary of Defense to issue executive orders barring servicemen stationed in California from leaving base.  Or Congress could also pass a law exempting uniformed servicemen from sales taxes in "any state which by statute fails to cooperate with immigration enforcement."  The servicemen can go off-base and spend in the local economy, but the state gets no tax revenue.  Or the servicemen can be kept on base, but a special retail area can develop -- a Camp Pendleton Walmart, for example, would be successful -- something like that.

Failure to enforce immigration law is going to mean that ICE has to pick up the slack, right?  Well, someone has to pay for that, and it might as well come out of the aid checks that go to the California treasury for whatever we send money to them for.  A state decides not to follow Federal law, which costs the taxpayer in the other 49 states to pay for ICE to staff up higher.  It only makes sense that the cost has to be made up, and by docking California, that makes it all right with the other taxpayers.

Of course, eventually these actions are going to cost the state as much as losing innocent citizens to illegal criminal aliens has, and they'll wake up.  Hopefully, "wake up" means that they'll stop electing Democrats to their legislatures, although somehow the citizens haven't awakened and stopped electing Democrats in death traps like Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles ... you get the idea.

Either way, here is the point.  You want to make a political point, you have to be prepared to face the consequences.  You want to say how "inclusive" you are, especially of criminals, you have to consider being voted out of office.  You want to stop cooperating with the Federal government to enforce the laws that were passed by the representatives of all 50 states, well, that government has options as well.

It's a two-way street, of course.  The next Democrat president could try to justify comparable actions against, say, a conservative mountain-west state.  And let's face it, we do believe in Federalism and the rights of states.  But those rights do stop at the "powers delegated" in the Constitution, and our borders and their enforcement are the province not of Moonbeam Brown and the oddballs in the California legislature, but of the government of the United States of America.

If California wants to secede, now, that's something I can get behind.  Unlike the War Between the States, I imagine that such secession would be met not by an army dispatched to bring them back in, but by a thrilling, patriotic "Bon voyage!"

I'll send a bouquet.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, September 25, 2017

Legs and the Hypocritical Left

John F. Kennedy, Jr. has been gone for nearly 20 years, after having crashed his small plane into the sea while flying to a family wedding in Hyannisport, killing his wife and her sister along with himself that night.

As the son and political heir to the president, we all watched JFK, Jr. on his career, as he built a magazine (that failed fairly quickly), married, had his marital spats plastered all over the tabloids, and then lost his life in a sad event that added to the narrative of the "bad luck of the Kennedy family."

I didn't know him, of course, so I've no real handle on what kind of person he actually was, and we'll never really know that.  We won't know that in part because he was a Kennedy, the biggest family public relations firm ever, and in part because he was born into prominence, a handsome fellow cast as a prince from his earliest days and susceptible to being made by the press into something other than what he really was -- whatever that may be.

The left, despite its protestations that it hates royalty and is all about the common man, was perfectly willing to dump all that royalty-hatred to spin tales of the Kennedy family.  Royalty they were, and there is little doubt that had the younger JFK chosen a political career, he would have been swept into office on his name alone.

So it was with some interest that I picked up a magazine in a salon where my best girl was having her nails done.  The magazine was "People", which is usually great fodder for killing 20 minutes or so in a doctor's office ... or a nail salon.  It gets deeply into nothing at all, and it has nice pictures of famous people, although the older I get, the less I identify the people who are now supposedly famous.

The cover of the magazine was a picture that let us know that the feature article was going to be a feature on the younger JFK's wife, Carolyn Bessette, who perished with him in the plane crash.  She was a wonderful person, the article went on, very nice and generous and all that good stuff.  We never saw the "real" Carolyn, it told us, who was afraid of the paparazzi although her husband tolerated them, all that kind of content.

Then I noticed a reference to John Jr. having gone to Europe and meeting with Princess Diana about some charity topic or other.  It might have been in the caption of a picture of the both of them, but there, prominently, the article noted JFK, Jr. having said of the princess when he returned, "She has nice legs."

I don't know if reading that struck you the way it did me, so I'll tell you how it struck me.  Diana was the Princess of Wales, actual royalty rather than the pretend type originally foisted on us by the grandfather of JFK, Jr., Joseph P. Kennedy, the bootlegger, womanizer and seller of various items to the Nazis in the '30s.  She and JFK, Jr. have both been gone a couple decades, now.

The tone of the article and particularly the mention of the younger JFK's comment about her legs were clearly meant as a positive toward young John.  "Oh, how cute", we were supposed to have read into the comment.  "Our prince thought their princess had nice legs."  In other words, it was perfectly wonderful that he said something objectifying toward the princess.

Why?  Because he was a hero of the left, that's why.  What struck me is that if, say, Donald Trump, Jr., also the married son of a president, had said the exact same thing about Kate Middleton, the next generation's princess, well, it would have blown up in a scandal of epic proportion.  People magazine would have had it on the cover, all right, but I can bet you it would not have been in a complimentary way, and God help the person who resurrected the JFK, Jr. quote about Diana to portray the hypocrisy.

Now, to my knowledge, Donald Trump, Jr. has never made a comment about any attributes of Kate Middleton, certainly not that have been quoted.  For his sake, I hope he doesn't.  But I can guarantee you if it were ever to be said and heard, he would not get the worshipful "Oh, isn't that cute" gloss-over from People or from any other print or Web journal.

And you know that's true.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Fruitlessly Dealing with Amazon

Amazon is ... well, it does not do the company justice to call it the "biggest name in retail."  However online retail got started, Amazon has taken it to another level.  You could be a total shut-in and, unless you enjoy the fun of walking around in stores, you could have whatever you could afford, delivered to you and not miss a thing.

Thing is, I didn't have to write that.  You use Amazon, same as I do.  Even you, the Russians who inexplicably read this column, you all probably use it somehow over there.  Bully for you and your borscht.

Everyone uses it, we get it.

Amazon is the brainchild of Jeff Bezos, who now owns the Washington Post, among other things. The Post, as we know, is a particularly obnoxious and heavily biased left-wing paper, which has dropped all journalistic standards by letting its reporting be influenced by its editorial page.  Once known for the Sousa march and now for its comical motto, "Democracy Dies in Darkness", the Post is now also known for its inability to say a good thing about President Trump and slavering loyalty to Hillary Clinton.

Oh, yeah, and the fact that their reporting, such as it is, is done solely by leftist "journalists."  And, of course, the fact that Jeff Bezos owns the paper.

There are plenty of times that I have exercised commercial judiciousness by boycotting products in certain cases.  I have been, throughout my life, a fervent anti-smoker.  As Philip Morris (now the "Altria Group" was buying companies unrelated to tobacco, I would decide simply not to buy those companies' products, same as I did when R.J. Reynolds owned Nabisco.  I did not buy Miller beer or Oreos or a variety of other things while they were owned by tobacco companies.

At one time I was part of a video-teleconferencing practice that was in negotiations with American Tobacco, and I ultimately pulled the plug on it.  My ethics would have been so severely compromised that it made no sense to go forward; I could not have faced my children.

So you get the idea.  Jeff Bezos owns a contemptible leftist print medium, and he owns about a sixth of Amazon, which makes him about the richest man on earth.  Or close.  Who really cares?  So if I am used to applying economic actions in support of my political and moral beliefs, then what do I do here?

Well, here's the thing.  It would be easy to just say "But you have to use Amazon; there are other brands of beer and cookies, but there is only one Amazon", and rationalize the fact that they don't boycott them.  There is certainly enough truth in that.  I sure don't want to lose that access.  Besides, just this week I noticed that Hilton Hotels' frequent guest/points system had effectively turned over the redemption of its points to Amazon -- if you have a bunch of points and want to redeem them, you have to link your Amazon account and choose Hilton points as your currency.  They're like everywhere

But frankly, it's this -- what the heck can you do economically to Jeff Bezos?  The man is worth about $90 billion dollars, or at least his Amazon holdings are.  He can literally fund the entire Federal government for more than a week just on his own assets, and at the rate Washington spends, that's incredible.  I actually did the math, and my net worth would run the Federal government for 1.2 seconds.  Literally.

So why should I inconvenience myself when that would be, well, peeing in the wind considering what the difference in our respective assets might be?  Would I feel really good about it?  Not even all that much; the Post was what it was before Bezos got there, and it will be what it is when it finally, mercifully stops operating.  I'll just order those K-cups through Amazon, I guess.

So there you go.  I don't even know if any of that was a surprise.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

How'd THAT Work Out for Hillary?

Since it was a 10:00 AM Eastern Time thing, you probably did not get to enjoy the entire speech made by President Trump before the United Nations on Tuesday, and only heard excerpts on the news programs and cable news channels.

Now, which excerpts you heard may or may not have varied across the broadcast media, but surely a few things resonated.  For one, the president was not really pleased with North Korea shooting missiles all over the northwest Pacific, and showed it with a scathing condemnation.

In true Trumpian fashion, he referred to Kim Jong-Un, the fat panda in charge of the prison country, as "Rocket Man", and he did so rather casually, to be honest.  I'm sure the FPIC appreciated getting at least some attention, although I believe his stooge at the UN walked out before the actual speech.

[Aside ... have you seen the clips where the FPIC is shown observing a missile test surrounded by 3-4 North Korean generals easily twice his age?  Sometimes you watch the clips or see the pictures and try to read the mind of the generals, which seems like "How did I get myself into this?" or "I'd better jump up and down and celebrate with this fat idiot kid or he's going to chloroform me"]

Either way, the left and the media (but I repeat myself) were aghast that Donald Trump was being Donald Trump in (gasp) the United Nations, of all places.  How dare he threaten civility in such a way!  Of course, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel, took pains to call it the best speech he had heard at the UN in decades, which tells you a lot about the UN, and a lot about how you can tell someone by who his friends are.  If, after getting royally scrod by Obama, Netanyahu is as pro-Trump as he sounded, maybe our president is doing a good job.

So among the leftists crying about the speech, you had, of all people, Hillary Clinton, who should be (but is still not) in jail, telling us what kind of speech she would have given in regard to North Korea.  Of course, she showed up for it on the friendly-to-the-left Stephen Colbert show, where she protested pompously that she would have stressed diplomacy instead of the "dark" speech President Trump gave, and how we should be asking all nations to come together to oppose the regime of the FPIC.

So Hillary, we have to ask.

Your husband, once and still the Philanderer-in-Chief, is the one who cut the deal allowing North Korea to set out on the path of producing nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, of which they now have both.  Thanks, Bill.

You were in charge of our nation's diplomacy for four sad years or so, and your hero Obama had eight years in total to fix it.  Our relationship with North Korea was all yours, Hillary.  How did that "diplomacy" work for you and the USA, given what the FPIC is doing now and throughout your hero's administration?  How many times did you successfully pressure China to get anything done as far as North Korea?

It is pretty bloody easy to sit on a stuffed couch on a TV show and criticize the president, but when you were in the lead position on diplomacy and you utterly failed -- let's face it, not a single country had a better relationship with the USA when you mercifully left office -- why ever should we think that your commentary is worth the powder to blow it to Hades?

You need to go away quickly, ma'am, whether to the jail cell you still deserve or just out of the spotlight.  But either way, either place, you are simply doing yourself and your "Well duh, wha' happened" legacy a grave disservice by allowing yourself to be in the public eye.

Of course, you will stay around, because you can't shut up, and because you can't get it through your coiffed head that you lost because of you, you and you.  But what you also can't understand is that the more you talk now, the more the current president -- who appears smarter than you now -- has the opportunity to remind people that you failed when you did have the chance to serve.

It's not doing you a bit of good, but as long as it keeps Democrats embarrassed and out of office, I guess it's not a bad thing.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Please Don't Widen Home Plate

Chris Sperry is associated with Baseball/Life and a former baseball coach.  I can't quite guarantee that he is the actual author of this piece, which has his name attached as if he had authored it, and I've reasonable confidence that it was he, although it is quoted without attribution a fair amount.   If it was not he, and he only was quoting it, as seems more likely, well, at least I made a modest attempt to provide proper attribution.

It just seemed like a really good citation for the midweek, and so I am passing it along to you for your edification.  It matters not whose words they are, or if the story is real or apocryphal, as you will decide for yourself after reading.  Please enjoy.
 _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Don't Widen Home Plate

In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who the [heck] is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who in the hell is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew him had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.

Then, finally …

You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer.

That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”

Another long pause.

Seventeen inches?”came a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?”
Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”

“Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!”

SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.

What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'”


Coaches …”


” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him, do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!

Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.

This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”
Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.

And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. “… dark days ahead.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.
 _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Enjoy your day, and keep your metaphoric home plates at 17", if you would, please.

Content other than the cited story is Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What More for the United Nations?

Almost a year ago I made the very rational suggestion that the United Nations be evicted from its valuable real estate in Manhattan and, if it chose to stay in the USA, it be moved forcibly out to western Kansas.  It's right here, and a fun read, especially when the Chamber of Commerce of Scott City, KS, read it and invited me to come out and see the place.

At any rate, I got to thinking a bit when President Trump, who is in New York to address the august group of 163 nations today, met with UN people yesterday and issued this message via tweet after using the same words in his remarks: "We commend Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his call to focus the UN more on people and less on bureaucracy."

So let's think about that for a second.  President Trump certainly issues a lot of tweets that appear to be firing from the hip, but this was a planned one with a specific message, sort of like when he makes a speech from a TelePrompTer (although even then he wings a lot of it).  When this president likes what someone says, he tends to reinforce it as if to say "OK, you just said that, I'm going to remind everyone right now that you did, so your feet can be held to the fire."  This sounded like one of those.

I have so little patience with the UN.  It was, in fact, President Trump himself who has often lamented the unfulfilled potential that such an organization could have, a term he does use.  He is so different in his non-Washington approach to things, that I wonder if he might have designs on trying to press some reinventing there too.

I don't think that will involve a relocation to Scott City, Kansas, but let's face it, if the member states could ever decide what is important, it wouldn't matter where they were located.

Right now, I can tell you what is important.  You have a nut case running North Korea and shooting missiles into the air and having a jolly time doing it.  I don't care how many bags of wheat the UN is sending to poor countries in Africa (by way of the USA, of course, but who counts?); if that fat panda in charge puts a nuke on the end of one of those ICBMs and lights it, we won't be worried about wheat.

That is where the UN needs to show it can be effective.  Suppose that the FPIC sends up a test missile and it ends up landing in Japan by accident.  North Korea doesn't talk to anyone, so how would Japan know it was an accident?  Is that missile an act of war, if you are the Japanese?  They certainly haven't done anything to provoke North Korea, which means that there has to be a "next step."  Does Japan unleash -- well, I don't know what they have there, but something in retaliation?  Does the USA respond to an attack on our ally by leveling Pyongyang?

I'm just a dumb old columnist and surely I can see that possibility.  Do you not think that the sainted holy representatives in the UN also see that and, much as they'd like to see the FPIC vaporized as quickly as possible, really want to avoid that scenario?  Well, if they can see it, why are they not doing something about it?  And by "doing something", I mean putting a massive flotilla of ships from 25 nations on course for the Korean peninsula, steaming there until the FPIC waves the white flag and declares that he is grounding all his missiles and shutting down his nuclear program.

And some of those ships need to be Chinese.

You see, when the president visibly commends the UN secretary-general for making sounds about focusing the UN on people and not bureaucracy, the subtext is that the UN has turned into Congress, and he's not a big fan of this Congress.  He's a builder who got things done, and if the UN has a purpose, well, we need to see it act on that purpose and protect millions of Asian lives now.

You see, if the UN can't even put some muscle on the fat panda, then it might as well relocate to Scott City, or maybe Turkmenistan, and the USA can just pull every penny of our support.

Because we owe our taxpaying citizens, and our allies, at least that much.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, September 18, 2017

In the Matter of Hill v. Schilling ... v. ESPN?

In a week mostly dominated by one hurricane and the aftermath of another, and an 8.1 magnitude earthquake not far away that we never heard about, there was another story which, unfortunately, involved the media doing what the media do.

In this case, it was the formerly-popular sports network ESPN, which was the name in cable sports at one point, but which has suffered severe losses in viewership ratings and subscriptions to its magazine the past few years, to the point that the Disney people, who own it along with ABC and the other Disney properties, are pretty much floating the network.

A year or so ago, Curt Schilling, the now-retired pitcher for several pennant and World Series-winning teams, was fired from his job as a baseball analyst for ESPN.  His sin was to have retweeted someone else's tweet that was satirically critical of the transgender-bathroom law in North Carolina and could be interpreted as mocking transgender people, adding notes of his own as to opinions as to who should use which bathroom.

For that "offense", Schilling was abruptly terminated by ESPN, whose terse statement was that "ESPN is an inclusive company."  I am not sure what "inclusive" meant at the time; certainly it did not include being inclusive of people whose beliefs contradicted the dogma of ESPN management, or Disney management, or whomever it was who pulled the trigger on Schilling.

Either way, Schilling was gone.  He is still not employed by ESPN and has not been brought back even after cooler heads' heads cooled.

That was actually April 2016.  Now in September 2017, you would still expect, only 17 months later, the same ESPN would feel itself to be just as "inclusive" as it was in April 2016.

It had a chance to demonstrate that, when one of its staff, Jemele Hill (a black female, which is probably very relevant), tweeted an original message of her own, not a "retweet."  It stated that Donald Trump, who is the President of the United States now, "is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists."

Miss Hill is still employed by ESPN, and undoubtedly will still be when you read this.  Sadly, that is actually a good thing, or at least an OK thing.

That is because the proper thing for ESPN to have done would have been to deal with her internally in accordance with the applicable HR rules for such behavior.  Had those rules specified firing or suspension for political tweets, then she should have been fired or suspended.  People have the freedom of speech, here in the country she thinks is ruled by a "white supremacist", and the rest of us have the right to take out their displeasure on ESPN, as I will do by terminating my subscription to their magazine and website.

The problem is less about what Miss Hill did and what ESPN did, or did not do, to her, and far more about the fact that what they did, or did not do, to her in no way resembled what they did to Curt Schilling in what has to be considered an identical act.

Take it this way.  ESPN's defense of firing Schilling was based, per their own statement, on their claims to be an "inclusive company."  Presumably we are to infer that they were trying to "include" the few thousand transgender sports fans out there, and offending them was a fire-worthy offense.

Then how inclusive was it to allow one of its employees in a very comparable job to offend 63 million people, many of them frequent ESPN watchers, at least until now, who voted for Donald Trump last November?  Because I certainly see no other interpretation of Miss Hill's tweet than that we 63 million people are white supremacists or sympathizers.

I know I was offended, as a Trump voter, by Jemele Hill, offended as all Hades, and I was mad about it when I read the story.  I was certainly as ticked off about what she said in the tweet as any transgender sports fan was about what Schilling wrote.

The problem is that clearly in the minds of the suits at ESPN, a white male can be fired for tweeting and offending some people, but a black female gets off without even a warning for doing exactly the same thing -- I mean, how much more similar could the actions have been on Twitter?

I am incredibly offended by the assumption that my feelings, my values and my vote are not worth ESPN's concern.  I guess their notion of "inclusive" doesn't follow mine.  There will be a whole lot less ESPN watched here in this house.  My subscription is being cancelled, and on those rare occasions when I am forced by fandom to watch, I will take pains to remind their advertisers of my views.

I hope you will consider the same.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Debt Is Bad -- And the Left Says ...?

We are about $20 trillion in debt right now.  By "we", I mean the American taxpayer, at the mercy of the people we elect and send to Washington.  Of course, "we" aren't the only ones who send those people to Washington; around 45% of Americans pay no income tax at all, but they still have the same vote that people who do pay taxes have.  I suppose that's OK.

It is really hard not to invoke Mitt Romney here, but you pretty much have to.  I know "national debates" are impossible, but there has to be some form of discussion in regard to the reality that if 150 million people voted in the last presidential election, about 70 million of them can be assumed to pay nothing in income taxes, and are sending representatives to Washington with a personal interest in protecting their situation.

Let me put a caveat in there.  Among those are retired Americans who have worked and paid taxes for their working lives, and are living on incomes too low to tax, but whose income through their career was heavily taxed and subject to Social Security (FICA) taxing at the time as well.  They did their part and they should not take any of this as pejorative toward them.

But let me refocus.

That debt is insanely large and is increasing every second.  Worse yet, it is owed to a number of foreign entities that we are not particularly friendly to us -- Mr. Romney famously noted that any item in the Federal budget needed to be subjected to the question "Is this important enough to borrow money from China to pay for it?".

It is grossly unhealthy to negotiate with China when we owe them $1.15 trillion, the single largest foreign debt-holder.  They can call that tomorrow and foul our economy beyond belief.  When we need China's help with the Fat Panda in Charge in North Korea, do you think it compromises our position just a little when they can play the debt card?

Conservatism teaches balanced budgets.  On a local level, it is significant how many states legally, or even constitutionally, mandate balanced budgets (45 of them).  States are closer to the notion of personal responsibility, and accordingly are fiscally more conservative.  Oh yeah, and they also cannot print money.  Gee, that may be why the vast majority of states vote Republicans into state houses and governorships.

But even the Democrats have to concede that to some extent, debt is a bad thing.  Spending beyond your means is a bad thing.  And being $20 trillion in debt is really a bad thing.  So what do they propose?  After all, while there is plenty of blame to go around, their hero, Barack Obama, effectively signed off on the doubling of that debt over his two terms.

What do they propose?  They don't have solutions for very much; nothing for immigration beyond open borders; nothing for the crime-ravaged cities at all; nothing for ISIS except stuffing more refugees into our neighborhoods regardless of their intent to bomb us; nothing for the economy except "taxing the 'rich' more"; nothing for health insurance except an utterly unaffordable single-payer concept.

The debt is horrible and a huge risk.  And you can't tax the "rich" for very long -- you could seize Bill Gates's entire asset base and pay for about five days of Federal spending, after which Gates is broke and Washington is still eating about $10 billion a day -- but only taking in enough to pay for maybe 75% of it.  You could move on to Warren Buffett then, and maybe get four more days.

Eventually -- pretty quickly, actually -- you run out of people's money, and the government is still chewing up $10 billion or so every day.  At what point do we decide that maybe we need to figure out how much tax revenue we can legitimately raise without stifling the economy or seizing property, and start figuring out how to spend only that much?

I will tell you that I firmly believe it to be an offense of any government that feels it should confiscate more than 25% of anyone's income in taxes.  It is an offense of the left that not one time will they answer the question as to what they think constitutes a maximum rate.

It is one thing for the left to have an innate belief that all property belongs to the government and we only get to "use" it at their discretion.  That's effectively the socialist mentality, but even the Democrats leading their party in Congress (and the previous president) seem to share that notion.

It's quite another to fail to address the burgeoning debt as a historic national risk, no less, in my opinion, than an invasion of our country.  The left brings no evident, workable solution to this problem and seems to refuse to speak to it.  But I want to hear what they say.  I want Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer or Elizabeth Warren to stand up in a press conference and get asked specifically what they propose to do to cut the national debt by balancing the budget and paying down principal.

I want one honest reporter to ask that.  Because I want to know what they propose.  And why they think it would work.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Baseball May Be Learning -- Scheduling Dept.

Major League Baseball, the same people who bring you a wonderful game, but with atrocious incapacity to market it properly (q.v. the overblown Jackie Robinson Day player numbering, the archaic blackout rules, ribbons for everything, you name it), has done it again.

You may find here the schedule for 2018, just released.  Now, let us first point out that the season starts on March 29th, a Thursday.  That is a change driven not by greed or stupidity but by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the players (so yes, greed and stupidity are baked in), which mandates that the teams get four additional scheduled days off during the year.  Those are the rules, that's the way it goes.  So instead of starting the season with one game on a Sunday in early April, it will start on a Thursday in late March.

That, however, is the trigger to this column, which surprisingly had assumed that since Baseball is typically an idiot, they would screw this up like they do the blackout rules.

But wait, they didn't.  For the most part.

I have been advocating loudly for like, ever, that it is almost as uncomfortable for fans to watch baseball on TV in 39-degree weather (3.89 degrees for you Centigrade types) as it is for the players and the fans in the stands.  Can you imagine paying like $2,500 for a seat in Yankee Stadium to freeze your glutei off for nine long, slow typical-Yankee-game innings?  I mean, I wouldn't go up to New York for $2,500, but I still get it.  I wouldn't go to New York for anything, let's get that right.

And I have always railed at Baseball for its refusal to accommodate the weather by starting all early-season games (at least the first 1-2 series) in the southernmost cities and those with domed stadiums.  This past year, the Boston Red Sox, one of the northernmost-based teams and without a dome on old Fenway Park, opened at home against Pittsburgh.  The temperature was 48 degrees, nice for football but miserable for baseball.  The second game of the series (the third was postponed by weather, duh) was played in 40 degrees.

So I was all prepared to write this column hollering about how stupid Baseball was yet again.  But perhaps some actual thought went into it this year, or they were just lucky.  The home teams for the opening series this year, and there are of course 15 home teams, include Tampa Bay, Texas, Miami, Kansas City, Baltimore, Atlanta, LA, Toronto, San Diego, Oakland, Seattle and Arizona.  It also includes Cincinnati, which is not that far south but always opens at home as the oldest franchise.  We get that.

Toronto and Seattle have domes; the rest are in warmer cities less likely to have, you know, 40-degree weather.  To be honest, out of 15 games, I could take issue only with the fact that the Mets and Tigers, in New York and Detroit, are playing home games in what is likely to be cold weather, while Houston, Anaheim and San Francisco are on the road instead of capitalizing on their weather.  I'm sure that could have been adjusted, but if only two games are seriously likely to be played in ice boxes, well, that's pretty good.

I checked, for fun, the second set of series, which would start the following Monday on about what would have been opening day in past years.  Five teams from the 15 home teams are in places that shouldn't be hosting that early.  Again, I have to salute Baseball, if only because the "soft bigotry of low expectations" tells us that for them to have only 2-3 bad choices of home cities is such an improvement that we have to smile.  I guess.

Now perhaps they can jump on that blackout thing.  I've already offered to be a consultant to MLB on that topic, if only they will take me up on it.  Might even be willing to go to New York, but only for a few days at a time.  That place is scary.

Fascinating week, eh?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Descending Theology

It's going to be one of these weeks, I fear, where I have things to say, but they're of interest only in the most bizarre twists of the reader's mind.  I'm hoping we'll see a tax cut, but Congress's track record is less than spotty on that, so what is left to say before they start, you know, trying?

So ... yesterday I got an email from the singing group I used to belong to in Virginia, when I lived there.  I'm still a member of the organization, so I still get the emails, which is fine, because I actually want them, to know what the group is doing.

The email was a simple reminder that the week's rehearsal was not going to be at the usual community center where the group has met for the most part for about 30 years.  No, they were going to meet this particular day at a place called Plymouth Haven Baptist Church.  Now, when I hear "Plymouth Haven Baptist Church", I get a flashback that has meaning only to me, and may not even rise to the level of "bemusement" for anyone else. 

Here's the thing. 

Maybe 15 years or so ago, when I was an active member of the organization and singing every week there, the City of Alexandria closed the aforementioned community center for what turned out to be almost two years, to do renovations we assume to have been much-needed ones.

We needed an alternate meeting location where we could put up chorus risers and deal with 120 people or so every Tuesday night, including visitors and good parking.  Naturally, in metropolitan Washington there are many such facilities, many of which are associated with churches.  One of our members was able to arrange with his own church, Plymouth Haven, for an indefinite residence for the group to rehearse there until the community center was finished and ready to take us back.  Admittedly, the church was a little further away for me, compared to the community center, but an extra five miles or so on a 30-mile commute each way was merely an annoyance. 

The relative extra driving distance included the last stretch of 7-8 miles or so on Fort Hunt Road, at the end of which drive stood the church, before the road continued toward Mt. Vernon.  And for the better part of two years, I drove that road at least once a week through the mostly residential, suburban neighborhood that had grown up around it the past century.

The neighborhoods along the drive, Belle Haven and Fort Hunt, are very mature and peaceful-looking places, and accordingly their residents' ecclesiastical needs have had many years to be satisfied.  That was one way of saying that there were a lot of churches strung out along the drive.

Now, as I would drive, I would be usually singing, typically against a "learning track" that was our way of learning an practicing our notes.  So the surroundings were only viewed subconsciously as they passed by, or rather, as I passed by them.  House after house, church after church, beneath consciousness they built up in my mind over the course of the months.

The very first one on the left was a Catholic church that appears to have moved from there since we left the area, but I recall it quite well.  Plymouth Haven was, of course, the last one in what I started to realize -- always subconsciously -- was a sequence.  It was, of course, a Baptist church, and as a Southern Baptist myself, I felt reasonably at home there.

I will always think that the first inkling I had that something was either ironic or pre-planned (or divinely ordained) was when it occurred to me that the second church, St. Luke's, was an Episcopal church.  "How interesting", I must have thought, "that the Episcopal church was so close to the Catholic church, given the historic English dichotomy between the Anglicans and the Catholics."

Well, it all went downhill after that thought.  The chipmunk part of my mind had to look at which church came next and, sure enough (if you are thinking that way), the very next church was Lutheran.  Next came the Methodists, then the Presbyterians and finally, good old Plymouth Haven Baptist Church.

If you are still not getting the humor or the irony, let me remind you that the Southern Baptist faith and organization has five main tenets -- the rest varies by individual church and a lot of interpretation.  The first four (in no order) are baptism only of believers; baptism by immersion; one man-one vote decisions in each church; and separation of church and state.

The fifth is key -- the Bible is the sole article of God's Word, and it can be interpreted accordingly.  In case you wondered why there are so many little Baptist churches here in the South, suffice it to say that when every pastor can interpret the Scripture according to how he or she reads it, you're going to have a lot of pastors moving around as they attract believers with comparable interpretations.  Being a Southern Baptist pretty much requires some level of agreement with the pastor as far as theology, because there's another bunch of Baptists right down the road if you're not on the same page as far as salvation, mission work, Heaven and the other place, drinking and dancing -- you get it.  I've been through that.

All that is by way of saying that "Baptist theology" is a very, very flexible term.  And if there is an antithetical denomination to that notion, it is Catholicism which, as far as I can glean, is certainly more rigorous in its theology than any Protestant denomination.  So it simply struck me that something in old Alexandria, Virginia had assorted itself over the preceding century or so that defies explanation, unless you consider it God's sense of humor.

The churches of Fort Hunt Road had ultimately assorted themselves so as to stand in descending order of theological intensity.

And despite what seemed patently obvious to me at the time, you heard it here first.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Devastating Versus Biceps -- and English Fails

I'm sure that not a soul is ever once going to read the title of this piece and figure out what it's about, and I mean not getting close to the topic.  That includes my younger son Jay, who can usually figure that sort of thing out by now.  In fact, I had no idea how to concoct a title that would be suitable and actually have anything to do with the content.  Oh, well.

So I expect you know that I am a fanatic as far as proper use of English.  I like the language, and I am paid to use it professionally.  It has tens (probably hundreds) of thousands more words than any other language, simply because of the way it has been assembled over a millennium or two as an amalgam of multiple source tongues.  It is very easy to express oneself precisely in English, notwithstanding the number of homonyms and the words with multiple completely disparate meanings.

But that is no excuse whatsoever for ignorant misuse of the words that it does have, and that, friends is today's topic -- a venting about three such examples, spoken and written.

This past few weeks, of course, have seen the news dominated by two major hurricanes and their respective aftermath.  Words, of course, may fail, but when you are a news network describing the devastation of these huge storms, your people may try a bit too hard to come up with new ways to describe what has happened.

Unfortunately, one such word to describe what happened did, indeed, fail.  That would be when we heard, too often, how Harvey or Irma had "decimated" this or that area of Texas or Florida.  Just this morning, I was flipping channels and saw that CNN, which I don't watch, had a headline "Irma Decimates [sic] Florida Keys."  And that's just not possible.  You see, "decimate" does not mean "devastate."

You probably recall, from whatever world history you may have taken back in high school, that back in Roman days, one way that armies punished their conquered foes was "decimation", which simply meant they line up the losing soldiers and killed every tenth one of them (hence, "decimating", from the Latin for "tenth").  Something like that, anyway.

We're not doing that sort of thing any more, and certainly storms aren't doing that consciously.  But you get that in the handed-down meaning of the word to this day, the word "decimate" only applies in a counting situation.  You can devastate an area, or for that matter, anything animate or inanimate, in its physical meaning to destroy, wipe out, cause huge damage.  But decimating is a very different word.

In its contemporary usage, "decimate" applies when something happens to shrink a population or other counted base.  For example, an epidemic can decimate a population, right?  If the Black Plague kills 10% of the people of Europe in the Middle Ages, well, it decimated the population -- and to be honest, it could be 5% or 25% and the word would still apply.  In fact, if you got too high a percentage, "decimate" no longer applies, because the underlying meaning of the word implies that only a portion of the counted elements were killed or destroyed, not a large percentage.

Here's the real example.  A forest fire could decimate the trees in a particular national forest -- but it would not decimate the forest.  See the difference?  A forest is one thing; you can only decimate some counted element, by eliminating a modest percentage of the number of that element.

The second vented complaint is not about word use at all.  The word, of course, is "versus", and pretty much everyone is using it correctly as a connector between two opposing elements.  At least that is OK.  Congratulations, world.

The problem is that a couple years back, for some reason some people started forgetting it was a two-syllable word, and pronouncing it "verse."  I've no idea how that got started, and I don't know how to stop it.  I remember watching the TV show "Hack Your Life" about ways to improvise ("hack") household solutions.  There was a segment each week called "Hack vs. Hack", and one day one of the two hosts pronounced it "verse."  I sent a stern tweet to the show, and it never happened again.  Go figure.

So for all time, it is pronounced "VER-sus", two syllables.  I expect that you already do, and for that I thank you.  Now get out your tweets if you hear someone do the monosyllabic version on TV.

And now that I am embarrassing myself today, I will conclude by a blanket condemnation of all personal trainers and all sportscasters and play-by-play and color commentators.  I would add in those who do the rolling sports news crawl at the bottom of the ESPN screen, but they have at least fixed the problem.

The problem, of course, is the word, or rather non-word, we know as "bicep" (and its related non-words "tricep" and "quadricep")  There is no such word, despite the efforts of all those folks I just condemned blanketly to try to keep using it.  For the record, there is a muscle on your left arm called the left biceps, and on your other arm called the right biceps.  The "s" on the end is no more a plural than is the "s" on the end of "bus", lens" or "crisis."

In fact, the ending "-ceps" is derived from the Latin word for "head", the meaning in this case being "two heads", or two masses of tissue in the muscle.  The muscle's name is biceps brachii, roughly meaning "a two-headed thing on the arm."  Logically, the muscle in the back of each arm, which has three tissue masses, is called the "triceps" (duh), and the one in each leg, which has four such masses, is called the "quadriceps."  Duh again.

But you can't remove the "s", any more than you can ride a "bu", or crack the "len" in your sunglasses, or worry about a "crisi."  So please, guys and gals, let's be real English speakers and kick "bicep" into the abysmal verbal trash can it belongs.  And if your personal trainer ever says "bicep", stop your arm curls and tell him (or her) that if they can't even pronounce body parts properly, you're not sure that they can be trusted to take your money and build up muscles they can't pronounce.

You know, I feel so much better.  I'm betting, though, that you don't.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, September 11, 2017

Levels of News in a Storm

We have to start today by reaching out once again to storm victims, this time to the people of Florida who will be cleaning up and drying out after Hurricane Irma finally passes by after several days of destructive power.  Our prayers are with those people, as they have been for those in southeast Texas a week earlier.

We have had the news on for several days, probably 8-10 hours each day including just running in the background while we went through our day here.  We live where it was originally possible that we could be in the path, then later on, we kept watching the path has the hurricane kept moving west, to see what our impact would be as well as the extent to which friends, associates and relatives were at risk.

That's a lot of news time to fill, and the network fills it daily -- in this case, all Irma, 24/7.

Over a year ago, I wrote this piece on the related issue, which was essentially the corollary -- we don't hear the most newsworthy content each day that is actually newsworthy; we hear the most newsworthy content available even if it really, well, isn't, i.e., that nothing important happened.  Something has to be on, or the network goes dark, and we know that ain't a-happening.

So here we are on the tail end of the devastation of Irma, and we have had several days, certainly through today (the 9-11 remembrance) where nothing was on the news network I watch except Irma coverage and commercials -- nothing.  When I say "nothing", that's exactly what I mean.  Not even top-of-the-hour headlines, those too were all Irma all the time.

So let's imagine that Irma had a week ago taken an easterly path and flown up the middle of the Atlantic instead, threatening no one and leaving Florida and the East Coast intact and undisturbed.

What would have been on the news?

Because the top of every hour would have had something that would have been portrayed as important, simply by virtue of its being at the top of the hour.  Yet, not only was it not at the top of the hour, we never heard about it at all!  So we have to ask ourselves just how important a given news story actually is, well, don't we?

This sort of event, wiping all else off the news calendar, unfortunately serves to remind us of the curious fact of the control that the news media have over all of us.  It may be a day when nothing newsworthy happens, forcing the elevation of events that are simply not newsworthy in the least to the top of the chain, or this weekend, when a horrific storm forces everything else off the air and we are left with an entire unaired roster of events that we did not know about.

I doubt anyone is sitting in a media office up in New York, contemplating the irony of all that.  But I hope that they do.  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The media have their own version of absolute power, and events like this, where all other reporting is shoved to the side, expose that, however briefly.

We should do some serious thinking, one feels.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, September 8, 2017

Don't You Dare Stray from Orthodoxy!

I don't have a link to it, because it wasn't important enough, but I was reading a piece on Wednesday about the TV host Steve Harvey.  Apparently, after the presidential election, Harvey was invited to meet with President Trump in regard to some particular effort that Harvey was interested in, something to make some poor people's lives better.  Maybe housing.  Doesn't matter.

So apparently the meeting went well, and the president expressed his sincere desire to work on it, and engaged Ben Carson (now the HUD secretary) to follow up.  I'm probably flubbing the details, but they don't really make that much difference actually.  At the time, Harvey related that they had had a good meeting and thought that there would be some progress on whatever the issue was.

So ... apparently there was a gargantuan outcry since, to the point that Harvey was quoted as having told his wife that he "really regretted taking the meeting."

Did he regret it because nothing was going to come of it?   Well, no.  Because he thought that the president had not been listening to him?  Well, no, not there either, because at the time, fresh in his mind, Harvey said it been productive and beneficial.

No, he regretted it because the liberal community, and the professional race industry, were outraged that Harvey, who is of course, black, would have the meeting in the first place, and think that Donald Trump, of all people, was actually interested in the plight of the inner city.

Now, it apparently did not matter that during the campaign, candidate Trump had on multiple occasions made a point of saying that he was going to try to address the plight of the inner city that had been caused -- and exacerbated -- by decades and decades of Democrats ruling them.  Rahm Emanuel is the mayor of Chicago, and at the same time he is doing everything he can to bring illegal aliens to Chicago and giving them all manner of inducements, he has done not one thing to address the incredible murder rate in his own city.

Of course, Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, did not ever propose anything to help the issues in the inner city, in Chicago or anywhere else.  Note: she lost.

But no, is the left picketing Emanuel, or rioting there to protest those murders?  Um, no.  But God forbid that Steve Harvey actually meet with the president to talk about those issues, when the president is actually Donald Trump.

Don't fight the leftist orthodoxy.  Don't reach across the aisle to try to get something done.  Compromise is a four-letter word in the eye of the left.  You may not even talk to this president to try to get something done.

The intolerance of the left knows no bounds, apparently.  But I will tell you that Steve Harvey was right to have met with Donald Trump, and would have been wise to take that leverage and try to make some progress in his chosen area.  That would have actually accomplished something, far more than the rest of the left has done in 100 years.

Hey, I just observe.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tax More, Get Less -- the PA Lesson

One year ago, there were about 400 shops in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that were opened to sell electronic cigarettes and tobacco-free alternative devices.  These shops, called "vape shops", are common throughout the country, as addicted smokers switch over to devices that use a non-tobacco substance to deliver nicotine for their level of addiction, one which eliminates most of the cancer-causing components of tobacco and produces only water vapor in place of smoke.

A year ago, there were 400 such shops there, nearly all small storefront businesses created by younger entrepreneurs as little retail business from which they could make a living.  Today Pennsylvania has only 300 such businesses, and the industry estimates that will be cut in half in the next year.

That's because the other thing that happened a year ago is the imposition by the Pennsylvania legislature of a 40% wholesale tax on vape retailers acquiring the products that they sell in their shops.  As anyone who's ever been in retail knows, the margins are not very good, and the competition from online sellers of the products -- any products, not just vaping hardware -- is strong.

Customers will settle into the least expensive source of their products that serves their minimum needs and desires.  So when Pennsylvania imposes a punitive tax on retailers, they end up having to raise their prices to customers -- it's not like they can cut their already-tiny margins to absorb a 40% increase in their costs.

And "raised pricing to the customer base" means only two things -- the customer will stop buying the product, or they will buy it elsewhere.  "Elsewhere", of course, means either online or in a neighboring state.  Either way, because the sales are taken from the retailer in Pennsylvania, the retailer loses business ... and closes the shop.

The first 100 shops have now closed, and another 150 are on their way, according to the article.  Ironically, Pennsylvania had raised cigarette taxes to cut smoking rates.  Among the best ways to cut tobacco-use rates, of course, is to use alternative nicotine devices, from patches and pills -- to vaping.  Why is Pennsylvania's expectation for over-taxing vaping supposed to be any different from the intended result of over-taxing (properly, in my view) cigarettes?

Let me say that again.  If you raise the tax on any transaction, you will get less of that activity.  If you lower the tax, you will get more of it.  Their legislature passed a tax on cigarettes (an additional dollar per pack in 2016) to lower the rate of use, and did it successfully.  Then they pass a huge wholesale tax on vaping products, ostensibly to raise revenues -- why did they not think that they would be putting small businesses out of business and losing revenue?  Why did they not realize that they were going to raise the cost of one of the most effective smoking-cessation products as well?

Yes, government can be a jerk.  It can be (A) stupid, it can be (B) excessively political, and it can be (C) corrupt.  In this case, it was all of the above.

And those clowns will get re-elected anyway.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Time to Mandate Flood Insurance?

Houston is barely drying out in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  Water, water is everywhere and the media are themselves flooded -- with stories.

Good, uplifting stories about heroism and lines of people heading to Texas with boats to help in the rescue effort.  Sad, tragic stories of people lost in the hurricane, the flooding and the attempted escapes.  Stupid, political stories trying to make a case for fixing that bad, evil global warming that somehow must be associated with everything on earth, whether it is true or not.

A real challenge, of course, and the topic of this rumination, is insurance, specifically, the fact that some 80% of the people who otherwise would have flood insurance and got flooded, did not have it.  This is sad for them, and particularly sad that they are now at the mercy of charitable organizations, FEMA and any other possibility beyond their own savings, to rebuild their homes to the extent they can be rebuilt, and their lives to the extent they have to be.

So flood insurance.

I have it.  I live a couple miles from the ocean as the seagull flies, but I am not technically in a flood zone to where state or Federal law requires that I buy it.  So it is not particularly expensive to have, and there is certainly peace of mind that when hurricanes pass through here, as they do, I'm at significantly less risk of financial ruin than I would be otherwise.

Living in an at-risk area is a risk, let's face it.  And the problem is that when FEMA is out there cleaning up, and then the loan part of FEMA has to follow up and provide loan funds that those who have damaged homes, well, it is a drain on the taxpayer having to provide those funds, even if they are supposed to be paid back.

And on top of that, there is already mandated Government flood insurance in certain areas as well.  It would not have applied to Houston, of course, which is not an on-the-coast city like Miami or Boston -- or Galveston.  But it is out there, and not the most popular thing with those of us who don't understand why the government is doing actual commerce and competing with the private sector.

I'd like us to step back and look at this.  What do we want to accomplish?

I don't think the answer should be too hard, and it should be a relatively universal one.  It is this -- we want to ensure, to the best extent possible, that people who live in areas susceptible to flooding, have insured themselves adequately against that possibility to protect the taxpayer.  So how is that done?

Well, let us start with the fact that there are three entities involved here -- the government, which has the legislative power to implement solutions (and even there we have federal and state governments to apportion responsibility to); the insurance industry, which actually knows how to run an insurance program; and the homeowner.

I am not at all a fan of the Obamacare mandate that says that you, you and you must buy health insurance.  I want the right to self-insure or not insure at all, and if I can't afford care I might die from lack of treatment -- but it is my decision and affects no one else.  I'm not expecting the government to bail me out if I eschew health insurance and get sick anyway.

But I regard floods as a separate issue.  We do have an entity -- FEMA -- that will spend taxpayers' money if there is a flood.  If I have purchased commercial flood insurance from an insurance company, I don't need FEMA.  If I live in an area that repeatedly floods, I believe that the taxpayer needs protection from me.  That's right; it is not up to the taxpayer to make up for the fact that I exposed myself to a legitimate risk and was too cheap to buy insurance against a known hazard.

We already have laws that mandate flood insurance in certain areas; there is a precedent.  There is also a precedent for moral outrage when some clown builds a home on a cliff and expects the taxpayer to pay him for his loss when a mudslide pulls his home into the Pacific. No, there is actually one right answer there, and it is the open market -- you buy insurance against your home falling into the ocean, and it is more expensive than it would otherwise be if you choose to put that home on a cliff.

There is a part I can't answer, and that is the Houston problem -- who has to buy it?  When we mandate that those at risk must buy flood insurance, how do we define who is at risk?  We know that if you're 20 miles from the nearest trickling stream, in the middle of the Great Plains, maybe you don't need to be forced to buy it.  Lots of people in south Texas didn't think they needed it either, but son of a gun, they did, didn't they.

The nice part of the free-market economy is that everything has a price.  I mean, I'll be happy to sell a flood policy to that guy out in the Great Plains for $8.50 a year -- the price is going to reflect the risk; that's why we have actuaries.  Little risk means minuscule premiums.  So we could indeed mandate that everyone owning property must have flood insurance, and the premiums will end up tied to the risk of your zip code or your block.

I guarantee you that if all America had to buy flood insurance, there would be insurance companies offering $10 a year policies in zero-risk areas.  No one would have to worry about being gouged, at least as long as the free market is allowed to operate.

So why is this mandatory flood insurance OK and Obamacare is not?  Well, it all comes back to the idea of responsibility, and who manages risk.  If I do not have health insurance but get sick, then the burden is shared by me and by the extent to which hospitals cannot refuse to provide basic care.  Additional costs borne by the medical system are factored back in to pricing, so it does affect costs to unaffected patients who did have insurance, but it is inside the system -- i.e., not a taxpayer connection.  Uninsured flood victims have only the taxpayer to turn to.

These are curious points to make, and it does make you wish there were a forum for a national debate, of the kind that, well, never happens because we are not capable of having one, as I wrote here.  In my dreams, Congress is that place.  In my nightmares, Congress is that place.

Let me make sure I paid that insurance premium, OK?  See you tomorrow.

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.