Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Changing the Past

The odd news of the past week included a decision by Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia (a city I often represented in singing competitions, so I know it fairly well).  That decision included the removal of a plaque honoring the fact that George Washington -- remember him, you know, the Father of our Country? -- had been a parishioner in that church in the 18th Century.

Some have tried to defend that action, and the statement by that church that they were trying to separate politics from their worship.  I don't buy it.  The statement included words about people feeling uncomfortable, or whatever, coming to that church because there was a plaque honoring someone who had owned slaves.

Do you think perhaps that the ones with the problem are the ones who, after 250 years or so, only now have decided that they feel "uncomfortable" in a church?  I mean, if I were a pastor, I would want to attract as many people as possible to hear the Word in my church.  But maybe I would be a bit hesitant about turning off 95% of the potential worshipers who, like me, would have immediately dropped my attendance there and found another church, if my pastor had decided to make us forget that the Father of our Country had actually prayed there regularly -- presumably for guidance in the nurturing and governance of the nascent republic.

Of course, the removal of such memorials to our Founding Fathers who were farmers and therefore, as was the custom of the day around the world, owned slaves, is simply a quick extrapolation of the removal of statues to Confederate generals who served in the War Between the States and whom it is apparently no longer PC to memorialize.  "Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard was born here" is apparently no longer an acceptable thing to memorialize, and apparently "George Washington prayed here" is not a good thing either.

So where did this come from after all this time?  The history itself has not changed in 150 years, there have not been slaves in the USA for 150 years, and now all of a sudden we need to take down plaques?  And let me note, lumping George Washington in with Confederate generals makes no sense to begin with, so let me get that in there.

Why, all of a sudden, did the left take on this history-alteration and memorial-destruction tack as a way to advance ... whatever it is they are advancing?

Well, it was suggested to me by my brother recently that there is a reason, and with the left, there is always a method to what even is perceived as madness.

History, you see, is not on the side of the left.  Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, Hamilton and the like were flawed men, of course, but they dreamed of a free and independent land governed by the representatives of the people, not an unelected family ruling by genetics rather than competence.  And then they built it.

The Founding Fathers built an incredible nation and wrote an incredible document to serve as its governing principles.  For the left to destroy the USA, there are social and institutional components that have to be destroyed first.  There can be no differences, for example; no races, no genders, no ... well, humans are simply one generic animal.  We can choose our gender, our race and presumably our species, if we "identify" that way.

And there can be no history.  History is too "defined" for the left; things that happened, happened.  That's not squishy enough to be interpreted flexibly as the left requires.  So history has to be destroyed as well, and there is no better way to do that than to see it not through the eyes of its participants but through a morality that did not even apply then.
 
George Washington owned slaves, which was a perfectly normal practice at the time.  Admittedly, different owners treated their slaves better than others, and Washington was a bit of a reluctant owner as it was (go to Mt. Vernon some time and see, at least until the left tears that down).  But the point is that his owning of slaves was rather irrelevant to his character, and completely irrelevant to his role in the founding of our nation.

Yet the left wants to use that to destroy the image of George Washington by trying to apply 21st Century views and values to an 18th-Century person and devalue the entire rest of his life based on it.

I keep using the term "the left", meaning the organized leftist movement on earth, whether instigated in Russia, China or Cuba, funded by them and the George Soros types of the world.  Why do I say that?

Well, as much as I hate to quote fiction to defend fact, there is this.  Take a look at the film adaptation of the story of Artur London, the Czechoslovak communist who was part of the 1950s purges in Czechoslovakia of certain communist leaders by other communist leaders.  The film was done in 1970, and was historically researched enough that one can readily infer that the intent, if not the dramatized words, was real.

London's character was being interrogated by a communist official during the trials, and during the interrogation the official said to London that "The past must be judged in light of the truths established today." 

Whoa, Hoss.  Doesn't that sound exactly like the motivation claimed by the leftists of 2017 in trying to tear down plaques of the Father of our Country based on what, his owning slaves?  It is vital to the left that the Founding Fathers be badly characterized so that the founding principles of our nation can be torn down with them.  What better way to make an America that reveres our founders turn on them than to try to change the light in which we judge their lives?

It is a frightening thing to come to the realization that there are those within our nation willing -- even motivated -- to destroy it.  But destroy it they will, plaque by plaque, until in their view we have become completely composed of a history-free consolidation of milquetoast that the left can waltz in and run, because at that point we'd be too feeble to resist.

Sounds like Orwell, doesn't it?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Cleaning Up the Act

What is comedy, really?  Making fun of situations or people, or irony and coincidence that tickle us.  It is that mystical something that causes a laugh reflex in those of us with a sense of humor (by which I exclude the left, whose adherents appear generally not to have one).

Verbal comedy is not any different, of course; the same things that make us laugh when we see something funny are involved when we hear a joke.  The difference is that verbal comedy is sensitive to an additional attribute -- timing.  Setting the listener up by capitalizing on his thought process as he hears what you are speaking, that is an art form.

Of course, among the best at setting up the audience is the brilliant comedian and long-time star of his own '90s television show, Jerry Seinfeld.  You're of course familiar with the eponymous show itself, with its misfit cast of characters and plot lines that would often come together strangely at the end of an episode (just recall the marine biologist/whale/golf ball one as the epitome).

Seinfeld himself started, of course, as a stand-up comic in the 1970s, and developed his talent grinding through the comedy-club life as many in the profession do.  He would write down jokes or lines as he thought of them, on a pad that, over time, has become an encyclopedia of hand-written comedy.

But I actually digress.

I mention Jerry Seinfeld because I happen to watch his recent one-hour special done, perhaps, for Netflix but I'm not sure and don't care.  I heard that it had been done and we brought it up to watch over the weekend.

It was certainly funny; Jerry Seinfeld, especially after 40 years in the business, is a very funny guy with great material and excellent delivery.  But about five minutes into it (it is generally an autobiographical tale), it became apparent that there was something different -- not different from Seinfeld's usual material, but different from most of the current crop of comedians. 

Now I do not swear, period.  I "swore off" profanity when I had children, so that they would not hear me use words that I regard as the province of those who can't come up with something better to say.  My kids are in their 30s and 40s now, and I still say "heck" and "darn."  Drives my Best Girl nuts -- "But they're in the Bible", she will say.

At any rate, what struck me right away was that Seinfeld was being funny by leveraging the situation, the characters, the irony, all without being profane.  With the exception of a  "heck" or "darn" (that weren't actually "heck" and "darn", of course), there was no profanity, no sexual or bodily-function attempts at humor, not even how big the bathroom was in his minuscule first apartment as a comic.

I found it incredibly satisfying that I could be made to laugh without having to be embarrassed at who else might be in the room, and whether I was reacting a little too overtly (or two puritanically) to excessive profane words or uncomfortable situations.  When the show was over, that was pretty much the first thing that occurred to us.  We had laughed comfortably for an hour.

Most days we need that.  But I can't turn on, well, almost any of the current crop of comedians.  They mostly make me crawl in my seat, because it seems like they can't really tell a joke without a barrage of F-words.  And it feels like they're using those words for shock value, not to advance the humor.  After all, the words themselves aren't funny; they're more often used in anger.  And anger is not funny.

So I wanted to thank Jerry Seinfeld here, and for the ages of the Internet, for reminding us that we are allowed, even in 2017, to laugh comfortably.  You can be funny and not profane.  You can be funny and not stay in the gutter.  You can be funny and totally avoid politics (although the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as 2016 taught us).

I suspect that most of us agree.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Managers Come and Managers Go

So yesterday, Joe Girardi was fired as the manager of the New York Yankees.  OK, it wasn't actually being "fired", this was in the sense that his contract was up and the Yankees decided not to renew it, but heck, tomato, tomahto; the outcome is the same -- gold watch and look for a new job.

Managing in New York has to be a real challenge.  You have a bunch of newspapers and screaming radio call-in listeners, and those are worse because, well, New Yorkers are unpleasant to listen to even if they're saying something nice to you.  It's sort of like wondering how Germans reproduce, since their language is immensely guttural, and listening to bar pick-up lines in German would turn off the most desperate girl.  And I speak German.

But I digress.

Girardi, who was a catcher in the majors for a long time, had managed the Yankees for ten years.  Was he successful?  Well, that's kind of hard to tell.  It depends on your standards.

We'll start by saying up front that I hate the Yankees with a white-hot passion that ... OK, you've read it a dozen times before. "Yeah, we got it, you hate the Yankees." I hear you.  So I am always inclined to regard their players as overrated and their fans as obnoxious.  I mean, Derek Jeter, even though he now owns a part of a different major-league team, is a saint in New York, and he was literally the worst defensive player (by Defensive Runs Saved) of any player at any position in the history of baseball.  It doesn't get more overrated than that.

Over those ten years, his Yankees won one world championship, their only one in the 21st Century.  They made the playoffs six times, but won the division only three times and were the wild card team three others.  Four times, they failed to reach the playoffs.  I think there are teams for which that would be a reasonable performance -- Detroit, maybe, or the Angels of whatever part of metropolitan LA they currently claim to represent.  New York is definitely not one of those.  World Series or bust.

[Aside ... every time I hear the formal name of the Angels, which last I looked is the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim", I cringe.  Anaheim is a different town, so it's either LA or Anaheim, right?  Reminds me of the "Honeymooners" episode where Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton come across a snack spread that they didn't know was actually dog food.  They try to think of a product name to get investment from Ralph's boss, Mr. Marshall, and Norton suggests "Kramden's Delicious Marshall."  Maybe you had to be there, but when I hear "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" I think of Jackie Gleason eating dog food.]

At any rate, Girardi's track record over those ten years might have been good enough for Kramden's Delicious ... I mean the Angels, but the Yankee owners and their fans expect a ring every year or so.  The question, of course, is the extent to which a manager can actually influence the won/loss record of a team enough to where it is worth replacing them -- or securing them for a long contract.

There is an interesting statistical analysis called the Pythagorean W/L record.  The concept is that, over a season, if, for example your team scores the same number of runs as it gives up, your record should theoretically be .500 (81-81).  If your record is better than that, it is because you "leveraged your runs better" and won close games, and therefore were better managed.  For not just equal runs, but for any run differential, there is an expected (Pythagorean) number of wins your team should have, and a W/L record very different from that suggests good or bad managing.

In six of the ten years, including 2017, Girardi's Yankees outperformed their Pythagorean record, and in two others the difference was negligible.  Only twice did they underperform the expected wins based on their run differential.  So I suppose you could say that he was pretty good, at least if you put much weight in the Pythagorean notion.  For the record, in the 12 years that his predecessor, Joe Torre, was the manager, they outperformed their expected W/L record nine times and matched it once more.  They made the playoffs all twelve years.

During both of their tenures (Girardi and Torre), the Yankees had gargantuan payrolls relative to the rest of the league, leading in payroll almost all that time and being a tad behind only the Dodgers the last couple or so -- but still huge.  During a lot of Torre's tenure, the Yankees spent almost twice as much as the next-highest-paying team.  If your team is going to dump a few hundred million a year on salaries, you ought to be expected to win.  And that's where the 60% making-the-playoffs record probably compromised Girardi's future.

As of the end of the World Series, Girardi's contract would have expired regardless.  It was a reasonable time for the Yankees to decide on their future dugout direction, without incurring a payout to end a contract.  So from the team's standpoint, if there were to be a fresh start, here was the logical time.

Their GM had been trying to clear out bad contracts and bring up a lot of players from the farm system.  That had been with mixed success; some could really hit and others were less than league-average performers, but it was at least a strategy, and they're a year or so into it.  Managing younger players -- and let's point out that for all the jabber in the press, the team is still not that young -- is a different skill set.  If they plan to continue another few rookie call-ups (and they'll have to dump even more contracts to make room to do so), perhaps a manager with a heavy track record in developing them might work.

The point?  I truly believe that the influence of managers is strongly overestimated.  There are indeed two fairly unrelated aspects to it; the clubhouse (handling players and their egos and issues) and the dugout (the strategy inside a game).  There is also the organizational aspect, preparing the players to play by a well-planned spring training program that results in teams as well-prepared to win in April as they will be in July.

What is promoted as a choice between a "young players' manager" and a "veteran" is really a decision as to whether the GM and ownership believe that clubhouse management or field generalship is more important, and what spring training is all about.

Joe Girardi had all that in his background, at least enough to take a highly-paid roster to the playoffs 60% of the time.  He will be replaced by someone whose principal attribute will be that he is not Joe Girardi.  The Yankees organization for at least eighty years has been unwilling to admit its mistakes (sort of like Obama, but I digress again).  They always had planned to take the same 25 players that came out of spring training through the entire season as if they could not admit to personnel errors.

The next manager of the Yankees will be there for a long time, for just that reason.  But I'm willing to bet at least 78 cents that it won't make a difference who it is.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It's What Is HEARD, Not What You Said

The latest version of ESPN The Magazine, an erratically-published periodical with a bizarre tendency toward soccer and NBA articles, had an opinion piece at the end by Howard Bryant, as it often does.  Bryant, who is black according to the picture shown with the article (I at least have a state certifying me as black), writes as if everything is to be seen through the lens of race, and you can be comforted in knowing that he would not be happy even if the world changed to accommodate 100% of the opinions he shares.

The latest output from him concerned the issue that is severely damaging the National Football League, that is, the actions of a number of its players in kneeling for our National Anthem.  It is not, Bryant tries to assert, a slap in the face to our armed forces and veterans, nor to the flag and the republic for which it stands.  It is about other things and, therefore, he insists that we should not be concerned about the kneeling's reflection on those veterans and armed service members.

Now, what those "other things" actually are is a whole 'nother thing, depending on what kneeler you talk to, which kind of burns Bryant's thesis a bit.  It's about "Black Lives Mattering", you know, except that it may be about police brutality (despite the statistics showing that racially-igniting combinations of the race of the cop and the criminal have declined hugely in 15 years, an inconvenient truth).  It is about equal pay for women, we also hear.  Maybe affirmative action, or maybe the designated hitter rule.  Ask five people and expect at least three different answers.

And oh yeah, the first kneeler, Colin Kaepernick, said when he did it that he didn't want to honor the flag.  So that whole "it's not the flag" thesis of Bryant fails the sniff test.

But, you see, it doesn't matter what the intent is.  That's because it really doesn't matter what the person taking the action thinks it means -- it is how it is taken by those who hear it and are affected.

Doubt that?  That is an absolute canon of the left, at least everywhere else.  You can't say "Chinaman" to refer to a Chinese person anymore, even though when I say "Chinaman" I mean "a guy from China", which carries no implication other than that the person is from China.  I certainly don't carry any pejorative or dismissive intent, as I do when I call an Englishman a "limey" or a Frenchman a "frog."

Nope, you're not supposed to say "Chinaman" because supposedly it would offend someone who is Chinese, although for the life of me I don't get why they would be, and have never heard an actual Chinaman say he is offended at the term.

You follow that?  Let's go over it carefully.  You are not supposed to do or say things that carry no malicious intent, if they can be construed by others as offensive to them.  That's the mantra of the left and the professional offended class.


But according to Bryant, the whole take-a-knee-for-the-anthem thing is somehow different.  No matter that literally millions of active servicemen, veterans and plain patriotic Americans -- myself included -- are deeply offended that the players are failing to respect their flag and anthem and could just as easily do their kneeling thing at a different time.  We have to respect their intent and drop our feeling of offense.

Well, I call BS, Mr. Bryant.  If you think I'm the one whose offense is not worth honoring, then you and your whole gang of kneelers need to shut up, if and when I start using what you think are racial pejoratives in my everyday speech.  I certainly don't mean any offense by them, and if the rights of the speaker or actor to say or do something that someone else may take offense at, supersede the rights of the person taking offense, then it has to work all the time.

You sir, are a hypocrite beyond belief if you are not going to apply that standard ubiquitously.  If you think that what you take offense at is more important than my right to say something in innocence and not care if you are offended by it, than I have some choice words for you that I know you won't like.

But it's OK, I didn't really mean it offensively.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Catfished ... Why?

I have recently started watching episodes of the TV show "Catfish", still on the air after maybe five seasons.  It makes you think, it really does.

If you are unfamiliar with the premise, "catfishing" is a sadly-common practice, since the onset of online dating sites and chat rooms and the like, meaning, for a long time.  The catfish is typically a "lives in Mom's basement" type, who goes onto those Internet sites using a fake profile with pictures of a much better-looking guy or gal whom they then pretend to be, never intending to meet the target but to have intimate conversations (and, often, solicit explicit pictures).

I have known people who actually have been catfished by these types personally.  A famous instance was depicted on the TV show "Sister Wives", where one of the polygamous husband's four wives was catfished by a female pretending to be a male, which led to some very embarrassing subsequent episodes that the show, to its credit, aired in all its embarrassing non-glory.

The TV show "Catfish" is essentially an investigative tale.  The only reason I didn't watch it for years is that I thought it was a setup show where famous people were taken advantage of.  It is definitely not that.  Actually, people who suspect that friends, loved ones or even themselves are being catfished contact the show, and the two hosts then interview the victim, gather data and then do lots of detective work to nail down who is actually making the calls, texts and the like.

Eventually the hosts go fly to see the catfish in person along with the victim, and the meetings of those folks are some really interesting television.  And every episode has some form of that uncomfortable meeting.  Yes, on rare occasions it turns out somewhat OK, to the extent that relationships where people have never met but at least one of them is really committed can turn out OK.

The hosts' work in getting to that point involves a lot of reverse phone-number lookups, image searches, that sort of thing -- stuff that you or I could do.  The catfish victim could do that, of course, too -- except for one thing.

They don't seem to want to.

That's pretty much the point of this.  For the most part, the catfish perps (at least as discovered by the show's hosts) are homely, overweight types, sometimes straight and sometimes gay (but sometimes targeting victims who are not).  They seem to be using the stolen pictures to represent them as the people they wish they looked like.  They are as much pathetic as pernicious; it is easy to dislike them because of what they do, but you know they're often in some sort of fantasy.

But so are the victims.

Let me give you my example.  This was a tenant in a townhouse I once owned, divorced with a couple kids with serious problems.  As part of her explanation of why her rent was late, she insisted that a person she described as her "boyfriend" would be back in the country from the Middle East soon, where he managed on an offshore oil platform.  He would, he told her, pay for everything including the next six months of rent as soon as he returned.

I had not even heard of that particular "offshore oil platform" story (though I would later hear an almost exactly-the-same version from a different target, in a segment of the Dr. Phil show a month ago).  I wasn't even familiar then with the notion of catfishing when the tenant told the story -- and I still could tell right away this was a fraud.  I told the tenant it sounded very suspicious, and when she told me she had not yet met her "boyfriend", I told her to find another source of rent that, you know, actually existed.  Naturally, within a couple weeks she realized this guy didn't.

As much as you can characterize the catfish perps, now that the show actually brings them out into the light, you can really characterize the victims as well.  Riddled with self-doubt, desperate for love, affection and attention, it is abysmally easy to promise the victims lifelong love and get them to tell the catfish that they're devoted to them, and miss them, and want to be together.  And, of course, to send explicit pictures.  That's a pretty sadly common theme.

Here's the problem.  I'm watching a couple episodes of the show, and I start to realize that the psychological and emotional issues that allow someone to be catfished on the Internet are not new.  People have always felt the way those victims do; it's just that there is now an Internet to allow them to be taken advantage of.

So I wonder ... what used to happen, say, 50 or 100 years ago to those people?  Did they go to bars, meet lowlifes with a good line and have their lives destroyed?  Did they just hole up and read romance novels for their whole life and use books as their fantasy?

People have always needed to be loved.  There also have always been the pathetic types who would prey on their need for affection.  It's a shame that there is now not only a medium for taking that pursuit to a fairly professional level, but an outlet for the desperate, to where they are putting their desperation out to the world.

I couldn't be much sadder.  But I guess I'm very lucky.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Whither the FBI?

"... for the FBI was incorruptible, as they knew."

If you don't recognize that phrase, it was written by Mario Puzo in The Godfather, that sterling 1969 novel of the Mafia in the '40s and '50s.  The context being a Mafia one, it is interesting -- and Puzo researched the heck out of the topic -- that it was clear that the mob of the time, with judges and congressmen in their pockets, didn't even consider trying to infiltrate the FBI.  They assumed that not a single agent would be able to be influenced.  The context of the quote is actually why a mobster would have to use a different governmental entity to do his dirty work; the FBI was a non-starter.

I read that book around 1972, the same time when the movie of it was made.  In fact, it was what convinced me that it was really hard to capture a deeply-detailed book in a movie without having to chop out entire plot lines, characters and content.  The Godfather movie was really good, don't get me wrong, but the book was so marvelous that nothing could live up to it on the screen.

But the important part is that the Mafia thought the FBI was a brick wall as far as influence-buying and corrupting.

Is it indeed so now?

I have the most extraordinary respect for the agents of the FBI, the career servants of the USA who do the investigatory work of the Bureau and often put their lives on the line in their work.  They are heroes of the same level in the USA as the military who protect us abroad, at least to me, and the agents I have known over the years are amazing individuals.

Of course, the FBI is a Federal agency.  As such, it has a layering of its management to where its highest official, the Director (Christopher Wray at the moment) and several levels below are political appointees.  That means that above the lower level of dedicated agents and agents in charge, the efforts of the FBI are overseen and controlled by people assigned to their positions for political reasons or based on their political positioning, along with their capability and experience.

We would like to think that sort of thing has no effect on investigations, but after the last year, we are convinced otherwise.  We look at the machinations during the 2016 election, where 99.99% of prosecutors would at least have put the Hillary Clinton email BleachBitting scandal before a grand jury.  James Comey, the politically-appointed Director at the time, not only declined to do so (after calling a press conference and announcing some of the evidence that any prosecutor would have taken forward) but grandstanded for months.

We still have Federal agencies full of political appointees -- appointed by Barack Obama -- whose replacement appointees the Democrat minority in the Senate has slow-rolled as far as they can, to prevent President Trump from having a government which is responsive to his policies.

The problem in the FBI is the comparison to the military.  Sure, the Secretary of Defense is a political appointee, and the undersecretaries are also political, but there is a tremendous senior corps of governance -- the general officers -- who came up through the ranks and are a huge voice inside Defense for proper use of the military -- we know our generals and admirals, but the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, all politically appointed, are relatively anonymous.

The FBI also has a solid, senior level of career agents.  But let's face it, all through 2016 there was plenty of talk that if Hillary Clinton was not at least put in front of a grand jury, many of the agents who worked on the case, and who had a pretty good sense that there was more than enough evidence -- and destruction of evidence -- to have a good case, would resign from the Bureau in protest.

Whether 100 did, or 50 or only one left the Bureau is not known, and certainly wouldn't be made known, regardless of who was the Director.  But what did happen is that the reputation of the FBI as incorruptible took a big hit.  If the Director could not be relied upon to put forth a case that 150 agents had worked on and developed, then the public would quickly change its attitude about the incorruptibility of the Bureau -- after all, the public does not readily distinguish between the dedicated agent corps and their political leadership.

I wonder now what the agents who worked the Email-gate case last year think, as we see public pressure for the Bureau to investigate the heck out of the Hillary-selling-uranium-to-Russia-for-$150M-to-the-Foundation-and $500K-to-Bill's-wallet scandal.

The agent corps is, of course, not particularly sympathetic to Hillary, at least when they go home for the day; they know corruption when they smell it.  We know the facts of the case, in terms of uranium committed, payments made, etc.  There is a lot to investigate, in stark contrast to the Donald Trump "RussiaRussiaRussia" election conspiracy nothingburger that still has a special prosecutor but no evidence of anything having happened.

So we will keep our eyes on the FBI as Uranium-gate hangs on in the part of the press willing to air it (i.e., only Fox News).  I hope the current Director realizes that the reputation of the Bureau is far more at risk than it has ever been before, and that an unimpeded investigation of that apparent corruption and a real prosecution is necessary.

Otherwise, Puzo's observation may be an anachronism.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Yanks and Yankee Fans

I do not like the New York Yankees.  Let's get that out of the way right at the outset, although regular readers, even the ones in Russia (and apparently now, Venezuela) would know that.  I have hated them with a white-hot passion that burns and glows for six decades and will for more.

I will also stipulate that there are Yankee fans who are perfectly nice, decent people.  We had dinner with one last night.  If you believe you fall into that category, you need not read forward.

Today I am, if not celebrating with schadenfreude, at least quite happy that the Yankees have lost their League Championship Series to the Houston Astros and can go back to playing golf and whatever they do in the off-season.  But this year, at least, it is not because of the team and the players.

The losing pitcher in last night's clinching game was C. C. Sabathia, a decent enough fellow of gargantuan size and, well, minimal time in the gym relative to his time at the dinner table.  Since he is a pitcher, that is not such a big deal, as he is not required to run much.  Sabathia made his name at the tail end of the 2008.  After many years pitching in Cleveland, he was traded that year for the stretch ru,n to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he pitched on very short rest on numerous occasions and, to the extent that a starting pitcher can carry his team to the playoffs, he did.

That part was good.  The bad was that the next year he signed for an equally gargantuan contract with the Yankees; along with two other players they signed, the Yankees committed about $450 million to those three.  To give you an idea how absurdly uncompetitive that was, that $450 million would have covered the Brewers entire player salary budget for over five and a half years.

Did the Yankee fans protest?  Of course not.  That had been the way their team operated for decades and it was their apparent birthright to spend as much as possible on free agents.  They had really never gone away from that strategy in the modern (amateur player draft) era; even their teams of the 1990s that their fans laughingly describe has "homegrown" averaged about 18 of the 25 players having been signed away or otherwise acquired from other teams.

The Yankees, of course, won their only World Series of the 21st Century that year.  For that, we can all be happy.

But what is different now is that the players themselves appear to be from a later generation.  Sabathia is still there, of course, but in the losing game Saturday, four of the Game 7 starting lineup were actually from their organization (that's a lot), and four were acquired via trade.  Only one, Chase Headley, the third-baseman and not a particular star, was a free agent.  And, of course, Sabathia.

The bottom line is that the players are not a particularly obnoxious set, and while it is easy to root against them for the laundry they wear, it is a bit harder to dislike the players themselves.

But that's fine.  You see, frankly, when the Yankees lose, it's a whole lot easier to cheer simply because their fans lose.  New York, after all, is characterized as a place so parochial that cynical maps are sold there depicting everything west of the Hudson River as a vast wasteland.  But I went to college where a lot of New Yorkers went, and they pretty much seemed to have borne out the stereotype.

If something was not from New York, it appeared, it was not good, or not as good, and certainly not relevant at all.  This was the attitude that carried over to their sports teams.  The Yankees had bought championships for decades; in the '50s and early '60s of my youth they went to the World Series every year except '54 and '59 and won it eight times in 15 years.  No wonder their fans seemed entitled.

Entitled fans become obnoxious fans.  Fans of the Red Sox (I am one, despite not being remotely a New Englander) knew self-doubt for 86 years until winning the Series in 2004 and 2007, after which they quickly took on the same cloak of entitled obnoxity.  Unfortunately the Yankee successes of the late '90s revived any possibly-faded unpleasantness in their already-unpleasant personalities.  They had to try to defend the fact that they were winning with the highest payroll in the game for almost all of the '90s and '00s, and for several years had payrolls about twice as high as the second- and third-place (and the other 27) teams in salary.

Aside -- the current largest payroll in the game belongs not to the Yankees (though they're close) but to the Dodgers of LA, who will be in the World Series this year.  I will leave it to others to characterize their fans, as I pretty much know none of them, and their reputation is to show up in the third inning and leave in the seventh.

So as we wake up to the pleasant notion of a World Series minus a New York team, I will make a mild concession to the fact that I don't hate the team nearly as much any more.  When they lose, I don't revel in the fact that the players are going home to the golf course.

But their fans, ah, a different story.  Schadenfreude.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Soviets in Democrats' Clothing

How many times, my friends, have you been in a conversation where one of the notions put forth, or an opinion that might take a more-creative mind to pose, is put down with a sneering "You're nuts!", or "You're crazy!" or some variant of the proposition that the speaker is psychotic.  I would certainly like to have a buck for every time I've been responded to that way, or responded myself that way.

Yes, I'd like a buck for every such time.  Or maybe ... a ruble.

It is a sad attribute of dictatorships that their number-one goal is to sustain their power.  Lenin, Stalin, Khaddafi, Saddam, Assad, U.S. congressmen, to some degree their first priority was and is to negate any challenges to their power.

The Soviets, right up until the time of Mikhail Gorbachev, held rock-solid power over the Soviet Union and its satellites.  Uprising in Hungary?  Tanks.  Uprising in Whocareswhereistan?  Tanks.  But there have always been opponents, and the good old Soviet Union has always had a go-to tactic for its internal opposition, particularly political ones.  A very familiar one.

"You're crazy!  Off to the psych ward."

Familiar?  Of course.  The Soviets were famous for their characterization of their dissidents as nuts, and putting them in psychiatric wards and mental hospitals ("psikhushkas").  It was the easiest way to get them out of the public eye without actually killing them -- not that plenty weren't murdered.  I knew they were doing that when I was a kid, we all did.  The Russians were not particularly creative in how they got rid of their opposition.

It is so familiar to me, that when my brother (credit where credit is due) pointed out to me this week that the Democrats were doing the same thing, and that I needed to address it in a column, it rang a loud bell.

Yes, the left is taking a page from their leftist predecessors in the old Soviet Union.  I give you Exhibit A, their treatment of President Trump.

Now, the president is many things.  He is a very different national leader from what we are used to the previous 228 years or so.  He does not suffer fools gladly, and he does not accept as inevitable the intransigence of the Senate in passing actual legislation.  He does not accept the as-is in Washington, the Deep State, the leadership-by-tenure rather than leadership-by-competence mentality.

In other words, he does not accept how power is apportioned in the Government, and particularly the inertia that goes along with that.  That makes him a challenge to the entrenched status quo.  And particularly the Democrats, to whom he is the biggest threat (principally because his victory in 2016 tapped into voter unrest), cannot tolerate his presidency.

So they have taken a page from the Soviets' book, of all people.

Let us look at the Democrats' approach, as exemplified by the whole 25th Amendment nonsense that has roiled the Fake Media this week.  Sure enough, they are calling the president crazy and mentally ill, and are trying to establish that "diagnosis" as the reality by shoving it through their willing accomplices in the media.

Donald Trump is perfectly sane and they know it.  What he is, and they know this too, is a threat to their power.  Now the left has no governmental power except for the Deep State (and that is a big "except").  But they do have the media, and they are willing to do anything, even Soviet-style tactics, to try to weaken their biggest opponent.  So they will continue the mental-illness narrative as long as they can, no matter how silly it may be.

We need to continue to call out the left for their lack of principles and their lack of workable ideas.  But we also need to call them out when they have to resort to mimicking the tactics of the Kremlin.

That is as pathetic as their ideas.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Column: Girls in Boy Scouts

Today's guest column is by invitation.  Ed Fenstermacher, an MIT classmate of mine who has several guest columns to his credit here the past few years, has been a very active leader in scouting activities.  Accordingly, when the news broke of the Boy Scouts' decision to introduce programs for girls, I asked Ed, as an expert in Scouting, to comment.
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As a long-time adult leader in the Boy Scouts of America, I was surprised by the news that we would admit girls to the Cub Scouting program in 2018, and older girls to BSA “with a path to Eagle Scout” by 2019.  Unlike every media outlet I have heard from, and certainly unlike GSUSA, for me it was a pleasant surprise.  Let me explain why.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are both quality youth programs.  They both have an active outdoor program that promotes camping.  They both promote good moral values, many of which you do not get from, for instance, sports programs.  But Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are structured differently, and have different emphases.  My wife has been active as a Girl Scout leader for even longer than I’ve been a Boy Scout leader, and we contribute to both organizations financially.
 
Boy Scouts has the Cub Scout program for elementary school youth, and the Boy Scout program for middle and high school youth.  In addition, the Boy Scouts has the Exploring program, the Venturing program, and the Sea Scouts program.  All of those programs are open to youth from age 14 up, and all already admit girls.  If memory serves, Exploring was admitting girls when I joined in 1965.  This is nothing new.  Girls have been members of BSA for decades. 
 
Usually, when a boy joins a troop, he will be in the same troop as long as he stays in Boy Scouts, will learn from the older boys as well as adults, and grow to be a leader himself.  A boy progresses from Scout to Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle, each building on the one before.  You cannot earn Eagle Scout without earning all the lower ranks.  Also, starting with Star, each rank requires several months of service in one of a list of leadership positions, all of which require planning and working with other scouts, usually younger scouts for whom they are expected to direct, teach, and set an example for.  In an ideal troop, most of the leading is done by boys, not adults.  Each rank promotion requires a Board of Review, where three to six adults sit with the Scout and review his progress.
 
Girl Scouts is organized more along grade-level lines, starting with Daisies (K-1), and moving to Brownies (2-3), Juniors (4-5), Cadettes (6-8), Seniors (9-10), and Ambassadors (11-12).  The programs at each level are distinct; certain awards may be earned only at certain levels.  The highest award, the Gold Award, is earned only by Seniors and Ambassadors, and they are not required to have earned the Silver Award as a Cadette.  Most leadership in Girl Scouts is from the adults, although leadership is required for Silver Award and Gold Award projects.
 
Both the Gold Award and Eagle Scout Rank require a project, but again the requirements are different.  They are both difficult and time-consuming.  Some projects would meet the requirements of either program, but many that would meet the Gold Award requirements would not meet Eagle Scout requirements, and vice-versa.  The Gold Award Project has defined service hour requirements, the Eagle Service Leadership Project does not, but it does require supervision of other persons.  There are other differences in emphasis on the projects.
 
The Eagle Scout Rank has other requirements as well.  In addition to the skills learned for the lower ranks, it requires earning 21 merit badges, 10 required of all Eagle Scouts, and three with a short list of options (e.g., swimming or hiking or cycling).  Merit badges required for Eagle include First Aid, Personal Fitness, Personal Management, Camping, and four involving Citizenship.  Many of the required badges require a significant level of effort.
 
There are many girls who are well served by the Girl Scouts, and for whom that program meets all of their needs.  There are others who may be better off, and get more out of, a program structured like Boy Scouts.  Only the girls and their families can make the decision as to which is best for a given girl, but I think that, in a country of 325 million individuals, we should be free to choose the best program for each child.
 
Let me dispel a couple misconceptions before I close.  It was already announced that for Cub Scouts, each den will be all boys or all girls, and the Cub Scout Packs will be able to choose to be all boys, all girls, or have dens (the smaller groups) of each.  While the announcement did not include details for the program for older girls, it can be expected to follow the same pattern.  I expect there will always be all-boy units, but there may also be mixed and all girl units.  There are already Explorer Posts and Venture Crews that are all female.  In one notable case, the same group of girls was registered both as an Explorer Post and a Girl Scout troop so they could maximize the number of events they could participate in.  For several years, in the winter camping Klondike Derby in our District, that Post won the best unit competition.
 
Also, as a result of the abuse incidents which occurred in the past, BSA has implemented a very strong Youth Protection programs, in which every adult who works with a youth must be trained every two years, and adhere to.  I can say for certain that, however things are implemented, boys and girls will not be sharing tents, etc.  That is a non-starter for all concerned, no matter what you have heard through the media.
 
On a survey I filled out last year about my thoughts as a Boy Scout Leader, I was asked about what I would change.  I thought about the fact that there was no aspect of learning and living by the Scout Oath and Law, no camping skill, no first aid skill, nor merit badge knowledge, that would not be just as valuable in the life of a girl as in the life of a boy, and I wrote, “We should admit girls, and allow them to earn Eagle.”  I believed it then, and still do.
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Ed Fenstermacher has been an adult leader in BSA for over a quarter of a century, serving as a Den Leader, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Unit Commissioner, Merit Badge Counselor, and currently as a District Eagle Advisor.  He is the father of a daughter who earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, and two sons who are Eagle Scouts.  A dozen scouts have earned Eagle on his watch as Scoutmaster, and Ed has worked with nearly 200 Boy Scouts who either have earned Eagle, or are well on their way.  He is looking forward to having the opportunity to work with some of the first girls who will earn the Eagle Scout rank.
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Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Time to Retire, John

I suppose that it is worth the words to go ahead and thank Sen. John McCain for his long service to the USA.  No one, not even someone who steps up to serve his country knowing the risks, should have to suffer years of incarceration as a POW in the heck-hole that was a North Vietnamese prison camp, as the senator did during his military service.

And although there are immense perks that go with the office and length of service, we should thank him as well, or at least the people of the State of Arizona should, for his long tenure as the senator from that great state.  We should thank him for running for president against Barack Obama in 2008, although he failed to expose Obama for what and who he was and, accordingly, lost -- leaving us with Obamacare, the Iran deal, ISIS, a reinvigorated Russia, countless leftist judges and Black Lives Matter, the last of which Obama clearly allowed to happen.

But it is time -- it is SO time -- for Senator McCain to step down gracefully from the national stage and be with his family and take care of the cancer that he is again suffering from.  It is, we can argue, long past that time.

As evidence #455 of that, I give you this excerpt from his speech earlier this week somewhere to some audience.  In a direct message to President Trump , McCain gave us these words:

"To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."

I challenge you to diagram that sentence.  OK, you may be too young to know that in the bygone days of schooling we used to diagram sentences to identify parts of speech, which may be why kids today can't write a coherent sentence.

But I digress.

I'm going to try to extract one of the 17 points McCain was trying to make in that grammatical challenge, so he should forgive me if I don't quote his intent properly.  That point is that, under President Trump, we have, he says, "refused the obligations of international leadership", because we are excessively nationalist Americans who don't want to solve world problems.  That, he said, is unpatriotic.

That, Senator, is just wrong.  Now, you may think you have a better sense of what constitutes "leadership" in the world, and think you have a better sense of the USA's role in the world than I do, but I'm thinking that maybe you don't, and any American's opinion is as valuable as yours.

I have thought for a long time that the United States of America was a grant by God to the world, so that there would always be one nation on earth where people could see what happens when the shackles are taken off the ambition of the individual.  We are not so much the beacon of freedom to attract people to enjoy it here, but the demonstration of the success of freedom so that other lands can enjoy it there.

That more nations have not adopted our Constitution as the foundation of their own republics is not an indictment of its inadequacies.  It is, rather, a triumph of corrupt power unwilling to grant to its people the right to self-determination.

So our role in international leadership, Senator, is a nationalist one.  It is for us to unshackle our people repeatedly, continually and visibly.  A better USA is the great commercial for our way of life everywhere else.

And our role, to a certain extent, includes defending the oppressed in other lands against the internal powers there who would subjugate them.  It is why we have participated in the removal of the Hitlers, the Mussolinis, the Saddams, the Khaddafis.  It is why when we have failed to do so, the Pol Pots and Kims have murdered their people and created repressive dictatorships.  And it is why we must continue to demonstrate to Russia and China (and their people) that our way of life is a way of freedom and success.

This is not "spurious, half-baked nationalism" being practiced in the refreshing new Administration.  It is a clear understanding in this White House that what we do within our borders -- and, of course, that we have borders -- matters as much or more beyond them.

If you don't get that, Senator McCain, if you have let your personal disaffection with this president color your capacity to legislate in the best interest of the people of the State of Arizona and of this nation, then you have no real choice.

Retire tomorrow, Senator, and take care of yourself.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Antifa in Middletown? Who Knew?

Middletown, Virginia is a very small community at the rural confluence of two interstates in the northeast part of the state.  There is not a great deal there, but it is the home of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical site, the location of a battlefield from the War Between the States where a significant battle was indeed fought.

It is a popular site for those folks whose hobby is to reenact battles from that war.  That means that I need to provide the necessary foreword stating that I have never participated in a War reenactment, nor I have I seen one, nor have I been knowingly close to one, despite many decades of living amidst where those things go on.

I trust that those who that sort of thing enjoy themselves, learn a great deal and regard reenacting as harmless fun.  I certainly do not think anything bad of those who do participate, any more than anyone would think ill of me for singing barbershop music for 25 years of my life.

This past Sunday was to have been an annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek at the site.  This was advertised for a long time prior, and if I read correctly is indeed done every year and many folks come out to see it.

The reenactment, however, was not going to happen.  It was cancelled, you see, at the last day.  This was not related to weather, or lack of expected attendance, or lack of reenactors on one side or the other.

Nope, this was to be cancelled because of a threat received last Wednesday, and provided to the FBI, that there would be bombings on that afternoon, and it is reported that a pipe bomb was actually found at the site on the day of the scheduled event (a device was found; the FBI ultimately determined it to be safe and no one was hurt).

The FBI is investigating and we do not expect them to provide any further news on the matter, unless something very dramatic is uncovered.

Because law enforcement is not talking, we are speculating based on word from some of the disappointed reenactors as to what they have heard.  Primarily, the word is that the bomb scare was the work of the same types who are trying to get statues of Confederate generals taken down (along with Christopher Columbus and, I suppose, George Washington at some point).

The obvious inference is that the Antifa types are at it again, only this time the threat was not to statues of Confederate generals but, rather, innocent Americans pursuing a harmless hobby -- and those watching them do so.  And that, friends, goes over the line in a big way.

The cancellation of this event was news in the Washington, DC media outlets, at least for a day or so.  It is only now starting to get picked up by predominantly conservative outlets beyond the DC area.  That, in itself, is a bit scary.  We had Americans, actual Americans, threatened by a lunatic fringe which apparently cannot be called a terrorist organization because they don't have enough of an organization to identify any leadership -- textbook anarchy.

Do we think that anyone in Chicago or Houston or Los Angeles knows this happened?  Was it on the national media?  This is a real problem.  The next time Antifa strikes, and someone is killed, will anyone in the media bring up Cedar Creek and say that this was brewing?  Or will it be the case that the lack of publicity for what they did at Cedar Creek will mean that we weren't prepared?

There was one bright spot.  The reenactment actually ended up taking place on Sunday morning, by a set of reenactment hobbyists determined not to let Antifa or anyone else stop them.  The public was kept far from the "battle", and it was reported that the Confederate ranks were quite a bit down from last year's event.

If I actually were a reenactor on the Confederate side, I don't know if I would have donned the gray uniform.  But I'm glad that some did, if only to demonstrate that Americans are not going to put up with crap from a bunch of communist anarchists.  At the end of the event, the soldiers chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" to let everyone know that 153 years later, we're not going to let enemies within or without stop us.

Will CNN say anything?  Not a poop out of them so far.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.