Thursday, December 13, 2018

Visiting Column #3 -- Accelerating the Off-Season

Earlier today, I happened to come across a few articles bemoaning the rather dull Winter Meetings by Major League Baseball.  There has been a signing or two, and a couple minor trades, but when the Meetings are advertised as the place "where things happen", and the press piles into whatever hotel is the headquarters to follow what is happening -- but nothing happens, it's a downer.

The reasons are several, but I can point to one, and his initials are Scott Boras.  And I have a solution at the end of this piece.

Scott Boras, of course, is a sports agent, meaning that he negotiates contracts on behalf of his clients, which for this piece's purposes are major-league baseball players.  Keep that in mind.

With the World Series ending by about November 1st, and Spring Training beginning in mid-February, that's about three and a half months for free agents to figure out where they are going to play when the following Spring Training begins.  Typically, there are a few dozen free agents in a given season, and only a handful, 4-5 at most, are primo players.

The annual dance, of course, is between the teams with needs at certain positions, and the players who play those positions.  The teams want the players they covet, and the players are trying to get the most money.

Of course, there are risks on both sides.  If you are a very good, but not "primo", player, the teams needing you may be waiting to see if they can first sign the primo player at your position.  Then if the primo player signs elsewhere, you want to make sure you get a job, and the teams which missed out on the primo guy want to make sure they get a very good player.  So there are risks on each side, and neither has a sense of control.

If that was almost clear, you will understand when I say that the fates of most free agents, and the rosters of most teams, are all waiting on one thing -- the signing of the primo players.  If that were to happen early in the off-season, then all the other dominoes could fall neatly, players would know where they're going, and teams would know their rosters.

But for the most part, it does not happen in the off-season, despite the extended tumult the delay causes.  And that goes back to the agent who is never in a hurry to get his player clients signed.  That would be Scott Boras.

Now in fairness, Boras is doing his job, which is to get the most money for his clients and the highest commissions for himself.  To do that, he drags the negotiations out with multiple teams -- and we're talking about his primo clients here -- to where Boras clients often don't sign until January or February.

While that shouldn't matter, it does.  The delay in signing primo Boras clients drives the market for all the other players at those positions, whose salary offers are frequently linked to the relative value of the contracts of the primo players at their positions.  Now, a few smart, non-Boras free agents sign early in the season, to make sure they have a job.  They may not quite get the contract they wanted, but they have more choice of teams, and know where they're going to play long before Spring Training.

So the Boras delay tactic has only one salutary effect, and that is for a very few players -- his top ones -- and, of course, for Boras.  The hope on his part is that the passage of time may add more teams into the mix and drive up prices.

The negatives?  Lots.  The other players, particularly the very good, next-tier free agents, have to wait until Boras's primo clients sign, because their best market will be with the teams that fail to sign the top Boras client at their position.  They hate that, because either they wait, or they take less to sign earlier in order to ensure they have a job where they'd prefer to be.

The teams hate the Boras delay as well.  All of them do.  They want to plan; they want roster certainty and they want cost predictability.

And so, as we get to the Winter Meetings in mid-December each year, little ends up happening.  For example, this year, the now-former Washington outfielder, Bryce Harper, is a Boras client.  He is not signing anytime soon, and that is delaying the signing of Manny Machado, a shortstop whose agent wants him to get a bigger contract than Harper, and so is waiting on that move.

Teams needing an outfielder or a shortstop, with the revenues to pay a big salary, will make a far different decision if they sign one of the two, versus what they do if they lose out to another team.  And if Harper doesn't sign until, say, February 1, there are a bunch of teams not knowing who their outfielders will be, and others not knowing who their shortstop will be.  The "losing teams" end up having to scramble, while the other free agents at those positions can't make life plans until right before Spring Training.

So ... this is, of course, a problem, in everyone's eyes except those of Scott Boras.

Well, Major League Baseball owes Boras nothing, and therefore should feel free to take action that will make this situation a whole lot better for all teams and for most players.  And there is, of course, an answer.

I propose that no contract for any player, with an average annual value above $2 million may be signed between January 1st and the date of the first regular season game.

Think about it.

All free agents of decent quality will obviously be paid more than $2 million a year.  So in order to be available to start the season, they need to sign a contract before January 1st.  The teams gain roster certainty comfortably in advance of Spring Training, and the players all know, pretty much, where they will be playing.  And, of course, the Winter Meetings would be a deserved center of offseason attention.

More importantly, November and December provide plenty of time for the negotiations that need to take place -- instead of everyone stalling and goofing around, as soon as the World Series is over, the negotiations can start.  Any linkage between what one player makes and another player's offer is clear earlier in the offseason.

And -- there will be immense pressure on the very few primo free agents to sign early enough to leave time before January 1st for teams that don't sign them to deal with the remaining free agents at the positions of need.  I'd be certain that if that rule were in place now, and Machado or Harper waited until December 31st to sign, he'd be taking beanballs every other game.  The players take care of their own, you know.

We have problems, we have solutions.  Comments are welcomed below.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Visiting Column #2 -- Omission in the News

The other day I happened to have come across an interesting article regarding the former tennis great and notorious bad boy, John McEnroe.

John McEnroe is now 60 years old, and apparently over the years it has been suggested that he take on, in an exhibition match, one of the current female tennis stars, generally one of the Williams sisters, as they have been among the top few female players in that time.  McEnroe appears to be the go-to guy for that kind of match, mainly because he is, to say the least, outspoken and quite loud, in a New Yorker sort of way.  Good TV, we assume.

The idea for this, of course, dates back to 1973.  Bobby Riggs, who was 55 at the time and the 1939 Wimbledon men's singles champion, had declared that, even at that age, he could defeat the best women players currently on tour.  He challenged the best to a match.

Margaret Smith Court, who was then the #1 player in the world, accepted.  She would ultimately win no fewer than 64 Grand Slam titles, including 24 singles wins.  She would win the Australian, French and US Open titles that very year and was clearly the best woman player in the world that year, with or without the rankings to confirm it.

Mrs. Court accepted the challenge and, on Mother's Day  1973, the two played a match.  She was the best woman tennis player on the planet; Riggs was, well, 55.  He had won Wimbledon, all right, but it had been 24 years since and, well, he was 55.

It was not close.  Riggs won the match, 6-2, 6-1, and it took less than an hour.

Why do I feel the need to mention all that history?  Because, as we all know, about four months later, Riggs tried it again, this time against Billie Jean King, also then a highly-ranked player.  This time, Mrs. King won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

The key is my phrase "as we all know."  You see, the match against Mrs. Court seems never to have been mentioned in any story that mentions the Riggs-King match.  That's odd, since Riggs's thesis was that an old, old long-retired top male player could beat an active women's Grand Slam champion, and he had already proved it before playing Mrs. King.

If anything, the King match, given the score, and certainly when considered along with the Court match, provided a couple data points that demonstrated, at the least, that the long-retired man was a comparable skill measure to an active woman champion.  Were John McEnroe to take on a Williams or two, given enough time to get back into whatever a 60-year-old would think of as "playing shape", we should expect him to hold his own in a close match.

Now this will not happen.  McEnroe, though he says now he thinks he could win, has no interest in such a match, and so we would not expect it to happen, ever.

But that is not the point.  Today's media narrative and, to be fair, the narrative for about 45 years, has totally ignored the fact that Riggs defeated the #1 woman player in the game despite a 24-year age difference.  Totally ignored it -- if you ask people in their 30s and 40s (i.e., mature but too young to have seen it) who will have heard about the Riggs-King match, I would opine that fewer than 1/4 of them would know that it was the second match and that Riggs proved his point in the first.

Yes, this is a commentary on the media and their narratives.

The article from the Australian author, the gentleman that I cited in the beginning of this piece, was a perfect example; it mentions the King match but there is no allusion to the Court match at all.  Now to the gentleman's credit, he did tweet back to me, when I pointed it out, to apologize for it as an oversight, and I thank him for that.  I don't actually lump him in with that "media", since I truly believe it was an oversight on the part of a younger writer.

But as I always say and more frequently hear, the media influence as much or more by what they do not say as by what they do say.  The true outcome of the 1973 Riggs matches was that, even at 55, a male tennis player could compete on a level basis with an active champion female.  That is not the media's interpretation, which is that "women can compete with men in anything", but which the two matches together would have refuted.

Except that the Court match, the crushing by a 55-year-old man of the then-top female player, would render that narrative as hogwash.  Therefore, it was to be ignored, forgotten and left out of the story totally.  And the media continue to do so to this day.

Unfortunately, history is a pesky thing, and facts can be inconvenient.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, November 23, 2018

Visiting Column #1 -- Voter ID and Yahoo's Bias

So please don't think I'm going to do this too often, but once in a while there surely will be a stimulus for a column, and this one is it.
Yahoo, as we know, has allowed its leftist leanings to show itself more and more in recent months.  I've written to that, of course, as their "news" feed, that is supposed to be somewhat neutral (if it wants to call itself "news"), will offer ten stories, nine of which lean hard left/anti-Trump and the other is some fluff piece about this or that pop tart.
Today their tippy-top piece was about the Republicans in North Carolina.  It shouldn't have been, but it was.  Here is the headline:
"After referendum, North Carolina GOP tries voter ID again"
 Now, what does that suggest to you?  To me, it would sound like the Republicans in the state are trying to re-institute a voter-ID law requiring that you prove who you are in order to vote, right?  The word "tries", though, suggest that there would be a challenge and that the GOP was trying to do something nefarious.
Well, here's the thing.  The referendum the headline refers to was one that was on the ballot here in North Carolina a few weeks ago.  the voters of the great State of North Carolina voted overwhelmingly -- more than 55% -- to authorize a requirement for voter ID in the state, in the form of authorizing a constitutional amendment.
So the job of the legislature is to implement that.  Now, what the mechanics of that are, I don't know, but obviously in the aftermath of the election, the legislature is mandated to create a model to implement that requires voter ID.
The article suggested that in the waning weeks of the legislative year, before a new and less-Republican legislature takes office, the current legislature would try to implement the new amendment as law before the no longer veto-proof majority takes over.  The governor, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat, you see, and might veto such a move despite the -- did I mention this -- 55% majority vote demanding voter ID be written into the State constitution.
I don't know.  I don't know what Yahoo has against requiring that people be required to demonstrate who they are in order to cast a vote.  I don't know why they don't want North Carolina voters to be protected against the weakening of our votes by illegals and non-citizens voting.  I don't know why it should be an issue to require the same demonstration of identity to vote that is required to drive a car or buy beer.
Well, I do know, actually.  The ballot box has not always been kind to the left.  In 2016, all of Hillary's lead in fund-raising was not enough to overcome the country's revulsion at what a crummy candidate she was, and how she had no evident reason for running, and that she was demonstrably corrupt.
The left would prefer that it not have to risk actually asking Americans to vote for them, and just to take and hold power.  Governing is really not the big deal for them; power is.  Whatever means are necessary to grab power, even allowing hordes to storm our sacred borders, or to have people vote illegally or vote often, well, my diluted vote is just collateral damage to them.
And even when the people stand up against that and vote to amend our constitution to mandate voter identification, we have Yahoo protesting away that showing who you are in order to vote is somehow "racist", their go-to word for everything (hint: they've cried wolf on that one a few too many times).
Well, I wish the NC Republicans well and hope they can get the procedures legislated into law quickly and reasonably.
I hope to show up at the ballot in a year or two with a photo identification and actually be asked for it.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

#1000: It's Been Real, But Good-Bye

Way back in 2014, when I was only paying $500 a month for health insurance for a private plan that covered my wife and me, I had a thought.

There had always been "thoughts," rattling around in my head about this notion or that.  Things like the fact that "moderate" was a stupid term to use for people, since that didn't define anyone's actual beliefs so much as their approach to debate, so much so that two "moderates" could be in 100% opposition to each other.

Things like the notion that "maturity" is really an accumulation of cause-and-effect relationships that allow us to guide our actions by their expected outcomes, relationships I called "cubbyholes" and had always enjoyed describing to people.

Things like the fact that because socialism doesn't work, the power-hungry had to be brutal in their politics, because they couldn't win arguments based on performance, past outcomes or pretty much anything else.

So I got the idea that I would set up a sort of provisional blog site and write a few of these notions down as essays.  I figured if I wrote them and no others occurred to me, that would be it; I'd just take down the site and go do something else.

But then after the first few, a few more occurred to me, driven by life, or the news, or whatever.  How our tax code had gotten like a plate of spaghetti.  How America's Got Talent had lost contact with the notion of "talent."  The economics of baseball.  D.C. statehood, and how D.C. idiotically insisted that its employees had to live in the District.

It didn't end.  And I found myself treating the essays as a daily exercise in thinking and writing, a bit of a distraction from the formulaic writing I did for a living the rest of the day.  Sometimes I would have as many as five essays stacked up, already written, after a weekend of events and thoughts.  Sometimes I'd wake up in the morning with nothing, thinking "What do I care about today?".

And now, 1,000 essays later, it's time to let it go.

It got very political during the 2015-16 campaign season, and the evolution of my feelings toward now-President Trump as a candidate are documented in almost diary form, given the percentage of that period's daily essays devoted to the campaign.  And on the day of the election, I wrote not about the candidates or their platform, not an encouragement to go vote, or to vote for anyone particularly, but an essay on why I don't really like dogs very much.

I've had diversions to topics that were just the event of the week, and those that reflected many months of cogitation.  And in all that time, although this one is probably my very favorite, five columns have become the most-read of all the 1,000 columns of which this one will be the last.  So I'm going to go out by sharing them with you.

#5: Political Courage Needed, Sen. Franken -- a wasted appeal to Al Franken, who was a senator then before having to resign for being caught groping a sleeping woman and, absurdly, photographing it.  He had asked a question of Jeff Sessions in his confirmation hearings about Russian contacts in his capacity with the Trump campaign.  Although Sessions had a passing contact with a Russian in his Senate role, he answered "no", logically thinking that the question had been about campaign contacts. Franken knew that from the context of his own question, and I thought he should have the guts to say that.

#4: The Privilege of Dating -- a piece exposing the immaturity of 20-somethings in the context of a dating set-up feature in the Washington Post.  I get into the utter lack of understanding of life and the world on the part of two wide-eyed young people with no possible insight into what socialism does to societies on which it is imposed.

#3: A Look Back from 2019 or So -- written shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, where I suggest that all the people who back then were expressing "fear" about this or that (actually, they just kept saying "fear" as if we were supposed to get why they were afraid) should write down what they were afraid of President Trump doing, and then maybe in mid-2019 they should look back at that list and realize how many of those fears would turn out to have been completely unfounded.

#2: Adieu and God Bless, Santa Claus -- a eulogy to my first college roommate in my fraternity house at MIT, who had passed away.  Randy Vereen was a great fellow all his life, but his playing Santa at Christmas time was something that not only he continued to do all his life, but which defined the kind of person he was and would always be.

#1: When Leftist Worlds Collide - Again -- the most widely-read of any of the thousand columns was this one.  A black professional football player in the NFL, Edwin Jackson, had been killed by a drunk driver who was an illegal alien that did not belong in the USA.  The leftist press tried hard to ignore the immigration status of the driver and the fact that, had there been a wall at our southern border, Jackson would still be alive.  But at the same time NFL players were disrespecting the national anthem by kneeling, one of their own had been killed precisely because of lack of border enforcement.  The left, I wrote, had so many constituencies that the inevitable clashes among them for attention were its biggest problem -- as this one so tragically showed.
           _ _ _

I don't doubt that I may add a piece here and there in the future.  I've written one every workday for over four years, and I'm already of a mindset that there is an essay, a point to be made, deriving from at least a quarter of the news stories I read.  And there is still a World Series this year, and the Red Sox are still in the hunt for it, up 2-1 on the hated Yankees in the Division Series, as I write this.

But the daily commitment expires here, today.  I'm going to pour a glass of something (I like beer.  I still like beer, to quote the newest justice of the Supreme Court) at some point, start with #1 and read through all 1,000 to see what I may have learned about myself.  That could take a while.  But I'll make time.

And to all of you, the 90,000-plus who have read this far, I want to thank you for getting through the thickness of my prose and caring what I had to say.

Adieu and God bless.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, October 8, 2018

How Democrats Will Be Remembered -- Hint: Not Well

I am beginning to write this shortly after Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that she would be the "yes" vote needed to give us the presumption that Judge Brett Kavanaugh would indeed be confirmed by the Senate over the weekend, as indeed was the case.  Immediately thereafter, the far less-courageous Joe Manchin (D-WV), facing a difficult reelection in a state that President Trump won by 40 points, also indicated that his was a "yes" vote.

[Note -- in fairness, there is word that Sen. Manchin had already informed the White House earlier that he was a "yes" vote regardless, but I would give the senator more of the benefit of the doubt had that been announced publicly ... it was not.]

In both cases, the senator's office had been, and then was thereafter, the scene of screaming protestors who somehow are allowed in the Senate building (hopefully through metal detectors, but we don't know).  They looked like robotic hippies from the '60s, chanting slogans that were not going to change anyone's mind about the issues.

But they could -- and will -- change people's minds about the people who paid them to be there and to scream and make general horse's rears of themselves.

That would be, um, Democrats.

I am of the opinion, and I don't mean this to be self-serving as a conservative, that the Democrats are going to get their backsides handed to them in the fall elections.  It will be analogous to the shock they got in 2010, when the voters rebelled against their seizure of power to ram Obamacare down our throats.  Or to 2016, when the Trump revolution kicked the Obamas and Clintonistas out of the White House for good.

But it will be for a slightly different reason.  Those other times, it was for other reasons.  The 2010 voters, reminiscent of the 1994 midterm, kicked the Democrats out of the majority in Congress because they had far overstepped their bounds.  When they had the presidency and both houses of Congress, and acted so dictatorially and unilaterally, the voters were moved to end that domination decisively.

In 2016, it was a clear lack of direction that doomed Hillary Clinton.  She was a terrible candidate with no evident platform, providing no reason to vote for her, all while Donald Trump had some discrete proposals and a pledge to bring a businessman's acumen to a job that sorely needed it.

More relevant to this case, President Trump has succeeded since, both economically (of course) and diplomatically (who would have guessed?).  Against that backdrop, one of actual performance in office and making life perceptibly better for Americans, we have, um, the Democrats.

And who represents them?  Well, in one sense there are Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and other unpleasant types, bringing no productive platform except "resistance", which falls flat when people have gotten actual pay increases and now have jobs.

But in the other sense, and more importantly, you have the people that the voters see as the representatives of the Democrats, and those are the elevator screamers, the picketers, the Antifa types throwing chairs through windows.  And the leaders of the Democrats apparently thought that those were the people who somehow were going to sink the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh.

I don't know why they might have thought that, but they're certainly the ones who orchestrated the protests and still are doing so, so they must have thought they would be effective.

Unfortunately for them, though, they did not, in that calculation, consider that they might lose.  By not thinking of that, they missed the possibility that they would lose, and that would mean that not only would Brett Kavanaugh be on the Supreme Court, but that the Democrats would now be seen by the voters as represented by the screaming protestors -- being them, in fact.

When America goes to the polls in November in places like North Dakota, and West Virginia and Montana and Missouri and other places where incumbent Democrats are running to hold Senate seats where President Trump won, they will not be in the same frame of mind as they were, even in 2016.

They will be voting for a senatorial candidates who will continue our turn toward policies promoting economic prosperity, and against one who allowed the uncivil screamers in the elevators to represent them.  If the Democrats don't immediately disavow them, they will get hammered in November.

Because otherwise, the screamers will be the Democrats.  The only ones.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, October 5, 2018

If It Was About Beer, What About Obama's Coke Habit?

Last week, we were treated to the splendid theater of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) poring over the yearbook entries for Judge Brett Kavanaugh from some 35 years ago.  Whitehouse had his head in the yearbook, while asking about beer, and flatulence, and more beer, and why a classmate was referred to with the term "ffffffffffff" in the book.

I watched it, although I was laughing pretty hard at the pathetic spectacle of a United States Senator asking someone who is about to be a Justice of the Supreme Court, about things that couldn't possibly be any less relevant, but asking with a very serious tone in his role of advice and consent.  But that's the Democrats for you -- if it means possibly delaying the process another five minutes, they'll do it, as long as they can keep aborting babies (which is, of course, what this is all about).

And let us leave no doubt about the quote from the hearings that may last, at least in this house, even longer than we call Cory Booker "Spartacus" for his imbecilic reference to the old movie, in trying to make a point we have since forgotten.  In every subsequent election, Booker will now be derisively referred to as "Spartacus" before being laughed off the stage.  He asked for it.

But what we will longer remember and cite here was Judge Kavanaugh's impassioned opinion about beer.  "I like beer", he said in his opening statement and then in answers later.  "I still like beer!", he then added.

Don't you just love that?  I know we did.  It didn't change our opinion of the type of Supreme Court Justice that he would be, but at least we know how he might relax after a long day of briefs and judicial arguments.

The questions or, more specifically, the answers to Sen. Whitehouse's odd line of inquiry, will not change his vote on the confirmation one bit.  He is a blue guy from a blue state being run into the ground by blue leaders, one who is never going to vote to confirm a nominee of President Trump even if he sniffed the nominee's butt and smelled flowers.

But he did ask the question, and so I have one for the good Senator.  So let us set the tone one more time.  Imagine that I'm a reporter doing an interview of Sen. Whitehouse live, and he is a captive audience.  Imagine that for the moment:

"Senator, you appear to have been particularly interested in Judge Kavanaugh's high-school life and his friends back then, and especially with his consumption of beer.  You are not explicitly stating that having consumed a lot of beer in one's college days is an automatic disqualifier, even against a pristine 30-year judicial career, correct?"

"Uh, no," Whitehouse will answer.

"OK, I'll make that assumption.  But, of course you are not voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh anyway, as we know.  So what if, instead of beer, he had been using cocaine, and everything else was the same as far as incidents, the yearbook, all that.  Tell me how that would have been different in terms of just how aggressively you were going to oppose the nomination.  After all, cocaine is an illegal drug and now we're in Federal crime land."

"Well, that would have been a lot worse", the senator would have responded, or something like that.

"OK, then.  But Senator, you were a big supporter of Barack Obama, weren't you?  You were a senator the entire time that he was president.  Barack Obama admitted to extensive use of cocaine, a drug that is illegal under Federal law to possess, use and distribute.  He used it during the same age period that Judge Kavanaugh supposedly made the yearbook entries and drank the beer that you seemed intent on asking him about as if it actually were some type of disqualifier.

"And yet, Senator, I'm still curious as to why you did not call for hearings by the Judiciary Committee in 2009, when your party still held the chairmanship, into the capacity of Barack Obama to continue to be president, given that he had done what you admit are worse things during his teen years, than Judge Kavanaugh apparently did? 

That should probably say it all right there, even though I'm straw-manning by putting words in Whitehouse's mouth.  The left cares about what the left wants, which is power, by any means necessary, including by worrying about the amount of flatulence generated by a 17-year-old high school student.

We must do what we can at the ballot box, the proper place, to see that they don't get it.  The power, I mean.

Their flatulence is a given.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Our Depressingly Failing Memories

I have known my friend Gary for well over thirty years, through our membership in the Alexandria Harmonizers and singing together in a quartet for a while in that time.  We actually discovered more in common as the years went on, and I gained a great deal of respect for him professionally as I came to understand his skills as a communicator, and as a coach of those needing to speak and communicate better.  His ideas are worth hearing.

We don't see each other these days, living in different states, but I had to call him to pick his brain about a friendly matter the other day, and we caught up on things.  One thing, as it turned out, was that he didn't know I wrote this site every day, and I committed to send him an email with a link to it, and some links to favorite columns of mine.

One, of course, was "Adieu and God Bless, Santa Claus", which I wrote a few years back, on the passing of my first college roommate and fraternity brother Randy, a friend from Marion, South Carolina.  I think I sent Gary maybe 7-8 links, and then after I sent them I thought perhaps I might want to go back and read them again, since I might have written something I'd need to explain (or apologize for).

Well, I didn't think I had written anything offensive, and indeed I hadn't, but I made an interesting discovery.  In "Adieu and God Bless", I made a passing reference to a friend of his from high school who had gone to Harvard (we were at MIT nearby, of course), and who had stopped by our fraternity house once.

Now I have read that piece I wrote maybe thirty times.  It was read aloud at his funeral in 2015, and it wasn't all that long ago that I read it again, prior to last night.  But I was sitting on the couch last night reading it again, when I stopped at the reference to the friend at Harvard.  Wait a minute, I thought with a startled pause, that wasn't Randy's friend! The Harvard fellow -- and I even remembered his name -- was the high school friend of Kevin, a different fraternity classmate from South Carolina.

In other words, I had written, and then repeatedly read, an account of a friendship from 46 years previously, without realizing it was simply incorrect in identifying a person.  I was sure enough of my account to put it on the Internet, where everything is always 100% accurate, as we know.  Didn't give it another thought for three years.

How are those decades-old memories, we ask ourselves?  I had no sooner made that self-revelation about the Harvard friend, when my mind made the easy leap to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings filling our news this week.  I turned to my best girl and told her what I had discovered, and that apparently my memory was a bit leakier -- in fact, more deceptive than leaky -- than I had realized.

This past week we have been hearing allegations that have been of incidents that supposedly happened 35 years ago, and for which nothing was reported at the time.  In Dr. Christine Ford's case, her memory was inadequate to identify a year, a location, nor how she arrived at, or left, the site of the incident she alleges happened.

Since she was 15, she would have to have gotten a ride from someone thereafter, and that person would have known something happened.  The perfect corroborator, it would be, which makes the lack of that name rather convenient for those trying to keep the allegations nebulous and unprovable.  How 'bout that.

Our memories are funny things.  They keep bits and pieces and, as my own recollection incident apparently showed, occasionally move those back and forth a bit when the incidents start getting decades layered over them.

When people's lives and careers are at stake, it's about time we recognized that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

More Lessons from the Kavanaugh Hearings

Like many, I had the hearings late last week on TV in my office.  Those hearings were, of course, the ones of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be a justice of the Supreme Court.

Like many, the whole charade disgusted me.  In an attempt to be fair, the chairman (Chuck Grassley, R-IA) had allowed the testimony of a psychology professor who claimed to have been -- well, it's not really clear exactly what all was done except that it stopped short of actual rape -- so let's say attacked, by the nominee back in the early 1980s, or the mid-1980s, depending on which of her statements was to be believed.

This testimony could have been delivered many weeks earlier, except that the letter from the professor was held from the committee by the ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is not coincidentally running for re-election, even though she would be 91 at the end of her term if elected. 

Why she sat on the letter for so long, not airing it until after the full hearings concluded, and why she did not even raise the issue with Judge Kavanaugh during her private meetings with him is apparently never going to be answered.  How the letter came into the hands of the press, although it was only in the possession of Feinstein's staff (and that of the California congressman it was also provide to), is also unknown.

But we know.

Christine Ford, the professor in question, is at best a pawn in an ugly game of chess being played by Democrats in a bizarre attempt to forestall a non-existent attack on Roe v. Wade, the SCOTUS ruling effectively legalizing abortion.

In other words, in an effort to defend the killing of hundreds of thousands of unborn babies a year, the destruction of a man who has an exemplary 30-year record of service to his nation is apparently collateral damage.  That is so, even though there is almost no chance that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe, since he has testified to his opinion that it is, at this point, settled law.

But that is not enough.

I truly detest when people talk past each other, let alone doing so for hours at a time.  And yet that is what went on last week as senator after senator on the Democrats' side went on about how wonderful Dr. Ford was, even though she was not able to testify specifically to anything identifiable in regard to the event, and everyone she named as having been there denied that the event occurred.

She was not able to identify the location, nor was she able to explain how she got home from the event, although at 15 she would have had to have arranged for a ride -- and could not name who had taken her home, let alone from where, when the driver would certainly have seen and remembered her alleged distress.  Not a single element provided by Dr. Ford would have been enough for a prosecutor to bring a case to a grand jury, let alone to expect charges to have been filed.

Now we have the FBI doing yet another investigation, although it will take next to no time to do so, given that there is no physical evidence to examine, and only a handful of people to interview.  As I write this, I believe that the interviewing is about done.

The FBI will almost assuredly come back with a report that changes nothing, that will state that no corroboration was able to be found for anything Dr. Ford alleged.  She might have been attacked, but if it was by Kavanaugh, it cannot remotely be shown by either evidence or corroborating testimony that it was.  And in this country, we require that, before we think about punishing anyone.

When the FBI does come back with that finding of nothing more than was "known" before, not one senator on the Democrats' side will change their vote, because they're not interested in supporting Dr. Ford; they're interested in stopping President Trump from appointing a Supreme Court justice.  And it is all about abortion, lest there be any doubt.

And Judge Kavanaugh and his family will continue (as, it should be known, is to some extent the case with Dr. Ford) to be the target of threats and vituperation from social media.  Given that Maxine Waters, a Democrat congressman, has encouraged physical confrontation with Republicans, it is not inconceivable that those threats to the judge may become physical.

Collateral damage, in the interest of killing unborn babies.  This is the lesson of the Kavanaugh hearings, and it is beyond unfortunate that we have come to this contemptible practice, the politics of personal destruction, on the part of the Democrats.  And I really don't have that much concern about the abortion issue myself; certainly not with much passion compared to most.

They don't care.  They have no "envelope" to regard their actions as being outside, because the left has no guidance, no morals, no sense of decency.  No constraints.  Extremism in the defense of abortion is, apparently, no vice to them.

We pray that the voters this November reject that notion in the best way possible.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Bullies in the Land of the Moose

I don't know if the mainstream media actually covered it, but late Sunday night Canada caved in the standoff on overhauling NAFTA.

Now, trade talks are dull as all-get-out, but I think we knew the deal here.  President Trump was never a fan of the North American Free Trade Agreement, feeling that it had locked in some unfair practices that allowed jobs to escape the USA.  As president, he pledged to overhaul it in such a way that it would be fair to this country.

He had a tremendous objection to the tariffs placed on dairy products, making American dairy farmers essentially locked out of the Canadian marketplace by import duties that tripled the price of milk from the USA.  This he regarded as totally unfair (I believe the tariff was meant to protect Quebecois dairies and was related to the weird political relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada, but that was Canada's problem which they were making ours).  He felt it needed to be fixed -- now.

What previous president would have gone to the land of the moose and the loon and the Mounties and Molson and actually said something like "Justin, you can take that dairy tariff back down to something reasonable, or I'm going to slap a tariff on the cars you hosers make up there.  How's that work for you, eh?"

The answer is that no previous president, Democrat or Republican, would have done that, not just because we actually love Canada and Canadians (I'm a big fan, myself), but that our historic posture would have been to cave and do something around the edges.  We can't possibly offend another country, can we?

But Donald Trump, as we know, is not like anyone else who has sat in the Oval Office -- not a bit.  In his view, he is the president of the United States, and is responsible first for bettering the lives of the people of the USA, lowering taxes, creating jobs, arguing on behalf of our people in the world's forums.

He was ready to walk away from the trade-talk table and focus on the new relationship with Mexico, which had already agreed to a significant update to NAFTA.

And that's the point today.  If our friends to the north were taking advantage of us when we had all the leverage -- and we surely did, given the size of our import volume -- then what do you think the rest of the world which, for the most part is not as friendly toward us as Canada is, was doing to us?

The folding by Justin Trudeau is a real watershed moment in American foreign relations.  It tells us that we have been bullied by our close friends, as well as by our less-close friends.  It tells us that we actually have leverage that no other country can claim, and that we need to start using it, rather than being the patsy to the economic bullies of the world.

I don't actually see Canada as a bully, of course.  They have this odd internal political dynamic up there that the USA's dairy farmers were being punished for.  But they also make or assemble a lot of cars up there that end up in the USA market.  They couldn't really expect that we would punish our own dairy industry, but let those cars come rolling in untaxed.

What could they have expected?  We never stood up to them before, so that while they might not have seen their intransigence as bullying, the outcome was the same as if it had been, for years and years.

Until we actually had a president of the USA, not, as he reminds us, of the world.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, October 1, 2018

Cabs and Cars and Tobacco, Oh My!

OK, this piece really has nothing to do with tobacco, pretty much, although there might be an analogy I bring in later.  But you can't do a "lions and tigers and bears" spoof without three things, so I stretched.

Technology Review is the MIT alumni magazine, combining an actual set of articles on very cutting-edge technologies with news about my alma mater and whereabouts and stories of alumni.  It is published six times a year, and as the permanent secretary of the Class of 1973, I receive a printed copy without having to donate to the university, which I won't do as long as Jonathan "Obamacare" Gruber is still employed and teaching young people there.

In the latest edition's technology section, there was a piece about Taiwan, and how they were dealing technologically with issues between the nation's Uber drivers and its taxicab industry.  These two forces are at odds in a lot of places, including New York City, where I wrote about the City's decision to pick a winner and a loser on purely political grounds.

Without getting into the whole "vTaiwan" point of the article, suffice it to say that the island nation was trying to come up with a reasonable accommodation between the two industries.

But it made me think.

I really, really do not like governments picking winners and losers except where government contract awards are concerned, where by definition winners and losers are picked, but based on merit and cost, and not on politics.  Mostly.

In New York City, the mayor and council decided to limit the number of Uber drivers so as not to cause any competition for the taxicab business there, which generates lots of revenue and possibly bribes (often called "campaign donations") to the City and its leaders.

Well, when I read that the Taiwanese were dealing with a very similar situation, I thought back to New York and I let my mind wander, which is rarely a good thing unless I need a topic for an article here.

What, I thought, would have happened if there were neither a taxi nor an Uber system in the city at all.  Suppose that all privately-owned cars were banned, but starting January 1, 2020 the city would allow commercial passenger-carrying vehicles only.  Would there even be a taxi service started then?

In other words, if the notion of passenger-carrying vehicles were allowed with no predecessor model to start from, would we invent both an Uber and a taxi system?  Or would there be an Uber system alone?

I don't use either, since I don't travel and I have my own car when I do go somewhere.  I have used taxis in my life -- actually drove a cab for a short while -- and I've used Uber once.  And I realize that in some places, like dense cities, a service where you can just wave down an orange-yellow-colored vehicle because so many are out there, well, maybe that would be useful compared to a summon-by-smartphone model.

But I don't know if taxis would have proliferated to where they are today, highly protected but expensive to get a license to operate, if a free-flowing Uber presence were out there already.  And if the demand for cabs would have been fairly tiny had Uber been out there previously, well, perhaps the taxi industry, coming in after Uber, might not even start up, or at least be a simple niche industry, not one protected by the City.

Maybe both Taiwan and New York City should look at which service it should allow to shrink back based on consumer demand among its citizenry.  Or (gasp!) let the market decide.

If you took them away, and then allowed them to start up again and compete on a totally even playing field, well, you get the idea, I hope.  Sort of like the fact that if tobacco were discovered tomorrow instead of 400 years ago, there would be a whole lot fewer people getting lung cancer -- especially since, if you removed all the historic rationalization for certain states to protect the industry, people wouldn't voluntarily think to roll that stuff up and smoke it.  There, analogy.

I hate it when governments pick winners and losers.  And I do hope when that sort of contention happens, we need to use the square-one test -- if the two solutions didn't exist yesterday, what would be most sought by the market?

Just a thought to start the week.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, September 28, 2018

The Role of Neighbors

As you're aware, we have just recently returned from a nine-day evacuation and returned to our home and our neighbors.  We fled the wrath of Hurricane Florence, which turned out to be a wise journey given the extended power outage, flooded roads and winds that stripped siding, fascia boards and soffits from houses in our community and on our street.

Our "street" is actually a semicircle that has about 18 houses on it, none more than a couple years old, some very new and more being built as we speak.  Given our location on the Carolinas coast, they are built to withstand Category 3 hurricane-force winds.

As new neighbors join the community as their houses are completed, those already here aggressively welcome them into the community that our street has become.  We need each other, I think we all agree, and so we make sure that we talk a lot and interact a lot.  The first Thursday of each month is "drinks in the driveway", where we get together in a common area at 6pm with drinks in hand and lawn chairs, to catch up.

We still don't really "know" each other as well as we ultimately will.  Certain couples -- most on the street are in our 60s -- have tended to pair up with another couple or three, as they discover particularly compatible personalities.

So it was not a surprise that one resident of the street, who lives two doors down, returned after only 3-4 days; we knew him to be one who would prefer to be addressing issues sooner and directly, even in the absence of electricity and a boil-your-water order that still has not been lifted.

After the storm left, but before anyone else had returned, our neighbor had walked around to take note of the damage to other houses -- some siding, some other minor damages.  We, for example, had a soffit piece come apart near the peak of our roof, and some separation in some wood joints, but that was it.

Our neighbor contacted a contractor right away.  Knowing that contractor vehicles would be banned from our community for a while for new construction but not for repairs, he arranged for a contractor to assign one of his crews to start fixing houses on our street as soon as the residents started coming back.

We returned last Thursday night, were given the contact information for the contractor's repair team, and by noon on Saturday our repairs were all done.  Completed, and for a very low price.

What is a neighbor?  I mean, the word just springs from some ancient English words for "inhabit" and "near", but on this street it means a little more.  Because of our neighbor, over half of the houses on the street, all of which sustained at least some damage, had their repairs completed before the weekend was out, with good work at a very good price.

I know I won't forget what our neighbor arranged, because the alternative would have been a mad scramble a week later to get someone to help.

Back in the winter of 1999, we had just moved into our neighborhood where we would be for 17 more years.  When the first snowstorm came, dropping a foot of snow on the neighborhood, I took out my snowblower and started clearing everyone's driveways, most of whom we had not met yet.

As I told my best girl at the time, if you want good neighbors, be a good neighbor first.  Not one neighbor I plowed out ever thanked me, but that's mostly because none of them knew who had done it.  But for as long as we were there, there were no issues with interactions with the community.

I think we're in one of those places now.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, September 27, 2018

You've Let Me Sing, Mr. Angelos, Please Let Me Watch!

This message is actually directed at John P. Angelos, the Executive VP of the Baltimore Orioles.  I suppose that his dad, Peter, who bought the team 25 years ago but is much less hands-on as he approaches 90, may read it as well, and that would be fine too.  So here goes.

"Dear Mr. Angelos,

I know it has been a hard year and all as far as the Orioles have been concerned, losing all those games and it being unclear as to how and when things may get better.  But people still actually want to watch the team, and that is especially true for those no longer living in the area.

My family and I went to many, many games, both at old Memorial Stadium and the beautiful Camden Yards, while living up there for 36 years and while the kids grew up, but I've been "reassigned" and now work and reside in the coastal area of the Carolinas.  I truly miss your ballpark, though, for several reasons.

One is that you invited me on numerous occasions to sing the National Anthem there.  

Of course, there was the one episode in Memorial Stadium where I was lip-syncing and you played the tape of a barbershop quartet while it was just me out on the field, but your predecessor owners apologized, and after you bought the team you brought me back often to sing live.  I really enjoyed the experience, and hope I did the Orioles and our country proud.

I was also privileged to have presented Cal Ripken with the Lou Gehrig Award of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity there at Camden Yards, another great Orioles moment I was proud to have played a part in.

And for many years I watched a lot of Orioles games on TV, including on MASN, the sports network you own, for many, many years.  We had MASN in our home then, through our TV service, being in the metropolitan area and all.

Unfortunately, though, that has ended, and I hope you can fix it.

Baseball, as you know so well, has an arcane TV blackout system where every zip code in the USA is assigned to one or more teams.  Fans are automatically blacked out of broadcasts of games from those teams in our zip code, unless you watch them on the regional carrier for that team, such as MASN -- assuming your TV service even carries it.

So even though we live 465 miles south of Baltimore, we are somehow assigned to the Orioles as our "local" team for TV purposes.  That means that we get to see no Orioles games at all, ever.

Why is that?  Because we are so far from Baltimore that neither of the two available cable services here carries MASN.  Our cable service is actually locally-based.  We selected them so that our service calls would be answered by Americans, 15 miles away, not in Mumbai, where they don't understand blackout rules quite as well.

Being a small service, they only have about 150 of their total customers who subscribe to the Extra Innings package to see all the unblacked-out games.  We know -- we are one of them.  In fact, we called the cable company to ask them to add MASN to their lineup.  Since they are a local company with good service, they actually talked with me about it and their experience with you.

Want to know what they said?

We'd love to add MASN, they said.  There are a lot of people who live here who are from the area up there who have asked.  But when they contacted MASN, you quoted them a non-negotiable price that was so high that no one would pay for it, and they certainly couldn't afford to add it to their basic package cost without losing half their subscribers.

So I am blacked out of your games.  I don't get to see your team.  And I now understand that the reason I can't see your team is because you can't, or won't, charge an affordable price to our tiny rural cable company.  And we can't use a satellite service, because this area is severely windy and dishes routinely move and blow away to where they can't provide the associated Internet service reliably enough to make work possible.

You let me sing at your games, Mr. Angelos, but now you won't let me see them.  But you could.  

How about contacting me, and I'll provide you the contact information for our cable company.  As a favor, you could negotiate a truly affordable rate for MASN instead of the non-starter that MASN's previous quotes have been.  My contact information is below.

In fact, while you're at it, perhaps you can also persuade your colleagues among the owners to revisit the blackout rules to reflect the reality of today's cable and satellite world, and not the world of 1953 that they are still based on.  

I will be more than happy to participate as a member of the committee, or to testify on your behalf for reasonable changes to the rules.  I can handle the English language pretty well.

I'd like to see the Orioles, really soon."

Kindest regards,

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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