Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Visiting Column #31 -- Accomplisher of the Year

If you're over 50, you remember when Time magazine was an interesting read in doctors' and dentists' office, a ubiquitous site on the end tables of the medical profession.  You didn't have to subscribe; your dentist did it for you, and you would read as much of it as you felt like.  Having not paid for it, you could pick and choose what articles you wanted to read.

It didn't "feel" like a politically biased publication, even if it probably was for all those years.  I don't particularly recall having that impression until fairly recently, when its extreme anti-Trump bias has taken over the magazine to the point of leading me to read, instead, things like The Medical Digest of the Carolinas, June 2008 issue rather than pick up Time.

In the good old pre-Donald days, at the end of the year, Time would do a "Man of the Year" issue.  Now, I can assure you that it has never been the position of the magazine that its MOTY was the person who had done the most good, but was, rather, the biggest "news-maker" of the year.  Adolf Hitler won it a time or two, if memory serves.  That went over well.

I recall that every year, there would be letters to the editor thereafter, telling Time what a stupid decision their choice was, mainly because the letter writer had not picked up on the notion that the winner was not necessarily winning it for what they regarded as doing good things.  Half of news, as we know, is bad.

So these days, with bias infesting the editorial rooms at Time, the Man of the Year award has been pretty much a pfffft exercise each year.  After all, who really cares what a bunch of hard lefties in New York think?  I certainly don't, and I sort of doubt you do either.

And so we have this year's "winner", who is that snarling little Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, the barely-a-teenager kid who has been running around the world on someone else's nickel, yelling at the USA because we're not doing enough to stop global warming.  Now, I have not heard that she has set foot in China, to be fair to the USA, which is weird given that China and India are the Earth's lead polluters, while the USA has drastically and successfully gone after our own emission levels.

I mean, I understand why she hasn't gone after China.  Let's face it, a country that masses its armies outside the city of Hong Kong, lest they try to exercise the independence granted to it, well, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't take kindly to a pre-teen girl telling them how to run their country.

On top of that, since the brunt of her rhetoric is aimed at the USA, you have to know that the funding behind her cavorting about the globe is from the Soroses and Steyers of the world, and those types are big fans of totalitarian communist regimes like China, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea.  So don't expect to see little Greta leading a march through Beijing.  The tanks are bigger than she is.  And so is her bankroll.

And that's kind of the point.  While it is a blip on the radar in terms of impact when a little girl growls around the world, petulantly taking us to task for living our lives, Time apparently feels that she has actually accomplished something, enough to put her on the cover as MOTY.

But what, exactly, has she accomplished?  All the Paris Accord signees (which the USA thankfully no longer is) look at her and nod and cheer, except they already signed the agreements, such as it is, so they are saying proudly that they're "already on their way" and that she doesn't need to yell at them.  So nothing is happening there.

The USA is doing what it can, successfully, not because of her but in spite of her, since the laws we operate under now were already in place when she was barfing strained peas in Stockholm.

And that's kind of the point of the title of this piece.

Perhaps Time ought to take a look at its criterion for the MOTY award, which is the person who, good or bad, was the biggest news-maker for the year.  Well, shoot, if they really mean that, there are two categories -- Donald Trump and everyone else.  Whatever you think of him, he gives new meaning to the word "news-maker."  So the magazine could just retire the award and start a new one, at least as long as he is president and dominating the news.

I do think there is a better way, though, at least if Time survives another year of dental offices as a print medium.  Instead of trying to determine who made the most news other than President Trump, why don't they change the MOTY standard to biggest "accomplisher" of the year, and award it to the person who had the most impact, either by invading another country, or curing metaformic blastotechnic sofanoma in potatoes, or whatever.  But something at least tangible, at a minimum.

Liberals simply don't know when they are being laughed at, since they are pretty much isolated in their echo chambers in New York and California.  But Time's MOTY choice is being laughed at all over the rest of the country, because they gave an award, not that anyone really cares about it now, to someone who essentially accomplished nothing at all.  Kind of a Jerry Seinfeld MOTY.

Certainly they ought to consider strongly what their criteria are, and that perhaps a basic tenet ought to be concrete accomplishment of, well, something.  Perhaps they have been so Twitterversed into thinking that being an "influencer" is a big thing, so much that they can't see the forest for the trees.  Perhaps they actually think someone cares any longer what they think, because no one cares what Greta Thunberg thinks.

Or it doesn't matter, because Time can't survive forever with idiocy like that.

My dentist might miss it, but I think the rest of us won't.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Visiting Column #30 -- Dual Motivation Compromising Impeachability

So as we watch the charade masking as House committee hearings into the impeachment of President Trump, today's jollies were provided by Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who unfailingly reminds me for some reason of Burgess Meredith playing The Penguin in the old Batman TV show.

But I digress.

The premise of the Democrats, if they needed one, is that President Trump committed an impeachable offense, which apparently is defined as "doing something the Democrats don't like."  In this case it all goes back to the July phone call from the president to the new Ukrainian leader, Volodmyr Zelensky, wherein he asked him to take a look into Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired the son of the then-sitting VP, Joe Biden, for at least $50,000 a month, despite the son knowing nothing about either energy or Ukraine.

We know about the call because Eric Ciamarella, a bureaucrat in the NSA whom we now know to be the "whistleblower", filed a whistleblower complaint after being told of the call (he was not on it) by someone inside the White House who disliked Trump.  We know that, because Ciamarella went, not immediately to an IG to file it, but first to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, who has since repeatedly lied that he doesn't know who the whistleblower even is, although never under oath.

Here is the point.

The Democrats' case is based on the idea that Trump asked Zelensky to look into Burisma because it would be an opportunity to cause problems for Joe Biden, a political rival.  That would constitute soliciting foreign help to influence the 2020 election, specifically the reelection contest in which Biden was a potential candidate, if he were to win the primary.

But that's far from "it."  You see, the request was based on some Ukrainian history of corruption that Federal law plays into -- our law requires that the president be assured of foreign aid recipients cleaning up their house.  Was this a problem in Ukraine?  Well, a survey of Ukrainians showed that over 60% had actually paid a bribe to a government official there.  That's a problem.

So the law mandates that the president perform due diligence to protect the American taxpayer by providing assurance that corruption of the recipient country is being addressed.  In the case of Ukraine, this also included common understanding that the they had interfered, or tried to interfere, with the 2016 election on behalf of candidate Hillary Clinton.  And President Trump certainly wanted to know about that -- legitimately so.

Joe Biden went public with his declaration -- proudly at the time -- that he had held up $1 billion in aid to Ukraine until they fired the prosecutor who was at the time investigating, you guessed it, Burisma, which at the time was paying an ungodly Board fee each month to -- you guessed it again, Joe Biden's son Hunter.

So let's take it as independently as possible.  Even if you thought that President Trump was far out of line in asking Zelensky to investigate Burisma and the son of a political rival, there is also the fact that there is a perfectly legitimate, in fact, a legally-mandated justification, for having done exactly the same thing.  We were going to give Ukraine millions in military aid (vice the meals and blankets that Biden and his folks were only willing to send).  The law says that Trump needed to be assured that Ukraine was addressing that corruption history under a new president.

That leaves an extreme complication that hasn't been addressed anywhere, so here goes.

You can say that asking Ukraine to investigate Burisma and the Bidens' influence is wrong and political.  But it begs this question.  Does thinking it is impeachable to do so, mean that a person who is also a political opponent is then free to do whatever corrupt thing he wants to do overseas, since it would be impeachable to ask the foreign country to investigate him?

Think of it this way.  Let us suppose that we were not providing foreign aid to Ukraine.  Would it still be thought impeachable to investigate the Bidens?

Suppose that Biden were not running for president at the time, or had dropped out of the race, or not declared yet.  Would it still be thought impeachable to investigate the Bidens?

Or is the fact that Biden was running at the time insulate him or his family from a US president calling for an investigation of any corruption of an American overseas?  Could a future VP who had committed hideous corrupt acts in a foreign country avoid investigation, let alone prosecution, simply by the act of running for president and calling himself a political rival?

There are two reasons for investigating what Hunter Biden was doing on the board of Burisma.  One is to follow Federal law and ask the Ukrainians to show that they are fighting corruption, and to have the former VP protect his son on a corrupt Ukrainian company's board is consistent with that.  The other is to wound a political rival.

How would any investigation determine whether the actual motivation was one or the other?  What if it were both -- how can you impeach a president for following the law, even if following the law means choosing to take steps that could wound a political rival?

But the Democrats will keep trying.  And I hope for their sake that they have their collective glutei adequately armored.

Because come November, this is going to bite them, right there.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, December 2, 2019

Visiting Column #29 -- Lisa Page and Buck Weaver

There is probably little expectation that Lisa Page, the adulterous FBI lawyer who was a major part of the Russia collusion hoax, knows the name George "Buck" Weaver.

I'm not surprised; I'm betting that you have never heard of Buck Weaver either.  But they're rather linked, now that Mrs. Page has decided to "break her silence", the newspeak term for when someone decides to write a book or do a paid interview, whether or not they were silent before (hint: she was not).

Buck Weaver was the third baseman on the 1919 Chicago White Sox.  Yes, those White Sox, the ones who lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds after concocting a scheme to throw the Series, and engaging noted gamblers to help them.  For the record, despite what you have heard, it was the players who decided to throw the Series and brought in the gamblers, not the other way around, but I digress.

Eight White Sox players were in some way a part of the scheme, including Weaver.  Of course, their relative involvement was very different.  Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil were the ringleaders; they originally brought in Weaver, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and Happy Felsch, and two pitchers, Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte, figuring that would be enough to tip the balance.  Fred McMullin, a utility infielder, overheard some of the plotting and had to be brought in.

Weaver, however, effectively pulled out right after the initial meeting.  He loved the game and didn't want to corrupt it.  He attended no further meetings, told no one about the plot, and hit .324 throughout the Series.  He received not a penny, of course, since the plotters knew he was "out" after the first meeting and didn't discuss anything with him thereafter.

Of course, the defenders of "Shoeless Joe" claim that he played on the square, too, and point to his .375 average for the Series, which sounds a bit exculpatory until you dig into the numbers and realize that he hit much better, a .500 average, in the three games that the White Sox tried to win (and indeed won) and far worse in the five games they threw (.286).  Weaver, on the other hand, hit .333 in the thrown games and .309 in the games they tried to win.  Oh yeah, "innocent" Shoeless Joe got paid, too.

So Lisa Page.

The other day, she decided to tweet out a few things and got her name in the news, with a story quoting her as saying "There's no fathomable way I've committed any crime."  In other words, outside of adultery, she's as innocent as it comes.

Well, not so fast.

Let us go back to the infamous "insurance policy" text that was sent to her by Peter Strzok.  Cleaned up a bit from the original text shorthand, it reads as follows:  “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before 40.”

Here is what that text says to anyone who reads it with an open mind.  Lisa Page had previously told Strzok and their boss, Andrew McCabe, in McCabe's office, that Donald Trump was not going to get elected, so there was no need to "do" anything.  Strzok then texts her to say that while he'd like to believe that, it was too "risky" that Hillary Clinton might not win, and they had to "do" something to make sure Trump didn't win, or was neutralized if he did.

That, of course, is treason.  And being treason, it was the job of an honorable FBI employee to notify the proper authority -- in this case, someone other than Andrew McCabe, who allowed that discussion in his Government office on Government time -- that there was an indication of a plot to remove the president as stated by Peter Strzok.  It was her job to do so, to notify authorities, even if she had been sleeping with the guy for goodness knows how long.

She did not do that, and there's no evidence she even considered doing so.

So Buck Weaver.

As you might know, the eight players involved played through the subsequent (1920) season until, late in September, they were all indicted on charges of defrauding the White Sox organization and the American League, and were suspended, including Weaver.  Several of the players, given putrid legal advice and victimized by a corrupt conflict of interest on the part of their lawyers, signed confessions.

Ultimately, the players were all acquitted by a White Sox-loving jury after the confessions all mysteriously disappeared from the State's records. Without evidence, there went the legal case.  It didn't matter, of course.  Everyone knew that the Series had been thrown, and newly-appointed Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight from organized baseball for life, a ban that was never lifted.

Buck Weaver protested that he hadn't truly participated in the plot; however, Landis pointed out that he had been present in the first meeting, certainly knew about the plot, but did not point it out to his management or ownership, which in Landis's view was sufficient participation.  For years, Weaver tried every-which way possible to get reinstated into the game he loved, but it was all to no avail.

So Buck Weaver and Lisa Page.

Lisa Page cannot really make a statement like "There's no fathomable way I've committed any crime" and then be taken seriously. She, being a lawyer and a Federal employee, was present and participatory when another Federal employee actually made a statement, documented in a text, suggesting that he would be taking steps to neutralize a duly-elected U.S. president if he were to be elected.

She knew that to be treasonous, and yet, blinded by whatever, failed to notify any authority of that fact.  She is every bit as guilty of participation by her silence as was Buck Weaver by his.  I can't say for sure if she could be convicted in a court of law (unlike her, I'm not a lawyer), but it would surely be a trial where her acquittal would not be a slam-dunk.

She thinks there's no "fathomable way" she's committed a crime?  Well, I can fathom up a couple to consider, if she can't.

I'm more sympathetic toward Buck Weaver.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, November 29, 2019

Visiting Column #28 -- Baby, It's Woke Outside

Dean Martin and Marilyn Maxwell.  Bing Crosby and Doris Day.  Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.  Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer.  Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.

I hope you're getting the idea.  As this Christmas season arrives, and we are deluged with as many seasonal songs as we choose to hear, those of us of a more traditional bent will periodically hear more than a few renditions of the 1944 Frank Loesser classic, "Baby, It's Cold Outside."  Chances are, the performers will be one or more of the couples mentioned above, all of whom recorded the song before I was in kindergarten, and I'm pretty old.

As often as I've written about music performance, I've tried to stress the idea that the performer of a song is taking you, the listener, on some type of journey (especially lyrical-themed songs), to suspend your disbelief -- that is, to make you forget that the people singing are, well, singing, and that the performer wants to put you, yourself in their story.

When I hear -- well, any of the performances I noted above -- doing that duet, I am immediately back in the 1940s, a time of sophistication (faux or real), a life portrayed in the movies.  It is winter, and the most sophisticated version of seduction is going on.  It is a combination of come-on, tease, back-and-forth innuendo.  Never is anything actually said overtly that talks of anything more than a kiss, even though the topic is obviously more so than that.

They're already at the guy's apartment, and it's cold out.  We all know what he wants, and she is trying to act the demure lady.  Duh.

Nothing in the preceding paragraphs, though is more important than this line: "We all know what he wants."  We don't need to be told, and we especially need to not hear it explicitly, because that is the 1940s setting in which the song was done, with everything subtle, understated, polite.  Even if the 1940s weren't exactly like that, the movies were, and that's key.  It is an image, a fantasy world.

So that is what is so ridiculous about a new, "cleaned up" version of the song, done by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.  The intent, of course, is to remove the story from the realm of '40s subtlety and plunk it down into 2019 political correctness, straight out of the #metoo world of LA and NYC.  We are treated to lyrics like "Your body, your choice" which, while a perfectly decent sentiment, rips us right back into disbelief.

Oh, yes, Mr. "Legend", you're a wonderful example of 2019 woke maleness, who wouldn't touch a woman without her consent.  Zzzzzzzzzz.

Now, John Legend is not a virgin in the performance world.  He's surely familiar with '40s music and doesn't need me to explain to him what the subtlety in "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is all about.  And that's what makes it so contemptible that he feels the need to virtue-signal by tweaking lyrics.  He knows darn well that the song's core is the unspoken message of seduction, not the current sign-a-paper-that-says-it's-OK-to-touch-you message.  He knows better.  I'd hope that Kelly Clarkson does, too, but for sure Legend does.

I guess now we're in for it.  I was listening to the same SiriusXM channel ("Traditional Christmas") yesterday and they were playing an old recording of "Let it Snow."  Oh, my God, I hope that John Legend doesn't know that one.

The fire is slowly dying, and my dear, we're still goodbye-ing
But as long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

It's the same problem, folks!  Subtle seduction abetted by cold weather.  I can't wait for some other virtue-signaling #metoo type to rewicker that one into something that will, well, help make sure that Donald Trump gets reelected in a landslide.

Nothing subtle there.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Visiting Column #27 -- Weirdest Takeaway from the Hearings

The strange Ukraine impeachment hearings run by Adam Schiff, that are weirdly being done in the House Intelligence Committee rather than in Judiciary Committee, are on air as I write this.

I'm not sure that I know all the nuance of all the diplomatic priorities issues buried in a lot of the testimony, particularly from long-serving State Department people.  You get the idea that they weren't too happy with the idea that President Trump, like all presidents before him, actually sets foreign policy, and that they only carry it out.

That might give them reason to oppose him, although perhaps not with the vehemence and injudicious prosecutorial misconduct of the Committee's chair, Adam Schiff.  But let's look at things a little more broadly.

We're talking about impeaching and removing a president.  Well, we're really only talking about impeaching him, because there is more chance that I'm going to wake up six foot tall in the morning than that the Senate would ever remove him.  But either way, it is an incredibly sensitive and serious topic.

That's what I'm struggling with.

You see, the points of fact that constitute "Aha! moments", or even which are claimed as "Aha! moments", frankly seem so far in the weeds that it is insane -- or hyper-political -- to regard them as subject for impeachment.

We understand that Ukraine was scheduled for a large amount of military aid, which their new president wanted.  We understand that it was held up by the USA for some reason we do not, at this point, know. 

We understand that in July, there was a phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, where among a whole lot of mutual congratulations, Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to look into two areas of potential corruption, first regarding the 2016 USA election, and second in regard to the Ukraine energy company Burisma Holdings, which had added former VP Joe Biden's son to its board at a huge monthly salary despite his lack of knowledge of energy or Ukraine -- while Biden was in office. 

And we know that Biden had bragged publicly about suspending aid to Ukraine until they fired a prosecutor investigating a company that his son was being paid a ton by.

We know all that; it is all demonstrated, and not challenged by either side.

We also can see that Trump was heavily suspicious of Ukraine, given that he at least believed that they had expressed large support for Hillary Clinton in 2016, bashing Trump the candidate in articles and Facebook posts.  So it was at least understandable that he would want the new (and possibly more accommodating and friendly) Ukrainian leader to look into what he saw as corrupt.

But wait, there's less.

A president can only be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors."  It is a political process almost by definition.  The House has to vote on articles of impeachment that lay out those "high crimes and misdemeanors."

In order to impeach, you have to lay out those articles, and they have to be, well, actual crimes.  And that's my issue with the coverage.  CNN and the rest of the mainstream media breathlessly report that Ambassador So-and-So says that he or she "understood" that there was (or was not) some connection between the release of that aid and President Trump's request for Ukraine to state publicly that it was going after corruption.  That's their "bombshell", a word they use repeatedly.

Here's the thing, though -- that's not a crime.  And if it is not a high crime or misdemeanor, than why is there a hearing in the first place?

"Quid pro quo" is not only not a crime, it is normal practice in diplomacy.  Yet, oh, gee, it's a bombshell when anyone mentions it.

Bill Clinton lied under oath.  That's perjury, and he was caught.  Now, I get that there would not be a crime without an investigation, in his case, but at least there was a crime.  Perjury is a felony, and ultimately Clinton lost his license to practice law, and probably a few other things.  And he was impeached.  Not convicted, but impeached just the same.

The current impeachment hearings are impossible to understand.  You can't impeach, though, because of an "Aha! moment" (well, with Schiff, you can).  And the media don't seem to get that.  They know they can't get a crime assembled, because there flat-out wasn't one.  But for three years it has been fake bombshell after fake bombshell, with no effect and no crime, even as unemployment is historically low, we have seven million more jobs than unemployed people, and 401(k) accounts are hugely happy.

And that is the weirdest aspect to this.  The only Democrat "successes", to call them that, that occur in the hearings, are when there is testimony they like, always from someone not inclined to like President Trump.  Oh yeah, look, bombshell #254.  But none of it even skirts the outside of a defined crime, let alone one high enough to impeach a duly-elected president.

I read the account of the July telephone call at issue.  We can figure by now that it was LTC Vindman, who was on the call, who reached out to the whistleblower, Eric Ciamarella (I'm not the IG, so there's no law against naming him in this column), a Democrat operative, who then went straight to Adam Schiff -- who still claims that he doesn't know the identity of Ciamarella, though everyone in Washington does.  And here we are.

There is no crime, there are political and diplomatic disagreements.  We all understand that.  CNN understands that too, but that's not their bias, so no one is on CNN explaining that there is no crime, even though it is stated outright by pretty much every witness.

No crime.  No harm.  No foul.  No conviction.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Visiting Column #26 -- Apparently I Can't Forget

I secretly enjoy the little pieces that I've written that make fun of me for things I have done in the past, not the least of which sitting on the knee of a well-known 75-year-old actor for reasons that ... ahhh, just read the link.

So often have I made fun of myself for things I've done in my life, that I fear I've repeated a story, and that would be pretty bad, even with my declining, 68-year-old memory.  But in this case, I did a search, and nope, I hadn't told this one.  So here goes.

It has now been 40 years since last I walked on stage in a professional theatrical performance.  Although I've been on stage hundreds of times since, it was never as an actor playing a part in an opera, show or play; that all ended in 1979.  By that time I was in the IT field during the day and, not coincidentally, starting to raise a family.

Through the '70s, though, I had performed in well over a hundred productions, including about 75 of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, as has been documented in other pieces on this site.  Their dialogue, the brilliant words and phrases of Mr. Gilbert, apparently remains with us, possibly longer than we'd like.

My career, as a defense contractor, took a fairly arc-like path, rising up to vice-presidency and senior vice-presidency with assorted contracting firms, and then a gradual decline into a consulting role when I decided to work from my home as I got older.

About ten years ago, nearing 60, I was on that glide path, managing a program for Northrop Grumman in Virginia at one of their main buildings there.  The building had an adjacent parking garage, with a walkway to the building itself on the second floor.  Where it came into the building, there was a little mini-Starbucks, and I often used that to meet visitors, since they didn't have to enter Security if we just met there.

And so it was that I had a meeting with a pair of representatives from a company that wanted to do business with the program I was running.  I had these types of meetings quite often, and since it was convenient, we just used the little coffee corner, grabbing a little table and a few chairs to talk.

I did not know the people beforehand.  One of them was maybe 30 or so, and he did a fair amount of the talking for their side, which was most of the talking for the three of us.  I had earlier introduced myself and my program, told them how we operated and what the parameters would be for any type of deal.  Then he took over for his presentation, and I asked questions and commented along the way.

After a half-hour or so, we were wrapping up the discussion and chatting on next steps, when the younger fellow who had done most of the talking asked, from out of nowhere, "Did you use to perform Gilbert and Sullivan?".

This was definitely out of context for the discussion that had just occurred, so my mind leaped to the logical conclusion -- he had seen me perform a lot and recognized me.  Then that selfsame mind did a little hasty computation, and figured that unless the young man had gone to a show prenatally, and had powers of perception beyond mere mortals, that wasn't the answer.

"Ah ...", I thought.  Clearly, I must have dropped a little pithy phrase that would have been in one of the operettas, and used it without thinking.  I certainly did not recall actually having done that, but I thought it at least possible that it had happened at some point in the half-hour previous.  Yes, that had to have been it.

"Why do you ask?", I said.  "Did I use a phrase from an operetta of theirs?"

"Well, yes", he replied.  "Three times."

I took a sip of coffee and nodded silently.  The implication was pretty bad.  If I dropped three such phrases in a half-hour of discussion on a completely unrelated topic, 30 years after the last time I performed any of those operettas, I must still do it, subconsciously, in every conversation that I have.

Yet another thing I have to work on.  For all the things I have to fix, well, you see, I've got a little list.  Oops.   

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, October 25, 2019

Visiting Column #25 -- Please Don't Fact-Check, Mr. Facebook!

The living embodiment of the Peter Principle, Maxine Waters, along with a host of Democrat House members, brought in Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook this week to answer their questions on his desire to start a Facebook cryptocurrency.  Well, nominally that was why he was brought in, but the questioning took an unsurprising turn.

Now, Zuckerberg is not the greatest witness from an entertainment standpoint.  He would start all his answers by addressing the questioner as "congressman" or "chairman", or whatever, which was so stilted and rehearsed as to put you to sleep, right before he avoided answering the question the best he could.

This got to be fun when the lefties on the committee quickly diverged from talking about cryptocurrency, which they don't understand, and started asking him about "fact checking", the idea that Facebook -- which, we have to note, is a social media platform, not a news organization -- should review all the content posted on it and "fact check" the content, particularly from politicians.

Facebook has over 2.2 billion (with a "b") regular users worldwide.  Even if you restrict that to just the politicians, we can agree that determining the accuracy of what they post would be a herculean effort, and that's before we get to the notion that my assessment of the factual nature of a statement may not be the same as say, that of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Yes, "fact-checking" is a fool's errand. My facts are not necessarily your facts, especially when the news media have allowed their editorial bias to infect their reporting.  No one should claim primacy on what the facts actually are, especially in politics.

But the lefties on that panel were taking Zuckerberg to task for not doing fact-checking of political speech.  And I have a world of problems with the notion that they should even think of doing so.

Facebook is a platform.  The opinions of the 2.2 billion (with a "b") people who post are their own opinions, not Facebook's.  Facebook is a thing, and things don't have opinions, people do, even when they answer robotically like Mark Zuckerberg.

That, in a nutshell is Reason #1 why I do not want Facebook to do any fact checking of anyone's postings, not the president's and not Maxine Waters's.  Even though, I should add, I am not one of those 2.2 billion people (I don't use Facebook).  Here are all the reasons:

1. Facts are not necessarily facts.  Donald Trump famously said that the Mexicans were sending over the border "their rapists ...", which was often misquoted as referring to all Mexicans, as if he had said "they're rapists ...".  With that New York accent of his, and the fact (yes, fact) that it was spoken and not written, I'm not sure what was actually said, except that I'm pretty sure he wasn't calling all Mexicans rapists, and so are Democrats, except that they won't admit it and keep spouting, as what they call a "fact", that he did.

2. Given #1, there would have to be an arbiter, and there is exactly zero in the makeup of Facebook that qualifies them to do so.  They're a social media platform that sells advertising, and that does not qualify them to assign people to a role like that.

3. The pesky Constitution, although it only applies to this country, affords us freedom of speech.  If I want to say that Barack Obama is a communist, or that he corruptly used the FBI illegally to spy on an opposing political campaign, I have the right to say it.  If Facebook feels that what someone says crosses the line into criminality or libel, well then, call it to the attention of law enforcement -- but do not take it down yourselves.

4. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  If your views are repugnant, airing them will convince us all of their repugnance.  Censoring them will drive them underground, and underground is where the nutrients of the soil will make them grow.  Get it?

5. If the airing of anything on Facebook causes someone else harm, the liability is, or at least should be, with the person who posted the content in the first place, not the medium by which it was delivered.  We don't hold the US Postal Service liable when a threat is mailed.  The moment we hold Facebook, or YouTube, or LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Twitter, liable for what someone co-opted their platform to say, they will cease to exist, and we will have corrupted the legal principle that assigns liability to the actual criminal.  Facebook is not an accessory to that.

I think it is kind of ironic that the oligarchs in the Democrat Party are now somehow insisting that Facebook, of all things, should take to fact-checking and censoring content.  There is no organization outside Moscow that spouts more non-factual propaganda than today's Democrats.  Adam Schiff himself had to be given the "four Pinocchio" treatment by the far-left Washington Post, for doing just that in an Intelligence Committee hearing this month.

The only reason the left wants Facebook to be the nation's censor is that there, well, aren't any conservatives working there.  YouTube and Twitter are already censoring conservative postings and we know it, while letting leftist and Islamist content slide right through.  If Facebook were to fact check, you know which side would be advantaged.  They'd love that.

Through the questioning, though, it seemed evident that Zuckerberg wanted no part of fact-checking his subscribers' words and advertisers' content.  Even though he'd probably love to do that, it is clear that the cost of doing so would be huge, given the volume of input, with no revenue offset.  Also, the legal liability would be enormous as well, given that they would be taking on a role that imputes decision-making authority to a public company.  Zuckerberg wants no part of that.

For whatever reason he doesn't want to do it, I don't want him to either.  I would like for people to be able to post their views freely, advertise whatever, and if there is a criminal problem or a civil conflict, well, refer the content to the authorities and let them handle it.  Facebook should not take a single word down without a court order.

That's probably one of the more libertarian positions I've held over the years, but I have to hold it to be consistent with my views.  I now, after all, have 1,025 columns online, and I'd be obliged if Google, who owns Blogger and whose leaders are surely diametrically opposed to almost everything I've written here, would just leave me and my words alone.

I don't need a fact checker, thank you.  And neither does the USA.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Visiting Column #24 -- Nancy Gone Fishin'

One endearing quality of the left is that it's all about the "now", and all about the power.  If something they do today has effects that will be a problem five years from now, well, as long as they can get or hold power now, that's fine.  The press won't hold them accountable, nor air contradictory past statements, as we know.

Nancy Pelosi, of course, is well aware that she can do whatever she wants and darn the consequences, as long as it helps her hold on to her speakership.

How else do we explain the otherwise bizarre "inquiry" going on at her instigation in the United States House of Representatives, all dressed up as an "impeachment inquiry" but not really one, given that the only allowed participants are Democrats.  I understand that impeachment is a political and not a legal activity, but still ...

Here is what a rational, otherwise-disinterested passer-by would look at what is going on and think.

President Trump had a phone call with the president of Ukraine a couple months back.  There is not a specific recording of the call, but there are transcriptions of it, released readily by President Trump.  Notwithstanding long pauses for translation (the president of Ukraine is not a native English speaker, of course), the translation was produced by the intelligence folks who were listening in.

Now, there were a fair number of topics discussed between the two leaders, and during the call the issue of corruption was raised, specifically corruption in Ukraine by the new president's predecessor and a prosecutor or two.  The president had been elected on a promise to eliminate such corruption, and President Trump had supported that effort.

In the course of it, Trump asked the new president to "do us a favor" and take a look at a specific area of corruption involving a Ukrainian energy company that had put then-VP Joe Biden's son on its board despite lacking knowledge of Ukraine or energy, and paid him a spitload of money.  So something was corrupt, either inside Ukraine, where the energy company could wave the younger Biden's name to suggest it had influence with the USA, or inside the USA, where the aforementioned spitload of money could be interpreted as a purchase of influence for ... who knows what.

Nowhere in the call was there any suggestion that in return, the USA or the Trump Administration would do anything, or not do anything, to or for Ukraine if they were to do this favor for "us."  As if to bear that out, we now have a fairly contemporaneous text from the American ambassador to the European Union to another American diplomat, chiding him for suggesting there was such a return favor, and stating that President Trump had specifically ordered that there be no such "quid pro quo."  Noteworthy is that this text was prior to the current foofaraw.

Having failed to come up with anything in the vast wasteland of the Mueller investigation that even the most Trump-deranged Democrats in the House could use, apparently Mrs. Pelosi has decided that their method of reversing the 2016 election they hated would be to "go fishing."

Think about it.  The Constitution describes the grounds for impeachment as being "high crimes and misdemeanors", which sort of suggests that at a minimum, a violation of Federal law be demonstrated before any honorable congressman would be persuaded to vote for impeachment.  I'd like to think that we would be actually defining what law is suspected of having been broken, right?

Well, no.

As we speak, there is an unvoted-upon, unauthorized "impeachment inquiry" going on, involving only Democrats in the House, and there is no crime upon which the "inquiry" is based.  Literally, this is pure Trotsky -- show me the person and I'll find a crime.

Talking to the Ukrainian president is not a crime.  Asking him to investigate a very warranted suspicion of corruption, even if it involves a person who is, at the time, running for his party's nomination for president, is not a crime, certainly less so than Mr. Trump's predecessor deploying the FBI to create the appearance of some kind of dealings with Russians.

So the rational, otherwise-disinterested party looks at what is going on, and says something like "It appears to me that if you want to impeach a president, and your party has the House majority, all you have to do is get access to a transcription of a conversation that president has had, and call some part of it a "high crime" or "high misdemeanor", even if it is not illegal according to the United States Code.  The press won't point that out."

Right?  I've read the transcript of the call, and there is not the hint of an actual crime involved.  Mrs. Pelosi is calling it a crime, and using that to hold an inquiry, but only inviting Democrats to participate.  Rather than fishing continually for something actually criminal, which would be bad enough, she is fishing in the first spot that she got to, even though it is devoid of fish.

And now the main point.

Donald Trump may well be impeached by the House, but he sure is not going to be removed from office by the Senate, which has to find him guilty of whatever high crimes and misdemeanors the Pelosi types come up with in their bill of impeachment.  He will continue to be president, and will likely leverage the injustice of the Democrats' kangaroo court straight into another four years in office.

But there will have been, etched in our history, the experience of a sitting, duly elected president being impeached without the commission of a crime, on the basis of a politically biased House extracting criminality from the transcript of a conversation where no law was broken.

With that precedent, will the Democrats simply do that again, the next time the nation offends them by actually rejecting them and electing a Republican president?  Get someone in the White House to record calls and then claim that some interpretation of the content constitutes an impeachable offense?

What is going on now, and has been going on since the day after Mr. Trump was elected (borne out by published media), is a long, drawn-out coup attempt.  If it is allowed to proceed (i.e., if no one metaphorically slaps Nancy Pelosi in the face to wake her up to what she is doing), it will have long and unpleasant repercussions as an example to the future of what appears to be "normal practice" in American government.

Foreign leaders will be reluctant ever to speak with our leaders.  And good Republicans (and less-extreme Democrats) will be deterred from interest in running for president.

We are better than that.  Apparently Nancy Pelosi is not.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, October 7, 2019

Visiting Column #23 -- What Do They Teach Now?

I would like to describe George White as a "friend", although I have not seen him for over five years and hadn't seen him for 40 years previously.  At my age, our former high school teachers are often no longer alive, let alone people we would think to call "friends" at this point.  George -- excuse me, "Mr. White" -- is about 83.

The last time I saw him was at the funeral of my brother-in-law, and while we sat down for a few minutes to chat, it was not with the opportunity, let alone reflective of the appropriateness of the situation, to have discussed any issues.  I told him what my family had been up to, and that was that.

I thought of Mr. White this past weekend while watching some news wrap-up show that prompted my best girl and me to consider the teaching of USA history at the high school level.  During my high school days, we had a requirement to take American history in both junior and senior years in order to graduate, and the local approach was to start with Christopher Columbus as juniors, and work up to the current period by the end of senior year.  For us, "current period" meant six months into the first Nixon Administration.

There is not a great deal I can recall about high school, now fifty years removed from it, but I do fairly distinctly remember that it was taught, including by Mr. White, in a very non-opinionated, unbiased curriculum that focused on what happened, why, and what the implications were.  We eventually debated the merits and demerits of the then-raging Vietnam war, but certainly not in the "America is bad" school of pedagogy.  I think he was a Democrat, but you really wouldn't know.

When I saw the news clip over the weekend, it became fairly obvious that had the events been the same, but this had been 1969, the senior American history classes would have had some lively discussions, and it would have been the teacher's challenge to keep the students focused on the facts, on critically assessing what was actually known, and on not taking the media as gospel.

But while I could see George White leading such a class, I wondered about some things.  Is there even American history taught as a mandatory class anymore, in all 50 states?  I don't know that.  We had two full years of it, taught at an age where we could legitimately discuss it, but what about now?  Who is teaching it, and what biases might they be dumping on innocent ears?

Yep, I thought about that, but I also asked myself a question I didn't want to answer.  Is there even a cadre of teachers of the subject who are sufficiently prepared to teach pre-colonial, colonial-period, 19th and 20th Century, and contemporary history in a manner without infecting the room with bias?  If I had children in the public school system now, what would I expect their brains would be filled with when they came home, and would I have to challenge their actual teachers?

I hope you remember this piece from five years ago and will read it (it's a quick read).  I stressed the fact that people need to grow a good deal past age 17-18 or so before they are able to think critically, unless we actually teach them to do so.  That it takes a few decades of life experience before you can connect an action with its likely outcome.  That the ability to make that connection is what we call "maturity."

How on earth is the most contemporary history in this country being taught?  How is it taught, knowing that teachers are members of the NEA, about the most leftist labor union out there?  How is it taught, knowing that the nation is so substantively divided, exacerbated by social media?  How is it taught, knowing that in a majority of homes, the students will come home to news programs that are severely slanted to the left?  How is it taught, when on-air opinion is no longer distinguished from actual reportorial journalism?

I want to have that conversation with my friend George, who ultimately went from teaching to school administration, and who therefore could clarify some of my concerns -- not assuage them, mind you, but clarify and offer some facts.

I want to ask him, "How would you teach today if you were in the classroom?  What would you expect to encounter?"

I'm not sure I even know where in the country he is, but I think I might want to try to find him and ask.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Visiting Column #22 -- The Bitter Irony of the Blind Left

Michael Lewis is a leftist who happens to be a writer, or a writer who happens to be a leftist.  I'm not sure which is relevant here, but we're going to discuss him a bit, and it helps to know he is both.

If you have never heard of Michael Lewis, or if his name is simply too common to ring a bell with you, he is the author of, among some books I have not read, the book "Moneyball", which I have.  Now, I have read Moneyball at least four times, which probably makes up for the fact that I've never read any of Lewis's other works, or maybe not, but it is an ironic linkage involving it that is today's topic.

Moneyball, of course, is the 2003 book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, and a bit more generally about how the regime that ran the Athletics' baseball operations, led by GM Billy Beane, had been able to stay competitive and even win heavily over several years in a league where their revenues and player salary budgets were far smaller than almost all other teams.

Even a bit more generally, the book is about how Beane was able to do that repeatedly, year after year, by the specific tactic of identifying where his competitors, the other teams in the league, had for decades undervalued certain assets (player capabilities) and overvalued others.  By identifying which assets could be gotten cheaper (i.e., affordably by the As), he was able to build teams that scored more runs than their opponents.

As you probably already know, he was able -- actually, his management team was able -- to run lots of numbers, leverage sane analyses done by others, and do the research needed.  They recognized that, while a key to assessing an offensive player was to value his ability to get on base (i.e., not make outs), and to get extra-base hits, his competitors seemed not to value those skills. 

A key to avoid was to get excited over a player's ability to sacrifice, to steal bases, and to do other things that simply didn't add enough value to offset their risk, yet that was highly regarded in the field.  And what we'd call "traditional scouting", that is, looking at a player in the flesh and projecting their abilities, well, that was completely useless to Beane, who recognized that the old scouts' methods of projecting value were simply old and statistically unsupported.

I'm simplifying because I don't want to miss getting you the point, which was that Beane's Athletics were able to succeed because they were forced to analyze true value -- not conventional wisdom, but where conventional wisdom (in this case, traditional scouting) had long pushed their competition into making incorrect assessments of value.  Those subjective assessments were proven incorrect based on objective data, and Beane could no longer afford to give away the edge he gained when he shed subjectivity.

So Lewis.

At the end of the paperback version of Monetball is an epilogue, wherein Lewis discusses some of the fallout from the original publication.  The part I want to mention is where he takes to task certain baseball writers who read the book and completely missed the point.

They seized on this stat, or that one, as being more (or less) important than the Athletics valued it, and then used subjective logic to make their case rather than rational, objective analysis.

They pointed to decades of practice as an excuse for why the old way was best.

They noted that the As under Beane had never won a World Series, as if to ignore the crapshoot nature of the playoffs.  To expand on that, they noted a Beane quote from the book -- "My [stuff] don't [sic] work in the playoffs", and then completely misread it to imply that he was BSing the rest of baseball, when what he was saying is that, for a low-budget team, his approach could get them to the playoffs but not ensure that they would win a given five-game or seven-game series (i.e., luck takes over in a small sample size; nothing can ensure that you win).

They even kept saying that Beane had written the book, which is ludicrous on its face.  Beane had nothing to do with writing the book, except letting Lewis poke around the As' operations mostly unimpeded for a year, pretty much ignoring his presence.  

Lewis took proper offense to all that objection, and he was right to do so.  The objecting sportswriters and commentators were precisely of the same mind as the old scouts Beane fired; they simply refused to look at new ways to assess players that might be accurate.

So imagine this -- Michael Lewis then goes and writes a negative book about Donald Trump, who is the political and presidential epitome of what the Oakland Athletics did in baseball.  And he doesn't even see the irony.

Lewis was right as rain when he noted that breaking the mold and using objective data was a good approach in baseball team management.  So how, we have to ask (and cannot answer), does he not get that Donald Trump is a completely different kind of president, one we have never seen before.  Lewis seems to be, like the old scouts and reporters, all tied up in the traditional paradigm of the presidency.  The one guy who ought to see it properly, well, can't.

Donald Trump, outside of all the contact he would have had with politicians as the owner of a large enterprise, did not live in the political world before 2016.  His promise as president was that he would ''put America first", and the left made the mistake of thinking that was just a slogan.

Trump was not a sloganeer, and that was not just three words.  He went to Washington and went to work undoing what he had always regarded as stupidity and -- let's call it what it was -- market inefficiency.  Things were done in Washington that were not in the best interests of the USA for, like ever, and Trump thought that was stupid.

Billy Beane, as Lewis so painstakingly narrated, drafted a fat catcher from Alabama named Jeremy Brown in the first round, whom none of the scouts, not his or anyone else's, even cared about.  But Brown got on base almost half the time, and while the scouts saw his corpulence and moved on, Beane recognized that he was drafting a hitter, not a jeans model -- and that getting on base, not athleticism -- was the sine qua non of offensive performance.

NATO was President Trump's Jeremy Brown.  Trump looked at NATO, saw that the European partners were letting the USA pay for most of it, saw that previous presidents had simply let it happen without a peep, and that he was not only going to call attention to it, but to declare that the allies would pay the share they had actually committed to (but never did), or they could go defend themselves.  And they did.

Mexico was President Trump's Jeremy Brown.  Our neighbors to the south had been letting people flood our southern border for years, more every year, bringing drugs, being gangs, abusing the females among them, and then taking jobs that poor Americans needed.  They claimed asylum, overwhelmed the system and then never showed for their asylum hearings.  Trump saw that as simply idiotic to let them continue, and vowed to build a wall and, perhaps more importantly, pull out all the legal stops to stem the flow.  It made no sense to let what was happening continue.

China was President Trump's Jeremy Brown.  The Chinese for years had been stealing the intellectual property of American companies without retribution.  They had been importing very little from the USA, while we bought billions from the Chinese and sent dollars over to pay for them.  This had been allowed by every previous president, but President Trump blew the whistle.  It was Americans
who were buying all that stuff from China, and it was China that was dependent on the USA for a market.  OK fine, China, Trump said, you will negotiate a deal that drops barriers to our exports there and address the IP issue, and until you do, you can pay billions in tariffs.  Guess who's winning that battle?

There are dozens of Jeremy Browns in this administration, but Michael Lewis somehow doesn't appreciate the irony.  Donald Trump is the Moneyball president.  He is using objective data, objective logic to deal with adversaries that his predecessors had simply kowtowed to, as if embarrassed by the might -- and the right -- of the USA.

I hope that Michael Lewis will read this piece.  It took me a couple reads of Moneyball to where I really got what was being said.  Maybe it will take two terms of the Trump presidency for Lewis to get what is really going on in Washington.  He can't be that closed-minded.

I hope.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Visiting Column #21 -- Poll Weevils

I am not one of those people who complains about polls because "Well, they never call me!".  They do indeed call me, and even when it's not a campaign season I get called about polls for this or that topic, including yes, whom I would vote for if the election were held today.

The topic of polls struck me a bit today when I saw one on TV.  The topic was what are called "red flag laws", and they concern the broader topic of gun control.  Red flag laws are laws which would allow jurisdictions to decline to issue firearms permits, or even seize weapons from, people who had somewhere written or recorded themselves in some way to give the impression that they would pose a threat to another person and therefore should be denied their Second Amendment rights.

The poll was phrased ... well, they didn't say how it was phrased, so we have to assume the simplest, which is that respondents were simply asked "Do you favor red flag laws, which allow government authorities to deny firearms ownership permits to, or seize weapons from, people who have documented mental instability or have made specific threats to others?"

Or something like that, in fifth-grade English.

At any rate, the results were not unexpected.  About 57% of respondents to the poll were in favor of such laws, 22% were opposed, and 19% had no opinion.  What, I thought to myself, would I have answered, had I been polled on that question?

Needless to say, I couldn't answer.  Well, the "needless to say" part is because as you might have guessed if you've read the preceding 1,020 columns, I very much appreciate the fact that many things are not black and white.  Red flag laws are definitely not black and white.

Laws are not concepts; they are, well, laws.  They are black and white, in that they specifically state what you can and cannot do, the conditions that apply, and the penalty for violation.  You want to have a law, you can't waffle.

I am probably OK with the red flag concept, at least as a "concept."  We already have classes of people to whom it is illegal to sell firearms, so that is not new ground.  If we are putting red flags on people who make overt threats, or who display disturbed writings online to where the "reasonable man" test would lead you to not think their being armed is a good idea, well, I can handle that.

But here's the problem.  It's called "subjectivity", and I don't trust government at any level to execute it.

At what point, we must ask, does a red flag get thrown?  That's really the problem of subjectivity.  Somewhere between a Facetwit post that says "I'm gonna get you!" and one that says "I'm gonna kill you!", perhaps.  What actually constitutes sufficient threat?  Who decides what is sufficient evidence of mental instability?  Would you want to be entrusted with limning the distinction and setting the point at which there is enough evidence of a threat to take someone's Constitutional rights away?  I didn't think so.

I don't want that responsibility, and I don't think that you do, and I absolutely know I don't want that done by some faceless government bureaucrat.  At best, I would consider Congress laying down some pretty clear guidelines (don't hold your breath), and then letting some challenge get up to the Supreme Court to validate it with perhaps even more guidance, the kind that lets the wrongly flagged person appeal.

So sure, but if I believe all that, how am I supposed to answer the poll?  I'm only "for" red flag laws if the criteria are well-defined and laid out and administered properly; I'm "against" them otherwise.  I'm certainly not "undecided."  They give me one choice to make. Yuk.

And if that weren't enough ...

There's the whole 'nother shoe.  That is, let's suppose that someone is denied a permit, red-flagged by some nameless government bureaucrat for an Instaface post that was misinterpreted totally and didn't represent any kind of a threat in context. What is the appeal process for that? 

No, really -- ask yourself this:
- Who actually hears the appeal?
- What evidence is needed to show a rational state of mind?
- Is the presumption innocence or guilt?
- What process is needed in order to execute the reversal?
- Is there an appeal of the appeal (if, say, a total anti-gun judge hears the first one)?

As I said, I'm OK with the consideration of red flag laws.  But if the execution, the logistics, the actual legislation and the details are full of devils, well, there's no way a poll can accurately represent my view.

So, I guess, stop asking me if you don't want the full answer.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Visiting Column #20 -- The Colonel of Truth

It's been a while since I wrote up one of those self-deprecating pieces, and since these days it's probably good to laugh at ourselves, it's clearly time to do that one more time, as I have plenty of reason to be self-deprecating.  Plenty.

The year was probably 1992 or so, which I remember because of where I was working at the time.  I was a program manager running a support program for the Marine Corps, which involved doing various briefings around the major Marine installations in the world to explain what my program was about (it was actually a data library that other programs used to create logistics models, but that's not very important.)

My running around the world was principally to install that library on small systems and show how it was used, but occasionally I'd have to sit in someone's office and go over the program, in general terms, using 1992 technology which, in those happy days before laptops, PowerPoint and Windows, consisted of transparent "cells" that you would put on an overhead projector and project onto a white wall if there happened to be one, or a movie screen if you were lucky.

So in the course of arranging my visits, I reached out to the colonel in charge of logistics programs at Camp Pendleton, California (I was based in an office in Woodbridge, Virginia at the time), setting up a time to go out and see him.  The colonel was named Jack Holly, and he was one of those people that you encounter in your life whom people just gravitate toward and you want to do whatever he tells you.  Leadership just radiated from him, and you would be ready to go through a brick wall if he asked you -- and that was just on shaking hands with him the first time.

You can never explain that effect very easily, why you might react to someone that way without even knowing them.  I recall also having that reaction on being in a hall with President Reagan in 1987.  Whew.  When I met Jack, I immediately recalled that experience.

So I had met him once previously, at a trade show, probably, and had known then that I'd need to come out and see him.  At the time, and possibly now, there were three Marine Expeditionary Forces, called MEFs, and their respective headquarters were in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; and the third on Okinawa.

Col. Holly and I agreed on a time to visit him in California, and I headed out for what I assumed was (among other visits on that trip) a briefing in his office.  I carried my briefcase out there to the base, and was ushered into his office for what I assumed would be a professional half-hour or hour discussion about the program.  He'd ask questions, I'd answer, we'd talk, and then see what he might need to know.

I am quite OK with one-on-one discussions like that.  On the other hand, standing in front of a group gives me major stage fright, which throughout my career I had to deal with, including on stage as a singer.  Since in my profession I had to talk to groups all the time, I made sure to design my speaking slides for me, not for the audience.  They'd see them, of course, but the content was designed to remind me what to say next, so I wouldn't be so scared.  Eventually I got to trust my preparation and stopped fearing failure, but I always prepared slides very carefully, even very late in my career.

That wouldn't have mattered here, though, it seemed.  I was in a chair in Col. Holly's office this particular morning, chatting about the program and how it fit into what he was doing.  I liked talking casually with people, and still do.  You can sense how they're reacting and adjust on the fly.  This was going very informatively and professionally, and we were about 20 minutes in when the colonel said "Well, they should be ready for you now" and stood up.

As an old actor, I'm well-schooled in the notion that "the show must go on", which means not only that, if you break your leg onstage you keep acting, but also that you don't break character.  In this case, I had no earthly idea what the colonel was talking about.  "They should be ready"?  Who, I thought?  Ready for what?  I just shut up and played along as if I knew what was going on.

We walked out of his office and across the hall, and entered a larger room.  This was a conference room that seated about 20 people -- and there were about that many there, most all of them marine officers and a few senior non-coms.  Clearly, they were waiting for little old me, although for what I didn't know.

But I figured it out really quickly -- apparently I was supposed to give a lecture to the assembled marines on what I was doing.  Yep, there was the obligatory overhead projector there.  After a brief moment for suitable panic, I reached into my briefcase and took out some transparencies I would normally use for a briefing, stacked them up on the shelf next to the projector in what I hoped was a rational sequence, and put the first one on the glass.

I can't say it went "well", but only because it was an information-sharing brief and there wasn't anything specifically to accomplish.  So "went well" wouldn't have any real meaning unless one could say it "went well" if I didn't pass out, which I didn't.  With the slides there to guide me, I was able to get through them and talk about the information on each one, ask for questions, answer those I could and deflect the others.  I truly believe none of them knew I'd been ambushed without knowing it.  An hour later, I sat down with Col. Holly for a few more minutes, thanked him for his time and left.

There was absolutely nothing in the correspondence setting up the meeting to suggest that I'd be doing any kind of public briefing to 20 marines, nothing other than an hour in the colonel's office.  And I know for a fact that he simply assumed that a formal briefing was what I would be doing, and arranged for all the staff to be there to hear it.  I just didn't get the memo.

All's well that ends well, I suppose.  I'm quite sure that no one who was in the room thought anything was wrong, just another contractor in a suit come out to brief them on some logistics program, no different from 50 other briefings they got except for the guy in the suit was a little shorter than the rest of them.  I know I went to the hotel bar that night and had a double just to calm my still-frayed nerves.  Stage fright is a cruel master.

I next saw Col. Holly a few years later.  We were attending a trade show in Honolulu and I saw he was there and asked him to have a drink between sessions to catch up, as we had corresponded a bit in the interim and remained acquainted.  He was retiring from the Marine Corps fairly soon and I wanted to find out what his plans were.  I figured whatever company he joined, he'd be president of it before long.

Of course, I did mention that visit to Camp Pendleton and the briefing room surprise.  He remembered the visit but apparently assumed that the group lecture was planned, as he recalled nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not that there was any perception of a miscommunication.

Perhaps I can't properly describe what happens when you walk into a room full of uniformed marine officers sitting at a conference table, expecting you to speak to them, when until you entered the room you had no idea you were supposed to.  I was seriously scared.  You have nightmares about things like that.

I survived though.  Preparation is a good thing, like having a tire-inflator aerosol can in your car.  Or a manila folder full of transparencies.  It can keep you from coming off like a fool.

Still felt like one, though.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Visiting Column #19 -- The Not-So-Sudden Death of the New York Times

You might have seen the words, unless you blinked a few times during the period in which it was the front page top headline in the New York Times, formerly a newspaper of repute.

"Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism"

The story for which it was the caption was, of course, the speech given by President Trump this past weekend on the two mass shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX, each of which was committed by a person with inflamed and misdirected passions -- Dayton by a leftist Antifa supporter (though his specific motive is unclear at this writing), and El Paso by a racist white supremacist.

The president made about as apolitical a speech on the topic as one could possibly have expected from any president, passionately condemning the actions and their motivating impetus, specifically calling out "white supremacy, bigotry and racism" as needing to be defeated and eliminated.  Those are sentiments I think we can all get behind.

And it would seem that the speech was so suitable to the occasion that the president-hating Times swallowed hard but chose the headline that it did.  The four-and-a-half words accurately portrayed the sentiments of the president as presented to the viewing and listening audience from the White House.

I don't read the Times, so I can't say that I actually saw the headline or the front page when it was issued, but as it turns out, apparently, rational, accurate journalism cannot be tolerated by the intolerant left, particularly when it involves President Trump.

The Democrat candidates for president, sparked by their hero, a 29-year-old former bartender from New York, began to beat their Twitter drums loudly.  "Oh, dear", they drummed, "that headline is too pro-Trump and needs to be removed!"  And, to the surprise of no one, it was.

Now, there are a couple things here that have to be noted.  First, of course, is that the headline was quite accurate.  I heard the speech live, and immediately saw it as being fair, conciliatory, healing, and at the same time clearly condemning the racist dogma that appears to have incited one of the shootings.  The president said what he was supposed to say, that is, what everyone on the left would have complained if he had not said, and had he not said it fast enough for their taste.

There was not only nothing inaccurate about the Times saying that the president called for unity against racism, it was actually the logical headline for what was the principal message he wanted to offer the American people.  Had the left not desperately needed to have gotten their panties in a wad about everything President Trump says or does, because he is succeeding and they're not, the headline would have been perfectly fine.  But they do, at least as far as their panties.

The other thing, though, is far, far worse.

As we know, or should, it is a long-established fact of journalism, taught the first week of Journalism 101, that there is a news reporting part of a paper, and an editorial part of a paper, and they are separated.  The editorial part is found at the end of the first section of the print edition, and it is clearly marked "Editorial" so that we know that what is printed there, the opinions of the paper itself, as well as on the opposite page (the "op-ed" writers, who are not the paper's editors), are opinions and not facts, per se.

When I say that the news and editorial parts of a paper are "separated", I mean "walled off", as in nobody works on both sides.  That purity-by-insulation is done to protect the reporters of the news from accusations of bias in their reporting.  No one need protect the editorial writers; everyone has opinions.  They don't all have editorial pages to voice them, which is why there are blogs.

Why is that separation necessary?  Because if there is a sniff that the reporting of a story is slanted by influence from the editor, the paper's journalistic integrity is forever lost.  We can then no longer assume that what is reported as "fact" is actually what happened.  Once you get to that point, there is no reason having a newspaper.  All you have, reporters and editorialists alike, is slanted to where the reader can no longer trust what is printed.

This is where we are today with the Times.  The facts are plain and well-documented; a bunch of Democrats protested a headline in the reporting section of the paper, and the Times capitulated and changed it to something else.  That decision was made by the editor, meaning the editorial side of the paper, violating the sanctity of the separation of news and opinion.

There will be an edition of the New York Times tomorrow, and the day after.  But it will never be the same.  If we have ever had a shred of confidence in the veracity of the news reported by its team of intrepid reporters, not that I ever did, that confidence is blown to the moon.

If the editorial team can change one word of a news story, let alone the top headline on Page One, there is no longer a single word of any page of the paper that can be relied upon for being accurate and unbiased, a correct accounting of the event being chronicled.  We will always assume that the editors may have changed the content of a basic news story to suit a political narrative.

"Democracy dies in darkness", the equally untrustworthy Washington Post likes to trumpet when trying to defend its Lilliputian integrity.

Journalism dies in bias, I would counter. 

R.I.P., the New York Times, 2019.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, July 26, 2019

Visiting Column #18 -- I'll Be HBCUing You, Kamala

Oh, dear.

So now Kamala Harris, the wannabe president, has proposed what she refers to as an "investment" of $60 billion of your taxes and mine, to go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Now, HBCUs are a recognized category of institution.  They have a favored status in pursuing Federal contracts; that is, there are Federal contracts that require that a percentage be subcontracted to HBCUs for areas like research and development, that sort of thing.  So they already do have a favored status, in that they are cited in the Federal code.

There is no "sunsetting" to that recognition, of course.  The left, who is entrenched in our government, does not allow any program to end easily, lest the citizenry realize it doesn't actually need more government.  So long past the point where any private institution based on racial preference should even exist, let alone be subsidized, HBCUs will be treated favorably by your government and mine.

But at bottom, they are colleges.  Private colleges are indeed private; they are either for-profit entities (owned) or not-for-profit.  But either way, they are responsible to manage their affairs in a fiscally responsible manner.  And colleges don't always do that too well.  Just ask Bernie Sanders, or at least Mrs. Bernie, about that.

Kamala Harris wants to toss $60 billion over to them to do ... well, it doesn't matter, except suffice it to say that the initial proposal was to fund science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scholarships and activities as about 80% of that, er, "investment."

Now, $60 billion is a lot of money.  From an order of magnitude perspective, it is pretty much like taking Bill Gates's entire bank account and seizing it to give to these schools ... oh, excuse me, "invest" in them.  I mention that metaphor because it is important to see that kind of spending for what it is, i.e., taking from one group to give to another, all to try to buy votes in a primary.

Politicians, our current president to the distinct contrary, typically have no sense whatever of the value of a dollar.  So pandering pols like Kamala Harris can be expected not to understand the meaning of the word "investment."

We who work for a living understand that an investment is money that you use to fund some company or operation with the explicit intent that over time you will receive back more than you put in.  That is called your "return on investment" or "ROI", and I'm not sure why I'm even telling you that.  If you read this site, you already know more than Kamala Harris does about the value of a dollar.

There is no ROI to be expected here.  The proposal will never go through, since (A) Kamala Harris is not going to be president, and (B) even if it went to Congress, it would turn into some legislative mush that would not resemble the original intent, and would get sent to committee to die.  But even if it somehow did, there is no ROI because there is no place for an ROI to materialize, not $60 billion and not 46 cents.

The same students who would be going to HBCUs to pursue STEM careers are going to go, whether they borrow the money or get it from a scholarship fund like that.  There is no route to an ROI, friends.

So what is Kamala Harris talking about?  Well, duh, she is simply not getting the black vote in the polling for the Democrat primaries, and figures that she'll just follow the leftist playbook and promise lots of money that she doesn't have.  Her assumption, I assume, is that the Democrat primary voters are so stupid that they think that money in Washington is unlimited, that they don't understand economics any better than she does, and that they don't recognize a blatant pandering appeal when they see one.  Her anemic polling probably answers that one.

My real objection is simply that there is no explanation of what the problem is that requires seizing $60 billion from the American worker, or borrowing it from China.  What, we need to ask, is the specific problem?

Perhaps peeing $60 billion of seized or borrowed money into the wind is not the best way to solve it.  Maybe the nation doesn't agree that what she thinks is a problem even is one, or that it should be solved at the Federal level, or that government should be the one to fix it.

But that is the thought process I had when I read the article.  I don't trust Harvard or M.I.T. to manage their finances well enough to give them money taken from the American taxpayer, except for very specific research projects that are overseen and have accountability built in.  Why would I trust any college or university to do so when we don't even articulate the problem that is supposed to be solved?

And that's before we ask, as I've written before, how we will measure whether the program is successful (which you have to define before you ask for a dime) or when the program is terminated, having achieved its goals.

Kamala Harris has some 'splaining to do.  But we have time.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Visiting Column #17 -- The Land Mines in the "Reparations" Discussion

It seems pretty silly that the Democrats in Congress, the party that supported slavery for generations, and which even in 1964 did not support the Civil Rights Act as strongly as Republicans in Congress did, are now pushing a proposal for a committee to discuss the possibility of "reparations" -- some kind of cash payments -- to the descendants of American slaves.  But they are, which tells you that it must have something to do with votes.

That would explain why they're not, in the same discussion, bringing up some of what I will call "land mines" in the whole notion of reparations.  If it were brought up in the face of the reparations types, they'd have to come up with an argument, when they don't, of course, have one.

I have heard reparations described as "payments to people who were not slaves by people who never owned them", and unfortunately that is not the only problem with the whole notion.  But we can start there.

We MIT grads tend to be almost immediately analytical in our thinking, even biology majors like me.  At most all of our final exams, we brought books, notes, calculators (OK, we brought slide rules in those days before the invention of calculators), anything we needed.  I brought beer to my sophomore thermodynamics final).  They wanted you to think, not memorize.

So naturally when I heard of the reparations idea being barfed up again, I started thinking of why it was a stupid idea and impossible to implement.  And I analyzed.

Slavery was outlawed in the USA in the 1860s, which means that all former slaves are dead.  All slave-owners are dead as well, as are all their children.  Now I can name you two people still alive whose grandfather owned slaves, brothers Lyon and Harrison Tyler (actual grandsons of the tenth president, John Tyler), but I think we can call them the exception.

None of my ancestors was in the USA as early as 1865 and so none owned slaves.  According to the 1910 Census, both of President Trump's paternal grandparents were born in Germany after 1865, and we know the president's mother was born in Scotland.  So his family had nothing to do with slavery in the USA.

Back to the analytics then, and lets stay on the "to" side of the equation.  Let's say for example that we actually want to do a reparations deal.  That involves a payment, which means from someone to someone -- and an amount.  We'll look at the "to" part first.

Let's say that we establish a value that a purely descended-from-slaves person would get.  Let's say $100,000 just for argument's sake.  In order to qualify for that, you must be able to document that every single one of your ancestors in one generation were slaves.  Why?  Well, clearly such a person is more "entitled"than someone only descended, say, on their mother's side from slaves.  If there was "harm", they only were "harmed" half as much, right?  They'd only get $50,000.  Only one grandparent purely descended from slaves?  You get $25,000, and you'd better prove those relationships.

How about the time value?  Remember that someone 40 years old today probably had 32 direct ancestors in 1850, and 128 in 1800.  Notwithstanding the fact that a claimant to a pure (highest value) reparation, the full $100,000, would have to demonstrate that all 128 of those ancestors were slaves, there is another dimension to that.

Slaves were being imported in 1850 as well.  How does someone, all of whose ancestors came over in 1850 and therefore slaved for "only" 15 years, compare in reparations to someone whose ancestors were already in the USA in 1700 and lived their whole lives as slaves?  Shouldn't the descendants of relative newcomers get less of the pie than those ancestors slaved for generations?

The calculus has to handle that too.  Verified ancestry percentage, verified time as a slave.  That will be fun.

Lots of land mines on the "from" side as well.  John Brown was a notable abolitionist, a white man who fought slavery to the bitter end and was hanged for the Harper's Ferry raid of 1859.  He died for the cause, so to speak.  Do his white descendants get a proportional discount on their reparations bill, having sacrificed their ancestor (and two of Brown's sons, who died in the raid) to the cause?  How, in any sense of fairness, should they have to pay as much as a slave-owner's descendants, right?

And of course, the same argument applies to pretty much any Union soldier's descendants, those who fought, those who died for the same cause.  Now they're supposed to pay -- "again", as it were?  And of course, any retroactive credit they get has to be apportioned for the percentage of their shed blood their descendants have.  Got to keep it fair, you know.

And once you get into a "credit" computation -- and you have to, to be fair -- you have to go to the "to" side again.  It's not like we have done nothing to offset the effects of slavery on black Americans.  How much of that $100,000 has already been paid over the years in the form of racial preferences, job points, affirmative action, college admissions, court decisions that take race into account?  Aren't we going to factor that in?

I hate to say, before my last point, "finally", because just the few land mines I mention above in computing a reparations deal themselves make it almost impossible to implement (and just try to prove that you had even one slave ancestor in 1800, let alone 128 of them).

But "finally", there is one more point.  Let's assume that we could do all that, and that at some point there is a reparations settlement that pays the deserving and does not dun people whose ancestors had nothing to do with slavery.  Money gets transferred.  Reparations are implemented and paid.  All done.  It's over.  It's so over.

Now what?

In my view, that's the biggest land mine.  At the point at which reparations are paid, black Americans no longer have the right to claim any preferences whatsoever based on the presumption of a history of slavery.  You wanted it, you got it.  Here's your check, now you've been paid and no one owes you anything anymore.  It's up to you to become self-reliant and teach your children self-reliance, because you can't rely on preferential treatment anymore.

Reparations could become the biggest weapon for non-black Americans in the future, predicated on the idea that, having won a settlement, black Americans' claims are over and no longer can be used.

I've often written that the left does not want solutions; they want problems (mostly perceived) to exist forever so they can claim that only all-powerful government can solve them.  This one would backfire on the left in ways they could only imagine.

But they read it here first.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, 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 bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton