Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sitting tall.*

About midway through last night's debatewhich I actually think was the best of the three, overall, in terms of illuminating the candidates as menit occurred to me that this was a little bit like watching one of those bully movies. You know the genre: where, say, for the first hour and 45 minutes of a two-hour flick, some malevolent SOB (or group of SOBs) runs amok, intimidating people, terrorizing whole communities, committing all kinds of ever-escalating provocations...and you're sitting there in your too-small movie-theater seat, a helpless witness to it all, getting increasingly frustrated and worked up, furious even, your heart pounding at Dick Cheney levels as you wait for the schmucks being bullied to stand up for themselves and take their this case there was no comeuppance, no cathartic final act coming. Obama just sat there, for the most part looking as perma-pressed, as unflappable as ever. He took it all in stride, and with aplomb. He even smiled through much of it. There were moments last night when I wanted to scream at my set, "Barack! Barack! Come on, man! Find your gonads! Say something! Do something! Borrow a tool from Joe the Plumber, lean over and whack that rude and cantankerous old fossil across the face and knock him the hell off his chair!"

But you know what? As it went on, as Barack Obama greeted each one of John McCain's nasty zingers with intelligence and self-possession, remaining as cool as the other side of the pillow
**, something else began to happensomething larger and a lot more meaningful than my need for emotional closure. My candidate began to look increasingly presidential. His calmness calmed me. Not only that, but it also deflected and defeated McCain's rhetorical left hooks. I just kept listening to what Obama said, to the eloquence and insight of his measured responses, to the way he kept taking things off the personal level and bringing them back to the issues. And I thought: This guy is truly special. One in a million. Maybe one in a generation. This is a guy who can handle anything. This is the kind of guy who's going to evaluate developing situations on their merits, who's not going to fly off the handle and do rash things likeoh, I don't knowinvade countries on a piquish, ill-reasoned whim, costing the nation $10 billion a month it doesn't have and also, more importantly, costing 4183 American lives to date. This is a guythe guywho belongs at the helm.

The instant polls from CNN, CBS, and others suggest that America agreed.

* This is an allusion, of course, to what may be the bully movie of all time, Walking Tall
the original version with Joe Don Baker (shown), not the semi-awful remake starring The Rock.
** The credit for the memorable simile goes to ESPN's Stuart Scott.


Anonymous said...

"oh, I don't know—invade countries on a piquish, ill-reasoned whim..."

Can we please stop this? Please? He's president, not a dictator.
According to CNN:
On October 11, 2003, the Senate voted 77 - 23, authorizing President Bush to attack Iran if Saddam Hussein did not disarm and comply with all UN resolutions.

The House approved the same resolution 296 - 133.

On another, note, it's all filtering, right? You saw Obama as "presidential." Others may have seen Chauncy Gardener in 'Being There.'

Anonymous said...

You Americans don't seem to value the success in the Iraq war. Nobody seems to remember that Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction - biological and nuclear program and ratted out another Islamic-run nuclear power (Pakistan) as the source of it's nuclear weapon designs as result of the Iraq war. If a nuclear Islamic Iran is bad, then nuclear Islamic powers Libya and Iran is a much more dangerous situation.

Pakistan's Dr. Abdul Khan is no longer exporting nuclear technology to terrorist nations. This is a big deal for the billion people who live in India. We understand why the US military must walk on eggshells around Pakistan when it provides safe haven to Bin Laden.

Americans only seem to care about what white europeans think about them. If George Bush is denounced in German beer gardens or bistros in France, everybody pays attention. But if the same man is revered as a hero in India or on the African continent, nobody seems to care. A case for racism can be made here.

The American military men and women did not die for nothing in Iraq. They made the world a safer place. They made an Islamic terrorist country give up its nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction. They took away the legitimacy of Al Qaeda among the Iraqi people. They rallied Sunni and Shia to set aside their differences when the euro-intellectuals were convinced a civil war was at hand.

The world is a much safer place because of the war against Iraq. America has paid a high price, and for that we are grateful.

RevRon's Rants said...

As it turns out, yet another of McCain's machinations backfired on him, right in the middle of the debate, when he paraded Joe the Plumber as "evidence" that Obama's tax plan would hurt Joe Six-pack. Obama calmly and effectively addressed the concerns stated by the obviously hostile "Joe," rendering McCain's attempted gotcha impotent.

As "luck" would have it, an interview with Joe "the plumber" Wurzelbacher was posted before the debate on a website run by Carol Taber. If you recall, she was caught in the 2004 campaign posing as a concerned mother when, in fact, she was an operative for Bush/Cheney. Hmmm...

I guess it was just good fortune for McCain that this Joe took off from his 12-hour a day job to confront Obama, and that a film crew happened to be in perfect position to capture the exchange. Makes me kinda wonder whether the folks shouting, "terrorist," "kill him," and "off with his head" at the Palin events might have been plants, as well.

Apparently, McCain's desperation knows no bounds.

RevRon's Rants said...

anon 9:34 - I guess it doesn't matter that the House & Senate made their decisions based upon intelligence provided by the administration that it (the admin) knew to be false. Where a dictator simply does what he (or she) wants, our president lied to the country to get approval to do what he wanted. And yeah, we've seen Sellers' character... for 8 years now, and we've finally gotten tired of it.

anon 9:35 - Sorry, but our overthrow of Saddam Hussein did *not* make the world a safer place. On the contrary, it has actually helped Al Quaida in its efforts to recruit more terrorists. Collateral events, such as Libya's change of heart, were the result of Qaddafi's realizing that it was in his best interest not to alienate the rest of the world.

To those who revere Bush as a hero, I would ask them how many of their countrymen's lives his "heroism" has cost. We Americans are concerned about world opinion, and not just the "white Europeans," despite what the administration's policies might indicate. We are hopeful that the next administration will restore the respect we once had, and have (justifiably) lost.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 9:35 AM:

"On another, note, it's all filtering, right? You saw Obama as 'presidential.' Others may have seen Chauncy Gardener in 'Being There.'"

The obvious difference between Obama and Chance (the latter brilliantly played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie based on Jerzy Kosinski's novel) is that Obama's responses were actually thoughtful and intelligent. On the other hand Chance merely parroted what other people said to him, with a somber expression that others misinterpreted as thoughtfulness. It doesn't take a "filter" to figure out that distinction.

And yes, I too thought Obama acted and looked presidential. While McCain tried to sneak in a few zingers about Obama's "eloquence," with the implied message that eloquence equals sneakiness and dishonesty (it’s a tool of elitists, after all), McCain himself came across as patronizing, angry and decidedly non-Presidential.

But then, maybe that’s just my filter at work.

I do think that Obama's closing remarks…
"But it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be quick. It is going to be requiring all of us -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- to come together and to renew a spirit of sacrifice and service and responsibility"…

were reminiscent of Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do..."

Anon 9:35 AM:
I appreciate your perspective. However, I can't help also thinking that even if the "good results" you mentioned were a result of the war, they were unintended consequences -- collateral events, as Ron said.

Given this kind of reasoning, one could almost justify going to war any time and any place, because something "good" might come of it. In any case, I agree with Ron that the world is NOT a safer place because of our actions in Iraq; it is arguably more dangerous.

Elizabeth said...

Rev, Joe the plumber appears to be related to Charles Keating's father-in-law (they share the same last name and live(d) in the vicinity of each other -- the FIL is deceased now.) There is quite a lot on it written by enterprising web sleuths, though the relation is not officially confirmed (and may be just a very lucky, for McCain, coincidence). But there are only 130+ people with this last name in the whole US, so chances are they are somehow related. We'll see.

And, btw, really, my friend (McCain, not you, Rev :) -- do you consider people making 250K+ a year as struggling middle class?? If you really think so, you are hopelessly out of touch with reality (but we knew that already).

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, as usual you overstate "for effect". I don't think the bullying and nastiness was quite as one-sided as you imply here. Your man Barack wasn't exactly a milquetoast. I think what gave McCain a strident appearance were the strange and severe facial expressions more than anything else. He still has my vote, mostly because I can't get behind Obama's ideas on wealth redistribution. I wont' deny that McCain ages by the week. And there's nothing angrier looking than an angry old man. It's too bad Obama is on the wrong side philosophically and economically. As a man, he'd have my vote for sure if he ever got his thinking straight.

Elizabeth said...

Joe's story gets curioser by the minute. Apparently he is not even registered to vote. His "concern" over being taxed more because of his earnings is purely hypothetical as he does not own that business and does not make that much money (yet?). And he made this, well, peculiar comment on a morning talk show (that 15-minutes of fame is apparently quite enjoyable for Joe):
"Obama tap danced...almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr."

Well then.

P.S. And while I don't want to be a "lookist" any more than I am already, I gotta say that looking at Joe makes me shiver with fear. That's one plumber I would not let nowhere near my pipes.

Elizabeth said...

Sorry, but Joe sounds like a GOP operative (or a member of McCain's campaign) rather than a regular Joe the plumber:

This Joe The Plumber narrative just stinks.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Just to clarify, are we still talking about plumbing in its literal sense, or have we "slud" on over (as Dubya might put it) into the realm of the metaphorical...?

Elizabeth said...

Steve...! Gasp!

The lady has said enough.


Elizabeth said...

Maybe not quite enough, after all.

Since I'm introducing conspiracy theories, I better get my facts straight: the other Ohio man with Joe's last name was not Keating's father-in-law, but his son-in-law. See this You Tube clip for the story:

RevRon's Rants said...

Hmmm... Eliz, you *do* seem to have visceral reaction to guys named Joe, if earlier accusations are to be believed! :-)

And Roger, You "think what gave McCain a strident appearance were the strange and severe facial expressions more than anything else."

Just going by his reputation among his peers, both in the Senate and the military, those facial expressions betray an extremely volatile personality he's been trying very hard to conceal. I tend to worry more about someone prone to the redistribution of body parts than one prone to the redistribution of wealth. McCain seems all too eager to find a military solution to problems, and in this volatile world, a cooler head is needed. For the record, he's had his own record of wealth distribution, albeit by eliminating the regulations that prevent large companies from having an unfair advantage over individual citizens, as well as our government.

Cosmic Connie said...

In retrospect, I think all of us should have been suspicious from the beginning that good ol' Joe was a plant, for the simple reason that McCain mentioned that *Obama* had had the encounter with Joe. That kind of sounded weird to me when he said it, but I let it slide because I wanted to focus on the debate.

The thing is, usually when a candidate is going to exploit a reg'lar ordinary person -- and they all do this -- it's framed in a heartbreaking conversation that the candidate himself supposedly had with that person. ("Today I talked with Hattie Lou Mainstreet, a 78-year-old retired nurse who is surviving on gerbil pellets because she can't afford to buy groceries *and* pay for the 42 different prescription drugs she has to take every day just to stay alive.")

Joe The Plumber is going to backfire on McCain big time. Or should I say, "back up" on him. In any case, barring a miracle comeback or some other unforeseen circumstance, I think he's just flushed his campaign down the toilet for good.

Elizabeth said...

Say it ain't so, Joe. Our most famous GOP plumber is not licensed, works for somebody else and makes nowhere near 250K. Yet he accosts Obama (cameras conveniently pointed at him) with an indignant question on "unfair" taxation of the business he "plans" to buy (remember, he has no money to buy it anyway). Then, when the video gets picked up by MSM and Joe is invited to comment on the Neil Cavuto show on FOX, he forgets to mention these inconvenient facts and pretends to be personally threatened by Obama's tax plan:

This is an interesting interview in itself, btw.

Now some folks who are good with numbers have this to say about Joe's tax discomfort:

So, he can't handle a $900 increase in taxes on $280,000 of income, and won't buy that business? Come on, I don't buy that for a second. The numbers: $280,000 - $250,000 (taxes remain the same) = $30,000 Tax rate increase 36% up to 39% in Obama plan: 3% increase $30,000 x 0.03 = $900 Wow, what a pity case. Also, why not incorporate a company w/ that amount of income? This guy is not capable of running a business if he can't figure this stuff out.

Posted on by: FactCheckerInPDX,

Anonymous said...

I love the fact the "Joe" McCain picked does not seem to be registered to vote! I guess McCain figures at least his "Joe" can't vote for Obama either.

I nearly died when McCain said he could balance the budget in four years! How could even say that? What an outright lie!

Yeah, Obama pretty much let McCain come off as an angry old man. I do wish Obama had brought up how McCain made this racy so nasty. I think most people are turned off by McCain's anger and feral look. His eyes looked pretty wild.

Best debate of all by far.

Elizabeth said...

"Today I talked with Hattie Lou Mainstreet, a 78-year-old retired nurse who is surviving on gerbil pellets because she can't afford to buy groceries *and* pay for the 42 different prescription drugs she has to take every day just to stay alive."

Connie, this would be side-splitting hilarious (and sorta is) if such situations, like the one our Hattie Lou finds herself in, were not indeed all too common.

"Eliz, you *do* seem to have visceral reaction to guys named Joe, if earlier accusations are to be believed! :-)"

Hmmm, now that you've mentioned it, Rev... Seems thems Joes do get my feathers ruffled. ;)

Anonymous said...

I happen to be personally aquainted with Hattie Lou as she lives in my street and in addition to the restricted diet of gerbil pellets and 42 prescription drugs, poor Hattie is suffering a bad case of anomie; she is an example of Merton's 'Strain Theory' in action.

'In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result the individual would exhibit deviant behavior'

So poor Hattie's predicament can be laid squarely at the feet of this society's prevailing ethic.


'Anomie as a social disorder is not to be confused with anarchy. Anarchy denotes lack of rulers, hierarchy, and command, whereas anomie denotes lack of rules, structure, and organization. Many proponents of anarchism claim that anarchy does not necessarily lead to anomie and that hierarchical command actually increases lawlessness (see e.g. the Law of Eristic Escalation).'

full text: Article of the Day provided by The Free Dictionary.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am glad that even if I did vote it wouldn't count, seeing is I am an expat and all and you guys are really smart and stuff. I mean that - no sarcasm or anything here.

And, I must say, you all are the smartest bunch I ever did meet, (sort of) and I am happy to get all my info from this site and so on.

All I have to say is that after reading everything and all, and after reading history and everything even from way back and stuff, it doesn't matter, in the wink of an eye, who becomes president of the USA.

Life forges on...I guess...Just take care of your own life isn't that what counts anyway?

I don't like getting caught up in the details - I find it distracting.

It has never mattered, in the big scheme of things, who was president or dictator or whatever...


Steve Salerno said...


"It has never mattered...who was president or dictator or whatever"?

Anonymous said...

Is it not always a "done deal?"

Anonymous said...

You are one of the smartest men I have ever read. Why do you end with a question mark? It's making me really intrigued.

I want you to respond to my diatribe (?) or my nonsense (?)

YUP - It's a toss up my determinist friend...

Anonymous said...

Just a question mark? It is for me too, the big question mark of life and I don't buy all this hoohaa.

Nope, I'm the clown at the back of the room, wondering when it's all over...

Anonymous said...

'I don't like getting caught up in the details - I find it distracting.'

Too right, if you have no influence over the details it's pretty pointless getting caught up in them.

Details in themselves, however, reward study- for isn't the devil in them thar details?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, first of all I have trouble keeping track of all the Anons, so I'm not always sure I'm responding to the same person...but what exactly is it I'm supposed to be responding to? A deterministic system nonetheless encompasses the small routines and "decisions" in daily life, and since we don't know ahead of time what's determined to happen (and that lack of knowledge, too, is accounted for in the deterministic process)... I don't know. I'm not really sure what you're asking, or if your question is even an honest one (i.e. as opposed to rhetorical device).

Steve Salerno said...

Anon/Clown: That may be the case, but your self-perception has little to do with the role you've been "determined" to play in the overall scheme of things. You could be the butterfly in The Butterfly Effect. You could be the foot that someone trips over, setting in motion a chain of events that changes the world. And--the truly amazing part--this could all happen without your even knowing it.

I've often wondered: Did a young Osama bin Laden go to pick up drycleaning somewhere, and the teenage (anglo) clerk treated him rudely? And bin Laden didn't say anything at the time, but just stewed about it.... Who knows? That drycleaning clerk could be sitting somewhere now, totally oblivious to the fact that he set 9/11 in motion. (The "drycleaning" scenario is totally apocryphal and highly unlikely, but you get my larger point.)

RevRon's Rants said...

"I don't like getting caught up in the details - I find it distracting."

From what? The "details" are what make the moment - and the subsequent moments in our lives - real. We carry the abstraction of our "journey" as a guide, but that journey doesn't exist unless we take steps. Ignoring the "details" as we take those steps , we fall on our butts.

"It has never mattered, in the big scheme of things, who was president or dictator or whatever..."

It matters to *me.* I've seen all too clearly how much damage a person with such expansive powers can do. Even if, in the grand scheme, it makes no difference, I don't live my life on such a scale, and feel compelled to try in my minuscule way to make things better - or at least, not worse. Whether it makes a global difference is irrelevant; it makes a *personal* difference, and is at the very core of my definition of "responsibility" - to myself, and to the world in which I live. Who knows... if enough people each make even a minuscule personal difference, that difference could become global.

Then again, if someone believes it's all predetermined, and our acts have no meaning, I could see why they wouldn't bother making an effort, or even trying to share their perspective with others.

Anonymous said...

'That drycleaning clerk could be sitting somewhere now, totally oblivious to the fact that he set 9/11 in motion.'

But by the tenets of determinism even that drycleaning clerk was pre-determined to be rude to Osama and so non-culpable.

--The glaring deficiency, in my view, of determinism as a code on which to base a meaningful life.

But hey, each to his own.

Steve Salerno said...

Then again, if someone believes it's all predetermined, and our acts have no meaning, I could see why they wouldn't bother making an effort, or even trying to share their perspective with others

Ron, I have never understood that argument. For instance, I believe that the winner of this weekend's Cowboys-Rams game is set in stone. The deciding elements were all set in play long before football even existed. Let's suppose T.O. and the rest of the Cowboys believe that too. But they don't know who the winner's going to why shouldn't they try their best? I believe that the outcome of all of the ball games I'm going to play for my 45+ team next year (assuming I'm still around, which is something else we don't know) also are already "decided." It has no bearing on my anticipation of the season, or my attempts to prepare for it. (And if it did have a bearing, that too would be factored into the deterministic outcome.) So it makes no difference.

Steve Salerno said...

But by the tenets of determinism even that drycleaning clerk was pre-determined to be rude to Osama and so non-culpable.

Right, exactly. I didn't mean to imply that the clerk bore the blame. I'm just saying, from bin Laden's perspective, that might've been where it "started."

Anonymous said...

Returning to them thar details and Old Nick himself:

'might've been' where it started. Then again it might not.

We could go back further to the drycleaners mother and her tribulations, his granny and grandad and their tribulations, we could track it to Sasquatch, the Missing Link himself--ad infinitum.

We could speculate for ever and waste time accomplishing absolutely nothing but a glorious house of cards spun out of 'maybe'

Or we could cut through the cr*p, decide we're never going to know any of that stuff for sure and take responsibilty for ourselves, for our own thinking and for our own lives.

Of course we are never going to be fully responsible for our own lives, too many other variables in play, but we could decide to take what responsibility we can and stop worrying about all that endless cr*p that is beyond our control.

I'd call that accepting my limitations, psychiatrists call it a mature adaptation to the world, you can call it what you like.

RevRon's Rants said...

If the score of the game were predetermined and the players knew it, why would they want to risk getting injured by playing out what was essentially a charade? They could all sit on their butts, knowing that the outcome wouldn't change... it was predetermined.

We've gone back & forth on this... oh... once or twice. I somehow doubt we'll get farther than agreeing to disagree, each of us "knowing" the other is wrong. :-)

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting in Hattie's case to ask what is the prevailing social ethic. That is, what actual expectations Hattie has gained from the social environment, not the ideal conditions that might one day exist in some future Utopia.

My reading of the prevailing social ethic can be simplified to
'Grab as much as you can for yourself and your family and try to live forever.'

Needless to say I, being fundamentally anarchic, reject that ethic.

I would advise Hattie to look again at her life, consider the years already lived and the impossibilty of living forever for anyone, let alone someone on a diet of pills and gerbil pellets.

Were I in the business of giving advice--which I most certainly am not--I would advise Hattie to accept that her remaining time on earth is inevitably limited, to dump the pills and to henceforth spend her money on decent, nourishing, delicious food so that she can get maximum enjoyment from her declining years.

Any other expectation is, in my
book, deluded.

Anonymous said...

With regard to determinism, although I have no belief in the Devil, I agree with the statement that
'Absolute certainty is the work of the Devil.'

an interesting article on certainty and uncertainty:

There is a psychologist mentioned in the article, a Dr Paul Watzlawick (now deceased) who has written some of the most accessible and interesting books on these matters, cutting edge science on how and why our brains function, well worth a read.

Anonymous said...

"I guess I am glad that even if I did vote it wouldn't count, seeing is I am an expat and all and you guys are really smart and stuff. I mean that - no sarcasm or anything here."

Anon 10:28 you bring up a good point: When you live abroad does voting really matter? I know that technically being a U.S. citizen the politically correct response would be "yes." We do have an electorial college and actually, unless you live in the U.S. and need to vote for propositions and local yokel, it is really "no." When I lived in Europe, I did not vote either. I thought it would be preposterious for me to do so.