Thursday, November 28, 2013


Prepare for the horror that is... creamy Asparagus dishes!  Artichokes!  Swedish meatballs!, seriously, some people do meatballs for Thanksgiving.  Why?  I mean, stick to the traditional meats like turkey, or honey ham, or fish.  Fish is legal, it's a Pilgrim staple... ya, ya...

So anyhoo, for the benefit of the seven people who follow this blog, here's the keystone to our holiday festivity:

Now, about the proper way to sacrifice your turkey to the pagan Gods of the Harvest...  First, lay out a table in a geometric pattern with silver stabbing weapons and ceramic plates in which the ritual offerings can be placed.  Light some scented harvest-themed candles in the center of the table... Have the participants sit within an order decided by rank and by age...  Bring forth the SACRIFICE!  Offer a prayer to the appropriate deity of the house...  AND BEGIN THE CUTTING...!

Multiple sacrifices AKA seconds may be granted depending on the satisfaction of the house deity.


Also, it's the one-year anniversary of the Butt Fumble.  Sometimes, we must wonder which Gods the Jets displeased...

Next up, SATURNALIA!  I need more computer desktop wallpapers for Saturnalia, graphics artists!  NOW...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Personal Status: I NaNo'ed

NaNo: verb.  To succeed in writing 50,000 or more words to a novel during the month of November.

Victory is mine!  Now, to sleep!  
/face collapses on keyboard 
ghkrhwsehe89 33p98yx 38794ytjjksf 

Presidential Character: Week Forty, The Dawn of the Pax Reaganicus

Or is that Pax Reagana?  Damn it, I've lost my Latin skills!  I told you I'm bad with languages... got a hard enough time keeping up with Anglish...

Basically I'm talking about the Reagan Era, the moment when Ronald Reagan became President.

There are moments in American history where the flow of history - much like a mighty river - shifts direction and the whole landscape changes.  Usually wars - the American Revolution, Mexican-American, Civil War, World War II (but not necessarily the first one), Vietnam, the War on Terror - and sometimes economic disasters - the Great Depression, the Great Recession - but rarely an election of a political leader.  Oh, Lincoln's election was pivotal, but that was part of the Civil War, sort of co-sponsoring the national shift from slavery to emancipation and states' rights to federalism.  No, I'm talking about election of the likes of Andrew Jackson, a forceful personality who basically willed an entire nation's political and economic structure to his whims.  There's a reason the 1830s-1840s is called the Age of Jackson (or Jacksonian Democracy).

Another such election was Reagan's.  Which is slightly ironic in that Reagan's personality was not forceful like Jackson's, nor was he Active like Lincoln.  In his Presidential Character book, James David Barber designated Reagan as a Passive-Positive, and for good reasons.  Pass-Pos Presidents don't tend to leave a major impact on history, and yet pretty much the Eighties and even the Nineties could be considered the Reagan Era.  We're still living (2013) in the aftermath of that era, so much that the Republican Party still pursues the policies of that era out of some fevered nostalgic hope to reclaim the past.

What Reagan brought to his tenure as President was an affable charm.  It was that part of him that made him a relatively successful movie actor of the Thirties and Forties.  This made him as a political figure more an entertainer than enlightener, but for him it worked.  To quote Barber:

By the time Reagan reached the stage of the White House, he had more experience pleasing audiences than any American politician since William Jennings Bryan... And not since Harding had a happy-talk President's character and style fit together so nicely with the public's yearning for positive thinking in politics.  The President had a terrific sense of humor, which he exercised regularly in what started out to be formal prep sessions by his staff... (p.256)

Reagan's nickname became The Great Communicator.  No other President could pull off a bon mot, a one-liner, a poetic reading, a shaggy dog tale, and a comeback like he could.

With this persona in play, Reagan could be on the one hand ruthlessly micromanaged by his own staff - like an actor with an entourage handling all the chores, with a chief of staff doubling as publicity agent and gatekeeper to the media - and on the other perform flawlessly at staged photo-ops and televised national addresses.  With control of the persona, there was control of the message.

It is through that manipulation of Reagan's image that an ambitious political agenda could be unleashed.  Reagan's rise to power - from actor to governor of California to President - came through his association to social and economic conservatism, as part of the Goldwater movement of limited federalism.  He challenged Ford for the 1976 primaries coming from the Far Right vs. Ford's pragmatic moderate platform, and was the bannerman for the conservatives once more in 1980.  Reagan's victory, along with Republicans winning control of the Senate, was viewed as a shift in the national mood away from the FDR-to-LBJ liberalism.

Yet appearances were modestly deceiving.  For all of the conservatives' hopes of pushing massive legislative changes, very little went in the Far Right's favor.  The massive tax cut Reagan achieved in 1981 proved disastrous and Reagan quickly switched gears on that, raising taxes by 1983 to help pay off the increased deficits those cuts created.  During his second term, Reagan pushed for and got an Income Tax reform bill in an attempt to straighten out and simplify a bloated tax code. Social welfare programs saw some cuts but for the most part remained intact, due to a Democratic House unwilling to bend on those programs.  As a Passive-Positive, Reagan was amenable to compromise and working with Democratic leadership (Tip O'Neill especially) to get deals done.

The biggest difference between rhetoric and reality for the Reagan administration was the Cold War.  Reagan came into office in 1980 as a kind of "cowboy", presenting himself as a Cold War Warrior standing up against the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union: yes, this is an actor relying on movies like Star Wars to help explain his world-view.  It was this persona that pursued a massive arms build-up that forced the Soviets to spend beyond their own means.  Yet it was another movie The Day After, about a nuclear holocaust, that woke Reagan up to the fact that a nuclear war was unwinnable, and he seriously began pursuing an arms limitation treaty with the Soviets after having spent the 1980 campaign decrying such negotiations during the Carter years.  As a result, Reagan is the President who achieved getting a massive arms reduction treaty passed.  Both the massive defense spending and the nuclear arms reductions - a one-two punch - began the late Eighties dominoes of events leading to the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Reagan received a lot of criticism from the Far Right for failing to pursue their objectives - an end of the New Deal policies, pursuing an honest-to-God war against Communism - and yet today he's still the patron saint of the Far Right, of the Republican Party as a whole.  Because of two things: First, Reagan's administration is the only administration of the last eighty years the Far Right can accept (can't accept Bush the Elder or Ford or Eisenhower as they were too "moderate", can't accept Bush the Lesser considering all the disasters he presided over, and can't accept Nixon's because yeah Watergate); and Second, Reagan did achieve making hard conservative values acceptable to the mainstream consensus.   Such as deregulation of businesses, downsizing of government, limiting abortion access, giving politically-active religious groups more political prestige, and other social conservative issues.

It's that particular agenda that defines the Reagan era.  It's one of the core elements of the modern Republican agenda - to deregulate everything, to privatize everything, to shrink the federal government down to where Grover Norquist can drown it in his bathtub, to insert conservative religious values everywhere - that we live with and fight against to this day.

And as a Third point: Reagan's Affability, his popularity, remains untouched even to this day.  Although like other Passive-Positives he filled his administration with untrustworthy underlings - Reagan presided over a scandal-filled administration that produced a Savings And Loan fiscal crisis when that sector was deregulated; and the Iran-Contra Affair that saw illegal arms deals to Iranians to free Middle East hostages, with the funds illegally going to support Nicaragua Contra rebels - Reagan himself remained untouched by most of the scandals.  And despite the fiscal damage of the S&L crisis, the American economy remained churning and most Americans didn't seem to care.

Reagan's legacy remains: the idea of shrinking the federal government's role in the lives of Americans (and in the deregulation of billion-plus corporate industries) remains potent even as the Reagan era itself has technically ended.  Not many Passive-Positives can claim such a legacy.

Next Up: Bush the Elder.  There's not really anything fancy I can say about that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Anniversary of the Ultimate American Guessing Game

I'm of the belief that you need to ask an American just three questions to ever figure out exactly who that person is: ask about the American's name; ask about what he/she does for a living; and ask what he/she thinks happened to JFK in Dallas Nov. 22 1963...

The assassination of John Kennedy remains one of the most traumatic moments in American history. Up there with the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 attacks, and the rollout of New Coke.

As a librarian I can tell you the importance of a historical event by the number of books filling up the shelves. Civil War books, usually the biggest section of the 900s (DDC) alone can take up a full shelf (with six packed rows of books) in a small library, and take up an entire stack of shelves in a big library.

The Kennedy assassination is getting up there in the number of books written. It's been the cornerstone of conspiracy thought ever since the Warren Report came out and people hooked onto certain flaws found in it. It's been 50 years of arguing over the assassination, over the report, over how history got screwed (the number of What If plotlines and time-travel-to-save-JFK stories are pretty numerous).

For myself, I grew up in the shadow of the Sixties, a young child of the Seventies and a teen of the Eighties. I was engulfed with the conspiracy talk ever since we got to this part of U.S. history in the classroom. Having grown up reading non-fiction books about mysteries – UFOs, witchcraft, ghosts, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle – the allure of conspiracy about JFK's death was pretty irresistible.

So. Shall we play a game of Whodunnit and argue over the various conspiracies over who shot JFK?

Lone Gunman
The official take. Oswald, ex-Marine who defected to Russia and returned disillusioned, acts alone in the planning of the assassination and is the only one pulling the trigger. He kills a police officer while fleeing on foot before getting captured in a movie theater. Oswald himself is killed by a lone gunman, a paranoid club owner Jack Ruby.
Why this theory works: all the official evidence points this way. What is known of Oswald fits into the psych profile of other assassins. There are other parts of Oswald's activities before the assassination – an attempted shooting of a retired right-wing general – that points to a man desperate to prove himself via Propaganda of the Deed.
Why this theory falls apart: the “official evidence” could have been manipulated: there have been enough complaints about the Warren Report having errors and unfinished tangents deserving of investigation to make that report suspect. While Oswald fits the profile of an assassin, he's unique among all of the other shooters and would-be assailants in that he refused to take credit. He's the only one on record saying he didn't do it, and that he was a “patsy”. Having Oswald killed prevents any truth of his actions from getting out. Considering the number of political enemies Kennedy acquired over the years, having some nobody be the one killing him just doesn't seem kosher.

The Russians/Commies Did It
The first possibility, considering we were at the height of the Cold War. Kennedy had just stared down the Russians from putting nuclear warheads in Cuba, and the Berlin Wall had just gone up. Eliminating a political opponent wouldn't be out of the question for the KGB.
Why this theory works: Oswald had defected to the USSR and had just returned, reportedly kicked out by a Soviet Union that found him useless. He could have been conditioned or encouraged by his Soviet handlers to pull the trigger on Kennedy.
Why this theory doesn't work: If this were true, we'd have started launching nukes at the Soviets inside of thirty minutes of finding out. This would have been such an act of aggression that war would be the only logical response. The Soviets may have been cunning, but they weren't crazy. They could deal with Kennedy, and they didn't need to kill him.

The Castro Cubans Did It
Independently of their Soviet allies. Castro had been surviving attempts on his life and was probably pissed off enough to turn the tables. Oswald had been positioning himself as a fan of communist Cuba, and may have shot Kennedy to curry favor with Castro.
Why this theory works: It actually doesn't. Because...
Why this theory doesn't work: There has never been any conclusive proof that Castro or Cuban communists were in contact with Oswald. The FBI and CIA made serious efforts to find one, but never could (the possibility of Oswald going to the Cuban embassy in Mexico is disputed with the fact that the documented photos of someone claiming to be Oswald doesn't match the real thing). Castro pulling something like this without the knowledge of the Soviets is unlikely; and if found out would have forced Soviet Russia to either cut ties to Cuba while the US invaded out of revenge, or else sign on to nuclear Armageddon.

The Anti-Castro Cubans Did It
While there were a lot of people angry at Kennedy, none of them were as driven as the exiled Cuban community. They considered themselves twice betrayed: first when JFK refused to provide air support for the failed Bay of Pigs, second when JFK refused to invade Cuba over the missile crisis. It hurt that Kennedy's deal with Khrushchev included a full stop to all covert attempts to overthrow Castro.
Why this theory works: As noted, these guys were PISSED at Kennedy. That fateful trip through the southern states originally had Kennedy stopping in Miami (the center of anti-Castro activity), but that was canceled when it was deemed security wouldn't be tight enough. Given some of the evidence of Oswald being involved with some elements of the anti-Castro covert ops, it's possible Oswald got recruited by a small band to assist either directly or indirectly with the shooting. As part of of this conspiracy theory, they then get Ruby to shoot Oswald to cover their tracks.
Why this theory doesn't work: There's little evidence that the anti-Castro Cubans had this amount of power to pull of an assassination like this. Or have this much control over the investigation. If it ever got out that the anti-Castro groups killed our President, the American people would have turned against the anti-Castro crowds and their government handlers like the CIA. The only way this theory works is if you add it to the larger conspiracy theory such as...

The CIA/FBI/Shadow Government Did It
What quickly became the most prominent theory among conspiracy buffs. Somehow, Kennedy was a threat to their covert operations and overt attempts at starting World War III. It's common knowledge nowadays that the Joint Chiefs and other key government officials viewed Kennedy as soft on Communism (it was more that Kennedy refused to ignite a nuclear war, something the war-hawks viewed as survivable). Kennedy had threatened to dismantle the CIA after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, blaming them for misleading him with false intel.
Why this theory works: If Kennedy had enemies within the government, it was most likely here. The heads of the CIA and FBI both disliked JFK along with the upper echelon of the military. The CIA could have been in contact with Oswald as part of the theory that Oswald was an attempt to infiltrate the Soviet Union. The FBI had tabs on Oswald right up to the assassination. And the FBI basically had control of the whole investigation that created the Warren Report, meaning they could hide any incriminating evidence they didn't like.
Why this theory doesn't work: a conspiracy of this size and scope would have had to involve hundreds of people through various agencies, any one of whom could have slipped up on a detail or betray the secrecy in some fashion. Having this covert group pull off a very public assassination would have drawn too bright a light on their activities. And this shadow government would have had other means of killing Kennedy – through poisoning to make it look like a natural death. How many people knew about Kennedy's Addison's Disease?  Did his Vice-President know...?

Johnson Did It
As part of the government conspiracy theory, where the CIA and FBI didn't do it, but Vice-President Johnson did and the government merely helped cover it up. There'd been stories that Kennedy was thinking of dropping LBJ from the ticket in 1964, that Johnson's ties to a crooked land developer was the key reason, although the Kennedys (including Bobby, Jack's confidant) and Johnson didn't get along very much to begin with. As Johnson desired the Presidency, if he got booted off the ticket that'd be the end of that hope, so killing Kennedy to get promoted sounds like motive...
Why this theory works: It really doesn't. Because...
Why this theory doesn't work: There's no direct or indirect link between Johnson, nor Johnson's people to Oswald. We'd be better off thinking it was a massive government cabal with Johnson on the side benefittng from the results.  Kennedy may have disliked LBJ but he needed Johnson's negotiating skills to keep Congress in line. If Johnson knew about Jack's Addisons, he could have easily created a situation that would have triggered the illness and have Kennedy die of natural causes...

Cabal of Business Leaders Did It
Kennedy wasn't popular among various business leaders, especially the oil men in Texas. One major conspiracy theorist leaned on this as his go-to theory, even making a rather dull movie about it.
Why this theory works: These men would be far enough outside of government to avoid accountability, while having enough ties to various agencies to ensure they would cover their tracks. They would be able to hire the best assassins and covert ops types of the day.
Why this theory doesn't work: Again, there would be too many people involved in the planning, staging, and execution of the attempt, let along the hundreds more needed to cover up something of this scope.

The Mafia Did It
Stories abound of how Kennedy relied on help from mobsters to secure certain election results to win the Presidency... and then unleashed his brother Bobby as Attorney General to hunt the Mafia down. Feeling betrayed by someone who was literally in bed with them (well, in bed with one of the mob boss' mistresses), the mobsters would have felt the need to strike back...
Why this theory works: The Mafia tended to be a group that, when confronted with a problem, uses bullets to remove said problem. There were ties to the New Orleans mob with some of the more interesting characters in the various conspiracy theories, although ties to Oswald are tenuous at best.
Why this theory doesn't work: Again, anything on the scale of what the mob is accused of doing involves too many people, any one of whom could have blown the whole deal. The risks of trying were too high, even if they did succeed.

Aliens Did It
Why not?
Why this theory works: Aliens hated Kennedy for some yet-unrevealed reason.
Why this theory doesn't work: Haven't found any aliens at all, let alone aliens with a grudge against JFK.

You and Me Did It
The Rolling Stones argument. WE are the ones who killed the Kennedys.
Why this theory works: Society is to blame.
Why this theory doesn't work: You first have to believe the Rolling Stones were capable of waxing philosophical.

The truth?
We can never be really sure of it now. It's been fifty years: most of the people involved with that tragic day are dead, and while some documents have been released over the years there's still a ton of evidence locked away for a long time.

For myself, I tend to lean towards the Anti-Castro elements being the culprit as they had the greatest motive and opportunity, but to prove that would require getting to the bottom of whether Oswald was a serious attempt by the CIA to infiltrate the Soviets, and what ties Oswald might have had to any of the Anti-Castro groups operating along the Gulf of Mexico.

The more I've looked at the Warren Report, the more I see an investigation that was more cover-up than revealing, but not for sinister reasons: a lot of it seemed to be an attempt to hide any failures of inaction on the FBI itself. The conspiracy theory about the government behind it all doesn't the basic scrutiny test of Why? Why commit an action fraught with risk when simpler, more subtle methods were at hand?

Although I still have a question about one thing: when Oswald got kicked out of the USSR and came back to the US, why didn't anyone arrest him for desertion from the Marines when he fled to Russia?  He was technically AWOL when he did that. The House UnAmerican Activities congressional committee was still operating at the time: why didn't any eager Congressman looking for media interest bring Oswald up on charges and make a public show of it?  I'm still kinda bugged about this point.  If someone can point me to a detailed answer to this question, I'd be grateful.

So, until next time, when we unravel the possibility that the emerging American Football League of that decade were in cahoots with Oswald after all...

ADDED: I know this is a bit sick to point out on the anniversary and all, but this bit from Red Dwarf just nails it...
What?  Too soon?!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Schadenfreude Florida Edition Pt. 19 - The Hypocrite's Lament

What can you say about a Republican Congresscritter who voted eagerly to have food stamp recipients be tested for illegal drugs... getting caught buying illegal drugs?

Pretty much this: BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Radel of Fort Myers is due to be arraigned Wednesday morning on cocaine possession charges.
A Washington, D.C., court document says that on Oct. 29, Radel "did unlawfully, knowingly, and intentionally possess a quantity of cocaine, a controlled substance."
The misdemeanor drug charge carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and or a fine of $1,000.
Radel is one of those high-and-mighty judgmental creatures you get in the Republican Party.  The ones who express the viewpoint that everyone in poverty only have themselves to blame... that the poor are all "takers", living off the "makers"... that a lot of the poor and minorities are running around lazy and drunk and high on drugs.  These are the ones who want to make unemployment benefits recipients be tested for drugs, despite the lack of evidence that drug abuse was rampant or a cause of their unemployment: Radel recently voted on having food stamp recipients be tested.

The hypocrisy reeks.

The Republicans are so eager to punish the impoverished and hungry, while the rich and powerful like themselves try to get away with breaking the very laws they're using to punish everyone else.

Radel isn't showing any sign of resigning or stepping aside for 2014, and he's trying to blow this off on his alcoholism driving him to make "bad decisions."  But it's not alcoholism that makes you buy drugs, boss: it's the DRUGS you're buying that make you buy that drug.  Which begs the question how long has he been buying cocaine?  And it also begs the question how many other decisions under the influence he's been doing if alcoholism affects him this way?

And to everyone thinking that food stamp recipients deserve to get drug tested... F-CK YOU.  The net results of the states enforcing those tests have found a LOWER percentage of drug users applying for benefits than the national average.  It's not an epidemic problem among the people desperate for financial assistance.

End this damn hypocrisy.  We're better off drug testing elected officials than food stamps recipients.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Anniversary: A Lot More Than Four-Score and Twenty Years Ago, Lincoln Spoke These Words

Just got a reminder from one of the references I work with at the library.

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

As oratory goes, the address is short and simple.  The keynote speaker, Gov. Edward Everett, gave a more formal and better received speech at two hours length.

So why was the Gettysburg Address so famous while Everett's barely gets cited in any reference?

The Address has several advantages.  Its shortness made it perfect to fit on a single page and column of a newspaper.  It also makes it easier to memorize.

Above all, its simplicity in stating in such short words the cause of the war, and what the objective of the war should be:  A New Birth Of Freedom, from the end of slavery and the emancipation of blacks into American society.

...It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Another Moment In The Annals of Angry Guy Syndrome

In the "This Should NOT Be Surprising Anyone" category, George Zimmerman - he who shot Trayvon Martin for the sin of walking at night wearing a hoodie - has been arrested for yet another domestic violence incident:

George Zimmerman was charged Monday with assault after deputies were called to the home where he lived with his girlfriend, who claimed he pointed a shotgun at her during an argument, authorities said.

Zimmerman pushed the woman out of the house and barricaded the door with furniture, Chief Deputy Dennis Lemma said at a news conference hours after the arrest. The girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, provided deputies with a key to the home and they were able to push the door that had been barricaded.

Zimmerman, from before the Trayvon Martin shooting and even after his acquittal, has shown a serious habit of "expressing himself" in a rather violent, confrontational fashion:

  • In September of this year, he visited his estranged wife's home and was accused of threatening her and her father with violence, reportedly with the gun on his possession.  The investigation stalled due to lack of evidence.
  • Zimmerman and his wife were separated at the time of the Trayvon shooting, following a fight between the couple.  She filed for divorce once the trial ended, with the proceedings on hold following the September incident.
  • Zimmerman has been ticketed on three separate occasions for traffic violations, mostly speeding, since the acquittal.
  • In July 2005, Zimmerman was charged with resisting arrest during an incident involving underage drinking, attacking an undercover cop who was trying to arrest Zimmerman's friend.
  • The following month, Zimmerman's then-fiance filed a restraining order against him for domestic violence. Zimmerman filed his own restraining order against her.

And remember, these are the incidents that got the cops involved.

Every one of these incidents fit into a pattern of persistent behavior common with the Angry Guy Syndrome: a confrontational personality, issues with the women in his life leading up to domestic violence reports, a recklessness with respecting rules (such as traffic laws), a level of arrogance that makes him act like he's above the law.

And above all, a love of weapons and an eagerness to have them on him whenever he gets into a fight with someone like his ex-wife or current girlfriend.

The 911 phone calls have already been released: the girlfriend's as well as Zimmerman's.  Zimmerman calling just as the cops showed up to answer the woman's earlier call.  You gotta listen to Zimmerman as he's telling his version of events.  Except you gotta be wondering "why isn't he talking to the cops that are already there?"  And the answer is obvious: it's called "gaming the refs".  Zimmerman knows the tapes always get released to the media, and so he puts out his own 911 call, knowing if he does it the right way he can paint himself as the victim of his "crazy girlfriend".

At this point should anyone even trust him anymore (not off-topic: Zimmerman's lawyer during the shooting trial quit on him after not getting paid)?  Zimmerman keeps getting involved in these incidents, keeps painting himself as the victim.  But here's the thing.  All of these domestic violence calls, all of these traffic violations, all of the times Zimmerman has been confronted by the law, there has been one constant.

George Zimmerman.  George Zimmerman being angry.

This is a trend that cannot be explained away.  This is a constant, an ever-fixed mark of this guy's personality.  Combine it with his love of guns, and we have a troubling threat to other people's safety.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Thirty-Nine, When Someone Aims for a Behavior He THINKS Is Best, Don't Be Shocked If They Miss The Objective

It was mentioned earlier but Richard Nixon's collapse in 1973-74 made James David Barber's reputation as a Presidential scholar.  Nixon was in office when Barber made his prediction that Nixon would self-destruct by over-reacting to a self-manufactured crisis, which became the Watergate scandals.

As a result, Barber's Presidential Character analysis came in vogue among the political class, which meant by 1976 we had a candidate for the office in Jimmy Carter who not only knew about Barber's work but tried to use it to define himself, to say "Well, hey, I'd love to think of myself as being on the awesome end of a psychological profile."  I'm not joking, here's the quote:

...Carter said "I think I have been heavily influenced by James David Barber's writings and I think a lot of my ideas come from there."  Did he think of himself as 'an Active-Positive'?  Carter laughed. "That's a subjective analysis," he answered. "That's what I would like to be.  That's what I hope to prove to be..." (p.399)

We're at that point in history where awareness and self-awareness collide.  The problem here is twofold.  First off, knowing what an Active-Positive is (or even an Active-Negative or Passive-Positive or or Passive-Negative) doesn't mean you can act that role.  Barber himself notes on the same page:

Character persists.  It cannot be tailor-made for campaign purposes.  Carter could no more have made himself into an Active-Positive after reading my book than I could have become a Presidential candidate after reading his...

You are who you are through life experiences, your childhood and education, your formative adult years.  Wisdom is not taught: it's learned.  Character is not adaptable (even for Adaptive types like A-Ps): it defines your actions and limits your decisions.

The second problem is how Carter jumps at the label of "Active-Positive".  It's pretty clear why: Active and Positive are both words with literally positive meanings.  Who doesn't want to be more Active than Passive: who doesn't want to be the actor, not someone reacting to events?  Who doesn't want to be viewed as a Positive force rather than a Negative one?  But there's the problem: the words do not have the meanings that the labels are expected to provide.  There are subtleties at play here.

Barber used Active-Passive and Positive-Negative as the simplest labels for the four points of the character chart.  He does a better job going into describing the actual traits of a Character label, such as defining A-Ps as Adaptive or P-Ns as Dutiful.  There's also the real usage of Positive and Negative: Barber is using those words to describe how a President views the powers of the office in terms of governance.  A Positive would view the daily challenges as a delight, not a chore, and would be loose with the guidelines of the office if not ignoring things outright simply to get something done: A Negative would restrict himself to the letter of the Constitution and the Law, preferring to let the law resolve issues and getting the other two branches - Congress and the Court - have more say in what gets done.

An Active-Positive isn't always the best Character to be.  It all depends on the times and challenges of the day: he may be the right man for the job but it would be at the wrong time.  A-P Presidents leave a lot of damage in their wake, same as an Active-Negative or Passive-Positive (Passive-Negatives try not to leave any wake at all).  Carter was blinded by the desire to be a Great Man in office, and so aimed for the Active-Positive traits as something to emulate and achieve.

Pity was, when I look at Carter's history and his actions as President, I'm seeing someone who was Active-Negative in Character.  This is going against what Barber decided (he went with A-P in the end): thing is, from what Barber lays out for Carter's background and development, and considering how Carter acted in other elected offices as well as the Presidency... being Active-Negative is the only thing that makes sense.  What I think happened was that Carter's attempts at behaving like an Active-Positive hid the actual performance.

Thing is, being an A-N President wouldn't have been that bad if only Carter let it be that way.  Let his character play out.  Instead you see a man fighting how he was working in office, switching positions and decisions in ways that left allies in the dark and his enemies - even within his own party - in anger.

Carter came in from a poor farming family from a corner of Georgia deep in the Deep South.  From the hard work of the farm came the hard work as a student, graduating early at sixteen and taking some college courses here and there before making his way to Annapolis and the Naval Academy in 1943.

The War Effort beckoned to Carter as an achievement to reach, but war ended in 1945 leaving the midshipmen like himself wondering what the future held after graduation.  From that, Carter looked into making a career in submarine duty, and from there had an opportunity to be in the first wave of new technology of nuclear-powered submarines.  Called back home when his father died, Carter recognized the roots that his father had in the community and decided that he had to step in.

From that, Carter got into the local politics of Georgia.  As anyone can tell you, politics at the local level can be a contact sport, and this was the Deep South where the passions would be war-like.  And this was the 1950s, when the civil rights picked up in earnest regarding desegregating schools for the kids and the small-town communities were taking sides.  Carter had been raised in a liberal house where his mother treated blacks with quiet respect, and when confronted directly he refused to side with the racists.  But he and his family stood mostly alone, and faced too many situations where he could do little.

By 1962 he made the decision to run for state senate.  Reform efforts had loosened up the restrictions that would let the likes of Carter make a go of it, but even then Carter faced opposition for the primary and on election day got pummeled through the traditional practice of the political boss cheating with fakes and dead voters.

In the past, the loser was expected to just let it go and bide his time paying dues within the party.  Carter, however, wasn't going to play by the rules.  Finding open evidence of fraud and violations of the law, Carter pursued the matter up the party ranks and when they found the party unresponsive, went to the courts which did favor Carter's effort to clear the corruption and let the voters in the general vote their choice by write-in.  Jimmy Carter won by 1500 votes.  The party boss who tried to screw him over ended up convicted of voter fraud in another election.

From this, Carter developed his reputation as The Outsider, the one who wasn't going to abide by a status quo.  But was this a persona that was based on an Adaptive, let's-get-this-done Active-Positive or based on an Uncompromising, we-have-to-do-this Active-Negative?

I have to lean towards Uncompromising.  While he had to work within a system among fellow state senators, this didn't mean much.  But when he became governor of Georgia, he followed through on a series of civil rights reform and government reform that streamlined a lot and improved Georgia's administration.  But he did so without playing the expected games of smoothing over political allies with patronage and handouts:

Carter's legislative relations were often stormy.  He would not play the customary patronage and special privilege games... He was constantly dealing with members, showering them with facts, and he once spent a whole day on the House floor speaking for his cherished reorganization plan.  But he was late to compromise, hard to convince... (p.429)

In this, using argument to win his issues, Carter shares a lot with Woodrow Wilson who also held firm to his issues.  While not as harsh an idealist as Wilson, Carter carried with him a firmness of faith, one of the more openly Christian Presidents we'd see in the 20th Century.  It would guide his more compassionate decisions, but would be a sign that he would stick to his guns as his faith guided him.

Winning a close election as President in 1976, Carter had come in campaigning as an Democratic Outsider candidate and populist figure, which helped in an era of Americans horrified by a corruption-plagued federal government piled up by the Johnson and Nixon years.  But Carter didn't campaign on much of a specific platform, which made him susceptible to a Congress - even a Democratic-controlled one - that pursued their own legislative agendas since the President had none of his own.

Carter's Uncompromising style came to the fore as he worked with a legislature that kept expecting a White House to deal with them but found Carter unwilling to offer much of anything.  Carter had issues with a Congress that threw up roadblocks and delays to getting much work done. It didn't help that Carter and his people kept mishandling their fellow politicians, committing various social faux pas that rubbed the likes of Speaker Tip O'Neill the wrong way.

What had to make things worse was how Carter was affected by self-awareness: he was living in a world where Professor Barber was documenting the historical atrocities of the Presidents... a world where Carter had the desire to be an Active-Positive.  As a result, he focused on what he thought A-P Presidents did: push progressive reforms, fight against a corrupt Congress, and show an Adaptiveness in pursuing certain legislation and then changing the objectives to reach some obscure compromise.

Problem was, this made Carter more a flip-flopper in practice, changing his mind at the worst possible moment and leaving his legislative supporters dangling off a cliff wondering where his support went.  Barely if ever explaining his reasons why.  Ending up not with a reputation as a reformer but a reputation of weakness and dithering.

If Carter had any success it was where all Presidents go to get some satisfaction in life: foreign policy, where he pursued an aggressive peace process in the Middle East that resulted in an ambitious Israeli-Egyptian truce that has lasted to this day.

But even then Carter was hampered by an international crisis that would have tested even the best Active-Positive President to his core.  When Iran exploded into revolution around a growing political influence different from Capitalism vs. Communism - religious Fundamentalism - the United States tried to back their player the Shah as he pursued a more repressive regime.  When he fled, he ended up in the United States for medical treatment, which further inflamed the angry populace.  They stormed the American Embassy and took hostages.

Carter was stuck negotiating with a political opponent in the Iranians who had no incentive to deal and in fact had a better incentive to humiliate the U.S. any way it could: echoes of LBJ failing to negotiate with North Vietnam.  It hurt that the Iranian political landscape outside of the Ayatollah was in constant flux.

Into all this was the military option: a rescue attempt early on in the hostage situation that may have been messy but was an expected response.  The problem was implementation: every branch of the armed forces - Army, Navy, Air Force - wanted to play a part, and Carter couldn't focus on letting just one branch do it.  As a result, the mission was a jumbled mess that killed eight servicemen and left Carter with nothing but responsibility for the failure.

Another debacle was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  One of the most overt acts of the Cold War since North Korea's invasion of South Korea, the Russians had gone in under the excuse to stabilize a puppet regime facing a fundamentalist uprising of their own.  International outrage was high and it strained the movement toward detente that had been fostered under Nixon and Ford.  But Carter was in little position to do anything about it outside of calling for a boycott of the Olympic Summer Games scheduled for Moscow in 1980.

It would take a serious game of "What If" with a practiced analyst of Presidential behavior to determine how even an Active-Positive President could have handled these foreign policy nightmares.  But we have to see how Jimmy Carter actually performed as President during what has to be regarded as a failed tenure.  Too many instances of Uncompromising and self-limiting behavior.  Too few instances of being genuinely Adaptive to external pressures and internal negotiations.  To this I place him as an Active-Negative President, despite his hopes.

Next up: Can You Believe a Passive-Positive President Could Actually Pursue an Agenda?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

And The Fandom Rejoiced: The Night Of The Doctor


As the lead-up to the 50th anniversary to the start of the long-running science-fiction show, the producers have seen fit to give us some closure regarding the dreaded backstory of the Last Great Time War.  A war between the Time Lords and Daleks at the height of their respective empires that reportedly shattered much of space-time.

This mini-episode is about seven minutes long but packs a season's worth of details into it (The following CONTAINS SPOILERS STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE EPISODE YET):

  • The Time War itself has become so massive that nearly every race has been dragged into it whether they wanted to or not.
  • The War began during the lifespan of the Eighth Doctor, but he himself refused to participate in it and tries to help people flee from it.
  • Other races are so horrified or disgusted by what was/is/will be happening that the ship's captain Cass flat out refuses the Doctor's help.
  • The other elder races of the universe - the Sisterhood of Carn for example - are well aware of what's happening.  From earlier tellings we already know most of those races had fled the known universe altogether.
  • EDIT: Has been noted elsewhere that The Eighth Doctor mentions all of his companions from the Big Finish audio series - the thing that kept Doctor Who popular between the 1989 cancellation, 1996 movie, and 2005 rebirth.  The Big Finish series is in fact still ongoing and very popular with the fans, and there's been a question if those stories would be accepted as canon.  YES THEY ARE...
  • The Eighth Doctor himself is offered a handful of choices as he faces his own death in four minutes' time: accept his death and let the Time War destroy everything; regenerate and use his skill as The Doctor to save whatever he can before the Time War destroys everything... or become a Warrior and end the war by any means possible.  As he considers the rejection he endured by Cass' rage towards him, The Eighth Doctor makes his choice...
  • Oh, and one more thing: McGann would have F-CKING ROCKED AS THE EIGHTH DOCTOR.

Damn you, Fox Channel.  You really screwed the pooch with that 1996 movie.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If Things Seem a Little Quiet Around Here, It's Because I'm NaNo-ing

I promise I will keep up with stuff like the Presidential Character reviews - next up, Carter! - and with any political craziness that may pop up on my radar here in Florida, but for now I'm not going to get too hopped up with some of the craziness on the national level.

Oh, and I'm currently stuck at 25,000 words.  I was going at a decent pace but slowed up last night.  I'll get back to it.  Feeling good about this year...

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Thirty-Eight, A Brief Summation of a Short-Term Guy

As far as accidental Presidencies go, you can't get much further than this guy's.

Due to the occasional pattern of a President dying in office, the issue of succession got to be a growing concern.  While the Vice President was accepted as promoting upward into the White House, it left a vacancy in the Veep spot and it left questions as to who would serve next (the Speaker, Senate leader, Cabinet Secretary).

With the United States becoming a superpower by the 1940s, and becoming a nuclear power by the 1960s in the midst of a Cold War with the Soviets, the need to establish an immediate chain of succession became a must.  The need to fill a VP vacancy to keep that chain unbroken became a must.  Congress got around to passing the 25th Amendment, one of the more dramatic elements of the Constitution we have (because with its advent we have political thrillers over succession crises all over the bookshelves and movie screens).

It codified that the Vice President becomes President in case of death, impeachment or detrimental impairment.  When Tyler started the practice, it was only accepted as tradition, not strictly legal.  The amendment fixed that.

It required Congress to fill any Vice Presidential vacancy by voting for/against someone nominated to the post by the President.

The amendment basically made sure government would function as best as possible in case of emergency.  And by 1974 there was an emergency... and it had nothing to do with the Cold War.

The second term of Richard Nixon had become engulfed with scandal over the Watergate break-ins.  As more elements of the cover-up were revealed, other crimes broke to national attention.  Including revelations that Nixon's then-Vice President Spiro Agnew was involved in some bribery when serving as Maryland governor.  Agnew was forced to resign in 1973, leaving the Veep spot open and becoming the first use of the 25th.

When Nixon asked Congress - as a matter of custom, the President asks around for nominees - about a replacement, both Republicans and Democrats said the same name: Gerald Ford.

Ford at the time was the House Minority Leader (head of the House Republicans), a long-standing member with a solid track record of getting bipartisan legislation passed.  The guy was almost universally liked, and above all had an unblemished personal history.  Considering the scandal-plagued Nixon administration, getting the cleanest pol in the government was the only move Nixon could take.

While getting Ford to come into his administration was a necessity, it did nothing to slow down the on-going cascade of failure that was the Watergate scandal.  By August 1974, Nixon was facing a genuine impeachment vote (not a partisan one that other impeached Presidents had faced) and rather than accept the ignominy of that, he resigned.

Putting into the White House the only (so far) man never to have been elected to the job as either President or Veep.  Gerald Ford, someone whose highest aspirations beforehand was to become the University of Michigan's best-known football fan.  How accidental can you get?

I kid about Ford's aspirations: he actually had hopes of becoming Speaker of the House considering his long career there and the hopes of the electoral cycle playing to his favor.  But I'm serious about Ford's love for his alma mater: he forced the bands at the White House to play U Michigan's fight song rather than Hail To the Chief.

Past that, there is a kind of sadness about writing Ford's brief tenure as President.  It came during one of the more trying decades - the 1970s - in our nation's history: shaking off the bad buzz of the 1960s; coping with the unsatisfying end of the Vietnam War with South Vietnam falling in '75; the economic turmoil of inflation during a recession as the bills of the War and LBJ's Great Society dreams came due; and of course Disco.  Thank GOD we had Star Wars in 1977 (pity it didn't happen during Ford's administration).

Because of the ongoing crises both economic and foreign, Ford entered into the Presidency with a lot on his plate.  It's a tribute to his Active-Positive nature that he even survived the first few months without going batsh-t insane.

Lemme refer to our Professor Barber on this:

Strands of the Ford style and world view were gaining clarity even as he assumed office.  He would exemplify "simplicity, directness"; had "been a person who's helped to arrange compromises and co-ordinate things"; was one who "may not push so easily"... He's going to try to make the policies he adopts work, but I don't think you're going to find him hanging on to something after it's proved that it's not useful... (p. 387, noted as stuff he wrote as Ford entered the office in 1974)

As mentioned earlier, Active-Positive types are Adaptive and compromising, willing to work with others (a trait Ford carried with him as a long-term Congressman and party leader), and flexible in a pragmatic fashion.  Barber notes elsewhere (p.389) about Ford's childhood as one of activity and meeting challenges, bringing to it a vitality and enjoyment of life.

The pity of Ford's administration was that even an Active would get overwhelmed by the cascade of troubles that afflicted the nation: a Positive President who accepted the challenges but like all other A-Ps never realized the consequences until too late.  One thing that was different this time around was the speed at which results became clearer: previous waves of damage left in the wake of earlier A-P Presidents wouldn't come along for years, but due to the enormity of problems facing the nation that decade the reactions to Ford decisions were responding within months or weeks.

Ford's economic policies to end inflation was to encourage less buying/purchasing of goods and services, which dropped inflation out of double-digits... but the result of that was a lot of industries cutting back on jobs and closing out entire factories, increasing unemployment.

Ford made strides in foreign policy dealings especially in improving relations with the Soviet Union and China, but had growing struggles with the Middle East erupting over the violent Israeli/Arab conflicts and with the Greece/Turkey dispute over Cyprus.

While habitually attuned to compromise, due to Watergate and voter dissatisfaction the 1974 midterms created a super-majority for Democrats in the House, which created a situation where Congress would demand spending budgets and side projects that Ford would be forced to veto to impose some compromise deal.  And because Congress could override those vetoes, Ford didn't have much of a bargaining position.

Throw into all of this the most damaging thing an Active-Positive President could do:  Ford issued a pardon to Nixon - who was facing criminal charges even after resigning in disgrace - covering all crimes related to Watergate investigations.  While Ford was doing so in an attempt to end "the long national nightmare", he failed to realize that Americans needed closure not in forgiveness but in courtroom resolution, forcing Nixon to face the consequences of the broken faith in honorable governance he created.

Ford accepted the challenge of running for the Presidency on his own terms in his own right by 1976, facing first a primary challenge within his own party (Ronald Reagan running as a Goldwater-esque Far Right candidate) and then facing the general election against a genuine Outsider candidate in Governor Jimmy Carter.  Despite the public perceptions, despite the economic woes of the day, Ford campaigned as solidly as he could, and narrowly lost in one of the closest elections that didn't involve disputed ballot boxes our nation had seen.  The general consensus was that his pardoning Nixon cost him the election.

Ford didn't leave much of a legacy, having served so short a tenure as President.  If history remembers him it will be for his more honest administration restoring faith in government after the disasters of the Johnson and Nixon years, and for the amicable post-Presidency he served as elder party leader of a moderate faction in a Republican Party shifting ever rightward.

Next up: HISTORY'S GREATEST MONST... Oh, for God's Sake, Simpsons Writers, LIGHTEN UP.

Monday, November 04, 2013

It's Official: Crist for Governor 2014

Charlie Crist will run as a Democratic candidate to serve a second term as Florida's Governor.

He served his first term as a Republican, but had governed in such a moderate, bipartisan effort that he found himself on the outs with the party.  He ran for the US Senate in 2010 as an Independent, but ended up splitting the vote with the Democratic candidate that allowed Marco Rubio to win that race.

There is a primary at stake, with Nan Rich already in the race, but Crist is the better-known name, and has a better track record at raising campaign funds and voter support.  We'll see how it goes.

Crist has a few positives as a candidate.  He's got governing experience.  He's shown skill in handling tough issues and balancing the divisive issues across the state.  And, he's not a bleeping thief like Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott.

...just gotta find a campaign website for Crist now.  Hurm.

Friday, November 01, 2013

I Can't Hear You Over the Amount of NaNo-ing I'm Doing Right About Now


Figuring at this rate I might get to 3,000 words tonight.

Also wik, buy my books!