Sunday, September 07, 2014

Optics and theater

"Part of this job is also the theater of it," Obama said in reference to the presidency on Meet The Press.  “Well, it’s not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters. And I’m mindful of that.”  This all in reference to the "optics"--I presume a technical term for how the public or the media would be inclined to interpret certain juxtapositions of facts and ideas--of the president having a press conference about the circumstances surrounding journalist James Foley's brutal murder right before going out for a round of golf.

To be honest, he's right about the theater, at least to a degree.  If nothing else, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Dubya was made fun of for flippant remarks about the War on Terror in the middle of his backswing, and I'm glad to see that there's not a lot of "Bush did it!" noise being made.

More to the point, there's an aspect of morale to leadership, of setting an example and displaying comportment that respects the dignity of a leader's charges and the weight of his responsibilities.  People, bearing their own inherent dignity and those pesky things we call feelings, need to be led and respected as whole humans so that they can appreciate what their leaders ask of them and so that they can see they are appreciated by their leaders.

This is true in different ways for different situations.   I worked for one company where the subliminal message from management was "you're a lousy excuse for a human being and you better be grateful for the charity I show you every payday, and every day that you come to work."  It wasn't entirely ineffective because even people who don't respond well to insults recognize the implicit threat of unemployment and were motivated to stay off the radar of the more destructive managers.  I worked for another that seemed autistic by comparison but had pretty much the same dynamic; they didn't care if you had a good reason for not wanting to do something (whether it was telling somebody at three o'clock that they would have to stay until ten pm that night for a special project they decided had to be run on the second shift, or telling a rep from Quality to sign off on bad product so they could ship it), they just saw "people who help get product out the door, who help the company make its numbers, who help the company stay in business" and "people who make decisions that cost the company money."  To say this view of the world is two-dimensional would be overly generous, but it wasn't entirely ineffective because moving product is the nuts and bolts of business, whether or not anything else matters.  Even in the military, where complaining about your feelings getting hurt would be seen as even more preposterous than the nominal leaders I've personally experienced, there is some effort to instill in soldiers a sense of loyalty--of mutual loyalty--and an appreciation for what soldiers do and for what they are asked to sacrifice for their country.

Okay, I'm going off track a little.  I want to come back to Obama focusing more on his contrition for bad theater than for that just being a symptom of bad leadership.  I've had this sense for a while, especially with his presidency but on and off throughout politics for as long as I can remember, that politics is known to politicians as just the art of managing expectations and appearances, of getting people to think what you want while you go off to do something else that you want.  And again, that's true to a degree; it's difficult to do your job when it's scrutinized so closely, and especially when there's so much going on with a job like that that even today there's too much misinformation for real transparency.  But it reminds me of a line from the Bard:

If we shadows have offended,
 Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not
If you pardon we will mend.
Else the Puck a liar call.
Give me your hands, if we be friends, 
And Robin shall restore amends.

Is this where we are?  Is this how bad things are, that when the president errs, he need only apologize for providing stale bread or a circus with a lousy trapeze act, and we're content to ignore his other malfeasances?  

I didn't think we were.  I thought part of the increased hostility between the reds and the blues was that they speak different languages, indeed use language for different reasons, not so much to communicate but to persuade and manipulate.  Hence comments like "I was for the war before I was against it" or "I didn't inhale" as if no explanation for a change of opinion or position were needed once the politician had so charitably thrown a bone of empathy to voters across the aisle, or campaigning on buzzwords like "hope" and "change" instead of a platform consisting of at least a few relatively concrete ideas we would get to learn about and discuss before getting some omnibus bill railroaded through Congress.

My examples are admittedly one-sided, because I am not entirely without bias, but it takes more people than either party has to maintain a facade of this magnitude for this long, so I'm not trying to play favorites.  

I just want to know:  have we gotten this bad as a society that it's sufficient to us for our leaders to keep up appearances, and then apologize for not doing so when we fail, with little concern being paid to accomplishing things worth accomplishing?

Maybe so.  Maybe this goes hand in hand with being a society that has evolved to where it wrings its hands over straight white men acknowledging attraction to pretty women in public, whereas not two hundred years ago the same were killing natives like varmints.  Maybe we don't have Washingtons or Churchills anymore because we don't take the serious things seriously anymore.  We're still the biggest actor on the world stage, at least for now, but we don't have the stomach to win another world war and we don't have the leaders who could steel us to do it.  

I mean, yeah, before Churchill there was Chamberlain, but....

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The next time someone asks you if or why you don't support a woman's right to choose, don't answer the question.  Try saying something like this:

"I can't help thinking that when people ask me that, they're not being honest, but rather are trying to set some kind of rhetorical trap so they can use any answer I give them to prop up either the assertion that they have support for abortion amongst the hypocrites who claim to be pro-life but really don't want to see abortion go away, or the assertion that we're really the villains in some Marxist morality play who want to keep women barefoot, pregnant, and away from the polls.  But keep in mind that abortion to us is a legal issue above and beyond any legal considerations for which women are the sole subject.  You might as well be a plantation owner in 1860 asking an abolitionist whether or not he supports the owner's right to choose to employ the labor of slaves or free men."  

Sure, they could make the argument that the plantation owner shouldn't have to bend to the whims of Washington, but whatever evidence currently supports that argument takes a back seat to the grave injustice that was chattel slavery, and they know it.

Monday, August 04, 2014

It is a fact that slavery, as an institution, was first and most thoroughly stamped out of civilization, and most effectively remains at bay, by Christian nations.

This is not obvious from the New Testament, with Paul even admonishing slaves to be good servants and masters to treat their slaves as brothers; but at the same time these notions were planted as the seeds of slavery's demise.

There are some who may wish to point out that in the American Civil War, many Christians fought for the Confederacy, and so either formally supported retaining slavery or at least were willing to tolerate it even though the tide of history had shown that a nation supported by a class of imposed servitude was not inevitable.

Disregard these people.  They are trolls.

If they honestly don't see the difference, remind them of how the rest of the world did not oppose slavery in some form or other, and how even in the now-free Christian nations, it took time to win hearts and change laws and the ways of living.

If their only criticism is that, compared to a world full of slavery, only Christians abolished the practice, but had to struggle to do so, then what point do they think they can make instead?  Do they have any position to stand on but the anonymized residue of Christian values?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The next time someone comes to you with an argument about redistributing wealth, and you hedge a bit, and they retort with "Hey, we're not trying to take what you've got to punish you for being rich.  It's just that we want something off the top shelf, and you're the only one tall enough to get it!" Tell them that it's your shelf they want something off of.

I'm not going to say we shouldn't help the poor; we should.  But there is more than one way to give to them, and while they all have their place, redistributing wealth does not impart the same momentum to the economy as creating wealth does.

There is the preferential option for the poor, and there is the universal destination of goods.  But there is also private property because in this world we tend to be better at managing things we are directly responsible for.  The person who wants to give away stuff on your shelf doesn't understand that, and I don't want someone like that trying to run a charity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Prayer request for my sister

Please pray for my sister. She and her family just moved across the country. They were about to close on a house but just found out her bank account is empty.

She's never been rich, but she's no spendthrift either. Being broke is not something she would just let happen, but she really needs this to work out.

The matter is under investigation. I pray that they find the money, and find it soon. This house is perfect for her family

Saint  Joseph and Blessed Mother Mary, pray for them!  Saint Michael, protect them! Heavenly Father, we ask You for Your help in Your Son's name. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

So, the Hobby Lobby case was argued before SCOTUS....

According to the news report I heard on the radio yesterday, the supporters of Obamacare argued that if family-owned businesses are allowed a conscience exception here, it will open a veritable Pandora’s box of private businesses attempting to get exempted from obeying the HHS mandate on moral grounds.

It’s called establishing precedent.  Or, perhaps “re-establishing;” until recently, it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone in this country that we shouldn’t presume that liberty and individual conscience to be given priority in how people can run their lives, both at work and at play or worship.  So what's the problem?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

One of these things is not like the other...

So I'm in a colleague's office Saturday (yes, Saturday...yes, I'm looking for a new job) and he pulls his web browser up to show me some pictures of a dog breed he's interested in.  His home page is some news headline site.  I didn't catch which one it was.

What I saw from the headlines really made me wonder about our priorities--or at least the priorities of who passes for journalists these days.

Most of the top stories were about the Olympics:  who took gold, what America got, and so on.  Another one or two were about all the violence in Syria.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that because especially with the Olympics on, news about the Levantine powder keg has been perhaps not where it should be.

Okay, so maybe old news is no news, "dolphins still missing" and all that.  But still, if nothing else, the Christian genocide in the Middle East gets almost as much attention as the back-alley-type abortion mills that we were warned would crop up if abortion were never legalized (but, it turns out, cropped up anyway).  But I digress.

So there are all these articles about the Olympics, and a few about violence in Syria, and one other one. What was that one about?

Some actress turns out to be a lesbian.

Wow.  That's really on par with a major, peaceful, international event; and with violence in the Middle East?  Color me dissenting.

Okay, I know that in this day and age it's still sometimes to explain why, for example, your parents may never have grandchildren.  I don't mean to trivialize that or any other particular reason.  In fact, just the opposite.

Part of the reason it's still sometimes tough to talk about your sexuality in public?  It's because sexuality is not a public matter.  It's normally addressed discreetly because it's such an important and often delicate topic.  Everybody poops, too, but that's not an excuse for you to do it in public.  And I don't want to see any pedantic criticisms about me comparing sexuality to defecation; you'll notice first that I didn't specify any kind or sort of sexuality, and you'll notice also that I'm only pointing out that they are both discreet topics, which any lucid adult will acknowledge without getting hung up on any differences or similarities that I am not bringing up at all.

I realize a lot of this is part of a concerted effort to normalize homosexuality, to get people used to the idea that it's out there, it's everywhere, it's natural and normal and no big deal.  Granted, that's going to be tough when it makes the headlines every time someone well-known or a close relative of someone well-known comes out; and when people introduce themselves in irrelevant situations by "Hi, I'm So-and-so, and I'm gay."  I don't care.  It doesn't matter.  Are you interviewing housemates and are worried about the drama of renting a room to a bigot?  Okay, that's worth considering.  Did your pushy mother and father compel you to go on a blind date with someone they think will be compatible enough with you to get them the aforementioned grandchildren?  Okay, good to get that out in the open right up front so you're not wasting each other's time.

Otherwise?  It's not news, pal.  It just isn't.  Word's going to get out enough when the gossip rags start mentioning actress A being more than a little chummy with actress B.

You know who else introduces themselves by "Hi, I'm So-and-so, and I'm X?"  Alcoholics.  But they don't do it for the acceptance of everyone else.  They do it to admit it to themselves.  And they don't have the media embedded in their AA meetings.

Even the famous ones.