Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Proposals to Resolve the Current Differences of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

While Making the Judicial Process More Open to the Public, and Alleviating Wisconsin's Budget Crisis

1. Blindfolds.
2. Bowie Knives.
3. Pay-per-View.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bin Laden and Richard III (Together at Last)

Richard III was probably the most hated king in English history. Not as evil as Shakespeare made him out to be, but plenty bad enough. He was particularly hated because people believed that he had murdered his nephews, the princes Edward and Richard, and they were almost certainly right to believe that. Some modern mealy-mouths have tried to acquit Richard III, but tell that to Lord Stanley's yeomen, who hewed this villain down at Bosworth Field. They believed it.

When Richard was killed at Bosworth Field, they stripped off his armor and threw his naked and bloody carcass on the floor of a nearby chapel. There it lay for some days, so that people could travel from miles around to see it and know for certain that the hated Richard was dead. At some point the victorious Henry Tudor had the naked body hung up for public display in Leicester. It would have been a gruesome sight. According to legend Richard's head had been smashed open, fulfilling a prophecy that was told to him before the battle: "Richard Plantagenet, on your return to Leicester your head shall be broken where your spur strikes now."

Henry Tudor had his reasons. Some of Richard's henchmen had escaped the battle, and he wanted to send them a message. And he wanted it well known that Richard was truly dead. The Elvis Phenomenon was as common then as it was now. When King Henry VI died under questionable circumstances (possibly murdered, possibly even murdered by Richard III himself) it was rumored long after that he was still alive - somebody saw him in Scotland, somebody saw him in France. Henry Tudor saw to it that no one could claim Richard III had escaped justice.

At some point, perhaps weeks after his death, Richard's corpse was taken down and handed over to the brothers of Greyfriars Church, not so much for burial as disposal. Richard got no holy rites, nor even common respect. His body may have been disinterred afterwards and thrown into the River Soar. If he has a grave no one knows where it is - the authorities give conflicting information. They couldn't agree on who killed him, either. Nobody could keep the story straight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Barack Obama is a Mind-Blowingly Awful Speaker

Oratory is an important leadership tool, but not every great leader has it in his tool kit, while some lousy leaders have it in spades. Some of the greatest orators in American history led the old South into the disaster of secession and civil war, while the general who ultimately crushed them could barely utter two sentences in front of an audience. Likewise, there is no necessary correlation between rhetorical talent and (a) truth, (b) morality, or even (c) common sense. So much for the obvious.

Grading the oratory of presidents, then, would seem to be a business for rhetoricians, which I am not. But we are all consumers of political rhetoric, and the case of Barack Obama is special because we are consuming a product that is something other than advertised. I paid little attention to Obama's campaign, so I didn't hear him back when people were giving him rave reviews. Based on what I heard from other people, I assumed he was pretty good. He looked like he must be pretty good. Like Woodrow Wilson, he looked like somebody who ought to give good speeches. But like Woodrow Wilson, he isn't.

Comparing the other presidents of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan was easily the best of them, when he was being serious. Reagan did I'm serious as hell better than anybody. His jocular style was much less successful, though.

Clinton is okay, unless he's talking about himself. Clinton on Clinton is a slit-eyed study in clinical paranoid psychosis, but so long as he stays off that subject he gets the mark of competence. Like Reagan, the serious Clinton is much better than the knee-slapper Clinton.

Carter is okay. That might surprise people who remember that he helped to sink his presidency with a speech; the infamous "Malaise Speech". Not that he could have saved himself if he'd given another Gettysburg Address. But Carter really sounds pretty good to me, even when he's destroying himself. Carter has no jocular style. Everything he says is as serious as terminal cancer, even when he's smiling.

Both George Bushes are bad speakers. Which of them is worse is a matter for experts, but what makes them bad is the obvious discomfort they communicate. (George H. W. Bush was criticized for sitting and saying nothing while Reagan demolished him in the famous "Microphone Debate"; it was just as well he said nothing.)

Barack Obama makes them all look like Pericles. Unless he has become an entirely different person since he was on the campaign trail, I can't believe that anybody ever thought this guy was good. I can't believe that any Obama supporter could endure one of his speeches without feeling like they're passing kidney stones.

1. I Really, Really Hate Lounge Acts

In his live addresses, Obama reminds me of a comic who drops one phrase after another, fishing for something that the audience will react to. Since his audiences tend to be supplied by union locals, this is not too tough. [OBAMA: Fox News! AUDIENCE: Bwaaaaaaaaah!] After this, the audience does all the work, while Obama does a little strut and swagger.

This is as much fun to watch as family videos of somebody else's family.

2. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear."

These seven words, which I think of as the Clinton-Lewinsky Preamble, should probably never be used by any speaker. If you must say it, say it only once per speech. And immediately follow it with something that ACTUALLY IS PERFECTLY CLEAR.

3. Shouting Out to the Posse

This is okay when you're stumping for somebody on the campaign trail. But when you've called a nationally televised press conference and you start it with a bunch of shout-outs, it shows serious disrespect for other people's time.

Obama's use of shout-outs is excessive, and what makes it worse is that he actually refers to them as "shout-outs". If shout-outs must be used, they must be brief.

When calling a press conference to respond to a mass murder on a US military base, the shout-out should be omitted.

4. Horrible - Just Horrible - Mixed Metaphors

"It was muddy in the ditch. It was dusty in the ditch."

Incredibly, he hasn't used this one just once. He keeps using it, over and over. Apparently no one dares to point it out to him, just as they won't tell him that he doesn't know how to pronounce "corpsman".

5. Folks, Folks, Folks, Folks, Folks ...

Somebody poll-tested the word "folks" and decided that it was the greatest word in the English language - so great that the President of the United States must adopt it as an all-purpose indefinite pronoun. Obama is up to using it three times in one sentence.

Unless you're from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and are currently in Vicksburg, Mississippi, you should not make a habit of constantly referring to people as "folks".

6. The Pause for Emphasis

Obama loves to pause for emphasis. He could golf nine holes during one of his pauses, and in his mind he probably is.

The pause for emphasis is effective when the speaker has just said something that is truly surprising or significant. When the speaker has just said something banal, predictable, or incomprehensible, then pausing afterwards is the opposite of effective.

During Obama's pauses, I find myself struggling to remember what it was he just said. Something about folks in a muddy, dusty ditch.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Weird Science

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Presidential Songs for School Children


[To the tune of "The Times They Are A'Changin'"]

Come gather 'round people,
Whoever you are,
And think of those times
That were better by far;
In spite of justice imperfect
The law was the law,
And we lived in a country
Worth saving.
And a man came along
Sworn to serve one and all:
Warren Gamaliel Harding.

Come writers and pundits
Who stab with your pens,
And ruin the names
Of much better men;
Don't miss this chance
To get your licks in again,
For your curses
Earn praises in Heaven.
When you're long forgotten
Will still live the name:
Warren Gamaliel Harding.

Sure, the man took a few
Drinks now and then,
And the poker games lasted
Until God knows when.
He was not very wise
In the choice of his friends,
And sheer eloquence
He oft times was lacking.
No pretty boy,
For prayers Heaven sent:
Warren Gamaliel Harding.

He had no great vision
To save the whole earth;
He had no list of enemies
To grind into the dirt.
Yet he pardoned those
Whom others had hurt,
And for such deeds
Is high pardon given.
And the last ones now
Will later be first:
Warren Gamaliel Harding.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In re Roman Polanski: Who cares what Hollywood scum think, but ...

I'm sorry to see the names of Bernard-Henri Levy and Pascal Bruckner on the petitioners list. These are men who in the past have had the courage to stand up to the foolish opinions of rotten elites. That courage has failed them now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Unhappy Coincidence of Obama and Iran

Over the past few days, Iranians have done something that can't be done often enough. They've shown that human beings still aspire and deserve to be free. This ought to be an obvious fact, but our insane political culture makes it a deeply controversial one.

Oppression is strong and efficacious; it may well crush this moment of liberty, though it will hopefully pay a price for doing so. History obeys nobody's moral laws, as it is moved by the good, the bad, and the accidental.

One of those historical accidents attending Iran's revolutionary moment is Barack Obama, and if he is a blessing he wears an impenetrable disguise.

In March Obama sent an unprecedented video message to "the people and the leaders of Iran" - as if these two things were a harmonious whole. In it he repeatedly refers to Iran as The Islamic Republic of Iran, rolling out the phrase with relish. Whether or not Iran ought to be an Islamic republic is a question that is currently being put to the test of blood in Iran itself, and US interest would be better served by a negative answer. It was not diplomatically necessary for Obama to insist on Islamic Republic; on the contrary, it was diplomatically undesirable. Obama cannot distinguish between deference and diplomacy. This is not a small thing, just as making respectful reference to a "Supreme Leader" of Iran is not a small thing. Matt Yglesias makes the useless point that "The Fuhrer" was Hitler's "proper title", missing the obvious fact that Roosevelt and Churchill did not refer to Hitler as The Fuhrer.

In his video message, Obama heaped effusive praise on Persian civilization. Well, Persian civilization is currently in agony, so if this praise was sincere then we should expect some indignation to match it. Obama coolly explains that he is too smart to fall into such a trap - Obama does his diplomatic thinking out loud. Empty flattery, followed by indifference.

In explaining his sang froid, Obama refers to the history of US-Iranian relations - what does he think of when he thinks of that history? US crimes, apparently. The fact that the clique that currently oppresses Iran is the same clique that seized our embassy and held our people hostage seems to be missing from his consciousness. Obama assumes the moral superiority of anti-American claims, or thinks that "diplomacy" requires him to assume it.

Whatever message Obama thinks he is sending to the bloody hangmen that rule Iran, the message they are getting is clear: There is no danger, whatsoever, of pushing Obama too far. Kim Jung-Il understands this, if our own intelligensia do not.