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Spoiling for a Fight, Not a Spoiled Fight

July 3, 2011

The announcement of a presidential bid by Thaddeus McCotter, R-Michigan was the best news since months. So far, the French Cowboy knows nearly nothing about McCotter, but any serious candidate for the GOP nomination is a welcome addition to the current field. It’s not that the group of candidates so far is that bad. All in all they’re perfectly viable and decent candidates, and yet, when McCotter gave his rationale for throwing in his hat for the 2012 nomination, he expressed something quite true:

“Republicans may be prepared at some point to settle, if that’s how they view it, but they’re still viewing it as, ‘Why should we have to? What else is out there?’” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s me. The reason I was here was to find out are they even asking that question, ‘What else is out there?’ And they clearly are.”

McCotter is surely getting observers’ intense attention thanks to two simple facts: 1) The list of candidates so far is not particularly inspiring, and 2) there are no red flags on him, at least on first sight, which means that he is potentially a new GOP superstar. And this is what, deep inside, we are actually hoping for: a fresh candidate who can make the crowds roar with excitement and take on President Obama with the drama due the defeat of such an outstandingly bad president.

Obama became president with a bang, and every Republican wants to see him go down not only with a wimper, but with the GOP triumphantly rising with a vengeance. All the electable candidates of the current field may have the potential to pull something like that off. But the most important factor for such a feat is enthusiastic support from voters. And so far, as McCotter correctly pointed out, voters are not convinced of any of the candidates and are scanning the horizon for new joiners.

The French Cowboy believes that at least two types of candidates would be well suited to take on Obama in an entertaining political battle and come out triumphantly: the impeccable intellectual with an air of authority who makes everyone else look like a school boy (“Type A” candidate), or the unconventional it’s-the-American-way die-hard who will connect with voters in a way that revives faith in democracy even in the most hardend cynic (the “Type B” candidate).

Type A candidates are very rare, and I wonder whether they can succeed in this climate at all. Gaining votes and enthusiasm by being very intelligent and noble may not be possible in these times. If we had an Abraham Lincoln as a presidential contender, would he stand a chance? Not unless the media portrayed him favourably– as they did with Obama whose cluelessness was depicted as being the result of intellectual considerations beyond our understanding — and when was the last time a GOP candidate had the media on his side?

Now Type B candidates are probably not easier to have, but there was one in very recent memory which makes it so much easier to imagine that such a candidate will emerge at any moment. I’m speaking of course of Sarah Palin whose supporters are both fervent and numerous. The big question in her case is whether she has reached a limit of support which she cannot possible extend. The French Cowboy thinks that, for no fault of her own, Mme Palin has indeed reached such a limit more likely than not.

Just to insert a little thesis on the side here: It looks like Palin has made a breach into the media’s glass ceiling for conservative women which cleared the way for Michelle Bachmann. The anti-Palin squads were still congratulating themselves for having destroyed the former governor’s public image and still watching her every move suspiciously, when Mme Bachmann went unnoticed by them as she was developing into a sort of Ersatz-Palin.

After conservative voters had been fired up by Sarah Palin during the last presidential election which yet they lost, they are all the more hoping for a thrilling fight with a captivating candidate this time around where beating President Obama is an even more worthy goal than was beating presidential nominee Obama then.

It is still early in the game and you can probably say that presidential elections are predictably unpredictable, at least at this stage. Yet the French Cowboy hopes that the number of candidates will still increase. Win or lose, any level of enthusiasm for the presidential candidate of the GOP that falls short of the enthusiasm with which Sarah Palin had been backed as VP-candidate would be a disappointment, especially against a president who rode into the White House on a wave of religious adoration.

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In Overseas Contingency Operations Truth Is the First Casualty?

May 8, 2011

The death of Bin Laden is the type of event that people all over the world hear about and, more importantly, like to talk about. Everybody has an opinion on it. You like to speculate on background facts and details, you comment on the decisions made by persons involved (and often come to the conclusion that you would have done better), you use whatever little information you may have and invest all your common sense to explain to your peers that you have a much better grasp of how things must have been than they do. It beats talking about the weather, apparently. The French Cowboy was surprised to hear water-cooler conversations on the (faked) photograph of Bin Laden’s body and to watch the shaking of heads over Americans’ celebrating the kill on the streets of New York (‘Isn’t it disturbing how the Americans glory in the death of a human being?’).

The Old Continent, as you know, is quite fond of Obama. The speculations on his birth among some Americans were something that we loved to deride with a smug smirk while remarking that, whenever Americans have elected a good president, they like to give him trouble — it was the same with Bill Clinton! Ah oui, le pauvre Bill! Such a noble creature and the silly Americans give him hell for no good reason whatsoever. (Note the explicit non-mention of W — the Orwellian-trained mind does not waste capacity on Bushitler posters, those have been sent down the memory hole a long time ago. After all, we are talking about good American presidents here.)

The reason the French Cowboy mentions all this is that, however the average European Joe’s sense of superiority towards ‘the Americans’, we are keenly interested in what the USA do. And when they kill a rather mysterious bearded figurehead of some terrorist organisation then we certainly feel entitled to follow the news on that story with half an ear and to have extensive conversations on it with our neighbours. And — surprisingly — everything we learn about the event fits our view of America.

The prejudices strongly confirmed in the killing of Bin Laden are as follows:

1) Americans have this stone-aged notion of eye-for-an-eye justice: one man kills 3k innocent Americans and the Americans think they have to hunt him down and kill him in return! They are so hopelessly belligerent!

2) The CIA just goes about, indiscriminately killing people all around the world. If you live in the same household as an internationally wanted mass murder, you may just get shot in your own bedroom!

3) You can’t believe a single word of what comes from the Pentagon.

4) Obama is such an awesome president, he’s too good for the American people.

Obama is a lucky guy: the shooting of Bin Laden is going to help him politically within the US (although I doubt that it will have a strong enough effect to materially help him in his reelection bid) and — at least for now — it looks like it does not hurt him politically outside of the US. Somehow, the criticism of the kill is directed against the abstract concept of “Americans” not against the very concrete person of Obama.

And yet I can’t shake the feeling that all that confusion over the actual circumstances of the raid on OBL’s compound is trouble, potentially very big trouble, and even trouble that could have been prevented. Sure, Obama must have been very happy to have the good news to announce to the American public on that Sunday evening. But wouldn’t it have been smarter to get the official story straight first? For most Americans it may be irrelevant whether OBL had a weapon or not, even whether he looked like he was willing to surrender or more like he was about to blow everyone to smithereens. But for the international stage those are key details, and the mutually contradicting versions of the accounts coming from public channels make things only worse.

For the not-so-attentive eye, which most people cast on the news, it looks like the American government has killed a guy, knew that its way of doing it wasn’t entirely kosher (no pun intended) and therefore tried to give a — ehm… modified account of actual events and even added some propagandist details (like OBL using his wife as a human shield). Here I have to say it: Imagine Bush had done it!

If Obama wants to be taken seriously — by Americans and internationally — then he should stand by his way of doing things. If the story isn’t clear, then people will assume the worst anyway and disrespect you for not admitting it. If some things are better kept undisclosed then, fine, keep them undisclosed. But don’t allow different versions of one story to be labelled as official, especially not when they include invented elements worthy of a nutty third-world dictator.

In that context, the French Cowboy thinks that the publication of the photographs of OBL’s body would help Obama politically. Assuming there is nothing seriously wrong with the pictures, they would help to seal the story in a version of Obama’s choosing. On the other hand, I have strong doubts that it will help America as a whole because it certainly would be a useful propaganda item for the bad guys. They may not need it, but that still isn’t a good reason to give it to them.

Quote of the Week

May 2, 2011

From the Wall Street Journal in a story on the death of Osama bin Laden (emphasis mine):

There was a mix of somberness [and of] celebration near Ground Zero, where a new tower is rapidly becoming part of the city’s skyline. Cheers rang out and horns honked, while others lit candles at a memorial at the site.

Frank Cantwell, a 64-year-old operating engineer at the construction site there, said there were only a few people present when the news first broke. “It’s long overdue,” he said. “You can sort of hear the silent cheers of 3,000 ghosts.”

The Trumped-up Birth Certificate

April 27, 2011

Ah, behold the power of the Trump! After three years of resistance, Obama has finally published his long-form birth certificate. And what is different today from any other point in time before today at which Obama decided against the publication? Presumably the pressure has not been high enough until powerful Donald Trump had entered the stage and kept on harping on the lack of ultimate proof against the Birther Theory.

Will the Birthers now be silenced by this piece of evidence? Certainement pas! I think not. After all, the Birther faction is composed almost by definition of people who doubt the verity of anything said by Obama. A piece of easily forged paper handed in three years after due date is not going to convince anyone who questioned the legitimacy of this presidency ever since its beginning. The French Cowboy wouldn’t be convinced either.

This whole Birther business is easily ridiculed. But the doubts people have or had regarding Obama’s actual birth place are not nearly as ludicrous — or sinister — as the theories spun by the 9/11 Truthers. Besides, it’s very interesting to note that polls showed that among those who weren’t sure Obama was actually born on US territory, many didn’t seem to care all that much about it and even approved of his presidency.

Obama giving in so belatedly on the subject suggests a certain arrogance towards the public, at least towards those whom he considers to be ideologically far from himself. What would have been the big deal of satisfying to his best and reasonable ability the demands of those who are deeply suspicious of him? Rather than presenting the coveted piece of paper, Obama decided to deride the doubts people had about him. That he has made his birth certificate public now rather than sooner shows that he finds it an opportune time for himself — it has nothing to do with the wish to answer a (the French Cowboy would argue) legitimate demand, but everything with Obama doing what he can to save his political skin.

Obama’s thoughts must have been something like: “Let this bunch of yahoos who go ape about my birth place continue to doubt the legitimacy of my presidency — after all, I didn’t become President for them. But when it begins to threaten my chances of reelection then, all right, I will make public what I could have easily made public years ago.”

The demand itself — showing the birth certificate — is very simple and humble considering the importance of what depends on the facts behind it, i.e. the very legitimacy of the presidency. Ironically, must have been, in part, the weight of the issue that made people find the idea preposterous. Had Obama been elected King of the Book Club and would he have needed to be a natural born citizen for that, then probably the demand of a full-length birth certificate would have been met with obliging compliance rather than derision. Then again, Obama has this attitude of arrogance covering incompetence, he may have reacted haughtily even at the Book Club.

All in all, the French Cowboy believes that the dignified thing to do would have been to deliver the birth certificate when the demand for it had been voiced clearly from a substantive portion of the public, not to resist the calls coming from serious Americans, no matter how easily ridiculed.

Hidden Object Puzzler

April 25, 2011

The French Cowboy used to think that to live in America must be to live at one’s freest. But this notion I’m beginning to question more and more. This piece of news might just be the last drop in the bucket for me to think that, maybe, I should stay on the good old continent rather than emigrate to the Land of the (formerly) Free:

I am looking this bright Easter morn at a Department of Homeland Security “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence”. Late last night, crossing the Quebec/Vermont border, my children had two boxes of “Kinder Eggs” (“Est. Dom. Value $7.50″) confiscated by Customs & Border Protection.

Don’t worry, it’s for their own safety. I had no idea that the United States is the only nation on the planet (well, okay, excepting North Korea and Saudi Arabia and one or two others) to ban Kinder Eggs. According to the CBP:

Kinder Chocolate Eggs are hollow milk chocolate eggs about the size of a large hen’s egg usually packaged in a colorful foil wrapper. They are a popular treat and collector’s item during holiday periods in various countries around the world, including those in Europe, South America and even [sic!] Canada. A toy within the egg is contained in an oval-shaped plastic capsule. The toy requires assembly and each egg contains a different toy. Many of the toys that have been tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the past were determined to present a choking hazard for young children.

[…]

The Food and Drug Administration has issued an import alert for Kinder Eggs, because they are a confectionery product with a non-nutritive object imbedded in it.

One conclusion I made after hearing about the Kinder eggs ban is that the US is on a slippery slope leading to some sort of totalitarian Nannyatorship. The nation that has its tradition in the venturing pioneer and the risk-taking entrepreneur, and that is known for its “the sky’s the limit” mentality is supposed to be in need of public protection from the threat of Kinder eggs? The good people who make the decisions at the Food and Drug Administration should take a step back and come to their senses. Though maybe such over-protective actions are the result of too much spare time at the administration and — also in the spirit of budget cuts — one should shorten the supply of workforce there to prevent such ridiculous outputs.

The other thing that comes to mind when hearing about the worries regarding a chocolate treat* is that maybe the people at the Consumer Product Safety Commission have never seen a live Kinder egg. The Kinder egg toy is inside a yellow plastic capsule, and the yellow plastic capsule — which is fairly large — is surrounded by a thin hull made of chocolate (the egg). When you bite into the chocolate hull you bite mostly into empty space because the walls are very thin and the egg is hollow. The yellow capsule inside bounces around in the chocolate egg when you shake it. It’s not as if you could be taken by surprise by its existence. And in order to get at the actual toy you need a pair of fairly strong hands because the capsule in which it is placed is not easy to break open. A child that is small enough to indistinguishably chew on a toy would be very unlikely to be strong enough to open the yellow capsule.

So, while the toy in and of itself may be a choking hazard — like buttons, paper clips, earrings, and M&Ms — it is certainly not integrated into the chocolate egg in a way that would get it into your mouth any easier than the dime left on the kitchen table.

And speaking of “confectionery products with a non-nutritive object imbedded in them”, the French Cowboy would like to tell you of the tradition of the galette des Rois — the kings’ cake. It’s a delicious cake that has a figurine baked into it. Whoever gets the slice of the cake that includes the figurine is crowned “King” for the day (usually he or she will receive a paper crown). Originally, it’s a celebration of the three kings’ visit to the newborn Jesus, and a wonderful thing to enjoy with family and friends. That figurine is hidden in the dough, you will often find it only when it’s already in your mouth. Talk about a choking hazard!

I wonder if a galette des Rois would be confiscated at the US border as well?

By the way, there is an initiative to fight for your right to Kinder egg.

* Did you notice how “treat” is just one letter away from “threat”? Aha!

“What Is an Intellectual?”

March 6, 2011

The Wall Street Journal has published an interview with British historian Paul Johnson. It’s the type of piece you want to frame and hang on your wall: it’s that witty, true, didactic and funny. In it, Mr. Johnson gives his opinion among other things on Sarah Palin, the Middle East uprisings and Socrates. Here is a very short excerpt — short because you will have to read the entire piece anyway:

“People say, ‘Oh, you’re an intellectual,’ and I say, ‘No!’ What is an intellectual? An intellectual is somebody who thinks ideas are more important than people.”

It Ended in a Tie

February 13, 2011

Narcissism alert:

Outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs got quite the departing gift from President Obama today on his last day: his old tie back.

The president had borrowed a light blue tie from Gibbs, taking it right from his neck, shortly before taking the stage speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the speech that is largely credited with catapulting a then-little known Senator from Illinois to the national scene.

[…]

And that’s the tie that then-Senator Obama wore at the national convention.

[…]

The president then presented Gibbs with the light blue tie, framed, along with a picture of President Obama wearing it during his speech in 2004, and a picture of them together in the Oval Office. A personal message was scribbled at the bottom with words from the president to Gibbs.

I suppose Gibbs was lucky he didn’t have to lend his socks to Obama.