Quick Roundup 487

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Obamicon

Peggy Noonan makes some interesting points Barack Obama should heed about why an image can become shorthand for a Presidency:

In a presidency, a picture or photograph becomes iconic only when it seems to express something people already think. When Gerald Ford was spoofed for being physically clumsy, it took off. The picture of Ford losing his footing and tumbling as he came down the steps of Air Force One became a symbol. There was a reason, and it wasn't that he was physically clumsy. He was not only coordinated but graceful. He'd been a football star at the University of Michigan and was offered contracts by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

But the picture took off because it expressed the growing public view that Ford's policies were bumbling and stumbling. The picture was iconic of a growing political perception.

The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic, and they would not be if they weren't playing off a growing perception. If the pictures had been accompanied by headlines from Asia saying "Tough Talks Yield Big Progress" or "Obama Shows Muscle in China," the bowing pictures might be understood this way: "He Stoops to Conquer: Canny Obama shows elaborate deference while he subtly, toughly, quietly advances his nation's interests."

But that's not how the pictures were received or will be remembered.
I have to say that that picture is what comes to mind now when I think of Barack Obama, along with the fact that he's acting like a servant to everyone except the public whose servant he actually is.

But did he finally get one right?

Via Glenn Reynolds, I was thrilled to learn that Honduras has prevailed in its fight for freedom:
[L]eftist claims that Honduras could not hold fair elections flew in the face of the facts. First, the candidates were chosen in November 2008 primaries with observers from the OAS, which judged the process to be "transparent and participative." Second, all the presidential candidates--save one from a small party on the extreme left--wanted the elections to go forward. Third, though Mr. Insulza insisted on calling the removal of Mr. Zelaya a "military coup," the military had never taken charge of the government. And finally, the independent electoral tribunal, chosen by congress before Mr. Zelaya was removed, was continuing with the steps required to fulfill its constitutional mandate to conduct the vote. In the aftermath of the elections Mr. Insulza, who insisted that the group would not recognize the results, presides over a discredited OAS.

At least the Obama administration figured out, after four months, that it had blundered. It deserves credit for realizing that elections were the best way forward, and for promising to recognize the outcome despite enormous pressure from Brazil and Venezuela. President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.
Here's hoping that Mary O'Grady isn't being too generous with Barack Obama--which is about as close to praying as you're ever going to see me get!

Looks Like Fudge

ClimateGate evolves by the minute. Glenn Reynolds discusses apparently rigged climate models to go along with the apparently cooked data. The below is a from a longer quote from the CBS News web site:
As the leaked messages, and especially the HARRY_READ_ME.txt file, found their way around technical circles, two things happened: first, programmers unaffiliated with East Anglia started taking a close look at the quality of the CRU's code, and second, they began to feel sympathetic for anyone who had to spend three years (including working weekends) trying to make sense of code that appeared to be undocumented and buggy, while representing the core of CRU's climate model.
Sadly, I expect that Reynolds' prognostication about the possible outcome of the Copenhagen conference is a rosy, best-case scenario, even were all of this to be conclusively proven.

Call Me Scrooge

I found this article (via GeekPress) about the psychology behind the decision to buy extended warranties very interesting.
It's been shown experimentally that people--counterintuitively--become more risk averse the better a mood they're in. The reason appears to be that compared to a neutral mood, a good mood makes contemplating a potential loss feel worse. Basically, if you're in a good mood, you have more to lose: Contemplating a financial loss makes you think not only of the loss itself, but also of the loss of the good mood.
Also going into the equation are bad estimates of risk.

I pretty much hew to the following policy: "The only time to insure something is when replacing it would represent a real financial hit that you can’t afford to take."

-- CAV


Bruno T. Raymundo said...

The Brazilian support for Zelaya was a disgrace. I'm glad Honduras resisted.

Gus Van Horn said...

All support, including what the US initially gave, is a disgrace.

Thanks for speaking up. It's important.

Steve D said...

"The only time to insure something is when replacing it would represent a real financial hit that you can’t afford to take."

I am guessing that you don't buy a lot of lottery tickets either.

No reason to voluntarily let the odds be stacked against you. Extended warranties, insurance, lotteries, service agreements etc. wouldn’t be offered unless they made money for the company offering them.

“apparently rigged climate models to go along with the apparently cooked data”

One really unfortunate aspect of all this which hasn’t really been discussed a great deal is how this could set back our actual understanding of how climate works. Think about the fantastic benefits which might arise from this science. Intentional climate control - if we can get it right - could be an incredible boon to mankind. We will never reach this point if all we can do is fake data, rig models and bicker about it.

I often wonder where we would be today if we had a couple centuries of true capitalism and a rational philosophy behind us. What if the US and the world had not taken that philosophical turn about 100 years ago?

Gus Van Horn said...

One really unfortunate aspect of all this which hasn’t really been discussed a great deal is how this could set back our actual understanding of how climate works.

You remind me that I thought for a moment -- but then forgot -- to note that further similarity between global warming "research" and Lysenkoism.

Grant said...

It's interesting how Peggy Noonan conflates President Ford falling down a flight of stairs (which could happen to anyone) with President Obama bowing to the Premire of China (which could only happen to a moral relativist at best or an aspiring dictator at worst). Yes, the people did already think that President Ford's policies were bumbling and stumbling - they had to be given the fact that the government, then as now, was doing things it ultimately had no knowledge or control of - but people didn't eat up his stair mishap because of that. They did so because to see a man who was able to attain and keep so much power, when everything (outside of football) he said and did failed to do what he said it would do, was a relief. It made them realize that he was really just a human being, and not some supernatural being, immune from the law of cause and effect.

Obama's international displays of America-last, self-effacing diplomatic weakness, on the other hand, had no such effect. If anything, it only strengthened the average American's almost superstitious fear of this man. Not only can he bumble his way into Harvard, stumble into becoming the "Junior Senator from Illinois", and attain the title of 44th President of the United States using his magically superior powers of vagueness and flattery, but he can also connect souls with a hodge podge of international tyrants; in broad daylight; with nary a word of protest. The people think: is there anywhere safe from Obama? Peggy Noonan can talk all she wants about how the media didn't paint him as the tough guy (and lacking a strong condemnation of him choosing to bow, they might as well have), but people will write in their minds those exact headlines. Average, decent people in this country are so afraid of Obama that he could probably step on the flag and we'd discuss it instead of impeach him.

At some point, Obama will fall down a flight of stairs, or get sick at a state dinner, or discover an intern on her knees under the desk in the Oval Office - but when that happens, the people are not going to tell themselves that he's a fallable man who can be controlled. The "growing perception" is not that Obama is weak, but that he's getting stronger every day by making friends with dictators all over the world. He's conditioning us to see which side he is really on. When that "perception" is full grown, and when Obama has his understandable human mishap, the people will shut up, fall in line, and feel genuine sympathy for all of the stress their "glorious leader" is under.

We're fast reaching the stage where our leaders are mythical. Even President Ford - although I'm sure he wanted to - never dared to bow to a communist tyrant.

Gus Van Horn said...


I don't think Noonan is conflating anything. She is grasping at an occurrence that strikes me as almost predictable for anyone familiar with Ayn Rand's theory of concepts. The below depends, of course, on my impression of how the American people generally see each President (which appears to be closer to Noonan's than yours).

I am not saying that people are making Ford or Obama into concepts, but what I do see here that Noonan is identifying is that people had a general impression of Ford or Obama and then saw something that served a similar role to a word for them. Ford's fall symbolized his general bungling reputation (deserved or not) and Obama's bow symbolized what I would call his "effective weakness." (I think people aren't sure whether he is an enemy or simply a coward or just "not ready for prime time." The impression of any of these on the world stage, anyway, is weakness, hence my term.) In short, Noonan is observing average Americans performing a normal mental association.

To elaborate on my disagreements with your views of Ford and Obama, I don't think most people are so in awe of a President that they need a reminder that he's "only human" or have a nearly supernatural fear of Obama (else, why are so many people turning up at tea party protests?).

That said, I think if most Americans DID think the way you imply, that they would have settled on very different images of Ford and Obama to serve as mental shorthand for the repsective Presidents.


Grant said...


If the Tea Partiers - those least likely to fear Obama's "weakness" - truly didn't fear him, they wouldn't be calling their protests Tea Parties. The fact that they do confesses that they really don't think they can ultimately win.

To call something that's far, far less dangerous to one's personal well-being than to covertly destroy state property an act that's on par with that can only mean one thing: they want to feel as if they've resisted America's Obama-led lurch to the left with all that they have, without actually having to really do so.

Now, I'm not saying that, strategically speaking, they should go that far - I'm simply saying that if the time ever comes for real Tea Party-like action, those cowards at the Tea Party Protests are all going to be saying "don't look to me, I already did my part."

These protests are the death-throes of a dying American character, and for many who participate (eg: Christians and libertarians), a balm for a guilty conscience. I think Obama understands that, and is perfectly willing to let them vent their anger.

So no, I don't think that images to Obama bowing to foreign despots consistently or ultimately confirms for people symbolically their firm belief that the man is a coward. They may feel that periodically, but the rest of the time they are just as sincerely feeling genuine fear of him - and those images symbolize to them Obama's sinister motives and where his allegiances truly lie.

And, as you and I both know, just as a country cannot exist for the long-term with a mixture of good and evil within it, neither can a man's will to resist. It has to be complete lest the evil consume it. I don't think that the average American fully understands the fundamental impotence of evil. I think they believe it has metaphysical potency.

Gus Van Horn said...


I don't quite know what to say to that except that I think you're much less optimistic than I am about whether Americans are necessarily paralyzed by fear of Obama, and that we'll have to agree to disagree about it.

I will add that simply being afraid of an actual threat can be a spur to constructive action. If I see a snake, I get the hell away from it, capture it, or kill it, if I can. Am I afraid of it. Of course! Do I think it has kind of evil mojo over me? No.

The tea partiers correctly see that Obama's policies will bankrupt them, and many remember Carter. I really doubt that they're going to just quit and say, "I did my part," if soup kitchens start sprouting up everywhere.

Sure. I could be wrong, but I doubt it, and I'm sure not going to quit.