Friday, September 5, 2008

Presidential Qualifications - Not What You Think They Are

Naturally enough, last week's posts all seem to revolve around politics and the upcoming US Presidential Election.

There's a reason for that - and no, it's not just because my state Govnacudda was nominated for Veep. It's because with Battlestar Galactica and Heroes on seasonal break, I've basically got nothing else to write about.

And because I've done nothing, nothing, but follow the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for the last three weeks, the election is naturally enough on my mind.

One common theme I see repeated at the conventions and in the endless rhetoric flowing copiously from the various orifices of both parties is experience, and who is best qualified to lead the country for the next four years.

Not exactly a penetrating or unique observation I know.

The debate over experience is nothing new, of course. A candidate's qualifications, experience, training, and etcetera ad nauseam have been the subject of debate since the very first US presidential election in 1789. In that first election, George Washington squared off against John Adams, and while there was little doubt that the vastly popular Washington would win, there were those who questioned the general's ability to lead the fledgling nation outside of military matters - and John Adams was chief among the detractors. (Perversely, under the system then in place, the defeated Adams became Washington's Vice President - sort of a "keeping your enemies close" idea. As a result, Washington rarely sought his VP's advice or counsel during the seven years they served in office together. Try to imagine if we hadn't passed the 12th Amendment, Al Gore or John Kerry would have been George W. Bush's VP and how different would things be today? But I digress).

Fast forward two centuries to the current election. If you set aside the basic obligatory debate over fundamental doctrinal philosophy (i.e. the liberal vs conservative argument), the key issue emerging in this race is experience.

Republicans have harped endlessly, mercilessly, relentlessly on the fact that Barrack Obama is a lightweight when it comes to experience. They've gone on and on and on and on, about his skimpy record, about his limited time in office, about his utter lack of military credentials, about his paltry hands-on knowledge of national security matters and foreign relations. Republicans are pushing the fact that the only thing Obama has going for himself is charisma, he's a rock star - which is all fine and well, but do you really want a musician to marry your sister?

They're right.

Oh, pipe down there, you damned liberals, put down the bunnies and quit hugging the trees for minute and be honest; compared to John McCain, Barrack Obama is a lightweight when it comes to experience in certain areas.

He is.

It's a fact, and an easily provable one at that. There's no need to rehash McCain's experience, I think we all have it memorized by now; in every conventional category that counts he's a heavyweight. (Well, OK, if I have to use the boxing division analogy here - he's actually more in the Super Middleweight category, since he doesn't have actual state or federal executive experience). Others can argue this point, and have at great length, but it's one that Obama and his people are no doubt fully aware of - otherwise they wouldn't have added Joe Biden and his experience to the ticket.

Then ... the Republicans went and nominated Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate.

If Obama is a lightweight when it comes to the kind of experience we're talking about here, Palin is in the featherweight division - and the Democrats wasted no time whatsoever pointing that out. As soon as the bell rang they were out of their corner, swinging (and I'm done with the boxing analogies now, thank you for your tolerance).

Despite the things I've said about Palin this week, and the snarky post last Thursday, the truth of the matter is that Sarah Palin has very little in the way of hard executive experience, almost none in fact, most of what she has is charisma - which is a good thing, because John McCain has all the charm and charisma of a pit bull wearing lipstick. I've known more than a few Navy Captains in my career, lovable guys they ain't.

Oh now, settle down, you damned conservatives. Put down the shotguns and bibles and listen for a minute, be honest. Palin was the mayor of a small town - and yes, Wasilla, Alaska is a small town, not nearly as small as the democrats would have you believe, but small. Believe me, I live here. Palin has been the Govnacudda of Alaska for the last two years, more or less (a little less, actually) and despite our size and resources - our total population is less than that of most small towns elsewhere in the US. We've got issues here that are uncommon to most Americans, giving Palin a unique perspective - but the truth of the matter is that she really has no experience in the Washington meat-grinder at all.

However, Palin brings to the McCain campaign the very same strengths that Obama has going for himself, charisma, charm, good looks, and the ability to rally a crowd. What? You don't think that matters? Think again.

See, no matter what your experience, if you want to be the President of the United States, you've got to get elected first. And charisma is a big, big part of that. If either Al Gore or John Kerry had had any charisma at all, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because, seriously here, George W. Bush appeared a dynamic and charismatic speaker in comparison, almost nucular in fact. Charisma is what got Bill Clinton elected, and perversely garnered a large number of feminist votes in the process. Charisma is what not only got Ronald Reagan elected, but made his enemies love him after he was in office, even when they vehemently disagreed with him.

Understand, I'm not dismissing experience, education, or training - but there are other more intangible traits that a good president should have, and the ability to actually get elected is one of them.

When it comes to job qualifications for the Office of President, the Constitution is a little vague:

Age and Citizenship requirements - US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

Term limit amendment - US Constitution, Amendment XXII, Section 1

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

And that's pretty much it for Constitutional requirements, basically, they've got to be at least 35, a natural born citizen of the US, and can't hold office for more than two terms (Note: natural born citizen doesn't mean the baby has to be delivered on US soil. There's some idiot rumor going around that McCain isn't actually eligible to be the President because he was born in a US Navy hospital in Panama. That's just stupid and plain ignorant, Democrats, please stop it now). The Constitution specifies nothing in the way of experience in the military, economics, foreign relations, domestic issues, or the ability to sing and dance or ride on Air Force one without barfing.

Mothers have told their kids for two centuries: "Work hard, study, and wash behind your ears, and maybe someday you'll grow up to be President." Well, true - as long as the kid in question grows up rich, attends an Ivy League School where he majors in law with triple minors in medicine and economics and ROTC, then after college serves in the military performing heroically in combat as a junior Lieutenant and then parlaying that into a senior staff officer position at an unusually young age, then after the military he goes on to practice law while teaching it on the weekends pro-bono to under-privileged kids, then leaves law to run a major Fortune 500 company for a couple of years, and leaves that to become in order: a statehouse Representative, a US Senator, State Governor and finally Vice President. Along the way, he should acquire experience as an educator, economist, energy expert, astronaut, diplomat, public speaker, comedian, and church elder. He should own a farm, ranch, or family 'compound.' He needs to be smart, but not too smart - a genuine man of the people who enjoys a good BBQ and a tractor pull. He also needs to make time to marry his high-school, home town sweetheart and have at least three kids. It also doesn't hurt if he can play a musical instrument or two. Oh, and he' shouldn't waste any time, because he needs to be relatively young too, say fifty or so.

Maybe he should put on a cape and tights and fly around Gotham fighting crime while he's at it, because that's what the job description sounds like to me: a super hero with Attention Deficit Disorder.

It's ridiculous when all strung together, but that's exactly what we're asking for here - and exactly what the respective parties want us to believe each of their candidates actually are.

So, really, what are the job qualifications for President? What experience, skills, and talents are necessary to a good president?

Here's what I think:

1) Charisma: as I said, first you've got to get elected. You've got to make people respect you, and more than that you've got to make people believe in you, believe in your vision, believe in your sincerity and commitment and ability - or they won't vote for you. And once elected, a good president must be able to rally the country, pull people together, heal division and generate consensus. Kennedy and Reagan both burn bright in recent memory because they were charismatic, they could give a great speech and energize a crowd, they could make us believe. The ability to rally the nation is one of the most important roles of the president. Think about it - many times a President may have to convince the nation to do something that we as a people really don't want to do. A President may have to convince the nation to go to war, that's usually fairly easy. But a truly great president is one that can keep the country focused and supportive when the war goes on past the initial patriotic flush. Now before anybody takes exception to that, do a little research. Neither WWI or WWII were exactly popular, and WWII became less and less so as time went by and the sacrifices and shortages began to add up on the home-front. FDR galvanized the nation and kept the people motivated, more than anything he did that. When he died and the much less charismatic Truman took over, that public support began to fade, but by then victory was inevitable. Today, we find ourselves embroiled in another war, this one extremely unpopular, and Americans expect the next President to end it, one way or the other. One method is going to be quick and largely popular but with unpleasant long term consequences, and the other solution is a long term commitment and consequently it's going to be damned unpopular - and the intermediate solution of rallying the country, making a major effort and significant national sacrifice would be even more unpopular. Either way, the president is going to have to sell their decision to at least half the country. But, you know, it's not just war. The next president, if he's any kind of leader at all, is going to have to solve the energy crisis - and no matter what course he follows, it isn't going to be popular. Americans want cheap gas and big SUV's. The next president is going to have to convince both the people and industry that those selfish desires are wrong headed. Sooner or later, one way or another, we're going to have to change - or die - and the president is going to have to convince us to make those changes. Charisma may be the single most important characteristic any president can have.

2) A strong sense of Duty and Honor. The president must be an honorable man (or woman, but I'm speaking of the next president, who, unless something drastic happens, will piss standing up). Honor is the ability to do the right thing, to adhere to a code of conduct, no matter what and no matter the personal consequences. Duty is the ability to place the needs of the nation and her people above your own personal beliefs and desires. Duty is the ability to represent all Americans, both those who voted for you, and those who did not; the President must represent all Americans, not just those of his party or political affiliation. Honor and duty is the ability to look dispassionately at a problem and choose the best solution, even if that solution is proposed by your political enemy. Honor and Duty mean adherence to the oath of President, either your word is good or it's not - there is no middle ground. A President is sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. Period. Any President who seeks to circumvent the rights of the people or the requirements levied on his office by the Constitution, any President who thinks the Constitution is an outdated piece of paper, is not worthy of the office. Period.

3) Intelligence, commonsense, and idealism: A President must be intelligent, educated, and have the type of drive, vision, and experience in life that fosters wisdom. Somewhere along the line Americans have decided that they don't want wise or intelligent leaders. Somewhere along the line Americans have decided that intelligence and education and wisdom are bad things. A significant number of Americans have come to revel in ignorance and use the designation of intelligence as a curse. What are you, some kind of smart guy? What are you, God forbid, an elitist? Americans want their leaders to go to Yale, and Harvard, and the Naval Academy, they just don't want them to learn anything there. That's crap, if we expect our President to make decisions regarding the economy, industry, medicine, education, energy, foreign relations, domestic issues, veterans, transportation, and our country's future then we want the smartest son of bitch we can get our hands on. Seriously, folks, how many good 'ole boys have turned their bait shops into world spanning multibillion dollar industries? Really? Bill Gates started out in his garage, he just didn't stay there - and frankly, love the guy or hate him I'd rather his genius ass was running the country than Cletus and and his beer swilling buddy, Cooter.

What we're talking about here is leadership, the President must be a true leader, not just a leader in name. Despite what motivational speakers might tell you, leadership traits are often indefinable. All great leaders are different, their greatness comes from different talents and strengths, but great leaders all bear certain common traits: Charisma, honor, duty, intelligence, commonsense, and idealism. Those are the things that are critical to the next president of this country.

And yet, they are the very things we talk least about. The candidates and the conventions and the blogs and the pundits all talk about the things that don't really matter.

Such as military experience: Sure, I value military experience in my leaders. But if we are to be honest, military experience in a civilian leader is overrated. Military people historically don't really make all that good of Presidents, do they? Especially the generals, Grant and Eisenhower come to mind here. The junior military folks are about fifty fifty, Kennedy, Bush the Greater and Bush the Lesser, Carter, Lincoln. Now a number of truly great Presidents have been military leaders, Washington and Teddy Roosevelt for example, but a number of great and even relatively good Presidents have not, FDR and Reagan come to mind here. Military experience might tell you something about a candidate's character, but in and of itself military experience just isn't a defining criteria. It doesn't make you a better American, or smarter, or braver, or necessarily more imbued with a sense of honor, duty, and country (Stop! Stop right there, if you're reading this and you don't know me and you're not a regular reader around here and your hands are clenching and you're just all kinds of offended at what I just said, tough shit. I'm a decorated veteran myself who served this country longer than John McCain. So, if your panties are bunched up and you've decided to make some kind of mindless knee-jerk patriotic statement here about how I'm offending veterans, don't. I'll delete it without comment). If you think that only military service defines patriotism, duty, honor, courage, commitment, country, then you're wrong - I can think of dozens of civilian examples, firefighter, paramedics, cop, doctor, teacher, to name a few. Here's the bottom line, we call the President the Commander in Chief, but he doesn't actually lead the charge waving a flag from the forward tank. He doesn't actually design military strategy, or stand heroically on the bridge of the flagship, or decide what attacking formation we'll use. When the White House runs the war, we lose. Period. In reality it's the Secretary of Defense, the Service Chiefs, Joint Chief's of Staff and the Pentagon who run the military, and that's a good thing, because running the military is a full time job for a lot of professional people - and the President has other things to do, and the bald honest truth is that military service doesn't automatically qualify you to lead the military. Hell, I spent 23 years on active duty, from enlisted to officer, in combat and in peace time, at sea and on land - and I doubt that my military experience would make me a better CINC. Because see, in the military we carry out the orders of the President, we don't make policy, we don't decide when or where to fight, we don't decide who the enemy is - all of those things are the purview of the civilian leadership. Nothing in my military experience gives me the insight into military matters at the presidential level.

Executive experience is another area. Seriously folks, it's time to put this chestnut to bed. The simple truth is that being the President is basically on the job training. I don't care how you slice it. Nothing, no job, no military experience, no governorship or time in the House or Senate prepares you for the Office of President. The Office of Vice President may, to some extent, prepare you, but even Veep isn't a sure thing. A rather significant number of really lousy Presidents were prior Vice Presidents - anybody remember Lyndon Johnson? Face it, the candidates don't exactly pick people as running mates who might pull a coup d'etat and that's how we ended up with Dan Quayle and Al Gore. Governorship? Bah, which governorships? California? Texas? New York? Because those are the only states with executive offices approaching a national type economy - minus foreign relations and the military, of course (and don't start with the "but the Governor leads the state National Guard" bullshit either, deploying the Guard to fill sand bags and evacuate people isn't military leadership, and if the Guard is deployed in Federal service they are under the command of the Pentagon and the governor has nothing to do with it). Should we say that if your governorship is not any of the big three states, you can't run for President? What about representatives, senators and such like? They don't have federal executive experience at all. If executive experience is so important - why aren't we nominating more CEO's?

Knowledge of the Economy is another one. Does anybody really believe that the President is sitting in the Oval Office, late into the night with a calculator and a pile of spreadsheets balancing the country's checkbook? Folks, he may sign the budget, but he sure as hell isn't actually doing the books. And frankly, would you really want him to? Again, it's a full time job for a lot of very savvy professionals.

Foreign Relations? Domestic Issues? Health, education, transportation, the environment, energy, agriculture, commerce, and etcetera - the President cannot be an expert in all areas, and the simple truth of the matter is that he's unlikely to be an expert in even one critical area.

The President's job is to lead the country, to rally the people, to be the human face that represents us to the world, to make decisions based on sound advice and professional knowledge. It is those who surround the President that should be handling the details and the responsibilities that require specialized knowledge and experience.

When it comes to the candidate, I could give a good Goddamn if he was a POW or if he taught law at the Ivy League level. I'll tell you what I want to know, I want to know who the kingmakers are, I want to know who the advisers will be, I want to know who he's going to really listen to. I don't care how sterling his character is, if he's got somebody like Karl Rove pulling his strings and whispering in his ear, he's not getting my vote. I want to know who he intends to place in charge of the things that really matter. Who will he choose for national science advisor? Who does he intend to sit on the National Security council? Who are his nominations for cabinet? For the head of the CIA, the FBI, NSA and NASA? Who will be heading up the Federal Reserve? Who will he promote as Service Chiefs? Who are his top ten choices for the Supreme Court bench? And like that.

The candidate's nomination for these positions tells me far more about him than his military service or his voting record, any speech he gives or the rhetoric he spews. Leadership and the ability to surround himself with good people, that's what matters. Understanding of his own limitations in the areas of knowledge, experience, and training, that's what matters.

None of the people currently running are qualified to be the President, but then again nobody ever is, and it's time that we all acknowledge that fact and move on.


  1. Thank you, Jim. This kind of thing needs to be said from time to time, but also with at the very least a wry sense of humor -- and better yet with a big Tabasco dollop of humor.

    This is why I don't do politics on my blog much. There are better people writing this sort of thing.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the whole alien anal probe and alien mind control symbiont wrapped around the brain stem requirement to be President these days. Didn't Our New Alien Overlord Masters send you the memo?

    Dr. Phil

  2. Oh, we're quite familiar with alien mind control around here, Phil, yes we are.

  3. That wasn't about alien abductions. It was about pretty wooden bowl abduction. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  4. Dr Phil - somehow your avatar is... not... quite... how... I'd imagined you. (and yes, I've seen your pic on your site AND heard you wax rhapsodic about Ms Winslet - just giving you guff)

    I think, Jim, you have a point. But also - really, our system of checks and balances makes the office of president more a figurehead than a powerhouse. Sure, it can be manipulated and abused, a la Bush, but mostly it's about those things you mentioned - charisma, plus leadership, impact, influence.

    Someone mentioned - I can't recall who - that after all the big campaign promises for change, we'll end up fairly disappointed in January because the new executive will step into office and immediately be weighed down by the same (except for turnover) do-nothing Congress and same administrative systems we have today. He will not exactly be set up for success - and the inertial resistance to any kind of change is *considerable*.

  5. excellent commentary on Presidential Qualifications..

    Character of the person is more important than experience.

    Who they choose to help them run the country is very important.
    Sen Biden - 35 yrs in Senate, without having been Democratic whip or leader - poor choice, the fact he was not selected by his peers to lead, says a lot.
    Gov Palin - young, up and coming leader, with strong commitment to family, who views children as a blessing - good choice.

  6. Lovely post Jim.

    Jeri, your comment about the president manipulating the people struck a chord with me, and it made me realize that American politics is very utilitarian: the ends justify the means.

    Bush is by no means the first to prove this. As much as I admire FDR, he did some things that weren't so hot: Japanese internment camps and attempting to stack the supreme court in his favor are two that jump immediately to mind.

    The American presidency is a cult of personality (Living Colour! Rah!) and that's how things get done. You have someone who is liked by both sides and who can get things done. You have someone who can woo foreign dignitaries (without freaking them out and giving them surprise back massages). You have someone who can convince the American people that what he believes is just, and so he is leading them forward.

    And from there Jim makes a point I've been making for awhile.

    I want a president who is smart enough to know he needs good advisers. I want someone who is willing to appoint people whose opinions differ from his own and LISTEN to those opinions. And I want someone who is smart enough to take all the information he is giving and process that data on his own and them make an informed decision.

    I want someone who will not abuse the cult of personality, and will try to remember that the ends do NOT, in fact, justify the means.

  7. Hey, Kate Winslet is much more attractive than I am. No one wants to see a 425 lb. half century old physics teacher in the middle of the night or over their morning coffee. It's my small part in beautifying teh Internets. (grin) Yeah, that's it -- it's a public service.

    Dr. Phil

  8. No one wants to see a 425 lb. half century old physics teacher in the middle of the night or over their morning coffee.

    Well, see, that would depend on the situation wouldn't it? Say you were fixing breakfast in free fall - and trying to make the gravity fed drip coffee maker work. Or better yet attempting to flip pancakes in a rotating frame of reference. I can see a physics teacher being very handy in those situations (personally, in my mind's eye, I can also see Kate Winslet being somewhat handy in a zero-gee rotating frame of reference too, just saying). This kind of thing happens to me all of the time.

  9. Not enough mass to make the gravity fed coffee maker go in zero-gee. And for the record, I was referring to seeing me in blogspace. (grin) There's enough coffee spewed on keyboards as it is, as I understand it. Not a coffee person, myself.

    Dr. Phil

  10. Not a coffee person, myself.

    Beg pardon? It has been my experience that understanding of, and advancement in, the hard sciences is entirely dependent on copious amounts of coffee consumption.

    I'm fairly certain the decline in coffee consumption and the rise in sugary energy drinks and fruit smoothies can be directly connected scientifically to the decline in American scientific achievement - well, that and the anti-science trend towards putting pineapple on pizza. Just saying.

  11. I was once the mess manager (dining facitlity contractor) for the NSA...yeah, the real puzzle palace...Super high tech, scientific application on a daily, world shaping level.

    I can verify that all applied science is run on coffee, or at least was from 1989 - 1993. I served no less than a hundred gallons of coffee every day to the enlisted GI's that ate at my mess. Therefore whatever mind boggling science they were doing in there, was run on coffee.

    The officer's mess on the other had beer at lunch...hence th enlisted's doing all the scientific application.

  12. Sorry Jim - another Ph.D. in science who does not drink coffee.

    Coffee is for theoreticians, not for real experimental scientists. (Do you want jittery hands manipulating the lasers at MIT that could take out half of Boston?) :p

    But when the theoretician next door did his grad student recruitment talk, he opened with a picture of his coffee maker and the announcement that it was the only instrument in his lab, but if it broke, they were all screwed.

  13. Basil, as I've mentioned - depending on when you worked there, I was probably one of the folks drinking your coffee.

    I used to have an office in OPS III, the Ken B. Rowlett building. One of the best things about being retired is that I never have to set foot in that insane asylum again.

  14. I was at the "House of Four Hats" Dining Hall in the middle of all the barracks from 1989-1993. If you were there, we at least passed each other as I spent time in the dining room or behind the line almost every lunch and breakfast.

  15. Yep. I was a regular at NSA anywhere between the mid 80's and about a year ago.

    I used to stop in 4-hats for coffee and an omelet nearly every morning I was up there. I don't eat lunch usually, so I was rarely in there for that. I split most of my weeks between the NMIC in Suitland, the Pentagon, NRL and NSA. I used to give a lot of briefings as NSA during that period.

  16. I remember Lyndon Johnson very well, but then, I used to live in Texas. I always thought he was a pretty good president. He was cool enough to marry Lady Bird. He was a loud, colorful Texan. (You can't put a price on those. The anecdotes from his presidency are comedy gold.) And in the end he really did work for the good of the country.

    He gets lost in the bruhaha over the Vietnam war, but most of the presidents from the era do. I'll always get a bit misty for the man because of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. SCOTUS did a lot to start the nation moving towards equality, but Lyndon Johnson is the one that really put it into practice on the national level. Civil rights wouldn't be where they are today without his efforts. He didn't have a lot of executive experience, but he was known in the Senate for getting things done. I'm not sure anyone else could have gotten that civil rights act through. It was very unpopular, but it needed to be done. I'll always admire him for that.

  17. Amyzon, agreed. But, one of the things I won't forgive him for is his handling the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The intel behind that, and our subsequent neck deep unnecessary involvement in Vietnam, was every bit as disingenuous as the Bush administration's manipulation of the intel following 911, as was his attempt to fight the war from the White House.

    I also intensely dislike his handling of NASA and the American space program, we got to the moon largely due to Johnson's efforts true, BUT we didn't get a space program out of it and couldn't go back now if we wanted to. He turned Von Braun's vision into a stunt to trump the Russians, and nothing else. This pisses me off, I feel betrayed, honestly.

  18. The anecdotes from his presidency are comedy gold.
    We could say this about our current president. (Have we had a lesson in irony and satire or what?) I'd be nice to have someone in office we can respect, for a change.

    (Anyone remember how inspiring -- and deceptively believable -- The West Wing was? Sure they were liberal maniacs, but it always seemed to work out for the best. Once again, TV makes us wish for the unattainable.)

  19. One note: the metric on Obama's experience versus McCain's depends on what qualities you're looking at/for. Military experience and federal legislative experience--Senator McCain certainly has the goods on the junior Senator from Illinois. Legal expertise--I have to give it to the attorney and Con Law professor from Chicago.

    This is one of the reasons the "experience" issue is a red herring, so in a way I'm agreeing with you, actually: "experience" really comes down to how you slice it, and you can even create a metric for experience that gives Governor Palin an edge over Senator McCain if your priorities lean, say, towards religious leadership and local executive experiences. One of the many boggling things when people begin talking about experience is that hardly anyone ever seems to ask "experience with what?"

    Personally, the areas in which Senator Obama has more experience than Senator McCain are areas I find important--but you and the rest of the usual suspects probably already knew that or could have guessed as much. (Hm, the liberal public interest lawyer... he'd probably just flip a coin, right?)

    The other thought I had reading your piece: I think LBJ and Nixon make good case histories to show that the Vice-Presidency can be a disqualifying experience. Many of the errors both men made in their respective administrations can be traced back to the ways they were treated by Kennedy and Eisenhower, and to the duties that were foisted off on both men by powerful executives. (E.g. I personally think a major part of LBJ's refusal to let Vietnam go can be traced to a trip to South Vietnam during JFK's administration: JFK was merely trying to get Lyndon the hell out of Washington, but an unintended consequence was that the surprisingly naive LBJ fell hook, line and sinker for a Potemkin Village show by the South Vietnamese regime that probably encouraged the Johnson administration's delusions of progress and willingness to delude themselves about the South's ability to hold out.)

  20. I just want to say that I love hanging out with people that use the phrase "Potemkin Village" without blinking.

  21. I love hanging out with people who actually know what the term "Potemkin Village" means.

    Eric, exactly, and that was of course my point. Like "Change," "Experience" means something different to everybody. It seems to me the areas that we place emphasis on, are the ones that are least necessary. Military experience, for example, as I said in the post.

    I think your observation regarding VP is spot on. VP is about the only job where you get no training for the next level, because the guy in that job really doesn't want you to know how to take over. There is no requirement in place for the President to train his successor - everybody starts at square one, even a former veep. Stupid in some ways, and brilliant in others.

  22. I take my caffeine from Coca-Cola. Which unfortunately was ruined in the conspiratorial Coke to New Coke to Original Formula But Not Really Because We Switched To Corn Sweeteners Coke Which Has Ruined People.

    Computational physicists are theoreticians who do experiments on computers -- no actual nitromethane molecules were blown up for my doctoral dissertation. As Real Programmers program in FORTRAN, this explains the soda over coffee preference.

    I have never put pineapple on a pizza, good sir. My preference is Chicago Stuffed Pizza: Sausage, mushrooms, black olives, roasted red peppers and spinach. Or honest-to-God New York pizza by the slice, pepperoni and boiling hot grease, as if one thin sheet of wax paper offers any sort of protection.

    As for Potemkin Villages, my one true triumph in gaming an exam came in spring 1976, when my study partner and I analyzed the previous decade's worth of essay questions in A.P. European History, and we concluded there'd been no questions on Catherine the Great's Russia. So we only studied CtG and particularly Potemkin Villages.

    The essay question? Explain the significance of the use of Potemkin Villages in Catherine the Great's Russia.

    I'm not kidding. The proctor had to tell us to stop laughing -- no one else in the room that day had an answer. Earned me an "A" in the class...

    Dr. Phil

  23. FORTRAN? hahahahahahahaha!

    I'm ACM certified in FORTRAN, and at least three other antiquated and useless languages - including pascal. Oh, yes, anybody needs some pascal, I'm your man.

    Now, where'd I put those LISP reference books?

  24. Oooh, I know (or knew) PASCAL. Damn semicolons. :p

    Most of my scientific programming was in FORRAN (my instructor was from New Zealand and didn't say the "T".

    My, my aren't we dinosaurs?

  25. I learned programming using COBOL and FORTRAN. And I loved Pascal. Microsoft's stupid Visual Basic should have been Pascal. Of course, Borland's Delphi is Pascal at it's heart.

  26. Dr. Phil: that AP exam story is made of awesome. I love it!

  27. Maybe we should just do what the British are doing with their figure heads.

    It's easier to rally behind a Royal Crown, than behind a mass elective(I didn't vote for the dude, why should I care?).

    Let's get a blue blood in the site, cover them in gold and dimonds, and deny any decision making power.


  28. Vince, yeah, I'm not a fan of VB or VBE, I don't hate it - but it's not my favorite.

    Borland's OOPs Delphi was so much better and so much more powerful, that was one of the few language I actually enjoyed programming in.

    Personally, I don't care if I never see another line FORTRAN 77 code again.

    Kisintin: Well, for a while there, before her death and when she came to visit the US, I thought people were going to crown Princess Diana queen of America. :)

  29. Now, if you WANT a decent FORTRAN-77 compiler for your Windows PC, good luck. Most follow the DEC VAX implementation playbook... which is bad if your coming from a comfy BCS UNIX academic world.

    The one I use is Microsoft Powerstation FORTRAN Professional. After Version 4, MS sold it to DEC, which came out with Digital Visual FORTRAN Version 5 -- which I beta tested -- and then of course it became COMPAQ Visual FORTRAN. And now Intel...

    You guessed it. Version 4 compiles my code -- the later ones... no.

    Let's hear it for standards. (And I pre-date F77, recalling the glorious wars over ANSI-Standard FORTRAN... grin.)

    Dr. Phil

  30. Ugh. DEC VAX Cluster Implementation on a single circuit FIDI backbone. Never. Again. Never. Of course, it was better than the PDP-11 series we upgraded from, but not nearly as good as the SPARC stations we finally ended up with.

    I never used FORTRAN on a PC, just on MPX32 Mainframes and VAX mini-mainframes - nothing visual about it.

  31. Man...and I thought I was a nerd for playing with Linux.

    You gents have me beat hands down, I'm just server jockey...code makes my head hurt


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