Friday, October 30, 2015

Response to The Younger Brother

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Younger Brother)

I was a fan of boxing when I was a kid, which was a natural thing for me to be because I was that painfully skinny kid who was always buying these cheap paperback books on how to learn to defend myself with Jiu-Jitzu, and wondering if I should send in for information from Charles Atlas, the guy who advertised in comic books about skinny kids always getting sand kicked in their faces at the beach.

(True story: When I was working at NBC News back in the late 1960s, someone there noticed how skinny I was and asked if they could use me in a piece they were doing on Charles Atlas. All I had to do was run down a beach, looking skinny -- that part was easy -- and kick sand in Charles Atlas' face -- that part was hard to do because all he asked was that the sand not get him in the eyes. But with all my trying, I couldn't control the aim, and it always got him right in the eyes. Weeks later, I was informed that, because of a "camera malfunction" that day, they had to discard the footage. They later found someone else to do it. I never saw the piece on the air so I never found out if my replacement had better aim than I did. I wasn't paid for the day, although I did get a free pair of swim trunks from Saks 5th Avenue out of it.)

But back to boxing:

I especially liked Floyd Patterson in his title bouts against Sweden's Ingemar Johansson, the first of which was stopped in the third round after the Swede knocked Floyd down seven times. I thought Johansson was a crass braggart whenever I heard him boast about his fists being like "toonder and lightning", so I identified with Patterson, who was a nice and humble guy, just like me. I liked the idea of the nice guy winning, which is what he did in his rematch:
Patterson knocked out Johansson in the fifth round of their rematch on June 20, 1960, to become the first man in history to regain the Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship. Johansson hit the canvas hard, seemingly out before he landed flat on his back. With glazed eyes, blood trickling from his mouth and his left foot quivering, he was counted out. Johansson lay unconscious for five minutes before he was helped onto a stool.
That wasn't actually when I decided to stop following boxing. That came years later, once I realized I was enabling a bunch of guys to get paid lots of money by others who enjoyed watching big tough men turn their otherwise healthy brains into mashed potatoes. From that point on, if they insisted on doing that to themselves, they'd have to do it without me.

There's probably a good reason for boxing to exist. We can only suppose it dates from prehistoric times, maybe when strong guys would fight each other to prove which of them should lead the tribe. If so, it's a vestigial ritual that's lost it's usefulness; otherwise, we'd have elected Mike Tyson president long ago.

And I've also come to the conclusion that -- like that tried-and-true practice of taking women accused as being witches and dunking them in ponds, with the ones who didn't drown having been proven to not be witches, but also the thinking behind filtering all our presidential candidates through those incomprehensible caucuses of ethanol growers, then on to a primary in a state with such a small (not to mention, lily-white) population that by the time the primary is over, the only New Hampshironions not to have met a candidate face-to-face had to have spent the whole campaign season in a coma -- this political debate system we've been engaging in, especially the Republican ones, are vestigial rituals, seemingly left over from some ancient time and totally unhelpful to the task at hand. Someday, maybe after we've banned birthright citizenship and defunded Planned Parenthood, we do need to get around to revising the way we pick presidents.

These debates are too much like those ironically-named "Reality TV" shows, which have about as much reality in them as Rocky Mountain Oysters have oysters. They're games, with their own rules and techniques for demonstrating dominance over other contestants, but which reveal nothing needed to run the country.

One of those techniques is to inject an opinion that, while totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand, is made to sound otherwise by shouting it with synthetic conviction, something Chris Christie did right after Jeb Bush gave a reasonably thoughtful answer to Carl Quintanilla's question about the regulation of fantasy football gambling:
We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? (APPLAUSE) How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play, who cares?
But unlike talking about "ISIS and al Qaeda" and "securing our borders" and "supporting American values and American families", at least discussing government regulation of bets on Fantasy Football has something to do with the economy, which was supposed to be the theme of this particular round of the debates anyway. Like the schoolyard bully he has always been, Chris Christie is still showing his ability to score points by wowing the mob with irrelevancies -- which, yes, I know, at least is how this debate game is played, like it or not. Still, winner or loser, Chris Christie would make a lousy president.

Also, I can totally sympathize with what Jeb was quoted as whining about just before he went into this latest debate:
"I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, be miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
Now, there's a candidate who really speaks his mind!

His main problem is, maybe he should have stuck to that plan during the debate. Instead of giving into the compulsion to "demonize" Rubio, he should have risen above all the petty snippiness and been the candidate with the content, the guy who doesn't "play the umps" by shamelessly attacking the questioners, but eschewing the shenanigans of the Cruzs and the Rubios and Christies. After mocking the games people play, you shouldn't join in and play them -- but at least if you do, you better play to win. He didn't.

And I, for one, absolutely agree with his criticism of Rubio, except maybe this:
Could I — could I bring something up here, because I’m a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. He got endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel because he was the most talented guy in the field. He’s a gifted politician. But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.
Except that Rubio himself has defended his not showing up for votes, which is the real criticism, by saying at least his staff performs "constituent services" -- something, of course, he doesn't have to be there for, and which is one of those ancillary things senators do to keep voters liking them, but is not what senators are elected to do.

Back when this season began, I naively thought that Jeb Bush, the ex-president's "smarter" brother, was obviously the strongest candidate the Republicans could come up with. But that was before I realized that he would be forced to not only account for his own record as governor, he'd also have to defend his brother's indefensible record as president. So unless he was a genius -- which, as it happens, he wasn't -- his campaign was sunk before it ever even left the harbor.

All that having been said, I'm still not sure that, out of all those Republican candidates, Jeb's not the best Republican available for the job, certainly better than those humbling him in these stupid debates. Rubio and Cruz and Christie come to mind, of course, but also Trump.

Okay, really second best, after John Kasich, a fellow state governor with the actual experience of seemingly having done a pretty good job, but whose campaign is also going absolutely nowhere.

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