A former U.S. Representative named J.D. Hayworth is challenging John McCain for the GOP senate nomination. The obvious question: Does he have the charisma to take on John McCain? Looking at this video, it’s hard to say. Hayworth doesn’t seem to be an especially charismatic individual, and, in that video, McCain has a certain charm to him. Plus, McCain’s been around for a long time. As John Huston said to Jack Nicholson in the film Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

But McCain has some charisma issues. At times he seems to have some–or at the very least he seems amiable enough. But watching his debates with Obama, or his acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican convention, he’s downright anti-charismatic. The debates can be explained by the presence of Mr. Charisma himself, but Obama wasn’t at the Republican convention. McCain seems boring and and dry–the worst things a politician can be if he wants to be elected. This Hayworth guy didn’t seem like much, but if the boring, cranky old man McCain shows up, he might have a chance. 

This is apparently his explanation for retiring. He says “I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology.” The article says: “Bayh is known more for the moderate tone of his politics than for any particular legislative achievements.” 

Well, that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? You don’t achieve things by being moderate; you just get pushed around by people who there to get specific things done for a particular group. 

Dick Cheney is one of the few politicians who appears to really not care what people think of him. While some accuse other politicians of doing “whatever it takes to get elected,” Cheney has shown a complete lack of interest in polls. He certainly has never made any attempt to be beloved or popular. He barely even uses rhetoric, preferring to growl his statements with barely concealed hostility. He looks like a hunched over little man, with a sideways smirk perpetually plastered on his face.

In other words, Cheney is not charismatic. He is, in fact, anti-charismatic. But, unlike Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Martha Coakley, Dick Cheney knows he is anti-charismatic, and he has embraced it. He’s made it part of his image, to be the guy who doesn’t want to lead huge crowds, who doesn’t make big speeches, who prefers to be a lone, tough old bastard. He has worked his anti-charisma to its fullest, and has probably come further in understanding the nature of this phenomenon than any other anti-charismatic individual save Nixon. And Nixon’s success was, I think, more good luck than recognition of his own anti-charisma. 

The worst thing you can do if you’re an anti-charismatic person is try to something exciting and awesome and sexy like charismatic people are always doing. Hillary Clinton tries to make grand speeches and gestures like Obama does, and it comes across as irritating. Dick Cheney never attempts soaring rhetoric, and it’s a good idea.

Make no mistake; even when you embrace anti-charisma, it’s still no way to stop a true charismatic person in an election. Barack Obama (or Sarah Palin) would utterly defeat Cheney in a political campaign. But what embracing his anti-charismatic nature does for Cheney is grant him a remarkable confidence. Whereas Mrs. Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, Martha Coakley and even, to an extent, Nixon, were always making “gaffes” or being “boring” for reasons they could never figure out, Cheney seems to understand that he is never going to be personally appealing, and has simply said “To hell with this; I’ll be as unlikable as I can, and say what I want.” 

So say scientists

To be fair, other scientists say that the world is, in fact, warming. I assume we’ll only know for sure when a) we are all burned alive or b) we all freeze to death.

I’ve always been sort of conflicted about the whole global warming/climate change/whatever debate. On the one hand, it always seemed slightly hysterical and a little too perfect in how well it suited the leftist worldview. On the other hand, common sense suggests that more humans engaging in new kinds of activities is bound to produce some of sort of change in the overall climate. Of course, part of the problem is that I’m not a climate scientist. 

Personally, I’ve been operating on the assumption that human activity affects the climate in ways that are variable and hard to measure, and that it’s a huge oversimplification to call it “warming”. The leftists say that this is a bad thing, and use it as an excuse to push for various changes in society; some of which are relevant, and others which are not. Because it is impossible to tell which is which, conservatives dismiss the entire issue as a hoax so they don’t have to deal with it. The upshot is that one side says human activity is very, very bad for the planet and should be minimized, and one side that says it has no effect.

FYI, my suspicion is that some country will ultimately figure out how to manipulate human activity (more precisely, chemical emissions) in such a way as to control the climate. Whichever country does this will basically rule the world. I suspect that most climate research is actually dedicated to figuring out the relationship between human activity and climate; so as to be the first country to harness this power.  (But remember, I’m not a climate scientist.)

I have discussed charisma so often on this blog that I feel like I need to talk a little bit more about what it actually is. 

I have previously wondered whether charisma is something that is learned or innate. Personally, I am inclined to suspect it is some sort of genetic trait, though I base this idea chiefly off of the example of the Kennedy family. Likewise, as I have said, wouldn’t people like Hillary Clinton, Martha Coakley and Richard Nixon, who were all anti-charismatic, have taken the trouble to learn charisma if they could?

I should point out that “Charisma” is derived from a Greek word meaning “favored by the Gods”. So, I suppose a religious person or person of faith would say that this is, indeed, what charisma is. I don’t just mean the branch of Christianity called  “the Charismatic movement“, but it seems to me that any religious person could argue for the validity of the argument that charismatic people are, if you will, touched by God. I suppose that such an argument might go like this: “God endows certain people with special gifts–quite apart from any of their other skills or traits–to make an impact on humanity.”

This is actually a pretty compelling argument, given the mysterious and rather mystical effect charisma can have on people. It does seem divine when you watch a charismatic person speak to a crowd.

So, do you believe this is a divine phenomenon, or do you incline to another explanation?  

Fascinating interview with James Cameron about Avatar‘s message. He says: “The movie is designed to work as a straightforward adventure and a romance, and if that’s all you want from a movie, that’s fine, but the message isn’t going over people’s heads.”

I doubt this highly. The message is, as so many people have pointed out, not in the least bit original, nor can anyone claim it is even the best execution of this story. I knew how the whole thing would play out the minute I saw the ads. The only reason I saw the thing was to see what the special effects were like. I strongly suspect the same was true of most people.  Furthermore, because of how radical the message is (at times, anyway) I strongly doubt most people fully get it.

Cameron, of course, can’t admit this, even to himself. If he did, it would mean he was simply a shallow magician, not an artist. He is merely making people ooh and ahh over pretty effects. He is in no way advancing any new ideas. 

As for the idea that the movie is about something other than the Iraq war; this is partially true, but partially misleading. It is obvious that the “shock and awe” reference is supposed to evoke Iraq, but it is likewise obvious that I doubt his point about harming the environment relates to the Iraq war. Even if you think the Iraq war was entirely about oil, it’s hard to claim it ruined the pristine beauty of the country, since someone would drill for the stuff anyway. I assume the jungle setting for the story–which Cameron is said to have been thinking about since he was a teenager–is based on the Vietnam war; although no resources were involved in that war as far as I know. 

Actually, for all the talk about environmentalism, the movie’s “message”, such as it is, has little to do with environmentalism. One of the central points about being environmentally friendly is that if you change one part of the ecosystem, it affects the whole planet. But this is not true once you are talking about affecting ecosystems on other planets.

The message of Avatar is not pro-environmentalism, but rather anti-colonialism. (This is, of course, an even older theme.)

As for the is-Avatar-pro-or-anti-military issue, I don’t think Cameron himself knows. I suspect his worldview is such that he can’t decide which is worse: the army or a private corporation. So he makes it a private mercenary army, so as to have it both ways. This, apart from any other considerations, doesn’t work dramatically because he never decides if he’s satirizing gung-ho militarism or private greed. 

He also says that part of the message is “‘Listen to what your leaders are saying. Open your eyes. And understand what the run-up to war is like, so the next time it happens, you can question it.’ “

Alright, nice message. Except that the hero, Jake Sully, doesn’t actually ever question anything. I don’t believe he ever makes any attempt to discuss anything with the villainous Colonel. It would not be productive, of course, because the Colonel is a one-dimensional character; but that is no excuse. If Cameron can’t even write a scenario in which his own message can be put across properly, it means he needs to brush up on his writing.

What Avatar represents is a mish-mash of vague leftist ideas masquerading as a satire. It’s a satire of Iraq when it wants to be, then lurches into being a morality play about the treatment of Native Americans, and from there into something about environmentalism. These issues are different, of course, but what does Cameron care? When Cameron was told the movie “seemed like the story of the Taliban told from the movement’s point of view,”  the article says that Cameron “finds that kind of literalism ‘egregious’ and ‘willfully ignorant of the power of allegorical storytelling.'” 

Actually, it is very cognizant of the power of allegorical storytelling. But because Cameron’s script is wide and its targets constantly changing, he can always say “Well, that bit wasn’t about the Taliban.”

To be continued…

Thanks to Big Hollywood for discussing this interview.

Says GOP Senate candidate Curtis Coleman:

“Embryonic stem cell research is taking the concept of taking a life and using it to conduct experiments so we can temporarily extend somebody else’s life. Let me tell you what I just described. I just described what the Nazis did to the Jews in the death camps of WWII.”

And yet again, we find that a government program is being compared to Nazi Germany. As Godwin’s law implies, every person and thing in politics gets compared to Nazis in general and/or Hitler in particular eventually. Here is an interesting examination of this phenomenon. As the author of that piece notes: “Everyone calls everyone a Nazi when they want to win a debate.”

I suppose it’s good that everyone is still so horrified by the atrocities of the Nazis that they keep worrying about it. Still, I can’t help but wonder if, as Godwin warned, this trivializes the magnitude of their crimes.

I will close with a quote that is often attributed to Senator Huey Long:

“When Fascism comes to America, it will be under the name of anti-Fascism.”