Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bush Defenders Once Again Succeed at Being Shits

There they go again. Bush defenders once again have succeeded at being shits. This time the recipient is former U.S. president Jimmy Carter who said the Bush presidency was the worst in history.

A featured letter in my local newspaper, called the comment “contemptible” and immediately attacked President Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is classic. Being a shit is composed of four parts.

1. An unkind deed. In Bush’s case, he has so many unkind deeds it would take years to catalogue them.

2. Desire to cover up unkind deeds. Bush and his spokepeople want to do impression management and make Bush out to be cowboy hero.

3. Cover-up. When Carter exposed the president, the first strategy was to attack Carter. The attack leaves out Carter’s genuine accomplishments and calls upon a tradition of former presidents not commenting on sitting presidents. Carter decided not to honor this because he believes too much is at stake.

4. Recipient buy-in. I hope Carter knows this attack on him is a cover-up. I am less sure that naïve and trusting readers will realize that what this letter writer and other Bush defenders are doing is enacting a perfection rendition of being a shit.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting in Good with the In-Laws

"I'm so looking forward to growing old with you," Sally said to Sid at their wedding reception after the best man gave his toast.

"Why is that, my dear?" asked Sid.

"Because your father is so good-looking."

Sid's father told everyone he talked to at the wedding what a wonderful daughter-in-law he has.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Man Who Wants Two Women

Cara said to Nick when she found out he has been seeing another woman, “What do you want? A harem?” Nick responded, “Two women? That’s not much of a harem.” Cara laughed, tickled by the charm that endeared Nick to her. With the laugh, Cara’s tension lifted, and they talked about other things.

Nick had finessed Cara in an elegant, tailor-made way. His involvement with another woman had hurt Cara, and he covered up through humor. He had been with Cara long enough to know that a humorous response would distract her and lift her mood. By her laugh, Cara cooperated with Nick. She also enabled him to be a shit.

The potential for being a shit exists wherever two or more people congregate. Persons who succeed at being shits are so good at what they do that recipients do not realize they have been had. Cara, for example, did not know that Nick had hoodwinked and distracted her.

On Being a Shit sheds light on a pervasive human condition. In this book, I develop and test a theory of being a shit. This is the theory.

Being a shit is composed of four parts:

1. an unkind deed,

2. a desire to evade responsibility for the unkind deed,

3. cover-up, and

4. recipient buy-in; that is, the enabling responses of recipients that let enactors off the hook.

Enactors succeed at being shits only if the recipients of their unkind deeds buy into their cover-ups. Without recipient buy-in, enactors fail at being a shit.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cheney Shoots Texas Lawyer While Others Cover Up

Hi. Here is another excerpt from my book On Being a Shit. It is about the vice president of the United States. Feedback welcome.

Sometimes enactors of unkind deeds remain silent while others cover up for them. Eventually, the enactors make gestures toward accountability, but only under great pressure. Such was the situation after Vice President Dick Cheney shot Texas attorney Harry Whittington while on a quail hunt on a 50,000 acre South Texas ranch late on a Saturday afternoon in February 2006.

Briefly, the story goes as follows. While on the hunt, Harry had a spectacular shot: he killed two birds with two shots and started to retrieve them. The birds had hit the ground in back of the hunting party. As he did so, Dick heard the beating of wings as a covey of quail burst up from the grass behind him. He wheeled around and fired. Harry was between him and the quail. The buckshot from Dick’s gun hit Harry in the face, neck, arm, and chest. A few days later, a pellet migrated to Harry’s heart, and he had a heart attack.

The incident produced an international uproar. That a U.S. vice president would shoot somebody is big news in itself, but the responses of the president and vice president were even bigger news. They made no public announcement until the following day and then gave the go-ahead for a private citizen to do so, rather than to follow usual procedure which would have been to issue a statement through the president’s or vice president’s press office or to make the announcement to the White House press corps.

Katherine Armstrong, the daughter of the ranch’s owner and a witness to the shooting, informed the press. Following a phone conversation with the presidential chief of staff, Dick gave his blessing for Katherine to phone a friend who worked for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the locally-published paper. A few hours later, the editors around the globe.

Cover-ups by Proxy

In a phone interview later that day, Katherine provided details about the shooting, “This all happened pretty quickly.” She said that Harry “did not announce — which would be protocol — ‘Hey, it's me, I'm coming up.’” She continued, “He didn't do what he was supposed to do. So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Whittington was where the bird was.”

Katherine further explained that Harry was “peppered” with “little bitty pellets” with no bullets involved. Indeed, she noted that on another occasion she herself had been peppered with pellets while hunting. Furthermore, the blast had merely broken Harry’s skin and “knocked him silly, but he was fine,” talking with his eyes open immediately after being shot. By the next day, Harry was “sitting up in bed, yakking and cracking jokes."

She praised Dick at length for the concern he had demonstrated for Harry’s welfare, rushing to his aid, directing his own medical team to care for Harry, and checking in periodically at the hospital to monitor Harry’s condition.

Dick left Texas the day after the shooting, but not before he visited Harry in the hospital. One of his spokespersons said that Dick “was pleased” that Harry was “doing fine and in good spirits.” She also explained that Katherine made the announcement to the press because “we deferred to the Katherines regarding what had taken place at their ranch.”

The spokesperson explained that no one had thought to break the news to the press earlier because all attention, including that of Dick, was focused on Harry’s well-being. Another spokesperson said that Dick “felt badly, obviously.” She pointed out that Dick had not been reckless and had not violated any rules. In fact, Dick had not done “anything he wasn’t supposed to do.”

The Vice President Speaks

Four days after the shooting, Dick gave an exclusive interview to Brit Hume of Fox News, where he expressed great concern for Harry. He said it was he and no one else that had pulled the trigger. He stated that it was not Harry’s fault, and no one else is to blame. I He showed signs of trauma when he stated that he will never be able to get the image of Harry falling out of his mind. “It was, I’d have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.” He noted that he did not know if he shot the bird he had aimed for. His concern was for Harry.

He responded to the rumor that the reason for the delay in reporting was because he was drunk. With the extra time, the alcohol would have cleared from his body. He said he had had one beer at lunch. “Nobody was drinking. Nobody was under the influence.”

The delay in the public announcement he attributed to his desire to have accurate information about Harry’s condition. He did not want to put out inaccurate information and had wanted notification of Harry’s children to be apriority. He did not want them to learn of the shooting through news reports. Harry’s wife knew, because she had been at the ranch at the time of the shooting, although the ambulance rushed to the hospital without her and she had to follow in a car.

Dick defended Katherine Armstrong as the logical person to make the announcement because she was an eyewitness. In answer to Brit’s observation that having Katherine and not a member of the president’s or vice president’s office make the announcement in a local newspaper gave the impression that this strategy was an attempt to minimize the story and have it appear “as a little hunting accident.” Dick said this was not so, and he repeated that his concern at that point was accuracy.

Harry Offers Sympathy to the Vice President

A few days after Dick’s interview with Bret Hume, after six days in the hospital, Harry held a press conference on the steps of the hospital from which he had just been released. He said, in part, “My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Dick and his family have had to go through this past week. We send our love and respect to them as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we have had this week…. We hope that he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation that he deserves.”

Accountability and the Rules of Hunting

What is striking about this story is what no one said. For instance, Harry and those who spoke for Dick did not hold Dick accountable for breaking at least two rules of hunting, nor did Dick hold himself accountable in that regard. Furthermore, neither Dick in his interview with Fox News nor any of his spokespersons rescinded the impression given during the first few days after the shooting that Harry alone had been at fault and that Dick had done nothing wrong.

In actuality, for hunting of any kind, the rule is to make sure you know where each member of your party is before you fire and to never sweep around without knowing what is in your line of fire. In bird hunting, the rule is not to fire until you can see the sky between the earth and the bird and not until the silhouette of the target is against the sky. Further details about the rules of hunting are posted on many websites including that of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) that published the Ten Commandments of Shooting Safety.

By comparing Dick’s actions with the Ten Commandments, it can be concluded that Dick broke two of the commandments, namely, 1) “Be sure of your target and what is in front of and beyond your target (number 3)” and 2) “Know your safe zone-of-fire and stick to it (number 6),” which command includes the injunctions to “Be sure you know where your companions are at all times. Never swing your gun or bow out of your safe zone-of-fire.” These are standards of safety that hunters know well.

Applications of the Preliminary Theory

An application of the preliminary theory developed for the present investigation will aid in the discovery about whether or not we can conclude that Dick Cheney’s actions regarding the shooting of Harry Whittington is an enactment of being a shit, which, as shown, cannot be accomplished without the aid of recipients.

Did Dick do something unkind? Yes. He shot a hunting companion. Everyone knows the first rule of hunting is not to shoot the people you hunt with. Dick thus met the first condition of being a shit.

Did he meet the second condition, which is a desire to evade responsibility for this unkind deed? His silence gave the impression that evasion of responsibility was his motive. Withholding can be a form of lying, as Ekman concluded in his research. Some attributed Dick’s silence to his fear that if the shooting became news immediately, he would be subjected to public scrutiny about whether or not he had been drinking alcohol before the hunt. As discussed earlier, Dick said in the Fox News interview that he had had a beer at lunch and that no one on the hunt had been drinking. Another motive for the silence might have been to buy time in order to prepare for the inevitable international firestorm.

Dick’s spokespeople attributed the withholding of news about the shooting as driven by concern for Harry’s well-being. Dick said this as well and added that he wanted to ensure that Harry’s children were informed. Reasonable persons may not see a connection between withholding information and concern for those affected. A person as accomplished as the vice president of the United States could immediately inform Harry’s children and then inform the press. Though there are indicators that Dick had reasons for cover-up, there is no conclusive proof.

The third condition involves the cover-ups themselves. There were many. First was the withholding of the news. Second was the often-repeated statement that Harry was in the wrong. Third was the denial that Dick had done anything wrong. Fourth was the minimization of the size of the pellets and the significance of the shooting itself. Katherine Armstrong, for example, said they were not bullets but “little bitty” things, implying that Harry could not be seriously hurt by such tiny things. Why, she explained, I even have been shot while hunting, implying that such accidents are not big things.

The fifth involved Dick’s and his spokesperson’s silence regarding the injustice of blaming Harry, even after Dick said the shooting was his fault in the Fox News interview. Dick did not retract the statements that Harry had broken the rules of hunting and he, Dick, has not. Dick did not contradiction Katherine's depiction of the pellets as "itty bitty."

Machiavelli’s advice to politicians comes to mind here. He counseled to follow up unkind acts with the pretence of contrition. Dick could have pointed out that he himself had violated two rules of hunting and Harry had not violated any. He did not do so. He let stand the initial impression that Harry had broken the rules of hunting.

Based on these facts and interpretations, it can be concluded that Dick did cover up and he therefore met the third standard of being a shit, aided and abetted by several spokespersons on his payroll and Katherine Armstrong, the ranch owner’s daughter, an experienced hunter herself.

The final standard to be met involves the actions of recipients. By his silence on who was responsible for shooting him and his effusive concern for Dick’s well-being, Harry gave the appearance of acquiescing to the construction of reality that he was at fault and Dick was not. He minimized the impact of the shooting on himself and his family. He evaded holding Dick responsible for breaking primary rules of hunting. Instead, he pointed out that Dick had suffered far more than he, Harry, had.

Harry’s silence, evasion, and acquiescence met the fourth standard of being a shit in that he appeared to buy into the construction of reality that Dick was not at fault and that Dick had suffered. By his actions, therefore, he completed the circle that elevated Dick’s actions, with the help of spokespersons, to the status of shit. Harry undoubtedly did so out of altruistic motives of not wanting to cause more problems, but he may also be a man of deep empathy, but possibly a little too deep as he appeared to fail to take into account the harm heaped upon him. Whatever Harry might have thought privately, of course, is unknown. That fact is, his statements contributed to letting Dick off the hook.

Had Harry declared that Dick had broken rules, then Dick would only have met the standard of being a bastard. He might also have met the standard of being a weasel because he prompted spokespersons to construct reality in such a way that he could wiggle out of responsibility.

In the spirit of open-minded scholarly inquiry, an alternative interpretation is that the actions of Dick were exemplary and that Harry was being a good sport by showing such concern for Dick’s welfare and downplaying the significance of his own.

Whether Dick is a Reactor, a True Believer, or a Clever Fox is also open to interpretation. Some may believe that he is a True Believer, of the self-deceptive variety, in that he is convinced that the entire set of his words and actions were based on the value of care and concern for Harry’s well-being. Sometimes we mortals have to content ourselves with multiple interpretations and the inherent ambiguity of human actions.

Contrition and Accountability

Dick, however, did express contrition for harming Harry and his family. In that sense, he evidenced accountability. His words may have soothed an ache in Harry’s heart. Subsequent events will show if this expression of regret would be sufficient to build bridges between Dick and Harry and Whittington’s family.

In some aspects of this episode, Dick revealed himself to be a fallible human being, but in other aspects he may indeed have attained the status of bastard and even of shit. Those who consider him a bastard probably think he is of the Clever Fox variety, knowing exactly what he was doing and possibly enjoying keeping the truth from a press he has repeatedly been shown to mistrust.

Those who consider the vice president a shit may view Harry as a kind of scapegoat in taking the blame for clear violations of the rules of hunting. Some commentators, such as Robert Paul Reyes in the American Chronicle, saw Harry’s statement on the steps of the hospital as an apology to Dick. If Harry in any way thought he was at fault, then Harry enabled Dick’s attainment of being a shit. A misplaced sense of responsibility is a type of action that constitutes a necessary and final condition of being a shit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Son Borrows His Dad’s Car

A Case Example of Being a Shit

A 35 year-old man, who did not give his name, told a story of borrowing his father’s car for a drive in the country with a woman friend. Deep into a forest, they ran out of gas. The man walked to a nearby farmhouse where someone there told him he was welcome to their fuel but they could not guarantee how good it was.

The man dumped three of four gallons into the tank, along with a straw he for some reason also used to get the gas into the car. The car started and the couple got to their destination. Taking the advice of a mechanic, they filled the tank with high octane gas and two containers of dry gas to compensate for what might have been bad fuel. He also hoped the straw would somehow dissolve.

Back home a few days later, the man’s father asked, “How did the car run?” The son said just fine. The father said, “That’s funny. It stalls out on me.” The son had nothing to say.

Guilt-ridden, the son phoned Click and Clack, the car experts whose radio show Car Talk is syndicated on National Public Radio, and asked their advice. Either Click or Clack told the son that he had messed up big time. What the son should have done the moment he returned the car was to tell his father that the car ran pretty good but it did stall out a couple of times.

This is a pre-emptive cover-up, a kind of CYA (cover your ass). From some points of view, but probably not the father’s, it is also humorous, a kind of Clever Fox enactment of being a shit. Click (or Clack) did not miss a beat when he made this suggestion, which supports the idea that he possesses automatic capacities for activating well-developed schemas related to humor and to deviousness. The son, however, lacked this capacity, but he may have learned a lesson from Click (or Clack).

Taking a more serious turn, Click and Clack gave the guilt-ridden son their wisdom about whether anything he had done had caused the stalling. Their final thought was the fuel injectors might need flushing out. Whether the son suggested this remedy to his father and came clean about the bad fuel was not part of the radio show.

The blog is for witty people who want to build community. In this world that seems to be so full of witless efforts to self-aggrandize, I want to promote the simple idea of human connection.