In Which I Play The Contrarian

I usually stay out of the business of being a contrarian, there are people I respect  who are far better than I at it.  Nevertheless, there have been examples lately where it seems like the whole world thinks one way, and I just can’t bring myself to feel the same.  I almost never have had a thought I didn’t rush to post on this blog, so here goes.

The first example is pretty innocuous, I suppose.  This past Saturday, the family and I needed to make a grocery run, so we decided to see what all the hubub was about and went to Trader Joe’s.  I don’t need to tell you how much people rave about this place.  I hear it at work, at church, on the blogs.  “The place is incredible!”, I have been told time and again.

Well, let’s just say, I don’t get it.

First of all, the place was so small in comaparison to say, Kroger, that it’s hard to call it a grocery store.  I understand, it’s built for urban hipster wannabees, not big suburban families.  Even the carts are tiny.  I’m feeding two quasi teenagers and a couple of plus-sized adults.  Those carts are big enough to hold, well, lunch.  The largest unit of ground beef was 1 pound.

There were only store brands, which I expected, but that fact left me totally disoriented.  Which “crunchy puffs” or “organic wheat squares” is the equivalent of Life Cereal?  I was faced with performing a translation with every item I wanted to buy.  (Keep in mind, I’m a born-and-raised southerner.  Soft drinks, no matter what flavor, are “Cokes”.  Tissues are “Kleenexes”, no matter the brand).

Regardless, the place just left me frustrated and disoriented.  Give me my big box.  I want to feed my family and save money.  That’s all.

Maybe y’all can fill me in about what’s so great about Trader Joe’s.  I just don’t get it.

OK, now for the one that will cause every person that is reading this to feel an overwhelming urge to have me committed.  There is something that EVERYONE says, Democrat, Republican, left right, political junkie, political neophytes.  It is more than conventional wisdom that our president, Barack Obama, is a great orator.

I do not agree.

I just don’t think that Mr Obama is a great orator.  A great speaker, yes.  But not a great orator.  I’m afraid we’re living in a generation that has no frame of reference for great oratory, so we give the prize to anyone who is a good speech-giver.  Great oratory, in my opinion, is a specific thing.

Now, keep in mind, this is like giving one’s opinion of a particular piece of music.  Much of it is taste.  My criteria may not be yours, and that’s OK.  You can tell my why my criteria is wrong, if you know better.  Keep in mind also that my idea of great oratory is heavily influenced by my upbringing:  I am southern and religious.  So, of course, that will color my idea of just what great oratory is.

Above all, great oratory is very musical.  It must have a certain cadence. Mr Obama has a cadence, but I noticed in his quasi SOTUspeech, he rushes it, and he never variates the tempo.  Great oratory also makes use of the well-timed pause.  It also uses volume to great effect.  Mr Obama knows how to raise his voice during applause lines, but really great oratory requires the voice to soften at particularly poignant times.  The best can even add a touch of frailty to the voice at these moments. 

Mr Obama, like Celine Dion, doesn’t seem to know how to get extra quiet for effect.

To be honest, Obama’s speaking style is that of a professor.  A very good professor, one whose lectures you never want to miss.  But, I think this is one of the places where he falls short of great oratory.

You see, like any good professor, he stands before the room, and speaks toeveryone there.  There is another level,one that only the great orators have mastered.  A great orator will start in the same position, standing in front of the listener and speaking to him.  However, sometime in the first third of the speech, he will figuratively approach the listener, pivot, and stand beside him.  This is usually done through humor (self-deprecating is best), which from Mr Obama always sounds forced.

Once “beside” the listener, the best orator can then place his arm around the listener, and through his speech say,”Come, walk with me on this journey”. This is usually accomplished by personal anectdote leading to the first point in the meat of the speech. 

The great orator always has the listener (each and every one, individually) walking on a journey with him.

Mr Obama never takes us with him.  He stands before us and gives a lecture.  Once again, this is a great style, and he’s wonderful at it, but this is not great oratory.

Key elements are missing: pauses, variable cadence, appropriate and dramatic volumes, ample humor in the first and last thirds of the speech, and a certain warmth which, to be quite honest, Obama does not project at all.

Another great oratorical method (that I’ve used quite a bit), is leaving a stealth grenade.  In the first third of the speech, one leaves an idea, almost in passing, usually through anecdote.  It is then forgotten until the very end of the speech where it in reintroduced in new, profound ways, causing the listener to feel a sweet joy at discovering a Truth from the other side.  It’s hard to explain, you have to see it in practice.

For the record, very few political speakers in the modern era have all of these skills.  Bill Clinton had them, but he didn’t know when to shut up, and usually lost the listener by the time he got to the 6th point of his ten-point plan.  Reagan had bits and pieces, but I never heard a speech from him with all of the needed elements (let’s face it, Reagan didn’t do cadence).  JFK , in the speeches I’ve seen, was a great orator.  He had all the elements.

I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you:  the best orators I ever heard were Martin Luther King, Jr, and Billy Graham. Yeah, I know…southern preachers. 

Like I said, you might have different criteria for what great oratory is.  I’ve told you mine, and president Obama does not quite measure up.  This is not to say he isn’t a great speaker.  But great oratory, like I said, is a specific thing.

The A-Team

I absolutely love the A-team.  No, it wasn’t very good television (how can NOBODY get shot when machine guns are going off?).  But I love the idea of the A-Team.   I love the idea that you had a Mastermind, a Charmer, a Strongman Tinkerer, and an Impulsive Genius, tolerating each other, and using their strengths for the common good.  I was reminded of this recently.

you see, Ginger posted a rant that really spoke to me.  Recently, starting the day before 9/11/2007, there were preemptive mockings of what has become the “routine” for many of us on anniversaries of 9/11/01.  I won’t repeat her arguments here, it’s such a good read, it stands on its own.

But it reminded me of a truth I have discovered.  We humans have a really hard time comprehending people whose thinking/feeling process is different from our own.  Not the thoughts themselves, but the process to get there.  I am convinced that at least 70% of the worlds wars, crimes, abuses and subjugations come from our predisposition to say to The Different From Us: “Stop being like that!  Be like ME!”

Have you ever taken one of those quadrant personality tests?  You know Myers/Briggs, that sort of thing?  If you’ll remember, there are 8 “preferences”:

  • ISTJ – Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging
  • ENFP – Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving  
  • There are sixteen possible combinations of these. 

    Full disclosure (as if you didn’t already know): I am off the charts in the Sensing and Feeling functions.  In the Kiersey Temperments, I am a “Teacher” (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) .

    One thing these tests tell us, especially when taken in a group setting, is that we all have trouble “getting” someone in an opposite quadrant.  We have a tendency to invalidate other ways of thinking/feeling.  For instance, we emoters sometimes will accuse those who lean more towards INTJ (“Mastermind”) as unfeeling cynics.  Conversely, those who are INTP (“Architect”), have a tendency to mock emoters like me as unthinking and immature or impulsive.  Most importantly, we have a tendency to look at an opposite personality and call it “wrong”.

    This is what happened last week, IMHO.

    Something they teach you in corporate management classes is something along these lines:

    There are only three ways to change the human personality: surgery, deep psychotherapy, and religious conversion.  Therefore, the personality you bring with you is the one and only one you have.  You are what you are.  This goes for your employees.  Therefore, do NOT judge/rate them on personality traits, but on specific behavior.

    In other words, when writing performance reviews, never say “Karen is too grouchy”; instead list specific occasions when Karen sewed dissension in the ranks.  You can’t do anything about Karen’s grouchiness.  She is what she is.  All you can control as a manager are specific actions.

    Now, management classes can teach this concept, and that goes a long way.  But I am convinced that this concept of “letting people be themselves” does not really set in until one has a second child.  Not that parents of one child, or those who are childless don’t understand the concept.  But it isn’t until you have a second child, totally different from the “baseline” you thought you had figured out for child behavior, and you discover over the years that the second child is not going to change magically into the other one, that you not only understand the concept, you feel it in its full force.

    But, I understand the temptation to try to force the world into our own personlity quadrant.  Take Aunt B, for example.  Sometimes she drives me crazy.  Not in being a liberal, or a feminist, or all those other things “left” of my own position.  I can understand how someone could inject their own education and life experience into analyzing life, and come away a political liberal.  Yet, sometmes, I want to grab her by her virtual shoulders, give her a little shake, and yell, “Stop overanlayzing EVERYTHING!!!!  You could overthink a ham sandwich!”.  As a backdrop, you must know that I try to forge through life without thinking too much.  This has served me well, because, like Forrest Gump, I jump into endeavors that scare other people to death because I just don’t it much thought.

    Yet, upon reflection I know it is that overthinking that makes Aunt B unique and wonderful.  She looks at issues and life in general from angles that never would have occured to me.  And although I might not come out of the analysis agreeing with her, am I not I better off for having the opportunity to think about something in an entirely new way?

    I know that many get irritated with me.  Many of my fellow emoters have no idea how on earth I could be a Republican.  Many more logical market-economy conservatives don’t quite know what to do with those of us of the “bleeding heart” variety.  I know I irritate many because, when looking at an issue, I’ll filter it through the prism of my own life.  I say “I” and “me” far too often for some.  I analyze things on how they make me “feel”.

    I do this when I look at things.  Including 9/11 .

    And it may be different from how you view things, but I don’t see how you could call it “wrong”.

    I only go into this in such depth, and I know I took an uncharacteristic scholarly tone (and not a very good one at that), for a reason.  I can see great things ahead for us all, if we could only look at others as the gifts they are.  Together, we could make an incredible team, supplementing each other’s strengths with our own.  Different ways of looking at the world within a team are strengths, not weaknesses.

    There is so much we could learn from th A-Team

    So, I’ve Got A Big Question

    Since weight, health, self-perception, and body consciousness seem to be big topics lately, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection about this.  And in my introspection, I found an interesting side issue.  Let me see if I can properly express what I’m trying to say.

    There is a subset of heterosexual men who enjoy seeing females  in “real woman” form.  I belong to this subset.  Although we are called many names,  I actually believe we are the majority of men.  Our sex symbols might include Kirstie Alley (yes, Kirstie Alley before or after Jenny Craig), Trishia Yearwood, America Ferrera, for the tackier among us there was Anna Nichole Smith, and of course, there’s the twin pinnacles of full-figured sex symbols: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.  There are many, many others that come to mind.  The point is, a girl can be a size twelve or more and still be a sex symbol to millions of American men.

    Quick, name an group of equivalent men.  You know, guys who aren’t chiseled, but flabby, even fat, yet are considered sex symbols to millions of American girls. Go on, look it up – I’ll wait.

    And no cheating.  Don’t list someone who is considered a sex symbol because they are are wealthy, or have a certain amount of charm.  I’d like to see your list of men who are loved for their bodies even though their bodies are not ideal.

    No?  OK, just one, then.  And although sweet, “my husband” doesn’t count, because the discussion here is focusing on celebrity sex symbols, and the reasons spouses are considered sexy are far more complex than what we’re discussing.

    If you can find one, you’re doing better than me.

    You see, it occurred to me that if you are a woman and “bigger”, you can still be a sex symbol.  Just accentuate your boobs and look at the camera a certain way.  If you’re a man, you’d better hit the gym, or be relegated to “Uncle Harry” roles.

    It’s a double standard that had never occurred to me before, until now.

    And we men are not even allowed to whine about it, lest we be called wimps.

    Dear Bellsouth

    I want you to understand something.  Listen to me good.  If I want your DSL service, I will call you, or sign up online.  But, if you have your telemarketers call my home, skirting the do not call registry*, using the high-pressure tactics that drove us to the do not call registry in the first place, you can be rest assured that not only am I NOT going to use your DSL service, I will most assuredly sever ties with your company altogether.  Whatever you are sending us that your people refused to leave the phone till we accepted will end up in my barbeque.

    This is 2007. We do not need land line service; we were just keeping it for nostalgia’s sake.  But believe me, you have ticked off my wife to the point that I think I can at least talk her into going to Vonage.

    Good job.  If I were you, I’d look for another direct marketing company.  This Novo 1 outfit is giving you a bad, bad, name.  Yes, they made the mistake of not supressing caller ID the first time they called, so I know who they are.

    *The do not call registry site states that companies you currently do business with are not forbidden from calling you by the do not call rules.  This is the pitfall of telecom companies having their hand in everything. We technically do business with Bellsouth (for phone service), but I consider the other arms of the company to be totally separate.  Nevertheless, I filed a complaint anyway, so we’ll see what comes of that.

    We hate, hate HATE unsolicited marketing calls.  They are a sure way to drive us away from doing business with you at all.

    Your corporate office will get an earful from my wife tomorrow.  You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, getting on the bad side of that woman.  You brought this on yourselves, though.

    Stupid, stupid,stupid.  Who uses high-pressure telemarketing in this day and age?

    A Tale Of Three Glorious Women

    My intragender interactions have been most profitable of late (hypothetical injuries notwithstanding).  I’m so happy I could spit.

    Remember the problem I had with my upcoming vacation because Delta (via Expedia) moved my flight, resulting in a 4.5 hour layover?  I received much wonderful advice, including advice from KateO that I call Delta and try to get them to change things (which, being an idiot, I promptly forgot).

    Well, a couple of days ago, Delta decides to to the same thing again, this time on the return flight.  This is not appealing: because of the two-hour before departure arrival requirement, we faced the prospect of spending 11-12 hours of our vacation in airports. 

    I always know that my wife has had enough of my namby-pamby ways when she says “give me the phone”.  She did that yesterday, calling Expedia to give them what for.  Well, the good folks at Expedia said they would be glad to change our flights, if we were willing to pay the difference in fares (which ran from $100-300 per person).  As a man facing the prospect of unemployment, uh, no.

    It was at this time I remembered KateO’s advice.  Lintilla called Delta, with that wonderful tone of voice that says, “I’m angry enough to get your attention, but not rude enough that you’ll be uncooperative just to spite me”. 


    The customer service rep from Delta was extremely helpful, changing our flights at no extra cost, even changing the time of our rental car reservation.  We now have only a 1 hour layover in Atlanta each way, which, if you’ve been to that airport, is just enough time to hoof it from one terminal to another.  And we get into Ft. Myers at dinnertime instead of bedtime!

    So, Kate O and Lintilla saved my family from my all-too-accommodating personality.

    The third wonderful woman I want to mention is someone I’ve referred to in the past, without a name.  From now on, I’m going to call her the Redneck Canadian.  We have an interesting work relationship, in that she used to be my boss, but then she got out of the boss business; the last time I lost a lot of weight, she was my workout partner.  So, she knows stuff.

    Anyway, she’s had a really rough time of things during the past year or so (actually longer than that), and she didn’t join me on this year’s fitness crusade.  I really missed that, because if I’m left to my own devices I’ll just do a cardio workout.  The Redneck Canadian, on the other hand, prefers strength training.  Together, we make a good fitness team.

    A couple of days ago, I begged her again to help me with strength training (I’ve done this on and off as the year has gone by).  She informed me that, due to some medical problems, she recently learned that she had to start exercising again, so I was in luck.  I hate to be happy for myself when someone else gets bad news, but, Yipee!

    Today was supposed to be our first day, but I forgot about an appointment, so I screwed up that part.  But, we start Monday with the weights!

    Knowing how these things go, it would be wise not to ask me about the Redneck Canadian on Tuesday.  Days 2 and 3 of a strength training regimen are possibly the most painful of all.  But, I appreciate it, anyway.

    It’s Not Exactly “The Terminal”, But Close

    Any of ya’ll ever have a near 4 hour layover at Atlanta International Airport?  Is there anything interesting to do during that time?  I guess we could shop, eat, and shop some more.

    One of the pitfalls of early booking, I suppose.  I got such a great rate on flights to Fort Myers, I snatched them up.  Then, Expedia lets me know that Delta has changed the flights.  We already had a 2 hour layover, now it’s nearly four.  And, as far as I can tell, we’re stuck, because I think there’s a penalty for changing flights.

    So, am I stuck with this (an outgoing flight I’d rather not have)?  If so, what is there to do in the Atlanta airport with two kids for all that time?


    Microsoft Word’s spellchecker gives me the little red squiggles for:


    However, there are no “you can’t spell, you dumb dope!” squiggles for:


    I know geeks. I am one of their High Priests. But I can tell you, the ones in Redmond need to expand their horizons a little.