Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are All Republicans Racist?

Let me start by flatly stating that I don't think that all Republicans are racist. I've never been a big fan of blanket statements, having snuggled warmly under dozens tossed over me by other less scrupulous people. It would be foolish of me to assume that someone thinks a certain way just because they belong to a certain group or organization.

Pat BuchananImage via Wikipedia

But I have to ask: Are Republicans racists?

I don't know any hardcore Republicans myself. I know a couple of conservatives, but both of them differ enough with the party that they tend to hesitate when asked their political affiliation. So I really don't have anyone I trust that I could ask directly. I suppose I could ask some random Republican, but I a feeling that walking up to a stranger in a parking lot and asking them if they are a racist because of the McCain/Palin bumper sticker on their car is a good way to test the limits of my current medical insurance.

This leaves me to base my opinion of Republicans based on how their political and media spokespersons behave in the public eye.

This, as you can well imagine, where I would get such an idea from.

Ever since (actually, even before) Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court pick, talking heads from the far right have been complaining about the ludicrousness of picking a Hispanic woman to sit on the Supreme Court. You've got Pat Buchanan expressing outrage that all four of the potential picks were women, and Tom Tancredo claiming that her membership in the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in America was tantamount to belonging to a "Latino KKK." Some of them have stooped to making fun of the pronounciation of her last name, questioning her love of ethnic food, and racial stereotypes drove one to refer to her as a sing

Rush Limbaugh by Ian MarsdenImage by marsdencartoons via Flickr

le mother without checking if she actually has any children.

The overriding implication, spearheaded by a majority of older white men, is that we can't trust a Hisanic woman on the court, because she might let being a Hispanic woman influence her decision-making abilities. Furthermore, the big argument that just picking a Hispanic women is a form of Affirmative Action has been fearlessly spearheaded by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and other unrestrained commentators that have positioned themselves as the unofficial official spokespersons of the Republican Party.

Can you blame me for asking?

So please, if you are reading this, and you happen to be a Republican, let me know. Are you all a bunch of completely out-of-touch cold-hearted bigots? Or am I just reading too much into your party's handling of Sonia Sotomayor nomination. I'm begging you, please lay these concerns to rest. Because the people leading your organization aren't helping.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Revisiting Dr. Strangelove: A Rant of Sorts

I've noticed that I am a bit stressed out lately.

It started with the Tea Party idiocy. The orchestrated protests, the media coverage, then the media coverage of the lack of media coverage, followed by the lacking media's coverage of the other media's over coverage, culminating in a pointless event overshadowed by the coverage of its own coverage. Not to be outdone, the people behind the whole event were ignorant enough to adopt a commonly known sexual act term as their slogan, and then complained that everyone else kept making fun of them for using it. The more time the cable news channels waste reporting about themselves instead of other noteworthy events, the more I find myself wishing for government sponsored propaganda to pick up the pace a bit. An occasional smoke and mirrors display of manufactured opinions camouflaged as investigative reporting would be a welcome alternative to the constant barrage of narcissistic excuse-making pandering they bombard us with every day.

Since then, its been nonstop torture. Did we torture? Should we have tortured? What is torture? Is torture illegal? Is torture justified? Is torture necessary? Who did we torture? Who tortured? Who told them to torture? Who knew about the torture? Who should have known about the torture? Should we be told about the torture? Listening to the endless stream of former administration officials, legal experts, and military intelligence ad visors debate and dissemble and deconstruct and dissect and define and redefine the very concept of the word has become downright torturous. I could try to be funny here by naming someone I'd like to see water boarded, but I'm afraid that once I start that list, I won't be able to stop.

I'm not even going to begin to list the multiple headaches developing across the wrinkled terrain of my cerebral landscape because of the whole shift of political power from the right to the left. All I will allow myself to say is that there are more damned Republican talking heads, politicians, and political pundits on my television now than there were during the entire Bush presidency. The only thing worse than listening to the Republicans being smug with power is listening to them bitch and moan about being out of power. And the only thing worse than that is listening to the Democrats that are finally in power again bitch and moan every time Obama doesn't act like Bizarro Bush and fulfill their fevered liberal wet dreams.

Of course, in the background during all of this has been the recession, unemployment, government bailouts, the stock market crash, home foreclosures, massive layoffs, massive corporate CEO bonuses, health care, TARP funds, and the slow, steady erosion of any hope we might have had that the people in charge of everything might actually have a clue about how to make it all okay. In fact, the only thing anyone seems willing to agree upon is that everyone else is obviously wrong.

Then, just to add some flavor to the mix, we get a week straight of Miss California and Notre Dame. Some bimbo gets bent out of shape when she becomes unpopular for the first time in her precious little life, then cries about her constitutional rights to religious beliefs and freedom of speech when she is almost stripped of her crown for violating several aspects of her contract. At the same time, a university decides they aren't going to honor Obama with an honorary degree because some religious leaders don't like his position on stem cells and fetuses, then backs down when the rest of the rational world tells them to grow the hell up already. Mix the two together in the same news cycle, and you get a screeching cacophony of gay marriage, abortion rights, moral authority, religious indignation, and the usual Left vs. Right grandstanding as every politician alive attempts to scream the loudest about whatever gets people fired up more. Even Obama saving the day with yet another remarkable speech doesn't help wash the holier-than-thou taste out of my mouth.

And of course, as if things weren't loud and volatile enough, a Supreme Court Judge has take it all one notch higher by suddenly announcing his retirement. Get ready for months of endless nominee challenges, accompanied by yet another exciting round of abortion debates, the definition of which is two sides yelling Baby Killer and Woman Hater at one another until someone gets fed up and calls it a draw.

I know, if you're smart enough to be able to peek behind the curtain and see what truly motivates the talking points and repeated slogans, you should be able to just laugh at it and shrug it off. But you can only laugh so long at the likes of Hannity and Beck, until you suddenly realize that you're laughing way to loud, and so hard that it trails off into uncontrollable fits of coughing. That way, as they say, leads to madness.

Maybe stressed isn't the right word. Distraught strikes closer to home. The more I sit back and watch this freak show of self-righteous goons throw insults and prepackaged witticisms at each other across news desks, their smug shit-eating grins and flippant schoolyard attitudes beating my patience and goodwill like hammer-fisted kidney punches, the more I feel like this is the beginning of the end. Maybe the giant pyramid scheme called Free Trade Capitalism has finally run its course, and the founders of the world's greatest Ponzi Scam are milking the final drops of blood out the rock while the poor saps at the bottom of the labyrinthine structure run around in circles trying to figure out why the wealth isn't trickling down anymore. Maybe this big Pseudo-Democratic experiment was doomed from the start, and it was only a matter of time before we crumbled under the weight of our own lofty ideas on how the world should really work. Or maybe, just maybe, we as a country had spent one evening too many voting on American Idol outcomes and assuming that our best interests were truly being sought after, and we were only just now awakening to the realization that the people we've put in power have been slowly and methodically screwing us into the ground.

When I get in these kinds of moods, the best thing to do is to put in a movie, lose myself in the art form of the story and the direction, and try to forget about everything else.

So, I sat down to a quiet viewing of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

In hindsight, it probably wasn't the wisest choice. But something about it helped. Maybe it was the fact that Peter Seller's portrayal of the President looked an awful lot like a younger, slimmer Dick Chaney. Whatever it was, I found myself beginning to relax a bit. By the time I got to the end, with George C. Scott ranting about not allowing Soviet survivors of nuclear Armageddon to get ahead of American survivors and create a 'Mine Gap', I had found that I had learned to stop worrying. Kubrick's classic black comedy reminded me that this isn't the first time that the world has appeared to be in an unstoppable downward spiral.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we aren't screwed. By all means, just the opposite is true. We are definitely screwed. We're as screwed as we were during the Great Depression, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. We can look back at those historic events and think of them as isolated incidents, giant hurdles that we were able to overcome. The greater truth, however, is that they are perfect examples of exactly how close we are to complete and total self-destruction on any given day. In the Great Depression, the financial masterminds that orchestrated the structure of our entire financial foundation practically destroyed the wealthiest nation in the world overnight. And the Cuban Missile Crisis? A two-bit dictator that our craftiest secret agents couldn't assassinate with an exploding cigar gave us our first palpable taste of Nuclear Armageddon. The farce of Dr. Strangelove has survived for so long that to this day because it is, on a certain level, undeniably accurate. In all likely hood, there is a General Ripper hunkered down in some quite hallway of the Pentagon, silently waiting for the bureaucratic loophole that will allow him to jump start WWIII in a vain attempt to preserve his bodily fluids.

So why am I more relaxed now? Because we can still look back and laugh. The fact that the people we entrust with guiding and protecting us manage to botch the job so massively and often that they make the Three Stooges look competent isn't comforting. But the fact that we survive each cataclysmic event by the skin of our teeth allows us the illusion that our luck will hold out. The illusion of repetition is what allows us to laugh at tragedy. We can laugh at the poor fool who falls through the open manhole cover on the screen, because subconsciously we know that he'll survive the fall, even if only to perform the same tragic event for someone else's amusement. So yes, we are indeed spiralling down that manhole once again. But the odds are that we will somehow manage to miraculously rebound, even if only to perform the same tragic event for someone else's amusement.

And if it this actually does turn out to be the last hurrah for real? In that event, some of us will still be laughing, if not just a bit too loudly. Some of us just can't help it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Miss California, Carrie Prejean: Topless and Clueless

Wow, it really hasn't been a good month for hot chicks, has it?

First, Susan Boyle confuses television and youtube viewers by being a talented singer and unattractive at the same time. News and Tabloid outlets (if there is a difference) paraded her around like the Elephant Man and asked a bewildered world how such a thing could occur. Attractive pop singers became the butt of a lot of jokes, mainly about how they were rich and beautiful, but not nearly as talented, and therefore undeserving of the billions of dollars we had spent making them rich and famous. Of course, that meant the joke was on us, so it only took a week or two for everyone to forget Boyle and her unattractive talented self.

Then, Carrie Prejean (pronounce pri-ten-shuhs) came out on the Today show and announced that she would be working with (see: using her pageant title to promote) the National Organization for Marriage. NOM isn't pro-marriage as much as it is anti-gay marraige, and the idea of a Miss Anything hoping on the advertising budget of a group this controversial in nature was enough to garner her all of the Prime-Time news coverage that she didn't want.

The immediate response was from pageant officials. Embarrassed enough to implicate their own phoniness just to smear Miss "Opposite Marriage" California, they openly admitted to paying for her boob job. In typical fashion for people unaware of how phony they are, they released the information to make Prejean look bad, while at the same time remarking how it isn't shocking that they paid for them. The rest of the world was slightly more aware, and therefore unimpressed enough by the duplicity to not care.

Of course, equation of Public Media Sensation + Attractive Model + Attention Starved almost always = Nude Photos, it didn't take long for Carrie's teenage indiscretions to earn front page coverage across the tabloids in the form of a semi-nude photo of her in pink panties.

Faced with being unpopular (a social situation I am sure Blondie McPlatiboobs is completely unfamiliar with), Carrie immediately leapt to her own defense by attempting to redefine her plight as religious persecution, rather than an unfortunate series of Blonde Moments:

"My comments defending traditional marriage have led to intimidation tactics that seek to undermine my reputation and somehow silence me and my beliefs, as if opinion is only a one-way street.

"I am a Christian, and I am a model. Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos. Recently, photos taken of me as a teenager have been released surreptitiously to a tabloid website that openly mocks me for my Christian faith.

"I am not perfect, and I will never claim to be. But these attacks on me and others who speak in defense of traditional marriage are intolerant and offensive. While we may not agree on every issue, we should show respect for others' opinions and not try to silence them through vicious and mean-spirited attacks."

Every time someone tries to use their religion to justify bigoted behavior, they should be slapped. I'm not just suggesting this as a novel concept; I'm proposing that we actually sign it into law. We could call it Carrie's Law.

Let's take two anti-gay marriage individuals. We'll call them Adam and Steve, just to be funny. Adam says he is against gay marriage because he doesn't like gays. All will agree that Adam is simply a bigot. Now Steve is also against gay marriage, but he insists that his opposition is due to the teachings of his religion. Both of these jackasses hold the same views, yet Steve is more likely to get a pass on being called out on his position because of the belief system he subscribes to. If you disapprove of Adam for his views, you are simply repelled by his ignorant opinion. If, however, you oppose Steve's opinion, you are insulting his religion, suppressing his freedom of religion, and attacking the very Creator to which his everlasting soul belongs.

Not exactly a logical argument, is it?

Of course, no one really expects anyone crowned Miss California to be armed with a vast arsenal of logical arguments. I haven't checked, but I seriously doubt it is in the job description. Odds are, no one has ever really had the heart to break the news to her. If possible, someone close to Carrie (relative, handler, PR rep, spiritual guide, nutritionist, stylist, plastic surgeon) should try to get a message through to poor little Carrie.

Carrie, you need to face the truth. People are not mocking you because of your Christian faith. They are mocking you because:
  1. You are, quite simply, stupid. I hate to be mean here, but... on second thought, I don't mind being mean in this case. You're an idiot.
  2. Let's face it; most people just downright hate beauty pageant winners. Honestly, the whole pageant industry has become such a cliche it is almost unbelievable that they still hold them. They should either come right out and combine them into one gigantic Miss Hot Bimbo contest, or scrap the entire concept and just dole the scholarship funds out to the homely students with the good grades and future aspirations that rise beyond advocating literacy and closing puppy mills.
  3. You are using the title bestowed upon you, no matter how ludicrous it might be, to publicize an agenda that isn't exactly part of the pageant's platform. If you had incorporated Anti-Gay Marriage rhetoric into your little beauty contest speeches, maybe people wouldn't have been so shocked in the first place.
  4. Irony. Look it up, then reconsider that you placed yourself in a position in which you condemned others for a lack of Morality, and were then promptly exposed as having broken the Morality Clause of your own contract. Ironic.
  5. You really are an idiot.

Whoever decides to play messenger, please get to her before her next press conference or shameless cable news promotional appearance. I'm not really concerned about her making a bigger ass out of herself; I'm just not sure I want her fifteen minutes in the national spotlight to last longer than Susan Boyle's.

James Herbert Announced as WHC Guest of Honor

James Herbert has been a solid name in the horror genre ever since the widespread success of his first novel, The Rats, back in 1974. Seven books and eight years later, The Rats was turned into both the film Deadly Eyes (directed by Robert Clouse, the man who gave us Gymkata) featuring dogs dressed up like rats almost as convincingly as the titular carpet-covered canines in The Killer Shrews, and a Commodore 64 video game.

It is a pleasant surprise that the puppet masters behind the World Horror Convention, being held this year in Brighton, have selected James Herbert as the Guest of Honor. Never one to be influenced by his own success, many of Herbert's books strayed from the boundaries expected by horror publishers and readers alike. His fourth book, Fluke (1977), for example, was a decidedly non-horrific tale of a dead man who attempts to reunite with his family after being reincarnated as a dog. Fluke's concept was unceremoniously ripped off by Rod Browning in his screenplay debut, Oh! Heavenly Dog (starring Benji and Chevy Chase), and then faithfully adapted to the big screen fifteen years later.

Two other James Herbert novels were lucky enough (if lucky is the word) to make it to the big screen. The Survivor, his third book and first foray into the supernatural, became the first Australian film with a budget exceeding $1 million, and the last film to star Joseph Cotton. Then, in the mid-eighties, Herbert turned an unused BBC screenplay into the novel Haunted, which was then adapted into a screenplay for the mid-nineties film by the same name.

Since the fluke that was Fluke, James Herbert has never been afraid to mix it up a bit. Dancing back and forth between apocalyptic horror stories and almost storybook tales of the supernatural, James Herbert has always dared to go wherever the muse takes him, no matter what the accepted definitions of his chosen genre might be.

Some hardcore horror fans will complain that Herbert had forsaken horror for fantasy early in his career by not delivering the minimum amounts of sex and violence demanded by the blood thirsty horror genre devotees. But what the WHC has recognized is that deviating from the norm is what keeps things fresh and inventive.

There are so many horror authors out there who are happy enough to simply crank out novel after novel of the same format, until one is barely distinguishable from the others. I'm not going to name names. Okay, maybe I'll mention Bentley Little. The point is real artists define the genre they work in, not the other way around, and James Herbert has more than made his own way. Hell, any horror author willing to turn a human-possessed squirrel into a reoccurring character in later novels is a force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

If Obama is The Fonz, does that make us Potsie?

This past Friday, Obama interrupted Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' daily song-and-dance routine to give a brief statement about Supreme Court Justice Souter's retirement announcement. In the increasingly emotionally charged bipolar shouting match that broadcast politics has become, the changing of the Supreme Court's roster is the gunshot that starts off a month-long marathon of bitter debates, biased bickering, and a sharp increase in income for cable news "Expert Guest Correspondents". The quicker the White House tackles the subject, the quicker the hysteria can spread and deplete its own energy like a tuckered out toddler at the tail end of a sugar rush. Apparently deciding to bypass the trouble of calling a separate press conference to address the issue, Obama just strolled up behind the podium, nudged Gibbs aside, and gave the press corps some quotes and responses to chew on for the next twelve hours.

Obama's impromptu press conference shouldn't be such a big deal. You would think our elected leader crashing his press secretary's spiel, chuckling and swaggering onstage and casually tossing jokes around would be something we could take in stride. (That's right, I said "swagger". I'm not a highly paid CNN news correspondent, so I figure I can get away with it.) It was, for lack of a better word, Cool. Why should we expect the "Leader of the Free World" to be anything but Cool?

Of course, we're not used to Cool. After eight years of watching our President playing Cowboys and Indians both on and off the public stage, we've forgotten what it feels like to actually feel good about something as simple as a spur of the moment press conference. It almost feels unnatural to watch our President give a press conference and not cringe at least once or twice, hoping in vain that the rest of the world didn't notice that last sentence. To be fair, Clinton wasn't even that cool. He tried to be, did his best to come off as cool by going on MTV and playing the saxophone. But in the end he was only cool be default; like the high school English teacher that occasionally curses and plays the guitar on Fridays, he got points for at least trying, or even knowing how to go about trying.

Maybe that's why a lot of Democrats are so hard on Obama when he doesn't toe the line on every left-wing movement that's suffered through to terns of Bush cronyism. The left still has its roots firmly planted in the hippie-movement and counter-culture of an era that defined cool, that the newly elected savior of the cause has to be more to them than they can reasonably expect him to be. It just isn't enough for them that he is cool; they need him to be super cool, capitalized, in all caps, with a few exclamation points thrown in for effect.

Last month, Obama held a press conference and tried to calm America's fears about American car manufacturers by promising that the US government would stand behind their cars. Both sides immediately jumped on the opportunity to paint him as the ultimate cliché of the used-car salesman politician. It's a concept that might have seemed funny decades ago in movies like Used Cars, with a young Kurt Russell as the smooth talking huckster in the loud sports jacket attempting to raise enough bribe money to buy a seat in public office. These days, that kind of humor is so reality-based that even chuckling at it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of most people. Many politicians have blurred the line between satire and tragedy that holding a Senate seat could easily springboard the right candidate into a lucrative career as a stand-up comic. Political satirists like Stewart and Colbert run the risk of being overshadowed by their own subject matter, a rather sobering testament to exactly how sharp of a decline our little Free Society experiment is traveling towards.

Obama's biggest enemy is the nature of the beast he struggled so hard to saddle and tame. It's a beast that has grown far too big and powerful to be broken; it is all that most can do just to hang on for dear life until the next general election. But we tend to ignore this when Obama plays the game that we voted him into. We so desperately need him to be our Super Cool Savior, that watching him tip-toe around politically volatile topics like the possibility of criminally prosecuting Bush's tag team of warmongering policy writers for war crimes. Those thirsty for the blood of those who made public surveillance and torture the new apple pie of America's legend can practically taste it. They are so righteously vengeful that they grow more and more frustrated every time Obama effectively cock-blocks their attempts to do to the same thing to the Bush Administration that it spent eight years doing to civil rights and the Geneva Convention.

Obama's right, of course; he knows that going full-tilt against Bush and the Neo-Cons would be portrayed as biased witch hunt. He's got to play the game and slip that kind of thing under the radar. We're so used to policy-makers hiding behind the Oval Office, we've forgotten that the door swings both ways. But the hard left is so drunk with newly-regained power that it hasn't been able to play along. Obama's literally too cool for the room; his subtle signals for everyone to play it cool while he mixes things up behind the scenes are going unnoticed, mainly because we can't get past the hurt of watching him perform the same verbal tap-dance that we thought we were finally putting behind us.

We need to wise up to a simple truth. You can't change the nature of the beast. Politics in the new age is nothing more than a non-stop infomercial, no matter which side is selling what. You don't get into office by rejecting the system; you get in by mastering the game and making it work for you. Of course, admitting this is the same as admitting that we are nothing but easily-led consumers in almost every aspect of our lives. But it's true. A woefully short public memory can be the only excuse as to why Democrats have forgotten that their last man of the hour was the perfect example of the American Political Salesman.

For all intents and purposes, Clinton was the Joe Isuzu of the white house. So likeable and charismatic in that glossy salesman sort of way, most Americans were willing to give him a pass even when it was blatantly obvious that he was talking out of his ass. The conservative hardcore loved calling him "Slick Willy", a demeaning nickname that sounded nifty, but was never that realistic. There was nothing slick about Clinton's "I never inhaled" answer, his "I never had sex with that woman" statement, or his pitiful "definition of 'is'" argument. Clinton had a habit of fumbling under pressure, like most bullshit artists that don't quite know how to switch gears when someone finally pulls back the curtain.

The Slick Willy moniker was just wishful thinking on the right wing's part, a sad attempt to explain away why he managed to get away with so much and still hang on to a high approval rating. They'd rather claim that American voters were mesmerized by the forked tongue of a skilled illusionist then face the truth. They tried to explain Obama's popularity the same way during the 2008 elections, bluntly accusing him of hypnotizing the American public. But popularity is the beginning and end of it, the sad reality behind Republican claims of devious wordsmiths and mass hypnosis. People just liked Clinton; so much so that cheating on his wife didn't put a major dent in his approval ratings.

Republicans have never had much luck with the popularity contest. Much like the schoolyard bully who beats up the weaker kids because deep down inside he just wants to be loved, the GOP has never been able to live down that fateful televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon. Since then, the Republican Party has become increasingly and painfully aware that most people just don't like them. Even when they get someone in the White House that the people don't actually hate, something always happens to turn public opinion into ridicule. Reagan started out strong, but ended up being remembered as a senile old man with an equally clueless wife. Bush Senior's moment of glory with Operation Desert Storm quickly faded, and he lost out to Clinton as being woefully out of touch with the rest of the world. The GOP thought they had the answer to the Clinton factor with Bush Junior; southern folksy charm, but mixed with a good 'ol boy swagger (there, I said it again.) and a mischievous chuckle that was downright endearing. They might have gotten away with it if he had exited stage left after one term, but eight years of shit eating grins and Dan Quayle-worthy flubs turned him (and the entire Republican Party, by proxy) into a comical Texan cliché, a Ralph Steadmanesque caricature of how the rest of the world thinks all Americans act like.

It might be rather insulting to claim that American politics boils down to nothing more than popularity contest. I, for one, think we deserve the insult. Not for falling for the cult of personality; it's human nature to do so, and you can't fault a scorpion for having a stinger in the first place, let alone using it. We deserve the insult because we can't bear to admit that it is true. We bitch and moan about politicians and the news media constantly lying to us, then turn around and flat-out refuse to be honest with ourselves. We lie to ourselves and claim advanced knowledge of government policy and global diplomacy, or hide behind hot-button topics like abortions, guns, or gay marriage.

But the dirty truth we can't seem to cop to is that the majority of voters simply go with the party or candidate that makes us feel better. We voted for Clinton because he had a way of making us feel good about things, even when things weren't good, and then gave him a second term when things actually were good. Bush (debatably) won by the skin of his teeth twice, first because he was the kind of guy we'd like to have a beer with, and then because we were too afraid not too.

And Obama? Deep down inside, we know the real reason he beat out grumpy old man McCain, even beyond the Palin Debacle; it's been way too long since we've had a cool President. As luck would have it, our new Cool Pres might also have a clue as well. The real question is, can stop playing Potsie to his Fonzie long enough for him to set things right?