Colin Powell + Groucho Marx = Problem With Democracy

Colin Powell mediumColin Powell stopped by work today, and I listened to him speak, along with a few hundred fellow Googlers. He's the only person in the administration I have any respect for, and so I was unsurprised to find many of his comments sensible. The first two audience questions yielded interesting results:

First was something like "there are different views on truth. What should Google's role be in filtering out inaccurate information?"

His answer - "None. Flood us with information." He pauses, and our CEO interjects "we're doing a pretty good job of that!" (to much applause). Powell continued to basically say that the intent of the founders of the country, with which he agrees, was to let all the information be out there duking it out. That's why we have freedom of the press, so the people can hear all the viewpoints and decide what they think. Amen!

Groucho Marx mediumThe second question was about when he thought a non-(white male) would be president (?or would run?). He made the good point that while he wasn't running, people had talked about it, and so the issue was out there, being discussed, which was a good start. But what I found most fascinating was his explanation about why he made the difficult decision not to pursue a further political career. He said that he'd been a soldier all his life, and that made him a certain kind of person, and he couldn't just change. He just didn't have the *passion* necessary to be President, and to make the needed sacrifices.

Groucho Marx joked that he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. The terrible irony of a democracy is that anyone who wants to, and is capable of becoming president is unlikely to be a selfless or honorable leader. I can't help but imagine that the "certain" kind of person a 5 4-star general is is a person who is honest, who sticks to his principles, who focuses on getting the job done, not pandering to the public or special interests. Like any human ascending a heirarchy, he must play the game of politics, but mostly among people like himself. Such a person, as the past 5 years have shown us, is rather out of place in an administration with very different character. Nor is he likely to desire or succeed in becoming the leader of a democracy. A pity. I'd be a client of his private defense agency any day.

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Re: Hitchhikers Guide to the

Re: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Anyone else pumped for this movie?

Even better than Groucho's

Even better than Groucho's quote may be Douglas Adams':

"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Thanks for linking to

"Thanks for linking to Machinery of Freedom. I forgot how much I enjoy Friedman’s writing. I read the chapter and decided I needed to have the book."

If it's Friedman's writing you enjoy, then I'd also recommend the panoply of articles on his website.

Colin Powell I met General

Colin Powell
I met General Powell in 1991 while I was still in the Army. At the time I was a sergeant and he was coming to Fort Stewart to visit with the soldiers there. We were one of the first units to deploy to Saudi Arabia in August, 1990 and didn't come home...

Thanks for linking to

Thanks for linking to Machinery of Freedom. I forgot how much I enjoy Friedman's writing. I read the chapter and decided I needed to have the book.

Minor quibble: Powell

Minor quibble: Powell isn't/wasn't a 5-star general. The last 5-star general was Omar Bradley, who rose to that rank in 1950.

According to George Stephanopolous's book "All Too Human", in the mid-90s Clinton mulled the idea of bumping Powell up to 5-star, because he was scared to death of the prospect of Powell running against him in 96, and making Powell a 5-star would induce him to stay in the military.

The ranks are as follows:
1-star: Brigadier General
2-star: Major General
3-star: Lieutenant General
4-star: General
5-star: General of the Army (roughly equivalent to the rank of "Field Marshal" used in many other countries.

4 stars, Patri. Only 4.

4 stars, Patri. Only 4.

I sure am! HHTG, Serenity,

I sure am! HHTG, Serenity, Wallace And Gromitt - lots of exciting movies coming out this year.

Well, as much as I'd like to

Well, as much as I'd like to have a positive opinion on what it takes to be a 4-star general, it requires much of the same as getting to be a Senator.

I can’t help but imagine that the “certain” kind of person a 5 4-star general is is a person who is honest, who sticks to his principles, who focuses on getting the job done, not pandering to the public or special interests.

For some generals this is true, (I don’t know about Powell) but some generals are untrustworthy, politicking, lying, reactionary, calcified, tribal bureaucrats who are far more interested in protecting the funding of their pet projects than defending America.

But you are correct on the point of his decision. Anyone who doesn’t want to be president gets at least one star from me. The sneetches will be jealous.

Your misquoting Groucho and

Your misquoting Groucho and also completely mispresenting the point by pulling it out of context:

Early in his career, before the Marx Brothers were a household name, Groucho had attempted to join a New York City dinner club. Unbeknownst to him, the club in question didn't accept Jewish members and had only admitted him because, with his non-semetic surname, the club hadn't guessed his heritage. When they figured it out, there was a rather messy scene where the host asked Groucho to leave in the middle of a meal because, "the members would be upset by having someone like him in the dining room."

Many years later, after he was famous, the same club (having long since forgotten about the previous incident) invited him to join (apparently willing to overlook his heritage due to his celebrity). Groucho was naturally quite insulted and declined, instead replying, "I'd never join a club that would have someone like me as a member."

The line wasn't the self-deprecating humor it's often presented as; it was an attempt to shame the target by bringing up the club's anti-semetism.

Channeling Plato I see.

Channeling Plato I see. :cool:

Thanks for the context,

Thanks for the context, Dragon.

re: HHGTG - didn't they make

re: HHGTG - didn't they make Ford Prefect black? That's a random head scratcher that pretty much scotched my interest in the movie. If they can't be trusted with the details, can they be trusted with the gist and thrust? Methinks not.

Colin Powell Patri Friedman,

Colin Powell
Patri Friedman, at Catallarchy, has an interesting post about meeting Colin Powell. Reading it, I thought back to when I met Powell.