Jane Devine: McCain’s Syria poker shows immorality

U.S. Sen. John McCain holds up his smart phone to show he is not playing poker at a Senate Committee hearing. Picture: Getty
U.S. Sen. John McCain holds up his smart phone to show he is not playing poker at a Senate Committee hearing. Picture: Getty
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ONE-TIME Presidential hopeful John McCain laid his lack of morality on table by playing poker during Congress debate on Syria military strike, writes Jane Devine

There must be a PhD thesis in the behaviour of people at meetings. The antics that go on when a group of people have to concentrate for any length of time are interesting to say the least. From falling asleep, drinking copious amounts of water to stop themselves falling asleep or reading papers slightly too intently, it is amazing what people come up with to look like they are paying attention.

This type of behaviour has always gone on, but before technology advanced to today’s levels, it was a bit less obvious. People who attended meetings may have chewed their fingernails or doodled on a piece of paper or they may have returned to their school day antics of staring out the window.

Things have changed now. They can check and send e-mails, browse online, or in the case of United States senator John McCain last week, play poker on their phones.

There must be nothing more dispiriting for a chairperson than looking round a room and seeing the tops of people’s heads, their faces illuminated by the glow from the screen of their laptop or smartphone.

Of course, some people will use their laptops in an environmentally conscious way: to display documents, saving paper by not printing them. Some will take notes of the meeting on their computers. Some will also be doing their weekly online shop.

Perhaps it is because people use meetings, discussion groups, workshops, forums (or whatever the applicable jargon is for a physical gathering of people for the purpose of discussion and debate) as their default method of “how to solve a problem”. Getting together to talk isn’t always the best way of sorting things out: boring and unnecessary meetings do not captivate participants.

Or perhaps, smartphone distraction is actually necessary in a meeting. The true attention span of an adult is about 20 minutes. Children who get distracted at school are given fidget toys. Perhaps laptops and smartphones are the adult equivalent – a momentary distraction to flick at e-mails or texts is what is needed in order for people to participate fully.

None of these scenarios and reasons apply to McCain though.

The Republican senator was caught by a Washington Post photographer playing a poker game on his iPhone during a congressional hearing on Syria. His reaction to being caught was to say: “As much as I like to listen in rapt attention constantly [to] remarks of my colleagues over a three-and-a-half-hour period, occasionally I get a little bored.”

We’ve all been bored in meetings, we’ve all felt our attention wander, except it is unlikely that any of us were debating a scenario as crucial and complex as sanctioning US military action on Syria for using chemical weapons on innocent civilians.

It all comes down to manners and morals, neither of which the senator seems to have: he crossed the line and he doesn’t care.