Thursday, December 9, 2010


In REPUBLICANS 101: TEA PARTIES, I pointed out that the good ol' boys who represent the Republican establishment in Congress appear to have no clue about the Tea Party movement, the reasons for it, and its underlying constitutionalist philosophy. Though they would benefit from the movement and be handed a huge victory on November 2nd, they would be unable to understand their mandate. This was always the danger---that the conservative groundswell would vault Republicans into power but they wouldn't understand the need to change their modus operandi. At that point, the howling would begin. Now, a mere five weeks after the election, and before the new Congress has even been seated, the howling has begun.

The tax rates in effect for the last eight years are due to expire on January 1, and unless something changes, we will all soon experience the largest tax increase in American history. So it was that President Obama entered a closed room with several (still-unnamed) Republican leaders and emerged on Monday with a deal: 1) the existing tax rates would remain in effect for two more years, 2) the estate tax rate, which is currently 0%, would increase to 35% on large estates, and 3) unemployment benefits (originally 26 weeks, then extended to 99 weeks) would now last for 155 weeks.

The Democrats had eighteen months to do whatever they wanted with these tax rates, of course, because they controlled everything. They did nothing, however, and now the political backdrop has changed. The Republicans cannot pass anything, but they can block legislation in the Senate, so this gives them some veto power over legislation introduced by the Democrats. And what they have made clear is that the only bill they won't block is one that extends all the current tax rates. Obama and the Democrats thus have only two choices: 1) extend all the current rates, or 2) impose enormous tax increases on the American people in the midst of a horrific recession. These political realities are what make the Republican acceptance of the current deal so difficult to understand.

First, because of the relentless propaganda about the “Bush tax cuts for the rich,” it is easy to forget that the 2002 tax bill was primarily designed to benefit lower-income tax payers. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries were those in the lowest bracket, which was reduced from 15% to 10%. If nothing happens in Congress, in other words, the rate on the poorest of the working poor will rise by 50% on January 1. Realistically, what is the chance the Democrats would allow this to happen? Obama, with his back to the wall, desperately needed cooperation from the Republicans. If they had simply demanded that all tax rates be extended permanently, the Democrats would, sometime in the next three weeks, have agreed.

Secondly, the agreement to raise the death tax on large estates from 0% to 35% is not only a capitulation to Obama's tired, dreary, class-warfare demagoguery, it is a violation of the Pledge To America that Republicans unveiled on September 22. In that document, they vowed to eliminate the practice of combining disparate pieces of legislation in the same bill. Pet projects that could never be passed on their own routinely get hidden away on page 822 of popular legislation that is certain to enacted, and the Pledge promised to put an end to it.

The extension of unemployment benefits also violates this provision of the Pledge since it too has nothing to do with marginal tax rates. In addition, the Pledge promised to “prevent... the expansion of unfunded liabilities,” but there has been no suggestion of how an additional year of unemployment benefits will be paid for. I guess we just print some more money, or borrow it from the Chinese.

In short, the deal is a betrayal by Republican leaders. It's a terrible deal, and the worst thing about it may be the way it was done. Last week, all the big guns in the Republican Party were publicly promising they would insist on a permanent extension of the tax rates. Then over the weekend, the big boys go into a room somewhere and come out with this monstrosity. The process stinks, and the message to the tea partiers and all the folks who voted for Republicans on November 2nd is that nothing has changed.

Every Republican who votes for this, and who faces election in 2012, will face a primary. The campaign ads are being written today. “Mr. X, five weeks after the 2008 election, voted for a huge increase in the death tax, voted to spend billions on unemployment benefits without paying for them, and voted to allow tax rates to go up in 2012.”


Thursday, December 2, 2010


December 1, 2010

To: Al C.
From: Michael K.
Re: My injury
Claim Number PA 103511230001
Visit to City Line Family Medicine

First let me tell you about the office. You get off the elevator on the first floor of the nondescript office building at 301 City Ave. and confront a seemingly endless array of identical, unmarked, wooden doors. After a while, unconsciously, you find you are walking more slowly and cautiously, half-expecting that at any moment, one of them will fly open and a claw will reach out, grasping your shirtfront and dragging you into a scene of unspeakable horror. Why all these doors? And why don't they have any names on them? What do they do here, you begin to wonder. What's behind this door? Is this where they slaughter the goats? And how about this one? Is there a gorilla behind it, and if so, what is he doing?

Eventually you find the “Suite 100” sign and you realize the truth is more prosaic. The entire floor is Suite 100 and there's only one entrance to the office, so the setup is designed to discourage you from wandering into a room where they don't want you to wander. It works, I guess.

The real entrance, once you find it, leads you into a waiting area with about thirty chairs and a 25-foot impenetrable counter with four receptionists seated behind it like ticketing agents at an airline terminal. Behind them is the records area, with five narrow aisles of floor-to-ceiling shelves, all filled with paper files in white folders---row after row, shelf after shelf of them. Other files were stacked on the floor in several locations. There's probably a room just like it down in City Hall where they keep the land records from the 1840's, but you just don't see a file room like this anymore.

To one side of the long counter was a large white hutch, with glass doors, that was stuffed with medical equipment and drugs of various kinds, with an overflow pile on the floor in front of it. At one point, a doctor appeared and asked one of the receptionists to find him a box of something-or-other, and she went over to the hutch, got down on her knees and fished through the pile with her hands until she pulled up whatever it was the doc wanted.

I put my name on the Dr. Angeloni sign-in sheet, filled out a form or two, and within minutes was face-to-face with the man himself in his examining room. He quizzed me briefly on the events surrounding the unpleasantness in my groin muscles, then put me on the table, moved my leg around a bit and asked what hurt. He was a fast worker, this Dr. Angeloni, and when he sat back down, he immediately started writing out referrals.

“First of all, you need a week off---no physical work or lifting. Next Wednesday is the 8th, so that's what I'll tell Argus. You can go back on the 8th. Next, I want you to see a physical therapist---there's one right here on this floor and we can make an appointment at the desk before you leave.”

“OK,” I said.

“Finally, I want you to see an orthopedist because only an orthopedist can identify precisely the source of your pain. Once that is done, they can sometimes direct a painless injection to specific cells causing the problem. Space age stuff. I'm referring you to an office near here with some great doctors in it. You'll like them. They work on the 76ers.”

And that was where he lost me. “The 76ers,” I thought. How very groovy. Excuse me, doc, BUT DO YOU THINK I'M TEN YEARS OLD? Maybe I'm slow, but suddenly the airline counter and the spooky doors and the files and the drug samples on the floor all came together and I began to see how this grind operated. I was now a Workers Comp Case. I had a number and everything. And above all, I had a solvent company behind me that was going to pay for some stuff and all I had to do was put myself in the hands of the comp docs. The week off, with pay, is what sells it. Who doesn't want a week off? I sure do. The deal is a simple one---I submit to whatever they come up with that they can bill my employer for. All I have to do is go along for the ride.

And how unpleasant could it be? A few physical therapy sessions with an amiable young woman massaging my thigh? A visit to the snazzy offices of some Main Line Orthopedists-To-The-Stars? Maybe Andre Iguodala would be sitting next to me in the waiting room and I could give him some tips on how to deal with LeBron. By the end of it, my leg might even feel better, and it's not like they would amputate it by accident. Once you sign up for the party, the leg itself is pretty much irrelevant to the whole process. And it's all free!

I declined his offer to set up an appointment with Elton Brand's groin man, but I agreed to a physical therapy appointment. So it was that I reported at 3:25 this afternoon for a 3:30 appointment with Dynamic Rehabilitation, which is in the same office.

They didn't have a sign-in sheet for the physical therapists, but one of the receptionists walked me down a hallway to the right area, where I introduced myself to a woman who appeared to be a therapist. She asked me to wait back in the reception area. I did so.

An hour passed. Nothing happened. Nobody asked me to fill out forms, nobody came to say hello, nobody offered me a coffee, nothing. I began to suspect that nothing would ever happen, no matter how long I sat there, and that no matter how serious my injury, my leg would almost certainly heal long before anyone from Dynamic Rehabilitation would find the time or inclination to examine it. Perhaps, I thought, this is an innovation that this tiny band of medical revolutionaries is introducing to the science of physical rehabilitation---just let the patient chill in the waiting room until he gets better on his own. There's probably something to be said for it, and in my case, it would probably work. My leg will heal on its own, eventually, though other types of injuries might not. I was glad I didn't have a gunshot wound, for example.

At 4:30, I spoke to one of the ladies at the reception desk and politely asked whether someone from Dynamic Rehabilitation might be roused to address my situation. At that moment, as luck would have it, a Dynamic Rehabilitation person appeared and my receptionist called her over. “Mr. Kubacki has a 3:30 appointment,” she explained.

“Oh,” replied the Dynamic Rehabilitation person. Then: “I'll be back in a minute.”

Ten minutes later, she returned with a small pile of forms and a clipboard. Sign here, fill in this part, initial here, etc. etc. I went to work. I was happy to. It seemed we were making progress. Drug addict? No. Diabetes? No. Birthday? Yes, I have one of those. I raced through the stack, flipped to the last page, and then settled in for a long read.

It was a legalistic sort of thing consisting of one sentence that stretched on for about ten lines of text, and I had to read it a couple times to get the meat out of it, but the gist was that they wanted me to agree (there was a signature line at the bottom) to be financially responsible for my treatment in the event that a long list of people and entities (my employer, insurance companies, the UN, Lady Gaga, etc.) refused to pay. It was the sort of crap I've signed a hundred times in a hundred different situations. We all have. (“It's just one of our requirements. Everyone has to sign it. Don't worry about it.”) This time, I just wasn't in the mood. I had had my taste of Dr. Angeloni the previous day, and I had been steaming for an hour already while these guys forgot about me, and I wasn't having any more of it. I wanted somebody to show some goddamn interest in my goddamn leg, or at least pretend to. That's what they're supposed to do, isn't it? That's why they become doctors and nurses and therapists, isn't it? I know it's also about the money, of course. I know everything's about the money, partly. But there's got to be more to it than that, doesn't there? I mean, I've been in strip clubs that were less “about the money” than this joint. I called the Dynamic Rehabilitation person over.

“I have a problem with this form,” I said. “Isn't Argus going to pay for this?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “We spoke to your HR department and they're going to pay for it.”

“But you think Argus may not be good for it?” I asked.

“But everyone has to sign this,” she said. “Nobody's ever objected before.”

“Well, I'm sorry, but I won't sign it. It's nice of Argus to send me here and pay for this, but if I'm going to bear any financial responsibility or even potential financial responsibility, I'm going to choose my own doctors, and I wouldn't necessarily come here.” It was a silly objection, I guess, and there's no way I would ever wind up paying for this circus, but I had to assert myself in some fashion or I would simply become a cog in this dirty little medical/legal underworld. I had come to the conclusion that, in the long run, that would hurt more than my leg did.

“Give me a couple minutes,” she said finally, scooping up my forms and disappearing into the labyrinth of offices and cubbyholes that is City Line Family Medicine. I never saw her again.

At 5:10, I gathered up my things and walked back to the office where I had first introduced myself, the one with “Dynamic Rehabilitation” on the door. I knocked, and the woman who I still think is a therapist opened the door. “I'm Michael Kubacki,” I said. “I'm your 3:30 appointment, but an hour and a half is enough for me. I'm leaving.” She looked very surprised.

I went home.

Thus ends, I hope, my career as a “Workers Comp Case.” Dr. Angeloni examined me, and I assume you have his report for your files, and that is sufficient. There will be no further reports from physical therapists, orthopedists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, nurse-practitioners, thoracic surgeons or gynecologists because I don't want to be a Workers Comp Case anymore. I'd rather limp. In fact, if I am ever again injured at Argus, I hereby authorize you to throw me in the cardboard baler and push the button. You will be doing me a favor, and it will be simpler for all concerned.


Thursday, November 25, 2010


At this point, we've heard the arguments. Air passengers object to the new scanners for various reasons, and they especially object to the extremely thorough “pat-down” that results when you refuse the scanner (or when the picture on the scanner doesn't satisfy the TSA, or when you're a 20-year-old smoking hot blond, or when you have annoyed the TSA for any reason). The TSA's response is that we all have to suck it up. They're doing all these things to keep us safe, and they have to do it the way they're doing it, and they know secret things about the bad guys so it's wrong even to question them. It's a tough argument to overcome. How do you argue with “secret knowledge?”

Pilots and flight attendants have lodged separate, though similar, complaints, but the reporting on this issue has tended to put the objections of the flight crews on page 23. Yeah, they're bitching too, but let's show that video of the screaming three-year-old again, or let's talk to the young lady in the stilettos who didn't fancy having a stranger's hand up her skirt.

In fact, the objections of the flight crews are a critical piece of the argument for everyone. The treatment of the professionals exposes, and refutes, the TSA argument that everything they do is designed to keep us safe. If that is the case, WHY ARE THEY FEELING UP THE PILOTS AND FLIGHT ATTENDANTS? There is no possible justification for this in terms of airline security. The airlines know who these people are, and they can be subjected to any sort of background investigation as a requirement to keep their jobs, but once that is done, there can be no purpose to X-raying them or feeling around in their underwear. (Note: since the controversy exploded, the TSA has decided to change the security rules for pilots. The rules for flight crews are unchanged, however, and there is still no explanation for the prior practice of scanning and patting-down pilots.)

Once it is established that the TSA is not solely concerned with airline safety, the question may fairly be asked: “Well then, what the hell ARE you concerned with? In particular, why exactly do you have your hand down MY pants?”

We all know the answer, don't we? So why can't the TSA admit it? They do it to be fair. They do it because of the political belief, deeply embedded in our federal bureaucracy, that if anyone gets groped, everyone must be groped. Otherwise, it would be “unfair.” Somebody might have his feelings hurt. It used to be that peewee ballplayers got trophies for winning. Now everyone gets a trophy, just for playing. In airline security, everyone must be punished. In peewee baseball, everyone must get rewarded. It's the same principle.

Now, not everyone believes the give-everybody-a-trophy ethos is based on sound thinking. I don't, for example. But nobody gets killed when little Johnny gets an award just for showing up.

In the airline security crapshoot, however, the stakes are a bit higher. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Incompetano is constantly warning us of the daunting responsibility she faces, and stressing the difficulty in parrying every terrorist threat. If that is true, however, and if the resources we can devote to the effort are not infinite, how can anyone justify expending those resources to further goals other than actual security? The annual budget of the TSA is $7 billion, much of which is spent searching and scanning people who pose no risk to anyone. The billions that are spent ensuring no one's feelings are hurt are not spent on keeping airplanes safe, and that endangers all of us. Also, quite apart from the danger that results from spending billions on warped notions of fairness, there is the sheer expense. In addition to the money wasted by the TSA itself, there is the far greater expense in economic productivity lost among the millions of travelers forced to wait in long lines. Many of the folks whose time is being squandered actually make things or invent things, and thus create wealth, unlike the federal government, which only dissipates it.

Those who support the current regimen will offer, in its defense, a favorite rhetorical tool of the left---the absurd duality. Either we do it this way or we start “profiling” (a very, very bad word). Either we stick our hands in everyone's pants or we have to waterboard every non-white or slightly-non-white flier before letting him or her on a plane. Those are the only two choices.

But they are not the only choices, of course. Another option is what might be called “positive profiling.” Maybe we can lose the term profiling altogether, and call it “go-filing.” In a Trusted Traveler program, which has been suggested by many commentators, frequent fliers and others would submit themselves to a background check and, if approved, would be spared the rigors of TSA inspection. Everyone would benefit from such a program. Even those still stuck in line would at least now be in a shorter line.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I was going to write a piece about the TSA and the gropefest in America's airports, but I realized I already did, five years ago. The problems described in “Archie Bunker Air” (here), are the same ones we are facing today. But now they're worse.

From the beginning, the philosophy of the TSA has been that the way to make innocent people safe is to render them defenseless. Thus, the agency has always been 100% effective at disarming people who pose absolutely no risk to airline security. This brainless notion is now so embedded in the TSA and its procedures that there would seem to be few alternatives to simply eliminating the unit and starting over from scratch.

The real problem is that a lumbering, expensive, customer-unfriendly government bureaucracy cannot possibly be counted on to provide airport security. Fortunately, however, we don't have to count on them. As Byron York pointed out today in the National Examiner, the TSA has no monopoly on screening passengers. Since 2003, airports have been permitted to opt out of the TSA program and provide their own security. So far, none has done so, but we can hope that the current scanning/groping scandal will kick-start a race for the exits

Privatization is the only answer. Putting this task in the hands of the federal government never made any sense.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In case you missed the premiere, it's an hour-long political commercial. But unless you loathe her from the get-go (as many of you do), you will find it entertaining. It's charming and heart-warming from start to finish, and it has lots of cool stuff to look at.

As much as I like Sarah Palin, I never thought she could be elected president in 2012. Now I think maybe she can. For aficionados of hard-core politics, her “reality show” is a must-see.

It is sometimes said that generals and military strategists are always practicing to win the previous war. The next war, however, is always different in character from the last one, so the generals are usually unprepared, and often slow to adjust to the new paradigm.

It's much the same in politics. There are many reasons for Barack Obama's victory in 2008, but one of them is that John McCain ran basically the same grass-roots, volunteer-based campaign as George Bush had in 2000 and 2004, (and didn't do it nearly as well). Obama changed the game, however. No candidate had ever harnessed the internet, and particularly the new social media, the way Obama did. Not only did he keep his supporters excited and focused on victory through long months of campaigning, he also used the new media to raise close to a billion dollars, an unprecedented sum, with almost half of it untraceable. With a war chest that dwarfed his opponent's and a friendly media that promoted him unabashedly and saw no reason to investigate or interrogate him, he cruised to victory over a thoroughly decent man who nevertheless seemed hopelessly out-of-date.

I follow Sarah Palin. It's not hard to do. She's on Fox News, she's huge on Facebook, her tweets get reported in the New York Times, and in the recent election there was no one who had more impact for candidates she endorsed and for whom she raised money. (By contrast, there is no evidence Obama's efforts had any effect at all.) But it was not until I watched “Sarah Palin's Alaska” that the lightbulb went on for me. This is it. This IS her campaign for the presidency in 2012. She is inventing something completely new in campaign politics, and while she may ultimately fail, she has leap-frogged past even Obama's brilliant 2008.

It is the only sort of campaign that gives her any chance of victory. For one thing, the elites and what she calls the “lame-stream media” simply hate her. They hate her because she worked her way through Idaho State University rather than having a million bucks worth of prep schools and Ivy League education dropped on her. They hate her because she's the wrong kind of feminist. They hate her because she didn't abort her Down Syndrome child. They hate her because she sometimes says, “Gosh.” They hate her for a thousand reasons. They hate her no less than they did when several hundred reporters showed up in Alaska to investigate corruption at the Wasilla Public Library. In fact, they hate her more now because she won't go away.

So what's a girl to do? Well, since the NYT and the Washington Post and NBC and CBS and ABC and Chris Matthews and Katie Couric will ALWAYS treat her like something that crawled out from under a rock, Palin has decided to see whether it is possible that the leftwing cultural mavens have lost so much influence that a national campaign can successfully ignore them. It's an interesting question. The importance of the old-fashioned media in shaping opinion has been fading for some time. (I don't know anyone under the age of 50 who watches a network “Evening News” show, for example.)

In any case, she has no choice. John McCain's campaign, or George Bush's, or even Obama's, will never win another election. The winner in 2012 will have to do something different.

In her favor is the fact that she seems to understand the new media and how to exploit it. In particular, since she controls the image she creates on Facebook and elsewhere, she can use the leftwing hatred to her advantage. Earlier this year, she was lambasted for using the made-up word “refudiate.” Now she uses it all the time, with a wink and a nod to her fans. Yesterday, the New Oxford American Dictionary named it the best new word of the year. She also frequently makes jokes about things she can “see from her house.”

In addition, the new media tend to be more “personal” and less formal, and this suits her as well. While the reality show is not a high-brow format, it works for her. She has a large, photogenic family, Alaska is a beautiful place, and she's not an egghead. She likes hanging with Todd and the kids and going outside and hiking and fishing and shooting. It's not hard to watch, unless you loathe her with every fiber of your being.

Finally, there's another, more subtle, point being made with “Sarah Palin's Alaska.” She doesn't just think about things. She does things, and sometimes those things are interesting to watch. Imagine an Obama reality show, for example, with him and Geithner and Holder sitting in the faculty lounge that is now the West Wing, debating the finer points of some draconian new regulations for the citrus industry. That's it, pretty much---that's the whole show, unless they break it up with a couple hours of golf on a locked-down golf course at some Air Force Base. Granted, he's the President and he leads a locked-down life, but it's not like he ever did anything interesting before he became president. For him, it seems, life has always been a long stretch in the faculty lounge followed by a round of golf. There's nothing very visual or compelling about a man who lives largely inside his own head. Even for one of his acolytes, an Obama reality show would be pretty dreary stuff.

And then there's Sarah. In 2011 and 2012, considering the media world that now touches all of us, there's something to be said for somebody who can shoot a moose, butcher it that afternoon, and cook up a tasty stew for the family that night.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


After the tea party influence in these elections, and their success, the Republican candidate for president in 2012 will have to be someone who is at least acceptable to the conservative elements in the party. This means that Romney, Huckabee, Giuliani, Gingrich and other standard-brand Republicans will not be elected president in two years. If any of them should win the Republican nomination, there will be a third-party candidate, and Obama's reelection will be assured.


It's tempting to be flippant about California's slide into Greece-like insolvency and chaos after decades of Democratic rule, but the election of Governor Moonbeam and Senator Barbara “Don't-Call-Me-Ma'am” Boxer is really kind of sad. California is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and its history is inspiring. It has always been “the end of America,” where hope ruled, where a new life beckoned. “Go West, young man,” Horace Greeley said, and Americans did. And now they are leaving.

Three thousand people leave California each week. It has the largest prison population in the country, the worst schools, the highest income taxes, the highest sales taxes and the highest gas taxes. Half of America's illegal immigrants live in California. It has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, after Nevada and Michigan. Personal income dropped last year for the first time since WWII. Its general obligation bonds now total $77.8 billion, and there are an estimated $500 billion in unfunded pension liabilities to the many thousands of public employees who earn in excess of $100,000 per year. Its bonds have the lowest rating of any of the fifty states, which means that California pays more interest on its debt.

And yet, the state elected Jerry Brown governor and Barbara Boxer to the Senate. If you had to pick two people who had more to do with the left-wing destruction of this wonderful state over the past thirty years, it would be hard to find two better candidates.

California WILL default on its obligations. And when the welfare benefits stop, and the unionized public employees stop getting paid their wages and pensions, there will be violence.


On right-wing talk radio, everyone who calls in to talk about the 2012 Republican ticket wants Chris Christie on it.


It used to be that “pursuing a land war in Asia” was the definition of political stupidity. Now, however, the three Democrats who rule my life---President Obama, Governor Rendell and Mayor Nutter---have made us forget Vietnam. The true measure of governmental incompetence is “raising taxes in a recession.”


Toward the end of the campaign, Democrats from Obama on down talked incessantly about the need to “get out the vote.” If everyone who voted in 2008 had voted in 2010, however, the Dems would still have gotten clobbered. Their problem was not that they couldn't get their voters out, but rather that there just aren't as many of them. All the polls, including the exit polls, indicate that fewer people identify themselves as Democrats and that many independents who voted for Obama now wish they hadn't.

The size of the American government has been increasing for decades, so the explanation cannot be that Americans don't want a big government. Clearly they do. They just don't want THIS big government. THIS big government is strictly an insider game.

If you are a member of a union, this government will funnel taxpayer money to your insolvent pension funds. In fact, if you are the UAW, they will give you a car company. If, on the other hand, you are a creditor of that car company, your rights can no longer be enforced in our courts.
When a state attempts to enforce federal immigration laws that the Obama administration wishes to ignore, the federal government condemns the state as racist, sues it in federal court, and reports the state to the United Nations as a violator of human rights.

As we have learned in Noxubee County, Mississippi, and in the voter-intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party, the Voting Rights Act will no longer be used to protect your right to vote if you are a white person..

If you are a businessman in a company or an industry Obama has decided to vilify (AIG comes to mind), your legal contracts will be ignored. In addition, busloads of agitators will be sent to the homes of your executives to terrorize their families. But if, like Google, you are a friend of the administration, your repeated releases of private information on millions of individuals will never draw the attention of the Justice Department, even though virtually every other Western government is pursuing Google in their criminal courts. Similarly, if you are Goldman Sachs---well, if you're Goldman Sachs, you just can't get arrested no matter what you do.


Following the Republican victory in the election, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “If you look at the US, you look at who we're electing to Congress, to the Senate---they can't read! I'll bet you a bunch of these people don't have passports. We're about to start a trade war with China if we're not careful here, only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.”

Really now. This sort of thing has to stop, doesn't it? It didn't work for Democrats before the election, and it certainly won't work now, so what's the point of insulting the majority of the electorate? A lot of people voted, and they elected some people that Michael Bloomberg apparently didn't like, but is that any reason for him to get all bitchy about it and tell me I vote for guys who can't read and don't know where China is? I mean, isn't it bad enough that all my friends and relatives and neighbors and acquaintances and parole officers think I'm a toothless, xenophobic, Muslim-hating, homophobic, illiterate maroon just because I read Friedrich Hayek and the Constitution and Supreme Court cases and stuff? Now I have to take this crap from the Mayor of New York too?


Advice to John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House: fire the caterer, lose the florist, cancel the deliveries from the patisserie, and get rid of the goddamn airplane. Completely de-Pelosi the office. The Speaker should never again be mistaken for Madonna.


I don't vote for a lot of Democrats. In fact, the only two I can remember are Lynn Yeakle and John Street. But I will never vote for another one until the Democrats stop doing two things.

First, Democrats who run blue states have to stop disenfranchising military voters. In the 2008 election, almost 20,000 military votes were never recorded because politicians in Democratic states failed to send out ballots in time. A certain outrage ensued, followed by the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, a federal statute requiring all states to send absentee ballots to servicemen at least 45 days before an election. Yet somehow, in 2010, twelve states (guess which ones---no, wait, I'll tell you---New York, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts...) failed to send out ballots in time. In an unsurprising development, the Eric Holder Justice Department chose not to impose any sanctions on these states.

It's extremely unlikely that absentee ballots from service people in Afghanistan or elsewhere could ever turn an election, so the Democrats' actions in stopping soldiers from voting are not merely vindictive and corrupt, they are pointless.

The other thing Democrats must stop doing is forcing people who sincerely believe abortions are wrong to pay for them. Obama, Pelosi and Reid risked not passing Obamacare over public funding for abortion, and it was only because the last “pro-life” Democrats (e.g., Bart Stupak) in Congress caved on the issue that the bill was passed.

I don't know why Democrats insist on this (they never discuss their reasons), but insist on it they do. Though abortion is legal throughout the land, it remains the primary moral issue of our time, and half the American people have serious reservations about the practice. We all must accept the law of the land, but forcing dissenters actually to pay for the procedure is a violation of their most fundamental rights of conscience.


One of the most significant election results received little attention. In a retention (yes-no) election in Iowa, three of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court were fired by the voters. New ones will now be appointed by the incoming Governor. Since 1962, when the system of retention elections was put in place, no justice has ever lost his seat. This time, however, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices David Baker and Michael Streit (the only ones facing the voters this year), all lost by double-digit margins.

It is an activist court. In April 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found a right to same-sex marriage in the Iowa Constitution, effectively overruling all of Iowa's history as well as a 1998 Iowa statute, the Defense of Marriage Act, that had defined marriage along traditional lines. The decision was completely unexpected, and citizens of Iowa were shocked. Now, nineteen months later, the voters have had their say.

If you happen to read about this in the NYT or the Philadelphia Inquirer or hear about it on CNN, it will undoubtedly be presented as a triumph of knuckle-dragging, homophobic, Midwestern Bible-thumpers and rubes. I don't see it as having much to do with gay marriage, however. I prefer to view it as a demand by Hawkeye Nation that they be governed by law rather than the arrogant whims of elite ideologues.

Decisions like the same-sex ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009, or any of the other such decisions by other Supreme Courts, (or Roe v. Wade, for that matter), are an attack on the rule of law, and without the rule of law, America becomes Somalia. When results-obsessed judges invent doctrines in order to impose their personal beliefs on the rest of us, it is an affront to all freedom-loving people, regardless of how they may feel about gay marriage (or abortion).

Iowa has been a state since 1846, and until a few years ago, it had never occurred to anyone that the Iowa Constitution required that persons of the same sex be permitted to marry each other. The reason it never occurred to anyone is that this requirement is not found in the Iowa Constitution. Yet somehow, all seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court suddenly decided there is such a requirement and that it has been there, hidden to the citizens of Iowa, for 164 years.

Sometime in the next few years, the citizens in one of our fifty states will vote to permit same-sex marriages, and though some will question the wisdom of that decision, no one will question its legitimacy. THAT'S THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. That's how our Republic works. The people, and their representatives, get to decide on the laws that govern us. That is the democratic process. When that power is taken from us by a few men and women, no matter how intelligent or evolved they may believe themselves to be, we are no longer a nation of law. We join the billions of oppressed people in the world who are instead ruled by the prejudices of their “betters.”


Thursday, October 28, 2010


[Note: “Republicans 101” is a continuing series designed to help my liberal friends understand what conservatives think.]

A few months ago, when Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky, I made a bet on the race with one of the few political insiders I know personally. This man (who I will call “Joe”) has worked in government most of his life in both Philadelphia and Harrisburg, and he knows far more than he would ever tell about who is doing what to whom in the world of Pennsylvania Democrats. Joe is an administrator and a technocrat---he's not an ideologue---and if he casually remarks on what, for example, a particular city councilman is planning to do, well, you can book it. He's been there. He's done that. He knows where the bodies are buried and he knows who buried them.

So we were discussing the Rand Paul nomination when I cautiously opined that there was a lot of sentiment growing about returning the nation to the principles on which it was founded, and that Rand Paul's win in the primary was just the beginning. There is a lot of anger about the direction in which Obama is leading the country, I said, and the growing tea party movement could represent a significant shift in the political landscape.

At this point, Joe laughed. “You can't pay any attention to nuts like this guy,” he said. “This will die down soon enough and that seat in Kentucky will certainly go in the D column.”

“You think this is nothing?” I asked.

“I'll bet you five bucks the Democrats win that seat.”

Rand Paul has never trailed in the polls against his Democratic opponent and now, five days before the election, the actual voting seems merely a formality. Yet Joe, whose experience in pragmatic, hard-nosed politics and government exceeds that of anyone I know, could not see this coming. The forces that brought Rand Paul to the fore in Kentucky were, to his way of thinking, a joke. The libertarian/constitutionalist movement called the tea party was something interesting for pundits to talk about, but it could have no real impact on electoral politics. He believed in the normal ebb and flow---since this was a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans would probably pick up seats---but the D's would still be D's and the R's would still be R's.

The insiders never see it coming. Once in a long while, the French Revolution happens, and Louis XVI doesn't get the memo. Every now and then, the serfs get kind of rowdy, and the Czar doesn't realize that this time they are really, really, really PO'd. Gorbachev probably saw the problems, but he was the last guy to understand that the Soviet Union could suddenly vanish.

I get the same sense from the elitist, insulated crew that runs our news media and our politics. They have no idea how angry Americans are. All of them, like Joe, see this uprising as a sort of hiccup. At this point, anyone who sees the polls must realize there will be a big swing in this election, but to the wise guys, everything will settle down once the elections are over. Repeal Obamacare? These jokers won't even defund NPR. Stop spending money nobody has? When have the Republicans ever done that?

And, of course, maybe Katie Couric and Barney Frank and Chris Matthews are right. Maybe nothing will change, and everyone will stop talking about the Constitution, and we will all settle back into our seamless transition into an atheistic European welfare state that will eventually be overtaken by sharia law. But I don't think so. The energized piece of the American electorate, once they have thrown out some of the bums and handed the Congressional reins to the Republicans, are going to expect some action.

It's a problem for Republicans because there is little evidence they “get it” either. The establishment Republicans have shown something less than enthusiastic support for the more doctrinaire tea-party Republican candidates (e.g., Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller, Rand Paul). In addition, there is an embarrassing history of issuing endorsements to candidates that conservative Republican voters have soundly rejected. Charlie Crist, before he realized he was an “independent,” was endorsed by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Earlier, in the special election for New York's 23rd Congressional District, Newt Gingrich famously endorsed Dede Scozzafava, the liberal Republican who wound up quitting the race and throwing her support to her Democratic opponent.

Then there was “The Pledge,” a dreary 20-page document issued by Congressional Republicans in an attempt to suggest they are running on some type of national platform. Largely unreadable, as if written by a committee (which it was), the only news to come out of the Pledge was what it did NOT contain: a promise to eliminate earmarks.

Republicans will be elected on November 2 not because they have a coherent platform or philosophy, but simply because they are not Democrats aligned with Obama. But that doesn't mean the Republican Party will not have any responsibility to the voters who elected them. Democrats and the lefties in the media will never “get it,” but that's fine. Katie and Barney and Chris (and most of my friends and relatives) will call me a stupid racist homophobic nativist sexist lowbrow hillbilly until the end of time, and they will never pay a price for it among their supporters. The Republicans in the next Congress will have to fight my fight, however, or there will be no Republican Party in 2012. If the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the Republican establishment think there is howling now, just wait until they start voting for appropriations bills with earmarks in them, or trying to “amend” Obamacare. Republicans will have to be willing to shut down the federal government in their attempt to repeal Obamacare, or there will soon be no Republicans at all. Even if they fail, they must try.

Generally speaking, Republicans have no recent history of caring about the Constitution or acting out of principle, so there is considerable pessimism among us stupid racist homophobic nativist sexist lowbrow hillbillies that the new Republicans will be a heck of a lot different from the old ones.

In our national politics, Democrats have one argument that always seems to carry the day. If you are opposed to a program that will benefit some group the Democrats wish to favor, it is because you HATE the members of that group. If you wish to change the (insolvent) Social Security program, it is because you HATE old people and want them to pick food out of dumpsters. If you are opposed to gay marriage, it is because you HATE homosexuals. If you think it's good for society if everyone pays some taxes rather than just the top third of wage-earners, it's because you HATE the poor and want them to starve. If you think there are difficult moral issues regarding abortion, it's because you HATE women. If you think welfare programs, food stamps and the like tend to make people overly dependent on the government rather than on their own initiative, it's because you HATE minorities. If you are opposed to government-run healthcare, it is because you HATE everyone, and you want them to be dropped from their insurance programs and die in the street.

I don't remember the last time Republicans offered any rebuttal to this pathetic argument. Now, the future of the Republican Party rests on the ability of the GOP to do so.


Saturday, September 11, 2010


Though it now appears the Rev. Terry Jones will not be burning Korans on 9-11 this year, it seems certain some other loony will. So there's that, at least.

The sad part of the story is the utterly predictable reaction from President Obama, Petreus, Gates, and all the others who are more caring and understanding and nuanced than the rest of us slobs. It will only endanger our troops, we are told. It will serve as the best recruiting tool al-Qaeda ever had. I wonder if anyone ever advised Roosevelt not to annoy the Nazis, or kill them, since that would only help them recruit more Nazis. What was FDR thinking, I wonder, when he challenged Americans to carry our values across the sea and crush the fascists? What was Churchill thinking when he did the same for the British? Didn't they realize it would only make them hate us more?

This is the Danish cartoon fiasco all over again. Six months after the satirical Muhammed cartoons were published, a group of jihadi-minded imams spread out across the Middle East and told the faithful to be outraged. They even added a couple of especially vicious cartoons that weren't in the original collection, just to gin up the crowd. And they succeeded. Riots ensued. Innocents were killed. And unfortunately, the West cowered in fear. Western governments (including ours) made conciliatory statements about how offensive it all was. At the moment that every newspaper in Europe, the US and Canada should have published all the cartoons on their front pages, none did. Later, the Yale University Press published a dusty, academic analysis of the phenomenon, but WOULD NOT PUBLISH THE CARTOONS THEMSELVES IN THE BOOK. It would have been too insensitive or something.

And yet, though Western governments and journalists gave in to the rage of the offended, did the rage subside? Of course not. Instead, the Western reaction was universally viewed as a sign of weakness, which it was. Those who wish to spread Sharia law across the world, with its stonings and honor killings and amputations, were only encouraged. It confirmed their charge that we in the West don't really believe in anything. And now the retreat from our most basic freedoms has become a reflex. One goofball in Florida announces he going to burn a Koran on 9-11, reports of Middle Eastern rage appear on the cable stations, and the President of the United States mobilizes his entire PR apparatus to silence Rev. Jones and protect the delicate sensitivities of the Muslim world.

(Meanwhile, in a story you may have missed, the US Army in Afghanistan has burned thousands of Bibles sent there for missionary work. Might offend the locals, you see.)

This was a teaching moment that has now been completely lost, and it has been lost because our president does not share, or even understand, certain basic American values. A president who did understand them would have issued the following statement:

“News has now spread around the world that a silly man in Florida is going to burn a Koran on the ninth anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 In some nations, there have already been riots over this incident, and more are threatened. There appears to be a sense in some places that the United States government should stop this man, or that I should stop him, or somebody should. Thus, I am speaking today to explain the official US government position, and my personal position, on this matter.
“Neither I nor the government has any power to prevent him from burning a Koran, and I personally have no desire to. The Reverend Jones, by destroying Islam's holy book, is expressing his opinion that the Koran, and the entire religion of Islam, is the work of Satan. In America, every person has a right to express his opinion, and no one can legally stop him. We are a free country, and this is one of our most cherished freedoms. Personally, I believe that every person in every country should enjoy this freedom.
“Under our law, it does not matter that many people will be offended by Rev. Jones's action, or even enraged by it. In fact, our Supreme Court has declared on many occasions that offensive or hateful speech is more deserving of legal protection than speech that offends no one because offensive speech is where our principles are tested. We believe that if offensive speech can be suppressed, then no speech is safe.
“We have one man in Florida who plans to express his hatred of Islam. Other Americans have burned Bibles or desecrated other items revered by Christians because they hate Christianity. Still others have burned the American flag, either because they hate America or because they hate some policy America is pursuing. Some people hate me. They say terrible things about me, call me names, burn my image, or paint a Hitler mustache on my picture. I don't enjoy it when hateful speech is directed at me, but I would never try to stop it. The right to speak, to express one's opinion, is granted to every person by God, and no government anywhere should have the power to take it away.”

And the result would be? Well, there would probably be riots in Karachi, but there have already been riots in Karachi, and no Korans have been burned yet. But if an American president were to explain our values forthrightly, and without apology, it would be harder for the jihadis to build a mob the next time someone mocks Muhammed or burns a Koran or accidentally renders an insult to the faithful. There is a lesson to be taught in these situations, a lesson in the inalienable rights of man, and it is deplorable that Western leaders, Obama included, have forgotten how to articulate it.

By recognizing the outrage and the violence as legitimate, Western leaders also ignore the hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world who would like to live in free societies where individuals are permitted to speak their minds. We tend to forget that the radicals and jihadis are a small minority of Muslims worldwide, but it's easy to do that when the radicals and jihadis are the only ones we ever see on CNN, and the only ones Western leaders seem to care about. How many times have we all wondered: “Where are the 'moderate Muslims'? Why don't they stand up against the fundamentalists and the murderers in their midst?” The answer is fear. They see no one in the West who cares about their desire for freedom, so they are on their own in a dangerous world. A consistent voice in the West for basic principles of human rights would go a long way toward delegitimizing the radicals and emboldening the freedom-fighters. Whatever your theory on the fall of the Soviet Union, it's hard to deny that the moral condemnation of communism by John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had something to do with it. The war against the jihadis is also an ideological battle, but our leaders are unwilling, or unable, to defend our values.

Put more simply, there is no other option. A nation cannot have free speech if it attempts to appease or sympathize with a violent and intolerant rabble, or impose a legal standard of civility on expression. This concept is so central to First Amendment jurisprudence that it has a name: “The Heckler's Veto.”

In the case of Terminiello v. Chicago, in 1949, a lecturer was arrested for a breach of the peace when an angry crowd gathered outside the auditorium where he was speaking. The trial judge told the jury that under a Chicago ordinance, it could convict the speaker if he had engaged in speech that “stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest or creates a disturbance….” On review, the US Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ruled the ordinance unconstitutional. Speech is protected, the Court wrote, BECAUSE “it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”

The Court explained that though there may be reasons to limit speech in some circumstances, the offensive or hateful character of the speech itself can never be used to justify censorship. To limit offensive speech because it offends is to give the heckler a veto over speech that annoys him. In fact, it encourages the heckler to become violent and breach the peace, because then the speaker will be punished. The rule of Terminiello is that we punish the violent heckler, but never the speaker.

Once you start punishing speech because it offends, eventually you grant control of all discourse to the most sensitive, irrational and violent elements in society. Opening this door leads swiftly to repression. Though you begin by punishing nazis and racists, you move swiftly to jailing artists like Andres Serrano (“Piss Christ”) and newspaper editors who publish Muhammed cartoons. Ultimately, you lock up the guy who says, “Ya know, women can do a lot of things, but I still think the best firefighters are men.”

The Reverend Terry Jones and his imitators are no more than pimples on the body politic, and it is pathetic that our president would use this incident to express his sympathies with the manufactured rage-a-paloosa shows now playing across the Middle East. By declaring that the rage is legitimate, of course, he also elevates Jones to a position of significance that the good reverend does not deserve. The only sensible, and morally responsible, stance for an American president is to politely lampoon Rev. Jones as a uniquely American sort of moron and diplomatically mock the rioters for taking him seriously. It's appalling that President Obama would not recognize this as an opportunity to explain to the world what America is all about, and how most of us really feel about the made-for-TV outrage. “In God We Trust” may be the official motto of the USA, but “F*** 'Em If They Can't Take A Joke” is surely the unofficial one.


Saturday, August 28, 2010


Recently, a new executive showed up at my Argus. He first descended on me in the hallway as I was heading to lunch. He came at me in a sort of rush, introduced himself, vigorously pumped my hand, asked me where I worked and what my duties are, and then patted my shoulder and assured me we would be seeing a lot of each other. A couple days later, he sought me out in the market, where I was working, and asked me how I thought the market was looking after such a busy weekend and what I was planning to do next. He then complimented me enthusiastically on the appearance of the milk I had just put into the refrigerated cases.

Two days after that, he took his first shift as Executive In Charge, which means he was top dog in the store for an eight-hour stretch. As such, he led the “Morning Huddle,” a brief confab that occurs every day. Announcements are made, certain people are singled out for praise, new policies are explained, etc.

As the group assembled, Chuck worked his way around, chatting with this person and that, then when it was time to begin, he stepped into the center of the group and boomed, “Good morning, everyone!”

“Good morning, Chuck,” a few of us mumbled. It was 8:00 in the morning.

He paused. He looked around. He appeared disappointed. “OK,” he said, “let's try it again. GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!!!”

At Argus, I have learned to be wary about individuals like this.

Every organization has to evaluate the people who work for that organization, and based upon the internal beliefs or culture of the group, each of them does it differently. Certain characteristics are rewarded at one company but are less important at others.

At Argus, for example, energy and enthusiasm are given considerable weight in personnel and promotion decisions. Now, no one would argue that energy and enthusiasm are bad qualities, but any character trait can be given more weight than it deserves, with the result that other desirable traits will be undervalued or even overlooked. Everyone at Argus has met co-workers and managers and executives who are extremely outgoing and energetic, but who are otherwise incompetent. That is because, in a place that overvalues enthusiasm, it is possible to rise in the ranks if you are extremely enthusiastic but have nothing else going for you.

I don't know whether Chuck is a dope. Only time will answer that question. But the new HR boss certainly is. Sal is cut from the same cloth as Chuck. He's always in motion, he's always asking how you are doing, he's young, he's full of beans, he's attractive and articulate. And he's useless. He doesn't know how to do any of the things he's supposed to do and he seems unable to focus his thoughts long enough to learn how. Sal has never fixed any of the problems I have brought to his attention. My annual raise, for example, was effective on April 24. Four months later, it has yet to show up in a paycheck. Sal assures me he will fix it, and I'll get back pay and everything will be beautiful....

As a result, if I can avoid Sal, I do so. I use his assistants, Hannah and Mia. They never slap your back or pretend to care how you feel. They never dart, ferretlike, around the store telling people what a wonderful job they are doing. Their oratorical skills are weak. However, if you give them an HR-related problem to solve, they will focus their attention on it until it is solved. This never takes very long because they are completely conversant in every piece of HR software and they know who to contact at the main office if they need authorization they do not possess.

Hannah and Mia represent a corollary to the rule that one should avoid those whose primary characteristics are overvalued by the organization. Since Hannah and Mia possess none of the verve and pizazz that Argus values, these are the people you go to when you need to get something done since it is a safe bet they know how to do their jobs. Otherwise, they would not survive. They will never be rewarded by the organization at a level commensurate with their skills, but other employees quickly learn how valuable they are.

When the overvaluing of a characteristic reaches a certain threshold, it is dangerous to the organization since the process becomes entrenched in the culture. As the upper ranks grow increasingly populated with a particular type of person, these folks will have both the power and the inclination to promote others like themselves, thus perpetuating the cultural imbalance.

Disaster often ensues because no one in a position of power can see how one-dimensional the leadership has become. In a boardroom full of back-slappers and cheerleaders, for example, no one will ever wonder whether there might be too many back-slappers and cheerleaders around. Those who have been rewarded for their behavior and personality and skills are always going to think their behavior and personality and skills are what gets people to the top. That which is rewarded gets repeated.

Gene Mauch managed to eke out a major league baseball career for himself as a good-field/no-hit kind of utility player who bunted well, didn't strike out much and could hit-and-run. He became a major-league manager in the early 1960s around the time the strike zone expanded and offense dropped like a stone across baseball. It was a one-run era, where the smallball skills Mauch had relied upon as a player became the only ones available.

For a brief period, his teams won more games than they had any right to, and Mauch was regarded as a genius. That era quickly ended in the late 1960s when the strike zone shrank, batting averages went up and homers again started flying out of ballparks.

What did Mauch do? He continued to sacrifice bunt in the first inning, and play for one run, That which gets rewarded gets repeated, even after the rewards stop coming. He was a one-trick pony who could not adjust and never made it to the World Series, though he managed for 24 years. Earl Weaver, whose managerial philosophy was “defense, pitching and three-run homers” came to regard Mauch as something of an idiot. “Gene never figured out that baseball is the only game where you can score more than once on the same play,” Weaver once said.

For another example, one need look no further than the “smartest guys in the room” phenomenon. At this point, we are all familiar with the nightmares that result when you turn things over to the smart guys. Steeped in theory, void of experience, buoyed with the hubris that only comes from the possession of advanced degrees, utterly lacking in the understanding there are risks no one can anticipate, the smartest guys in the room never see they are walking over a cliff because, according to their calculations, there is no cliff. Whether it's Enron, or Fannie and Freddie, or Obama's economic czars, the smart guys can never turn back from the abyss because, well, they're really smart, you see. They're smarter than the rest of us. It can never occur to them that smart isn't everything because smart is what got them where they are.

* * * * * * *

At this point, you may be asking yourself, as Tina Turner once famously did, “What's von Clausewitz got to do, got to do with it?” Well, the answer is that I got a bit sidetracked here. Von Clausewitz had a lot to say about people like Chuck and Sal, and I originally intended to tell their story through that distant lens, but then my theory grew a bit and I had to include Gene Mauch and the “smartest guys in the room” and all the other stuff.

But Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th Century Prussian general, is what got me thinking about Chuck and Sal in the first place.

In “On War,” his major treatise, von Clausewitz goes off on a bit of a tangent at one point into a discussion of different personality types among military officers, and expresses his firmly-held views on which ones to promote and which ones to get rid of. Stupid and lazy officers, for example, though they need strict supervision and clear direction, can nevertheless be of use to a commander who understands their limitations. Intelligent, energetic officers were not his favorite either, though they too could get a job done for a general who was able to stifle any urge they might have to freelance.

Old Carl, however, spared no vitriol in his dissertation on the Chucks and Sals of the officer corps. The stupid, energetic officer, von Clausewitz informs us, is worse than useless. He is a danger to everyone around him. He makes bad decisions, he doesn't know what to do, he never understands the strategy, yet he can't sit still. Not only does he exhaust his troops needlessly, he will march them to their deaths in foolish assaults where he has little hope of winning. Soldiers assigned to an energetic but stupid officer quickly grow to hate him. Sometimes they kill him. It was these passages from von Clausewitz that popped into my head on the morning Chuck demanded we all shout “GOOD MORNING, CHUCK!” with the same demonic cheerfulness he himself had just exhibited. Since I am not a 19th Century German soldier and Chuck is not my commanding officer, he is not actually a threat to my life, and I don't have to frag him. I'm grateful for that, but the chance I will ever develop a fondness for Chuck is exceedingly small.

All of which brings us, finally, to von Clausewitz's ideal officer, a man who is intelligent but fundamentally lazy. Such a man, we are told, will quickly grasp the strategic goals of an operation and is capable of devising the tactics to achieve them. More importantly, since he has little interest in sheer activity for its own sake and no desire to exert himself unnecessarily, he will usually discover the quickest, most cost-effective and risk-averse method of accomplishing his assignments. The intelligent but lazy officer does not lack honor or courage, von Clausewitz assures us. He simply prefers to get the job done in the most efficient way possible so he can then put his feet up, open a bottle and get back to his card game.

Von Clausewitz's praise for the intelligent but lazy officer is also a description of my favorite person at Argus.

She might be forty years old, or she might be fifty, and she is what is called, in some neighborhoods, “a big girl.” She is always trying to lose weight and always trying to stop smoking. She is friendly and chatty, but somewhat shy. I have seen her in meetings with her superiors, where she goes in with much to say but gets tongue-tied and never says it. She was not a cheerleader and she was probably not the most popular girl in her high school, maybe because she read too many books. Her father has Alzheimer’s and she has to care for him because she's the responsible one among her brothers and sisters. Occasionally, she will have to take a day off because of this, and she will seem subdued or depressed for a while.

Her name is Georgette. She is my manager, and she runs the Market area at Argus. She has bosses of her own, of course, including the nameless and faceless people at headquarters who issue directives to all of us, but she is the day-to-day manager who runs the crew, makes sure there is yogurt on the shelves, and solves the problems that arise.

There are always problems. Someone calls in sick. The electronic scale for weighing and marking meat shuts down. Twenty gallons of milk topple off a pallet and explode. The bananas don't arrive. A pallet of Lean Cuisines is sitting on the floor of the backroom because there's more frozen food than the freezer can hold. A thousand dozen eggs has been delivered by mistake.

I have seen dozens of managers and executives at Argus deal with these and similar issues, and their behavior never varies. They will walk into a “situation” and start issuing orders to the assembled grunts who are attempting to deal with the problem. They will do this even if they know nothing about how that particular area of the store works. They will do it whether or not the problem is already being corrected in a reasonable and effective manner.

Georgette, by contrast, will arrive at the scene of the crime and do nothing, or appear to do nothing. She will look around, observe what everyone is doing, and assess the situation while appearing to be doing something else. She may engage somebody in trivial banter: “Hey, Manny, did you go to that party on Friday? Was Connie there?”

If she determines the issue is being resolved, she simply leaves, as quietly and calmly as she arrived. If she senses we are spinning our wheels, she will gently sort us out. “Do me a favor, Jerry,” she will say, “Take that flatbed with the juice out on the floor. And Lindsey, you should take your break now so when you get back, Jesus can go to lunch.” Only then does she wander off, often to the Starbucks in the front of the store, where she will gossip with a girlfriend.

Invariably, the clouds part and everything falls into place.

In management terms, Georgette is a minimalist. She expects her crew will get the job done, though if her help is needed, she will provide it. When mistakes are made, she will see them, and you can expect to hear from her about them (a process she calls “coaching”), but she will never upbraid you in public and you will never make that mistake again.

Her methods (or perhaps it is merely her personality) engender tremendous loyalty among the crew in the Market. The process is not describable in rational terms. None of us has any warmth or loyalty to the entity that is “Argus,” for example, and it would be absurd if we did. Everyone who works in the Market, however, has complete faith in Georgette and her judgment, and even a sort of childish desire to please her. Morale gets a boost when we see her drinking a latte and laughing with her buddy Mandy, or sneaking a smoke outside the employee entrance. There is no greater compliment to those of us on her crew than the sight of her paying no attention to us.

And what a motley crew it is. This is another important point. She doesn't get to choose her squad; they are handed to her by the HR people. There are 20ish single mothers, high-school dropouts, refugees from dysfunctional families in Scranton, women who have taken out restraining orders and are always looking over their shoulders, National Guard kids waiting for their deployment orders, would-be rap producers, supercool Hispanic guys whose every movement is a hosanna to grace and testosterone, and evangelical Christians. Then there's me, an aging and overeducated misfit. Georgette has to fire people occasionally, of course, and she is even capable of drilling somebody a new one. When this happens, though, she views it as a personal failure. There is a part of her that believes she can turn anyone into an effective member of her team, and for the most part, she does.

Those of us in the Market are all carbon-based life forms---beyond that, we have nothing in common. But the one thing everyone agrees on is that Georgette is the best manager any of us have ever had.

* * * * * * *

POSTSCRIPT: The discussion in the backroom can be fascinating. Recently, I walked in on a colloquy on whether true love is possible in the modern world. Opinions differed. Then Jerry spoke up. Jerry works in the backroom and appears to be insane. Occasionally, he will get into a screaming fight with somebody over nothing, and he will carry the rage around with him for days. “What do you do,” he asked, “when you are going with a girl for ten years and you go to the same church, and she has a good job, and you think she loves you, and then you marry her and she immediately quits her job and starts smoking crack in your house all day? When that happens to you, THEN you can tell me about love.” No one had much to say on the topic after that.

Copyright2010Michael Kubacki

Friday, June 18, 2010


(Note: ESIS, Inc. is the company BP has designated to receive damage claims related to the Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)

ESIS, Inc.
1 Beaver Valley Road
Wilmington, DE 19803

Dear Sir or Madam:

As a BP shareholder, I submit this claim for myself and on behalf of all others similarly situated. Those responsible for my damages include BP itself as well as Mr. Svanberg, Mr. Hayward and all directors and officers, personally.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (33 USC 2701 et seq.) provides a cap of liability for damages (apart from remediation) caused by an oil spill such as the current disaster at the Deepwater Horizon site. This limit is $75 million. My claim, on behalf of myself and BP shareholders, is for every dollar BP pays out for damages in excess of the statutory limit.

The answer to the question of “who pays” for a tort or injury often results from a complex mix of conflicting policy considerations. In this case, that complicated policy decision on “who pays” was made twenty years ago by the US Congress, and the officers and directors of BP have no authority to second-guess that determination or decide unilaterally what BP “should” pay. That question is settled. I am astonished that the stewards of BP’s assets would raid the treasury in pursuit of some inchoate (and unlikely) PR benefits, or perhaps to insulate themselves personally against potential criminal charges relating to BP’s actions in the Gulf. This money is not yours to spend. It belongs to the shareholders.

I demand that BP immediately cease paying damage claims in excess of its legal liability. I further demand that BP withdraw from its pledge to fund any impromptu, extra-legal escrow fund with $20 billion or any other sum.

While I look forward to a prompt response to this letter, and I remain hopeful that the officers and directors of BP will swiftly come to their senses, I reserve my rights to pursue claims with the SEC, the US Department of Justice, and any other appropriate authority.

Very Truly Yours,

Michael Kubacki, Esq.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


For my birthday in March, I received a certificate from my son for an all-expense-paid trip, for two, to Belmont Park for the 2010 Belmont Stakes. So it was that I found myself in a car on the morning of June 5, hurtling up the NJ Turnpike and across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, deep into the guts of Long Island. With Tex at the wheel and his friend Sam (my date) riding shotgun, I passed a pleasant couple of hours sipping coffee and studying the Racing Form, teasing out nuggets of data that would lead me to the winners that afternoon.

We had no tickets, we weren’t quite sure how to get there, and we didn’t know what awaited us. Mobs of unwashed New Yorkers jostling us, picking our pockets, and blocking our view of the horses? A 72-hour traffic snarl at the Goethals Bridge? Parking nightmares? Rude policemen with Brooklyn accents so thick we couldn’t understand their instructions, resulting in our being pummeled insensate with nightsticks? A jihadist takeover of Staten Island? There were a lot of things that might go wrong. But nothing did.

And that’s why I’m posting this article. Not only did nothing go terribly wrong, but there were a number of pleasant surprises during our afternoon at the track. I am recommending it as a day-trip for my friends and acquaintances in the Philly area.

Belmont Stakes Day features an extended racing card, with thirteen races beginning at 11:30 and ending eight hours later. We arrived about noon, easily found the general parking lot ($10 for the Belmont, free other days), took a one-minute ride on a shuttle bus, strolled up to the Grandstand gate, and paid $10 each to get in. (Grandstand admission costs $3 on other days.)

We now had the run of the place. Though we had no assigned seats (these cost extra), there are grassy areas near the paddock and there are plenty of benches on the rail, just a few feet from the track. After reconnoitering a bit, we planted ourselves in the second row of benches at the 1/16th pole (so-called because it is 1/16th of a mile from the finish line). There are better seats at Belmont Park, I suppose, but there aren’t many that were closer to the action. Should we have urgent advice for a jockey as he strained to reach the finish line, we were confident he would hear us.

It was a picnic atmosphere. Many folks had brought lawn chairs, coolers, and blankets to spread over the concrete, and all these little clots of partiers were interspersed throughout the bench area at the rail. There were families with little kids, there were tattooed cowboys, there were pretty girls in sun dresses and large hats, there were fat guys with enormous cigars in their mouths, and there were a number of young men wearing dress shirts and ties.

Seersucker was everywhere. I guess it’s a New York thing. I don’t believe I’ve seen so much seersucker since the summer of 1971, but it must have survived in Gotham, though it has transmogrified into something of a symbolic fabric. I didn’t see anyone in a seersucker suit, for example, but there were plenty of seersucker pants and cut-offs and jackets with the sleeves rolled up. One guy had cut up a seersucker jacket into a sort-of Borat-inspired vest, which he wore with sandals, thigh-high tight shorts and no shirt. Seersucker, in other words, appeared to have many meanings. Some of the locals, I think, wore it to suggest they work on Wall Street, or have a trust fund, or know someone named Vanderbilt. For others, its use was more ironic, or even mocking.

Regardless of their attire, sexual orientation, profession or country of origin, however, people were friendly. It was very much a party. Though it was crowded, and there was plenty of drinking, I saw no fights, or even arguments. Even comments directed at me because of my Phillies cap were good-natured rather than threatening. As I walked through crowds, I heard several folks call out, “Go Flyers!”

(One cautionary note: though we were treated well by everyone, New Yorkers are pushy. The normal rule of racetrack protocol is that if you put your baseball cap, or a page of Racing Form, down on your seat or bench, that seat or bench belongs to you for the rest of the day. No one would dream of usurping your spot, in part because everyone understands that some movement is required at the track, and you can’t be expected to stay in your seat every second. You have to place bets, for example, and buy a hot dog, and look at the horses being saddled in the paddock. I mean, it ain’t the opera. At Belmont, however, we had to defend our bench area repeatedly. Though we had filled it with Racing Forms and hats and duffel bags, one of us had to stay there at all times to maintain order. And even so, people were always trying to shift our stuff and take up residence. At one point, the three of us stood up to cheer as the horses approached the finish line in front of us, and when the race ended ten seconds later, I turned around to find two guys sitting in our seats. “Excuse me, guys,” I said. “We’re sitting here.” They left quietly.)

New York is enormous, chaotic and ungovernable, and it is also a financial center. All these features became apparent after a few minutes on the benches at trackside. Much like the feeling you get in Las Vegas, there was a sense of unrepentant capitalism and hustle, where everything is for sale. I very much like places with that kind of atmosphere. I feel safer in them. They remind me of a simpler time in America before everything was regulated, when it was understood that everybody was just trying to make a few bucks, and nobody thought there was anything wrong with that. New York, America’s ultimate nanny-state gulag, is the last place I expected to find it. I had envisioned a city inhabited solely by people who think they know best about what you should eat and drink and smoke, and how much rent you should pay, and how much money you should make. And obviously there are many such people in New York because there are rules about all those things. My very pleasant surprise, however, was that none of those folks showed up trackside at Belmont Park. Our little pari-mutuel Woodstock seemed to be peopled entirely by refugees from that other world where everyone seems to care more about your health and welfare than you want them to.

Guys were not-so-quietly selling Budweisers from their coolers for $4 (versus the $7 at the concession stands). An elegant Latin gentleman walked through the area with a couple boxes of cigars under his arm, offering them to discerning young gentlemen and ladies for $10 each. Cigars were abundant, in fact, in our impromptu city. Tex had brought some for our smoking pleasure, and when I declined my stogie, he promptly sold it for three times its value to a young man further down the bench. Later, another guy came over and tried to buy a cigar from me. Unwittingly, we had become a smoke shop, but we were sold out. I believe some of the young ladies in attendance were selling something also, though I did not inquire as to precisely what they were offering. Commerce proceeded unabated throughout the afternoon.

As for the racing itself, it was superb. In America, the very best stakes races are called “Graded” races, and they are graded I, II, or III. The Belmont Stakes is a Grade I race, the highest level. In addition to the Belmont, however, there were three other Grade I races that day, as well as two Grade II races. Even the lesser features were high-level allowance races featuring some of the most expensive horseflesh in the country, ridden by the most skilled jockeys in the land. For a serious horse-player, it’s an experience to be cherished. Apart from the annual Breeder’s Cup, where every race is a Grade I event, the card on Belmont Stakes Day is probably the best day of racing in the country each year. Churchill Downs on Derby Day is special, but this had to be better.

We had been cashing small tickets all afternoon, so the Belmont itself was something of a let-down, since none of us had the long-shot winner, Drosselmeyer. (“Drosselmeyer? Drosselmeyer?? DROSSELMEYER???” I muttered for twenty minutes after the race.) At that point, though, nothing could ruin what had been a classic day at the track. We had had so much fun, I was already anticipating some karmic payback in the form of a mammoth traffic tangle in our egress from the Big Apple. I had accepted it in advance, psychologically. But even THAT didn’t happen. We stumbled, somehow, onto a back exit out of the parking lot and merged easily onto the Belt Parkway. Then we sailed, unmolested, all the way home to Philly.


Monday, May 24, 2010


More than two weeks ago (May 8 or 9), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal sent a plan to the Obama administration (“for quick approval”) to build up barrier islands along the coastline so that oil from the Gulf spill would be stopped before it reached the mainland. With soil obtained from dredging the Mississippi, the most ecologically-delicate estuaries and beaches could be protected from the worst of the damage. Up until now, the existing barrier islands have caught vast quantities of the crude oil, and there is substantial scientific support for Jindal’s plan, which was estimated to cost about $350 million.

As of today (May 24), the Obama Administration has provided NO response to this request.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I was born in Philadelphia, and I was raised in Philadelphia, and sometimes I think I’ve just been here too long. You can get cynical.

I remember Paul D’Ortona, for example. He was president of City Council in the 1960’s, and a very popular politician in town. On one occasion, he had to introduce a visiting African statesman to Council, with all appropriate honors. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “I give you Robert Ngulu, former President of ‘Nigger-ia.’” He didn’t mean to insult the gentleman, of course. It’s just that he wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce the country the gentleman hailed from.

I also remember the bombing of Osage Avenue. Mayor Goode did it. Bombed a city block. We never did figure out exactly why.

I even remember when Ed Rendell became a respectable person. I remember the day. It was February of the year when he was first elected Governor, nine months later. I distinctly remember opening the paper that day and reading about Ed’s “vision” and his “ideas” and how he planned to lead Pennsylvania into a new era. “Ed?” I said. “ED???” The guy who had turned buying votes with taxpayer money into an art form? The guy who had pinched the bottoms of every barmaid in the three zipcodes that are downtown Philadelphia? Ed? I mean, it’s not like these were stories I had heard from his political opponents. I had heard these stories from the barmaids themselves. But now, suddenly, he was not Fast Eddie anymore. He was Ed Rendell, Elder Statesman. Or something.

But that’s Philadelphia. It’s cute, in a way.

But of all the men who have ruled this town, Arlen Specter was the worst. Forget Bork. Forget Anita Hill and magic bullets and Scottish jurisprudence. Forget his (continuing) war against the New England Patriots. Let’s go back to the 1960’s, when District Attorney Arlen Specter prosecuted the owner of a bookstore for selling Tropic of Cancer. Let’s recall those halcyon days when Captain Frank Rizzo was busting gay bars in West Philly and leading the homosexuals off in handcuffs, and D.A. Arlen Specter always happened to be there in order to get his picture in the paper the next morning. Later, "Snarlin' Arlen" was voted “the meanest man in the Senate,” year after year, by Senate staffers.

Thank God this schmuck has finally been defeated.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010


For seven days, Barack Obama knew that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean each day, and he also knew this oil was heading for the American Gulf Coast. But apart from trashing Wall Street fat cats and telling jokes about Republicans at a press dinner, he did nothing. For a solid week, as the crude oil continued to gush from the wellhead and drift inexorably towards its appointment with ecological disaster, the federal government did nothing. Since 1994, federal law has required that certain oil clean-up equipment, called fire booms, be in place on the Gulf Coast to protect against such a possibility, but it was not there, and during that last week in April, the federal government did nothing to get useful equipment there.

In the fifteen months Barack Obama has been president, there have been four attacks by Islamic radicals on American soil: 1) the fatal attack on a military recruiting office in Little Rock, 2) the mass murder committed by Major Hasan, 3) the Christmas Day would-be pantybomber in Detroit, and 4) the car-bomb in Times Square. These are not “terrorists” or “jihadists” or “Islamic extremists,” of course---the Obama Administration won’t use these words. These are just isolated criminal matters. We will grant these loners and malcontents all their Miranda warnings and a nice trial, and then we’ll put them in prison for a while. Nothing to see here. Just move along. Four terror attacks in fifteen months suggests we can expect another nine attacks over the remaining thirty-three months of Obama’s term, unless the pace accelerates.

Our president’s job, in his own words, is to “transform America.” For that task, he undoubtedly has some talent. However, he doesn’t know how to run America. He has never run anything, and he doesn’t know how. The United States government has enormous resources, all of which are at Barack Obama’s disposal, but he doesn’t know how to organize them and bring them to bear upon real problems. This is why he cannot stop terrorists from attacking us. It’s also why he cannot stop a sea of oil from fouling our beaches and estuaries and fisheries even with a week’s head start.

Barack Obama is the reason legislators rarely get elected president. This is what happens when you elect an ideologue as an executive.


Monday, April 12, 2010


“Good is better than evil because it’s nicer.”
---Mammy Yokum (in “Li’l Abner”)

Unless there’s a World Series and the Phillies happen to be in it, The Masters is usually my favorite sports event of the year. I look forward to it and I read about it and I watch it on TV. And this year, of course, there was an extra sense of anticipation for the event because it would mark Tiger’s return to golf. I wanted to see how he would act, and how the fans would behave, and how he would play. Well, here’s what I learned.

It’s hard to care much about Tiger anymore.

He’s a truly great golfer, of course. He’s clearly the best of this generation and, to the extent such things can be measured, possibly the greatest of all time. He makes shots that other great players would not even attempt. When he’s on his game (which is often), he dominates his sport. As an athlete, he is unique in many ways.

And yet…. And yet…. Well, so what? He may well be the best golfer of all time, but SO WHAT? Watching him play, and he has played very well indeed, I realized I was rooting against him, and I was annoyed by the incessant focus on him. Every shot by Tiger is televised, for example; this is not true for any other player. Periodically, during the telecast, there is also a segment of all his highlights from the day’s play. In addition, there will be interviews of experts about his play, and the scrutiny he is under, and the fans’ reactions to him, and his interaction with the gallery, and how he has adjusted his play to the new groove pattern on his irons, and anything else they can think of to talk about that has some tangential relation to Tiger Woods.

In many ways, the rehabilitation of Tiger Woods, and the refurbishing of the Tiger Woods industry, is more sickening than the behavior that got him into trouble. At this point, we all know the drill, don’t we? Seclusion for a couple weeks, then a sympathetic interview by a carefully-chosen journalist. A tear is shed, mea culpas are issued, then more seclusion, perhaps in a therapeutic facility of some sort. Another friendly interview. Then, finally, an announcement that the miscreant, though he is still “working on his issues,” is ready to reemerge into a public life. The entire process is now a required course in the Celebrity Handler Program at the University of Texas.

In Tiger’s case, the rehab dance was more elaborate and nauseating than most because---well, he’s Tiger, and there’s more money at stake. The Nike ad produced for Masters Week was the culmination of this initial stage of the rehab campaign, and a copy of it should be enshrined in the Smithsonian as a dreadful artifact of the celebrity-rehab process, circa 2010.

If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It consists of Tiger standing motionless and silent, staring at the screen. He is neither happy nor sad. He is just standing there, a blank. Then we hear the voice of his father, as if the voice is playing in Tiger’s head. Earl Woods wants to know how Tiger feels, and whether he has learned anything. About what, you wonder. About obsessively pursuing strippers and porn stars? About marriage? About what it feels like to take a 9-iron in the medulla oblongata? It makes no sense, and you can be certain that if Earl Woods were alive, this Yoda-like ethereal musing is not what he would be saying to his son.

The first thing that strikes you about this ad is that someone, some individual, had to think of it and believe it was a good idea. Play the dead-daddy card? Brilliant! (Deepak Chopra was probably too busy to do the voice-over and they couldn’t get the rights to Martin Luther King.) Then Tiger had to agree to it, and twenty other lost souls in Tiger’s retinue and in the corporate offices at Nike, had to approve. We know that no one objected, because if even one person had done so, everyone else would have instantly seen the danger and run scurrying back to their offices to issue back-dated memos condemning it and demanding its creator be fired. But that didn’t happen. The ad was produced and broadcast to the world. It appears there is not a single individual in the entire Tiger Woods industry who thinks the way normal people do.

So now Tiger is back and I find myself wishing he weren’t. He’s a great golfer, maybe the greatest, but his return makes me realize that the world doesn’t need more great golfers. What the world really needs is good behavior. And the process that now routinely returns disgraced, immoral, and even criminal individuals to the public stage does nothing to ensure we will see any good behavior in the future. Unless there is a meaningful price to be paid for bad behavior, there will only be more and more of it.

Shame worked. Disgrace worked. Fifty years ago, when a famous person did something very, very wrong, that was the end of his career. There was no clinic to make him better and no talk-show host to share his pain. It was simply understood that certain lines should never be crossed and that, if they were (or at least if you got caught crossing them), the party was over. You would retire to the country to raise root vegetables and go fishing. In twenty years or so, you could write your memoirs, but you would never be allowed back into the inner circle. And it worked. The possibility of disgrace served to restrain people from succumbing to certain temptations. All of us benefit when there is a mechanism (short of criminal statutes) that deters us from giving in to our basest instincts.

Today, that mechanism is gone. Tiger is back. Eliot Spitzer is ready to stage a comeback. Even John Edwards wants to return to politics. Ten years ago, Jesse Jackson set the current land-speed record when, following news of his love-child, he announced he would retire from public life only to appear nine days later at a rally about some presumed incident of racial discrimination.

I want them all to go away. Goodbye Eliot and John and Jesse. We don’t NEED you, you see. There are others out there who can fill your role just as well as you can, and they are better people than you are, so we are going to give those other guys a chance. We can’t trust you anymore. You pretended to be something you weren’t, so now you have to go away. It’s nothing personal, you see. It’s just that if we make YOU go away, future guys in your positions will get the message it doesn’t pay to be a crook, a fraud or a jerk.

If only it worked that way….

The fault lies not with the Celebrity Handler Program or with Nike or even with Tiger, of course. The fault lies with us for our willingness to accept the obvious fraud being perpetrated, and for our failure to demand some standard of personal responsibility and decent behavior from those we have exalted to high positions and given vast quantities of power and wealth. And the truly pernicious element in the abdication of all standards is the cynical, ultra-sophisticated view that standards of any kind are hopelessly corny and passé. How can we judge others, they tell us, when we ourselves are so flawed, and so susceptible to the same temptations? And if these urges are within us all, how can we ever condemn them as “wrong?” How many times have we been told that Tiger just happened to get caught, and that any guy would do the same thing he did?

But Phil Mickleson didn’t. And Jamie Moyer didn’t. And Mike Piazza didn’t. And a million other athletes and politicians and businessmen did NOT lie, or cheat on their wives, or take bribes or defraud people. None of them would claim to be without sin or without temptation, yet somehow they managed to resist the urge to satisfy their narcissistic wants by hurting everyone around them. Somehow, most people remember there is a difference between right and wrong, and that trying to do the right thing is worth the effort, even if we sometimes fail.

To the tragically sophisticated, this is just so much religious blather. It is holier-than-thou judgmentalism that will drag us all back to the Spanish Inquisition. Worst of all, it is what they call “hypocrisy” since all of us, at one time or another, will fail to live up to our highest aspirations.

But, of course, what I am suggesting has nothing to do with religion. There are atheists, for example, who feel the same as I do, who have ethical standards and values they try to uphold, and they don’t do it because of God but because they also want to live in a civilized world. And in that world, the jerks and crooks and liars have to go away. They have to go some place where I don’t have to look at them anymore. These days, there are just too many unrehabilitated rehabilitation projects, like Tiger, wandering around soiling my landscape. There are too many Congressmen whose corruption is well known but who remain in Congress. There are too many steroid-enhanced homerun-hitters still playing baseball. There are too many dog-torturers and hit-and-run drivers and celebrity sex tapes.

It’s not just that I’m sick of them, though I certainly am. It’s more important than that. All of us tend to think the path of humanity is on an irreversibly upward path, that civilization will always advance us toward a kinder, safer, happier, wealthier place. Maybe that’s what we want to think, so we do. Unfortunately, it’s not true. History provides plenty of examples of societies that lost sight of their fundamental values and disappeared almost overnight. In fact, that’s how it usually happens. Great civilizations are not destroyed by outside invaders, but by a rotting away from within.