Monday, March 24, 2014


I went to my local branch of Citizens Bank last week. It was a quick trip. I dashed in, made a deposit, and was back in the car in three minutes. It's not a large office---there may be ten employees there on a busy day---but five of them smiled at me, made eye contact, wished me a nice day, etc. And they didn't just happen to be standing around when I walked by them. They came over to me, or waved to me from their desks. I'm not any sort of high-roller in this joint, by the way. I'm just a schmo with a checking account, and not a very big one.

When I got home, there was a message on my answering machine from the manager at the branch. Would I please give him a call?

OK, I thought. Is there some trouble? Was there something wrong with the check I deposited? Did I accidentally leave my checkbook there? Had my identity been stolen? I called the manager immediately.

Mr. Kubacki,” he said, “you were here a little while ago, and I just wanted to know whether you had a good experience this afternoon at Citizens Bank.”

Sure,” I replied. “It was fine.”

Just 'fine'? Mr. Kubacki, at Citizens Bank we hope it was better than that.”

It was at this point I stopped worrying whether my identity had been stolen.

Better than what?” I asked. “I deposited a check and then I left. Your teller accepted the check for deposit and gave me a receipt. I got exactly what I wanted. It was fine.”

Mr. Kubacki, we just want your Citizens Bank experience to be exceptional, every time.”

I'm really getting tired of this crap.

I don't go into my bank for a hug or because I am feeling low that day and I need a boost for my self-esteem. I go in there to conduct business, and it's usually not very complicated business. While I am there, I will smile politely and perhaps have a bit of chit-chat with the teller about the weather or the Phillies game last night, and when I am done my business I will bid them a good day and I won't mind if they bid me one as well.

But that's as far as it goes. I don't care about their happiness or the state of their eternal soul, and I don't want them to care about mine. As we all know, there are few things more annoying than offering a polite “how ya doin'?” to a stranger or a semi-stranger and getting an eight-minute blow-by-blow on the recent issues and interventions involving his prostate. But it seems that in many businesses today, there is a Human Relations and Diversity Training Officer who somehow manages to convince everyone that basic courtesy is no longer enough. We have to let our customers know we really, really, really care, you see. Customers are not even customers anymore--- they are “guests,” or “clients,” or “business partners.” And if we all just smile and treat them with the sort of simple human dignity that has somehow worked to preserve civilization for the last five thousand years or so, we might lose market share. We have to do more!

It's false. It's phony. And I always feel sorry for the employees in this situation. Forcing them to behave in ways they would not normally behave (in ways no one would behave!) is a violation of their rights of conscience. These are human rights that we all must respect. The employees at this bank are not actors who choose to play a role, and they are not trained seals. Yet at peril for their jobs, they must dissemble in my presence and pretend to feel something they do not.

It's something the minions of Kim Jong-un have to live with. Smile at the right moment, or applaud, or cry, and you will survive. Failure to do so, however, is a punishable offense. A free people should never be subjected to this sort of bullying.


(NOTE: The title of this piece is the name of a book by Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski about his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Chris Christine gave a speech at CPAC last week and he got a standing O, and he is supposed to be the darling (again) of the Republican Party. I guess it's because the media frenzy to destroy him over the closing of the George Washington Bridge has gotten so absurd there is now a backlash. He is perhaps garnering some sympathy from the peanut gallery.

I have written about Christie before. The coverage of the “Bridgegate” scandal is ridiculous, of course, but there are a lot of other reasons to dislike him. He has embraced Obamacare, for example, and he seems way too comfortable with NJ's highly-restrictive gun laws. In addition, he seems to have no understanding of jihad or the Islamist campaign to impose sharia law in America. His appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the New Jersey bench, for which he was placed on CAIR's “best list” in 2013, is very troubling.

He's not a conservative, in other words, and I won't vote for him if he mounts a campaign for the White House in 2016, but I'm hoping it doesn't get that far. We've been there and we've done that, haven't we? In fact, it was only sixteen months ago.

Christie, like Romney, is a blue-state Republican from the Eastern Seaboard with questionable conservative credentials. These guys CANNOT WIN. The selling point is always the same: “He crosses the lines! Democrats like him! He got elected as a Republican in a heavily-Democratic state!” It sounds plausible until you think about for a minute or so, or until you look at the results from 2012. Then you realize. It's not enough to do better in the blue states, you have to win them. And they don't. They don't come close. Romney, for example, did much better against Obama in Massachusetts than McCain had. In 2012, Obama had to settle for only 60% of the Massachusetts popular vote.

With Christie, the story will be very much the same. Ask yourself this: in a presidential election, would Chris Christie carry New Jersey against Hillary?

OK, you may say, but every Republican is going to lose New Jersey to Hillary. And New York and California and Connecticut and Illinois and Massachusetts as well, so what's the difference if Christie winds up losing those states rather than, say, Ted Cruz?

And there's no difference, of course. New Jersey doesn't matter to Republicans, and neither does Massachusetts, at least not in a presidential election. That's why, when Romney and Christie and their supporters talk about how impressive it is to be a Republican governor in a blue state, they should be ignored. WE LEARNED THAT LESSON LAST TIME, DIDN'T WE???

For a Republican, being popular in a place like Texas or Utah or Mississippi matters a lot because that's where the money comes from, and the volunteers and the enthusiasm. All those assets can be parlayed into electoral juice that will actually turn the tide in the dozen or so states that can swing one way or the other---Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Arizona. Romney never got the benefit of that enthusiasm and that juice, and Christie won't either. Chris Christie will never be loved, or even trusted, in the places that need to love you and trust you if you are a Republican and you want to be president.