Thursday, June 26, 2014


When you go to Starbucks, your barista will serve you your coffee in a disposable cup, and slide a cardboard collar onto it so it won't be too hot to carry. This collar has a name. It is called a “java jacket.”


It has been at least twenty years since I last heard the word “nigger” used in its nasty, pejorative sense. However, in the back room at Target, I hear the word every single day.


With some obvious exceptions (e.g., San Francisco, Seattle), the nanny state has not penetrated the culture west of the Mississippi to the same extent it has on the Eastern Seaboard. This occurred to me yesterday, on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia, when I passed a warning sign at one of the many curves. “25 MPH,” it warned. My mother used to take this curve at 35. Everybody else rolls around it at 45 or 50.

My experience of warning signs in Utah and Nevada and other places in the West is very different. There, if a roadsign tells you to slow down to 25 MPH, slam on the brakes and crank it down to 10. And if you see a sign that warns you of possible flash flooding, make sure you have a snorkel mask on the seat next to you.


My current list of the ten greatest living Americans (other than self, friends or family):

Bill Gates
Ricky Jay
Jennifer Lawrence
Bernard Lewis
Peyton Manning
Camille Paglia
Dennis Prager
Thomas Sowell
Mark Steyn
Clarence Thomas

Making a list like this is an interesting intellectual exercise, and not as easy as it looks. The first three or four names come easily, and then you start searching. Eventually, you wind up asking yourself questions like “What is greatness?” You think about that. Then you put the list down and return a couple days later.

I invite you to compose a list, and put it in the comments section.


A management tip: it is essential that, when a manager blunders, he find a way to acknowledge his mistake to the troops. A public evisceration is not necessary, but a quiet admission of the error is the only way to maintain morale.

Employees will work for a leader who is perceived to share their goals. In fact, they want to work for a person who shares the same goals. Because we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, social animals, the sense of laboring toward a common purpose provides us with a sense of meaning in life. If there is a job to do, the grunts will follow and respect a leader who they believe is as interested as they are in accomplishing the task. A leader who screws up, however, and will not admit his mistake, is seen as selfish, as someone who is only out to advance himself and his own interests.


The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world that does not have its own country. The one possible silver lining in the meltdown of Iraq and Syria is that the Kurds may now emerge from the mess with a sovereign state of their own. There are very few groups in that region that are worthy of the respect of civilized peoples, but the Kurds are certainly one of them.

* has been around for twenty years. It is a rumor-and-urban-legend-debunking website. For example, you can go there, type “Tupac” in the search box, and get the latest myths making the rounds about the late, great rapper. Spotted in Oakland? FALSE. Secretly married to Madonna? FALSE. Etc, etc., etc.

Yesterday, in the back room at Target, Racheal was telling the gang (about six of us) that Obama had ordered the drinking age be raised to 25. This was big news, of course, because they were all between the ages of 21 and 25. I questioned her about this. In fact, I said it couldn't possibly be true.

She immediately whipped out her phone, put in a search term or two, and showed me the result. It was a link to: “Obama To Raise Drinking Age to 25?” This was proof, she said.

She had heard the rumor, punched it in her phone, and since the headline was there, out there, on the internet, the story had to be true. It never occurred to her to go to the website and read the story.

Just because there is more information “out there,” and just because it is easier to find, does not mean people are any better informed.


A little while ago, I wrote a long piece about Bob Bergdahl (the dad), with the intention of posting it close to Father's Day, nominating him for Dad-Of-The-Year, etc. At the time, I thought it was funny, but as I read it over, and more news emerged, I found less and less humor in it. It's a sad tale ultimately, of a deeply confused young man who looks to his idiot father for advice, gets nothing useful and makes a horrible decision. Then there are the soldiers killed and wounded in the search for Bergdahl---that's really not funny. Finally, there's the clueless Obama swapping savage murderers for the kid. It's all just so damn sad.

There is one ancillary point to be made, however. In a recent column, Jonah Goldberg asked a fundamental question about the Bergdahl debacle: how does a guy who looks like he lives inside a dead tree get to stand next to Obama in the freakin' Rose Garden and blow kisses to the Taliban? In Pashto, no less. This is a good question. As Mr. Goldberg points out, there used to be guys who worked in the White House who would conduct a discreet investigation on the person who was about to appear in a press conference with the Prez. (Question #1---are you carrying a gun? Question #2---are you insane?) They would also ask him what he he was thinking of saying into the CNN microphone that would be instantly broadcast to hundreds of people around the world.

That sort of investigation apparently doesn't happen anymore. Maybe it would be rude. A more troubling possibility is that there are such people working for Obama who vetted Bob Bergdahl, read his history and his published emails, and decided he was just another flower in the great bouquet that is American diversity. “Hey, no problem! Bob, this is Barack. Barack, Bob!”

Fortunately, Mr. Bergdahl does not appear to have presented an actual danger to the President, but how, exactly, did the Secret Service and White House security know that? This is a guy who, just a few days before the party in Rose Garden, tweeted: “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!”

Ameen indeed! That would concern me a bit. In fact, if I'm in charge of protecting Barack Obama, the most protected man on the planet, I don't think I let the likes of Bob Bergdahl within a half mile of the Rose Garden. Even if you're in the Obama Administration and you feel you need to use the guy, don't you put him on a video feed from somewhere and patch it into the press conference? And don't you have a little tape delay built into the feed so you can bounce the guy if he says something goofy? (As, in fact, he did!)

Actually, there is a lesson here (which no one in Washington will heed), about the folly of elaborate, absurdly expensive, labor-intensive and technology-intensive security systems like the one surrounding Barack Obama at all times. It costs millions, or even tens of millions, for him or his family to go anywhere or do anything, and there are hundreds of advance men and secret service agents and snipers and communications specialists who fill up entire airplanes and hotels just so Obama can go surfing or say hi to the Pope. What is the point of all this? What is the point of traveling in a fifty-car motorcade if at the end of the road you walk right up to a guy like Bob Bergdahl who has God-knows-what going on inside his hairy noggin?

Recently, Obama found himself on stage with a gentleman named Thamsanga Jantjie, who was supposedly signing Obama's Mandela eulogy for the hearing-impaired. Except, as it turned out, he wasn't. Instead, he was making random hand gestures along with the occasional sign for “prawns” or “rocking horse.” Amusing at first, of course, until it was discovered that Jantjie has a lengthy criminal record for other light-hearted frolics like rape, fraud, murder and attempted murder. He now resides in the Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital since, in addition to his history of crime, he is a schizophrenic. Obama's 13-hour visit for the Mandela funeral, with his enormous entourage, bullet-proof cars, and security team, cost well over $11 million, and culminated with the President, completely unarmed, standing just a few feet away from a guy who might well be the craziest man in all of South Africa. In other words, Obama would arguably have been safer if he had left all his snipers and hovercraft and drones and Secret Service boys at home and just strapped a Bowie knife to his hip.

Security experts continue to debate on the relative merits of 1) complex, expensive, technology-based security systems and 2) low-tech, human-intelligence-based regimens. The contrast is illustrated, at least according to the fans of low-tech systems, by the TSA security at American airports versus the one-on-one, in-your-face interviews that are used to screen passengers on Israeli airplanes. High-tech systems, the theory goes, may not fail very often, but when they do, they can fail catastrophically. In the US, for example, if someone innocently walks through the wrong door at an airport, five thousand people will be shooed out of the terminals and re-screened, delaying flights across the country for hours. In Israel, this would never happen. The argument is that both Bergdahl and Jantjie were potentially catastrophic mistakes that resulted purely from the nature of the system; spending another $20 million would not have helped, but a close interview from a cynical old intelligence officer might have.