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An Equine Metaphor

At Belmont Raceway, a long-odds horse throws his jockey right out of the gate and thunders on to win the race.

Makes one think about what the productive people of America could do if we tossed all the politicians and parasites off our backs.

It’s Not You, it’s Me…Sent from my iPhone

We’re all wired now.  With computers, smartphones, iPads and social media, we’re communicating more stuff to more people, much more quickly than ever.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Several decades ago, when a paper memo, typed on an IBM Selectric and reproduced on a Xerox, was the state of the art in business communication, I learned to be skeptical about just how effective a memo really was.  For simple topics, like “The men’s room on the 11th floor will be under repair from Monday to Friday”, memos were just fine.  But if you wanted to communicate complex issues  – especially issues regarding change or innovation -they didn’t really work all that well.  The problem was that a manager who sent the memo out naturally thought that he’d wrapped everything up on one page of 40-pound bond, but the recipients too often were left scratching their heads – “Yeah, that sounds good, but what about this?  What about that?  And what, exactly, am I supposed to do?”  A memo didn’t answer questions.

A memo was a one-way communication device.  And if you want to change things – and really change them for the better – you need to include all the players in active conversation.

Reliance on memos led to an authoritarian, top-down business culture – only the bosses had secretaries with typewriters; their minions were voiceless.   In most situations that required enlisting the buy-in of a substantial number of people, a meeting – where the issue could thoroughly discussed and all the “What about that’s” could be asked – was a far better way of communicating.  Nothing beats face-to-face.

Of course, there are lots of benefits from advanced communication technology, but in my experience, it too often suffers from the same shortcomings as paper memos.  As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s worse – I once worked in an office where managers in the same building hardly ever actually talked to each other, they just fired off emails and text messages.   It felt dysfunctional, as though people who should have been actively engaged with each other were actually practicing  a form of social avoidance.  When we should have been bonding and bouncing ideas around, we were tossing off emails to a guy who was, literally, sitting in the next office.  It felt like our social skills – and our organizational coherence – were suffering death by technology.

I think the same thing is happening on a personal level.  Texting your wife that you love her might be thoughtful and convenient, but it’s not an embrace or a dozen roses or a romantic dinner or a weekend in Bermuda.

There’s just something sterile and slapdash about how we communicate these days.

This post was inspired by a story a woman friend shared with me today.  She’s an accomplished professional, at the top of her field.  She’s also beautiful and smart as a whip. She’d recently been seeing a Harvard-trained professional, but, after a few months and a few dinners, she didn’t see it going anywhere – she just considered him to be an interesting friend.  But in his mind, because he was wealthy and eligible, she should have been throwing herself at him.

So, the other day, he sent her an email telling her he was breaking off their relationship because he thought she was “just using men to have a good time”.  I translate that as, “I gave you rides in my Porsche and bought you dinner and you didn’t put out.”  This to a woman who can afford her own Porsche and her own dinners.

In the “old days”, a proper gentleman would never think of breaking things off by telephone.  He’d arrange a casual lunch or dinner and look the woman in the eyes and break the news as a man – or a woman – properly did: face to face.

But with email and texting, we don’t have to do things the hard, old way.  We can do it electronically, and toss off a gratuitous insult while we’re at it.

Who needs social skills when you have an iPhone?


London Beheading

When did men become such wimps?

Two weeks ago, when a pair of Islamists beheaded a British soldier in London, a crowd of men stood at a safe distance  from the killers while two women attended to the victim and a mother of two confronted one of the murderers at arm’s length.

Today, during a mass shooting in Santa Monica, California, a woman who encountered the shooter on a street stopped her car and shouted at him to stop.  The killer shot at her, but fortunately, she sustained only minor injuries.

Meanwhile, a male student who was studying in the library of Santa Monica College cowered as the shooter rampaged through the building.  Speaking to the press, 20-year-old Vincent Lang recalled hearing a female crying, “No, please no!” and said that he had been “…scared to death…”.

How do those men on the London street live with themselves when they stood by while women put themselves at risk?  How will that Santa Monica student live with himself when he fled rather than trying to help the female victim?

Man up, wimps.  Better to be dead than live as a coward.

In Memoriam

In 1968, my older brother Dennis, the brilliant golden boy of the family, was drafted into the Army and shipped off to Vietnam.

There, one evening, his platoon was ambushed by a superior force of North Vietnamese regulars.  Dennis was the platoon’s Forward Air Controller; the guy who would call in air or artillery support when things got hot – with 40 pounds of radio gear and a 6-foot whip antenna on his back, he was a prime target.

The platoon’s Lieutenant and its NCO were killed almost immediately.  Dennis was unable to raise a response on his radio, so he struggled up a ridge to an exposed position, where he hoped to get a stronger signal. Then a grenade disabled his radio entirely and blew his carbine out of his hand.  Bleeding, disoriented and defenseless, he crawled deep into a thicket as his platoon was overrun.  When the firefight was over, he listened as the North Vietnamese swept the area, finishing off the wounded.

The next morning, when airborne troops arrived, only Dennis and two other soldiers were still alive.

Dennis was evacuated to Okinawa, where his wounds were patched up.  But there was a deeper wound that never healed.

The Army awarded Dennis a Purple Heart, then shipped him back to Vietnam, where he quickly descended into madness, which he medicated with opium and heroin.  Caught in the act, he was shipped back to the Okinawa, where Army doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia and subjected him to electroshock therapy and massive doses of Thorazine.  Then he was brought back stateside, where he was imprisoned, awaiting court martial.

Shortly after he arrived, I drove with my mother to San Francisco, where Dennis was held in a Civil War-era dungeon at the Presidio. His cell had rough rock walls, rusty iron bars and a tiny cot.  There were no windows, just a 40-watt bulb for illumination.

I don’t recall how I persuaded the Army to release Dennis.  Frankly, I think they were more than happy to be rid of him.  The court martial was forgotten and he was promptly discharged.

My parents were, for whatever reason, unable to cope with the reality of what Dennis had become and so, by default, I took over, dropping out of college to devote myself full-time to his care.  I reached out to the Veteran’s Administration, but their only answer was to institutionalize Dennis and pump him full of zombie drugs, which Dennis, quite naturally, fiercely resisted.

The next year was hell.  I spent most of  my time trying to keep my brother away from drugs and alcohol – even, in one instance, threatening one of his drug suppliers at gun point.   Dennis drove one car sixty feet down a cliff and another into someone’s living room. We stayed awake many nights, talking endlessly, hoping to find the key that would free him from madness.

But there was no key.  Dennis spiraled further and further into insanity and he was taking me with him.

Dennis had a girlfriend, who confided in me that he had begun to abuse her and that she feared for her life.  So I provided her with a one-way ticket to Minneapolis, where she had family.  Soon after she arrived, she called Dennis to tell him what I had done.  When he got off the phone, things came to a head.

Somehow, Dennis had gotten himself a powerful hunting rifle, which he secreted in a closet.  After a brief bout of screaming and threats, he went into his bedroom.  When I followed him, he leveled the rifle at my forehead, with his finger on the trigger.

“Go ahead, Dennis,” I sighed, “I’m tired.”

He was crazier than I’d ever seen him. I was certain he would kill me, but at that point I was so wrung out that I almost welcomed the release.

Then, all of a sudden, a profound sadness flickered in his eyes.

Somehow, I knew what he would do next and I lunged for the rifle.

But he was too quick; in a lightning-fast motion, he reversed the rifle, put the muzzle to his forehead and pulled the trigger.

It took him some minutes to die.  There was nothing I could do but hold his hand.

Every Memorial Day, I remember the golden boy who went off to war and the ghost who came back and the year of hell and those very last moments.

Dennis was a hero; he exposed himself to enemy fire trying to save his comrades.  What happened to him after that was no shame, it was a tragedy.

Not every hero dies on the battlefield.  Some bring the battle home with them.

They all deserve our remembrance.

Show Some Respect

Obama and Marines

Dear Mr. President:

Since you took office, hundreds of thousands of American service men and women have sacrificed and suffered in order to defend this country.

Thousands have been grievously injured.

1,597 have died.

They are patriots.  Heroes.

They are not butlers.

And when  they salute their Commander in Chief, they deserve a salute in return.

Wishing you a happy Memorial Day,

The American People





You’re an Islamaphobe

I know what you were thinking when you heard the news that two men beheaded a British soldier on a street in London.

Come on, admit it.

Thank Heaven not everybody is as bigoted as you.  Hours after the event, NBC news was reporting that the barbaric crime “might appear” to be terrorism and British Prime Minister David Cameron mused that there were “some indications” that terrorism might be involved.  Quite right: just because the two perps were reported to be shouting “Allahu Akbar” while they hacked at their victim is no reason to jump to conclusions.

And what about the riots over the past few nights in Stockholm, Sweden?  You were thinking that just because the neighborhoods where cars and property went up in flames are  predominantly populated by immigrants from Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Somalia, the conflagration might have something to do with Muslims.

Shame on you.

As the Chicago Tribune quite rightly points out, “Unemployment, Immigrant Poverty Fuel Riots in Sweden.”    See? Nothing about Islam there.

And maybe you didn’t catch this news  about a group of seven young people who were briefly detained for trespassing at a reservoir that supplies water to Boston.  At 12:30 a.m.  On a night where temperatures dipped to the 20’s.  Just because those young people were from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Singapore, you might have jumped to the conclusion that they were up to something fishy.

Fortunately, cooler heads than yours prevailed, as local police – who clearly have received tip-top sensitivity training – concluded that there was “nothing suspicious” to the incident and released the frolicking youths without bond.

So straighten up , buster.  Just because Muslim youths in Boston bomb the Marathon, Muslim youths in London hack off a soldier’s head, Muslim youths in Stockholm burn down their neighborhood and Muslim youths in Massachusetts go creeping around the water supply in the dead of night doesn’t mean there’s any pattern here.

Its all in your head.


Welcome to Welfaristan

“You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.” Milton Friedman

Today’s Drudge trumpets the Boston Herald’s report that the family of the Boston Bombers may have received as much as $100,000 in welfare benefits.

Why would this surprise anyone?

After all, the majority of immigrant households in the U.S. receive welfare benefits – including 71 percent of households with illegal immigrant parents and American-born “anchor babies”.

While other classes of immigrants face various limits on how much mooching they can do and when they can qualify, political refugees like the Tsarnaev family get the gold card treatment from day one: once their asylum status is validated, welfare concierges at the State Department waltz them through the paperwork maze of programs such as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Section 8 housing subsidies, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.  And those are just the Federal programs – individual states offer a plethora of other goodies.

Indeed, it’s puzzling why the amount of benefits reportedly consumed by the Tsarnaev family is so low.  Given that they were a family of six – the parents, the two bombers and two sisters – I’d estimate the true number is closer to $400,000.  Add to that the costs to taxpayers of educating the four Tsarnaev children and we’re looking at $800,000 – $80,000 per year.

Quite a bonanza for a family that came here from Kyrgyzstan, a country with an average per-capita income of $1,296.

There’s much thumb-sucking in the media about why the Bomber Brothers might have turned so violently against the country that extended such generous refuge.

But that’s not the real question.

The real question is why we let them come here in the first place.

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