John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Twitter

Twitter is kind enough to keep track for me if how many Tweets I have created, how many people on Twitter (fellow Tweeters) whom I follow, and how many of them follow me.

I wish Twitter would track a fourth category for me—one that I suspect would surpass the other three.

jyb_musings“Number of times my Twitter account has been hacked.”

And a fifth for number of people in Twitter who have told me I sent them a personal message claiming to have a funny picture of them.

That way at least two of my five categories would have impressively high numbers next to them.

; )

Nancy Slotnick: Love the Possible

I was watching Lena Dunham on Charlie Rose the other day and despite the fact that I’m not loving her new haircut and the second season of Girls is proving to be overly ambitious, I was inspired.

And I shouldn’t be so hard on her.  It would be almost impossible not to choke under the pressure that she is facing at such a young age.  Emphasis on the almost impossible.  Which brings me to the part of the interview that was so inspiring.

When asked about how she accomplished such a meteoric rise, Lena quoted her Dad as saying, “Love the possible.”  That stuck with me.  Especially because I am trying to make that kind of meteoric rise happen in my life.  So I am embracing that idea.  My new year’s resolution is, as I have told you previously, (see my blog that quotes Will Smith’s new movie) to be fearless.

Nancy SlotnickWhen you are fearless, anything is possible.  Or is it?  I embarked on a quest to see what is possible and what is in store for me, on a Tuesday morning recently.  I was hoping that a store front is in store for me.  I was contemplating the fact that anything is possible if you believe that you can achieve it.  How do you draw that line?  Is it possible that I could go to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city and procure a retail space by the end of the day without more than a stick of gum, $20 and a Metrocard in my pocket?

Well, let’s see what the universe said.  I was able to procure a grilled cheese.  And it was good.  And then, as I was strolling around, following the path of whatever the universe sent me, I passed by an art gallery with a grafitti-esque painted canvas.  It read:  “Enough is possible.”  Thank you, universe, I have my answer!

Here’s how I interpreted that.  Not everything is possible.  I will not win the Tour de France in my lifetime.  Even if I use performance enhancing drugs and pass the drug tests in the post-Lance-on-Oprah era.  But having a bike ride with my son on a weekday and still getting him to get his homework done- that is possible.  And that is really great.
What is endemic to the idea that “Enough is possible” is that we need to take action, without waiting for perfection.  How many times have you said to yourself “If only?”  

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Nancy Slotnick: Love the Possible

John Y. Brown, III: Columbus Day

If GPS’s had existed in the late 15th century, America may never have been discovered. Unless it was during a long “recalculating” message.

Today we celebrate the life of Christopher Columbus who sort of “discovered” America.  But, let’s be real, Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492 in much the same way I “discovered” Indis restaurant at age 16 in downtown Louisville after I couldn’t… find McDonalds.

Columbus was an adventurous explorer sponsored by the Queen of Spain who helped supply several cool ships (or at least ships with cool names) and Columbus promised a group he would take them to India where they had great spices.

When I was 16 years old during my first week Central High School I had money in my pocket from the allowance my mom provided and a cool looking red Firebird car. I was adventurous and promised to take a group of other students “off campus” for lunch to the McDonalds on Broadway because we wanted a Big Mac (with “special sauce”).

Columbus got lost, probably because he didn’t have a GPS, and instead landed in America (or at least nearby) and later claimed he “discovered” it all by himself.

Likewise, I got lost since  –like Christopher Columbus– I didn’t have a GPS at the time either, and instead of McDonalds found (i.e. “discovered”) a restaurant called Indi’s, a fast food ethic restaurant with “spicy” food. I parked nearby and we went in and I got barbequed rib tips. And they were delicious. After we got back to school word got out about my new “discovery” and other students wanted to go with me next time. And for my two years at Central I got credit among my friends for “discovering” Indi’s. Of course, I didn’t get to rename it. No need. It was already called Indi’s even though the name had nothing to do with Indians. I still like Indi’s a lot, especially the rib tips.

By contrast, Columbus thought he was in “India” and even named the people he found “Indians.” He eventually ate but didn’t get anything nearly as good as Indi’s barbequed rib tips, I’m guessing. But he did stumble onto what is today a great country. And today we are officially remembering his “discovery.”

So, Happy Columbus Day. And if you don’t know what to do to properly celebrate Columbus Day, may I recommend barbequed rib tips.

And if nothing else, let Columbus Day remind us that even if we find ourselves without a GPS system handy, not to worry. And just go for it, Columbus-like.

Who knows? We may “discover” a new country or at least a cool new ethnic restaurant.

Erica & Matt Chua: Best Photo Spots, City

We visited over 200 cities around the world and took over 50,000 photos, but which cities were we the most shutter happy in?  We each share our favorite cities to capture on film.



It’s hard for me to pick a best city for photography.  I could put all the big cities we visited onto a dartboard and justify my pick being wherever the dart stuck.  The big cities of the world are so full of life, diversity, and history that I can as easily insist that photographers must shoot Tokyo and Cairo as much as I can argue the same for London or Buenos Aires.  There are so many fascinating cities in the world that it’s hard for me to recommend just one city, but my wife is making me, so, for today, I’ll say you absolutely, positively, necessarily, must shoot Istanbul.

Why Istanbul? Its unparalleled mix of history and modernity, religion and race.  Existing since 660 BC, it is one of the oldest major cities in the world.  That alone would be impressive, but it’s not just old, it was the capital of four of the world’s greatest empires, including being the capital of the Roman Empire.  As though political power weren’t enough, it has been the religious center of both Christianity and Islam.  Istanbul was literally the center of the world over a thousand years, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe…when that was the known world. As the center of the world, traders, conquerers and immigrants over the millennia have left indelible marks which are still visible to the modern photographer.

Photographers who want vibrant colors and beautiful objects, there is the 500+ year old Grand Bazaar.  Those who want to get up-close to religious history need go no further than the Aya Sophia, one of the world’s oldest, grandest churches, directly across from the epic Blue Mosque. Those who seek diversity just have to start walking…a photographer will find a mix of cultures, foods and history in all directions. The longer a photographer wanders, the more beauty, detail and richness he will see.  There is no other place like Istanbul.

Best of all?  Istanbul can be visited in as little as 1-3 days, see our three day Istanbul Travel Guide here.

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Erica & Matt Chua: Best Photo Spots, City

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: NYC

About to take my daughter to walk through the campus at Columbia University.

I have never been and know little about the august Ivy League university.

I am tempted to brag to my daughter that had I applied to Columbia I probably wouldn’t have gotten in. Leaving open the possibility that I could have. Even though that isn’t really true. But it sounds better and is a basically honest description of my relationship to the University as a potential applicant 33 years ago.

In fact, I had a similar relationship with all other top tier universities but today we are focusing on Columbia.

When I think of Columbia University, I think of Mortimer Adler. What’s in a name, right? Well, if you wanted to make up a fictional character who was the public face of the study of philosophy in the second half of the 20th Century, Mortimer Adler would be a believable fictional name. But it was the actual name of the real person who largely played that role.

Adler got his doctorate from Columbia and was affiliated with the university in various ways for most of his professional life. He was one of the editors for Encyclopaedia Britannica and helped create the Great Books series and served as a life-long advocate for liberal arts education generally, the discipline of philosophy specifically, and the life of the mind for all citizens.

Some marginalized him as being more of a public personality for philosophy than a “real” philosopher himself. But what is philosophy anyway? Is it really primarily about who published what theory? Or is it more of promoting the questioning of every premise and answer in an effort to get closer to the truth –and the promoting of that discipline, a la Socrates and the Socratic method. On this latter measure, Mortimer Adler, was a great an influential philosopher of his time.

And by being exposed to him through his interviews and writings, Mortimer Adler encouraged me to pursue the study of philosophy in college and to be unafraid to think critically; and question assumptions and not be afraid of where those questions may lead.

So, as my daughter and I visit Columbia’s campus and try to snag a T-Shirt or sweat shirt bearing the school name, I’ll say a quiet thank you to Mortimer Adler for promoting the elusive but vitally important benefits of thinking for oneself. And for me being one of many millions of people Adler influenced to be, in their own imperfect and limited way, a philosopher in our modern world.

A modern world that sometimes seems to think it has advanced beyond the need for candid and robust philosophical analysis, but in fact is the lesser for such short-sighted biases.


Things I fear I might overhear while walking alone through Hell’s Kitchen area in NYC.

“Look over your shoulder. I think it is one of those clueless white male heterosexuals from middle America. I have never seen one before.

My Gosh. They look just like they do on television except shorter and pasty looking.”


jyb_musingsIn case you didn’t know this already (Or, Things I overheard today in the Broadway show section of NYC)

“The are basically two factions of people in the country right now.

There are those who love Matilda and hate Kinky Boots.

And there are those who love Kinky Boots and hate Matilda.

You have to figure out which group you are in.”

Said a young man who was working near the ticket counter and answering a question from two women trying to decide which ticket to buy.

I thought he was going to say the two groups are those who support ACA and those who oppose it. But I am from KY.

I haven’t researched enough to say confidently which group I belong to but I think it is probably Kinky Boots. I have never liked the name Matilda.


1381832_10153376142990515_2083337810_nHere’s the thing about people who wear T-shirts from elite universities they didn’t attend….

Yesterday I got to visit Columbia University. I wanted to tour the campus with my daughter and buy a T-shirt. The first thing you notice is that the actual students attending Columbia don’t wear T-shirts that say Columbia.

The first student I spoke to had a French accent and was wearing a pull-over shirt with a tiny French symbol I didn’t recognize (probably France’s equivalent of Polo that they think is superior to our Polo symbol but other people just roll their eyes at). We were lost and I asked him if he knew where Columbia University was located. He was obviously highly intelligent because he instantly grinned condescendingly and pointed directly across the street to a giant entrance gate with a huge university behind it. “There it is,” he said, “I am a student there.” I smiled (not condescendingly) and said, “Oh. Yeah. Thank you. I obviously wasn’t a student here.”

Once inside we walked across the campus and then began looking for a place to buy a Columbia T-shirt. I approached a distinguished looking woman and asked where the book store was located because I wanted to buy a Columbia University T-shirt. Adding, “You know, so people will think I attended Columbia,” I said facetiously.

She seemed taken aback and pointed to the building to my left and responded, “Try down there.”I have never bought a Columbia T-shirt but that’s because I only got a master’s degree here” as she pointed to the Journalism School we were standing just outside of.

I didn’t say anything but was thinking, “She must not have made very good grades if she is too ashamed to even get a Columbia T-shirt after she got a master’s degree at Colubmia. But that was her problem. I was undaunted. Mostly, I guess, because I made good grades in college and graduate school and figured if I had made really good grades at a really good high school and gotten involved in a whole lot of high school activities that impresses college admission’s officers and had a much higher SAT and ACT score, I could have gotten in Columbia University myself and may have done pretty well. So, for those reasons, I was completely comfortable with the idea of buying and wearing a Columbia T-shirt.

Just so you know I am not kidding myself, I would never buy or wear a T-shirt from MIT. I don’t think I could have made it there. I also would never buy a T-shirt from Duke University but not because I couldn’t have made it there under similar circumstances described above. But because students there are required to pretend they are superior to all other college students and I could never have pulled that off. While on the subject, I also would never buy a T-shirt from the University of Alabama. No particular reason. Just, why bother?

So, here’s the thing. When you were a T-shirt with the name of an elite university you didn’t attend no one really believes you actually went there. In fact, it’s a dang near certainty you didn’t. But that’s not why I wear them. I wear them because it gives the message that “I may not have gone to this university ….but if I had made really good grades at a really good high school and gotten involved in a whole lot of high school activities that impresses college admission’s officers and had a much higher SAT and ACT score, I could have gotten in Columbia University myself and may have done pretty well.”

And that is enough for me. And worth the $19.95

(Note: Later I will post a picture of me doing something smart looking, like thinking, in my new Columbia University T-shirt)


541893_10153377227235515_1556053886_nBeing in NYC means never having to wonder if you look normal.


I have now visited the campuses of both Harvard and Columbia.

And have the T-shirts to prove it.

On Harvard’s campus it is all about Harvard. You feel you have have walked into hallowed ground preserved for the chosen elite who have trouble relating to the rest of us. The experience is akin to scaling Mt Olympus. Only Harvard Yard lore is more actual than mythic.

Columbia’s campus. by contrast, feels like it is still all about NYC–but that you have wondered onto a chic and sophisticated suburb.

Columbia is a special place, of course. But not Mount Olympus sacred. More like Mount Olympuses artsy and eclectic cousin who moved to the city–where the action is and because they are more at home walking through gritty streets than idyllic yards.


Travel Trivia.

If you are on the 15th floor at a NY Hotel and the elevators are extremely slow and after you have been waiting patiently for over four minutes and a couple joins you at the elevators and they were the same couple that checked in before you last night and asked endless tedious questions about the room before finally checking in, and when the elevator door opens it is literally packed with people with room for only one or two more persons and the rude couple saunters in front of you and squeezes on the elevator leaving you to wait for the next elevator even though you were there first, by at least four minutes, and even pushed the elevator button, is that considered rude behavior?

Correct answer?

It is impossible to be rude while in New York.


For anyone who questions the line in the song New York, New York “I want to wake up in that city that never sleeps,” well, it is true.

New York City really doesn’t appear to ever sleep. I stayed up very late the last couple of nights to see for myself. Like staying awake to catch Santa and his reindeer on Christmas morning.

I never did catch St Nick or Rudolph or even see any elves for that matter….but I can confirm that NYC was still humming along last night (technically, this morning) into the wee hours.

And I thought I may have seen a elf couple and someone dressed like Santa Claus and at least three of what appeared to be glowing noses. I kinda hit the jackpot!

Krystal Ball: A Kindergartener Strikes a Deal

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I was walking to school with Ella last week when she said to me: “Mama, when will I get paid for work?” Thinking she was speaking in generalities I replied, “Oh, usually when you’re about 15 you can get a job where you earn money.”
“No no,” she said to me, “I mean for the job I have now, Political Playground, I want to get paid and I want a bank account.” (I swear this really happened.)

“Hmmm…” I said “How bout this. I can’t make any promises but I can try and set up a meeting for you with my boss, Executive Producer Steve Friedman and you can make your case for why you should get paid. Do you want to do that?”

*Enthusiastic head nodding from Ella*

“Alright but you’re going to have to take it really seriously and work really hard at it. OK?”


The rest of our short trip to school Ella fantasized about her bank account and credit.

She also determined that her account would not be at Bank of America because they’re “terrible.” (I’ve really got to watch what I say around this child.)

Steve agreed to take the meeting with the stipulation that I not be in the room. My agent Henry agreed to “represent” Ella and the result of their negotiation can be seen in this video. I’ve got to say, Ella secured a pretty good deal. Maybe when I renegotiate she can give me some tips.

Saul Kaplan: Happy Birthday Bubble Wrap

If I had a dollar for every person I have driven crazy popping those addictive plastic bubbles…….. Today marks the fiftieth birthday of Bubble Wrap, the ubiquitous stress reducer disguised as a packaging cushion.  Did you know that this pop icon (pun intended) has over two million Facebook fans?  Did you also know that its inventors parlayed Bubble Wrap in to the juggernaut, Sealed Air Corporation, with over $4 billion in revenue operating in 52 countries?  My favorite part of the story is that the inventors didn’t set out to create packaging material at all.  Bubble Wrap is a classic innovation and unintended invention story.

Bubble Wrap provides us with an almost too good to be true invention story beginning as the movie script demands in a Hawthorne, NJ garage in 1957.  The narrative begins with two entrepreneurial-minded engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, who set out to invent plastic wallpaper with a paper backing.  They thought there would be a market for plastic textured wallpaper.  Yuck.  Thank goodness there wasn’t.  Company legend has it that Chavannes came up with the idea for Bubble Wrap while coming home from a business trip and his plane was approaching the Newark Airport.  He was staring out the window on the descent and it seemed to him as if Newark was cushioned by the billowy clouds surrounding the city.  And you guessed it the rest as they say is history.

I love this story.  It reminds us of how most innovation happens.  Creating new ways to deliver value requires combining and recombining ideas and capabilities across silos in new and unexpected ways.  Our current assumptions and approaches to problem solving and solution development are never adequate.  It is only when we open ourselves and our organizations up to the unusual suspects and ideas that we create real breakthroughs.  Capabilities developed for one purpose are often underutilized until we learn how to connect them to potential new purposes.  We must be open to the possibilities and quicker to experiment with different configurations, which often open up new product, service, and business model opportunities.  Our initial set of ideas and approaches are almost always inadequate.  Success finds those that put themselves in a position to capitalize on derivative ideas at the margins.

Saul KaplanLet’s virtualize the inventor’s garage.  Social media platforms and networks provide us with the enabling technology to quickly connect ideas and innovators across silos.  We are getting really good at the connecting and sharing ideas part.  What we need to work on is how to create more purposeful networks.  We must practice doing more together.  Self-organization is the next wave of creativity and creation but we will have to get better at moving beyond the ideas to put the ideas to work in the real world.  Our virtual garage is loaded with ideas, tools, and motivated innovators.  Free agents are beginning to believe that we don’t need intransigent large institutions to make progress.  If purposeful networks can demonstrate progress on solution development and deployment capital sources will materialize.

I sense we are near an inflection point making this a very exciting time to be an innovation junkie.  If I am annoying you with my incessant bubble wrap popping, too bad, it keeps me from bouncing off the walls during these exciting times.  Happy Birthday Bubble Wrap.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Aging

It’s hard to explain why aging is a pleasant experience and shouldn’t be feared.

Sure, mostly, I guess, we get more comfortable with ourselves and grateful for what is around us and in our lives– and develop more tolerance for the small and large things that disrupt our plans and hopes. But it is still hard to explain in a way that captures well what we are really trying to say.

Think of it this way. You know how when you go away for a week long vacation to someplace you’ve never been and the first few days are intense and chaotic as you travel there, get settled in, feel the high expectations for the trip, worry about leaving work behind at the office, and learn your way around the new surroundings? Well, that’s like life from ages 0-30.

jyb_musingsThen the next few days, you get around to following your itinerary for the biggest events you’ve planned for your vacation and take lots of pictures posing with family and feel a sense of mastery of this new exotic locale. You check off things from your bucket list and relive with those around you at dinner how amazing it was (yet quietly think to yourself that, like most things, it will probably be greater in the memory and re-living of it than it really was at the time). You feel a tinge of worry because you are over-budget but don’t dwell on it because these are important experiences and your credit card limit is high enough to cover everything. It’s worth it. This is like ages 40-60.

Then there are the last couple days when you finally have some “down time.” At last, you have decompressed and unwound enough to really relax. You put work out of your mind and have begun to really focus on where you are and what you are doing and what you are saying and who you are talking to–and what you are thinking about when you are walking alone. You really appreciate the beauty around you and notice the little things in the people and culture around you. You also realize you only have a couple days left–and that both intensifies your gratitude and enjoyment but also makes you a little irritated knowing your the long planned trip is now almost over. But mostly you just enjoy it. Like leisurely licking an ice cream cone without worrying about the calories or that the ice cream is melting before you can eat it. And you don’t worry you don’t have a napkin. It’s not about the ice cream. It’s about the experience. And everything–briefly– is in real time. This is like ages 60-80.

And then it is time to pack up and get ready to go home. Time to check the room one last time to make sure you don’t leave anything behind and have all your belongings accounted for. And time for a final “once around” the property for memory’s sake –and maybe breakfast by the pool and maybe even one last sunrise—before heading to the airport. And on to boarding the flight home where you have a head swimming with pleasant memories –and also some worries anticipating the work left undone back at the office. But you have a low-cal and low-budget pre-packaged snack to comfort you. And although you are surrounded with strangers like yourself you choose to escape with boredom with headphones and a B-level movie as you soar above the clouds and look out the window and think about God. You feel secure that the pilots know what they are doing so you don’t worry when you hit some unexpected turbulence. And you are ready with a mix of anxiety and gratitude when when you hear the landing gear being lowered. And you feel a release of some pleasant brain chemical when you realize you are close to home. This, I suppose, is like the final leg of our trip, ages 80-

Julie Rath: Secrets from a Shopping Pro

“I hate shopping, except for the part where I am back in my  apartment with new clothes.”

Does that sound like you? A prospective client once emailed that line to me.  It made me laugh, but I get it. Shopping can be tiring, stressful and  frustrating. Planning an effective shopping trip takes strategic thought. While  it should be easy, often things get in the way. But, take it from me, shopping  can be a smooth and seamless process. Below are 9 of my best tools and  tricks for a well-executed shopping trip.

Men's Personal Shopper: Dressing Room SnapHere’s a dressing room snap from yesterday as I was  getting things ready for a client.

1) Find a good salesperson. Some of my best  relationships have resulted from following my intuition in a store and simply  walking up to someone, introducing myself, and explaining what I was looking to  accomplish. A good salesperson will make shopping hassle-free – without an  overbearing salespitch (more on this in #6). They’ll also give you advance info  on when the sales are and in many cases ‘pre-sell’ items to you – which means  you get dibs on things before they go on sale to the general public.

2) Shop when stores are least crowded, in the morning and  early in the week. Try to avoid after work or the lunch rush.

3) Shop with a plan. No good shopping decisions are ever  made by wandering into a store without an agenda. Have a list, printed out if  necessary – I always shop with the client’s list in my pocket – prioritized by  need and budget. Consider getting multiples of basics that work.

4) Once you’ve assessed your needs (conducting a closet edit can give you clarity on that), shop early. If  you need an overcoat, but you wait until January to start shopping, you’ll be  out of luck. The fashion calendar is quirky and requires you to think  ahead. So spend time before each season begins thinking about what  you’re going to need before you need it. Ask yourself, what did  you run out of, or what were you missing last year? Put your answers at  the top of your list.

5) Take a break when you need one, and bring reinforcements.  Pack a bag with anything that will help you stay focused – snacks, drinks, etc.  Hungry very quickly becomes hangry while shopping. What else might you want to  have on hand? This may be TMI, but a client once had something in his teeth that  was distracting him during a shopping session. I happened to have a package of  floss with me, which he was grateful for. He took care of business, and we got  back to business.

6) Be wary of overzealous salespeople. It gives me stomach  pain when I look in new clients’ closets and see that thousands upon thousands  of dollars have been spent on items that don’t even come close to working for  them. Sure, the clothes are beautiful in many cases, but if it doesn’t work, it  doesn’t work. In one case, a client was sold a whole slew of dress shirts from a  major luxury brand that shall remain nameless – half of them were different  sizes from one another (he had obviously been coerced into buying whatever was  in the store), and most of them hadn’t even been bothered to be tailored. The  sleeves were a good 5 inches too long on every single shirt. Remember, most  salespeople work on commission, so they’re incentivized for you to buy more. If  they’re telling you how absolutely amazing everything looks on you,  chances are they aren’t being sincere. It’s actually a good sign when a  salesperson tells you not to buy something.

7) Related to the above, make sure you buy your actual size, not your  fantasy size. I frequently encounter people who say that they’re going  to lose weight and that they should therefore buy things that are too small for  them. That doesn’t work, and it’s a trap. You’ll feel awful about yourself if  you have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit you. And how can you expect to  lose weight feeling crappy about yourself? If you really are committed to  dropping lbs, purchase a few things that fit you now. When you  have clothes that fit you as you are and therefore look good on you, you’ll be  more likely to take care of yourself and reach your weight loss  goal.

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Julie Rath: Secrets from a Shopping Pro

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Remember When?

Remember when…

On this day 27 years ago in Louisville, KY it was a balmy and slightly overcast day in which nothing in particular happened.

And that is worth remembering.


Because more days are like that than have some momentous event occur. And we need to remember and celebrate are most commonplace day.

Just because it may have been forgettable doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.


Trending now– “Nothing in particular”


jyb_musingsI wish Valvoline offered the human equivalents of a regular oil change and wheel re-alignment.

And without trying to sell me the human equivalent of an air filter I don’t really need.

It is important to make the most of each day….and hope to have at least one life moment each day that is worthy of the highlight reel.


Think about it. What if we get to the end of our lives and it’s our time and up rolls our life’s highlights before our eyes… know, those flashes of our the precious, thrilling, sacred and fabulous moments from our life….and what if instead of lasting for the usual 30 seconds, ours only lasts for, say, 17 seconds? And then stops.

Well, I’d be really ticked and spend my last 13 seconds wishing I’d done more exciting stuff when I was younger.

The Recovering Politician Bookstore


The RP on The Daily Show