Jack Lew, sensitive scribbler

Al Kamen
Columnist January 9, 2013

Go ahead and mock White House Chief of Staff Jacob “Jack” Lew for his odd, loopy signature — the one likely to grace dollar bills if, as expected, he becomes Treasury secretary. But be gentle with him, please.

It turns out the hard-charging Lew probably has a softer side, according to one handwriting analyst.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The roundness of the characters in Lew’s impossible-to-read John Hancock indicates he just might be the cuddly sort, says Kathi McKnight , a professional graphologist — that is, someone who gleans people’s personality traits from their writing. Such strokes are common among those who prefer a “softer” approach to problem-solving, she says.

The signers of the Constitution, by contrast, used very strong, angular lettering, McKnight notes — not that leaders throughout history haven’t used circular strokes like Lew’s. Like who? “Well, Princess Di had very loopy writing,” she says.

And the fact that Lew’s signature is illegible may mean that he wants to keep his true identity unknown. “People with illegible signatures . . . like to keep some things private,” she says.


This Sept. 21, 2011, memo posted on the White House website shows then-Office of Management and Budget director Jack Lew's signature. (AP/AP)

Perhaps Lew will want to spruce up his signature before it makes its prime-time debut, as his predecessor did. The current Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, told NPR last year that he had to work on his penmanship to make his name legible enough to befit its place on U.S. currency.

The chosen

When is a nominee a nominee? Sounds like the kind of question philosophy grad students could spend hours chewing over (along the lines of chestnuts like “What is truth?” and “Is there a God?”), but this conundrum has a bit more practical application.

Although President Obama stood in the East Room of the White House and proudly declared former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be his nominee for secretary of defense — and a few weeks before that, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as his secretary of state — neither man can properly be called a “nominee.” That’s because a nominee isn’t actually a nominee until the president sends official nomination papers (really serious stuff, too — we’re talking heavy, old-fashioned parchment in an envelope with a wax seal) to the Senate.

Oh, the Senate isn’t in session, you say? Well, that shouldn’t hamper the process. After all, it’s not as if the White House messenger would just leave a note on the closed chamber door like the UPS man delivering a package. The secretary of the Senate has the power to receive messages when the body is not in session.

And so far, the old-school parchment hasn’t arrived. Not that that’s stopping everyone (including the Loop) from using the “nominee” nomenclature to describe Kerry and Hagel. It seems that’s a colloquial term.

But until it’s officially official, perhaps should we call them “presumptive nominees”? Maybe “nominees in waiting”? “Pre-noms?”

Too cold for fire?

If you think the air in Washington is a tad brisk, you’ll need more than mittens in Seoul, South Korea, where it’s been so cold that the U.S. Embassy recently had to postpone its annual Christmas-tree bonfire.

The event is a social one at which embassy families burn their past-prime Christmas trees, but sadly, it’s been put on ice because of a record cold front that’s brought bone-chilling temperatures. While it was a relatively toasty 25 degrees Wednesday, the mercury last week dipped as low as 2 degrees.

“Due to forecasted extremely cold temperatures, the Bonfire of the Christmas Trees has been postponed,” read an e-mail last week breaking the news to embassy employees. “You can still drop off your trees at the firepit on the T-ball field at any time. We will announce the new bonfire date next week.”

Leslie Bassett, the deputy chief of mission in Seoul, tells us the event will happen once the temps rise a bit. And she included this diplomatic pun: “While temperatures in Seoul may be frigid, relations between the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to be decidedly warm in 2013 as we celebrate 60 years of partnership and shared prosperity.”

Rotor trend

Annoyed, perhaps a bit frightened, by that low-flying helicopter that’s been buzzing your neighborhood at 80 mph?

Is the United Nations flying exploratory missions, preparing for that massive black-helicopter attack it’s been planning to take away our freedoms?

Relax. It’s the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), measuring what it says is “naturally occurring radiation” in this area.

The agency says its helicopter, “equipped with remote gamma radiation sensing technology” and flying as low as 150 feet above the ground, is measuring radiation “to determine baseline levels.”

It’s likely that once you know what those levels are, you can figure out when something unusual — and maybe nasty — might be going on.

The two-week operation began just after Christmas and ends Friday, according to an agency announcement — which preceded the flights — that was put out “so that citizens . . . are not alarmed.”

The flights have been only in daylight, said the agency, which is part of the Energy Department. So if you’re hearing low-flying helicopters at night, that might be the U.N. folks.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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