Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Post No. 193a: The Anticipation (Or Perhaps, The Lack Thereof)



We first generated this piece in January 2011, just minutes before President Obama delivered his State of the Union Speech at that time. Upon reviewing it earlier today, we concluded that not much has changed. What do you think?

© 2011, 2014, and 2015, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It is now 7:59 pm EST, as we begin to type this piece. President Obama delivers his State of the Union message in just 61 minutes, and it is our intention to have this article posted long before the broadcast begins.

In addition, Turner Classic Movies will air, at 8:00 pm EST, what some consider the best Laurel & Hardy movie ever made, Sons of the Desert.

Suffice it to say that we are ”under the gun.” But not nearly as much as our President, following what many have termed the shellacking he took during the mid-term elections. As he walks to the podium, he will be subject to intense scrutiny, and before the night is over, he might wish that he had walked across the Sahara under the glaring light of the equatorial sun.

This piece is not about how he will perform or be received, at least not in an objective sense, but rather how so many have already peeped into their crystal balls, and know how he will perform. For the past three days, the talking heads have told us what they expect of him this evening.

Part of the responsibility for this attitude can be laid at the foot of the President and his staff themselves. In preparation for the speech, the White House has leaked its intentions, put out press releases, and employed all manner of preemptive and public relations vehicles to gain the upper hand and capitalize on the moment.

His detractors have exerted an equal, if not greater, amount of energy preparing to do the Tonya Harding, and test his knee caps with their version of Obamacare, a lead pipe.

As ridiculous as it may seem, somehow we yearn for an era (if ever one existed), where all of us wait in anticipation to listen to what our President has to say, hoping that it will somehow inspire us, and lift us out of our doldrums.

In a recent documentary on Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the final days of the Civil War, a noted historian quipped, “One of the great ironies about American democracy is that we claim that control is within the power of the people, and yet we yearn for a savior to deliver us from our problems.

[Those of you reading this before the President’s speech might switch over to the Laurel & Hardy movie right now. It’s a beauty.]

A couple of posts ago, in Where Our Heads Take Us, we spoke of preconceived ideas and their power. At the end of the evening, we strongly suspect that the Democrats will give the President an “A,” and the Republicans will provide a grade of C-, noting that the President is a gifted orator, although he is wedded to the teleprompter.

And that can’t be good.

For any of us, and definitely not for the Nation.

And so we must confess that we are guilty of having preconceived notions also, because we anticipate that nothing will change, and the politicians will all return to business as usual, and all the talk about the potential for a change in tone in Washington following the Arizona shootings will be for naught.

Is that sad? Yes, especially because we consider ourselves to be idealistic optimists. We are also pragmatists.

But there’s hope out there even amongst some of our most cynical followers. Take for example Douglas, who has been with us from the very beginning. In response to our last post, Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, he commented:

“I would argue that each of us, if we are concerned about violent speech, not engage in it. Who knows? It might catch on.”

Douglas is also the guy who from experience told us that when he decided to not argue with his wife and agree with her, it didn’t work, and that she continued to argue.

We’ve often told friends of the Institute that this experience (operating this blog) has been simultaneously one of the most rewarding during our lifetimes (in that we have learned so much about how others think), and one of the most frustrating (wondering whether they read the same article that we wrote).

S___ has to got to get better than this. It just has to….

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Post No. 193: Exist with Caution – You May Not Be Who You Think You Are (or Be Seen the Way You Want Others to View You)



© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This is Christmas Day, 2014. According to Dickens, on Christmas Eve in 1812, a young orphan by the name of Pip encountered an escaped convict. That meeting changed Pip’s life, but more importantly, his appreciation of the event evolved over the years which followed. We’re at that point where many reflect on what the year has brought us.

I considered naming this piece, “Everything is in the Eye of the Beholder.” I am often fascinated by the contortions we humans go through trying to understand other human conduct, and our seeming inability to understand why we as individuals are so frequently misunderstood.

Back in my legal days, when I interviewed and deposed hundreds, if not thousands, of witnesses under oath (who seemingly had no dog in the fight), I was struck by how honest people who witnessed the same event could testify so differently about what they saw.

To some extent, I think I may have gained a better understanding of this phenomenon when I saw a PBS program on eyesight and the brain. What I came away with was that instead of the eye and brain working together to take a snapshot or picture of an event, the brain functions more like a hard disk in a computer. Once the eyes (really the senses) transmit the image (or a message in the case of the other senses) to the brain or hard disk, the question is posed, “Where have I encountered this before?"

If it is something familiar, or that we encounter with some regularity, then we go with what we know, or as close to it as we have the time and energy to process it. For that which we don't recognize at all, we come up with an interpretation which we think ensures our continued survival.

Numerous news analysts who have ruminated about this year claim that it has been one dominated by conflict and tension at every imaginable level, and in virtually every geographic area.

Back in the early 1980s, when I used to hang out with a group of 5 fascinating and extraordinary women who called themselves the “Slut Sisters,” several of them maintained that all conflict was due to testosterone.

This year, we’ve had numerous events featured in the news, where the typical citizen was emotionally forced to take a position on one side, or the other, often without even a paltry appreciation of the facts. Reporters sought out friends of those individuals who died at the hands of police, or fugitives from justice who the authorities were pursuing. In almost every instance, the friends and neighbors related diametrically opposed perceptions of the people involved. “He is the most generous person you’d ever want to meet, and he wouldn’t harm a fly,” or “He was vile, scum who should be put to death.”

And this was during the first 2 hours of the coverage of the event, and before Nancy Grace had an opportunity to render a guilty verdict.

It causes one to wonder whether the side we choose is really not by choice, analysis, or even about our participation in the event, but rather about which group to which we can relate the most.

I previously shared my thoughts about race, which I believe is primarily driven by DNA and genetics. In my reality, it’s not a delayed conversation, or one which we keep trying to avoid, as much as it is one which we cannot have (and never will), because it is so deep within us that we cannot explain it.

Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer for both Miss Havisham and Pip’s benefactor in the 1946 film version of Great Expectations, suggests to Pip, "Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There is no better rule."

One would think that this would suffice for making decent and fair judgment calls, assuming once again that one has the time, interest, and motivation to pursue the evidence. But two other events threw a monkey wrench in my quest to understand this year’s conflict.

I started thinking about the issue of fear, and how important a factor it might be. In an earlier post, I questioned why fear was not characterized as the Eighty Deadly Sin. There is a television network by the name of TVOne. An African-American journalist and syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin, who appears regularly on CNN, also anchors a news show on TVOne. During the frequently aired trailer for his show, he asks, “Why is America so afraid of black people?”

Then a couple of years ago, while watching C-Span2, Book TV, I heard a book discussion involving author Michael Shermer, a columnist for Scientific American, and the publisher of Skeptic Magazine. The title of the book says it all, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.”

So, what’s the take away from all of this? I must confess that I don’t know with any degree of certainty, but suggest that neither should you. However, we need to consider something different. Perhaps we could focus on the restructuring of those systems or modifying those environments where there are higher probabilities of conflict, and not focus as much on explaining conflict on an individual or even a group level. Maybe we should accept conflict on an individual or group level, as a given.

Martin Wolf is the Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator for the Financial Times, who recently appeared on the Charlie Rose show. He suggests that we need to urgently address some global economic issues which were also extant during the years leading up to World War II. His concern is that if we do not, we may find ourselves in another major, global conflict. In an environment where intense competition and paranoia rule, that more animal, survival-oriented part of our brain takes over.

I’m not sure if he is right. However, I’m not looking forward to another year of conflict like we had this year. And neither is Pip.

Merry Christmas to all, and remember what the O.J. trial may have revealed about us….

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Post No. 192: Why Some are Concerned the Terrorists Might Win: “They Can’t be Bought and Don’t Seem to Mind Dying”



© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This is a tad longer than my typical post of 750 words, but I feel that we Americans need a tongue-lashing, since we can’t whip one another since the Adrian Petersen muck-up. (This post is not only directed to my primary audience, college students, but to all citizens.)

My blog is about personal responsibility, choices, and making decisions. We didn’t like it when Jimmy Carter tried to “warn” us in 1979 during his speech which has been derisively referred to as the “Malaise Speech.” He described it as the greatest threat to American democracy. The truth be told, we Americans have become lazy and spoiled.

We do not like being inconvenienced or questioned. Our notion of personal freedom and pursuit of happiness may always outweigh what is needed to defeat the enemy we find embodied in the current group of terrorists, unless we have 9-11s of greater intensity and more frequency. The changes we had to make as a nation since 9-11 are relatively minor inconveniences.

In my view, Americans are the most spoiled people on the planet, and most of us still are not satisfied. It is why we seem to want our cake and eat it too, and have difficulty balancing competing interests so that they add up to a 100% course of behavior or conduct. Instead, we want 50 here, 60 there, and 20 in some other place. It’s one of the reasons why we are incapable, as a nation, of solving problems. Right now, we are a nation which wants the terrorists to go away, but at the same time, not engage in a war which might accomplish that goal.

The intransigence and polarization we are experiencing are not solely attributable to the current President. It is who WE have become as a people, and consistent with that notion, we decline to take responsibility for that as a people, especially on an individual level. Instead, we point the finger at easy targets. However, it is unfortunately what happens to humans who have grown accustomed to comfortable lifestyles and seen economic conditions improve for so long that they become “expectations” and “emotional entitlements,” pretty much through no effort on their individual parts, only to see things later fall apart.

When I traveled throughout Europe in the 1980s, my bags were regularly searched, the heels of my shoes torn apart, and I had to undergo extensive interrogations. Flights to certain cities (London to Athens and Cairo) were cancelled for extended periods. It was a royal pain in the ass; however, I was just a visitor. Just before I was scheduled to go to Cairo, the militia started storming the tourist hotels near Giza because they found out that they were going to have to serve 3 years instead of 2 years. I was in Europe very close to the time of the Leon Klinghoffer killing and the taking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. The people of Britain and Europe know what it is like to have bombs raining on your homes and exploding in your subways.

In the mean time, we’ve become a nation of dilettantes, yours truly included. Consider what Americans did to VOLUNTEER during WWI and WWII (real, practical, substantive, and tangible activities), and what they were willing to do without. (Tangentially, this summer I generated an incredible number of yellow squash and cucumbers from one plant each, and when I showed them to my 93 yr old Father with dementia, he said that he remembered people here growing Victory Gardens during WW II.)

While making a selfie or posting support on Twitter for our troops or revolutionaries in the Middle East may provide some personal satisfaction, pounding a keyboard is not going to be very effective against ISIS. Right now, you see very few people over the age of 30 voluntarily doing anything to aid in this fight.

Instead, we leave it up to others to handle, and sit comfortably in our homes ingesting an overwhelming diet of sitcoms. The constantly changing, theoretical, individual right to keep and bear arms, to protect us against our government’s activities, those with whom we disagree or feel are undeserving, and those who strike fear in our hearts simply when we encounter them, seem to outweigh those things that we could do to effectively make this a better, stronger, and more secure nation for our collective benefit. But we bitch about “someone else's” handling of the mess, which is a classic human mess, and not one really specific to our time.

And do you really believe that a legitimate, major, world power can function with a volunteer army?

These factors are also the same factors which, if we allow them to continue, will contribute to our decline as a world force. We’re dun fur if we do not think more comprehensively, and come to the realization that we are part of the global community, and that others have values dear to them which are different than our values. (Thus the subtitle of this post.) There is an argument to be made that we might rally a little bit during the next 20 – 30 years (and I sure hope so), but I’m afraid that we collectively do not care enough anymore. We’ve learned to dodge inconveniences.

Add that to the fact that we allowed Corporate America, although its conduct was legal in nature, to sell us out to China (who was our ideological enemy not that long ago) thus decimating our middle class and creating a massive security risk. We no longer even have the manufacturing capabilities to transition into making arms and supplies should we really get into a war like we did in WW II, not to mention a war with China. Furthermore, our internal infrastructure is so poor and in need of critical repairs, that if the enemy landed on our shores, we’d be hard put to mount a credible defense.

Having adequate, decent paying jobs here at home is what really matters. People need to have a sense of purpose, a feeling that they can provide for their loved ones, and a little self-esteem. The terrorists feel that they have something of value for which they are fighting. What are we fighting for? Another big screen TV, DVD recorder, jet-ski, ATV, or vacation home? Do those in poverty have the wherewithal and resources to fight the terrorists, or are they too distracted fighting for their mere survival? Jobs, also by the way, contribute to tax revenue which helps us all.

We need to come up with some new solutions for some historic human problems if we intend to continue as a legitimate world power.

Our inability to get anything done anymore is reflected in the way we wage battles against most everything these days – like a corporation making a cost-benefit, risk analysis, and only doing what it can on the cheap with the hope that it will accomplish its public relations goals in the short term, and that the guys at the helm will be gone when the long term negative consequences come back to haunt us. While I'm a technocrat at heart, and that might be just fine for corporate governance, in theory. However, it’s a bunch of crap when it comes to taking care of a nation of real, live people as opposed to financial investors.

Unfortunately, we are relegated to management by committee under our current governance model, and lack the ability to think about, and plan for, the long-term. Perhaps somewhat related, I recently heard someone on C-Span talk about Eisenhower’s concern regarding the threat posed by the Military – Industrial Complex. Apparently when the speech was first drafted, it read “Military – Industrial – Political Complex.”

A good buddy of mine has a quote attributed to Albert Einstein in his signature on all e-mails he sends out: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Although I generally disagree with him about 98% of the poop he puts out there, he is spot on about this one.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Post No. 191: The Ray Rice Video Didn't Change Sh__ !



© 2014 the Institute for Applied Common Sense

While I appreciate, from a theoretical perspective, that a video may sometimes provide us with a better appreciation of a situation, I do not see where it should have made a difference here.

Let me review the undisputed facts:

1. Three time Pro Bowler professional football player;

2. Knocks female unconscious;

3. Drags her out of elevator by her hair.

Hmmm. That’s 18 words. Should have taken less than 18 seconds to figure out how to handle this unfortunate situation.

And that's common sense and personal responsibility all rolled up into one notion, and one about which I hope that my target audience, college students, would not think any further.

P.S. You don't even need to know who Ray Rice is or click on the hyperlinks gratuitously provided to figure out what to do in this instance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Post No. 190c: Virtually All of Us Find Some Other Folks "Peculiar"

This is a post I generated during our very first year in the operation of this blog. However, in light of the responses of the public to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought that we all, particularly my target audience, college students, might benefit from the wisdom of Andy Griffith during the 1960s.

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014 the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a professional association at a high end resort in Florida. An incredible buffet dinner was scheduled for one evening, to which everyone was looking forward.

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

Upon my arrival, everyone inquired as to why I was so late. When I informed them that I felt compelled to watch two episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, they all howled with laughter.

Their laughter grew even louder when I mentioned that, in my opinion, one could learn more about life from that show than perhaps any other show on television. (Interestingly, my Father tells me that it was also the favorite show of my Mother, who passed away at a relatively early age.)

I saw an episode of the show yesterday, which reminded me of the manner in which this simple show, about life in small town America, has provoked many a thought throughout my lifetime.

It was the story of Ed Sawyer, a clean-cut, well-groomed stranger who arrives in Mayberry. Throughout the episode, Ed is always dressed in a conservative business suit, articulate, respectful, polite, and there is nothing visually alarming about him. In fact, he could be the poster boy for virtually any All-American organization or movement.

The first scene in the episode unfolds as Ed enters Floyd’s barbershop, where Barney Fife is in the chair getting a shave. Several other citizens, including Andy, are also present.

Ed engages them all in a pleasant, upbeat conversation, calls them each by name, and exhibits a degree of familiarity which causes the shop’s occupants to become uncomfortable. As he leaves the shop, all heads turn to follow him down the street, and they all exit to watch his next move. Almost immediately, there is a suggestion by Barney that Andy commence an investigation of this suspicious and “peculiar” stranger.

As Ed proceeds down the sidewalk, he encounters a double baby stroller parked in front of a store, where the mother is looking through the shop window. Ed greets the two twins, their mother, and then poses questions which suggest that he can distinguish between the two boys at this early stage in their development. The suspicions grow.

Ed next proceeds to the local rooming house, and when offered one room, he declines because of an incident which had occurred in the room, arguably about which few would have known. Although he has never stayed at the rooming house, he then proceeds to request a specific room, by number, which although green in color, has a cheerier décor.

At this point, Barney is beside himself, and inquires whether Ed speaks German. Fortunately, Andy, the voice of reason, intervenes and initiates a conversation more normally associated with welcoming a visitor to one’s town. At the same time, Andy poses a number of questions in an effort to get to know this fellow better, since he is also experiencing some degree of discomfort, although unarticulated.

Later that afternoon, Ed approaches Andy and seeks his advice and assistance. It appears that the local gas station is up for sale, and Ed is considering buying it. Andy suggests that perhaps Ed might be moving a tad too quickly, and that he should take the time to get to know the townspeople a little better.

He further suggests that the town’s citizens might regard Ed’s sudden emergence on the scene as “peculiar,” without some “warming up.” (By the way, I learned the word “peculiar” from this show, which was used with some frequency on episodes airing in the 1960’s.)

Ed then segues into how much in love he is with Lucy Matthews, who he has never seen. However, he is familiar with all of her physical attributes, and he inquires of Andy as to why she does not answer his calls and knocks on her door. Lucy soon walks in to lodge a complaint, to which Ed responds that she is just as pretty as he suspected. It is at this point that Andy feels, as the town’s sheriff, he must get to the bottom of this behavior, since it threatens to disturb the town’s peace.

Ed admits that his behavior might strike some as odd, but provides a very plausible, if not immediately obvious, explanation. Ed explains that Joe Larson, a long-time resident of Mayberry, was an Army buddy. While serving together, Joe received the local Mayberry newspaper, and Ed found himself reading the paper on a daily basis.

As time moved on, he began to feel that he “knew” the citizens about whom the articles were written. He further explains that over time, he began to envy Joe, because Joe was from Mayberry, a place that Ed admired, and Ed was from, well, “Nowhere.”

Ed further explains that over time, he began to wish that Mayberry was his hometown, and he eventually convinced himself that it was. When he saw the ad in the paper that the service station was up for sale, he regarded it as an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

After Ed leaves the courthouse / jail, Barney rushes in and proclaims that Ed has finally “overplayed his hand.” When Andy inquires as to what Barney is referring, Barney states that Ed has been hanging around Lucy Matthews’ house and actually crossed the line by ringing her bell.

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween for ringing doorbells unnecessarily.

He further exclaims that Ed doesn’t even have the excuse of being out for trick or treat. Deputy Fife then inquires as to whether Ed speaks Spanish.

Of course, Ed’s efforts to integrate himself into the community go terribly wrong. That’s even after Andy makes everyone feel pretty small and provincial after facetiously suggesting that they all were justified in their prejudicial attitudes toward this stranger, just because he was an unknown, peculiar, and somewhat different.

Ed realizes that this really isn’t the place for him, and leaves. And the town lost a potentially energizing and illuminating individual.

This 40 plus year old episode of the Andy Griffith Show made me think of several things this weekend. First, the power of the visual media came to mind, along with its potential to expand the minds of its viewers, particularly young viewers, as well as its power to narrow.

Second, it reminded me of the 30 year period when I lived in Southern California, and I interacted with all sorts of people of different races from different parts of the world. Virtually everyone was a stranger. Upon returning to North Carolina, despite the fact that North Carolina is the number one state in terms of percentage increase of Hispanics, I noticed the lack of interaction between whites and blacks on the one hand, and Hispanics on the other. Asians operate many mom and pop businesses in the black parts of town, but the social interaction ends there.

At several public meetings in my hometown, I have mentioned that despite what one may think of our immigration policies, many immigrants are here, and we need to engage them and integrate them into our society, with the goal of deriving the best that we can from their involvement. Each time I have broached the subject, many citizens in the room have lowered their heads and looked at the floor without responding.

In recent months, I have tried something different. Every time I have encountered Hispanics, I have taken the initiative to walk up to them and start a conversation. Each time, without fail, they have been pleasant folks and almost ecstatic that someone outside of their group took the risk to engage them. It has always been a rewarding experience, although guarded it may have started.

Third, this episode also struck a chord when I learned of Senator’s Obama’s reference earlier this week to the efforts of his opponents to label him as different, and thus necessarily something that we should fear.

Our fear of the unknown, caution, and prejudice, even that racially based, appear to be hard wired to ensure survival and ease of negotiation in a complex world. But we also have a bigger brain which should enable us to think and reason beyond our biggest primal fears.

Some criticism has been leveled against the Andy Griffith Show over the years because of its conspicuous absence of blacks in a show based in a southern city. However, Andy Griffith himself sure made up for that during the airing of his Matlock series.

Be that as it may, my hat is off to the Andy Griffith Show, and particularly its writers, particularly considering the era in which the show was first viewed. Perhaps more of you will have the opportunity to view the Ed Sawyer episode before the upcoming presidential election.

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Post 190b: Another Talented Performer Lost



Robin Williams is with us no more, except through the joy and laughter which still linger in the hearts and minds of his fans. During the time that the Fellows here at the Institute have been on this earth, we've lost some exceptionally talented individuals because of the complicated lives they led, including Hendrix, Joplin, Elvis, Belushi, Marvin, and Michael. When we read of his death, our hearts were instantly heavy, and our thoughts shot to Michael, with whose music we Fellows grew up. This post was first generated shortly after Michael's departure; however, the issues discussed are equally relevant to Robin Williams, and ones which our target audience, college students, might consider as they navigate this complicated road called life.

© 2009, 2011, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In Post No. 126, we mentioned a number of the Laughingman’s sayings, including “Common Sense should be a way of life.” The Logistician, still on sabbatical in Brazil, has a few too, albeit somewhat strange.

He claims he only needs a woman in his life 12 days each year. Why? For the highs and the lows.

He’s always viewed intimate relationships with women like prescription drugs – beneficial, on occasion, when administered by a licensed physician, and in moderation. However, he considers them, let’s say, problematic, when administered intravenously on a regular basis.

Our mission is to engage college students in a discussion about personal responsibility, the options / choices they have, and decisions they make.

We’ve been watching this freak show since MJ’s death, trying to figure out whether there are some not so obvious lessons to be learned, which we can discuss with students.

We did observe an incredible, international outpouring of love, sadness, and admiration. We also noted an intense dissection (primarily on the home front) of his career, values, and character, supporting the conclusion that he was a bad, evil human being.

What we found most fascinating was the phalanx of critics, who had little appreciation of his work, but who clearly had views about his lifestyle and eccentricities.

We watch Turner Classic Movies religiously. Last week, Judy Garland was a featured artist.

We were reminded how much we were dazzled by her talent. We viewed a bio-documentary, which outlined her life-long relationship with prescription drugs, which ultimately led to her demise at age 47.

She started performing at 2-1/2, and thus performed for 45 of her 47 years. For decades, she fought addiction with prescription drugs. Movie industry officials used them to control her weight, and regulate her productivity. Coupled with her perception she was not “pretty” enough, and you had a recipe for ….

One of our heroes has always been Howard Hughes, the great aviator, inventor, industrialist, film director and producer, and philanthropist. We loved his passion for life, and his intensity. There was also a down side. What some called his fearlessness, others termed recklessness.

As a result of various plane crashes, he spent a significant part of his life in pain, eventually becoming addicted to prescription drugs in many forms. When they finally wheeled him out of the “Acapulco Princess Hotel” on the way to the morgue, he weighed 90 lbs.

The more intriguing sub-plot to MJ’s story was the fact that his wife, Lisa Marie Presley, walked away because of, and in spite of, her love for MJ. He confided in her that he would probably go the way of her Father, Elvis, “The King.”

A siren, who in her own way was like a drug, and caused the Logistician to stutter many a starry night at the Hollywood Bowl while listening to classical music, said it best.

“Everything in moderation.”

And that applies to drugs, plastic surgery, driving at high speeds, skydiving, sex, food, wine, dancing, paragliding, and perhaps most things in life. (Even physical exercise.)

Some years ago, the History Channel aired a program on the literary creation of heaven and hell. Although various religions have different versions, in every instance, mortals here on Earth, through their conduct, walk a very thin line. Stepping on either side could determine their descent or ascent.

Lest you be confused about this drug thing, there is little difference between illegal/recreational drugs, and prescription drugs, with the exceptions being the legitimacy of the “entity” which produces them, who gets to prescribe them, and whether politicians benefit. Drugs be drugs.

Take it from some guys who matured (arguably) during the drugs, sex, and rock and roll years. We know lots of successful doctors, business people, family people, accountants, judges, and pillars of society who once used drugs in many a form and fashion. Fortunately for most of them and for society, they appreciated that drugs might be an interesting pastime, but not a life long journey.

Two final thoughts, one of which is a line from a TCM movie:

“A man ought to be appreciated for more than the worst thing that he has ever done.”

By doing so, we can keep an eye open for the good in people, not just the bad.

The other is the Logistician’s:

“If you’re willing to walk into a courtroom looking like a freak, you’ll be judged a freak.”

Just ask Phil Spector. At least O.J. had the Common Sense to put on a suit the first time around.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Post No. 190a: The Dangers of Being Peculiar

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This entire Fourth of July weekend, TV Land is conducting an Andy Griffith Show marathon. We previously posted this piece about one of the episodes which struck us, about the human propensity to make quick judgments about others.


Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a professional association at a high end resort in Florida. An incredible buffet dinner was scheduled for one evening, to which everyone was looking forward.

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

Upon my arrival, everyone inquired as to why I was so late. When I informed them that I felt compelled to watch two episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, they all howled with laughter.

Their laughter grew even louder when I mentioned that, in my opinion, one could learn more about life from that show than perhaps any other show on television. (Interestingly, my Father tells me that it was also the favorite show of my Mother, who passed away at a relatively early age.)

I saw an episode of the show yesterday, which reminded me of the manner in which this simple show, about life in small town America, has provoked many a thought throughout my lifetime.

It was the story of Ed Sawyer, a clean-cut, well-groomed stranger who arrives in Mayberry. Throughout the episode, Ed is always dressed in a conservative business suit, articulate, respectful, polite, and there is nothing visually alarming about him. In fact, he could be the poster boy for virtually any All-American organization or movement.

The first scene in the episode unfolds as Ed enters Floyd’s barbershop, where Barney Fife is in the chair getting a shave. Several other citizens, including Andy, are also present.

Ed engages them all in a pleasant, upbeat conversation, calls them each by name, and exhibits a degree of familiarity which causes the shop’s occupants to become uncomfortable. As he leaves the shop, all heads turn to follow him down the street, and they all exit to watch his next move. Almost immediately, there is a suggestion by Barney that Andy commence an investigation of this suspicious and “peculiar” stranger.

As Ed proceeds down the sidewalk, he encounters a double baby stroller parked in front of a store, where the mother is looking through the shop window. Ed greets the two twins, their mother, and then poses questions which suggest that he can distinguish between the two boys at this early stage in their development. The suspicions grow.

Ed next proceeds to the local rooming house, and when offered one room, he declines because of an incident which had occurred in the room, arguably about which few would have known. Although he has never stayed at the rooming house, he then proceeds to request a specific room, by number, which although green in color, has a cheerier décor.

At this point, Barney is beside himself, and inquires whether Ed speaks German. Fortunately, Andy, the voice of reason, intervenes and initiates a conversation more normally associated with welcoming a visitor to one’s town. At the same time, Andy poses a number of questions in an effort to get to know this fellow better, since he is also experiencing some degree of discomfort, although unarticulated.

Later that afternoon, Ed approaches Andy and seeks his advice and assistance. It appears that the local gas station is up for sale, and Ed is considering buying it. Andy suggests that perhaps Ed might be moving a tad too quickly, and that he should take the time to get to know the townspeople a little better.

He further suggests that the town’s citizens might regard Ed’s sudden emergence on the scene as “peculiar,” without some “warming up.” (By the way, I learned the word “peculiar” from this show, which was used with some frequency on episodes airing in the 1960’s.)

Ed then segues into how much in love he is with Lucy Matthews, who he has never seen. However, he is familiar with all of her physical attributes, and he inquires of Andy as to why she does not answer his calls and knocks on her door. Lucy soon walks in to lodge a complaint, to which Ed responds that she is just as pretty as he suspected. It is at this point that Andy feels, as the town’s sheriff, he must get to the bottom of this behavior, since it threatens to disturb the town’s peace.

Ed admits that his behavior might strike some as odd, but provides a very plausible, if not immediately obvious, explanation. Ed explains that Joe Larson, a long-time resident of Mayberry, was an Army buddy. While serving together, Joe received the local Mayberry newspaper, and Ed found himself reading the paper on a daily basis.

As time moved on, he began to feel that he “knew” the citizens about whom the articles were written. He further explains that over time, he began to envy Joe, because Joe was from Mayberry, a place that Ed admired, and Ed was from, well, “Nowhere.”

Ed further explains that over time, he began to wish that Mayberry was his hometown, and he eventually convinced himself that it was. When he saw the ad in the paper that the service station was up for sale, he regarded it as an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

After Ed leaves the courthouse / jail, Barney rushes in and proclaims that Ed has finally “overplayed his hand.” When Andy inquires as to what Barney is referring, Barney states that Ed has been hanging around Lucy Matthews’ house and actually crossed the line by ringing her bell.

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween just for ringing doorbells unnecessarily.

He further exclaims that Ed doesn’t even have the excuse of being out for trick or treat. Deputy Fife then inquires as to whether Ed speaks Spanish.

Of course, Ed’s efforts to integrate himself into the community go terribly wrong. That’s even after Andy makes everyone feel pretty small and provincial after facetiously suggesting that they all were justified in their prejudicial attitudes toward this stranger, just because he was an unknown, peculiar, and somewhat different.

Ed realizes that this really isn’t the place for him, and leaves. And the town lost a potentially energizing and illuminating individual.

This 40 plus year old episode of the Andy Griffith Show made me think of several things this weekend. First, the power of the visual media came to mind, along with its potential to expand the minds of its viewers, particularly young viewers, as well as its power to narrow.

Second, it reminded me of the 30 year period when I lived in Southern California, and I interacted with all sorts of people of different races from different parts of the world. Virtually everyone was a stranger. Upon returning to North Carolina, despite the fact that North Carolina is the number one state in terms of percentage increase of Hispanics, I noticed the lack of interaction between whites and blacks on the one hand, and Hispanics on the other. Asians operate many mom and pop businesses in the black parts of town, but the social interaction ends there.

At several public meetings in my hometown, I have mentioned that despite what one may think of our immigration policies, many immigrants are here, and we need to engage them and integrate them into our society, with the goal of deriving the best that we can from their involvement. Each time I have broached the subject, many citizens in the room have lowered their heads and looked at the floor without responding.

In recent months, I have tried something different. Every time I have encountered Hispanics, I have taken the initiative to walk up to them and start a conversation. Each time, without fail, they have been pleasant folks and almost ecstatic that someone outside of their group took the risk to engage them. It has always been a rewarding experience, although guarded it may have started.

Third, this episode also struck a chord when I learned of Senator’s Obama’s reference earlier this week to the efforts of his opponents to label him as different, and thus necessarily something that we should fear.

Our fear of the unknown, caution, and prejudice, even that racially based, appear to be hard wired to ensure survival and ease of negotiation in a complex world. But we also have a bigger brain which should enable us to think and reason beyond our biggest primal fears.

Some criticism has been leveled against the Andy Griffith Show over the years because of its conspicuous absence of blacks in a show based in a southern city. However, Andy Griffith himself sure made up for that during the airing of his Matlock series.

Be that as it may, my hat is off to the Andy Griffith Show, and particularly its writers, particularly considering the era in which the show was first viewed. Perhaps more of you will have the opportunity to view the Ed Sawyer episode before the upcoming presidential election.

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Post No. 190: The Most Dangerous of Expectations


© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

I considered entitling this post, “In Defense of Donald Sterling, the U. S. Veterans Administration, and Malaysia Airlines." However, out of a desire to have this piece potentially relevant in a month or two, I chose to go with a more universal and hopefully enduring theme.

So what do,

(a) the unfortunate disclosure of a private conversation involving an NBA team owner and the object of his unrequited desires;

(b) the purported failure of the U.S. Veterans Administration to timely deliver health care services to a relatively small number of veterans;

(c) the continuing mystery about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370;

(d) the Washington State mudslide which killed at least 41 people, the danger of which has been known for 60 years; and

(e) the South Korean ferry accident resulting in 288 deaths

all have in common? I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Something has been bothering me since I exited the womb 62 years ago. It appears that while my Mother was pregnant with me, she read the paperback edition of Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History, all 79 pages of it. What struck me via osmosis was the discussion of two things which significantly distinguish humans from other animals.

The first is that most animals have some natural armor, skills or various mechanisms which permit them to survive in the wild, somewhat independently, early on. We humans are totally dependent upon older humans for quite some time. The second is that although we are not endowed with natural defensive skills and survival equipment from the get-go, our big brains permit us to record, teach, invent, and share (over generations) the cumulative results of the past human experience in preparation for moving forward.

So, what do all 5 events have in common? In my view, the most dangerous of expectations, namely, that “someone else will do it or take care of it.”

We exit the womb with that expectation genetically engrained. Whether the acquisition and preparation of food, our transportation to the toilet, or cleaning up our resultant mess, we start out with an expectation that someone else will do it or take care of it. That notion continues throughout our lives.

Over the past 4 months, in thinking about the 5 events listed above, there was a commonality of something which started to emerge, but on which I could not place my finger. And then it hit me.

Although I had a significantly shorter period of time to think about it compared to the first dangerous expectation, I developed an appreciation of the second dangerous expectation by being the primary caregiver for my 93 year old Father. Up until roughly 88 years of age, he was an example of exceptional, octogenarian health. He amazed everyone who came into contact with him.

Little did I suspect 5 years ago that he had a progressive, neuromuscular movement disorder. He often repeats the phrase, “Once a man, twice a child,” the truth of which I appreciate more each day. Despite the complexities associated with his care, and the fact that I have a sibling with whom to share the experience, there are many single kids who have to take care of both parents. Imagine the complexity of the V.A.’s responsibilities.

So what is this second most dangerous expectation? That someone will do it the way that we expect, or in the manner in which we want it to be done.

All of this came together for me about 3 weeks ago during a discussion about the South Korean ferry accident. A reporter noted that because of the prevalence of Confucianism in that part of the world, there is an implicit social contract between citizens and their rulers that, “We do what you ask, and we expect you to take care of us.”

Until fairly recently, I did not realize that I was entitled to Veterans Administration medical benefits, primarily because I had top flight private insurance coverage. However, I recently found myself without that privilege. I’ve been in the V.A. health system for a year now. I am convinced that I am the system’s No. 1 supporter. When I had the luxury of private insurance, I was treated by some of the best doctors in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, associated with UCLA, USC, and groups who took care of million dollar professional athletes.

I now receive comparable, if not better, health care from the V.A. Why? Because the Durham, NC facility, which is across the street from and associated with Duke University Med Center.

I’m as happy as a clam, Sam I am. In fact, there are days when I go onto the MyHealth.VA.Gov site, just to revel in the level of care and information available to me. This experience has far exceeded my expectations. I also realize that not every facility in the V.A. system is the same and not every vet will receive my level of service.

One of the pitfalls associated with focus on the individual and the pursuit of individual happiness is that we can forget that things are relative and that different people have different values. We also have a tendency to forget how interdependent humans are, which is a mercurial concept in and of itself.

A couple of years ago, former President Bill Clinton was asked to comment on the stoning of a young woman by family members in a Middle Eastern country. He opened with the phrase, “In a shame-based society….” I honestly do not recall what he said thereafter; however, since then I have repeatedly questioned whether he actually used the word “shame,” or the word “blame.”

The head of Veterans Affairs was recently pressured to resign. However, I found myself asking whether our primary goal was to address and correct the management deficiencies, or assess blame and validate our notions of responsibility.

It occurred to me that management or human governance is not that far removed from addressing cancer. Isn’t our ultimate goal in the treatment of a disease to remove its effects in the short term, and address its causes in the long? It seems to me that if we as a society are truly interested in addressing problems on a long term basis, our attention might best be directed to the underlying causes and systemic issues, recognizing the less than perfect component of human behavior, and less on fault and attributing blame.

Because the reality is that we, as humans (on an individual and collective level), are responsible for the systems we create and mismanage. No level of management can completely address that. It would be delusional and less than productive on our part to think so.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Post No. 189: Some Observations of, and Life Lessons Gleaned from, the 2014 Super Bowl


© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Now that we’ve had some time to think about it, we’ve concluded:

1. Pundits, experts, and talking heads don’t know jack about jack;

2. Humans really are unpredictable;

3. Organizations consisting of humans are pretty unpredictable, too;

4. The weather and most things associated with Mother Nature might as well be considered unpredictable;

5. Gambling on any anticipated human behavior is stupid, but then again there’s marriage;

6. The Denver Broncos Football Team is a relatively small, government-owned and operated collection of individuals, with only 53 players, a host of highly paid coaches, and a pretty decent front office, and still could not pull off its goal within the time allotted;

7. The Seattle Seahawks Football Team is a relatively small, private enterprise . free market entity composed of individuals, with only 53 players, a host of highly paid coaches, and a pretty decent front office, and managed to pull off its goal this time, but it should be kept in mind that success is frequently transient and episodic;

8. At least players, contrary to politicians, pundits, experts, and talking heads, put their bodies and their health on the line in connection with their claims and goals;

9. Although virtually everyone who gambled on the game thought it through and perhaps legitimately thought they picked the right team and the correct spread, probably more people lost money on the game than got it right;

10. The joke about Seattle beating a dead horse was tired and old before Monday rolled around;

11. We suspect that the vast majority of people actually attending the game on Sunday had some degree of difficulty finding their parked cars after the game;

12. Almost every player on each team, with a couple of exceptions, know that running into another man at full force may result in a concussion, and in an ordinary lawsuit this knowledge would constitute either assumption of risk or contributory negligence on the part of the player, and thus deny his [or her?] claim for compensation;

13. Pete Carroll was not solely responsible for his team’s performance on Sunday;

14. There is no question in our minds that Peyton Manning was solely responsible for his team’s performance on Sunday;

15. If you want to lend legitimate support to someone, some group, or some cause you support, get in your car, or catch a plane, and be there with your slickers when the crap’s flying;

16. Once the game is over, any underlying motivations, biases, or agendas that the pundits, experts, and talking heads had before the game pretty much don’t matter, because no one cares;

17. Life and management of humans are complicated and you never know what is going to happen, much less the reason;

18. Many events in the Universe are serendipitous, when one stops to consider all of the dynamic forces in operation at any given point in time, and no one, single cause and effect factor can be singled out as being responsible for failure or success;

19. As the Logistician’s 93 yr old Father always says, “Timing is everything;”

20. If the NFL were regulated and subject to governmental intervention like most businesses, there would never be a Super Bowl Champion;

21. Lest we forget, there is a notion which many characterize as "unintended consequences," and which some contend even rises to the level of a "law;" and

21. The typical sitting President, including those who many characterize as a moron, is not solely responsible for jack, and politicians are the last folks to sit in judgment about anything, and particularly unqualified in talking about taking responsibility for one’s actions.

We'll leave the other 10 points to David Letterman.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Post No. 188f: The Anticipation (Or Perhaps Lack Thereof)



We first generated this piece in January 2011, just minutes before President Obama delivered his State of the Union Speech at that time. Upon reviewing it earlier today, we concluded that not much has changed. What do you think?

© 2011 and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It is now 7:59 pm EST, as we begin to type this piece. President Obama delivers his State of the Union message in just 61 minutes, and it is our intention to have this article posted long before the broadcast begins.

In addition, Turner Classic Movies will air, at 8:00 pm EST, what some consider the best Laurel & Hardy movie ever made, Sons of the Desert.

Suffice it to say that we are ”under the gun.” But not nearly as much as our President, following what many have termed the shellacking he took during the mid-term elections. As he walks to the podium, he will be subject to intense scrutiny, and before the night is over, he might wish that he had walked across the Sahara under the glaring light of the equatorial sun.

This piece is not about how he will perform or be received, at least not in an objective sense, but rather how so many have already peeped into their crystal balls, and know how he will perform. For the past three days, the talking heads have told us what they expect of him this evening.

Part of the responsibility for this attitude can be laid at the foot of the President and his staff themselves. In preparation for the speech, the White House has leaked its intentions, put out press releases, and employed all manner of preemptive and public relations vehicles to gain the upper hand and capitalize on the moment.

His detractors have exerted an equal, if not greater, amount of energy preparing to do the Tonya Harding, and test his knee caps with their version of Obamacare, a lead pipe.

As ridiculous as it may seem, somehow we yearn for an era (if ever one existed), where all of us wait in anticipation to listen to what our President has to say, hoping that it will somehow inspire us, and lift us out of our doldrums.

In a recent documentary on Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the final days of the Civil War, a noted historian quipped, “One of the great ironies about American democracy is that we claim that control is within the power of the people, and yet we yearn for a savior to deliver us from our problems.

[Those of you reading this before the President’s speech might switch over to the Laurel & Hardy movie right now. It’s a beauty.]

A couple of posts ago, in Where Our Heads Take Us, we spoke of pre-conceived ideas and their power. At the end of the evening, we strongly suspect that the Democrats will give the President an “A,” and the Republicans will provide a grade of C-, noting that the President is a gifted orator, although he is wedded to the teleprompter.

And that can’t be good.

For any of us, and definitely not for the Nation.

And so we must confess that we are guilty of having pre-conceived notions also, because we anticipate that nothing will change, and the politicians will all return to business as usual, and all the talk about the potential for a change in tone in Washington following the Arizona shootings will be for naught.

Is that sad? Yes, especially because we consider ourselves to be idealistic optimists. We are also pragmatists.

But there’s hope out there even amongst some of our most cynical followers. Take for example Douglas, who has been with us from the very beginning. In response to our last post, Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, he commented:

“I would argue that each of us, if we are concerned about violent speech, not engage in it. Who knows? It might catch on.”

Douglas is also the guy who from experience told us that when he decided to not argue with his wife and agree with her, it didn’t work, and she continued to argue.

We’ve often told friends of the Institute that this experience (operating this blog) has been simultaneously one of the most rewarding during our lifetimes (in that we have learned so much about how others think), and one of the most frustrating (wondering whether they read the same article that we wrote).

S___ has to got to get better than this. It just has to….

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense should be a Way of Life"™

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