Sunday, June 29, 2008

Post No. 22: Do We Have Something to Fear Other Than Fear Itself?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Radio and television talk show host Don Imus drew attention to himself again last week. Upon hearing his latest controversial statement, one’s response might have been that Imus could not have avoided criticism under any circumstances. (Disregard, for the time being, whether we truly know him intimately enough to enable us to judge the motives underlying the statement.)

In the future, he might avoid making any statements, which include any race-related words, since various negative assumptions will be made regarding his motives, even if his intent is to make a positive statement.

More disconcerting was the statement by the NFL player whose frequent run-ins with the law were at the center of Imus’ unfortunate expression. Arguably, Imus’ comment could have been viewed as a statement condemning the frequent stopping of African-Americans by law enforcement officials, or justifying it. However, “Pacman” Jones fairly quickly concluded that Imus “obviously has a problem with African-Americans.”

One can only assume that Jones has some direct link to Imus’ brain and heart, to permit him to make such an unequivocal assessment. Along a similar vein, an argument might be made that Jones “obviously has a problem with the law,” or that he “obviously has a problem disassociating himself from the criminal element.”

George Carlin, considered by some to be an iconic comedian, died last week. It is generally agreed that he expressed the views of the counter-culture element of our society. However, what stood out most significantly was the frequent reference, by those who remembered him, to the “fearless” nature of his comedy.

What did Carlin potentially have to fear? What did he say that posed so significant a potential danger that we needed to be leery of him? Was there a concern that what he said, or might say, could damage or harm a certain segment of our society?

So here we are considering whether it is good for members of society to avoid making certain comments, or discussing certain subjects, in a public setting. (Ignore for now that the statements could be true, and honestly uttered.)

Just to carry our discussion a little further, images are also a form of expression. Some of you may recall the controversy surrounding the pairing of O.J. Simpson and Elizabeth Montgomery, over twenty years ago, in a television murder mystery movie, and the backlash that befell the sponsors. But that was long ago, right?

Recently, while I was listening to, but not watching television, a commercial aired for Cascade, the dishwasher detergent. The voice-over contained an African-American accent. At first, I couldn’t figure out why that struck me odd. Then, for some unexplained reason, I turned around to see if an African-American face or image would also appear in the commercial.

Let me ask you. When was the last time that you can recall seeing an African-American woman in a commercial associated with cleaning anything – whether it be laundry detergent, floor wax, window cleaner, or garbage bags? How many years have sponsors avoided projecting certain images to play it safe? The corollary reality is that many of us avoid making certain statements to play it safe, out of concern for offending others.

In light of the risks associated with making certain statements, we obviously have to carefully evaluate the consequences, or perhaps some might say, the “potential punishment,” associated with making statements, though honest they may be.

Furthermore, if we are not entirely clear as to the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech/expression, most of us will steer far wide of the danger zone.

During the course of the development and evolution of this blog, we’ve been surprised at a number of things, particularly in the expression of speech arena. A number of regular readers have suggested that the content makes many uncomfortable.

Many have indicated that although they would like to respond honestly to some of the posts, they feel reluctant to do so. There is a concern that, even using a pseudonym, once their true thoughts are revealed to the public, they might suffer negative consequences.

There is a scene in one of the classic Hollywood movies where the local, irresponsible, rich kid, who is attending medical school, is confronted by a childhood friend. She questions his flippant attitude, and lack of sense of responsibility, considering the talent which she considers him to have.

She notes that he could do so much of a positive nature for so many. She then goes on to say, “Most of us have no choice but to live useless lives.”

This leads one to wonder, “What is a person if not his or her expression?” Is freedom of expression the essence of freedom?

What we should appreciate is that when any talk show host, religious leader, celebrity, politician, or other public figure, manages to generate a following or an audience, they run the risk of saying something controversial. However, that ought to be a good thing, because it causes us to periodically stop and think.

Imagine a world where everything said in the media is uttered within certain prescribed boundaries, where no one is offended, surprised, intrigued, inspired, or in some manner affected. Imagine where we would be as a society if every utterance was something that we already knew, or accepted, or with which the “expression police” were comfortable.

There is an argument to be made that in this competitive, free market environment that is America, the speech expressed by its citizens ought to be evaluated by the same competitive, free market forces.

A speaker should fail or succeed based on the quality of his content, and whether the citizens are willing to “buy” his or her expression.

We ultimately discard and ignore products of little or no value. Are we afraid to let the market place decide the fate of those making offensive comments, in the same way that we let the market place decide the fate of poor products?

We might discourage someone from expressing a new idea or concept, in the same way that we might discourage someone from developing a new product or service, if we discourage expression on the front end.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle frequently accuse the other of failing to acknowledge the intelligence of the American people. If we are intelligent enough to assess and evaluate other issues and their value, why do we not possess enough intelligence to assess and evaluate (and thus accept or repudiate) personal expression, in whatever form it manifests itself?

There is something else that comes to mind. When we hear the rantings and ravings of callers as they express themselves on talk radio shows, we gain some insight into, and provide a forum for, a segment of our society that otherwise might go unnoticed and unheard.

Some would suggest that we might be a better society if they went unnoticed and unheard. However, isn’t it better for us to know with whom we are really dealing, and have a better appreciation of the issues and concerns of every segment of our society? Or is that something which certain forces do not want?

We are once again reminded of the words of the Laughingman:

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public. Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little common sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof. Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

That is, of course, unless you are Lady Godiva or Angelina Jolie.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Post No. 21: The Solution to All of Our Fuel and Energy Issues

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, we strongly believe that most of us are far too quick to judge and take rigid positions on issues, without really “digging deep” to truly understand the numerous and complex factors underlying most issues. Most people have a tendency to entertain those positions consistent with their own, and vigorously oppose those positions with which they disagree. Why regular folks have to take such hard positions, on so many subjects, has often puzzled us. This rigidity limits our creativity as a people, and further limits our ability to craft new solutions to problems.

People who manage, and people who run things, have to take positions and proceed to get things done. They can not sit around indefinitely gathering information, since time and resources are limited. However, the rest of us might better spend our time gathering information leading to us being better informed, and not just entertain information that supports our point of view. As a result, we might develop a more informed electorate capable of sifting through the spin, sound bites, disinformation, and cryptic commentary disseminated by our leaders, be they corporate, religious, educational, parental, media and entertainment related, or political.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, the primary purpose of this blog is to stimulate thought, not to take a position. If we remove but one shackle from your mind, then we’ve accomplished our goal. More knowledge reduces that probability that one will be manipulated by those disseminating their particular message. More information makes the body politic more responsible in the selection of its leaders. We don’t care which position you ultimately take; we just want to encourage you to consider information from all sources, and not just two or three of them, but perhaps fifteen or twenty of them (at a minimum). We’re more concerned about the thought process of examining and weighing all of the competing considerations, since we firmly believe that society can then craft better solutions to problems, and perform its responsibility.

We are amongst the unsophisticated of our society, and thus believe that there are no simplistic solutions to our energy situation. However, we strongly believe that America must “do something.” We also suspect that the average American citizen does not have a decent appreciation of all of the various conflicting factors, particularly those scientific, engineering, and historical in nature, which might be considered in developing practical solutions. Earlier today, on C-Span2 Book TV, a presentation was made by Robert Zubrin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Zubrin), author of Energy Victory - Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil (http://books.google.com/books?id=KysvGQAACAAJ&dq=%22energy+victory%22&ei=f0xmSLzEC4KejgGgk8T9BQ). For those of you, who like us, are confused about all of this energy discussion, you might try to catch his presentation the next time that it is aired (http://www.booktv.org/schedule.aspx), or consider the purchase of his book.

He discusses numerous factors, including, but not limited to, the following: (a) percentages of oil production by country at different points in time during the last century; (b) ethanol; (c) methanol; (d) various other alcohols; (e) costs associated with producing different types of fuels; (f) cost differentials associated with producing oil by the current major oil producers; (g) environmental issues associated with various fuels; (h) effects on crops; (i) effects on food supply; (j) various materials out of which fuels can be made and their relative costs; (k) the status of diesel; (l) the technological and engineering issues associated with automobile manufacturer re-tooling; (m) the energy, power, or miles per gallon produced per unit cost for different types of fuels; (m) the technological and economic status of hybrid vehicles; (n) flex-fuel vehicles; (o) the geo-political ramifications of oil being in the hands of authoritarian regimes; and perhaps most interesting, (p) his position that the Allies won WWII because they had access to, or controlled, oil, and destroyed the German synthetic oil production facilities. (He also tells the story of how the Japanese produced thousands of Zeros during the last year of the war, but did not have the fuel for them to intercept the bombers that dropped the atomic bombs.)

For our purposes, his presentation was about the most comprehensive discussion about this whole issue which one could have in a very short period of time. Additionally, he presented the information in a manner in which the average citizen could understand it. Although there is no in-depth discussion of every single factor (although Zubrin packs in a lot of information by speaking very rapidly and with great passion), he definitely makes one appreciate the big picture. No matter the side of the aisle on which you sit on any of these issues, we would suggest at least taking the time to examine his itemization of the issues. It is a thought-provoking analysis.

Oh, by the way, Zubrin founded a group devoted to the manned exploration and development of Mars.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Post No. 20: Water is Water, Isn't It?

Water is Water, Isn’t It?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

All of us recall, in some manner unique to each of us, the tragedy that was, and continues to be, Katrina. We all watched hours of news coverage, with reporters riding in boats and helicopters, and observed many a rescue from a roof top. That was three years ago this August, and we still have media and political commentators mentioning it frequently.

During the past couple of weeks, we watched the citizens of Iowa and Missouri deal with epic flooding. In fact, just this past week a nationally recognized meteorologist explained why this event was termed “the 500 year flood,” and summarized the evidence and records from the past that permitted us to characterize this event as such.

In Post No. 19, entitled Katrina, Iowa Style, after noting that President Bush, during his visit to Iowa last week, indicated that he was not unmindful of the ways in which FEMA could have been more responsive to the events of Katrina, the following questions were posed on this blog about the federal government’s response to the Iowa flooding:


1. Three years from now, do you think that America will have done a better job of responding to events in Iowa than it did in responding to Katrina?

2. What factors have you taken into consideration in arriving at your position?

3. Are there differences between Louisiana and Iowa which will contribute to the differing responses?

4. How significant will the difference be?

5. Will America have repaired all of the physical damage in Iowa within three years?

6. Within three years, will China have reconstructed the lives of a larger percentage of the people affected by their earthquake, than America will have reconstructed the lives of the people in Iowa affected by the flooding?

7. Three years from now (i.e., six years post-Katrina), will there still be citizens of Louisiana, affected by Katrina, whose basic needs still have not been addressed?

All of us, before formulating judgments about anything in the world of current events, should probably take the time to gather our facts, conduct a little research, and even check our history books to ensure that our judgments are well founded and not tainted by bias. Despite an effort to be objective, something still seemed different about Katrina versus Iowa. Was it due to the media coverage, or lack thereof? Did the differences in population density have a different effect on us? Perhaps the different topography, or the rescue methods employed, provided a difference sense of tragedy.

Should you switch to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC right now, you probably will not find coverage of the Iowa and Missouri flooding. Did we somehow become emotionally numb in light of the coverage of the intervening South Pacific tsunami and the Chinese earthquake? Why hasn’t there been as much discussion about class distinctions, and why haven’t the politicians attacked the local parties and elected officials in control with the same zeal as we saw three years ago? Has anyone tallied up the number of levees that have failed during the past two weeks, as contrasted to those that failed during Katrina?

Did Katrina occur during a slow news week? Why have we talked more about the flip flops by the presumptive presidential candidates for each party? Are the flip flops more important to us as a society than the impact of Mother Nature on the lives of the citizens of the two states? Who decides what is more important to be covered, and thus shapes our view of “current events?” Did New Orleans’ moral complexity contribute to our fascination with the events there? Have any ministers suggested that the citizens of Iowa and Missouri are being punished by God for their immoral behavior?

This is complex stuff, as are all news events. Are you at as much as much of a loss as I am with respect to trying to compare these two “Acts of God?”

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Friday, June 20, 2008

Post No. 19: Katrina, Iowa Style

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

In late August of this year, it will have been three full years since Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on the Gulf Coast, with significant damage to the State of Louisiana. Additionally, we’ve all seen reports of what still remains to be done, and the manner in which the lives of many have been disrupted and have not yet returned to normal. In Post No. 8, the following questions were posed regarding the then current earthquake in China:

1. Three years from now, do you think that China will have done a better job of responding to its earthquake than America did in responding to Katrina?

2. What factors have you taken into consideration in arriving at your position?

3. Are there differences in our cultures and governments that will contribute to the differing responses?

4. How significant will the difference be?

5. Will China have repaired all of the physical damage within three years?

6. Will China have reconstructed the lives of all of the affected people within three years?

Over the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed epic flooding in the State of Iowa. President Bush, during his visit there earlier this week, indicated that he was not unmindful of the ways in which FEMA could have been more responsive to the events of Katrina. The following questions are now posed with respect to the Iowa flooding, and the potential federal response:

1. Three years from now, do you think that America will have done a better job of responding to events in Iowa than it did in responding to Katrina?

2. What factors have you taken into consideration in arriving at your position?

3. Are there differences between Louisiana and Iowa which will contribute to the differing responses?

4. How significant will the difference be?

5. Will America have repaired all of the physical damage in Iowa within three years?

6. Within three years, will China have reconstructed the lives of a larger percentage of the people affected by their earthquake, than America will have reconstructed the lives of the people in Iowa affected by the flooding?

7. Three years from now (i.e., six years post-Katrina), will there still be citizens of Louisiana, affected by Katrina, whose basic needs still have not been addressed?

Please be sure to provide the basis for your positions. This, like the series of questions posed regarding the Chinese earthquake, should be interesting.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Monday, June 9, 2008

Post No. 18: How Radical Action Could Be a Good Thing Right Now.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

There are two primary purposes for this blog. The first is to stimulate thought, in general. Not only has our society evolved to a point where visual and audio sound bites are the norm, but also where “think bites” are far too prevalent. I, in conjunction with the other members of the It’s Your Turn™ Team, the Laughingman and the Optimizer, feel that getting people to think through issues, particularly college students, can only yield better decisions about how to address issues. If you do not recognize the underlying root causes of a problem, and only respond to emotional stimuli and superficial symptoms, you will not effectively, if at all, address the problem. We also feel that our society needs to be far more receptive to new, fresh, and creative ideas to solve our ills, and not just rely on the status quo.

Every day, the members of the It’s Your Turn™ Team collaborate to determine alternate, more effective, ways to address issues in society, through the application of our version of common sense. Common sense is always bigger than one’s personal, short-term, emotional or selfish interests. Sometimes our collaboration generates a short “write bite” of our own. In other instances, we escort you through a much longer, perhaps wandering, thought-process, occasionally traversing a complex environment, where we are not quite sure where we are going ourselves. But at least we’re thinking, and not just reacting.

The second purpose for this blog is also to stimulate thought. However, the focus is more on how our thinking about issues bears on personal responsibility. The fewer your perceived options, the less likely you will craft an appropriate, effective course of action. Less information and less consideration rarely produce a good result. Due diligence is always preferable. The more one knows about the various competing factors, and his or her options, the less likely one is to shift blame to others.

Due diligence is part of personal responsibility, and responsibility is never just personal. The decisions we make ultimately affect many others in many different ways. With respect to the election of our representatives and leaders in government, we have a responsibility to ensure that they continue to serve our interests, and not just the interests of a select few, or the most powerful. When we let our leaders get out of control, get sidetracked, or abuse power that we have bestowed upon them, we, as a people, have abdicated our responsibility.

This is the teaser e-mail that I sent out earlier concerning this article:

“Let’s assume that instead of Sen. Obama meeting in private with Sen. Clinton during the week, he had met with Sen. McCain. What course of action, although “radical” and “unconventional,” upon which the two of them could have agreed, would have sent a positive message to our country and the world, that “things are about to change?” Hint: They still can do it now – it’s not too late.”

Typically, when we think of something “radical” in our society, we have a tendency to also think of something negative. When the Jewish War Veterans tried to stamp out the American Nazi Movement, they used violence to do so. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when Mark Rudd and the Weather Underground sought changes in American society, for the benefit of the common man, and an end to the War in Vietnam, they engaged in criminal activity. There are also animal rights groups which break into laboratories and research facilities to free animals used in experiments. In each instance, the negative public reaction associated with the conduct compromises the message or cause of the group, and thus we have a tendency to reject the message and the group.

For years, I have complained that because of structural factors in our governmental systems, we only produce band-aid solutions to problems, and that the band-aids are typically applied too slowly. I have often argued that we need some radical solutions to problems which are also viewed as good for society. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs are often cited as an example, although many might argue that they resulted in an expansion of governmental intrusion in our lives. My colleague, the Laughingman, has proposed a radical move on the part of our two presidential candidates, which could send a very powerful message. According to the Laughingman:

“For the first time in my memory, we have two non-institutional candidates for President of The United States. It would be hard to see how we as a country could lose electing either of these mavericks. Should they name each other as their vice presidential preferences, the political machines would go crazy, but getting things done would all of a sudden take preference to getting the best public relations. And then maybe, just maybe, we would create a collaborative force, and stop making such far-reaching mistakes. It would be the ‘new shot heard around the world.’ It also wouldn’t hurt that Hunter Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut would be delighted.”

Although they are not exactly Beltway Boys, I am concerned about both candidates once one of them takes office. I was a big fan of Sen. McCain at earlier stages in his career. He truly struck me as an independent thinker, interested in the long term, and not beholden to any special interests. Unfortunately, here recently, he has begun to look more like a clone of our current President. My hope, gut, and optimism about life tell me that he has only morphed himself temporarily, pursuant to the instructions of his handlers, to get elected, and that he will return to the old John McCain should he succeed. My sense is that he’s not going to blow this chance to bring about some real change, particularly because it is late in his life. Remember, this guy dealt with personal torture for years. That required some mental toughness.

As for Senator Obama, I do not have as good a sense as to who he really is, due to his short time in office. However, my sense is that he is sincere and actually interested in the long term health of this Nation. I have a different concern about how he will govern should he be elected. One radio commentator said that during his first week in office, some senior advisors will sit him down and effectively say, “Now that you’ve gotten here, let us explain to you how it is really done.” Furthermore, George Will, in speaking with Charlie Rose last week, indicated that the machine, that is Washington, D.C., is huge, entrenched, and has its own inertia. However, as is the case with Sen. McCain, my hope, gut, and optimism about life tell me that he is all about something other than doing business as usual. His mere presence on the stage epitomizes change. He will not blow the opportunity. This guy was the President of Harvard Law School’s Law Review, and then worked for a public interest research group and with community organizations, when he could have gone for the big bucks.

Getting back to the Laughingman’s “radical” suggestion that both McCain and Obama name the other as their vice-presidential preferences, I can actually envision some “good,” that would flow from the move. It would tell their respective parties that they have become too rigid and inflexible, like dinosaurs. It would tell their respective parties that there are many different views in the world, and that we are not ready for “group think” just yet. It would tell their respective parties that purpose, getting things done, and vision trump inertia and the bureaucracy that is institutionalization, every time. It would tell the world that the United States is really a force to be reckoned with, and that the “smoke and mirrors show” is over.

And that’s how radical action could be a “good” thing right now. As the Laughingman has often said, “Doing the right [or good] thing is not rocket science.” Just think about it, for your sake and mine.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Post No. 17: Why Hope Matters.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

The dictionary defines “hope” as a “feeling that what is wanted will actually happen or occur.” Another definition is “a desire accompanied by expectation or anticipation.”

When I first started teaching community college adults seeking their GEDs, I immediately informed them that they needed to temper the clich├ęd message that they “could be anything that they wanted to be,” with the reality of the geographic and economic marketplace, in conjunction with a realistic appraisal of their skill set.

So how did a guy like me manage to go from a position that hope is a bunch of malarkey, to a position that it matters? It actually occurred in phases.

When I first moved back to the Southeast, after living in Southern California for thirty years, I noticed how many kids of grade school age walked aimlessly with no apparent direction, with their chins in their chests. Their eyes, more than anything, told me what was going on in their hearts and minds.

During my interaction with GED students at a local community college, I observed their frustrations and insecurities associated with improving their lives and the lives of their children. At some point, through a program called “Preparing for Success,” designed by Christina Gibson at the local community college, I noted a glimmer of enthusiasm.

Shortly thereafter, one of the instructors, the Optimizer, who is a part of our “It’s Your Turn ™” Team, indicated that he saw a dramatic and qualitative difference between those new students who had gone through the “Preparing for Success” program, and those who had not. I asked him what was different. He responded, “Hope. They had hope.”

The next step was when Bill Cosby and a Harvard professor appeared on the Sunday news talk show circuit, several months ago, to speak about ways in which people can take charge and improve their lives.

I was so impressed with their message that I uncharacteristically attended my Father’s church, and spoke to the kids about the difference between “faith,” and “hope.” I told them that hope requires some sense that the action taken will at least possibly yield some positive results flowing from one’s efforts. If one feels that nothing will be accomplished, one will not expend the effort. As I have often said, people change when they are sufficiently motivated to change.

The final step occurred when Caroline Kennedy endorsed candidate Obama. Kennedy crystallized a nebulous uncertainty in my mind. Those few, carefully delivered words did the trick for me. Paraphrasing, she essentially said that in her youth, she did not appreciate or comprehend what her Father meant to others. However, listening to the expression of feelings by others who were around when she was a youth, Obama instilled in her the same type of inspiration that those folks claimed her Father did for them.

It was at this point that I realized that hope matters. On a recent History Channel program regarding the year 1968, during which Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated, the narrator also made the point that hope can be dashed.

You could call this an epiphany.

When you stop to think about it, hope is about efficiency. We essentially ask whether it’s worth one’s time, and we assess whether there is sufficient motivation to justify an expenditure of one’s energy.

I’m a changed man. Having always had hope (without actually calling it that), some modicum of confidence, and a sense of choices or options, I never really valued the concept of hope. Having now encountered folks without a similar view of the world, I now appreciate the importance and power of the concept.

In these uncertain times, such a sense looms large in importance. No matter what you may think of Obama’s policies and positions, you must admit that he moves millions of people. Perhaps he has reinvigorated hope in many previously disillusioned citizens. It will have all been worth it, if, as a result of his mere participation, that concept is revived for a larger segment of our citizenry, even if he doesn’t win.

Hope is the difference between what you have to do and what you want to do. It is what gets us up before the alarm goes off and sends us to bed early with tomorrow’s reading. Hope is the difference between spending an hour in the gym and an hour in a gin mill. Hope is the difference between anticipation and avoidance. Hope matters.

Apparently a significant segment of our population is having difficulty sensing this concept within the operating philosophy of our current administration. And thus is my explanation for the groundswell of enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy….

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Friday, June 6, 2008

Post No. 16: Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” (One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”)

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Virtually all of us would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talkingheads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is my understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, I thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, my colleague, the Laughingman, brought me back to reality, and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

I called him up and asked him how should we, as a society, deal with this type of situation, so that we ultimately do the right thing. His response, which follows, was instructive:

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

Laughingman is a tad more of an activist than I; however, he is essentially correct. Let me show you how.

Yesterday, I heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct. One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, I’m sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

I considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then I remembered that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people. Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump; “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Monday, June 2, 2008

Post No. 15: Hmmm, Respect - That's a Novel Concept.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

There is a childhood story that I often tell that illustrates the point which I would like for you to entertain. I was in the third grade. I had just finished using the boy’s bathroom, when someone sprayed some water about as I was about to leave. I instinctively placed my hands near my eyes, but kept walking out of the entrance, which was right next to the entrance to the girl's bathroom.

Unfortunately, while my vision was obscured, I bumped into another young girl, who I did not know, and hit her in the face. Somehow the event morphed into a premeditated, conscious assault on this young lady, for whom I had some unspecified ill will. I was taken to Mr. Cundiff’s room, and he promptly (since corporal punishment was condoned in those days) abused my rear end, while saying that I should never hit another female.

Perhaps it was simply an opportunity which he seized to teach me one of life’s lessons. However, I realized at that point that truth, honesty, and doing the right thing do not always work for you every single time. The preconceptions of others can be powerful. However, I always believed that in the long term, those principles would place one in good stead. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Perhaps it is because of my third grade experience that I have always tried to withhold judgment about certain events, until I considered the facts. I also appreciate that, lacking personal knowledge, and without first hand information from witnesses, one runs the risk of making a bad call. Additionally, we all must keep in mind that there are many other factors which potentially come into play, with the two most obvious being bias and motivation.

A friend of mine in corporate America reminded me that in the corporate setting, someone “speaking up” is frequently just looking to torpedo their career. That led me to query, “Why do people think that an employee who is uncomfortable with what is going on around him or her, would be motivated to, and should, bring up a controversial subject, or challenge his superiors, during the course of his employment?” I mean think about it. What would you do? To not take that factor into consideration is just plain crazy. It’s science fiction.

Most folks are financially dependent on their jobs. Questioning the appropriateness of the conduct of one’s superiors is problematic, to say the least. Most observers of large, bureaucratic organizations will attest to the fact that as the size of the organization grows, and the importance of the issue increases, the likelihood of the truth becoming an afterthought, if not irrelevant, increases accordingly. I don’t care how much spin you try to put on it.

This was hammered home last night as I watched a relative of Pat Tillman (who entered military service, deferred a potentially lucrative pro football career, and was deployed to Iraq) discuss, on C-Span 2, Book TV, how the Pentagon and Secretary Rumsfeld handled the friendly fire death of Tillman. She made a comment which hit home with me. Paraphrasing, she said that this democratic concept is supposed to be a pretty good system, closer to perfection than most. She continued that Tillman believed in, and fought and died for, this system. She just wants to see the system work to the best of its capability. She lamented that when we have less than straightforward and candid interaction with those in power, it adversely affects the system, and further erodes our faith in the system. She concluded that the enlistees, who bought into the program, along with their families, deserve to be treated with respect. (And that is separate and apart from the intellectual honesty that we also expect from our leaders.)

We need whistleblowers in our society, regardless of whether they are telling the truth. They force us to periodically revisit the internal, behind the scenes operations of our governmental agencies, and keep them honest. Just the act of conducting an investigation serves a useful function.

You tell me, did Scott McClellan do the right thing? I don’t know. Obviously you folks with hard positions, either way, are privy to first hand and credible information which has not been made available to the consuming public. Please share it with the rest of us. I’m sure that there are many others who would appreciate being equally well-informed....

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Post No. 14: A Tribute to Mel's Mother

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

In my Article No. 6, entitled A Few Thoughts on the Qualifications for Parenthood, I raised some theoretical issues which a prospective parent, or a governmental entity regulating the conduct of parents, might consider in a carefully orchestrated, Utopian world. Of course, it was simply an intellectual exercise designed to stimulate thought.

However, during the course of writing the piece, I was reminded of an article written by Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times some years ago in the vicinity of Father’s Day. Morrison recounted a number of newsworthy stories about failures in parenting, and their unfortunate consequences. She then went on to thank her parents for being “normal.” Of course, she did not define normal, other than to say that whatever they did worked, and resulted in Morrison being a positive and productive member of society.

At the time that I read Morrison’s article, I thought about the various ways in which parents confront parenting issues. Parents can take affirmative action in certain regards, thus encouraging their children to explore the world outside the family. They can also take affirmative steps by placing restrictions on the conduct, or engage in protective or punitive conduct. They can also choose not to take action, or not respond to certain conduct on the part of their kids.

Morrison spoke of how we hear so much of the parents who fail, and so little about the successful ones. I thought of that Saturday when I received word from Mel, my friend of thirty years, that his 93 year old Mother had passed. In his brief, but eloquently worded message regarding his Mother, he noted, “Throughout her life the one attitude I never saw her manifest in anyway was "Why me?" Even during her darkest hours she was only able to see the many blessings God had given her.” That’s a pretty powerful statement for one to choose to describe the essence of one’s Mother.

I never met Mel’s Mother. However, I tried to envision who she was by thinking about Mel, and how his Mother’s influence must have had a significant and positive effect, on Mel, and who he is as a human being. In my workshops, I often describe the antithesis of Mel’s Mother’s attitude as the “victim mentality.” Lots of things come with thinking of oneself as a victim. Blame is inappropriately directed to others. One’s own responsibility is typically difficult to recognize. One’s functioning as an adult become problematic. Mel is none of these things. He’s just about one of the most responsible guys that you would ever want to meet. And there are some other positive attributes which Mel’s Mother obviously passed on to Mel, consisting of Mel’s irrepressible positive energy, his ability to laugh, his ability to appreciate the world outside of himself, his internal consistency, and his refusal to think negatively of others. I always felt that Mel was genuinely surprised at the dark side of humans, when he witnessed it.

By simply reflecting on this one brief statement by Mel, I realized the power that a parent can exert on a child, in a positive sense. Stop and think about that each time that you engage your children, or the children of others, and you are in the midst of anger, condemnation, jealousy, spite, or you feel that you have been treated unfairly or discriminated against. Take the higher ground, like Mel’s Mother. It will have far more positive, long term ramifications.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Post No.13: No More Smoke and Mirrors, Please

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Truth be Told. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, I wrote a piece which I shared with some friends, but did not publish or otherwise make available to the public. In that piece, I spoke of how the citizens, most severely affected by Katrina, would soon be forgotten, and ultimately dismissed. Why? They are, for the most part, a class of people who do not “matter” or have much influence in our society. Let me chat for a minute about what “matter" means.

The reality is that in America, we have neither the political will nor the motivation to ensure that everyone maintains at least some subsistence level of existence. Recognizing that practical reality, we as a society take whatever steps to ignore, sweep aside, or cover the sore that is poverty, with no real intention of addressing it.

This segment of the population, on a practical level, does not matter. It is not a battle worth fighting from the perspective of the power structure. It’s not cost-effective. There are other ways, perhaps not particularly pleasant, but at least effective, to deal with it.

But this is nothing new. What’s new or different about now? It is actually reflected in the brave young men and women who make up our military. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many a soldier in airports over the last couple of years. Virtually all of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The story is the same every time. Initially, they saw themselves as patriots, performing a valuable service. They envisioned that the probable rewards were worth the personal risks. As time went on however, their purpose and mission became less clear. The service drilled into them that they should not question authority, nor speak derisively about their leaders, and therefore they did not do so.

This is a volunteer force – they stepped up and answered the call, and we still dismiss them. The vast majority of them are from the same type of families and situations that comprised the vast majority of those most severely affected by Katrina – the poor and disenfranchised. (I guarantee you that if we still had the draft, drawing from a far wider cross-section of society, this whole situation would be treated very differently.)

John Kerry actually got it right when he flubbed the “joke.” It wasn’t a joke. It would have been helpful if he had the guts to acknowledge that.

I am sure that last week most of you missed that the Pentagon and the Administration opposed a proposal that an education bill, similar to the G.I. Bill enacted after World War II, be extended to our Iraq War vets. On what grounds you ask? They were concerned about how such a “benefit” might discourage continued service in the military. God forbid these folks come back to the States, get an education, and truly enter the ranks of the middle class.

Being the optimist, I actually see a positive side to this. Virtually nothing that this Administration promised the American people, during it campaign, has come to fruition. Eight years of confusion and misdirection have paved the path for the re-emergence of that rare, but powerful, force in politics – the Truth, which translates into credibility. We’re at the point where we can not take it any more, and do it with a straight face. That translates into abysmal approval ratings. We’re spending money on maintaining order in some foreign land, and can not maintain order in the streets of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit. We’re building an infrastructure in a foreign land, while ours crumbles. We’re investing capital in some other nation’s long term interests, while we ignore ours. This is not to mention that we’re letting others in our borders, while many of our citizens hunt for jobs on a daily basis. I wish that someone would explain this situation to me with a straight face.

Fortunately, the young folks fighting over there are pretty sharp, and they see through the spin and magic. One has to be on high alert, and not asleep at the switch, in order to simply survive. They also have friends and relatives, and the hearts of the American public. As my friend Laughingman recently noted, “We taught these youngsters to live their lives so that they would have no regrets for past actions, or remorse for lost opportunities. They took us at our word, but they are now holding up our record of performance, or lack thereof, to an unforgiving light. Do not be surprised if they come out en masse to beat the drums for a man whose very presence on the political platform epitomizes change.”

Our children are mad as hell, and they aren't willing to take it anymore. They know that doing the right thing is not rocket science, and that it is not that difficult a concept to appreciate. As legendary ad man Bill Bernback once suggested, "I've got a neat gimmick - let’s tell the truth."

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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