Friday, May 30, 2008

Post No. 12: What I Hope We Learn from Scott McClellan

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Doing the right thing is not rocket science.”

This is the mantra that my good friend Laughingman has been pounding in my head for going on thirteen or more years, and with more frequency since I started this blog. Laughingman is the Senior Fellow and Founder of the Institute for Applied Common Sense. When I first met him and he handed me his card, I was immediately taken with the concept, although I did not quite understand what it meant.

Being a linear thinker and not particularly bright, it’s taken me a while to develop some appreciation of the application of common sense. This “event” involving Scott McClellan, and his experiences while serving as the White House Press Secretary in President Bush’s administration, has served to further develop my appreciation of the concept. Work with me for a while.

After practicing law and providing business management consulting services for a total of over 25 years, which were followed by a major personal failure, I decided to re-invent myself and become a motivational speaker. I teamed up with Laughingman, and other baby boomers around the country, and developed a number of products. Our team will soon embark on a nationwide tour of colleges and universities to engage students in a discussion about personal responsibility.

We will utilize adults, like me, who have encountered and recovered from various difficulties in life, as teaching vehicles, in conjunction with the latest research on the brain and decision theory. Our goals are the following: (a) to provoke thought; (b) to encourage students to consider their choices in life; (c) to assist students in analyzing the decisions that they make along with the consequences; and (d) to have them recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their choices. Our ultimate goal is to come up with some fresh, new ways to address their personal and societal issues.

One of the goals which we will achieve, during our discussion of issues, will be the de-personalization of the analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. We believe that the analysis will improve through objectivity (as much as it can be achieved) and creativity, along with “digging deep” to expose the root causes of the problems that we encounter, instead of merely being distracted and sidelined by the symptoms. We can thereafter craft better solutions. The articles appearing on our site reflect the type of thought process and critical thinking through which we will navigate students in our sessions. These articles are precursors to the content that will be delivered during our workshops and other projects.

Getting back to doing the “right thing,” I first misunderstood the concept in that I felt that by suggesting that there is a “right way” to do something, one implicitly suggests that there is no other way to do something and still have it be “right.” And then I thought about it. I recalled that there were many times during law firm partnership meetings, that we had to deal with some uncomfortable issue or event. What always amazed me was the fact that you could have ten different attorneys in the room evaluating the situation, and have every, single one of them say, “Why didn’t they do X?” I realized that when you have a unanimous appreciation of the appropriate or “right” course of action to take, it is a powerful force.

In thinking about Scott McClellan, I kept saying to myself that I did not want to judge either side, and take a position, if for no other reason than I did not have any first hand information. So how was I supposed to deal with this? It was really bothering me, and then it came to me. For purposes of this analysis, I decided to assume that both sides were telling the truth, as I had during the case of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings. (By the way, in that situation, I really did feel that they were both telling the truth; here, it is a fiction created for analytical purposes.) By doing so, it allowed me to immediately go to the next place, and ask, “How did this happen?”

The answer? It came about simply as a result of people in the Administration not being straight with us. It doesn’t matter who it was. It does matter when it was. Shakespeare got it “right” by noting, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.”

This ain’t rocket science. You know that we’ve been deceived about numerous issues on various occasions. It does not matter which ones. It also does not matter the political party or President in office. Bill Clinton was no better; he was just smoother. It is interesting that perhaps the straightest shooter, Jimmy Carter, did not fare well. Unfortunately, being less than straight in political office has become the norm. There’s too much spin; and too many attacks on messengers and those who dare question suspicious conduct. You see how this is not rocket science? If the members of the Administration had been straight with the American public on a regular basis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s the first example of how they could have done the right thing.

Let’s move on to the second. You will recall that many people came to Bill Clinton’s defense when the Monica Lewinsky allegations first surfaced. Madeline Albright and others hit the talk show circuit and the pavement, and passionately defended their president, and took heat for him. When he finally fessed up, they all looked like fools. To put his friends and loyal staff out there to later be embarrassed was, in my opinion, far worse than any impeachable offense. It was simply wrong. Encouraging your friends to extend their necks on your behalf based on a lie, is simply wrong, no two ways about it. Clinton could have done the right thing in the first instance by simply telling the truth, and not placing his friends in that situation. This is not a moral judgment, but rather a common sense judgment. I can almost guarantee you that Scott feels that he was misled and hung out to dry on something. Once again, it does not matter the issue.

Former President Clinton provides me with material to discuss a third example of what potentially could have been a right thing to do. Once he was caught up in his web, he should have realized that the work that he tried to accomplish on behalf of the Democratic Party was bigger than the man. He should have simply resigned, and let his Vice President, Al Gore, take over, and continue the policies of his Administration. Instead, Clinton made himself the issue, and not the causes and policies supported by his supporters. Example number three - we should all be reminded that everything is bigger than we are. When what we do hurts the bigger cause, we should re-evaluate our involvement, and consider changing course.

I am somewhat concerned that we have reached a point in our political evolution where an elected official can not admit fault, and still stay in office. We automatically demand that they resign. However, I would suggest that we remember that there is more to a person than the worse thing that he or she has ever done. We allow the leaders who blame their indiscretions on drugs or alcohol, and seek rehabilitation, to stay in office on the premise that they were not actually responsible. We also allow those who deny any responsibility to stay in office, unless the proof against them is overwhelming, or they are subsequently voted out. And yet, the politician who stands up and says that he was wrong is immediately forced to resign.

Example number four: one can’t solve a problem without admitting there is a problem, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s simple as that. This Bush Administration is unbelievable. (By the way, this is not coming from some die hard Democrat. When I was making some “real money,” I was a full on Republican in practice and in heart, if not per registration.) It’s almost as if they do whatever they want to do, with impunity, and don’t care what we think or feel, or the consequences. “These guys are absolutely wild!” And I don’t know, I may be wrong, but I can not recall these folks ever really providing us with an unqualified, “We’re sorry. We made a mistake.”

Is such an admission still possible in American politics, or is it the immediate kiss of death? Folks, you can’t muck up, and then pass blame to others for your muck up! Take this gas situation for example. It’s absolutely incredible that we sit on so much oil and natural gas within our reach, protect it for our various reasons (some of which may be valid), use gas like there is no end in sight without developing alternative sources of energy, and then blame OPEC or the Saudis for our current increase in price. Get real! It’s unbelievable! All we have to do is just apply some common sense. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

So there you have it. Right thinking; doing the right thing. It’s not that difficult after all, is it? Thank you Scott, for helping me see clearly.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Post No. 11: The Human Hard Wiring Conundrum (Are We Truly a Higher Form of Animal?)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Roughly six years ago, I began to ask a different set of questions about human existence. I started looking for patterns in behavior, and I attempted to identify what might be termed as the “internal consistency.”

With respect to virtually all human conduct, instead of responding or interpreting it from a personal, emotional, or experiential perspective, I tried to first pose other questions, which would bear on my ultimate conclusion, if any, as to the observed conduct.

Although you wouldn’t know it from my articles published thus far, I tried to become cognizant of each time that I used the word, “I,” and I also challenged myself by questioning whether my preconceptions were affecting my ability to fully observe and appreciate all that appeared before me.

I remember thinking that it would be just great to find one book that explained everything. Interestingly enough, I found such a book (or at least its title so indicated), by pure happenstance, on either a table or a park bench, where it had been left in the rain. The book was Ken Wilbur’s A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. ( Unfortunately, as soon as I came into possession of it, I loaned it to someone and it was never returned. However, it did help to know that others had actually done some work along this line.

Upon returning to my home town in 2002, I managed to re-read another book that helped formulate some of my thoughts in this regard, Vere Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History. ( It was a small, Penguin ( paperback, with torn and yellow pages, which I had obviously acquired between 1969 and 1971, while I was in college. (The book was originally published in 1950, with a second edition released in 1964. I read the 1964 edition.)

It was so thin that I could not imagine it providing any real insight into the human condition, but I was still fascinated by its ambitious goal, as reflected in its title. I also questioned whether the material in the book was still relevant in 2002, given its 1964 publication date. I quickly established that it was. After all, having covered human conduct for a period spanning thousands of years, the passage of a mere thirty years should not have made that much of a difference. Here was someone trying to explain what had occurred since the beginning of humankind, in a few, short pages. It was after reading this piece that I started truly looking for the “internal consistency” with respect to all human conduct and activity.

After completing Childe’s book, I moved to another textbook from my college days, the two volume set of Technology in Western Civilization. ( When I was an undergraduate engineering student, my school brought in Harvard educated Dr. Melvin Kranzberg to start teaching several courses. Dr. Kranzberg, who was known as the “Father of the History of Technology,” and edited the work, became one of my mentors. The pages of Technology were also yellow and worn, although in hardback form. Additionally, quite frankly, although it contained lots of yellow highlighting on the pages, suggesting that I read it during the early 1970s, I did not recall much of substance from my first reading. However, on the second reading, it made far more sense, and provided me with a more comprehensive appreciation of the technological forces operating on humankind. It was, as a practical matter, What Happened in History, annotated.

There was one, perhaps less serious volume, which also made an impression on me, provided by my friend Annie, who found it in her storage locker. I had casually mentioned to her that I had been reading a number of books on the theory of everything, and she presented this piece to me as a gift. It was The Straight Dope: A Compendium of Human Knowledge by Cecil Adams. (

For years, Adams wrote a newspaper column for the Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper. On the cover, it revealed that it contained “answers to the questions that torment everyone!” Although I initially thought that it was not something that would aid me in my quest for the grail of internal consistency, not only did I find the sarcastic wit of Adams to be thoroughly entertaining, but it contributed to my theory that to truly understand anything, one must always “dig deeper.” It is at the deeper levels that one begins to observe certain long term patterns. Additionally, unless we’re careful, we can become distracted by symptoms, which can impede our efforts to craft solutions.

The Straight Dope contained the answers to such significant life questions as, “Is it true what they say about Catherine the Great and the horses?” “How do they measure snow?” “Whatever happened to Channel One?” “Why does hair turn gray?” “How do they get the get the stripes into toothpaste?” It also provided further insight into my belief that virtually everything ever done by humans has been done for reasons deemed logical and appropriate at the time, but which may not have involved a lot of research, investigation, or objectivity for that matter.

There is another area of human conduct which I have always found baffling, that being interpersonal relations between males and females. Over the years, I frequently joked with friends that I would ultimately write a book about male – female relations, and that one chapter of the book would be entitled, “Lions, Tigers, and Bears.” During the last twenty years or so of my life, I developed this sense that differences between men and women were more a result of hard wiring of their brains, and that cultural and environmental factors had less influence than perhaps we previously thought. I recall hearing the results of a study in roughly 1993, to the effect that the pattern of brain wave activity was different for men and women when presented with the same mathematical problem, and that this at least partly explained the differences between the two in terms of interest in math and science. The electrochemical paths were along totally different routes.

Frequently in life, one comes up with his or own theories based on their observations, and later determines that there is some element of scientific evidence to support their suspicions. I recall being on a floor in my office building at least thirty-three stories high. I looked out of my window and down the street a couple of blocks, and I was surprised at the sharp detail with which I could see a female figure approaching. I then switched my sight to a male nearby, and the level of detail was not nearly as good. I questioned whether this was a result of evolutionary survival hard wiring.

I had often heard people remark about the frequency with which men “think about sex” and because my personal thoughts did not even nearly approach the suggested level of frequency, I simply thought the comment to be untrue. However, I later began to appreciate that for a man, sex and thoughts of sex, are essentially momentary distractions, and that man’s focus is primarily on “taking care of stuff.” As I walked down the street one day, I came upon a bus stop shelter, which had full length movie posters on each side. As a result, my view of bus riders sitting on the bench was obscured. However, I recall being surprised when I passed the panel, and my “attention” was instantaneously drawn to an attractive, young woman sitting on the bench, to a far greater extent that I would have expected. I was fully distracted. In subsequent conversations with female friends of mine about dealing with their seventeen and eighteen year old sons, I would simply advise them to learn to appreciate the concept of “involuntary blood flow.”

At this point, all of my experiences were personal and anecdotal in nature, without any scientific corroboration. Getting back to the chapter to be entitled, “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” it just seemed to me that the primary roles and functions of male and female humans were determined by environmental forces that existed for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. I always said that the skills and capabilities of men and women were designed evolutionarily to complement one another, not to be in conflict with each other. If we were to have a nuclear holocaust on earth, and there were only two people left, we would want neither two men, nor two women, but rather one man and one woman, and not necessarily just for purposes of propagation. I began to suspect that men and women had different capabilities for a reason – survival. The combination of their skills and capabilities, in my view, achieved exponential gain, not arithmetic. Living in such harsh, hostile environments as jungles, deserts, and mountains for thousands of years without modern conveniences, I suspected that men and women had to divide up their various survival responsibilities based on what they were both best suited to perform with less strain and adaptation. Thus, given a jungle, and a man, woman, and children, and adding approaching or roaming lions, tigers, and bears, you can envision how various tasks may have been divided.

There’s something additional that accompanies the environmental situation. I suspect that most of us would agree that the most important things in life are food, clothing, shelter, and health, and after that perhaps education. One of the most important things that I learned in What Happened in History was significance of the mass cultivation of food. If you were an ancient human and spent all day, and perhaps some portion of the night either picking or hunting food, it probably would not have allowed for much time for a wife to complain about her husband looking at another woman, because he probably would not have had very many opportunities or much energy. If everyone in your tribe was either gathering or hunting for food, that activity minimized the prospect of other activities. It was only after tribes began to join forces, cooperate, and find conditions where food could be cultivated on a much larger scale, could ten people generate food for one hundred, thus allowing the other ninety to pursue other pursuits. This, out of necessity, required collaboration. I would also imagine that if a drought or other calamity came along, the members would resort to hoarding, and more selfish, less collaborative conduct to survive.

Now, as I’ve told you before, I’ve never been married. (Quite frankly, many consider it to be an outdated anthropological institution, with limited societal functions at this in point in the evolution of modern, technological society. However, that is a subject for another day.) I’ve never considered myself qualified for marriage, because my views as to the roles of men and women in society are so radically different from those typically held by others. I believe that the pairing is primarily about function and survival, and not about love and who has a great bod. Some would even argue that it's not even currently about comfort and security, since those features can be provided through other means, if one has sufficient financial resources.

Each time that one of my friends indicated that they had separated from their spouse, I would make the same suggestion. I would suggest that the underlying purpose of their pairing was no longer based on anything of importance or primary significance, or that they had lost sight of it. I would follow by suggesting that if they had to survive in the jungle, they would have a very different view of the importance of their pairing. I frequently suggested that they both volunteer their services to the AIDS Foundation or the American Cancer Society, and after doing so, they would better appreciate how relatively insignificant their personal differences were. (I am sure that no one ever followed my advice.) After all, having had sex with someone else may be a serious violation and breach of trust, but it does not rank up there with the other survival factors. Additionally, I strongly suspect that if an earthquake or tornado struck your home immediately after you found out about your spouse’s indiscretion, the two of you would work your butts off, in a collaborative fashion, to survive, and chat about the infidelity later, if at all. It’s the nature of the beast.

Today, there is quite a bit of research on the differences between the brains of men and women. We now have the capability to conduct brain scans and compare the different ways in which male and female brains function. If we know that so much about our behavior is hard wired, why do men and women continually waste their time arguing about biological determinant issues? It’s because we as humans have the ability to think in ways far differently from animals, which is both good and bad. Very few of us, despite having the capacity, stop to think about the scientific or biological explanations for human conduct. We have the capability to sit back and think through events, and conduct our own research and investigation, before responding. In many instances, we are just lazy. In other instances we are unsophisticated. In still others, we proceed with emotional responses, because it “works” and it is efficient.

Yesterday, I had an extensive conversation with a very good friend of mine, who has one child who is a senior in high school, and another who is a senior in college. I explained that I was part of a team of motivational speakers, and that we would soon embark on a nationwide tour of colleges and universities to engage students in a discussion about personal responsibility. I further informed her that we planned to utilize adults, like me, who had encountered and recovered from various difficulties in life, as teaching vehicles, in conjunction with the latest research on the brain and decision theory. Our primary goal is to provoke thought, encourage students to consider their choices in life, analyze the decisions that they make along with the consequences, and have them recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their choices. Our secondary goal is to come up with some fresh, new approaches to addressing their personal and societal problems.

During the course of our discussion, my friend inquired as to whether the students would even be interested in the latest research and science regarding the brain and decision theory. Although I did not provide this response, I feel that they should be interested because it matters. The brain is a significant factor in our human activity. To exclude its role in our conduct, and to fail to factor it in the equation, results in only a partial ability to address aberrant or inappropriate human conduct. We might as well use all of our information and available resources to address problems. It also requires “digging deeper” than the apparent symptoms. Digging only one level to address a problem, frequently results in not addressing it at all, or applying a short term band-aid.

Prior to the generation of this article, I asked a large number of you what the following things had in common:

Your most recent argument or disagreement with your spouse, significant other, or friend;

Your view as to whether America is still the greatest nation on earth;

Your view of the propriety of the criminal jury verdict in the OJ case; and

Your view as to whether we should be in Iraq?

They are all issues about which we had preconceived notions prior to the issue developing or occurring. They are also all issues about which you could feel and respond differently, provided that you received additional information, which might contribute to a better understanding of the issue, prior to passing judgment or criticizing others.

The purpose of all of my articles is to provoke thought. I do not have a position about many things in life. In many ways, that is problematic. I‘ve never had the rigid, dogmatic views which serve as stabilizing forces and parameters in many lives. I wish that I were so cock sure about as many things that others are. I am continually amazed at how readers of my articles respond, either telephonically, via e-mail, or in the form of a comment, and I ask, “Did they read my article?” I posed this question to a friend about the response of a mutual friend, and he indicated that the mutual friend had responded based on the mutual friend’s view of the issue, not what I had actually written. He also suggested that the mutual friend may have made some assumptions about the views and values typically associated with someone fitting my profile.

One of the goals which we will achieve, during my discussion of issues and during our college tour in discussing personal responsibility with students, will be the de-personalization of the analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. We believe that the analysis will improve through objectivity (if that can really be achieved) and creativity, and that we can thereafter craft better solutions. The articles appearing on our site below reflect the type of thought process and critical thinking through which we will navigate students in our sessions.

The following is taken from an earlier article, Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process:

“Jeffrey Sachs is generally recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. ( He recently published a new book, Common Wealth ( During a recent presentation, Sachs argued that we the people of the world are biologically hard-wired and poorly led to always think in terms of us versus them. He advocates a paradigm shift consisting of intellectual collaboration. Simply put, we are capable of thinking our way out of the problems which we are surely about to face, be they global warming or food scarcities. According to Sachs, if we propose a potential solution to a problem, there will always be negative ramifications associated with that solution. However, we as humans have to capability to address those problems and try to minimize the negative impact through thinking. We can not risk being paralyzed by failing to utilize our problem solving capabilities and continuing to conduct business as usual.”

In Henry Hobhouse’s Forces of Change – An Unorthodox View of History (, he submits that modern history has been shaped, not so much by human conduct, but rather natural forces consisting of disease, population growth, and food supply. Hobhouse argues that they form a triangle which balances itself. As one changes or alters the dimension on one side of the triangle, there must be commensurate in one or both of the other two sides. To address these natural forces also requires a different type of thinking, more collaborative in nature.

We, as individuals and institutions should be constantly re-examining our conduct and assumptions in a never-ending quest to improve on what we’ve done in the past. Isn’t that, theoretically, one of the things that separates humans from animals – our ability to consciously improve our status and the things around us? So why rely on old methods? Why maintain the status quo? Does the fact that some advocate change in a society mean that they want to destroy it? Isn’t any organization or entity interested in maintaining a high standard, and avoiding complacency, constantly reinventing itself by changing those things that don’t work well, and continuing those practices that do? The mere mention that we can do better does not necessarily imply that where we are is a bad place.

We, as a society, have to do a better job of focusing on shared interests, and collaborating with one another. How about a little more energy on the front end taking the time to listen, conduct research, consider the historical and scientific explanations for events and positions, and other explanations, before instituting responsive conduct. To listen to, or view, someone only through your worldview lens and filter, may mean that you’ve never really listened to or seen them at all. Remember that line from the old song from the 1970s? “Expand your mind, you might be surprised at what you might find.”

I’m done - way done. This one required way too much work.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Post No. 10:How Rev. John Hagee’s Comments Reminded Me of Better Times (The Perils of Being an Information Junkie)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

John Hagee – interesting guy. However, before I address the controversy surrounding his recent comments (and being politically incorrect might be a good thing), I must reveal a character flaw, with which I have wrestled all of my life. In fact, my Mother, a junior high school teacher and former librarian, is responsible for my condition. You see, I’m an information junkie. It is absolutely essential that I receive new information all throughout the day. My Mother contributed to my affliction in that she actively encouraged me to read anything and everything.

You wouldn’t believe some of the things that I have read. The identity of the writer does not matter. The message does not matter. Offensive materials? Sure, I’ll read them. I am always fascinated with how everyone with whom I come into contact has a position, and a point of view, with respect to virtually every written publication. If I mention a particular book, paper, author, or website, they immediately launch into why they admire or hate the work. Just the mere mention of a work evokes all sorts of emotions, and by simply mentioning it, people naturally assume that I found the work compelling and agree with the content. It appears that similar principles also apply to the spoken word.

In the late fall of 1977, I was watching an episode of 60 Minutes. Someone mentioned that virtually all people could be “defined” or perhaps more accurately, “consumed,” by one of three words, those being identity, stimulation, and security. For some of us, finding ourselves consumes us. For others, nothing is more important than a sense of security. And there are those who seek constant stimulation.

I wrote them down at the time in the front of my Day-Timer, and was therefore forced to revisit the concept on a daily basis for years. Of course, I asked myself repeatedly whether any of the categories applied to me. At least from my perspective, identity and security were of no interest to me. I entertained the possibility that stimulation was applicable to me, and yet I repeatedly dismissed the notion. You tell me.

Some people like music, and others visual images. Me? Give me radio. I love the auditory. Give me Gunsmoke or The Lone Ranger on radio, and I’m in heaven. I learned the game of hockey while attending the University of Michigan, by listening to the radio broadcasts on Saturday nights, just before I went out. Radio commercials occupy a special place in my heart. Even when the Lakers were in the playoffs, those many years, on their way to world championships, I preferred to listen to Chick Hearn do the simult-cast on the radio. For some reason, the spoken word gets my attention. I’m more engaged, and the message is more effectively communicated, from my perspective.

My favorite radio stations of all time? KFWB and KNX-FM, both of which are twenty-four hour, all news stations operating in Los Angeles, with the occasional exception of a radio drama and a game. I woke up to one or the other of the two stations for almost thirty years, and went to sleep the same way. Quiet at bedtime just never worked for me.

What I’ve figured out is that I’m basically an observer, and a loner, who loves to be in a crowd. Interestingly, because of some aspects of my personality, perhaps my unending curiosity and tolerance, I always had lots of folks around me during the day time. But radio time was my time. My time to reflect. Have to drive for four or five hours? Nothing better than a news station. “All news, all the time. You give us twenty-two minutes; we’ll give you the world.”

Now that I am no longer in Los Angeles on a regular basis, there is probably nothing that I miss more about the city than those radio stations. Talk radio is just not the same. Too many opinions and too much spin. Too many personal agendas. Too much anger and tension. But news, coming at you in a steady stream, takes one to a different place.

It forces one to ultimately process and focus. But while it’s coming at you, it forces you to simply absorb. You don’t’ encounter opinions or attitudes which turn you off, causing you to turn off the stream of information. I can’t imagine anything worse in life than tuning out. Isn’t that one of the benefits of higher intelligence, our ability to think for ourselves?

I’ll even admit that news took precedence over, and complicated my relationships with, most of my girlfriends. In fact, if a woman was able to distract me away from the news, it was probably an indication that she was not long for the relationship.

First thing in the morning, I wanted to hear the news. None of that hugging and cuddling stuff. Same thing at night. In fact, I never wanted to be at home until just before I retired. Walk in, brush my teeth, wash my face, and turn on the news station. Don’t cut off my circulation; don’t mention the concept of spooning, and keep the decibel level down so that we can hear the news. Obviously, I had to have some pretty good-natured gals in my life, who also loved the news, or rather information.

So here I’m traveling in the car the other night, and I hear that presidential candidate John McCain has finally severed his “ties” to the good Rev. John Hagee. This guy is interesting, and requires a little introduction. Rev. Hagee is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. The church has 19,000 active members. No, that not a typo, 19,000. He is also the CEO of a non-profit corporation, GETV (Global Evangelism Television), which disseminates his message around the world. He has power with a capital “P.”

Candidate McCain, out of concern that he was not the favored candidate amongst religious conservatives, actively sought the endorsement of Rev. Hagee. This is a guy who, after Hurricane Katrina, interpreted it as an Act of God, designed to punish the people of New Orleans, for committing a “level of sin offensive to God.” That was before the current presidential race. Several weeks ago, McCain had to somewhat distance himself from his endorser, when it was revealed that Rev. Hagee had referred to the Catholic Church as the “Great Whore.” However, the axe did not fall.

So I’m driving down the street listening to this talk radio station, and the news segment comes on. This is the closest thing to “all news all the time” that I can get in the Southeast, and I hear this story. McCain had to formally, and completely, sever his connection to Rev. Hagee.

Why? Because the good Reverend, during a series of sermons in the 1990s, indicated that God sent Hitler to Europe and orchestrated the Holocaust, to force the Jews to return to the Holy Land. (In fairness, it should be noted that Rev. Hagee is pro-Israel, and that is one of the factors that motivated McCain to seek his endorsement. If you want to understand the reason for his statement, and how the return of the Jews to Israel purportedly benefits humankind, I would suggest that you conduct a little research on your own. I just want you to appreciate that a simplistic conclusion, that Rev. Hagee is a racist, may not be particularly appropriate in this instance. It goes deeper than that. After all, we should always dig deeper.)

Actually, upon hearing this, the first thing that came to mind was not revulsion, condemnation, or surprise, but rather the pleasant memories of my old news radio stations. I recalled how I could experience any emotion, travel to any place, go anywhere intellectually, when I was engaged with the radio broadcast.

There’s something about that constant stream of information that just works for me. (Of course, there is spin associated with all media, and someone obviously selected the topics to be covered. However, it is about as close as one can get to pure information in the media. ) What I later realized is that I was simply storing information on my cranial hard drive, and not processing it until much later, when I then compared certain bits of information to others.

So here I’m listening to this Holocaust story, and because it was only a five minute news segment, I had the opportunity to gradually process the story shortly thereafter. The first thing that I did was to start chuckling, somewhat out of disbelief. The quasi-chuckle went on for about five minutes, then ten, and then twenty.

Plus, I kept remembering how I found myself over the years listening to hard news, with the same reaction. So now I’m saying to myself, this guy Rev. Hagee is wild; but he at least says what he actually feels. In my view, this was not a slip of the tongue. This was a carefully thought out position. I was also convinced, after a few minutes, that he really believes this, and that it represents truth for him, and perhaps many others.

So here I am reliving the joys of radio consumption, when I had the steady stream of news pumped into my brain, and I could always find out instantly what was going on in the world. There was a bit of nostalgia. Then something else came to mind. I recalled one of the first books that I ever read that most folks might deem “offensive.” It was a book written in the 1950’s by a southern segregationist, explaining why Negroes should be subject to Jim Crow laws.

I recalled reading it with as much relish as Don Quixote. (Well, may be not quite.) Remember, my Mom taught me to read everything. The value judgments came much later.

It always amazed me that black folks would choose to remain in the South and be subject to discrimination, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, in discussions with many of my black friends, they said that they would rather know that someone was a racist, than live amongst people who called themselves progressives, or functioned with all of the trappings, but really were just closet racists.

In processing Rev. Hagee’s comments, I immediately asked myself, “Why should he have to explain or apologize for such a statement? “ This, once again, was not a slip. It is pretty clear that he feels that way, and I am absolutely certain that there are thousands, if not millions, who feel similarly. That’s when the concept of political correctness came to mind. (One of my buddies simply called him an “idiot,” although he did not consider Rev. Jeremiah Wright to be of the same “lodge.”)

Over the years, I heard various friends of mine complain about political correctness, but I really hadn’t given it much thought. Being a lawyer, I realized that the law prohibited certain types of conduct in certain situations and that part of the whole political correctness concept was derivatively related to some of our social engineering goals. I also recognized the possibility that we, as a society, might not want our children exposed to certain language or symbols. However, in the grand scheme of things, it just never seemed to me to be that important that someone address me a particular way, or refrain from using certain words. (I have sometimes wondered whether we spend so much time and energy fighting the symbolic battles, because of our insecurities, as a society, about our ability to really wage battle on the real, substantive issues.)

I also did not quite get it when some of my friends also spoke of political correctness as potentially bringing on the death of America. Well, in my mind, this seemed a bit much. But as I drove down the street, I began to think about the reverend’s comments and the concept of political correctness. He clearly has a right to make the comments. I learned long ago, through my international travels, that the concept of reality is situational. I also learned that belief systems are what they are – belief systems, and the last time I checked, no one currently serves as the belief police. You couple that with the fact that there are probably millions who agree with Reverend Hagee, and we have a dilemma.

If we agree that we can not regulate the belief or the thought process, then our concerns must lie with the expression and its form. Are we better off simply letting people speak their minds, and letting the chips fall as they may? Who gets to say what’s too far? Who gets to say what is appropriate? Who can prove that Hagee’s comments aren’t true? Aren’t we better off knowing what people really feel? Aren’t we more likely to be able to effectively “deal” with them? Isn’t there a value to transparency, instead of hiding behind a mask or a robe? Doesn’t the truth set you free?

As a buddy of mine once said, imagery is king in Los Angeles. I often watched buddies of mine try to date actresses, or professional “babes,” and I would remark, “You’re a better man than I.” Wouldn’t you want to know, in dealing with someone with whom you are pursuing an interpersonal relationship, that you’re really dealing with them, and not a script which they were instructed to read, or chose to read to accomplish an objective? Hey, I’ve got a solution. Maybe we should give people a choice. Maybe we should divide our schools, places of employment, governmental offices, and other institutions, into those for individuals desirous of adhering to politically correct principles, and those not. Quite frankly, being politically correct occupies too much of my time, and perhaps that of others. Just seems to me like the time would be better spent on addressing some serious problems, and once we address them to our satisfaction, then we could return to the symbol, word, and image battles.

I don’t know. Once again, I’m confused. It just seems to me that being straightforward and direct can’t be anything but a good thing in the long run. My partner, Laughingman, keeps saying that “doing the right thing is not rocket science.” Maybe being straightforward and direct is what he really means. I guess that’s Rev. Hagee personified. At least you know what you’re dealing with. Quite a few of us are a little tired of the dance.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Post No. 9: Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process (We are a Better Country than We Currently Think of Ourselves)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Let's talk about innovation. Much has been made of President Bush’s historic, low approval ratings, which have been in the 25 – 30 % range for quite some time.

However, there was a recent poll far more troubling from my perspective, that being the poll reflecting that 81% of the American public feels that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

I would suspect, truth be told, that the figure is actually closer to 98%. I would also submit that the President’s low ratings are a reflection of what we currently feel about ourselves as a Nation. After all, we allowed him to be placed in that position of authority – on two occasions.

I seriously doubt that anyone really relishes where the United States finds itself today, unless you are outside of the United States and have interests antithetical thereto.

We will probably have a record turnout for the presidential election this November. Virtually everyone is afraid of something about our current state. I, too, recognize the importance of projecting a positive, confident, upbeat image to the world; but the world sees through this.

Certain groups in our Nation are concerned about what we have become. Some are concerned about where we might go should a particular candidate win. Others are concerned about the power and influence of the church or religion.

Many feel vulnerable to another terrorist attack. And of course, there is the economy. Simply put, these are not the most comfortable of times.

However, the real question is whether we, as a nation, have the confidence and intestinal fortitude to get beyond this. Some others might describe it as the political and social will of the nation.

Last year, in my role as a motivational speaker, I had the opportunity to engage various groups of college students. Often times during the presentations, someone would make reference to the concept that “you can be anything that you want to be if you put your mind to it.”

Being a pragmatist, I would obliquely suggest that the concept is not literally or entirely true, but that rather one can be anything that one wants to be, within reason, and taking into consideration the time, the place, the resources, and on and on.

I would offer as an example, the fact that a five foot, obese, 45 year old, could probably not become a professional basketball player. I stressed the importance of a pragmatic assessment of one’s skills and resources, the market or arena into which one wants to enter, or the goal that one wants to achieve.

And then I thought about it. Something had changed in me, or something had changed about the realm of possibilities.

Part of it, I’m sure, is advancing age and realism. However, I was still concerned that my spirit had been affected, and I always prided myself on having an indomitable spirit.

I further recalled that during most of my life, I personally felt that I really could be anything that I wanted to be. Then I thought about the possibility that my age group or generation might be less optimistic about the future, but that the youth of the Nation were still very upbeat and had a positive outlook.

Well, the 81% figure quickly disabused me of that notion.

If you’ve been reading my “stuff” over any period of time now, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely respond to singular events, since I rarely consider them, in and of themselves, to be of much significance.

I have a tendency to examine multiple, disparate events, consider patterns, and examine events in history to gain some long term perspective. This is no different.

In his significant work, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 ( ), Yale professor Paul Kennedy discusses and analyzes patterns that exist during the ascent to power, and those associated with the power’s subsequent decline.

Originally published in 1987, and after receiving rave reviews at the time, I am simply amazed that so little reference is made to it in the current discussion of where we are as a Nation. Anyone examining the book will immediately note that Kennedy did his homework, in that it is replete with economic data, which actually makes it somewhat difficult to digest.

Be that as it may, he concludes that there are three main factors that appear to repeatedly contribute to the decline of a world power. Two of them are of relevance to the United States at this point in time.

Kennedy submits that one factor is that the power is overextended militarily throughout the world, which leads to a depletion of its coffers, and a drain on its economy and energy.

The second involves technology. As a general proposition, the country which possesses the highest level of technology, which also translates to the most sophisticated and effective weapons, stays in power. It generally has spent a considerable period of time, and a significant component of its resources, on research and development associated with that technology.

When such a power exports its technology and that technology is easily and quickly duplicated by others without the attendant investment in its development, other emerging economic powers can then adopt it and overtake the inventing country. Not only is the technology exported in such a transition, but the scientific knowledge base is also adversely affected, along with the technology workforce.

All of the preceding having been said, this piece is not about doom and gloom. It’s about the potential of the United States if and when it applies itself.

It is about what can be done by the citizens of this great country, when we are focused, and we have effective political and social will. The question to be asked, as with many things in life, is whether we are sufficiently motivated.

Earlier this week, David Miliband, the young and dynamic Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of Great Britain, appeared on the Charlie Rose Show. ( Charlie repeatedly asked Miliband about the current role of the United States and whether it still wielded power in the eyes of other countries. Miliband repeatedly responded that the United States is “The Power.”

He also said that for anything meaningful to be accomplished in the world, the United States has to exert some influence, and that we can do anything that we are sufficiently motivated to do.

Jeffrey Sachs is generally recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. ( He recently published a new book, Common Wealth (

During a recent presentation, Sachs argued that we the people of the world are biologically hard-wired and poorly led to always think in terms of us versus them.

He advocates a paradigm shift consisting of intellectual collaboration. Simply put, we are capable of thinking our way out of the problems which we are surely about to face, be they global warming or food scarcities. According to Sachs, if we propose a potential solution to a problem, there will always be negative ramifications associated with that solution.

However, we as humans have to capability to address those problems and try to minimize the impact through thinking. We can not be paralyzed by failing to utilize our problem solving capabilities and continuing to conduct business as usual.

There is another scientific development that I would submit for your consideration. In an article entitled, “Can You Become a Creature of New Habits,” appearing in the May 4, 2008 edition of the New York Times, Janet Rae-Dupree quotes Dawna Markova, as follows: “The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder.” Markova is the author of The Open Mind: Exploring the Six Patterns of Natural Intelligence, and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners.

Markova argues that we are taught today in our society to decide, as opposed to think. She adds, however, that, “…to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.” According to Markova, most of us do not pay much attention to the manner in which our brain works when we deal with complications.

During the late 1960s, researchers discovered that humans have an innate capacity to deal with challenges in four general ways: relationally (or collaboratively), procedurally, analytically, and innovatively. Interestingly, at puberty, the brain stops relying on roughly half of its capabilities, and begins to rely on only those modes of thought that have been deemed most effective during the first decade or so of life.

Markova is concerned that the current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure. This means that few of us use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought. According to M. J. Ryan, author of the 2006 book, “This Year I Will...” and Ms. Markova’s business partner, “This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything.” ( ). “That’s a lie that we have perpetuated, and it fosters mediocrity. Knowing what you’re good at and doing even more of it creates excellence.”

There is one final thing that I should note from my personal archives. During my junior year in high school in 1967, I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher who required us to read Jonathan Kozol’s then recently published Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools (

Kozol, an elementary school teacher, chronicled how the low expectations on the part of teachers translated into low performance by the students. For some reason, the message of that book stuck with me for forty years.

A couple of years ago, I was “tricked” by a buddy, whose name will go unmentioned, into substitute teaching in an environment in which I simply thought that the students had suffered a delay in their education. I proceeded to teach them in the same manner in which I would expect someone to teach me. A number of them had surprising success.

When I say surprising, they were surprised, not me. I did not have any other expectations. One teacher even remarked about my ability to reach a particular student. This surprised me, because I did not do anything particularly special or different.

During a break-out session at a subsequent state-wide community college conference, I learned for the first time that I had been dealing with developmental education students, many of whom had purported learning disabilities. Everyone in the room laughed at my lack of sophistication, and failure to recognize the nature of the student population with which I had been dealing.

I then asked the break-out session leader whether I had been doing my students a disservice by assuming that they were capable of performing at a higher level. She was actually stumped for a second. Her response was essentially, perhaps in some instances, and perhaps not in others.

Earlier today on the History Channel, I heard the story of how the
Roman Empire was divided in half, with the hope that it would be easier to manage. Unfortunately, the western European half was in significant decline, as the Dark Ages approached. On the other hand, the eastern half, with its capital in Constantinople, continued to flourish. Before becoming the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I, married Theodora ( in 523 A.D. When he became Emperor in 527 A.D., Justinian made her a joint ruler.

In 532 A.D., the Nika riot broke out in Constantinople. Although the games being held on that day were between two rival towns, both joined forces against Justinian I, and stormed the palace, out of frustration with his rule. Legend has it that Justinian was running like a defeated man, and was literally on the dock about to step onto a departing vessel into a state of exile. He entreated Theodora to flee with him. She declined. She, who incidentally had incredible sexual proclivities, purportedly said that purple, the royal color, looked just as good on her in her capacity as empress, as it would serving as funeral attire. She convinced Justinian to remain and to fight it out. He complied, and launched a ferocious battle against the rioters, and regained control (albeit briefly). (I love this story!)

The bottom line is that we, the citizens of this once and current great nation, possess the capabilities to continue to be a great nation. Our confidence is shaken right now. However, but we haven’t been knocked out. There’s a standing eight count rule in this bout. We just need to maintain our wits about us.

We can not underestimate the power of focus, the power of hope, and all that we can do when we put our minds to it. I have not yet committed to a presidential candidate. I’m not sure that there is a whole lot of difference between them. Any one of them will do just fine. However, I understand the appeal of Barack Obama, who is purportedly light on substance and specifics. He has apparently inspired some intangible quality in millions of Americans. Isn’t that what Caroline Kennedy said? His followers aren’t quite sure where he will take them or the Nation; however, they suspect that it is better than what they have witnessed recently, whatever that is.

How many of you still wonder about the possibilities?

Let’s start thinking about our future, and the rightful place of America on the planet, before it is too late.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Post 5b: Response to Coop's Comment

Coop wrote in pertinent part, in response to Post 5a:

"On the surface your arguments appear to hold some validity. But let’s look deeper."
"Let’s first look at times past to compare. Before Watergate the political news was dispensed through the three networks, newspapers and radio...."
"This is the advancement of the “Gotcha” game. As we see with much of the traditional mainstream media, the line between opinion and straight news reporting is all but gone...."
"This can be challenged with one name “Clinton.” [See Coop's Complete Comment.]

The essence of Coop's argument is that I focused on a relatively short time frame from which to examine the manner in which the news of political campaigns is disseminated. In his comment, he makes references to events during the last 30 years. However, in his original response, he referred to a Will Rogers comment in 1924. In my analysis, I assumed that we were going back to the beginning of politics, which I would submit, is generally the manner in which historical analysis is best conducted to gain perspective. Should you examine my comments in that light, I would submit that that are still worthy of consideration. That being said, I still value Coop's comments.

Post No. 8: Katrina, Chinese Style

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

I’m going to try something a little different this time. We’ve witnessed two, major, natural disasters in foreign lands within the past week. Both inflicted damage, far beyond anything, in terms of loss of human life, that we have seen in the United States during any of our lifetimes. The property damage figures are still being calculated, and because of differences in the respective standards of living, it may be difficult to compare the physical damage in China and Burma to the damage in the United States due to Katrina.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s just focus on China alone. 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. Here’s my question, or actually, series of questions:

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

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?

This should be interesting. Be sure to explain your position.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Post No. 7: You Asked for Religion, You Get Religion (and Politics)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

It has been said that if one wants to maintain good relations with others in social conversation, one should avoid a discussion of religion or politics. That is unless, of course, everyone in the room feels somewhat similarly about the subject matter. I’m a guy who never saw any reason for anger or tension in interpersonal relationships, and consequently I avoided discussing religion in the past. Why get into an argument unnecessarily that will not advance anyone’s interests? That being said, four recent events prompted me to share my thoughts, or perhaps I should say, my observations.

The first was obviously the frequent reference to religious issues in the current campaign for the presidency, above and beyond Mormonism, Jeremiah Wright, and John Hagee. The second was a surprisingly large number of regular readers of my blog who were interested in whether I thought God existed. Interestingly, all of the readers were women in their late forties or early fifties, who I had known for over twenty-five years. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that they would even ask the question. I gained the impression that they were not inquiring as to whether I believed, but rather whether there is a God. The mere asking of that question poses significant risks. I imagine that only friends over such a lengthy period can ask another friend a question so fraught with potential complications.

The third event was a simple, innocuous, two minute conversation in a gas station earlier this week. I asked a driver at an adjacent pump for change for a bill. He responded that, at that particular moment, he was doing the Lord’s work, and with his blessing, by providing it to me. I vaguely recall responding by saying, “Well good,” or something along that line. However, he surprised me by stating that my response and the tone of my voice suggested to him that I was a non-believer. He further indicated that it was my choice of words that led him to that conclusion. There was an accusatory tone in his voice, and a sense of disappointment that I had not yet chosen to believe, even though I said absolutely nothing to lead him to that conclusion.

Moving on to the fourth and most recent event or series of events, I watched two programs on C-Span2 Book TV, where the authors discussed religion. The first featured Randall Balmer, the author of God in the White House ( During his discussion, Balmer suggested that politicians use and manipulate religion, in any manner that they see fit, to advance their political interests and goals. He also told the story of how evangelicals became a force in American politics. Apparently in the early 1960s, they were unsuccessful in having any influence on the abortion debate. However, according to Balmer, during the Johnson administration, the Voting Rights Act was passed. Shortly thereafter, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling to the effect that any organization that practiced racial discrimination did not qualify as a charitable organization. Balmer further indicated that he had it on good authority, from the individual that sought the involvement of evangelicals in politics, that the IRS ruling was the precipitating event.

The second book discussion took place at the Discovery Institute. David Berlinski discussed his new book, The Devil's Delusion, wherein he argues that science does not disprove the existence of God or refute the Intelligent Design concept. ( Roughly two years ago, I pulled out my sister’s old college philosophy textbook, and I started reading the section on the existence of God. There were many discussions of the issue by the great philosophers, on both sides of the argument. I quickly concluded that the discussions was far too intellectual for me, and did not address the issues of everyday, ordinary people, as well reasoned as they may have been.

I had the same feeling watching the Discovery Institute discussion. Virtually everyone in the room was an intellectual heavyweight, even the young college students. I was absolutely fascinated by the discussion, but finished watching the show feeling convinced that such an analysis does not take place in the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens. I doubt that such a discussion even takes place amongst the talking heads and consultants on the news shows. I am reasonably sure that the vast majority of people make their decisions about religion in a different fashion – namely whatever works for them and provides them spiritual comfort.

At some early point in my life, I read something to the effect that religion serves the purposes of those who subscribe to it. It provides meaning, purpose, direction, hope, and structure to the lives of humans, and the events that surround them. While I recognize its function from a spiritual, operational, and anthropological perspective, there are many things that I do not understand. You see, I can’t really say that I am a believer. I would have to say that I am a “middle of the roader,” which is a very dangerous status. As another author once said, I thought that being a centrist would mean that folks on both sides of the aisle would find something with which they could agree in my writings. I now understand that it also provides both sides with something which they can both attack.

I recognize the possibility of a deity. I do not denigrate, criticize, or despise those who firmly believe, nor do I feel ill will to those who firmly do not believe. But I’ll tell you, I just wish that God did not work in such mysterious ways, not that I have any control over the subject.

I would like for God to talk to me, touch me, speak to me, or otherwise engage me. I’d just like a clear sign. Additionally, I should note that it does not help to have others tell me that if I simply gave my heart and mind to God, and let him in, he would come in. I just need something more, and I suspect that there are others who feel similarly. I am continually amazed at how confident and self-assured others are about their connection to God. My Father swears that he talks to God. Why has God not chosen to have that same level of connection and conversation with me? Was I left out, or is it about something that I failed to do? I’ve been trying valiantly for 56 years to figure this religion thing out.

I’m not going to get into all of the debates and discussions that have been held repeatedly for thousands of years. Far brighter people have addressed virtually every aspect of religion. I am also fully cognizant that when one raises questions about something, people naturally assume that you have a particular agenda. However, in this instance, and for purposes of this article, I am simply trying to understand the manner in which adherents of different religions treat others and the views of others. This took on a complexion of its own during the recent political campaigns. Interestingly, to my surprise, Balmer indicated that there are currently 4,500 different religions in the world. That being said, I would like to pose some questions to all of you who are more sophisticated and learned than I, to assist me in further developing my thoughts.

How are people chosen to be adherents to a particular religion? Are people born in a certain geographical area based on their acceptability to God? Should we blindly follow the religious views of our parents or should they be questioned and challenged? Is it acceptable for one to modify or adapt the basic tenets of their religion to fit their particular societal, operational, spiritual, and political needs, or should one strictly adhere to the religious tenets and practices that existed at the time that the religion was founded? Is it appropriate for one to be born in one religion, and to then switch to another? Is it necessary for members of one religion to demonize and attack adherents of other religions? Is there one “right” religion which would suggest that the others are “wrong?” Is there one religion that is “better” than the next? Is the basic underlying purpose of religion to ultimately guide people toward doing “good,” however that may be defined? Is physical violence, imposed on adherents to a particular religion who have strayed, or against those of a different religion, ever justified and acceptable in the eyes of God?

For those of you interested in such questions, I strongly suggest that you avoid watching the History Channel, because you will only become more confused. A recent show discussed the books of the Old Testament which could have been included in the Bible, but were left out for various reasons. The program discussed the individuals and groups who made those decisions, and why. I was stunned to find out that there was an earlier version of the legend of Adam and Eve in the Jewish tradition, where Eve’s predecessor was a woman named Lilith, who was Adam’s equal. According to the academic theologians (who interestingly appear to be less dogmatic than practicing religious leaders), the whole course of human history and the relationship of man to woman, including the concept of sex, were dramatically influenced by this “substitution” of Eve.

Additionally, in the same program, the theologians mentioned that the “devil” is never mentioned by name in the Book of Genesis. There is a reference to a serpent. They further noted that it was the practice at the time, when a new religion was being introduced and adopted, to “demonize” the former religion, and one way of depicting the other religion as less desirable was to depict it as a serpent.

Back to the political arena, are we so concerned about the stability of our constitutional form of government that we should be legitimately concerned about one single person’s religious beliefs? Should political candidates question the religious devotion and practices of other candidates during campaigns? Are we to assume that the conduct of the United States is backed by, and has the blessing of, God, and that the conduct of other countries, where other religions are dominant, is not? If God is such an important force in the lives of Americans, despite that piece of paper that suggests that there is a separation of church and state, why doesn’t our society function more like a theocracy? Why do we not have in excess of 600 religious rules and laws like some other major religions? Did we check with God, or the Bible, to determine the manner in which we should handle and treat the enemy combatants captured during our war on terror?

My concern is, and always will be, the provision by our leaders of a structure and a construct thus enabling others to follow and understand their conduct. I would suspect that it is also an issue for our children watching the religious exchange between our candidates. I don’t know, perhaps the lesson to be learned is that you can do whatever you want to do if you believe and feel that God will support it, and thus you do not have to explain your actions to others. As I am in connection with virtually all of my articles, I do not feel any more comfortable now than I felt at the beginning of the generation of this piece.

I will conclude by mentioning yet another book discussion involving Michael Meyerson, author of Liberty’s Blueprint. (Http:// In his work, Meyerson tells the story of how James Madison and Alexander Hamilton mounted a campaign to convince the citizenry of the need for a federal constitution and its parameters. Meyerson notes that they did not rely on sound bites and bombastic claims. They wrote 85 separate essays on the subject matter, and then physically traveled around the country making their case for federalism. Meyerson argues that the two patriots emphasized that the resultant product would not be a political compromise, but rather a system that would work. They wanted to convince their audience of the soundness of their concept by reason. Some of our political leaders, on both sides of their aisle, might benefit from employing a similar approach to the religious discussion and the role of religion in our government and politics. Virtually anything would be better than what exists today.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Post No. 6: A Few Thoughts on the Qualifications for Parenthood

Being that I am 56 years of age, I am often asked whether I have ever been married and have a family. My response often surprises people, but it really is the truth. At some point between my late teens and early twenties, I had this vague notion of having a family with six or seven children. I formulated that notion due to the fact that both of my parents came from families of ten kids. I observed the close knit nature of their relationships, and all of the fun and craziness that took place during family reunions.

To further contribute to my desire to have a large family, I observed my high school girlfriend’s large family, and the manner in which the older kids worked to support and raise the younger ones. At an early age, I admired the values of team work and cooperation, and generally believed that the interests of the group or unit always outweighed the interests of the individual. To this day, that is a fundamental principle underlying many of my decisions.

However, at some point, I came to the realization that there were several prerequisites to having a family, no matter the size, including dating, finding the appropriate spouse, and then actually following through with marriage. At this point, folks usually laugh and inquire as to why these were stumbling blocks. Often times, they suggest that I was unwilling to “commit,” whatever that means. Quite frankly, it is far more complex than that, since I’ve been fully committed to lots of teams, units, causes, and issues in my life – just not to one individual.

In my early thirties, I still thought that it was theoretically possible that I might one day have a family, albeit with a smaller number of children. However, my whole approach to life began to fundamentally change once I began to travel to foreign countries. My whole sense of values, good and bad, right and wrong, rich and poor, began to take on more complexity. I became less rigid in my thinking, and perhaps far too curious about, and tolerant, of virtually everything. I often told my friends that my entire worldview appeared to change roughly every two years based on my new travels and experiences.

By my early forties, I was beginning to recognize the more “pragmatic “ aspects of having a family and all that it involves, particularly from a professional and career perspective. Additionally, more and more of my single friends were deserting the ranks. There was another development that ultimately led me to conclude that I would never be “qualified” to be a parent, and consequently I decided to avoid that venture. By this time, I had seen children at all levels of society in many countries, in virtually every imaginable condition, and I became confused as to the “proper” way to raise a child.

What plays over and over in my mind is the picture and sound of kids under the age of ten, working the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the wee hours of the morning, selling chewing gum, or offering to shine your shoes, for a few cruzados. In one sense, you were stunned by the youth of these kids, and the fact that their parents, assuming that they had parents, allowed them to be out, unescorted, at that hour of the night. On the other hand, they were always savvy, sharp, enterprising, witty, spunky, and far wiser than their ages would suggest.

I then began to question which situation was better for the kid. It also reminded me of the dilemma which my Mother often posed. Having grown up on a farm in rural Alabama during the Depression, she saw lots of poor families living in shotgun houses. However, after visiting many of her family members and friends who lived in the tenements and projects of Chicago and Detroit, she often wondered which version of poverty was preferable.

At some point I began to intellectualize the issue. This was aided by the fact that some close friends of mine, who were not particularly religious, explained how they planned to provide religious or spiritual guidance for their newborn daughter, despite their uncertainties about the whole faith issue. Using their model, I initially thought that I could provide my kids with some conceptual construct, outline the various competing factors for them to take into consideration, and assist them through the thought and decision process, utilizing something vaguely akin to the Socratic Method used in some academic settings.

However, I very quickly disabused myself of that notion. Parents have to establish clear parameters and define limits. There has to be, at varying points in time, and to varying degrees, specific amounts of black and white, and a continuum of grey. But it’s all a crap shoot, involving doing your best (perhaps with a little assistance from child psychologists, books, spiritual advisors, and close family members and friends), and we all know that there is no specific “how to” manual.

In my last article, I raised some issues about the qualifications necessary for one to run for elected office, particularly focusing on the highest office in the land, the presidency. With Mother’s Day approaching, I knew that I was going to hear a familiar statement. Hillary Clinton did not disappoint me. After her daughter Chelsea introduced her on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, Senator Clinton mentioned that one of her supporters had noted that being a Mother is the most difficult job on earth. She followed by noting that since she had done such a good job performing her parental responsibilities, handling the second most difficult job in the world would be a breeze.

We all recognize this type of statement for what it really is; however, it got me a thinking. We’ve spent the last year and a half examining, testing, questioning, scrutinizing, and just about every other “…ing” in connection with these candidates - why don’t we conduct a similar examination of potential parents before they are “permitted” to have children? Should society have some criteria? Should the criteria take the form of requirements or recommendations? Should parents have to participate in parenting courses before they screw it up?

When you stop to think about it, at least with respect to the presidency, he or she has all sorts of advisors and staff members. Additionally, the President has two other branches of government to keep him or her in check. His or her actions are relatively transparent and constantly subject to public scrutiny. We even have an impeachment mechanism for dealing with serious breaches of trust and inappropriate conduct, not to mention the court of public opinion and the media.

But the influence or impact that a President has on the citizenry is filtered, moderated, vicarious, derivative, and relatively indirect at best. Additionally, we have an opportunity every four years to reconsider our choice. On the other hand, parents have a direct, significant, immediate impact on human lives right from the day one. Most of their conduct is in private. We can all recall points in time where various government regimes have tried to control the number of children born, or their sex, or impose other restrictions. However, from a practical perspective, the parents rule, and in the event that their rule is not in the best interests of the child, it takes quite a bit of time for society to recognize it, and then to deal with it. Furthermore, society generally only deals with the most egregious cases, not the subtle ones. So why should we subject presidential candidates to more intense scrutiny than we do for those seeking to be parents?

I’ve also thought about this parental responsibility thing from another perspective, that being the legal one. For years, I have questioned the appropriateness of allowing individuals to sue business employers for various forms of discrimination, or perceived discrimination, in the workplace. You mean to tell me that a sexist or racist person all of a sudden becomes that way once they become employed by the company? And you mean to tell me that business entities, the legal fictions that they are, have the capabilities and sophistication to prevent that type of conduct once their adult employees join the workforce? What about holding the parents responsible financially? And the churches? And the grade schools? No, you say. Too impractical. But what about fairness, or comparative fault or responsibility?

Quite frankly, we all know that it is a game and a fiction inartfully crafted to serve some societal purpose, that we just don’t seem capable of addressing, or have the political will to address, in some more direct and relevant manner. My concern is that, as a general rule, games and fictions don’t serve us well very long. Their functionality lasts for brief spurts, and then we have to pervert the construct to continue to make it work. Not only is this approach not particularly efficient or effective, it engenders disrespect, by our citizens, for the system.

Getting back to presidential candidates, perhaps we should have a presidential academy which all those individuals interested in becoming president should be required to attend. By establishing such an institution, we could ensure that all of our candidates are properly trained for the job, so that we can avoid engaging in this free-for-all during which they are dissected and demonized. Perhaps that will also make us have more respect for our elected officials.

But that’s only the second most difficult job in the universe. But what should we do about the most difficult? We’re intelligent beings. We ought to be able to come up with some approaches, and not just continue conducting business as usual. We constantly try to improve in virtually every area of technology and human endeavor. Can’t we improve on this election process, and the development of parents? Or do we just leave it up to the individual prospective candidates and parents to make the call themselves, and decide that they aren’t qualified before entering the arena? I honestly don’t know. Do you?

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Coop Responded to Post 5: Your thoughts are written as if you think this is a recent problem with our political environment. I submit that it is simply politics as usual…. [See remainder of Coop’s Comment.]

My Response: You are essentially correct that some aspects of politics have not changed. However, I would submit that there are some differences which should be taken into consideration:

1. As compared to times past, we now have advanced communications technologies which permit far more citizens (numbers, regions, ages, literate, illiterate, deaf, blind, etc.) to examine the lives of the candidates, and allow a more detailed dissection.

2. Because of the same advances, and the large number of communication devices, media vehicles, and outlets available, the depth and the breadth of the examination and subsequent dissection of candidates has changed. A correlative consideration is that there are far more commentators and candidate advocates with positions which can be easily disseminated.

3. Because of the absence of technology and the limited communication vehicles available in times past, it would have been far easier for an alcoholic, philandering, profligate, immoral candidate to be elected, or possibly control or influence the news vehicles, because they were so limited. Additionally, because of the relatively slow speed of the communication, the candidate might have been able to be elected before the disqualifying character factors were thoroughly disseminated.

The issue about which I am not sure is whether the public’s tolerance of, or attitude about, the activities of candidates has changed. Are we a more judgmental nation than in the past? Are we a more polarized electorate than in the past? Are the infirmities, about which the commentators speak today, disqualifying factors as compared to the past? Just raising some issues….

Post No. 5: The Triangular Box in Which America Finds Itself Circumscribed (Why We Really Don’t Like Any of the Political Candidates)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

If we were honest with ourselves, we’d admit that there is something about political candidates which we dislike long before they are ever elected. I first developed a sense of this during the late 1970s, when I became excited about a particular candidate running for the U.S. Senate. I was a fresh, idealistic youth, excited about what this candidate could do for America.

I attended a reception in the lobby of a beautiful, historic office building downtown with high ceilings, filled with campaign supporters and the press. When I finally managed to get a close up view of the candidate who I planned to support, I noted a certain detachment in his eyes, taking on an almost Zombie- type quality. I watched him as he navigated the room, smiling, shaking hands.

I still did not connect with him on a personal level, because he just didn’t seem real. I also noticed the entourage, consisting of enthusiastic “grinners.”

I chalked up that initial experience to a lack of charisma on the part of that particular candidate. A couple of years later, I got excited about a gubernatorial candidate. This time around, the candidate was even more Zombie-like than the first. Of course, once again, there was an adequate supply of grinners. Although still idealistic, I decided that participation in political campaigns was not for me.

Some years later, the husband of one of my best friends in school decided to run for state office. Since I really admired this guy, and knew his views prior to his decision to run for office, I enthusiastically supported his candidacy. He was successful, and fortunately, he never changed. I always felt that he looked at me, and others, straight in the eye, and not past us looking for the next hand to shake. I viewed him as a real person. It probably helped that I knew him before, during, and after his political life.

Interestingly, after a subsequent unsuccessful bid for higher office, I asked him how he liked being out of politics. After letting out a big sigh, he said that he loved it. My sense was that there was nothing he hated more than being a politician. He obviously had a passion about serving his constituency, but the politician hat never quite fit him. I got the impression that it was a contorted existence, full of twisting and turning – almost unnatural in a sense. I then realized - that we have created an unattainable standard, with unreasonable expectations, or perhaps inappropriate expectations.

I have always felt, from a theoretical perspective, that serving one’s country, or serving the needs of others, was the highest form of societal contribution that one could make. Consequently, when I began to get this sense that being a politician was not a particularly good thing, it began to bother me.

I doubt that I ever actually looked up the word “political,” until roughly ten minutes ago. However, it always seemed to me that “being political” meant saying whatever one needed to say, that would offend the fewest people, and result in the least amount of noticeable criticism. (That’s coming from someone who does not consider himself cynical.) That’s not only bad from a public relations perspective, but it also creates a mood of alienation amongst our voters. Cynicism about politics is not a good thing. It makes one not care.

I have often joked with my friends that the primary reason that I have never been married is because I have no political skills. Knowing that, I made a decision never to get married. I’ve concluded that I’m not qualified for marriage.

In a similar vein, maybe we should come to the realization that the standard that we have artificially created for our candidates does not really make them qualified as functional leaders, although they might be, at least superficially, good moral leaders. (I’d be just fine with delegating all of the morality talk to the religious professionals - our ministers, priests, and rabbis.)

Maybe candidates can not really connect with us since they fear that we might see them for who they really are – less than perfect people. (They may know it, but their handlers may not want us to see it.) Perhaps they’ve got to hit you with something superficially positive, and move on before you figure out the real deal. Additionally, we all recognize that it is a numbers game.

For many years, we have spoken about election decisions involving choosing the lesser of evils. We often assume that they are all egomaniacs. We also frequently assume that they are all on the take. We even suggest that the system is at fault, and that lobbyists and big corporations ultimately corrupt even the most capable of politicians.

I would suggest something different. They’re not like us; but we, as a country, have put ourselves in a box. (Maybe they really are like us, but we do not allow them to express that quality, since we would immediately attack them as having character flaws.) Let’s take our recent primary experience.

Admittedly, the leader of the free world, or any country for that matter, should be held to a higher standard of conduct and prior achievement. However, this notion of a saint with a perfect success rating, who has never made a mistake, who has never associated with someone who made a mistake, and who has never misspoke about a sensitive subject, and who has never had a business failure, has effectively eliminated all of the people who could really do an effective job.

Every individual citizen’s concept of morality and success becomes a nebulous and amorphous standard, and when compounded, becomes a virtually unattainable one.

Quite frankly, I have often joked that I would like to see a straight-talking candidate, who admitted that he was a philander, a former drug-addict, a former homeless person, a former bankrupt who failed at business, and who had many prior indiscretions, take a stab at the presidency.

That candidate would probably have better skills, and have a better appreciation of the issues affecting the majority of the citizens in our society. (All the perfect, successful people out there, with ideal families really don’t need a leader. Their lives are ideal. They are just afraid of those with non-ideal lives creeping over into their neighborhoods.)

We need a leader to address problems and improve conditions. To address problems, one needs to understand the underlying causes of problems. To address problems, a nation (meaning its citizenry) also needs to accept responsibility for its structural and systemic contribution to the problem.

On the contrary, what we have today is the constant blame game, “The other guy or other party did it. They’re the reason that we are in this condition today.” I don’t know about you; however, I’ve never found that criticizing the conduct of others solved crap. Come up with a suggestion of something different that might work.

There’s another problem with our candidates unrelated to the moral box. Most folks running for our highest office do not have a clue as to who you are. They may have at one point at time, prior to embarking on their road to success. However, you don’t enter the arena of presidential pretenders being an ordinary Joe, nor do you enter that arena with many setbacks under your belt. They’ve fought long and hard. They are generally successful financially and professionally, and they are focused.

They are not your average American with average issues, hopes, and desires. There’s a disconnect. There is thus, also, a class box. (Tangentially, I should note that the political commentators and consultants, on all of the shows dealing with politics, aren’t ordinary Janes or Joes either. Talk about a disconnect from the American public. I just love it when they say, “What the American people want….”

I hope that you do not view me as an apologist for some notion of immoral behavior, or prior personal setbacks. That’s not the argument that I am making. I’m just saying that we have created an unachievable standard. I doubt that anyone is truly “qualified” to be president.

I’m no academic historian; however, my sense is that some of the greatest leaders of this country were not saints, and they were not always successful in every aspect of life. They were not professional speakers and hand shakers. They didn’t always speak in politically correct terms. My suspicion is that all things considered, they had more positive about them than negative.

In a nation where we judge our potential leaders by a superficial, illusive, personal standard which most of us can not attain ourselves, how do we expect to find someone to address the real issues affecting our society, and on which probably most of us can agree. As Wag the Dog showed us, it is too much about “the show.”

Personally, I like doers, not avoiders. I like risk takers, not risk avoiders. I like straight talkers, not talkers about high moral values, when in fact they are just like the rest of us, human, and subject to mistakes and foibles.

Hypocrites, please move aside. And for God’s sake, find me a candidate who will occasionally say, “My fellow Americans, I apologize, but I made a mistake.” Aren’t we capable of accepting apologies in this society, or have we made it too difficult to apologize, resulting in a bunch of deniers? Folks generally know when they messed up.

The continual condemnation, requiring the hypocritical, self-serving painting or characterization of political candidates, does not really advance any societal interests, just short-term, personal ones. It also contributes to the perpetuation of false images on the part of our candidates. (I still have not decided whether it is a good quality in a candidate to be able to ignore or deflect public criticism, and persevere when they believe that they are doing the “right thing.” I used to think that was a good quality, and that thinking in terms of the long term was generally the way to go. Our current president has made me re-evaluate that factor.)

Let’s see if we get beyond this beauty and morality contest. How about a switch to someone who can simply get things done, even if he or she does not fit within the politically correct box in which we currently find ourselves confined? How about a switch to someone whose primary goal is not to get elected? Our denial, or failure to admit that we are not a perfect, successful, moral society, might be our downfall.

By fighting our way out of this restrictive, but amorphous box in which we find ourselves, we might actually get more accomplished as a nation. We can not continue to allow outside forces, and the current world environment, dictate the fate of America, while we sweat the “small stuff.”

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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