Thursday, August 21, 2008

Post No. 36: Silly Me – How So Little About the World I Really Understand

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

The generation of this piece took roughly fifteen minutes. It is in response to something that I saw on television yesterday, but more significantly in response to something I just saw on C-Span some twenty minutes ago. As previously indicated in our Post No. 10 (, I am an information junkie.

There is a saying which many of us have often heard repeated, to the effect that the more experiences that one has, and the more knowledge that one acquires, the more one realizes just how little he or she really knows. I have always felt that notion applied to me; however, it apparently does not apply to most people. It seems to me that virtually everyone else in society has certain things figured out, while I’m still sitting here looking dumbfounded, or a as buddy of mine often notes, “like a monkey with a football.”

Yesterday, I saw a television show where popular radio talk show host Laura Ingraham was filling in for the regular host. There were several talk show talking heads accompanying her, discussing the performances of our presidential candidates at the “Faith Debate,” conducted this past weekend, during which the candidates discussed their positions on a wide range of faith and religious related topics. The commentators generally agreed that Sen. McCain provided nice, crisp, succinct, and spontaneous responses to the questions, while Sen. Obama appeared to be less crisp. In fact, they noted that he appeared as though he was struggling with some of his responses. Interestingly, one head, referred to as an Obama supporter, suggested that Sen. Obama appeared to be “thinking” about his responses, which made them longer and less spontaneous in nature.

What I found most interesting was the concluding comment by Ms. Ingraham, suggesting that she would have hoped that an adult of Sen. Obama’s age, and particularly a presidential candidate, would have figured out his position on a subject as significant as the “meaning of life” prior to that debate. (God forbid that we might have a leader actually thinking about that kind of stuff.) That comment gave me pause, particularly in light of my admitted confusion with respect to religion, as reflected in our Post No. 7 (

Getting back to the C-Span presentation earlier this morning, William Cohen, the former Defense Secretary in the Clinton Administration (, was on a panel discussing race in America. He told a story about how he was watching the news one day, and viewed a video of eleven police officers surrounding a man with a hunting knife. The police officers at some point opened fire and killed the man. He gave the officers the benefit of the doubt and concluded that the officers obviously felt that they might be harmed by the knife-wielding man. However, he questioned why they could not have shot the man in the arm or leg, or disable him in some other fashion. (I should note that no mention was made as the whether the man was already convicted, if that is of significance to any of you.)

Cohen did not think about the knife incident much further until roughly two weeks later. He was watching another news broadcast about a wild moose which had created some havoc in a town. The authorities were called, and this time they used a tranquilizer to disable the moose, had a helicopter lift the drowsy moose, and return it to the wild. The combination of these two events made him ponder our handling of a human and our handling of a wild animal. I’ve been thinking about this issue the entire time that I have been typing this piece, and from an analytical perspective, I’ve haven’t been able to reconcile the disparate treatment in my mind. However, I’m just a silly boy - I’m sure that you can.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense


  1. Great Post. The more we know, the more we understand- we know little.

    I also think- watching someone (like Obama) take pause and deliberate before answering a question, rather than immediately spitting out some canned response, shows a higher level of intelligence. If anything it shows a clear and serious intent to answer the question specifically as it was asked- rather than just blurt something out.

    I can’t begin to remember or count how many times my parents said to me and I repeated to my own children, “Think before you speak.”

    In reference to the officer’s logic in the man versus beast: I thought about what you presented here.

    There another factor you don’t mention. Although the officers handled it incorrectly by killing the man- you must remember ‘they are all’ thinking beings. The officers knew the man meant (was thinking) lethal intent towards them. They could have just wounded him, - but they’re own instincts of survival took over in reaction…and their thinking.

    The moose was just running rampant- as any wild animal does finding himself unknowing in the midst of civilization. He didn’t come into the environment ‘thinking’ murderous intent towards people. Returned to his environment the problem ceases.

    Any way. That’s what I’m ‘thinking.’

  2. Vikki:

    As always, we appreciate your insightful comments. I need to think further about the "thinking" part as applied to the human versus the animal. One might argue that because we are more familiar with the conduct of humans, we might be able to anticipate the realm of possible conduct on the human's part. On the other hand, not being able to think like a wild animal, humans are not able to as easily categorize or anticipate the potential conduct of the animal other than to attack or run away. Perhaps the question could be alternately posed as follows: Would there be any societal value to shooting all armed and dangerous criminals with tranquilizer bullets instead of with lethal bullets, no matter what their intent? By the way, there is a whole industry built around non-lethal weapons, primarily to be used by our military in crowd control. Just thinking out loud. Thanks for your input as always.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for leaving a comment in my silly blog which is a work in progress and point me to yours.

    I'm originally from Argentina and I moved to the US around 10 years ago. I'm constantly learning about the culture and society. One thing that always strikes me is how people avoid provoking thoughts and they reject them every time without even thinking about them, especially when they are out of their comfort zone.

    I can go on and on. Thanks for directing me to your blog I find it encouraging.



  4. There are any number of reasons why Senator Obama may have been a bit slower to frame his answers. He may be one of those many people for whom his faith is fairly private, and he finds a need to think a moment on what he feels comfortable saying before expressing it. He may not have thought about the issue as much as others (after all, he's had far fewer years than Senator McCain to ponder such thoughts).

    While I prefer McCain to Obama, I don't believe that taking time to answer a question vs. providing a quick "snap" answer should be viewed as a fault.

    As for the police incidents you mentioned, police officers are trained to aim for the center of mass (i.e. the main part of a suspect's body) when they have to shoot. Shooting a suspect in the leg or trying to shoot the gun/knife out of his hand are fantasy scenarios you see on TV or in a movie, they are far too risky to try in a real life situation.

    When an officer has to fire, they are told to aim for the body because it has the greatest chance of incapacitating the threat. Also because the body would be more likely to stop the officers' bullets, thus keeping their shots from possibly hitting a fellow officer or a bystander.

    In the case of the animal, I'd say the biggest difference was legal. If the officers shoot a rogue animal with a tranquilizer dart and later find out they used too much and it's killed or permanently damaged the animal's brain, the result is accepted because it was simply a "rogue animal".

    If the officers attempted to use a tranquilizer dart on a human (assuming that such a dart ever were approved for use on humans) the dart would need to be carefully prepared with exactly enough tranquilizer to quickly knock out the defendant, without doing any lasting hard. This is extremely hard to accomplish short of the controlled environment of a hospital, with an experienced anesthetist administering drugs carefully selected after an examination of a patient's medical history. I doubt those 11 officers were trained to administer anestesia nor did they have the suspect's medical history and time to review it to see what drugs could be administered safely, and in what dosages.

    At the end of the day, the officers have to use what tools they have available at the time of the incident. Many officers carry a firearm at all times while on duty. Fewer officers carry a taser. I'm willing to bet that few to none carry a tranquilizer dart and medical records for every American citizen, in case they need to try to knock one of them out unexpectedly. (sorry, the last is a bit facetious, but accurate none the less).

  5. To Sebekiz:

    Thanks again for taking the time to provide a well thought out comment. We could not leave you a response on your blog since we do have permission to do so. The considerations which you raised regarding the dosage of the tranquilizer dart are well taken; however, let's assume that we used the same dart that is used on wild animals. Wouldn't a human, even a convict, prefer to be hit by an improperly formulated dart, where there is at least a higher probability of survival following impact, than the theoretically lower probability of survival associated with a lethal bullet? Just posing the issue.

    Additionally, please consider this as our personal invitation to you to serve as a Guest Author, the guidelines for which are contained in Post No. 34 (

    Thanks again for your input.


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