Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Post No. 62: Re-Posting of Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function
Earlier this evening, I attended a lecture by Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford neurobiologist and primate researcher, and author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, and A Primate's Memoir. I asked him point blank whether racism is biologically driven, and whether some of the venom directed at Obama can be explained within that context. You'll find his response interesting, upon viewing our next post. In the mean time, let's revisit some of our earlier thoughts.
Thanks Issac and Caleb for placing comments on our blog, in response to our earlier Post No. 60, “Why I am Concerned that Obama Might Win” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-no-60-why-i-am-concerned-that.html). You both essentially are of the opinion that the candidate with the best credentials, regardless of gender or race, should be selected. I have chosen to respond to the two of you in the form of a new post.
I agree with you, in theory, that society should want the best person (from an objective perspective) for the job. However, that’s not the way societies do things. There are reasons why neither a woman, nor a black, has ever been elected as President of this country. The reasons go back hundreds of years. There is a substantial segment of the population that feels that no matter the woman or the black, or the Hispanic or Asian for that matter, who might be put forth to occupy that position, they are inherently unqualified and unacceptable.
If one believes that gender and racial attitudes have improved since the 1950s, then an argument can be made that the time for a woman or some other minority has arrived, and our society has evolved. On the other hand, if you believe, as I do, that racial and gender attitudes have not really changed, then one can easily come to the conclusion that America is not ready to have a woman or minority President.
What have changed over time are the visibility of integration, and the comfort level of at least some people to disclose their true feelings. Integration was effectively forced on this nation, first by the Warren Supreme Court when the Congress did not see fit to do so, and later legislatively, but with an extreme amount of reluctance.
There were clearly many bigots during the 1950s, who did not have a problem identifying themselves as such. There were probably just as many folks who were not legitimate, honest bigots, but behaved as such due to peer pressure and socialization factors. (This is the group which I suspect is comfortable having blacks as friends and colleagues today.)
Not only were many merchants, schools, clubs, public accommodations, and other entities forced to accept folks into their world against their will, but later the whole concept of affirmative action further soured the soup. There has been a lot of whispering, and under the breath statements of discomfort, over the past 60 years.
I’m not sure whether racial attitudes can change, as dramatically as we profess, over such a short period of time. Make-up can be applied, and plastic surgery performed, but the basic pragmatic and functional reasons for racism have existed, somewhere on this earth, for thousands of years. (Just think about all of the ethnic cleansing that took place over the past 30 years internationally.)
We previously addressed racism in our Post No. 2, in April 2008, entitled, “Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-racism-although-problematic-serves.html)
I suspect that the expression of prejudicial attitudes and beliefs, and the comfort with which people feel to express them, is significantly dependent on the current economic status of the group affected. I submit that there are transient changes in generational attitudes depending on the economic status of the nation. It is unnecessary, and serves no useful function, to disclose one’s innermost prejudices, if one is doing fairly well. However, as soon as one, or the group of which the person is a member, feels that his interests are being adversely affected, and identifies, rightly or wrongly, another group as a causative factor, then civility and the exercise of self-restraint go right out the window. That we have folks at McCain / Palin rallies calling for Obama’s death should surprise no one during these economic times.
Now, getting back to the performance issue. Just for sake of argument, let’s assume that we could label the state of economic affairs in our country as poor, moderate, or good. If a substantial segment of the electorate feels that women and minorities are incapable of running the country and serving competently, and by whatever combination of forces, the country ended up with a woman or black president, I would just hope that individual would preside during a moderate or good economic period. Then at least the person would have a chance to disabuse the doubters of the inappropriateness of the selection, and the inherent inferiority of that individual’s group.
But when we thrust the first of any group into a situation which many deem perilous, he’ll either be viewed as a hero, should things turn around quickly, or an abysmal failure, should economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
I simply do not think that things are going to turn around sufficiently economically within the next 2 – 3 years, to give Obama a chance to even appear competent. I also believe that no one person, under our system of government, can quickly overcome, as George Will calls it, “the inertia that is Washington.” Furthermore, do you really have reason to believe that a Democratic controlled Congress will do a better job than what has been done over the past 20 years?
This has nothing to do with Obama. It has to do with the economy, and the apparent disinterest on the part of our elected federal officials, to place the interests of the nation, ahead of their personal interests.
I’m afraid that he will be a one term president, and we will not see another woman or minority elected for at least another 100 years thereafter.
We never allowed people to grow, respect, and value others on their own terms. We never allowed the concept of integration, fairness, and equal treatment to creep into the hearts and minds of people and evolve accordingly. Instead, we created awkward and artificial contrivances, and legal fictions, to achieve an admittedly lofty goal. However, we didn’t work on the hearts and minds of the core citizens of America. We just drove the bigots underground, and made unpopular the open expression of their views. (We also made employers financially responsible for discriminationatory acts of their employees which were developed years becoming arriving at that place of employment, as if an employer can really police the heart of an employee.) You couple those attitudes with some religious underpinnings, and nothing has really changed in the past 60 years. Their God supports their view of the world.
On the other hand, those closet liberals / potential race “minglers” who were afraid to disclose their true views during the 1950s, now feel free to do so.
The real question remains, deep down, have we really changed? If one believes that racism is primaily biologically and evolutionarily driven, and not a mere matter of choice, then it's going to take more than 60 years of artifical laws to change the DNA.
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Earlier this evening, I had a conversation with a friend, Lawrence, about the prospect that Obama might actually pull this thing off. Lawrence, an Obama supporter, participated in a neighborhood campaign drive several weeks ago.
He turned and looked at me with a slight tinge of amazement, when I said that I hoped that Obama did not win this election.
You see, it’s not that I have anything of real substance against Obama. However, I just do not honestly think that America is ready for a black president. Plain and simple. We’re not there yet.
Same goes for a woman president. Does that mean that I feel that the battle should not be fought? Of course not.
This has nothing to do with my personal views – just my thoughts watching the battle and the soldiers on both sides. Certain more optimistic or lofty-ideal commentators have spoken about how far our country has come, and the message which it will send to the world.
Let me provide an analogy which might better explain my concern.
There are many legal organizations, which advocate certain positions, and wait for years to pursue the appropriate “test case” to advance their positions. Timing is very important. The mood of the country, the facts of the case, the strength of the plaintiff, the financial resources available, and the judges on the bench, are all factors.
Such cases are not prosecuted carelessly, without considering the big picture / long term effects.
As much of an optimist as I portray myself, there are some practical issues about which I am very concerned.
First, I think that we are in for some very difficult economic times for several years to come.
Second, to the extent that any purported damage done by the current folks in power can be addressed, it will take a long time to perform any corrective action.
Third, this war thing is not going to be resolved as quickly and easily as we might argue, no matter which side is telling it.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t have the financial resources to do much of anything.
We all know, on a practical level, that when times are bad, fault and blame are placed on the executive in charge, and the party in control of Congress.
Imagine the discourse while Obama presides over all of these complications. I can tell you how soon the criticism of his policies is going to start.
I have a fear that should he win, within 2 years, the electorate will be calling for his head. And his opponents will undoubtedly demonize him and say, “I told you so.”
Economic hardship and pain have a way of quickly erasing all memory about the good times associated with the successful candidate’s election, and the good times that he anticipates down the road.
The patience of the electorate will get short. Real short.
And it is not just Obama about whom I am theoretically concerned. I would be just as concerned about the first woman to occupy the office. Or the first Hispanic.
Quite frankly, the first of any group, after years of conspicuous absence of similar individuals, should not be remembered for bad times. I’d almost have him lose this one and win the next one, when the economy is on the upswing. But then again, there may not be another time.
And so I told Lawrence, there is only so much that a president can do, and that the problems are global and deep rooted in nature. Lawrence looked at me and said, despite that, he wanted a president who inspired hope around the world. Is that a good enough reason to want to see Obama win?
You tell me.
P.S. In the end, Hillary may have been the victor.
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Friday, October 24, 2008
Well, check this out: http://cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/24/mccain.sticker/index.html
Well, check this out: http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/24/mccain.sticker/index.html
INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY: (1) the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows, or believes, to be false; (2) the advocacy of a position which the advocate does not know to be true, and has not performed the rigorous due diligence to insure the truthfulness of the position. Rhetoric is used to advance an agenda or to reinforce one’s deeply held beliefs in face of overwhelming contrary evidence.
If a person is aware of the evidence and agrees with the conclusion which it portends, yet advocates a contradictory view, they commit intellectual dishonesty. If the person is unaware of the evidence, their position is ignorance, even if in agreement with the scientific conclusion. If the person is knowingly aware that there may be additional evidence, but purposefully fails to check, and then acts as though the position is confirmed, this is also intellectual dishonesty.
See references and sources at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_honesty
Quote of the Day:
Intellectual Honesty is more than what’s legislated; it is inherent in the best people, those who take a broader view of their action than simply, “What’s in it for me?”Fact of the Day: Top Three Highest and Top Three Lowest 3 Yr Avg Median Income by State (2005 – 2007):
Fact of the Day:
New Jersey $65,933
New Hampshire $63,942
Figures acquired from U.S. Census Bureau Statistics Web Site
Thursday, October 23, 2008
As this piece is being written, I am watching an old episode of The West Wing on Bravo. The “conversation” in the episode was so close to the current “conversation” in our presidential race, that I had to find out when the series ended. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_West_Wing.) It turned out to be 2006.
Part of The West Wing conversation had to do with courting evangelical Christians, uniting the Republican party, affiliation with shady characters from one’s past, and associations with ministers. There was also a discussion about the public’s seeming demand for expressions of religious faith from politicians. However, those issues are not the focus of this piece.
This piece is about uniting America. In the West Wing episode, Alan Alda plays a member of Congress planning to run for the presidency when Martin Sheen’s character, President Bartlett, leaves office. A Karl Rove type political consultant, played by Ron Silver, is brought in by one of Alda’s aides to counsel Alda. One gets a sense that Alda does not respect Silver. Silver even goes so far as to question Alda as to whether Alda thinks that Silver is really a spy sent by the opposition.
At some point during the exchange, Silver essentially says the following: “Look, I’ve spent 20 years driving a wedge between people. By observing what drives people apart, I also observed what brings people together. How about this? How about becoming the candidate of unity – the candidate who is capable of defining those issues and goals on which we can all agree, and the methods used to achieve them. We can highlight those ways in which people are connected and have the same basic values. We can also play to their emotions in that during these times of uncertainty, it is more important for us to be united than divided. If you do what I say, you’ll be elected as the candidate of unity.”
I found it to be of interest that Obama originally painted himself as the candidate of unity. He claimed that he was able to cross political and cultural lines. Interestingly, it was the politics of division, from within and without his party, which ultimately caused him to respond in kind.
Do we as a nation have the capability and motivation to unite and get past our individual differences? It has generally been said that such unification, and looking past our selfish interests, occurs during periods of “stress.” These might include war (at least those in which the whole country is invested), natural disaster, and common threats (such as a poor economy or the attack on the World Trade Center). Are we as a nation sufficiently in trouble (or worried) to prompt us to find some unifying principles around which we can rally?
To some extent that’s what occurred when oil prices hit the roof. We finally started a serious conversation on alternative energy sources and energy independence. (By the way, Jimmy Carter first tried to doing something about energy during his term.)
I find it a tad ironic that we are facing some very serious problems in this country, and we are still focusing on our differences. I still say that the Laughingman had it right earlier this year. If only McCain had nominated Obama as his VP, and Obama had done the same with McCain. That would have been the shot heard around the world.
I recently heard an author speak on C-Span2 Book TV. (I was unable to locate the book for purposes of this article.) However, it was someone fairly well known, since Newt Gingrich trusted him enough to provide him with his records and notes. In the records, the author located a set of amazing documents.
As most of you are aware, there was no love lost between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Furthermore, they did not trust one another. However, at some point in Clinton’s second term, they both came to the conclusion that they both loved their country. They also both felt that partisanship was having a detrimental effect. Erskine Bowles was Clinton’s Chief of Staff (1997-1998) at the time, and fortunately, Gingrich trusted him.
The author actually found a document outlining the terms of the truce, and stating the goals of Clinton and Gingrich. The document further contained a pledge to work together. Just before it was about to go to the press, and announced to the American public, the Monica Lewinsky story broke 2 or 3 days before. Thereafter, the Congress and the President were absorbed by the Fellatio Investigation.
Can you imagine the direction in which our country might have been guided had that circus not occurred? In the grand scheme of things, was the President’s indiscretion and admittedly improper conduct of such importance as to justify the diversion?
Maybe we could use someone similar to the character played by Alda in the West Wing episode. I’m still wondering what would have happened if Obama, in his quest to be the candidate of inclusion and crossing of lines, simply ignored the questions raised about his citizenry, Jeremiah Wright, Father Flager, Bill Ayers, Lewis Farrakan, Chicago Political Machine allegations, ACORN, and his purported devotion to Islam.
Here’s my final question. Who would you admire more? An honorable and noble loser, or a down and dirty winner?
When one stops to think about it, it is we who determine the nature of the discourse, by what we pay attention to, and how we respond.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
“See! Even Colin is POWELLING around with Terrorists!! I Told You So! You Betcha!” Political Cartoonist John Darkow, October 20, 2008, © Columbia Daily Tribune, Cagle Cartoons.com (Unable to acquire rights to publish; if interested in viewing, go to http://www.politicalcartoons.com/archive/2008/10/20.html.
Fact of the Day:
During the Vietnam Era Conflict (1959 to April 30, 1975), the United States lost 58,159 soldiers, according to http://www.vietnamwar.com/.
Word of the Day:
MEME: “A unit of cultural information, e.g. a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.” The American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, © Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
“A cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.” http://www.dictionary.com/ based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc., 2006.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Second Quote: “We’re borrowing from China to buy oil from the Middle East and virtually throwing it up in the air.”
Fact of the Day: The Republicans and Dixicrats mounted a 57 day filibuster (before a substitute bill was introduced) in connection with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, before it passed.
Word of the Day: Hubris: overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance; wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or passion
The most significant thing that I can recall from that work is that most people do not make reasoned, analytical decisions about their political candidates. Instead, Dye and Ziegler concluded that people generally voted the way their parents voted – plain and simple.
I recently recalled this piece of research when a buddy generated a comment about the current presidential campaign. However, I acknowledged that new research might reveal other patterns, particularly in light of the massive amount of information available to us through the media and other sources, and the fact that our citizenry is generally better educated and more sophisticated. I just didn’t have the data or research to support my suspicion about the evolving mindset of the citizen voters.
Well, C-Span2 Book TV addressed the research issue yesterday, and again today. You can watch the presentation on your own schedule by clicking on this link. Andrew Gelman is a professor at Columbia University specializing in statistics and political science. He recently published his most recent book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. During the presentation, Gelman and several of his co-researchers present their findings.
The following introduction is taken from the C-Span2, Book TV page for the program, copyright 2008, by the National Cable Satellite Corporation:
“Andrew Gelman examines the common thinking about the American electorate and contends that several long held beliefs are incorrect. Mr. Gelman argues that the political fissure in the United States does not lie between Blue America and Red America but rather between affluent Republicans and Democrats. He also contends that religion is no more divisive in the United States than amongst European voters and that church attendance is a greater predictor of voting among the rich than the poor.”
The program is hosted by the Cato Institute. (It should be kept in mind that even according to its website, the Institute is dedicated to “promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peaceful international relations.” Hmmmm. Oh well, they are still a respected entity, and all of us are free to stake a position and advocate for it.)
One of Gelman’s co-researchers argues that only a relatively small number of Americans are informed sufficiently to have an ideology, and thus the conflict in ideology only exists between the elite. Reference is frequently made to the works of Ronald Englehart, who tracked the cultural shifts that occur in societies internationally as they became more economically advanced in the post-modern era. To the extent that there is a counter-culture revolution, it invariably creates a backlash, or counter-counter-culture revolution, and in the case of the US, it was the rise of the evangelical Christians, otherwise known as the Moral Majority.
The results of the research are interesting, and will cause one to think. Enjoy it – it’s thought provoking.
Connerly, an African-American and a former Regent with the University of California system, was responsible for the elimination of affirmative action in governmental entities in California (through Proposition 209) twelve years ago. His organization has led the charge to eliminate affirmative action, through the initiative process, in other states.
This is interesting fare.
Over this past weekend, we suggested that our readers watch a panel discussion on the economy aired on C-Span2 Book TV (http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=9889&SectionName=Politics&PlayMedia=No). The panel consisted of authors and columnists not normally associated with a discussion of national economic issues, and yet we thought that what they had to say might be instructive.
After all, the folks with all the economic and financial training, and purported expertise, managed to foul it up. Why not hear the views of some folks with different perspectives? The panelists were Thomas Friedman (http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/), Barbara Ehrenreich (http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/), and Michelle Singletary (http://www.michellesingletary.com/).
Over the past couple of months while Friedman has promoted his latest work, Hot, Flat and Crowded (http://books.google.com/books?id=vQxnKb_GZvcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22hot,+flat,+and+crowded%22&ei=pgj8SMr1NJWyyQS_oKXFDQ), he has argued that although he does not advocate a Manhattan Project-type response to our current energy and climate change issues, he does feel that some government “encouragement” is needed.
During the course of the discussion on the economy, Friedman generally took the position that the private sector is better at solving problems and coming up with innovative solutions. Ehrenreich, out of concern that the audience might think that within the private sector lies the solutions to our problems, reminded us that the private sector had recently failed us, and plunged our nation into a precarious situation.
In thinking about it further after the conclusion of the program, I recognized that at least in the case of the private sector, the company dies and discontinues doing business, when it is not properly managed. In the case of government, it can make all sorts of bad decisions, adverse to the interests of its constituents, and the government will continue to roll on and collect more taxes. Consequently, there is not much incentive to change, adapt, or innovate. Only the elected leaders periodically change. The employees pretty much continue to do what they do, despite the failed policies of, and execution by, the governmental entity.
Several months ago, the local school board requested that members of the public attend the public hearing before the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to let the Commissioners know that the public desired that the full funds, requested for the upcoming school year, be included in the final approved budget. At that time, I chose to use the opportunity to make a point, not about how much money be spent, but the manner in which it be spent.
I argued on behalf of more funding for science, math, and other courses that would lead to more inventors, scientists, engineers, and people capable of inventing innovative products. I argued that this would ultimately translate to producing things again, from which jobs and tax revenue would flow. I further argued that a society, whose jobs primarily consisted of those in the areas of education, government, and healthcare, are essentially welfare societies, without an affirmative engine to drive the economy.
Yesterday, we posted an article about the techno-cultural divide in the US, which appears to be widening between the haves/educated class, and the have-nots/poorly educated class. (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-no-56-i-may-not-know-how-to-define.html.) We suggested that society come up with some innovative approaches to narrow that gap, in order to prevent the long-term, negative ramifications on society at large.
Later during the day, in thinking about my comments to the Board of Commissioners, I realized that I did not recall seeing a single, governmental official or politician participating in the blogging and social media and networking technology conference (http://2008.convergesouth.com/) which I had attended. That is not to say that they were not there; however, it sure wasn’t obvious.
There were participants and contributors from New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charleston, SC, and the Silicon Valley. It was a major event, and yet there was no obvious governmental involvement of which I was aware. Politicians routinely show up at churches, hospitals, restaurants, schools, and such. We need government – private sector collaboration, if we are going to encourage the pursuit of science and innovation in our society, particularly amongst our youth. Just showing up at this technology conference, to acknowledge the role of, and encouragement by, government, would have been a nice start.
Perhaps if we had more accountants, business people, engineers, and scientists, and fewer lawyers as politicians, we might fare better. We had better pay more attention to science and technology. Our global competitors are making substantial strides in the world of technology, and with quite a bit of our help.
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Post No. 56: I May Not Know How to Define It; But I Know It When I See It – The Techno-Cultural Divide
A lot of us may not witness and appreciate it on a daily basis, but there is a significant techno-cultural divide in this country. I’m sure that you have heard of, or read about, this before; however, it is a far more troubling thing to witness in operation.
Some months ago, I was an instructor at a local community college, teaching math and English to adult students seeking their GEDs. Many of the students had fourth grade skill levels upon entry into the various GED programs available. On any given day, there were thousands of students coming through the doors.
At some point during my time there, the administration decided to add beginner’s computer courses, several of which I taught. The Tuesday and Thursday, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm class, had reasonable attendance when the class was first offered. The initial Friday evening, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm class had even better attendance. (I should note that this class consisted entirely of immigrants, from Egypt, Columbia, Mexico, Iran, Cambodia, and Togo, and not one, single, native-born American, including blacks and whites.
In each instance, there were open seats and underutilized computers. Consequently, I mounted a personal quest to inform other potential students, and their instructors, of the availability of all classes being taught throughout the week at all times of day, including Saturday morning.
As the new quarter approached, I generated a written schedule of all classes, made copies, and personally traveled to all of the GED classes being held during the morning and early afternoon, and during the evening. I explained to the students the importance of computer skills, and at one point mentioned that one could find a job using a computer.
Out of the back of the room came a startled utterance, “Mr. Logistician, you mean I could find a job using the computer?” Once I began to explore the various vehicles for doing so, many of the students requested copies of the course schedule. In thinking further about the young lady’s excitement, I realized that certain ones of us are not aware of vehicles or mechanisms, about which others of us know, and which we take for granted as having the capability of advancing our personal interests.
Come the new quarter, my supervisor contacted me and indicated that too few new students had signed up for the mid-week class, and that it would be canceled if I could not round up additional students. Despite my best efforts, the class was cancelled, although I did manage to convince some new students to attend classes taught by other instructors, during other time slots.
The Friday evening class went forward, but with only 5 or so students. Once again, all of them were immigrants.
Shifting to a whole different mindset, during the past 3 days, I participated in a blogging and social media technology conference in the southeast. It reminded me of the spirit, energy, and vision that I witnessed in the tech community when I practiced intellectual property law, and met all sorts of inventors and scientists.
During the first day, Microsoft representatives touted their latest web design software, capable of doing amazing things. Over the course of the next two days, I met all sorts of internet entrepreneurs, including Robert Scoble (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Scoble), converting virtually nothing into something significant, while using minimal physical tools and a minimal monetary investment – primarily relying on their wits and ingenuity.
I watched some relatively young folks, primarily in their mid-20s to mid-30s, explain the internet businesses which they had created, and I marveled at their skills. During the last day, what initially began as a discussion about whether bloggers should adhere to some undetermined standard or code of conduct, transitioned into a discussion of whether bloggers had an ethical or societal responsibility to ensure that some of our readers were not “adversely affected” by such things as improper grammar and biased analyses in our articles.
And then someone summed it up quite well. The folks in the room all had the ability to speak to the educated, informed technical community, as well as to my former students. My former students, and others of similar educational status, could only speak one language, and perhaps also could not read, which further frustrated their ability to get ahead.
A couple of the young presenters were just crackerjack sharp and articulate as all get up. One indicated that he had been home-schooled. That got me to thinking about the role of parents. Interestingly, just an hour or two ago, I received an e-mail from a childhood friend of mine, thanking me for directing her, and her two children, to a salon type forum, where issues are discussed in a civil context by some very interesting new thinkers. What struck me was the fact that my friend’s family conducted their discussions of issues as a group, within their family.
There is such a wide, and I mean w-i-d-e, difference between the adult students (many of whom are in their late teens and twenties) and the folks with whom I spent my last few days at ConvergeSouth (http://2008.convergesouth.com).
Most of us do not walk the tight rope, or the zig-zagging road, between both sides of the cultural canyon on a daily basis. We generally chose only one world view.
Should we be concerned and alarmed about relatively minor differences in performance? Perhaps not.
Should we be concerned about the expanse of this particular educational chasm? Most definitely; and we all should. It affects us all. We all should figure out a way to do our part to narrow it.
No statistics or studies are necessary to justify adopting a different attitude about this divide. Just look around you.
Somebody, DO SOMETHING!
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Take a look at what some very insightful and visionary people, who publish their thoughts at Edge (http://www.edge.org/), have to say about a new way of looking at the world and our role in it.
On C-Span2 Book TV, right now as this e-mail is being generated. Started at 2 pm EDST. Some of these presentations you can watch on line.
The experience reminded me of my brief stint in the intellectual property world, and so inspired and re-invigorated me, that it caused me to re-visit an earlier post about the “innovative thought process.” It also made me realize this: If one, or one’s children, spends their time with uninspired people doing uninspired things, they will probably achieve uninspired results.
Let’s all get excited about technology, science, innovation, and creativity again. More importantly, spend some time encouraging your kids and grandkids to be curious about “the world and all of its component parts.” America needs new ways of looking at things rather badly right now.
This article was originally posted on May 22, 2008 as Post No.9:
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
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 (http://books.google.com/books?id=LvkVTPcYwEwC&q=Paul+Kennedy&dq=Paul+Kennedy&ei=GIk1SMvrOpzkyASXpOzLDw&pgis=1 ), 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. (http://www.charlierose.com/guests/david-miliband) 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. (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/sections/view/9). He recently published a new book, Common Wealth (http://books.google.com/books?id=t6HDAAAACAAJ&dq=%22Jeffrey+sachs%22&ei=HAU2SLzXDYu4yQTxm8zLDw). 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.” (http://books.google.com/books?id=9BTUAAAACAAJ&dq=%22This+Year+I+Will%22&ei=7As2SKrpFJW2ygTJr4TMDw). “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 (http://books.google.com/books?id=QCc8AAAAIAAJ&q=%22Death+at+an+early+age%22&dq=%22Death+at+an+early+age%22&ei=MqCwSLL-Lo3IywThv9CFBw&pgis=1). 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 (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761564894/Theodora.html) 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, October 14, 2008
People keep telling me that race relations have improved immensely over the past 40 years. They also point to advances in terms of how America treats women, the disabled, gays, and many other groups in society.
They are quick to pull up statistics to support their positions, and produce polls where the respondents express this new-found enlightened thinking.
However, I’ve never bought it. In my view, we just suppressed the views of the bigots and the narrow-minded, and made it unpopular and impolite for them to truly express themselves. What I submit has occurred is simply a shift in which groups are encouraged or allowed to express themselves.
Stop to think about it. There were many interracial couples who wanted to marry at an earlier time in our history, and were prevented, through miscegenation laws, from doing so. Gays had sex, which was prohibited by law, and were afraid to reveal themselves and their behavior.
One of my graduate schools classmates fell in love with an African-American man, and she did not disclose the relationship to her very liberal parents. They had only recently admonished her against going on a camping trip with another African-American friend, out of concern that “kooks” might attack them.
So you see, the suppression of expression comes in many forms. I submit that it is really all about economics, social positioning, and timing. (Religion also obviously has a role, although a complex one.) Much of what Hitler had to offer to the German masses had to do with convincing them that they deserved better than their pre-war status suggested.
Much has been made in recent days of the comments made by supporters of the McCain-Palin ticket at various campaign gatherings around the country. Some have dismissed the comments as those made by a “few kooks.” However, those kooks happen to be the brave or sick ones, and although unquantifiable, I suspect that their numbers are much larger than we are willing to admit.
Of course, the number of those willing to express themselves could quickly change. For those of you who consider yourselves students of recent history, check out France’s experience with Jean-Marie Le Pen during the late 1990s into the early 2000s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_marie_le_pen.) Some of the same issues that were central to his emergence are also present here in America at the current time.
Earlier today, in the syndicated column, “Annie’s Mailbox,” formerly known as “Anne Landers,” and currently operated by her two former editors, a couple wrote in to seek advice about their adoption desires. The couple has two girls, ages 5 and 6, and they are interested in adopting a boy. They are also willing to adopt a child of any race. Interestingly, the step-father of the husband has already let it be known that if they adopt an African-American boy, he will not be allowed in the home of his grandparents.
Quite frankly, I think that it is better that the parents know the step-grandfather’s position now, rather than permit him to spew his hatred after the fact. It is far preferable for us to create the conditions to allow the bigots and the narrow-minded to truly express their feelings and expose them. They will, of course, suffer, or benefit from, the consequences of their expression.
In my view, one of the biggest mistakes that our country has made with respect to the goals of civil rights and equal treatment has been its use of the strong arm of the law. The Warren court of the 1950s, in particular, failed to behave as a part of the judicial branch of our government, and took on a legislative role.
That America did not have the political will, until some years after Brown v. Board of Education, to legislatively pursue the goals of equality tells you that the hearts and minds of American were not ready for it. Same with the Equal Rights Amendment. It is the legislature that has the responsibility for promulgating laws, not the judiciary.
That a relatively small number of “concerned citizens,” no matter how well-intentioned their motivations, should be able to impose their value system on the many, will always be a problem.
You see, the ultimate goal of any group in society seeking equal treatment is respect, and the appreciation by others of your true, core, basic, value based on your merit. People may be forced to respect someone out of fear or intimidation; however, their minds and hearts will never respect you. Furthermore, aren’t bigots and the narrow-minded entitled to be so?
People need to learn, individually and collectively, how to love, respect, and appreciate others on their own terms. To develop artificial contrivances, particularly those imposed by governmental or legal force, only serves to pervert the system and diminish the goal by perverting the principle of fairness.
Furthermore, it provides the bigots and the narrow-minded with further arrows in their quivers to continue to ridiculous debate about equality. There simply shouldn’t be any debate.
Additionally, we need to come to the realization that no decision in the world is fair. The best that we can hope is that we devise systems to treat people processed through it fairly to the best of our ability, and recognize that it still is not going to be perfect.
We, here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense, previously delved into this subject matter. In one of our very earliest articles, we spoke of “How Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function.” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-racism-although-problematic-serves.html.) In our Post No. 42, entitled “If You Really want to do Some Thinking,” we referred to an article in Edge (http://www.edge.org/) by Jonathan Haidt, entitled “What Makes People Vote Republican.” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/09/post-no-42-if-you-really-want-to-do.html.) In the introduction to that article appeared the following:
I saw George Will on Charlie Rose a couple of months ago. He essentially said that conservatism has the “upper hand” because it is “pure.” The problem with liberalism, according to Will, is that it comes off as elitist, in that it essentially says that “we can do a better job of thinking about your interests than you can.”
In his article, Haidt suggests that, “Most democrats don’t understand that politics is more like a religion than it is like shopping.” Bigotry and narrow-mindedness are also like a religion. You can’t just stamp out or suppress what people feel and believe. Additionally, those individuals who hold those views are offended by those who tell them that something is wrong with them for holding them.
I submit that they need to live [I purposefully avoided using “suffer”] the consequences of being bigoted and narrow-minded, whether good or bad, on their own terms. I have always felt that in the long run, it would have been far better for African-Americans to have quietly taken their business around the corner to Caucasian merchants willing to provide them public accommodations and services, than for the law to have forced all merchants and service providers to do so. Take a guess as to the financial impact of such action. By forcing a condition on the unwilling, we as a society only made them angrier and perhaps more bigoted.
Force also further delays the creation of circumstances where one can personally recognize the value of another human being.
Let me tell you this: more and more bigotry and narrow-mindedness will come to the surface as the economic status of the average citizen further deteriorates over the next couple of years. We need an outlet valve – the creation of a prominent third political party, The American Bigot Party.
Just think about it. All of the closet bigots will join, and they’ll be happy to once again speak their minds in public, without recrimination. All of the old racists, who were Dixiecrats and voted for George Wallace before switching allegiance when Ronald Reagan came along, will march down the street in solidarity parades. The Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Nazis will also have a political outlet. Imagine the platform of that party.
If society truly considers the bigoted and narrow-minded to be a cancer on our society, then in order to deal with it, we need to know where and how it exists, not hide it. Common sense dictates as much. Come on out, let us see and hear you, lawyers, judges, politicians, doctors, accountants, farmers, bankers, and all….
The Republicans also have a major problem right now, with which they apparently have not figured out how to deal. They are the default party for the nuts and kooks of America, as least as far as discrimination is concerned. (The Democrats have a different set of nuts and kooks.)
It would be far easier for both the Democratic and Republican parties to join forces, contribute an equal amount from their coffers, and form the American Bigot Party, to sequester the problematic elements of both parties.
Let them be heard. Let them have their say. Then perhaps the candidates of both current major parties would be not have to distance themselves from the John Hagees and Jeremiah Wrights of the world, and if they had to do so, could do so with a straight face.
One final comment. Shortly after 9-11, I attended a seminar conducted by a constitutional law professor and scholar, Erwin Chemerinsky (http://www.law.duke.edu/fac/chemerinsky/), about the importance of not allowing our government to engage in unconstitutional activity.
He noted that during times of crisis and fear, there is a tendency to ignore the Constitution and suppress individual rights. However, he further noted that the Constitution serves as a rudder to keep us on our “right path” and prevent the pendulum of public sentiment from swinging too far in either direction.
Let the concept work its magic. Just don’t pervert or distort its operation and thus encourage people to disrespect it.
Free the bigots! Let them speak and express themselves! Let them organize! We’ll be a better country for having done so, and hopefully, at the end of the day, they’ll just fade away.
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Saturday, October 11, 2008
It occurred to us that many others might not understand the concept of swaps and the role they played in our financial mess. We thought that more Americans might want to gain a better appreciation of this financial vehicle since there are "$62 trillion in credit-default swap derivatives out there. [Emphasis added.]"
One of our readers recently forwarded a September 27, 2008 article from The New York Times written by Ben Stein, entitled In Financial Food Chains, Little Guys Can't Win. In that article, Stein writes:
"[A]ccording to what I hear from my betters in the world of finance, the most serious problems are not with the bundles of subprime mortgages themselves — a large but not lethal quantum as far as I can tell — but with derivatives contracts tied to subprime and other dicey debt. These contracts are superficially an attempt to “insure” against risks of default, hence the name “credit-default swaps.” In fact, they are an immense wager — which anyone with lots of money or borrowing ability can enter — about how mortgage-backed bonds, leveraged loan bonds, student loan bonds, credit card bonds and the like will perform."
Read the remainder of the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/business/28every.html?_r=1&ei=5070&oref=slogin&emc=eta1&adxnnlx=1223740921-R1il7UykUJKI/O7CnpNPmw&pagewanted=print
Friday, October 10, 2008
Washington, we have a problem.
Now, I am neither an economist nor a rocket scientist, I am just a consumer, and as such, along with the rest of you, I am responsible for two thirds of America’s economic activity.
And, along with the rest of you, I don’t have much trouble defining the problem:
In the last ten years, the cost of energy has gone through the roof, taking the price of everything that moves, from food to flashlights, along with it.
Similarly, the cost of housing is up more than 50%.
Unfortunately, our real income has actually declined, along with the value of our homes… and in the last two weeks, the value of our retirement savings has declined more than 20%… some two trillion dollars worth of evaporated wealth.
But, if you had turned on the television and watched C-Span, as I did while generating this article, you would have seen the hearing, conducted in the House of Representatives on October 7, 2008, regarding the collapse of AIG Insurance.
Several former CEOs testified during that hearing. Probably most of us think that both corporate America and our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have failed us.
Apparently, the feeling is mutual. In corporate think, the above problems seem to be our fault.
I strongly suspect that if you asked the average citizen, he or she would tell you that they feel that both corporate America and our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, made out like bandits during the period of high flying and free wheeling, without much in the way of restrictions or regulation, or concern for the American public for that matter.
Virtually every nickel we contributed to the growth of the American economy, through productivity improvements and cost reductions, was channeled to the occupants of America’s executive suites.
Less than ten days after borrowing $85 billion from us to keep from going broke, the executives of AIG spent $400,000 on themselves at a management retreat at an ocean front resort. (One of the Representatives even had pictures of the resort, and a breakdown of the costs of the rooms!)
That’s FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS… and it obviously occurred to no one running that company that this might not be the best time to continue business as usual, as is their right and due. What good is being a Master of the Universe if you can’t enjoy the perks?
To borrow a notion from Ross Perot, perhaps we should reconsider who we put in charge of our financial well-being.
Perhaps we should reconsider allowing lawyers to become elected officials.
Perhaps we should do the same with CEOs.
Because what was to be witnessed during this hearing was not an effort to get at the truth and underlying causes for our current economic emergency, but lots of posturing, blame assignment, and defense of the status frigging quo.
You can’t really blame these guys; if any of us were trousering (oops, my bad, or skirting) $60 million a year, we would also mount the best defense that money could buy in support of our right to haul home such lucre.
Yesterday, we posted a poem by Pablo Neruda (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-no-52-and-now-some-pablo-neruda.html). Apparently neither the former CEOs nor any of our politicians have read You’re the Result of Yourself. It’s well worth a read.
Lawyers, particularly experienced ones, develop a skill for asking the right questions to get to the heart of the matter. They also know how to make arguments in favor of their positions, and against those of others.
That’s what they get paid for.
What should concern us now is that none of this is appropriate in connection with the current financial mess in which we find ourselves as a nation. And time’s awasting....
What we need now is for our politicians, leaders, and the members of our government to “dig deeper,” and try to expose the underlying causes of this situation (no matter who’s at fault), and how we might best prevent it from occurring again.
What we do not need is yet another PR campaign, pointing to a light at the end of the tunnel, and pretending that it is not an oncoming freight train. (By the way, the laws of physics repeatedly suggest that you will not beat that collision.)
I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys listening to hearings before governmental bodies. Any sensible person would not. Frequently, those being questioned present prepared statements, exculpating themselves from liability, and then proceed to provide responses more concerned about liability than solutions. In many instances they are accompanied by counsel who coaches the witness.
Even more disturbing is the manner in which the “questions” are posed, if you can really call them questions. During the House hearing, for example, we witnessed Representatives essentially make speeches, reflecting their positions, and condemning the conduct of AIG. They chose the words to characterize the conduct, and they injected emotion into the issue, when and where they saw fit.
It was more than clear that the purpose of these self-serving speeches had more to do with elections than economic enlightenment.
Once they had almost used up their allotted time, they would ask a very short question, which would be very difficult to answer considering the 3 minute monologue preceding the question. When the witness tried to answer, he was frequently interrupted by the Representative, only to have the time expire without the witness having said anything of real value or substance.
Now we know that many of you will simply say, “That’s the way these things work.”
However, in this period of economic uncertainty, that’s just frankly, unacceptable. That any of our politicians would place their continued occupation of a political position above our need to know and the financial interests of the American people is not only sad, but something in which we should no longer acquiesce.
This is ridiculous folks. Even I, an insignificant nitwit, could pose a series of questions designed to get to the bottom of this mess. Why can’t our highly compensated, highly educated, highly sophisticated, highly experienced elected officials pose questions that really matter, without consideration of their interests?
What’s more disturbing is that the ineffectiveness of conducting a hearing of this sort, at least in terms of getting to the root of the problem, is fairly obvious, even to the casual observer. That our politicians think that this is appropriate, and acceptable to us, is, quite frankly, pissing me off.
This is the question we need to have asked and answered until it makes sense even to an insignificant nitwit:
“You gentlepeople have managed to hitch this great country’s economic star to a wagon, and the mule just died. How do you propose we fix that, this week?”
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Just a few minutes ago, I ran across the blog of another blogger, Vincent Robleto. He recently posted one of Neruda's works, You're the Result of Yourself.
Upon reading it, I realized that it embodies many of the principles central to the concepts discussed in this blog, and promoted by the Institute for Applied Common Sense.
Don't blame anyone, never complain of anyone or anything.
Because basically you have made of your life what you wanted.
For the remainder: http://kerblotto.blogspot.com/2008/09/youre-result-of-yourself.html
Monday, October 6, 2008
Having been fortunate enough to have visited a number of countries in this world, some third world in status, I have often thought that very few of us in this country fully appreciate the luxury of “disposable opinion.”
Once certain basic priorities have been addressed, humans then have the luxury, or time, to think about other, less pressing issues. While explaining why the Taliban was welcome in Afghanistan despite the Western world’s objections, a peasant told a reporter in a recent documentary, “Who cares about women’s rights when you have moved from chaos to order in your daily lives.”
In Post No. 50, entitled, “O.J.’s Opportunity – Lost” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-no-50-ojs-opportunity-lost.html), I noted that it was sad that Simpson’s life could not have continued on a positive path, uninterrupted by the murder charges. I further noted that an opportunity had been lost to provide inspiration to millions of kids.
In that article, I also mentioned two factors that suggested to me that perhaps Simpson did not commit the murders, at least not personally. In response thereto, I received some pretty intense comments, most of which came to me directly via e-mail. I found it interesting that so many folks continue to have such strong opinions about the first Simpson criminal verdict. (I strongly suspect that the jurors’ personal feelings about the first trial were a significant factor in the most recent verdict, whether rightly or wrongly.)
The intensity of opinions held by supporters and detractors of the two current presidential candidates has often reminded me of the intensity of opinions held by observers of the Simpson verdict.
The Simpson trials and our current presidential election exposed the American public’s feelings about a host of issues. What has astounded me is how rigidly held the beliefs and positions are, on both sides of the fence.
All of this has incredible complexity, and our personal reactions are obviously complicated by our personal experiences.
I honestly do not know whether Simpson did it. It is, of course, possible. I just think that there is a 51% probability that he did not do it. Not 50%, but 51%. There was a lot of tough evidence against him. Since I wasn’t there, and there were no other first party witnesses to the event, I just don’t know with any degree of certainty. However, there are many people in our society who feel strongly about this verdict and “know” one way or the other. I find that fascinating.
Anytime a case is based on circumstantial evidence, and there is a lack of “direct evidence,” the analysis becomes problematic. Here, in the case of the Simpson / Goldman murders, there were no direct witnesses. The only potentially direct evidence was the blood evidence, and a question was raised, either rightly or wrongly, about that evidence.
A circumstantial case is like a suit of clothes and make-up. It can be applied to lots of individuals. Remember the movie Trading Places (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trading_Places)? There has been some research in connection with widely differing jury verdicts stemming from applying the same set of facts to different people. That’s why trial lawyers work so hard to promote certain images to jurors. The same applies to political handlers and media outlets.
One could take Warren Buffet, transform him into a homeless person in appearance, put him on trial for a crime, and I suspect that he’ll get convicted more than 50% of the time. You could replace him with various other substitute homeless people, Bill Gates, Tyra Banks, Heather Locklear, and get varying results, all with the same evidence.
A prosecutorial filing deputy has to be very careful in deciding to file the initial charges when there is only circumstantial evidence to support the charge. It’s not clear to me that the Simpson criminal charges would have been filed against John Doe husband, without the public history of prior assaults. But I’m not into second guessing people’s motives. The media should also be careful in how it paints and characterizes candidates.
That being said, I fully believe in the system. It’s about procedure and guidelines, and I’m a procedure and process kind of guy.
Can it be made better? Of course. But once you insert the raw human element, it becomes far more complicated and problematic, and therefore the out product becomes inconsistent. That doesn’t mean that the system is faulty.
I think that the biggest problem Simpson had to overcome in his first trial was his prior altercations with his wife. Some believe that if you beat your wife 3 or 4 times previously, you are more pre-disposed to, or will finally, murder her.
It is my understanding that 25% of all violence against women is committed by a “loved one,” or someone with whom the victim is intimately familiar. (Some have even argued that the most effective way to reduce violence against women would be to outlaw the development of interpersonal, heterosexual relationships.) While growing up, I knew many a couple where the husband physically assaulted the wife, on multiple occasions, and they stayed married, kept it undercover, and they live together to this day. Murder never took place.
Quite frankly, it has always been my view that the first time that a woman is hit, she should summon the authorities and immediately leave the relationship so that there is no second event. There is absolutely no excuse for a man to hit a woman; however, I have known many a man to do so, or be very close to doing so, and I’ve had to pull them away, quickly. And yet, I never sensed murderous intent.
When I was in the D.A.’s Office, there was a period when I had to try cases which I disliked. Typical scenario: Drunk man on Friday night beats wife. Kids yell and scream. Someone calls the police. The police arrive, and the husband is belligerent. The assaulted wife and the kids identify the husband as the perpetrator.
The issue then became whether there was a felony or a misdemeanor committed. Generally speaking, the police can arrest if there is sufficient corroborating evidence (other witnesses, or sufficient injury) to support felony assault, or if the assault is made in their presence. The police can not arrest for misdemeanor conduct outside of their presence, unless the wife makes a citizen’s arrest, thus authorizing the police to arrest the husband.
In the typical situation, the husband was arrested and charged with assault on the wife, resisting arrest, and assault on a peace officer. Criminal charges were filed and a trial date was set. However, by the time of the trial, the husband and wife had filed a civil lawsuit, seeking millions, and alleging police brutality and excessive force. Since the criminal trial was held before the civil trial, and could potentially affect the civil trial because of the higher burden of proof at the criminal level, I had to win the criminal trial.
There was intense pressure from the police department. In virtually every instance, by the time that the criminal trial rolled around, the wife had changed her testimony and was prepared to testify on behalf of the husband that he did not do anything to justify summoning the police, and they overreacted. That is why the D.A. changed its policy and decided that the offense was “against the state or society,” and not against the wife. In the late 1970s, the D.A. decided to pursue prosecution of cases, even if the wife dropped the charges leading to the citizen’s arrest.
I think that a significant segment of the population felt that O.J. was guilty because he previously assaulted his wife. In my view, as reprehensible as that prior conduct may have been, the leap from wife assault to murder should not have been made lightly.
We have lots of scientific evidence about brain function to at least partially understand rage. What we don’t generally see is the ability of a first time murderer to simply walk away calmly without a distinct, obvious, physiological reaction.
We have known for years that a certain part of the brain kicks in when a person feels threatened to the point that survival becomes an issue, which explains cannibalism by shipwrecked or downed airplane crews, and parents fighting off attacking bears or sharks. They are, at least temporarily, traumatized knowing that they resorted to that behavior.
A story appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times some years ago, about the post traumatic stress suffered by both female and male former members of the Israeli Army. Upon discharge, they found themselves heading to distant lands where they could readily acquire illicit, dangerous drugs to blur their memories of the pain of death.
The body’s natural functional response to death is fairly automatic and obvious. You have to stand over a whacked body to fully appreciate the hard-wired nervous system response, which is built into us all. It’s designed to kick in with respect to attacks on members of our tribe/species. It does not kick it as much in connection with those animals outside of our tribe/species. If the animal coming toward you is charging, then a different part of the brain, dealing with survival, kicks in. Even after that survival experience, you will still see physiological changes. There are auditory, visual, tactile, taste, and olfactory stimuli which can immediately produce violent and fairly long lasting automatic responses in the human body. You usually regurgitate first, the heart races uncontrollably, and you sweat profusely.
Ordering someone to do something is VERY different. There is a buffer. But no one alleged that Simpson hired someone else to commit the murders.
Our brain scan technology and research has improved dramatically over the past 13 years, and we can now map brain activity using computer monitors. Still, very little research is done on violent criminals. We often hear about the cold blooded attitude of teenagers, and how they dismiss their conduct so easily and have truly become sociopaths. However, they were not born that way, and generally they have had years of anti-social support and activity to reach that point.
Thus it is my feeling that it is difficult to find people who can kill a human being for the first time, and then calmly walk away without exhibiting physiological changes. If someone had produced evidence that O.J. had previously killed some folks in years prior, to develop a cold-blooded attitude, I might have felt differently.
This purpose of this article is not to justify Simpson’s conduct, but rather outline the type of analysis which we hope would be employed if we were on trial for such an offense.
All of this brings me to the current political climate. In the jury trial context, I always felt that jurors should dismiss their personal experiences and prejudices, and analyze cases from as pure and non-biased a perspective as possible.
As a general rule, a trial attorney tries to hammer home 3 or 4 major points in advocating on behalf of his client. In a similar vein, there should be 3 or 4 overriding considerations that we take into account in deciding our next leader, not 37 different, dissected, personal characteristics or relationships.
In fact, all jury instructions read by judges to the jurors before they deliberate indicate that they should block out their personal biases, and base their decision entirely on the evidence. It’s a goal, but unfortunately, not a reality.
I never understood why folks inject their personal views in analyzing a situation to reach a decision about something that does not personally affect them. Aren’t we interested in doing what is in the best interests of society at large? That so many people had fixed opinions about the O.J. verdict along gender, racial, age, social status, economic, and other lines has always been troubling to me. How about pure analysis just based on the facts?
Perhaps Johnnie Cochran was correct in imploring the jury not to “rush to judgment.”
We are seeing virtually the same type of personal analysis and dissection, with very little attention to facts and objectivity, occurring in connection with this political campaign, by both sides. Isn’t there a more objective means by which we can analyze and judge the candidates without invoking our personal biases?
A black siding with Simpson in response to the evidence, or a female siding with the deceased, or Republicans siding with Palin in connection with her comments, and Republicans attacking Jeremiah Wright, while Democrats attack John Hagee, all represent the worst in our culture.
And gains us little.
Governor Palin apparently thinks that hammering home that Obama had a relationship with former “domestic terrorist” Bill Ayers will be the equivalent to Simpson’s prior assaults on Nicole Brown.
As silly as this might sound, fans rooting for their home team do not get to determine the winner just by arguing their position and attacking the other team. Some objectivity is built into sporting events so that there is little question as to which team or side has prevailed.
How about a little more intellectual honesty as we walk into the voting booth next month? Remember that reasonable people can differ. Remember that we all want to come out of this stagnancy, and that there is more strength in unity.
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Saturday, October 4, 2008
It has been said that there is more to a man than the worst thing that he has ever done. Unfortunately, the worst thing that a man has done, or perhaps is suspected to have done, always outweighs the other factors, no matter the nature or quality. It is out of self preservation that we are hard-wired to reach such a conclusion.
There is only so much “benefit of the doubt” that we, the observing public, are willing to extend to those who have been fortunate enough to have talent of some sort which results in their being placed on a pedestal.
I only personally met him briefly, for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds in a nightclub in Miami in the 1990s. However, I was connected to him, in a second hand sort of way, through many others.
His Mother was a hospital administrator, and his Father, a chef and bank custodian. As a child, he developed rickets, and wore braces on both of his legs until he was 5. His parents separated around the same time.
He grew up, and later attended City College of San Francisco, with someone who would become one of my most trusted business partners.
During his pro football career, I always marveled at his ability to give his absolute best, day in and day out, even when his team was at its absolute worst. An ordinary player would have performed at a level consistent with that of the other members of his team. Not O.J. He set records, and records, and records.
We all witnessed his transformation from an unsophisticated youth with rough edges, to a charismatic, professional, media personality, even though his characters might have, on occasion, been best described as cartoonish.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I, along with another friend who would later achieve pro sports recognition, attempted to get into The Daisy, the private club in Beverly Hills, where Nicole Brown Simpson worked. A good buddy who was a pro football star, instructed us to use his name in order to gain entry. Unfortunately, the maitre d’ did not recall our buddy’s name until almost closing time. However, we were able to have some champagne before our departure.
And thus I appreciated all of the favors and treats that are extended to pro stars - the hotels full of adoring fans, mostly female, and the merchants and service institutions bending over backwards to give the stars more favors and treats… and the restaurateurs, desperately seeking autographed photos to affix to their walls.
Over the years, I witnessed Nicole and her girlfriends as they participated in the “club scene.” They were of a different grade, only accessible by those who traveled in rarefied circles. I also had buddies who socialized with O.J. and Nicole together, and thus I gained some sense of that dynamic. Both were stars of a sort, in their own right, and developed a concomitant set of privileges and expectations, whether justified or not.
And thus it was a complicated culture and environment in which they operated, which few outside of that world could ever fully appreciate.
Most folks do not realize that The Juice started his own film production company, which generated mostly made-for-TV shows, such as the family oriented Goldie and the Boxer films. Most folks do not realize that he was a major participant in an annual charity event that raised millions for sick children.
So there I was, with all of this background, and sitting in my office in Brentwood, looking west toward Barrington, at the mauve-orange sunset, when I noticed several news copters level with my window on the 16th floor. I immediately wondered why there were so many of them, and why they were so close to the ground.
Five minutes later, I walked around the corner on Barrington to be told by the local convenience store clerk that they had found the bodies of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, and I knew that things were about to get complicated - real complicated.
And then there appeared Lance Ito (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_Ito), with whom I had shared an office when I first started in the D.A.’s Office, and with whom my partner had attended law school. And then there appeared an older Robert Shapiro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Shapiro), who had appeared in my courtroom in a younger version, when I was a D.A.
And then there appeared Johnnie Cochran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Cochran), who was the Assistant D.A. in 1978, and who extended the offer to me to join the Office. And then there was Geraldo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geraldo_rivera) contacting my partner to seek an interview, which he graciously declined.
And then there were the women, who I knew in Brentwood, who were also friends of Ron Goldman, and who spoke about their relationships with him.
And thus I had way too much information to objectively form an opinion as to guilt or innocence, and yet I knew that it would become a sad event, no matter what the verdict. Little did I appreciate how prescient the dissection would be, and its similarities to the nature of the dissection in the current presidential campaign?
On the day of the criminal jury verdict, my partner and I were with a group of clients in the Detroit area, when the verdict was read. We saw the same expressions of exhilaration and disbelief expressed throughout the world. Later that afternoon, we traveled to Chicago, to visit with a client who had been a J.A.G. lawyer handling criminal matters in the service, who was fascinated by our collective connections to O.J.
When I returned to Chicago one month later to make a presentation before a gathering of engineers, businesspeople, and attorneys connected with that client, at the dinner later that evening, I was asked at the last minute to explain, as a trial lawyer, how different people could have such widely differing perspectives on the evidence presented. I was amazed at how quiet the room was as I shared my thoughts. I was not arrogant enough to suspect that they were captivated by what I had to say, but rather they were amazed that any group of people could have thought of him as not guilty.
I would later tell inquiring minds that, from a legal perspective, I suspected that the ”system” had yielded the “correct” results in both the criminal and civil trials, based on the differing legal standards of proof.
Later, I would read an article regarding a private investigation conducted by a respected, retired, law enforcement officer out of Texas, who suspected that O.J.’s son, from a prior marriage, was actually the murderer. It appeared that he had acquired a job as a chef at a restaurant in Westwood Village, two blocks from my place, and that he was quite proud of his accomplishment. He was scheduled to cater a party for his niece, Sydney, whose birthday was that weekend. However, it appears that Nicole called it off at the last minute, and that O.J.’s son was absolutely livid. He reportedly left the restaurant that evening in a huff, with his chef’s knives, and fellow employees claimed that he had never done that before.
Only one close friend ever asked me my personal opinion as to O.J.’s guilt or innocence, and when I informed her, I lost that friend forever, never to be seen again.
I told her, as I tell you here – based on what I saw, O.J. knew who did it, but was not a participant. Why? Two main factors: (1) From all that I knew about O.J., he never would have left town and allowed his two minor children to be in a position to potentially find the bloodied body of their Mother sprawled on the sidewalk. (2) From all that I know about the first time that a human kills, or even witnesses the death of, another human being, one does not simply walk away cool, calm, and collected. We, as humans, are biologically hard-wired to have a violent reaction and to sweat. It takes time, and repeated killings, to become a cool killer, and get on a plane and have jocular conversation with fellow passengers.
And then there was Jackie Conner, with whom I had served in the Office, who sat as the Judge over the Ramparts Division LAPD scandal, involving Rafael Perez, who admitted to planting evidence in scores of case, and implicated numerous others, thus prejudicing scores of criminal prosecutions. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_P%C3%A9rez_(police_officer).)
Admittedly, for the past decade or so, O.J. hadn’t done much to advance his cause. I always thought that it was a sad situation, in that although he was no Muhammad Ali, he did have the potential to inspire other young men to improve their station in life, despite humble beginnings.
And thus I knew that O.J. would be convicted on all counts. He was not going to be given another shot, no matter what the evidence in the Las Vegas trial. And he should have known it also.
But what I also knew, after watching the intense, vituperative nature of the discourse during the political campaigns conducted over the past 18 months, was that all of our pre-conceived, perhaps previously concealed inner-most feelings about people, would erupt to the surface, and be expressed in many ways. This country still has lots of internal conflict and repressed feelings about our fellow citizens. This is the climate in which we currently live. This is the climate in which O.J. should have “steered far wide of the danger zone.”
Sorry O.J. Unfortunately, you’re “done fur.” You thought that you could pull it out one time too many. And that’s sad for those of us who got to know you in some tangential manner, even just as fans, but more so for those young folks who could have been inspired by your journey. Opportunity – lost….
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