Sunday, March 29, 2009

Post No. 99: Should the Response to Natural Disasters be Left to the Private Sector?

We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted two of them thus far. Here is the third, which actually consists of three separate questions:

"The State of North Dakota is experiencing record flood levels. It appears that many ordinary citizens are pitching in to help, and that's admirable. However, in light of all of the discussion these days about the role of government, and what government can and should do, and what it does and does not do well, I ask the following three questions:

"Should the free market forces of capitalism be allowed to operate in connection with this event?

"Why should the citizens of other states have to foot the bill if a federal emergency declaration is sought, and have their tax dollars used to address this situation, when it does not directly affect them?

"What's the difference between bailing out people who made poor decisions regarding their mortgages, and people who decided to live near a river, which had the potential to overflow?"

Post No. 98: Jesus Christ and the Democrats

We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We posted one of them earlier today entitled, "Jesus Christ and the Republicans."

One of our regular readers felt that it might be interesting to examine this issue from another perspective. The following is the question presented by this reader:

"Taking into account the liberal social values of the Democrats, are they consistent with the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ?"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Post No. 97: Jesus Christ and the Republicans

In our last post, we invited our readers to examine an article by a university professor entitled, “What Makes People Vote Republican?

Although the title may have suggested that it was about Republican Party members, by examining their views, the author distinguished and articulated the views of members of the Democratic Party, or at least as he sees them.

We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received a very good response. Thank you. We had to choose one for our first topic, and we will present the others later, down the road.

You will recall that in a post last year, we examined whether Jesus Christ would have discriminated against people who engaged in activities which might have been deemed inappropriate or unacceptable by the Church.

One of our regular readers presented us with a topic for discussion which raises similar issues. The following is the question:

“In recent times, conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, have played a significant role in formulating and articulating the core values of conservative/Republican politics in this country. Taking into consideration the conservative economic values, and the conservative geo-political agenda, are they consistent with the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ?”

We have purposefully chosen not to delineate or define the "economic values" and "geo-political agenda" to which the reader refers. We'll leave that up to you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Post 96b: Re-Posting of Article: What Makes People Vote Republican

We previously provided a link to this article, by Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He conducts research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. We found this article to be particularly thought-provoking.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

“What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany's best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress.

“[Paragraph break added.] But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer "moral clarity"—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world. “

We are providing the link once again before delving into some other topics.

Post No. 96a: Send Us Your Suggestions for Topics for Discussion

As you know, we shy away from nothing in the way of discussions. This is clearly not a "politically correct" blog.

Tell us what you would like to have discussed for our next topic. It might be a topic about which you have not formed an opinion, have a well-founded position, or you simply might be interested in entertaining the views of others.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Post No. 96: Should Government Get Out of the Business of Education?

It is our goal to examine every imaginable issue in society about which reasonable people may differ. We’re nothing if not eclectic.

For some time now, it has been our intention to delve into the subject of education. We tangentially touched on it in a prior post, “Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process,” but never approached the subject directly.

Today, we seek your thoughts about a very specific issue: whether government should be involved, in any way, in the education of American citizens.

Earlier today, C-Span2 Book TV aired a book discussion program featuring author John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto was a teacher in the New York Public School system for almost 30 years. He discussed his latest book, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling.

Mr. Gatto contends that compulsory schooling cripples the imagination and discourages critical thinking. The entire time that we listened to his presentation, we thought about the current debate about the government’s involvement in our lives, and the suggestions that many of the policies of the current administration are socialist in nature.

Many have argued that the only things that government does well are the maintenance of the armed forces and law enforcement. We occasionally hear from those who contend that private schools are of higher quality of than public schools. (At this point, we do not wish to discuss school vouchers.)

However, we have never heard anyone suggest that government remove itself entirely from the field of education. We all know the arguments which prompted government involvement years ago.

However, many argue today that the “free market” is a far better mechanism for driving progress and innovation in society than the government. Should we just let everyone in society decide for themselves how their children should be educated, and leave them to fend for themselves?

Should we let competitive forces decide who gets an education and its quality? Sort of an educational Darwinism?

We believe that any responsible organization should revisit its underlying assumptions on a daily basis, and constantly question whether there is a better way to achieve its goals. Otherwise, it will become stagnant, fall behind in relation to its international competition, and ultimately lose sight of its reason for being.

Tell us – should government get out of the business of education? At the elementary school level? High school level? Collegiate and graduate school level?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Post No. 95: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Laughingman and the Logistician have been friends for years. The Laughingman has laughed out of loud at some of the Logistician’s antics.

He has also expressed bewilderment following comments by the Logistician, when there were highly desirable women in the room.

He would shake his head, and ask, “What in the world made you say that?” The Logistician would reply, “It’s the truth – which people respect.”

In case you haven’t figured out who is the more practical of the two, and who usually got the gal, there’s another Logistician story of note.

He once had this girlfriend, who was stunning in every aspect imaginable. One day, she asked him whether he loved her. He replied in a perfunctory fashion, “Why yes, dear.”

But then she followed by asking, “But do you love me?”




All of his buddies have since said that all he had to do was to simply say, “Yes.” But noooooooooo…. Not the Logistician.

His response, after pausing no less, was, “What’s the definition of the second love which distinguishes it from the first?”

Aphrodite replied, “You know. Do you love me?”

The Logistician never provided a satisfactory answer.

To all who later questioned the wisdom of his choice, he calmly stated, “I was placed in a situation where I was asked to respond to something I did not understand. For me to have said ‘yes’ would have been a lie, without a definition being provided.”

There is a logical explanation for this madness. You see, he was screwed up way early in life. Not only did he have traditional societal, familial, and religious forces suggesting that he always tell the truth, but he also attended West Point. The Honor Code there prescribed that he, “not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.”

He tried to apply that principle (minus the toleration part) to his life, albeit not always successfully. However, he’s tried.

One of his favorite quotes is from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura: “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory of what you said.”

And so it was with a great deal of discomfort that the Logistician recently found himself in a heated conversation with a friend of 35 years, as to the responses one should provide to senior citizen relatives whose mental faculties are declining.

The friend argued that “a game” should be played with the relative, since that provides comfort, and the truth need not be told. He said that it was “unnecessary.”

The friend also extended this reasoning to raising young children.

The next day, the Logistician shared this exchange with another mutual friend of 35 years. She suggested that the truth can shatter someone’s delicate perception of the world.

It made him wonder whether there are ends sufficiently important to justify out right lying. He wondered whether there are dangers, so “clear and present,” to support such action?

He thought about this a lot during the recent presidential campaigns: Is winning more important than telling the truth?

(Candidly, we’ve reached a point where we aren’t sure what to believe from the news media anymore.)

Back to the Logistician, he has always contended that when asked a specific question, he is required to provide a truthful response.

On occasion, he has recognized the value of silence, or momentary evasiveness, by posing, “Do you really want to ask that question?”

Many would argue that in cases of national security, it is appropriate to lie.

Some others would also argue that when you have a confidential relationship with someone, it is appropriate to lie, to those outside of that relationship.

And then there was our former President who only lied about sex.

If there are so many instances where it is appropriate, then when is it inappropriate to lie?

Back to kids, is suggesting to a child that there is a Santa Claus, the Easter Bunnie, or the Tooth Fairy, a lie?

And what about that dying parent? Are lies appropriate at the death bed?

If Congress poses a question to a member of the CIA, is the operative required to always provide the truth? Was Oliver North justified in lying to Congress about Iran-Contra?

Or was Jack Nicholson correct in A Few Good Men, when he said that, "[We] can’t handle the truth?”

P.S. By the way, you’re right. The Logistician is not very bright, and he lied. He did not provide 27 situations.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Monday, March 16, 2009

Post 94b: We're Going to Do Something A Little Different This Time

We indicated, in Post No. 94a, that we were providing you with a little comic relief in anticipation of the intense comments which we expect to receive in response to Post No. 95.

A number of you have already asked for a hint as to the subject matter of the impending post.

We also suggested that very few of you would be able to find someone with whom you agree on this issue in its entirety.

We're going to do something a little different this time, and provide you with the title so that you can think about the issue ahead of time:

"27 Situations Where Seemingly Responsible People Claim that 'Lying' is Appropriate"

This should be interesting.

Post No. 94a: A Little Comic Relief before the Storm

We suspect that our next post may generate some fairly intense comments. So, we decided to insert a little humor at this juncture. We can not vouch for the accuracy of the attributions for each one of these, but it is all just in fun.

Sometimes, when I look at my children, I say to myself, 'Lillian, you should have remained a virgin.'
- Lillian Carter (mother of Jimmy Carter)

I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: - 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.'
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Last week, I stated this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister, and now wish to withdraw that statement.
- Mark Twain

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.
- George Burns

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.
- Victor Borge

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
- Mark Twain

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
- Socrates

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.
- Groucho Marx

My wife has a slight impediment in her speech. Every now and then she stops to breathe.
- Jimmy Durante

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.
- Alex Levine

My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
- Rodney Dangerfield

Money can't buy you happiness .. But it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.
- Spike Milligan

Until I was thirteen, I thought my name was SHUT UP.
- Joe Namath

I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap.
- Bob Hope

I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
- W. C. Fields

We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress.
- Will Rogers

Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you.
- Winston Churchill

Maybe it's true that life begins at fifty .. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.
- Phyllis Diller

By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he's too old to go anywhere.
- Billy Crystal

And the cardiologist's diet:
- If it tastes good spit it out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Post No. 94: Rarely Does a Man Love His True Self (or, How to Discourage Comments to a Blog Post)

© 2009, the Institute of Applied Common Sense

The Laughingman was first amongst us at the Institute to blog - and suffer the accompanying abuse.

When the Logistician entered the blogosphere, he noticed some of the Laughingman’s posts generated tons of comments and others zip. He asked the Laughingman, “Why the difference?”

In characteristic fashion, the Laughingman replied, “I have no idea.”

What the Logistician took that to mean was, “Figure it out for yourself, idiot; it’s better that you do it that way.”

(The Logistician asked him what would drive more traffic to the blog, even if no comments were left. The Laughingman replied, “A picture of Jessica Alba; preferentially naked.” This, the Logistician understood.)

Having engaged in this adventure since April, the Logistician, in response to a recent similar inquiry from a new blogger about increasing comments, remarked, “I have absolutely no idea.”

For the Logistician, unless the topic is abortion, gay marriage, stem cells, welfare, drugs, illegal immigration, government bailouts, or Obama, this was the truth.

Additionally, we learned early on that taking a position down the middle of the road, and citing the good and bad points made on both sides of the debate, simply yields attacks from both sides, and praise from neither.

On the other hand, when responding to the suggestion of a fellow blogger that a lack of comments reflects a lack of interest on the part of the readers, we questioned that assumption. In fact, we felt that when we posted our best written work, we actually received the fewest responses. Regardless of the subject.

Nirvana in the world of writing is attained when you strike a chord with 95% of readers. The Logistician, who conducts motivational workshops, refers to this as the “room head nodding response.” He knows he’s reached his audience when at least 95% of the participants all nod, as if on cue, at the same time.

Still we wondered how one gets there. How one identifies that “it.” We think we may have stumbled upon it.

We noted the paucity of comments to our last post, which piggybacked on Pablo Neruda’s “You’re the Result of Yourself.” We suggested that everyone dissatisfied with life, if they were truly honest, would admit that their condition is due to their decisions made during their lives.

The notion first began to take shape when we referenced a quote from a classic movie about most humans living inconsequential lives.

It took on more shape yesterday, when a colleague quipped about our discomfort viewing what we see in the mirror when we look at ourselves.

Finally this morning, things crystallized when we heard a historian quote the phrase, which serves as our title to this article, “Rarely does a man love his true self.”

On the right side of our blog, under the heading, “Who is encouraged to participate,” appears the following:

“Solution-oriented individuals… who, unrestrained by political correctness, are willing to ‘dig deep’ in an effort to understand and explore the underlying root causes of problems, rather than merely focus on the symptoms.”

A further explanation of the goals of the Institute suggests that “…by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches… the analysis will improve …. [We seek to avoid] being distracted and sidelined by symptoms. We can thereafter craft better solutions.”

There is no easier place to start addressing any problem than one’s self.

We think that this is a principle which can be applied to our nation.

In order to address this very uncomfortable place in which we find ourselves, and about which we hear so much barking today, we need to pick up a huge mirror and check ourselves out.

There’s lot of talk about the dangers of centralized governance, which has been renamed “socialism.” That may be the case. At the same time, we need to recognize the limitations of the “let the market determine” or “herding cats” governance model.

That doesn’t mean that we need to relinquish freedoms. It’s just means we need to recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities, on the part of us all.

Simply put, we need to remake our true selves so that we can love ourselves again. (If we ever did.)

As one of our regular readers commented, “One of my favorite lyrics is, ’He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction.’

It’s never too late for us to be what we might have been.

© 2009, the Institute of Applied Common Sense

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Post No. 93: “Every Issue Has Two, Three, Possibly 27 Sides”

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Logistician often just stops people on the street, and starts a conversation.

He asks them to visit our blog, and they always respond with laughter when he says, “We believe that there are more than two or three ways to look at any issue; on occasion we've seen as many as 27.”

In an earlier post, we spoke of the propensity, because of their genetic coding, of a colleague’s 29 Dobermans to bark, snarl, and attack whenever we approach his house.

We focused on the tone of social discourse today, and our concerns about the negative effects of unadulterated nastiness.

We suggested that humans are blessed with the ability to think and reason, and to learn and practice Common Sense, and that we must be guided, in Lincoln’s words, “by the better angels of our nature.”

The 27 points of view which greeted the Doberman piece were wide-ranging. We won't revisit the comments posted, other than to say that the piece revolved entirely around the concept of Personal Responsibility.

Here's a small example.

Earlier today, someone on our staff agreed to go to a local fried chicken franchise restaurant, to pick up “breakfast biscuits,” with fried eggs, smoked sausage, bacon, and such.

When he returned with the bounty, it occurred to us that there was nothing but slow death spread on the table. We wondered, “Who wants to consume these artery clogging products?”

As the aroma of the food drew those in our office to the table - man, did it smell good! - we thought of how much finger-pointing goes on these days, and how little responsibility is taken for our choices.

We later heard a news report about Bernard Madoff, and his alleged 50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, and for which he pled guilty in federal court. He was promptly sent off to jail and will be sentenced for his crimes in mid-June.

One of our colleagues asked, “What does it say about us as a society, other than that some of us are tremendously gullible and greedy? I mean, not doing due diligence? Shouldn’t those investing in his fund have been at least a little suspicious of Madoff's claims about his fund's steady growth?”

(Some - die-hard conservatives, we think - have even suggested that Madoff has not done anything different than what our federal government has done with its administration of Social Security funds, and yet no government official will serve any time for the government's sleight of hand.)

As we prepare to throw Bernie into the Dobermans’ den of another sort, we should ask ourselves, “Why are we so quick to point the finger at others for our own failings?”

One possible explanation: we’re uncomfortable with the image we see when we look in a mirror. Not the image itself, of course, but of what we know has resulted from the decisions we've made in our lives.

There’s a story which the Logistician often tells during his motivational workshops.

It’s Riverside, California several years ago. The clubs are closed and two teenage girls have been partying. One of the girls has difficulty rousing her cousin, and ultimately calls 911.

The authorities arrive to find the other teenager slumped in a stupor behind the wheel of the car after 2 a.m. In her lap is a weapon.

At some point, there is some movement which makes the officers think their lives may be at risk. In excess of 42 bullets are spent.

Civil rights advocates immediately start screaming about the use of “excessive force,” and “police brutality.”

We viewed the situation differently. We asked, “What was the girl doing there in that condition in the first place?”

One committing an irresponsible act can’t control the response of others, or expect the response to be one acceptable to the actor. What we need to do, as Barney Fife would say, is “nip it in the bud” early on in the sequence of events.

Be diligent. Be pro-active.

There is a poem, “You’re the Result of Yourself,” by Pablo Neruda which we posted some months ago. At the time, we noted that the poem embodies many of the principles central to the concepts we discuss, and promoted by the Institute for Applied Common Sense.

It’s appropriate to revisit it at this time. After all, “You’re the Result of Yourself.”

The next time that you bitch about your health, think about all of those breakfast biscuits you’ve consumed over the years.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Post No. 92a: Following Economic Meltdown, New Calculation of Value of Human Life

In yesterday’s edition of our local newspaper appeared an Associated Press article entitled, “Cost May Put End to Executions.” The article started:

After decades of moral arguments reaching biblical proportions, after long twisted journeys to the nation’s highest court and back, the death penalty may be abandoned by several states for a reason having nothing to do with right or wrong:


You can view the entire article by clicking here.

We’re interested in your thoughts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Post No. 92: Dobermans. Surrounded by Dobermans.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We have a colleague, a nice guy, who loves Doberman Pinschers. He loves them so much he’s raising 29 of them at his place.

When we visit him, the dogs do what Dobermans always do.

They bark. They snarl. They attack.

They do so not because they know who or what we are. They’re just in attack mode; in that mode by virtue of the way our colleague raises them.

(About dogs: You can’t make a Doberman behave like a Cocker Spaniel anymore than you can stop a Labrador from curling up on your lap and slobbering all over your sofa. Dogs are simply what they are. So be careful when you fall in love with a puppy, okay?)

Our colleague’s Dobermans got us thinking.

All of us have stress in our lives, and we all react to it differently.

Even though we, individually and collectively, are facing what any reasonable person would call dire circumstances, it seems to us that more and more people these days are firmly set in a default mode on the “attack” side of the register, and as a result, civilized discourse may well have become as extinct as the poor dodo bird.

With fear, well-founded fear at that, running rampant through the land, our recent attention has been directed to a radio commentator whose new book, “The Audacity of Failure,” is expected out soon.

However, for several years now, we’ve been subjected to a constant stream of “something,” which does not have the most pleasant aroma.

How odd, we’ve thought, that so many would resort to the slinging of this “hash.”

Don’t they realize that failure - on the part of any of our institutions at this stage in the game – would amount to a Pyrrhic victory? That incessant ideological chatter will take us nowhere?

Are the slingers, on both sides of the debate, so completely devoid of common sense that they fail to recognize that their slinging might negatively impact the personal empires which they’ve built?

Derail their ability to collect dollars from their advertisers, not to mention dampen their listeners’ interest in spending money for the things their advertisers hope to sell?

Try a little enlightened self-interest on for size, we say. Your own. Your country’s.

Our country’s.

Last week, we ran across an article entitled, “Running Scared? Fear Isn’t Good For The Economy Or Your Health.” We could only say, “No hash, Sherlock.”

Feeling a little exhausted, we sent an email to a friend: “… people claim that politics has always been nasty. However, there is something different going on now. Nasty has gotten real nasty, and personal. All the attacks, the name-calling, the questioning of people’s intelligence, the constant dissection of every word and move, with all of it designed to make people look bad. Is getting one’s way that important? It’s as if much of society has had this pent up anger and frustration, which they previously chose not to express, and that the political campaigns gave them license to say what they really felt. What thinking person would want to enter public service?”

We’ve obviously chosen our friends wisely, because she responded with a new insight.

“Anger and negativity have become synonymous today,” our friend wrote, “when in truth they’re two different emotions.”

“Negativity in the national discourse,” she noted, “has become purely intellectual.”

“None of us are born [negative],” she said. “In fact, I dare you to stop by any grade school playground and find one child who would qualify as negative by nature.”

Fear. We’ve felt it a couple of times. The night before taking the bar exam was the first time we remember. And we’re feeling it again.

Earlier today we sat in front of the computer, fearful, unsure, stomach churning. Probably like a lot of people.

The thing about people, it dawned on us, is that all of us, some to a greater degree than others, were born with the genetic coding necessary to think through the obstacles we encounter.

Paraphrasing our friend’s comment about the lack of negativity of children, it also struck us that, unlike our colleague’s Dobermans, none of us are genetically coded to bark, snarl and attack only.

Common sense says we must be guided, in Lincoln’s words, “by the better angels of our nature.”

There has to be something bigger than this ideological dispute.

Do we still have those angels?

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Monday, March 2, 2009

Post 91c: At What Price Freedom to Bear Arms?

For several years now, some commentators have complained that while the US has fought the war against terror both here and abroad, it has devoted less than sufficient resources to the war taking place along our border with Mexico.

US border mayors, governors, and law enforcement officials have complained to federal officials that Mexican drug cartels are becoming more brazen, and assembling tons of cash and weapons, in a manner reminiscent of the drug cartels in Columbia. There has been fear that this violent activity would eventually spill over into the United States.

Click on these links to read further about the effect on US families, and commentary about the effect on the US generally.

There are obviously many aspects of this border war which we could examine, including the demand for drugs in the US, the potential use of our armed forces to protect our borders, whether the battles in foreign lands should take priority over our border situation, and our relationship with Mexico. (Some contend that Mexico is on the road to becoming a “failed state,” and losing the battle against the cartels.)

However, in this article, we wish to discuss one issue. Earlier this morning, CNN reported that over the last several years, US law enforcement officials have traced at least 60,000 weapons trafficked from the US to Mexican drug cartels. Arguably, it is an example of “free trade” uninterrupted.

The relative ease with which weapons can be purchased here in the US has made it a prime supplier of weaponry in this battle.

Any thoughts?

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

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

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™