Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Post No. 112: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Last month, a postal worker here in town found a poorly hand-written envelope addressed to God, with excessive postage.
He opened it and discovered it was from an elderly lady, distressed because a thief had robbed her of $100. She anticipated being cold and hungry for the month of April, if she did not receive some divine intervention.
The worker organized a collection amongst the other postal workers, who dug deep, and came up with $96. They delivered it to the lady by special courier the same morning.
A week later, the postal worker recognized the same hand-writing on another envelope. He opened it and found the following:
"Dear God: Thank you for the $100. This month would have been so bleak without it.
“P.S. Just to let you know, it was $4 short, which I strongly suspect was taken by those slacker government employees over at the Post Office."
Most of you probably did not realize that the Logistician was a Postal Service employee when not working with us here at the Institute. He collected the money for the woman, only to have the beneficiary of his good will attribute her good fortune to a deity, instead of a government agency.
Earlier this month, he suffered from depression and was not in the best of spirits. He constantly whined about all the government had done for people for so long, delivering their mail through rain, sleet, and snow.
He felt, quite simply, unappreciated.
It was his idea to start this blog. He quickly realized that he would not be able to get his message out alone, and joined forces with the Laughingman of the Institute for Applied Common Sense. Shortly thereafter, all content generated was done so under the auspices of the Institute. (In fact, we will soon change the name of the blog to “Applied Common Sense.”)
During his year here at the Institute, he was branded a liberal, a moderate, a conservative, a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a good Christian, an atheist, an anarchist, a progressive, a moron, an imbecile, too serious, too flippant, and on many occasions, just plain stupid. None of the labels actually apply, with the possible exception of “stupid.”
Each time that he received what he considered to be “constructive criticism,’ he tried to alter his approach and dance to the music of the crowd. Each time it met with more criticism.
He was warned that the stressors connected with his Postal Service job, coupled with being the brunt of much criticism here at the Institute, might affect him psychologically.
After some frustration, especially trying to serve as referee between all of the warring factions, he decided to adopt another persona, and become a clown. He considered becoming Clarabelle or perhaps Benny Hill.
And then something else occurred to him.
You see, the Logistician has never been married. In fact, some of his friends say that scientists are still trying to determine the type of woman in whom he is interested. He has also been accused of being interested in “all women.”
His response each time was that if he wanted to dance and ride a roller-coaster on regular basis, and wonder how the people with whom he was interacting on a daily basis would respond to him, he need simply join the carnival, and get paid for it.
Additionally, he always found it odd that those ideologically oriented to yell at the top of their lungs about “individual freedom,” and the need to ensure against government infringement, are the ones most inclined to support the institution of marriage, where a substantial number of freedoms are eliminated.
However, being the Logistician, he tried to make this past year a positive, learning experience,which brings us to this point of notifying you that there are going to be a couple of changes here at the Institute.
First of all, the Logistician is no longer with us.
He has begun a 3 year sabbatical in Brazil, focusing on the marital institution. More specifically, his research will delve into whether arranged, traditional marriages, orchestrated by family or tribal members, is preferable to those serendipitous relationships marked by that nebulous concept called “lust.”
He will conclude his research and travels with a marital ceremony in the Amazonian port city of Manaus, once he has selected a female research partner, who is interested in working with us here at the Institute.
Until further notice, we, Punch and Judy, will be taking the Logistician’s place. His shoes will be difficult to fill. However, we have extensive experience in stirring things up and “manhandling” difficult subjects.
We look forward to receiving your comments responsive to our thoughts. Just don’t try to “jerk our strings.”
Monday, April 27, 2009
Post No. 111: Been There; Done That
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
We frequently suggest that in tackling problems, we examine history, starting with a minimum of 5,000 years, and as far back as 13,000.
However, we’ve come to the conclusion that history alone may not always be able to help us out of jams.
Alan Greenspan recently lamented that those principles he relied on for 40 years no longer apply.
An historian once noted that we should always proceed with caution when we think that the policies of the past can be reapplied, and will generate similar results.
We might do well to consult physics, and better understand the laws of static and dynamic forces. (These are older than humankind and history.)
In order to assess or address anything within a dynamic system, one must freeze or suspend all movement or change, of as many variables as possible, or otherwise isolate the component at issue.
We also know that slight tweaks (no, not tweets) of a variable can result in dramatically different results.
Logic dictates that the larger and more complex the system, the more difficult it is to manage or affect any part of it.
As comforting as it may be psychologically, to resort to playing marbles and pick-up-sticks, it is of questionable value to return to many practices of the past.
Imagine trying to reconstruct that romance which you had with that guy or gal back in school (altered state of consciousness or not), and hope that those old moves lead to the same results.
As a nation, we can never re-create the circumstances extant when prior practices and policies were implemented and applied.
The world may have changed every year back then, but it now changes every nanosecond. We need to recognize this, and conduct ourselves accordingly.
It’s actually lazy and simplistic to merely repeat the practices of the past, even if they were successful. It requires far more energy, commitment, focus, and innovation to craft appropriate approaches to new conditions, everyday.
Sitting on the sidelines and simply watching changes occur without responding also may not be the best tactic.
To suggest that our enemies or competitors have been sitting still, or that the conditions in our country have been in suspension, is just plain science fiction.
For years, Corporate America used large, 100 year old silk-stocking firms to perform its outside legal work. The Logistician and his partners sought that same work, somewhat successfully, by offering a lower rate. They were smaller, more nimble, had lower overheard, and more importantly, hungrier.
Yet, many corporations were reluctant to make such a change. If things went awry, someone would undoubtedly question why the referring counsel did something out of the ordinary, and did not stick with the tried and tested firms.
Hollywood’s like that. It’s far easier to explain why “Men in Black 12” did not generate record box office numbers, than a new concept.
But consider this.
If you‘re surprised about a development over a span of 30 years, like the demise of our educational and industrial systems here in the U.S., you probably were asleep at the switch, and not paying close attention to changes on an annual, much less a monthly, basis.
We all have a tendency to go through repetitive motions. They’re safe, familiar, less subject to scrutiny, and require less effort.
UPS had a marketing campaign which referred to “moving at the speed of business.” Hong Kong is a 24 hour business city. Imagine what happens to others when their business communities are asleep.
It’s the nature of competition, and the nature of change.
There’s been much noise about returning to the policies of Clinton, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or FDR. Quite frankly, returning to those dated tactics, no matter which side of the ideological line they may fall, may not be particularly helpful.
Those circumstances no longer exist, and will never exist again. And that doesn’t take into consideration the efforts to revise history.
We can’t duplicate the economic variables. We certainly can not re-create the psychological and social variables.
Going forward, we need to craft new procedures, new principles, new tactics. Ones that fit our current conditions, which have never existed before.
So to all of our politicians and policy makers out there, please detach yourselves from your ideological goals and preferences, and repeating that mantra about what you think worked in the past.
Try to figure out what’s most likely to work, TODAY, going forward, based on current conditions, and those we anticipate.
The world is far flatter than we once thought.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Post No. 110: Who Cares If It's Torture?
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
On most news issues, we don’t have an opinion.
At least, not immediately. We like to think stuff through.
In the case of this “torture” or “enhanced interrogation” debate, we definitely do not have an opinion.
We don’t have enough concrete, credible evidence to competently form an opinion.
More importantly, we do not have first hand information.
Plus, it’s become difficult to decipher the “truth” from the media outlets.
At this point, affixing a label, to the purported conduct, may actually be little more than an academic exercise.
However, we do have some “observations.”
Many of our citizens feel that the methods employed were appropriate.
There is also a substantial segment which feels that they were not, at least for a civilized society.
Some apparently feel that the tactics worked, fulfilled a valuable function, and thus were “necessary,” whereas others disagree.
Yet, despite all of the dissection, few have really focused on the crux of the matter: Whether we are willing to embrace a “by any means necessary” philosophy to address a perceived threat.
This obviously is one amorphous, value-laden, context-driven, ball of Play Doh, moving like a Slinky down the Capitol steps.
There is nothing more unsettling to humans than the thought that we are capable of going to a place we consider unthinkable, although perhaps necessary. (Practice and frequency change all of that.)
It’s mentally akin to shooting a human for the 1st time, whether an intruder, or enemy soldier.
The reality is that at some point on the continuum, we’d all be willing to commit the ultimate act, or darn close to it, if we thought it “necessary,” and that the interests protected were significant enough.
Part of the problem is that it doesn’t matter whether something is actually a threat, but rather whether people think it is a threat, and reasonable people will differ on that.
All three Institute Fellows, the Optimizer, the Laughingman, and the Logistician, served in the armed forces during the Vietnam Conflict Era. Each learned to use weapons which kill, if necessary.
We appreciate the concept of evil, and the concept of the “enemy.’
And yet, we’d all probably be far less likely to use torture, however defined, than 98% of you who have never served.
On the other hand, if we decided that it was necessary, we’d be at the front of the line, in the first 2%, to do it, efficiently, like Arnold, and move the freak on, with little yapping….
The History Channel and PBS recently aired programs documenting the inhuman treatment of Allied POWs in the South Pacific by the Japanese during WWII. Subsequently, we saw a discussion of the psychology of revenge.
Once it was clear that the Americans had won, and began to take Japanese POWs, our forces did some pretty despicable things. A U.S. journalist captured some of this on film. It was suppressed for years, and only recently disclosed.
We didn’t want the world to know that Americans could “go there.”
We need occasional reminding that fear can bring out the absolute freak in us.
And anger is frequently intertwined with fear.
Today, we witnessed the baptism of a young infant. Observing the congregation, we noted the serenity associated with that event.
All of us take on that glazed look when dealing with infants. We’re reminded of an era of innocence, when worries are nonexistent, and someone else has the responsibility of caring for us.
It’s a space to which many yearn to return - unrealistically.
Jack Nicholson reminded us, in “A Few Good Men,” that some force ensures that those of us on the home front, including that infant, sleep in peace and comfort through the night. (Funny that film should have taken place at Guantanamo.)
When we perceive a threat (especially one difficult to define and frame) is about to invade our zone of serenity, our willingness to “go there” becomes less objectionable.
We’re all located in different cars on the train that is the continuum as we approach that point.
That being said, perhaps we can do without labeling it torture or some other euphemism.
Perhaps no prosecutions, bloodletting, or rolling of heads.
We well understand the PR issues, and this desire to convey that America is the Mt. Everest of “high moral ground.”
However, that we live in a society capable of public introspection may be just good enough, for now, especially with other issues on our plate.
It’s what helps form the “collective conscience” that all societies need, but do not have.
The reality is that at the end of the day, all of us care.
Post No. 109: It All Depends on the Price of Your Ticket on the Train
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
There’s a good and bad side to everything.
Including conduct and relationships.
(Are you aware the largest source of violence against women is not strangers, against whom one might use a gun, but from their “loved ones,” who they know?)
The Logistician is the only guy we know who takes dangerous vacations.
Like walking the back streets of Rio amid warnings of “the Mafioso.” Or scurrying from Caracas just before riots resulted in 300 deaths. Then there was cruising in the Adriatic when the U.S. bombed Libya.
Some brave, macho guy? No. (Stupid is more likely.)
His problem? Curiosity.
About any and every thing. And open to all points of view.
He suspects that how one views the world, and what they value, depends on where they’ve been, what they know, and what they’re willing to experience.
As an engineer and a lawyer, he had to appreciate all sides of many issues. He had to find the facts, not just those which advanced his goals.
He learned that advocating a position, which was patently disingenuous or specious, detracted from the power of your advocacy, and made others question your motives, if not your professionalism.
Rightly or wrongly, he applied that principle to all things in the Universe, and thought that others did also.
But it now appears that we either live in a new environment, or the Logistician is just waking up to reality.
Many have figured out that drawing lines in the sand, making specious arguments, if not telling out right lies, and resisting the views of others, works. Especially while pushing emotional buttons.
For someone who learned to argue the merits of a position, and not their own belief system, this is proving to be a very troubling revelation.
Today it appears that if one does the Nikita, pounds the desk, speaks at a fever pitch, and exudes “passion,” one will attract attention. And perhaps even a lot of followers.
That may be good. May be bad.
We almost named this piece, “Both Sides Equally Wrong on Most Issues.”
Why? When Einstein was exploring “simultaneity,” or the simultaneous occurrence of events (and its relationship to relativity), he asked, “How do we know two events are simultaneous?”
He provided this mental example. Lightning strikes to one’s left, and a separate strike occurs the same distance to the right. To the person standing in the middle, the light from both strikes will be perceived as reaching the person at the same time.
The observer will consequently view the events as “simultaneous.”
Next, imagine a very, very fast moving train. Lighting strikes the front, and a separate strike hits the back, when an observer, standing beside the track, is in the middle of the span of the train.
Again, the observer would consider these “simultaneous.”
Then Einstein threw us a curve ball.
He asked us to imagine a woman sitting on the train, in the middle passenger car, when lightning strikes both the front and rear of the train.
From her perspective, they would no longer be simultaneous events. Moving in the direction of the front end of the train, she would perceive two, separate, and distinct strikes.
And so we thought, how we view the world, and the positions of others, depends on where we sit on the train.
When it comes to considering the behavior of others, or formulating solutions to problems, we should recognize that others are located in different cars on the train.
And that their perceptions are equally valid.
Bill Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach and Father of the last meaningful creative revolution, famously kept a scrap of paper in his wallet. Upon reaching an impasse with clients about his radical approach to advertising, he would pull it out.
On same Bill had reminded himself that, “Perhaps he’s right.”
As we speed toward that stalled R.V. straddling the track down the road, we need the input and contributions of all observers, not just those in any one car.
Like Mr. Bernbach, we need to put ideology aside in favor of pragmatism, when the logical outcome of inter-railroad employee fighting and a bad decision might be a massive train wreck.
Rigid adherence to one’s position may work on a personal level.
However, it significantly complicates collaboration, and has the potential to distract us from reaching common goals to our collective benefit.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Post No. 108a: Article of Interest re U.S. Education Status
The following article appeared in the April 22, 2009 electronic edition of the New York Times:
April 22, 2009
Swimming Without a Suit
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
"Speaking of financial crises and how they can expose weak companies and weak countries, Warren Buffett once famously quipped that 'only when the tide goes out do you find out who is not wearing a bathing suit.' So true. But what’s really unnerving is that America appears to be one of those countries that has been swimming butt naked — in more ways than one.
"Credit bubbles are like the tide. They can cover up a lot of rot. In our case, the excess consumer demand and jobs created by our credit and housing bubbles have masked not only our weaknesses in manufacturing and other economic fundamentals, but something worse: how far we have fallen behind in K-12 education and how much it is now costing us. That is the conclusion I drew from a new study by the consulting firm McKinsey, entitled The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools."
* * *
To view the remainder of the article, click here.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Post No. 108: Too Few Indians; Not Enough Chiefs
Something’s bothering us.
How in the heck did so many become experts on economic theory overnight, and declare themselves competent to expound on this tactic or that?
Not only are they economic experts; they can predict the future with certainty.
Lots of us have difficulty tracking a checking account balance.
We here at the Institute aren’t sure of much, other than tequila will make you stupid, vodka will make you delusional, and hanging out with more than one woman will make you broke.
And so with amazement, we have watched talk show hosts, pundits, and just regular folks like us, draw lines in the sand describing what happened, why it happened, and what is about to occur.
Where were these people before things started heading south? And why weren’t they running things?
We’ve operated businesses. Stuff’s tricky. We don’t pass judgment on others, especially those with larger /more complex operations.
One of the Logistician’s partners used to say that business people are happy if they get it right 51% of the time. 60% will make you wealthy.
And yet people with not even lemonade stand experience call others incompetent.
That’s not to mention those who’ve cornered the market on history and claim their view is historically accurate, while others are revisionist in nature, or worse yet, lies.
A symposium on the economy was recently held at George Washington University.
There were roughly 10-13 economists, journalists, former banking officials, and business professionals.
First, the group noted that over decades, our best and brightest were diverted or “distracted.”
Instead of pursing careers in science, bio-tech, and other technological areas, they spent time creating “innovative financial instruments,” and generated huge amounts of money, mostly for themselves, through leveraging.
Second, the question arose as to how the best and brightest from our top educational institutions managed to be at the center of this whole mess. This was not a collection of dullards.
Third, there was some sense that the captains of finance had little sense of social responsibility.
Fourth, no one attributed our economic situation as primarily due to one factor, a short period of time, one party, or one administration.
Even the least sophisticated amongst us should appreciate that:
1) The world hasn’t faced a similar economic crisis in our lifetime. There is no historical precedent. No one really knows precisely what to do;
2) This crisis seems to have been precipitated by an economic situation more or less defined by the availability of more capital than good deals;
3) There is no more “them” or “us.” We can’t get along without Chinese money and China can’t get along without the American market. We need a world wide coordinated effort… which is going to be difficult;
4) The economic policies of the last 8 (or 15, or 20, or 30) years got us to this point and did not produce the desired results;
5) When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging;
6) There is no drug as addictive or powerful as easy credit and the promise of instant wealth;
Finally, we’ll pass on something from a buddy who should know. The main reason why Tim Geithner is flailing in the wind is he can’t consult the Street and the Big Banks because there are horrendous conflicts of interest. Treasury is also inadequately staffed for this reason, along with the fact that few have the guts to take on a task of this magnitude.
Much of the wailing and brow beating can largely be attributed to a few who became very rich during the last decade exploiting easy credit and nonexistent regulation.
They became hooked on the most powerful drug extant.
The rest of this public viciousness is nothing but political finger pointing.
Hunter Thompson once observed of Washington: “In a closed society, where everyone is guilty, the only crime is in getting caught, and the only sin is stupidity.”
Mark Twain, 100 years earlier, noted: “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
We elected this man on the promise of change. Lord knows our economy is in desperate need of something different.
We at the Institute of Applied Common Sense ask only that those both for, and against, this change “get with the program.” If you have a better idea, let’s hear it.
If not, let’s tamp down the fervor, and give a new approach a chance.
After all, the stuff we did before obviously didn’t work.
Except, perhaps for the benefit of a few.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Post No. 107: Is There a Positive Side to Anger?
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Some weeks ago, we expressed concern about the “tone” of discourse in our forum. It never reached the level of name calling, but it came darn close.
Acrimony and invective rose to a level where many complained that they were not interested in the accompanying message, no matter how well articulated or founded.
As put by one of our visitors, “Why would anyone, at least without a lot of cash, be interested in dealing with angry people?”
(We do not consider all of those using personal attacks as angry people, but we appreciate the point.)
It was our goal to create a forum for civil discourse, and the exchange of ideas, whereby we all could learn.
Although we had the ability to screen comments, we chose not to do so.
We wanted to encourage expression and attract all points of view.
One of the things we learned is that most people maintain their ideological positions throughout, despite being presented with thought-provoking arguments from many angles from many others.
Rarely did we note someone acknowledging the merit of a position which they had not previously considered.
As the Optimizer often says, theories and positions are good for something, but not nearly as much as their proponents argue.
In an effort to get beyond what the Laughingman termed “justified” criticism by those on the left, middle, and right, that our topics reflected our bias, several weeks ago, we sought topics from you.
One of you, whose analysis, wit, appreciation of history, and tone of presentation we respect, suggested that he had a theory: There is an “upside to anger.”
He was concerned about the mischaracterization of “righteous anger” as “hatred” or “rage.”
He also felt he had “a right and obligation to speak out.”
Having long considered anger to be a wasted emotion, considering the source of the topic, we asked, “What does anger gain one,” as opposed to, “But what does anger gain one?”
For weeks we observed everything about us to locate an “upside to anger.”
We looked at sports, child rearing, scientific research, and food preparation.
We considered angry teachers, ministers, government officials, and medical professionals.
While still pondering the question, we viewed a symposium on the economy on C-Span. We were struck by several things.
There were roughly 10-13 economists, journalists, former banking officials, and other business professionals.
Notable was the absence of politicians, government officials, comedians, and talk show hosts.
What immediately struck us was the civil tone of the discussion.
It was difficult to figure out who was liberal, conservative, Democrat, or Republican.
The participants were respectful of each other’s views.
They approached the subject analytically, with little emotion, and placed our current economic woes in historical context.
There was quite a bit of discussion about whether we, as a society, had learned anything about the functioning of our economy and the societal repercussions, following repeated recessions, price and wage controls, the savings and loan debacle, the bursting of the technology bubble, Enron, and the demise of the major investment banking firms.
It seemed like a Common Sense and responsible way to approach the problem to us.
We noted the contrast between this thoughtful, non-combative event, and the anger vented on our blog, in Congress, and on the talk shows.
We asked, “In which context are we more likely to generate some fresh ideas to deal with this very complex and serious situation, and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying causes?”
After giving some, if not due, consideration to the topic, and despite the respect that we have for our reader, we couldn’t find an “upside to anger.”
We view anger as a primal, instinctive, and perhaps more immediate reaction to an event or set of events. Responsible people, after acknowledging the event, set about dealing with it, and in our view, anger makes that more difficult.
Our friend may be correct that we’ve seen a mischaracterization of “righteous anger” as “hatred” or “rage” on occasion. However, we just don’t see its utility after one feels it.
Few are going to listen to your point of view while you’re “screaming” at them literally or figuratively.
Suggesting, even obliquely, that those who disagree with you are morons is probably not the way to go.
As much as it may serve some personal function, we just don’t see how anger advances any long-term, positive, societal interests.
Let’s keep that in mind going forward.
All of us.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Post No. 106: Local News Coverage of Crime
For years now, many in the media and journalism businesses have weighed in on the coverage of crime by local news outlets.
Many investigations and studies have been conducted, both in and out of academic settings.
In preparation for this post, we examined a number of them, and initially planned to provide links to some of them to probe further into the issues.
However, we chose not to do so, since we are certain that some of you would accuse us of projecting a particular bias, or advocating a particular position.
Do you feel that local news coverage of crime in your city or county, or those areas in which you previously lived, is fair and proportionate, too little, or too much?
How does one theoretically determine the amount of “fair and proportionate” coverage of crime?
Does the coverage of crime have an “effect” on the citizens who view and hear the stories of crime?
Does the coverage potentially portray certain segments of society, or parts of town, in an unfair light?
Should the decisions regarding the amount of crime coverage be left entirely to the management of the media and journalism vehicles? Should the owners participate in the process?
Should government intervene in any way?
Should someone or some agency total up all of the events occurring in a particular geographic area, determine the percentage of crime events, and present coverage equivalent to that particular percentage?
Should “ratings” based on the consuming public’s response determine the amount of coverage?
How can we in a “free society” ensure that we are receiving a “fair and balanced” coverage of local crime?
Do you believe that those in charge of certain news media outlets purposefully skew the amount of crime covered? Purposefully avoid covering crime? Why?
By the way, while we’re at it, how do you think that the national news and media outlets determine which missing young women to cover in their stories?
Friday, April 10, 2009
Post No. 105a: What is Your Favorite Easter Egg Story from Childhood?
Earlier today, we contacted one of our long-term colleagues and mentioned that we were suffering from combat fatigue and post-traumatic stress syndrome because of all of the acrimony back and forth in our forum.
This is the same colleague who expressed some concern last year about the serious nature of the topics discussed on our blog, and that we might not achieve our goal of simply encouraging our readers to appreciate the views of others.
She suggested that whenever we want to lighten up the subject matter, all we need do is to get our readers to discuss food.
This being Good Friday, with Easter rapidly approaching, we thought that we might carry our readers back to another era, when they were kids, and participated in either coloring, hiding, finding, or eating Easter eggs, or all of the preceding.
So.... What is your favorite Easter egg memory from childhood?
By the way, for those of you interested in the story behind Easter eggs, click here.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Post No. 105: Should the Pope Be Permitted to Speak at a Public School Commencement?
We chose the title appearing above to have a little fun, and also to stimulate some thought about an issue about which many appear concerned.
President Obama was invited to receive an honorary degree, and to be the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame. It is a private Catholic university.
Because of the President’s previously stated positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell issues, some are calling the invitation an error on the University’s part. Some have even suggested that it be withdrawn.
It has been argued that the University should be open to political engagement and encourage intellectual freedom.
Others claim that the school should not honor the Church’s most formidable opponent on these sensitive issues.
What say you and why?
Does it matter that this is a private institution instead of a public one?
Does it matter that this is a religious institution, as opposed to one which is not?
Does it matter that this is a Catholic institution as opposed to a Protestant institution?
On a broader scale, should the administrations of institutions of high learning, whether they are public or private, discourage the participation, in any manner, in school functions and activities, of individuals whose views they deem controversial or unacceptable?
Finally, although we posed the question in jest, if the University of California at Berkeley, or M.I.T. extended an invitation to the Pope to speak at its commencement, would we have the same furor, albeit for different reasons?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Post No. 104: Should Government Intervene Where Private Sector Monopolies or Near-Monopolies Exist?
We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted six of them thus far. Here is the seventh:
"We have a number of anti-trust laws on the books, including the Sherman and Clayton Acts. However, quite a few private sector business monopolies or "near-monopolies" exist. In fact, some would argue that the Justice Department's enforcement of these laws changed in recent years permitting mergers of previously huge enterprises.
"Consider such things as local cable service; Microsoft's virtual monopoly on computer operating systems; and Monsanto's influence with respect to seed used for food (the article about which you can view in the comments to Post No. 96a). There is also some concern today about the few companies which control our media outlets, and the growing size of Google.
"Some have argued that by de-regulating certain industries, we allowed them to grow so large, and become so interwoven with the general economy, that they became "too big to fail' considering the potential impact on the US and world economies.
"Here's the question. Should government intervene at any point into the business dealings of private industry, and if so, at what point and to what extent?"
It must be kept in mind that there are some economic systemic arguments for monopolies.
We'd also appreciate an itemization of some other monopolies and "near-monopolies."
We'd also be curious to know whether your views on this subject have changed in the past year in light of what happened with AIG, our investment banks, and other financial institutions.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Post No. 103: Why Do the Democrats Seemingly Have a Lock on African-American Votes
We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted five of them thus far. Here is the sixth:
"Given that African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, what advances in the African-American community can be traced to Democratic policies and initiatives, over the past 50 years?"
We believe that some other questions might be addressed at the same time:
Why haven't African-Americans looked more to the Republican Party, or even other smaller parties?
Are there some positive or negative ramifications which flow from the Democratic Party knowing that it will always acquire the vast majority of the African-American vote?
Is the African-American population so small at this point in time that their vote is increasingly taking on less significance, particularly since Hispanics and Asians are now larger minorities in the population?
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Post No. 102: Why Aren't More Americans Members of the Libertarian Party?
We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted four of them thus far. Here is the fifth:
"There are many citizens who contend that our newly-elected President is, in actuality, a 'Socialist.' Many critics of the current Administration are conducting 'tea parties' around the country to protest and prevent the country's purported slide into socialism. If there is so much concern about centralized, government control of our lives, why don't more citizens join the Libertarian Party?"
We went to Wikipedia, and looked up the term, "United States Libertarian Party." An excerpt of the article appears below:
“The Libertarian Party is a United States political party…. More than 200,000 voters are registered with the party, making it one of the largest of America's alternative political parties. Hundreds of Libertarian candidates have been elected or appointed to public office, and thousands have run for office under the Libertarian banner.
“The political platform of the Libertarian Party reflects that group's particular brand of libertarianism, favoring minimally regulated, laissez-faire markets, strong civil liberties, minimally regulated migration across borders, and non-interventionism in foreign policy that respects freedom of trade and travel to all foreign countries.”
To access the complete article, simply click here.
So, tell us. Why doesn't the Libertarian Party appeal to more citizens?
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Post No. 101: What is "Cap and Trade" and Why are So Many Saying All of those Things about It?
We recently asked our readers to submit possible topics for discussion, and we received numerous responses. We've posted three of them thus far. Here is the fourth:
"I would like to read what the people who visit your blog have to say about cap and trade."
We indicated to the reader that although we had heard the term used, we were not very familiar with the details of the issue, other than the fact that people seem to be arguing about it. Consequently, we went to Wikipedia, and looked up the term. We were re-directed to "emissions trading," and an excerpt of the article appears below:
"Emissions trading (or emission trading) is an administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. It is sometimes called cap and trade.
"A central authority (usually a government or international body) sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. Companies or other groups are issued emission permits and are required to hold an equivalent number of allowances (or credits) which represent the right to emit a specific amount. The total amount of allowances and credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Companies that need to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from those who pollute less. The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade. In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. Thus, in theory, those that can easily reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest possible cost to society.
"There are active trading programs in several pollutants. For greenhouse gases the largest is the European Union Emission Trading Scheme. In the United States there is a national market to reduce acid rain and several regional markets in nitrogen oxides Markets for other pollutants tend to be smaller and more localized.
"According to some, cap and trade "is inefficient and prone to market failure", and only a carbon tax 'allows you to make an international agreement globally effective in a short period of time.' However, a cap and trade system can be politically preferable for existing industries because the initial allocation of allowances is often allocated with a grandfathering provision where rights are issued in proportion to historical emissions. Most of the money from trading is spent on environmental activities, and the investment directed at sustainable projects that earn credits in the developing world which contribute to the Millennium Development Goals. Critics of emissions trading also point to problems of complexity, cost, monitoring, enforcement, and sometimes dispute the initial allocation methods and cap."
To see the entire article, simply click here.
So what's your position on all of this?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Post No. 100: If Tin Whistles are Made of Tin, What are Credit Default Swap Derivatives Made Of?
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
There’s a reason the Logistician likes the Laughingman. He can reduce crap to its irreducible essence.
We try to avoid taking sides in our discussions. It just doesn’t get us anywhere. No party or ideologue can legitimately lay claim to the concepts Common Sense and Personal Responsibility. We try our best to weave the concepts into each original article posted.
Our goal is to get 95% of the heads nodding. Sometimes we get close. Others times, it’s a reach.
We recently sought topics from you, with the hope that we would all learn something new through the exchange, and take away something of value. Exasperated by all the barking about our economic situation, the Logistician posted the following comment on a number of blogs he frequents. His thoughts jived with the topic suggested by the Laughingman, and thus the title of this piece.
“We as a society have to take responsibility for where we find ourselves today. By doing so, we might be able to turn this thing around.
“We have a tendency to forget the basic, big picture stuff, and complain when things deteriorate.
“Things on planet Earth are actually quite simple. (Gore Vidal once referred to us as the ‘United States of Amnesia.’ Perhaps we’re such a young nation, we haven’t fully learned to appreciate history.) Consider the following:
“1. Innovation and technology, leading to building and creating 'things,' determines EVERYTHING in a civilized society. (If you don't personally know a scientist or inventor in your neighborhood advancing society's interests, or some kid who WANTS TO DO SO, you have a long term problem.
“2. New technology, followed by the production of things using the technology, generates JOBS. The tax revenues derived from those technological enterprises determine what government ultimately can do. No innovation and no production of things - no tax revenues.
“3. The more hours that one works, the more one produces. (Up to a point, of course. We do not want people collapsing from exhaustion.) Exhaustion occurs way beyond 40, or even 60 hours a week for that matter. Take a break, and you run the risk of falling behind your competition.
“4. When the vast majority of a substantial segment of your society's time is spent trying to cover the essentials, that segment isn’t particularly useful. It’s no different than the role played by mass agriculture in history. Food production has to be relegated to a few, so that the others can engage in the advancement of innovation and technology, and the trade and exchange of the products produced.
“5. The simplest way to reduce rising health care costs? Stop eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, smoking Camels, drinking Colt 45, and hit the treadmill. You'll see a dramatic improvement in health, and at a pretty low cost.
“6. Retirement (when workers still have talent and the ability to contribute) kills your society and generates other problems, especially when you shift tax revenue to people who sit on their asses for years. Capable people who work until the day they die are more productive members of society, physically and mentally. And, they feel that they have some value in society.
“7. War is not a revenue generating enterprise. There are few positive ramifications. It’s a resource drain. It kills productive members of society (who could be inventing some stuff), and gets people pissed off at you.
“8. When you treat any segment of society unfairly, for whatever reason, they become less motivated, and less capable, to work in concert with you to pursue long-term societal interests. It makes more sense to have them voluntarily and emotionally 'buy into' your societal goals. They'll be more motivated .”
If one looks back in history, it’s clear that this is simply Common Sense.
A society which rationalizes its poor choices for too long a period of time is ultimately doomed. It might ride its success for a short period of time, but not for very long.
We, as a society, are ignoring all of the stuff that really matters. We're fooling ourselves while we engage in meaningless debates.
And wasting time.
It's like a boat sinking because of a leak, and the sailors are all arguing, while blowing tin whistles, about who’s responsible for the leak, and what mechanism to use to get the water out of the vessel.
If tin whistles are made of tin, what are credit default swap derivatives made of?
We’d like to know.
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