Sunday, May 31, 2009

Post No. 122: You Don’t Get Old by Being No Fool

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sometimes we draw our inspiration from movies. Last week, TCM aired a musical comedy with Fred Astaire.

Astaire plays a popular dancer pursued by female fans. He employs subterfuge and fleet of foot to escape the crowd. He sneaks into a cab and thinks that he has pulled it off. To his surprise, Joan Fontaine, a member of nobility whose family expects her to announce who she will marry any day, scurries into the cab. She’s trying to avoid being caught by the family’s Chief Steward. They desire that she marry a boy from another noble family; but she’s in love with a city boy.

While trying to enter the cab to retrieve her, the steward gets into a fight with Astaire. A London Bobby arrives and decides to arrest both. Astaire wiggles out by participating in a street dance routine performed by someone imitating him. The Bobby is so taken with his performance that Astaire is able to fade into the crowd.

For those incapable of “dancing out of danger,” the world’s a more serious and dangerous place, for the Police and the populace.

In the 60’s, we were a bit more innocent. Vietnam took care of that. Some say Nixon ended the war upon realizing we were pulling a disproportionate number of poor kids from the projects, training them as guerilla fighters, and dumping them back into the ghetto… a practice any one could have seen would not end well.

Take a group of radicalized middle class college students occasionally bombing or occupying government buildings, toss in a few government scandals and VP Cheney’s take on our constitutional rights, and you have a recipe for paranoia… on both sides of the badge.

Running down “bad guys” is now a national obsession, and something of which America seems to be proud.

Police car chases are so popular that stations interrupt any broadcast, repeat, any broadcast, to provide updates. There’s even a website devoted to freeway pursuits.

Our target audience for our Common Sense and Personal Responsibility seminars is college students. There’s a high probability that they will, at some point during their educational experience, have an encounter with the law.

(The O.J. “cruise” with Al Cowlings highlighted a couple of Common Sense differences between your run of the mill teenager, and a seriously skilled dancer. O.J. never threatened anybody other than himself, and he kept his speed below the posted limit.)

Here are some things students might want to consider:


If you’re afraid of the Police, or feel some urge to call them dirty names, drive someplace with lots of people (with camera phones) before you pull over. The Police are well aware of the consequences of beating on you in public while being recorded.


Comedian Chris Rock has a funny piece about talking to the Police when stopped. His advice will get you arrested.

The Police don’t know who you or your Daddy are, they don’t wear body armor to fill out an over-sized uniform, and you may never get a second chance to make a good first impression. (Just ask Sir Charles Barkley.)

Be cooperative; and cognizant of the 25 or so pounds of weaponry he or she carries around all day, every day, along with the steel toe, shiny boots, and be contrite.


DUIs, drugs, and traffic offenses have become major sources of income for many of our local constabulary, particularly during this economic meltdown. Their income and equipment depend largely on muck-ups, and the number of tickets and convictions they are able to amass.

Keep in mind that management consultants have infiltrated police departments across the land. Law enforcement is now a business, along with prisons. Line up a lawyer and assemble a bail fund in advance if you want to sport your own haircut and flashy set of wheels.


Leave the party favors at home. If you need to transport the stuff, consider FedEx. If you insist on driving zapped, so you will be. Best thing to do is keep cab fare in reserve, providing you the ability to impress your chosen companion, and get things going early.

Last week, we ran across an article reflecting how things can go bad in an instant. Sixteen year old Robert Mitchell was a passenger in his cousin’s car. Police stopped the vehicle for an expired license plate. Mitchell, a learning disabled boy with a clean record, jumped out of the car. His cousin said he was absolutely freaked and starting sprinting.

The 5’2”, 110 pound kid fled to an abandoned house. Though the Police tried to corner him, he resisted. They responded with their version of non-lethal force, using a 50,000 volt TASER.

Mitchell died shortly thereafter.

One poor choice can chase one for one’s full life, no matter how short. It will undoubtedly also haunt the officers.

Where did it go wrong? What was the first indicator that things were about to spiral?

The Laughingman contends that telling the truth will always set one free. He also maintains that when things go wrong, there are worse things than getting arrested.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Post No. 121: “Let It Be Clear that I Support Our Troops with Boots on the Ground”

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, while filling our car with gas, we noticed a truck with a large number of bumper stickers pasted to its rear end. One sticker caught our attention. It suggested that fundamentalism is a destructive force which leads to the death of one’s brain.

We then perused the dozen or so other stickers on the rear panel. Each, in its own succinct way, revealed a personal philosophy about the owner. That prompted us to await his exit from the convenience store portion of the gas station. That he wore his emotions on his vehicle, in so many ways, aroused our curiosity.

After a couple of minutes, the owner approached us. We mentioned how the collection of bumper stickers prompted us to check him out.

He described himself as far left of center, and a self-educated hillbilly, who grew up in the hills of Tennessee. Paradoxically, he said that he was tired of people reducing complex subjects to simplistic explanations, to which many are drawn emotionally and illogically.

We invited him to participate in our forum, after informing him that we welcome all points of view.

Shortly thereafter, we saw Republican Party member Gen. Colin Powell on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning. We were reminded us of how someone can explain their position in such a manner that you have to respect their thought process, even though you may disagree with their position.

Powell very calmly, and without emotion, discussed his recent encounter with Rush Limbaugh. Apparently Limbaugh called him out last year when Powell indicated that he planned to vote for and support presidential candidate Obama. Limbaugh responded by suggesting that the only reason why Powell supported Obama was because both Powell and Obama are African-Americans.

Powell indicated that he had always voted for the candidate who he personally considered most qualified, and that despite being a Republican, he had previously voted for Caucasian Democratic candidates Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter.

He then went on to discuss many issues in the news today, including the issues of water boarding and / or torture, the closure of Guantanamo, his differences with former Vice-President Cheney, and the missteps which he considered our new President had made thus far.

What struck us was the tone of his comments, his even-handedness, and the lack of invective. However, during his discussion of the issues, including those in which he was intimately involved during the Bush administration, we thought about our new gas station follower, and how few issues today can be reduced to simplistic, emotional explanations.

All this Memorial Day, we listened to those opposed to our involvement in Iraq preface their comments using the statement, “Let it be clear that I support our troops with boots on the ground.”

We then asked ourselves why it was necessary to even make that disclaimer. How did the debate become so convoluted that one side could conceivably suggest that the other side was unpatriotic and did not care about U.S. troops abroad?

It is clear that such framing of issues "works," and appeals to some baser, emotional instinct. That we as a society find it necessary to engage in such an oblique, unproductive exchange in discussing issues of such moment should distress us all.

To characterize someone opposed to our involvement in Iraq as unpatriotic or un-American simply boggles the imagination.

Quite frankly, we recognize that an argument can be advanced that all’s fair in the game of infotainment, and that non-elected talking heads in the media, on both sides of the aisle, have the right to cast their message in any form that they so desire. Especially if it is to boost ratings and generate more revenue. We’re all for that, right?

However, it concerns us when our elected officials employ such tactics. It smacks of intellectual dishonesty, despite its effectiveness.

But then again, that may be why certain ones of our elected officials have abdicated their leadership responsibilities, and left the sentiment of our citizenry to be dictated and formed by the non-elected.

And that is a very troubling notion.

Post No. 120: "Taking Cover Under the Canopy of Religion"

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, we saw an interview of a Ku Klux Klan member. He made frequent reference to segregation as having been sanctioned by God.

More recently, one of our “supporters” suggested that we “sprinkle” our articles with Biblical references to generate more interest, particularly because God has chosen to assemble more of his passionate followers here in the Southeast.

(In a previous article, we noted our repeated requests that God speak to us, all to no avail. We actually envy those special people to whom God speaks. They’re apparently doing something we’re not, despite our willingness to participate in a conversation. The Logistician’s Father long claimed that he was simply not trying hard enough.)

The segregationist and our supporter, in conjunction with the noise generated over the President’s Notre Dame Commencement speech, reminded us of a blunder candidate Obama made on the campaign trail. In April 2008, he said that it was not surprising that working class citizens, in small cities decimated by job losses, might cling to guns and religion to deal with their frustration.

Many felt that Sen. Clinton would benefit enormously from this misstep.

And perhaps she ultimately will.

And so it was timely that C-Span aired a presentation entitled, “God is Back,” sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Taking Cover under the Canopy of Religion,” was coined by one of the panelists.

We learned that the “mega church” is actually an American invention – an extension of free market capitalism. In the 1970s, some religious leaders realized they were living in a very competitive environment. They suspected the application of business principles and marketing, along with getting more involved in the media and politics, would drive growth beyond their missionary efforts abroad.

One of the panelists noted that “Religion, American Style” has done so well in these “emerging markets,” that they have taken the business of religion to a new level. The growth has been particularly noteworthy in Guatemala and South Korea (where one mega church boasts 830,000 members).

It’s not just a matter of more people personally following religion, but rather the reassertion of religion as a force in life. Per the panelists, globalization is stoking the demand for religion.

China has roughly 1.4 billion people. Despite its purported communist underpinnings, it could become the largest Christian nation, Buddhist nation, or any other type of religious nation. Many suggest that the central authority of the Communist Party is fragile and subject to fracture.

The branch of Christianity most successful in riding this wave has been Pentecostalism, which places emphasis on a direct personal experience with God. (Perhaps that’s the ticket.) Globalization is driving insecurity, because change makes people insecure.

Insecurity historically has driven an apocalyptic attitude, and concern about impending doom. Pentecostalism also has a sociological element, which provides uprooted people with a philosophy in which they can emotionally invest.

To many, the Pentecostal Church service is the spiritual equivalent of infotainment. Entertainers from Ray Charles to Elvis Presley traced their musical roots to the melodies and arrangements they learned as children on Sundays.

As with everything in life, the panelists acknowledged a downside. When religion is at its most passionate, it is also at its most intolerant.

And most dangerous.

More blood has been shed in the Name of God, through religious wars, than for any other political purpose.

One perhaps counterintuitive aspect of the mega churches is the focus on small units to drive the agenda. One reason that Islam has grown so rapidly is that individual mosques have tremendous control and autonomy at their level, as opposed to functioning under a huge, centralized bureaucracy.

The strength in this approach is that it empowers people. The weakness? Doctrinal inconsistency, subject to variations of all types, and manipulation.

Our friend the Laughingman abandoned a Mormon heritage, traceable to Brigham Young’s initial march across the plains and mountains, to become an Episcopalian (not least to insure continued access to the company of Rev. Davenport’s daughter). Forty five years later, he remains a 4 times a month church goer… not least because he has discovered that getting down on your knees once a week, and reciting the Litany, is good for one’s sanity as well as one’s soul.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us, but thou, oh Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders.”

He likens religion to a human operator’s manual. Pay attention to the Ten Commandments, and you can get through this life without causing harm to yourself or others. Ignore them, and it is hell living with the consequences.

We guess that candidate Obama got it wrong. Imagine that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Post No. 119a: Reposting of Post No. 69: A Country Has to Know Its Limitations

© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

On November 30, 2008, shortly after Sen. Obama’s election, we asked our readers whether any governmental entity should have the responsibility to provide healthcare for its citizens.

We invited our readers to provide their views on the subject, prior to our putting forth an argument as to why no government entity should have that responsibility, except perhaps in the case of veterans, or those injured during the course of service for the nation. (Since that time, we have also considered the inclusion of children below a certain age, since they have very little role in making decisions about their health until they are much closer to adulthood.)

It led to a very lively and stimulating exchange. Even a cursory examination of the comments in connection with Post No. 68d ( reveals the diversity and passion of opinion regarding this subject.

Is it really the government's responsibility to ensure the good health of, and the provision of health care facilities and treatment to, its citizens? Why do so many citizens feel that it is something which the government, at some level, should provide?

Is there a reasonable expectation on the part of the taxpayers that health care is a "service" due them by virtue of their current level of tax contribution?

What responsibility should be placed on the citizens themselves to make the "best efforts" to maintain their health, and utilize the very latest in scientific knowledge about health risks, particularly nutrition, and the detrimental consequences associated with certain behaviors? Should citizens be required to show that they engaged, or failed to engage, in certain behaviors, prior to being extended heath care benefits by the government?

We indicated that we would generate some thoughts after entertaining those of others. Here are five arguments which can be advanced to support the notion that we should not have a national healthcare system, or perhaps that America is not ready to have such a system.

1. All relationships are about expectations. An argument can be made that the American public has an unreasonable expectation about what it takes to manage and operate a large organization and its accompanying bureaucracy. Most interestingly, those who have never run a large organization seem to think that they have all the answers. The criticism of the various executives, associated with the Big Three American Automakers, suggests to us that we as a nation do not fully comprehend the complexities and difficulties associated with management of a large organization in an everchanging, global environment. We are apparently “qualified” to criticize others who do not achieve the results that we expect.

2. In contemplating a national healthcare system, it appears that most proponents suggest that it provide benefits to all of our nation’s citizens, namely 300 million people. We do not have the capability to manage anything involving 300 million people. We don’t do it with respect to the other “essentials” of civilized life, food, housing, clothing, or education, which are arguably more simplistic in nature, and which at least have components around which we can wrap our arms. What makes us think that we can do it with respect to arguably the most complex of issues, namely human health? To borrow a phrase from Dirty Harry, “A country has to know its limitations.”

3. We do not have anyone, or any board or committee for that matter, with the capabilities, sophistication, and experience to manage a 300 million recipient organization. Furthermore, as noted earlier, as an organization grows in size, its sense of “reality” changes to ensure the advancement of its interests and its continued survival. We’re setting ourselves up for failure and unnecessary criticism.

4. Any system delivering services to 300 million people will undoubtedly parcel out its services in unfair and inequitable ways during the course of the execution of its policies. It’s not like an engine with simple, mechanical, moving parts. Humans do not function in accordance with the rules of physics. They’re emotional, and they have minds of their own. No one has yet discovered how to manage emotion. At least in the military, they understand what needs to be done to craft humans into fungible, interchangeable units, for management purposes, and even they have difficulties.

5. What makes us think that we can devise a system to provide benefits or services to recipients who essentially do whatever they want or desire to do, from a health perspective, and then have an expectation that the system should address the negative ramifications flowing therefrom? It doesn’t make sense. What makes us believe that we can “herd cats,” each with their own goals, motivations, and selfish interests, and deliver some nebulous, unspecified level of service resulting in what we refer to as “good health?”

As a general proposition, Americans are not “sufficiently motivated” to maintain a state of good health. We don’t want it badly enough. The only proven way to get humans to adhere to a policy or approach is to force/ prod them, or have them buy into it voluntarily.

Although some ambitious and very thoughtful suggestions were put forth in your comments, no one, who responded to our challenge about reforming the health care system, really explained how they planned to address the uncertainties and complexities associated with the human side of the equation, and each individual’s responsibility to the system.

As a practical matter, it can’t be done in America, at least not under our current political philosophy. Any attempt in that regard will be regarded as socialist, or even worse, communist, in nature. As we all saw during the most recent election, we can’t have that.

This is a country built on social Darwinism or survival of the fittest. If you happen to be one of the fittest and you survive, kudos to you. If you are one of the not so fit, we leave it you to fend on your own, perhaps with the gratuitous assistance of non-profits, the religious community, and the kindness of others. Many in our country feel that if we assist the not so fit, or guarantee certain things to the masses, we play into their weaknesses and thus become enabling agents.

This is neither a culture nor governance model which has as its goal the equal treatment of its citizens or the equality of the services or opportunities available to them. It is a culture that simply guarantees that each individual citizen has a chance to pursue whatever they might so desire. That has nothing to do with results.

We don’t guarantee results in America.

Simply put, a national healthcare system does not fit within our governance model, nor does it fit within our cultural philosophy. This is not to suggest that it should not, just that it does not. It’s just that it would require a significant paradigm shift in our way of thinking about our role as citizens.

Don’t you think?

© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Monday, May 18, 2009

Post No. 119: “Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?”

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In the world of social commentary, there are “observers” and “critics.”

People often ask how we approach preparation of articles reflecting our observations.

Short answer? We watch C-Span, the History Channel, Tom and Jerry, and Turner Classic Movies all weekend. During that time, we absorb roughly 50 different points of view on various subjects, and give Tom’s observations more weight.

We consider them further during the week, while watching the news and Congressional hearings, in an effort to identify themes or “cross-over” principles, which arguably apply to divergent subjects. It could be sports, science, religion, and music. Like Wile E. Coyote, we keep chasing the Road Runner, seeking something.

(We also walk through book stores each week and pick up any and everything.)

So many today claim to know, with certainty, how we got here economically, why and how this or that President was flawed, and why we will fail as a nation if we do X. This banter drove the Logistician to Brazil for his sabbatical to study with the heads of the samba schools.

Before he departed, while eating his standard meal of sardines, beef tongue, and horseradish on pumpernickel, he asked, “How are these people able to come up with evidence which only supports their position?” He abhorred “goal determinant analysis.”

He then asked, “Why didn’t these people step forward to take control before things imploded?”

We seem to be dissatisfied with virtually every aspect of our lives, along with the people running most of our institutions, not to mention our significant others).

There’s no shortage of “incompetents” according to the critics: politicians, doctors, commercial banks, insurance companies, the Federal Reserve, drug companies, pedophile priests and Boy Scout leaders, automobile companies, oil companies, current and past Presidents, the housing and construction industries, the poor, the rich, CEOS, lawyers, investment bankers, immigrants (whether illegal or not), unions, doped up athletes, Hollywood, and of course, Wal-Mart.

It’s a Herculean task to find anyone or anything held in high regard, and about which at least 70% of Americans view positively. We’d settle for 60%.

Apart from all of the new input we consume, we constantly review earlier posts, to consider their continuing applicability. In Post No. 85 in February of this year, amid rising concerns about the global economy, we generated, Why We Suspect, To Our Dismay, That “Whatever” Our Leaders Devise Will Not Work.

In Post No. 27 in July 2009, we wrote about The Inability of our Leaders to Please (or Lead) Us.

Finally, in May 2008, in Post No. 9, Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process (We are a Better Country Than We Currently Think of Ourselves), we noted that a recent poll revealed that 81% of Americans felt the country was heading in the wrong direction.

And that was before the recession was officially announced, and blame assessed.

And before Obama was even nominated.

The sentiment crossed ideological lines. Amazingly, it was something about which the majority could agree.

Thomas Woods was recently on C-Span. He is the author of Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse.

We’ve now watched his presentation 4 times. He had so little positive to say about much of anything over the past 30 years, that it made us stop and think about the views of other commentators over the past 18 months.

Then we asked, like the Logistician, “Why aren’t these people leading us?”

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and some are simply Monday morning quarterbacks.

But shouldn’t we be concerned that despite the personal successes of many of our leaders and captains of industry, our country as a whole appears to be in such a precarious state?

Does our current political climate or system discourage the true best and brightest from running for public office, and seeking the helm of our major industries?

Does the public scrutiny of our leaders serve as a disincentive for the “truly qualified” to share their wisdom and insight with us for the public benefit?

Maybe a nation really does deserve the leaders that it gets.

And here the rest of us stand, growling, and fighting like Dobermans for scraps of raw meat.

During our preparation of this piece, the words of Simon and Garfunkel kept swirling in our heads:

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You, Woo, Woo, Woo.”

You critics, who have figured it all out, and find others to be incompetent, please step forward and participate in fixing this mess.

We need you.

Post No. 118a: Article of Interest Regarding Pakistan and Its Nuclear Arsenal

In Post No. 118, we posed a number of questions about principles, pragmatism, and situational ethics regarding the relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

For all of you who perhaps had not really thought about the Pakistani issue, this morning's New York Times article regarding its nuclear arsenal should grab your attention.

Is this an example of unintended consequences, or something else?

To read the story, click here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Post No. 118: Principle, Pragmatism, or dePends?

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Earlier this year, in our Post No. 95, entitled 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that “Lying” is Appropriate, we sought to get some sense of how closely people adhere to the principle that one should not lie.

By the end of the day, we concluded that we should have let sleeping dogs lie.

Much to our amazement, the vast majority of the people visiting our blog felt that there are goals, and thousands of them, sufficiently important to justify outright lying. In fact, in some instances, telling the truth was viewed as “selfish.”

Of course, there was no consensus about when lying is appropriate, but they generally did not have a problem with lying.

Interestingly, few wanted to be lied to.

And so it appeared that pragmatism won out over principle.

At least on that day.

We’ve been concerned about the stability of Pakistan for several years now. When General Pervez Musharraf resigned under pressure in August of last year, it was generally agreed that the civilian leadership would have difficulty maintaining order and fighting the Taliban and other dissident forces.

The United States, for one, was critical of some of the dictatorial and militaristic actions taken by Musharraf, including the imposition of martial law. In years past, the U.S. was known to prop up the regimes of some fairly unsavory characters. We frequently heard reference made to the “lesser” amongst many potential evils.

And while it was generally acknowledged that Musharraf was a man of many faces, he was at least one with whom the U.S. could work, and he kept the lid on the teapot.

But there was a problem. With all of our talk about democracy, and our efforts to artificially inseminate the democratic egg in the womb of the Middle East, it appeared as though we were sanctioning and financing Musharraff’s less than democratic rule.

In this instance, the principle ruled the day. And now we are seeing the consequences.

Apart from the insight which we gained in the principle versus pragmatism debate in connection with lying, we saw it again in connection with the torture debate.

And so we pose the following question:

Should the U.S. have continued to pursue a pragmatic approach and tolerated / supported the less than democratic rule of Musharraff, or was it correct in advocating the more principled route?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Post No. 117: That Positive Side to Anger Which So Many of You See...

Back in late April, we generated a post entitled, “Is There a Positive Side to Anger?”

Many of you responded that there is a positive side, and perhaps more interestingly, many simply responded that anger is a positive and necessary force, without explicitly addressing whether it should be used judiciously, or whether there are negative ramifications.

One of our readers sent the following story to us a few days ago, and it caused us to re-visit our thoughts on anger. We generally try to avoid posting articles which simply confirm positions which we have previously taken. We do not think that advances anything in the realm of public discourse.

However, this little piece made us re-examine our views on anger, and still arrive at the same conclusion.

“There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His Father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he had to hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

“The first day the boy had driven 27 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

“Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.

“He told his father about it and the Father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

“The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his Son by the hand and led him to the fence.

“He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.

“You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. But it won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry; the wound will still be there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

“Remember that anyone with whom you come into contact is a human and all humans have value.

“Anger has a deleterious effect on us all. Including our kids who observe their parents and others."

This made us think further about anger. This little piece might apply to our children, or perhaps our most intimate friends and family. However, does it also apply to our co-workers, people with whom we come into contact throughout the day, and strangers in general?

What about people more distantly removed, government workers, our politicians and leaders?

What about our institutions, or certain professions, or industries, which are not animate beings, but are composed of them?

Let’s assume that you agree that the use of anger against individuals (of course, those who you claim don’t deserve it) is inappropriate. What is the theoretical or principled position that justifies the use of anger against your broken down car, a business, a profession, a government or a governmental official?

Don’t we have the intelligence as human beings to articulate the substance of our frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc. in words, even well chosen forceful words, without accompanying them with invective and making the points personal?

What say yee you morons, imbeciles, idiots, and vermin?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Post No. 116a: Article of Interest: U.S. Sends Emergency Aid to Pakistan

We just came across an article indicating that the United States is about to send emergency aid to Pakistan. Several questions:

1. Should the U.S. send aid to Pakistan during the current economic slowdown?

2. Should the U.S. have sent aid to Pakistan one year ago, before the economic slowdown became apparent?

3. Without performing the research to determine the answer, where do you believe the U.S. stands in rank (in terms of percentage of GDP) in providing foreign aid?

4. Do you believe that it is ever appropriate to provide foreign aid to other countries if there are hard working, law abiding, tax paying U.S. citizens giving it their all, who are having difficulty making financial ends meet?

5. Should the U.S. have anticipated the current unrest in Pakistan when the U.S. encouraged the former "President" and military leader to step down, and return control to civilians in order to allow democracy to work?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Post No. 116: Swaying the Undecided

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Contrary to most commentators, we are among the “undecided” in terms of our response to most news events. Call us the Hank Kimballs of the Blogosphere. “Mr. Kimball,” you may recall, was the County Agent on the Green Acres sit-com show.

This is not to suggest that we can not take a position, or balance competing considerations, when necessary. However, most times we need a little time to think things through.

We’re generally 10 seconds away from appreciating any position. We’re just not into drawing hard lines in the sand. Plus, we might be wrong.

We’ve been mulling over George Will’s statement, to the effect that the beauty of conservatism is its “purity”, and Jonathan Haidt’s conclusion that the “pursuit of moral clarity” is the magnet which draws Republicans together, for several months now. The concepts are beginning to come into focus.

We recently heard Joshua Cooper Ramo say something which helped crystallize our thoughts on another issue – namely the role of government.

We are systems oriented in our approach to issues. For some time now, we have argued that the U.S. is not ready, at this point in its evolution, for a nationalized health care system, just like some nations are not yet ready to embrace democracy.

We raised three concerns. First, Americans are addicted to Kentucky Fried Chicken, donuts, and giant Slurpees; avoid exercise like the swine flu; and are thus insufficiently motivated to maintain good health on the front end. Why build a back end system around people who don’t care?

Second, trying to manage a health-care system involving 300 million subscribers would be like herding 300 million cats.

Third, we do not have any experience managing a dedicated bureaucracy involving 300 million beneficiaries. Our military is about as close as it gets, and the number pales in comparison.

Our new President’s detractors call him a Socialist. The rhetoric is full of allusions to the “pathetic state” of purportedly "has been" Western European powers to whose rescue the Americans came during WWII, and the “failure” of the Soviet Union.

Not being sufficiently versed in the history of socialism, and not having any appreciation of, or first hand knowledge about, the area, we historically viewed ourselves as part of the “undecided.”

Plus, we always try to identify some element of internal consistency in our positions, when they are applied to other areas. It seems to us that if one believes that socialism or central control is a bad thing in one area, then it’s probably a bad thing in another, and another ….

How does one justify the involvement of government in any aspect of our lives, other than perhaps the military? Isn’t it disingenuous to pick areas where you feel government should play a part, and then choose others where it should not?

We raised questions about whether government should be involved in education, in responding to natural disasters, and in other areas we take for granted.

We remained open to the notion that less government is better. However, no one ever convinced us of the merits of that position, since it always appeared to be ideologically and subjectively driven, and not systemically based.

Finally, to our rescue came Rambo. Well, not quite, just Ramo. He is the author of The Age of the Unthinkable. During his book presentation on C-Span2 Book TV recently, he claimed that the world is different today than in years past, and that old approaches to problems will not work.

But this was the bottom line: Things are more interconnected today. Our economic systems are more interconnected. The more interconnected they are, the more complex they are.

The more complex they are, the more potentially unstable they are. Like a house of cards.

If any significant aspect of the system fails, the whole system is at risk. Arguably, this is what brought down the Soviet Union, and not President Reagan’s threats per se. Sorta also sounds like that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” saying.

We’ve come to recognize the importance of the manner in which a concept is framed. (For example, we've long felt that the pro-choice faction chose a poor label for their cause since a woman arguably has choices available to her long before conception.)

Once we heard Ramo refer to the “instability of interconnected systems,” it struck a chord. The emotion laden arguments against socialism or central governance always struck us as arguments of those disinterested in sharing with others, because they had theirs.

This instability argument is one with which we may be able to work.

We’ll think about it a bit over the coming months, and get back to you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Post No. 115: Have We Learned Anything from Star Trek?

The following appears in the section of our blog labeled, “Its Your Turn™,” which is the program we conduct on college campuses:

“One of the goals which the “It’s Your Turn” ™ Team will achieve… will be the de-personalization of… analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. [We] believe that… analysis will improve through objectivity (as much as it can be achieved) and creativity, along with “digging deep” to expose the root causes of issues, instead of merely being distracted and sidelined by symptoms. We can thereafter craft better solutions.”

Earlier today, during a retreat on Sirius, we considered whether we had accomplished any of our goals set a year ago.

Being adherents of the Spock Manifesto, we originally thought that we could “objectify” the thought and decision-making process, and encourage our readers to explore as many ways of looking at issues as possible.

What surprised us was the rigidity on the part of most, and the unwillingness to even consider new ideas, or the possibility that there might be flaws in their positions.

Not that we expected everyone to change their views on every subject. However, through the civil exchange of ideas, we really expected some readers to reconsider their views, or at a minimum, acknowledge that some positions of others had merit.

Earlier, we watched a CNN Headline News piece on the new Star Trek movie. It examined why we have this continuing fascination with this science fiction franchise.

During the 60s and 70s, at any engineering school, trying to get a seat in the dining hall during Star Trek was akin to fighting an intergalactic battle.

There are many who proclaim that previously untried approaches, to our societal woes, will not work. They argue a return to the past, or staying the course.

And yet, it is the willingness to accept risk and explore worlds previously unknown, which has distinguished humankind from our less-adventuresome cousins of the fauna family. In theory, we have the ability to adapt.

And we will.

Should we pursue a course of conduct which produces positive results, we have the intelligence and capability to adjust to that situation. Should the results prove problematic, we can also deal with that.

All of us appreciate the Common Sense notion that there is a good and bad side to everything.

That we might make some bad decisions will not lead us to a Big Bang of a different variety.

During the story on Star Trek, popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson waxed philosophical about the series : “Practically every episode reached back into some aspect of modern life.”

We thought of some other risks taken by others during history. Copernicus, Columbus, and Henry Ford.

Should we revert to the earlier position that the Earth is the center of the universe? Or the world is what we have seen and what we know? Or fuel our automobiles with kerosene instead of gasoline?

Without a little flexibility in thinking, not one of these advancements would have been made.

Those who argue that certain risks will not be taken, nor investments made, nor innovative advances occur, do not really appreciate the mentality of risk takers. Rarely is their motivation based solely on forces outside of themselves.

Additionally, some of the greatest advances in humankind have evolved from periods of extreme discomfort. Necessity has often been the mother of invention.

Of course, not everything needs to be changed. And change in the abstract is not necessarily a good thing.

And we all realize that certain problems may require a radical and immediate approach; others not.

Either way, it’s not all one way or the other. We ought to be able to figure this stuff out.

Finally, for those in power now, who have the requisite votes to pursue your agenda, please keep the following in mind: This is just one of a series of battles during a long and protracted debate.

If there is one thing that we have learned here on Earth about one force defeating another it is that there are always negative ramifications associated with getting your way as you march through, occupy, and force your will on the conquered forces.

Winning is not always what it’s cranked up to be.

Beam me up Laughingman.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Post No. 114: Re-Visiting the Way We See the World

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’ve operated this blog for over a year now. It’s been quite the experience. We’ve learned a lot from you.

Earlier today, in responding to a post on the blog operated by one of our regular readers, we were reminded of the importance of revisiting our views on various subjects.

His particular post had to do with our inherent biases and prejudices. He suggested that recognition and acknowledgment of them are important. We agree.

However, we commented that part of personal responsibility involves constantly questioning and challenging one’s beliefs on a regular basis. Otherwise, we become fixed in our beliefs, and too comfortable with them.

In our view, rigidity in positions on issues interferes with the collaborative spirit needed to address serious, long-term problems in society.

We often go back and review our prior posts and the responsive comments of our readers. Unfortunately, while we have access to a comprehensive list of the subjects discussed, our readers do not. Additionally, while the topic cloud widget is a nifty little gimmick, it really does not assist a new reader in locating older posts.

We decided to provide you with a few of our most recent posts so that you might have an opportunity to revisit them. It will be interesting to see if anyone’s views have changed in the interim.

African-Americans and the Democratic Party

Why Do the Democrats Seemingly Have a Lock on African-American Votes

Anger and Civil Discourse

Is There a Positive Side to Anger?

Dobermans. Surrounded by Dobermans.

Bias and Bi-Partisanship

It All Depends on the Price of Your Ticket on the Train

Criminal Justice

Following Economic Meltdown, New Calculation of Value of Human Life

When the Surfboard Hits the Wall

Economy and Economic Theory

Making Use of the Current Financial Mess

If Tin Whistles are Made of Tin, What are Credit Default Swap Derivatives Made Of?

Too Few Indians; Not Enough Chiefs

Been There; Done That

Environmental Issues

What is "Cap and Trade" and Why are So Many Saying All of those Things about It?

Humor - On the Light Side

Now That We Have a Japanese-German-African-Eskimo-American President

A Little Comic Relief before the Storm

Libertarian Party (U.S.)

Why Aren't More Americans Members of the Libertarian Party?

Local News Crime Coverage

Local News Coverage of Crime

Lying / Pursuit of the Truth

27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate

Madoff and Wall Street

Every Issue Has Two, Three, Possibly 27 Sides

Monopolies and Anti-Trust

Should Government Intervene Where Private Sector Monopolies or Near-Monopolies Exist?

Notre Dame Commencement and President Obama

Should the Pope Be Permitted to Speak at a Public School Commencement?

Personal Responsibility

Rarely Does a Man Love His True Self (or, How to Discourage Comments to a Blog Post)

Republican Party

Re-Posting of Article: What Makes People Vote Republican

Religion and Separation of Church and State

Jesus Christ and the Republicans

Jesus Christ and the Democrats

Program of Interest on C-Span2 Book TV Right Now

Socialism and Government Intervention

Should the Response to Natural Disasters be Left to the Private Sector?

Should Government Get Out of the Business of Education?


Who Cares If It's Torture?

U.S. Border Issues

At What Price Freedom to Bear Arms?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Post No. 113: When the Surfboard Hits the Wall

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Logistician had many quirks. He loved to channel surf. But he engaged in a different form of channel surfing. He tried to watch as many TV shows as possible.


Fascinated by everything, he’d watch a movie on TCM, The Golden Girls, C-Span, American Dad, the History Channel, Cathy Griffin, and then switch back and forth during lulls.

But occasionally he would, as he used to say, “Hit the wall.” This referred to coming across something which forced him to instantaneously focus on one program. At its end, he tried to determine what distinguished it from others.

He came up with the phrase from his surfboarding days. Well, perhaps it wasn’t really surfboarding, but rather boogey boarding. (A boogey board is a small piece of roughly rectangular hard foam, hydrodynamicallly shaped.)

One of his buddies was a professor. His students gave him a boogey board as a gift.

While hanging out with his buddy’s family, the Logistician fell in love with the sport. His buddy’s kids later gave him one as a present. Whenever he went to the beach, he packed his board.

In fact, he stopped taking women on vacations, opting to sleep with the board, since it gave him what he long sought – a hard mattress, the ability to consume a constant stream of information (uninterrupted), and a peaceful night’s sleep.

He took Boogey with him to a Club Med in Mexico once. There were two beaches. One was for patrons of the resort. The other was a far more dangerous beach. He was warned that only very experienced swimmers should attempt to ride the waves on the GO beach.

Insufficiently challenged by the smaller waves on the GM beach, he headed to the other, just he and Boogey. The waves were 3-4 times larger than on the GM beach. Yet, he thought them manageable.

After waxing his board, out he swam. He got a sense of the wave rhythm, and caught the “perfect wave.” He instantly realized that he was not as experienced as he thought, and found himself on the top of the wave, instead of inside the “tube.” He described the feeling as like God reaching down, grabbing him during an earthquake, and shaking him in the water.

All of a sudden, the wave crashed, and so did he. Disoriented, and his lungs full of sea water, he was tossed to the bottom of the surf… on his head.

As he lay there motionless, and the tide rolled out, he realized that he had “hit the wall.” The wave had his attention.

We watched a C-Span presentation recently, and “hit the wall,” Logistician style.

When we first came across it, there was a woman describing her experience with the legal system following a rape. Something was different about her tone. For a minute, we thought that she was the attorney for the victim, and a victims’ rights advocate.

However, we quickly abandoned that notion, and her intensity soon revealed that she was the victim. She described her frustration with the lengthy delays associated with sending the perpetrator to death row. The camera occasionally panned the silent audience.

She told the story of a detective, requesting DNA samples, and her subsequent discovery that she had identified the wrong black man.

The white woman went on to describe her feelings and the fact that this man had lost 10 years of his life in prison. Some suggested that he was probably a “bad person” anyway, and that she had done nothing for which she should apologize or feel guilty.

Despite this, she wanted to meet the man face-to-face, and he agreed.

While the angle of the camera slowly expanded, we next saw a young black man sitting on the dais, who appeared to us to not have one aggressive bone in his body. We said to ourselves, "This couldn't have been the rapist."

We soon realized that we had met the co-authors of the book, Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption.

After the rape victim described her immediate feeling that this could not have been the man as she observed him walking up her steps, she described him saying that he had no malice toward her, and had already forgiven her.

Cotton, the young black man and co-author, then stood up to tell his story in a very soft-spoken, deliberate manner, mentioning that the actual perpetrator was in prison with him. He also noted that he asked God what he had done to deserve this treatment.

This is story telling at its very best. It will also impress upon you the Common Sense importance of not rushing to judgment and getting all the facts. Check it out, if you interested in “hitting the wall.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Post No. 112b: Program of Interest on C-Span2 Book TV Right Now

"How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist"

As we type this, two authors are discussing how their studies of brain scans of memory patients, and surveys of people with various religious and spiritual experiences, has led them to believe that certain practices can ultimately change portions of the human brain and thus human behavior.

To view the summary of the program, simply click here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Post No. 112a: Now That We Have a Japanese-German-African-Eskimo-American President

Now that we have your attention:

There are 3 good arguments that Jesus was black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial

But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God

But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil

But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit

But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married
2. He was always telling stories
3. He loved green pastures

But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 items of evidence that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do

"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"™