Friday, July 31, 2009

Post No. 130: Whose Life is it Anyway?

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We recently generated two posts, You’ve Got to Find What You Love, a speech by Apple’s Steve Jobs, and P.J. O’Rourke’s Unconventional Advice. Both were directed toward our target audience, college students. We suggested some things for them to consider looking down the road.

We try to stimulate thought amongst our young citizens, when their worldviews are still malleable. Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization about which we previously wrote.

B.E.S.T. addresses issues affecting at-risk young men. We highlighted the efforts of its founder as an example of how private citizens can do something meaningful for their communities and society.

Before the meeting, we bounced around ideas. We recalled that we Baby Boomers had such idealistic goals. We were going to change the world, right all wrongs, speak the truth (which would set us free), and do nothing but good, positive things in life.

In addition, we planned to transform the world, perhaps through astral projection or Transcendental Meditation, to a “kinder, gentler” place. One of us recalled pledging to become a brain surgeon following JFK’s death.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s been said that life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. If anything, we’ve been surprised at how many Boomers have transitioned from card-carrying liberals (and committed to “living off the fatta’ the lan”, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men), to hard core conservatives. (Why have so few traveled the opposite road?)

When P.J. O’Rourke was asked about his transformation from liberal to conservative, he blamed it on his daughter. Upon realizing she was vulnerable, and a potential target of all sorts of nasty forces, he resolved to protect her, at any cost.)

We know hundreds of business people, accountants, engineers, investment bankers, lawyers, and doctors, who abandoned those dreams and principles. We lived comfortably, and did little that we can identify in pursuit of those principles, other than occasional pro bono work.

(A prominent activist in speaking to a professional group once lamented that some of the best and brightest were in the audience, and members of a profession whose primary goal was making money for themselves and their corporate clients.)

Last week, we heard a report suggesting that today’s youth are possibly skipping the self-delusion phase. Far fewer minors, when asked, expressed interest in pursuing goals which might also “give back to the community.”

We’re not sure what to do with that. Virtually every generation seems to think those succeeding will go to hell in a hand basket. After 13,000 years, we still have faith in humankind’s ability to adapt, use our bigger brains, and “be guided by the better angels of our nature.”

We heard 2 stories recently. The first involved a Sudanese woman, who is facing fairly severe punishment. She and some other women committed a crime - wearing trousers in public. Some immediately pled guilty, and only received 10 lashes.

The remaining subject chose to go to trial. She faces a possible $100 fine and 40 lashes. She’s not a professional activist, and had some UN position which would have allowed her to side-step the charges.

Instead, she chose to resign, and waive her immunity.

The other story revolved around the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the more violent cities on Earth. He enjoyed a comfortable, middle class existence in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, until he was motivated to return to his native country and “make a difference.”

He put himself at risk, and returned to the heart of the violence. He said we’re all going to die from something one day, be it cancer, a heart attack, or a car accident. He questioned whether there was any real difference between dying from violence doing something in which you believed, and dying from one of the other causes.

That caused us to pause.

While a 25 year old might see lots of differences, those of us 55 and beyond might reflect on what we’ve done, and whether we’ve made a ”real” contribution.

The Logistician and his best friend were sitting at a side walk café in the Copacabana in the late 1990s, reflecting on what, if anything, they had accomplished... and whether it had been of any benefit to anyone beyond themselves. They had always hoped to able to say that they did something more than “raise a good family.”

The founder of the at-risk male youth non-profit, the Sudanese lady, and the mayor of Kandahar might be better examples of those we should hold up as role models in our society, than the folks to whom we usually direct our plaudits.

Whose life is it anyway? We might all consider making it more than just our own.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post No. 129: “The Facts” Don’t Really Matter

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Being solution-oriented, we’re going to suggest a way to view the public’s response to the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates - without addressing one single fact involved.

That’s because in this day and time, objective facts rarely matter. What people feel and think matter. What really matters is “the facts” as we each see them.

What’s right depends on your view of the world, and how events fit into the world you understand, know, appreciate, or want.

None of us was not present at Gates’ home (and thus have no first hand knowledge). Even though, at least initially, there was no transcript reflecting what was said, or video of the events, many quickly supplied their own assumptions, and formed conclusions about who did what.

Tocqueville, over 150 years ago, warned us this day would come. America must begin to approach our most serious issues innovatively, and stop wishing that they will disappear.

Simply relying on and retrieving our personal worldviews and experiences from our organic hard disks will not serve us well in this far more competitive environment. We’ll get our butts kicked by other nations, particularly totalitarian regimes not playing by our “rules,” if we keep this up, without achieving some resolution.

We read probably over 750 articles and comments on this event. Gates was variously described as arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work. Crowley, the arresting officer, did not fare any better. He was described as a thug, Nazi, Neanderthal, racist, and the same list of expletives used to describe Gates. (Maybe some progress was achieved since the expletive spewing crowd used the exact same expletives.)

If we are to gain anything constructive from this “thing,” we should appreciate there are some unresolved issues “in fact” that prompted this reaction.

Everyone’s position is legit.

During our 16 months navigating the blogosphere, there has been no topic about which more people have chosen to express themselves and definitely not this passionately.

Race, class, entitlement, and fairness remain America’s most prominent issues. In a way, this was the “O.J. incident” of our decade, in terms of everyone having an opinion. The economic collapse and the decline of life as we once knew it probably stoked the fire.

It has been suggested that everyone should learn at least one lesson in life from a friend. One of our Fellows speaks of a buddy of over 30 years, from whom he learned two. Once, when he suggested that his buddy did not deserve something, the friend quickly replied, “It’s not about what I deserve; it’s about what I want.”

That friend, a psychiatrist by profession, provided another lesson by relating a pattern observed during marital counseling sessions. The doctor observed how one spouse could bring up factual details of an event 20 or 30 years prior, and then describe, in detail, his or her anger. The other spouse would be shocked, and dispute the factual account. The session would then degenerate into a debate of “the facts,” and who was right or accurate.

He concluded that factual arguments rarely advance resolution objectives.

The Logistician was previously a trial attorney. He once represented employees of a fast food chain who identified an armed robber. The robber forced all but one employee into the freezer. He took the manager into her office, raped her, and then took the money.

One of the employees thought he recognized the robber, and the others bought into it. The accused had a twin brother, and… no more need be said. Charges were dropped, and the accused sued the employees for malicious prosecution.

The jury bought the accused’s argument, and awarded him damages. (Fortunately, the judge set the verdict aside.) The jury felt that the employees made their identification, and choose to pin the crime on just anyone handy.

Solving complex problems going forward (and competing) will require collaboration, appreciation of the views of all citizens, and a search for all facts and contributing factors. All of us have something to say of value, and none of us are just “fringe elements” to be summarily dismissed.

Whether you think someone should be arrested on their property while questioning the motivations of a responding law enforcement officer very much depends on the perspective from which you are watching the play unfold. This seemingly insignificant event is simply symptomatic of some very serious problems festering beneath the surface.

When the 1st O.J. verdict was rendered, the Logistician was in Chicago visiting a corporate client. He later returned to make a presentation before that client, and reps of another company. At the end of the day, a dinner was held. Since it was not a formal dinner, no speaker was scheduled.

However, being a trial attorney and having a personal connection to many of the players involved, he was asked to provide his thoughts as to how people could see “the facts” so differently. That he was even asked speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

You see, “the facts” don’t really matter. The lens through which you interpret or view them does.

The only way to get beyond that is to borrow the glasses which others wear.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Post No. 128: "You Can't Always Get What You Want"

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’ll tell you up front. This is about the Supreme Court Sotomayer confirmation hearings, after some thought.

But first, a story.

Everyday we order lunch from our neighborhood Burger King. We get a kick out of having the guy in the King costume make the delivery, and spike a football as he departs. Plus, we can have our burgers “our way.”

BK has had an ad campaign for years with the theme, “Have It Your Way.” We recently questioned whether BK may have done a disservice to the nation, or the world for that matter, by suggesting everyone can have it their way.

“That’s ridiculous,” you say, “they’re only referring to how you want your burger.”

However, that ignores the sheer power of repetitive, subliminal messages. (Imagine what young kids think.)

Jim Jordan, legendary ad man and author of the original Burger King campaign, also believed that if you hit a tree in the same place enough times, it’ll fall.

We reached out to several people to help us recall songs, other than the Rolling Stones classic in our title, which conveyed the far more pragmatic message.

Douglas, one of our loyal followers, replied that he could not think of any others which conveyed the message as well. In his view, “Most songs are not about a general feeling of desire and frustration, but tell of unrequited love.”

He added, “Life is all about expectations and a desire to overcome [obstacles in pursuit of our] dreams and goals.

The Laughingman counters out that most songs are just that – songs. If you play a country song backwards, your pick-up won’t get fixed, your wife won’t come back, and your dog won’t come home.

On the other hand, music intended to change behavior might be more like hymns than hits.

In retrospect, it’s hard to tell whether you’re talking about the chicken or the egg; but if Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan didn’t change the public’s behavior, they certainly chronicled the changes with their music… much of which is still played today.

Which gets us back to Sotomayer.

We watched, with much distress, the hearings involving Clarence “Long Dong” Thomas, starring Anita “You Ain’t Going to Make It Up This” Hill, and watched the fun loving and engaging Robert Bork evolve into a pessimist following his rejection.

What has captured our attention over 30 years of justice nominee hearings has been the intensity of the effort by partisan forces, on both sides of the aisle, to achieve their particular goals. Even if it means smearing the nominee. Each side essentially claims that the nation, as we know it, will implode upon the ascension onto the Court by those who they oppose.

Both sides fear that the Devil may have all the best tunes (downloaded on his iPod).

In reality, it simply doesn’t work that way. First, the new justice is just 1 of 9. Then there is that very important issue of judicial precedent, and a host of other reasons the Court avoids unnecessarily making decisions.

And that’s not to mention it takes decades, if not longer, for any real meaningful shift in rulings to occur. (Take whether slaves were “men,” or something less, for example.)

Still, that folks expect that the cultural pendulum will not, or should not, swing back and forth, and that Newtonian physics are not applicable to life, is fascinating. Elected officials come with all points of view, and represent the full spectrum of values. Why shouldn’t the people who they appoint?

Interestingly, should any judge in any court answer any of the, “What are your views on…” questions posed, they would automatically be excused from sitting in judgment on that issue. And when the nominee properly refuses to answer (especially in response to a hypothetical set of facts), the ensuing inquisition produces less useful information by which to judge that person’s qualifications than one gets in a singles bar, or by participating in “speed dating” musical chairs.

To repeat a question we posed prior to the presidential election: Are we that concerned about the effect of the entry of just one person on our governmental institutions? Are they that unstable and subject to whim? Aren’t there checks and balances?

Our friends in college might well ask, "So what's all this got to do with me?" To avoid complications later, it might be good to appreciate certain concepts early in life:

Times Change, and You Can’t Stop That

Sentiments and Values Change, and You Can’t Stop Them Either

If You Can’t Achieve What You Want One Way, Try Another

Those Who Disagree with You are Not Necessarily Bad, Evil, Possessed People, with Bi-Polar Disorder

Disparaging People With Whom You Might Have to Work in the Future Can Have Long-Term Negative Ramifications

Not Every Battle Needs to be a Fight to the Death, Nor Does It Require Pulling Out All Stops

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Life is not like ordering hamburgers.

Bob Dylan probably summed it up best, “The Times They Are A Changing.” We need to face it and deal with it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Post No. 127c: Article of Interest on the Downside Associated with Conformity

The following article is taken from the July 24, 2009 electronic edition of the New York Times. It really made us stop and think about many of our social institutions. It is well worth the read.

Researcher Condemns Conformity Among His Peers

By Nicholas Wade

"'Academics, like teenagers [and college students], sometimes don’t have any sense regarding the degree to which they are conformists.'

"So says Thomas Bouchard, the Minnesota psychologist known for his study of twins raised apart, in a retirement interview with Constance Holden in the journal Science.

"Journalists, of course, are conformists too. So are most other professions. There’s a powerful human urge to belong inside the group, to think like the majority, to lick the boss’s shoes, and to win the group’s approval by trashing dissenters...."

To view the remainder of the article, simply click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Post No. 127b: Re-Posting of Post No. 122: You Don’t Get Old by Being No Fool

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, a prominent black professor at Harvard was arrested by local police while trying to gain entry to his own home, when he had difficulty opening what he claimed to be a jammed door. Someone in the vicinity at the time, who apparently did not realize that the professor lived there, called the police.

After the arrival of the police, the stories become very confused and distorted.

However, no matter what happened, it is clear that Professor Gates had not read one of our old posts, re-printed below for your enjoyment. If he had, this, which some consider “newsworthy” event, probably would not have occurred. In the interest of minimizing the occurrence of such events in the future, we offer the following:

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 guerrilla 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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Post No. 127a: 1959, a Year, per George Will, that Changed Much

It may surprise some that we were big fans of William F. Buckley, and we are major fans of George Will. While we may not always agree with their positions on various subjects, we can always be assured that their written work will be clear, their positions well-articulated, and their analysis will stimulate thought on our part.

The following is an excerpt taken from a recent article by Mr. Will. The title varies throughout the world, depending on the particular publication. However, he considered 1959 as a year which changed much in the world.

WASHINGTON - Fifty years ago, on July 21, 1959, Grove Press won permission to publish D.H. Lawrence's novel, "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Two days later, G.D. Searle, the pharmaceutical company, sought government approval for Enovid, the birth control pill. These two events, both welcome, were, however, pebbles that presaged the avalanche that swept away America's culture of restraint and reticence.

To view the remainder, simply click here. (Simply cancel the print dialog box if it appears.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Post No. 127: Who Was Michael Jackson, and Why Are So Many Saying So Many Things about Him?

© the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In Post No. 126, we mentioned a number of the Laughingman’s sayings, including “Common Sense should be a way of life.” The Logistician, still on sabbatical in Brazil, has a few too, albeit somewhat strange.

He claims he only needs a woman in his life 12 days each year. Why? For the highs and the lows.

He’s always viewed intimate relationships with women like prescription drugs – beneficial, on occasion, when administered by a licensed physician, and in moderation. However, he considers them, let’s say, problematic, when administered intravenously on a regular basis.

Our mission is to engage college students in a discussion about Personal Responsibility, the options / choices they have, and decisions they make.

We’ve been watching this freak show since MJ’s death, trying to figure out whether there are some not so obvious lessons to be learned, which we can discuss with students.

We did observe an incredible, international outpouring of love, sadness, and admiration. We also noted an intense dissection (primarily on the home front) of his career, values, and character, supporting the conclusion that he was a bad, evil human being.

What we found most fascinating was the phalanx of critics, who had little appreciation of his work, but who clearly had views about his lifestyle and eccentricities.

We watch Turner Classic Movies religiously. Last week, Judy Garland was a featured artist.

We were reminded how much we were dazzled by her talent. We viewed a bio-documentary, which outlined her life-long relationship with prescription drugs, which ultimately led to her demise at age 47.

She started performing at 2-1/2, and thus performed for 45 of her 47 years. For decades, she fought addiction with prescription drugs. Movie industry officials used them to control her weight, and regulate her productivity. Coupled with her perception she was not “pretty” enough, and you had a recipe for ….

One of our heroes has always been Howard Hughes, the great aviator, inventor, industrialist, film director and producer, and philanthropist. We loved his passion for life, and his intensity. There was also a down side. What some called his fearlessness, others termed recklessness.

As a result of various plane crashes, he spent a significant part of his life in pain, eventually becoming addicted to prescription drugs in many forms. When they finally wheeled him out of the “Acapulco Princess Hotel” on the way to the morgue, he weighed 90 lbs.

The more intriguing sub-plot to MJ’s story was the fact that his wife, Lisa Marie Presley, walked away because of, and in spite of, her love for MJ. He confided in her that he would probably go the way of her Father, Elvis, “The King.”

A siren, who in her own way was like a drug, and caused the Logistician to stutter many a starry night at the Hollywood Bowl while listening to classical music, said it best.

“Everything in moderation.”

And that applies to drugs, plastic surgery, driving at high speeds, skydiving, sex, food, wine, dancing, paragliding, and perhaps most things in life. (Even physical exercise.)

Some years ago, the History Channel aired a program on the literary creation of heaven and hell. Although various religions have different versions, in every instance, mortals here on Earth, through their conduct, walk a very thin line. Stepping on either side could determine their descent or ascent.

Lest you be confused about this drug thing, there is little difference between illegal/recreational drugs, and prescription drugs, with the exceptions being the legitimacy of the “entity” which produces them, who gets to prescribe them, and whether politicians benefit. Drugs be drugs.

Take it from some guys who matured (arguably) during the drugs, sex, and rock and roll years. We know lots of successful doctors, business people, family people, accountants, judges, and pillars of society who once used drugs in many a form and fashion. Fortunately for most of them and for society, they appreciated that drugs might be an interesting pastime, but not a life long journey.

Two final thoughts, one of which is a line from a TCM movie:

“A man ought to be appreciated for more than the worst thing that he has ever done.”

By doing so, we can keep an eye out for the good in people, not just the bad.

The other is the Logistician’s:

“If you’re willing to walk into a courtroom looking like a freak, you’ll be judged a freak.”

Just ask Phil Spector. At least O.J. had the Common Sense to put on a suit the first time around.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Post No. 126: Common Sense as a Way of Life

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The most senior Fellow here at the Institute, the Laughingman, believes that Common Sense should be considered a way of life.

Most of us here respond to newsworthy events as situations of first impression, and find it necessary to absorb the facts, issues, and analyze the various possible positions over a relatively lengthy period of time. We then share our observations.

The Laughingman, on the other hand, spits out his Common Sense reactions like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. (Sometimes the speed with which he comes up with this stuff is a bit intimidating.)

His view is that in an effort to improve our world, we need simply have people think more about Personal Responsibility for their actions, and accept same for the results.

In our preceding Post No. 125, Something for Gov. Sanford to Consider: Parents Flying with Minor Children Should…, we explored whether an elected official should resign upon disclosure of his or her error in judgment, even after accepting responsibility for their conduct.

In that post, we used a riddle which had a motorist approaching three people at a bus stop during a horrendous storm. We asked which person should be picked up if the vehicle only had room for one more passenger.

Yesterday, we watched a movie on the USA Network. The movie, 16 Blocks, stars Bruce Willis and Mos Def. Willis is an aging, washed up, alcoholic police officer. He’s charged with transporting Def, a n’er-do-well witness scheduled to testify before the grand jury.

After someone attempts to kill Def shortly after Willis takes custody of him, he quickly realizes that his “fellow officers” want to ensure that Def never makes it to the grand jury, before its term expires. It is later revealed that Def was a witness to illegal police activity.

Instead of joining forces with his fellow officers, Willis ends up protecting Def to the end, even though it is against his personal interest. In fact, there is a protracted collection of scenes, where Willis’ former comrades pursue him and Def like Wile E. Coyote pursues the Road Runner. We later learn that Willis is one of the corrupt officers who Def would unknowingly implicate.

Throughout the movie, Def keeps posing to strangers our riddle about the three people at the bus stop. (One famed film critic once noted that Def’s incessant chatter and voice made fingernails on a blackboard sound like Alicia Keyes.)

At the end of the day, Def compliments and thanks Willis for “doing the right thing,” one of the Laughingman’s favorite lines. Willis decides to take the heat and focus away from Def, and volunteers to testify, thus implicating himself.

The Laughingman had the good fortune to learn his craft as an ad weasel under some of the best. He often cites Bill Bernbach, who ushered in the last great creative revolution, as having a unique approach to most problems. He claims that Bernbach frequently noted, "I've got a neat gimmick, let's tell the truth."

There are a couple of other sayings attributable to the Laughingman. In the realm of politics, he claims that, “If you own up to your own failings, you make the issue irrelevant... no political coercion can be applied to a man who insists on telling the truth....”

If one just examines the long list of politicians, from both sides of the aisle, and down the middle, who are experiencing 3rd degree burns from the white heat of the examination spotlight, in each instance, lies and deception can be found like corn flakes and milk outside of an infant’s bowl.

Many claim that there is no such thing as Common Sense, and even more claim that to the extent that it exists, it is not very common.

But doing the right thing is not some elusive concept, and it doesn’t require special talent, education, training, or resources.

As a general proposition, telling the truth reduces complications, and exponentially increases the probability that things will go well and that you will find, like Nirvana, Common Sense.

The Laughingman often says, “Doing the right thing is not rocket science.”

Just this weekend, it was revealed that the CIA may have maintained a special, secret program, which it did not disclose to Congress. It will undoubtedly be suggested by defenders of the non-disclosure that there was a legal loophole in the law justifying this tactic.

In the ether which is Personal Responsibility, the objective is not to show other people how clever you are, but that in most instances cleverness is but a temporary tactic; Common Sense, on the other hand, is a way of life….

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Post No. 125b: TV Broadcast of Interest re Guaranteed Healthcare, A Simple Solution

In just a few minutes, at 9:00 am EDST, C-Span Book TV will air a book discussion with the author of Healthcare Guaranteed, A Simple Solution.

Post No. 125a: TV Broadcast of Interest re Power of US Supreme Court

At this very moment as we type this, C-Span2 Book TV is airing a program entitled, "The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Supreme Court Cases Which Radically Changed the United States." It just started roughly 5 minutes ago.

The authors argue that the Judicial Branch was originally envisioned to be the weakest branch of government, that government was to be limited in power, and that freedoms were to be left to the individual.

The cases outlined were handed down since the New Deal, and both conservatives and liberals are guilty of this federal government expansion, although admittedly with respect to different issues and causes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Post No. 125: Something for Gov. Sanford to Consider: Parents with Minor Children Should...

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

During recent weeks, the court of public opinion questioned the judgment of numerous prominent individuals.

In the case of several politicians, the talking heads debated whether they should resign.

We asked ourselves whether there is a principle potentially applicable to all such cases when the resignation issue arises.

Some urged resignation, others “staying the course.” Some characterized it as a “personal decision,” and still others said it should be left to the voters.

Pundits will debate for years whether Bill Clinton should have resigned before commencement of impeachment proceedings, and the long-term ramifications of his decision not to do so.

More recently, Alaska’s Gov. Palin resigned before anyone suggested that she do so, and she still caught flak for that!

In each instance, many spoke of the judgment of the politicians involved (before and after the revelations of their questioned conduct), and whether their actions bear, in any way, on their ability to make “good judgments” while in office and on behalf of those who placed faith and trust in them.

In the recent cases of Nevada Sen. John Ensign, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, and now Gov. Sarah Palin, we listened to all of the views, and still did not have a concrete position. We debated the gravity of the conduct, whether the person still had something to offer to society, and whether his constituency might actually be the loser should they resign.

We thought about how society defines “judgment,” or more appropriately perhaps, “good judgment.” Whether it is situational and transient in nature, or permanent, and black and white.

Earlier this week, a friend sent us the following, purportedly a question used as part of a job application, which made us think further about “judgment:”

“You’re driving down a winding, rain-slicked road on a dangerous, stormy night. You pass a bus stop where 3 people are waiting for the bus. One is an elderly woman who appears to be very ill. The 2nd is someone you recognize as a friend who once saved your life. The 3rd is someone who you, in hindsight, recognize you should have married years before. (They later revealed that given the opportunity, they would be now open to your entreaties.)”

“You have room in your sports car for only one other person. Which one would you offer a ride?”

Before sharing the answer of the successful applicant, we have another short story which might bear on whether politicians should resign after embarrassing conduct, which calls into question their judgment.

A regular reader recently found herself in dire straits. Most of her life, she had the very best of everything: food, wine, education, exposure, homes, travel, and friends. However, during the last several years she found herself estranged from her family and struggling to make ends meet.

During a recent exchange, she confided that she was initially confused as to what she should do in terms of her relationship with her minor son, and then she offered this:

“I’ve been flying in private planes since the age of 7. In thinking about my predicament, I recalled something said at the beginning of every flight. ‘Adults flying with minor children should put on their oxygen masks first, before trying to assist their children.’ I realized that I had to get my personal act together first before being able to assist, or be involved with, anyone else.”

It seemed like such a simple concept, and Common Sense. The more we thought about it during the week, the more applicable it seemed to disgraced elected officials in the court of public opinion. At least it is something they should consider.

Back to our job applicant, you could justifiably pick up the elderly lady since her condition is the most precarious. Or you could pay back the friend who saved your life. Or you could pick up your mate and live happily ever after.

Our friend claims that the successful candidate, out of 200 who applied, indicated that you should give the car keys to the old friend and let him or her take the sick woman to the hospital, while you sit with the love of your life awaiting the bus.

One of the Senior Fellows here at the Institute suggested the driver run over the elderly woman, put her out of her misery, fulfill any unrequited desires with the love of your life, and then drive off with the friend who saved your life for some strawberry margaritas at Pancho’s on the Strand.

We haven’t advanced the discussion of what constitutes “good judgment,” have we? Hmmm, we imagine that it is open to debate.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Post No. 124c: Re-Posting of Post No. 30: The Dangers Assoociated with Being Peculiar

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a professional association at a high end resort in Florida. An incredible buffet dinner was scheduled for one evening, to which everyone was looking forward.

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

Upon my arrival, everyone inquired as to why I was so late. When I informed them that I felt compelled to watch two episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, they all howled with laughter.

Their laughter grew even louder when I mentioned that, in my opinion, one could learn more about life from that show than perhaps any other show on television. (Interestingly, my Father tells me that it was also the favorite show of my Mother, who passed away at a relatively early age.)

I saw an episode of the show yesterday, which reminded me of the manner in which this simple show, about life in small town America, has provoked many a thought throughout my lifetime.

It was the story of Ed Sawyer, a clean-cut, well-groomed stranger who arrives in Mayberry. Throughout the episode, Ed is always dressed in a conservative business suit, articulate, respectful, polite, and there is nothing visually alarming about him. In fact, he could be the poster boy for virtually any All-American organization or movement.

The first scene in the episode unfolds as Ed enters Floyd’s barbershop, where Barney Fife is in the chair getting a shave. Several other citizens, including Andy, are also present.

Ed engages them all in a pleasant, upbeat conversation, calls them each by name, and exhibits a degree of familiarity which causes the shop’s occupants to become uncomfortable. As he leaves the shop, all heads turn to follow him down the street, and they all exit to watch his next move. Almost immediately, there is a suggestion by Barney that Andy commence an investigation of this suspicious and “peculiar” stranger.

As Ed proceeds down the sidewalk, he encounters a double baby stroller parked in front of a store, where the mother is looking through the shop window. Ed greets the two twins, their mother, and then poses questions which suggest that he can distinguish between the two boys at this early stage in their development. The suspicions grow.

Ed next proceeds to the local rooming house, and when offered one room, he declines because of an incident which had occurred in the room, arguably about which few would have known. Although he has never stayed at the rooming house, he then proceeds to request a specific room, by number, which although green in color, has a cheerier décor.

At this point, Barney is beside himself, and inquires whether Ed speaks German. Fortunately, Andy, the voice of reason, intervenes and initiates a conversation more normally associated with welcoming a visitor to one’s town. At the same time, Andy poses a number of questions in an effort to get to know this fellow better, since he is also experiencing some degree of discomfort, although unarticulated.

Later that afternoon, Ed approaches Andy and seeks his advice and assistance. It appears that the local gas station is up for sale, and Ed is considering buying it. Andy suggests that perhaps Ed might be moving a tad too quickly, and that he should take the time to get to know the townspeople a little better.

He further suggests that the town’s citizens might regard Ed’s sudden emergence on the scene as “peculiar,” without some “warming up.” (By the way, I learned the word “peculiar” from this show, which was used with some frequency on episodes airing in the 1960’s.)

Ed then segues into how much in love he is with Lucy Matthews, who he has never seen. However, he is familiar with all of her physical attributes, and he inquires of Andy as to why she does not answer his calls and knocks on her door. Lucy soon walks in to lodge a complaint, to which Ed responds that she is just as pretty as he suspected. It is at this point that Andy feels, as the town’s sheriff, he must get to the bottom of this behavior, since it threatens to disturb the town’s peace.

Ed admits that his behavior might strike some as odd, but provides a very plausible, if not immediately obvious, explanation. Ed explains that Joe Larson, a long-time resident of Mayberry, was an Army buddy. While serving together, Joe received the local Mayberry newspaper, and Ed found himself reading the paper on a daily basis.

As time moved on, he began to feel that he “knew” the citizens about whom the articles were written. He further explains that over time, he began to envy Joe, because Joe was from Mayberry, a place that Ed admired, and Ed was from, well, “Nowhere.”

Ed further explains that over time, he began to wish that Mayberry was his hometown, and he eventually convinced himself that it was. When he saw the ad in the paper that the service station was up for sale, he regarded it as an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

After Ed leaves the courthouse / jail, Barney rushes in and proclaims that Ed has finally “overplayed his hand.” When Andy inquires as to what Barney is referring, Barney states that Ed has been hanging around Lucy Matthews’ house and actually crossed the line by ringing her bell.

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween for ringing doorbells unnecessarily.

He further exclaims that Ed doesn’t even have the excuse of being out for trick or treat. Deputy Fife then inquires as to whether Ed speaks Spanish.

Of course, Ed’s efforts to integrate himself into the community go terribly wrong. That’s even after Andy makes everyone feel pretty small and provincial after facetiously suggesting that they all were justified in their prejudicial attitudes toward this stranger, just because he was an unknown, peculiar, and somewhat different.

Ed realizes that this really isn’t the place for him, and leaves. And the town lost a potentially energizing and illuminating individual.

This 40 plus year old episode of the Andy Griffith Show made me think of several things this weekend. First, the power of the visual media came to mind, along with its potential to expand the minds of its viewers, particularly young viewers, as well as its power to narrow.

Second, it reminded me of the 30 year period when I lived in Southern California, and I interacted with all sorts of people of different races from different parts of the world. Virtually everyone was a stranger. Upon returning to North Carolina, despite the fact that North Carolina is the number one state in terms of percentage increase of Hispanics, I noticed the lack of interaction between whites and blacks on the one hand, and Hispanics on the other. Asians operate many mom and pop businesses in the black parts of town, but the social interaction ends there.

At several public meetings in my hometown, I have mentioned that despite what one may think of our immigration policies, many immigrants are here, and we need to engage them and integrate them into our society, with the goal of deriving the best that we can from their involvement. Each time I have broached the subject, many citizens in the room have lowered their heads and looked at the floor without responding.

In recent months, I have tried something different. Every time I have encountered Hispanics, I have taken the initiative to walk up to them and start a conversation. Each time, without fail, they have been pleasant folks and almost ecstatic that someone outside of their group took the risk to engage them. It has always been a rewarding experience, although guarded it may have started.

Third, this episode also struck a chord when I learned of Senator’s Obama’s reference earlier this week to the efforts of his opponents to label him as different, and thus necessarily something that we should fear.

Our fear of the unknown, caution, and prejudice, even that racially based, appear to be hard wired to ensure survival and ease of negotiation in a complex world. But we also have a bigger brain which should enable us to think and reason beyond our biggest primal fears.

Some criticism has been leveled against the Andy Griffith Show over the years because of its conspicuous absence of blacks in a show based in a southern city. However, Andy Griffith himself sure made up for that during the airing of his Matlock series.

Be that as it may, my hat is off to the Andy Griffith Show, and particularly its writers, particularly considering the era in which the show was first viewed. Perhaps more of you will have the opportunity to view the Ed Sawyer episode before the upcoming presidential election.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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