Sunday, August 30, 2009

Post No. 133: We Should All Sing for Our Fathers, At Least Once

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“It does not matter who my Father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
- Anne Sexton

Last week a writer described Sen. Edward Kennedy using a long list of nouns, one of which was “father.” When society refers to famous men, it does not often highlight their role as fathers.

The above Sexton quote appeared while navigating a Borders Book Store, along with an overwhelming desire to chat about fathers. Fathers are more than convenient; they are important, as discussed during a recent Fatherhood Symposium here in town, which addressed the lack of fathers in the lives of many young men.

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times once wrote a poignant piece for Father’s Day, in an effort to define a "normal" father-child relationship. Her Father never hit, abused, ridiculed, or demeaned her. She concluded those who view their relationships with their fathers as less than fulfilling, might not fully appreciate the value of peace, security, and consistency of presence and love. She thanked God her Father never achieved notoriety.

A childhood acquaintance and product of a single parent home, who the Logistician had not seen in 40 years, drunkenly mentioned he envied the two parent situation which the Logistician enjoyed. He felt those with both parents could not comprehend what that meant to a kid growing up. That this issue still loomed large for him, 40 years later, said it all.

(Comedian Chris Rock once remarked that the main job of a father is to keep his daughter "off of the pole.")

But two parents alone do not a family make.

A friend lost his Mother when she was 52, and always thought that he had a great relationship with her…she was his Mother.

But it took him more than a few years (by growing older with his Father) to realize that his relationship with his Mother remained largely unfulfilled. It did not extend long enough for them to navigate more turbulent waters: the philosophical differences, declining skills and soundness of mind, the whole sex thing, and the recognition that they both were human with flaws.

Her passing created a giant hole in his library of oral history… she took with her answers to yet to be asked questions, that create not just a memory, but a life, and the string of continuity that bonds generations together… a sense of “us,” as a family.

Some 20 yrs ago, a friend related what he recalled most about his Father, then deceased - the arguments. Another friend, whose upbringing motivated him to attend top universities, travel the world, and acquire a medical degree, rarely had anything positive to say about his Father.

Still a third, a prominent lawyer in the community, visited his Father for the first time in many years at his deathbed. He never was what his Father wanted him to be.

As age creeps up on “immune, exempt, and immortal” baby boomers, it seems that the more time spent on this Earth, the more potentially problematic and complicated our relationships with our fathers become.

As is his want (and training), the Laughingman blames this too on genetics. He claims that our (and our maternal parents’) genes are programmed to turn nasty when kids reach adolescence. Absent enough friction to cause them to leave the nest, there will be no further children, no mating, no propagation, and no future generations chock full of brand new genes to guarantee the health and well being of generations to come.

TCM recently aired I Never Sang for My Father. It is a compelling film… biological lectures not withstanding. Since then, we have been arguing about relationships between fathers and their sons, and ways in which those relationships change over time.

It is the story of a 44 yr old East Coast professor (Gene Hackman), and his relationship with his Father. Hackman has met a young doctor who practices in California, and has school-age children. He wants to marry her and move to California, to start his life afresh, following the death of his wife.

He visits his parents, and first discusses his tentative plans with his 81 year old Father. The Father still treats his son like a 6 year old, and has little time to think about his son’s desires and motivations. However, when the son brings up his potential move to California, the Father says, “It will kill your Mother.”

Hackman has the same conversation with his Mother, and relates the exchange with his Father, without mentioning the purported impact on the Mother. The Mother smiles, says that she and the Father will take care of one another, and that the Son should move to California, get on with his life, and be happy. She relates that she and her husband had their chance at happiness.

Hackman marries, and his Mother dies shortly after. He now has to consider the care options for his Father, who has advancing dementia. His Sister, who lives out of town and was banished by their Father for marrying a Jewish man, suggests he hire some help and move on. We see him visit various nursing homes, all of which leave something to be desired. (Roger Ebert has an excellent review of the movie.)

The Laughingman insists that this is all Hollywood Hog Wash, intended to persuade the gullible to buy into the magic of consumerism. By showing characters based on the figments of screenwriters’ imaginations, they simultaneously promote various elixirs… or even treatments… to dull the pain of not being just like them.

Hog Wash or not, we suggest that the young, either chronologically or emotionally, take the time to enjoy their parents in their youth, and explore the outer reaches of their connection. One never knows where the relationship will go as time progresses.

One thing is certain - all the real world history, to wit: the whys, the why nots, the pain, the failures, and the triumphs that make you, will be gone with your Father… and a great gaping hole will be left in the questions you can’t answer for your own kids.

Be sure to sing for your Father, at least once, before it’s too late.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Post No. 132: There’s More than Just the Difference in the Price of Your Ticket on the Train

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’ve always found conflict to be of little value. And generally unproductive.

What we’ve found encouraging has been the absence of conflict, despite differences.

We’ve expressed our concerns about the tone of discourse in America, and what it portends for our collective future. We recently ran across a blog whose title might be paraphrased as, “Yell and Scream First, and Then Reason.” We thought, “There’s a lot of that going on,” and later realized that the yelling and screaming usually end the interaction.

In April, we generated a piece entitled, It All Depends on the Price of Your Ticket on the Train. We used Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to show how good people could legitimately have different perceptions of reality, and thus different values and priorities.

In thinking about this issue further, it also occurred to us that who you are willing to engage in a conversation, across from your seat on the train, can significantly affect your view of the world, and what you get out of the journey.

We’re convinced that a citizenry incapable of sitting down together, in some civilized way to collaboratively address problems, will not get the most out of its people long term. The tensions and emotions can only put further strain on that glue which holds them together.

We thought about this issue twice today. The first time was during the re-airing of a presentation on C-Span2 Book TV, of an interview of the Harvard professor who was recently arrested. The presentation aired in February, prior to the controversial arrest. (Click here to see the video.)

We saw a likeable, affable, intelligent man who had worked hard in an academic setting. However, we kept returning to the image painted by many after his arrest: arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work.

The second event consisted of the recent comments of two of our regular readers. There have been times in the past when they have seemingly been at each other’s throats. One could not imagine more polar opposites philosophically.

However, earlier this week, they agreed on something. In fact, they have done so on a number of occasions, although perhaps not with the passion with which they have disagreed on others.

We thought about how different their interaction might be if they both appreciated and focused on the views which they share, as opposed to their interaction being defined by the issues on which they differ. We also wondered whether they realized the number of times there was agreement.

There are two “odd ball” relationships which we frequently mention in our presentations on college campuses. The first involves Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine, who is generally regarded at the “King of Smut,” a label he relishes.

In one issue of the magazine, he published a parody of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. He suggested that Falwell’s first sexual encounter with his mother was in an out-house, which prompted Falwell to sue Flynt.

For many years, they traveled around the country debating one another, on the subjects of obscenity and pornography. We saw one during the 1990s, and we were fascinated by their relationship: one of mutual respect, despite their differences. After Falwell's death, Flynt acknowledged that they became great friends.

The second “odd ball” relationship which has always intrigued us is that involving an ardent white, male segregationist and a black, female civil rights advocate, who battled over school desegregation in North Carolina. They are now also the best of friends, and make presentations together regularly.

Earlier we suggested that conflict is unproductive in nature, and that despite differences of opinion, progress might be made in achieving goals, if the focus is shifted from the conflict. Our recently minted President suggested that he was going to stress the ties that bind us, rather than highlight the differences which separate us.

Thus far, it does not appear to have worked out that way. Interestingly, in the blogosphere, the most consistent comment we see made about Mr. Obama is that he has done more to set back civil discourse during his brief tenure, than anyone in the past.

We suspect that this loud rancor has little to do with the current occupant of the Oval Office, and more to do with some deep seated, unresolved issues which have been developing for centuries. They’ve just now clearly revealed themselves through the tears in the fabric of our nation, now that we facing inclement weather.

We’d best take note now, and engage those across from our train seat in an honest and direct conversation, lest we all miss the developments outside our train car windows, which is the assault on our prosperity. The glass could break, and make the journey even chillier.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Post No. 131b: Re-Posting Of Post No. 92: Dobermans. Surrounded by Dobermans

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

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

They bark. They snarl. They attack.

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

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

Our colleague’s Dobermans got us thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our country’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear. We’ve all felt it on occasion, and we’re feeling it again.

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

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

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

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

There has to be something bigger than this ideological dispute.

Do we still have those angels?

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Post No. 131a: Article of Interest: More than Just Talk about Cultural Divide

While sitting in a doctor’s office last week, we picked up a copy of the April 25-May 1, 2009 issue of “The Economist.” We’re always interested in how those outside of our borders view what takes place here in the U.S.

Much has been said about the cultural divide which exists in our nation today. Within this context, we found this article, about a movement to divide California into two separate states, interesting. Since one of the goals of the Institute for Applied Common Sense is to stimulate thought resulting in innovative solutions to societal problems, this piece about the state of affairs in our largest state (by population) immediately captured our attention.

As we move forward through these rocky waters, we need to devise innovative ways to “manage” or address our cultural differences, lest they draw us further apart.

Of Ossis and Wessis – California Splitting

California is now divided more east-west than north-south

“The problem with those lefties on California’s coast is that they [‘] love fish, hate farmers,[‘] says Virgil Rogers in his Okie twang, so common in California’s Central Valley. Actually that’s just where the problems start, and he begins to list them. So different are the folks by the sea and in the interior, he says, that the only way forward is to split the state in two.

“Thirteen coastal counties, from Los Angeles to Marin, just north of San Francisco, should become the 51st state... [Click here for the remainder].”

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Post No. 131: There Has to be Something More

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Today, we have some Common Sense thoughts about choosing a spouse - the first, and hopefully only, time.

When we sit down at the keyboard, we’ve often just watched a series of movies on TCM, some cartoons, and the news.

John Edwards, the Democratic presidential contender who cheated on his wife, is back in the news. So are the timeless issues of sex, power, and breach of trust.

As we watched the Edwardses, we asked, “What are people thinking when they pair up?”

Some suggest that very little thinking goes on, at least north of the equator, and that’s where the cartoons come in. We’ve long argued that transient, hard-wired blood flow and chemical (whether hormonal or self-administered) factors play far too large a role.

We're not being prudish; we've just been there; and, on far too frequent an occasion.

It’s not difficult to find some element of errant temptation in most Hollywood products. Some even suggest that Tinseltown bears some responsibility.

But history is replete with evidence that hanky-panky predated Hollywood. A recent History Channel program discussed the long trips between American colonial farms where brief “stops” were made (by members of both sexes) to, let’s say, regain one’s energy.

Modern couples are often shocked to find that sex is a reoccurring complicating factor. Last evening, we watched a program on the mythological god Zeus. It was noted that all of the ancient gods, in addition to their immense power, had human frailties.

Zeus’ flaw? An insatiable sexual appetite. (Even without Viagra.)

While we’ve never quite figured out why the male member (or even the female member) of a couple might have an interest in prolonging the event (particularly those otherwise incompatible), we do find the spate of competing commercials entertaining.

The description of the potential side effects is almost as humorous as the cartoons we watch. “Anyone experiencing an erection longer than 4 hours should consult a physician.” Add to that the warning that someone experiencing a decrease in hearing or sight should discontinue using the product, and we’re really confused. Aren’t those parts of the deal?

In an earlier piece, we suggested that people considering, or stumbling toward, infidelity recognize the early warning signs. We proposed nipping the impulse in the bud while they still had some degree of control, before “Nature” took over.

That didn’t go over very well. Many apparently feel that Nature has no role, and it is all about pure selfishness, and a lack of Personal Responsibility. However, let's face it: the real issue is how one wants to occupy one's time.

We saw the movie Outbreak for the first time last week. In it, members of a divorced couple, both of whom are infectious disease doctors, join forces to fight a deadly virus. Watching them place their personal differences aside, and focus on their mutual goals, prompted us to write this piece.

TCM recently aired a collection of Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. As Rooney got older, he began to take an interest in members of the opposite sex. In some of his other movies, he was paired with Liz Taylor. In real life, Rooney and Taylor married 8 times each, and to them we dedicate this piece.

From what we’ve seen, young people considering hooking up long-term might look for something else apart from the transient. (Children are obviously not a very strong motivation to stay together these days.)

We’re neither apologizing for, nor condoning cheating. Nor are we suggesting that cheating is a minor issue to be glanced over. We’re just suggesting that marriage might have a better chance of survival, whatever the problems encountered, if there is something else going on apart from physical attraction.

The following appeared in our earlier, controversial piece:

“Probably the best line about love... is..., ‘Love is not two people staring into the eyes of one another, but rather both of them staring in the same direction together at the same time focused on the same goal.’ [I]f a relationship is primarily [physical] attraction... based, the decrease in the stimulation and intensity will occur about as quickly as the increase, if not faster.

“When men and women... realize there are issues in society larger and more significant than themselves, their children, and the physical structures in which they live (and where one places his appendage), then we will have made some progress as a society. When couples feel that their relationship is about to disintegrate, they might consider jointly volunteering their time to the AIDS Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Foundation, or a similar organization. That’ll place things into perspective.”

Earlier this week, we saw another couple in the news – the Clintons. The former Prez brought home two detained American journalists who made missteps in North Korea. His previously humiliated wife, now Secretary of State, beamed with pride. Moving on beyond his peccadilloes, they, together, pulled something off which they felt mattered.

For all the criticism their relationship received in the past, perhaps they have figured out the formula to a long-term marriage, or another type of "Stay Pow'R." (It remains to be seen whether the marriages of Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. John Ensign will survive.)

We strongly suspect that at some point during or following the Lewinsky scandal, at least one of them said, “There’s still work to be done, which best be done by the two of us.”

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Post No. 130a: Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter

In theory, if thoughts we share in our articles, truly constitute Common Sense, then the approaches recommended should be able to stand the test of time, and be applicable to new fact situations as they arise.

Earlier this week, before we had fully gotten beyond the Harvard professor arrest incident, there was something else added to the mix. A Boston police officer generated an e-mail describing the black professor as a "jungle monkey."

(Early, and apparently now discounted, reports suggested that the words "banana-eating" were also used.)

He was immediately suspended, and the Boston Police Chief stood up to distance his department and the city from the comments, as Jack Nicholson noted in the movie Chinatown, “…quicker than the wind from a duck’s ____."

In June of 2008, we posted the following article, which we believe is also applicable to the comments of the embattled officer.

© 2008 and 2009, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Most reasonable folks would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talkingheads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is our understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to his church's existence to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, some of us thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, our most senior Fellow, the Laughingman, brought us back to reality, and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society.”

Yesterday, we heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct.

One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, we're sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

We considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then we recalled that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people.

Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump; “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008 and 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

"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"™