Monday, November 30, 2009

Post No. 141: Is Taking Full Responsibility Ever Enough?

A prominent person in society once said, “Never complain. Never explain.”

Day in and day out, we engage our readers in a discussion about personal responsibility. The following is the official statement, wherein he takes full and sole responsibility for his recent traffic incident, proffered by golfer Tiger Woods.

Is this good enough?

“As you all know, I had a single-car accident earlier this week, and sustained some injuries. I have some cuts, bruising and right now I'm pretty sore.

“This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I'm human and I'm not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn't happen again.

“This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.

“The only person responsible for the accident is me. My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble.

“She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false.

“This incident has been stressful and very difficult for Elin, our family and me. I appreciate all the concern and well wishes that we have received. But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”

Are you satisfied, and if not, why not?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Post No. 140: Lest We Forget Who the Real Parties in Interest Are

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, hey”

“Father, father, we don’t need to escalate
War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, hey”

-- Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, recorded June 1, 1970

The History Channel recently aired a documentary about the Woodstock Festival held on August 15 – 18, 1969, originally billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music.”

The anti-war sentiment in this country concerning Vietnam was at a fever pitch.

A significant portion of the population was affected in some manner by our involvement in that “conflict.”

College campuses served as battlegrounds and stages on many levels. Whether due to the draft, the protests, the status of ROTC units, or the interrupted lives, every college student was affected in some way.

And so were their relatives, and neighbors, and church members, and co-workers, and friends….

However, on college campuses today, there is far less concern about our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, one way or the other. (Some would suggest that is the way it should be; like a building super, when things are going well and he is doing the dirty work, one never sees him, nor has the need to contact him - personally.)

Plus, there is little concern about having one’s education interrupted to visit a foreign land.

My, how times have changed.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a noted presidential historian who appears regularly on TV. Earlier this week, she and her twenty-something son, Joey, spoke with Charlie Rose, about Joey’s two tours, one in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq.

Fortunately, he returned in one piece and was remarkably philosophical about the experience. As for his Mom, it was clear that she breathed one massive sigh of relief upon his return.

All of us living during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, knew someone personally affected. Now, primarily because of our volunteer military and the use of sophisticated technological weapons, we have transitioned to a place where relatively few of us personally know someone involved, or even personally affected, for that matter.

And that may not be a good thing, no matter where one stands on the wars.

While in a grocery store recently, we observed a very sharp, well-groomed young man speaking to a customer. His name tag revealed that he was the Store Manager.

We inquired as to how long he had been with the chain, to which he responded a surprising 7 months. He laughed and explained that he had previously been with the chain for a number of years, and that he had over 15 years of retail experience.

He also mentioned that he had served in Iraq.

But he was a stranger in a grocery store with whom a random conversation was held.

And although a human being, not a parent, or a child, or a neighbor, or a church member, or a co-worker, or a personal friend of ours.

My, how things have changed. What should concern us all are the consequences associated with this change or multiple changes.

Our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict profoundly influenced the worldview of millions of American college students for almost two decades.

One obvious change is in America’s view of the military. During Vietnam, returning soldiers were frequently held in contempt, as if they were responsible for the conflict. A frightening number of them found themselves on the streets.

Today, we view the returning troops as akin to heroes, having purportedly protected us from another terrorist attack on our home soil. Interestingly, very few of them, thus far, appear to have wound up on the streets – at least not yet.

That we as a society have not fully examined, with any degree of real seriousness, the long-term ramifications of placing the burden of this battle, whether justified or not, on so few shoulders and so unevenly distributed, should cause us to pause.

When things get personal, issues take on a whole different complexion and complexity. When it’s some other guy’s issue, who we really don’t know, it’s far easier for us to ….

Is there any lesson to be learned from Vietnam? Kearns Goodwin suggests there may be. If a pullout is dramatic, it may signal weakness and be perceived as a loss of the investment of the lives lost thus far. If an increase in resources and equipment is dramatic, more lives will be expended and the definition of success will become murkier.

What Kearns Goodwin regards as potentially problematic is the route taken by then President Lyndon Johnson - the intermediate approach.

Our fear is that without that personal connection, neither side will be prompted to make the real difficult decisions.

With a volunteer fighting force, it is even more important to constantly remind ourselves who the real players are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post No. 139: "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens"

We recently had the opportunity to meet Lee Schaeffer, the Founder of America 357. America 357 is dedicated to the proposition that the citizens of the United States can and must conduct our national legislative business with civil discourse, and that its conduct must appear to follow the rules of Common Sense.

Mr. Schaeffer and his followers believe that we must end the partisan bickering and focus the nation’s energies on the pursuit of effective solutions to America’s most pressing issues, without regard to party interest, self-interest, or special interest.

Part of this approach involves re-thinking the way in which we engage the youth of our nation at all levels. Although the work of America 357 is not specifically directed toward the Institute’s target audience of college students, there are similarities in approach and principle between our two organizations. Mr. Schaeffer is our Guest Author in connection with the following post.

© 2009, America 357, Inc.

With all the buzz around Washington these days about Lobbyist Reform, and in light of recent abuses, perhaps now would be a good time to put this in perspective for the average American “outside the Beltway."

And what could be easier for the average person to understand than banks. After all, that is where almost all of us put our money for safe keeping. Therefore most people should favor Bank Robbery Reform, right?

And who better to come up with these needed reforms than, well, bank robbers, of course. One could just imagine the results of such an effort.

One possible reform would be to be limit the amount of money a crook could take on a given heist, to say, $50,000. Another rule might permit a potential robber to give gifts to a bank manager as long as no direct reciprocal action was taken. After all, that would be a bribe and we can’t have that. And if six months later the bank manager left a door unlocked for the robber, thus permitting the taking of funds, then the conduct of the banker and the robber would not be considered connected.

Now, wait just a minute here! Do these ideas for Bank Robbery Reform seem insane? Of course they do. The more important question is why average Americans should expect anything less insane when we have the very people who receive money from lobbyists making the new rules.

Allowing Congress to have the final say on lobbying reform is like shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic and calling it “Iceberg Collision Reform”.

The parallel between Bank Robbery Reform and Lobbyist Reform becomes clear when we recognize two points. First, Congress is the “People’s Bank.” Not only does Congress control the accumulation and disbursement of trillions of dollars of our money each year, but it also controls many of the rules (laws) about what we (including corporations) can and cannot do.

In this respect, firstly, what Congress does with our money, and the manner in which it does it, are vastly more important that just the depositing of money in a bank. We arguably must protect the assets of the “People’s Bank” even more vigorously than we try to protect the assets of our financial institutions.

Secondly, lobbyists might appropriately be termed “bank robbers” in that it is their job to extract from Congress (the “People’s Bank”) concessions in the law and the allocation of great sums of money for their clients by way of grants or tax benefits. Why else would lobbyists spend billions of dollars a year to lobby Congress?

Under the current rules, a lobbyist is permitted to send a member of Congress on lavish trips, make campaign contributions, and host fundraisers. In effect, a lobbyist can peddle influence to a member of Congress as long as no direct reciprocal action can be established.

After all, that would be a bribe and we can’t have that. And if six months later the member of Congress returns the favor, well that would not be considered connected.

The existing rules for lobbyists and members of Congress are ridiculous and insulting to the intelligence of the American people, and the current reform proposals amount to “shuffling chairs” by the ship’s hands.

What we have in the current lobbying system, with all of its associated abuses, amounts to institutionalized corruption. While lobbying may be protected as speech by the Constitution, bribery most certainly is not.

To the average American, transferring vast sums of money to members of Congress with the expectation of future favors amounts to bribery.

The only meaningful Lobbyist Reform would be to eliminate any connection between a lobbyist and money. No gifts. No fundraising. No campaign contributions. And that would apply to the lobbyist, any associate in their organization, and any client they represent. Anything less would amount to “People’s Bank Robbery Reform” and that would be insane!

Editorial Note: We took the title for this piece, "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens," from a rather famous movie scene involving the late Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry aka Stepin Fetchit. In the scene, he is caught in the chicken coop by a farmer who asks, "Who's in there stealing my chickens," to which Fetchit replies, "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens."

Post No. 138b: Re-Posting of Post No. 120: Taking Canopy Under the Cover of Religion

Earlier this week, while explaining why "enemy combatant terrorists" should not be tried in American courts, a member of Congress referred to them as "beasts." Later, a commentator expressed his concern that some of the criticism of President Obama had taken on a "religious fervor."

Right now, as we type this piece, Turner Classic Movies is airing the film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1952, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Many have referred to it as one of the worst pictures ever to win that award, and many suspect that Cecil B. DeMille's support of anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy was a factor in the voting.

All of this reminded us of a piece which we generated earlier, about a C-Span2 Book TV presentation. We invite you to consider it again.

© 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 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.

"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"™