Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Post No. 143f: And Who Said Nothing Good is on TV?

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. President Ronald Reagan signed the federal holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. All 50 states of our union first observed the holiday in 2000.

In traversing Twitter yesterday, it was fascinating to note the large number of people who posted MLK quotes in their tweets.

Earlier today, Bravo Network aired a re-run of an episode of The West Wing. During the episode, the President’s daughter, Zoey, is kidnapped by terrorists. President Bartlett, functioning without his Vice-President due to a sex scandal, temporarily relinquishes his position as President. His replacement (played by John Goodman of Roseanne, Coyote Ugly, and The Babe fame) is a member of the opposing party.

At one point during the show, the terrorists set a deadline for the removal of all American forces from their country. In the event of non-compliance, they intend to execute Zoey. There is quite a bit of speculation about whether the more hawkish Interim President will use some form of military force.

In private, Leo McGarry, the Chief of Staff, and President Bartlett have a conversation. Leo inquires as to what the President thinks should be done, to which the President utters a paraphrased version of the following:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Post No. 143e: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate

Yesterday, we attempted to explore the issues of deceit and truthfulness in the context of the Mark McGwire steroid use story. For some reason, the theoretical and practical attitudes of our readers toward cheating (which arguably is a form of deceit, of which "lying" is a subset) differed dramatically from the responses we received during our prior effort to delve into the issue of honesty. Consequently, we are re-visiting our original post on the subject to see what happens when we separate the issue of honesty from the issue of steroid use.

© 2009 and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Laughingman and the Logistician have been friends for years. The Laughingman has laughed out of loud at some of the Logistician’s antics.

He has also expressed bewilderment following comments by the Logistician, when there were highly desirable women in the room.

He would shake his head, and ask, “What in the world made you say that?” The Logistician would reply, “It’s the truth," which one would expect people to respect.

In case you haven’t figured out who is the more practical of the two, and who usually got the gal, there’s another Logistician story of note.

He once had this girlfriend, who was stunning in every aspect imaginable. One day, she asked him whether he loved her. He replied in a perfunctory fashion, “Why yes, dear.”

But then she followed by asking, “But do you love me?”




All of his male buddies have since said that all he had to do was to simply say, “Yes.” (Coincidentally, as have his female friends.) But he didn't.

His response, after pausing no less, was, “What’s the definition of the second love which distinguishes it from the first?”

Aphrodite then replied, “You know. Do you love me?”

The Logistician never managed to provide a satisfactory answer.

To all who later questioned the wisdom of his choice, he calmly stated, “I was placed in a situation where I was asked to respond to something I did not understand. For me to have said ‘yes’ would have been a lie, without a definition being provided.”

There is a logical explanation for this madness. You see, he was screwed up way early in life. Not only did he have traditional societal, familial, and religious forces suggesting that he always tell the truth, but he also attended West Point. The Honor Code there prescribed that he, “not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.”

He has tried to apply that principle (minus the toleration part) to his life, albeit not always successfully. However, he’s tried.

One of his favorite quotes is from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura: “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good recollection of what you previously said.”

And so it was with a great deal of consternation that the Logistician recently found himself in a heated conversation with a valued friend of 35 years, as to the responses one should provide to senior citizen relatives whose mental faculties are declining.

The friend argued that “a game” should be played with the relative, since that provides comfort, and the truth need not be told. He said that it was “unnecessary.”

The friend also extended this reasoning to raising young children.

The next day, the Logistician shared this exchange with another mutual friend of 35 years. She suggested that the truth can shatter someone’s delicate perception of the world, and promptly supported the position of the first friend.

It made him wonder whether there are ends sufficiently important to justify out right lying. He also wondered whether there are dangers, so “clear and present,” to support such action.

He thought about this a lot during the recent presidential campaigns: Is winning more important than telling the truth?

(Frankly, we’ve reached a point in our society where many aren’t quite sure what to believe from some purported news sources anymore.)

Back to the Logistician, he has always contended that when asked a specific question, he is required to provide a truthful response.

On occasion, he has recognized the value of silence, or momentary evasiveness, by posing, “Do you really want to ask that question?”

Many would argue that in cases of national security, it is appropriate to lie. But is it really?

Some others would also argue that when you have a confidential relationship with someone, it is appropriate to lie, to those outside of that relationship.

And then there was our former President who only lied about sex.

If there are so many instances where it is appropriate, then when is it inappropriate to lie? (Apparently one can not lie if one is using performance enhancing drugs in a competitive athletic sport.)

Back to kids, is suggesting to a child that there is a Santa Claus, the Easter Bunnie, or the Tooth Fairy, a lie?

And what about that dying parent? Are lies appropriate at the death bed? What about the case of a patient who has terminal cancer, with only a short time to live?

If Congress poses a question to a member of the CIA, is the operative required to always provide the truth? Was Oliver North justified in lying to Congress about Iran-Contra?

Or was Jack Nicholson correct in A Few Good Men, when he said that, "[We] can’t handle the truth?”

P.S. By the way, you’re right. The Logistician is not very bright, and he lied. He did not provide 27 situations.

© 2009 and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Should you desire to examine the comments from our readers the first time that we broached this subject, click here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Post No. 143d: Is a Professional Athlete Justified in Lying about Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Earlier today, former professional baseball player Mark McGwire publicly admitted that he was using steroids at the time that he broke baseball's home run record in 1998. He said that he knew that this day would come.

During a Senate investigation into steroid use at the professional sports level, he chose to neither confirm nor deny his use. Other professional athletes have admitted their use, while others have denied it.

Is the use of performance enhancing drugs a form of cheating? Is the refusal of someone to respond to direct questions about their use tantamount to lying? Is cheating an implicit form of lying?

In the event that a teammate sees a colleague using such supplements, should he or she automatically disclose this information, only when asked, only when it adversely affects the team, only when it positively impacts the team, or keep the information to him or herself?

What if the questions are directed toward the use by someone else about that other person's use? Is the respondent justified in lying about the acts of another?

Is the use of such supplements purely a personal matter about which the public should not be concerned?

We previously generated a piece entitled, 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate. Instead of simply re-posting the text of the original article, we are directing people to the original post and the comments made at that time regarding the concept and honesty and where it is really expected or demanded.

What's the standard for lying in our society?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Post No. 143c: 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.

Yesterday, Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized for what he characterized as "a poor choice of words" in describing the prospect of then- candidate Obama to win the Presidential election in 2008. Reid purportedly suggested that Obama's chances were enhanced because of his light-skinned complexion and absence of a particular dialect. Reid sought to head off a furor destined to occur with the scheduled distribution on Tuesday of a book which outlines the comment.

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

© 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

Friday, January 8, 2010

Post No. 143b: Speaking of Connecting the Dots....

We're always somewhat amused when prominent members of the public declare that the heads of leaders of certain agencies or industries (be they government leaders, business people, bankers, or military / intelligence officials), should roll for their failure to properly adhere to some complex and constantly moving standard.

More specifically, in the case of the recent Christmas day Pampers terrorist attempt, many have complained that US intelligence officials failed to "connect the dots," and anticipate that a terrorist attack was about to take place.

We've often joked that few people have the ability to "properly" manage much in their personal lives, particularly their marriages involving only one other person, and yet seem to have the wisdom and arrogance to readily criticize others in charge of large bureacracies.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times recently wrote an op-ed piece entitled "Father Knows Best," which outlines the thoughts and actions of the Father of the alleged "Underwear Terrorist." In reading it, we thought about how many parents are able to "connect the dots" concerning activities involving their own kids, and even after the event, take responsibility for their kids' conduct.

Should parents be fired, or resign, following their failure to prevent anti-social conduct or behavior on the part of their kids detrimental to society? Would that be letting them off too easily? Should business and government leaders be forced to clean up their purported messes, or should we just fire them or allow them to walk?

This is interesting reading.

"Surely, the most important, interesting — and, yes, heroic — figure in the whole Christmas Day Northwest airliner affair was the would-be bomber’s father, the Nigerian banker Alhaji Umaru Mutallab.

"Mutallab did something that, as far as we know, no other parent of a suicide bomber has done: He went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and warned us that text messages from his son revealed that he was in Yemen and had become a fervent, and possibly dangerous, radical.

"We are turning ourselves inside out over how our system broke down — and surely it did — in allowing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber, to board that airliner. But his father, in effect, told us something else: 'My family system, our village system, broke down. My own son fell under the influence of a jihadist version of Islam that I do not recognize and have reason to fear.'"

To check out the remainder of the article, simply click here.

Post No. 143a: Re-Posting of Post No. 111: Been There; Done That

We first posted this piece in April of 2009. In light of the continuing debate about what should be done to restore the United States to its previous level of prominence, and extricate us from the current economic malaise, we are re-visiting some of our thoughts made at that time.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We frequently suggest that in tackling problems, we examine history, starting with a minimum of 5,000 years, and as far back as 13,000.

However, we’ve come to the conclusion that history alone may not always be able to help us out of jams.

Alan Greenspan recently lamented that those principles he relied on for 40 years no longer apply.

An historian once noted that we should always proceed with caution when we think that the policies of the past can be reapplied, and will generate similar results.

We might do well to consult physics, and better understand the laws of static and dynamic forces. (These are older than humankind and history.)

In order to assess or address anything within a dynamic system, one must freeze or suspend all movement or change, of as many variables as possible, or otherwise isolate the component at issue.

We also know that slight tweaks (no, not tweets) of a variable can result in dramatically different results.

Logic dictates that the larger and more complex the system, the more difficult it is to manage or affect any part of it.

As comforting as it may be psychologically, to resort to playing marbles and pick-up-sticks, it is of questionable value to return to many practices of the past.

Imagine trying to reconstruct that romance which you had with that guy or gal back in school (altered state of consciousness or not), and hope that those old moves lead to the same results.

As a nation, we can never re-create the circumstances extant when prior practices and policies were implemented and applied.

The world may have changed every year back then, but it now changes every nanosecond. We need to recognize this, and conduct ourselves accordingly.

It’s actually lazy and simplistic to merely repeat the practices of the past, even if they were successful. It requires far more energy, commitment, focus, and innovation to craft appropriate approaches to new conditions, everyday.

Sitting on the sidelines and simply watching changes occur without responding also may not be the best tactic.

To suggest that our enemies or competitors have been sitting still, or that the conditions in our country have been in suspension, is just plain science fiction.

For years, Corporate America used large, 100 year old silk-stocking firms to perform its outside legal work. The Logistician and his partners sought that same work, somewhat successfully, by offering a lower rate. They were smaller, more nimble, had lower overheard, and more importantly, hungrier.

Yet, many corporations were reluctant to make such a change. If things went awry, someone would undoubtedly question why the referring counsel did something out of the ordinary, and did not stick with the tried and tested firms.

Hollywood’s like that. It’s far easier to explain why “Men in Black 12” did not generate record box office numbers, than a new concept.

But consider this.

If you‘re surprised about a development over a span of 30 years, like the demise of our educational and industrial systems here in the U.S., you probably were asleep at the switch, and not paying close attention to changes on an annual, much less a monthly, basis.

We all have a tendency to go through repetitive motions. They’re safe, familiar, less subject to scrutiny, and require less effort.

UPS had a marketing campaign which referred to “moving at the speed of business.” Hong Kong is a 24 hour business city. Imagine what happens to others when their business communities are asleep.

It’s the nature of competition, and the nature of change.

There’s been much noise about returning to the policies of Clinton, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or FDR. Quite frankly, returning to those dated tactics, no matter which side of the ideological line they may fall, may not be particularly helpful.

Those circumstances no longer exist, and will never exist again. And that doesn’t take into consideration the efforts to revise history.

We can’t duplicate the economic variables. We certainly can not re-create the psychological and social variables.

Going forward, we need to craft new procedures, new principles, new tactics. Ones that fit our current conditions, which have never existed before.

So to all of our politicians and policy makers out there, please detach yourselves from your ideological goals and preferences, and repeating that mantra about what you think worked in the past.

Try to figure out what’s most likely to work, TODAY, going forward, based on current conditions, and those we anticipate.

The world is far flatter than we once thought.

"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"™