Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post No. 176c: Re-Posting of "Our Responsibility as Citizens"

The following post was first published in 2008. (Since then the Logistician departed to conduct his sabbatical in Brazil and he was replaced by Inspector Closeau.) All organizations should occasionally suspend operations, take stock, examine their mission and the reasons for their existence, and determine whether they are still on track. Additionally, all organizations should occasionally explain their goals to those outside of the organization to ensure that the message is clear.

© 2008 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In response to two of our recent posts, dealing with same-sex marriage and abortion, one of our readers facetiously suggested that we were engaging in “mental masturbation,” while another suggested that we were “going in circles.”

Both comments were constructive in that they reminded us, here at the Institute, that we should occasionally engage in a discussion about why we do what we do.

There are three of us here engaging in multi-disciplinary masturbation. The Laughingman keeps us in check, and reminds us of the historical, psychological, and anthropological underpinnings of things. The Logistician is engineering, management, and policy oriented. The Optimizer injects the human and governmental elements, and impresses upon us the importance of nuance.

Together, we have a goal. We’re three Baby Boomers who recognize that, despite our lofty, idealistic goals and views in the 70s, we did little to improve on the citizen model. And for that we must take responsibility.

You see, we believe that all adult citizens bear most of the responsibility for the current state of our nation. Not our purported leaders.

We abdicated our responsibility each time that we stepped into the voting booth, we shopped, we worshipped, we sent our kids to school, and the manner in which we functioned as employees and managers.

And each time that we remained silent and acquiesced.

Someone recently suggested that we are approaching a new era in our nation with respect to the role of government going forward.

At the same time, we recognize that a new crop of kids will inherit a mess of massive proportions. Consequently, we’re here to assist them in recognizing that "there are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27.™

Because it is going to take thinking outside of the box, and coming up with bold, innovative, untried approaches, to tackle this monster. We’re getting our asses kicked, soundly, and the first step in turning that around is to admit that it’s our fault. Each one of us.

It’s now the turn of the kids to turn this thing around.

We will ultimately take our concept on the road and engage college students throughout the nation in a conversation about Personal Responsibility, and how the decisions that they make ultimately bear on the success of the nation as a collective whole.

We need more engineers.

We need more scientists.

We need more inventors.

We need more entrepreneurs.

And we need each member of these groups to tackle our problems, not from their personal perspectives, and what might be in their best interests, but what is ultimately in the long-term best interests of the nation.

We will utilize adults who have encountered and recovered from various difficulties in life, as teaching vehicles, in conjunction with the latest research on the brain, and decision theory. The goals of the Institute are the following:

(a) To provoke thought;

(b) To encourage students to consider their choices in life;

(c) To assist students in analyzing the decisions that they make along with the consequences; and

(d) To have them recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their choices.

We hope to achieve, during our discussion of issues, the de-personalization of the analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. We believe that the analysis will improve through objectivity (as much as it can be achieved) and creativity, along with “digging deep” to expose the root causes of issues, instead of merely being distracted and sidelined by symptoms. We can thereafter craft better solutions.

Although maintaining the status quo might be, solving problems shouldn’t be, partisan and political.

If the election of President-Elect Obama signifies anything, it tells us that we all need to chip in and do our respective parts. It’s our duty as citizens.

It’s time for a whole new collective approach.

Remember, experience isn’t expensive – it’s priceless.

© 2008 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Friday, November 18, 2011

Post No. 176b: What All of Us Should Do at This Point in Time Regarding the Penn State Football Scandal

When the Penn State football child molestation scandal first broke a couple of weeks ago, the Logistician called us from Brazil and lamented that "Happy Valley" would no longer be happy. However, as a result of his legal training, he suggested the following: (a) that we not pre-judge the situation; (b) that we allow the facts to emerge slowly (particularly because the events took place over a period longer than a decade); and (c) that we refrain from arriving at any conclusions too quickly. He noted that based on his 30 years of experience investing factual matters, there is ALWAYS another side, angle, motivation, or "something."

However, in our travels on the streets of America, we found just the opposite attitude. Conclusions (and mental convictions) are already being made. As despicable and unfortunate the alleged conduct of former Defensive Coordinator Gerald "Jerry" Sandusky may theoretically be, under our system of jurisprudence, we here in America adhere to a concept which is designed to counter the lynch mob mentality of humans: innocence until guilt is proven.

We previously generated the following piece about those outside of the investigative agencies and the courtroom making judgments about criminal defendants. We thought it appropriate to re-visit some of our earlier thoughts.

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, a staff member made a pound cake, and brought it into the office. Although the cake looked fine to us, she said that she became distracted while baking it, and that we might find the bottom a “little crunchy” because she baked it 20 minutes too long.

While we were transforming into Pillsbury Doughboys, Betty Crocker’s Father stopped by. He was serving as a juror on a jury trial at the courthouse down the street, and wanted a piece of his daughter’s cake. She also warned him of the potential crunchiness and the reason for it.

He appeared to enjoy the cake, but insisted that she baked it with the oven rack at the wrong level in her stove. Thinking that he did not hear her say that she baked the cake too long, she mentioned it again.

“I heard you the first time; that doesn’t matter.” he snapped, “What I’m saying is that you need to change the rack level.”

For the overly analytical ones of us here at the Institute, our thoughts instantly went to, “And this guy is serving as a juror?” We all hoped that he was serving on a civil jury, where only money was involved, and not someone’s liberty.

But there were 2 other experiences we had last week which made us further question the ability of criminal defendants to get a fair trial, apart from the efforts of the Nancy Graces of the world to convict them immediately after arrest and before booking is completed.

We previously mentioned our connections to the O.J. trial when the Institute was headquartered in Los Angeles. A friend of the Institute who knew of those connections called us shortly after “Tot Mom” Casey Anthony was acquitted in the death of her daughter, and said that it reminded her of the O.J. trial. The acquittal made her once again question our entire legal system.

She was apparently a fly in the jury room during the deliberations. Shortly thereafter, another tenant in our building asked whether we had heard of Anthony’s acquittal, and then immediately launched into how Anthony’s delay in reporting her daughter missing led her to believe that she was guilty. We suspect that there were enough stale donuts left in the jury room to support multiple flies.

These days, we aren’t quite sure how anyone receives a fair trial, with electronic media spewing sound bites at the speed of light. We seriously doubt that many take the time to digest even 1/100th of the evidence or facts involved, and yet they arrive at a conclusion.

To which they are entitled, no doubt.

We recall a friend once suggesting that because she saw photos of the mayhem inflicted on Nicole Brown Simpson’s body, she knew that O.J. was guilty. And of course, the former head of the International Monetary Fund was guilty, because the rich prey on the poor and consider themselves above the law.

We’re not quite sure whether this is what the Founding Fathers envisioned early on.

But as they often say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

For most students of the law, the line between civil and criminal offenses is fairly clear, and there is even a different burden of proof built into our system of jurisprudence. And white collar folks, whether rightly or wrongly, don’t expect to find themselves locked up in a jail cell with “common criminals.”

(We can almost guarantee you that hundreds of our readers across the globe, upon reading the preceding paragraph thought out loud, “But they should!”)

Horse manure is about to hit the fan soon, and the whole notion of innocence until proven guilty is about to be severely tested. Just continue to follow this phone hacking scandal involving News of the World. What prompted us to write this piece was an e-mail alert from the New York Times just a couple of hours ago, entitled, “An Arrest and Scotland Yard Resignation Roil Britain.” Upon reading the e-mail further, it noted that Britain’s most highly ranked police official resigned, and Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International, was arrested.

Over the years, there have been calls in some circles for expert or professional jurors to address some of the imperfections associated with lay jurors. But one of the principles built into the system is that one is entitled to be judged by a jury of his or her peers.

For the sake of the system, and all involved, we sure hope that neither our pound cake crunching retiree, our disillusioned friend in California, our fellow tenant in our building, nor Nancy Grace are on Ms. Brooks’ jury.

She wouldn’t have a chance in hell.

Well, but then again, it could be worse. We could only allow politicians to serve as jurors….

Hmm..., but then they would never reach a verdict.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Post No. 176a: Re-Posting of "Lest We Forget Who the Real Parties in Interest Are"

Today is Veteran's Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. Many may not be aware that the major fighting of World War I formally ended at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, during the 11th month of November in 1918.

We originally generated the following post two years ago during this same month. Earlier today on MSNBC's Morning Joe, journalist Lisa Ling, and documentary film maker Ken Burns discussed a new documentary exploring Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome experienced by our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly after serving multiple tours. With two years behind us, we thought it appropriate to re-visit some the issues raised in our original piece.

Additionally, the History Channel is currently airing a series, Vietnam in HD. Although all of the Fellows of the Institute served in the military during the Vietnam Era Conflict, we are continually amazed about how little we knew and appreciated about "the whole situation" at the time. Should you decide to view the series, pay particular attention to the comments of our soldiers about who they were and what they endured, both in Vietnam and here at home.

© 2009 and 2011, 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.

"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"™