Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Post No. 186: Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest God’s Pissed

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There are two things we do religiously, neither of which has anything to do with religion.

First, we watch Turner Classic Movies daily. By doing so, particularly those out of the 1920s through the 1950s, we re-visit many societal issues. (And you thought we were simply entertaining ourselves.)

Second, we read two books simultaneously. One is invariably a school textbook, circa 1960s or 1970s, and the other is a book which students were forced to read, and which might be termed classics from other eras, such as Don Quixote, Death of a Salesman, Wuthering Heights, Bulfinch’s Mythology, etc.

By engaging in these exercises, we’ve come to appreciate the meaning of the phrase, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”

The textbook we've been reading here recently is Technology in Western Civilization. What we’ve taken away from our re-reading of this book is that the most powerful forces in society affecting individuals are forces over which individual citizens have the least control. Individuals respond to movements and do the best they can to survive.

The movie which caught our attention featured Barbara Stanwyck as a mail order bride. (Imagine that!) In The Purchase Price (1932), Stanwyck is on the run from her mobster boyfriend. She heads to North Dakota during the Depression to marry a struggling farmer. Months later, she visits a neighbor’s home to lend a helping hand, only to find the woman on the floor with a new born baby. Stanwyck takes charge of the situation.

The next couple of minutes dazzled us. Our former big city girl unleashes an arsenal of survival skills, and sets about wrapping up the delivery, cooking, sewing, milking, repairing, hammering, and doing anything necessary, followed by trekking home in a blinding snowstorm.

And then it hit us - why we’re so anxious, debate the role of government, and ministers daily suggest that we’ve pissed God off.

Except for our families, and perhaps fellow parishioners, we’re pretty much out here all alone. We don’t mean to suggest that government should do anything for its citizens other than defend our borders, and provide police, and maybe fire services. However, after reading Technology, we have a better appreciation of how government stepped in to assist people, long before the New Deal, after throngs left (by choice?), their rural, agrarian roots for major industrial cities during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Few of us can do the things that Barbara did. Instead, we “want to be like Mike.” We’ve reached a point where most of us are totally dependent on cash revenue from some source to pay others to do things for us. Also, we’re generally not that talented in basic survival skills (like sucking rattlesnake venom out of a wound), although we might be great computer people, electricians, ad execs, doctors, or truck drivers.

We all get compensated with cash for our services. According to Technology, currency was one of the great inventions of humankind. But it came with a price.

What we came to realize by the end of the movie is that we are far less capable, at least as individuals, of helping one another because we are not sure whether we can help ourselves. We’ve become dependent on employers, customers, clients, or worse yet, the government. Very few voluntarily chose the route of the 47%.

King Kong ain’t got nothin' on insecurity.

A half-way decent job in a manufacturing plant, enabling one to take care of one’s self and one’s family (and develop a little self-esteem along the way), was a big deal at one time. And then they shipped trinket making to cheaper real estate, and warned us [via Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), and The Third Wave (1980)] that we were transitioning to a service economy. But the provision of services and the assembly of information don’t amount to much if no one is willing to pay for those services.

As a wise man once said, “Something only has as much value as someone is willing to pay.” And connecting what one has to offer with someone willing to pay became far more difficult in the global economic expansion.

There’s little question that we are anxious, and even some are angry. And that debate about the extent government should be involved in our lives is a legitimate one, because there aren’t any other obvious options. And while it is true that families aren’t as large, connected, and based in the same field as they used to be, it’s not God doing it to us because he’s pissed off.

We’re doing it to ourselves. And only we individual citizens have the solutions.

And that’s only common sense.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Post No. 185: There are 4,389 Reasons the U.S. Economy is Suffering; Let’s Focus on the Top 28

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

According to some, those of us who are Baby Boomers are far better "educated" and "more sophisticated" than our parents. However, our parents have or had far more "sumpthin’." To this day, the 92 yr old Father of one of our Fellows speaks of the importance of understanding the "times," and "timing," concepts which are lost on today’s politicians, who reduce everything to a direct, cause and effect formula.

When the Logistician was with us, he used to tell of his days handling medical products litigation where people died in hospitals or ended up as vegetables. What always fascinated him was that there was rarely just one thing that went wrong. It was more likely that 9 or 10 things went astray at the same time.

All muck-ups in life (and those of complex, dynamic organizations) are attributable to a "confluence of events or factors." The same applies to all successes. Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, refers to it as "serendipity."

Earlier today, while surfing the Twittersphere, we encountered a lady who complained about the failure of some to “follow the Constitution.” She noted that if they kept a copy in their pockets, they might do a better job of serving US interests. She kept referring to how “clear” things are in the Constitution.

Why, if they are so clear, do people continue to disagree about them? Why, if things are so clear, and attributable to one cause, can’t we as a society simply pull the magic lever and solve our problems? Are we merely arguing over who gets to pull the lever, or when? Or how?

Today, every domestic airline is accused of mismanagement. But not long ago, Pan American Airlines stood alone. Within a relatively short period of time, they bought a bunch of 747s, purchased a major piece of real estate to diversify, and the price of jet fuel went up dramatically. All 3 factors ultimately contributed to its demise. Add a 4th, the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (which talking heads today would claim they should have foreseen), and you had a recipe for failure. Yep, sounds like mismanagement to us.

What is most troubling about the current political discourse is that our politicians choose, or are forced to explain in simplistic, one dimension terms, or address using simplistic, one dimension approaches, incredibly complex, global systems. Our ability to solve the complex problems of the future will only be hampered through this discourse.

That having been said, are we capable of identifying one umbrella under which we can place the majority of factors leading to our current status? We suspect the Greedy and Lazy umbrella will do just fine, as reflected in our Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered piece.

We can't help but think that growing up during the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and WWII prepared parents of Baby Boomers to be more self-disciplined.

They, for the most part, were and are financially risk-adverse. No credit default swap derivatives for them. Our 92 yr old will use one paper napkin over and over, wrinkled to the point of non-recognition – to save a few pennies. Another friend’s Mother, a Holocaust survivor, stealthily dilutes all liquid soaps and detergents when she visits, claiming the products are too concentrated, and thus wasteful.

We Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are anything but risk-adverse, and in lots of ways, that’s been a good thing. We lived through a period of incredible, economic growth and dramatic expansion of the Middle Class. However, as Irving Kristol once noted, in the realm of human affairs there are no benefits without costs.

Brian Tracy has a new book out, The Power of Discipline. In it, he has a quote from Harry E. Fosdick, "No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is funneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined." The principles are also applicable to individual citizens. We simply got too comfortable, and took our eyes off the big picture.

We do not blame our political leadership in this country for our current state of affairs. We blame the individual citizens for doing it to ourselves. Where we find fault with our elected leaders might be summed up as follows. For political expediency, they want us to believe that the problems are fairly recent, and then suggest that they can be solved by employing one or two simple tactics.

That’s just horse-manure, and all of us know it. Even more troubling is that so many of us bought that snake-oil dogma, and then re-tweeted them. It’s time for us to take personal responsibility for The Disuniting of America.

Here’s hoping that the “better educated” and “more sophisticated” college students, to whom we direct our messages, will not make the same mistakes, and will be far less gullible and irresponsible.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Post No. 184: Why We Need a Constitutional Amendment Taking Away Freedom of the Press (and Media)

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Believe it or not, we actually drafted this piece before NBC’s Bob Costa had to do a spin move following his comments about our “freedom to bear arms,” following the murder-suicide by the professional football linebacker last weekend.

We do not really feel that freedom of the press should be eliminated. (Well, at least not this week.) We were simply trying to get your attention.

However, you have to admit that many, patriots and non-patriots alike, are concerned about these 3 things involving the news media: (a) the accuracy of reporting; (b) the role played by corporations which have a primary responsibility to shareholders to generate maximum profits; and (c) whether it is truly fair and balanced.

My News Station is Red Hot; Your News Station Ain’t Doodly Squat, addressed 28 of the 475 concerns Americans have about reporting the news.

Several Fellows, including the Laughingman and the Logistician, consider Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet to be their role model. They want, “Just the facts, ma’am,” with no subjective twists, turns, spins, or embellishment. The Optimizer and the Inspector argue, on the other hand, that we have families to feed, and that no honest, self-respecting, red-blooded American values truth in the news, but rather wants to confirm their worldview.

Despite our differences, all of us respect individuals who exhibit clarity of thought during difficult times. We’ve seen 2 examples recently, both reported by the Mainstream Media. However, not enough attention has been paid to the facts as interpreted by folks close to the events.

That two parents of slain African-American minors, within weeks after their deaths, had the clarity of mind to make the comments we cite below is powerful, and provides some measure of hope for the future of race relations in this country.

Before addressing their comments, a few other thoughts about how we listen to or read information. Prior to his departure, the Logistician forced us to, frequently at knife point, watch the broadcast of the BBC World News, and prior to 2003, read the International Herald Tribune. He claimed that only by following a media outlet outside of the U.S. could we get an accurate appreciation of what is going on here.

The View is fortunate to have followers from around the globe, including some from Austria, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, and Italy, most of whom worked in the US at some point.

Over the weekend one of our British followers, Sobriquet, in response to our post, Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS, wrote of how it appeared to Brits that the American media coverage of the Gulf spill emphasized that it was a British company primarily at fault, with little attention focused on complicit American players.

Back to the deaths in Florida, the first is the case of George Zimmerman, who shot an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in February. The second shooting death involved teenager Jordan Davis, shot by Michael Dunn after words were exchanged between Dunn and Davis and several teenage friends, regarding the volume of their music.

In the Martin case, while many of the race-baiters and talking heads had so much to say about everything in the Universe and its contents, Martin’s Mother, Sybrina Fuller, said something so pure (and lacking in invective) that most of us missed it. She said that in her heart, she felt that Mr. Zimmerman simply made a mistake and harbored no malice toward her son.

In the Dunn case, the Father of the slain teen earlier this week said that there was nothing which he had seen or heard to suggest that it was racially motivated. In his opinion, Mr. Davis was overtaken by anger, and had a gun readily accessible. He plans to maintain this position until facts motivate him to think otherwise.

This is powerful stuff, coming from the parents of children who predeceased them. We should all strive to be so objective and philosophical under such circumstances. According to The Logistician speculation and unfounded statements, are inherently malicious (and dishonest, even if later shown to be accurate), and should be left to those who desire to perform some societal disservice.

Speculation, as to what is in the minds and hearts of other people or what motivated them to engage in aberrant behavior, is something which, like Trayvon’s Mother and Jordan’s Father, we should keep to ourselves if we think it.

One reason we like to engage college students, is that we find them to be not as ideologically rigid, and thus more tolerant of the views of others. Such an attitude leads to creativity, innovation and new ideas. It’s just common sense that once one party attacks others, certain parties take on a defensive posture, and the exchange of ideas and the search for the truth take the route of the hibernating bear. Our hats are off to the parents of Trayvon and Jordan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Post No. 183a: Article of Interest: How Modern Preppies Got the Style, But Forgot the Values

The following is taken from an article in the August 13 and 20, 2012 issue of Newsweek Magazine. It was written by Susan Cheever.

"American aristocrats were raised to ski hard and tie a mean Royal Coachman, but they were also often raised in a tradition of service - noblesse oblige it was called - that led them to give away lots of their money and to behave in ways that helped those who had less. John D. Rockefeller famously spent more time at the end of his life giving away money than earning it. It wasn't because he was so rich. At the beginning of his life, he gave away 10 percent of the $200 a year he earned as an Ohio bookkeeper's assistant."

To read the entire article, click here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Post No. 183: My News Station is Red Hot; Your News Station Ain’t Doodly Squat

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In response to our post-election piece, Douglas commented about public perception of sitting presidents. He pointed to instances where “the media” did not treat past presidents as kindly as Obama following storm-related disasters.

While he did not actually attack the media or indicate which media outlet he preferred, we recalled that some have complained about bias in news reporting.

A few days ago, we watched Network on TCM. When released in 1976, some questioned the role of corporations in the reporting of news. A week before, TCM aired Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, with an Andy Griffith so far removed from Mayberry, it will make you gasp. The 1957 masterpiece foresaw the growing influence of TV.

In response to Douglas we noted:

1) "The media" at the times referenced (1992, 2005, and 2012) was different due to the state of technology and the number of outlets;

2) Although "the media" has always consisted of citizens, the role of lay citizens is more pronounced than in the past when we essentially had "professional" journalists;

3) We used to think of "news" as distinct from "entertainment." That line (if ever it existed, Charlie Brown) is blurrier than ever. We have more entertainment types weighing in today, be they Eva Longoria, Chuck Norris, Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, or Eevva Longorrrria;

4) There are intangibles which people feel about others, especially when bombarded with images (in this case Presidents), but can't quite, or choose not to, articulate. Bill Cosby could give money for school kids, and most would say it was a gracious gift. Oprah Winfrey could do the same, and many would swear it was a tax deduction motivated gesture;

5) Everything is about timing and context. The social, political, economic, and technological situations 6-12 months prior to each reference date should be factored into how people perceived the respective presidents;

6) We strongly suspect the vast majority of Americans visit the "media outlets" which smell the best to them, and remind them of their more idyllic youth. Douglas often reminds us that everyone has a bias. Although some work hard to reduce it, others let it all hang out. At this point in our information evolution, people legitimately do not know who or what to objectively believe, and so they believe what they want to believe;

7) We have become a nation which dissects the hourly conduct of our presidents, including trips to the bidet. Imagine watching a basketball game where the coach is rated each time a flush is made, instead of waiting until the end of the game, or the end of the season. Plus, every interest group has 27 different factors by which they evaluate the president.

Had Romney won, within 18 months folks would have been calling for his head for his failure to provide quick enough assistance to Hurricane Sandy states and revive our sluggish economy. What’s frightening is that the same folks will criticize Obama 18 months from now.

We're on an exponential path of increasingly unreasonable expectations (substantially due to communications technology). No elected president will ever be able to truly satisfy 50% of the citizens again, UNTIL (a) the global economy comes roaring back and the benefits trickle down to the common citizen (something over which the president has little control), or (b) there is a war of major consequence. That president will ride that wave of prosperity, or wave of patriotism, for which a cause and effect relationship cannot be honestly established.

Since the beginning, engineers, scientists, inventors, and new thinkers have spurred new technology. It is technology that drives prosperity. The use of that technology drives industry, and trade and industry create jobs and drive tax revenues. When all is humming, an economy is strong enough to keep enough people employed, and fewer folks bitching about basics. The have-not voices are drowned out, or there are enough crumbs for the haves to toss to convert their screams to mumbles.

8) That's what this last election should have been about: how to ignite an explosion of creativity, inventiveness, and innovation. The reality is that government action, or inaction, may encourage but does not drive that.

So here’s the deal, college students. Too many Baby Boomers (Institute Fellows included) abdicated our responsibilities and became fat and complacent as the size of the prosperous middle class grew. We developed an unrealistic expectation that things would always get better and America would continue to be No.1, without a sufficient number of us putting in the effort required to stay No. 1. (What the muck made us think the children of each succeeding generation would live better lives than their parents? Hope?)

With each passing year, we expect more of our elected officials (who are not in a position to deliver) and for government to do “something,” more or less. It’s neither the fault of government, nor our elected leaders.

It is the logical result of human societal evolution once we started removing the food generation burden from individuals, and figured out that a few could generate excess food permitting most the “luxury” to pursue other pursuits of choice. Once we created “jobs,” people became dependent on them, and on receiving currency from some source. Additionally, we failed to recognize the challenges presented by leisure time.

Only individual citizens can pull us out of this mess. We cannot rely on government or corporations (including those owning major media outlets) seeking less regulation and favorable tax treatment. They are the last folks to whom we should be listening, no matter what the nature of the message.

Neither my, nor your, news station is red hot; both of our stations are doodly squat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Post No. 182c: The Eighth Deadly Sin

© 2010 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

We recently contacted the Logistician (an Institute Fellow), still on sabbatical in Brazil, just to check up on him. We asked him what he considered to be the most significant difference between Brazil and the United States.

“There is almost a total lack of fear here," he said. "The folks will do virtually anything and engage virtually anyone.”

Interestingly, we have been thinking a lot about the concept of fear over the past few months, with all of the yelling and screaming going on about where this country is headed. We’ve come to recognize it as a very powerful and potentially destructive force.

Prior to moving to the East Coast, the Institute was based in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from UCLA. During the late 1980’s, a dramatic shift, in the ethnic make-up of the student body at UCLA, began to take place.

The number of first generation immigrant students, whose education was financed by parents in another part of the world, began to grow. It was not unusual to see them walking down the streets of Westwood wearing facial masks to deal with the air pollution and whatever other airborne “diseases.”

They walked in groups of 4, 5, or 6. On occasion, upon encountering a native-born American, the group members would shift 3 or 4 feet off the sidewalk, and turn their heads 90° as if to avoid being contaminated by the approaching figure.

When we first encountered this, we were puzzled, particularly since many cities in their native countries were far more densely populated, with lots of pushing and shoving and bodies touching. Thus, we wondered about the basis for the reaction.

We also knew plenty of native born American citizens of the same ethnic origin, who did not behave similarly, and who were truly integrated and engaged members of California society.

We entertained the possibility that it was fear of strangers and the unknown, and we became concerned, since a fear of any group of people, concept, or person results in a lack of engagement.

Many are familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Wikipedia, they constitute “…a classification of the most objectionable vices that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen humanity’s tendency to sin." The final version of the list consists of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

Although we here at the Institute do not claim to be learned theologians, or duly appointed disciples of Jesus, there is an argument to be made that fear, particularly the fear of engagement, should be added as the eighth deadly sin.

(Arguably, if one really has faith in God, follows the dictates of his or her religion, and legitimately considers oneself a child of God, then one should not fear anything or anyone but God.)

Tangentially, a failure to engage stemming from fear, can also lead to a failure to understand, which can lead to anger – one of the more unproductive activities in which one can engage, about which we previously expressed our thoughts.

In the view of the Logistician, there is a pragmatic, socio-technological reason to eliminate fear of others, leading to engagement – a society efficiently and effectively gets the best out of the highest proportion of its people.

The Roman Empire contributed significantly to the development of western civilization, which some consider to be the greatest contributor to humankind thus far. Through its assembly (admittedly by force in many instances) and assimilation of divergent cultures, the cross-cultural benefits were exponential in nature.

When those using a particular type of plow used in Country X, engaged those from Country Y, and then those from Country Z, the resultant plow was better at performing the task of tilling the soil, than any of the previous individual plows.

When the Institute moved to the southeast region of the country, the influences of the traditional Caucasian and African-American cultures were observable and palpable. However, the people in the region almost seemed to be in denial about the rapidly increasing Hispanic and Asian communities.

To constructively deny the existence, through lack of engagement, of a significant segment of your community, is a waste of human resources, and a missed opportunity.

And what does this have to do with Personal Responsibility about which we harp so frequently?

It seems to us that if one considers oneself to be a positive, upstanding, responsible contributor to the community, and a citizen of God’s Universe, (regardless of what Stephen Hawking might say), then part of Personal Responsibility requires us to affirmatively engage those who we do not know, do not understand, and those with whom we have philosophical, cultural, ethnic, social, and other differences.

It just seems like the responsible thing to do….

[Editorial Note: We obviously used some "artistic license" in referring to Henry David Thoreau.]

Friday, November 16, 2012

Post No. 182b: Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS

Earlier this morning, news media outlets reported that BP (aka British Petroleum) has agreed to massive fines in connection with its April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. The resultant oil spill had a dramatic effect on those areas surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. We generated this article shortly after the accident. Criminal charges are still being pursued against various individuals associated with the human, economic, and environmental damages flowing from the incident.

© 2010 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Yesterday, C-Span aired Tuesday’s Senate hearings in connection with the Gulf of Mexico oil “spill,” which is still spilling.

It was interesting to watch the corporate representatives, including the CEO of BP America, perform mental and legal gymnastics in responding to the questions. The world watched as Senators, on both sides of the aisle, posed questions reflecting their incredulousness that this “disaster” even occurred.

While we were impressed with the tap dancing on the part of the spokespeople, we were more impressed with the political savvy of the Senators. President Obama was justifiably incensed at the multi-lateral finger pointing going on, but, we submit, for all the wrong reasons.

We’re willing to bet, and even invest some money in the derivative ultimately crafted, that in the years to come (be it 10, 50, or 100), (1) “accidents” of this type will continue to occur, (2) the companies involved will be no more prepared to deal with them and their consequences, and (3) Senators investigating future accidents will continue to fake their incredulousness that such “accidents” still occur.

Many things in life have less to do with people or the humans who happen to exist at any given point in time, and more to do with the structure or organization within which they function.

We here in America, for a variety of psychological, historical, legal, and systemic reasons, have a “perverted” sense of “corporate responsibility.”

First of all there really is no such thing as “corporate responsibility.” In America, if a corporation screws up, it’s generally going to pay. Being a responsible corporation or a good corporate citizen is only pursued to enhance the bottom line. The consequences of the screw-up are generally based on the particular screw up, and even punitive damages can’t be avoided by a “good corporation.”

Second, those Senators asking questions are pretty savvy. They are well aware that a corporation is a legal fiction. They also know (although you might have difficulty believing it considering the way they run the government) that in conducting business, the goal of that entity is to generate profits in order to stay afloat.

Third, and most important, every corporate decision is made in an effort to maximize profits, and is theoretically an educated and calculated guess. However, the reality is that some of the guesses are going to be wrong. Corporate management knows, and the Senators should know, this dirty little secret.

The rest of society apparently does not.

And so we dump on corporations when there is a screw-up, accuse them of mismanagement and devious, under-handed activity, and then slap our jaws and drop our mouths with our eyes all bugged (like the kid on Home Alone), when the 27th screw-up occurs.

A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Repeat: A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Even though humans run corporations, corporations are separate and apart from humans, somewhere between a human and an inanimate object.

Whereas a human will occasionally make a judgment call against his or her personal interests in pursuit of other goals (like unprotected sex with a stranger), rarely will a corporate entity do so because it is not really its money. It's not even the money of the folks managing the company, at least in the case of a publicly traded corporation.

It is the money and interests of others, the shareholders, which are at risk, not that of the decision makers.

It makes for a unique dynamic.

As a result, fines, penalties, and lawsuits (which are quantifiable and really only about money, not lives) have to be figured into the economic mix as necessary evils.

An entity may try to minimize them, or even delay them if possible, but they know that they are always just around the corner. Corporate management recognizes this for what it is.

They keep this in mind when they're engaged, and then walk away from it and try to live a human life.

Speeches, press conferences, hearings, investigations, fines, and lawsuits, are all perversions designed to distract us from really getting to the root of the matter. Talk about irresponsibility.

If you really want to know what’s going on, talk to the bean counters. It’s all about probabilities and risk management. It’s not about humans, wild life, or the environment.

It’s about time that we recognize that, and then get on with the business of trying to reduce, not eliminate, such “accidents” from happening in the future.

Corporations are not human. They can't be. It's an inherent conflict of interest.

If they don’t make enough in the way of profits, they will not have any put away for a rainy day, or be able to respond to the fickle changes in consumer tastes.

And as they pass through St. Peter’s bankruptcy gates, we’ll accuse them of mismanagement and sleeping at the switch.

And that ain’t no BS.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post No. 182a: Adults Flying with Minor Children Should Put On Their Masks First - Something for Embattled Public Figures to Consider

During the course of the 4-1/2 years that we have maintained this blog, numerous public figures have found themselves in trouble for one reason or another. If what we have to say in our posts even remotely comes close to being common sense, and legitimately assists in formulating some standard of personal responsibility for our target audience of college students to consider, there ought to be consistent application of the principles discussed over time. Whatever we have to say should not apply to just some, and not others, to Republicans, and not Democrats, to women, and not men, and ....

This week, it is Gen. David Petraeus. Before the week is over, it may be others. Although this post was originally written with elected officials in mind, we believe that the discussion is also applicable to any prominent public figure in government.

© 2009, 2011, and 2012, 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. Most recently, many have taken a bite at Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York. Weiner claims that instead of resigning, he will take a leave of absence.

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.

Alaska’s Gov. Palin resigned before anyone suggested that she do so, and she still caught flak for that. Nevada Sen. John Ensign hung on for the ride, and only recently announced that he would not seek re-election.

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, Gov. Sarah Palin, and now Rep. Weiner, 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 or her 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.

A couple of years ago, 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 now be 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 found herself in dire straits a couple of years ago. 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 an exchange at the time, 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, 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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post No. 182: The Morning After – Part 2: Where We Think the Republicans Went Wrong in 2012

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We constantly re-visit posts to see if our views change. Although we occasionally find grammatical mistakes, the underlying thought process generally remains the same.

There is one post we never re-visited, and we are not going to do so now. It’s irrelevant. That post, The Morning After, was written hours after Obama was elected the first time.

On the other hand, there is an article we re-visit far more than others. It accurately outlined what we expected Obama to face in the event he was elected in 2008. Why I am Concerned that Obama Might Win (October 25, 2008), noted that the global economy was in bad shape, predicted it would continue for years, and that Obama would be blamed for not pulling the U.S. out of the economic doldrums quickly enough.

That was a no-brainer, but we re-posted that fluff piece 28 times, and each time a bunch of people exclaimed, “Amazing!”

Politicians, like lawyers on corporate payrolls, are necessary evils and part of our current governance model. But politicians have a significant problem apart from trying to act like money does not influence their decisions. In the real world, to solve problems it is far more efficient and effective if one’s analysis in addressing them is a thing apart from one’s values. Just imagine an ER doctor taking into consideration whether the patient was at fault before providing treatment, or how much money he or she will make if the patient lives or dies. Unfortunately, politicians have the dual, often conflicting, goals of defining what they stand for (depending on who they’re talking to), and ultimately getting re-elected.

Many Republicans are already heading down the wrong road today as they emerge from last night's limousine, caravan pile-up. They claim their message and mission are still on point; implicitly suggesting they were “right” all along, but that they picked the wrong driver for their vehicle.

Actually, Romney could have been the right man, and probably would have been in an earlier version of the Party. Our sense is that he is a good and decent man, with nothing but the best interests of our country at heart. Additionally, America could really use a business-oriented technocrat right now.

However, truth be told, the man never was as extreme or angry as the loudest elements of his Party wanted him to be. The most vocal and angry members of his Party out-shouted the thinking members.

This is a preview of our common sense presentation to the RNC on where the Republicans went wrong, and what they need to do to get back on track:

(1) You threw everything in the kitchen sink plus all of the crap in the outhouse at Obama. By doing so, you lost credibility with sensible folks, and your message became, per Marvin Hagler, “odiferous.” (College students simply held their noses.) If your positions on a few key issues were really that strong, you didn’t need all of the other stuff, or the Donald Trumps of the world.

Last week, someone sent us a chart outlining “Almost Every Obama Conspiracy Theory Ever.” The visual representation overwhelms you. It did not matter whether every single allegation was true. The President is an Incompetent, Dangerous, Treasonous Retard Side Show ™ was simply “over the top,” suggested something kooky was going on, and more importantly, unnecessary.

(2) The relatively small, extreme, fringe elements of your Party high-jacked the larger Party, in much the same way as the relatively small, extreme, fringe elements of Islam have high-jacked their religion. The Democrats also have such folks, but they shut the muck up. Your problem was that heretofore sensible, thinking members of your Party joined the fringe chorus, because they thought it was their ticket to Disney World. As the Laughingman often says, “If you think that hitchhikers you pick up are going to pay for all of your gas, you’ll probably never reach your destination.”

The Party needs to expel the kooks and extremists. Right now, there is no other club where they can hang out. Take some of that Koch Brothers / Super PAC money and build a third club house, where the bigots and narrow-minded can go party. They are pulling you down, in very much the same way Islamic terrorists are hurting their religion.

Deep down inside, your Party as presently constituted scares not all, but many, thinking people.

(3) The leadership of your Party abdicated responsibility and went on the road with The Fringe Circus. That suggests you don’t really have any leaders. It looked more like a revolutionary movement. Someone needed to take control, show some non-kooky qualities, and get the ship out of the rough seas. No one did that. The Good Governor didn’t want to do that. That’s not who he is.

(4) Our last point is the same one we made in October 2008. Economists predict another 5 – 7 years of economic sluggishness, GLOBALLY. Your Party asked us to believe that one man was supposed to turn around this giant ship in the middle of the ocean after both Parties had charted the same route for 30 or so years, AND you expected us to ignore all of the past trips where you collected bounty.

In 2016, you need to clearly articulate that your solutions will yield (not would have yielded) better results than those achieved during the preceding 8 year period, without making it seem as though you are the Virgil Starkwells of the economic world, who want to Take the Money and Run.

Quite frankly, the middle class never really believed that you cared about them.

You just looked greedy and disingenuous.

This is not to suggest that Democrats do not have significant comparable problems; just that they proved to be the lesser of the 2 evils this time around.

To the RNC Chair-Person [?], you need some new image consultants for the next round. We here at the Institute will gladly assist you, at a rate 1/1000th of what you were paid by your largest campaign contributor. Give the Koch Brothers our telephone number.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Post No. 181: The Most Deadly Mental Illness in America

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re not fans of CBS’ 60 Minutes, because we’re not fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. In our view, one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from one’s values. For us, the presentation of news ought to be as value free as humanly possible. The 60 Minutes folks rarely ask the logical, follow-up question in the pursuit of balance.

But last night was different. First Senators Harry Reid (Democrat) and Mitch McConnell (Republican) sat side by side while being interviewed. They provided their views as to the source of gridlock in Congress. Nothing new came out of the discussion; however, we gained some perspective through the second guest.

David McCullough is an award-winning American historian who has written numerous books, including those on Presidents Adams (John), Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Truman. He was initially interviewed in his 8’ x 10’ office in the back of his Cape Cod home, where we saw him hunting and pecking on a turn–of-the-last century manual typewriter. When asked why he preferred the relic over a computer, he quipped, “I don’t like to hit a button and see a month’s work disappear.”

Per McCullough, despite complaints today there is nothing new about extreme partisanship and personal attacks. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, national candidates branded each other thieves and common criminals. One even accused his opponent of being a hermaphrodite. (Fortunately, we did not have cameras, or we suspect that the foundational photo would have gone viral.)

The Good Historian also reminded us that there is nothing new about a country feeling it is in a state of decline. While he was a kid, McCullough’s Father always voted Republican. Following the election of Truman in 1948, his Father was absolutely certain the U.S. would become a third-rate power.

Years later, the Elder McCullough would quietly say, “I sure wish we had old Harry back….”

Upon leaving Cape Cod, instead of moving the camera to Washington, the interview transitioned to Independence Hall and other historic locations in Philadelphia. The men who sat in the room, where the new governance model was invented, feared for their lives since they realized that their discussions were treasonous. According to McCullough, they even closed the windows of the building during the heat of the summer of 1787, out of concern that there might be eavesdroppers.

In thinking about it further, perhaps we’re giving the 60 Minutes folks too much credit for this broadcast. It was really McCullough who brought clarity and a sense of historical perspective regarding this very toxic environment.

And maybe we’re overly complimentary of McCullough’s comments, since he managed to succinctly state in a phrase something which we have felt but have had difficulty articulating in 4-1/2 years of blogging.

Paraphrasing McCullough, what is most troubling about politics now, particularly with the tons of money being spent, is that there is, “a dearth of ideas.”

At an earlier point in our existence, when the Institute was located in one region of the U.S., we’d assemble people with varying points of view and from different disciplines, and after working together, folks would say, “Let’s give it a try.”

In another, we’d go through the same process, and people would find every imaginable objection and complication leading to a state where nothing was done.

The toxicity in the air can be significantly traced to our national attitude. It’s not as though it is totally unreasonable. There are a couple of factors contributing to this zeitgeist.

1) Uncertainty - we’re no longer secure in our role as top dog. Osama bin Laden did a lot to foster that mood - he bit us in the ass and globalization has further contributed to it; and

2) We’ve lost our edge educationally and technologically (and we know it). We rode the coat-tails of our prior triumphs for far too long. Today, too many kids (through the power of the Internet and electronic media) want to be entertainers and athletes, and play in reality TV shows, not scientists, engineers, and inventors.There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the former; but everything in the Universe is about proportion and timing, and technology drives everything.

Right now, the Randle Patrick McMurphys of the world are running the institution. We need Nurse Ratched back, to shock us to our senses, with the assistance of the college students of today.

We’re not generally ones to pine for practices of the past, opting instead to come up with new approaches. But this might be, like our praise of 60 Minutes, one time where we make an exception, and revert back to some of our past practices infused with youthful ideas.

(You can view Part 2 of McCullough’s interview next Sunday, November 11, 2012.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post No. 180: They Really Must Think We’re Idiots; Maybe We Are

© the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Although lots of Baby Boomers participate in our forum, our primary target is college students. We write about personal responsibility. We Baby Boomers have screwed things up not only here in America, but globally, and hopefully today’s students will learn from our mistakes.

We try to expand the discussion about societal issues in a forum where there is civil discourse and an absence of personal attacks. Our hope is that the numbed youth of today will be able to develop more innovative, consensus-based solutions to societal problems, outside the OK Corral. After all, “There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27.™

Thirty minutes ago, we received 2 calls from campaigns. Today’s mail contained 6 pieces of campaign literature. Last week, we received 20 computer generated campaign calls (16 from the RNC and 4 from the Obama folks), and 2 live calls from Obama volunteers. We hung up on all of them, although we were hesitant to do so with the computer callers.

Back in January 2009, the Logistician and Inspector Clouseau argued that the projected $150 million price tag for Obama’s inauguration was excessive during an economic downturn. The Laughingman, however, felt that it was money well spent, and thus wrote, $150 Million Worth – On This Presidential Inauguration Day.

Last week, we were amazed to hear the campaigns of both presidential candidates were on pace to surpass $1 billion each. Days later, they announced they hit the jackpot – a combined figure of $2 billion (with a “b,” or perhaps a “B”).

We’re sorry. This has just gotten stupid, and ALL of us here agree on that.

We’ve done it to ourselves, and we do not seem able to control it. As one heavyweight contributor put it, “I do not like the role of money in our political system. However, as long as it is legal, I am going to contribute as much as I can to pursue my goals.”

Totally apart from the fact that we have two gunslingers showering each other with lead, as one WWII vet recalled in describing dead soldiers around him, “The bodies… [are] almost unrecognizable." We don’t really know who these men are, if ever we did. There are so many half-truths and lies, and distortions, and spins, and enough horse pucky to sink the land mass of North America to the center of the Earth.

And that’s not to mention we no longer know which media outlets report “the truth,” however defined, or profitably provide us with “reality-based infotainment employing the most lenient view of artistic license.”

What’s most troubling is that we buy the crap. All of us.

During the last election, CSpan aired a program where the author discussed the results of his or her research, revealing that 5-10% of Democrats, and 5-10% of Republicans, essentially debate and define the ideological constructs of each party. The vast majority of citizens in the U.S. have their lives dictated by the most active and vocal members of society, who also happen to be more privileged.

Then back in 2009, Rick Shenkman exposed us with, Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter.

We have long argued that we, individual citizens, got fat and lazy (Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered), and less involved, and let the Fat Cats do whatever they wanted to do. We abdicated our responsibilities as President Carter tried to tell us in July 1979, and now we’re bitching and asking, "Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” (It’s probably appropriate that we’re looking to a sports legend.)

They’ve gone to the Bank, silly boys and girls, while skipping and laughing all the way. While we minions debate the future of America and whether we’re still a World Power, a bunch of folks don’t really care (except from a philosophical perspective), because they and their families have sufficient food and supplies in their bomb shelters, after years of trading with our most prominent Communist adversary. (Thank God, we continue to whip the pus out of those Cubans.)

$2 Billion. Not only is there the expense; there is the lack of effectiveness of the things on which the money is being spent. We’re not the only folks hanging up on the robo-calls.

And so it’s up to you, the youth of today - the leaders of tomorrow.

Be sure not to follow our lead. We’re just self-absorbed Baby Boomers. Make sure you check in with the Greatest Generation, who grew up in the Depression. Their advice would probably be pretty sound right now. The Logistician’s 91 yr old Father claims, “If someone beat me over the head for 35 years, I probably would have had an operation by now, no matter how many Band-Aids and Krispy-Kremes they offered me in the for-profit, urgent care facility.”

How do you spell, “Constitutional Convention?”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Post No. 179a: Tornadoes, Earthquakes and Hurricanes, Oh My!

We first generated this piece last year when Hurricane Irene was wreaking havoc. This week, many states will feel the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The same points we made with respect to Irene are arguably applicable to Sandy. Additionally, a significant earthquake shook folks up in Canada, with reverberations felt in the U.S. Fortunately, there was very little damage.

FEMA currently estimates that Sandy's wind damage alone will fall in the $2.5 billion to $3 billion range. It should be noted that as of the generation of this posts, 67 people have died.

© 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re not big fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. It seems to us that one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from their values. How else does one solve problems?

As the Laughingman often says, “If you think that every problem is a nail, a hammer becomes the only tool in your kit.” Some problems are screws, for which you might need a screwdriver, or two.

Despite this, any reasonable, thinking person would say that God does not approve of much going on in the United States these days, or of President Obama. Seriously.

AIR Worldwide, the catastrophic modeling firm, estimates that insured losses alone, for commercial, residential, and industrial losses following the severe thunderstorm activity in the U.S. in early 2011, will amount to $3.7 billion to $5.5 billion. That storm, under Obama's watch, lasted a mere 6 days in April. Imagine the figure for the entire year, stemming from God’s displeasure with our descent into socialism.

Earlier this week, a fairly significant earthquake shook Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas, sending the government’s work force scurrying for The Ark. The President, obviously prescient, was out of town on vacation.

But now, the heavily populated northeast looks like it may be battered by Hurricane Irene, which many expect to be of a force not seen in decades. Damage estimates in the range of $10 billion are already being made. This may prove to be Obama’s Katrina, God willing. The lines down at the New York City Harbor, where The Ark is currently docked, are reportedly getting pretty long.

There’s a message here somewhere. At least according to some. And of course, all of these so-called natural events can be traced directly to the President.

We are often reminded by the Optimizer of the celebrity who, during her campaign against homosexuality, claimed that God inflicted gays with AIDS as punishment for their wicked ways. And if you thought that the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright were a distraction for then-candidate Obama, you may have missed that one of John McCain’s spiritual advisers was John Hagee.

Hagee claims that God willed Hitler to kill the Jews, so that they would eventually return to Israel, thus hastening the 2nd coming of Christ. In one of his less controversial moments, he argued that Hurricane Katrina was an act of divine retribution due to the presence of homosexuals in New Orleans.

One need not be a celebrity or a televangelist to appreciate that natural forces are somehow related to God’s displeasure. Earlier this week in this part of the Bible Belt, we heard many a person laugh shortly after the tremors were felt in Washington and New York City. In their view, the domestic infidels were getting their due. They opined that citizens in large cities on the coastal shores have led lives justifying their exposure to this impending danger.

Once again, all of this is somehow related to the current Administration and our slide into socialism.

Either fortunately or unfortunately, there is an opposing camp. Back in January, just prior to the Super Bowl, we generated a post, God, Obama, and the Green Bay Packers. After reflecting on how championship athletes claim that God resides in their locker room, we told the story of a fellow who, after dismissing the travails of the Obama Administration, claims that Obama’s opponents will be surprised during the next Presidential election. Why? Because he knows that God is on Obama’s side.

We’ve been mulling this over all week, and we’re at a loss as to what parents (without a direct line to God) should tell their kids about the athletic team, the political party, the city or region, or the ethnic group that God supports.

We suspect that we should all get down on our knees and pray to our higher power this evening, before the full brunt of Mother (or is that Father?) Nature hits our fragile east coast (and our fragile national economy), and hope that God picks our team in the fantasy game.

When President Reagan, never at a loss for words, was being wheeled into the ER after the assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer, he reportedly looked up at the operating team and quipped, “I hope you’re all Republicans.“ The lead surgeon responded with a smile, “Yes Mr. President, today we’re all Republicans.”

We could use all of the players on the field being of the same team on occasion, or perhaps all having the support of the Lord.

Finally, there is one other thought that occurred to us this week, namely the difference between for-profit corporate entities in the private sector, and governmental entities. While we watched governors and the President speak of preparations for, and warn their constituents of, the impending storm, we observed the spending of millions of tax dollars to minimize the possible damage and the criticism post-Irene.

In the corporate world, the focus would be on risk assessment and management, insurance coverage, and probabilities. We could see a corporation reasonably examining the pattern of hurricanes over the past 50 years, and betting against the forecasters, by doing nothing.

That would never do in the public sector.

But we’re still having difficulty figuring out whether God supports governmental intrusion in our lives, which might be termed socialist in nature, or whether God supports limited government, lower taxes, and the functioning of the free markets without excessive regulation.

But as Tina Turner said, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post No. 179: Neither Republican, Democrat, nor Libertarian are We

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We try to stimulate thought, particularly among college students, by providing a forum where diverse ideas are discussed with a tone of civility. We hope the leaders of tomorrow will develop new ways to address societal issues. We also believe that if we individual citizens take more responsibility for our actions, societal problems will decrease in number and significance.

We try to walk down the middle of the road. We have all types of social, political, economic, and philosophical views here at the Institute. Each one of us has been a business owner with varying degrees of success. We’ve been solo, with mid-size firms, and with the big, bad bullies of industry.

Yesterday, President Obama joked that his opponent, Governor Romney, changes his position on issues for political expediency. He described the condition as “Romnesia,” and suggested the Governor has difficulty remembering past statements and positions.

While one might question a change of position over a period of weeks or even months, as business owners we understand someone changing or taking different positions over a period of years. Why? Because that’s what business owners and managers do in the economic theater – a different dance like Fred Astaire, depending on whether it is Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse.

On moral / religious / social issues, we understand why private citizens tend to stick to the same positions they held as grade school children, especially if there is some familial, religious, or community peer pressure.

One of the 27+ problems politicians have is trying to navigate a double black diamond slope with one economic snow ski, and one social ski, while shaking the hands of those on both sides of the Swiss-Italian border, and smiling for the camera.

Earlier this week, we heard a political ad where the candidate said he wanted the government off the backs of businesses so that they could “prosper.” We often joke that during good times, when we had numerous employees in branch offices, we were Republicans. Trying to deal with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the California Family Leave Act, complicated making a profit.

However, during the lean times while operating with few employees and struggling to survive, we were more likely to embrace Democratic positions. But then again, we aren’t politicians.

Recently, we’ve been thinking about the extent of government regulation we embrace, if any, or whether we want the government off of our backs entirely. We concluded that it is a complicated decision, and one not taken lightly. Consider the following:

(a) The contraction of salmonella from miniature turtles by young children. It appears that the Food and Drug Administration previously banned the sale of turtles less than a certain length because they are more likely to carry bacteria;

(b) A report revealing that 97% of on-line pharmacies are illegal in the U.S., and that many sell fake products;

(c) The outbreak of meningitis and resultant deaths as a result of contaminated vials of steroids produced by a Massachusetts compounding lab; and

(d) Seats on American Airlines Boeing 757 planes, which became loose during flights because of some fastening issues.

We had a heated discussion, resulting in fisticuffs, about whether the free market should be allowed to fully operate and industries be left alone to police themselves. Some argued that the civil legal system adequately addresses problems, and others suggested that there is a deterrent in the form of potential criminal prosecution, in the case of egregious conduct.

(Shortly after we started writing this post, we heard that a 4 mile oil slick was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, and efforts were being made to determine whether it was connected with the BP - Deep Water Horizon explosion several years ago.)

Republicans argue that “excessive” regulation discourages business investment, hurts profits, reduces jobs, and drives companies to other countries. Interestingly, non-politician CEOs throughout the U.S. claim they have jobs, but that American workers in those geographical areas where jobs are located are not qualified or properly trained.

Should government be involved in training or encouraging these prospective workers, or should the government stay out of that arena? Should government assist qualified workers in relocating, and leaving their families and homes to work in other regions where the jobs are?

Just yesterday, we heard that businesses and local community colleges are working in tandem to address staffing needs, and that billions in federal dollars are being distributed to community colleges to train workers in those regions where the businesses claim they have openings.

To what extent should government regulate or be involved in our lives? We suspect that it varies depending on the subject at hand, and the location of those affected. But there is a concept in life called a continuum.

One thing we know for sure – the amount of government regulation of businesses is not one, hard and fast, absolute position embraced by either political party.

Just imagine the captain of a ship in choppy waters being restricted in thought and action while navigating his ship across the Atlantic Ocean, with crew members criticizing his every move and decision. Yep - - That’s a boat that we want to be on….

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Post No. 178b: Article of Interest: “My Proof of Heaven”

During the early days of the maintenance of this blog, the Logistician asked our readers to suggest topics about which we could write posts. One of our Canadian friends suggested “religion,” which resulted in our May 2008 post, You Asked for Religion, You Get Religion (and Politics).

Although we have occasionally re-visited religious issues, such as in our November 2008 piece, Question to Ponder: Would Jesus Discriminate?, and in our March 2009 posts, Jesus Christ and the Democrats, and Jesus Christ and the Republicans, we do not often venture down the religious road. However, earlier this week, in the October 15, 2012 issue of Newsweek, we came across an article which we had to share with you.

In My Proof of Heaven, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander describes the journey he took, while in a coma, to the afterlife, and the things he experienced which he never thought possible.

©2012, Newsweek Magazine

“As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death.”

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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Post No. 178a: Why the Presidential Debate Last Week was a Waste of Our Time

Why a waste of time? Because the candidates debated all around the issues that matter. We will not be able to solve problems in this country until we stop doing two things: (a) politicizing discussions simply to appeal to the emotional component of voters; and (b) suggesting that our problems can be addressed by simply implementing Policy A or Policy B.

We previously generated this piece under the title, "If Tin Whistles are Made of Tin, What are Credit Default Swaps Made Of?" We believe that the neglected issues discussed previously (at the height of our financial crisis) in this piece continue to be applicable to our current situation. It's time for us to get busy folks.

© 2009 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There’s a reason the Logistician likes the Laughingman. The Laughingman can reduce crap to its irreducible aroma.

We generally try to avoid taking sides in our discussions. It just doesn’t get us anywhere. No party or ideologue can legitimately lay claim to the concepts Common Sense and Personal Responsibility, both of which we try to weave into each original article posted.

Our goal is to get 95% of the heads nodding. Sometimes we get close. Others times, it’s a reach.

We recently sought topics from you, with the hope that we would all learn something new through the exchange, and take away something of value. Exasperated by all the barking about our economic situation, the Logistician posted the following comment on a number of blogs he frequents. His thoughts jived with the topic suggested by the Laughingman, and thus the title of this piece.

“We as a society, and as individuals, have to take responsibility for where we find ourselves today. By doing so, we might be able to turn this thing around.

“We have a tendency to forget the basic, big picture stuff, and then we complain when things deteriorate.

“Things on planet Earth are actually quite simple. (Gore Vidal once referred to us as the ‘United States of Amnesia.’ Perhaps we’re such a young nation, we haven’t fully learned to appreciate history.) Consider the following:

“1. Innovation and technology, leading to building and creating 'things,' determines EVERYTHING in a civilized society. (If you don't personally know a scientist or inventor in your neighborhood advancing society's interests, or some kid who WANTS TO DO SO, you have a long term problem.

“2. New technology, followed by the production of things using the technology, generates JOBS. The tax revenues derived from those technological enterprises determine what government ultimately can do. No innovation and no production of things - no tax revenues.

“3. The more hours that one works, the more one produces. (Up to a point, of course. We do not want people collapsing from exhaustion.) Exhaustion occurs way beyond 40, or even 60 hours a week for that matter. Take a break, and you run the risk of falling behind your competition.

“4. When a substantial segment of your society has to spend the vast majority of their time to cover the essentials, that segment isn’t particularly useful. It’s no different than the role played by mass agriculture in history. Food production has to be relegated to a few, so that the others can engage in the advancement of innovation and technology, and the trade and exchange of the products produced.

“5. The simplest way to reduce rising health care costs (and thus the health care component of our deficit)? Stop eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, smoking Camels, drinking Colt 45, and hit the treadmill. You'll see a dramatic improvement in health, and at a pretty low cost.

“6. Retirement (when workers still have talent and the ability to contribute) kills your society and generates other problems, especially when you shift tax revenue to people who sit on their asses for years. Capable people who work until the day they die are more productive members of society, physically and mentally. And, they feel that they have some value and stake in society.

“7. War is not a revenue generating enterprise. There are few positive ramifications. It’s a resource drain. It kills productive members of society (who could be inventing some stuff), and gets people pissed off at you.

“8. When you treat any segment of society unfairly, for whatever reason, they become less motivated, and less capable, to work in concert with you to pursue long-term societal interests. It makes more sense to have them voluntarily and emotionally 'buy into' your societal goals. They'll be more motivated .”

If one looks back in history, it’s clear that this is simply Common Sense.

A society which rationalizes its poor choices for too long a period of time is ultimately doomed. It might ride its success for a short period of time, but not for very long.

We, as a society, are ignoring all of the stuff that really matters. We're fooling ourselves while we engage in meaningless debates.

And wasting time.

It's like a boat sinking because of a leak, and the sailors are all arguing, while blowing tin whistles, about who’s responsible for the leak, and what mechanism to use to get the water out of the vessel.

If tin whistles are made of tin, what are credit default swap derivatives made of?

We’d like to know.

We also approached our current problems from a different perspective in another piece entitled, "Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered." Address the issues raised in these two pieces, and we will be on our way back to fiscal and societal stability.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post No. 178: 7 Seconds is not a Huge Chunk out of Your Day

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

While we typically eat in at our desks, yesterday proved to be such a spectacular day we decided to take a walk to a Mexican taco truck.

Shortly after starting our walk and as we turned the corner, a woman approached us. She was walking very briskly, with an upbeat, energetic attitude, apart from being rather attractive. Her opening salvo was simply, “Gentlemen, would you care to take one of my cards? I am a two – time cancer survivor.”

Despite her use of the salutation "gentlemen," we quickly concluded that she was speaking to us, since there were no other males in the immediate vicinity. Inspector Clouseau took the card and held it up so that we all could read it. On the front appeared the letters BBN, a radio dial number, and an invitation to listen to ALL CHRISTIAN RADIO. We promptly thanked her and kept walking anticipating the consumption of some barbacoa tacos. Our entire exchange lasted only 7 seconds.

However, within the next 7 seconds and while we were still reading the card, a businessman in his mid-40s overtook us. Although he had a brisk stride, he did not appear to be in a hurry. Our cancer survivor approached him and asked whether he would take a card, and before she could say anything further, he passed her saying, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”

The Inspector, having completed his exam of the card, stopped, turned around, and addressed our new friend with, “Young lady!” Several members of our group reminded him that we had a client coming in shortly, and that the taco truck might run out of tacos. “This won’t take long,” he said.

During the ensuing 25 minute conversation, we learned quite a bit about Eva, and her survival despite going through two marriages and having cancer. She went on to expound about how materially and spiritually blessed she was now.

While we watched the Inspector with a slight bit of irritation, he began by saying what struck him was that the man had neither the time nor the interest to even take the card. Eva did not ask for money, or additional time. More importantly, she did not proselytize. The Inspector reminded us all that she simply asked if we would take a card. Right after he said, “It occurred to me that...” she completed his sentence for him noting, “ not taking the card, he might have missed out on something life-changing, or an opportunity of a life-time." The Inspector went on, “Who knows. He might have cancer one day and may benefit from a 7 second exchange with you.”

Eva matter-of-factly noted that she was 66 years of age, and had done some amazing things in her life. By now, the Laughingman and other members of our staff were more interested in what this lady had to say than the Inspector. One receptionist whispered under her breadth that Eva's hair, skin, and eyes looked so healthy, and that she was so vibrant and energetic, despite having dealt with cancer - twice.

Meanwhile, the Inspector asked the Optimizer to look at the flip side of her card. It read, “If I die tonight my soul will be in H_________ tomorrow morning.” The message on the card suggested that if the reader was unsure as to how to fill in the blank, they tune into the radio station. BBN stands for Bible Broadcasting Network.

The Optimizer went on to note that the businessman’s resistance to the mere receipt of Eva’s card was “unfortunate” and perhaps short-sighted since he stood to lose nothing, and potentially gain something. It reminded him of folks who discourage solicitors, purported junk mail, or ask to take their names off e-mail distribution lists. He exclaimed, “What if you get an extra e-mail here or there? Is it such a big imposition to simply delete it if you’re not interested?!”

The Inspector opined that on another level, it reminded him of the point he tried to make in civic organization meetings here in the South, about the reluctance of blacks and whites to actively and affirmatively engage their new Hispanic and Asian citizens, along with any other ethnic or cultural newcomers. “Or anyone who has a different point of view,” chimed in the Optimizer.

As we walked toward the taco truck, we saw Eva dash to engage another passerby. A member of our staff remarked that we just had an inspirational experience and met a remarkable woman. Someone observed that despite what appeared on the card, there was no mention of Jesus or God, and definitely no proselytization.

It’s amazing what can result from 7 seconds of engagement.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Post No. 177f: Re-Posting of "Does Anyone Have a Real Job Anymore?"

© 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Maybe we exaggerate, a little.

But as we watched the coverage of the slowly evolving Egyptian Revolution, we found everyone second guessing everyone else.

The President of the U.S. should do this. President Mubarak should do X. The prior administration should have done that. The monolithic student movement is doing Y, and the older citizens - this and that.

Finally, the neighboring Arab countries should do Z, T, U, M and B.

This cacophony prompted us to surf the media outlets to identify a consensus regarding what should be done and what is going to happen.

We had some difficulty.

At last count, we found 7,493 options available to the various factions and interested parties. This gives us some appreciation of the complexity of it all.

However, something else occurred to us, just with respect to the American talking heads.

First of all, with few exceptions, few of us (the Fellows of the Institute included) have even a modicum of understanding of the culture in that part of the world, and yet so many of us have become experts over night.

Second, somehow we think that we can influence the actions of President Mubarak, despite having so much difficulty just getting Osama bin Laden to answer our phone calls.

Third, the situation in Egypt is so fluid that even the great engineering firm of da Vinci, Newton, and Bernoulli would have difficulty keeping track of it.

Just a few minutes ago, we received a breaking news e-mail from the Washington Post claiming that the Obama Administration is on the defensive because of President Mubarak’s defiance, and refusal to take a permanent trip to France.

(BTW, what’s with Baby Doc returning to Haiti? Anyone having visited Grasse, France, will tell you that it is Nirvana, not to mention close to the beaches of Cannes.)

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to realize that we do not know how to solve every problem in the Universe, and that there are some issues beyond our control as a nation.

But something else bothered us last evening. When we examined the 4,678 talking heads expressing the 7,493 different options, we noted that only 3 of them had real jobs, and they weren’t talking.

Well, maybe another exaggeration. But here’s our point.

If we had more things to do (namely, real jobs) in our country, we wouldn’t have as much time to weigh in on the problems of other countries, nor would we have what seems to be a virtual, 24 hour army of talking heads.

As soon as the great prognosticators started talking about our economy transitioning into a service economy from a manufacturing economy, we began to get concerned.

Call us Neanderthals, but in our view, servicing others only lasts as long as the people or entities we service have a desire to purchase our services, and more importantly, money to pay us.

Just take a look at all the free services provided in our economy. Many of the incredibly innovative web sites on the Internet are provided at no cost, while the owners have to beg for advertising revenue.

Our food is increasingly being grown in other countries. The Chinese are no longer leasing natural resource real estate in Third World countries, but buying the property outright. And we don’t need to talk about American manufacturing prowess.

It has gotten to the point when one asks an American what he or she does for work, after they provide their job title, one has to follow up with 27 questions to really figure out what they do – on a part-time basis.

The Logistician, still working on his doctorate at a samba school in Rio, once got in trouble while running the orientation of community college students in the Southeast. He gratuitously noted that too many black folks spend their time performing landscaping and fixing other black folks’ hair.

His point was that the segment of the population needing landscaping and hair care services was not growing, and that too many people entering the field would lead to a glut of workers. He was simply encouraging the potential students to think ahead, about jobs that might be in higher demand, and require more technical expertise.

Needless to say, there was one very vocal young lady in the room who flipped on him. He later discovered that it was her life long goal to be a cosmetologist. He now realizes that he should have encouraged her to become a news commentator on Fox News, or MSNBC.

Because that’s where the opportunities are; at least in America.

Inventing stuff, finding cures for diseases, and making stuff is way too labor intensive.

We’ve somehow figured out that we should outsource that to the Chinese.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Post No. 177e: Re-Posting of "The Dangers Associated with Being Peculiar"

© 2008 and 2012, 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 d├ęcor.

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 and 2012, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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