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.

"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"™