Friday, June 28, 2013

Post No. 186k: Understanding the Mindset of Paula Deen's Former Corporate Sponsors

For the past week or so, Paula Deen, celebrated author of numerous cookbooks, restaurateur, chef, and TV personality, has taken a beating because of a single word, which she uttered a number of years back (and which a lot of folks in modern day society are reluctant to admit they once used). The barbarians are at the gates of her culinary empire, and her mercenaries who made money off of her are abandoning the fight, left and right.

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill took place in the Gulf a couple of years back, we examined how we as citizens have difficulty understanding the decisions of Corporate America. Our thoughts are equally applicable to Ms. Deen's corporate sponsors.

© 2010, 2012, and 2013, 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.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Post No. 186j: For All You Paula Deen Critics, Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter

In theory, if thoughts we share in our articles truly constitute Common Sense, then the approaches recommended should be able to stand the test of time, and be applicable to new fact situations as they arise.

Last week, Paula Deen, a restaurateur, author of many cookbooks, and TV personality, took some heat in connection with some purportedly "racially insensitive comments." Almost immediately thereafter, the Food Network announced that it would not renew her contract.

Because of our relationship with some professionals who have worked with Ms. Deen, we here at the Institute happen to know that she is far from a racist; in fact, she is just the opposite. However, in this day and time, unfortunately the truth frequently does not matter, and one verbal misstep can sink a career.

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

© 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Most reasonable folks would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talking heads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is our understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to his church's existence to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, some of us thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, our most senior Fellow, the Laughingman, brought us back to reality and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools (in the long run) have little or no influence on society.”

Yesterday, we heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct.

One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, we're sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

We considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then we recalled that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people.

Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008, 2009, and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Post No. 186i: We Should All Sing for Our Fathers, At Least Once

© 2009 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“It does not matter who my Father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
- Anne Sexton

Shortly after the death of the Senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, a writer described Edward Kennedy using a long list of nouns, one of which was “father.” When society refers to famous men, it does not often highlight their role as fathers.

The above Sexton quote appeared while navigating a Borders Book Store, along with an overwhelming desire to chat about fathers. Fathers are more than convenient; they are important, as discussed during a recent Fatherhood Symposium here in town, which addressed the lack of fathers in the lives of many young men.

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times once wrote a poignant piece for Father’s Day, in an effort to define a "normal" father-child relationship. Her Father never hit, abused, ridiculed, or demeaned her. She concluded those who view their relationships with their fathers as less than fulfilling, might not fully appreciate the value of peace, security, and consistency of presence and love. She thanked God her Father never achieved notoriety.

The Logistician, prior to his departure to Brazil, often brought up a story about attending a BBQ and running into a childhood acquaintance and product of a single parent home, who he had not seen in over 40 years. The acquaintance drunkenly mentioned that he envied the two parent situation which the Logistician enjoyed in his youth. The acquaintance felt those with both parents could not even begin to comprehend what that meant to a kid growing up. That this issue still loomed large for him, 40 years later, said it all.

(Comedian Chris Rock once remarked that the main job of a father is to keep his daughter "off of the pole.")

But two parents alone do not a family make.

A friend who lost his Mother when she was 52, always thought that he had a great relationship with her…she was his Mother.

But it took him more than a few years (by growing older with his Father) to realize that his relationship with his Mother remained largely unfulfilled. It did not extend long enough for them to navigate more turbulent waters: the philosophical differences, declining skills and soundness of mind, the whole sex thing, and the recognition that they both were human with flaws.

Her passing created a giant hole in his library of oral history… she took with her answers to yet to be asked questions, that create not just a memory, but a life, and the string of continuity that bonds generations together… a sense of “us,” as a family.

Some 20 yrs ago, a friend related what he recalled most about his Father, then deceased - the arguments. Another friend, whose upbringing motivated him to attend top universities, travel the world, and acquire a medical degree, rarely had anything positive to say about his Father.

Still a third, a prominent lawyer in the community, visited his Father for the first time in many years at his deathbed. He never was what his Father wanted him to be.

As age creeps up on “immune, exempt, and immortal” baby boomers, it seems that the more time spent on this Earth, the more potentially problematic and complicated our relationships with our fathers become.

As is his want (and training), the Laughingman blames this too on genetics. He claims that our (and our maternal parents’) genes are programmed to turn nasty when kids reach adolescence. Absent enough friction to cause them to leave the nest, there will be no further children, no mating, no propagation, and no future generations chock full of brand new genes to guarantee the health and well being of generations to come.

TCM recently aired I Never Sang for My Father. It is a compelling film… biological lectures notwithstanding. Since then, we have been arguing about relationships between fathers and their sons, and ways in which those relationships change over time.

It is the story of a 44 yr old East Coast professor (Gene Hackman), and his relationship with his Father. Hackman has met a young doctor who practices in California, and has school-age children. He wants to marry her and move to California, to start his life afresh, following the death of his wife.

He visits his parents, and first discusses his tentative plans with his 81 year old Father, alone. The Father still treats his son like a 6 year old, and has little time to think about his son’s desires and motivations. However, when the son brings up his potential move to California, the Father says, “It will kill your Mother.”

Hackman has the same conversation with his Mother, and relates the exchange with his Father, without mentioning the purported impact on the Mother. The Mother smiles, says that she and the Father will take care of one another, and that the Son should move to California, get on with his life, and be happy. She relates that she and her husband had their chance at happiness.

Hackman marries, and his Mother dies shortly after. He now has to consider the care options for his Father, who has advancing dementia. His Sister, who lives out of town and was banished by their Father for marrying a Jewish man, suggests he hire some help and move on. We see him visit various nursing homes, all of which leave something to be desired. (Roger Ebert has an excellent review of the movie.)

The Laughingman insists that this is all Hollywood Hog Wash, intended to persuade the gullible to buy into the magic of consumerism. By showing characters based on the figments of screenwriters’ imaginations, they simultaneously promote various elixirs… or even treatments… to dull the pain of not being just like them.

Hog Wash or not, we suggest that the young, either chronologically or emotionally, take the time to enjoy their parents in their youth, and explore the outer reaches of their connection. One never knows where the relationship will go as time progresses.

One thing is certain - all the real world history, to wit: the whys, the why nots, the pain, the failures, and the triumphs that make you, will be gone with your Father… and a great gaping hole will be left in the questions you can’t answer for your own kids.

Be sure to sing for your Father, at least once, before it’s too late.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Post No. 186h: Whose Life is It Anyway?

© 2009, 2011, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Back in 2009, we generated a post in which we made reference to Ghulam Hamidi. Hamidi, an Afghan national, lived in Washington, D.C. for close to 20 years, before returning to war torn Afghanistan, to become the Mayor of Kandahar. In our post, we spoke of people who took risks to pursue something of value for society, and to make statements. At times, those risks may be significant, and they may be deadly. In mid-summer of 2011, the risk was deadly for Hamidi.

Earlier today, we heard a news report about violence on the outskirts of Kandahar, and we thought of Hamidi. Additionally, many schools recently conducted their graduation and commencement ceremonies, prompting us to review our prior post.

We try to stimulate thought amongst our young citizens, when their worldviews are still malleable. Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization about which we previously wrote.

B.E.S.T. addresses issues affecting at-risk young men. We highlighted the efforts of its founder as an example of how private citizens can do something meaningful for their communities and society.

Before the meeting, we bounced around ideas. We recalled that we Baby Boomers had such idealistic goals. We were going to change the world, right all wrongs, speak the truth (which would set us free), and do nothing but good, positive things in life.

In addition, we planned to transform the world, perhaps through astral projection or Transcendental Meditation, to a “kinder, gentler” place. One of us recalled pledging to become a brain surgeon following JFK’s death.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s been said that life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. If anything, we’ve been surprised at how many Boomers have transitioned from card-carrying liberals (and committed to “living off the fatta’ the lan”, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men), to hard core conservatives. (Why have so few traveled the opposite road?)

When P.J. O’Rourke was asked about his transformation from liberal to conservative, he blamed it on his daughter. Upon realizing she was vulnerable, and a potential target of all sorts of nasty forces, he resolved to protect her, at any cost.)

We know hundreds of business people, accountants, engineers, investment bankers, lawyers, and doctors, who abandoned those dreams and principles. We lived comfortably, and did little that we can identify in pursuit of those principles, other than occasional pro bono work.

(A prominent activist in speaking to a professional group once lamented that some of the best and brightest were in the audience, and members of a profession whose primary goal was making money for themselves and their corporate clients.)

Last week, we heard a report suggesting that today’s youth are possibly skipping the self-delusion phase. Far fewer minors, when asked, expressed interest in pursuing goals which might also “give back to the community.”

We’re not sure what to do with that. Virtually every generation seems to think those succeeding will go to hell in a hand basket. After 13,000 years, we still have faith in humankind’s ability to adapt, use our bigger brains, and “be guided by the better angels of our nature.”

We heard 2 stories recently. The first involved a Sudanese woman, who is facing fairly severe punishment. She and some other women committed a crime - wearing trousers in public. Some immediately pled guilty, and only received 10 lashes.

The remaining subject chose to go to trial. She faces a possible $100 fine and 40 lashes. She’s not a professional activist, and had some UN position which would have allowed her to side-step the charges.

Instead, she chose to resign, and waive her immunity.

The other story revolved around the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the more violent cities on Earth. He enjoyed a comfortable, middle class existence in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, until he was motivated to return to his native country and “make a difference.”

He put himself at risk, and returned to the heart of the violence. He said we’re all going to die from something one day, be it cancer, a heart attack, or a car accident. He questioned whether there was any real difference between dying from violence doing something in which you believed, and dying from one of the other causes.

That caused us to pause.

While a 25 year old might see lots of differences, those of us 55 and beyond might reflect on what we’ve done, and whether we’ve made a ”real” contribution.

The Logistician and his best friend were sitting at a side walk cafĂ© in the Copacabana in the late 1990s, reflecting on what, if anything, they had accomplished... and whether it had been of any benefit to anyone beyond themselves. They had always hoped to able to say that they did something more than “raise a good family.”

The founder of the at-risk male youth non-profit, the Sudanese lady, and the mayor of Kandahar might be better examples of those we should hold up as role models in our society, than the folks to whom we usually direct our plaudits.

Whose life is it anyway? We might all consider making it more than just our own.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Post No. 186g: What Those of Us in the Peanut Gallery Should Do Regarding the Trayvon Martin Case

We originally generated this post in December of 2012, when the death of Trayvon Martin was still fresh news. Now that the trial of the individual who pulled the trigger has commenced, we thought it appropriate to revisit some of our earlier thoughts.

We're sorry Nancy; some of us still believe that those of us without first-hand knowledge of the facts, as revealed through exhaustive investigation, should simply sit back and allow the justice system to work, as imperfect as it may be and despite whether we ultimately agree with the jury's verdict.

© 2012 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Believe it or not, we actually drafted this piece before NBC’s Bob Costas 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.

The original title of this post was Why We Need a Constitutional Amendment Taking Away Freedom of the Press (and Media). We do not really feel that such a drastic measure should be taken, 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 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 the reporting 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 a half-way 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"™