Saturday, July 27, 2013

Post No. 187a: Children of a Greater God, or Why Cary, NC is in the Bible Belt

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There are certain works of art which, simply by virtue of their name, implore one to examine them further. For us, two of them have always been Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (what a great name), and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (not bad either).

There is a work about which we wondered for years, but never chose to examine until recently - Children of a Lesser God. Having been brought up in a world of monotheistic religions, we asked, “How could there be a lesser God, and who are these children so affected?” Of course, we know better than to take anything seriously, but it still got our attention. We finally decided to explore this work this month, but it was a personal experience which prompted us to do so – our encounter with Children of a Greater God.

We found the kids in Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh, apart from being the capital, is the heart of the Research Triangle. The “Triangle” not only contains Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, but also serves as HQs for numerous high-tech companies. It is also the home of Bozo the Clown. Although settled in 1750, if asked during the 1960s where Cary was, few would have been able to respond.

The son of one of our friends ran in a track meet for private high school students. The event was held at the Cary Academy, the most prestigious private school in the region. Since the collective athletic prowess of the participants left much to be desired, we found ourselves taking note of other things. Upon entering the long, tree-lined, manicured entrance to the campus enveloped in lush vegetation, we got a sense that we were going to see something different.

The parkway carried us to a lot full of high-priced SUVs. The Academy buildings, in their bucolic setting, looked more like those of a private college than a grade school in the midst of a densely populated urban center. Once we entered the stands on the side of the stunning Tartan track, our attention turned to those seated around us.

There were roughly 150 of them (consisting mostly of parents and siblings of the athletes), of which 15 were African-American and 3 Asian. Despite the fact that North Carolina is generally regarded as the number 1 state in the nation in terms of percentage increase in Hispanics, no Hispanics were in sight, in any capacity. The onlookers were all fresh in appearance, healthy, clean-cut, and smartly dressed. No one was obese, and there no smell of fried chicken in the air. Although it is possible that someone had a rosebud or heart planted just above their navel or the crack in their butt, there was not a tattoo to be found.

All of the conversations around us were civil in tone, with many revolving around trips abroad. There was a noticeable lack of rowdiness and profanity, and the N word was either across the tracks, or on vacation. What was perhaps most revealing was that there was a throng of kids in the 4-6 year old range, who were permitted to roam the grounds unattended and expected to return to their parents unmolested.

While we explore lots of social policy issues on this blog, and how they relate to personal responsibility, we rarely address class issues. And socio-economic class is a big deal.

We’ve often wondered whether, if there were only one “socialist,” social policy implemented by our government, we’d be a better nation. That policy would consist of ensuring that all children get the same socio-economic start. After all, it’s not their fault who their parents are, and what their parents have, and where their parents live…. Now that’s a program we could support. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know. The parents would exploit it.)

But poverty and paucity of options run deep… and long, and at some point become institutionalized and inculcated in nature, despite the few aberrant worms who escape.

We looked up some stats on Cary, the town. The racial makeup is 71% Caucasian, 8% African-American, 13% Asian, and 7% Hispanic or Latino. With respect to education, 68% of the adult hold an associate degree or higher, and 61% possess a bachelor degree or higher. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the state for municipalities of its size, and it was judged the 4th safest of 327 large cities in the nation.

Although we wouldn’t want to live in Cary, due to its lack of filth and vice, perhaps calling those kids we met on the track that Friday afternoon “Children of a Greater God,” might not be that far a stretch. After all, the situation in which they find themselves is more than happenstance – isn’t it?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Post No. 187: Why the George Zimmerman–Trayvon Martin Case Really Wasn’t about Race and Why It Was

© 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“This is just f---king ridiculous! An innocent teenager was killed.” - the view of 158,142,501 citizens interviewed over the past 3 days.

“A message was sent that law and order will reign again. He was a doped-up, disrespectful individual up to no good.” – the other 158,142,501 citizens.

Back in 2008, the Logistician was first amongst the Institute Fellows to blog. One day, he ran into our offices extolling the virtues of a “micro-blogging” platform called Twitter.

He and the Laughingman, being fellows of few words, exuded excitement at the notion of having their rants efficiently delivered in 140 character bites, while the Optimizer and Inspector Clouseau questioned whether the quality of social discourse would suffer.

Since then, we concluded that all 4 of us were right, in much the same way that those who claim the Zimmerman–Martin encounter was about race and racial profiling, and those who claim that it was not.

There is no one, clear, simple manner in which the case can be characterized - it depends on one’s perspective and experiences.

During the week before the Zimmerman verdict, we saw the number of tweets regarding Paula Deen’s use of the “N-word, and the innocence or guilt of Zimmerman [an Hispanic or Caucasian depending on one’s point of view] in connection with the death of Trayvon Martin [an African-American according to many], literally go off the chart. We could not imagine a more contentious discussion.

That is, until the verdict. We still find it unbelievable that Twitter’s servers were able to handle the volume.

One of the most frequent participants in our forum, who we personally know not to be a racist, shared this with us privately:

“This question has been much on my mind lately. Of course, I can speak only from the perspective of a white male so perhaps my perspective will be a bit controversial.

“Why must so many parents (and society as a whole) teach black teens to automatically take a defensive posture in so many circumstances? Teach them instead to answer clearly and politely when questioned as to their business in someone else's neighborhood, along with how not to behave in a suspicious manner in the first place, no matter whether ‘they shouldn't have to.’ This would seem to be pretty basic education in the realm of improving survival skills and race relations --- not to mention protecting black youth from harm --- but it appears to be infrequently taught to these young folks.

“I was certainly taught how to respond to, ‘Who are you and what are you doing here,’ with politeness rather than indignation, and I have practiced this all of my life . . . no matter the race or any other characteristic of the inquisitor.”

For our Caucasian friend, the issue was not about race, but rather attitude, and perhaps demeanor.

On the other hand, the New York Times Editorial Board, in its July 14, 2013 edition, noted, “Certainly it is about race — ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you at least a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.” Just yesterday [July 19, 2013], our President lamented, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

One of our African-American friends in his early 60s often tells of how he spent his youth in the South crossing to the other side of the street, as a pro-active measure, whenever he saw Caucasian women approaching, thus avoiding any chance of someone accusing him of “suspicious conduct.”

Per Harry S. Truman, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.”

In much the same way, we feel that the only perspective on the Zimmerman verdict which is sacrosanct is the perspective that one’s limited experiences in life haven’t allowed one to have – yet.

One of the jurors interviewed may have unintentionally provided the key to understanding our conflict when she said, “I think [Zimmerman’s] heart was in the right place.”

What the trial really was about was “relate-ability” and ultimately, “comfort.”

A contemplative citizenry, interested in improving the plight of all of its members, recognizes individual issues for what they are; not as what they would like them to be.

Some, searching for something to blame, have gone so far as to contend that the “system” failed.

In our humble view, the system did not fail. It did what it does.

It is incomprehensibly complex and yields widely varying results in different places and different points in time. The expectation that our existence in any system should yield consistent or fair results distracts us and detracts from our ability to improve as a people.

The recognition and acceptance of the widely varying perspectives of our citizens should be celebrated, not denigrated. A country which appreciates the different perspectives and contributions of its citizens potentially gets the best out of its people.

Last year, we generated Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest God’s Pissed. We’re living in a fast-paced world undergoing radical changes, and there is extreme insecurity in our daily lives.

What we really need to do in this country is figure out a way for everyone who wants a job to have at least a half-ass job. We have long contended that jobs [from businesses, which develop from technology] drive everything in life, not only financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. No jobs, no self-respect, and all sorts of other negative things are magnified.

We call it “trickle-out economics.” When we have enough jobs and work for people, families on the whole are better. There is less spousal, child, and substance abuse. Less crime. Less paranoia. Fewer reasons to shoot one another.

When people have more self-esteem, their interaction creates more opportunities for them to get to know, appreciate, and respect one another.

Our primary target audience, namely college students, should take special note of Trayvon’s age.

You see, this case was not about race alone; it was about anything that anyone wanted it to be.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Post No. 186m: The Dangers Associated with Being "Peculiar"

© 2008, 2012 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This is an individual post generated by one of our Fellows, the Logistician, during the first year of the operation of this blog. He is currently on sabbatical in Brazil studying at a samba school. Now that the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has been reached, regarding the death of Trayvon Martin, we thought it worth re-visiting.

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 just 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, 2012 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Post No. 186l: Consider This: The Man with the Gun is Crying Out for Help

We first generated this piece a couple of years ago. At the time, we were concerned about the public's (and the media's) rush to judgment with respect to people in the public eye. We continue to be concerned about how people seem to have their minds made up regarding any issue based on their personal experience, and prior to receiving any credible evidence (if there is such a thing).

Upon watching the George Zimmerman trial, it occurred to us that attorneys are willing to risk making any argument, no matter how bizarre or specious, because they know some folks will buy it. The same apparently applies in politics, and life in general.

Are we so conflicted as a people that many of us prefer our personal biases to evidence? And why do some of us latch onto isolated points which support the result we desire or envision? Watching the commentary about this trial (particularly the Twitter stream) reveals much about us a people, as does the Paula Deen situation.

You see, it's really not about Trayvon, or George, or Paula as much as how we view ourselves and those around us. Trayvon, George, and Paula just happen to be front, center, and in the spotlight, right now.

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which they are entitled, no doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wouldn’t have a chance in hell.

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

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

"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"™