Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Post No. 146f: Article of Interest re Possible Government Interference with Free Market Capitalism at Work?

The following article is taken from the August 31, 2010 electronic edition of the Detroit News.


by Christine MacDonald and Santiago Esparza

Detroit - It's tough to miss Starvin Marvin's strip clubs. They're huge, flashy and as over the top as their manager, whose lawyer dubs him the "P.T. Barnum" of topless entertainment.

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Post No. 146e: Article of Interest on Glenn Beck

The following article by Christopher Hitchens, concerning the "Glenn Beck movement," appeared today in Slate.

We will not make any introductory comments. We await your comments.

White Fright

Glenn Beck's rally was large, vague, moist, and undirected - the Waterworld of white self-pity.

(c) 2010 Slate

One crucial element of the American subconscious is about to become salient and explicit and highly volatile. It is the realization that white America is within thinkable distance of the moment when it will no longer be the majority.

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Post No. 146d: 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.

Earlier this month, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a syndicated talk radio host / personality, took some heat in connection with some purportedly "racially insensitive comments." She later announced that she would discontinue her talk radio show at the end of this year.

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

© 2008, 2009, and 2010, 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 talkingheads 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 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

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Post No. 146c: Article of Interest: In Bold Move, Taliban Order Stoning Deaths

We have often noted that, "There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27 TM."

The following article appeared in the August 16, 2010 electronic edition of the New York Times. We would be curious as to your take on the order and whether those of us in the US should say or do anything? Do we have a dog in the fight?

Interestingly, the Taliban provide many social infrastructure functions in many societies which their local governments or even outside international agencies do not. Should the purported "good" they provide outweigh the purported "bad?"

The New York Times

by Rod Nordland

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped....

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Post No. 146b: Swaying the Undecided

© 2009 and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Contrary to most commentators, we are among the “undecided” in terms of our response to most news events. Call us the Hank Kimballs of the Blogosphere. “Mr. Kimball,” you may recall, was the County Agent on the Green Acres sit-com show.

This is not to suggest that we can not take a position, or balance competing considerations, when necessary. However, most times we need a little time to think things through.

We’re generally 10 seconds away from appreciating any position. We’re just not into drawing hard lines in the sand. Plus, we might be wrong.

We’ve been mulling over George Will’s statement, to the effect that the beauty of conservatism is its “purity”, and Jonathan Haidt’s conclusion that the “pursuit of moral clarity” is the magnet which draws Republicans together, for over a year now. The concepts are beginning to come into focus.

We recently heard Joshua Cooper Ramo say something which helped crystallize our thoughts on another issue – namely the role of government.

We are systems oriented in our approach to issues. For some time now, we have argued that the U.S. is not ready, at this point in its evolution, for a nationalized health care system, just like some nations are not yet ready to embrace democracy.

We raised three concerns. First, Americans are addicted to Kentucky Fried Chicken, donuts, and giant Slurpees; avoid exercise like the swine flu; and are thus insufficiently motivated to maintain good health on the front end. Why build a back end system around people who don’t care?

Second, trying to manage a health-care system involving 300 million subscribers would be like herding 300 million cats.

Third, we do not have any experience managing a dedicated bureaucracy involving 300 million beneficiaries. Our military is about as close as it gets, and the number pales in comparison.

Our new President’s detractors call him a Socialist. The rhetoric is full of allusions to the “pathetic state” of purportedly "has been" Western European powers to whose rescue the Americans came during WWII, and the “failure” of the Soviet Union.

Not being sufficiently versed in the history of socialism, and not having any appreciation of, or first hand knowledge about, the area, we historically viewed ourselves as part of the “undecided.”

Plus, we always try to identify some element of internal consistency in our positions, when they are applied to other areas. It seems to us that if one believes that socialism or central control is a bad thing in one area, then it’s probably a bad thing in another, and another ….

How does one justify the involvement of government in any aspect of our lives, other than perhaps the military? Isn’t it disingenuous to pick areas where you feel government should play a part, and then choose others where it should not?

We raised questions about whether government should be involved in education, in responding to natural disasters, and in other areas we take for granted.

We remained open to the notion that less government is better. However, no one ever convinced us of the merits of that position, since it always appeared to be ideologically and subjectively driven, and not systemically based.

Finally, to our rescue came Rambo. Well, not quite, just Ramo. He is the author of The Age of the Unthinkable. During his book presentation on C-Span2 Book TV recently, he claimed that the world is different today than in years past, and that old approaches to problems will not work.

But this was the bottom line: Things are more interconnected today. Our economic systems are more interconnected. The more interconnected they are, the more complex they are.

The more complex they are, the more potentially unstable they are. Like a house of cards.

If any significant aspect of the system fails, the whole system is at risk. Arguably, this is what brought down the Soviet Union, and not President Reagan’s threats. Sorta also sounds like that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” saying.

We’ve come to recognize the importance of the manner in which a concept is framed. (For example, we've long felt that the pro-choice faction chose a poor label for their cause since a woman arguably has choices available to her long before conception.)

Once we heard Ramo refer to the “instability of interconnected systems,” it struck a chord. The emotion laden arguments against socialism or central governance always struck us as arguments of those disinterested in sharing with others, because they had theirs.

This instability argument is one which has some logical appeal.

We’ll continue to think about it over the coming year, and get back to you.

This post was originally posted on May 12, 2009.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Post No. 146a: Article of Interest re Response to BP Oil Spill

Over the past several years, there has been much discussion regarding the role of government versus the role of the private sector in addressing societal issues and needs.

The Laughingman came across the following article from Garden and Gun Magazine, which details the efforts of one private sector entity to deal with the Gulf event.

Should the US leave the response effort entirely in the hands of the private sector, entirely in the hands of the government, a combination of the two, or even perhaps neither, thus leaving it to individual citizens to address as they see fit?

July 1, 2010

Garden and Gun Magazine

Goings On


No one understands the tragedy in the Gulf as well as fishermen. So it's no surprise two diehard anglers have made it their mission to make a difference - government red tape and BP be damned.

Mark Castlow, the owner of Dragonfly Boatworks in Vero Beach, Florida, and his colleague, Jimbo Meador, took one look at the crafts used to rescue oiled birds and knew that they would be of no use in the marshes and shallows of the Gulf Coast, precisely where many injured birds will go when in distress. So thanks to some financial backing from Jimmy Buffet, they halted their production line, sketched a resue boat on a napkin, and ....

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Post No. 146: Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS

© 2010, 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 and try 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 open 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 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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Post No. 145: What’s Going On Over There at Wal-Mart?

© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Logistician’s 89 yr old Father has an operational pearl of wisdom – if one wants to determine what is going on in the economy, one need simply check the newspapers' classified ads.

Being a New Age guy, the Logistician has modified this somewhat, and advises all to check out their local Wal-Mart…classified ads being one of the many sacrifices made to fuel the new economy.

Some years ago, all of the major California grocery store chains were up in arms following Wal-Mart’s announcement that it would start selling groceries (using non-union workers). (Based on the corporate response, one would have thought that an invasion of illegal aliens was to accompany that move.)

And then there was the effort by Wal-Mart a few years later to open a store in Inglewood (near LAX), which was opposed by those with money and jobs, and supported by those without. Despite being put before the citizens in an actual vote, the poor folks lost.

Neither the Logistician nor the Laughingman saw (or visited for that matter) a Wal-Mart in their 40 plus combined years in Southern California (since the cost of the real estate dictates much in life).

On the other hand, Wal-Marts abound in the southeastern region of our country. In fact, there are 4 of them in the immediate vicinity of the Institute, despite the city being home to only 230,000 citizens (while the metropolitan area has roughly 750,000).

Hints of changes in the economy first appeared last year when the 8 self-service automated checkout lines per store were shut down, and customers were forced to proceed to the 4 human checkout lines open (out of the 16 available).

Shortly after Thanksgiving, there was a marked decrease in parking lot traffic. And just days before Christmas, 2 of the local Wal-Marts announced that they would close at midnight.

When advised of these developments, many suggested that the store hours changes did not apply to “Super Centers.” But during an early morning visit to a Super Center in February of this year, patrons found not only that the Murray’s USA Gas was closed, but that the parking lot of the adjacent Wal-Mart was empty. The store was closed.

In April, the Logistician, being the cheapskate that he is and only having 50 cents to his name, proceeded to his trusty Sam’s Choice soda machine in the foyer of the largest Super Center in the area, to get Sam’s 40 cent version of Mountain Dew. Much to his surprise, he could not locate his machine. In fact, there were only Coca-Cola products, all costing $1.25 per can.

Not believing that Sam would abuse his customers in this manner, he turned to a clean-cut, neatly dressed, gregarious Wal-Mart greeter who was standing in the foyer, and blurted out, “I can’t believe that Wal-Mart no longer sells it own sodas and has replaced it with Coke products.”

This generated no response whatsoever on the part of the upbeat, smiling greeter (nor the CEO upon later contact). The Logistician again expressed his disbelief, and when it dawned on him that the greeter had no appreciation of the issue, he asked, “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

The greeter very politely responded in broken English, “Excuse me, but I’m new here.” Suspecting that the greeter was of European descent, the Logistician tried to chat him up in French, Spanish, and then Portuguese, all to no avail.

The greeter then said that he was from Bulgaria and spoke a Slavic tongue.

After a lengthy discussion about the history of Bulgaria and whether it was a member of the former U.S.S.R, the conversation shifted.

“I ‘ve been in US for 6 weeks.” The Logistician then asked how long he had worked for Wal-Mart, to which the greeter replied, “I’ve been working for Wal-Mart for 6 weeks.”

Thinking that he was perhaps here on a tourist visa, the Logistician kept probing. Our Bulgarian friend had been “lucky,” as he termed it, to acquire a green card, because he had relatives in the area. This was the first and only city in which he had lived since his arrival.

The simple fact of the matter is that while Wal-Mart may be the low priced employer in any given market, it is far from the low priced goods supplier. Wal-Mart’s computer system is second only to that of the United States Census Bureau, and all of that computing power is not dedicated to finding the lowest prices possible, but the highest prices the chain can charge before customers begin to shop elsewhere…and the same goes for quality of service.

Three weeks later, we chatted our greeter up again, now with two whole months of US residence and employment under his belt, during another visit. (You’re going to love what he had to say about Americans and the quality of life here, to be flushed out in our next post.)

All in all, it looks like Dad was pretty spot on….

We also imagine that it’s a good thing that this Wal-Mart is not located in Arizona.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Post No. 144a: Article of Interest: “Responsibility” and Our Physical Borders

In recent weeks, our attention has been focused on U.S. immigration policy and the status of our international borders, in light of Arizona’s efforts to control its own border.

Many of you will recall past efforts by the U.S. to communicate our values and our points of view to those beyond our borders via radio waves.

One of our most significant “trading partners” is currently sharing its values and view of the world with our citizens via the airwaves.

How should we respond, if at all? Do we have an obligation or responsibility to allow other nations to employ such tactics? Should we be more or less concerned about the “immigration” of values and points of view as opposed to physical, human beings? Does the U.S. have the "responsibility" to "protect" its citizens from what might be termed "propaganda" from competitor nations, or should our citizens be left to exercise their good judgment and fend for themselves?

Many in other parts of the world complain of the intrusion of western values on their ways of life. Are they justified? Should the west refrain from doing so?

This following article is taken from the April 25, 2010 edition of the Washington Post.

From China’s Mouth to Texans’ Ears

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; A01

Galveston, Texas

“Cruise southeast out of Houston, past the NASA exits and the Gulf of Mexico, and you pick up something a little incongruous on the radio, amid country crooners, Rush Limbaugh, hip-hop and all of the freewheeling clamor of the American airwaves.

“’China Radio International,’ a voice intones. ‘This is Beyond Beijing.’

“Way, way beyond Beijing.”

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

Additionally, yesterday C-Span2 Book TV aired a program on the U.S. / Mexico border. For more information regarding the program, and to view it at your convenience, click here. Additionally, it will air again on Monday, May 10, 2010, at 5:00 am EST.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Post No. 144: At Least the Marines Seem to Have It Down

© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Several weeks ago, the movie A Few Good Men aired on a TV channel.

In the movie, a young Marine dies during a disciplinary session which is prohibited by regulations. The discipline was administered by two low ranking fellow Marines. The question is whether the Marines were following orders issued by higher ranking officers, or acting on their own accord.

Most recall the exchange between Tom Cruise, who represents the two Marines on trial, and the base’s commanding officer, Colonel Jessup portrayed by Jack Nicholson, resulting in the explosive, “You can’t handle the truth!”

But there is another exchange, prior to Nicholson’s outburst, which merits some consideration. It is between Cruise in his capacity as defense attorney, and one of his clients, the more senior and clear headed of the two Marines on trial.

Kaffee (Cruise): “Did you assault Santiago with the intent of killing him?”

Dawson: “No sir.”

Kaffee: “What was your intent?”

Dawson: “To train him, sir.”

Kaffee: “To train him to do what?”

Dawson: “To train him to think of the unit before himself. To respect the Code.”

Kaffee: “What’s the Code?”

Dawson: “Unit. Corps. God. Country.”

Co-Defense Counsel Weinberg: “I beg your pardon?”

Dawson: “Unit. Corps. God. Country. Sir.

In reciting this “Code,” the issue of the order of importance, or priority of the components, becomes apparent. The Marines seem to have it down to a science.

Prior to the airing of the movie, C-Span2 Book TV aired a program during which they discussed the priorities of politicians. There were allusions to (1) doing what they thought best for their constituents; (2) addressing issues as expressed by their constituents; (3) adherence to Constitutional principles; and (4) pursuit of religious goals. Some would argue that advancing their own financial interests should be somewhere in the mix.

However, when a politician declares that he or she will no longer run for office, or resigns from office, they almost universally claim that they want to “spend more time with their families.”

How do we decide what is more important in the grand scheme of things? Who decided that family is more important than other societal units? Why should more attention be devoted to family as opposed to other societal pursuits?

The son of legendary United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez criticized his Father for not spending enough time with his family, and yet millions of farm workers view Chavez as a hero who improved their lives dramatically.

Who decides? What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s the appropriate balance?

In the case of the Marines, it appears to be a somewhat rigid, well thought out prioritization, which is drilled into them. Former Senator Robert Dole, a WWII hero and winner of the Bronze Star, when asked why he risked his life to save that of a fellow soldier, remarked (paraphrasing), “Because you’d like to think that they would do the same for you under the same circumstances.”

According to Colonel Jessup, adherence to the Code by Marines “saves lives,” and permits those of us not on the front line, but who derive the benefit of their protection, to sleep peacefully at night. And anyone who has ever known a Marine, even if just briefly, or socially, knows how deeply this Code runs….

Marines become Marines because of those in whose hands they want to put their lives. It is not a matter of who you want to follow into combat so much as who you want to follow you, over the hill, or through the door.

Which brings us to Senators Ensign and Edwards, and Governors Spitzer and Sanford, and Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, and most recently Tiger Woods (although not an elected official with specifically outlined responsibilities to the public) who seem to have muddled the line of acceptable prioritization.

Or did they?

If these public figures had not been married, and had children, would we feel any differently about their societal contributions?

On the other hand, none of the above (with the possible exception of Tiger) seems to have had any qualms about using their marriages in any and every way possible to persuade the public to view them as individuals who would not behave in the manner is which they were obviously behaving.

For those contemplating public life and being in the public eye, it might prove prudent to get the applicable code down pat before becoming famous. A failure to do so could have dramatic negative consequences.

And the folks who are sending our Marines into harm’s way seem to be telling the rest of us that in a closed political society, where everybody is guilty, the only crime is in getting caught, and the only sin is stupidity.

With all due respect to our elected officials, the adaptation of some variation of “Unit. Corps. God. Country.” might prove to be the better approach.

And who would have thunk that society might benefit from emulating principles espoused by an entity run by the government….

"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"™