Thursday, July 7, 2011

Post No. 167: Children of a Greater God, or Why Cary, NC is in the Bible Belt


© 2011, 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 adults 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?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Post No. 166d: The Impure Need Not Apply


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Our goal here at the Institute is to assist people in ultimately formulating innovative solutions to societal problems. We do not care what the solution is, as long as it is reasoned, and advances the long-term goals of our collective society, and not just the interests of certain groups.

We're in that season again, when some amongst us sign up to be beaten and abused, so that they can abuse others. No, it's not Golden Gloves boxing, and it's too early for football.

Someone once suggested that elected officials, and those seeking appointment to public service positions, be required to generate, for public dissemination, a detailed historical resume, and provide all tax returns and documentation BEFORE filing to run for elected office, or accepting a nomination or an appointment.

Obviously, an extension of this thought process would suggest that all details of their lives and finances, as politicians or government officials, be similarly disclosed on a periodic basis.

Here's another thought. Our nation has obviously reached the point where our elected officials are expected to be without flaws, and to be pristine and pure in those areas which we consider to be “of importance,” such as the avoidance of pubic photo exchanges on Facebook, and tapping shoes under public restroom stalls.

It doesn't matter on which side of the aisle they intend to travel. This should be applied uniformly without regard to political party or ideology.

Why not have all applicants for public office execute an affidavit to the effect that they have never broken the law (with the types of offenses enumerated), and have done nothing, of which they are aware, which might be regarded as "inappropriate" for a public official.

To address the concerns of the due process extremists, we could have a bi-partisan commission generate a list of indiscretions, based on years of experience with past scofflaws, including utilizing the services of illegal aliens and the improper utilization of cigars and other contrivances.

In conjunction with the execution of the affidavit, we could also require the applicant to put up as collateral, all of his or her assets, to be forfeited, and the social service placement of any minors within their custody, if it is later determined that there has been some failing in their conduct.

That's one approach which we could employ to weed out all of these pretenders, don't you think? We, as a nation, appear to have no interest in people with flaws or who have failed, so let's deal with that on the front end.

And it also appears, as reflected in the manner in which America responded to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and Tom Daschle shortly thereafter, that admitting that you were wrong, and accepting responsibility for your conduct is viewed as a “little too late,” and of little consequence.

(Perhaps the approach of the former governor of Illinois is the way to go.)

Why not be proactive and do the Barney Fife by “nipping this in the bud” by disqualifying folks BEFORE they run for office or seek an appointment.

It would make admissions of fault and acceptance of responsibility purely gratuitous.

Doesn’t this seem like the proper and efficient thing to do?

Forget talent! Forget experience! Forget other qualifications!

What we really need to lead us back, to the mountaintop of international moral and economic prominence, is to only have the pristine and the pure lead us there. Hallelujah!

Why waste our time with the impure? Simply toss them aside, and use not their services.

Step forward, all of you who are without sin, to lead us!

The impure need not apply.

© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Post No. 166c: We Try Harder; Do We Really?


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In what areas is the United States still No. 1? Was it ever? Or was this exalted status something we told ourselves to boost our sense of pride and accomplishment?

Just this week, CNN reported that the U.S. is No. 38 in terms of the life expectancy of its citizens, far behind many nations which are poorer, and spend far less on health care.

In a previous post about the mark made by political thought giant Irving Kristol, columnist David Brooks wrote something which struck us:

“He [Kristol] was unabashedly neoconservative. But he also stood apart, and directed his skeptical gaze even on his own positions, and even on the things to which he was most loyal… ‘There are no benefits without costs in human affairs,’ he once wrote. And so there is no idea so true and no movement so pure that it doesn’t require scrutiny. There was no position in this fallen world without flaws.”

A question might be raised as to whether it would be a good thing for us, as a Nation, to acknowledge that others have surpassed us in certain areas, or are nipping at our heels. There’s lots of rhetoric these days about our “great nation” and how this is the most powerful nation in the history of humankind.

But resting on one’s laurels has its problems, as does continuing to do things the same way, simply because they worked in the past, or through rigid adherence to a particular philosophy.

The Father of one of our friends claims that golfer Tiger Woods can cruise now in his career, “since he has already made his money.” But whether it is Tiger Woods, or legendary basketball star Larry Bird, the existence of talent without continuing effort, and a desire to excel, yields few championship trophies.

In order for the Road Runner to have existed all of these years, he had to outrun Wile E. Coyote everyday, and come up with new ways to “out-coyote” him.

His survival is dependent upon his speed and agility.

A couple of years ago we watched C-Span2 Book TV's coverage of the 2009 National Book Festival, founded by former First Lady Laura Bush in 2001. That such a festival was only started recently might come as a surprise to many, but may reflect something about us.

Many of us consider a good education and the ability to read as givens. Yet, the percentage of functionally illiterate citizens in America would probably shock most.

At least those of us who can read.

A friend of ours spent some time teaching courses at a community college. He often tells the story of a student who, while taking a math test, summoned him. He told her that he could not assist her.

She noted that the issue was not a math issue, but a word issue. When he looked at the problem, she pointed to the word “suspension,” and said she did not know its meaning. Without knowing its meaning, it was impossible for her to perform the calculation necessary.

In response to this revelation, our friend decided that even in his math classes, his students would learn 10 new words each day. After announcing his new policy to his night class and the reasons for the change, a student approached him after class, and said that he was one of the people about whom the instructor had spoken.

When our friend inquired as to what the student meant, the student related an amazing story. He said that although he was not very proud of it, he got kicked out of high school one month before graduation, and did not learn to read prior to that time.

Imagine an educational system where a student can be promoted for 12 years, and still not manage to read. And consider the fact that no one single factor, teacher, school, or system can be singled out for this travesty. They all had to work in concert with one another.

One of our other friends has been in collegiate and professional athletics for years. He has always contended that he’d rather have a bunch of C grade players who hustled and gave their best, than a team of A grade players who didn’t.

After listening to the introductory speakers during the opening ceremonies for National Book Festival, it occurred to us that we have a long way to go in getting the most out of our human resources, and that acknowledging that many of our current systems are perhaps not the best in the world, might be a good starting point.

For some reason, this line of thinking made us re-visit one of the longest running marketing slogans around, that for Avis Rent a Car, the number two agency behind number one Hertz. “We try harder.”

We did not know who started this campaign, but we had a suspicion, and looked it up. And yes, it turned out to be another Bill Bernbach masterpiece.

Its beauty is in its simplicity.

It’s neither un-American, nor un-patriotic to question our standing in the world, and investigate whether what we’ve been doing is really in the long-term, national, collective interest.

Societal responsibility is not dramatically different from personal responsibility. A nation can’t complain about its standing in the world, if it hasn’t done all that it can do to excel, and use its human resources to the fullest extent possible. That includes equipping all of its citizens with competitive tools, and ensuring that they are ready for the fight.

And that’s just plain Common Sense.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Post 166b: Article of Interest: School District Halts Sale of Flavored Milk



The following article appeared in the June 14, 2011 electronic edition of the Los Angeles Times.


L.A. Schools Halt Sale of Chocolate, Strawberry-Flavored Milk on Campuses

"The L.A. Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday voted to stop providing chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk in school cafeterias as of July 1.

"The move makes L.A. the largest school system in the nation to pull flavored milks out of schools and is part of a larger push to make the food served at school more nutritious. L.A. Unified earlier banned sodas sales at schools.

"The district's new superintendent, John Deasy, said plain milk is a healthier option. Parents and some activists have long wanted the district to stop serving flavored milk, which has more sugar than plain milk."

To view the remainder of the article, click here.

What do you think of the school district's effort? Is it a responsible thing to do?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Post No. 166a: Something for Embattled Rep. Oscar Meyer to Consider


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

During recent weeks, the court of public opinion questioned the judgment of numerous prominent individuals.

In the case of several politicians, the talking heads debated whether they should resign. Most recently, many have taken a bite at Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York. Weiner claims that instead of resigning, he will take a leave of absence.

We asked ourselves whether there is a principle potentially applicable to all such cases when the resignation issue arises.

Some urged resignation, others “staying the course.” Some characterized it as a “personal decision,” and still others said it should be left to the voters.

Pundits will debate for years whether Bill Clinton should have resigned before commencement of impeachment proceedings, and the long-term ramifications of his decision not to do so.

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

In each instance, many spoke of the judgment of the politicians involved (before and after the revelations of their questioned conduct), and whether their actions bear, in any way, on their ability to make “good judgments” while in office and on behalf of those who placed faith and trust in them.

In the recent cases of Nevada Sen. John Ensign, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Gov. Sarah Palin, and now Rep. Weiner, we listened to all of the views, and still did not have a concrete position. We debated the gravity of the conduct, whether the person still had something to offer to society, and whether his or her constituency might actually be the loser should they resign.

We thought about how society defines “judgment,” or more appropriately perhaps, “good judgment.” Whether it is situational and transient in nature, or permanent, and black and white.

A couple of years ago, a friend sent us the following, purportedly a question used as part of a job application, which made us think further about “judgment:”

“You’re driving down a winding, rain-slicked road on a dangerous, stormy night. You pass a bus stop where 3 people are waiting for the bus. One is an elderly woman who appears to be very ill. The 2nd is someone you recognize as a friend who once saved your life. The 3rd is someone who you, in hindsight, recognize you should have married years before. (They later revealed that given the opportunity, they would be now open to your entreaties.)”

“You have room in your sports car for only one other person. Which one would you offer a ride?”

Before sharing the answer of the successful applicant, we have another short story which might bear on whether politicians should resign after embarrassing conduct, which calls into question their judgment.

A regular reader found herself in dire straits a couple of years ago. Most of her life, she had the very best of everything: food, wine, education, exposure, homes, travel, and friends. However, during the last several years she found herself estranged from her family and struggling to make ends meet.

During an exchange at the time, she confided that she was initially confused as to what she should do in terms of her relationship with her minor son, and then she offered this:

“I’ve been flying in private planes since the age of 7. In thinking about my predicament, I recalled something said at the beginning of every flight. ‘Adults flying with minor children should put on their oxygen masks first, before trying to assist their children.’ I realized that I had to get my personal act together first before being able to assist, or be involved with, anyone else.”

It seemed like such a simple concept, and Common Sense. The more we thought about it, the more applicable it seemed to disgraced elected officials in the court of public opinion. At least it is something they should consider.

Back to our job applicant, you could justifiably pick up the elderly lady since her condition is the most precarious. Or you could pay back the friend who saved your life. Or you could pick up your mate and live happily ever after.

Our friend claims that the successful candidate, out of 200 who applied, indicated that you should give the car keys to the old friend and let him or her take the sick woman to the hospital, while you sit with the love of your life awaiting the bus.

One of the Senior Fellows here at the Institute suggested the driver run over the elderly woman, put her out of her misery, fulfill any unrequited desires with the love of your life, and then drive off with the friend who saved your life for some strawberry margaritas at Pancho’s on the Strand.

We haven’t advanced the discussion of what constitutes “good judgment,” have we? Hmmm, we imagine that it is open to debate.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Post No. 166: What the Ku Klux Klan Has to Say about Our Dependence on Foreign Oil


© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Earlier this week, a Saudi prince called for lower oil prices. Some of you might be surprised at what his statement revealed about how the Middle East views us, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

There are two stories upon which we often reflect in thinking about “group dynamics,” one involving relatively large groups and the other about small groups.

The first involves black folks. During the early 1970s, the top R&B/urban music station in Atlanta had a very popular black DJ, who used a large number of recorded exchanges between fictional characters to send messages to his listeners.

The one which struck us most forcefully was the purported conversation between 2 Ku Klux Klan members saying that to accomplish their goals, they need not waste their time, energy and bullets, since they could simply “place their guns on the shelves; because those _____ are going to kill themselves.” The DJ was trying to get his fans to appreciate the damage to the black community brought on by, what sociologists and urban specialists refer to as, “black on black crime.”

The second story reveals how in some instances, members of a group may have good intentions and the same ultimate goal, but disagree about how to go about achieving that goal. A well-educated, sharp, upper middle class couple we know had a child who suffered from a congenital condition which caused the child to self-inflict injury.

When the child was young, the parents disagreed about the course of treatment to address the condition. The disagreements continued over the years as the child grew older, and the child’s self-destructive behavior became more intense.

Once the child approached puberty, and grew stronger physically, the parents could no longer handle the child themselves, and were forced to have the child restrained initially, and ultimately confined to an institution. Shortly thereafter, the parents divorced (significantly because of the disagreements regarding the treatment), and the child no longer had the benefit, if any there were, of a parental support team to battle his unfortunate condition.

To this day, the parents argue about the “correct” approach to treatment.

Getting back to the Saudi prince, whose grandfather was the founding king of modern day Saudi Arabia, Al-Waleed bin Talal said Sunday that he prefers that oil prices decline so that western industrialized nations do not accelerate efforts to become energy independent. According to an article on CNN.com:

"’We don't want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives,’ said Talal, who is listed by Forbes as the 26th richest man in the world.”

Actually, it seems like a smart approach on the part of OPEC, if you're in the catbird seat.

We don’t know about you, but that a foreign nation or some other entity has us by the balls, and does not mince words while clearly expressing it to the world, should be disturbing to us all. What’s more interesting is the paucity of outrage on our part that someone would characterize our internal “group dynamics” in such a manner.

The reason that we really can’t complain is because it is the "truth," (which unfortunately, despite the claims of many Baby Boomers, shall not "set us free" from this addiction).

We have no one to blame but our collective selves.

And yet like the couple with the child, we argue and debate the manner in which we should “wean” ourselves off of foreign oil. And while debate is always good, at some point there has to be resolution, followed by action.

Imagine a team of doctors treating a heroin addicted patient, debating the treatment approach and trying their various, conflicting approaches as the rehab facility administration changes from time to time, while the patient continues to use heroin for 40 years.

Is the current state of affairs a function of our governance model? Payments by Big Oil to our politicians? The American consumer’s love affair with driving and the individual freedom which goes along with driving one’s own vehicle? Is there a class issue associated with urban mass transit?

We don’t know. We doubt that anyone really knows. But we do know that we can’t keep delaying finding solutions to problems while engaged in doctrinal debates for very much longer.

It will be the death of us, by more forces than just oil.

Perhaps the Common Sense and Compassion Party formed this year by one of regular followers, the Independent Cuss, has the “right idea.” According to their Party Platform:

“We believe that neither should one kill the goose which lays the golden eggs out of spite (the ideological left), nor should one kill his neighbor and feed him to the goose as an artificial growth hormone for increased egg production (the ideological right).

Where does it all end?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Post No. 165: BREAKING NEWS: President Obama Seen Cavorting with Someone other Than the First Lady



Today, we received an e-mail from the New York Times indicating that the House of Representatives had rejected an effort to increase the federal debt limit. The article was entitled, “Pressing Obama, House Bars Rise in Debt Ceiling.”

Many welcomed the event, and argued that it was a repudiation of the President’s efforts to transform our nation into a socialist state during a period of global economic stagnation, brought on solely by his Administration’s economic policies.

Apparently the President didn’t take the message very well, since he was seen cruising various D.C. bars.

According to Tim Teetotaler, at The Speakeasy in DuPont Circle, this was not the first time that the President visited his bar late at night. Confirming rumors, he said the President is typically accompanied by a female ostrich. The bartender went on to relate his first encounter with Obama.

On that occasion, the President said, "I'll have a beer; in fact the same brand of beer that was sent to the White House for the Harvard Professor – Cambridge Cop Beer Summit last year.” The bartender then turned to the ostrich, and asked, "What about you?"

"I'll have a beer too," said the ostrich, while the Secret Service detail surveyed the room, concerned about what observers might think about the President hanging out with a bird not native to America, and other than the American Bald Eagle.

The bartender claims that he served the pair and the tab was $6.40. The President turned to his trusted military aide carrying the “Nuclear Football,” and said, “Willy, reach into the side pocket of the satchel and pull out whatever money is there.”

Pursuant to the President’s instructions, the aide retrieved all of the money, which amounted to exactly $6.40.

The bartender claims that he next saw the President and the ostrich on the night when US forces successfully located and eliminated Osama bin Laden. The President ordered Champagne this time - a glass of 2010 Armand de Brignac.

The ostrich said she would have the same. After they completed their drinks, the bill amounted to $47.83. The President once again turned to Willy, asked to him to reach into the side pocket of the satchel, and pull out all the money. Willy, according to the bartender, pulled out exactly $47.83.

After the bin Laden mission, this became a regular, nightly routine, and whenever the bartender saw the two approaching, he simply asked, "The usual?" On each occasion, Willy took care of the tab by simply reaching into the pocket. Even when the price of the Champagne increased, the aide still pulled out the exact amount needed, even though he was not informed of the increase.

According to Teetotaler, last night following the House vote, a despondent President came in, and ordered Sauza Blue Reposado.

"Same for me," said the ostrich, with a subdued tone and a Southern drawl.

"That will be $29.20," said the bartender.

Once again the aide pulled out the exact change.

The bartender thought that since the President’s guard might be down, it might be a good time to address his curiosity about the President having just enough money in the pocket to match the amount of the bill.

"Excuse me, Mr. President, but may I ask perhaps an impertinent question?” “Sure,” replied the President.

“How does your aide manage to always come up with the exact change for your expenditures out of the side pocket of that satchel, every single time?"

“First of all, let it be clear that although the taxpayers pick up the tab for my drinks, they do not pay for the ostrich’s. But to get to the crux of your question, several years ago I was cleaning the attic with Michelle and the girls, and found an old Middle Eastern lamp. When I rubbed it, a Genie appeared and offered me four wishes, three of which I made in a family, group setting.”

“My first wish was that I be elected President when the nation was in a perilous state, so that I could prove how effective a smart guy could really be as President.”

“My second wish was that if I, or the nation, ever needed to pay for anything, I could just put my hand in the side pocket of the satchel carrying the Nuclear Football, and sufficient funds would be there."

"That's brilliant!" said the bartender. "Most people would wish for a specific amount of money, but you'll always be as rich as you want for as long as you live!"

"Well, so one would think,” said the President. “Whether it was a gallon of milk, a new home in Hyde Park, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or MediCare, the exact money was always there," said the President.

"That's fantastic!" said the bartender. "It’s clear why they call you 'The Anointed One.'”

“Not so fast my friend. My third wish was that I locate and eliminate Osama bid Laden during my first term.”

The bartender said, “Sir, obviously you are on a roll. But you’ve been more than generous in sharing with me things which are obviously personal in nature; consequently I would not dare ask about the fourth wish, which you did not share with your family.”

“But there's one thing I still don't understand. What's with the ostrich?"

According to the bartender, the President replied "I was afraid that you would ask that. My fourth wish was for a chick with long legs."

The bartender commiserating with the President, and trying to switch the subject said, “I heard about your defeat in the House earlier today. Obviously that is what drove to you to order this very potent tequila.”

The President responded, “That’s the least of my concerns. The House vote suggests that Rupert Murdoch finally got to the Genie, who cancelled my unlimited funds capabilities. But that’s just a political problem, which a sharp politician can handle.”

“I’m drinking tequila because I can’t figure out how to explain the ostrich to Michelle, and Bill Clinton has been absolutely no help at all.”

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense (Well sorta, some of this is in the public domain).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Post No 164c: Whose Life Is It Anyway?


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Back in 2009, we generated two posts around graduation time, You’ve Got to Find What You Love, a speech by Apple’s Steve Jobs, and P.J. O’Rourke’s Unconventional Advice. Both were directed toward our target audience, college students. We suggested some things for them to consider looking down the road.

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.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Post No. 164b: Re-Posting of "Why Men Cheat - The Definitive Explanation"

© 2008 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Logistician, previously with the Institute and now on sabbatical in Brazil, was effectively run out of the country because of his generation of the following article in 2008. Consequently, we do not frequently make reference to its subject matter.

However, as we have often said, if there are any “common sense” principles to be derived from our posts, they ought to have continuing relevance, no matter how applied. This week, the application applies to former California governor, and soon to be actor again, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who admitted to fathering a child with a household employee years ago. Fear of unpopularity should not dictate our delving into controversial issues.

However, keep in mind that the Logistician generated this, and not anyone currently affiliated with the Institute.



As a general proposition, we are not in the business of justifying or condemning any type of human behavior. More particularly, we are not apologists for philandering men. We are more focused on the avoidance of destructive and detrimental conduct in relationships by better understanding the dynamics in operation.

There are four significant factors that come into play when a man cheats sexually on his female significant other, those being:

(1) opportunity;

(2) physical proximity and juxtaposition;

(3) physiological “blood flow;” and

(4) relative absence of significant offending characteristics and presence.

We shall address each one separately. Later in this piece, we will also discuss:

(5) the basic underlying problems with heterosexual relationships in modern, post-industrial societies; and

(6) what responsible couples can do to minimize the probability of being traumatized by a sexual affair hiccup.

Opportunity: There are some simple mathematical and probabilistic principles in operation here. The more access to and contact with other people one has, the more opportunities for straying there will be. The larger the town or community, the higher the probability that the man will meet women to whom he will be attracted in some form or fashion.

Locking him up in a cage and smothering him is not the answer. Understanding what is at play is. One needs to understand the “inner game of relationships.”

There is a long time friend of ours who used to say, upon hearing initial news reports, that to determine whether a public figure actually strayed, all one had to do was to “look at the babe.” From his perspective, he simply needed to see a picture or video of the alleged co-conspirator.

Many of us have had the experience of meeting what might be termed as “professional babes,” capable of accomplishing anything to which they put their minds. In big cities like Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, Rio, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, they are found in abundance. However, the probability of finding them next door in a town of 5,000 residents is very low. Anyone fitting that bill has already found their way to Los Angeles, New York, or some other big city where opportunities abound.

You see them on television and the big screen every day. (We acknowledge that Sen. Edwards’ co-conspirator was not exactly Hollywood talent, but it's not all about talent.)

Some of their detractors will refer to them as “gold diggers.” They are a force with which to be reckoned. There is nothing of the female persuasion more potentially seductive than a bright, beautiful, and physically attractive woman who leaves her native country, starts traveling around the world alone during her teens, learns to speak different tongues as she progresses, and who then educates herself and gains a patina of sophistication and a sharp wit.

What she puts out is no different that the venom that many an animal secretes to paralyze its prey. This is not to say that women are predators who pursue men; however, there is interplay at work here folks. Many a woman has communicated a message in a non-verbal fashion to the effect, “Hey, check out some of this,” and many a man has responded upon being wounded, “She ought to be illegal.”

This is not to suggest that every woman has similar motivations; it is just to explain that such a turbo-charged force operating on all 24 cylinders can generally win the race, especially against tortoises. In a heterosexual context, you juxtapose one of these women beside a mere mortal man, and you’ve got a problem, especially if the man has money, power, or worse yet, both.

By the way, a woman with lots of talent in other areas, and who may not be particularly beautiful, can compensate for the alleged deficiencies in the beauty arena. As one of our friends once said, “You’ve got to see the ‘show’ before you are truly able to criticize the ‘cost’ and risks associated with the transaction.”

There are other circumstantial factors that come into play, such as the probability of getting noticed, the number of other co-workers in the vicinity, the attention being paid to the potentially wayward couple by others in the vicinity, the opportunity to sneak away from the crowd unnoticed, and on and on.

One must also consider the fact that powerful men, once they become powerful and especially when they become rich, attract and draw an exponentially expanding crowd of female admirers. As they begin to appreciate their newfound power, more opportunities are realized. Former President William Jefferson Clinton was once asked why he did what he did with Monica Lewinsky. His answer was about as honest as they come, “Because I could.”

Proximity: All other forces being equal, the closer, and closer, and closer an attractive, appealing woman gets to a man, the higher the probability of straying. A man needs to take responsibility and learn how to avoid looking at an attractive woman, avoid traveling through her department, avoid going out to lunch with her alone, avoid having her in his office alone, and most importantly, avoid closing the door once she enters his office or work place alone.

Have you ever noticed how when two people gradually start closing the spatial gap between them, the sexual tension level rises and they stop talking coherently and logically?

It’s about proximity. You place the right dress, hair style, attitude, perfume, and such together, and things start happening. Milan Kundera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milan_Kundera), the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unbearable_Lightness_of_Being) might refer to it as “serendipity,” whereas Jung (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung) might refer to it as “synchronicity.” The suggestion that one woman is able to access and enhance her resources in terms of drawing a man to her, and that no other woman can accomplish a similar feat, is sheer science fiction.

Proximity also explains why a seemingly unattractive woman can end up in sexual relationship with a man who seemingly “could do better.” Once again, proximity rules, as does our next factor.

Blood Flow: There is another item of science fiction, or what might be more appropriately termed “sheer folly,” which often comes into play when people misunderstand and underestimate this sex thing. It’s called Nature. Nature rules, and ultimately over the long haul.

Predicting or stopping a tsunami or earthquake? Yeah…. We as humans believe that we can conquer Nature, and on occasion we manage to do so - temporarily. However, at the end of the day, Nature rules. It is fair wiser for us as humans to figure out how to step aside and avoid Nature’s wrath, or simply avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For men, sex is about blood flow. No blood flow, no sex. That’s what all of this prescription male enhancement junk is about. Quite frankly, any man being straight with you will tell you that having an erection longer than seven minutes is problematic, and presents all sorts of potentially negative ramifications.

Men are hard wired to be aroused, and momentarily distracted by women. Every aspect of our physical being is determined by hard-wiring, accompanied by some electro-chemical impulse. Everything. We often advise our female friends who are mothers of teenage boys that it is all about “blood flow.”

Women can not imagine how a man can have an instantaneous erection due to blood flow, upon observing a desirable woman. You can’t explain this to someone who is not similarly physically hard-wired. Men also can not explain the indiscriminate nature of that force upon being stimulated.

It has nothing to do with logic. It has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with character. It’s bigger than men are.

That does not mean that there are no ways to prevent a distraction. It just means that once all of the forces are in operation, and the circumstances are “conducive,” there is a very high probability that the event will occur. We can virtually guarantee that, given the proper circumstances, any of the “professional, gold digging babes,” to whom we previously referred, could sway the vast majority of bright, successful, responsible, and even religious men to stray.

References to the little brain taking over from the big brain are a little off base. What takes over is that portion of the big brain that drives the little brain below. Take the time to look at any of the science or nature programs dealing with the human brain, and the portions of the brain which come into play during certain activity, especially when survival is necessary.

Sex is about survival of the species. Sex is about procreation. Sex is about perpetuation of the species. It’s not about “I love you, and you love me.” That’s just pure hogwash, and if you believe that, you’re playing a game with yourself. Sex and the sex drive existed long before religion and moral authority decided to categorize it and define it.

(By the way, penetration is highly overrated. In theory, what a man is biologically hard-wired to do is to find a female to allow him to transmit his sperm, deliver that sperm effectively and efficiently, and then back off and move on to more important and logical pursuits. It’s the nature of the beast.)

When a man is one nanosecond away from insertion, he’s not thinking about his wife, loved one, or significant other. He may have been fifteen or twenty minutes prior thereto. But if all of the intervening hurdles have been negotiated, the probability of distraction increases exponentially. (By the way, the Discovery Channel periodically airs a beautiful piece on the Biology of Sex. It is well worth viewing.)

Have you ever noticed the absence of any academicians and scientists discussing marital infidelity on the news shows? Sure, you might occasionally see one dealing with the aftermath, and the negative ramifications, of which there are many. However, how can one solve or address a problem without fully recognizing the underlying causes?

One can not deny the influence of the human brain on human conduct. Check out history and see what happens to humans when they get desperate and are trying to survive. The portion of the brain that makes them behave like animals kicks in. Laura Schaefer is the author of Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor: The Best and the Worst of Personal Ads of All Time(http://books.google.com/books?id=lKd34O9ZBCoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Man+with+Farm+Seeks+Woman+with+Tractor%22&ei=k7K1SPKOF6fujAHasP07&sig=ACfU3U0Evxd0pKpZjdXduXX0VrtlsiDj5A#PPP7,M1). Although a comedic look at relationships, she does include some scientific evidence in her work to support her position that the male brain is a man’s largest sex organ:

“In males of several species, including humans, the preoptic area hypothalamus is greater in volume, in cross-sectional area and in the number of cells. In men, this area is more than two times larger than in women, and it contains twice as many cells. And what, say you, does this have to do with the horizontal mambo? Plenty. This area of the hypothalamus is in charge of mating behavior….This small structure connects to the pituitary gland, which releases sex hormones. So if your [boyfriend] wants to get intimate all the time and you feel like Ms. Low Desire, remember: You’re just experiencing normal, brain-based differences.”

Relative Absence of Offending Characteristics, and Presence: This too is all about hard-wiring. Every single human sense comes into play in the sexual act. It’s visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and on and on. It’s everything at play all at the same time. That’s why no one factor necessarily cuts the event short, unless it is overwhelming or acting in concert with another offensive factor. It’s like a coalition breakdown in the Israeli Knesset (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knesset).

The human body, controlled by the brain, is an amazing mechanism. We are hard-wired to avoid things that are dangerous, whether it be the heat of a fire, or the incredible stench of rotting tissue. The body naturally reacts. As a woman approaches, if the man continues to engage her in the approach, and if no offending characteristic or characteristics are so significant to make him come to his senses quickly, he is done for. If she repulses him, and even a beautiful woman can do this, the event is short-circuited, and the man shakes his head and returns to his senses.

As a general proposition, what men want in life is peace and comfort from a partner, not physical stimulation and intensity. They want to be backed up, not worked up. Support and team work are the keys.

A wise man once said that a man should never marry the woman with whom he has the best sex, or who he thinks is the most beautiful. Simply put, he won’t get anything done in life. He won’t be able to get out of the bed and go to work the next day. Come Monday morning, he’ll show up late and all sorts of negative crap will flow therefrom.

(By the way, this is barbershop confession material. Barbershops did a disservice to men when they started allowing female barbers to practice their trade in the same space. In the interest of equal treatment, perhaps there should be two sections in barbershops, one co-educational, and the other just for men.)

Basic Underlying Problems with Heterosexual Relationships in Modern Post-Industrial Societies

For a broader discussion of the how men and women fail to note the ways in which hard-wiring affects their interaction with one another, you are invited to re-examine an earlier article, Post No. 11 entitled, “The Human Hard Wiring Conundrum (Are We Truly a Higher Form of Animal)” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html ). The bottom line is that modern day men and women hook up for too many selfish and personal reasons, and forget the evolutionary and historical issues centered on survival. Heterosexual relationships are supposed to be about teamwork, and the exponential matrix of capabilities flowing from the pairing of two beings with different skills and ways of viewing the world to enhance the probability of survival, not dancing through the clouds in pretty clothes to pretty music.

That’s not to say that we haven’t done our fair share of dancing…. However, it’s a little difficult to bitch about one’s current state of affairs, if one does not take responsibility for one’s choices in life.

Probably the best line about love which we have heard is that “love is not two people staring into the eyes of one another, but rather both of them staring in the same direction together at the same time focused on the same goal.” To further complicate matters, if a relationship is primarily sexually based, the decrease in the stimulation and intensity will occur about as quickly as the increase, if not faster.

When men and women in modern post-industrial society finally realize that there are issues in society larger and more significant than themselves, their children, and the physical structures in which they live (and of relevance to the subject of this article, where a man places his weenie), then we will have made some progress as a society.

When couples feel that their relationship is about to disintegrate, they should consider jointly volunteering their time to an organization such as the AIDS Foundation, or a non-profit searching for the cure for Alzheimer’s disease. That’ll place things into perspective.

What Responsible Couples Can Do to Minimize the Probability of Being Traumatized by a Sexual Affair Hiccup

A man is not a dog, or a creep, or a jerk at the point of penetration alone. The disappointment felt by the woman, and the negative ramifications associated with the conduct are the result of a totality of conduct, each upon being viewed separately, might be considered small and perhaps even benign, but potentially problematic when taken together, especially in rapid succession.

So how does the Institute for Applied Common Sense, a body which advocates taking full and complete responsibility for one’s conduct, suggest that couple approach this potentially debilitating event? There’s a story which we often tell during our seminars which sets up the stage.

It’s Riverside, California several years ago. The clubs are closed and two teenage girls have been out partying. One of the girls has difficulty raising her cousin, and consequently calls 911. The authorities arrive to find the other teenager slumped in a stupor behind the wheel of the car after 2 am, but with a weapon in her lap.

At some point, there is some movement which suggests to the officers that their lives might be threatened. Shortly thereafter, in excess of 42 bullets have been spent shooting at the little girl. Of course, all of the civil rights advocates immediately starting yelling excessive force and police brutality.

However, we viewed the situation differently. We asked, “What were you doing there in that condition in the first place.” One committing an irresponsible act can’t exactly control the response of his loved ones, or expect the response to be one acceptable to the actor. So what you do, as Barney Fife would say, is to “nip it in the bud” early on in the sequence of events. Here’s what we suggest.

1. Do some reading in scientific and biological journals about human conduct and the brain. Watch the Discovery Channel, or National Geographic, or the Learning Channel for shows which explore such subject matter. Read some books discussing the latest research on the brain garnered from recent advances in brain scan research.

2. Recognize and respect Nature for what it is.

3. Immediately after you have that intense, passionate, out of control sexual experience early on in your relationship, have a conversation with your partner about the realm of possibilities as reflected in this article. Although we seriously doubt the conversation will take place prior to rolling on the kitchen floor, freaking out after the man has had the affair with the other woman is a tad bit untimely. So this is a compromise.

4. Perhaps most significantly, center your lives and the relationship, before kids are conceived or at least born, on something or some purpose that is bigger than you, your children, the physical home in which you live, and your personal possessions. When we discussed the generation of this article, The Laughingman responded as follows:

“While I admit that his wife’s cancer status is a complicating factor, on the larger issue, Mr. Edwards did nothing more than what Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King did some years ago, and I suspect for the same reason. What’s interesting is how so many people denigrate their wives for doing the Tammy Wynette, and standing by their men. There is actually something to admire about these heroic women who share the ideals of their spouses, and put aside their natural inclination to seek revenge, which would amount to throwing the babies out with the bath water. Here, here to those who can endure personal disappointment and embarrassment in the public eye, in the pursuit of bigger goals.”

5. Women should recognize that men primarily want peace. Men should recognize that women primarily want a sense of security, including knowing that they are special and number one.

6. Women should recognize that there is always another woman out there with comparable, even though qualitatively different, sexual and physical “talent.” In the same way that a woman manages to attract her husband, another woman can do the same. Consequently, there needs to be something unique and which makes a woman a keeper other than pure sex, as great as that may be perceived in the short term.

7. Continue to engage and stimulate each other intellectually - every single day. (There is perhaps nothing more depressing than to see a couple sitting at a table and not engaging in any type of conversation. We take that back, there is: when the non-communication is taking place in front of their children.)

8. Reduce sex, and particularly penetration, to the lowest point possible on your relationship priority scale. (Well, maybe during the week on school nights.)

We hope this helps. We realize that there is a lot of thinking required to absorb this. However, we can guarantee that there is very little thinking going on when the man is about to betray his woman’s trust and enter the twilight zone.

© 2008 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense


P.S. For those of you who managed to read this far, you may be interested in the follow-up posts to the original article, which were necessary to calm the storm which developed. The first is entitled, Addendum to Why Men Cheat, and the second is I Can’t Believe You Did That; Now That You Have….

Friday, May 6, 2011

Post No. 164a: Re-Posting of "Who Cares If It's Torture?"


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Earlier this week, Osama bin Laden was killed. By mid-week, various factions started debating whether our "enhanced interrogation techniques" played a significant role in locating the terrorist mastermind. We generated the following piece back in April 2009, and thought that a re-visit might be appropriate.


On most news issues, we don’t have an opinion.

At least, not immediately. We like to think stuff through.

In the case of this “torture” or “enhanced interrogation” debate, we definitely do not have an opinion.

Yet.

We don’t have enough concrete, credible evidence to competently form an opinion.

More importantly, we do not have first hand information.

Plus, it’s become difficult to decipher the “truth” from the media outlets.

At this point, affixing a label, to the purported conduct, may actually be little more than an academic exercise.

However, we do have some “observations.”

Many of our citizens feel that the methods employed were appropriate.

There is also a substantial segment which feels that they were not, at least for a civilized society.

Some apparently feel that the tactics worked, fulfilled a valuable function, and thus were “necessary,” whereas others disagree.

Yet, despite all of the dissection, few have really focused on the crux of the matter: Whether we are willing to embrace a “by any means necessary” philosophy to address a perceived threat.

This obviously is one amorphous, value-laden, context-driven, ball of Play Doh, moving like a Slinky down the Capitol steps.

There is nothing more unsettling to humans than the thought that we are capable of going to a place we consider unthinkable, although perhaps necessary. (Practice and frequency change all of that.)

It’s mentally akin to shooting a human for the 1st time, whether an intruder, or enemy soldier.

The reality is that at some point on the continuum, we’d all be willing to commit the ultimate act, or darn close to it, if we thought it “necessary,” and that the interests protected were significant enough.

Part of the problem is that it doesn’t matter whether something is actually a threat, but rather whether people think it is a threat, and reasonable people will differ on that.

All three Institute Fellows, the Optimizer, the Laughingman, and the Logistician, served in the armed forces during the Vietnam Conflict Era. Each learned to use weapons which kill, if necessary.

And efficiently.

We appreciate the concept of evil, and the concept of the “enemy.’

And yet, we’d all probably be far less likely to use torture, however defined, than 98% of you who have never served.

On the other hand, if we decided that it was necessary, we’d be at the front of the line, in the first 2%, to do it, efficiently, like Arnold, and move the freak on, with little yapping….

The History Channel and PBS recently aired programs documenting the inhuman treatment of Allied POWs in the South Pacific by the Japanese during WWII. Subsequently, we saw a discussion of the psychology of revenge.

Once it was clear that the Americans had won, and began to take Japanese POWs, our forces did some pretty despicable things. A U.S. journalist captured some of this on film. It was suppressed for years, and only recently disclosed.

We didn’t want the world to know that Americans could “go there.”

We need occasional reminding that fear can bring out the absolute freak in us.

And anger is frequently intertwined with fear.

Today, we witnessed the baptism of a young infant. Observing the congregation, we noted the serenity associated with that event.

All of us take on that glazed look when dealing with infants. We’re reminded of an era of innocence, when worries are nonexistent, and someone else has the responsibility of caring for us.

It’s a space to which many yearn to return - unrealistically.

Jack Nicholson reminded us, in “A Few Good Men,” that some force ensures that those of us on the home front, including that infant, sleep in peace and comfort through the night. (Funny that film should have taken place at Guantanamo.)

When we perceive a threat (especially one difficult to define and frame) is about to invade our zone of serenity, our willingness to “go there” becomes less objectionable.

We’re all located in different cars on the train that is the continuum as we approach that point.

That being said, perhaps we can do without labeling it torture or some other euphemism.

Perhaps no prosecutions, bloodletting, or rolling of heads.

We well understand the PR issues, and this desire to convey that America is the Mt. Everest of “high moral ground.”

However, that we live in a society capable of public introspection may be just good enough, for now, especially with other issues on our plate.

It’s what helps form the “collective conscience” that all societies need, but do not have.

The reality is that at the end of the day, all of us care.

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