Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post No. 180: They Really Must Think We’re Idiots; Maybe We Are

© the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Although lots of Baby Boomers participate in our forum, our primary target is college students. We write about personal responsibility. We Baby Boomers have screwed things up not only here in America, but globally, and hopefully today’s students will learn from our mistakes.

We try to expand the discussion about societal issues in a forum where there is civil discourse and an absence of personal attacks. Our hope is that the numbed youth of today will be able to develop more innovative, consensus-based solutions to societal problems, outside the OK Corral. After all, “There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27.™

Thirty minutes ago, we received 2 calls from campaigns. Today’s mail contained 6 pieces of campaign literature. Last week, we received 20 computer generated campaign calls (16 from the RNC and 4 from the Obama folks), and 2 live calls from Obama volunteers. We hung up on all of them, although we were hesitant to do so with the computer callers.

Back in January 2009, the Logistician and Inspector Clouseau argued that the projected $150 million price tag for Obama’s inauguration was excessive during an economic downturn. The Laughingman, however, felt that it was money well spent, and thus wrote, $150 Million Worth – On This Presidential Inauguration Day.

Last week, we were amazed to hear the campaigns of both presidential candidates were on pace to surpass $1 billion each. Days later, they announced they hit the jackpot – a combined figure of $2 billion (with a “b,” or perhaps a “B”).

We’re sorry. This has just gotten stupid, and ALL of us here agree on that.

We’ve done it to ourselves, and we do not seem able to control it. As one heavyweight contributor put it, “I do not like the role of money in our political system. However, as long as it is legal, I am going to contribute as much as I can to pursue my goals.”

Totally apart from the fact that we have two gunslingers showering each other with lead, as one WWII vet recalled in describing dead soldiers around him, “The bodies… [are] almost unrecognizable." We don’t really know who these men are, if ever we did. There are so many half-truths and lies, and distortions, and spins, and enough horse pucky to sink the land mass of North America to the center of the Earth.

And that’s not to mention we no longer know which media outlets report “the truth,” however defined, or profitably provide us with “reality-based infotainment employing the most lenient view of artistic license.”

What’s most troubling is that we buy the crap. All of us.

During the last election, CSpan aired a program where the author discussed the results of his or her research, revealing that 5-10% of Democrats, and 5-10% of Republicans, essentially debate and define the ideological constructs of each party. The vast majority of citizens in the U.S. have their lives dictated by the most active and vocal members of society, who also happen to be more privileged.

Then back in 2009, Rick Shenkman exposed us with, Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter.

We have long argued that we, individual citizens, got fat and lazy (Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered), and less involved, and let the Fat Cats do whatever they wanted to do. We abdicated our responsibilities as President Carter tried to tell us in July 1979, and now we’re bitching and asking, "Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” (It’s probably appropriate that we’re looking to a sports legend.)

They’ve gone to the Bank, silly boys and girls, while skipping and laughing all the way. While we minions debate the future of America and whether we’re still a World Power, a bunch of folks don’t really care (except from a philosophical perspective), because they and their families have sufficient food and supplies in their bomb shelters, after years of trading with our most prominent Communist adversary. (Thank God, we continue to whip the pus out of those Cubans.)

$2 Billion. Not only is there the expense; there is the lack of effectiveness of the things on which the money is being spent. We’re not the only folks hanging up on the robo-calls.

And so it’s up to you, the youth of today - the leaders of tomorrow.

Be sure not to follow our lead. We’re just self-absorbed Baby Boomers. Make sure you check in with the Greatest Generation, who grew up in the Depression. Their advice would probably be pretty sound right now. The Logistician’s 91 yr old Father claims, “If someone beat me over the head for 35 years, I probably would have had an operation by now, no matter how many Band-Aids and Krispy-Kremes they offered me in the for-profit, urgent care facility.”

How do you spell, “Constitutional Convention?”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Post No. 179a: Tornadoes, Earthquakes and Hurricanes, Oh My!

We first generated this piece last year when Hurricane Irene was wreaking havoc. This week, many states will feel the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. The same points we made with respect to Irene are arguably applicable to Sandy. Additionally, a significant earthquake shook folks up in Canada, with reverberations felt in the U.S. Fortunately, there was very little damage.

FEMA currently estimates that Sandy's wind damage alone will fall in the $2.5 billion to $3 billion range. It should be noted that as of the generation of this posts, 67 people have died.

© 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re not big fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. It seems to us that one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from their values. How else does one solve problems?

As the Laughingman often says, “If you think that every problem is a nail, a hammer becomes the only tool in your kit.” Some problems are screws, for which you might need a screwdriver, or two.

Despite this, any reasonable, thinking person would say that God does not approve of much going on in the United States these days, or of President Obama. Seriously.

AIR Worldwide, the catastrophic modeling firm, estimates that insured losses alone, for commercial, residential, and industrial losses following the severe thunderstorm activity in the U.S. in early 2011, will amount to $3.7 billion to $5.5 billion. That storm, under Obama's watch, lasted a mere 6 days in April. Imagine the figure for the entire year, stemming from God’s displeasure with our descent into socialism.

Earlier this week, a fairly significant earthquake shook Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas, sending the government’s work force scurrying for The Ark. The President, obviously prescient, was out of town on vacation.

But now, the heavily populated northeast looks like it may be battered by Hurricane Irene, which many expect to be of a force not seen in decades. Damage estimates in the range of $10 billion are already being made. This may prove to be Obama’s Katrina, God willing. The lines down at the New York City Harbor, where The Ark is currently docked, are reportedly getting pretty long.

There’s a message here somewhere. At least according to some. And of course, all of these so-called natural events can be traced directly to the President.

We are often reminded by the Optimizer of the celebrity who, during her campaign against homosexuality, claimed that God inflicted gays with AIDS as punishment for their wicked ways. And if you thought that the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright were a distraction for then-candidate Obama, you may have missed that one of John McCain’s spiritual advisers was John Hagee.

Hagee claims that God willed Hitler to kill the Jews, so that they would eventually return to Israel, thus hastening the 2nd coming of Christ. In one of his less controversial moments, he argued that Hurricane Katrina was an act of divine retribution due to the presence of homosexuals in New Orleans.

One need not be a celebrity or a televangelist to appreciate that natural forces are somehow related to God’s displeasure. Earlier this week in this part of the Bible Belt, we heard many a person laugh shortly after the tremors were felt in Washington and New York City. In their view, the domestic infidels were getting their due. They opined that citizens in large cities on the coastal shores have led lives justifying their exposure to this impending danger.

Once again, all of this is somehow related to the current Administration and our slide into socialism.

Either fortunately or unfortunately, there is an opposing camp. Back in January, just prior to the Super Bowl, we generated a post, God, Obama, and the Green Bay Packers. After reflecting on how championship athletes claim that God resides in their locker room, we told the story of a fellow who, after dismissing the travails of the Obama Administration, claims that Obama’s opponents will be surprised during the next Presidential election. Why? Because he knows that God is on Obama’s side.

We’ve been mulling this over all week, and we’re at a loss as to what parents (without a direct line to God) should tell their kids about the athletic team, the political party, the city or region, or the ethnic group that God supports.

We suspect that we should all get down on our knees and pray to our higher power this evening, before the full brunt of Mother (or is that Father?) Nature hits our fragile east coast (and our fragile national economy), and hope that God picks our team in the fantasy game.

When President Reagan, never at a loss for words, was being wheeled into the ER after the assassination attempt by Arthur Bremer, he reportedly looked up at the operating team and quipped, “I hope you’re all Republicans.“ The lead surgeon responded with a smile, “Yes Mr. President, today we’re all Republicans.”

We could use all of the players on the field being of the same team on occasion, or perhaps all having the support of the Lord.

Finally, there is one other thought that occurred to us this week, namely the difference between for-profit corporate entities in the private sector, and governmental entities. While we watched governors and the President speak of preparations for, and warn their constituents of, the impending storm, we observed the spending of millions of tax dollars to minimize the possible damage and the criticism post-Irene.

In the corporate world, the focus would be on risk assessment and management, insurance coverage, and probabilities. We could see a corporation reasonably examining the pattern of hurricanes over the past 50 years, and betting against the forecasters, by doing nothing.

That would never do in the public sector.

But we’re still having difficulty figuring out whether God supports governmental intrusion in our lives, which might be termed socialist in nature, or whether God supports limited government, lower taxes, and the functioning of the free markets without excessive regulation.

But as Tina Turner said, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post No. 179: Neither Republican, Democrat, nor Libertarian are We

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We try to stimulate thought, particularly among college students, by providing a forum where diverse ideas are discussed with a tone of civility. We hope the leaders of tomorrow will develop new ways to address societal issues. We also believe that if we individual citizens take more responsibility for our actions, societal problems will decrease in number and significance.

We try to walk down the middle of the road. We have all types of social, political, economic, and philosophical views here at the Institute. Each one of us has been a business owner with varying degrees of success. We’ve been solo, with mid-size firms, and with the big, bad bullies of industry.

Yesterday, President Obama joked that his opponent, Governor Romney, changes his position on issues for political expediency. He described the condition as “Romnesia,” and suggested the Governor has difficulty remembering past statements and positions.

While one might question a change of position over a period of weeks or even months, as business owners we understand someone changing or taking different positions over a period of years. Why? Because that’s what business owners and managers do in the economic theater – a different dance like Fred Astaire, depending on whether it is Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse.

On moral / religious / social issues, we understand why private citizens tend to stick to the same positions they held as grade school children, especially if there is some familial, religious, or community peer pressure.

One of the 27+ problems politicians have is trying to navigate a double black diamond slope with one economic snow ski, and one social ski, while shaking the hands of those on both sides of the Swiss-Italian border, and smiling for the camera.

Earlier this week, we heard a political ad where the candidate said he wanted the government off the backs of businesses so that they could “prosper.” We often joke that during good times, when we had numerous employees in branch offices, we were Republicans. Trying to deal with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the California Family Leave Act, complicated making a profit.

However, during the lean times while operating with few employees and struggling to survive, we were more likely to embrace Democratic positions. But then again, we aren’t politicians.

Recently, we’ve been thinking about the extent of government regulation we embrace, if any, or whether we want the government off of our backs entirely. We concluded that it is a complicated decision, and one not taken lightly. Consider the following:

(a) The contraction of salmonella from miniature turtles by young children. It appears that the Food and Drug Administration previously banned the sale of turtles less than a certain length because they are more likely to carry bacteria;

(b) A report revealing that 97% of on-line pharmacies are illegal in the U.S., and that many sell fake products;

(c) The outbreak of meningitis and resultant deaths as a result of contaminated vials of steroids produced by a Massachusetts compounding lab; and

(d) Seats on American Airlines Boeing 757 planes, which became loose during flights because of some fastening issues.

We had a heated discussion, resulting in fisticuffs, about whether the free market should be allowed to fully operate and industries be left alone to police themselves. Some argued that the civil legal system adequately addresses problems, and others suggested that there is a deterrent in the form of potential criminal prosecution, in the case of egregious conduct.

(Shortly after we started writing this post, we heard that a 4 mile oil slick was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, and efforts were being made to determine whether it was connected with the BP - Deep Water Horizon explosion several years ago.)

Republicans argue that “excessive” regulation discourages business investment, hurts profits, reduces jobs, and drives companies to other countries. Interestingly, non-politician CEOs throughout the U.S. claim they have jobs, but that American workers in those geographical areas where jobs are located are not qualified or properly trained.

Should government be involved in training or encouraging these prospective workers, or should the government stay out of that arena? Should government assist qualified workers in relocating, and leaving their families and homes to work in other regions where the jobs are?

Just yesterday, we heard that businesses and local community colleges are working in tandem to address staffing needs, and that billions in federal dollars are being distributed to community colleges to train workers in those regions where the businesses claim they have openings.

To what extent should government regulate or be involved in our lives? We suspect that it varies depending on the subject at hand, and the location of those affected. But there is a concept in life called a continuum.

One thing we know for sure – the amount of government regulation of businesses is not one, hard and fast, absolute position embraced by either political party.

Just imagine the captain of a ship in choppy waters being restricted in thought and action while navigating his ship across the Atlantic Ocean, with crew members criticizing his every move and decision. Yep - - That’s a boat that we want to be on….

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Post No. 178b: Article of Interest: “My Proof of Heaven”

During the early days of the maintenance of this blog, the Logistician asked our readers to suggest topics about which we could write posts. One of our Canadian friends suggested “religion,” which resulted in our May 2008 post, You Asked for Religion, You Get Religion (and Politics).

Although we have occasionally re-visited religious issues, such as in our November 2008 piece, Question to Ponder: Would Jesus Discriminate?, and in our March 2009 posts, Jesus Christ and the Democrats, and Jesus Christ and the Republicans, we do not often venture down the religious road. However, earlier this week, in the October 15, 2012 issue of Newsweek, we came across an article which we had to share with you.

In My Proof of Heaven, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander describes the journey he took, while in a coma, to the afterlife, and the things he experienced which he never thought possible.

©2012, Newsweek Magazine

“As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death.”

To review the remainder of the article, simply click here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Post No. 178a: Why the Presidential Debate Last Week was a Waste of Our Time

Why a waste of time? Because the candidates debated all around the issues that matter. We will not be able to solve problems in this country until we stop doing two things: (a) politicizing discussions simply to appeal to the emotional component of voters; and (b) suggesting that our problems can be addressed by simply implementing Policy A or Policy B.

We previously generated this piece under the title, "If Tin Whistles are Made of Tin, What are Credit Default Swaps Made Of?" We believe that the neglected issues discussed previously (at the height of our financial crisis) in this piece continue to be applicable to our current situation. It's time for us to get busy folks.

© 2009 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There’s a reason the Logistician likes the Laughingman. The Laughingman can reduce crap to its irreducible aroma.

We generally try to avoid taking sides in our discussions. It just doesn’t get us anywhere. No party or ideologue can legitimately lay claim to the concepts Common Sense and Personal Responsibility, both of which we try to weave into each original article posted.

Our goal is to get 95% of the heads nodding. Sometimes we get close. Others times, it’s a reach.

We recently sought topics from you, with the hope that we would all learn something new through the exchange, and take away something of value. Exasperated by all the barking about our economic situation, the Logistician posted the following comment on a number of blogs he frequents. His thoughts jived with the topic suggested by the Laughingman, and thus the title of this piece.

“We as a society, and as individuals, have to take responsibility for where we find ourselves today. By doing so, we might be able to turn this thing around.

“We have a tendency to forget the basic, big picture stuff, and then we complain when things deteriorate.

“Things on planet Earth are actually quite simple. (Gore Vidal once referred to us as the ‘United States of Amnesia.’ Perhaps we’re such a young nation, we haven’t fully learned to appreciate history.) Consider the following:

“1. Innovation and technology, leading to building and creating 'things,' determines EVERYTHING in a civilized society. (If you don't personally know a scientist or inventor in your neighborhood advancing society's interests, or some kid who WANTS TO DO SO, you have a long term problem.

“2. New technology, followed by the production of things using the technology, generates JOBS. The tax revenues derived from those technological enterprises determine what government ultimately can do. No innovation and no production of things - no tax revenues.

“3. The more hours that one works, the more one produces. (Up to a point, of course. We do not want people collapsing from exhaustion.) Exhaustion occurs way beyond 40, or even 60 hours a week for that matter. Take a break, and you run the risk of falling behind your competition.

“4. When a substantial segment of your society has to spend the vast majority of their time to cover the essentials, that segment isn’t particularly useful. It’s no different than the role played by mass agriculture in history. Food production has to be relegated to a few, so that the others can engage in the advancement of innovation and technology, and the trade and exchange of the products produced.

“5. The simplest way to reduce rising health care costs (and thus the health care component of our deficit)? Stop eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, smoking Camels, drinking Colt 45, and hit the treadmill. You'll see a dramatic improvement in health, and at a pretty low cost.

“6. Retirement (when workers still have talent and the ability to contribute) kills your society and generates other problems, especially when you shift tax revenue to people who sit on their asses for years. Capable people who work until the day they die are more productive members of society, physically and mentally. And, they feel that they have some value and stake in society.

“7. War is not a revenue generating enterprise. There are few positive ramifications. It’s a resource drain. It kills productive members of society (who could be inventing some stuff), and gets people pissed off at you.

“8. When you treat any segment of society unfairly, for whatever reason, they become less motivated, and less capable, to work in concert with you to pursue long-term societal interests. It makes more sense to have them voluntarily and emotionally 'buy into' your societal goals. They'll be more motivated .”

If one looks back in history, it’s clear that this is simply Common Sense.

A society which rationalizes its poor choices for too long a period of time is ultimately doomed. It might ride its success for a short period of time, but not for very long.

We, as a society, are ignoring all of the stuff that really matters. We're fooling ourselves while we engage in meaningless debates.

And wasting time.

It's like a boat sinking because of a leak, and the sailors are all arguing, while blowing tin whistles, about who’s responsible for the leak, and what mechanism to use to get the water out of the vessel.

If tin whistles are made of tin, what are credit default swap derivatives made of?

We’d like to know.

We also approached our current problems from a different perspective in another piece entitled, "Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered." Address the issues raised in these two pieces, and we will be on our way back to fiscal and societal stability.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post No. 178: 7 Seconds is not a Huge Chunk out of Your Day

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

While we typically eat in at our desks, yesterday proved to be such a spectacular day we decided to take a walk to a Mexican taco truck.

Shortly after starting our walk and as we turned the corner, a woman approached us. She was walking very briskly, with an upbeat, energetic attitude, apart from being rather attractive. Her opening salvo was simply, “Gentlemen, would you care to take one of my cards? I am a two – time cancer survivor.”

Despite her use of the salutation "gentlemen," we quickly concluded that she was speaking to us, since there were no other males in the immediate vicinity. Inspector Clouseau took the card and held it up so that we all could read it. On the front appeared the letters BBN, a radio dial number, and an invitation to listen to ALL CHRISTIAN RADIO. We promptly thanked her and kept walking anticipating the consumption of some barbacoa tacos. Our entire exchange lasted only 7 seconds.

However, within the next 7 seconds and while we were still reading the card, a businessman in his mid-40s overtook us. Although he had a brisk stride, he did not appear to be in a hurry. Our cancer survivor approached him and asked whether he would take a card, and before she could say anything further, he passed her saying, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”

The Inspector, having completed his exam of the card, stopped, turned around, and addressed our new friend with, “Young lady!” Several members of our group reminded him that we had a client coming in shortly, and that the taco truck might run out of tacos. “This won’t take long,” he said.

During the ensuing 25 minute conversation, we learned quite a bit about Eva, and her survival despite going through two marriages and having cancer. She went on to expound about how materially and spiritually blessed she was now.

While we watched the Inspector with a slight bit of irritation, he began by saying what struck him was that the man had neither the time nor the interest to even take the card. Eva did not ask for money, or additional time. More importantly, she did not proselytize. The Inspector reminded us all that she simply asked if we would take a card. Right after he said, “It occurred to me that...” she completed his sentence for him noting, “...by not taking the card, he might have missed out on something life-changing, or an opportunity of a life-time." The Inspector went on, “Who knows. He might have cancer one day and may benefit from a 7 second exchange with you.”

Eva matter-of-factly noted that she was 66 years of age, and had done some amazing things in her life. By now, the Laughingman and other members of our staff were more interested in what this lady had to say than the Inspector. One receptionist whispered under her breadth that Eva's hair, skin, and eyes looked so healthy, and that she was so vibrant and energetic, despite having dealt with cancer - twice.

Meanwhile, the Inspector asked the Optimizer to look at the flip side of her card. It read, “If I die tonight my soul will be in H_________ tomorrow morning.” The message on the card suggested that if the reader was unsure as to how to fill in the blank, they tune into the radio station. BBN stands for Bible Broadcasting Network.

The Optimizer went on to note that the businessman’s resistance to the mere receipt of Eva’s card was “unfortunate” and perhaps short-sighted since he stood to lose nothing, and potentially gain something. It reminded him of folks who discourage solicitors, purported junk mail, or ask to take their names off e-mail distribution lists. He exclaimed, “What if you get an extra e-mail here or there? Is it such a big imposition to simply delete it if you’re not interested?!”

The Inspector opined that on another level, it reminded him of the point he tried to make in civic organization meetings here in the South, about the reluctance of blacks and whites to actively and affirmatively engage their new Hispanic and Asian citizens, along with any other ethnic or cultural newcomers. “Or anyone who has a different point of view,” chimed in the Optimizer.

As we walked toward the taco truck, we saw Eva dash to engage another passerby. A member of our staff remarked that we just had an inspirational experience and met a remarkable woman. Someone observed that despite what appeared on the card, there was no mention of Jesus or God, and definitely no proselytization.

It’s amazing what can result from 7 seconds of engagement.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Post No. 177f: Re-Posting of "Does Anyone Have a Real Job Anymore?"

© 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Maybe we exaggerate, a little.

But as we watched the coverage of the slowly evolving Egyptian Revolution, we found everyone second guessing everyone else.

The President of the U.S. should do this. President Mubarak should do X. The prior administration should have done that. The monolithic student movement is doing Y, and the older citizens - this and that.

Finally, the neighboring Arab countries should do Z, T, U, M and B.

This cacophony prompted us to surf the media outlets to identify a consensus regarding what should be done and what is going to happen.

We had some difficulty.

At last count, we found 7,493 options available to the various factions and interested parties. This gives us some appreciation of the complexity of it all.

However, something else occurred to us, just with respect to the American talking heads.

First of all, with few exceptions, few of us (the Fellows of the Institute included) have even a modicum of understanding of the culture in that part of the world, and yet so many of us have become experts over night.

Second, somehow we think that we can influence the actions of President Mubarak, despite having so much difficulty just getting Osama bin Laden to answer our phone calls.

Third, the situation in Egypt is so fluid that even the great engineering firm of da Vinci, Newton, and Bernoulli would have difficulty keeping track of it.

Just a few minutes ago, we received a breaking news e-mail from the Washington Post claiming that the Obama Administration is on the defensive because of President Mubarak’s defiance, and refusal to take a permanent trip to France.

(BTW, what’s with Baby Doc returning to Haiti? Anyone having visited Grasse, France, will tell you that it is Nirvana, not to mention close to the beaches of Cannes.)

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to realize that we do not know how to solve every problem in the Universe, and that there are some issues beyond our control as a nation.

But something else bothered us last evening. When we examined the 4,678 talking heads expressing the 7,493 different options, we noted that only 3 of them had real jobs, and they weren’t talking.

Well, maybe another exaggeration. But here’s our point.

If we had more things to do (namely, real jobs) in our country, we wouldn’t have as much time to weigh in on the problems of other countries, nor would we have what seems to be a virtual, 24 hour army of talking heads.

As soon as the great prognosticators started talking about our economy transitioning into a service economy from a manufacturing economy, we began to get concerned.

Call us Neanderthals, but in our view, servicing others only lasts as long as the people or entities we service have a desire to purchase our services, and more importantly, money to pay us.

Just take a look at all the free services provided in our economy. Many of the incredibly innovative web sites on the Internet are provided at no cost, while the owners have to beg for advertising revenue.

Our food is increasingly being grown in other countries. The Chinese are no longer leasing natural resource real estate in Third World countries, but buying the property outright. And we don’t need to talk about American manufacturing prowess.

It has gotten to the point when one asks an American what he or she does for work, after they provide their job title, one has to follow up with 27 questions to really figure out what they do – on a part-time basis.

The Logistician, still working on his doctorate at a samba school in Rio, once got in trouble while running the orientation of community college students in the Southeast. He gratuitously noted that too many black folks spend their time performing landscaping and fixing other black folks’ hair.

His point was that the segment of the population needing landscaping and hair care services was not growing, and that too many people entering the field would lead to a glut of workers. He was simply encouraging the potential students to think ahead, about jobs that might be in higher demand, and require more technical expertise.

Needless to say, there was one very vocal young lady in the room who flipped on him. He later discovered that it was her life long goal to be a cosmetologist. He now realizes that he should have encouraged her to become a news commentator on Fox News, or MSNBC.

Because that’s where the opportunities are; at least in America.

Inventing stuff, finding cures for diseases, and making stuff is way too labor intensive.

We’ve somehow figured out that we should outsource that to the Chinese.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Post No. 177e: Re-Posting of "The Dangers Associated with Being Peculiar"

© 2008 and 2012, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a professional association at a high end resort in Florida. An incredible buffet dinner was scheduled for one evening, to which everyone was looking forward.

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

Upon my arrival, everyone inquired as to why I was so late. When I informed them that I felt compelled to watch two episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, they all howled with laughter.

Their laughter grew even louder when I mentioned that, in my opinion, one could learn more about life from that show than perhaps any other show on television. (Interestingly, my Father tells me that it was also the favorite show of my Mother, who passed away at a relatively early age.)

I saw an episode of the show yesterday, which reminded me of the manner in which this simple show, about life in small town America, has provoked many a thought throughout my lifetime.

It was the story of Ed Sawyer, a clean-cut, well-groomed stranger who arrives in Mayberry. Throughout the episode, Ed is always dressed in a conservative business suit, articulate, respectful, polite, and there is nothing visually alarming about him. In fact, he could be the poster boy for virtually any All-American organization or movement.

The first scene in the episode unfolds as Ed enters Floyd’s barbershop, where Barney Fife is in the chair getting a shave. Several other citizens, including Andy, are also present.

Ed engages them all in a pleasant, upbeat conversation, calls them each by name, and exhibits a degree of familiarity which causes the shop’s occupants to become uncomfortable. As he leaves the shop, all heads turn to follow him down the street, and they all exit to watch his next move. Almost immediately, there is a suggestion by Barney that Andy commence an investigation of this suspicious and “peculiar” stranger.

As Ed proceeds down the sidewalk, he encounters a double baby stroller parked in front of a store, where the mother is looking through the shop window. Ed greets the two twins, their mother, and then poses questions which suggest that he can distinguish between the two boys at this early stage in their development. The suspicions grow.

Ed next proceeds to the local rooming house, and when offered one room, he declines because of an incident which had occurred in the room, arguably about which few would have known. Although he has never stayed at the rooming house, he then proceeds to request a specific room, by number, which although green in color, has a cheerier d├ęcor.

At this point, Barney is beside himself, and inquires whether Ed speaks German. Fortunately, Andy, the voice of reason, intervenes and initiates a conversation more normally associated with welcoming a visitor to one’s town. At the same time, Andy poses a number of questions in an effort to get to know this fellow better, since he is also experiencing some degree of discomfort, although unarticulated.

Later that afternoon, Ed approaches Andy and seeks his advice and assistance. It appears that the local gas station is up for sale, and Ed is considering buying it. Andy suggests that perhaps Ed might be moving a tad too quickly, and that he should take the time to get to know the townspeople a little better.

He further suggests that the town’s citizens might regard Ed’s sudden emergence on the scene as “peculiar,” without some “warming up.” (By the way, I learned the word “peculiar” from this show, which was used with some frequency on episodes airing in the 1960’s.)

Ed then segues into how much in love he is with Lucy Matthews, who he has never seen. However, he is familiar with all of her physical attributes, and he inquires of Andy as to why she does not answer his calls and knocks on her door. Lucy soon walks in to lodge a complaint, to which Ed responds that she is just as pretty as he suspected. It is at this point that Andy feels, as the town’s sheriff, he must get to the bottom of this behavior, since it threatens to disturb the town’s peace.

Ed admits that his behavior might strike some as odd, but provides a very plausible, if not immediately obvious, explanation. Ed explains that Joe Larson, a long-time resident of Mayberry, was an Army buddy. While serving together, Joe received the local Mayberry newspaper, and Ed found himself reading the paper on a daily basis.

As time moved on, he began to feel that he “knew” the citizens about whom the articles were written. He further explains that over time, he began to envy Joe, because Joe was from Mayberry, a place that Ed admired, and Ed was from, well, “Nowhere.”

Ed further explains that over time, he began to wish that Mayberry was his hometown, and he eventually convinced himself that it was. When he saw the ad in the paper that the service station was up for sale, he regarded it as an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

After Ed leaves the courthouse / jail, Barney rushes in and proclaims that Ed has finally “overplayed his hand.” When Andy inquires as to what Barney is referring, Barney states that Ed has been hanging around Lucy Matthews’ house and actually crossed the line by ringing her bell.

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween for ringing doorbells unnecessarily.

He further exclaims that Ed doesn’t even have the excuse of being out for trick or treat. Deputy Fife then inquires as to whether Ed speaks Spanish.

Of course, Ed’s efforts to integrate himself into the community go terribly wrong. That’s even after Andy makes everyone feel pretty small and provincial after facetiously suggesting that they all were justified in their prejudicial attitudes toward this stranger, just because he was an unknown, peculiar, and somewhat different.

Ed realizes that this really isn’t the place for him, and leaves. And the town lost a potentially energizing and illuminating individual.

This 40 plus year old episode of the Andy Griffith Show made me think of several things this weekend. First, the power of the visual media came to mind, along with its potential to expand the minds of its viewers, particularly young viewers, as well as its power to narrow.

Second, it reminded me of the 30 year period when I lived in Southern California, and I interacted with all sorts of people of different races from different parts of the world. Virtually everyone was a stranger. Upon returning to North Carolina, despite the fact that North Carolina is the number one state in terms of percentage increase of Hispanics, I noticed the lack of interaction between whites and blacks on the one hand, and Hispanics on the other. Asians operate many mom and pop businesses in the black parts of town, but the social interaction ends there.

At several public meetings in my hometown, I have mentioned that despite what one may think of our immigration policies, many immigrants are here, and we need to engage them and integrate them into our society, with the goal of deriving the best that we can from their involvement. Each time I have broached the subject, many citizens in the room have lowered their heads and looked at the floor without responding.

In recent months, I have tried something different. Every time I have encountered Hispanics, I have taken the initiative to walk up to them and start a conversation. Each time, without fail, they have been pleasant folks and almost ecstatic that someone outside of their group took the risk to engage them. It has always been a rewarding experience, although guarded it may have started.

Third, this episode also struck a chord when I learned of Senator’s Obama’s reference earlier this week to the efforts of his opponents to label him as different, and thus necessarily something that we should fear.

Our fear of the unknown, caution, and prejudice, even that racially based, appear to be hard wired to ensure survival and ease of negotiation in a complex world. But we also have a bigger brain which should enable us to think and reason beyond our biggest primal fears.

Some criticism has been leveled against the Andy Griffith Show over the years because of its conspicuous absence of blacks in a show based in a southern city. However, Andy Griffith himself sure made up for that during the airing of his Matlock series.

Be that as it may, my hat is off to the Andy Griffith Show, and particularly its writers, particularly considering the era in which the show was first viewed. Perhaps more of you will have the opportunity to view the Ed Sawyer episode before the upcoming presidential election.

© 2008 and 2012, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Friday, September 14, 2012

Post 177d: Re-Posting of "Great Expectations or Low Expectations"

We originally generated this piece roughly 19 months ago, at the time of the Arab Spring "revolutions" in the Middle East. In light of recent events in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt following the online distribution of a film critical of the Prophet Mohammed, we thought that a review of our earlier thoughts might be appropriate. © 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We, here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense, don’t claim to be the sharpest knives in the drawer.

But as the Laughingman often reminds us, “Doing the right thing is not rocket science™,” which is typically followed by, “Common sense ought to be a way of life™.”

In our last post, What the U.S. Deserves, we argued that the individual citizens of any nation might consider taking more personal responsibility for the state of their nation, and place less responsibility and blame on those who they consider to be their “leaders,” elected or not.

Also, in light of the current turmoil in Egypt, we suggested that Egyptians might learn something from America’s experience with that great experiment, still ongoing, called democracy.

Apparently we did a poor job of making our points, since a number of you questioned what we thought the Egyptians might learn from us. Some even felt that it was presumptuous on our part, if not downright condescending, to suggest that a culture of more than 5,000 years could learn anything from one around less than 1/10 of that time.

But in the same way as parents can learn from their children, the current version of this ancient culture, however defined, can still learn something from Michael Jackson and the New Kids on the Block.

There are many, including some prominent historians, who consider Chicago to be the optimal American city. Although not without its warts, it is frequently said that “Chicago gets things done,” and has many things about which to be proud.

Those historians placing the Windy City at the top of their lists claim that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow should be considered one of the great Founding Fathers of this modern city.

By kicking the lantern in his owner’s barn on October 8, 1871, he provided the citizens of Chicago with an opportunity to rebuild, and start afresh. In many instances, the old, the questionable, and the undesirable were instantly destroyed (admittedly not by choice), and in their place the citizens (and many outside of the city) pursued cutting edge, idealistic projects.

These included not only physical structures embodying the latest engineering and architectural thinking, but also grand sociological and artistic experiments in pursuit of Utopian society.

And thus our first point, although poorly stated, was that this presents the Egyptian people with an opportunity to rebuild. And, in the event that the end result of this human revolution is some form of “democracy,” perhaps they can avoid some of the mistakes that America has made during its democratic life.

Democracy comes in many forms, and based on our experience, it can be quite messy. To quote David Letterman, “It is nothing if not constantly evolving.”

Our second point, also admittedly poorly stated, was that perhaps instead of 1,573 leaders emerging from the ashes of this event, the Egyptians might strive to have at least 157,300 of them.

A friend once shared with us that while in high school, he was forced to read two books which would have an impact on his view of the world. The first was Charles DickensGreat Expectations, a novel about growth and personal development, including the themes of class and ambition.

The second, much more modern and much less known, was Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age. As compelling as some might find the title, the subtitle is even more revealing – The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools.

Death is the story of how low expectations of the black kids, on the part of the teachers and administrators in the school system, became self-fulfilling prophesies.

When one expects little, one generally gets little.

When one expects more, one generally gets more.

It’s just as simple as that. Just plain old common sense.

And that’s not only applicable to what we expect of others, but also to what we expect of ourselves. It’s been said that one of the great problems in the Middle East is that so many of the youth, who constitute such a large percentage of the population, are not only unemployed, but have no sense of the future being better than the present.

We, the inarticulate minions here at the Institute, hope that this cauldron will result in a nation with a much higher percentage of its citizens constituting the Creative Class and taking responsibility for its fate, than has been the case here in America in recent years.

P.S. We’re not through with this subject yet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Post No. 177c: Re-Posting of "Monkey See; Monkey Do"

In light of the attacks on United States' embassies and consultates in Northern Africa within the past 24 hours, we thought that we would re-post the following piece. Readers might also recall the furor generated several years ago following the publication of a cartoon in a Danish publication depicting Mohammed which many in the Muslim world considered disrespectful. © 2011 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Not long ago, a friend of the Institute sent us this story from a major news source:

Beverly Hills Police officers responded last evening to a collision involving a single vehicle at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. The driver and passenger were killed. As police examined the wreckage, a little monkey came out of the brush and hopped around the crashed car.

One of the officers looked at the monkey and said, "I wish you could talk."

The monkey looked up at the officer and nodded and raised his head up and down.

"You can understand what I'm saying?" asked the officer.

Again, the monkey picked his head up and down.

"Well, did you see this?"

"Yes," motioned the monkey.

"What happened?" asked the Officer.

The monkey made a gesture as if he had a can in his hand and turned it up by his mouth.

"They were drinking?" asked the officer.

The monkey’s head movements indicated another "Yes."

"What else?" said the Officer. The monkey pinched his fingers together and held them to his mouth.

"They were smoking marijuana?"

The monkey shook his head again indicating, "Yes."

"What else?"

The monkey then made a kissing motion.

"They were kissing, too?" asked the astounded officer.

The monkey again nodded affirmatively.

"Now wait, you witnessed your owners drinking, smoking, and kissing before they wrecked?"

The monkey shook his head vigorously providing another "Yes" response.

"And what were you doing all of this time?"

"Driving," motioned the monkey.

This unfortunate incident reminded us of the potential risks associated with monkeys seeing other monkeys doing dangerous things.

While Common Sense might be relatively simplistic (and capable of being appreciated by monkeys), and frequently merges with Personal Responsibility, there are times when Personal Responsibility is a far more complicated and nuanced concept, depending on the environment and the monkeys involved.

In prior posts, we spoke of the need on the part of some individuals to be right, rather than accurate. Today we shift from being right to having rights.

There’s a “rights” story out there that’s been gnawing on our peanuts for the past couple of weeks. And while many had much to say about the potential threat in the months leading up to the story, once the threat was actually consummated, there were very few American political leaders who had much to say.

Perhaps it received so little attention in the media due to other more pressing stories, such as the Japanese nuclear radiation risk, the potential shutdown of the U.S. government, and our involvement in Libya. Or maybe most regular citizens just didn’t care once the act occurred.

We’re talking about Terry Jones, the Pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, who, in 2010, threatened to burn Korans to mark the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

When he initially made the threat, virtually everyone came out of the woodwork, out of fear that the ensuing fire would engulf their abodes, or real estate projects in which they had invested. But after faking us out with a song and dance alongside a organ grinder and suggesting that he had realized the folly of his ways, on March 21, 2011, the Good Reverend conducted a mock trial (consisting primarily of members of his congregation as jurors), after which he went through with the burning.

Unfortunately, the burning of the books may have been a factor in the attack shortly thereafter on a United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which left at least 30 people dead, and as many as 150 injured, following 5 days of rioting.

No one will ever be able to prove, with any degree of certainty, whether the exercise of the Good Reverend’s right to express his views was a contributing factor to the bloodshed. But we were surprised at the paucity of coverage of the event by the media, and by how little our political leadership in this country had to say about the burning, and its possible ramifications.

Particularly those in American society who generally argue so forcefully against burning anything which they value.

(Although we do not have any empirical evidence to support this, our guess is that Kobe Bryant received more press accusing a pro basketball referee of being related to Liberace.)

Maybe we were all afraid that some other monkeys out there might repeat the show, and that others might try to imitate the original.

Or perhaps it made some of us actually realize that the exercise of our individual rights might not always be the most responsible thing to do, depending on the environment and the parties (or monkeys) involved.

"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"™