Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Post No. 182c: The Eighth Deadly Sin

© 2010 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

We recently contacted the Logistician (an Institute Fellow), still on sabbatical in Brazil, just to check up on him. We asked him what he considered to be the most significant difference between Brazil and the United States.

“There is almost a total lack of fear here," he said. "The folks will do virtually anything and engage virtually anyone.”

Interestingly, we have been thinking a lot about the concept of fear over the past few months, with all of the yelling and screaming going on about where this country is headed. We’ve come to recognize it as a very powerful and potentially destructive force.

Prior to moving to the East Coast, the Institute was based in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from UCLA. During the late 1980’s, a dramatic shift, in the ethnic make-up of the student body at UCLA, began to take place.

The number of first generation immigrant students, whose education was financed by parents in another part of the world, began to grow. It was not unusual to see them walking down the streets of Westwood wearing facial masks to deal with the air pollution and whatever other airborne “diseases.”

They walked in groups of 4, 5, or 6. On occasion, upon encountering a native-born American, the group members would shift 3 or 4 feet off the sidewalk, and turn their heads 90° as if to avoid being contaminated by the approaching figure.

When we first encountered this, we were puzzled, particularly since many cities in their native countries were far more densely populated, with lots of pushing and shoving and bodies touching. Thus, we wondered about the basis for the reaction.

We also knew plenty of native born American citizens of the same ethnic origin, who did not behave similarly, and who were truly integrated and engaged members of California society.

We entertained the possibility that it was fear of strangers and the unknown, and we became concerned, since a fear of any group of people, concept, or person results in a lack of engagement.

Many are familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Wikipedia, they constitute “…a classification of the most objectionable vices that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen humanity’s tendency to sin." The final version of the list consists of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

Although we here at the Institute do not claim to be learned theologians, or duly appointed disciples of Jesus, there is an argument to be made that fear, particularly the fear of engagement, should be added as the eighth deadly sin.

(Arguably, if one really has faith in God, follows the dictates of his or her religion, and legitimately considers oneself a child of God, then one should not fear anything or anyone but God.)

Tangentially, a failure to engage stemming from fear, can also lead to a failure to understand, which can lead to anger – one of the more unproductive activities in which one can engage, about which we previously expressed our thoughts.

In the view of the Logistician, there is a pragmatic, socio-technological reason to eliminate fear of others, leading to engagement – a society efficiently and effectively gets the best out of the highest proportion of its people.

The Roman Empire contributed significantly to the development of western civilization, which some consider to be the greatest contributor to humankind thus far. Through its assembly (admittedly by force in many instances) and assimilation of divergent cultures, the cross-cultural benefits were exponential in nature.

When those using a particular type of plow used in Country X, engaged those from Country Y, and then those from Country Z, the resultant plow was better at performing the task of tilling the soil, than any of the previous individual plows.

When the Institute moved to the southeast region of the country, the influences of the traditional Caucasian and African-American cultures were observable and palpable. However, the people in the region almost seemed to be in denial about the rapidly increasing Hispanic and Asian communities.

To constructively deny the existence, through lack of engagement, of a significant segment of your community, is a waste of human resources, and a missed opportunity.

And what does this have to do with Personal Responsibility about which we harp so frequently?

It seems to us that if one considers oneself to be a positive, upstanding, responsible contributor to the community, and a citizen of God’s Universe, (regardless of what Stephen Hawking might say), then part of Personal Responsibility requires us to affirmatively engage those who we do not know, do not understand, and those with whom we have philosophical, cultural, ethnic, social, and other differences.

It just seems like the responsible thing to do….

[Editorial Note: We obviously used some "artistic license" in referring to Henry David Thoreau.]

Friday, November 16, 2012

Post No. 182b: Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS

Earlier this morning, news media outlets reported that BP (aka British Petroleum) has agreed to massive fines in connection with its April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. The resultant oil spill had a dramatic effect on those areas surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. We generated this article shortly after the accident. Criminal charges are still being pursued against various individuals associated with the human, economic, and environmental damages flowing from the incident.

© 2010 and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Yesterday, C-Span aired Tuesday’s Senate hearings in connection with the Gulf of Mexico oil “spill,” which is still spilling.

It was interesting to watch the corporate representatives, including the CEO of BP America, perform mental and legal gymnastics in responding to the questions. The world watched as Senators, on both sides of the aisle, posed questions reflecting their incredulousness that this “disaster” even occurred.

While we were impressed with the tap dancing on the part of the spokespeople, we were more impressed with the political savvy of the Senators. President Obama was justifiably incensed at the multi-lateral finger pointing going on, but, we submit, for all the wrong reasons.

We’re willing to bet, and even invest some money in the derivative ultimately crafted, that in the years to come (be it 10, 50, or 100), (1) “accidents” of this type will continue to occur, (2) the companies involved will be no more prepared to deal with them and their consequences, and (3) Senators investigating future accidents will continue to fake their incredulousness that such “accidents” still occur.

Many things in life have less to do with people or the humans who happen to exist at any given point in time, and more to do with the structure or organization within which they function.

We here in America, for a variety of psychological, historical, legal, and systemic reasons, have a “perverted” sense of “corporate responsibility.”

First of all there really is no such thing as “corporate responsibility.” In America, if a corporation screws up, it’s generally going to pay. Being a responsible corporation or a good corporate citizen is only pursued to enhance the bottom line. The consequences of the screw-up are generally based on the particular screw up, and even punitive damages can’t be avoided by a “good corporation.”

Second, those Senators asking questions are pretty savvy. They are well aware that a corporation is a legal fiction. They also know (although you might have difficulty believing it considering the way they run the government) that in conducting business, the goal of that entity is to generate profits in order to stay afloat.

Third, and most important, every corporate decision is made in an effort to maximize profits, and is theoretically an educated and calculated guess. However, the reality is that some of the guesses are going to be wrong. Corporate management knows, and the Senators should know, this dirty little secret.

The rest of society apparently does not.

And so we dump on corporations when there is a screw-up, accuse them of mismanagement and devious, under-handed activity, and then slap our jaws and drop our mouths with our eyes all bugged (like the kid on Home Alone), when the 27th screw-up occurs.

A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Repeat: A corporate entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human.

Even though humans run corporations, corporations are separate and apart from humans, somewhere between a human and an inanimate object.

Whereas a human will occasionally make a judgment call against his or her personal interests in pursuit of other goals (like unprotected sex with a stranger), rarely will a corporate entity do so because it is not really its money. It's not even the money of the folks managing the company, at least in the case of a publicly traded corporation.

It is the money and interests of others, the shareholders, which are at risk, not that of the decision makers.

It makes for a unique dynamic.

As a result, fines, penalties, and lawsuits (which are quantifiable and really only about money, not lives) have to be figured into the economic mix as necessary evils.

An entity may try to minimize them, or even delay them if possible, but they know that they are always just around the corner. Corporate management recognizes this for what it is.

They keep this in mind when they're engaged, and then walk away from it and try to live a human life.

Speeches, press conferences, hearings, investigations, fines, and lawsuits, are all perversions designed to distract us from really getting to the root of the matter. Talk about irresponsibility.

If you really want to know what’s going on, talk to the bean counters. It’s all about probabilities and risk management. It’s not about humans, wild life, or the environment.

It’s about time that we recognize that, and then get on with the business of trying to reduce, not eliminate, such “accidents” from happening in the future.

Corporations are not human. They can't be. It's an inherent conflict of interest.

If they don’t make enough in the way of profits, they will not have any put away for a rainy day, or be able to respond to the fickle changes in consumer tastes.

And as they pass through St. Peter’s bankruptcy gates, we’ll accuse them of mismanagement and sleeping at the switch.

And that ain’t no BS.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post No. 182a: Adults Flying with Minor Children Should Put On Their Masks First - Something for Embattled Public Figures to Consider

During the course of the 4-1/2 years that we have maintained this blog, numerous public figures have found themselves in trouble for one reason or another. If what we have to say in our posts even remotely comes close to being common sense, and legitimately assists in formulating some standard of personal responsibility for our target audience of college students to consider, there ought to be consistent application of the principles discussed over time. Whatever we have to say should not apply to just some, and not others, to Republicans, and not Democrats, to women, and not men, and ....

This week, it is Gen. David Petraeus. Before the week is over, it may be others. Although this post was originally written with elected officials in mind, we believe that the discussion is also applicable to any prominent public figure in government.

© 2009, 2011, and 2012, 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 now be 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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post No. 182: The Morning After – Part 2: Where We Think the Republicans Went Wrong in 2012

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We constantly re-visit posts to see if our views change. Although we occasionally find grammatical mistakes, the underlying thought process generally remains the same.

There is one post we never re-visited, and we are not going to do so now. It’s irrelevant. That post, The Morning After, was written hours after Obama was elected the first time.

On the other hand, there is an article we re-visit far more than others. It accurately outlined what we expected Obama to face in the event he was elected in 2008. Why I am Concerned that Obama Might Win (October 25, 2008), noted that the global economy was in bad shape, predicted it would continue for years, and that Obama would be blamed for not pulling the U.S. out of the economic doldrums quickly enough.

That was a no-brainer, but we re-posted that fluff piece 28 times, and each time a bunch of people exclaimed, “Amazing!”

Politicians, like lawyers on corporate payrolls, are necessary evils and part of our current governance model. But politicians have a significant problem apart from trying to act like money does not influence their decisions. In the real world, to solve problems it is far more efficient and effective if one’s analysis in addressing them is a thing apart from one’s values. Just imagine an ER doctor taking into consideration whether the patient was at fault before providing treatment, or how much money he or she will make if the patient lives or dies. Unfortunately, politicians have the dual, often conflicting, goals of defining what they stand for (depending on who they’re talking to), and ultimately getting re-elected.

Many Republicans are already heading down the wrong road today as they emerge from last night's limousine, caravan pile-up. They claim their message and mission are still on point; implicitly suggesting they were “right” all along, but that they picked the wrong driver for their vehicle.

Actually, Romney could have been the right man, and probably would have been in an earlier version of the Party. Our sense is that he is a good and decent man, with nothing but the best interests of our country at heart. Additionally, America could really use a business-oriented technocrat right now.

However, truth be told, the man never was as extreme or angry as the loudest elements of his Party wanted him to be. The most vocal and angry members of his Party out-shouted the thinking members.

This is a preview of our common sense presentation to the RNC on where the Republicans went wrong, and what they need to do to get back on track:

(1) You threw everything in the kitchen sink plus all of the crap in the outhouse at Obama. By doing so, you lost credibility with sensible folks, and your message became, per Marvin Hagler, “odiferous.” (College students simply held their noses.) If your positions on a few key issues were really that strong, you didn’t need all of the other stuff, or the Donald Trumps of the world.

Last week, someone sent us a chart outlining “Almost Every Obama Conspiracy Theory Ever.” The visual representation overwhelms you. It did not matter whether every single allegation was true. The President is an Incompetent, Dangerous, Treasonous Retard Side Show ™ was simply “over the top,” suggested something kooky was going on, and more importantly, unnecessary.

(2) The relatively small, extreme, fringe elements of your Party high-jacked the larger Party, in much the same way as the relatively small, extreme, fringe elements of Islam have high-jacked their religion. The Democrats also have such folks, but they shut the muck up. Your problem was that heretofore sensible, thinking members of your Party joined the fringe chorus, because they thought it was their ticket to Disney World. As the Laughingman often says, “If you think that hitchhikers you pick up are going to pay for all of your gas, you’ll probably never reach your destination.”

The Party needs to expel the kooks and extremists. Right now, there is no other club where they can hang out. Take some of that Koch Brothers / Super PAC money and build a third club house, where the bigots and narrow-minded can go party. They are pulling you down, in very much the same way Islamic terrorists are hurting their religion.

Deep down inside, your Party as presently constituted scares not all, but many, thinking people.

(3) The leadership of your Party abdicated responsibility and went on the road with The Fringe Circus. That suggests you don’t really have any leaders. It looked more like a revolutionary movement. Someone needed to take control, show some non-kooky qualities, and get the ship out of the rough seas. No one did that. The Good Governor didn’t want to do that. That’s not who he is.

(4) Our last point is the same one we made in October 2008. Economists predict another 5 – 7 years of economic sluggishness, GLOBALLY. Your Party asked us to believe that one man was supposed to turn around this giant ship in the middle of the ocean after both Parties had charted the same route for 30 or so years, AND you expected us to ignore all of the past trips where you collected bounty.

In 2016, you need to clearly articulate that your solutions will yield (not would have yielded) better results than those achieved during the preceding 8 year period, without making it seem as though you are the Virgil Starkwells of the economic world, who want to Take the Money and Run.

Quite frankly, the middle class never really believed that you cared about them.

You just looked greedy and disingenuous.

This is not to suggest that Democrats do not have significant comparable problems; just that they proved to be the lesser of the 2 evils this time around.

To the RNC Chair-Person [?], you need some new image consultants for the next round. We here at the Institute will gladly assist you, at a rate 1/1000th of what you were paid by your largest campaign contributor. Give the Koch Brothers our telephone number.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Post No. 181: The Most Deadly Mental Illness in America

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We’re not fans of CBS’ 60 Minutes, because we’re not fans of folks who let their values dictate their thought processes. In our view, one’s analysis of issues ought to be a thing apart from one’s values. For us, the presentation of news ought to be as value free as humanly possible. The 60 Minutes folks rarely ask the logical, follow-up question in the pursuit of balance.

But last night was different. First Senators Harry Reid (Democrat) and Mitch McConnell (Republican) sat side by side while being interviewed. They provided their views as to the source of gridlock in Congress. Nothing new came out of the discussion; however, we gained some perspective through the second guest.

David McCullough is an award-winning American historian who has written numerous books, including those on Presidents Adams (John), Lincoln, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Truman. He was initially interviewed in his 8’ x 10’ office in the back of his Cape Cod home, where we saw him hunting and pecking on a turn–of-the-last century manual typewriter. When asked why he preferred the relic over a computer, he quipped, “I don’t like to hit a button and see a month’s work disappear.”

Per McCullough, despite complaints today there is nothing new about extreme partisanship and personal attacks. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, national candidates branded each other thieves and common criminals. One even accused his opponent of being a hermaphrodite. (Fortunately, we did not have cameras, or we suspect that the foundational photo would have gone viral.)

The Good Historian also reminded us that there is nothing new about a country feeling it is in a state of decline. While he was a kid, McCullough’s Father always voted Republican. Following the election of Truman in 1948, his Father was absolutely certain the U.S. would become a third-rate power.

Years later, the Elder McCullough would quietly say, “I sure wish we had old Harry back….”

Upon leaving Cape Cod, instead of moving the camera to Washington, the interview transitioned to Independence Hall and other historic locations in Philadelphia. The men who sat in the room, where the new governance model was invented, feared for their lives since they realized that their discussions were treasonous. According to McCullough, they even closed the windows of the building during the heat of the summer of 1787, out of concern that there might be eavesdroppers.

In thinking about it further, perhaps we’re giving the 60 Minutes folks too much credit for this broadcast. It was really McCullough who brought clarity and a sense of historical perspective regarding this very toxic environment.

And maybe we’re overly complimentary of McCullough’s comments, since he managed to succinctly state in a phrase something which we have felt but have had difficulty articulating in 4-1/2 years of blogging.

Paraphrasing McCullough, what is most troubling about politics now, particularly with the tons of money being spent, is that there is, “a dearth of ideas.”

At an earlier point in our existence, when the Institute was located in one region of the U.S., we’d assemble people with varying points of view and from different disciplines, and after working together, folks would say, “Let’s give it a try.”

In another, we’d go through the same process, and people would find every imaginable objection and complication leading to a state where nothing was done.

The toxicity in the air can be significantly traced to our national attitude. It’s not as though it is totally unreasonable. There are a couple of factors contributing to this zeitgeist.

1) Uncertainty - we’re no longer secure in our role as top dog. Osama bin Laden did a lot to foster that mood - he bit us in the ass and globalization has further contributed to it; and

2) We’ve lost our edge educationally and technologically (and we know it). We rode the coat-tails of our prior triumphs for far too long. Today, too many kids (through the power of the Internet and electronic media) want to be entertainers and athletes, and play in reality TV shows, not scientists, engineers, and inventors.There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the former; but everything in the Universe is about proportion and timing, and technology drives everything.

Right now, the Randle Patrick McMurphys of the world are running the institution. We need Nurse Ratched back, to shock us to our senses, with the assistance of the college students of today.

We’re not generally ones to pine for practices of the past, opting instead to come up with new approaches. But this might be, like our praise of 60 Minutes, one time where we make an exception, and revert back to some of our past practices infused with youthful ideas.

(You can view Part 2 of McCullough’s interview next Sunday, November 11, 2012.)

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.

"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"™