Saturday, July 27, 2013

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

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

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

© 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which they are entitled, no doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wouldn’t have a chance in hell.

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

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Post No. 186k: Understanding the Mindset of Paula Deen's Former Corporate Sponsors

For the past week or so, Paula Deen, celebrated author of numerous cookbooks, restaurateur, chef, and TV personality, has taken a beating because of a single word, which she uttered a number of years back (and which a lot of folks in modern day society are reluctant to admit they once used). The barbarians are at the gates of her culinary empire, and her mercenaries who made money off of her are abandoning the fight, left and right.

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill took place in the Gulf a couple of years back, we examined how we as citizens have difficulty understanding the decisions of Corporate America. Our thoughts are equally applicable to Ms. Deen's corporate sponsors.

© 2010, 2012, and 2013, 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.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Post No. 186j: For All You Paula Deen Critics, Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter

In theory, if thoughts we share in our articles truly constitute Common Sense, then the approaches recommended should be able to stand the test of time, and be applicable to new fact situations as they arise.

Last week, Paula Deen, a restaurateur, author of many cookbooks, and TV personality, took some heat in connection with some purportedly "racially insensitive comments." Almost immediately thereafter, the Food Network announced that it would not renew her contract.

Because of our relationship with some professionals who have worked with Ms. Deen, we here at the Institute happen to know that she is far from a racist; in fact, she is just the opposite. However, in this day and time, unfortunately the truth frequently does not matter, and one verbal misstep can sink a career.

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

© 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We are all aware of the numerous instances, during the past year, where prominent individuals were severely criticized for comments that some termed “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” One of the most widely covered was the comment by Don Imus regarding the predominantly black female basketball team which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Ironically, in that instance, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who typically argues that there are numerous ways to view situations, recommended one of the harshest forms of response, thus suggesting that there was only one “right thing to do.”

Many commentators suggested various responses to deal with the offending speakers, essentially saying that we as a society need to make a statement and ensure that folks do not regularly engage in such speech.

The ladies in question were the essence of grace. They had, after all, just brought home a national basketball championship to an academic institution that invests precious little in sports championships of any sort. Their composure and compassion under attack shamed Shock Jock Imus into a rarely observed heart felt apology.

Most reasonable folks would agree that there was virtually no explanation, or justification, for his statement that would have made sense to us.

Following the revelations about the comments of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. John Hagee, the talking heads had much to say about how the respective candidates should have responded.

However, no one suggested that their churches be “taken away.” It is our understanding that Wright is retired, and thus there is nothing to take away, and Hagee is far too integral to his church's existence to remove him from the church which he built.

However, following the mocking, by a Catholic priest, of candidate Clinton in Chicago recently, not only did the local Archbishop chastise the priest, but so did a representative of a group of Catholic women. She said, in essence, that the priest’s comments did not reflect the Catholic faith, did not reflect the Catholic Church, scandalized them, and that he should have his church taken away from him.

Ever since she reacted in that fashion, some of us thought of this issue in free speech, legalistic terms. Of course, our most senior Fellow, the Laughingman, brought us back to reality and provided instant clarity to the whole situation.

“The worst conceivable way to silence one with whom we disagree is to stop him from talking. By doing so, you create a martyr to his similarly warped followers, and take him off the radar screen of the rest of the public.

"Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof.

"Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools (in the long run) have little or no influence on society.”

Yesterday, we heard a news report regarding some Minnesota high school kids who took a Confederate flag to school. The kids were banned from their graduation exercises because of their conduct.

One of them, as he sat on the back of a pick up truck, said that he was about as far away from being a racist as one could get. However, they both said that they wanted to make a statement about independence, and the freedom of one to express oneself.

Appearing on CNN yesterday morning, we're sure that they now have a following consisting of hundreds of thousands of sympathizers. It probably would have been better to simply let them attend their graduation ceremonies, assuming that no further conduct was involved which might have lead to violence or some other disruptive behavior.

We considered entitling this article, “Ignoring People – A Novel Thought,” and then we recalled that as Americans, we always have to make sure that we punish folks with whom we disagree. It, unfortunately, is built into who we are as a people.

Perhaps once we learn to ignore those making statements which we consider offensive or inappropriate, they’ll flog themselves, and we as a public will find no need to punish them.

In the immortal words of the famous Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© 2008, 2009, and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Post No. 186i: We Should All Sing for Our Fathers, At Least Once

© 2009 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“It does not matter who my Father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
- Anne Sexton

Shortly after the death of the Senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, a writer described Edward Kennedy using a long list of nouns, one of which was “father.” When society refers to famous men, it does not often highlight their role as fathers.

The above Sexton quote appeared while navigating a Borders Book Store, along with an overwhelming desire to chat about fathers. Fathers are more than convenient; they are important, as discussed during a recent Fatherhood Symposium here in town, which addressed the lack of fathers in the lives of many young men.

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times once wrote a poignant piece for Father’s Day, in an effort to define a "normal" father-child relationship. Her Father never hit, abused, ridiculed, or demeaned her. She concluded those who view their relationships with their fathers as less than fulfilling, might not fully appreciate the value of peace, security, and consistency of presence and love. She thanked God her Father never achieved notoriety.

The Logistician, prior to his departure to Brazil, often brought up a story about attending a BBQ and running into a childhood acquaintance and product of a single parent home, who he had not seen in over 40 years. The acquaintance drunkenly mentioned that he envied the two parent situation which the Logistician enjoyed in his youth. The acquaintance felt those with both parents could not even begin to comprehend what that meant to a kid growing up. That this issue still loomed large for him, 40 years later, said it all.

(Comedian Chris Rock once remarked that the main job of a father is to keep his daughter "off of the pole.")

But two parents alone do not a family make.

A friend who lost his Mother when she was 52, always thought that he had a great relationship with her…she was his Mother.

But it took him more than a few years (by growing older with his Father) to realize that his relationship with his Mother remained largely unfulfilled. It did not extend long enough for them to navigate more turbulent waters: the philosophical differences, declining skills and soundness of mind, the whole sex thing, and the recognition that they both were human with flaws.

Her passing created a giant hole in his library of oral history… she took with her answers to yet to be asked questions, that create not just a memory, but a life, and the string of continuity that bonds generations together… a sense of “us,” as a family.

Some 20 yrs ago, a friend related what he recalled most about his Father, then deceased - the arguments. Another friend, whose upbringing motivated him to attend top universities, travel the world, and acquire a medical degree, rarely had anything positive to say about his Father.

Still a third, a prominent lawyer in the community, visited his Father for the first time in many years at his deathbed. He never was what his Father wanted him to be.

As age creeps up on “immune, exempt, and immortal” baby boomers, it seems that the more time spent on this Earth, the more potentially problematic and complicated our relationships with our fathers become.

As is his want (and training), the Laughingman blames this too on genetics. He claims that our (and our maternal parents’) genes are programmed to turn nasty when kids reach adolescence. Absent enough friction to cause them to leave the nest, there will be no further children, no mating, no propagation, and no future generations chock full of brand new genes to guarantee the health and well being of generations to come.

TCM recently aired I Never Sang for My Father. It is a compelling film… biological lectures notwithstanding. Since then, we have been arguing about relationships between fathers and their sons, and ways in which those relationships change over time.

It is the story of a 44 yr old East Coast professor (Gene Hackman), and his relationship with his Father. Hackman has met a young doctor who practices in California, and has school-age children. He wants to marry her and move to California, to start his life afresh, following the death of his wife.

He visits his parents, and first discusses his tentative plans with his 81 year old Father, alone. The Father still treats his son like a 6 year old, and has little time to think about his son’s desires and motivations. However, when the son brings up his potential move to California, the Father says, “It will kill your Mother.”

Hackman has the same conversation with his Mother, and relates the exchange with his Father, without mentioning the purported impact on the Mother. The Mother smiles, says that she and the Father will take care of one another, and that the Son should move to California, get on with his life, and be happy. She relates that she and her husband had their chance at happiness.

Hackman marries, and his Mother dies shortly after. He now has to consider the care options for his Father, who has advancing dementia. His Sister, who lives out of town and was banished by their Father for marrying a Jewish man, suggests he hire some help and move on. We see him visit various nursing homes, all of which leave something to be desired. (Roger Ebert has an excellent review of the movie.)

The Laughingman insists that this is all Hollywood Hog Wash, intended to persuade the gullible to buy into the magic of consumerism. By showing characters based on the figments of screenwriters’ imaginations, they simultaneously promote various elixirs… or even treatments… to dull the pain of not being just like them.

Hog Wash or not, we suggest that the young, either chronologically or emotionally, take the time to enjoy their parents in their youth, and explore the outer reaches of their connection. One never knows where the relationship will go as time progresses.

One thing is certain - all the real world history, to wit: the whys, the why nots, the pain, the failures, and the triumphs that make you, will be gone with your Father… and a great gaping hole will be left in the questions you can’t answer for your own kids.

Be sure to sing for your Father, at least once, before it’s too late.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Post No. 186h: Whose Life is It Anyway?

© 2009, 2011, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Back in 2009, we generated a post in which we made reference to Ghulam Hamidi. Hamidi, an Afghan national, lived in Washington, D.C. for close to 20 years, before returning to war torn Afghanistan, to become the Mayor of Kandahar. In our post, we spoke of people who took risks to pursue something of value for society, and to make statements. At times, those risks may be significant, and they may be deadly. In mid-summer of 2011, the risk was deadly for Hamidi.

Earlier today, we heard a news report about violence on the outskirts of Kandahar, and we thought of Hamidi. Additionally, many schools recently conducted their graduation and commencement ceremonies, prompting us to review our prior post.

We try to stimulate thought amongst our young citizens, when their worldviews are still malleable. Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization about which we previously wrote.

B.E.S.T. addresses issues affecting at-risk young men. We highlighted the efforts of its founder as an example of how private citizens can do something meaningful for their communities and society.

Before the meeting, we bounced around ideas. We recalled that we Baby Boomers had such idealistic goals. We were going to change the world, right all wrongs, speak the truth (which would set us free), and do nothing but good, positive things in life.

In addition, we planned to transform the world, perhaps through astral projection or Transcendental Meditation, to a “kinder, gentler” place. One of us recalled pledging to become a brain surgeon following JFK’s death.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s been said that life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. If anything, we’ve been surprised at how many Boomers have transitioned from card-carrying liberals (and committed to “living off the fatta’ the lan”, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men), to hard core conservatives. (Why have so few traveled the opposite road?)

When P.J. O’Rourke was asked about his transformation from liberal to conservative, he blamed it on his daughter. Upon realizing she was vulnerable, and a potential target of all sorts of nasty forces, he resolved to protect her, at any cost.)

We know hundreds of business people, accountants, engineers, investment bankers, lawyers, and doctors, who abandoned those dreams and principles. We lived comfortably, and did little that we can identify in pursuit of those principles, other than occasional pro bono work.

(A prominent activist in speaking to a professional group once lamented that some of the best and brightest were in the audience, and members of a profession whose primary goal was making money for themselves and their corporate clients.)

Last week, we heard a report suggesting that today’s youth are possibly skipping the self-delusion phase. Far fewer minors, when asked, expressed interest in pursuing goals which might also “give back to the community.”

We’re not sure what to do with that. Virtually every generation seems to think those succeeding will go to hell in a hand basket. After 13,000 years, we still have faith in humankind’s ability to adapt, use our bigger brains, and “be guided by the better angels of our nature.”

We heard 2 stories recently. The first involved a Sudanese woman, who is facing fairly severe punishment. She and some other women committed a crime - wearing trousers in public. Some immediately pled guilty, and only received 10 lashes.

The remaining subject chose to go to trial. She faces a possible $100 fine and 40 lashes. She’s not a professional activist, and had some UN position which would have allowed her to side-step the charges.

Instead, she chose to resign, and waive her immunity.

The other story revolved around the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the more violent cities on Earth. He enjoyed a comfortable, middle class existence in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, until he was motivated to return to his native country and “make a difference.”

He put himself at risk, and returned to the heart of the violence. He said we’re all going to die from something one day, be it cancer, a heart attack, or a car accident. He questioned whether there was any real difference between dying from violence doing something in which you believed, and dying from one of the other causes.

That caused us to pause.

While a 25 year old might see lots of differences, those of us 55 and beyond might reflect on what we’ve done, and whether we’ve made a ”real” contribution.

The Logistician and his best friend were sitting at a side walk café in the Copacabana in the late 1990s, reflecting on what, if anything, they had accomplished... and whether it had been of any benefit to anyone beyond themselves. They had always hoped to able to say that they did something more than “raise a good family.”

The founder of the at-risk male youth non-profit, the Sudanese lady, and the mayor of Kandahar might be better examples of those we should hold up as role models in our society, than the folks to whom we usually direct our plaudits.

Whose life is it anyway? We might all consider making it more than just our own.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Post No. 186g: What Those of Us in the Peanut Gallery Should Do Regarding the Trayvon Martin Case

We originally generated this post in December of 2012, when the death of Trayvon Martin was still fresh news. Now that the trial of the individual who pulled the trigger has commenced, we thought it appropriate to revisit some of our earlier thoughts.

We're sorry Nancy; some of us still believe that those of us without first-hand knowledge of the facts, as revealed through exhaustive investigation, should simply sit back and allow the justice system to work, as imperfect as it may be and despite whether we ultimately agree with the jury's verdict.

© 2012 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Believe it or not, we actually drafted this piece before NBC’s Bob Costas had to do a spin move following his comments about our “freedom to bear arms,” following the murder-suicide by the professional football linebacker last weekend.

The original title of this post was Why We Need a Constitutional Amendment Taking Away Freedom of the Press (and Media). We do not really feel that such a drastic measure should be taken, at least not this week. We were simply trying to get your attention.

However, you have to admit that many, patriots and non-patriots alike, are concerned about 3 things involving the news media: (a) the accuracy of reporting; (b) the role played by corporations which have a primary responsibility to shareholders to generate maximum profits; and (c) whether the reporting is truly fair and balanced.

My News Station is Red Hot; Your News Station Ain’t Doodly Squat, addressed 28 of the 475 concerns Americans have about reporting the news.

Several Fellows, including the Laughingman and the Logistician, consider Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet to be their role model. They want, “Just the facts, ma’am,” with no subjective twists, turns, spins, or embellishment. The Optimizer and the Inspector argue, on the other hand, that we have families to feed, and that no honest, self-respecting, red-blooded American values truth in the news, but rather wants to confirm their worldview.

Despite our differences, all of us respect individuals who exhibit clarity of thought during difficult times. We’ve seen 2 examples recently, both reported by the Mainstream Media. However, not enough attention has been paid to the facts as interpreted by folks close to the events.

That two parents of slain African-American minors, within weeks after their deaths, had the clarity of mind to make the comments we cite below is powerful, and provides some measure of hope for the future of race relations in this country.

Before addressing their comments, a few other thoughts about how we listen to or read information. Prior to his departure, the Logistician forced us to, frequently at knife point, watch the broadcast of the BBC World News, and prior to 2003, read the International Herald Tribune. He claimed that only by following a media outlet outside of the U.S. could we get a half-way accurate appreciation of what is going on here.

The View is fortunate to have followers from around the globe, including some from Austria, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, and Italy, most of whom worked in the US at some point.

Over the weekend one of our British followers, Sobriquet, in response to our post, Why Dumping on BP is a Bunch of BS, wrote of how it appeared to Brits that the American media coverage of the Gulf spill emphasized that it was a British company primarily at fault, with little attention focused on complicit American players.

Back to the deaths in Florida, the first is the case of George Zimmerman, who shot an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in February. The second shooting death involved teenager Jordan Davis, shot by Michael Dunn after words were exchanged between Dunn and Davis and several teenage friends, regarding the volume of their music.

In the Martin case, while many of the race-baiters and talking heads had so much to say about everything in the Universe and its contents, Martin’s Mother, Sybrina Fuller, said something so pure (and lacking in invective) that most of us missed it. She said that in her heart, she felt that Mr. Zimmerman simply made a mistake and harbored no malice toward her son.

In the Dunn case, the Father of the slain teen earlier this week said that there was nothing which he had seen or heard to suggest that it was racially motivated. In his opinion, Mr. Davis was overtaken by anger, and had a gun readily accessible. He plans to maintain this position until facts motivate him to think otherwise.

This is powerful stuff, coming from the parents of children who predeceased them. We should all strive to be so objective and philosophical under such circumstances. According to The Logistician speculation and unfounded statements, are inherently malicious (and dishonest, even if later shown to be accurate), and should be left to those who desire to perform some societal disservice.

Speculation, as to what is in the minds and hearts of other people or what motivated them to engage in aberrant behavior, is something which, like Trayvon’s Mother and Jordan’s Father, we should keep to ourselves if we think it.

One reason we like to engage college students, is that we find them to be not as ideologically rigid, and thus more tolerant of the views of others. Such an attitude leads to creativity, innovation and new ideas. It’s just common sense that once one party attacks others, certain parties take on a defensive posture, and the exchange of ideas and the search for the truth take the route of the hibernating bear. Our hats are off to the parents of Trayvon and Jordan.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Post No. 186f: "Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?"

© 2009 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In the world of social commentary, there are “observers” and “critics.”

People often ask how we approach preparation of articles reflecting our observations.

Short answer? We watch C-Span, the History Channel, Tom and Jerry, and Turner Classic Movies all weekend. During that time, we absorb roughly 50 different points of view on various subjects, and give Tom’s observations more weight.

We consider them further during the week, while watching the news and Congressional hearings, in an effort to identify themes or “cross-over” principles, which arguably apply to divergent subjects. It could be sports, science, religion, and music. Like Wile E. Coyote, we keep chasing the Road Runner, seeking something.

(We also walk through book stores each week and pick up any and everything.)

So many today claim to know, with certainty, how we got here economically, why and how this or that President was flawed, and why we will fail as a nation if we do X. This banter drove the Logistician to Brazil for his sabbatical to study with the heads of the samba schools.

Before he departed, while eating his standard meal of sardines, beef tongue, and horseradish on pumpernickel, he asked, “How are these people able to come up with evidence which only supports their position?” He abhorred “goal determinant analysis.”

He then asked, “Why didn’t these people step forward to take control before things imploded?”

We seem to be dissatisfied with virtually every aspect of our lives, along with the people running most of our institutions, not to mention our significant others).

There’s no shortage of “incompetents” according to the critics: politicians, doctors, commercial banks, insurance companies, the Federal Reserve, drug companies, pedophile priests and Boy Scout leaders, automobile companies, oil companies, current and past Presidents, the housing and construction industries, the poor, the rich, CEOS, lawyers, investment bankers, immigrants (whether illegal or not), unions, doped up athletes, Hollywood, and of course, Wal-Mart. Most recently, it was the 47%.

It’s a Herculean task to find anyone or anything held in high regard, and about which at least 70% of Americans view positively. We’d settle for 60%.

Apart from all of the new input we consume, we constantly review earlier posts, to consider their continuing applicability. In Post No. 85 in February of 2009, amid rising concerns about the global economy, we generated, Why We Suspect, To Our Dismay, That “Whatever” Our Leaders Devise Will Not Work.

In Post No. 27 in July 2009, we wrote about The Inability of our Leaders to Please (or Lead) Us.

Finally, in May 2008, in Post No. 9, Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process (We are a Better Country Than We Currently Think of Ourselves), we noted that a recent poll revealed that 81% of Americans felt the country was heading in the wrong direction.

And that was before the recession was officially announced, and blame assessed.

And before Obama was even nominated.

The sentiment crossed ideological lines. Amazingly, it was something about which the majority could agree.

Thomas Woods was recently on C-Span. He is the author of Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse.

We’ve now watched his presentation 4 times. He had so little positive to say about much of anything over the past 30 years, that it made us stop and think about the views of other commentators over the past 18 months.

Then we asked, like the Logistician, “Why aren’t these people leading us?”

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and some are simply Monday morning quarterbacks.

But shouldn’t we be concerned that despite the personal successes of many of our leaders and captains of industry, our country as a whole appears to be in such a precarious state?

Does our current political climate or system discourage the true best and brightest from running for public office, and seeking the helm of our major industries?

Does the public scrutiny of our leaders serve as a disincentive for the “truly qualified” to share their wisdom and insight with us for the public benefit?

Maybe a nation really does deserve the leaders that it gets.

And here the rest of us stand, growling, and fighting like Dobermans for scraps of raw meat.

During our preparation of this piece, the words of Simon and Garfunkel kept swirling in our heads:

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You, Woo, Woo, Woo.”

You critics, who have figured it all out, and find others to be incompetent, please step forward and participate in fixing this mess.

We need you.

"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"™