Friday, July 4, 2014

Post No. 190a: The Dangers of Being Peculiar

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This entire Fourth of July weekend, TV Land is conducting an Andy Griffith Show marathon. We previously posted this piece about one of the episodes which struck us, about the human propensity to make quick judgments about others.

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

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween 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, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Post No. 190: The Most Dangerous of Expectations

© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

I considered entitling this post, “In Defense of Donald Sterling, the U. S. Veterans Administration, and Malaysia Airlines." However, out of a desire to have this piece potentially relevant in a month or two, I chose to go with a more universal and hopefully enduring theme.

So what do,

(a) the unfortunate disclosure of a private conversation involving an NBA team owner and the object of his unrequited desires;

(b) the purported failure of the U.S. Veterans Administration to timely deliver health care services to a relatively small number of veterans;

(c) the continuing mystery about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370;

(d) the Washington State mudslide which killed at least 41 people, the danger of which has been known for 60 years; and

(e) the South Korean ferry accident resulting in 288 deaths

all have in common? I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Something has been bothering me since I exited the womb 62 years ago. It appears that while my Mother was pregnant with me, she read the paperback edition of Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History, all 79 pages of it. What struck me via osmosis was the discussion of two things which significantly distinguish humans from other animals.

The first is that most animals have some natural armor, skills or various mechanisms which permit them to survive in the wild, somewhat independently, early on. We humans are totally dependent upon older humans for quite some time. The second is that although we are not endowed with natural defensive skills and survival equipment from the get-go, our big brains permit us to record, teach, invent, and share (over generations) the cumulative results of the past human experience in preparation for moving forward.

So, what do all 5 events have in common? In my view, the most dangerous of expectations, namely, that “someone else will do it or take care of it.”

We exit the womb with that expectation genetically engrained. Whether the acquisition and preparation of food, our transportation to the toilet, or cleaning up our resultant mess, we start out with an expectation that someone else will do it or take care of it. That notion continues throughout our lives.

Over the past 4 months, in thinking about the 5 events listed above, there was a commonality of something which started to emerge, but on which I could not place my finger. And then it hit me.

Although I had a significantly shorter period of time to think about it compared to the first dangerous expectation, I developed an appreciation of the second dangerous expectation by being the primary caregiver for my 93 year old Father. Up until roughly 88 years of age, he was an example of exceptional, octogenarian health. He amazed everyone who came into contact with him.

Little did I suspect 5 years ago that he had a progressive, neuromuscular movement disorder. He often repeats the phrase, “Once a man, twice a child,” the truth of which I appreciate more each day. Despite the complexities associated with his care, and the fact that I have a sibling with whom to share the experience, there are many single kids who have to take care of both parents. Imagine the complexity of the V.A.’s responsibilities.

So what is this second most dangerous expectation? That someone will do it the way that we expect, or in the manner in which we want it to be done.

All of this came together for me about 3 weeks ago during a discussion about the South Korean ferry accident. A reporter noted that because of the prevalence of Confucianism in that part of the world, there is an implicit social contract between citizens and their rulers that, “We do what you ask, and we expect you to take care of us.”

Until fairly recently, I did not realize that I was entitled to Veterans Administration medical benefits, primarily because I had top flight private insurance coverage. However, I recently found myself without that privilege. I’ve been in the V.A. health system for a year now. I am convinced that I am the system’s No. 1 supporter. When I had the luxury of private insurance, I was treated by some of the best doctors in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, associated with UCLA, USC, and groups who took care of million dollar professional athletes.

I now receive comparable, if not better, health care from the V.A. Why? Because the Durham, NC facility, which is across the street from and associated with Duke University Med Center.

I’m as happy as a clam, Sam I am. In fact, there are days when I go onto the MyHealth.VA.Gov site, just to revel in the level of care and information available to me. This experience has far exceeded my expectations. I also realize that not every facility in the V.A. system is the same and not every vet will receive my level of service.

One of the pitfalls associated with focus on the individual and the pursuit of individual happiness is that we can forget that things are relative and that different people have different values. We also have a tendency to forget how interdependent humans are, which is a mercurial concept in and of itself.

A couple of years ago, former President Bill Clinton was asked to comment on the stoning of a young woman by family members in a Middle Eastern country. He opened with the phrase, “In a shame-based society….” I honestly do not recall what he said thereafter; however, since then I have repeatedly questioned whether he actually used the word “shame,” or the word “blame.”

The head of Veterans Affairs was recently pressured to resign. However, I found myself asking whether our primary goal was to address and correct the management deficiencies, or assess blame and validate our notions of responsibility.

It occurred to me that management or human governance is not that far removed from addressing cancer. Isn’t our ultimate goal in the treatment of a disease to remove its effects in the short term, and address its causes in the long? It seems to me that if we as a society are truly interested in addressing problems on a long term basis, our attention might best be directed to the underlying causes and systemic issues, recognizing the less than perfect component of human behavior, and less on fault and attributing blame.

Because the reality is that we, as humans (on an individual and collective level), are responsible for the systems we create and mismanage. No level of management can completely address that. It would be delusional and less than productive on our part to think so.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Post No. 189: Some Observations of, and Life Lessons Gleaned from, the 2014 Super Bowl

© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Now that we’ve had some time to think about it, we’ve concluded:

1. Pundits, experts, and talking heads don’t know jack about jack;

2. Humans really are unpredictable;

3. Organizations consisting of humans are pretty unpredictable, too;

4. The weather and most things associated with Mother Nature might as well be considered unpredictable;

5. Gambling on any anticipated human behavior is stupid, but then again there’s marriage;

6. The Denver Broncos Football Team is a relatively small, government-owned and operated collection of individuals, with only 53 players, a host of highly paid coaches, and a pretty decent front office, and still could not pull off its goal within the time allotted;

7. The Seattle Seahawks Football Team is a relatively small, private enterprise . free market entity composed of individuals, with only 53 players, a host of highly paid coaches, and a pretty decent front office, and managed to pull off its goal this time, but it should be kept in mind that success is frequently transient and episodic;

8. At least players, contrary to politicians, pundits, experts, and talking heads, put their bodies and their health on the line in connection with their claims and goals;

9. Although virtually everyone who gambled on the game thought it through and perhaps legitimately thought they picked the right team and the correct spread, probably more people lost money on the game than got it right;

10. The joke about Seattle beating a dead horse was tired and old before Monday rolled around;

11. We suspect that the vast majority of people actually attending the game on Sunday had some degree of difficulty finding their parked cars after the game;

12. Almost every player on each team, with a couple of exceptions, know that running into another man at full force may result in a concussion, and in an ordinary lawsuit this knowledge would constitute either assumption of risk or contributory negligence on the part of the player, and thus deny his [or her?] claim for compensation;

13. Pete Carroll was not solely responsible for his team’s performance on Sunday;

14. There is no question in our minds that Peyton Manning was solely responsible for his team’s performance on Sunday;

15. If you want to lend legitimate support to someone, some group, or some cause you support, get in your car, or catch a plane, and be there with your slickers when the crap’s flying;

16. Once the game is over, any underlying motivations, biases, or agendas that the pundits, experts, and talking heads had before the game pretty much don’t matter, because no one cares;

17. Life and management of humans are complicated and you never know what is going to happen, much less the reason;

18. Many events in the Universe are serendipitous, when one stops to consider all of the dynamic forces in operation at any given point in time, and no one, single cause and effect factor can be singled out as being responsible for failure or success;

19. As the Logistician’s 93 yr old Father always says, “Timing is everything;”

20. If the NFL were regulated and subject to governmental intervention like most businesses, there would never be a Super Bowl Champion;

21. Lest we forget, there is a notion which many characterize as "unintended consequences," and which some contend even rises to the level of a "law;" and

21. The typical sitting President, including those who many characterize as a moron, is not solely responsible for jack, and politicians are the last folks to sit in judgment about anything, and particularly unqualified in talking about taking responsibility for one’s actions.

We'll leave the other 10 points to David Letterman.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Post No. 188f: The Anticipation (Or Perhaps Lack Thereof)

We first generated this piece in January 2011, just minutes before President Obama delivered his State of the Union Speech at that time. Upon reviewing it earlier today, we concluded that not much has changed. What do you think?

© 2011 and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It is now 7:59 pm EST, as we begin to type this piece. President Obama delivers his State of the Union message in just 61 minutes, and it is our intention to have this article posted long before the broadcast begins.

In addition, Turner Classic Movies will air, at 8:00 pm EST, what some consider the best Laurel & Hardy movie ever made, Sons of the Desert.

Suffice it to say that we are ”under the gun.” But not nearly as much as our President, following what many have termed the shellacking he took during the mid-term elections. As he walks to the podium, he will be subject to intense scrutiny, and before the night is over, he might wish that he had walked across the Sahara under the glaring light of the equatorial sun.

This piece is not about how he will perform or be received, at least not in an objective sense, but rather how so many have already peeped into their crystal balls, and know how he will perform. For the past three days, the talking heads have told us what they expect of him this evening.

Part of the responsibility for this attitude can be laid at the foot of the President and his staff themselves. In preparation for the speech, the White House has leaked its intentions, put out press releases, and employed all manner of preemptive and public relations vehicles to gain the upper hand and capitalize on the moment.

His detractors have exerted an equal, if not greater, amount of energy preparing to do the Tonya Harding, and test his knee caps with their version of Obamacare, a lead pipe.

As ridiculous as it may seem, somehow we yearn for an era (if ever one existed), where all of us wait in anticipation to listen to what our President has to say, hoping that it will somehow inspire us, and lift us out of our doldrums.

In a recent documentary on Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the final days of the Civil War, a noted historian quipped, “One of the great ironies about American democracy is that we claim that control is within the power of the people, and yet we yearn for a savior to deliver us from our problems.

[Those of you reading this before the President’s speech might switch over to the Laurel & Hardy movie right now. It’s a beauty.]

A couple of posts ago, in Where Our Heads Take Us, we spoke of pre-conceived ideas and their power. At the end of the evening, we strongly suspect that the Democrats will give the President an “A,” and the Republicans will provide a grade of C-, noting that the President is a gifted orator, although he is wedded to the teleprompter.

And that can’t be good.

For any of us, and definitely not for the Nation.

And so we must confess that we are guilty of having pre-conceived notions also, because we anticipate that nothing will change, and the politicians will all return to business as usual, and all the talk about the potential for a change in tone in Washington following the Arizona shootings will be for naught.

Is that sad? Yes, especially because we consider ourselves to be idealistic optimists. We are also pragmatists.

But there’s hope out there even amongst some of our most cynical followers. Take for example Douglas, who has been with us from the very beginning. In response to our last post, Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, he commented:

“I would argue that each of us, if we are concerned about violent speech, not engage in it. Who knows? It might catch on.”

Douglas is also the guy who from experience told us that when he decided to not argue with his wife and agree with her, it didn’t work, and she continued to argue.

We’ve often told friends of the Institute that this experience (operating this blog) has been simultaneously one of the most rewarding during our lifetimes (in that we have learned so much about how others think), and one of the most frustrating (wondering whether they read the same article that we wrote).

S___ has to got to get better than this. It just has to….

Monday, January 20, 2014

Post No. 188e: What Would Dr. King Say?

© 2011, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We considered calling this piece, What Would Dr. King Do?, or What Would Dr. King Think?

Frankly, none of them would really be appropriate, since none of us has any first-hand knowledge of his thought process, or even a comprehensive appreciation of his view of the world.

For example, most think that Dr. King adopted Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy on his own. Yet, many involved in the movement contend that it was actually Bayard Rustin who counseled Dr. King to adopt non-violence as his MO.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that after having his home and family threatened, Dr. King grabbed a rifle on his way to confront his attackers on the front lawn.

Rustin supposedly stopped Dr. King in mid-stride and suggested how to get the upper hand on his attackers, that being to take the higher moral ground - less subject to attack.

Per Rustin, resorting to a tactic that placed the good doctor in the same violence stratum as his attackers only served to hurt the cause, and make it less likely that others would side with him (defense of his castle be justified or not).

On this past MLK Day, those of you fortunate enough not to have become infected with that virus commonly known as Twitter [which should be changed to “Twitcher”], would have been amazed at the volume of thought-provoking MLK quotes posted by “kids” of every imaginable color, age, country, and station in life.

But two situations or events, both featuring the NAACP, kept bothering us.

Why the NAACP? [That’s exactly what we asked.] Because, in theory, one might think that their positions and the interests advocated by Dr. King would bear some resemblance to one another. In both instances, we’re just not sure what was going on. [Plus, we recognize that only certain racial groups are monolithic.]

The first involved something seemingly innocuous as school snow make-up days.

In many districts around the country, schools are required to end their year by a certain date. Most states also require that a school year consist of a certain number of days. Because of severe snow storms, many districts found themselves trying to discover make-up days on the calendar.

Some announced that they were “considering” having their charges attend school on MLK Day. The NAACP, in virtually every region where such a plan was “considered,” shifted into Sharpton-Jackson mode. [Where is a Michael Steele or an Alan Keyes when you need one?]

We need not even explore the substance of their arguments. Many prominent in the black community even suggested that parents keep their kids home. [That’ll show them.]

But it occurred to us, what better day to spend the time in school, reflecting on all that Dr. King represented, and all that he valued?

What better opportunity for black folks to consider the importance of, or show the outside world how much they value, that education thang?

What better day to suggest and support the extension of the school week to Saturdays, or the school year into the summer?

What would Dr. King have said, or done?

The second situation involved the Governor of Maine. This maverick of a politician was invited to participate in an NAACP celebration in memory of Dr. King, and he declined. [Uh, oh…!]

When questioned further about it, he simply said that there are only so many special interest events that one man can attend in a 24 hour day.

He further suggested that if someone thought that his declination was racially motivated, they could “kiss his butt.” [At least he has the balls to tell some group to kiss his rear end.] He finally alluded to the fact that all one needed to do was examine his family portrait, and they would find that he has a black [adopted] son.

Once again, the local NAACP went ballistic, and suggested that whether he had a black son was irrelevant. [Any of those NAACP folks have any white sons?]

Once again, we asked what would Dr. King have said, or done?

Of course, we don’t know. But we have a guess.

As great as all of the quotes posted on Twitter were, there was one missing that may reflect how he might have reacted.

On Monday night, we watched a tape of one of Dr. King’s speeches at the close of an MSNBC segment. During it, he said:

“We must conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline.”

Did the NAACP heed his word?

You be the judge.

P.S. Yeah, we know. This was not a very dignified post.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Post No. 188d: Duck Dynasty This; Unfortunate AIDS Tweet That; My Oh My, What Shall We Do?

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

Earlier this month, the patriarch of A & E's "Duck Dynasty" family took some heat for some comments he made during a Gentlemen's Quarterly interview. Some viewed the comments as insensitive to gays and minorities, even though they were purportedly religiously based. Not too long thereafter, a PR executive tweeted a comment which some felt was insensitive to the plight of Africans suffering from AIDS.

In both instances, controversy erupted about how society (and employers and sponsors) should respond to such comments. In June of 2008, we posted the following article, which we continue to believe applicable to comments of such embattled individuals.

© 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 any sense to us.

Following the revelations about some old comments made by 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, 2010, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Post No. 188c: Both Sides Equally Wrong on Most Issues

We originally generated this post in 2009, when we thought that the level of political discord in this country was at its peak. At that time, we gave some consideration to using the title which appears above, but instead chose, "It All Depends on the Price of Your Ticket on the Train." We seemingly have lost the ability as a country to appreciate the views of others. We thought that re-visiting some principles from the physical universe might be helpful in that regard.

© 2009 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There’s a good and bad side to everything.

Including conduct and relationships.

(Are you aware the largest source of violence against women is not strangers, against whom one might use a gun, but from their “loved ones,” who they know?)

The Logistician is the only guy we know who takes dangerous vacations.

Like walking the back streets of Rio amid warnings of “the Mafioso.” Or scurrying from Caracas just before riots resulted in 300 deaths. Then there was cruising in the Adriatic when the U.S. bombed Libya.

Some brave, macho guy? No. (Stupid is more likely.)

His problem? Curiosity.

About any and every thing. And open to all points of view.

He suspects that how one views the world, and what they value, depends on where they’ve been, what they know, and what they’re willing to experience.

As an engineer and a lawyer, he had to appreciate all sides of many issues. He had to find the facts, not just those which advanced his goals.

He learned that advocating a position, which was patently disingenuous or specious, detracted from the power of your advocacy, and made others question your motives, if not your professionalism.

Rightly or wrongly, he applied that principle to all things in the Universe, and thought that others did also.

But it now appears that we either live in a new environment, or the Logistician is just waking up to reality.

Many have figured out that drawing lines in the sand, making specious arguments, if not telling out right lies, and resisting the views of others, works. Especially while pushing emotional buttons.

For someone who learned to argue the merits of a position, and not their own belief system, this is proving to be a very troubling revelation.

Today it appears that if one does the Nikita, pounds the desk, speaks at a fever pitch, and exudes “passion,” one will attract attention. And perhaps even a lot of followers.

That may be good. May be bad.

We almost named this piece, “Both Sides Equally Wrong on Most Issues.”

Why? When Einstein was exploring “simultaneity,” or the simultaneous occurrence of events (and its relationship to relativity), he asked, “How do we know two events are simultaneous?”

He provided this mental example. Lightning strikes to one’s left, and a separate strike occurs the same distance to the right. To the person standing in the middle, the light from both strikes will be perceived as reaching the person at the same time.

The observer will consequently view the events as “simultaneous.”

Next, imagine a very, very fast moving train. Lighting strikes the front, and a separate strike hits the back, when an observer, standing beside the track, is in the middle of the span of the train.

Again, the observer would consider these “simultaneous.”

Then Einstein threw us a curve ball.

He asked us to imagine a woman sitting on the train, in the middle passenger car, when lightning strikes both the front and rear of the train.

From her perspective, they would no longer be simultaneous events. Moving in the direction of the front end of the train, she would perceive two, separate, and distinct strikes.

And so we thought, how we view the world, and the positions of others, depends on where we sit on the train.

When it comes to considering the behavior of others, or formulating solutions to problems, we should recognize that others are located in different cars.

And that their perceptions are equally valid.

Bill Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach and Father of the last meaningful creative revolution, famously kept a scrap of paper in his wallet. Upon reaching an impasse with clients about his radical approach to advertising, he would pull it out.

On same Bill had reminded himself that, “Perhaps he’s right.”

As we speed toward that stalled R.V. straddling the track down the road, we need the input and contributions of all observers, not just those in any one car.

Like Mr. Bernbach, we need to put ideology aside in favor of pragmatism, when the logical outcome of inter-railroad employee fighting and a bad decision might be a massive train wreck.

Rigid adherence to one’s position may work on a personal level.

However, it significantly complicates collaboration, and has the potential to distract us from reaching common goals to our collective benefit.

After our original post, we followed up with another post on the same subject of civil discourse or its possible absence. It was entitled, It's More Than Just the Difference in the Price of Your Ticket on the Train.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Post No. 188b: BREAKING NEWS: Possible Government Shutdown is Taking Its Toll on Obama

Prior to making some possible progress on the foreign relations front in connection with Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, and the warming of relations with Iran, many Washington insiders suggested that the President stood to have destroyed the only arguable success during his presidency, namely his signature health care legislation.

Many welcomed the Tea Party-led threat to shut down the federal government, and argued that it was a repudiation of the President’s efforts to transform our nation into a socialist state during a period of global economic stagnation, brought on solely by his Administration’s economic policies.

According to anonymous sources, despite the prospects for success in Syria and Iran, the President is showing the strain of the Obamacare fight, and that he has resorted to cruising various D.C. bars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Teetotaler, last night following a week of back and forth between the House and the Senate, a despondent President came in, and ordered Sauza Blue Reposado.

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

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

Once again the aide pulled out the exact change.

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

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

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

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

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

“My second wish was that I be re-elected for a second term.

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

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

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

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

According to the bartender, the President replied "I was afraid that you would ask that. For my fourth wish, I had to decide between ensuring that Obamacare passed and was ultimately funded, or a chick with long legs."

The bartender commiserating with the President, and in an effort to change the subject said, “I'm sure that your health care initiative will ultimately be funded. You need not resort to drowning yourself with this very potent tequila.”

“That’s the least of my concerns," the President responded. “I’m getting smashed because I can’t figure out how to explain the ostrich to Michelle, and Bill Clinton has been absolutely no help at all.”

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense (Well sorta, some of this is in the public domain).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Post No. 188a: A Country Has to Know Its Limitations

In one of our earliest posts back in 2008, we examined some of the issues which might potentially arise should the federal government become further involved in the healthcare of its citizens. Since then, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed. Now that it is scheduled to take effect, it is back in the news for a variety of reasons. Although some of the original proposals in 2008 did not make their way into the legislation, we thought it worthwhile to revisit some of the points we made at that time.

© 2008 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

On November 30, 2008, shortly after Sen. Obama’s election, we asked our readers whether any governmental entity should have the responsibility to provide healthcare for its citizens.

We invited our readers to provide their views on the subject, prior to our putting forth an argument as to why no government entity should have that responsibility, except perhaps in the case of veterans, or those injured during the course of service for the nation. (Since that time, we have also considered the inclusion of children below a certain age, since they have very little role in making decisions about their health until they are much closer to adulthood.)

It led to a very lively and stimulating exchange. Even a cursory examination of the comments in connection with Post No. 68d reveals the diversity and passion of opinion regarding this subject.

Is it really the government's responsibility to ensure the good health of, and the provision of health care facilities and treatment to, its citizens? Why do so many citizens feel that it is something which the government, at some level, should provide? Is there a reasonable expectation on the part of the taxpayers that health care is a "service" due them by virtue of their current level of tax contribution?

What responsibility should be placed on the citizens themselves to make the "best efforts" to maintain their health, and utilize the very latest in scientific knowledge about health risks, particularly nutrition, and the detrimental consequences associated with certain behaviors? Should citizens be required to show that they engaged, or failed to engage, in certain behaviors, prior to being extended heath care benefits by the government?

We indicated that we would generate some thoughts after entertaining those of others. Here are five arguments which can be advanced to support the notion that we should not have a national healthcare system, or perhaps that America is not yet ready to have such a system.

1. All relationships are about expectations. An argument can be made that the American public has an unreasonable expectation about what it takes to manage and operate a large organization and its accompanying bureaucracy. Most interestingly, those who have never run a large organization seem to think that they have all the answers. The criticism of the various executives, associated with the Big Three American Automakers, suggests to us that we as a nation do not fully comprehend the complexities and difficulties associated with management of a large organization in an everchanging, global environment. We are apparently “qualified” to criticize others who do not achieve the results that we expect.

2. In contemplating a national healthcare system, it appears that most proponents suggest that it provide benefits to all of our nation’s citizens, namely 300 million people. We do not have the capability to manage anything involving 300 million people. We don’t do it with respect to the other “essentials” of civilized life, food, housing, clothing, or education, which are arguably more simplistic in nature, and which at least have components around which we can wrap our arms. What makes us think that we can do it with respect to arguably the most complex of issues, namely human health? To borrow a phrase from Dirty Harry, “A country has to know its limitations.”

3. We do not have anyone, or any board or committee for that matter, with the capabilities, sophistication, and experience to manage a 300 million recipient organization. Furthermore, as noted earlier, as an organization grows in size, its sense of “reality” changes to ensure the advancement of its interests and its continued survival. We’re setting ourselves up for failure and unnecessary criticism.

4. Any system delivering services to 300 million people will undoubtedly parcel out its services in unfair and inequitable ways during the course of the execution of its policies. It’s not like an engine with simple, mechanical, moving parts. Humans do not function in accordance with the rules of physics. They’re emotional, and they have minds of their own. No one has yet discovered how to manage emotion. At least in the military, they understand what needs to be done to craft humans into fungible, interchangeable units, for management purposes, and even they have difficulties.

5. What makes us think that we can devise a system to provide benefits or services to recipients who essentially do whatever they want or desire to do, from a health perspective, and then have an expectation that the system should address the negative ramifications flowing therefrom? It doesn’t make sense. What makes us believe that we can “herd cats,” each with their own goals, motivations, and selfish interests, and deliver some nebulous, unspecified level of service resulting in what we refer to as “good health?” As a general proposition, Americans are not “sufficiently motivated” to maintain a state of good health. We don’t want it badly enough. The only proven way to get humans to adhere to a policy or approach is to force/ prod them, or have them buy into it voluntarily.

Although some ambitious and very thoughtful suggestions were put forth in your comments, no one, who responded to our challenge about reforming the health care system, really explained how they planned to address the uncertainties and complexities associated with the human side of the equation, and each individual’s responsibility to the system.

As a practical matter, it can’t be done in America, at least not under our current political philosophy. Any attempt in that regard will be regarded as socialist, or even worse, communist, in nature. As we all saw during the most recent election, we can’t have that.

This is a country built on social Darwinism or survival of the fittest. If you happen to be one of the fittest and you survive, kudos to you. If you are one of the not so fit, we leave it you to fend on your own, perhaps with the gratuitous assistance of non-profits, the religious community, and the kindness of others. Many in our country feel that if we assist the not so fit, or guarantee certain things to the masses, we play into their weaknesses and thus become enabling agents.

This is neither a culture nor governance model which has as its goal the equal treatment of its citizens or the equality of the services or opportunities available to them. It is a culture that simply guarantees that each individual citizen has a chance to pursue whatever they might so desire. That has nothing to do with results.

We don’t guarantee results in America.

Simply put, a national healthcare system does not fit within our governance model, nor does it fit within our cultural philosophy. This is not to suggest that it should not, just that it does not. It’s just that it would require a significant paradigm shift in our way of thinking about our role as citizens.

Don’t you think?

© 2008 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Post No. 188: Why Everyone Seems to be So Disappointed in Our President

© 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

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

The above Sexton quote appeared while navigating a Borders Book Store, along with an overwhelming desire to chat about “zeitgeist,” which Wikipedia defines as the “spirit of the age,” or the “spirit of the time.”

Last week was a difficult week for the former United States of America. We were confronted with a daunting, complex issue revolving around how we should respond to Syria’s purported use of chemical weapons. We had difficulty figuring out who are, and to some extent remembering who we were.

To compound the problem, many suggested that the Obama administration appeared confused, and lacked the ability to articulate a coordinated plan or vision, or even some real, concrete, identifiable interests to be served by our potential military foray.

But, in our humble view, as with many things in life, this is bigger than the man who occupies the office of the President. This is more about who we are as a people at this stage in our national evolution, how we view our past, and how we view our future.

It’s about zeitgeist.

What we really fear, truth be told, is that we might not be the nation that we thought we were. Long gone are the days of the concrete and tangible, and John Wayne kicking some real ass. Even a 12 year old knows that Iron Man rules through the magic of Hollywood computer graphics and animation technology.

We realize more and more that many things are not what they seem and that to some extent we have always lived in the land of illusion.

However, with rapidly advancing technological changes, the lens through which we view the world is more fluid and capable of capturing a far bigger picture, totally apart from the real-time information stream. Our open and obvious (yet behind the scenes) transfer of our economic might to a larger communist force, our collective response to 9/11, and The Great Recession have us feeling like we are spinning out of control.

We here at the Institute didn’t want this man to be President. In our view, he was the wrong man for the wrong times. However our position was not based on anything which had to do with the man himself, but rather everything about who we are.

Some months back we generated a post, Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest that God’s Pissed. The reality is that this is a culmination of 35+ years of excess and not taking responsibility for our actions, as we outlined in Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered.

During difficult and uncertain times, people have a tendency to long for an earlier day when things were seemingly clearer and far more simplistic. And along with that comes a tendency to blame someone for our current state of affairs, and who better to blame than the current President.

Most of us can't balance our checkbooks, maintain good relations with our spouse, or manage our children, and yet we're so cock-sure about how to run this nation.

If we are going to solve problems going forward, we need to snap out of this coma, and face some realities, including one that looms large, to wit: the use of old methods to address today’s issues in a constantly changing environment won’t work. (Been There; Done That) We need innovation, forward thinking; not a reversion to the past.

Many are looking for a savior, to provide some illusion of stability. But no one man (or woman) can fill those shoes or adequately address that emotional and spiritual need.

The simplest, most effective way to address insecurities and uncertainties? Create jobs here at home.

So many of us, despite showing up some place every day, aren’t sure whether we have a real job anymore. Totally apart from what jobs can do for one’s sense of security and ability to provide for one’s family, it does wonders for self-esteem, both personally and collectively. Additionally, according to the Physicians' Desk Reference, it is the most effective drug to administer intravenously to combat paranoia.

On one level, we all need to take personal, collective responsibility for how we got here, including electing people who have their personal, selfish interests ahead of our collective interests.

The following appears in the signature of one of our friends of the Institute: "It is neither the strongest, nor the most intelligent, of the species that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."

"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"™