#197 Sweating the Small Stuff

A few weeks back, I was having lunch with a friend who is a long-time St. Paul resident. He was telling me some of the history of his neighborhood, east St. Paul, and when he got to some of the famous gangster stories of the area he mentioned one of the old mobster hangouts that is still pretty popular with modern gangsters. He said, "The cops know all about it. Every Wednesday night, the neighborhood is surrounded in black limos when the gang guys show up for their meeting. The drivers drop off the bosses and find a parking spot close to the restaurant." He described this flood of black suited stereotype gangsters whacking each other on the back and deciding what part of Minnesota they are going to screw up next over a big steak with a side of spaghetti. He made it sound almost civilized.

I disagree.

Maybe the biggest problem with the lawyer-based legal system we suffer is that we put all of our resources in exactly the wrong places. In life, manufacturing, and in business in general, it's a good idea to consider the old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." The Pareto "80/20 Rule" is all about that tactic. If 80% of your expenses come from 20% of your problems, the idea is to work on that 20% first. When you've solved those problems, you work on the next 20%. Randomly cherry picking easy problems to deal with because the 20% are complicated is exactly how General Motors ended up being a 2nd tier manufacturer. Our major manufacturers have been playing catch-up since Japan fired up the Quality Revolution in the 1960's.

But the small stuff is exactly the only thing we sweat with our criminal justice system. We arm our police and send them after everyone but the folks who are committing the really big, really harmful to society, crimes. We waste time and money chasing down people doing drugs in the privacy of their own homes, people having sex for money, kids downloading music and movies, parking violators, and people who don't mow their lawns regularly. While police are piddling with silly crap, Rome is burning and the Huns are tearing down the walls.

February 2009


#192 Comparing the Candidates1

Watching the recent speeches, I realized something amazing about the Republican candidate: John McSame is Eric Cartman, sort of grown up. Listen to his ranting, his strange nasal grunt used to punctuate his "important" moments. If we could just get him to sing "In the Ghetto," I think it would be obvious that John McCain and South Park's Eric Cartman are the same guy.

twoboobsI wish I had written this brilliant analysis, but I didn't. However, it is so perfect that I wanted to do my bit to distribute it further. The comparisons between the two sets of Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates are clear and obvious. One set is completely unsuited and unprepared for any office more critical than small town American (preferably small town Alaska or Arizona where nothing of importance ever happens and nothing of value is created). The other set is prepared, educated, intelligent, and capable. If you are still inclined to vote for the unprepared pair, racism is clearly your motivation. In fact, you are simply casting your vote for two pink boobs.

In the 2008 Presidential Election, what if the candidates resumes were reversed?

  • What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?
  • What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
  • What if Barack Obama finished 894 out of 899 graduates from the Navy Academy in 1958?
  • What if Barack Obama had been a prisoner in Vietnam for five years and suffered from Delayed Stress Syndrome?
  • What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?
  • What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident, when she no longer measured up to his standards?
  • What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?
  • What if Barack Obama had failed at an attempted suicide?
  • What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
  • What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
  • What if Obama had punched a woman in the face in the halls of Congress?
  • What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five? (The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)
  • What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?
  • What if Obama couldn't read from a teleprompter?
  • What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?
  • What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on many occasions, a serious anger management problem? Or if he used high levels of profanity in his private and public conversations.
  • What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?
  • What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?
  • You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

Educational Background:

Barack Obama:

  • Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
  • Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude, Editor and President of Harvard Law Review
  • Taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years.

Michelle Obama:

  • Princeton University - BA in Sociology, Cum Laude
  • Harvard Law School, Juris Doctor (J.D.)

Joseph Biden:

  • University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
  • Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)


John McCain:

  • United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Cindy McCain:

  • BA in Education - University of Southern California
  • MA in Special Education - University of Southern California

Sarah Palin:

  • Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
  • North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
  • University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
  • Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
  • University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Todd Palin:

  • High School Graduate

Some try to sweep the issue under the rug but this is about racism. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Education isn't everything, but this is about the two highest offices in the land, the second highest office and the spouses who wield influence over them, as well as our standing in the world. You make the call.

1Sheldon Aubut http://www.sheldonaubut.com

November 2008


#196 Games Wall Street Plays

My favorite quotes of the month are all about how "the best and the brightest" are being put upon by terrible ideas like limits on CEO salary and talk about cranking up the upper bracket income tax rate. It's actually possible that this country has directed its best and brightest into do-nothing mobster occupations like tax accounting, finance, MBA-style management, marketing, law, and similar unproductive manipulative skills. Many so-called "top schools" have refocused their output into accounting, law, and MBA programs, moving out of the much more capital intensive science and engineering disciplines.

Obviously, under a constant barrage of Republican and faux-Republican (Clinton's "Eisenhower Republican" administration) for nearly 30 years, the federal government's talent level has fallen to 1929 levels. Reagan and the Bushies stuffed the legal system with hundreds, if not thousands, of untalented neocon fruitcakes and it will take decades, if we cared to do the work, to purge that collection of morons from the judicial system. Dedicated talent fled civil service after Reagan made it clear that talent was the last thing he wanted in government. Bush actually actively chased talented civil servants down and tossed it out for 8 years.

If the United States wants to make a comeback, we are going to have to reverse all of this foolishness. The federal government is, once again, going to have to find a way to staff itself with scientific, industrial, economic, diplomatic, legislative, and white collar criminal investigative talent. Our universities and K-12 education system is going to have to relearn how to educated itself, then its students, in disciplines that are based in science and technology, not tax-evading money laundering games.

As anyone who follows history knows, Reagan's "miracle of the markets" is based on the squalor of criminal behavior. Markets, when allowed to run wild, are nothing more than a collection of gangsters in suits wallowing in greed, corruption, and collusion. Game theory has long proven that the basic capitalist theory was a misreading of human nature. Libertarian theory is so far from reality that it appears to be as reality-based as Creationism. Humans are both greedy and lazy. The greediest and laziest are often best suited to take advantage of a system that is not based on laws that regulate those tendencies. Executives are not the cream of any crop and haven't been since the first generation of any industry. Once the founders are gone, the politicians move in and sharks begin to feed on the business culture, turning it from productive to vicious.

Now, we are stuck with a generation or two of our best and brightest who are unsuited for any productive work. The American X, Y, and Z Generations are rarely engineers, scientists, doctors, technicians, or even schooled in any reality-based discipline.

Obviously, the cure is in our tax system. It should be clear that a tax system is designed to encourage or discourage activity. We tax the stuff we don't want to happen and we don't tax the stuff we want to encourage. Currently, our tax system is designed by exactly the people our culture ought to be discouraging. There is no upside to inherited wealth, which is the reason for inheritance taxes. G.W. Bush is the posterboy for why wealth and power should not be inherited. There is no advantage provided to businesses or the culture for excessive executive salaries, it's not like these morons could go somewhere else and make money. We should stop providing corporate tax breaks for executive income expenses. We need alternative energy research and development. We need a working education system. We need manufacturing, infrastructure, and technology. We don't need more lawyers, tax accountants, or MBAs. The fix is to tax the things we don't want to death and to reward the activities we desperately need.

Leadership is top-down. When the top of our corporate structure is incompetent, uneducated, and corrupt, you can expect the economic levels below them to follow. For the last 30 years, from the President to CEOs, our "leadership" has been drawn from the worst of the worst. We have to fix that.

February 2009

#191 Religulous

I saw Bill Maher's Religulous last night with a friend in a tiny, out-of-the-way theater in St. Paul. Two theaters are showing this film, although the show was better attended than all of the offerings in my local mega-theater for a very late night showing in an area with limited parking. It's not for lack religulous-toastof audience that this film is languishing in obscure "art theaters." It's most likely fear. If this is true in a "liberal" state and city like Minnesota and St. Paul/Minneapolis, consider how much more true it is in the nation's Red States (when did being "Red" become a positive?).

Many of the film's reviewers tentatively talk about their reaction to Religulous by reminding us all that "religion is a sensitive subject."  In this case, "sensitive" means "dangerous." Overwhelmingly, religious people share traits with other crazy people, especially the trait of unpredictable (and predictable) violence. From Timmy McVeigh to Osama bin Laden, religious fanatics are among the scariest people on the planet. Just to calibrate yourself, consider that when a few of the major theaters attempted to cash in on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, protestors swarmed those theaters attempting to scare off viewers with their abortion clinic tactics. Mostly, they found themselves outwitted, overwhelmed by numbers, and ignored, but the message was received by the theater chains. None of the major corporate commies have anything resembling the courage to show a film as controversial as Religulous, but showing a snuff flick like The Passion of Christ is right up their alley, sewer, or ditch.

religulousReligulous is well made, entertaining (as this subject can be), intelligent, and disturbing. As any rational person knows, the connection between many nations possessing the means to destroy the world (in fire) and the desire to create a self-fulfilling prophesy by so many fools is scary stuff. Listening to these fools try to justify their "Bronze Age" beliefs is depressing and scary. The first twenty minutes are funny, but after a while the relentless stupidity of the "faithful" is nothing more than ghoulish and gloomy. Maher isn't trying to entertain us. He's trying to frighten the few remaining intelligent, unsuperstitious souls left on the planet into action. Mostly, he succeeded in convincing me that humans are the bottom of the evolutionary heap and the best thing that could happen is for humanity to breed itself into a plague that reduces our numbers as quickly as possible, to save the rest of the world from "God's dumbest creation."

I've read some reviewers complain that Maher "made to look foolish" the faithful he interviewed. Maher simply asked them questions and reported their foolish answers. Religious nuts, apparently, don't like mirrors.

One of the typically irrational reviewers of Religulous, Tim McNabb in a website misnamed The American Thinker, claimed "Maher claims that agnostics represent 16% of the population, but so far they have not built 16% of the nation's charities (unless you count voting for Democrats)." That's typical of religious arguments. As Maher discovers when he interviews Francis Collins, a "scientist" who made strange claims for "faith" and backed his arguments with an obvious lack of knowledge of the Bible he worships. If he's the head of the US government's Genome Project, that segment of the scientific world is in trouble, if not dead and buried. Fortunately, the US is no longer leading this field of research, so progress has not been stopped by Collins. As Maher reminds us, the majority of scientists in the world are agnostic or atheist. They attempt to remedy the world's problems with science and technologies that actually "fix" those problems rather than cater to the pitiful results of overpopulation, starvation, superstition, and ignorance.  

Another religious apologist asked, "Was Maher afraid he might muddy his clownish jape if he actually brought into the mix a learned theologian." Actually, that tactic has been tried (The God Who Wasn't There and The Lost Gospel of Judas) and religious nuts liked it even less. "Learned theologians" tend to be as agnostic as they become historians or scientists. The more you know about the history of, for instance, Christianity, the more you doubt. Obviously, Maher consulted with many learned theologians, because his timeline of Christianity was accurate and his knowledge of the history of the Bible and the things actually in the Bible exceeded that of the Christians he interviewed. In fact, most of the professed "Christians" know less about their religion than the average uninterested agnostic.

Religious excuse-makers argue that "99% of the world's population can't be wrong." That's the dumbest of all arguments for any subject. Humans are insane and ignorant by nature. Not only can 99% of us be wrong, but as Maher says, we have a long, violent, depressing history of getting practically "everything exactly wrong." From math to nature to the universe, humans have long believed in concepts that were so far from logical or right that it's hard to take humans serious, even if you are one. Mark Twain speculated that we "fell from the higher animals." If we don't start correcting some of the more dangerous misunderstandings our species believes, we may take out the higher animals with us in our suicidal drive to Armageddon.

Maher has either created this link or linked himself to it, http://disbeliefnet.com. Whatever, it's an interest source of information/entertainment on what the majority of the world's nutjobs are up to.

October 2008


Killing Teams

One of the things I’ve written and thought about a lot over the last 30 years is teamwork, team-building, and team-wreaking. I recently read a book that had a lot of insight into the whole process, Smarter Faster Better, and that book also explained how easy it is to break existing teams. I have been blessed in my 50 year work career to have been on four excellent and productive teams. When those opportunities appeared, I wallowed in the incredible experience of being part of a group whose product dramatically exceeded the sum of the parts. And then they died and I mourned the loss almost as much as I would the death of a friend.

The first team experience I had was as a part-time employee of my step-grandparents’ flooring store. Initially, I was hired to sew scraps of leftover carpet into throw rugs for the store’s customers. It was the kind of beyond-expectations service my grandparents’ regularly delivered and one that taught me a lot about doing quality work (everyone involved in teaching me how to do that job had high standards for the work and product I would deliver to customers. From the blatantly gay accountant to the African-American and Hispanic and traditionally Midwestern  flooring installers to the sales people (mostly the store owners), everyone involved in that company’s purpose was committed to being the best at their job. I quit that job to make my first and last serious attempt at being a rock star, but I can still sew carpet and lay a pretty mean floor: tile, linoleum, carpet, or wood. I wasn’t bright or experienced enough to appreciate that first job’s environment, but it was an experience that stuck with me for a lifetime.

The next three team experiences were in industrial engineering, audio equipment manufacturing, and higher education. All three of those teams were formed without any sort of upper management guidance or serious support. They just happened, mostly because of the right middle management person at the right time. The skill sets in those teams were wildly diverse as were the team members’ education credentials. Each of these groups met and exceeded their intended tasks and goals. None of them lasted more than a couple of years.

Creating anything takes hard work and is always complicated. Any kid knows that breaking things is easy. Most MBAs and other mismanagement types specialize in breaking up teams and creating conflict for their own self-promotional goals. I suspect there is a Harvard MBA class titled, “Busting Teams and Making Youself Look Good in the Process.” I’d imagine the Wharton School of Finance has the same silly-assed class and Donny Trump might have even passed it.

A functioning country, especially a marginal-democracy like ours, is a lot like a barely-balanced team. When President Obama took over in 2009, that balance had been wreaked by banksters, war mongers and profiteers, and lousy management. Since he used the first two years of his Presidency to shoe-horn in the ACA, whatever momentum and clout he once had burned up in the effort. By 2010, the bare Democratic congressional majority was vanishing and the federal government was being filled with people who would rather see the country collapse and be overthrown by communists or fascists than succeed under Obama. This election, they might get their wish.

One thing we should all recognize as “truth” is that Donald Trump couldn’t build a successful team with someone else’s brain. Trump’s long record of buying and breaking things is a perfect predictor of the country’s future under his mismanagement. This is the national train wreak Republicans have been working (I know, poor choice of words.) and praying for since Reagan and if we aren’t incredibly lucky they will learn all about unintended consequences. Too bad we can’t get off of this train and watch from a distance.


#195 Analyzing the Right

An amazing thing has happened. Ding,dong the nut is gone. Bush and Cheney have left the room, returned to the opulence from which the came. The rest of the crazy crowd who polluted the Washington atmosphere for eight miserable years have gone back to their cushy corporate jobs and have returned to their real work, making money. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we are rid of them. They'll be back.Like cockroaches, they are terrified of the light, but the lights don't stay on forever. We are a short-sighted, short memory country and they will return to do what they always do again.

I've been reviewing the last quarter-century while watching Obama's first days. The things he is trying to change are exactly what the Reaganites and Bushies spent so much time building; fear, secrecy, corruption, and disinformation. I'm sure that many Americans have no idea why Obama is spending so much effort trying to reconstruct government "transparency." Bush and, especially, Cheney operated so much of government behind layers of closed doors that the US federal government had more in common with the old Soviet Russia than any Constitutional relationship. Obama wants to close the connection between Washington employment, especially at the civil and military higher levels, and lobbying double-dipping. Republican politicos wouldn't consider "public service" if it didn't directly lead to gigantic paychecks before, during, and afterwards. The right wing idea of service always involves someone else bending over.

One of the mental traits I've observed in all rightwingers is a disconnect between myth (even self-invented myth) and reality. It's a useful quality when you are trying to sell craziness, however, when taken to extremes it can be simpleminded madness. Most salespeople believe, at least a little, in the crap they spew, but really crazy salespeople believe their own lines completely. Characters like Jack Abramoff, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Cheney, and Adolf Hitler drink their own Koolaid and serve themselves seconds. It makes planning an escape particularly difficult. It's one thing to lie and invent realities on the fly, it's another to plan to fly that magic carpet off of a cliff.

I have a typical piece of crazy rightwinger drivel on my desk, it came from the "Republican Party of Minnesota" and it's a pitch for money. My favorite bit read (the punctuation, capitalization, and bold print is all Republican):

". . . But here's what we DO know:

Our friend, Norm Coieman, won a razor-thin victory on Election Day.

Liberal Democrat Al Franken has resorted to taking extraordinary measures to overturn Norm's victory."

By Minnesota law, nobody won the Minnesota US Senate seat on "Election Day." State law requires a recount when election results are far more unclear than the 2008 Minnesota US Senate election. Those "extraordinary measures" involved actually counting Minnesotans' votes. Damn, those liberals. Not only do they want to have democratic elections, they want to count the damn votes.

Later, this crazy rant went on to claim, "Govenor Tim Pawlenty will be in their crosshairs, and we can't rest on our laurels for even a minute."

There are Republican "laurels?" For what? Decimating the economy, wiping out the middle class, involving the military in two wasteful wars and pouring a nation's fortune down the drain of mercenary corporations, incapacitating the federal and most state governments with incompetence and corruption? Man, with laurels like that, you'd think resting would be the last thing Republicans would do. I'd think either skipping the country to avoid prison and tar and feathers would be pretty high on the list. 

January 2009

#176 This Is Not America

It's late February and this is the first time I've felt like saying something in the Rat Rants. The first two months of the year have been depressingly like the last seven years and I see no signs of improvement on the horizon. I get a moment of "I told you so" because of the home and mortgage crash, but that was something I'd have loved to have been wrong about.  Listening to math-deficient "economics experts" babble about "home ownership" as a sign of booming economics for the last seven years has been tough to take. When an expert doesn't know the difference between ownership and borrower-ship, the country is in big trouble.

However, that isn't what inspired me to sit with my computer and write this Rant. For the last seven years, and often before that, a Pat Metheny/David Bowie song has haunted me; "This Is Not America." The refrain is getting louder every day.

The radical Right has brought us Big Brother in a form that even Orwell didn't imagine (or at least describe in writing). All my life, I've watched movies and read books about countries that "disappear" people and considered that the worst fate a person and families could experience. A country that can justify taking citizens in the night (or, worse, in broad daylight) without warrant, justification, or an expectation of a trial is without a reason to exist. A country whose court systems excuse this behavior has stepped out of the small group of civilized nations and into savagery. My country, the United States of America, is just that kind of nation. But I'm here to tell you, this is not America. This is G.W. Bush's primitive little nightmare nation, a country that once could have been great, a country that at least one time in its history rose up, unified, to fight corrupt and evil nations just like the sort that we are now beginning to resemble. This is not America.

The United States of America does not torture anyone, let alone innocent citizens. The United States of America does not condone capital punishment and John Adams explained why when he defended the British soldiers who were some of the murderers in the Boston Massacre. The United States of America is a curious, courageous, scientific nation, not a superstitious, backwards country of fools and cowards. The United States of America is a democracy, not a corporatocracy, not a theocracy, and not a kingdom. The nation was formed as a republic, with the dream of one day being an educated democracy. Business and government serve the public, not the reverse. The United States of America is a symbol to the world of all that can be good in human nature and society, not a terrorist power that tries to frighten the rest of the world into submission. This is not America.

The United States of America is not a country that directs all of its protection and concern toward the richest citizens, neglecting the poor and the working classes to labor in despair and fear. The United States of America is not a class society, regardless of the pitiful whining of the rich and their inbred idle offspring. The United States of America would never attack a smaller, undefended nation to steal that country's natural resources and to undermine their culture and government. The United States of America would never accept the inane jabbering of a Supreme Court that deemed the rights of the rich and powerful and their corrupt and psychopathic organizations, corporations, to be above and superior to individual citizens. The United States of America would run a judge who made such a foolish decision out of town on rail, tarred and feathered. This is not America.

George Bush will be an example of Oscar Wilde's great observation, "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." I only hope that when Little George leaves he takes his vicious nation with him. It was not America. When those selfish conservatives leave Washington, they will cause great happiness all over the world.

February 2008


Running vs. Walking

I am a candidate for the Red Wing City Council in 2016. When I am introduced as such and people ask me why I am “running,” I tell them it’s more like I’m walking for the office. One of the heroes of my youth was Minnesota’s Senator Eugene McCarthy. Likewise, Senator McCarthy was a reluctant politician, far more comfortable with academia and the solo lifestyle of a historical and political author. He once said, “I said didn’t want to [be President], but I was willing which is a much stronger commitment than wanting the Presidency.”

clip_image001The man who wrote one of the best books about what our government should look like--insteaad of what it did look like--titled The Limits of Power, changed everything about how many in my generation felt about what democracy should be. Of course, like many of the idealists who crashed and burned against the Democratic Party’s corporate machine in 2016, we were eventually convinced that the United States was unwilling to be a democracy. Lightweights like Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey grew half-of-a-pair and lightly challenged the no longer standing President Johnson and pretended to have a plan for exiting the war in Vietnam. Nixon and his cronies came up with their “secret plan” to resolve the war, while working behind the scenes to sabotage the Paris Peace Talks that Johnson had made the main objective of what remained of his Presidency. Nixon also set the course for the Republican politicians who would come after him, particularly the Reagan administration which felt justified in dealing directly with Iran to rig the 1980 election. The idea that a Republican congress would do anything to prevent an African-American President from achieving any of his goals to restore the US economy--including costing Americans’ thousands of jobs, homes, security, and savings—isn’t much of a stretch after Nixon’s treasonous example. Eugene McCarthy not only demonstrated honor, duty, humor, and sacrifice in his attempt to enlighten the American public, he taught some of us that there is no such thing as a non-participatory democracy and that every citizen has to make an effort to be part of local and national politics if we ever hope to have a society that is just, decent, and equitable.

So, I’m walking for Red Wing’s city council. If I don’t “win,” it won’t cause me any sort of anguish. Like Senator McCarthy, I have a full and complete life and I despise meetings. If I’m elected it will mean that I have to attend 2 long, tedious meetings a month and do an untold amount of research on every issue the council acts upon. If I’m elected, I will go way out of my comfort zone to talk to people who are involved in and affected by the council’s decisions. I’ll spend my evenings reading city policy documents, contracts, budget details, and becoming familiar with the state and federal guidelines for city government. I am not a Political Science student, a representative of or vested in any special interests, or someone who enjoys public speaking or power and authority. I have more hobbies and interests than I have time to pursue. I have a family that gives me all of the company and relationship time I have patience for, so I’m sure not in this for the attention.


Collateral Damage

The July news was filled with stories of two young men shot down by police during the usual sort of police activity that provides absolutely no value to the public but is solely intended to generate income for states, counties, and cities. Of course, the shooting of five cops by a deranged Army veteran suffering from delusions and PTSD from his tours in Afghanistan has overshadowed the vast discrepancy in danger to cops vs. the people they stop and assess “the cost of being black” taxes. For example, the FBI counted 51 law enforcement officers were 'feloniously' killed in the line of duty in 2014 while so far this year “1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).” Since the FBI doesn’t have access to all of the country’s police records, that count is obviously low. Any way you count it, it looks to me like if there is a war going on, the cops are winning

The question is, “Should they be winning this way?”


#194 Why the Red States Are Red

When I started the Rat’s Eye View, way back in 1998, I imagined it might become something like Capitol Hill Blue or truthout.org. I had delusions of making a difference in the national dialog and of something resembling journalism. Scott’s generous and kind submission is as close as I got to my dream.

By Scott Jarrett

Surfing the Web today, two days after the 2008 Presidential election, I went to look at the final map of Blue and Red States as they represented victories for the presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. It dawned on me that there are two substantial characteristics that all the red states share, and with the exception of New Mexico and Colorado, some important characteristics shared by the blue states as well.

The first thing I noticed was that the Midwestern red states are all land-locked. In other words, they have no direct commerce with the rest of the world through shared waterways. Even Indiana, whose border just barely brushes against the Great Lakes, went blue. One could argue that the Mississippi River cuts a border between some of the red states, but the Mississippi doesn’t serve much international commerce like the Great Lakes do.

The second thing I noticed was that the red states that are connected to international waterways –mostly Southern states – are all former slave states. And the chief commodity traded internationally through these coastal red states is oil.

All the red states are either completely disconnected from the rest of the world in terms of social exchange, or are at best connected only by the culture of corporate oil.

So what? In the 21st century even Kansans and Tennesseans get the Internet, TV, radio and other media. Aren’t they making decisions based on the same available information as the rest of us? Aren’t they as well-informed?

The answer is: “Yes, except that all information exchanged between humans is processed within a social context.”

Let me defend this statement. Language itself evolves socially, as can be seen simply by observing different accents in different parts of the country. On a more subtle scale, meanings differ greatly in different regions. An example might be the use of the word “ma’am”. In the South it is still customary to address a woman with this polite term. In many southern circles it would be considered rude to omit the word. But if you were to call a woman “ma’am” in some parts of the Northeastern United States, you might get punched. Ma’am in these regions is equated with “madam” (from which it is contracted), and this word has long had the connotation of referring to a woman of ill repute. So even with the same vocabulary, we are saying vastly different things.

Here’s fodder for a red and blue conflict: does the offensive connotation for the word “ma’am” derive from some deep-seated Yankee view that Rebel women are prostitutes?

These kinds of issues are why people are repulsed by the idea of voting for a presidential candidate whose middle name is Hussein? Hussein is a very common name in the world. What if a candidate’s middle name was Bubba, or Jesus? How would your colloquial language spin dictate your voting responses if the candidate for president had one of these very common names as a middle name?

My point here is that since information is conveyed between humans through language, and language evolves socially and locally, there is little hope that any pure information can be processed without this inherent “colloquial spin”. The only possible way that information exchanged between humans can be processed objectively would be to expose the information to a diverse set of social filters and then openly invite possibilities other than those automatic ones you have around you in your comfortable social context. You would basically have to be tolerant of many diverse perspectives; even willing to embrace them.

My contention after looking at the electoral map today is that the red states can’t possibly escape their own colloquial language spin to correctly process objective meanings from the facts that we all have access to on the Internet, etc. They lack the exposure to diverse interpretations in their daily lives. They are too cut off. The blue states do all the interacting with the rest of the world for them. In fact, if you look at the map you will see that the blue states totally surround and protect the red states. One might argue that the red states are good states to live in if you are afraid of the outside world.

It is an interesting observation that the red states are the ones least likely to suffer from an attack from another country. Can anywhere be less of a target for terrorists than Arkansas? Yet the good citizens of these states act out of fear that they will come under attack by some foreign power unless the US actively protects them. So they vote on behalf of the Industrial-Military Complex and the corporations that feed it. Why aren’t they afraid of the corporate takeovers of their good farmlands that have been going on for decades? The terrorists don’t have nearly as much interest in their farms as the corporations do. Is it because their farms are being taken over by people they perceive to be Americans like them, so it is all right somehow?

In conclusion, I believe that the red states vote as they do not from a lack of available information, but from an inability to break through the “surface tension” of their isolated, colloquial sense of the world as expressed and understood through their use of the language in their social context.

November 2008

#175 Back to Quality

When I first started the Rat's Eye View, I mostly wrote about business and the decline in management capability I, personally, experienced in business. While the last couple of years have been more about politics and the rapidly down-breeding human race, I still think about business concepts and management. It just doesn't seem as important as the destruction of  democracy in the United States, the establishment of an ignorant theocracy in place of constitutional government, or my government's attempt to colonize North Africa for international oil corporations.

There appears to be no fix for the Rise and Fall of Great Nations, so for the moment I'm going to return to business and the concept of customer service and quality. Everything good in business comes from these two concepts. Some writers have considered the two as separate and, maybe, equal, but I think they are inseparable. Without a culture of service to the customers of the core business, there is no motivation for pursuing quality. Without the concepts of quality management, the tools for serving customers are insufficient.

Quality and service are hard concepts for the current breed of manager to grasp. Like professional athletes, the kind of people who gravitate into management, especially those who have inherited the position, tend to believe they possess some inherent capabilities that allows them to rise above the mundane problems of their business and customers to see the "bigger picture." There is no bigger picture. The problem with the real picture is that it is complicated, technically challenging, and constantly changing. The more simple view found by overlooking the problems of service and quality has nothing to do with the survival of the business or providing value to the business; it's just daydreaming disguised as management.

Recently, a couple of local, pointedly obvious experiences reminded me of how management can snatch defeat from the claws of success. When I first moved to Minnesota, I stumbled on a new multiplex theater in Oakdale, Minnesota. I only discovered this out-of-the-way theater because it was near a store I like a lot, Fleet Farm. The theater is about 5 miles from my home and there were several closer, equally well-equipped theaters near my home at the time. However, the Marcus Oakdale Theater became my default place to watch movies because on my first visit I found the seats to be comfortable, the screen to be acceptably large, the sound system to be well-tuned, and the popcorn to be edible. Not an overwhelming endorsement, but good enough to stop my unmotivated search for a better facility. Over the last decade, I've probably watched a hundred or so movies at the Marcus Oakdale. I'm usually with one or two other people, so we're talking about a couple thousand dollars in ten years. Not a spectacular expense, but not insignificant.

This year, I convinced a friend to watch a western with me, 3:10 to Yuma. It's an Elmore Leonard story and I"m a dedicated Elmore Leonard fan. My friend wasn't either a fan of westerns or particularly interested in Elmore Leonard. I was hoping to make a convert. He wanted to pass an afternoon escaping from life's problems.

From the moment the projector fired up, an irritating black line appeared on the left side of the screen. My friend noticed it immediately. The line was sometimes joined by lesser lines, but the big black line remained on the screen for the entire showing; from popcorn commercials through the previous all the way to the end of the movie. My friend never stopped noticing the line, I could sometimes forget it was there because I'm a nutso western fan, but it was too often obvious to me, too.

The next day, I wrote to the theater's management, describing our experience and disappointment. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the theater's management apologizing for the bad experience and explaining that the theater had received a defective print from the distributor and it took several days for the distributor to provide a replacement. "It's not our fault," or something equally lame was the explanation. A couple of guest passes accompanied the apology.

Since then, I've seen three or four movies. I haven't used the guest passes yet. There is a new complex of theaters in my neighborhood and, when I wanted to take my grandson to a movie I decided to check out one of the new theaters. The seats were comfortable, the screen was pretty large, the sound system didn't blatantly distort, and the popcorn was edible. I have a new favorite theater and, when I visit Fleet Farm, I drive by my old favorite theater, remember that I have some free passes and wish I'd remembered to put them in the car in case I was in the area with some time on my hands.

The distain the manager demonstrated toward his customers, me, in continuing to show a damaged film with no warning, reduction in price, or acknowledgement that we might be intelligent enough to notice a defective product was enough of a de-motivator that I'm just not inclined to spend my own money to try that theater again. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.

In the college where I work, we have a coffee shop. From first hand observation, I'd suspect that the original concept for the school's coffee shop first started as an afterthought. It appeared to be something to do with a large room on the top floor of the building. The room didn't seem to fit into the school's classroom plan, but it would be wasted space if nothing went in that space. The initial facilities were almost laughable. The original manager, Ben, was a recent school graduate and was driven by unseen, unpredictable forces to make the coffee shop a hangout for students and instructors. He seemed to be particularly focused on making instructors happy, maybe because we were the only predictable customers he'd have; students being temporary customers at best. Ben offered better-than-cafe coffee, went through a variety of pastry suppliers until he found a decent bakery, and worked hard to encourage kids and instructors to patronize the coffee shop. It became a success, in spite of management's ignoring the facility and Ben's requests for more equipment and more comfortable furniture. Ben had no nearby competition, but he tried to make an impression anyway.

Eventually, the school's mismanagement decided that Ben wasn't a "professional" manager and he was replaced by a lady who claimed she had managed cafe's "in the real world." She lasted a couple of months and disappeared. Since then, we've gone through a collection of managers, each equally disinterested in the regular customers, providing more than the minimal service, and each imprinting absolutely no character on the facility.

For a few years, that worked. Then, a cafe opened across the street. It's a hassle, comparatively, to go outside, cross a busy street, wait in line with many more customers, to get a cup of coffee, but the service and coffee is significantly better. I've not only found myself surrounded by fellow instructors across the street, but the school's management is regularly over there, too. We are so used to indifferent service from our own facility that we automatically switch allegiances to a better service provider, even when we are the competition. How screwed up is that?

My turnaround came when I bought a cup of coffee and had the cup dissolve on me, spilling hot coffee on my hand, causing me to drop the cup, and waste a few minutes cleaning up after myself in class. When I bitched about it, my students all said they'd had the same experience. I took my complaint to the cafe manager and was told that he'd received a shipment of defective cups and it would be a couple of days before the supplier could replace them. He wasn't even slightly embarrassed that he'd been caught providing crappy product, that he knew would dissolve before his customers could naturally empty the cup. He just smirked at me for being foolish enough to think he cared. I started bringing coffee from home the next day, until I discovered that other instructors were going across the street for better service. On the rare occasion that I don't manage to brew my own coffee and don't want to walk an extra block for coffee, I bring my own cup to our coffee shop.

Ben has moved on to become a "professional" facility manager for a successful local club. I was reminded of Ben when a student came by my office to tell me that he was working for Ben and that he had asked the student to invite me to his club. Ben is still driven to extend exceptional service and I'm sure the quality naturally follows.

This all reminds me of an old (badly paraphrased) saying, "It takes $50 in advertising to convince a customer to try your product. 5 seconds of poor service will lose that customer and it will take at least $5,000 to bring that customer back again." Quality service takes constant attention and unwavering focus from management. Anything less is a lot less than the current breed of management imagines. 

December 2007


#174 Let Them Vote Honestly

Republican voters have been cheated for at least a century. The Republican Party represents the interests of corporations and corporations have all of the rights and privileges of individuals, except the right to run for office. Why aren't these corporate "individuals" allowed to run for office? After all, we allow them to control the "information" that determines the vote. They might as well be able to directly run for office, while they are at it.

The current system probably better serves the Greater Bad and it's dishonest. By nominnating a human representative, every corporation has a chance to "own a piece of the President" or a congressman or mayor or whatever. But our last two Presidential elections put the lie to that farce when Republicans elected two top officers and shareholders of a single corporate entity, Halliburton/Dressler, for the nation's top offices. In 2000, the pretense became so thin that we individual citizens might as well admit defeat and move on to a more rational, honest system: electing corporations to political offices.

Think about it. Halliburton had demonstrated total corporate incompetence in every area except one, military-industrial pork barrel diving. Halliburton's foolish attempt at digesting the smaller, but more ruthless Dressler (owned by the Bush family and headed by George I who will be soon replaced by Little George) was turning into a disaster until the political representatives of that corporation, Little Bush and Cheney, came up with an invasion and occupation that provided their company with endless opportunities for dumpster diving in the nation's pork barrel. The federal government practically single-sourced all of the profitable activities of this invasion to Halliburton. Even in activities where Halliburton had no identifiable skills or experience, they were allowed to put a few fingers in to rake off unearned profits.

Imagine what Microsoft or General Motors or IBM could do with a similar opportunity. If a mismanaged, totally incompetent, technology-free, corporate disaster zone like Halliburton can do this much damage, what kinds of havoc could a company with actual skills inflict on the nation's institutions and economy? Microsoft could declare war upon the European Union for supporting open source software and rearrange the "intellectual property" laws so that all thought would be their property. General Motors could take the country to battle against Japan, Europe, and China's better quality  automotive products and skilled management and engineering personnel and return the world to the Golden Age of 4 miles/gallon rust buckets. IBM could . . . I don't know what IBM's management could do, but I bet they could do something if they had the entire nation's resources and power behind them. 

This more honest system would allow voters better information, too. Currently, politician's purposes are sometimes divided among the many corporate interests that fund our elections. Allowing corporations to run against these piece-of-the-pie candidates would make it clear to voters whose interests they are voting for. We could call it the "Truth in Voting Act," or something almost as misleading as the Patriot Act or the other bills that have been passed in the last decade that do exactly the opposite of their title.

December 2007


#173 The Interstate Came Falling Down

Like the London Bridge, the Minneapolis bridge--the one that crossed the Mississippi River--came down this week. At last count, seven people died, hundreds were injured, and five are still unaccounted for. For all we know, dozens more could be among the lost in this catastrophe. Of course, as a nation we're still pretending that the king isn't naked, brainless, and being led by a pack of greedy gangsters who would make the Mob seem benign. We're waging a "War on Terror" using all the terrorist tactics that the world's most powerful military can provide. We're squandering our nation's wealth building roads, bridges, hospitals, and oil wells in a country that only wants to knock down these structures as fast as we can build them. In the meantime, the United State's infrastructure is rotting and falling down on our heads. If this isn't a picture of a nation in the last throes off decline, I need to read more history to find a single example of a great culture that hasn't failed its citizens following exactly this same path..

After September 11, 2001, the Bushies and the clowns who posed as the front line managers of our pitiful excuse for a national defense all claimed that "nobody" could have predicted that terrorists could use our airlines as weapons against us. Never mind that there were at least two best seller novels that predicted almost exactly the scenario that occurred. These politicians and military leaders (as if there is a difference?) provided us with a huge collection of excuses for failing the nation in such a spectacular manner and demonstrated a collective sense of pride and arrogance in their failure. Any real soldier or leader would have gutted himself for neglecting his duties so miserably. These criminals gave themselves a pat on the back and a huge pay raise for their failures. I guess they are following the corporate model well established in US companies; the worse you do, the bigger your reward.

We're reliving the incompetence of 9/11 in Minnesota this August. Our Republican gubernator and his congressional henchmen are all claiming that nothing could have prevented this disaster and that no one could have predicted the collapse of the I35W bridge. Of course, in making this argument they have to contend with the US DOT's 2005 evaluation of the bridge that deemed the bridge "structurally deficient." They have to wave off the low 50 out of 120 points safety rating of this bridge. They have to ignore the fact that this bridge which was designed for a max capacity of 30,000 vehicles a day has been carrying five times as much traffic as it was designed to carry for a decade. In fact, there is an incredible collection of warning signs that the politicians and media have to ignore for this profession of ignorance to look like something other than the gross negligence, incompetence, and corruption that it really is. Just like 9/11.

This level of incompetence and corruption ought to be interpreted as treason. A rational society would not just be pointing fingers at the perpetrators of these murders, we'd be deciding what kind of execution they'd be enjoying.

I never thought I'd be envying the Chinese for their government, but when one of their politicians botched the management of shipping lead to the US concealed in children's toys, he was executed for his failure and the reflected dishonor on his country. Being stood against a wall by a firing squad isn't as honorable as offing himself might have been, but it was far better than going on to more power and even greater debauchery, in the way of George W. Bush, Carl Rove, Pawlenty, and that collection of characterless white men and women.

August  2007


#172 Conservation, Conservatives, and Our "Children's Children"

Theodore Roosevelt reminded United States' citizens that, "We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages." Roosevelt was an enlightened conservative of the last century. Today, there appears to be no such animal in politics, particularly in Republican politics. Roosevelt took pride in knowing that he created the National Park System, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more than a dozen national forests. His opinion of wilderness was "You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it--keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all those who come after you."

Modern conservatives--more accurately described as right wing radicals--think they know better than did Roosevelt, nature, and even their gods. They believe they know when the world is going to end, since they are actively taking a hand in bringing on that end, and have no worries about the futures of their "children's children." They hope no such generation comes to be. Under the same delusions that allows radical Muslims to send their children off to school with a bomb strapped to their chests, Christian Conservatives are happily sacrificing the future of their children out of primitave superstition. The craziest of these radicals hope for a Rapture followed by Armageddon and have taken their gross biblical misreading and lack of historical context to new superstitious depths. The more common cynical right wing radicals are the basest of humans, without a care for their fellow citizens, let alone future generations. They just want to be as rich and powerful as possible without regard for future generations.

Teddy Roosevelt was, by no means, a far-seeing, futurist, but by today's poor standard of leadership he seems so. Roosevelt warned the nation that "We should not forget that it will be just as important to our descendants to be prosperous in their time as it is to us to be prosperous in our time." Roosevelt promoted and protected the nation's natural resources, he tried to contain the period's huge (for the time) corporate trade-restraint conspiracies, and he occasionally used the military to preserve world peace and stability. At the time, many thought that Roosevelt was a radical imperialistic militarist, but he started no wars, acted as a neutral arbitrator to resolve at least three foreign wars and revolutions, and used the build-up of the United States' navy to offset and balance the other world naval powers, particularly Germany and Japan. By today's poor standard of leadership, Roosevelt looks idealistic and farseeing.

The thing that Roosevelt and many of us know is that the banking class has no national loyalty. Their pledge is to money, not society. Money is, regardless of the claims made on its paper, not patriotic and flows as easily into one country as another. Today's powerful ownership class is completely aware of the long-term damage they have done to this country and they could not care less. If things get bad enough here, they can always move to one of their financial islands. If they completely destroy the US economy, there is always someplace where money is unashamedly welcomed and where cold cash can buy the luxuries and power they crave. To the rich, one location is as good as another until they completely spoil one so that is no longer true. Again, Roosevelt referred to them as "the most dangerous members of the criminal class--the criminals of great wealth." Today's radical right is controlled by the "criminals of great wealth" and their expressed "moral" motives are nothing but a mask for their real purposes; the pillaging of the national treasury.

As a nation, we're experiencing record movement of money. Canada has been flooded with US speculation, to the point that Canadians are reconsidering foreign ownership of Canadian property. Unencumbered by the conservative Canadian fear of speculation, Mexico is experiencing a similar invasion of US wealth. Even popular media and literature off-handedly refers to the "off-shore bank" account anytime anyone with money wants to escape taxes, financial responsibility, or insists on economic security. The last place a truly rich person would put hard cash is in a US financial institution.

Technical skills are leaving the US, also. While US companies and the leisure class are politicking for cheap immigrant labor, they are alienating the most skilled graduates of our technical schools. Of course, we're not losing any lawyers or MBAs, no one else would have them, but we are losing scientists, engineers, and manufacturing skills. These talents are the tools the nation will need to build the future.

It's important to remember that "the rich are different from the rest of us, they have money." In other words, the wealthy aren't particularly intelligent, creative, or insightful, they are simply lucky. They are, often, as dumb as Paris Hilton and as foolish. Business trusts have been terrible creations in the history of US business. While the rich who own and control those illegal collaborations have done well, personally, the businesses they have controlled have suffered. Their selfish interests are always short-term and short-sighted. Luck of birth doesn't always mean luck in life. Many of the inherited rich have found ways to squander their wealth and power, aimlessly and pointlessly. An incredible few actually intentionally spend their unearned wealth attempting to improve the country that provided that opportunity. The majority hire intelligent employees to manage their trust funds, inheritances, business and political interests. Those employees soon join the wealthy class and begin their own decay process.

TR campaigned for an aggressive inheritance tax, a social security system, unemployment insurance, an employers' liability law, natural resources conservation, and many other social reforms to protect the nation from the "criminal class." Those criminals were largely successful in subverting the Congress of their day, preventing Roosevelt from forcing them to participate in the democracy from which their wealth was derived. Today's Congress is an even cheaper purchase for the ruling class, but at least we can actually vote the bums out of office. In 1908, the Senate was "elected" by state governors, not by popular vote.

Every generation has its collection of "canaries in the mine" who warn that critical times lay ahead. Almost every generation has suffered critical times that could have been avoided if they had paid attention to their warning signs. The balance of world power is shifting away from the United States. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it will be if we allow the idle rich to squander the nation's resources in a generation or two.

July  2007


#171 Conserapedia, A Place for All of Your Dumbest Ideas

There is a new place for morons to look for "information." It's called Conservapedia. You'll find brilliant bits of nutty misinformation such as this description of "kangaroo": "Also according to creation science theories, after the Flood, kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[2] -- as Australia was still for a time connected to Europe by a land bridge similar to the one that connected Asia to America[3] -- or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters.[2] Another theory is that God simply generated kangaroos into existence there."

Is that freakin' hilarious, or what? You'd think this was a National Lampoon joke, but conservatives aren't bright enough to have a sense of humor. It's not a joke, it's too stupid to be really funny. In case the site was in some way consistently wacky, I did a search on "monkey," "zebra," hippopotamus," and "panda," but found that conservatives have no opinion or information on those animals. Their entry on "gorilla" is predictably hilarious, though.

There's more. Here's the mission statement for the site, "Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we give full credit to Christianity and America. Conservapedia is student-friendly. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise, clean answers free of 'political correctness'." The incorrect use of punctuation is directly lifted from the geniuses at Conservapedia.

"Concise" it is. Some entries are so brainless that you'd think they were written by simpleminded children. This is the place where geniuses like Rush (da Doper) Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Willy O'Reilly go for reference material. Of course, no one is more politically correct than conservatives. With their thin skins, tiny minds, terror of everything complicated or real, and superstitions,

There is an upside to all of this, though. I was exposed to Conservapedia through a particularly stupid NPR interview with the doofus who funded the site. As you might expect, he's an idiot. However, he chanted some statistics that give me hope. The reason, he claims, for starting Conservapedia is that he claims Wikipedia's editors are 80% "liberal." Based on the nutty description of the kangaroo, we can all guess what his parameters for liberal might be: scientific, intelligent, sane, educated, and so on? 

The Conservapedia wacko said that the nation needed a conservative information resource because studies show that "two out of three Americans are conservative." Tending toward pessimism, I would have figured that nine out of ten of everyone is an idiot, so two out of three is substantially less depressing than my estimate. Public education must be doing some good if the country is 24% smarter than I expected.

religionBe honest and you'll know that conservatives don't want information, they want their pet fantasies repeated as often as possible. Conservatives don't have "theories" (as in "creation science" theories or God theories), they have dogma. They look at the world, see swirling shapes and colors, and interpret all that confusion in simple,  fantastic stories, in the same way their ancestors explained the earth, the stars, and space in terms of magic, irate and jealous gods, and sentient inanimate objects. Humans have been religious as long as we have had the ability to think about death, the past, the present, and the future. There must have been a million religions on earth by now and they've all been based on fear and ignorance. Until the next comet strikes the earth, wiping humanity from existence, I expect that we'll continue inventing gods and such. As long as there is a market for stupid ideas, there will be people to sell them. And Conservapedia will be there to document whatever insane meanderings that issue forth from those stupid ideas.

As a parting note, I thought I'd leave you with a few word definitions. Words are important. Their meanings are often lost in propaganda and political gibberish, but the actual meaning of words are more permanent.

Webster's Definitions:

Superstitious: 1 a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition 2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Religion: 1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

Insanity: 1: a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia) 2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility

Science: 1: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding 2 a: a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology> b: something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science> 3 a: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science 4: a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws <cooking is both a science and an art>

All study comes with homework. A word that gets drug through the mud an awful lot is "theory." On your own, I'd like for each person who reads this column to look up the word "theory" this week.

March  2007


#170 Really, Really Dumb Ideas

What does it take to beat down a really stupid idea? Apparently, the dumber the idea, the harder it is to kill. The "benevolent dictator" fantasy appears to be a suicidal concept that is founded in charisma and fairy tales and doesn't seem to be any less popular today than it was 2,000 years ago. Conservatives and libertarians are incapable of getting more than a few feet from that wet dream every time democracy shows the slightest sign of stumbling. Religion is another example of humanity's love for stupid ideas.. The more fantastic the concepts behind a religion, the harder it is to defeat.

When my kids were infants, one of the first arguments my wife and I had about child raising was about the inclusion of traditional holiday fantasies in our nuclear family celebrations. Obviously, I opposed this indoctrination into stretched credibility. Easter Bunnies, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, ghost stories, the Boogie  Man, and honest politicians all belong in the history books that chronicle variations of child-abuse activities. We compromised. She brought these fantastic tales into our home, I ridiculed them. I'm doing the same routines with my grandchildren, much to my daughter's mother-in-law's disgust. She's Catholic and the rest of us are agnostic, including the grandkids.

I suspect that much of human gullibility is rooted in these pre-religious rituals. I'm not even in the running to be considered an early discoverer of the link childhood fantastic characters and rituals to the foundations of religion and conservative thinking in adults. If you can convince a kid to believe that a fat man and a dozen reindeer can deliver thousands of tons of gifts to rich little kids of the industrialized nations, introducing that same kid to gods and angels is a small step into irrational "faith." Still, it's amazing how strongly people cling to these incredibly stupid ideas and how well they defend the most unbelievable of their strange fantasies.

Let's be honest, if we can manage that for a moment. The best argument that followers of the god fantasies can provide is "you can't prove he doesn't exist." Science is all about disproving theories, but some theories are simply too dumb to bother with. This is one of them. To disprove the existence of the several dozen variations of god descriptions roaming around this earth with approximately 4 billion unevenly distributed subscribers to those variations, all of science could be tasked to invalidate these whacko fantasies until life on the planet vanished and we'd still be without absolute proof.

We can't disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or the Boogie Man, either. Hollywood constantly reminds us of that inability by repeating the same tired cartoon plots every generation. However, almost no one asks scientists to dedicate time to that foolish pursuit. The violent, fantastic, irrational accomplishments credited to gods and goddesses are no less impossible than the Santa Claus or Easter Bunny stories, but some folks appear to swallow those more somber fantasies without a moment of reflection or the slightest application of logic. Childhood conditioning must play some part in that inability to apply common sense to religious stories.

There is no more primitive urge than the tendency to suspect that magic is involved in the things we don't understand. The earliest cultures sacrificed animals and each other to a huge variety of gods and goddesses. Practically from the start of our species, we've created idols and other artworks, sang songs, burned, drowned, and skewered disbelievers, and paid witchdoctors and priests to interpret bones, tea leaves, weather signs, and literature. You'd think that we'd have grown out of this silliness by now, but I've recently read that as many as 90% of the world's population believes in some kind of afterlife or supreme being. Of course, many of those folks are so dumb that they ask their priests to find a page, in whatever holy book they subscribe to, describing ailments similar to those they suffer so they can tear out the pages and boil them for medicinal tea. "Faith" of that sort is comical and irrational, but I don't see anything in that to be particularly admirable or evidential. The overabundance of stupid, ignorant, superstitious people is not proof of a supreme being. It's certainly not evidence that evolution was guided by some clever, divine engineer. It is proof that the human animal is exceptionally gullible.

Otherwise seemingly rational people appear to believe in incredibly irrational fantasies. That seems to require many non-believers to ask for tolerance and accommodation of these beliefs. Now that is clearly a non-scientific response. If I tell you that I think the Tooth Fairy is the Lord Almighty and that losing baby teeth before the age of three is a sign that a child is a non-believer and a heretic, would you allow me to sacrifice your early-tooth-maturing child? If I decide that L. Ron Hubbard was the second coming of the Son of God and that his Dianetics drivel is the "new word of God," requiring me to strap on explosives and blow up the nearest Catholic (non-believer) grade school, would you think I might be insane? No? If so, you might be too tolerant to survive.

If not, why, then, is similarly insane belief, action, and sermonizing in the name of Christ, Mohammad, or Abraham more respectable? Clearly, it's not. Not that many years ago, it was considered poor manners to discuss any aspect of religious belief in polite company. People weren't less insane during that brief period of American civility, we just weren't as proud of our insanity as we are today. The fantasy and fiction of 2,000 year old sheepherders and priests is no more believable or holy than today's Harry Potter books and movies. They are just stories, some good, some godawful. Some of those stories are interesting enough to be considered valuable moral guidance, some are so violent, evil, and inhuman that they should be all the evidence a sane person needs to know these books are absolutely not the word of a supreme being. They aren't even up the literature standards established at the founding of this once-democratic nation.

February  2007


#169 Moderating the Moderates

Being a "moderate" has always been a relative thing in the history of humanity. "A one-eyed man among a nation of the blind" is a long, sad tradition for our species. A constant reminder of this sorry fact is shown to us every time an atheist is interviewed on radio or television. The overwhelming majority of "unbelievers" are rational, scientific, humanistic, and well-spoken examples of the best from our species. However, every time a statement of doubt is expressed by someone not possessed by delusions of grandeur, that statement must be "modified" by a representative of the much more typical insane breed of "believers." In fact, in a recent collection of programs on "the new atheists" more time was given to rebuttal statements from the religious insanity crowd than was provided to the topic of the program. The supposed "liberal" NPR, PBS, and major media all committed this sin of cowardice within the last few weeks.

The reason for this spate of self-flagellation is a collection of books on "faith" that are so well written, so brilliantly considered, that even the occasional religious nut might reconsider his fantastic beliefs if exposed to the thoughts of these writers. Sam Harris' The End of Faith is one of these books. Harris' book is, if anything, a 237 page text that could be used in a philosophy logic course. Instead of taking the Rat Road, also known as the Sam Kinison Screaming in Your Face Tactic. In his rational but inspired approach, Harris uses basic logical argument, page after page, to point out the inconsistencies in the "god myth."

For his efforts, Harris was described as "the most shrill of the New Atheists" in a CBS program on the subject. Although, in the brief moment he was portrayed in this hack job, Harris was as calm, well-spoken, and rational as is the text in his book, the "moderate" religious nut CBS used to rebut the statements of the New Atheists claimed that Harris was the most extreme of the new class of non-believers. Apparently, logical thinking is "shrill" compared to the ranting, hillbilly-raving, tongue-speaking, wild man talk presented on almost every television channel every Sunday morning? I guess the MSM likes its crazies to be consistently and completely crazy.

One of the best, most rational pair of sentences ever written by a human is in the introduction chapter ("Reason in Exile") of Sam Harris' The End of Faith: "Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." From there, Harris spends most of his time discussing how people of "faith" use irrational self-delusion to protect themselves from having to evaluate the nutty things they say in the same way they'd evaluate crazy talk in areas outside of religion. It's a logical, well-considered approach that is as likely to convert religious whack-jobs as it was possible that Dubya actually earned a college degree by studying.

What I'd like to know, however, is why the media has made a habit of rebutting every rational discussion of religion with a collection of superstitious crazies? Sunday morning is dedicated to non-stop pontificating by all sorts of strange and ridiculous religious nut-jobs, without a moment of rational rebuttal. The public airwaves are jammed with hallucinating "faith-based" believers without a brief moment of equal time given to "reality-based" thinkers and no one seems to consider the possibility that this violates the First Amendment. Give a scientist ten seconds to describe how the universe might have been born without the involvement of magic and that must be followed by an hour of praying and apologizing to the myriad of gods and goddesses and Easter Bunnies that might be offended (if they existed) by humans partaking of the "fruit of knowledge." Why is that?

Every week or so, I receive a chunk of spam by my hysterical Midwestern relatives who are terrified that "da govamunt" is at war with religion, usually Christianity or some weird cultish offshoot of that powerful political organization. Religious folks have always been terrified by science, logic, and nature, but the more conservative we become the more timid we are. These days an expression of  doubt is enough to send Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and Dubya into a hysteria of fear and oppression. We've been here before as humans and, unhappily, as Americans. Witch burning is founded in that same faith-based cowardice.

I've argued, often, that every attempt to install religion in government is based on the fear that "if you don't at least pretend to believe what I believe, I may lose faith." Like gangsters everywhere, theocracies all discount the difference between respect and fear. If they can't earn respect, they will settle for terrorizing into silence anyone who might express a difference of opinion regarding any aspect of their slight grip on "faith." The overwhelming majority of the world's spiritual leaders have advocated a solitary spiritual journey, but the bulk of humanity needs the reinforcement of a like-minded crowd to maintain a delusion of magic and faith. Producing a spiritual crowd through laws and the threat of government violence is the easiest way to make-believe "everyone" is on the same spiritual page.

Humans have been doing this song and dance since the days of caves, clubs, and witchdoctors. The long, slow, sad history of humanity is littered with the debris of collapsed dynasties, discredited gods, scientifically displaced delusions of how the universe really works, and disappointed believers who have found that "god" wasn't on their side. This is the reason that the authors of the Constitution argued for a clear "separation of Church and State," as Jefferson explained. Religion has too often picked the wrong horses, historically. Conservatives, usually with the moral guidance of their religions, have backed corrupt nepotism and aristocracies, vicious and perverted theocracies, dictators of all sorts, self-destructive corporations and insane robber barons, slavery and racial discrimination, short-sighted and nationally-destructive economic policies, cruel and unusual punishments, regional and worldwide wars, and every known evil committed by humanity.

I'd say that evidence proves that every expression of faith should be counteracted by equal time provided to rational analysis. The history of religion is bloody, oppressive, and evil and something that consistently nasty ought to be given careful analysis anytime it rears it's predictably conservative head.

January  2007


Rat Links

When I started The Rat’s Eye View in 1, I had a mission. That mission shifted on me more than a few times. Looking through the pages of that seldom read website, I found a few things I decided I want to continue in some fashion, like my Links:

Business Stuff

  • Don Lancaster's Incredible Secret Money Machine Lancaster and his book, The Incredible Secret Money Machine, are benchmarks in the available information for small business owners.  Lancaster was a hero of mine at the beginning of my technical career for his Cookbook Series with Sam's Electronic Books.  The Secret Money Machine just solidified his value to me. Harvard and the other MBA-clone manufacturing sites are decades behind what Lancaster told us 30 years ago. 
  • Dr. Zimmerman's Tuesday Tips Not always useful, but often, at least, interesting. 

Political Stuff

    • BBC NEWS | Programmes/Newsnight For what's left of English-speaking MSM news, the BBC is it. This international news source is not available anywhere in the US, other than through the Internet. Not on a cable channel, not anywhere. That is freakin' scary, since the Brits are supposed to be one of our few actual remaining allies.
    • Arabesque: 9/11 Truth It's hard to find anything remotely honest about the events leading to the Saudi attacks on New York and Washington D.C. and even harder to find real information about the cover-up that followed, but this site provides the kind of information that a real national media would be all over if the media wasn't part of the problem.
    • Brill's Content (commentary and criticism on the media, this is a lot more interesting than it sounds)
    • Capital Hill Blue Doug is inconsistently good, but always informative. This website has probably broken more major Washington stories than all of the other news sources in the nation.
    • Common Dreams - "Breaking News and Views for the Progressive Community"; enough said.
    • Jim Hightower - America's #1 Populist One of G.W.'s first political victims. Hightower is, possibly, the sole reason why Texas should be allowed to remain in the Union when the revolution comes.
    • Michael Moore Yeah, that Michael Moore. Inconsistent, but often courageous. What more do you expect from your news?
    • t r u t h o u t News Politics One of the only actual news sources left in these United States. t r u t h o u t is an incredible source of news, opinion, and facts that the MSM chooses to ignore because they don't promote the corporate fascist point of view. The fact that so much of what is found on this website never makes it to the news is a national embarassment.
    • Think Progress Another great investigative news source.
    • Yahoo/IOpEd Richard Reeves Editorials (Richard is a radical progressive who writes what he sees.)
    • Yahoo/IOpEd Ted Rall Editorials (Rall is another radical progressive who's mother must be really concerned for his health in this "conservative," right-wing, neo-Nazi political environment.)
    • Beyond Oil It isn't being regularly maintained, but Kenneth Deffeyes' website (intended to promote his book, Beyond Oil) is often a source of useful insight regarding current events and their relationship to energy.

Cool Stuff


#168 Just Lucky, I Guess

To start the new year off, the goofy head of the University of Minnesota's Athletic Department, Joel Maturi, fired football coach Glen Mason. I suspect that most college football fans outside of Minnesota don't even know that Minnesota had a University of Minnesota football team. Mason's overall record was 64-57. His conference record was 32-47. Even more hilarious was his record against Top 25 teams: 5-27.

The chances are pretty good that any half-decent high school coach could drop into the Minnesota program and do as well as Mason, at a tiny fraction of the cost. The cost is the issue, here. Mason was grossly overpaid, $1.65 million a year, and will continue to be a cash drain to the state, $4 million in other payouts after being fired for incompetence. Minnesota's state college system, like most state college systems, has become unaffordable to anyone but little rich kids, who only go to schools

I guess this is more of academia following in the foolish footsteps of business. Executives regularly get rewarded for incompetence. In fact, there is no way to connect business success to any action or activities of executives. Corporations pay the giant, wasteful salaries of CEOs and other white collar criminals because nobody tells them they shouldn't, can't, or will go to jail if they do. Jail is exactly where a board of directors should be sent when they sign off on a huge paycheck for non-producing executives. "Non-producing" means non-inventing, non-manufacturing, or non-sales producing. A manufacturing company that pays an accountant or lawyer CEO millions of dollars is wasting money on a non-producing executive. A technology company that does the same is pretending that bean counters inspire innovation. That is simply bullshit and everyone in these companies knows it is bullshit.

Glen Mason was a boring, predictable coach who inspired mediocre performances from his organization. Anyone who watched more than two Minnesota games could guess what play Mason would call in a given situation. Most of his opponents were able to anticipate his habits, which resulted in his mediocre record. Mason's only saving grace was that many of his opponents were the same kind of overpaid, underachievers.

My wife, upon hearing the morning news of Mason's firing and the money waterfall that he would enjoy as a result of his failure, asked "what do you have to do to get one of these jobs?"

That's one hell of a question. I've sat in board meetings, surrounded by million dollar salaries and powerful men, and wondered exactly the same thing. I saw no evidence of superior intelligence, exceptional management abilities, brilliant intuition, or incredible math skills. I mostly heard middle aged men worry about how various business problems would affect their stock options and bonuses. The intellectual level of the discussion was depressingly low. Business or technical insight was totally absent. Simple, base self-interest ruled the meetings and I have a hard time imagining that many companies are different than the companies I experienced. The people are the same, sometimes exactly the same people who crush one company move on to destroy another, so why would their motivations change?

Luck has a lot to do with who gets the big bucks and who is paid less generously. The best thing a corporate exec can do is to avoid work. Real work (research, invention, design, manufacturing, project management, and, even, sales) involves risk and failure. Fake work (accounting, legal council, marketing, sales management, and administration) appears to be accomplishing something practical, while avoiding risk and failure. Accountants simply count the beans others grow. Lawyers forever "practice law," so any mistake they make they can blame on the ambiguous character of the legal system, while claiming any accidental successes to their own brilliance. Marketing departments are often a simple waste of air. Watch television for a couple of hours for all the evidence you'll need to prove this argument. Sales management and administration are non-service providing organizations that expand to fill the available space, but they rarely provide value to the people they pretend to serve and never take the blame for organizational failures, since they don't produce anything that is directly related to the organization's success. Characters from these areas of an organization often rise to the top, simply because they've been lucky. They've never been identified with a project failure, they've never directly lost the company money, and they take credit for every project that has succeeded in their general area.

In a rational world (business, political, or academic), big mistakes would carry big penalties. If a professor at the UofM lost the college a few thousand dollars, he would surely be fired almost instantly. Joel Maturi made mistake after mistake with Mason, including upping the scumbag's contract when Mason shopped himself to other institutions while still under contract with the UofM. In the end, Maturi spent $5.6 million of the state and university's money on a non-performing, then fired, coach and there is no sign that Maturi will pay any price for his incompetence. This kind of irrational behavior happens all the time in business, which probably explains why an MBA isn't ridiculed as being a "gimme degree" like FizzEd or Communications.

Money, like water, apparently flows downhill. The lower the institutional value a person represents, the more money is attracted to that person. The key to becoming grossly overpaid, and rewarded for gross failure, is to begin your career being useless and to perfect that quality. And be very, very lucky.

January  2007


#167 Three Dead Guys, One Long Year

In the past eight years that I've been writing Rat Rants, I haven't once bothered with an "end of year wrapup." I'm not sure this will be such a conclusive document, but all the hand-wringing about Jerry Ford and Saddam Hussein's death this week brought out the rant motivation this morning. Listening to eulogies from characters like Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, Donny Rumsfeld, and the like approached ruining my New Year's eve morning coffee.

Everyone who was a conscious adult in the 1970s knew that Jerry Ford made a deal with the Nixon Administration to pardon the head criminal and create a distraction that would allow the legal escape of a long list of Nixonian criminals. The almost universal disgust regarding Ford's pardon of Nixon was evidence of that knowledge when Ford was solidly trounced by a Georgia peanut farmer who was, four years later, trounced by a b-movie acting, failed California politician. Ford's attempt to "end our long nightmare," was just beginning of a much longer nightmare. The nation has not recovered from the cynicism and radical distrust of our institutions that was began by Nixon's criminal behavior and has been continued since, because Gerald Ford established a precedent that demonstrated that criminals do not have to pay for their crimes, if those crimes are big enough. The Bush Administration's huge collection of criminals are counting on this precedent, which is why Cheney spoke so emotionally (for a zombie) at Ford's funeral. If Nixon didn't have to pay for his wide array of crimes against humanity and the nation, surely Bush and Cheney will escape their criminal activity equally unscathed.

Ford's legacy includes allowing some really vicious Nixonian characters to remain in the Republican national party; Rumsfeld, Cheney, Casper Weinberger, and many of the Rat Pack who have made up the past 30 years of Republican incompetence. As for his redemption in the short attention span of the American media, the New York Times stated that his pardon of Nixon was "a profoundly unwise, divisive and unjust act" which wreaked Ford's "credibility as a man of judgment, candor and competence." Nothing in the last 30 years has changed to restore any of those qualities to Jerry Ford. Much in that amoral action has contributed to the long nightmare that was continued by Reagan, Bush I, Clinton (the "Eisenhower Republicans") and Bush II. A public trial, conviction, and new laws to protect the nation from a despot President would have followed Nixon's escape from Washington. We could be a massively improved nation if that had happened, Ford made sure it did not.

Thanks for the legacy and the endless nightmares, Jerry.

Another legacy was created Saturday, two days before the New Year, the hanging of Saddam Hussein on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival. Just to be certain that portion of the world understood how insensitive the United States and our microscopic "coalition" is to Islamic feelings, Traditionally, Muslims execute an animal on this day, in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to slaughter his own son on God's command. Only the least informed citizen could believe there was anything legitimate about Hussein's trial, conducted by hand-selected judges while the nation is occupied by American troops, so the symbolism is pretty clear to the Mideast. Hussein has probably been elevated to the unlikely stature of "hero" in the eyes of many Islamic fundamentalists. No one ever (intelligently) accused the Bush cronies of being sophisticated or having a sense of timing. I don't know where you'd find better evidence of their incompetence than this incident.

Finally, someone for whom I actually cared died Xmas Day, 2006. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the true Kind of Rock and Roll, and a revolutionary of the best sort, died at 73. James wrote and performed the song that should be the modern national anthem, "Living in America," in 1987. He lived it as he played it, too. The multicolored band that performed that song in the movie and music video from Rocky IV was as American as a professional basketball team; representatives of every race, clothing designer, and popular musical instrument rocked out to a cowed and boring Russian crowd. James shouting, "I'm an American, eat your heart out!" to that audience was the only highpoint to an otherwise mindless, worthless movie.

For most of my life, I've taken crap from family, friends, and other musicians about my "James Brown rules!" convictions. From "he can't even sing" to "that's nothin' but jungle music," I've heard it all. And it's all wrong. Anyone suffering through another artist attempting to sing "A Man's World" knows how difficult Brown's music is to recreate. All of the lame comedians who grossly failed to even remind us of any aspect of JB's performance skills discovered how complicated, technical, and physically demanding this music is.

I don't imagine that one minute of 2007 will be taken up with my memories of Saddam Hussein or Jerry Ford, but I'm going to miss James Brown and the hope that I'll have another chance to see "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business" again. 

December 2006