#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 provide 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 dumpster 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

Thanks for participating in my world. The next Rat's Eye View (www.ratseyeview.com) is just around the corner. That ought to disturb your beauty sleep. If you have anything to add to this latest edition to my usual cheery outlook, write me. I'd love to hear from you. Write the Rat (headrat@ratseyeview.com). If you feel like forwarding this to a friend, or an enemy, have at it. I'm an equal opportunity irritant.

#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

Thanks for participating in my world. The next Rat's Eye View is just around the corner. That ought to disturb your beauty sleep. If you have anything to add to this latest edition to my usual cheery outlook, write me. I'd love to hear from you. Write the Rat (headrat@ratseyeview.com). If you feel like forwarding this to a friend, or an enemy, have at it. I'm an equal opportunity irritant.


#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 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

#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

#166 Grow a Funny Bone, Get Liberated

Americans have long had sophisticated humor about their politicians, except for conservatives who are humorless. From Tom Paine to Mark Twain to Jon Stewart, this country has a long, beautiful history of being able to see the failures and comedy in our political mismanagement. Jolly old England is reasonably quick witted, politically. Their tabloids are jammed with slapstick observations of the Royals. Most of western Europe, the Germans in the last half of the last century, and, occasionally, Italians spawn a fair quantity of capable comedians and cartoonists. The Dutch, Swiss, and Swedes are hilarious. The rest of the world, not so much. Honestly, I don't know much about Japanese political humor, but you'd think a cartoon or two would have crossed the boarders and I can't remember ever seeing a single snatch of Japanese political humor. Koreans, Arabs, Chinese, Russians, most of South America, and Africa are dry wells, if you are looking for something to laugh about.

Humor is an absolute requirement for a country to have a chance in hell of a democratic government. The mark of every third world country suffering a political tyrant is a country filled with humorless people. I realize this could be a chicken-and-egg situation, but I am going out on a limb here in declaring that I think the egg came first. The chickens are an aftereffect of a nation going egg-less.

One advantage (?) of the uncontrolled, irrational immigration the US has experienced in the last decade is that we've all had the opportunity to get to know a fair number of folks from those "countries without humor." And, mostly, I've discovered that they don't get the joke, even when they are removed from the dull, humorless environment from which they came. So, I'm beginning to doubt the problem is "nurture" and suspect the root of the obstruction is in their "nature." Possibly, everyone with a sense of humor and revolution have been bred and murdered out of those cultures. Probably, the same tendency that draws these populations to superstitions and genocide could be linked to an absence of humor and rational thought.

Let's face it, North Korea's Kim Yung Ding Dong wouldn't get through a day in office, at the lowest level, in the US without taking some comedic heat for his asexual appearance, girlyman voice, insane pronouncements, and over-inflated opinion of himself. Of course, our conservatives would love him and praise him as he jabbered monkey-talk and spilled food on himself, but the sentient portion of the country would be howling in the isles every time he opened his mouth. All of which points out the obvious, these humorless countries are all insanely conservative. The terrible truth is that conservatives have no sense of humor. Examples of conservatives trying to demonstrate humor are frightening, terrible, and not funny. Rush humiliating 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton for her lack of teenage sex appeal, for example. Wild Man Watergate Boy Gordon Liddy's only funny routine is putting out cigarettes on his forehead. (Or was that David Crosby? I can't tell one bald redneck from the other.) Oliver North is consistently unintentionally funny, but couldn't tell a joke if he used Robin Williams as a translator. The sad fact of conservatism is that, at best, conservatives only laugh at other's misfortune, but they rarely even manage that unless someone explains the joke to them. If it weren't for slapstick, conservatives would have no cause to flex their jowls in an upward direction. That goes for Ann Coulter's strangely plastic-surgeon-tweaked jowls, too.

A few conservatives recognize this as a critical intellectual failure, so they attempt to imitate folks they've identified as "funny." Usually, the only point of humor reference conservatives have is Bob Hope, who had a full-time team of liberal comedy writers attempting to trowel comedic makeup over Hope's total lack of funniness. Dennis Miller went from occasionally funny to relentlessly boring the moment he decided to go for the cash and think conservatively. A stroke wouldn't have stripped off more IQ points than did Miller's political conversion. Any rational IQ test would include a "sense of humor test," but many academics are as impaired as political conservatives. This, of course, explains the core curriculum of all business management programs. You might see this as some sort of conspiracy, but you'd be over-estimating conservative intelligence. They do these dumb things, without a chuckle, because they are simply not clever enough to see the joke or a solution to the real problems.

It's a long-standing truth that conservatives are not artistic. Conservative attempts at art, movies, music, and architecture are painful reminders of this fact. Country western music is as close as conservatives get to creativity and C&W is just obsolete R&R performed by folks who failed to attract attention as R&R'ers. Fundamentalists, of all sorts, are universally devoid of humor. Can you imagine the Ayatollah or Billy Graham laughing? Me either. How about Chairman Mao, Adolph Hitler, Stalin, British Royalty, Rush Limbaugh or George Bush? (Smirking or sneering does not count.) Nope, me either. The more conservative they get, the less funny they become.

Not all liberals are endowed with cleverness, either. However, the word "liberal" has received something of a distorted image by modern politics. Teddy Kennedy, the neocon's posterboy for liberalism, is actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Ralph Nader possess the driest sense of humor I've ever experienced. However, more radical liberal types appear to be obeying some version of quantum mechanics and have swung so far left that they are coming around the other side and turning into radical conservatives, humor-wise.

Today, I want to add another conservative and anti-liberty characteristic to the common knowledge; a lack of humor. Even more important, any nation that wants to foster creativity, liberty, and prosperity has to put a fair effort into being funny. The evidence points to the possibility that you can't be free without being funny.

December 2006

Rant #165 What do We Deserve?

"We get the government we deserve." I think that may be one of the least obvious, most true statements about government of any type, any size, and at any time in history. The best periods of government in American history all occurred during brief times when the public was so disappointed by the performance of the usual suspects that they rose from their lethargy and took back power for those who should never be allowed to possess it. In geopolitical time, those high points barely warrant a blink of an eye compared to the eons of droning, corrupt, self-serving governments that have cursed humanity since the first caveman decided to tell other cavemen who was boss.

Looking at politics under the lens of "what does the public deserve" does, maybe, a disservice to places like Mexico and most of South and Central America, most of Africa, the Arab nations, most of Asia and East Europe. At the core, obviously, many parents in those countries raised or failed to raise the little rat bastards who torture, destroy, and terrorize those countries. If their offspring turn out to be the knife that kills the parent, it's tough to generate a lot of sympathy for the "victim." You grew it, you own it.

Tough love, I know, but it comes back to haunt us. Much of the world's misery is generated by American robber baron corporations that use US military power and the threat of that power to manipulate foreign governments, smaller nations' natural resources, and the world's monetary system. We grew it, now we own it. Those corporations have grown beyond the boundaries of the United States and show no more loyalty to our flag than they do the flags of the countries they've invaded in the past. Should that really be surprising to anyone? In 1968, Chicago discovered that cops on the take don't take orders. Throughout the 1960s until today, we should have learned that a CIA/FBI on the take is equally insensitive to management. Now, we're beginning to see that corporations that manipulate, to their financial and power advantage, all of the worst aspects of our culture are insensitive to the culture that they supposedly serve. Well, duh. You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

Which brings us to our present dilemma. Our government, from local to federal is a contaminated, corrupt mess. The bits that aren't owned and operated by international corporations are owned and operated by local gangsters. Even the smallest cities are poorly managed by special interests that don't care one whit about the safety, security, financial stability, or future of the communities they pretend to serve. And we, apparently, love them for it.

My hometown, Dodge City, Kansas, once hired a City Manager from some damned place because he had magical business credentials and could, supposedly, bring new business to that dying community. Within a couple of years, he attracted a collection of packing plants and associated service vendors for that industry, which drew a few thousand illegal laborers to the town, driving wages into the dust, ruining neighborhoods, and decimating the town's already weak education system. After the City Manager's "work was done," he promptly left town with yet another credit to his resume. The town has yet to, and probably will never, recover.

My current home, Little Canada, Minnesota, presents less opportunity for industry, being a fully-developed bedroom suburb of St. Paul. That hasn't slowed up the march of political opportunism, though. Like most eastern cities, we have a supremely expensive, astoundingly unproductive city government. With too many employees doing too little work, all hired or appointed by a crony-system that is old, well-entrenched, and regularly re-elected by local voters. For some reason, the majority of voters like the current system, even though they don't know anything about how it operates. We're a mirror of national politics, which does nothing to explain either local or national politics.

In a fit of irrational community loyalty, my wife ran for City Council in the last election. She campaigned by going door-to-door, talking to our neighbors, engaging in the local televised debate, and taking every opportunity to talk about how our little city's quality of life could be improved. She campaigned on city efficiency, managing the city's resources and development, opening the city's financial decisions to public examination, protecting our small group of lakes and waterways, She placed campaign signs on our neighbors' lawns, with local businesses, and handed out fliers until she felt she'd contacted everyone who might care about the community and vote that concern.

Her opponents controlled the debate, placed their campaign signs, illegally, on public property, in front of a few bars and liquor stores and their own homes, took the local vote for granted and, correctly, assumed that the voters would be as uninvolved, uninformed, and dysfunctional as they had been in the past. One of the incumbents had been seriously ill with disabling cancer and died soon after the election, before taking office. Our little city's experiment in democracy ran aground almost immediately, as the existing office holders disingenuously praised the deceased council member's dedication to the city's welfare (something I never witnessed in dozens of council meetings I observed over the years). While waving that distracting flag with one hand, they worked quickly to subvert democratic principle so they could appoint another of their cronies to the council. Public comment was discounted, logic and fairness ignored, and it appears that we'll continue down the corrupt path our city has trod in the past, because that's what conservatives do.

The problem is normal people don't want to associate with the kind of people who work in government, run for , political office, or own the people who squat in those jobs. One trip to a city council meeting is enough to keep the typical citizen from venturing into that boring, degenerate environment for years. A short conversation with a city manager, a council member, state legislator, or governor will drive most of us into an hour-long hand washing frenzy. Government and business share this quality, the closer you get to the top, the scummier your associations become. At some point, freedom and liberty have to be defended by those who expect the rewards of those precious qualities. If we don't take back our governments from the scumbags who will use it against us, we'll deserve the government we get.

December 2006

#164 Who Won?

The election is over. Republicans lost the U.S. House and won a microscopic (1 vote) advantage in the Senate. The American public spoke and their voice was heard. Yeah, right. A single "accidental death," like Paul Wellstone's, could allow a nutty Republicrat governor to appoint an equally crazy Republicrat replacement, putting Cheany in the deciding vote position in the Senate. All that energy into one of the most stunning electoral repudiations of government in US history and it can all be overturned by one of the old farts in the Senate acting naturally and dying.

It's true that the public spoke with their feet and votes. It's true that the nation's anti-war sentiment is pretty damn strong and that a few Demolicans managed to identify that movement and march at a safe distance behind the voting public. In the end, even before the polls closed Pelosi and crew were backing off of their promises and rearranging their priorities. Power corrupts and political parties are all about power. It's going to take a lot more than an election to fix the mess the Republicrats have made in the world. In fact, I suspect it's beyond fixing.

A few years back, Michael Moore produced a film called "Bowling for Columbine." The film obviously had an agenda and Michael pursued it relentlessly until he discovered, near the end, that his original premise was disproved by Canada and Switzerland; two countries with possibly more heavily armed civilian populations than the U.S. He ended the film, honestly and sadly, without a conclusion.

He gave me a lot to think about, though. My conclusion, as usual, is that every institution (government is the ultimate institution, size-wise) is led and inspired top-down. Since the early years of the 1800's, the United States government has been a violently corrupt institution; invading neighbors to steal territory, devastating Native American populations out of greed and general viciousness, and beginning the tradition of destabilizing other countries' governments so our robber barons can take advantage of their natural resources without interference. The 1800s turned our for-and-by-the-people government into a corporate tool for the hostile takeover of anything not bolted down and well-defended. We'll whip out the guns and cannons and bombers for practically any justification imaginable. Is it any wonder that neighbors resort to trading bullets over property disputes, marital arguments, or parking space? It's a national tradition.

As individuals, we might be tired of sending our children to foreign wars of corporate interest. As a nation, we're perfectly happy to toss kids into flames if someone convinces us that it will make a Bush, Rockefeller, or Halliburton a little richer. In fact, there are whole regions of the United States that specialize in producing cannon fodder; Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Mississippi, and most of rural America, for example. It takes, literally, minimal motivation for parents of these states to decide to send their boys and girls into the breach. They have been conditioned, since the Civil War, to toss their kids into the hands of politicians and corporations anytime the words "patriotism," "national security," or "threat to the economy" are mentioned. I am going to be hard-pressed to imagine that anything in this last election will alter that national mindset.

War is such a vicious, terrible, evil option that it's hard to imagine why a nation would select a foolish, slimy, amoral scumbag like Bush or Chaney to a position where they might be able to sacrifice nature or youth to their whims. It's a critical human fault that puts serious doubt on any "intelligent design" fantasy.
I don't see this election as a solution to any of the country's worst problems. A single Demolican defection on any vote will maintain the status quo. A single assassination would return the country to 2000's Republicrat corruption. Do you really think that Chaney and the Oil Barons wouldn't kill anyone to keep the oil money flowing unimpeded? We're a long way from out of the frying pan and the fire is still burning under the pan.

November 2006

Thanks for participating in my world. The next Rat's Eye View is just around the corner. That ought to disturb your beauty sleep. If you have anything to add to this latest edition to my usual cheery outlook, write me. I'd love to hear from you. Write the Rat (headrat@ratseyeview.com). If you feel like forwarding this to a friend, or an enemy, have at it. I'm an equal opportunity irritant.

#163 The Really Good Die Young and Unnoticed

NPR's Prairie Home Companion fans will be disappointed to here that, regardless of what NPR's Garrison Keillor says, Saint Paul is an armpit of a city, compared to Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Rochester, or any other city in Minnesota. Like every state in our nutty nation, the state capitol is the state's official embarrassment; the most corrupt, the most degenerate, the most poorly managed, and the one place in the state that most adversely affects the state's average IQ. Think Topeka, Kansas or Albany, New York or even Sacramento, California and you'll know what I'm talking about. Austin, Texas is an exception, but that city is surrounded by an armpit of a state. You could be forgiven in thinking that we've decided to put all of the worst people we know in a common location so that, if we ever decided to be a rational nation, it would be easy to identify where most of the problems reside. I stumbled into more evidence of our national capitol perversion this week when I decided to see a doctor for a ailment that has been persecuting me for the past month.

To build a little background, I spent a decade in medical devices during the 1990s and the most valuable thing I learned from that experience is that Ted Sturgeon's rule ("90% of everything is crap") more than applies to medicine. In fact, Sturgeon is optimistic. Most of the physicians I met were mediocre talents, barely involved in their profession, disconnected to the pain and suffering of their victims, and almost as principled as Enron executives (or any other company's executives, for that matter). From that experience and my history of minimal medical difficulties, I hoped to avoid contact with doctors whenever possible.

At the end of that miserable career path, I found myself exactly where I'd hoped never to be: looking for a competent doctor. Our of necessity and through a referral from someone who's opinion I valued, I met Dr. Jeevan Paul in August of 2001. I was in terrible shape and had been in and out of a dozen doctors' offices since May, with no result other than continued degeneration of my condition and increased frustration. Dr. Paul gave me a complete physical, his complete attention and empathy, and identified the source of and several possible solutions for my problem in a single visit. Unfortunately, my corporate insurance did not include his clinic, so I was forced to return to the other 90%, armed with the information Dr. Paul had provided. The cost of the tests he'd performed was high, since the laboratories he used were the usual suspects of medical practice. So, he helped me negotiate with my insurance company and, eventually, they paid for a portion of the lab costs. He stayed in touch with me for several months, through e-mail, to follow-up on the treatment I received from my insurance provider.

Like most Americans, I've been uninsured or underinsured for the last four years, so my contact with doctors has been limited to desperate times only. Once freed from my medical problems, I haven't had much cause to hang out with doctors, even the one I actually liked and trusted; Dr. Jeevan Paul. A couple of months ago, I decided to get back in touch and discovered that Dr. Paul died in 2005. He was thirty-seven years old. Typically, his brief memorial, buried in the back pages of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, requested that any memorials be sent to his favorite "hobby"; Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).

Since I last saw Dr. Paul, he had moved to a different facility and a new specialty; chronic pain. He was active in the Minnesota Medical Association and constantly worked to provide medical services to low income patients and other disadvantaged citizens who are typically unprotected by our current profit-driven medical system. He posthumously received an award from a Minnesota physician's organization which described Dr. Paul in this simple statement, "Increasing access to care for underserved communities was the cause closest to Dr. Paul's heart, said Dr. Tooker. A general internist, Dr. Paul spent most of his career working at a community health center in St. Paul, where he worked to break down barriers to care for low-income patients."

Now, back to my original premise, the one that stated my opinion of St. Paul's low status as a city. Dr. Paul was active in local and state politics. He regularly participated in a physicians' outreach program that annually attempted to inform our state legislators of critical issues regarding the state's health care systems. I doubt that anyone in the state did more to promote community, compassion, or sacrifice than did Dr. Jeevan Paul.

In recognition of his life and death, the St. Paul Pioneer Press didn't even bother to post a notice of his passing. No mention was made in the state legislature of the loss of this great man. If it weren't for the Minneapolis Tribune's brief mention in the obituary column.

Maybe this makes sense to you. Maybe you really believe that the piddling activities of professional athletes warrants a seven page section of the newspaper? Maybe you think movie reviews are critical to the progress and outcome of civilization. Maybe you think government is wisely spending its time jabbering about gay marriage, abortion, finding more ways to reduce the tax burden of the wealthy, and slipping more corporate tax loopholes? I, on the other hand, think all this crap is wall-to-wall signs of a decadent society that has no moral guidelines, no purpose, and is so intently concentrated on greed and corruption that we won't even have Nero entertaining us with a violin solo when the walls crumble down on our heads.

October 2006

#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.
Be 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 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

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

Thanks for participating in my world. The next Rat's Eye View is just around the corner. That ought to disturb your beauty sleep. If you have anything to add to this latest edition to my usual cheery outlook, write me. I'd love to hear from you. Write the Rat (headrat@ratseyeview.com). If you feel like forwarding this to a friend, or an enemy, have at it. I'm an equal opportunity irritant.