6/28/2013

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6/24/2013

#3 Teaching Quality (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

I attended a “quality” seminar the other day, similar to all of the quality seminars I’ve attended  in the last two decades.  The only interesting difference in this particular program was that it was taught by an ex-FDA Deputy Director.  Like all of the preceding training experiences, this class was directed at the wrong end of the company, the people on the firing line.  The trainees were all secretaries, customer service people, technical service people, assemblers, engineers, and middle managers.  Not a single executive put in more than a few cursory moments in this eight hour class.  No change there.  I’ve only seen executives put up with hearing about quality management when the training site is a vacation resort and all meals are provided by the corporation.  The Good Old Boys who are the root and source of every company’s quality problems just don’t want to be involved, unless there’s something in it for them.  I guess we’re not paying them enough, you think?

Teaching quality to the troops is redundant and ineffective.  The people who build and support the products know what it takes to make a good product.  They know where the resources are wasted, but have absolutely no authority to fix anything.  Lecturing factory and office workers on shifting quality investments proves that the hope for change and improvement is doomed from the beginning.  Any real quality program has to be driven top down.  Real quality programs are few and far between. 
Like I said at the start, the class I just attended was such a doomed program.  Wasted effort and misdirected focus.  Unlike the best classes I’ve suffered, this instructor had a bias that almost cancelled any hope he might have of even understanding the problem he described.  He told us that although we might think the Japanese had invented “quality,” we would be wrong.  According to him, the Japanese have “never invented anything, they just steal it from us.”  He’s wrong, but he’s not alone.  Lots of ignorant executives make similar claims.  Some even more idiotic engineers say the same things.  It’s a cultural problem.

In manufacturing, execution is everything.  Nothing else matters.  Any college can supply dozens of “creative nerds” who will be innovative and original.  I mean any college; Japanese, German, Taiwanese, French, and American.  The history of software design has shown, I believe, that if you seat enough monkeys at enough typewriters, eventually, they’ll write Macbeth or Microsoft Word or Lotus 1,2,3.  When dozens of people are involved in a difficult and large project, process coordination is more of a happy accident rather than the result of a carefully executed plan. 
Coordination and execution are critical items in manufacturing that we too often discount as unimportant, third-world characteristics.  While we over-reward ourselves for “creativity,” we discount the importance of actually doing the work.  Running a manufacturing company isn’t about some mythical “big picture,” it’s about getting work done everyday.  The work requires people who can and will focus on details and will do it with skill and consistency. 

The early history of the Japanese automotive and electronics invasion has shown that mediocre designs, produced with consistent and acceptable quality, will be in as much demand as state-of-the-art products produced with inconsistent or unreliable quality.  None of the products Sony or Toyota shipped to the U.S. in the 1960’s surprised any knowledgeable engineer with innovation or styling.  The surprise was that a consumer could buy one of those companies’ products and expect it to work right off of the boat.  The surprise was actually no surprise!  We learned to expect that everything we bought from Japanese companies would be consistent.  We could stop looking for the defects we’d learned to expect from “Monday/Friday” production.  We could quit doing a final inspection, before we carried our purchases out of the the store.  Since the Far East has taken over production of almost every complex product manufactured—even those with American company names—we no longer worry about what is going to happen the first time we plug in our appliances, TV’s, stereo systems, and computers.  That’s no small feat.

  The difference between a quality product and a piece of junk is in the execution of the design and manufacturer, from front to back.  Somehow, in the U.S. we’ve decided that the front end of the process is nearly infinitely more valuable than the back.  We think the concept is more valuable than the reality.  The reason Japan is seen as the quality supplier of every product they export is because they have not made that mistake.  The best Japanese companies realize that building the product is as important as creating it.  They apply their resources accordingly. 

In the U.S., Manufacturing receives the pressure and Design gets the perks.  Every talented engineer wants to be a designer, a “creative” engineer.  Only the dregs, the less talented, less innovative engineers are regulated to manufacturing.  In fiction (as in Haley’s book Wheels) and fact, the designers are royalty and the builders are grunts.  “Suits” are valuable, blue collars are expendable.  With that standard set and accepted, we’ve given up more than half of the formula to manufacturing success. 

January 1998

6/20/2013

A New World Company

A New World Company, Part 1

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

I've beaten the bad and the typically ugly to death in the past two years of the Rat. It's probably overdue that I spend a moment on a vicious plot to fix some of this stuff. While I'm usually surrounded in gators and crap, I occasionally think about what life might be like out of the swamp. I suspect this is going to take a while, so if you hate "to be continued" stories, you may as well bail out right now. This is the first installment of what could be an endless series.

A few weeks ago, Terry Gross (NPR's extraordinary interviewer) interviewed a pair of ex-Vietnam POWs; former pilots Ed Mechenbier and Ron Bliss. These men were being interviewed about their experiences as prisoners of war and the "Return with Honor" documentary they had recently contributed to. Some of the things they said struck a chord with me. They also added to my belief that the things that are wrong with many companies could be fixed.

The quote that I found the most interesting was about the primary teamwork lesson they learned from their basic training: everyone and everything that goes in comes back out. If a man can't go on, two men carry him and another picks up his weapon. This translated into a sense of "camaraderie" (their word) that doesn't exist outside of the military. It's a big part of what carried them through the POW camp hell. When they felt they couldn't go on any longer, that they'd had all of the torture and deprivation that they could stand, one of their friends was there for them. At the same desperate point, they knew that someone else would need them, sometime soon, for the same support. Day after day, they survived until they were set loose into our considerably less meaningful and committed "land of the free." And, in some ways, both men felt the purpose in their lives declined from there.

OK, enough seriousness. I think it's important to remember that the military is about as pure an environment as the Ivy League. I've had a little personal experience with the kind of bottom feeders who join the forces because they can't get a real job. The Pentagon employs a Titanic boatload of useless, overpaid, pompous, self-serving, pampered executive dilettantes like the jackass Jack Nicholson portrayed in "A Few Good Men." There's no point in waving the flag at these characters in hopes that their example could turn a business into something special. Lots of us have experienced the inbreeding and favoritism that seems to often go with ex-military types who have slithered into management positions.

So, if military experience doesn't convey any consistently useful qualities, what made the difference in the lives of these two men? Unfortunately, it appears to me that hardship, extreme hardship, did the trick. Hardship is a tough thing to fake and is about impossible to get people to sign up for, so that isn't going to get us to a better place to work. I think it's possible that there might be another route to business teamwork that approaches camaraderie.

I think this kind of organization has to start with a belief in equality. Not necessarily the communist ideal where each is "given" what is "needed," but something between that impractical and failed socialist theories and the idiotic inequality that seems to be thriving in most American companies.

In any company there are people who are effective leaders, a few are original thinkers, some are skilled at implementing theory into practice, some excel at putting the stuff together so that it actually works when it gets used. I won't argue that those skills are available in equal quantities and, therefore, are worth the same kind of money. That's not true and sticking to that policy won't attract the kind of talent a living company needs to attract.

I will argue that, if you use minimum wage as a base salary for the easiest to obtain employee, it's unreasonable to pay anyone in the company five hundred (or more) times that amount. It's simply not true that an executive can make that kind of difference in a company's performance, relative to the effect that a group of unhappy functional level employees can make on the actual product seen by consumers.

The dissention, greed, and conflicts instilled in the group of employees caused by ridiculously high executive salaries don't create a long-term, healthy, productive company. In fact, I doubt that it's possible to even prove that multi-million dollar executive salaries have any connection to a company's success. There are at least as many companies sinking into the dust, while paying monster salaries and huge unproductively bonuses, as there are companies doing the opposite.

"Talent" is not something that just lives in the fancy offices. If you actually care to look for it, talent can be found most anywhere in almost any company. So here's where we start in our search for the basis to a great company, equality and fairness in compensation. There's more to come.

September 1999

A New World Company, Part 2

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

Company Ownership

Even great companies fail. Sometimes the market jumps left when you've just executed the coolest right-sided idea seen on this earth. Sometimes the whole economy crashes and even the best of organizations fall on hard times.

What usually happens then, is the layoffs hit the bottom of the corporate ladder first. Assemblers get dumped because production requirements are down. The technical support staff gets the axe, because customer support isn't a visible profit center. Sales people go because they aren't "making their numbers." The attrition works it's way, slowly, to the top of the ladder (where the original business decisions were made, more often than not, poorly) and the execs get to turn off the lights and lock the doors.

The day afterwards, all of the company's physical assets are stolen because the execs couldn't figure out the locks. Several months later, a monster utility bill wipes out the company retirement fund because the execs flipped the light switches the wrong direction.

Here's a better way to "downsize." In planning the year's budget, most competent managers put together a "good times," a "meets last year's performance," and a "disaster" budget. In the disaster budget, they eliminate equipment purchases, lower all expenses to survival levels, and decide which jobs will be eliminated in what order.

I heard Wilson Greatbach (of Wilson Greatbach Ltd.) speak a few months ago. He had recently bailed out of doing some work in AIDS research and he commented on how he couldn't "understand people who quit working when the money stopped." He had a right to make that comment, since he started his own business in his spare time, out of his home and still maintains a similar work ethic. However, a business with employees who survive on the monthly paycheck can't expect people to work for free. An alternative is to expect the people who have the most to gain to make the most sacrifices. This New World Company approach is about creating an atmosphere that promotes long-term company goals over personal agendas.

In keeping with the "everyone gets out alive" philosophy, our New World Company will do the disaster budget differently. First, when the crisis budget is enacted, all salaries are lowered to the company's "base salary." In a small company, this will probably be minimum wage. In a more established organization, it will probably be the starting salary for unskilled labor on the assembly line. When the disaster budget kicks in, from the supervisors to the middle managers to the CEO, everyone makes the same salary for the duration of the crisis.

Attrition will eliminate some people who either aren't dedicated to the purpose of the company or who can't manage their personal finances well enough to survive on the base salary. That may hurt in the short term, but, through shared hardship, it will congeal the rest of the employees together into a team. It will also motivate management and the other higher paid employees to fix what's wrong and set things right as fast as possible.

This aspect of budget planning also puts the onus of responsibility, and penalty, where it belongs for poorly considered management decisions. Today, most failing companies seem to glory in paying huge bonuses to their executives as a "reward" for failure. That is, in the best sense of the word, incomprehensible. Personally, I would ask those executives to buy huge lots of company stock, when the stock value is collapsing, as a commitment to fixing the problems or going down with the ship. If they don't put their money behind their decisions, it's pretty obvious what those decisions are worth.

The next step is to cut paid hours. For example, everyone goes on a 32 hour workweek. At the base salary, salaried workers will be hit the hardest since they'll still be expected to work whatever hours are necessary at that salary. They will, again, be motivated to find a cure for the company's problems since they will share in the hardship.

Next, I'll talk about the rewards of success and who gets what when there is real money to toss around.

September 1999

A New World Company, Part 3

(AKA "words a New World Company would never say to its customers")

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

Fifteen years ago, when I took over the management of a company's Technical Services department, I started with one rule. Under no circumstances would we ever say to a customer "We've never seen that happen before" or "you're the only person who's ever had that problem." Even if it was true, those words generate an incredible amount of disbelief and hostility from a customer who's fighting with a product he believes is defective. At best, someone being fed this argument hears those words as "you're an idiot who found a really creative way to break our gadget." At worst, the customer thinks he's being called a liar. So why say it at all?

Of course, "never" is a pretty spectacular statistic. If a fault has never before been reported, it might mean any number of things. None of those meanings are that the fault only exists in this one unit. It could mean that it's so hard to get to the company's customer service that a normal person would give up long before a semi-live human answers the phone. If the company has an automated "press one, if you are really frustrated" phone answering system, I'd bet my own money this is exactly what "never" means.

"Never" could also mean that the company sold so few of this crappy product that the requirement for "one-in-one-hundred irate customer who will bother to complain" hasn't yet been met. If the product is blatantly awful, was purchased at an "outlet store," or was made in Europe and cost six times as much as a more common brand, the odds were in the manufacturer's favor that "never" would never have arrived.

Another statement customers love to hear is "Out of the ten thousand widgets we've sold, only a half dozen customers have complained about that failure. So we don't think it's worth fixing at this point." Calling the customer an idiot isn't enough for this company representative. This guy has to make it "insignificant idiot" to be certain we understand how much contempt this company holds for its customers.

Statistically, this argument is the kind of thinking that a New World Company would avoid like a turd on a donut. Complaining customers are like canaries in coal mines. They are a precious resource that should be treated as such. The vast, overwhelming, monstrous majority of customers could care less if our company succeeds or dies a slow painful death and all of our employees spend the rest of their lives begging for spare change on street corners.

If I buy a Doomaflogie Mark II at a cost of what amounts to be an hour or two of my working day and the Mark II is a disappointment, I'm unlikely to fling away another hour of my life doing Doomaflogie's Quality Department's job. In fact, of all the people I've known in my life, I doubt that any of them would ever think twice about tossing a defective product into the garbage without even considering registering a complaint with the offending company. I know one or two folks who are so intimidated by the typical customer-hostile processes that they don't even complain when the product cost them thousands of dollars.

So, when that one-in-a-hundred (or thousand, or ten thousand, or whatever) customer takes the time to offer field reliability experience, we're talking about information that's so valuable that it's worth compensation. But most companies not only don't pay for this data, they ask the customer to pay to provide it. The majority of businesses don't have a toll-free number for complaints. Software companies even charge their customers by the hour for the privilege of providing product information. Once you've convinced the company that you have a defective product, you will have to pay the shipping to get the thing repaired. Sometimes, you have to prepay the return shipping.

Knowing the hoops customers will have to jump through, is what convinces Old World Company executives to babble about "lifetime" warranties. Who's going to waste the time to do all that crap to get a replacement product that's as likely to fail as the original was? This kind of practice also makes the entire concept of product warranties a null marketing tool. I don't even bother to read the warranty statements on 99% of the things I buy. It's information as valuable as the other marketing drivel. I might as well learn to read bar codes. Anyone can write marketing specifications and warranties. It takes someone very special to actually make products that meet those specifications and to honor warranties in the spirit that they were received.

Finally, we come to the ultimate customer-hostile corporate attitude: "It's not the product that's defective, it's the way you're using it that made it fail." Now I've graduated to "fumble-fingered insignificant idiot." Wow! Thanks guys. I used to have to visit my parents to get this sort of abuse. Now I can just buy one of your crappy products, watch it crumble in my hands, and call your Customer Service department to get my abuse quotient. You can bet I'll be a lifelong customer after suffering that sort of insult.

Most likely, the customer-induced failure is the result of poor product ergonomics, awful documentation, or the use of materials unsuited for the practical application of the product. Blaming the failure on the one guy who wanted the product to work so much that he tried to get it fixed is incredibly arrogant. Thanks to the example set by MBA programs, arrogance is a state-of-the-art management attitude. Statistically speaking, you are more ten thousand times more likely to hear "you broke it" from Customer Service than "we built it wrong and we're sorry." When you hear this drivel, you will toss the piece of busted junk and make a mental note to never spend another dime with this company.

In the New World Company, none of these statements will ever be made to a customer. In fact, we'll do everything we can to make the complaining customer part of our quality control system. We'll fix the problem, make the customer feel whole again, and do whatever it takes to make this guy our friend. If we do all of this stuff well, we will end up with someone who is very much involved in the success of our business. And we won't have to pay him a salary for having done the work we should have done in the first place.

July 2000

6/17/2013

#2 The Rights of Bums (1998)


rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day
A couple of years ago, during an attempt to purchase a home in Minnesota, I have learned a lot about the direction of the legal system.  I’ve learned, for instance, that the “rights” of the irresponsible will almost always override the rights of the responsible.  It is incredible that citizens know so little about the multitude of protections there are for those who refuse to pay their bills.  I suspect that if these laws were more common knowledge almost all of us would chose to be deadbeats. 
I suspect it’s more a matter of the general poor state of management, than a conscious direction our culture has chosen.  I doubt that we, as a nation, would knowingly chose to allow people the right to refuse payment on all manner of goods and services and still expect to receive any of those products unimpeded.  While there is a certain belief in the myth of “the free lunch” running through this country, most of us know it really doesn’t exist.  However, our laws don’t support that knowledge.
Let me give you a few examples of how idiotic our “bum protection” laws have become.  A person can expect to live for at least a year in a home for which that person makes absolutely no payment of any sort.  Mortgage companies will always allow a freeloader at least a year in which to come up with a single mortgage payment, before they consider evicting the bum.  Utility companies are equally hamstrung.  If a resident chooses to ignore notices of non-payment, utility companies are unable to either shut off the service or force payment through any means for at least a year of non-payment. 
Now you have to intelligent enough to know who makes up for those deadbeats.  The cost of freeloaders is simply added to the bottom line of the cost of doing business and is passed on to those of us who are idiotic enough to think we have to pay our bills.  The power company doesn’t lose any money.  The mortgage companies don’t go broke.  The garbage still gets picked up and the sewers still drain into our lakes and streams.  Those companies and organizations just add the cost of deadbeats to what the rest of us pay. 
The “no free lunch” concept only applies to those who don’t expect a free lunch.  If you are mentally able to cope with being a deadbeat, you can make a pretty nice living from handouts. 
And you can expect sympathy from a significant portion of the federal and state government for accepting that support.  At first glance, it might not make sense that government employees would want to work against the interest of tax and bill payers.  That’s a fairly superficial analysis, though.  Government employees have a vested interest in protecting deadbeats.  If it weren’t for slackers, we wouldn't have a lot of need for a significant portion of our current government.  If all government did was regulate trade and provide for national defense, we could eliminate considerably more than half of our current federal and state payroll.  Of course, that would put an incredible number of unemployable deadbeats out in the street which would probably start the whole cycle over again. 
January 1998

6/12/2013

The Corporation: the whole movie

The Corporation
Quite possibly the best documentary ever produced about any subject by anyone.

6/11/2013

Rat Reviews

The Rat Reading List

This is my collection of "must be read" books. I read a couple of books every week. Most of my reading is for entertainment, some is for professional education, these books are beyond that standard.  These days, I think anyone who hasn't been exposed to the books listed in my first category is unfit to be called a "citizen" of this country.

Political and History Books

  • Reason, Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America by Robert B. Reich.

    Reich, currently a Professor at Brandesi University and several other schools, was secretary of labor for Clinton and has even tolerated political office under Republican Presidents. Reich argues that liberals, and their tendency to be intellectual and analytical in problem-solving, are the only hope for the nation in the coming far more complicated world. Since liberals tend to do creative work while conservatives only fear and criticize anything that doesn't resemble "what ma daddy did," Reich hopes to convince us that the future belongs to liberals and the past will show us the way.
  • A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts. 

    Want to know who we bombed in 2003?  Have you ever considered what it felt like to be on the ground in Baghdad when American bombs began to fall on neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, radio and television stations, and public buildings? Would you like to know about the history of Iraq, North Africa, and the oil and weapons business from the Canadian perspective?  Would you like to know why 93% of the rest of the world fears the United States and the "most likely" source of world insecurity?  If none of these questions interests you, stay away from Robert's fine book. If you are willing to entertain the thought that there might be more than a little wrong with this country, A War Against Truth is required reading.
  • Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08,No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War by Greg Palast.
  • It's a history book. No, it's radical political criticism.  It's an analysis of everything wrong in the United States in 2005. No it's reactionary liberal tripe. You can find a lot to love, a lot to despise, and a lot of knowledge in Palast's radically different-than-the-MSM book.  Palast has taken the concept that history repeats itself as farce to a very readable extreme. I recommend it.
  • Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.  An upper-middle-class writer joins the working class and documents the experience.  Sounds like a boring "lefty" book, but it's an experience.  In the same way that Tom Wolfe made me feel that I'd been doped up and partying for a week when I read "The Koolaid Acid Test," Ehrenreich made me feel poor, oppressed, badly managed, and disassociated from the American Dream with her experiences among the working poor.  It should be required reading for those folks who would never, ever, consider viewing the world from the perspective of actual working people. It wouldn't change them, since they have no compassion or patriotism at all, but it would inconvenience them; which is all we can hope for in this decadent country.

  • American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century by Kevin Phillips. This is, simply, one of the best books I've ever read.  I know more about my country, North Africa and the Mideast, the history of the interaction between all three of those areas, and where we are going because of this book than I could have figured out on my own in several lifetimes.  This is one of those rare books that will amaze you in its complexity and completeness.
  • What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank. As a Kansas expatriate, I think Frank is dead on the money.  Everything he says about my home state is exactly right.  Kansans don't know enough about politics or economics to know their right hand from . . . their other, unacknowledged, right hand. Since sometime in the 1960, the state's majority have consistently voted solidly against their own best interests, destroying the state's economy, enriching the ruling elite, and chasing their best and brightest children from the state. If Kansas were more insane, there would be gates and padlocks at every road entering the state. Kansas isn't alone in this Midwestern madness.

  • The Betrayal of America by Vincent Bugliosi. No words minced here, even in the title. As far as Bugliosi, and 50 million American citizens whose vote was disregarded in the 2000 election, the five majority members of the 2000 Supreme Court are traitors and should be tried as such, convicted, and executed. Five names--Justices O'Connon, Thomas, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Kennedy--are among the most dastardly criminals in the history of these United States of America. Many of us, including me, will never vote in an election again without the fear that the Court will step in and "settle" the election in a partisan political manner. Democracy in this country has suffered irreparable harm from this court and I fear, as does Bugliosi, that the country become regressively less democratic from this point forward. From a prosecuting attorney's legal perspective, Bugliosi spells out the crime these minor intellects committed and explains in clear language the harm they have done. Imagine how it must feel to be hated by more than 50 million of your fellow citizens? No wonder O'Connor cut and ran from the public eye. I'd like to use this book review to propose an annual event in the United States of America. I'd like to use the anniversary of this infamous violation of law and democracy to celebrate a day of concentration toward the remaining four scumbags of the 2000 Supreme Court. Rehnquist already suffered a dishonorable, withering death. O'Connor, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy are yet alive (or at least among the walking dead). On December 12th, in every year that Republicans hold office in this country, and, especially, every year that any one of these traitors remains alive, I'd like to recommend that every free-thinking citizen take a moment and pray, hope, meditate, toss sticks or chicken bones, pierce voodoo dolls, or whatever you do (when you urgently hope something happens) that these four remaining criminals suffer the outrageous misfortune of your choice. At the very least, everyone of us should check out this book on this day (or buy another copy) to keep this memory alive, fresh, and livid in the American memory.

  • Business Books of Mismanagement and Incompetence (is there any other kind?)

    • Dealers of Lightning, XEROX PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age
    • by Michael Hiltzik.  For anyone who has experienced the dysfunction of a small or large company, this book is a hoot.  XEROX had the computer world by the tail from 1969 until 1980.  All the resources, talent, products, and opportunity in the world and XEROX's bonehead management squandered it all.  But this book isn't about that, mostly.  Dealers of Lightning is about the talent and technology that collected in XEROX's research facility, PARC, and the people who spread out from that organization and experience to seed the computer world; as one of the ex-PARC researchers described, to be the "messenger RNA of the PARC virus." Without this incredible business failure, it might have been years before the personal computer as we know it would have come to be.  With their influence, everything from the mouse, to the color screen and laser printers, the Internet, Postscript, the Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, a host of programs and applications, computer music and graphics, and an endless host of common (today) computer functions arrived fully developed and functional.  Several of the companies spawned by XEROX's dysfunctional organization went on to overwhelm the host company's valuation in a half-dozen years after key employees left XEROX.  This is an incredible history and a great read. 
    • The Reckoning
    • by David Halberstam. This is an insightful parallel history of the Ford and Nissan auto companies. Halberstam has done a great job of showing us the warts and weasels and wiz-kids that made these companies and their products from the first cars shoved off of the assembly line to the 1986 models (published in 1987). It's a great look at how much luck is involved in the life of a "successful" business.
    • Big Blues
    • by Paul Carroll. Anyone working for a stuffy, braindead, MBA-driven company will get a kick and an education out of the history of IBM's fall from grace and power. Obviously, no one managing one of these companies ever learns anything, so I won't waste my time recommending it to managers.
  • The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil. You can't beat that title for being controversial and Kurzweil backs up his argument. He should know, too. He was at the leading edge of a collection of computer technologies that have changed our lives, whether we know it or not. As an economic predictor, Kurzweil was no better in his books than he was with his companies.  He is mindlessly optimistic about the possible interaction between humans and machines.  Otherwise, it's an interesting book with an original look at the history of technology.
  • Further up the Organization : How to Stop Management from Stifling People & Strangling Productivity
  • by Robert Townsend. I used to say the concepts in this book are all you needed to know to be a great manager. I still do, but MBA's don't want to read it because it hammers at all of their favorite misconceptions. Townsend also expects managers to do useful work and to be of service to the people they manage. It's been out of print for almost a decade. If Townsend managed a McDonalds, I'd work there. If he had managed IBM, we'd still be buying their computers. If Harvard School of Business were in the business of creating managers of future successful companies, they'd be using this as a textbook. They aren't, they don't, and here we are at the decaying tail end of the American Dynasty.

    Other Non-Fiction

    • Anything
    • by David Halberstam (except Michael Jordan & the World He Made, which was a discouraging piece of commercial tripe). From Vietnam era political history to modern sports history and back to politics (in the Bush administration), Halberstam is my favorite "current history" writer. The Children is one of the most inspirational books ever written, but I could also say that about The Amateurs. Once you read one of these books, you're going to wonder how anyone could write so much, so well.
  • Callings by Gregg Levoy.  Not only is this a good book for someone in the throws of mid-life crisis, but it's simply a good book.  Even if you're happy with what you're doing, the analysis and references Levoy uses to make his points are worth the time it will take for you to read this book.
  • Imperial Hubris, by Michael Scheuer.  An interesting, if oddly right-wing book.  The author makes many valid points about the failures of the Bushies and their war on the third world.  He (or she) does a wonderful job explaining why we've failed so miserably at finding bin Laden.  If the copy I read hadn't been a library book, I'd have highlighted huge portions of the text.  The author included some incredible quotes about war, warriors, and politics that I'd love to be able to find when I need them.  My favorite, from Larry Seaquist in the Christian Science Monitor, is "the ultimate measure of a fighter is the size of his foe."  With that in mind, is it any wonder that Muslims think bin Laden is their Zorro, Robin Hood, and Batman all wrapped up (no pun intended) in a single man.  No one man has ever taken on such a powerful opponent and done so much damage with so few followers and such simple weapons. 
  • Fiction

    • Anything
    • by Elmore Leonard. You can find a bibliography and a short biography on this link. For what it's worth, Quentin Tarantino has called Leonard "the best writer in the world." I don't know about that, but I read anything Leonard writes.
    • Anything
    • by Loren Estleman. It's a terrible thing to admit, but I found both Leonard and Estleman by browsing the "Westerns" section of my library a couple of decades ago. I'm a hardcore western fan, which means that any romance novel disguised as a western attracts me as strongly as Danny Quayle or G.W. Bush are pulled to spelling bees. Also, like Leonard, Estleman writes Detroit-based suspense stories. Most of Estleman's stuff isn't mentally challenging, but it is great entertainment.
    • Anything
    • by Pete Dexter. From God's Pocket to Brotherly Love, Dexter is an incredible writer who never lets me down. Yet another writer I discovered through a great western, Deadwood, which was mangled into the credits of a terrible movie and an incredibly derivative HBO series for which he received no visible credit at all.  Dexter seems to have disappeared, in the last decade.  I suppose Hollywood has sucked him into to doing teen crap or something equally pointless.
    • Snow Falling on Cedars
    • and East of the Mountains by David Guterson. Guterson is an incredible writer who drags all of your senses into his story telling. I can not recommend these books strongly enough. I am the last person to rave about "descriptive writing."  More often than not, I don't care about scene, setting, or circumstance.  I just want someone to blow something up.  Guterson makes me smell, see, hear, and touch the places he writes about.  Even more important, he makes me want to experience more of that without making me feel like I'm reading "literature."  His characters are complicated, human, and stuffed with the attributes of the "human condition."
    • Many things
    • by Stephen Hunter. So far, I've read A Time to Hunt and Dirty White Boys. I expect, by the end of the month, I'll have read his catalog. Hunter is a writer along the lines of Elmore Leonard. His characters are multi-faceted, realistic, and incredibly interesting. Even when he writes a straight-forward gunslinger story (like A Time to Hunt), he is driven to add dimension and character to his story. I have a new writer to chase down! Xmas in Minnesota.
  • Ishmael by David Quinn. Depending on your politics and spiritual inclinations, this might be a radically controversial pick.  Ishmael is a telepathic gorilla who Quinn uses as a tactic to discuss the heritage of our "taker" (industrialized society) culture.  Being a naturally inclined tree-hugger, I tend to agree with Quinn's basic assumptions and felt that many of his guesses on the origins of our culture's myths were far more likely than not.  Being somewhere between agnostic and atheist, I was in sync with his take on organized religion.  Otherwise, there was a lot of new territory for me in Quinn's cultural explorations.
  • The Rat Movie List

    Documentary

    Simply perfect.  Everything you ever wanted to know about American and international corporations is described in this movie.  Through advocate interviews, advertising examples and the statements of advertising gurus, and the clear and perverted statements of execs themselves, The Corporation shows how this perverse and irrational business instrument is the downfall of democracy, the environment, and society.  If the information provided by this movie goes un-acted upon, we are dooming our children to the world best described by the original Rollerball movie. 
  • Yes Men
  • .  Moments of this book make the hours almost worth tolerating.  Yes Men moves at a glacial pace, over-describing the thought process of the characters who played incredible practical jokes on the folks at NAFTA and the WTO.  The discovery that the upper-crust management hacks who populate those stodgy organizations are about as alert as wintering tree sloths is one of the best moments in guerilla documentary making. 
  • Fahrenheit 9/11. Michael Moore's apparent swan song, since he's taken to wearing suits and hiding from the liberal supporters who made him a millionaire.  Still, this was an incredible attempt to educated an ignorant, cowardly conservative public.  Liberals shot Moore in the back by claiming that what he depicted was "old news" and didn't hit hard enough.  Conservatives whined that their poor little rich kid, Bush, was being unfairly exposed as a coward and a fool.  With this general consensus from the idiots on the far right and left, you have to know that Moore hit his target right on the nut for the rest of us.
  • 911 Loose Change.  Believe it or not, the premise of this movie is something we all should consider.  There are a lot of loose ends associated with the events of 9/11/2001.  The so-called investigation barely considered the facts, let alone the coincidences.  Stories and analysis of this event changed so abruptly that you'd almost suspect the media was being controlled.  From the events since then, we know there was a lot of money to follow as a result of the attacks on New York and Washington.  Nobody substantial seems to have even considered looking for a trail.  Find faults with this film, criticize the research, laugh at the assumptions, but not write the premise off because you and I know that G.W. Bush and his pal, Dick Cheney, would do anything for money.  Anything.
  • PBS: Evolution. One of the few brave moments in US television history. This series demonstrates the science and politics behind the evolution theory, beginning with an entertaining re-enactment of Darwin's life and trials (Man, did he need to know more about genetics! Marrying your first cousin?). The last DVD in the series (What about God?) deals with the nutcases of the "Creation Science" movement (synonymous with bowel movement) and the even crazier folks who cling desperately to their collection of sheepherder tales as if nature is simply too overwhelmingly complex for them to take part. If you've had enough of superstition, I'd recommend skipping on the last in the series. On the other hand, the preceding show, The Mind's Big Bang, deals gently with the lost scientific decades between the Scopes Trial and Sputnik. Losing the ability to investigate a single area of science, evolution, cost the United States immeasurably in scientific growth between 1925 and 1957.  We suddenly discovered that another nation, the Soviet Union (and many other nations, as we'd learn in the 1970's), had leapt ahead of us in technology, even with the handicap of a repressive dictatorship, because of our superstitious handicap. For a few years, the United States played catch-up with the world, something our capitalist democratic system and public education system accelerated, until conservative religion reared its fearful head and the country returned to its Puritan tendencies. In 2001, France ripped past our space program's capabilities with their hydrogen powered spacecraft, SWAN, and it's deep space observations, but we were so busy worrying about gay marriage and flag burning that it didn't even cause a blip on the national screen. Ah, decadence and evolution! What a fine team they make in social systems.
  • If We Were Smarter We’d Survive

    It’s almost sad that all of these catastrophic stupid mistakes are coming together at this point in human history. Given a couple hundred more years, we might have been able to rid ourselves of gods, war, and general stupidity. We’re not going to get another hundred years, maybe unfortunately. We’ve whipped past the critical 400ppm CO2 milestone, with barely a notice from the gas-guzzling American public. The corrupt mess that passes for a “congress” in Washington paved the way for one of the most evil corporations (or organizations of any kind) in human history, Monsanto, to pollute the plant gene pool with their poorly conceived, incredibly dangerous Franken-crops without any intelligent government oversight. Even worse, now that it is obvious that these crops are going to have millions of unforeseen and unpredictable catastrophic effects on the environment, our congressional crooks passed a law to protect Monsanto from responsibility. Too bad the World Court doesn’t have a military. If they did, they would surely be gearing up to go head-on with the US Government to prosecute our growing collection of international terrorists and criminals.

    Don’t worry, GeeWiz and Dicky. They’re not coming for you. They don’t have half the weaponry we’d use to protect your worthless criminal asses. Monsanto would get the same kind of military escort as would Wall Street and the Mob every other well-heeled criminal who has stuffed the pockets of members of congress, our Extreme Court, and the media. Our “national plan,” if it can be called something as sophisticated as that, is to bunker down, protect the 1% from the 99%, and cross our fingers and hope for the best while planning for something even better.

    We are a dumb-fucking animal with the survival instincts of a lemming and the intellectual capacity of a rock. Not a smart rock, either. Oh well, it’s gonna be a wild ride.

    If we’re around in 2015, I can only hope Google Blogger is still kicking out scheduled articles because a lot of the stuff I wrote about GeeWiz and Little Dicky will be reappearing just in time for the 20165 elections and I want to be there, even if I’m not here, to remind Repuglicans of who they are and who they represent. Otherwise, it really doesn’t matter because we’re all toast.

    6/10/2013

    No Stupid Zone? Look in a Mirror.

    These douchebags, http://ratseyeview.com/, bought the "rights" to my original "Rat's Eye View" domain and are pretending they are the "No Stupid Zone." If they are so bright, you'd think they could come up with their own website ID. Fuckin' morons.

    "The Rat’s Nest is where Nesters meet to talk about Chicago sports, news, and politics as well as national events and more! Fatrats writes his colorful “Ratitorials” two to three times a week, and we’ll also bring you interesting and fun videos, pictures, jokes and other pieces of interest. If you’re looking for a (slightly?) opinionated view of the news told in a no-holds-barred way in the “No Stupid Zone”, check back daily!"

    Sports? For starters, they're talking about the dumbest conversation material in modern history. As for politics, they're wingnuts, so stupid is what they specialize in.

    So far, this douche has pissed all over the Rat's Eye View concept. Who knows? Maybe when pigs fuck dogs something good can come from it, but I doubt it.

    6/07/2013

    #1 How I Came to Love Promiscuous Movies (1998)

      All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Dayrat
    (Author's historical note: The original title of the newsletter was "Things I Don't Understand." This is the one and only article shipped under that title.)

    A few mornings ago, on a local talk radio show, a local nutball religious wacko was babbling to a local, equally wacko, talk-jock about the Disney boycott. The fundamentalist line of propaganda was about how Disney hides its "promiscuous movies" in affiliate production companies like Miramax. And how we ought to avoid those movies, and all of Disney's movies, because they were "promiscuous."
    The main gist of their babble was that all of the decent people of the world ought to avoid brain-dead, pitiful excuses-for-remakes-of-literature movies like "The Lion King," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Anastasia" (better known as "Anesthetic," staring Barbie and Ken as themselves) until Disney stops making those other "promiscuous movies." I'm all for avoiding bad movies; which pretty much means I don't go to movies very often. I think we all should get a life and stay away from any movie written by an MBA or a similar brain-dead Spielberg-clone.
    But all the philosophical stuff aside, I want to know about these "promiscuous movies?" Back when I was working in the "entertainment industry" I never suspected that all those film cans, stacked on top of each other in storage, could be doing anything animate. If movies are promiscuous, do they also reproduce? I wouldn't like to think these two illiterates were using the word, "promiscuous," when they didn't know what it means.
    My buddy, Webster, defines "promiscuous" as:
    1. composed of all sorts of persons or things
    2. not restricted to one class, sort, or person : INDISCRIMINATE <education... cheapened through the promiscuous distribution of diplomas --Norman Cousins>
    3. not restricted to one sexual partner
    4. CASUAL, IRREGULAR <promiscuous eating habits>
    I'm not sure I want to restrict movies about "all sorts of persons or things." I kind of like multiple plot movies. I really like movies with lots of scenery. I like movies that depict realism. Movies, were the actors don't appear to be "casual" or realistic, generally get classified as being amateur. The more I think of it, the more I'm convinced that any movie that doesn't have some promiscuous characteristics is going to be really boring.
    I know this doofus was trying to imply that movies containing sexual activity are his focus, but, if that's really true, why did he pick a word that means something a lot different? What is he really trying to ban? I'd guess Webster's definition of "promiscuous" is exactly this fundamentalist's definition. Substitute "fun," "interesting," "realistic," and non-whitebread for "promiscuous" and you'll know just what these zoned-out, simple-parts-of-the-bible-thumping, God-speaks-to-me-and-you'd-better-listen types wants to abolish. If the thumpers and the politically correctors ever get together to pass laws for the rest of us, you're going to see a promiscuous assortment of bell tower snipers sending a promiscuous collection of bullets towards a promiscuous bunch of bystanders. And we'll all be right there to watch, because live-action promiscuous violence will be the only source of entertainment available.
    January 1998
    Author's Note: Yep, by the second column, I changed the name. A "friend" took great joy in telling me that the list of "things I don't understand" would take far too long to, even, imagine. After suffering a two hour company meeting this morning, The above title seemed a lot more appropriate, anyway. As always, the rats are winning but I'm not even in the race.

    6/03/2013

    Recycling Rat Rants

    Way back in 1998, I started writing Rat Rants. The first one was called, "How I Came to Love Promiscuous Movies." That was so long ago I can't even remember the inspiration that convinced me I could/should write about politics, business, religion, and human nature. Hell, I don't even like humans, so why I decided to write about them is beyond my current imagination.

    However, in the near future I'm going to lose my Comcast website. When that happens all of the Rat's Eye imitators and outright thieves (http://ratseyeview.com/,http://www.flickr.com/groups/15452323@N00/, http://www.kogeto.com/dotspots/S44RBSGKU617#.UaiZm4ko50s, http://www.zackmoir.com/?p=155, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tower-Tribes-a-Rats-Eye-View-the-Prologue/182731025164944, http://johnkoessler.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/a-rats-eye-view/, http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2191673/1/Rat-s-Eye-View, and the rest of the crap you will find if you Google "Rat's Eye View") will be able to claim the creation of this moronic concept. When I first named my AT&T Blog (long since dead) "The Rat's Eye View," It was a play on "bird's eye view." Today, we're all rats, except for the 1%, and we seem to be proud of the fact. When the Comcast webpage vanishes, that will be the end of me and the Rat's Eye View . . . . unless. . . .

    Here's the "unless." I'm going to repost every one of my pissed-off, half-baked, rants from the past starting with #1 and going to the end, when ever that is, once a week on this blog for however long it takes. You'll know you're looking an old rant when you see the number (pound sign, #) at the title and if you see the Rat's Eye View logo at the top of the page.