12/29/2014

#88 Making a Case for Intolerance

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

U.S. citizens are probably the most persecuted group of humans in the history of the world.  Every once of us is a member of some kind of minority.  If we're not, we pick a hobby that makes us a minority.  If we're the ruling majority, we make a law that classifies us as a minority and we run with it.  Whatever group we belong to, no matter how small or weird, we expect that group to be honored as a minority and to be respected as if we are making a valuable contribution to the culture.

One of my hobbies is motorcycling.  Less than 0.5% of U.S. citizens own motorcycles.  Probably half of that group owns a Harley that is mostly unridden, either because it's broken or because its owner is investing a small fortune in customizing the bike and it hasn't been completely assembled since the early years of the Vietnam War.  So, an optimistic estimate of motorcyclists on the road, paying license taxes, contributing to air and noise pollution, amount to a measly one in four hundred citizens.  That's a serious minority.

I live a few hundred feet from a freeway.  I know that's not smart, but it's something I've mostly come to terms with.  I can safely say that a disproportionate contribution to my neighborhood's noise pollution comes from motorcycles.  The blast of motorcycle exhaust noise often overwhelms the blat of semis, the boom of rolling ghetto blaster pickups, and the other 399 of 400 vehicles on the road.

You'd think that noise pollution, alone, would make motorcyclists a bit apprehensive about their status in the vehicle culture.  Because of our minority status, we seem to be more arrogant about our social standing, if anything.  We have successfully overturned noise pollution requirements, helmet laws, emission standards, and common sense through political action and a lot of whining. 

That appears to the standard practice for all sorts of minorities.

Christians represent 5% of the religious world, but that doesn't keep one sect of Christians from acting like the Pope is the true ruler of the universe or another sect from believing that their favorite wild-eyed evangelist is God's only direct spokesman.  Christianity isn't alone in this sort of "my universe, love it or leave it" fantasy.  In fact, it's hard to find a dominant religion on this planet that isn't similarly deluded.  Taken individually, every one of these religions and sects of religions are a minority but they have taken their minority status and turned it into a political advantage, in their own minds.  Combining martyrdom, fanaticism, terrorism, and secular nationalism into a frenzy of self-delusion, the world's minorities create pockets of majority status for themselves. 

Like US motorcyclists, this sort of deluded outlook often gets run off of the road by reality.  Combining nationalism with religious minority paranoia is scary stuff, though.  That throws what Mr. Bush calls "weaponsh of mash disrushon" and a higher power's justification to use those weapons into the mix.  We're now operating at the intellectual level of "my god is tougher than your god." 

Another country operated on this level of paranoia in 1936 and their national delusion became a reality a few years later when all of the folks they imagined hating them really did hate them.  Germany followed a nutball, paranoid, I'm-doing-God's-will wacko all the way into World War II, under the justification that they were a picked-on VIP minority.  Crazy people are specially noxious when they collect in large groups and begin sharing their fantasies.  Sane people tend to want to put walls around them, isolate them, and remove their access to weapons and pointy objects.  Or blow them up.  If we don't find a way to police our crazy people, the rest of the world is going to start wondering if they need to do it for us.

August 2004

12/25/2014

#125 Merry Xmas (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
Scrooge has nothing on me.  "Bah, humbug," would be the nicest thing I can say about this phony, greedy, superstitious holiday.  I grew up in a tense, unbalanced Midwestern home where this particular holiday brought out all the worst in our tension and imbalance. 
Giving and getting presents was only a part of the stress.  Like most Americans, we were driven by guilt to spend every nickel we had on things that the receivers would want nearly as much as a case of the clap.  Like many Americans, the "festivities" were wrapped in superstitious semi-Christian ritual designed to make every freakin' moment as guilty and unpleasant as possible. 
In my old age, now that my kids are grown and living happily (I hope) in their own families, I do my best to avoid everything about this nasty commercial ritual.  Of course, the superstitious aspect of Xmas is lost on me.  I'm not Christian, Jewish, or Islamic, so the Jesus, Jehovah, Mohamad, or Superman myths are just a collection of sheep herders' tales amongst a long, long list of sheep herders' tales that have complicated human history and rational thought since the first caveman painted a space ship on a cave wall and claimed that someone had stuck a probe in his butt. 
I can't escape the guilt crap of being a Midwesterner.  I still buy something for everyone I love.  I try to convince myself I go through this ritual for some reason other than the ones that actually motivate me.  It's not true, though.  I'm as guilt driven as I was when I was a child in my father's house.  I'm just fighting harder to reclaim this dreary time of the year from the marketing scumbags who currently own the period between Thanksgiving and Xmas.  I figure that the more people I can convince to do the same, the fewer marketing jobs there will be and the better the rest of us will live.  Or something like that. 
I'm not mortified enough to try and pretend that I like Xmas, though.  I am upfront about how much I hate this stupid holiday.  I'm not talking about dislike, distrust, or distain, either.  I mean I "hate" Xmas and everything it stands for.  Xmas is not about love, sharing, compassion, friendship, family, or faith.  It's about greed, power, control, guilt, and fear.  Scary people trying to sell garbage and superstition to timid people who hate their lives so much that they spend more than they earn to massage their guilty, selfish hearts for long enough to make the scary folks a little richer and more powerful.  Even buying some little thing for the people I love is contributing to the things I dislike the most about my country.  Someone stronger, more patriotic than me would completely ignore the holiday.  A person worthy of the title of "American citizen" would go public in his dislike of this holiday and do everything in his power to break the chain.  I guess I'm public now, maybe I'll have done some damage to the chains in my own life.  You are free to work the links of your own chains. 

12/22/2014

#87 Miss Manners? (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

A recent news broadcast commented on a school program in Chicago that claimed to be teaching "manners" to inner city kids.  On the surface, this probably seems like a good thing.  There's a myth in American culture that well mannered get ahead.  We like to think that good manners are among the skills that allow people to rise to the top of society, politics, and business.  There is what seems like an infinite number of stupid assumptions that we make about our society. 

For instance, occasionally someone points out the fact that we are a highly class-focused culture and that the rich and ruling class regularly pay considerably less of their income toward supporting the culture that, primarily, exists for their use and abuse.  The politicians and spiritual leaders whose purpose is to act as the buffer between the working class and the ruling class will burn precious resources in accusing that person of trying to divide the country into "haves and have-nots."  Of course, we are a nation of haves and have-nots, but it's considered "impolite" to remind the have-nots of the condition of their condition.

It's a dichotomy.  Life is full of them. 

Often in American life, it appears that telling the truth is impolite. 

Another difficult concept to comprehend is how manners will help working class (or children who want to become working class) get ahead in the world of business.  Let's take a walk around Success Street. 

While, on the surface, the people who control business and politics appear to be well dressed and properly mannered, that surface analysis doesn't tell a useful story.  In front of the media or customers, the average ruling class representative can, mostly, appear to be civilized.  That's only a small part of the requirement for being a well-mannered person.  Even the coarsest fool knows to be polite around power (except for those drunken idiots on "Cops"). 

In practice, the rich are irrationally selfish; hoarding resources to themselves at the expense of their neighbors and fellow citizens.  They buy politicians and the media to create laws to insulate themselves from responsibility to their communities.  In times of great need, they will do anything to avoid sharing their wealth and, often, choose those times to flaunt the fact that they are not "like ordinary people."  In practical application, the rich are as likely to be vicious, self-serving, and arrogant as a crack dealer.  Those characteristics are rarely considered to be well mannered, regardless of social position.  Fortunately for the rich and powerful, they get to make the rules so they rarely have to suffer ill comparisons. 

However, I think we ought to develop a nation-wide program to teach manners to the rich and powerful.  Someone who understands the situation of the pampered and powerful and has the courage to explain common decency to the uncommon would be required to do the teaching.  Ralph Nader comes to mind, to toss a name into the hat. 

July 2004

12/15/2014

#86 The Real Them (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

"Character," "ethics," "morality," and other right-sounding buzzwords have been the watchmarks of the last few elections.  The media wants to pretend these things are difficult to evaluate, and they are if you don't use a little common sense.  The major media is just one never-ending infomercial and common sense is never part of any marketing plan, so they are the wrong place to go for that resource.  I think the easy source is history; a candidate's history, a party's history, and, in the case of parties that are trying to create a royalty class, the candidate's family history. 

Take our last collection of Presidents, for example.  In modern history, say from Lyndon Johnson forward, we have a fair collection of characters to review.  We have the right wingers: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I & II.  We have the left or center: Johnson, Carter, and Clinton.  I can't seen how anyone could consider either Johnson or Clinton "left," but we'll put them in that category to make Republicrats happy. 

If personal character were a real issue, you'd think that, once someone was on the public dole for the kind of cash that ex-Presidents rake in, a person of character would feel some obligation to the people footing his bills.  So, let's look at the ex-Presidents and see what they did for the public after they left the bright lights.  And they should have been doing something for the public, since they are on the dole big time. 

Johnson left office in shame.  His "War on Poverty" was buried under the Vietnam war garbage and he was practically blasted from the primaries by a series of people he once considered his friends and allies.  He quit the race for President before the 1968 Demolican convention and before he suffered the ignominy of becoming one of the rare standing Presidents defeated by his own party.  Even after all that embarrassment, he followed his Presidency by staying involved in several of his pet social reform programs: Head Start and the Peace Corps.  But, mostly, Johnson faded into Texas society and was a drain on the taxpayer for the rest of his life. 

Nixon ran and hid after being impeached and nearly convicted for a collection of crimes.  Before leaving office, he pardoned a pack of hardened corporate criminals and replaced himself with a Republicrat crony who had balls of fluff and the brains of a golf ball, Jerry Ford.  After leaving office, Nixon became a right wing spokesperson and a corporate board member of a collection of companies who owed him a boat-load of cash for years of non-observant government mismanagement.  So much for character and a much larger taxpayer drain than Johnson, since Nixon built a collection of "memorials" to himself which were funded and maintained by taxpayers.

Jerry Ford served out his appointment term as President, lost the 1976 election, and returned to playing golf with his corporate buddies.  Other than an occasional figurehead position as a "moderate Republicrat leader," Ford has been on a vacation since (and mostly during) his term in office.  Still, no character showing and more wasted tax money.

We've heard almost as much from Jimmy Carter, and received more value from him, after his Presidency as during.  He's been involved in Habitat for Humanity, actually building houses along with finding funding for this charity.  He's worked with Amnesty International and a collection of democracy-promoting organizations, often putting his own life at risk to observe elections from South America to Africa to Florida.  Finally, a large bit of character and something for our money.

Then, Reagan, who didn't show a lick of character before, during, or after his Presidency, followed in the traditional Republicrat model.  Most of the way to senility, before he started his 2nd term of office, Reagan did a little international corporate speaking for huge sums of cash after he left office and, then, succumbed to his natural state; napping and mumbling.  Reagan did receive some monster payments for 15 minute formal mumbles in Japan, as a repayment for his handing massive quantities of US natural resources and political power to that country's elite.  Republicrats named every road and public building they could desecrate after this President, in an attempt to rewrite history so that it might look at Reagan's term in office more kindly.  Which means more tax money than ever was tossed after this lost cause.  Still, we're back to no character, again.  However, if suffering a terrible late life is God's will, Reagan's fate would almost make me into a believer.  On the other hand, taxpayers got stuck for a huge medical care bill for Reagan's last few years of drooling. 

Bush I was the most obvious characterless character the Republicrats ever elected.  He was a corporate scumbag before his term as Vice (the most perfect application of this term ever) President and went right back to scamming the public with oil execs, military-industrial execs, power and communications execs after he left office.  Bush I hadn't done a single lick of selfless activity since he came to government and has been totally wrapped up in creating wealth for himself since he left.  If character really mattered, Republicrats would be ashamed to show their faces or include "character" in their chants after having pawned this scumbag off on the country.  Republicrats are totally devoid of character, however, and no act of failure or immorality shames them. 

Clinton, the right wing's "character" whipping boy, has followed, a few steps, in Carter's footsteps. Bill Clinton has continued to work for peace in the Middle East, being a part of peace negotiations and working for world peace foundations.  Clinton has stayed at the job he started in eastern Europe, whenever he's given an opportunity.  Until recently, he'd stayed low-profile in the 2004 election process, probably because he's such an easy target for the morally corrupt right who want to use his personal failure as evidence that they massive moral void is justified.  Clinton is young and what he does with his personal popularity and clout is yet to be seen.  Still, not Republicrat characterless.

Bush II was a clueless, money-grubbing moron before he stumbled into the Presidency and it's safe to say he will remain one afterwards.  His associations are the same as his father's; evil and greedy.  His motivations are not as convoluted, though.  He's lazy, dumb, and spoiled.  It doesn't take much to make that kind of rich kid happy, so he'll vanish from public life and continue packing his pockets with cash after he leaves office.  Character?  Never had any, never will.  His claim to moral fame is that he managed to stop publicly packing his nose with coke and hasn't been caught driving drunk for at least a decade.  Not much of an achievement, but the best we can hope for from Republicrats.

July 2004

12/08/2014

#85 The Purpose of A Business (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

In my foolishly mismanaged career, I've worked for really small and really monstrous companies.  The difference between small companies and large companies is, mostly, money.  The little companies don’t have much, big companies have a lot.  Otherwise, the little companies do the same, stupid things that drive sane people insane in the bloated, brain-dead humongous companies.  Money allows the big guys to get by with more stupidity, but stupidity is its own reward and you never want to sell short the capacity of really small companies to shoot themselves in the foot. 

Take bureaucracy, for example.  You’d think that little companies would, by nature, avoid designing useless accounting practices, stuffing offices with purposeless middle managers, and putting layers of interference between the people who do work and the people who are expecting to have work done.  You’d be wrong.  Far too many small companies are influenced by the management practices of the biggest, least efficient role models.  Small company managers suffer the delusion that their purpose in the company is to live a life of leisure and uselessness.  Once they can afford a couple of employees, they shuffle off responsibility and critical functions to those minimally paid employees, under the hallucination that employees are motivated to do a better job than the idiots who own the business.  That might work until the employees realize that they are being taken for granted, used and abused, and they adopt the “I don’t give a shit” attitude of their employer.  One thing about crappy jobs, there is always another one.

That’s the odd thing about management’s attitude.  When a store owner, company executive, or business owner manages to kill the golden goose, there isn’t another similar job around the corner for them.  You’d think they’d be more concerned about keeping their good thing alive, but they’re not, apparently, that bright.  It’s true that dumb asses flock together and it’s also true that the “good ‘ole boy” network hangs pretty tightly, but the preponderance of jobs available in the good ‘ole US of A are minimum wage.  There‘s no shortage of ex-execs holding on to the remains of their severance packages, shipping fancy resumes to uninterested personnel departments, and hoping another ship will come in before they have to look for real work.  Another ship that they can help sink, once they’re safely accommodated in a padded chair behind a loading dock-sized desk.  

I’ve written about this before, but it is true that some companies seem to go out of their way to hire execs who have failed before.  The fantastic “logic” often spouted is that a failed exec will have learned something valuable about the experience of failure that will somehow translate into success for the moronic fools who give the failed exec another chance.  I suppose these idiots bet on losing horses with the same logic. 

No, most execs don’t learn anything from their failures, except how to do less work, make fewer decisions, and to attract as little attention as possible.  Of course, those were the skills that took them up the corporate ladder, initially, so they must be mission-critical skills in any business. 

Or the real deal may be that leadership is overrated, under-realized, and grossly over-paid.  Several companies, in the early stages of the latest economic crash, relieved themselves of CEOs, CFOs, directors, and other bloated titles without function and found that there was no need to re-fill those positions.  They simply saved the cash, spent it on their corporate functions, or distributed the money among people who actually did work and performed tasks that needed performing.  I’ll admit that this is a rare company, but, since I’m a firm believer that “99% of everything is crap,” any bit of rational thought is encouraging.

June 2004

12/06/2014

#84 Restructuring the Rat (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Another half year has gone by and I've written damn little in this journal.  It's not that I haven't had lots of ideas and tons of material.  It's an election year and I'm part-time employed.  Those two activities alone are enough to start me ranting endlessly.  But I managed to create a monster, a maintenance monster, with the structure of the Rat's Eye View webpage and finally it killed off my desire to write these things.  In a fit of inspiration, I completely restructured the website into my version of a blog journal.  No more "This Week's Rant" page.  Everything gets dumped into the current year's list of babble.  No more snazzy index that allows readers and website search engines to find a particular rant about a specific subject.  Every damn thing I've written is going to be dumped into annual files.  The newest stuff is on the top of the page, the old crap is at the bottom.  If I had a readership, I'd be concerned that I've managed to lose their historical interest.  I don't, so I'm just doing this make life easy for myself.  And, after all, that's what really matters, isn't it?

My hope Is that I'll write a lot more because of this easier, less accessible structure.  I've thrown readership counters on each of the annual pages, which will give me some idea if any of you are out there reading what I write . 

I write a column for local motorcycle magazine, called "Geezer with a grudge." the idea behind that column is that I write something that pisses off the magazine's readers, they write a nasty letter to the editor , if they write often enough, the editor has evidence that there are a lot of readers out there in magazine land, and he can justify his ad rates.  The page counters are doing the same job for me.  I'm not writing this drivel for my health.  At least, I'm not posting it to a webpage for that purpose .  I created these web pages in the hopes that either attract a readership.  So far, that experiment has been a dismal failure, but I've written about one million bytes of text in the effort.  As a writing experiment, I can't call it worthless.  As a self-promotion experiment, it hasn't been worth much, though. 

June 2004

12/01/2014

#83 Conservative Morality

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

In case you haven't figured it out on your own, the title of this rant is irony.  Conservatives have about as firm a grasp on morality as Gee-Whiz Bush has on the state of the economy.  The two claims to moral fame held by the religious right are non-reproductive sex (they're again' it) and forced Christianity (they're for it).

On all other issues, conservatives could care less about the poor, the underprivileged, the abused, downtrodden, good manners, or common decency.  The new and old Right are for the power and wealth of those who already hold power and wealth, for keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  They are so inclined to bear arms against their fellow citizens that they form organizations to prevent any semblance of rational legislation controlling personal weaponry.  They gloat over the fact that Amerika has stockpiled more of its citizens in prisons than most of the other industrialized nations put together.  They hate freedom of the press, civil rights, habeas corpus, women's rights, taxation of the rich, and cereal with raisins.  They're all about dismantling the education system and replacing it with menial labor vocational training for everyone who wasn't born leaching from a trust fund.  In fact, there isn't a single positive human value that the Right would fight to protect.  If it ain't about greed or power, it's not an issue for these very un-conservative conservatives.

For that matter, the two moral issues they cling to are not about morality, but about greed and power.  Any group that claims to be pro-life but is so much in love with capital punishment is, obviously, conflicted.  As far as I can see, the conservative dislike for abortion is that the procedure removes the possibility of a later-in-life execution.  That's a power issue, not a moral point.  The conservative passion for government control of bedroom activities is a combination of repressed sexual anxiety or a desire to control every non-economic human activity.  You can't tell the communists from the conservatives without a conservative media to label the two. 

Either the conservative gods are astoundingly stupid, or they're thoroughly disbelieved by their let's-pretend-worshipers.  Conservatives hunt through whatever sheepherder tales they claim were written by the hand of whatever god for any excuse to kill, steal from, or rape and pillage their enemies of the moment.  I'm not just talking about our local nutball Christian "conservatives," I mean every conservative on the planet; Christian, Muslim, Moonie, Mormon, Communist, or whatever timid person's flavor-of-the-century we're suffering at the moment.  If these people aren't killing someone or planning to kill someone, they're unhappy as hell. 

[As a historical aside, read John Adam's defense of British soldiers from post-Revolutionary War execution, “. . . We are to look upon it as more beneficial, that many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it is of more importance to the community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world, that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner, that it is not of much consequence to the public, whether they are punished or not. But when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security. And if such a sentiment as this should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security whatsoever . . .”  Now that's a liberal!]

Two unbelievably vicious examples of Right immorality demonstrated their wrongness recently, during Minnesota's 2002 Senate campaign.  First, the Republicrat candidate waged a smear campaign against the only populist politician left in Washington, Paul Wellstone.  When Wellstone's plane went down a few weeks before the election, the Demoplicans stuffed the vacancy with Walter Mondale.  In a panic, Republicrats worried about losing the election out of sympathy for Minnesota's great loss.  Conservative whackos stormed the Fitzgerald Theater where a debate was the be held between Mondale and Abnormal Coleman.  Outside the theater, they paraded with signs that read "War Means Jobs." 

War means jobs.  Now there's a strong moral position for you.  They were worried that Mondale might not let Gee Wiz carry on his war-plans-slash-economic-recovery-strategy and that resistance to rational thought might cost them precious military industrial jobs.  I'd never been more disgusted by my fellow Americans. 

But conservatives keep trying to set new records for immorality.  In New York, there is a 30 year old Republicrat governors' legislation, called the Rockefeller Law, which puts "drug offenders" in prison, regardless of previous history, mitigating circumstances, or breakfast cereal preferences.  Recently, there has been some questioning of the fairness or rationality of a law that tosses people in jail for crimes against themselves.  Some famous rappers are putting themselves in between the law and common sense.  They're asking why people should be jailed for life, or the majority of a life, for drug possession, especially possession of amounts small enough to barely qualify for personal use.

And the conservatives are upset.  Not because they believe the punishment fits the crime, but because they are concerned that precious right-wing jobs will be lost in the prison system.  Who cares if people are unfairly stripped of their lives, families, and freedom?  Let's face it, it's obvious that prison guards are old fashioned conservatives and it's hard to find high paying jobs for that sort of upstanding low-tech citizen.  Mostly, because the kind of person who would take a job as a prison guard is uneducated, unskilled, and otherwise unemployable.  So what's a person's life compared to keeping conservative dumbshits employed? 

Morality, who needs it when you can pretend to have it and the rest of the country is too terrified of you to correct your error?  If we truly wanted to wage a war on terrorists, conservatives would be in deep shit.  The terrorists of the world are all conservatives stumbling along behind one deeply flawed fantasy or another.  A war on real terrorism would be one that could be easily conducted at home and it's a war that should be won at all costs.  The future of our Constitution and world democracy depends on rooting out conservatives and putting them where they can do no harm.  I'm thinking positions as sanitation workers is about as critical an industry as conservatives are capable of serving.

March 2004

11/26/2014

Dumb Kansas Expressions

I have a terrible admission to make and it appears to be something I am stuck with for life, which at 66 probably won't be all that long. I first tried to put this apology/admission on Facebook, but Facebook's crap editor defeated me. So, it's here. I grew up in a place and time where the phrase "boy howdy" was as common as "please," "thank you," "can I help with that," "you're welcome," and "if you need anything, please call." Unfortunately, for me and my father and brother "boy howdy" shortened to "boy" by the time I was an adolescent. It is an expression I've used reflexively for at least 60 years. As in "Boy! That's awful." Or "Boy! I wish I'd thought of that." Or "Boy! That tastes like crap." It probably looks worse in print than it sounds, but I can't say that since I'm usually wishing, once more, I'd kept my hillbilly Kansas mouth shut when "boy" introduces yet another sentence. If I'd have been from New York or California, I'd start every thought with "um" or "you know" or "you know what I mean" or "like." But, nope. I'm from 1950's western Kansas and I'm stuck with "boy."

According to the Word Detective, "It’s pretty hard to think of a single aspect of modern life that isn’t connected to Howdy Doody in some way. To those of you born after 1960, 'Howdy Doody' may have been just a wildly popular 1950s kiddie TV show, but the rest of us know that time and space began with Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the Clown. Someone should tell those physicists that they’re wasting their time searching for that Grand Unified Theory of Everything. It’s Howdy Doody all the way down." And I grew up with that freaky little ginger puppet as big part of my childhood, my hometown culture (I won a Ralph Edwards-sponsored contest when I was a kid), and we never missed a show, even when I had to hang out with neighbor kids to see it since my father didn't buy a television until I was 13.

Continuing with the Word Detective's analysis, "The original lexical function of the phrase was simply to catch the listener’s attention, equivalent to saying 'Hey, mister…', but today 'boy' used this way signals that the speaker considers what follows to be important or surprising ('Boy, I never thought they’d actually fire me')."

Yeah, all that is true. But in some social situations it doesn't feel right. If feels like I've slapped someone in the face and I don't mean to do that. Stupid as it may sound, I am not calling anyone "boy." I'm just a hick stuck with a stupid word for practically every moment that mildly deserves an exclamation mark. At this point in my life, I wouldn't mind replacing "boy" with "like," as much as I hate that word for any It's not gonna happen, though.

11/24/2014

#82 The Vanishing Middle Class

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

The Middle Class.  Who’s in it?  Who’s losing ground and falling into poverty, slipping from success into homelessness?  The Middle Class, that’s who.  For the last two decades, the banking industry has been spending tens of millions of dollars to find a way to have its cake and eat it, too. 

The bankruptcy bill, the one the credit pushers have hustled past their representatives in the US House and are about to bribe the Senate to pass, the one Bush has guaranteed passage of when it hits his desk, is about to finish off what little is left of the Middle Class.  When the credit mafia has this bill in hand, they’ll be free to hustle their 30% interest rates on anyone unlucky enough to either be uninformed or unlucky enough to be among the 100 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.  Since this same group of crooks is enjoying the use of public cash for as little as 2%, this is the kind of profit margin the old, underground mafia used to call loan sharking.  Once upon a time, the federal government occasionally put folks in jail for this kind of predatory activity.  Unless the middle class comes to life and defends itself, the only folks going to jail will be ex-members of the working class on their way to debtor’s prison.

Yes, Virginia, debtors prison, that nasty old relic that our founding fathers brought with them from “Old Europe,” as Bush’s Rummy called it, is about to make a comeback if the credit pushers have their way.  Even better, though, will be the practical slavery debtors will experience when the safety valve of personal bankruptcy is eliminated.  Of course, the ruling class won’t be inconvenienced by any of this unpleasantness.  Corporations will still be able to escape their debt through Chapter 11, 13, and other numbered Swiss and Maryland accounts.  Executives will still be immune to the economic hazards their incompetent management creates, through the protection of corporate law.  The only folks who will be affected by all the outrage caused by America’s out-of-control debtor problems will be the middle class. 

Sometime in the middle of the 1970s, the Powers That Be decided that the country no longer needed to encourage the existence of a middle class.  Once there was a VA Bill, which was intended to revitalize a middle class that had been destroyed in the Depression and create a skilled labor force.  It was discontinued under the argument that the VA was intended to provide for veterans of actual wars, not a “minor police” action like the little thing going on in Vietnam.  Since then, finances have tightened up, working wages have shriveled, prices on almost everything have inflated, and jobs have vanished.  The term “full time job” is practically historic.  The phrase “permanent job” is downright obsolete. 

Being old enough to remember when a family could be supported by a single income, I wonder when the middle class will get tired of all this.  I wonder what kind of poke with a sharp stick it would take to make the people who work for a living rise up against the ruling class who have taken them for granted?  I wonder if Americans are worthy of the label?  Are we Americans or are we Old Europeans?  Do we remember that the American Revolution was, at the core, a class war and that any time we’re fighting a class war we’re being true to our democracy?  Probably not.  But maybe recreating slavery and debtors’ prisons will remind us who we are and what we have lost. 

February 2004

11/17/2014

#81 Vanishing Definitions (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Twenty years ago, I took an American Government course from Dr. Herrick Arnold, at Orange Coast Community College.  Dr. Herrick was a local Republican wig during the Nixon years, which cost him his political career and stuck him in a community college.  One of the many things I got out of Dr. Arnold's class was a set of economic definitions that have stuck with me for life.  One of the other things was an understanding that all systems gravitate toward developing an elite class.

When Americans debate politics and economics (you can't have one without the other), we tend to believe that the two poles are right and left, capitalism and socialism.  The extremes appear to meet so closely that you can't tell the right from the left.  Practical applications of communism and fascism are so alike that they may as well share the same name.  Unfortunately for the middle class, practical applications of capitalism and socialism depend on the center (politically and economically) to support the extremes.  What we need to develop are common terms that actually have meaning in a discussion.

Dr. Arnold's definitions of capitalism, socialism, and communism are the best I've ever heard.  He defined capitalism as a system where all assets are privately owned and the government's tasks are restricted to national defense and a few core maintenance tasks.  Taxation is purely for the purpose of generating revenue for these basic tasks. 

The USA, for instance was relatively capitalist from 1776 until the early 1800s.  After that . . . you pick your definition from the following options.

  1. Socialism is a system where the nation's assets are co-owned, some are private and some are government.  Taxation and tariffs are used to raise revenue for basic functions, to control and direct economic and social activity.  Bureaucracy is moderate to large, depending on population size and available resources.  Most of the world’s democracies have been socialist, by this definition since the 1900s. 
  2. Communism is a system where the nation's assets are government-owned or centrally managed by an organization that passes for government.  Bureaucracy is huge.  Taxes don't exist because the government receives all of the nation's revenue and distributes it as it sees fit.  Supposedly, "to each as he needs, from each as he can provide."  However, government is, by nature, corrupt and distribution is the problem in communist states.  Most multi-national corporations act as communist states within their realm of power.  A realm that is growing exponentially in the US.
  3. Capitalism is a system where the nation's assets are privately-owned.  Bureaucracy is minimal and only provides basic services; national defense and management of major natural resources, for example.  It's a wonderful ideal that always fails due to human nature.  Humans are vicious, stupid, and selfish and need constant supervision of they'll piss in their own drinking water.  In history, capitalism always gets replaced by socialism or a dictatorship after the capitalists ruin their own living spaces.
  4. A dictatorship is what most historic forms of government amounted to, including theocracies and monarchies.  The ideal is a Benevolent Dictator.  Since this has, supposedly, happened in monarchies in the past, many conservative dreamers hope it could happen again.  Of course, these dumb asses think the 1950s were an idyllic time in the US, so what do they know?  The problem with this "theory" is that there is always a problem with the successor.  Since a dictator isn't elected, any damn fool can end up in charge of the guillotine.  Usually, a damn fool does.

Other systems exist, but they're just variations on these three major categories.  Theocracy, for example, is just communism with funny hats and shoes and men wearing dresses.  Anarchism, the political theory that opposes all forms of government, is capitalism without national defense and with choking air pollution and a planet so over-heated by unrestrained human misbehavior that all life ceases to exist in a few years.

Socialist democracy is flawed and full of traps, but it's still the best system we have.  Nuts.

January 2004

11/10/2014

#80 Creating Patriots (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

One of the great flaws in our country's self-defense systems is that those who administer the system claim to be super patriots for their sacrifice.  Without a shred of evidence, they claim to have made sacrifices for the good of us all.  Usually, the sacrifice was one they made of someone else. 

The thing the majority of government employees are most interested in protecting is their pensions.  They are often willing to sacrifice integrity, justice, and their country's best interests to protect a benefit that no longer exists anywhere but in government.  Pensions are so rare in modern life that, if it weren't for government, it would be safe to call them ancient history. 

So, how do we create patriots in government?

For starters, we remove the present crop of drones and their reason for government employment; the pensions.  All of them, civil service, postal workers, military personnel, elected officials, every last government employee loses their pension and any hope they might have that the rest of us will pay them to idle away their golden years in luxury or double-dipping.  Of course, this would result in mass exodus from government "service," but who would that inconvenience?  In 1996, the House and President Clinton got into a budgetary pissing match and "shut the government down" for three weeks.  Other than the fact that savings was negated by the foolish payment of "lost wages" to the government employees when the offices reopened, there was a lot learned by the experiment.  Various federal offices had to identify crucial jobs and critical employees and keep them at work.  Non-critical employees were sent home.  Why they were brought back is a question that might never be answered.  In functioning businesses, non-critical workers get laid off, not paid for not doing the work they usually don't do.

One of the big complaints about the government shutdown was the fact that a few thousand rich folks were deprived of passports.  The rest of us should have considered that a benefit.  If the rich can't troll off into the third world looking for new places to ship American jobs, the rest of us are better off.  If they have to keep their vacation money here, spending it in American resorts and spas, we're better off.  If trickle-down works at all, that's about the only way it works.  So, it's pretty difficult to find a task the federal government does that the working class wants it to be doing. 

I suppose you'll argue that, if federal employee benefits are reduced to the level of non-socialized occupations that we’ll end up with no one wanting to hold public service jobs.  And that’s bad because . . . ?

Take away the salary decisions from the people who get the salaries.  Put the government's salary budget on the ballot every two years.  Especially Congress' salary decisions.  When they do a poor job, or no job as Congress did during 8 years of Clinton’s administration, they get paid accordingly. 

January 2004

11/03/2014

#79 Dangerous Illusions (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

If we ever needed to be comforted that "things are going to be ok," it's probably now. The nation's cities are overpopulated, over-crowded, under-managed, and more dangerous than they've been since the turn of the last century.  People are afraid that they're going to be raped, robbed, murdered, and/or squashed by falling 747s piloted by Islamic terrorists.  We are turning timid as quickly as our social environment is growing aggressive.  The solution is . . . television. 

In 2001, the National Crime Information Center reported 840,279 missing persons (of which 85-90% are children) and the fraction of those returned is so unpredictable that I was unable to find a meaningful statistic regarding the nation's unsolved missing persons resolution rate.  The fact that the missing persons statistics are not delineated into categories makes it difficult to isolate kidnappings that were investigated from the other categories of missing persons. Regardless, with those huge numbers of missing persons, in 1985, the NCIC entered only 14,816 cases in its involuntary missing files and the FBI only chose to investigate 867 cases, some of those were adult victims.  Out of that tiny fraction of the nation's missing persons, an even more discouraging number were "found," most commonly dead. 

This ought to be especially discouraging because it's obvious that the Feebs are cherry picking the cases to select ones that they expect to solve and they're still not getting the job done.   An imaginary 63% of U.S. committed murders resulted in prosecution in 2000 (down from 79% in 1976).  I'll explain in a few sentences, why I classify that statistic as "imaginary."  While crime goes unsolved and we become more isolated in our homes and communities, television's CSI Miami and Vegas are wrapping up every vagrant's death as neatly as Xmas packages.  

Missing, the television myth that glorifies the FBI's never-before-sighted exercise of human compassion, actually cares if taxpayers miss an appointment.  The ultimate television hoax, X Files, portrayed an FBI agency that went out of its way to read case files.  I admit that I'm a little jaded about television's fairy tales. 

Twenty years ago, my stockbroker was an ex-Atlanta detective.  He'd quit and restarted his career when he found himself unable to carry on normal conversations with friends or family.  He was beginning to view everyone as scum floating at the top of the pond.  When he decided to leave the policing business, standard operating procedures were changing in the nation's cop squads that made him feel his occupation was even more pointless.

In the early 80s, urban police departments began to imitate the FBI's long held habit of "ganging" crimes on to the sheet of whatever high profile "most wanted" criminal they'd recently stumbled upon.   What this means is if Mulder and Scully tripped over a serial murderer and someone handed them enough evidence to securely lock that person up for life, what's the harm in sticking a few dozen unrelated homicides on that bad guy to clean up the paperwork?  After all, how often are our sluggish government bureaucrats likely to trip over another Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or even someone as dangerous as Married with Children's Al Bundy?   You gotta do what you wanta do and they do. 

So, if the federal cops claim that they have a 63% resolution rate on murder, I figure they're probably batting somewhere below .200.  The difference between imaginary crime fighting and reality are on television almost every evening.  I drive by the real guys most every morning on the way to work and, if that group of civil servants could chase down a donut, it would only be after a waitress has corralled it on a plate for them.  After they satiate their compulsion to "protect and serve" themselves, they are too fat to actually chase criminals. 

A guy I worked with a decade ago, is more the kind of person I'd expect would excel with the FBI.  He was a failed medical student, turned MBA-adorned middle executive in charge of covering up our employer's antics with a collection of unreliable and hazardous medical products.  He was being actively recruited by the FBI because he was, obviously, their kind of guy.  His motivation for attending to the task of joining the FBI was "they have a great pension plan" and "I can retire when I'm fifty and consult for the companies I've investigated."  It's good to have high moral standards and lofty goals when you're heading off to protect the public. 

 The now famous Elizabeth Smart story ought to tell us everything we need to know about crime fighting's capacities.  A girl obviously kidnapped and held, practically in plain sight, a few blocks from her home by a vagrant her parents had hired to do grunt work only a few days before the kidnapping.  If the FBI and local cops could solve any crime quickly, this should have been the one.   As happens far too rarely, a half-year after the kidnapping, a citizen recognized the kidnapper based on an artist's sketch of the suspect and called it in to the cops who managed to drag themselves away from donuts long enough to rescue the girl.   The FBI and all their mythical resources were useless and it was only the competent work of a beat cop that saved Ms. Smart from spending another year as a hostage in her own neighborhood.  Remember that her kidnapper was a transient who'd done maintenance work for the Smart family only a few weeks before the kidnapping. 

Can you say "obvious suspect?" 

Maybe this heartwarming story makes you feel comfortable about your "police protection," but I'm not that simpleminded.  John Walsh and his television program have made it clear to anyone capable of rational thought that the only way to rescue our loved ones from the worst people on earth is to drop our lives, sell everything we own, hire private investigators and spend all of our waking hours in pursuit of these criminals.  The police, the FBI, and all of the King's men are useless.  They're too worried about parking violations, speeding ticket quotas, pension plans, and outsourcing donuts to be distracted by our problems. 

 But not on television. 

The worst (most corrupt, least courageous, most self-serving) police force in the nation, New York's tubby-blue constantly-shifting line, are practically competent on television.  One of the most notoriously gangland related cities in the world, Las Vegas, has CSI uncovering killer DNA on every carpet fabric in Nevada.  The FBI finds missing vagrants, children, lawyers, and other otherwise ignored citizens in hours, often before the victims miss a single dose of some equally mythical life saving medication.  Pretty soon, I expect we'll see a series on how loving and helpful LA cops are to minority citizens.  Why not?  It wouldn't be less believable than picturing FBI agents in motion.  How about a show illustrating the SEC's relentless pursuit of corporate criminals?  That would be as believable as Spiderman, but no less so than Missing or "NYPD Blue.

December 2003

10/27/2014

#78 Medical Warranties (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

You might be of the delusion that companies offer warranties on products out of the goodness of their hearts. You might as well believe in tooth fairies or honest politicians. Product warranties are clinically determined based on product design, expected product use, and product and consumer life expectancies. Once the expected failure rate is calculated, the cost is added to the price of the product and that prediction is tracked to tighten up the process for the next generation of products. Really large and competently managed companies (of which few reside here in the United States) get so good at warranty calculations that they often spend exactly what they anticipated spending in warranty costs at the end of a product lifetime.

Doctors, especially American doctors, suffer the delusion that they are scientists and professionals. Very little about the medical profession reflects either science or professionalism, however. Doctors fling medicines and medical procedures at their customers with almost no honest justification and if a customer were crass enough to ask for a warranty on the success of a procedure, no one would be surprised at the negative reaction that would come from physicians.

Why is that? You’d think there would be some history of the success rate of medical practices. Using the corporate model for warranty generation, a hospital ought to be able to offer a patient a warranty on the effectiveness of a procedure. It’s not like doctors work cheap, for so little profit that they couldn’t put some of their own money at risk against a patient risking his life on the doctor’s competence and honesty. You’d also think that insurance companies would insist on procedure warranties. Supposedly, these companies are so close to the financial breakeven point that they are constantly lobbying politicians for protection from their customers and tax breaks for their hard-pressed and over-worked executives’ salaries. Rather than passing all of the expense of procedures that are fumbled, unnecessary, unreliable, and/or downright ineffective, why not make doctors put their money where their mouths are? Doctors aren’t famous for taking responsibility for their profession, so don’t count on anything useful coming from that pack of pampered PhDs and “specialists.”

In some hospitals, doctors are so arrogant that they force administrators to pay them more than 100% of a procedure’s total cost to perform a procedure. Yep, I mean that a doctor might receive, say, $60,000 for a $55,000 surgery. So, the hospital loses a few thousand on every operation but makes up for it in quantity and government subsidies.

Talk about arrogance!

Not only don’t doctors offer warranties on their work, they want to be paid more than they earn. If there was ever a system out of control, US medicine is it.  I propose a fix for this broken machine. To receive Medicare, Medicaid, or any other government financed funding, hospitals (and their over-priced employees, doctors) should be forced to offer warranties for their procedures.

Worst case, hospitals come up with ridiculously short warranties and patients have the information they need to decide if the pain and suffering caused by a procedure is worth the miniscule likelihood of a positive outcome. By a warranty, I mean a warranty: if the procedure fails to cure the symptom within the warranty period the hospital will either refund your costs or provide an alternative therapy at no cost.  For example, you discover you have lung cancer, after a lifetime of sucking on cancer sticks. Your doctor offers three possibilities; 1) surgery and chemotherapy, 2) radiation, or 3) you take the rest of your life off and party till you drop. The warranty on option #1 is three months. The warranty on option #2 is two months. The warranty on option #3 (your life expectancy with no medical intervention) is six months. Of course, the doc will tell you that if either #1 or #2 is successful, you could have years of life left to enjoy. However, the doc doesn’t have enough data, confidence, skill, or the guts to put his own money on the odds that either procedure will be successful. If he isn’t willing to risk a little cash, should you be willing to risk your life? That’s for you to decide, but at least you’re deciding with some information to work with.

Would you buy a car that came with no warranty? Would you spend $40,000 on a product that was presented as a “buyers beware” purchase? I doubt it. But patients give up everything they own, on a regular basis, for medicines and procedures that have the kind of performance records that would deserve the old “90 days or 90 feet, whichever comes first” used car warranty. I say we should stand up for our rights as consumers and say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” People who spend their own money on perfectly useless medical treatments have that right, but if a doc wants to take the government’s money, he ought to have to prove that he knows what he’s doing by offering a normal amount of assurance to his customers. If it works for the government, and they are providing about 80% of the investment currently being mismanaged in medicine, insurance companies will follow. After a few years, only quacks would be warranty-free and medicine would have taken a big step toward becoming an honest profession.

November 2003

10/22/2014

Reputations and Resale Values

One of the less-admitted aspects of getting information in the internet is that almost nothing from that source is unbiased. There are homers and haters and everything in-between and many of the people providing assistance—technical or emotional—have a vested interest in keeping the faith regarding the thing they are discussing.

For instance, this RV thing in which I am currently struggling my way across a tiny part of the country.

There is a fair body of information on the net about the incompetence of VW authorized service centers and more than enough sad stories of people who invested their life savings in one-or-another of Winnebago’s various hillbilly trailers with motors and ended up either going to work as Wal-Mart greeters or turning Winnebago maintenance into their life’s work. I’m not interested in either option and after experiencing “Winnebago quality” I’m convinced that if Polaris does move their manufacturing from Iowa to Mexico it would be a good thing for Polaris owners. Outside of a couple of brands of whiskey, I’m unconvinced that anything good is made in Iowa. Monsanto owns the damn place and they can keep it, for all I care. If Ioweegans eat enough of that GMO crap, maybe they’ll eventually mutate into electricians, welders, technicians, and engineers.

On the other side of the scale are the homers. Typical of their mindset is a comment someone posted after I’d listed my battle to get my RV back on the road, “in  my opinion there is too much "fright mongering" on the site.  it a wonder than anyone would buy a Rialta with all the chatter about its limitations.” The VW and Winnebago problems are not a secret, though. When I was in an Albuquerque Harbor Freight, two weeks ago, buying a siphon pump, an older-that-me guy asked, "Is that your Rialta out there?" He, then, went on to ask if the motor and transmission were as unreliable as he'd heard. After the last two weeks, I couldn't deny the facts. He owned a Dodge-powered Class C that he said got 14mpg "going slow" and wasn't at all tempted to experiment with VW.  That’s 4mpg less than me with a good bit more horsepower and towing capacity AND no VW service problems. If I were an RV-kind-of-guy, that would be incredibly temping right now.

As for the "fright mongering," I thought I'd done a fair amount of research on the Rialta and VW power train service issues, but there clearly wasn't enough information out there about both ends of the vehicle or I just didn't find it. "Fright mongering" could be interpreted as solid information from a buyer's perspective. I would be in a different situation if I'd have realized how useless VW's service is and how much most independent mechanics dislike working on modern VW products.  The first bit of information was pretty well known, I didn’t discover the second until I needed service. Even the “experts” on VWs dislike the company, their dealers, and their distribution network.

Back in the 60's, I hung out with a group of British vehicle owners (cars and motorcycles) in Dallas. In the group, we joked about Lucas being "the man who invented darkness," Brits being incapable of casting any sort of material that could contain fluids, and Weber fuel systems that were more suited for starting fires than metering gasoline. Of course, when we tried to sell our "bricks with wheels," none of this was mentioned. Protecting the "Rialta image" is suspiciously close to that experience. 
As motorcyclists, we all know of a few Euro-trash brands that need the same kind of image protection. I’ll refrain from naming names, but even the “king of adventure touring” has suffered some fractures in that over-priced reputation in recent years. Nobody is more unwilling to admit that king is naked and has a tiny penis than those folks. Those of us who have know dedicated Euro-trash owners, watch their gyrations to “prove” the superiority of their sad, underpowered, over-priced, rarely-ridden bikes with amusement. Like those 1960’s Brit-vehicle owners, their need to get back some of the fortune they’ve “invested” in their bikes is pretty funny, too. If you have $18,000 plus interest plus another $15,000 in maintenance costs wrapped up in your overweight, wider-than-a-Goldwing, hippo-dirtbike, you gotta get at least $15,000 out of your investment, right?

I think someone needs to have the word “investment” explained in simple terms. The rest of us need to know that searching the internet for real information about the maintenance costs, reliability, and serviceability of any sort of vehicle is scary business. In the meantime, does anyone want to buy my brilliantly designed, “made-in-America” except for the parts that were made by white-coated, anally-retentive German engineers, economical (18.5mpg, so far), and stylish Winnebago Rialta Motorhome for the low, low price of $25,000? You know where to find me.

10/20/2014

#77 Conservative Morality

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

In case you haven't figured it out on your own, the title of this rant is intended to be ironic.  Conservatives have about as firm a grasp on morality as Gee-Whiz Bush has on the state of the economy.  The two claims to moral fame held by the religious right are non-reproductive sex (they're again' it) and forced Christianity (they're for it).

On all other issues, conservatives could care less about the poor, the underprivileged, the abused, downtrodden, good manners, or common decency.  The new and old Right are for the power and wealth of those who already hold power and wealth, for keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  They are so inclined to bear arms against their fellow citizens that they form organizations to prevent any semblance of rational legislation controlling personal weaponry.  They gloat over the fact that Amerika has stockpiled more of its citizens in prisons than most of the other industrialized nations put together.  They hate freedom of the press, civil rights, habeas corpus, women's rights, taxation of the rich, and cereal with raisins.  They're all about dismantling the education system and replacing it with menial labor vocational training for everyone who wasn't born leaching from a trust fund.  In fact, there isn't a single positive human value that the Right would fight to protect.  If it ain't about greed or power, it's not an issue for these very un-conservative conservatives.

For that matter, the two moral issues they cling to are not about morality, but about greed and power.  Any group that claims to be pro-life but is so much in love with capital punishment is, obviously, conflicted.  As far as I can see, the conservative dislike for abortion is that the private medical procedure removes the possibility of a later-in-life public execution.  I have never seen a single incident that would make me believe conservatives are concerned with preserving precious life.  From where I sit, that appears to be a power issue, not a morality position. 

The conservative passion for government control of bedroom activities is a combination of repressed sexual anxiety or a desire to control every non-economic human activity.  You can't tell the communists from the conservatives without a conservative media to pin a label on who’s who. 

Either the conservative gods are astoundingly stupid, or they're thoroughly disbelieved by their let's-pretend-worshipers.  Conservatives hunt through whatever sheepherder tales they claim were written by the hand of whatever god for any excuse to kill, steal from, or rape and pillage their enemies of the moment.  I'm not just talking about our local nutball Christian "conservatives," I mean every conservative on the planet; Christian, Muslim, Moonie, Mormon, Marxist, or whatever timid person's flavor-of-the-century we're suffering at the moment.  If these people aren't killing someone or planning to kill someone, they are unhappy as hell. 

Two unbelievably vicious examples of Right immorality demonstrated their wrongness recently, during Minnesota's 2002 Senate campaign.  First, the Republicrat candidate waged a smear campaign against the only populist politician left in Washington, Paul Wellstone.  When Wellstone's plane went down a few weeks before the election, the Demoplicans stuffed the vacancy with Walter Mondale.  In a panic, Republicrats worried about losing the election out of sympathy for Minnesota's great loss.  Conservative whackos stormed the Fitzgerald Theater where a debate was the be held between Mondale and Abnormal Coleman.  Outside the theater, they paraded with signs that read "War Means Jobs." 

War means jobs.  Now there's a strong moral position for you.  They were worried that Mondale might not let Gee Wiz carry on his war-plans-slash-economic-recovery-strategy and that resistance to rational thought might cost them precious military industrial jobs.  I'd never been more disgusted by my fellow Americans. 

But conservatives keep trying to set new records for immorality.  In New York, there is a 30 year old Republicrat governors' law, called the Rockefeller Law, which puts "drug offenders" in prison, regardless of previous history, mitigating circumstances, or breakfast cereal preferences.  Recently, there has been some questioning of the fairness or rationality of a law that tosses people in jail for crimes against themselves.  Some famous rappers are putting themselves in between the law and common sense.  They're asking why people should be jailed for life, or the majority of a life, for drug possession, especially possession of amounts small enough to barely qualify for personal use.

And the conservatives are upset.  Not because they believe the punishment fits the crime, but because they are concerned that precious right-wing jobs will be lost in the prison system.  Who cares if people are unfairly stripped of their lives, families, and freedom?  Let's face it, it's obvious that prison guards are old-fashioned conservatives and it's hard to find high paying jobs for that sort of upstanding citizen.  Mostly, because the kind of person who would take a job as a prison guard is uneducated, unskilled, and otherwise unemployable.  So what's a person's life compared to keeping conservative dumbshits employed? 

Morality, who needs it when you can pretend to have the power to define it and the rest of the country is too terrified of you to correct your grammar?  If we truly wanted to wage a war on terrorists, conservatives would be in deep shit.  The terrorists of the world are all conservatives stumbling along behind one deeply flawed superstitious fantasy or another.  A war on real terrorism would be one that could be easily conducted at home and it's a war that should be won at all costs.  The future of our Constitution and world democracy depends on rooting out conservatives and putting them where they can do no harm.  Based on past performance, I’d argue that  public sanitation is about as critical an activity as conservatives are capable of serving, and they should be prevented from holding management positions in that industry.

September 2003

10/15/2014

When the Crazy Get Going

1/3/2014
This is the pretty much insanely confusing response I got from Volkswagen’s “Customer Service” in response to my description of technical problems with VW”service” so far:
-----------------------------------------------------
From: VWoA Customer CARE [mailto:VWCustomerCARE@vw.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:30 AM
Subject: Volkswagen Customer CARE 814000029

Reference # 814000029
Dear Mr. Day,
The opening should be a one-line acknowledgement of what the customer wrote to CARE for.  It is not required to start with “Thank you,” and should be appropriate to the tone of the customer’s email.  In response emails, this should be something simple like “Thank you for your reply.”
Responses to customers should be direct and high impact.  The second paragraph should get to answering the customer’s question or addressing the customer’s concern as quickly as possible.  The intent is to be conversational and as positive about the company, brand, and products as the circumstances allow. 
This is where it is appropriate to apologize if we are not meeting the customer’s expectations.  New ideas will prompt new paragraphs to maximize the use of white space.  Paragraphs should be no more than 3 to 4 sentences.
If necessary to recognize an offhand comment the customer made praising their vehicle, dealer, or the company, add a final paragraph reflecting the positive comments.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to email us again.
Sincerely,
Darnell G.
Customer CARE Advocate

P.S.  Our records indicate the Code – component description campaign has not yet been completed on your vehicle.  Please contact your dealer and schedule an appointment to have this campaign completed at your earliest convenience.  The work will be performed on your vehicle free of charge.
That insanity wasn’t enough for them, however. Darnell followed up his nonsensical response with this quick “correction”:
-----------------------------------------------------
From: VWoA Customer CARE [mailto:VWCustomerCARE@vw.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:33 AM
Subject: Volkswagen Customer CARE 814000029

Reference # 814000029
Dear Mr. Day,
Please disregard the P.S. line of my previous email. I mistakenly sent you the wrong info. Our records show no open campaigns or recalls on your vehicle.
If you have additional questions, please email us again.
Best,
Darnell G.
Customer CARE Advocate

P.S.  Our records indicate the Code – component description campaign has not yet been completed on your vehicle.  Please contact your dealer and schedule an appointment to have this campaign completed at your earliest convenience.  The work will be performed on your vehicle free of charge.
-----------------------------------------------------
You know, I might have to email them again just for the humor factor. VW is clearly a demented disorganization.
Technorati Tags: volkswagen,vw CEO,customer service,service

10/13/2014

#76 Spineless Times and Spineless Politicians (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Who'd have thought that liberals would turn out to be such gutless creatures?  Minnesota's Senators are the ultimate case in point.  We've replaced the last maverick in Washington, Paul Wellstone, with another yuppie conservative corporate spokesperson, Normal Coleman.  Normal is an ex-bathroom hippie, ex-liberal, ex-Democrat, ex-human being with the moral fiber of a sheet of toilet paper.  Our other billboard congressman is Mark Dayton, a rich kid who bought his way into congress claiming that he'd represent working Minnesotans.  Go figure.  Like the rest of the country, Minnesota has lost its courage and become conservative.

A lot of conservative writers have made a lot out of the apparent transformation of the baby boomers from raging hippy liberal do-gooders into gutless, mama's boy/girl conservatives.  Many conservative propaganda ministers like to pretend that this is due to Rush Limbaugh's favorite imaginary Winston Churchill quote ("If a man is not a liberal at the age of twenty, he has no heart; if a man is not conservative by the age of forty, he has no brain.").  This is simply bullshit.  First, Winston Churchill didn't say that, Rush did.  Second, most of the Boomer neo-conservatives were born conservative, they just had long hair when they were young.  Now they're bald, doped up on Viagra and Paxil, and scared shitless that they might lose their trust funds and have to work for a living.

We called them "bathroom hippies."  In Dallas, where my freak days were spent, most of the young and hip hung out at Lee Park.  A small percentage of these kids were actual hippies.  A much larger percentage were the idle offspring of the city's ruling class.  They earned the name "restroom hippies" from their leaving home tactics.  These kids would leave home, Sunday morning, driving mom's BMW or dad's Porsche, in their "straight clothes."  When they got downtown, they'd stop at a filling station and change into their "hippy clothes" in the restroom.  A few blocks later, they'd park mom's Beemer and walk to the park so they could pretend to be hip and poor while avoiding the intellectual activity of "hip" or the discomforts of "poor."  Converting these spoiled rich kids to conservatives was an effortless activity. 

The bathroom hippies were did not march for civil rights in the south or anywhere else.  These were not the kids who protested the Vietnam War in the face of angry police or armed and irrational National Guardsmen.  These conservative kids didn't even vote, let alone work for poor voters' rights. They were no more radical or involved when they were kids than they are aware and responsible as geezers. They've been on the wrong side of every current issue in their lives and they're not going to change today.

Their claim to hip-ness was sex and dope.  They always had the cash to buy grass, smack, uppers and downers (assuming they didn't just steal those from their parents' medicine cabinet), speed, coke, and the hallucinogenic flavor of the month.  Like our current Commander-in-Thief, the bathroom hippies provided a good bit of the cash that supported real freaks, the dope peddling underground, and the Angels and the Mob.  GeeWiz and his counterparts wouldn't have known Mao from malt liquor, but they knew their dope and fried their brains faster than any generation since the same crowd in the Roaring Twenties.  The 1920/1970's economic depression that followed, convinced these fools that free speech, public civil rights, and environmental responsibility were the cause of all evil and minor inconvenience and they "turned" conservative.  Sex was always available to the young, born-rich, and amoral.  It still is.  But having sex doesn't make you hip, it just puts you among the rest of the earth's animals in the eternal quest to get laid.

In the interests of wasting time (pretending to be doing something, while being less mobile than Grant in Grant's tomb) and covering themselves in nationalism disguised as patriotism, Minnesota's two bathroom hippies have co-sponsored the 108th Congress' S.J. Res. 4 "flag protection" amendment to the Constitution.  This is, of course, an attack on free speech and a cowardly way to do it.  They aren't interested in protecting the flag, they want to prosecute people who believe this country should stand for something more important than corporate profits and cheap oil. If they wanted to defend freedom and act patriotically, they'd be raging against the Bush march to war and reminding the nation that Vietnam began with exactly these justifications. Vietnam began with a mythical threat and ended with all of the guilty parties (except Nixon and Johnson) being rewarded for their incompetence and corruption. Even those two vicious bastards have had their reputations revived, a little, recently.

If conservatives want to return to the "good old days" of the British Empire, they should at least be honest about it; admit that they want to bring back imperialism and colonialism, religious persecution, torture, debtors' prison, indentured servitude, and the other trappings of pre-Constitutional America.  Hell, while we're at it, why don't we blow off elections and appoint royalty for life?  Imagine the greatness of this country headed by generations after degenerating, in-bred generations of the Bush family.  By the middle of this century, our King would be as brilliant as Mr. Potato Head.  But, it's safe to assume, the country would be conservative.

July 2003

10/09/2014

On the Road Again, Again, and Then Not

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11/29/2013
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Two cold days waiting in Whites City to get to either get the hell out of southeastern New Mexico or see the cavern (We didn’t care which by Monday.) and the Park Service cut us loose in the cavern at 11AM. We went with our new friends, Whitney and Christine, on Monday and went again on Tuesday after they’d left for Texas. I rode the WR up the hill and Robbye rode with Christine and Whitney. The first day, we took the 750’ elevator ride down and explored the Big Room and the spectacular self-guided tour of the cavern. Tuesday, Robbye and I took the WR up the hill for a second look at the cavern. On our second pass we took the original walk-in entrance, which is a completely different experience. Hard to imagine scaling those cliffs with nothing but a torch for light and cowboy boots for “gear.” It was all nicely paved for us, but it wasn’t for the early explorers. It’s still a workout, especially going uphill. Being the rough, tough cavers we are, we rode the elevator back up to the surface.

We hit the road fairly early Wednesday morning, but started off with a glitch that went south as the miles piled up. The Scangauge, a piece of electronics I installed to monitor my transmission temperatures and other engine functions, refused to acknowledge my vehicle’s existence. We’re heading into the mountains and the device that is supposed to give me an early heads-up if the engine is overheating (the dash temp gauge is practically worthless) and the transmission is in trouble is dead. I tried a bunch of things to bring it back to life, including a full reset, with no luck.

The transmission started acting weird about twenty miles later. A few miles out of Carlsbad, NM, the transmission acted as if it were slipping when it tried to shift to 4th. That was when I tried to reset the Scangauge in an effort to get some information about where the problem might be. After the reset, the slipping thing happened a couple of times, but when I manually shifted it got into 4th and seemed to be working fine.
We made it to Roswell where I went on line for troubleshooting tips. I got a few excellent pieces of advice and some comedy routines about being in Roswell and being plagued by VW-hating aliens. There are some transmission connector problems that VWs are known for and most of the helpful stuff centered around that. I remembered seeing something on the “Baldy Rialta Info Site” about resetting the transmission’s computer and decided to try that. Not only did the shifting problem seem to be resolved, but the Scangauge came back to life (sans all of my setup information since I’d done the hard reset which blew all of that away).

2013-11-27 NM (2)Once that seemed to be behind us, we set out for a campsite that had been recommended by a ranger at Carlsbad, Valley of the Fires National Recreational Park. We have been some cool places on this trip, but the road to Valley of the Fires and the park itself are high on the list. The highway from Roswell to the park is scenic and beautifully maintained. We were treated to an amazing and colorful sundown and we arrived at the park right at dusk. Again, the park was practically unoccupied and we got a beautiful site with an amazing view.
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Thursday morning at first light, I made a lap, with the dog, around the park’s hiking trail. No pictures, just memories. It was about 25F, so the walk was brisk, but I had the park to myself and it was incredibly quiet and private. If the damn dog had a couple more brain cells it would have been perfect. Supposedly, Australian Shepherds are incapable of walking competently on a leash and Gypsy adds nothing positive to that reputation. She about dumped me into a couple of deep crevices and convinced me that if we ever get into a starvation situation, the dog is lunch. We’re down to one animal on the trip and . . .

The plan was to head toward near-Albuquerque to visit friends. Right out of the campground, the Scangauge was dead, again. The transmission shifted properly, but there was something that felt a lot like slipping early on. That seemed to settle down later, but I missed out on the beauty of the drive because I was paying close attention to the vehicle. A little after we hit northbound I29, the transmission started doing its slipping/down-shifting thing, again. We limped into Belen where we are while I figure out what to do with the RV.

So far, I have to say I’ll take tent camping on a motorcycle over messing with four-wheel bullshit any day. I am completely unable to relax or enjoy traveling when I’m driving a car/truck/rv. I desperately hate all things four-wheeled, if I’m stuck behind the wheel, and all of the good parts of this trip have been after this fucking thing is parked. The memories I’ll have of the traveling part will be mostly of staring at that POS Scangauge and listening for signs of self-destruction from the VW’s engine and transmission. Fun, huh?

About 2PM, AAA hauled the dead hunk of my RV away and we’re twiddling our fingers waiting to hear from the VW folks about the necessary repairs.

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10/08/2014

Communicating with the Factory

12/14/2013
A good bit of my career was spent in Customer/Technical Service. For all of that, I always tried to imagine myself on the other side of the phone, even when the other side of the phone was attached to an asshole (follow this link for the theme song). Now that I AM on the other side of the phone, it is a lot easier to understand why customers begin conversations as if they are speaking with the devil. What follows is my discussion with the regional VW “Customer CARE Advocate” about the screwing I got and the 40’ shaft I would have taken if I’d have believed their techs are competent. I particularly love his closing “if there is anything else I can do for you, please feel free to email us again” comment. Please explain to me what he “did” for me. VW is one clearly clueless company. How the mighty have fallen.

VW
Dear Mr. Day,
We partner with our dealerships to provide you with trained technicians and quality parts when your Volkswagen is in need of repair. I am troubled to hear you feel you received poor service from one of our dealerships.
Complaints about service at a dealership are taken very seriously. At your earliest convenience, please reply with more detail about your experience, like which dealership you went to, and what the independent has determined the concern to be.
I want to make sure we have enough information to properly address this. I look forward to your reply and if you have any other questions, please feel free to include them in your response.
Sincerely,
Sam M.
Customer CARE Advocate


Me
On Friday, November 29, I had my 2000 Winnebago Rialta (Volkswagen Eurovan) motorhome transported to University Volkswagen and Mazda because the transmission had switched to “limp home” mode several times between Roswell and Belen, New Mexico during the previous two days. Preceding the transmission problems, the Scangauge II diagnostic device installed in my motorhome began to have difficulty communicating with the Volkswagen engine and transmission electronics. I made all of this clear to the service technician I talked to over the phone, twice, but the technician apparently decided I was a clueless moron and he chose to ignore that information. I am a recently retired electronics and manufacturing engineer and while I might not be much of a Volkswagen mechanic, I can also read test gear and the Scangauge made it clear that some system communications problems existed.

Monday, December 2, I received a call from University Volkswagen with a $7,500 estimate for a “rebuilt transmission.” Since I had been able to get the vehicle to work flawlessly (except for the inability to communicate with the Scangauge II) three times in the 230 miles between Roswell and Belen, I suspected this was a computer-driven “analysis” with as little insight or common sense from the “mechanic” as possible. As I’m sure you know, Volkswagen dealers are not known for supporting competent service departments. Since the Eurovan is not something commonly seen and the Rialta is even more rare, incidents of dealer incompetence are familiar and Rialta owner’s groups (Rialta Tech – Yahoo! Groups and Rialta Tech BigTent.com, for example) warn new owners away from dealership service. Again, I requested that the tech look at the transmission multi-function switch connection and the Engine Control Unit’s connections, since those connections and electronics are commonly known sources of “limp home mode” operation. I was told that analysis would be useless, but the tech would look there anyway.

Because I had no faith in the analysis received and the service estimate was so extravagant, I decided to obtain another opinion. An Albuquerque native and Rialta owner, Paul Joseph, offered to help me look at the multi-function switch, just in case that turned out to be an easy fix. We drove the vehicle two blocks to a nearby bank parking lot and pulled the engine pan. When I removed the transmission multifunction connector, water dripped from the connector. Obviously, the “tech” did not look at that connector. Because it was dark and neither of us had a clue where the ECU is located, I restarted the vehicle and drove it to Los Lunas to have Hans Foreign and Domestic Car repair look at it. Surprisingly, they gave me the same analysis with a slightly lower repair cost, but they were unable to fit the Rialta in their bay and I decided to get a third opinion, from German Motowerkes, in Albuquerque.

These two trips required me to drive the vehicle in disabled mode and, now, I know that probably did some damage to the transmission. However, after tracking down the various error codes, three days later German Motowerkes called to say they had found a corroded connection on the ECU and after cleaning it three times, the vehicle appeared to work properly. I picked it up on Tuesday, December 10, and drove it to Santa Fe to visit friends and back to Belen where we had been staying. The Scangauge read a high transmission temperature of 195F on the steepest point of the trip and typically read 130F (I had installed a transmission cooler before we started this trip.). Apparently, outside of damage incurred while the ECU fault disabled the transmission, my vehicle is back in service and my total cost was less than $300.

Before delivering the vehicle to University Volkswagen, I knew about Volkswagen’s service reputation but I hoped my experience might be different because I know that most independent service centers are unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with modern Volkswagen products and I was 1800 miles from home and didn’t know anything about the Albuquerque area.

To top off the insult, when I delivered the vehicle to Hans Foreign and Domestic Car Repair we discovered the battery cover was missing. I’ve since discovered that Volkswagen has obsoleted this part so I can’t even buy a replacement from a dealer.

VW
Dear Mr. Day,
Thank you for taking the time to provide me with all the details of your situation. I regret the service department at University Volkswagen was not able to meet your expectations for this repair.
I can appreciate your frustration. Being told a repair will cost you $7500, only to find out it is really a $300 fix, would not leave me feeling very confident in the abilities of the technician either. I am however, very glad to hear you were able to get the real cause for your concern diagnosed and repaired.
I have documented every detail you have provided me so we can review this situation internally. The feedback we receive about our dealerships is used to influence our future decisions about our dealership network. I greatly appreciate you sharing your experience.
To make sure the dealership is aware of your feedback, I have forwarded your comments on to their management staff. They are in the best position to make any adjustments to their practices, and offer training when necessary.
You are a valued member of our Volkswagen family, and this is not the experience we would hope you would have at one of our dealerships. I thank you again for taking the time to share the details of your situation.
If you have any other questions or comments, or if there is anything else I can do for you, please feel free to email us again.
Sincerely,
Sam M.
Customer CARE Advocate


Me
It was too late to do me any good, but after I posted my experience with University VW and Mazda on the Rialta groups, I got about a half-dozen emails from other Rialta and VW owners blistering that dealership for their lousy, overpriced, less-than-competent service. 30 years ago, I was a dedicated VW owner, but I did all of my own work on those simple air-cooled motors; including overhauls.
I'm a life-long motorcyclist and as I approach the age where two wheels could become impractical, my "reward" for being smart enough to get off of the bike was going to be a new VW Beetle convertible. I'm sure you can understand why that option is now off of the table. Maybe I'll look for a '67, like the one I owned back in '67, though. I just won’t be able to drive it for 6 months out of the year because, as every old VW owner knows, VW’s dissolve like sugar in the snow and old German vehicles do not have heaters.

University VW & Mazda
Mr. Day,
Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey. Although our goal and track record is to provide a higher standard of service, we fell short of your expectations. We are Rialta certified and one of the few locations that can work on these vehicles. I disagree with the Volkswagen shops terrible reputation, but certainly understand your frustration. I understand the vehicle diagnosed by Hans Foreign Shop in Los Lunas had also contacted us regarding prices on a TCM and Transmission. We had advised them that the TCM would not be available and suggested they locate one from a used or recycle parts center. We also stated this may not be a permanent fix from past experience and a transmission may be required. Regardless, we failed to meet your expectations and I apologize. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Kind regards,
JC Ogborn
Fixed Operations Director
University Volkswagen Mazda
5150 Ellison Ave NE | Albuquerque, NM 87109
505-761-1900 | 505-761-1906 fax
jc@abqvwmazda.com


ME

Mr. Ogborn,

You’re disagreeing with the majority of VW owners, including the ones who rated Volkswagen in the bottom 5 for 15 out of the last 15 years, including a half-dozen bottom place finishes. If you were actually aware of the actions of your shop in regards to my vehicle, you would be embarrassed instead of arrogant about your shop’s performance. I was, in fact, told that your mechanic had checked the connectors on the transmission multifunction switch, the ECU, and TCM. When a friend and I removed the multifunction switch a few blocks from your shop, that connector was found to be soaked. Later, German Motowerkes discovered the same fault in the ECU and 150 miles and a week later, in Elephant Butte, a technician with more skills than your entire business possesses found the Transmission Control Unit connector was also full of water and highly corroded. VW’s incompetent installation of the windshield gasket allowed water to pour onto the connector causing all of the problems I have experienced. If your pitiful excuse for a technician had replaced my transmission, I would be in exactly the same place I am now, except $8,000 poorer. You may think that is simply a failure “to meet your expectations,” but I consider it to be incredible incompetence.
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