1/27/2014

#37 Why Don't You Live Here? (2000)

[As I often am, I was wrong. There was a difference between Bush and Gore. Bush was the worst president in American history. Gore couldn’t have aspired to that kind of incompetence if he’d have been brain-damaged.]

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

"When they ask 'why don't you live here?' I say 'man, I don't believe you don't leave.'" -- Bob Dylan

When I first started writing Rat Rants, I had hoped to keep certain sorts of my personal beliefs to myself. Mostly, I've been true to that objective. This essay is going to violate that intent and I apologize to those of you who might be offended.

Vice President Gore recently took a stand regarding the Miami family kidnapping of six year old Elian Gonzalez. Gore and Bush have stated that they think the demands of Florida's Cuban exile community are more important than a father's right to be with his son. It's almost impossible to tell one of these rich kids from the other, so I'm going to stop making the effort.

Like his amoral clone/competitor, Bush, Gore's stand is based on his desperate desire to get elected, regardless of the damage he does to this country and to the people who live here. Of course, Gorebush would never say anything so honest. Instead he pontificated, "Let us be clear that the real fault in this case lies with the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro. Elian should never have been forced to choose between freedom and his own father. Now we must take action, here on our own shores, to make sure that Elian's best interests are served."

The only interests Gorebush have ever been interested in are the 25 Electoral College votes controlled, mostly, by Miami's expatriate Cuban community. These folks may not be able to tell a Constitution from constipation, but they vote, relentlessly. The rest of Florida's residents fearfully avoid ballot boxes like normal Americans. Most of the state's registered voters could care less about politics, unless someone's talking about reducing Medicare or Social Security funding.

Bushgore has also said that the kid should be left with his distant relatives, until they can find a Florida family court judge who will rule that the boy's father be permanently deprived of his parental rights. Bushgore accuses Gorebush of posing for the Cuban vote. One pot calls the other kettle black and why do we care?

The heart of the story, here, is that a gaggle of distant relatives are making a grab for custody of a little boy, against a parent's will. Parents all over the country ought to be terrified by this spectacle. The fact that they aren't, is even more scary. If any of these clowns cared about the best interests of children, there wouldn't be a kid left in that cesspool we all know as Miami. At the least, we'd be hearing as much hand-wringing about the kids who are gang victims, every single day of the year, as we are about this one six year old.

Think about this story in a non-political light. Say, my cousin, who lives in California, ships his kids out "to the country" for a summer vacation. Being a conservative family-loving Midwesterner, I take a liking to those kids. Because I watch TV, I know what a vicious, rotten, Tower of Babble, California is and I decide these kids ought to "he be given a chance to feel what freedom means" (a quote from Bushgore). Obviously, a kid is a lot more free in Minnesota than in California, so I assume custody of the kids and ignore their parents' pleas for their return. Gorebush picks it up and, not wanting to insult the Midwestern voters, decides to hand the decision over to Minnesota's family court system and I get to keep the kids. That sort of stupidity will put a bit of strain on the decision to let the kids "visit Grandma for the summer," don't you think? Kids shipped out of New York and all of the decaying eastern cities, California (especially LA and San Francisco) and most of the decadent western cities are likely to have new homes, if this perverted set of rules become established. Everyone knows that Midwesterners are morally and culturally superior the rest of the country, right?

What a cool way to get even with your ex. You get the kids, for a weekend visitation, bag 'em up and mail them to a Midwestern relative. Essentially, that's what Elian Gonzalez's mother did. She happened to drown on the way (along with her boyfriend who had a really questionable history), but parental death shouldn't be a requirement for this kind of legalized kidnapping. If she'd have made it here, I doubt that Mr. Gonzalez's loss of parental rights would even be known outside of his immediate family. Even the fact that Mr. Gonzalez had been granted custody of his son by his country's family court system seems to be escaping the microscopic capacity of our own media. If Cuba's family court system is anything like ours, Ms. Gonzalez would have been a pretty awful parent to lose custody of her child.

Bushgore added insult to injury by babbling, "I would hope if Mr. Gonzalez does come over, that he come over as a person who's able to make a decision based on his desire . . . and that decision be made in a family court." Short form, if Elian's father doesn't relent to political extortion, he's obviously incapable of being a decent father and should lose custody of his son. If he doesn't "decide" to leave his kid with distant relatives, the court will make that decision for him.

I am hard pressed to believe that, if the father had died attempting to cross international boundaries with his son (violating a family court custody order), the nation would be reacting with the same "family values" hypocrisy. Father's rights are dramatically less powerful than mother's rights. This whole disgusting episode illustrates that so vividly that I can't feel a single positive emotion toward Florida's Cuban population. They, simply, disgust me. This is not a good feeling for me, because I have at least one friend who is part of that population. Apparently, the civilized and honorable folks in that city are being terrorized into pretending they are going along with the kidnappers.

And, personally, I want to make it clear to any relative, who might be considering shipping their kids my way, I consider almost every other state in the Union an unfit place to raise children, especially Kansas. Not that I want my family's kids. In fact, the opposite would be true. My kids are grown and, mostly, taking care of themselves, but it would be my moral duty as an American to prevent the kind of child abuse that comes from kids growing up in stupid places. Consider this my line drawn in Minnesota lake mud.

April 2000

1/20/2014

#36 Campaign 2000

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

As I write this, on March 7 just after Doomsday Tuesday, it appears that we're in for another Tweedly Dee vs. Tweedly Dum presidential election. I'd be willing to write Bill Bradley or John McCain's tossing-in-the-towel speeches for them.

It would go something like this:

"You gutless wimps. You call yourselves Americans, but you have absolutely nothing in common with real Americans, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, or, even, John Kennedy. You're afraid of your own shadows. You're afraid of anything that isn't spoon fed to you by the grumpy old men who hold the power in this nation. Even American kids are freakin' wimps. All it would take to invade this puke of a country would be for someone to yell "boo" really loud and a third of you would dive under your beds for protection. The other sixty-some-percent could care less what the hell happens as long as your favorite television shows don't get cancelled.

"It's one thing that those pitiful old men want to hang on to the power they've had for so long. That's understandable, if a good bit disgusting. It's totally another that the average, working stiff is happy to give those inbred losers control over a nation that could be democratic, if it wanted to be.

"So, now you get to choose between Gore and Bush. Gore, a political hack who is the son of a political hack. A politician who lost the credibility war with Bill Clinton in 1992. Bush, the son of a pitifully lame ex-president, a spoiled rich kid of a politician who's owned by so many special interests that his butt is tattooed like one of those Beef Council diagrams of a fattened steer.

"The upside is, it doesn't matter who wins. They're one and the same. Or maybe that was what you wimps wanted, all along."

If I could choreograph this speech, I'd have my guy give the nation (especially the media) a single digit salute and call it a night.

There's so much going on in a major election that I don't understand. For instance, I'll never understand how the Republican Establishment gets a single vote from people who work for a living. I know, Republicans claim to be "pro-business," but they're really just pro-rich people. The closest the Republican Party ever comes to associating itself with the function of business is when executives give away their stock holder's money to promote special tax breaks for executives.

The list of "business interests" that Republicans have hustled on the rest of us is pretty amazing: the military/industrial complex, the savings and loan deregulation disaster, the sixty zillion tax loopholes that encourage international corporations to save money by moving jobs out of this country, a gigantic income tax break for the top tax bracket. And so on.

Sure, they throw the "pro-life" bone to the religious right, but they don't really mean it. After all, if the poor couldn't get abortions the welfare rolls would be increasing faster than they are now and that would, eventually, force the rich to pay higher taxes to support those not-being-born-and-not-wanted-by-anybody kids. Trust me, that's not gonna happen. Rich folks look out for their own interests like scorpions hunting for a warm boot on a cold night.

None of that lets the Democrats off of the hook, either. Different money interests for different folks. Without the support of the 80 million members of government employee unions, Gore wouldn't get noticed at a high school dance (until he started waving money). This crowd of union bozos have discovered that it is possible to vote yourself rich. They are the only thing separating Gore from Bush. Gore wants to keep spending tax money to support the unemployable in the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed and Bush is willing to trash the country's economy by letting the ruling class make one last dash to the feeding trough. Both candidates represent the ruling class interests from around the world. Gore just gets some of his money from the government employed ruling class while Bush gets a much bigger chunk from the sort of con artist who really appreciates getting to take a poke at the national treasury.

Like the usual 70% who will stay away from this election, it just doesn't matter to me which of these morons wins in November. Kill me slow or kill me quick, I'm still dead.

It will never happen, because of the gutless character of what passes for today's "Americans," but now is the time for the NOTA movement. None of the above. Here's my version of this ballot entry:

The parties can submit their usual human refuse, for the election. But as part of getting to take a roll with these dice, they put up a bond, equal to the campaign funds, for that candidate. No soggy money. No non-candidate advertisements allowed. You're either part of a campaign or you're a spectator. If the voters "elect" NOTA for a particular office, the bond money goes to fund a second election.

None of the clowns from the first campaign can run again. The second campaign works just like the first one. Another bond gets funded for the next batch of mindless morons. And so it would go.

That's actually my second option. My first choice would be, if NOTA wins, NOTA serves. The office goes vacant for the term of the position. At the end of the term, if it is not obvious that we need someone to do that job, the office is abandoned. I figure in twenty years, there wouldn't be an elected government office in the nation.

March 2000

1/13/2014

#35 NYPD Pink (2000)

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

Act like you're surprised. The four white, plain-clothes cops, who fired 41 shots at and into an unarmed man in New York who endangered their lives by attempting to show them his identification (or give them his billfold), were acquitted in a New York court.

Score: Cops "we can shoot 'em whenever we want," Citizens 0.

The press pretended to be amazed that the court's judge (Judge Judy?) spent the weekend after the decision, celebrating, with the defense lawyers in an upscale politicos' hangout. I guess that tells us more than we wanted to know about the intelligence of the press. This decision has been written so many times that no one needed to consider new text for the story. Change one name and it's a wrap. The surprise is that anyone imagined the verdict would be any different.

Never happen. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

There has been a lot of half-hearted hand wringing about how "the system" needs to be changed and how the police ought to do a few weeks of community service PR to "regain the public's trust." Yeah, that would do it for me. Plaster a couple of Deputy Dog posters on the phone poles and we're all friends, just like before a pack of freaked-out cops shot the hell out of a man coming home from work.

Even the jurors got into the act. Juror Tom Knowles said that Amadou Diallo "looked at the police officers, they identified themselves, and as they moved toward him, he turned and backed away. . . Why? Why? We won't know those answers."

I can't imagine, either. Four badly dressed freaks, waving guns, come charging up, shouting gibberish (none of the witnesses said the four coherently identified themselves), and I'm gonna assume the wackos are cops. Every time.

Given the same circumstances, I'd assume (especially in that slime pit we Americans loving call "New York City") that they're muggers (even if they're wearing uniforms and badges) and I'd try to throw them my billfold in hopes that, while they pounced on the money like a pack of starving hyenas, I could sneak out of sight and shooting range. Since this group of New York's elite managed to hit their target 19 out 41 shots at 15 feet and closer, I think Diallo made the only safe move available. It was obviously his bad luck that these fruitballs managed to hit him at all.

In case you haven't read about this story, the four gunmen were part of the NYPD's "elite" Street Crimes Unit. "Elite" means they are so skilled that they can hit a well lit, mostly stationary target at fifteen feet, 19 times out of 41. The coroner said the cops managed to hit Diallo several times after he was dead. It is reasonable to assume that their accuracy improved once he quit "resisting arrest." When the victim tried to go for his billfold, one of the timidly elite NYPD'ers shouted "Gun!" and, as he and his partner tried to run away from the vestibule where their victim was trapped, they blasted away like their guns were stuck in Lethal Weapon mode.

It gets worse. One of NYPD's finest tripped over his own flat feet, which convinced the other nutballs that their little buddy had been shot. That really scared 'em . Nothing irritates NYPD cops more than when one of their victims scares them into falling down. The other three totally panicked and emptied their guns into the dying, but still exceptionally terrifying, citizen who was threatening them by creating a very large and hazardous pool of blood. The ricochet from the next round of wild shots scared the cops, even more, and convinced them that the dead guy was shooting back with his James Bond billfold. When the cops ran out of bullets and quit peeing in their pants, they discovered Diallo was long dead. After they gave him time to be really dead, they went looking for a weapon and discovered he didn't have one. That pissed them off so much that one of them actually screamed "where's the f__ gun?" Like Diallo owed them some sort of justification for all that misspent adrenaline.

All that evidence and a New York jury still couldn't find a reason to bring a murder, manslaughter, assault, or double-parking conviction against the cops. In fact, so far, the cops haven't even been suspended without pay.

One of the other jurors said the cops' testimony was "quite believable." A few of us might think the jurors were quite gullible, if we could grant them enough credibility to believe that they're being sincere in these statements. And I can. Since we have stumbled into a system of justice that's administered by housewives and other folks who can't or won't find useful employment, any sort of idiocy done by our court system is credible. Although this decision pushes those loose limits pretty hard.

Which brings me to the point of this Rat Rant.

The problem with New York's cops is no different than cops in any other city, except for New York being New York and there's no help for that. Cops, like the military, have convinced themselves that their primary job is to protect themselves from danger. They have a union, so they can't be reprimanded for doing their jobs incompetently. They have their fraternal "brotherhood" cover-up factory, so they can't be prosecuted for crimes they commit against the rest of us. They "protect and serve" themselves; first, second, and always.

New York City's head hopeless moron, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, admitted "we probably don't always do the best of training everyone." Duh. Depends on what you're training them for, Rudy.

Cops are trained to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to a cop. What they ought to be trained to do is to protect law abiding citizens from criminals. The job is supposed to be dangerous. If it weren't, the folks doing it wouldn't be needed. Until we decide that the job of police officer is the same as (and more important than) the task of the United States Secret Service, we're all in danger of becoming their victims. (Although, your chances of being a police victim are a lot greater if you're a person of color. Almost infinitely greater.) Until the citizens of this country take away the party money for all of the non-productive games police play in their never-ending effort to stay out of harm's way, we're putting guns in the hands of people who shouldn't be allowed to play with rubber bands.

Any cop who isn't willing to throw themselves between harm's way and a law abiding citizen is nothing more than an average citizen. There's no hazard pay for that. No 20 year retirement with a pension. No lifetime disability for damaging your back carrying an oversized box of donuts. No guts, no glory; or perks. Cops, like the ones who slaughtered Amadou Diallo, add to the bad bad rep of a group with an already bad reputation. It's time to redefine the job.

March 2000

1/06/2014

#34 The Rat's Rules: #1 (2000)

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

For the last twenty-five years, I've gathered a collection of business rules based on observations I've made whilst trapped in the business world. I used to give those rules random numbers, to make it seem like I have more than one or two of them (the same way some people start a new checking account). Not anymore. I'm going to expose, to the world, just how little I've learned in my dreary little career. So here goes:

The Rat's Eye Business Rule #1: No business is more than necessarily smarter than its customers.

This is a rule of efficiency, in my opinion. When a company is a lot smarter than its customers, resources are wasted. Brainpower and possible technology, for instance.

For example, a company that could be designing user-hostile WYSIWYG operating systems, is wasting time and money porting a me-too, de-featured version of Basic to dozens of godawful personal computers and remedial operating systems. In a perfect business world, this sort of new wave, mid-tech, ambitious little company ought to make an alliance with a really big, really dumb mainframe computer company and concentrate on building software that will make millions of people miserable, instead of just a few thousand nerdy programmer types. That's a hypothetical example, of course.

At the other end of the spectrum, a company that isn't as smart as its customers isn't going to build products that those customers will respect. Worse, if that company is based on an originally good idea, but can't competently execute it, someone will. If the company is really dumb, someone will do a great knockoff almost instantly.

For instance, once there was a really big, dumb computer company that made huge, slow, hard to program computers and software. They accidentally hired and promoted a not-dumb executive who saw a future where very small companies and individuals would have applications for cheap, small, reasonably powerful computers. He drug the big, dumb company (kicking and screaming) into his vision and they did their usual mediocre job of cobbling up the first system they offered to the world. But it was a great idea and that stimulated about every reasonably intelligent computer engineer and techno-executive to reconsider the application for what became "personal computers."

"Big Dumb," we'll call them, flourished for a few years and then has floundered ever since in, what became, a new world of high tech, intense competition, high profile for computer companies. Big Dumb abandoned the twelve loyal (and dumber than most) customers they'd held onto and went back to building large, slow, hard to program computers for the Fortune 500 companies who are not as bright as the PC crowd. In other words, Big Dumb managed to survive because they bowed to the Rat's Rule #1, they moved down the intellectual scale until they found their natural customers.

Another example of this rule was apparent in the 'ole Military Industrial complex. These guys had an unearned reputation for excellence that still sticks in the most terminally brain-dead technological backwoods. In the late 1980's, some of these giant industrial sloths saw the writing on the wall. That brand of rich man's welfare was coming to an end. They made feeble attempts to move their companies away from building products that needed entire battalions of repair techs and millions of dollars of cost-overrunning re-engineering to produce $3,000 toilet seat lids into the hot new world of high tech consumer products.

They failed in every attempt they made. From CAD systems to industrial controls to communications satellites, these foolish executives and their big, dumb companies ended up downsizing so fast they practically killed Southern California's economy. The state still hasn't regained its standard of living, after twenty years of leaching the life out of the other 49 states during their golden corporate welfare years.

What they discovered would have been obvious to anyone interested in doing the research: the military is a dumb customer and, in comparison, consumers are infinitely smarter (it's a divide by zero thing). People who have no vested interest in buying a functioning product don't spend their money carefully. People who are spending their own, hard-earned money on something they intend to use tend to pay attention to little things like reliability, ergonomics, function, and cost.

You can find examples of this rule everywhere you look. Doctors aren't nearly as interested in effective medical procedures and products as are patients. Government is considerably less competent in managing money as taxpayers. And so it goes.

Remember, you heard it hear first: The Rat's Rule #1.

February 2000

1/01/2014

#33 Us vs Who? (2000)

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day

In the middle of my career, I had the incredible opportunity to work for a small company at the beginning of its success. Before I started with that company, it had survived for a little more than a decade without ever turning an annual profit. My employment began in the middle of the company's first profitable year, so I had the opportunity to be a part of the success (and to be rewarded accordingly). I also got to know the people and characteristics that had seen the company through the hard years.

One of the most obvious differences between this company and my previous employers was the concept of "enemies." We had 'em.

There were folks who we had never met that we outright hated. If we'd have caught them naked in a dark alley, with no witnesses, there's no telling what we'd have done.

Another cool thing about our particular industry was that we had domestic and international enemies. We were an equal opportunity, worldwide hater of people we didn't know.

On the surface, this probably seems pretty ethnocentric and parochial (and you thought I didn't know any multi-syllable words). It seemed necessary because every month was a fight for survival. Two bad months in a row could have set us all free to "pursue other options," to use the terms HR departments abuse in describing someone whose employment has been terminated.

Those enemies were taking money directly from our individual pockets. When one of our competitors came out with a new product that resulted in a drop in our monthly sales, we reacted like a hillbilly family hearing that a neighbor has destroyed the family still. We wanted revenge. We wanted the damn still/customers back. We were willing to resort to anything, within our power, to get it back.

Fortunately, none of our competitors were within shooting distance. Our only practical source of revenge was to make better products, provide better services, and steal some of their customers with whatever hook we could connive. In less than five years, we beat out several competitors. We killed a couple of them. We chased a couple of big names in Japanese electronics completely out of our market. Those were heady times, but they didn't last.

In the beginning, it was impossible to tell the execs from the grunts without a program. After a dozen years of failure, the company's managers had been reduced to driving 10 year old cars and living in their parents' basements. We all wore the same jeans and tee-shirts to work. We all shared overcrowded, grungy offices without windows or secretaries. Every office had an "open door policy," because the only doors in the building were to the outside. We all used them to get in and out. A lot of meetings were held in the middle of the manufacturing floor, because that was the only space large enough to hold two people more than shared the office.

Then we "got rich." The first sign of success was that the execs decided we had enough money to hire a business consulting service. This "service" provided us with the corporate equivalent of an evil stepmother. We discovered that some people in the company were overworked and that others were hardly working. The consultant recommended punishing the innocent and promoting the guilty and useless. That provided the company with its first opportunity to engage in true Fortune 500, MBA-style back-stabbing and finger-pointing. Some of our execs discovered hidden talents. These new activities took hold of the exec's imaginations and became a fixture of the company's changing anti-character

A few months, post-consultant, we lost our external focus. Some of us discovered we had more internal than external enemies. Once the first few quarts of blood were let, it felt like there was no limit to how much would flow or who would be doing the slicing and dicing. That caused the execs to circle their wagons and defend themselves from all directions, regardless of the source or hazard or reality of the threat. In fact, the less dangerous the threat the more likely that source was to get tromped.

Within a year from the consultant infestation, any uninterested passerby could pick out a company exec from a worker bee. Even consultants could figure out who was who, without introduction or the usual remedial hand-holding. Our execs had expensive European cars, they wore clothes that would never be mistaken for work outfits, their salaries were a dozen times the company average and took another leap every time someone picked up a copy of Fortune and saw what Steve Jobs was paying himself this week. Several of the Big Cheeses took to "putting in appearances" instead of doing a day's work and, when they did show up, they wouldn't look you in the eye if you stuffed a gun up their nose.

Our talent attrition was incredible. People quit, got fired, and some simply stopped coming to work. Good people and not so good people were chased out of the company. The company became an Equal Opportunity Unemployer. A lot of the people who had enjoyed the times when the company was a close knit family went away and their commitment was impossible to replace.

We "fixed" the loss of employee involvement, on the manufacturing floor, by making the process "smarter." We automated product testing and every assembly process possible. We installed intensive "Quality Engineering" (QE) systems to compensate for a pissed-off and incompetent assembly floor. We moved complicated assembly process off-site, to vendors who (hopefully) hadn't been as "successful" as us and could still deal with complex assembly processes.

Management became so isolated from the function of the business that it was like being in an amnesia club. One of the founders started jabbering about how we were a "marketing and conception" business, not an engineering and manufacturing company. That created a hierarchy within the company's departments that gave us a whole new, and very deserving, group of internal folks to hate. Manufacturing and "R&D" split off from each other and became competitors for resources. QA became QE and split off from the whole company, becoming a useless pack of cops who spent their days looking for Dunkin' Donut equivalents and avoiding contributing anything useful to the company's processes or products. And so it went.

The most interesting thing about the experiences was that I had been were the company was going, in my past employment history. I'd worked for big companies that had only internal enemies and politics. I took the job with this company, specifically, to escape that foolishness. Since then, I've done time at one other small company and a pair of giants. The thing that is most obvious about screwed up companies is something said by a cartoon character (Pogo) thirty years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

January 2000