When Do You Fold?

As much to tweak the VW assholes in Albuquerque as anything, I’ve been running an ad to sell the damn RV for the last four weeks. I’ve had a couple of calls, but nobody serious. More than one Craig’s Lister took it on himself to berate me for calling my pile-of-crap Winnebago a “good deal” as a “handyman’s special” at $20,000. I understand the sentiment, but it’s worth what someone will pay for it and, somehow, Winnebago Rialta prices are pretty outrageous. There is a company cynically named “Rialta Heaven” that regularly asks insane prices, $30,00-40,000, for exactly our RV model. According to their website, they get it.

2014-01-16 Apache (14)Sunday night, someone called my bluff. A guy from Phoenix called and offered me $17,000 cash for the RV and said he’d be in New Mexico tomorrow if I was ready to sell. Unfortunately, I’m not. First, we’re living in the damn thing and I have to find alternative housing if we’re going to give this pile of crap away. Second, it’s our primary transportation and the one thing I have not seen in New Mexico is a half-decent vehicle for a reasonable price. Reasonable prices are pretty common, but New Mexico drivers are astoundingly bad and pretty much everything older than an edible sandwich has been dinged up pretty good. Third, the title is still in Minnesota.

If you followed this idiot’s retirement journey since spring, you know I wasted a whole summer working on this vehicle. We’re into it for about $25,000 in actual investment, but dozens, maybe hundreds, of hours in sweat equity. I know, I know, all of that was about as brainless as buying ENRON stock on the penny market, but it happened. I did it because I fell for the bullshit I was getting about folks claiming to have enjoyed 100,000-150,000 miles of trouble-free travel in these damn things. I did it because I really liked the concept and wanted to believe VW was an actual car manufacturer. Pretty early in the refurb process, it became obvious that Winnebago was not a real anything. Their welds suck. Their choice of steel is pretty much the formula for “instant rust.” Their assembly process is based on the belief that hot glue is the ultimate fastener. Winnebago’s engineering is laughable. The company’s “customer service” is a nasty joke. Everything you would think a company based in Iowa would be, Winnebago is. Once I get going, though, I don’t stop to think about anything. I ride that way, too.

I’m not going any longer. While we have come to a stasis point in the repair process, the only “go” I would consider doing in this RV would be the shortest line back to Minnesota where I would park the damn thing, clean it up, and sell it to the first person with cash. It’s my wife’s money, but if it were up to me I’d take any amount of cash to remove this thing from my property. It is simply painful to look at. It reminds me of too many stupid decisions, too many stressful nights, too many hours on the cell phone trying to find a competent mechanic or an unobtainable part, and pretty much no good moments remain. So, it’s up for sale and I’m taking all bidders. I got one last night and two today. I suspect we’re going to be free of all things VW before the end of January.

2014-01-06 TorC (1)Officially, the Rialta belongs to Robbye. The majority of the purchase was something she wanted to do with money she inherited. Since she’s not involved in repairing the thing, she doesn’t have all of those negative moments to dwell on. She rarely drives it, so the hours I’ve spent behind the wheel wondering what will fall off of the damn thing next are mine only. She’s pretty much an uninvolved passenger on this trip, so she gets up every morning expecting to be able to do something fun; regardless of what I’m going to be doing to make that happen. We are clearly on two completely different trips here. I’d trade in a heartbeat, but that’s not an option.

Whatever we buy next will be a different kind of decision.


#74 The Biology of A City (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Imagine that you are a terrorist.  Your boss, an elitist ruling class millionaire, ex-playboy, hands-off style manager, tells you to go to America and bomb "the" World Trade Center.  You've never been . . .  anywhere.  You don't know New York from New Mexico.  Or New York City's World Trade Center from any of the two dozen other World Trade Centers scattered around the country.  Doing a web search, somehow you stumble upon St. Paul, Minnesota's World Trade Center and you aim for that facility.  Knowing even less about American habits, you pick a Saturday for your grand attack on "the Imperialist State." 

Since a couple of the September 11th terrorists found St. Paul to be a good place to learn to fly passenger jets, it's unlikely that the above scenario could ever happen.  Unless the terrorists were looking for a secret place to make a practice run.  Nobody would ever mistake downtown St. Paul for a major hub of any kind of economic or social activity.  The city is a tomb, especially on weekends.

If St. Paul's World Trade Center were bombed on Saturday, the news would hit the presses no sooner than 9:00AM on Monday.  The loss of downtown St. Paul would not become an inconvenience until . . . sometime.  Probably.  Maybe.

Like at least 50 cities in the United States, St. Paul is cursed with the worst of all municipal handicaps; St. Paul is the Minnesota's state capitol.  In my personal experience, I've noticed that becoming a gathering place for politicians and civil service drones is practically a municipal poison pill.  From Sacramento, CA to Albany, NY the evidence is consistent and conclusive; to kill a community's vitality you only have to stuff the core with a state capitol building. 

That is just one of St. Paul's terminal illnesses, though.  Sometime near the turn of the last century, St. Paul decided to become a union town.  Coupling labor unions with politicians and civil serpents is the kind of thing that gives South American cult cloning a bad name.  It's the kind of social experiment that has driven intelligence from most rural communities.  Put the town idiots in charge of the town and everyone with a lick of sense gets out of Dodge on the first bus.

On the basis of his non-performance as St. Paul's mayor, Minnesota shipped Norm Coleman to the U.S. Senate.  Coleman sunk tons of taxpayer money into a variety of Simpsons-inspired debacles, from the public funding of a pro sports arena (the Xcel Center) to a variety of badly conceived and even more incompetently accomplished business and government buildings.  In the end, downtown St. Paul is even more empty and lifeless and St. Paul taxpayers are even further in debt.  That's the kind of performance that warrants a Republican political promotion in America today. 

Like pretty much every overstuffed city in the country, St. Paul is reeling from the current Republican recession.  Whatever income sources the city may have had are dried up and blowing in the winds of winter.  So the clever Powers That Be are forced to find creative new sources of income.  So far their creativity has been limited to increasing the fines on parking violations on downtown streets.  These social engineering wizards most likely live and shop in the suburbs, where parking is always free, so they shouldn't be blamed for missing the obvious result of their actions: screw anyone silly enough to venture downtown and no one goes downtown.

Since there is absolutely no human activity visible in the downtown area, the city cops have nothing to do but to stake out parking meters and issue citations with floating-decimal precision.  I recently received a citation that was issued precisely on the minute of the meter's expiration.  An observer watched the cop stand by the meter for five minutes waiting for the flag to pop.  The citation was written and torn from the cop's book and heading for my windshield before the meter expired.  Now that's government efficiency in . . .  action?

Obviously, reducing the government overstaffing in light of the city's lack of need is not an option.  Governments always grow, otherwise how could self-important government  management justify their inflated salaries?  But if the city is reducing how long can it be before the city government has to start shrinking?  In fact, the city is increasing the free parking spaces for government employees, at the expense of available parking for real human beings.  Currently, a solid three blocks of one street is dedicated to free city employee parking.  That's not enough, so the city has purchased a privately owned lot and is converting it to a parking structure for the ever-growing cast of under-skilled, over-paid, over-staffed city employees.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I volunteered to chase coffee during a work break.  Since we were smack in the middle of downtown St. Paul, I figured it would be a two block walk, tops.  After forty minutes of searching, I found an open, but empty, Marshall Fields store with a Starbucks.  On my trip I past no less than four downtown coffee shops and not one of those stores had Saturday hours.  In fact, the Marshall Fields was the only live downtown business that afternoon.  Drug stores, convenience stores, shoe stores, restaurants, banks, gift shops, and every other business struggling to survive in downtown St. Paul were all closed on Saturday. 

One of my associates joked that if the studio were in Minneapolis we'd probably have a coffee shop next door.  It's worse than that.  Little Canada, my dinky hometown, has a couple of coffee shops that are open seven days a week.  St. Paul, Minnesota's state capital, home to a zillion civil serpents, and not much else, has nothing going on at any given moment. 

Still, on a Saturday when the streets were largely abandoned and businesses were closed or as empty as a Kansas pasture, the St. Paul meter maids were lurking the streets, tagging the rare parked vehicle, and doing their part to keep the city streets empty and the businesses unprofitable.  My tax dollars at work. 

June, 2003


Predicting 2015

The 2014 election is about on us. In less than two months the nation will decide if it wants to survive and thrive or shrivel into a neo-fascist feudal state. I have never been able to read the minds of my fellow citizens and this year is no different. There is no shortage of Teatards in every state and they are voters, if nothing else. Teabaggers will wander to their local poll places and vote their emotions as if they were actual thoughts. That probably accounts for about 25-30% of all Americans. The rest of us? Maybe, maybe not.
On average, Americans do not vote. We pretend its because we are too proud or brilliant to pick the "lessor of two evils," but in fact those non-voters are just lazy; mentally and physically. If the usual suspects show up for this mid-term election, we'll end up with a Republican/Teabag House and, possibily, an even dumber Senate. If that happens, put your money anywhere but in the US.
In my 66 years, there has been no fiscal conservative Republican in office, regardless of how they label themselves. They are the party of "borrow and spend" and when it comes to oil companies, wars, corporate welfare, and giving away the future to the lazy, unproductive, anti-democratic idle rich Republicans will spend the future to party today. Without exception. So, when 2016 turns into a "mandate" for the Teatards and other Republicans, the country is going back into the dumpster where Bush and Cheney left it and the dollar is going to become worthless. If you have any ideas on where an old American with no language skills and only a few years left to live his retirement can hide cash and his physical self, I'd like to hear about it.


What We Get from Our Monopoly

A while back, I decided to try to upgrade my godawful Comcast service to something that might approach the 35MPS communications speeds I’m supposed to be getting for my $58/month. Since I dumped my telephone provider and went to an Internet-only service with the only option in Little Canada (and Ramsey County), Comcast, I’ve paid for 9-35MPS service and received something more along the lines of 2MPS download/500kPS upload. (Yes, I check it regularly.) I had better internet service in Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico state park campgrounds than what I get hard-wired into my home. After looking at the “rental options” and the screwing I’d get from Comcast if I decided to try to get that monopoly to provide something resembling service, I did some research, talked to a Comcast tech I caught at my local coffee shop, and bought a 3.0 modem on eBay.

Wednesday, I tried to install the new modem. I called ahead to get a “direct number” for Comcast’s “modem initialization” procedure, charged up the cell phone, and unhooked the old RCA modem and installed the new one. When I called the new number, I immediately discovered I was making an international transaction. My best bet is that I was talking to someone in India. The phone connection was at least 80% THD and the “technician” was a woman who couldn’t understand me any better than I could understand her. 45 minutes later, still no connection. I gave up and we decided to reinstall the old modem. She couldn’t get that to work, either. She sent me to a “supervisor” who was unable to make a service reservation. The supervisor sent me to someone else who, at least, spoke recognizable English. Three hours of phone tag, “please hold for . . . ,” trying the same things with the same lack of success, and non-stop incompetence and I’m exactly where I was three hours earlier, except older, more pissed off, and even more disgusted with Comcast.

The end result of all of this was that I had an appointment for 10AM on Thursday for a tech visit who would come and “fix” the damage done by the phone “customer service.” Supposedly, a supervisor will “credit” my account for the first four attempts to initialize the new modem and inability to return my account to the original modem. I’m sure that’s about as likely as Comcast’s ability to provide service anywhere near the premium they ask for their mediocre technology.

An hour later, my internet service automatically rejuvenates itself. When I tried to call what passes for Comcast “service” to cancel the tech visit, I’m back on hold for a half hour while the non-US-based “customer service” person tries to find evidence of the service call so she can cancel it. My cell phone battery died before she managed to accomplish that task. I decided to make a trip to the Comcast office in Roseville to see if a local number was available. There were at least 30 people waiting in line for a variety of services from paying late bills to turning in equipment to picking up equipment to, like me, hoping for a live person to solve Comcast-related problems. An hour and a half later, I am at the counter and the guy has no idea who I should call and I just turn in the old modem for credit. At this point, I’m ready to try retirement without an ISP or home phone. I can always go back to catching up on my email at the local coffee shop.

After giving up on the local solution, I decided to give the new modem one more try. This time, I luck into an English-speaking customer service representative. She looks up my account, sees that I have a field tech appointment for Thursday, notices that my area’s service has been disabled for most of the day due to a neighborhood-wide problem, tells me there is nothing she can do to initialize the new modem, and wishes me luck with Thursday’s tech appointment.

I decided to use what energy I had left examining Comcast’s competition, CenturyLink. Big surprise, another half hour on hold waiting for the customer service representative who “appreciates your business.” I am a little surprised that the lady who finally answers my call appears to be English-speaking. She gives me the long winded sales pitch, offering all sorts of crap I don’t need, want, or want to hear about. I just want to know if CenturyLink can provide service to my house (Yes, at 12MPS max.) and when (No sooner than September 17, almost two weeks away.). It’s almost impossible to stop this lady from signing me up and I escape with a promise that I’ll think about it and call back.

I have thought about it. What I’ve decided is that we’ll get buy with Comcast until we sell the house. There is no chance that I’ll consider buying another home in Ramsey County or any other location “served” by Comcast. In fact, I might be disinclined to buy a home again, since it’s obvious that this country has decided to give itself over to the TBTF corporations, which means that even a smart place with local service providers will eventually be overwhelmed (Like Minneapolis was.) by AT&T, Comcast, or Qwest. Then, I’ll want to move again.

For a state that is so arrogantly proud of its “blue” and high-tech status, we are amazingly complacent about the awful service we receive from our communications monopolies. I think the only thing we’ve proved about “bigger is better” corporate acquisitions is that bigger is always incompetent, expensive, and corrupt. At this point, it’s pretty tough to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that Bell Telephone was broken up to provide better and cheaper service. It worked, for a bit, but the assholes who mismanage technology, who own the mythical “liberal media,” and wholly own one entire political party desperately dislike competition and the “miracle of the market” bullshit only exists in Libertarian fairy tales. Capitalists do not like capitalism and once they have the spare cash available to start corrupting the system to prevent competition, they do. History trumps economic philosophy every time.

It is disgusting that, due to Google’s experiment, Kansas City is kicking the Cities’ asses in the communications department. If we can’t do better than Kansas City, we’re aren’t even a “cold Omaha.” We’re just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies who’ve inbred so often we can’t read the handwriting on the wall.


#73 A Change Had to Come (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Six years ago, when I first decided that I needed to understand enough HTML to put together the Rat's Eye View so that I could blow off some political, social, business, and sports talk steam, I didn't have a goal in mind for this website.  It's purpose was exactly what I advertised it as, a place for me to rant.  No financial objectives, no hopeful political revolution, no magic bullet for the billions of flaws in American business or the god-awful excuse that passes for business education, and no idea how to remove professional sports from the center focus of our failed Fifth Estate.  I just wanted to be able to speak my mind and see it somewhere other than on my a piece of paper puking from my own printer.  With a lofty goal like that in mind, how could I fail?

During the days when most of the Rat Rants were written, I was confined in an eight-by-six cubicle, employed, sequentially, by two of the most cold blooded organizations that I'd ever imagined could exist.  Both jobs involved supporting medical devices, no less.  After a lifetime of aiming myself at a misshapen career building music equipment, recording music, playing music, riding and writing about motorcycles, and contemplating my growing stomach, I was making more money than I'd ever expected doing practically nothing.  Especially, doing nothing worthwhile, honorable, memorable, or respectable.  Hence, the Rat was born. 

One of those two miserable companies was pretty much ripped apart from within.  Apparently, it was doing so much patient damage that even the employees had enough and the company began to sprout whistle blowing leaks as quickly as a new Republican administration.  For the same reasons, too.  The FDA closed the doors and I, being slow on the uptake and particularly ignorant, made the awful decision to try yet another medical company in the inane hope that it wasn't medicine that contaminated companies but the usual crappy executives. 

Wrong again.  The second company was such a carbon copy of the first that I couldn't tell one SNAFU-system from the other without prescriptions lenses.  A little examination of the industry finally taught me that the corruption starts at the core of the business -- with overpaid, arrogant, not particularly skilled doctors -- and extends all the way through the industry's suppliers to the money source, insurance companies and Medicare.  For a decade, medicine made a run at replacing the Military-Industrial Complex as the nation's worst national security threat, but our current Commander-in-Thief has sacrificed the economy so they can both coexist profitably. 

The Rat became my sole line of personal ethics defense and you, my tiny group of readers, were my support group.  To be honest and fair, Old age and avarice had a grip on me, too.  For the first time, I began to worry about retirement, security, and a collection of concepts that I have damn little control of in the best of times.  Trapped in a flawed logic loop, the only time I allowed myself to peek out of the closet was in the Rat Rants. 

But I turned out not to be dead yet and I got better.  But not before getting a whole lot worse in early 2001. 

Since then, either the cubicle quit me or I quit it.  I make a living, barely, as a freelance recording engineer and maintenance tech, a part-time music school instructor, and a motorcycle safety instructor for the State of Minnesota.  Like about 40% of the country, I'm "under-employed," uninsured, and bouncing around slightly above the poverty line.  Unlike 90-some-percent of working Americans, I love my work and look forward to every day.  Every moment of every day. 

I set my own schedule.  When I get pissed at "management," I tell them to screw off and don't work for that particular organization again.  I'm putting in more hours than I ever did as an employee, making a small fraction of my old "hourly wage," and haven't taken off more than a day in a row in almost two years.  I feel younger, stronger, faster, leaner, and more adaptable than I have since . . . ever.  I might be broke tomorrow, but today I'm alive.

Here's the point of all this, though.  For several years, I poured my heart into writing the Rat Rants, trying to link and publicize the website, and hoping to put some light on the cesspool that our country and culture appears to be circling. Obviously, from the lack of hits the site has taken in its history, I couldn't hit a barn with a baseball bat.   I've enjoyed the notes I've received from you, my friends, but pretending that this is a regular, occasionally noticed "opinion column" is a fantasy I can't maintain.  Wanting to be a writer and a critic and actually being one are not the same thing. 

I write because if I don't, I implode.  But I don't appear to have a real author's drive to be read.  It's the same for my  music, I do it for myself and if someone else enjoys it I'm amazed and suspect that person's musical taste may be somewhat deranged. 

On my dinky NEC laptop, alone, I've piled up almost 60 unpublished Rats and I hack at them every week to see if I can turn them into something that makes sense.  Usually, I can't.  I find myself less and less able to make sense of our culture.  The ones that make the most sense are, to be honest, more profane than I'd like.  When I write my best stuff, I'm unrestrained from calling a turd a "turd."  The goal and intent of the Rat Rants was to entertain and inform, not to offend. 

That, my friends, is not getting the job done.  Business and politics in 2003 are so entwined that there is no inoffensive way to describe their relationship.  If I want to keep writing about them, I have to tell it the way I see it.

Fortunately for me, I don't have to deal with it nearly as much as some of you.  I can hang out with musicians and motorcyclists and pretend that we are still a democracy and that I'm not living in the world's all time "have and have-not" disaster zone.  Like most Americans, I can close my eyes and let my preoccupations wash away the pain. 

Because of all this stuff, I'm going to close the Yahoo Rat's Eye group, let my website name expire this next year, and get on with the other bits of life.  I expect keep my AT&T Rat's Eye page alive and I hope all of you will stay in contact.  Check in, occasionally, if you have some time to waste, and see what I've been holding back.  The Rat isn't gone altogether, I'm just not paying InsaneDomains.com to be here. 

Take care of yourselves and try not to take the world as seriously as it warrants.  If there is a god out there, she has a seriously warped sense of humor.  We might as well laugh along with the joke.  It's mostly on us. 

May 2003


#72 Turning a Page (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

In the summer of 2001, my excuse for randomly producing Rat Rants went cold.  At the end of August, I quit my Fortune 1000 job and wandered into the world of unemployment and, hopefully, self-employment.  A year later, self-employment is a reality, although an intermittently paying reality, and my exposure to management is minimal.  Hence, my inspiration for Rants has been stunted.

At the moment, I'm actually relishing being out of the Rat race.  Of course, at 54, it's possible I may be further out of the race and so far off of the road that I've become irrelevant.  In some ways, it was the fear of obsolescence that drove me to the decision to leave my cube life.  In my 54 long and disillusioned years on this planet, I've found that confronting fear is not enough.  I usually have to dive into the pit with whatever I'm afraid of and see how sharp its teeth really are.  And so I am in the pit with uncertain income and it's a lot less scary than I'd imagined.  But it pays about as well as I'd expected.

Last night, I had a dream that actually stuck with me through my morning coffee.  I'm likely to misinterpret it in this Rant, but it's my dream and my column, so you'll have to suffer with your Jungian or Freudian disagreement.  I dreamed that I was in the military, but still working for a manager from my last job who I actually liked and respected (imagine that!). 

The two of us were all trudging up a staircase, not knowing where we were going or what we'd be doing at the top, when he reminded me that "it is inappropriate for an enlisted man, to be walking ahead of an officer."

I asked him, "If we were walking on to a battlefield, would you still want to be in front?"  He replied, "That is an inappropriate question."  This guy actually uses that kind of language in normal conversation, which is why I remembered the dream so clearly.

Believe it or not, that must have been my version of a nightmare because I woke up at that point.  I, clearly, lead a sheltered life.  After realizing that I wasn't going to fall back to sleep, I was stuck trying to figure out what the damn dream meant, or what it meant to me.  My personal irritation with the dream's concept was that his officer's "credential," not his skill, courage, or knowledge, was what gave him a position at the head of the staircase.  And, of course, I was pissed because I knew he'd be climbing the stairs too slowly.  I don't usually follow people up stairs, because I take them two at a time.  I get bored easily.

After exercising his leadership, away he went, in front of me and just as cluelessly as I'd been when I was in front.  In the dream, there were only two of us in this military column, which simplifies the symbolism.  Even my subconscious knows that I need simple and direct instruction.

Much of my Rat Ranting MBA-directed ire is based on the kind of academic aristocracy that I'd experienced from my last two employers.  Many of our large and stodgy employers have taken the position that college degrees are evidence of competence, not inheritance and lack of necessity or stunted adolescent inspiration.  Now that the bloom has fallen off of the last ten years of economic "irrational exuberance," I wonder if this mistaken belief will be revisited.  If we want to jump-start the economy, again, the way it was cranked up in the early 1990s, talent will have to be more important than pedigree. 

A visit to any major state or private university will make it obvious, even to HR drudges, that the majority of the kids in school past age eighteen are rich, idle, privileged and clueless.  With an average cost of $50,000 per year, it's pretty obvious that average folks aren't sending their kids to college, unless there's a scholarship involved. 

At the University of Minnesota, school officials are campaigning local apartment complexes to encourage them to cater to college students.  Because there are more kids in school than the college can provide for?  Nope.  Because the kids whose parents can afford university life have grown up with their own bedrooms (and telephones, entertainment systems, Jacuzzis, and Porches) and they're not willing to share a dorm room at this self-important point in their lives.  So, working-class folks are being forced out of their hard-to-find apartments to accommodate housing for multinational children of the ruling class. 

It's happening all over the country.  An invasion of snobby apartment snatchers.

I've said this before and will most likely repeat myself at a later date, anyone can do well in college if college is the only thing that person has to do.  Between the dumbing-down of the education system and the high-tech availability of everything from test questions to Masters thesis, it's not that hard to survive four through eight years in our university system.  If you have money and time. 

All of this tells us that the real justification for using a college education as selection criteria is to keep the good jobs in the hands of the rich and privileged.  In really good times, we can probably survive that kind of foolishness.  In bad times, ability and aptitude ought to become more important than breeding.  Bad times might be on the way and it remains to be seen that business is agile enough to rearrange its poor habits and irrational priorities.

Universities, on the other hand, react as slowly as glacier ice.  Their budgets get bigger while their service to the culture shrivels into approaching zero.  In a frenzy of public spending, they collect sports coliseums, performance amphitheaters, art galleries, and other monuments to uselessness.  Their administrators throw tantrums when state governments consider withholding funds for these arrogant extravagances. 

The only way to reign in these folks is to ignore their existence.  Since most Americans can't even afford to send their kids to a college sports event, let alone to college, at least half of that job is already accomplished.  Outside of television athletics, the majority of us only think about universities when we're bitching about management and the people who spawned that ilk.  Hopefully, "out of mind" will soon turn into "out of funding."  Not long after that, universities will pare down to necessary survival functions and, possibly, return to providing education and useful research. 

Right.  I'm living in a dream world where everyone breakfasts on lobster and Johnny Walker Blue.  Dream on drunken Rat.

Contrary to popular fantasy, Americans love royalty.  We appear to crave a return to King George's reign.  I once read that less than 1% of the population participated in the Revolutionary War.  I suspect that it's probably safe to say that the other 99% were perfectly happy with serving an aristocracy.  Some things never change.  Our soap opera crowd practically slashed their arms and tore hunks of hair in mourning after the death of spoiled Princess Diana.  A good portion of the voting public flushed their vote toward George II because there was a George I and good money and breeding ought to follow bad.  Or some weird logic that escapes me.  We still turn out good crowds to bow before popes, kings, and rock stars.  And so on.

Nuts.  After 200 years, the American Revolution may have come to an end.  We're a royalty-loving, aristocracy-sustaining, ruling class mismanaged socialism for the rich and while that might be a luxury we can afford when we're rolling in success, it's not something we can afford now that the rats have invaded the corn crib. 

April, 2003


When Home Becomes A Police State

holtzclaw The recent flurry of examples of how abusive our local “police” have become seems to be surprising to too many of us. The tiny-brained conservative crowd have, of course, blamed this on Obama and “the liberals.” It’s hard to be more clueless than the folks who watch and believe Fox News and the rest of our corporate media, but they work hard at pretending to be informed and I’m sure they will be even more idiotic next year. The sad and terrifying thing about what’s going on in the country is that Washington isn’t as responsible for this as we are, locally. The real abuse is happening at the lowest ferguson-police levels possible. It’s true that the horsepower used in some cases comes from the “donations” of military equipment to untrained, poorly managed, horribly staffed local police and sheriff’s departments. Those small town bullies were already over-equipped with weapons before they began to collect tanks, machine guns, and other weapons intended for full-out warfare. Put them in assault uniforms, identity-hiding armor, and elect city officials who imagine themselves to be untouchable royalty and we have a police state growing from the bottom up. Ironically, the police state in cities like Ferguson, Missouri are being restrained by the big, scary federal government. If they weren’t worried about the Justice Department and the FBI, those places would be full-on dictatorships. Many cities are approaching that level of police abuse and we, locally, are at fault.

policeabuse “Our police” are completely self-serving. They have no interest in protecting anyone other than their power and access to any form of corruption or criminal behavior they see fit to commit (no poetry intended). There is, literally, no reason to believe anything from members of the police forces who should be solely supported by our tax money, but who are not because they have turned to theft and barely-concealed taxation of the poor and middle class for fun and profit.

policestate The reason they get away with this is because we are the world’s most passive pseudo-democracy. We’re all wrapped up in Brad and whatshername or NFL/NBA or whatever pro gladiator sport you prefer. Our country is going to hell and douchebags around the nation are packing guns in grocery stores pretending to be defenders of liberty while our uniformed gangbangers are destroying liberty everywhere they set foot. In what seems more like an Onion satire than a serious statement, sheriffs and police chiefs around the country are accusing President Obama of creating a police state, while they are actually mismanaging real police cities and states. All I can figure is that they watched Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles and decided we really are that stupid. So far, all evidence seems to support their conclusion.


#71 A Democratic Experiment (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Minnesota's experiment in participatory democracy ended in early January. Once again, the rats are winning the rat race. The lesson the state and the nation should have learned from our experience was distorted, or simply ignored. Mostly ignored. A lot of vested interests went well out of their way to pretend the last four years were either insignificant or a terrible mistake. I guess you could call that active ignore-ance?

As of January, our citizen governor’s, Jesse "The Body/Mind" Ventura, four years was up. He chose not to run again, most likely because he needs some time to wash the bitter taste of public service from his palate. The Independence Party fielded a strong candidate against a pitiful Democratic candidate and a downright repulsive Republican corporate mouthpiece. Minnesotans stood up on their hind feet and split the overwhelming majority of votes between Tweedly Dee and Tweedly Dumb. Dumb won.
Like most of the country, Minnesota's voting public was bought for a song (the rarely credible "no new taxes" refrain) and we're off on another four years of pointless politics, underhanded spending, and smoky room decision making. The politicians and the media call this "politics have returned to normal." This month, we learn that part of returning politics to "normal" includes the information that an insurance company that had agreed to a $3.5 million settlement decided to back out of that agreement because they discovered that a $10,000 "contribution" to the state Republican Party would reduce that penalty to $200,000 and a promise to stay out of the state for 5 years. Personally, I think missing out on a few decades of "normal politics" would be a relief.

In the aftermath of the last couple of elections, one of my favorite events is getting a call from one of the local news rags asking if I'd like to subscribe. I know this is sort of like picking on a fat kid, but if you're lazy enough to work for a newspaper you ought to expect a little abuse. We have two anti-newspapers in the Twin Cities and they regularly offer free bird cage protection in the hopes that I might decide to actually pay for my media drivel.

"No, not interested." I say. I always give them a chance to exit gracefully.

"How else are you going to keep up on what's happening in your neighborhood, your state, and your country or the world?" The solicitor always replies. It must be on their script.

Since the solicitor passed on a graceful exit, I can degenerate into attack mode without feeling unfairly malicious. "I talk to my neighbors, I read the free news websites (including AP) on Yahoo!, and that's about all the interest I have in what's going on in 'the world.' But newspapers are at the bottom of the list of information sources. You guys are the folks who couldn't uncover, then wouldn't report, the fact that a Presidential candidate had a long DWI record. Something, that any high school journalist student would know how to find. You guys spent eight years harping about Clinton's "I didn't inhale" comment but completely avoided Gee Wiz's spoon draining coke habits. You guys still insist on characterizing Gee Wiz as a 'jock' when the closest he ever got to being athletic was when he was a Yale cheerleader.

So where's the news?

"You folks have as much vested interest in dragging the country down into a two party system, because those two parties have all the advertising money. Anyone who's not pre-owned doesn't have enough cash to interest the media, so where's the news going to come from? It's not news if everyone already knows what you're going to say. I trust my local free radical rag and random internet news sites far more than the major media and that isn't saying much." I'm usually just getting started when the phone solicitor loses interest and asks to be excused.

My local Public Radio/TV contributor-hunters used to get polite conversation and moderate contributions. I've even volunteered to do time taking contributions on the phone for them, but no more.
In the last days of our state's congressional election the incumbent candidate, Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash. The Demoplicans dredged the Mississippi until something, Walter Mondale, got caught in the nets. They propped him against a lectern and offered him as a memorial substitute for Wellstone. In a last minute attempt to focus the congressional campaign, someone decided that there ought to be a debate so that under-100 year old voters would know who Mondale was. Mondale threw an old fart's tantrum and refused to debate unless he only had one opponent on the stage. His attention span had, apparently, shrunk even further than it had been when he was Carter's vice-pres. So, even though the Green Party and the Independence Party candidates met the threshold for public financing, they didn't meet Mondale's standards for debate participation.

Remember, this is all taking place in a state where the "experts" claimed that, in 1998, Ventura wouldn't get 5% of the vote until the polls started to close and Jesse ended up being governor. Sometimes, the public actually gets to vote before the media proclaims the new king. But not this year.

Minnesota Public TV broadcast the two-party debates. Mondale proved himself to be a crabby old used-to-be-a-liberal, currently-a-corporate-shill fool. Coleman managed to keep his feet spread far enough that he didn't trip over them. And the two best candidates spent the evening watching the election being thrown by "public broadcasting."

That piece of history will save me a good bit of time and money in the future. Having controlled an election and actively worked to exclude substantial third-party options, Public Broadcasting threw its hat in with the rest of paid media. I think this is a sad moment for Americans, who have put time and contributions into trying to hang on to a small spot of media control, but the past is the past and we have to move on. Something Ventura's moment in politics provided for Minnesotans. A moment in the sun for Democracy. The last Presidential election, also an embarrassment for democracy and our electoral system, trashed the credibility of national elections. Our local election finished off hope for the Minnesota Fifth Estate. Good thing we have the Internet.

However, Minnesotans learned quite a few things about government during The Body's reign. We learned that anyone with reasonable intelligence can manage a state at least as well as professional politicians (a world class oxymoron). That should have been obvious, but testing the theory with a professional wrestler was a pretty dramatic example. Jesse made up for his own lack of experience and training by packing his administration with a diverse and skilled group of people that even the media and Republicrats were impressed. I think this demonstrated that the best people for the job of managing the country try very hard to avoid politicians, not politics.

There's an old adage about management and politics that says "anyone who wants the job shouldn't be allowed to do it." Jesse's candidacy was founded on testing that theory. When he started his campaign, he was trying to make a political point. He had next-to-no expectations of winning the election. His campaign was half entertainment, half protest movement, and zero political ambition. Of the three candidates for governor, Jesse was obviously the best choice. For once, that mattered. Four years later, the least capable candidate of that same trio, Norm Coleman, has been elected to the U.S. Senate, Jesse is retiring from politics, and our new governor is a conservative corporate hack. It's comforting to see that humans are still predictable and gullible.

Jesse got a lot of heat from characterizing the media as "jackals." The heat all came from the media. Anyone who's watched a press conference would have a hard time disputing the jackal label. On average, the media is lazy, elitist, vicious, disinterested in the truth or issue complexity, and observes pack mentality etiquette more closely than traffic on the San Diego Freeway. I think calling the media hacks jackals is slandering a perfectly reliable animal.

I didn't vote for Jesse. I was so worried that the Republican idiot, Coleman, would win that I flushed my vote on the Demolican candidate, who I disliked slightly less. It's the first time in thirty-some years of voting that I chickened out and the first time that a candidate I really wanted to see elected ended up in office. Go figure.

Jesse was thin-skinned, tended to whine when he felt abused, he could be a bully, he was often overly-dramatic and a little paranoid, and he would rather settle serious issues in the parking lot. He was also quick to admit when he needed to study a subject before commenting on it. He took advice and could tell good advice from vested interest advice. He cared more about taxpaying citizens than he did the tax-avoiding rich. He's not a coward. He has principles and tried to live by them, even when they were politically incorrect. He came into the office with the same standards he took when he returned to life as a civilian.

My only serious disagreement with Jesse came when he was hanging out with a New York talk show. He said that St. Paul was much more poorly designed than Minneapolis. He joked that the place had been laid out by "drunken Irishmen." Having just experienced far too much of Minneapolis' organization, I couldn't agree less. I think Minneapolis was designed by a pack of drunken professional wrestlers. The city, obviously, couldn't decide if it wanted to use the compass, the winding and merging rivers, or the random escape route of a scared rabbit as a street planning device. So, a little of each was applied. Getting from point A to point B involves passing through Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Russian alphabet.

So, Jesse, you were a good governor. Some of us learned a lot about politics and the state's activities while you were in office. I'm proud to have been a Minnesotan during your term. I'll miss you and your honesty and, maybe more than you, the members of your administration. You "shocked the world" and this brain-dead place is better for it. I hope, someday, we Americans find the courage and creativity to test the American Experiment again.

March, 2003


#70 Enough is Enough (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

A few years back, I was traveling in a smoke filled pickup with my brother and one of his friends.  The conversation, somehow, had drifted to the reintroduction of timber wolves on public lands in the northwest.  These two hobby cattlemen were irritated that perfectly good grazing land was being wasted on a wild animal; even worse, a predator.  Obviously, the conversation degenerated into one of the many the ever-popular anti-tree-hugging diatribe.  Winding down, it all ended on a statement that tree-huggers ought to be concerned that cattlemen were going extinct. 

Until that moment, I hadn't realized that cattlemen were a species.  Having known a fair number of real cattlemen in my ag-tech-support past, I'd always thought of them as members of the more common homo sapiens sup-species and as nothing more specific than industrialists in a rectally-emitting smokestack industry.  Once I considered this new knowledge, I began to feel real concern for other, long extinct, occupational species.  Buggy whip weavers, for example.  Stovepipe hat blockers were especially cruelly extinguished, in the prime of their abilities and stylishness. 

Picking on my brother's hobbies is a great pastime, but it's not the real purpose in this rant.  Humans have developed a species-centric perspective that is becoming downright vicious.  All of the religions we've created, including science, are based on the idiotic idea that humans are the end product of evolution.  That species-centric outlook would be good comedy if we weren't so prone to take it to globally destructive extremes.

Here in Minnesota, for instance, the Department of Natural Resources has become concerned because the deer population is approaching one million, "far too many for the habitat to support."  In the Twin Cities, alone, there are nearly four million humans, but the entire state is incapable of supporting one million deer?   In Arizona, the FLM experts have decided that the desert is incapable of supporting more than 40,000 wild horses.  So, they roundup and redistribute the "excess" animals on a regular basis.  Redistribution often means selling the animals to dog and people food processors.  In the 1930s, there were more than two hundred thousand wild horses in Arizona and the desert appeared to support those animals considerably better than it supports the five million people who live there now.  Which animal uses and misuses the most resources, deer, wild horses, wolves, or humans?  Which animal is more likely to exceed the carrying capacity of a given piece of real estate? 

The idea that wild and free animals are encroaching on human habitat has become the usual human perspective on real estate.  Even to urbanites, it ought to be obvious that the animals were here first.  It's humans who are doing the encroaching.  Rapidly approaching five billion on earth, soon the only species that will outnumber us will be house flies and cockroaches.  Without the food we supply to those species, they would be in trouble too. 

Since it's so obvious and easy to determine how many of each wild animal species belong in a given territory, I'd like to ask why that same calculation hasn't been made for humans?  Biologists make precise statements about how many acres per animal are required in a given habitat, based on the animals' nature, diet, and the available resources.  Predators always require a lot more space than herbivores.  Humans, being the ultimate predator, would seem to require the most space but that's a calculation I've never been able to find.

Personally, I've always considered most human abnormalities to be "population diseases."  Many of these behavioral oddities are so "normal" in our current overpopulated world that it has become politically incorrect to describe them as unnatural or aberrations.  Most non-reproductive sexual preferences, for example, are obviously nature's attempt to prevent humans from procreating.  Homosexuality and variations on that theme take a significant portion of the population out of the breeding pool.  Mental illness, especially those illnesses that shorten life expectancy, reduce average longevity and population growth.  And, of course, good 'ole and ever-popular wars and other crimes of violence are effective population reducers.  These are the tactics, and the only tactics, humans use to prevent overpopulation. 

If we were truly a rational animal, we'd be more proactive about managing human population.  War, for example, is a typically human response to population control.  In other words, it's stupid.  War is similar to organized hunting as a population control tactic.  Hunters actively seek out and destroy the most healthy and attractive animals, leaving the sick, weak, and weird looking to reproduce and continue the species.  Wars do the same thing to human populations.  The easiest way to avoid being killed in a foreign war is to have a serious defect, to be 4F.  Fit males get shipped off to be killed and the defective stay home and breed.  Yet another brilliant innovation from the folks who brought you communism, dictatorships, feudalism, monarchies, and international corporations.

Humans have ruled the planet for less than 5,000 years and have been a significant evolutionary force for less than 50,000 years.  In geologic time, we've been here for less than an instant.  In biological time, we've barely been here for much longer.  At our current rate of stupidity, it's hard to imagine we'll be around to meet the next dominant species.  Unless we destroy the planet, we're likely to be leaving it to that unlucky species in the not all that distant future. 

However, an awful lot of humans appear to be determined to take out the planet when we go.  The Reagan Administration was stuffed full of people who could expound on Manifest Destiny and other comedic standards.  Bush I & II rehired many of those same simpletons and they are charging ahead, ignorantly and theocratic-ly, into the overpopulation void.  The race seems to be between finding a way to use up the world's natural resources in a single generation and breeding so effectively that we reach standing-room-only.  As Mark Twain said, "humans descended from the higher animals."  Was he talking about rabbits?

February, 2003