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.


#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


#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


#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


#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