#143 Personal Words (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

For the last four years, I was blessed to work for a man I respected and trusted.  A couple of those years were the best experience in my working life.  I'm not saying the company, the school, for which I've worked has been respectable or trustworthy; just the man.  However, it has been a rare enough experience just having the opportunity to work for someone with positive qualities that it has spoiled me for the usual management riffraff.  This man, Michael, quit today.  The school's management didn't think Michael's leaving was important enough to let the rest of us know, but the word spread through the staff like a fire of despair. 

The last year and a half has been tolerable, but in decline.  The people who own and mismanage the school are the usual lot; boy-men who couldn't make a sane decision if their inheritances depended upon it.  But that hasn't mattered for the past twelve years of the school's existence, because Michael could always be counted on to make the important decisions for the organization.  While the owners rattled around in their palatial offices, posing for portraits and polishing their egos, Michael hired staff, distributed resources, settled disputes, and moved the school from a dilapidated warehouse in Minneapolis to a shining new facility in St. Paul.  When every major step was completed, the owners would make a hand-waving appearance and express wonder at their miraculous accomplishments. 

Other than being a bit irritating, most of us didn't mind their ignorance, because Michael knew who did the real work and he made us into the kind of team that rarely exists outside of myth and dreams.  Today, members of that team met in hallways, the parking garage, and at least one bar to mourn the end of a workplace era.  I heard expressions of anger, disappointment, sorrow, and pain from people working in sales, maintenance, administration, and (above all in an educational institution) the teachers.  The loss of no other person in the school could have inspired so much emotion, and we've had some sad losses in the last couple of years.  If both of the school's founders had died in the floods of New Orleans, a bare fraction of that passion would have been generated.  The feeling in the school was similar to what I experienced in 1963, as a school boy, when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Hearts were broken, spirits were crushed, bonds of friendship and common goals were damaged. 

Of course, the mismanagers were oblivious to all of this because they were distracted, as usual, by illusions found in their office mirrors. 

As I sat in a bar with friends, fellow instructors, listening to plans for revolt, alternative business ideas, descriptions of escape routes, and general melancholy, I tried to come to peace with my own future.  Not long ago, I planned to spend the rest of my working life with this group.  For the first time in my adult life, I had been part of what felt like an indestructible force; like an NFL offensive line, and I was watching it dissipate like a beautiful sunset fading to darkness.  For me, the school isn't a serious place without Michael there.  What we do, suddenly, seems pointless without his encouragement, honest faith, and vision for our institution and our students.  Michael believed in what we did, he supported it.  Michael had taught every class we taught.  He understood our industry and our technology.  He recognized and attempted to fix problems before we saw them coming.  Even if the industry we represented is mostly in the past, he believed that we could guide our students into the future, making music and changing lives.  He created the school's mission and he believed in it.

What's left is about money, power, and the usual suspects are in control.  Something extraordinary has been turned ordinary.  It's incredible how easy that is to do.  Destruction is always easier than creation, but it's not as inspiring.

September 2005


When Liars Use Numbers

New PictureDon’t ask why, but I was looking at an Amazon customer product review today and discovered that the numbers didn’t “add up.” The review (see right) average of 4.3 out of 5 stars is grossly optimistic. Just looking at the star ratings without any sort of analysis you’d notice that 36% of the reviews are 3 star or worse (“It’s Ok.” or worse). 26% are 2 and 1 star ratings (“I hate it.” and “I don’t like it.”) If you really get critical, even a 4 star rating just means “I like it,” so even a 4 star rating is pretty dismal. How is it possible that this product has earned a “4.3 out of 5 stars” average rating?

So what would actual statistics applied to this particular product return for an average rating? If we go for a simple mean average, the sum of the review scores divided by the number of reviews (and the definition of “average” that most of us assume), we’d end up with a 3.72 star average score (just below “I like it”): not bad, but not somewhere between “I like it” and “I love it.” If Amazon were being totally disingenuous, they’d use the mode average, which would be 5 stars and practically every product would have a 5-star average rating because American consumers tend to “love” everything they buy. Apparently, Amazon’s rating system is based on the median average (the middle number, when they are ranked in order) or something close to that.

The takeaway for me is that I won’t pay any attention to Amazon’s average rating ever again. They and their suppliers are counting on our tendency to trust “customer reviews” and ignore the way those reviews are scored or what they really mean. Amazon has proved, again, “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Including me.


#142 Fools are Us (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Or, in regards to the subject that I am developing here, did our national business model create our national foreign policy or did the foreign policy come first?  My bet is on the business model.  I suspect that our cut-throat, amoral corporations and the execs that squirm within created the mess that the rest of the world sees as the United States. 

As a nation, our "leaders" have often acted as if the rest of the world, especially the third world, is populated by complete idiots.  Our current government is particularly arrogant in its expectations of the rest of the world, but they are just the logical extension of a long history of overconfident, under-skilled  politicians and bureaucrats.  Ever since the United States began to formulate a foreign policy, that policy has been directed by the assumption that everyone else is an idiot and we are so clever that they won't see through the thin veneer disguising our national purposes.  The fact that our politicians and their henchmen are as transparent as fine crystal has never occurred to arrogant American lunkheads from John Adams to G.W. Bush.  They simply see their malevolence as being so complicated and intricate that no one outside of their inner circle could possibly sense their motives. 

We haven't had a sophisticated Executive, Congressional, or Judicial branch since the early 1960s.  And the intelligent leaders didn't amount to more than a hand full of fingers before that.  Cats can predict the motives of the overwhelming majority of human politicians.  A pigmy child extracted from the depths of the most remote area of Africa could, in seconds, size up any of our federal or state bureaucrats and anticipate their actions.  Our national motives are as simple and impure as those of any villain ever dreamed up by Marvel Comics, "'We want your natural resources, all of them, and we will pay bottom dollar to get them.  We'd prefer to wreak your culture and crush your dreams in the process."  Even if the rest of the world was completely populated by morons, that message wouldn't be subtle enough to fool anyone who doesn't drool a in Texas accent.

Our management class is a carbon copy of our government class.  These "elites" stumble through company meetings, delivering foolish platitudes and grade school ultimatums, assuming that no one foolish enough to be employed by a company so disorganized as to hire them for management could detect deception if it were printed in a frame surrounded by flashing "lies, all lies" signs.  If anyone in the room is stupid enough to accept anything they say as worthwhile, that person is clearly management material.  They lie and cheat and stab each other, and the rest of their countrymen, in the back over power and wealth.  The difference between our executive class and Mafia dons is so minimal that the two swap positions without skipping a beat.  All the while, they assume the rest of us are too stupid to do anything about their crass manipulation and gross corruption.

In a way, they are right.  We take far too much abuse from the 1% who own 90% of our country.  Third world terrorists are quicker on the uptake than US voters.  The average man living on the streets of Calcutta knows more about what goes on in Washington D.C. than does the typical American voter.  It's incredibly embarrassing to admit that my own country appears to be the world's most universally hated and feared villain, but it's better to acknowledge that and fight against the inbred self-proclaimed royalty that owns the United States than it is to pretend crimes are not being committed in our name.  You can't fix anything until you recognize it needs fixing.  A startling majority of Americans seem to be too stupid to know when they ought to be asking for a little lubrication with their shafting. 

It's not like the execs are stunningly clever.  These are not people who are bright enough to learn from history, books, mathematical simulations, or remedial tutoring of the sort provided to the ruling class through their Ivy League institutions of slower learning.  They do not realize that eliminating freedoms, driving the middle class into poverty and servitude, terrorizing the third world, and acting as the planet's corrupt Chicago Police force is a sure formula for mass riot and individual violence.  When people do not have political outlets for their grievances, they are forced to resort to physical outlets.   You can bottle beer, but you can't hold your thumb over progress.  The human race is progressing, regardless of the efforts of the current administration, the U.S. military, or mismanaged multinational corporations. 

From the mismanaged side of the equation, the perception is anything but confused.  Most employees think management is overflowing with idiots.  Decisions are handed down without even the slightest clue as to the cause, effect, or purpose.  Every word uttered by mismanagement seems to be designed to demotivate, irritate, confuse, disorganize, or incite riot among the employees and alienate customers.  As I have written before, in every company I've ever worked, if the top management were to contract a disease that caused them to vanish, instantly, in their offices, it would be weeks, months, or years before anyone noticed they were missing.  Universally, the thing that would instigate a search for the missing execs would be a sudden increase in profitability, efficiency, and morale improvement beginning the moment the dead weight vanished. 

Abusing and destabilizing the countries from whom we depend upon for natural resources has been a terrible, vicious, failed experiment.  New York on September 11, 2001 suffered for all of our sins in that regard.  Allowing ourselves to be similarly abused at work and in our communities has resulted in the depersonalized, culture-of-one society that appears to be so susceptible to degenerative "life style marketing." 

Many of us have resorted to looking for a pill that will counteract our national low self-esteem and non-existent sense of community and purpose.  Pills won't help.  Treating the symptoms only works when you treat the right symptoms.  The cure is revolution in the voting booth.  We'll find a cure when the majority of citizens are taking part in the political system with an educated, motivated, outraged purpose.  Until we are "mad as hell and we won't take it any more," we're going to be stuck in crappy jobs, mismanaged by inbred idiots.  Until we want to honestly respected as "the leader of the free world," we'll be ordered about by fourth generation political hacks who only serve international corporate masters and have no interest in the fate and future of this country.  We either stand up and act like citizens of a free country or fall down and serve as floor mats for the ruling class.  There is no middle ground.

September 2005


#141 The Selfish Class (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I wish this rant was only directed at the ruling class.  I wish the rest of the country was as disgusted and tired of a social system that discriminates against everyone from the handicapped to the working poor to the middle class who bear the burden of every responsibility this nation has taken on.  But it's not.  The real failure of our modern state is because more than half of the country is too damn dumb to think for itself and, on the rare occasion that group thinks at all, it only thinks in the most uncomplicated selfish terms.  Human evolution is the history of people learning to cooperate in the interest of their family group, community, and culture.  The Selfish Class has lost this evolutionary drive.

You could place a little of the blame for this wide-spread cultural suicide on the blitz of marketing that has been aimed at the general public, attempting to convince us that we "need" gadgets, toys, synthesized food, recreational drugs, overpriced personal vehicles and housing, and powerful international corporations to complete our lives.  Marketing has worked to create a society that is solely concerned with individual material solutions to social problems.  A lot of money has been spent in this effort, so you could say that is why we're so selfish.  You could do that, I can't.  I think anyone who buys a new car based on inspiration provided by a television ad is too dumb to vote, make important personal decisions, or breathe without instruction.  The state of modern marketing is so low-brow that it amazes me anyone ever watches an ad or buys a product that was mass marketed.

The existence of a television ad promoting a product means that product's value has been dramatically sacrificed to pay for the ad and the morons who conceived it.  But the Selfish Class is largely driven by the instructions they receive in "lifestyle ads" and those instructions run counter to the best interests of the culture.

The biggest share of the blame for the growth of the selfish cancer is from our lack of national leadership.  Or, to be more accurate, this disease is a result of of their leadership.  Like most degenerate cultures, we have a completely self-indulgent ruling class who are only interested in their own short-term immediate gratification.  The Bush's, the Gates', the Jobs', and our hierarchy of idle and semi-idle (executives, for example) multi-generational spoiled rich children contribute nothing more to the culture than poor role models for the working class and wannabe-rich-middle class.  Everything in society and business is top-down and if the "leadership" is foolish and short-sighted, so goes the rest of the country.

But I digress. 

The modern American average Joe or Joan is a proud member of the Selfish Class.  Mostly, participation in the class is how they are kept in line.  They labor mindlessly under the illusion that "anyone can succeed" and "if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."  All kinds of people can't make it here: people with families, people with dependent adult family members, people who have had their lives interrupted by illness, people who have had their jobs shipped overseas for cheaper labor, and the usual cast of characters who fall through the growing spaces in our ever-deteriorating social net.  The Selfish Class doesn't care about the problems of the unfortunate many.  The Selfish Class can barely be bothered to care about problems within its own family and, when the kids become disobedient teenagers, the Selfish Class often "disowns" its own children and tosses them out like stale bread. 

The Selfish Class is particularly incensed when it finds itself on the outside looking in.  When that happens, they are usually convinced that the entire social net has been assembled to ignore their life-style-threatening problems.  Then, they vote to "fix" the system.  Of course, since they're perspective on what's wrong with the system is so narrow and erroneous, they vote ignorantly and short-term selfishly.

A couple of years ago, a conservative Selfish Class acquaintance (redundant, the Selfish Class is always conservative) found himself suddenly unemployed (for the third time in a year) with a ton of debt and no savings.  Unless a member of the Selfish Class has been thoughtfully provided an untouchable trust fund they are rarely able to save for more than a moment's pause in cash flow. After a few weeks of fruitless job hunting, he applied for state assistance and found that the state did not consider him to be particularly destitute.  After all, he possessed a garage full of motorcycles, three new upscale four-wheeled vehicles (for two family drivers), a home (with three mortgages), a house full of modern expensive gadgets, two kids enrolled in a high-priced private school, and a small collection of recreational club memberships.  The state implied that he could do considerable cost-cutting and make a few sacrifices in expenses and belongings before he would qualify for state assistance.  He was outraged.  From his perspective, everything he owned, every one of his activities, every extravagance in his life was "necessary" and justified.  That a lowly state employee could suggest otherwise was an affront to his status and self-image.

Because he is white, young, healthy, well-connected, and possesses a collection of employable skills (all obtained in a Minnesota public vocational education system that is now being abandoned), he was only out of work for a few weeks.  After his experience at the edge of being inconvenienced, he has become convinced that the social net is worthless and should be dismantled.  It didn't work for him in his hour (literally) of need, so it is obviously not working for anyone who matters.  This is a close to a perfect Selfish Class response as anyone could create.  "If it's not all about me, what is it good for?"

The Selfish Class is what put G.W. Bush in power.  G.W. and Co. may not be the brightest lights on the Xmas tree, but they can read these Selfish simpletons like an Archie and Veronica comic book.  All they have to do is act naturally, in fact, since current conservative leadership are the most selfish people on the planet.  To appeal to the Selfish Class, you only have to speak to their immediate self-interests.  The Selfish Class does not care about the fate of life on earth, they care about themselves now, today, this moment.  The Selfish Class has children, but they are supposed to be mirror images of themselves and if those children stop reflecting their parents' they are abandoned as easily as any animal leaves its offspring.  The Selfish Class is willing to sacrifice the health, security, and welfare of the people of the rest of the world for unlimited use of the world's resources.  And yet, they express horror and confusion when the people they have sacrificed strike back with the same weapons and brutality that have been used against them in the interests of the Selfish Class. 

The worst thing about our current state of egocentric self-interest is that it is self-sustaining and regenerating.  A top-down corruption is the worst system failure an organization or society can suffer.  When the entire leadership is corrupt, the majority of citizens simply follow their example.  This isn't anything new, something invented by the new right.  In fact, it's the oldest political system on earth.  It's also the most fragile.  A country mostly populated by lazy, selfish people is easily destroyed by natural catastrophe, internal revolution, external attack, or a combination of these forces.  The lack of community that is the core of the Selfish Class is also the downfall of that same group.  A community without an interlinking support system that protects the less fortunate, educates the ignorant and the young, provides for the common good to equalize opportunity across economic levels, and protects and listens to the canary-in-a-coal-mine voices of dissent is easily fragmented and destroyed.  We have become that kind of community and our vanishing personal rights and growing economic imbalance is just a sign of where that is taking us.

August 2005


#140 Why Do Conservatives Hate the United States? (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Ok, I admit it.  This rant was inspired by conservative propaganda that begins or ends with statements like "why [Michael Moore/Liberals/The Liberal Media] hate(s) America."  But at the core, I believe that conservatives, especially the radical (is there any other kind?) religious right, hate the United States and the representative democracy that it represents.  I don't mean "dislike," "mistrust," or have a reasonable disagreement among patriots and well-meaning, honest men and women.  I mean hate. 
First, our current herd of neo-conservatives are stupid.  The "America" that they imagine liberals hate doesn't exist.  It never existed.  "America" is a pair of continents; not a country, system of government, or a collection of ideals.  We have North America, of which the United States of America is a part and we have South America where US corporations have a lot of financial interests but no honestly held rights or morally earned privileges.  The bulk of the folks who claim to love "America" don't even know where the United States ends and where America becomes other countries, cultures, and economic systems. 

Even more to the point, I doubt there is anyone living on this continent who hates the soil and the continental shelf upon which they live, liberal or conservative.  "America" is a pair of continents (with an often-contested sub-continent, Central America, connecting the two larger land bodies); not a culture, social or economic system, or a flag-symbolized nationalistic god-fearing corporate prison camp.

Hell, most of the nationalist right-wing "Americans" don't know much about the United States geographically, historically, politically, or in any other critical specific.  They chant about "America, the Christian Nation" and babble their foolish notions of capitalism, taxation, and defending the homeland in exactly the same words (other than the actual language) as did their idealistic predecessors, in Nazi Germany.  When it comes time for them to demonstrate their understanding of the foundations of the nation, the principles of economics or democracy, or their legitimate rights and responsibilities, they are often and usually found to be missing in action.

In modern history, these radicals, misnamed "conservatives" have been on the morally wrong side of every national crisis since before 1776.  Conservatives opposed the Revolutionary War and the concept of representational democracy.  The first conservatives to pollute the New World's political thinking fantasized that Kings and Queens and inherited wealth and power was vested by the gods and mere mortals were incapable of divining the gods' will in matters as complicated as creating a civil and just society.  Dumb-asses, all of them.  Our first conservatives were known, by the country's patriot forefathers, as "Tories."  If you are interested in finding yourself on the morally right side of practically any disagreement in the history of humanity, determine which side the current breed of conservatives has selected and join the opposition.

Following the footsteps of the country's first conservative dolts were slave owners.  They were the second American wave of god-fearing conservative big thinkers and they fantasized that their ability to terrorize other people, initially including other white folks, somehow illuminated their moral superiority.  This pack of inbred hillbillies were willing and nearly able to disassemble the Union in favor of an economically degenerate system based on slaves and serfs with a collective government that mostly resembled Jolly old England from the previous unenlightened centuries commonly known as "The Dark Ages."  Fortunately for us, them, and the rest of the world, the liberals of the 1860's decided that living next to a pack of moral decadents was unacceptable and we had a Civil War that put to the test upon which side the gods actually stood.  Again, conservatives turned out to be on the down-slope of cultural and human evolution and they had their asses kicked by bleeding heart liberals and the power and creativity that is commonly found only in liberal cultures. 

The gods weren't on their side, either.  If gods exist, it's hard to imagine their preference being for evil, selfish, vicious, and simple-minded humans.  I could more easily imagine a god only interested in cats than one who would pick Karl Rove or G.W. Bush as an eternal neighbor. 

However, if conservatives can't do anything else they can breed like vermin and they kept reproducing their progeny, misinformation, and ignorance all over the country, especially in the south and the hillbilly segments of the Midwest and west also known as "the Bible Belt."  Even after having their asses kicked and their ill-founded faith in their gods' will proven to be false, they continued to imagine that white people had some inherent superiority over other cultures.  Shortly after the end of the Civil War, economic and social discrimination against everyone but rich white people became the southern standard. 

The sludge at the bottom of the intellectual pool, dumb poor whites, somehow managed to become convinced that they had some interests in common with dumb rich white people.  Dumb whites dedicated themselves to protecting rich folks from non-white poor folks.  This misdirection resulted in the Civil Rights Movement and we wasted nearly one hundred years in making our national intention semi-coherent.  In the meantime, we have had Civil Rights Acts passed and ignored in 1886, 1957, 1964, and 1991.  All the while, conservatives still battled to preserve discrimination, segregation, and outright hostility toward people of varying races, religions, and political beliefs.  Just another example of how much conservatives hate the democratic intentions of the United States of America. 

World wide conservatives did their best to allow their fellow true believers in Nazi Germany to complete the extermination of Jews and other "undesirables" deemed to be imperfect non-Aryans in the 1930s.  Eventually, liberals became irritated enough at this vicious and inhuman activity and, once again, conservatives had their asses kicked.  A fair number of conservatives are so disturbed by this ass-whipping that they deny the existence of the entire period of history, commonly known as World War II.  Many of these inbred morons wear swastikas on their clothing and body art and claim to be "Americans" while hating the government of the United States of America and doing everything within their limited mental capacity to undermine the process of democracy.  More examples of conservatives hating the USA.

Conservatives drug the nation into Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and Iraq, twice.  Not in the interest of spreading democracy, but in the interests of the military-industrial complex that desperately needs wars to sell it's products.  Of course, the bonus was international corporate access to Iraq's oil resources.  Hardly a moral issue. 

Every issue with an attached real moral value is, and has been, opposed by American conservatives.  From women's rights to ecological conservation to racial equality to public education to the social safety net, conservatives have consistently come down on the side of international corporations and the interests of the ruling class.  Conservatives, without fail, have fought against progress, justice, freedom, peace, and common sense since the founding of this country.  Most likely, conservatives have argued against all of those things since the first group of cave people decided to band together. 
The great migration of southern whites to the Republican Party, which became blatant during the Carter Administration and resulted in white backlash and Reagan's election and the current radical Republican domination of the federal government, was all about racism and the long, ignorant history of poor white trash whose irritation is easily misdirected by international corporations and idle rich white trash.  You can't fool "all of the people all of the time," but you can fool these dumb fucks without putting up much of a show. 

The "values" represented by the Red States are limited to gun ownership, anti-feminism (thinly disguised as the "life" issue), the establishment of a national religion, and white power.  Not one of these issues could be described as central to the founding of the United States of America.

Conservatives protect the status quo, by definition.  Conservatives do not invent, improve, or initiate anything for the betterment of the country or the world.  They inhibit, repress, and regress at every junction of human, and especially the United States', history.  The reason they hate the United States of America is that this union of citizens, under the banner and protection of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, is liberal by its foundation and nature.  Liberals are progressive, conservatives are regressive.  The United States of America was a progressive, innovative, liberal idea. 

England was conservative in 1776 and still is, today.  The Soviet Union and Germany's National Socialist (Nazi) Party were conservative.  Iran's Assembly of Experts is conservative and so was Iraq's Arab Baath Socialist Party and Hussein's  Revolutionary Command Council.  These government systems were "loved" by the local conservatives and hated by the same countries' liberals. 

In this nation, when the government is obeying the law and serving the interests of the majority of its citizens, conservatives hate their government and want it changed by any method possible.  When the government is trampling personal rights and representing international corporate interests, conservatives are happy as hogs overdosing on PCP.  American conservatives have never loved the concept of the United States of America.  From the cocaine fields of Columbia to the Aryan Nation's compounds in the Pacific Northwest, conservative Americans have found things to hate about the United States of America.  The ideals they hate are what all intelligent citizens should all love about this country.  Freedom is a liberal goal.  Justice is a liberal ideal.  Equality and prosperity is the result of a liberal culture.  Those are the things conservatives hate all over the world and those are the things liberals must fight to protect. 

August 2005


What Are We Doing Here?

A few months back I gave my grandson the hardest piece of advice I’ve ever passed on. He was not looking for advice from me and had already decided his short term path, which was to gather some money and take a trip to meet his biological father. College was not in his short or long-term plans after one semester of community college and a fairly awful experience with what passes for high school in Minneapolis. When he asked me why I was going back to school, I told him my reasons and his would be very different. At 67 and retired, I was in the Southeast Community Technical College Guitar Repair program because I hoped to learn about guitar repair and construction, but going to college isn’t about that for a young man. Our education system has been selling itself on the educational/broadening-your-horizons claim for years and it’s bullshit. You go to college to get a degree; a piece of paper. If you get distracted by a drive to learn something you’ll fuck up the march to the degree and you’ll end up discouraged, disoriented, broke, and paperless.

“I don’t need this,” is the natural response to test material. You cram for the test, temporarily memorize the materials, take the test, and dump the faux information. Learn it and dump it. This is what passes for education. Teachers justify this process as “teaching students how to learn,” but that’s also bullshit. Kids know how to learn. They don’t know what to learn and too often the characters who end up at the head of a classroom in most colleges wouldn’t know useful information if it smacked them in the face.

As Garrison Keillor said, MFA stands for “my fabulous adolescence.” More often than not, kids are going to college to get their parents off of their backs, so they can continue their childhood activities with room and board included. They aren’t driven by any sort of occupational passion because kids rarely are. Their passions are for silly shit like noodling around on a musical instrument, playing video games, reading fantasy books, bullshitting with their friends (usually virtually via texting because carrying on a conversation in person would be too taxing), and watching movies or television. An education that provides some value to this kind of kid requires discipline, expertise, and a solid foundation in the sciences, liberal arts, mathematics, and the hard stuff. College has never been for everyone and building a higher education system that accommodates every lazy-ass wannabe is a waste of resources. Let them carry on their fabulous adolescence on their own time.


The Price of Thankfulness

We have a lot to be thankful for this season. We’re in a home we like, in a town we’ve loved for two decades, with new friends and a close family nearby. Financially, we’re better off than most people our age and who were without any significant kind of inheritance or hand-up from our parents. While I was marveling at our good fortune this morning, some not-so-pleasant memories of how we got here came back to me.

In my 30+ year career in music and manufacturing music equipment, I pretty much broke even, economically. The ten years I burned in medical devices—first with Telectronics in Denver followed by Guidant in Arden Hills—were pretty much the source of our current financial stability. After a move to Indiana to work for Washburn/Soundtech turned to crap, a friend opened the door for me into medical devices. Mostly, I took the job because I’d thought medicine had actually done my father some good when he had a heart attack and several bouts with cancer. In retrospect, I probably misread/misinterpreted that event, too. I jumped into medical devices with both feet and as little head as possible. After a 25 year career in manufacturing and field service, I felt that I had a lot to learn and a lot to give to my new employer. Five years later, Telectronics Pacing Systems was all but dead, due to a series of FDA Class I recalls and stupid management decisions and I was looking for a new employer.

I had, however, learned a lot. I’d been part of teams that studied drug and device clinical trials and helped write Tele’s Implantable Cardio-Defibrillator (ICD) FDA trial and product submission. I’d been tossed into the field to learn how to assist in pacemaker implants as part of a trial-by-fire “training system.” I was included in the Education Department’s line-up of “experts” who trained sales representatives and doctors and nurses on the company’s products. I took a large hit in income to get into a new industry, but my temporary single marital status and Colorado’s cost of living was so far below California’s that I made up for a lifetime of living-on-the-edge in a year. Suddenly, I was a homeowner and had savings. My starting wage at Telectronics was pretty sad, but I made up for it by living cheap and repairing a crap-load of audio gear and selling it until I had a stake for a down-payment on a house.

Five years later, Tele was in shambles but I had a “career,” a substantial salary history in medical devices, and some expertise in Tele’s unusual technology that was marketable. So I marketed it. I hustled myself to several pacemaker/ICD companies and ended up getting a good offer from CPI which was about to become Guidant. There were some glitches; CPI separated from Lilly and the pitched and promised pension vanishing before I arrived was one serious glitch. The company hired me like I was a fairly experienced journeyman AAA pitcher, though. A signing bonus, a generous moving allowance, living quarters assistance, substantial assistance in buying a home in Minnesota, and the kind of income I’d made in California, plus bonuses, minus California's cost of living.

I’ve been poor and I’ve been middle class. My “personal Great Depression years” were long, instructive, and sobering. Anytime I’ve been paid more than minimum wage I’ve assumed that something, sooner or later, will go wrong and I’ll be back on the streets without notice. I may be the most economically conservative person I've ever known. I always assume bad times will quickly follow good, even though that has only occasionally be true for me.

The "something that went wrong" with Guidant was Guidant. The company had a reputation, when it was Minnesota's CPI, of making solid, reliable, long-lasting devices with no flash, a little too much size and weight, and basic features. The new Indianapolis Lilly/Guidant management was—empowered by way of outrageous stock options and bonuses—to drive that staid car over a cliff. They pushed marketing and features over the traditional CPI product and corporate qualities and severed the links between manufacturing, quality control, and product development. I moved departments, a couple of times, and my last assignment—quality assurance engineer—was where I finally realized that nothing I could do would affect any outcome in that homicidal, suicidal, and grossly mismanaged corporation. My last assignment was to decouple a product failure database—that I’d spent two years building from scratch—from component and field failure descriptions. The reason for scrambling my database was to prevent the FDA from easily determining relationships between similar and reoccurring product failures; resulting in investigation and likely product recalls.

The Fortune Magazine article, rating Boston Scientific’s acquisition of Guidant as the “2nd worst deal ever” said this about the company’s misfortune, “Guidant CEO Dollens agreed to postpone his retirement to shepherd the transaction with Johnson & Johnson. But what should have been a victory lap turned into a slog through the swamp. In March of 2005 a 21-year-old student named Joshua Oukrop, who had a Guidant defibrillator implanted in his chest, died of a heart attack while bicycling. The defibrillator short-circuited, failing to release the shock that could have saved his life.

“Guidant had discovered the short-circuiting problem three years earlier and had corrected it in new models. Yet the company never informed doctors that devices already in use carried a small but potentially fatal risk of failure. Oukrop's cardiologist complained to Guidant that it should immediately warn doctors about the short-circuiting problem. With the story about to break in the New York Times, Guidant finally came clean, issuing a recall of the flawed defibrillators in June. ”

As usual, Fortune and the major media got most of the story wrong. That “small . . . risk of failure” was actually pretty substantial in the Ventak Mini I & II devices and the PRIZM I & II “fix” didn’t do much to make Guidant’s later devices better. Guidant’s ICDs failed often and catastrophically, sometimes delivering a fibrillation-inducing shock as the device’s last “act” before battery failure. Every one of those failures crossed my desk and ended up in my database. About the time in early 2000 when I was ordered to de-link those product failures, the database contained just short of 1,000 such failures with an unknown number of related patient injuries and deaths.
(Unknown because no one wanted to know that number.) Not long after I got the order to scramble my database, I had some sort of mental breakdown and lost the ability to read. (No, I’m not kidding. I couldn’t even sort out the text under newspaper pictures. Even sportswriters went beyond my capabilities.) For more than a year, I sat at my desk watching product failure data collect dust in my file cabinet, hoping for one patient-advocate doctor to call and ask “Have you ever seen this before?” Finally, it was obvious to me that I was broken and I went on medical leave for a month; until I terminated my Guidant employment rather than carry on the farce that I could do that work again after I "recovered." If I were to keep doing that work, I would have died in more ways than one.

One of those injured patients was a young woman, a single mother my daughter Holly’s age, who had experienced some sort of cardiac issue that gave her cardiologist an excuse to ablate much of her heart’s electrical system. As a result, she was dependent on the device for her heart rate and had been convinced that the defibrillation feature was also useful. (It rarely is.) She’d experienced one of the Mini I failures (and survived the associated shock) and had received an “under warranty” Mini II as a booby prize. Along with that “warranty replacement” came an additional $100,000+ in debt. The company had added about $20,000 to her debt load, since the Mini II was that much more expensive than her failed Mini I, and the hospital and doctors made up for the rest. She wasn’t really calling to complain, but she was hoping there was something I could do to help her find a way to something more reasonable, debt-wise. We had several conversations, as I collected information on both her product failure and the procedure’s billing history. She was the only patient/medical professional I’d talked to who could verify that the device delivered an unintentional shock before failure.

I called everyone who would talk to me about her medical and financial situation. The doctors didn’t give a shit. The company’s sales rep was downright hostile. The hospital accounting people were clueless. Finally, I lucked into discovering that hospitals sometimes have “patient advocates.” This hospital had one who actually wanted to do her job. We came up with a deal, the hospital would absorb all of the charges except the doctors’ bills if I could get the company do refund the replacement device charges. She went first, so I could use that to shame our accounting/sales assholes into doing the right thing. Finally, Guidant’s bean-counters coughed up the refund. Now, I had an ethical hospital doing the right thing and a let’s-pretend-we’re-humans company doing the right thing, so I went back to the doctors. I got the anesthesiologist to kill his bill and the cardiologist gave back a little of his. That was the best I was going to get, so the $100k bill was down to about $8k. Still way too much for a single mother who’d been kicked in the head with medical problems and expenses, but it seemed pretty good to me at the time.

I called her back and got an older woman on her phone. It was her mother. I explained why I was calling, sort of proud of myself for having done something “good” for the first time in my 10-year medical device career. She listened and said, “Thanks for calling, . . . [she] died last week. She had another heart attack.” Another “heart attack.” From what I knew, the chances were good that her Guidant device had blown itself up and killed her. We talked a little more. I hung up and went home for the day. The next day, I called the sales rep and tried to get him to have the device explanted and sent back for analysis. It had been cremated with her, which happened all the time even though cremating lithium-ion batteries is a really bad idea.

You can’t beat cremation for an evidence destroying procedure, though. The doctors didn’t want to know what had happened, the sales rep sure as hell didn’t care, the company was working hard to be sure its ass was covered, and I felt like I might as well have killed her myself.

Not long after that, I left the industry and wrestled with myself for months before I went back to fixing music equipment and, later, teaching. Every Thanksgiving since, I’ve thought about her and my involvement in her “care.” If you want to know why I dislike and distrust doctors, here’s Reason #1; not one doctor in the hundreds I talked to cared why their patients’ device failed. If they’d have asked, I’d have told them. I have no idea who Joshua Oukrop’s doctor was, but he is the needle in a haystack of careless, selfish, lazy and rich doctors who don’t care about patients any more than corporations like Guidant do. Finding a good (as in “not evil”) cardiologist is harder than finding a moral and honest Republican.

I kept a floppy disk with all of my device failure data until we moved this past year, in hopes that someone might ask for it for the first few years and out of habit after that. Tossing that disk into the trash was almost like a ceremony of resignation. Along with it went my medical device resume and all of the stuff I’d written for that industry over my 10 year career. I wish I could forget it ever happened, especially to me.

The experience broke a few bits of me that will never heal. When my wife and I recognize how lucky we are to be where we are today, in retirement and in our home with friends and family, I can not help but remember what I did to get us here. And who paid for it.


#139 Sexism/Racism Logic (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I've probably written on this subject before.  Look it up.  I don't care if I'm repeating myself.  In present times, there is never enough being said about discrimination and the flawed logic that is applied by the folks who discriminate and believe in a social class system so religiously that they would sacrifice 200+ years of social and economic progress to maintain it. 

This is a subject that is dear and near to my heart.  Both of my children are women and they've experienced more discrimination than they could ever deserve.  Many of my friends are non-white and their experiences tear at my heart and make me ashamed of my country and culture. 

Here's the deal.  If you believe, for example, that white folks are superior to black folks, for example, it's simple to prove or disprove.  If a race is superior, all healthy (non-mentally retarded) examples of that race will be superior to all healthy examples of the inferior race.  Meaning, that every white man will be superior in intellect to every black man.  Any deviation from that rule will disprove the entire argument.  If I can find one black person who is more intelligent, more capable, and more educated than a single white person, the entire racial-superiority argument is defeated.  I think even the dumbest Aryan Nation, KKK cracker will be stuck admitting that there are millions of black men and women who could outwit them and everyone in their family in every test of mental capacity except, possibly, who has memorized the most possum recipes. 

The same test, slightly modified, would apply to sexism.  For example, the statement "women are biologically unfit to be fighter pilots" could easily be put to the test.  Since this is a highly skilled, we hope, technical and physical occupation, the "everyman" test is less applicable.  So, I'll modify it.  Now, what we'll say is if every qualified man is superior to every qualified woman, it's fair to say that women are unfit to be fighter pilots.  To test the premise, you'd need a war.  In peacetime, all kinds of crap ends up in the military.  Criminals, high school dropouts, spoiled little rich kids who want to be "officers," and freaks who can't afford their own weapons filter into the military when a country doesn't need the military.

Once the war gets underway, the "professionals" get killed, run away, or are court-martialed for their usual perverse behavior and are replaced by citizen-soldiers.  That's when the demand for talent overrides the impulse to either be politically correct or to be personally biased.  Or, at least, that's when those impulses should be overridden.   

During that period, women and men, provided with the same training, can establish superiority or equality.  Until then, either position is unsupported by evidence.  Until then, it doesn't matter.  During peacetime, the military is an unnecessary luxury that can experiment in any dumbass behavior that it finds distracting. 

And so it goes. 

I suspect that the most qualified woman will be considerably more qualified than the least qualified man, in just about any technical field and, possibly, any physical activity we can imagine.  I am absolutely convinced that the most intelligent, capable, rational, and inventive black/yellow/red/brown person will possess infinitely more of those traits than the least intelligent, capable, rational, and inventive white man.  Regardless of education or cultural advantages, that proves (to me) that racial stereotypes are useless in evaluating either a race or individual members of that race.  Your mileage may vary, but your evidence is all that interests me.

August 2005


#138 Getting a Close-Up Look (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

When I look at the pitiful state of US politics, it's sometimes hard to understand how we managed to fall so far from the ideals of the "Greatest Generation" or Kennedy's "Great Society" or even my own 60's generation's dreams of a fair and bright future with limitless opportunity for everyone. 

Apparently, I only have to cross the street to get a clear understanding of what went wrong. 
I live in a small suburb of St. Paul.  My house backs up to a tiny "lake" that was cut in half by the Interstate system in the 1970s.  After being partially filled in an attempt to kill the lake entirely, the lake was designated a "watershed" and it's been a dumping ground for street and yard waste ever since.

In 2003, the county watershed folks and the incompetent buffoons from the Department of Natural Resources decided to remove local control of the watershed's average height by installing an oversized drain at the lake's outlet.  Being the lowest of low on the engineering totem pole, civil engineers, they mis-measured the original lake height by more than two feet and turned the lake into a muddy, plant-infested swamp. 

After two years of complaints from residents, they allowed a public meeting to complain about the lake and to propose a resolution.  Not wanting to admit that they couldn't use a level and a tape measure competently, they presented residents with a complicated tale of engineering difficulties that amounted to what we'd all expected; they screwed up a very simple measurement. 

Their "solution" was to allow the lake drain to be raised 12-18" to return the lake to "almost it's original shoreline."  However, that solution could only be accomplished if every one of the lakeshore owners agreed to allow the change; in writing.  They were able to screw up the lake without any consultation, authorization, or checks-and-balances, but they wouldn't fix it unless all the i's were crossed and all the t's were dotted. 

Of course, at least one neighbor was overwhelmed by the power to obstruct and we've been stuck with a mosquito-breeding mudpit for at least one more season.  Like the idiot I am, I decided to find out why anyone would want the lake to remain so low that it was useless for any recreational or scenic purpose.  I got an ear-full of modern American ignorance.  

"The city has been dumping on us since we moved here," was the first justification I got from the female of the house.  Their home is at the bottom of a long, sloping cul-de-sac, and has been since it was built in the 1960s.  When it rains, the water funnels down the slope and ends up in their garage and basement.  No big surprise, water has always done that downhill thing and any idiot would have suspected that a house at the low end of a road might collect some water.  These idiots, apparently, didn't know about water and hills. 

Being true, middle-class, white Americans, they expected "the government" to fix their home's design problem.  When that didn't happen, they became bitter, angry, and stubborn.  Our lake's dilemma was practically an answer to a prayer for them.  Even if it didn't solve their more practical problem, they had found a way to irritate their neighbors. 

Probing further in the mind (to abuse a word massively) of my neighbor and nemeses, I discovered that she had latched on to a sentence that described an alternative, $100,000+ study, process that the county could use to justify raising the lake level.  These fine examples of American citizenry interpreted that to mean that there might be $100,000 available for their completely unrelated problems.  When I tried to explain that this was taxpayers' money that would be wasted on an unnecessary study, the bristled and went into a talk-radio-inspired rant about "the government" and some weird shit that I couldn't connect to our topic in any way. 

In the end, she said that she and her pussy-whipped husband wouldn't allow the lake level to be corrected unless "they [the county] buy our property or guarantee that nothing bad will happen."  From her previous remarks I took that to mean that someone would have to provide her with a written warranty that their lives would be simple, responsibility-free, and profitable.  In other words, she was expecting a handout. 

I've heard a lot about how the Boomer Generation is lazy, selfish, and ignorant, but I've been blessed with mostly associating with the complete opposite examples of my generation.  However, I do everything I can to avoid uneducated conservatives, regardless of generation.  From this little excursion into the mind of a typical American middle-class voter, I am reminded of why no rational, intelligent person would get involved in politics.  The country is over-stuffed with uninformed fools expecting a free ride and they are well represented by the current class of corporate shills and conservative clowns who populate local and national politics.  "We have met the enemy and he is us."

July 2005

#137 Fixing the Future (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

My big bitch about modern politicians is with their total lack of vision and leadership abilities.  In the last forty years we've either had cowards and crooks like the Bush clan and Nixon, fools such as Reagan and Ford, the distracted and egocentric underachieving Johnson and Clinton, or Carter's well-intentioned, but incapable micro-management.  The country and the world need and deserve more. 
Take Bush's current fake emergency, Social Security.  An obvious way to fix the possible disaster that could land on our children's shoulders would be for the about-to-retire generation, the Baby Boomers, to . . . not retire.  We could ask, or force, our government to be responsible with the money we turn over to them and we could build an idyllic future for our children.  We could behave responsibly and make sacrifices so that our children could have a better, more secure future. 

"Sacrifice."  What a nasty word.  However, the only way this world is going to resemble the science fiction future we'd hoped for in the 1950's is if we rearrange the world's priorities; especially the United States' priorities.  We need to take charge of our government, make plans for the future, and build a world that resembles something we'd want to hand over to the next generation. 

In the 1960s, the ruling class created the Vietnam "crisis," the 20-year recession, and manhandled the working classes to create a "growth economy" that only provided economic benefits for the leisure class.  Because it looked like working class kids with good educations might be a lot harder to manipulate, they smashed our economy, disassembled the public education system, and promoted the fantasy that "growth is good and necessary" when all evidence points to the contrary.  Population boomed, middle and working class income shrank, working class quality of life shriveled to a miserable bare existence, and science and technology have barely provided a single useful cultural improvement in 40 years.

Yeah, computers are smaller and cheaper.  That hasn't proved to be a terrific social improvement for anyone but the richest and most educated in society.  Cars are practically the same boring, noisy, polluting, and consumptive vehicle they were 50 years ago.  Planes are barely faster, a little noisier, and barely more efficient than they were in the 1960s.  Trains and public transportation are virtually identical to their 1950s versions.  In the modern world self-proclaimed "leading economy," 2005 looks a hell of a lot like 1960. 

All of this happened, or didn't happen, because society and, especially, our government decided on quantity over quality.  It's time to try a different tact. 

Republican "leaders" are advocating opening the boarders for "skilled labor."  Bush claims that there are lots of "jobs that Americans won't do" out there and that we need to import millions of laborers from the third world to fill those positions.  Welders, roofers, computer programmers, and call center operators are among the "jobs that Americans won't do."  We won't do those jobs for minimum wage, especially a minimum wage that isn't even close to a living wage.  That isn't the same as not being willing to work.  Every necessary job in this country could be filled with a current resident if we made the sacrifice to rebuild education, limit immigration, and forced our ruling class to live by the same rules they apply to the majority. 

All things begin at the top.  Morality is a top-down leadership-drive cultural quality.  So is education, motivation, honor, justice, and every other trait that United States' citizens take pride in possessing.  It has been decades since the country has had moral leadership.  Maybe it's time to begin a new American Revolution and to take back the direction of the country before we hand off a worthless shell of a nation to our children.  We can begin that revolution by making sacrifices in our comfort for the good of our children and grandchildren. 

July 2005


#136 Gonzo is Dead, Long Live Gonzo (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

"Doctor" Hunter S. Thompson, the King of Gonzo Journalism, died by his own hand this week.  The eulogies and anthems and homilies began the moment Thompson's son discovered the body and reported it to the Aspen City Police.  This rant has been a bitch for me to write.  I've written it, posted it, removed it, rewritten it, and re-posted it at least four times.  I usually don't rethink my thoughts all that often.  The Doctor made me rethink my thoughts often throughout my life. 

One of the best reviews of Hunter Thompson in life was an article written for, of all places, the Wall Street Journal by Tom Wolfe.  Wolfe and Thompson attracted major league attention to their writing through books about the same general crowd; the Hell's Angels and the freaks who ran with Ken Kesey's Cool Aid Acid Tests.  Wolfe went mainstream almost as soon as he recovered from his Acid Test hangover.  Thompson couldn't find a mainstream with a map and a guide and GPS and a well-marked path.  Hunter Thompson was so completely polarized to oppose the mainstream that he was magnetically drawn off the worn trail, away from conventional wisdom and "common sense," and into the middle of tributaries that ordinary men considered too ferocious and uncivilized to be useful. 

Even in death, Thompson went his own way.  At 67, he apparently shot himself with one of his many weapons.  "Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head," was his son's statement to the local press.  The Doctor had a long history with guns, explosives, fast motor vehicles, drugs and alcohol, and life on the edge of a long, deep, dark precipice.  Recent portraits show a man who put a lot of miles into those 67 years.  Some photos illustrate a man who looked nearly twice his actual age.  He was recovering from complications of a fall, including back pain and a broken leg, which would be enough to make a lot of 67-year-old folks cash it in.  His friends and family saw a collection of warning signs that Thompson was depressed and considering a final exit.  Still, part of me wants to believe that Thompson wasn't as selfish and egocentric as his final moments appear.

Part of me wants to be convinced that The Doctor was something better than human.  This is the age of paranoia and I have yet to see a depth that the neo-Nazi-conservatives won't fall.  Maybe I'm seeing the Gestapo under every unhappy event, but I think the Bushies would torture and kill Christ, Santa Claus, Mother Theresa, Ray Charles, and the Easter Bunny to fatten their portfolios and increase their power.  So far, there hasn't been a report of a suicide note, which seems a bit odd for someone so chronically inclined to write about everything that crossed his mind.  If you do a web search on Hunter Thompson, you'll find articles on everything from politics to the XFL to assassinating rabbits that dared to venture into his "compound" to an in-depth analysis of the Bushies and their sycophants; Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.  Thompson was eternally interested in practically everything that happened in his world.  And he wrote about those things constantly.  Why he wouldn't choose to put down a few notes about his final thoughts is, at least, curious.  That's what I'd like to believe.

Whatever the final story of this benchmark in American literature, I'm going to miss him as much as I miss George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Bertrand Russell, and the growing hoard of people who have changed my world and left it with increased knowledge and wisdom.  Because of Hunter Thompson, I have a different definition of "evil" and "terrible" than the simple concept my father provided for me.  I don't know who has the true fix on those values and terms, but I know which one works for me and I have my experiences enhanced by Hunter Thompson's words to thank for that.

But, man, the thought that the great Hunter Thompson could blow his brains out so that his son and six-year-old grandson would hear the shot and find him and his residue splattered all over the room is beyond distain.  Thompson tended toward egomania more often than not.  He spent most of his life posing as a little boy waving his arms, yelling "Hey, look at me!" He was one of the few people who could control the center of attraction by claiming that he didn't want to be the center of attraction.  Like many dope-inspired artists, Thompson had delusions of worlds revolving around his center of gravity.  At the end of his life, he gave up wrestling with the devil and became one to the family members who cared the most for him. 

For a man who hoped to be so familiar with courage and honor, he failed to die to his own standards.  I have a lot of respect for those who go down in flames, but you have to drag demons into the fire not the people who love you.  Gonzo may have just been ego and that may be the legacy that Hunter Thompson leaves us when all the weights and measures are balanced.

Killing yourself is a bitch, though.  Anyone can talk about doing it, only the truly desperate can do it.  I doubt that Thompson had any fantasies of "crossing over to a better world," so he was giving up on life.  I suspect, that when life becomes so painful that he could make all of the moves necessary to end his life, he had to seize the moment regardless of how inconvenient the moment was for those around him.  Thompson's life was all about seizing moments of all sorts and his death was probably just another such moment.

June 2005


#135 Trade Show Logic (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

You hate to kill the golden goose when the goose is spewing eggs in your direction, but it's a lot easier when the goose is in someone else's yard.  One of my all time favorite geese, when I was in industry, was the trade show.  It's practically impossible to imagine an easier gig for any salesperson, or any other working person, than staffing a trade show booth.  Execs, of course, see trade shows as "hard work," but that simply re-establishes the obvious fact that execs are unfamiliar with the whole "work" concept. 

Trade shows have become consumer product shows in the last couple of decades.  It only makes sense that vendors and show management would want to increase their profits by drawing consumers to their demonstrations.  It makes a little less sense that consumers would want to see the newest stuff as soon as the manufacturers have it ready to be seen.  What doesn't make sense is the idea that consumers would be willing to pay top dollar to experience the same sales pitch they'd receive in a store. 

This past weekend my wife worked her first trade show; a home products show.  The turnout for the show was abysmal, a disappointment even for the trade show management but a complete bust for the vendors.  Over a holiday weekend, barely 500 customers bothered to make the trip to half-alive downtown St. Paul, suffered the outrage of $15 "special event" parking, and coughed up $7.50 for the privilege of having a few hundred salespeople try to sell them stuff they didn't need.  In the end, even the large vendors wondered why they bothered with the show.  There were more vendors on the floor at any time during the show than there were customers. 

While I think that it's interesting perspective, it's even more interesting that so many trade show organizers think the American public is so stupid that we'll pay to be exposed to salespeople and their pitches.  From cars to computers, there are "shows" that are little more than small-time state fair vendor booths hawking their wares to a self-captured audience foolish enough to pay for the privilege. 

Why anyone would pay to be pitched is beyond my comprehension.  As we've all seen over the years of my publishing the Rat Rants, many things are beyond my comprehension.  Cable television, for example.  Originally, cable TV was sold as a way to escape ads by paying for the service directly, instead of indirectly through the irritation of 5 minutes of ads every 15 minutes of television programming.  Today, however, dumbasses pay to be pitched and television executives are laughing all the way to the bank.  The bank where they store their golden parachutes.  On the occasion that I find myself in a cable-ready motel room, I'm always amazed at the dearth of interesting programming and the wealth of advertising to be suffered on cable TV.  More evidence that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public; American or otherwise. 

May 2005


#134 Bashing the Ecology in Fiction (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Way back in my simple youth, one of my favorite science fiction authors was Michael Crichton.  One of the things I like the most about Crichton was his ability to write straight-up science fiction while avoiding the dreaded "spaceship" tag in libraries.  Other than a couple of mediocre social statement books, Crichton has always written SF but he's never been pigeon-holed into that demeaning little corner of our local libraries, next to "detective," "romance," and "western" novels.  I think that's a fairly amazing achievement.  Other, far more technical, more consistently excellent writers, writing far more scientifically and socially valid books, have languished under that nasty space ship curse while Crichton has flourished on the general-fiction best seller lists as straight fiction. 

I still find time to read Crichton's books, within a few months of publication.  I don't enjoy them as much as I did when I was a lot younger, but he usually provides an interesting diversion.  Crichton's newest book may be a little too revealing of from whence he comes.  In State of Fear Crichton releases a moderately scientific ire upon environmentalists.  Somehow, he has decided that environmentalists, who have been mostly irrationally pacifist in their actions to date, are about to become well-heeled, large-scale eco-terrorists.  Is this more evidence that as men age they become timid conservatives?  Maybe, maybe not.

As usual, Crichton's hero is a geek; an MIT-academic who saw the light and fights against the terror of environmentalism.  Somehow, this geek has become an action hero in his spare time, something Crichton is typically short in explaining.  In his most recent books, Crichton has grown short on anything other than lecture space.  In fact, Crichton books feel considerably shorter in page length and seem larger in text size than the average detective novel.  The upside to this tendency is that his books don't take long to read.  The downside is that I often feel a little cheated about the time I am spending on the pages of a Crichton novel; in the same way that I feel cheated when I have the flu, can't read, and waste a day watching television.  The best description I can provide is that it feels like I've allowed someone to pop the top of my cranium and take a dump in the vacant hole. 

If you'd like to read some of the contradicting info to Crichton's fable and pseudo-science, check out The Earth Institute News' "Michael Crichton's State of Confusion."  Take a look at RealClimate.org, while you're in a research mode.  Science isn't Crichton's bag in this book.  He's really writing in the ever-popular liberal-dissenter-bashing genre that's always popular in conservative literature.  Which is interesting because he is a fairly scientific sort of writer and, on general principles, has been about as conservative as Ralph Nader.  In fact, he recently said "When did 'skeptic' become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?"  In a recent speech defending his position opposing global warming and other environmental issues, Crichton went so far as to compare environmentalism to religion, stating that religion has been notoriously useless as a problem-solving tool throughout the history of humanity.  Not a very conservative position, unless you're supporting the primary conservative position that opposes the majority of the evidence science has accumulated. 

The critical flaw in Crichton's logic is that he argues that the majority of folks are tree-huggers.  Therefore, an environmentally conservative position is the "safe" and ordinary position.  His anti-environment position is the "skeptical" and more revolutionary position.  Imagine G.W. Bush as a scientific revolutionary and you'll be able to "feel" Crichton's argument.  However, the overwhelming majority, the consensus, in the United States is far from environmentally concerned.  In a high-energy-consuming, SUV-driving, urban-territory-expanding, corporate-driven-government nation, the average citizen thinks of everything but the environment, first.  "Fear" makes the dubious claim that the national consensus is that the world environment is in danger and that governments should do anything necessary to protect us from eco-catastrophe.  How Crichton derived this conclusion in the face of reality escapes me.  Americans, especially, appear to be less interested in the world ecology and the fate of their children in a world of vanishing resources than any people in the history of the world.  We, in fact, do everything we can to hurry the end of the world's natural resources, including air and water. 

This strange fiction doesn't really seem to be Crichton's personal belief.  Once escaped from the confines of a fictional world of his own creation, he's considerably less conservative.  In a lecture at CalTech ("Aliens Cause Global Warming"), Crichton keeps pounding at religion and faith, calling SETI  ". . . unquestionably a religion," for example.  Defining the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and ecological conservation as flaws in logic, which he defines as "faith" rather than science, Crichton makes a useful point or two.  And he defines faith "as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof."  The CalTech lecture is especially interesting, because Crichton takes on a lot of his pet peeves.  He also sounds more rational than he did as the author of "State of Fear." 

In fact, most of Crichton's CalTech rant could be read as a condemnation of all sorts of religion, including various scientific specialties that approach religious conviction.  He attacks global warming (as he did in "State of Fear"), nuclear winter, SETI, over-population, and Scientific American magazine for their religion-like dedication to limited facts and lack of scientific rigor.  Maybe his real reason for writing a piece as inflammatory as "State of Fear" was to be allowed a forum to express his real irritation, which isn't with environmentalists at all, but with scientists and their false articles of faith.  Unfortunately, he's taken on a collection of his own religious fallacies as evidence against the scientific establishment. 

April 2005


#133 The White Collar Crime Party

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

GeeWiz Bush's close friendship with "Kenny Boy" Lay (ENRON) and a large collection of recently convicted and accused corporate criminals is pretty good evidence that Republicans are closely linked with white collar crime.  Ronald Reagan hardly knew anyone who wasn't a corporate criminal and presented the nation to a close experience with several of those crooks in his cabinet and administration.  As a result, a record number of Reagan Presidential associates were accused, fined, or went to jail during that seriously flawed Presidency. 

The first edition of President George Bush smoothly slipped from hanging with oily white collar criminals to the Presidency and back to his high life with Fortune 500 mafia cronies.  Fahrenheit 9/11 showed us GB 1's close relationship with corporate oil criminals in a scene with a crowd of oil executives and Saudi royalty. 

Here in Minnesota, our current governor Pawlenty was "employed" doing nothing for a year, at $4500/month by his "advisor" and Access Anywhere pay telephone exec Elam Baer.  Pawlenty had this gig for a year running for the highest state office and "serving" in the state legislature. Pawlenty's big money backer asked absolutely nothing from his Republican pool boy for two years, while the candidate established his candidacy.  In exchange for nothing, Pawlenty received at least a $54k "consulting fee" and his backer received "future considerations" (as they say in Republican doublespeak).  Even before the election, the money guy was saying that he'd "received fair value" for his investment in Pawlenty.  We're still waiting to see the pictures of what Pawlenty did to earn $54k.  Access Anywhere and its subsidiaries have been fined for a variety of consumer fraud abuses by several states.

These fine examples of Republican amorality are nothing new for the GOP.  Since Grant, most Republican candidates have been crooks first, politicians second, and Americans behind every other entertainment.  Eisenhower was a slight departure from the norm, but he waited until his last moment as President to, uncharacteristically, lash out at the white collar criminals heading the "military-industrial complex."  Otherwise, his term of office was decorated with scandals and abuses of power and weeks of vacationing at the nation's finest golf courses.  Republicans are nothing if not expert at relaxing and ignoring they job they've been elected to perform.

This year, though, the Republicans are coming out of the closet with the kind of confidence that could only belong to a party that does not fear losing the next election.  They have a right to feel fearless, now that they have fixed national and local elections so that they can "win" any office they decide to fill.  Being unafraid of the whim of democracy, their first act is to provide the same kind of immunity to their white collar criminal buddies.  So, "tort reform" has risen to "the most important problem the nation faces," according to Republicans and their $4,000 suit cohorts. 

"Tort reform," if you haven't been paying attention, is directed at a specific, very narrow aspect of civil law; the part that allows the rest of us to strike back at the abuses of big business and other white collar criminals.  Real tort reform would embrace all aspects of legal time-wasting, including the overwhelming number of frivolous business-to-business lawsuits.  But Republicans, on the rare occasion they develop any practical skills, are occasionally corporate lawyers.  And business law is one of the few places where large companies can beat small companies.  So, this pretense of "tort reform" is only aimed at limiting the capability of class action lawsuits.  Because the last thing a Republican wants is for his gravy train to be taken to court, shown to be as criminal as we all know they are, and deprived of millions of dollars that could be better spent putting a well-connected Republican into political office. 

Forbid the thought that a poor or middle class person might find a way to strike back at a corporation that caused loss of life, limb, or means of survival.  Republicans believe that our courts are reserved for whatever purposes the really evil white collar criminals believe they are best served.  "Tort reform" is intended to protect big tobacco, bigger oil, drug manufacturers, polluters, inside traders, creative accounting executives, and the long list of incredibly rich and powerful white collar criminals. 

The arrogant bastards who are promoting this think you don't have the brains to know what they are doing.  So far, all of their decisions have been based on the assumption that the average US voter is too dumb to know what's good for him.  They're probably right.  The world is still waiting to hear about the first scumbag to go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

April 2005


#132 So Now that You Can't Vote, What Can You Do? (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I predict that the violence this country suffered during the 1960's will return.  In fact, I predict that political assassinations and kidnapping will begin to occur at a state level in Florida and Ohio.  Since Florida and Ohio suspended voter rights to further the neocon Republican agenda, it only seems logical that the violence would begin there.  I could be wrong, maybe people won't care which state politicians they attack, but I think it's inevitable that politicians and the government will come under attack. 

For all practical purposes, Republican power mongers have eliminated the right to vote in the United States.  In most states, Republican radicals have physically taken over the voting machinery and, now, the act of voting is an unnecessary and pointless exercise.  The outcome is predetermined and there is, politically, nothing individual citizens can do about it; nothing democratic. 
Voting is a non-violent, relatively painless way to affect political change.  When fair and honest elections are unavailable, the only method left to affect change is civil disobedience violence.  L.B.J. and Tricky Dick created a similar non-responsive political system in the late 1960s and their political ineptitude spawned the Weathermen, Black Panthers, and the Symbionese Revolutionary Army along with a generation of political activists who often considered violence along with traditional political action. 

The problem with non-democratic political systems is that they have to be totalitarian and viciously self-protective.  The mythical benevolent dictator is an impossible fantasy.  As Phillip Dick wrote, "Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane."  I suppose that explains suicide bombers.  When citizens have no way to change their political system other than through violence, violence becomes a valid and effective political option.  If you can't vote with a ballot, you can always voice your opinion with a bullet, a bomb, or by kidnapping the nearest politician's family members. 

Of course, whoever the powers that be, who are The Powers That Be, will call that response "terrorism."  Terrorism is defined as " the use of violence, or the threat of violence, to create a climate of fear in a given population."  When the "given population" is a group that wields a grossly disproportional amount of power and controls an overwhelming portion of the nation's assets and has worked hard to create a "climate of fear" in the general population, the definition still stands but it doesn't elicit anywhere near as much sympathy for the "terrorized" population. 

The response of many Americans to the Oklahoma City bombing was surprisingly neutral, until the media focused on the injured and murdered children of the federal employees who were attending the government-provided childcare in the federal building.  I was regularly surprised at middle-Americans who felt sympathy for "the kids" and apathy toward the adults who died in that act of terrorism.  These were not just right or left wing extremists, but unbelievably ordinary, middle-class working folks from all areas of life.  Americans, apparently, are incredibly disassociated from their government and the people who work for that government.  So isolated, in fact, that we have a hard time deciding who to root for, the bomber or the bombed, when a U.S. government is blown to bits. 
The current political system is creating an atmosphere ripe for revolution.  In forcing the middle class to carry the weight for the rich, our government is destroying the economic system that created the nation's wealth.  David Cay Johnston, the author of Perfectly Legal, The Covert Campaign to Rig Our tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and Cheat Everyone Else and a New York Times reporter, describes how we suffer under "the only government in the world that is pursuing a low wage strategy."  Our tax system is designed to export middle class jobs, to transfer wealth from the middle class to the rich, and to provide economic security only for the rich; especially the inherited rich. 

If there is a perfectly worthless, deadbeat class in America today, it's the inherited rich who believe they have a right to their sloth and destructive traditions.  You'd think that Americans would be repulsed by the existence of a class of citizens who are "royal" and powerful simply because of their parentage.  We aren't yet, but that doesn't mean we won't get there damn soon.

Without the bright lights and sparkly distraction of television and video games, I suspect that we'd be in the middle of a revolution today.  As it is, most Americans haven't noticed that their children are sliding into an international third-class status as uneducated, unskilled, minimum-wage laborers.  With the deadly combination of religious hallucinations and credit cards, they can distract themselves from the painful facts that should be faced, sooner or later.  But that doesn't mean those distractions will put food on the table or a table under a roof or a roof over a family. 

Society's usual canaries in the mine are already beginning to show the strain, though.  Revolutions are not carried out by the masses.  Only 1% of the population participated in the American Revolution.  Fewer than 1% of the 1960s kids fought against the Vietnam War and Nixon's corrupt administration.  The overwhelming majority of every population is cowardly and conservative, but change doesn't depend on the majority's participation.  Change is driven by a innovative, energized, creative few.  The rest of the human sheep simply follow the flow or hide and watch.  When one mechanism for change is removed (voting rights, for example), another will take its place.  If the United States' government no longer interested in guiding and protecting democracy and freedom, another entity will take its place.  This country's power comes from the middle class and the energy of the middle class won't be contained as easily as the Bushies hope.  Bush should be careful about dismantling the systems of democracy. The tools for change won't vanish, but they will change.  Sometimes, when the tide changes, more than just sandy beaches are washed away.

March 2005


#131 Fat People on Welfare (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Nothing stripes my ass faster than getting stuck behind fat people in the grocery line, trying to pay their grocery bill with food stamps or a Minnesota EBT card.  I don't have a problem with welfare for people who need it, but it's obvious that fat people don't need help finding food.  I'm not buying the hormone excuse, you get fat because you eat too much crap and exercise too little.  Someone on welfare or food stamps should be working way too hard to get fat.  Usually, the cherry on top of the pissed-off donut is the newer-and-far-more-expensive-than-mine, over-sized, typically-American car that the welfare recipient stuffs his and/or her groceries into.

I'm equally incensed by pretty much anyone who abuses public assistance.  Smack on top of my list is every sort of corporate welfare.  Fat cat corporations who are not contributing anything exceptionally valuable to their communities do not deserve public funding.  Sports teams ought to be paying for the privilege of polluting the airways and local traffic with their meaningless "entertainment."  Even asking for concessions on the concessions at pro sports events ought to grounds for public humiliation for those fat cats.  Apparently, politicians are below any threshold of personal honor, since it's never hard to find a crooked pol to sponsor yet another publicly financed gladiator stadium.
Corporate welfare is the norm in this country.  Ethanol, for example, is a spectacular source of welfare in the US.  "Family farmers" are just corporate farms, so protecting that "national tradition" is as stupid as worrying about protecting the last of the slave plantations.  It takes somewhere between 1 and 1.5 btu's of energy to produce a single btu of ethanol, counting manufacturing, processing, and transportation.  My inability to pin down the range of inefficiency is mostly because the folks who create this corrupt pork barrel don't want the average taxpayer who receives absolutely no benefit from ethanol to know how bad they're being screwed.  However, if foreign oil independence is a national goal, wasting 1 barrel of Arab fuel to produce 3/4 barrel of mediocre corn gas isn't going to achieve that goal.  What it does produce is easy welfare money for unproductive Midwestern farmers. 

I think that anyone ought to have exhausted all possible sources of income and sold off all excess property before even considering asking for public assistance.  Welfare is for the poor, not the lazy, not folks who feel inconvenienced by normal business hours, and, especially, not for people who simply can't manage their lives competently.  

A few years back, an acquaintance who had managed to lose a half-dozen jobs in a two year period found himself out of work in the heart of the Bush II recession.  He was already inclined to be an uninformed "conservative," but his experience with the Minnesota public assistance system tipped the scales for him.  He'd been fired, with cause, from his last two jobs and had been in those positions for less than three months.  He wasn't qualified for Unemployment.  He applied for welfare.

In his mind, he "really needed" public assistance.  He was astounded to discover that the state was unconvinced.  Maybe it was the brand new, gas-guzzling double cab 3/4-ton pickup that he drove to the welfare office.  Maybe it was the fact that his wife earned a little above the poverty level at her job.  According to the welfare folks, his problem wasn't that he was poor.  His problem was that he managed money about as competently as George Bush manages the English language.  For some reason, they expected him to give up a little luxury and excess before they were willing to start tossing public money in his direction.

He's no different that corporations who want to tap into the public finance vein.  They're making buckets of money, but they can see that competition might, someday, put an end to their success.  So, they buy a politician, write a bill that provides them with a pile of tax money, and manipulate the system so that they get paid not to work.  It's the American Way. 

Our current tax system is wall-to-wall welfare for the rich.  The rich and crooked get rich on the backs of the middle class.  They elected a deadbeat dope addict to further their agenda and move the cost of maintaining an elite class to the working middle class.  They want to dip their crooked fingers into the national economy and be protected and subsidized while they do it. 

Fat people on the public dole are only slightly more irritating than fat people trying to get onto the public dole without even a half-reasonable cause. 

March 2005


#130 Looking for King George (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

I've heard at least a zillion explanations for why executives are worth the humongous salaries they're paid for doing the mediocre work they usually avoid.  Not a one of those justifications makes a lick of sense. 

The dumbest is the comparison between professional athletes and executive salaries.  The story goes that if an uneducated street kid who happens to be able to run fast, throw a ball hard, jump high, and/or coordinate his hand and eye at a superhuman level is worth X-million-dollars a year, it should be obvious that the CEO of a Misfortune 500 Company deserves even more money for whatever the hell he does.  Sort of an if X=Y, then Z=$6,000,000 kind of logic. 

First, we have some standard of comparison for the athlete, even if it's totally irrational because some dumbass CEO is the fool who decides what the athlete is "worth."  At least the athlete has to be able to do his job well enough to produce points or prevent them from being produced before some silly executive will assign a value to that job.  Second, it's indirectly possible to pretend that there is a marginally direct link between an athlete's performance and the dollars spectators will spend to witness that performance.

No such logic exists for executive salaries.  An exec can completely suck at his job, providing no leadership, no technical skills, no Big Picture insight, and no useful reason for his or her existence and that exec can still drain big bucks from the corporate till.  Any half-competent corporate researcher can find examples of thousands of execs who have mismanaged their company into oblivion and walked away with a magnificent golden parachute.  Sometimes those parachutes can be directly attributed to the company's death and that doesn't seem to phase anyone. 

No, I think the reason American companies pay such ridiculous salaries for non-performing execs is because we're looking for King George. A paltry 1% of the original citizens of the United States participated in the American Revolution.  The overwhelming majority were perfectly happy with taxation without representation and a class system that stifled England into 3rd world status in the next 200 years.  A disgusting number of the elite who participated in the creation of the Constitution wanted a government similar to the one the country had just defeated, many of them urged George Washington to become King George Washington.  Today, most Americans are doing everything they can to return to the social structure and economic system that killed crushed the life out of Jolly Ole' England. 

We're happily and stupidly electing an inherited political system, setting ourselves up for years of inbred Bush family-screw-ups.  We've created a class system of upper crust, Ivy League morons who float to the top of almost every corporate institution, in spite of inability and lack of imagination and infected by the age-old ruling-class-total-absence-of-ethical-standards. 

Humans are an incredibly simple-minded animal, at the core.  We're desperately hoping that there is more to life than . . . life.  We want "meaning" to be applied to this painful and degrading existence, but we don't want to work for that significance.  We want someone to impart it upon us.  Since gods are notoriously absent during times of trial and turbulence, we hope that the gods will speak to "special people": the inherited ruling class.  As stupid as that theory is, it's as old as human society.  If you can find a single example of a king being anything but a drain on his culture or a queen being anything but a useless figurehead sucking the lifeblood away from the folks who do actual work, I'll be astounded.  But I won't be convinced that your one example establishes anything but an incredible example of dumb luck in a single moment in time. 

The best companies are more democratic than autocratic.  The most successful companies in modern history have a structure that is dramatically more flat that pyramidal, decision and salary-wise.  Not that anyone cares.  We're more interested in being comfortable than in being productive.  Apparently, most of us are more comfortable when we're being ruled by a royal class whose inheritance is decreed by non-existent gods.  P.T. Barnum must have been thinking of this trait when he said "there is a sucker born every minute."  The only thing wrong with this sentiment, in 2005, is that suckers are born at a much faster rate. 

February 2005