#100 Falling Top Down (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

If everything is top down, we're screwed.  Our last half-dozen Presidents, from Ford to Bush II, have been, mostly, screw-offs.  Carter and Clinton were, often, relatively hard working (especially compared to the vacationing Ford, the comatose Reagan, and the AWOL Bushes), but their work ethic was often misdirected and unproductive.  Clinton, especially, found too much time to cater to his lower instincts and lost momentum, credibility, and direction from the resulting scandals.  Carter was simply too easily distracted by unimportant crap and pointless detail.  When you think about it, these "leadership" characteristics are pretty constant themes in most US businesses.

If management isn't missing, altogether, from the functions of the business, they have their tiny little heads crammed into details that don't matter, can't be positively affected by someone who isn't dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis, and can only be made worse by the addition of a non-functional manager's participation.  Usually, management chooses to be missing.  Surrounding themselves with other managers, philosophizing about the "purpose of the business," and arranging the perks and benefits available to the ruling class seems to be the only reason most "managers" exist. 

Relate that to our national leaders' performance in the last generation of Presidents and their lackeys.   Ford performed his one and only intended function, pardoning Nixon, and returned to his old Speaker of the House habits; schmoozing with corporate executives and playing golf at every exclusive golf club on either coast.  His three years in office were a waste of time, but they set us up for the future of, especially, Republican Presidents. 

Carter worked his ass off: selecting office equipment, interviewing practically every menial White House potential hire, worrying about the color of new carpets, and rewriting hundreds of pointless government procedures.  As far as the critical functions of the Presidency, Carter forgot what he'd been elected to do.  He forgot the progressive campaign promises he made, and fully intended to keep, in his control-freak over-management of the daily, unimportant functions of his office.  The man couldn't delegate the selection of office supplies, let alone important policy research.  Four years wasn't nearly long enough for Carter to accomplish what he'd intended to do.  Forty years wouldn't have been enough either. 

Clinton was a productive executive.  He worked hard, he kept his eye on his objectives, selected competent advisors and administrators, and got a good bit of the job done; right up until his dick got hard and his brain went soft.  Even with full knowledge that he would be a target for the right wing for any indiscretion or mistake, Clinton stumbled in where almost any rational adult would have reconsidered and regrouped.  Way back in one of my 1998 Rat Rants I wrote, "Is the job of President of the United States so boring that Clinton needs this kind of distraction?"  I still don't know the answer to this question, but it appears that Americans tend to elect folks who aren't particularly interested in doing the job. 

I realize that in some ways it's irrational to look at the President of the United States as a role model for corporate execs.  The President gets paid less than the average CEO of a mid-sized corporation, for one.  But power-wise, nobody has it over the Pres.  Execs can fire people, but the President can pardon them.  If forgiving is more difficult than punishing, you can't top being able to provide a passel of "get out of jail free" cards to anyone you feel good about.  The Republicrats made a big deal out of Clinton's pardons at the end of his administration.  They seemed to have forgotten Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush's pardons of an incredibly large group of administration and corporate criminals.  One of those criminals is currently the Vice President, which puts a different spin on the "vice" in that title.  Or maybe that's what the Constitutional Congress meant when they created the job?

At any rate, if morals, work ethic, and performance standards are shipped top-down from the President to corporate execs, it's no wonder that so few corporate execs are productive.  If they're taking their lead from the nation's top exec, it's a wonder they ever leave the golf course.  Bush II is mostly showing how few days the President can be in the office and still get away with the illusion that he's actually doing some part of the job he was elected to do.  If there is a more unskilled, lazier, less productive exec in the country (and we know there is because this country's "leadership" never fails to hit new lows) you'd think the man would have a full-time nurse to keep his heart beating.  "Management by walking around" has been replaced by absentee ownership. 

As I said in the first sentence of this rant, we're screwed.  The only thing that's holding our economy and political system together is momentum.  And that's being scrubbed off fast.  It's hard to kill a working business, but creative execs have discovered ways to kill almost every type of business of almost every size.  The 4-year period of Bush II brought record bankruptcies of small to huge businesses in the US.  Just about every spot in the economy has been dismal and it's not just middle-class jobs that are vanishing.  The places where the jobs were vanished, too. 

At least with Bush II we knew what we were getting into.  The guy was a failure at everything he'd ever tried; from cheerleading at Harvard to flying flowers for the Texas Air National Guard to massacring the Texas K-12 education system.  His one business "success," managing a baseball team, was a total prop-job.  To mask his incompetence, he was "given" the cash for his share of the team purchase, he was given a job where his sole task was to remain immobile so that he couldn't screw up, and he was prevented from participating in the sale of the team for the same reason.  He still managed to pose for some incredibly stupid photo ops, looking confused, bored, and foolish sitting behind the dugout in complete isolation. 

While the ship is sinking, the corporate rats are trying to eat the band's instruments.  Execs are giving themselves larger and larger golden parachutes as rewards for their total failures as leaders.  Executive boards, who are supposed to protect stockholders from this sort of shenanigan, are crammed with other companies' failed executives.  The rats are guarding the cheese and the result is there's no cheese left.  I guess the "upside" will be when the economy's momentum comes to a grinding halt and we suffer a massive depression.  When home values start falling, interest rates jump, and the economy grinds to a stop (as it did in 1929), the country's complete lack of leadership might get some attention.  But I'm not holding my breath.


3rd World Identifiers

Back in the 80’s, I spent as much time as possible in Baja, Mexico. The only thing about Baja that I didn’t like was traveling the Tijuana gauntlet, where every parked car might hide a “traffic sign” serving as an ATM for one of the city’s cops.

John Oliver recently described the tactic that many American cities are using to tax their citizens and other victims in a segment called “Municipal Violations.” This story, and reality, is evidence that the United States has become a 3rd world collection of urban and state dictatorships “using fines to fund government.”

Tijuana cops had an excuse. They didn’t get paid to be cops. In fact, like bell boys in upscale New York hotels, they had to pay their sergeants for their jobs. The only income they were allowed to “earn” came from trapping white Americans on their way through the town to Ensenada or hunting for a “theater” that features 13 year old girls getting it on with donkeys. One difference between Tijuana cops and American cops is that the American cops are grossly overpaid, underworked, and largely useless. The Tijuana cops were actually pretty good when it came time for them to do their job of protecting the public.   Another difference is that the Tijuana cops understood they were shaking down the public to feed their families. American cops present a fake image of enforcing the law while they pad their pockets with stolen loot, inflated pensions, and a slacker’s work day that would embarrass one of the Bush or Koch kids.


#102 A Most Irrational Animal (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Humans are exceptional strange animals.  We are the only animal capable of imagining that we are so special that we're going to a life after death.  And we're the only animal that is terrified of death. 

I know, you've watched the Discovery Channel and you've seen terrified prey fleeing predators, so you think all animals are afraid of death.  That might be an interesting theory if those same animals didn't give in so quickly once they're captured.  When a deer gets snagged by a lion, the deer usually quits fighting and waits for the end to come.  I've interpreted that not as a fear of death but of pain.  Once the pain is in process, the animal wants death to end the misery as quickly as possible.  Humans, on the other hand, seem to be considerably less afraid of pain than of death.  We'll submit ourselves to all kinds of pain to stave off even a few seconds of life before death.

The exceptions to this rule of humanity are martyrs.  Martyrs are either confident that their faith is correct and that they've been "on the side of God," or that their cause is right and they are willing to sacrifice their lives to improve the lot of those that live after their deaths.  The majority of humans may pretend to some kind of faith in a life after death, a benevolent god, or the cause of king and country, but they know better.  Deep inside, they know once they are dead, they're dead. 

With industrial age medicine, we have provided ourselves a way to prolong life and pain in exchange for putting off death.  Since the first medicine men appeared, humans have tried to hang on to a few more moments of life even if those moments are full of pain and suffering and incapacity.  We're not doing this to prevent our loved ones from suffering.  Our suffering and disability makes life much harder for them.  We're not hanging on to life so that we can take advantage of the opportunity to rectify the wrongs we've done when we were young and vital.  Most folks simply return to their old life without even thanking the doctors and nurses who gave them the additional time.  This is a purely selfish and faithless act and, as such, it's interesting.

The majority of educated humans do not actively participate in religious activities.  Churches are finding themselves mostly loaded with low-brow fools who desperately want someone to tell them what to do next.  That's a pretty ideal market for what churches have to sell, but it does limit the intellectual future of those organizations.  Today's religious "expert" is the intellectual equivalent of the ordinary layperson of 200 years ago.  A business or a country would be panicked at this kind of brain-drain, but religions have always catered to a baser audience so they, mostly, don't notice the loss of intellect.  Certain sects are probably discovering that it is easier to find dumb kids to molest, but, otherwise, the majority of their patrons are the same dumb, unquestioning folks they have always been. 

All this beings us back to the point of today's rant; the human fear of death.  It ought to be obvious that anyone who is afraid of death is a person who understands the finality of that event.  A "true believer" would look forward to leaving this existence and moving to the promised land.  The rest of us know that dead is dead and that spirituality is just an exercise in socializing a relatively unsocial animal.  Spirituality has mostly been unsuccessful exercise, based on human history at a macro or micro level.  Simply entering a hospital is an act of unfaithfulness.  Submitting yourself to major surgery is downright atheist. 

I don't have a disagreement with atheists.  All available evidence points to the fact that the universe is not designed to promote life and that there are no gods hidden in the ether to protect us from obsolescence.  I do question the sanity and honesty of folks who act faithlessly and pose among the faithful.  You either know that this is life your one and only shot at existence or you believe you're going to heaven to enjoy 22 virgin white grapes (or salamanders or human females) for eternity.  Having it both ways is an act of disbelief and, you'd think, that would be a major sin in the eyes of most gods.


The Good Old Socialist Days

The three old douchebags I got stuck with earlier this week made me think back to those “good old days” they remember so well as being full of capitalism, freedom, religion, and unrestrained racism. Being older than any of them, I actually remember some of those days. Those days were definitely dominated by the old, but they were not good. The good parts of the 1950’s were all inspired by the rampant socialism left over from the revolt against the 1% my grandparents’ generation had waged after those inbred morons (the 1%, not my grandparents) crashed the stock market in 1929, destroyed the economy in their efforts to save their own wealth, and tried to turn the country into a corporatist/fascist state like their hero nation, Germany. Roosevelt’s legacy was continued by Truman and Eisenhower and until Nixon and his thugs came along it looked like the US might remain prosperous indefinitely. Socialism was at the core of that middle class prosperity.

For instance, in my hometown, Dodge City, Kansas, the city owned the utilities (except for the telephone company), a hospital was co-owned and operated by the city and the Methodist Church, and one of our two radio stations was publicly owned. We had a country club with a  fancy swimming pool and a golf course on the eastern “rich side of town,” but the poor side of town had a great public swimming pool on the edge of Wright Park (a park donated by Bob Wright of Wright and Rath General Store infamy from Dodge City’s rowdy days) and the west side of town had the American Legion’s club with a sand green golf course and another fine swimming pool. The city also maintained a zoo, a miniature golf course, a performance gazebo, and a small carnival area in Wright Park, where families spent a lot of picnic weekends and adults used the park for company and organization parties. The park was, in fact, a show place for the city; all paid for with taxes and maintained by city workers. A lot of the park construction was from the 1930’s and the work was done by Roosevelt’s Conservation Corps. The city also owned a “civic center” where concerts, sporting events, conventions, and other large events took place; all without naming the building after some corrupt corporation. (Today, that same building is named the United Wireless Arena).

Although John Kennedy and Congress lowered the top income tax rate from 90% to 75% in 1961, there weren’t a lot of obviously rich people in town, but there were a lot of very comfortable people. In fact, the most wealthy people were, as usual, old money folks who hid in their mini-mansions on the east side of town near the country club and hung out with other old money people. It was generally recognized as tasteless to flaunt your money and my step-grandparents knew a lot of the rich folks through their flooring business. As a Servicemaster company, and a part-time employee, we did some repair and remodeling work in their homes. Mostly, they spent more money for the same things as real people, although they spent more for similar services and products.

027a_Dodge_CityThe big difference between then and now is obvious in both the town’s appearance and the economy. Downtown Dodge is dead. Even a promotional photo like the one at left can’t hide the fact that the core of the city is a ghost town. The old hotel, once a showpiece of the city, is a shabby collection of city government offices. All of the old department store buildings are empty or they host a collection of second-hand stores (a sure sign of a dead town). There is a middle class, but it is a very precarious existence with debt, income, and emergency money all on a knife-edge. The slightest adverse breeze could blow it all down, as it did in 2007.

Today, the town’s tax and income base is primarily made up of residential property taxes, sales taxes, and traffic fines. The parks are in shambles, Walmart is the primary retail game in town, the public schools are in the same kind of condition Kansas schools all suffer, and the wingnut press has done a fine job of turning lower income whites against lower income Hispanics and African Americans.


#99 Special Interests and Growth (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

Every time an area experiences an economic boom, property taxes rise.  Why is that?  Isn’t it  logical to expect the growth to pay for itself?  If the growth is really a good thing for everyone who lives in an area, you would think that would be reflected in lower taxes, not higher.  The addition of buildings to undeveloped land increases the value of the land and should return higher income to the county and state.  Farm land earns a lower tax rate than developed land.  But it never seems to work this way.  Why?  Maybe it’s because disguised special interests are calling the shots and diverting the costs of growth to people who shouldn’t have to pay it.

In the case of public funds and area growth, special interests abound.  Everyone who gains from an increase in the tax base is a special interest.  The obvious special interests, and rightly so, are developers, contractors, and real estate salespeople.  This group has a lot to gain from conning the public into paying for their investments. They would love to spread the cost of schools, roads, utilities, and other public services over the entire taxpaying population.  If those costs were borne by the people who reap the most benefit, the cost of housing would limit their profit margins and slow growth considerably.  They can always be counted on to contribute funding for a bond issue’s advertising. 

But these easy targets aren’t the only people who gain disproportionately from growth.  The two elements of greed, power and money, can help identify those who will gain from growth and, even, overpopulation.  Government officials can expect open paths to promotion, increased income, and larger “empires” through population growth.  It’s pretty obvious that a mayor of a 10,000 population town is going to make a lot less than Randy ("I can't remember who my date was") Kelly.  Kelly probably has more bodyguards than many towns have employees.  Empires are built on employees.  Salaries are based on the number of people supervised and complexity of the managed facilities.  This may also be where a big part of this exponential cost of growth comes from, too.  Large cities are not as efficient as small cities.  Large cities have more employees per taxpayer, more expense per employee, and some expenses that a small town wouldn’t even consider.  If this is what growth brings, who needs it?

If you expect government officials to present an unbiased opinion of the value of growth to the average citizen, you probably wouldn’t be skeptical of Mike Tyson’s intention toward your daughter.  Growth simply presents too much to gain for people whose income and power is based on taxation and population.  You can’t expect people to resist the temptation to look for only the upside of an issue that will dramatically and positively effect their pocketbooks. 

The rule in solving crime is “follow the money.”  This rule applies to finding the special interests who might commit the crime of destroying a community for the sake of growth.  Using this formula, it is clear that it will be difficult to accept a local newspaper as an unbiased source of information, also.  School system administrators are going to be in line for salary increases relative to the size of the schools they administer, also.  Even the police department may be pro-growth for the same reasons, although the officer on the beat will have to deal with more crime and more corruption, the department administrators will make more money and gain more power. 

When growth is a good thing, the gain is spread around equally and it is in everyone’s interest to promote it.  When growth is a bad thing, the majority of people who are asked to pay for it don’t gain proportionally to their investment; or they lose with no voice in that investment, which is what Amendment I was intended to stop.  When taxes must be raised to subsidize growth, that growth isn’t paying for itself.  The people who are reaping the largest rewards are paying only a small portion of the total investment.  When the growth produces more government jobs, it isn’t really doing the community a favor.  Someone will have to produce something real to pay for those government jobs.  When the major investors in the area don’t live in the area, the lion’s share of the benefits don’t return to the community that has paid for those resources.  Putting profits into national and international corporations’ won’t return a reasonable payback, on a long term basis.  It isn’t selfish to expect a fair return on your tax investment.  If the local government hasn’t done a good job with its funding in the past, nothing about new funding will change the people who spend it.  If you won’t get that return-on-investment, don’t spend the money. 

One way to estimate which side of an issue is not looking out for your best interests is to look at the quality of the flyers you receive.  The better they look, the better that side of the cause is financed, and you know good causes aren’t often well financed.  Money seems to flow downhill, ethically speaking, and grassroots movements don’t get much of it.  The best way to determine where your interests stand is to get involved.  Find out how your money is spent.  Learn to read budgets and force government officials to make those budgets available to taxpayers.  There is no reason why cities and states can’t follow the Clinton administration’s lead in making complete budgets available in electronic format.  That would minimize the cost of publishing these documents and allow the public to assist in analyzing the cost of government.  The more we know, the better we can run our country, cities, and neighborhoods.  If we care, the people who work for us in government will care.  If we don’t, we deserve the government we get.

September 2004

Shootin’ for Fun

131212_CRIME_GunOwner.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeLast weekend, I had the pleasure of having lunch surrounded by gun fanatics. No matter what these characters have to say for themselves and their “constitutional rights” to own an armory, there is a pretty good chance that most American gun owners are either dangerous neighbors or crazy scared. Maybe both. Jim Jefferies pretty much wraps up all of the rational reasons society should be get worried about gun owners. He blows off the “bullshit arguments and lies” that are the cornerstone and marketing plan of the NRA and its friends. Not one of these guys was man enough to admit that the whole reason they didn’t like gun laws or any attempt to design a sane society their whole defense was “Fuck off, I like guns.” In fact, they were pretty damn defensive about both their sanity and the sanctity of our mostly fucked up Constitution.
inlinecharts4-v2There is, though, one good reason a huge number of Americans want to have a gun: Yep, men in particular want to be sure they have a handy exit plan, just in case, as Jim said, “From time to time, we all get sad. One day you’re happy, the next you’re sad.” We don’t buy guns for protection from much of anything except depression. Since we’ve abandoned all hope of having a national health care system, especially mental health, that doesn’t bankrupt anyone who doesn’t have a few million in the trust fund, we gotta have guns.
best-funny-pictures_safe-gunIf a manufacturer had balls enough to design a gun for the current gun owner market, it would be a very purpose-built device. For white people (men, mostly) it would look like the pistol at left. The cylinder is solely for the purposes of playing Russian roulette, since most of us only need one bullet. White people commit 75 suicides for every 15 homicides per million people. Black people are different, thanks to the NRA and our half-hearted police state. 150 black people are murdered by guns for every 27 who take themselves out (I’d imagine mostly middle class black people have the same issues as their white neighbors.). The self-defense statistics are so small they are not worth considering. The people who own guns for self-defense are so rationally-and-mathematically-challenged they should be carefully placed in padded rooms and heavily medicated.

B9315796180Z.1_20150109164641_000_G8H9KG23F.1-0The “in defense of freedom” argument is the most bullshit of all gun nut arguments. Yeah, right, you pussies own guns “in case the government became a bunch of cunts and you all could fight back.” The Revolutionary War was the one and only instance in American history where that actually happened. Sure, there are lots of instances of superstitious nuts going Waco on local police over silly shit like their right to have sex with children or defending their take on when and how the Great Kahuna is going to haul all of his/her children up to the Great Rock Candy Mountain. Careful examination of those situations would reveal that the government might have been less than A-Team’ish in their efforts, but the “bunch of cunts” group has been consistently on the other side of the wall.  In the most recent case, the wad of deranged crackers defending a fellow racist, millionaire cracker’s right to decimate public land for profit and greed, my point was made painfully well. Since 1776, there hasn’t been a single instance of patriots gearing up and heading off to protect fellow citizens who have been deprived of their rights. In fact, in my experience the gun owners have been pretty consistent in their support of the government when it comes to violating voting rights, petitioning for the right to work in safe and fair conditions, protecting the environment, or promoting any “civil rights” that don’t make the 1% richer. If modern white gun owners were tossed back to Revolutionary War times, they would all be Tories.


Nothing Changes, Nothing to See Here

Forty-three years ago, in 1972, Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern selected Thomas Francis Eagleton to be his vice-presidential partner. By August, McGovern had abandoned Eagleton because of his history of depression treatment. Supposedly, a poll found that 77% of prospective Democratic voters said "Eagleton's medical record would not affect their vote." I’d find that hard to believe, but Americans wanted to imagine themselves to be more civilized than they do today. Eagleton returned to the Senate, won two more elections, and retired after a weird blackmailing affair with a niece, a local lawyer, and the Scientology organization. Eagleton was a key player in the Senate's foreign relations, intelligence, defense, education, health care, and environmental legislation. He was an important Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act sponsor. He and Frank Church sponsored the amendment that halted the bombing in Cambodia and effectively ended American involvement in the Vietnam War. Still, to most conservative Americans (the majority of Americans), Eagleton was the “crazy McGovern VP.”

The Greek father of medicine, modern or otherwise, Hippocrates described “melancholia” as a disease with both mental and physical aspects. "fears and despondencies, if they last a long time"1 as the earliest and not yet improved upon description of depression. Freud discovered or pronounced nothing new about depression and not much of value has come about since. So, a couple thousand years of avoidance and denial has led us to where we are today with a minimum of 7% of the US population suffering from a well known, totally misunderstood mental disease that offers largely unsuccessful therapies and the joy of social stigma. The modern approach is to bury the patient in side-effect-laden but ineffective and dangerous drugs (“Why Are More than One in Ten Americans at Risk for Suicide?”). While these drugs are barely or rarely as effective as placebos,  they are a big money-maker for the dope peddlers. In 2013, the dope dealers made $11B on antidepressants alone. No wonder these assholes are spending so much money fighting marijuana legalization. They are just fighting off the competition.

Since 1974 a lot of noise has been made about improvements in mental healthcare but there is no reality behind that noise. The stigma that existed 100 years ago remains, largely, unchanged today. In 2013, 41,149 US citizens committed suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.  And that is with the unmentioned understanding that suicides are dramatically underreported due to . . . yep, the stigma of mental illness. Even the survivors are unable to admit their loved one was ill. As an illustration of that national reality-avoidance, no accurate national suicide attempt statistics are kept. However, in 2013 494,169 people were hospitalized for “self-harm behavior.” There is a sexual component to US suicides, too. Men are 4 times more likely to kill themselves, but women try to kill themselves 3 times as often. You could argue that women are more likely to make a “cry for help,” but you could also argue that men are just more mechanically competent in their attempts. Men are a lot more inclined to use guns for this purpose and firearms account for 51.4% suicide deaths.

The first requirement to fixing a problem is to admit you have a problem. The only admission allowed to mental illness is suicide or at least a fairly serious attempt, which in 1-out-of-12 examples doesn’t do much to fix the problem for the person making that admission. The effectiveness of further attempts is depressingly high. The medical profession ridicules poorly executed attempts as “a cry for help.” If that were true, it’s pretty obvious that crying for help in the direction of American medicine is misguided. You might as well ask a tiger to care for a baby lamb. If US doctors don’t see a dollar sign swirling around your head, they’re not interested.

Outside of the drug profits, all of this self-destruction is socially expensive, too. The estimated US suicide death expense was more than $44 billion in 2010. Even the failures are far from cheap, costing about $2 billion for medical care plus $4.3 billion in lost wages and productivity and other costs. In a so-called capitalist society, you’d think the shear expense of suicide—successful and unsuccessful—would make us do something about all of this self-destruction. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not the worst, most suicidal, country in the world. In fact, we’re #30 behind such wonderful places as Greenland (#1), Lithuania, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Russia, Poland, and South Africa. Also, we’re slightly less self-destructive than Japan, Belgium, Finland, Austria, and France. The top ten suicidal countries have some pretty amazing rates of self-destruction from 83/100,000 down to 20/100,000. From there on, though, the next 50 slowly decline in self-annihilation from 20/100,000 to 10/100,000. The USofA is pretty much in the same territory as Bulgaria, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Cuba, Romania, and the UK. Apparently, political and economy systems are disconnected from suicide rates. Neither capitalism, monarchies, fascism, communism, socialism, dictatorships, democracies, anarchy, order, rich, poor, middle class, rural, urban, suburban, and every other description I can use with which to describe a society seems to produce relatively the same rate of self-hate.

Greenland, for some reason, is a standout with 1-in-4 Greenlanders attempting to kill themselves every year and with the world’s highest rate of self-destruction. Greenland’s streets are decorate with signs advertising suicide prevention hot lines, “The call is free. No one is alone. Don't be alone with your dark thoughts. Call." So far, that tactic has been ineffective. People, especially teenagers call the hot line and discover that they are, in fact, alone. We are all alone in ourselves. I suspect that, once they hear the usual perfunctory “we are all in this together” drivel they are even more inspired to put an end to their misery.

In the last couple of decades, I’ve lost three friends to suicide. For a while, back in the 80’s, it seemed like everyone I knew was contemplating—out loud—suicide and taking a shot at it. Supposedly, suicide is “catching” and I’ll admit that knowing people who have checked out for a variety of non-medical motivations makes considering the option a little easier. Malcolm Gladwell calls that a “contagious idea.” That’s possible, but I doubt nearby suicides are the cause of following events.

The fact that the sacrifice needed for any hope of a cure for depression is to suffer the slings and arrows of exposure, stigma, ridicule, followed by even more isolation looks more suspiciously causal to me. Asking for help when the brain doing the asking is the source of the disease is not much different than requiring a cancer victim to administer his own radiation therapy. That is, of course, unacceptable. Because if we admit we need help, we’re weak. If we can’t fix ourselves, all by ourselves, we’re just like that “crazy McGovern VP.” Americans can forgive drunks, drug addicts, cowards, liars, criminals, draft evaders, traitors, National Guard A.O.W.L. rich kids on a bender, complete idiots, greedy bastards, adulterers, and every sort of low life. But our society is incapable of forgiving people for mental illness. In fact, we’re going backwards. The general distain for a “mental illness defense” is evidence that our societal tolerance and compassion for the mentally ill is going backward. Texas and Florida appear to revel in executing the mentally ill and a few other states are showing signs of jealousy.

I don’t think any of this bodes well for any honest attempt at attempting to contain our suicide epidemic. And, if we were capable of honesty, it’s pretty obvious that any physical disease, product, or activity that caused this kind of death, destruction, and expense would be front page news and Fox Views and the other panic generators would be freaking out.

1 Hippocrates, Aphorisms, Section 6.23


#98 Redneck Conservatives

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

[This is another old rant, pre-Rat, in fact.  The original piece was published in the Orange County Register, in 1986.  I discovered it in a fit of hard disk sterilization and it seemed appropriate to this year just as it did during the Reagan years in SoCal.]

The onslaught of "redneck" conservatism is prompting me to write this.  A combination of the micro-minded (I apologize for the Communist metric term.) state representatives Dornan, Ferguson, and their supporters, the comments of the Contra Costa County District Attorney (DeBeer, L.A. Times, 6/22/86), the insidious attack on free speech that the Meese commission's blackmail represents, and our pitifully confused president's defense of his awful court selections have overwhelmed me.  I am under personal pressure to defend the "real" standards that America represents.  Standards that were expressed and well documented by the "real" Founding Fathers; not Reagan's contra imitations.

First, I want to establish two definitions. 

The Right often applies the descriptive terms "Bolshevik", "commy", "red", "pinko", and (when they are feeling sociable) "socialist" to any opinion and opinion-holder on the liberal side of George Patton.  When this scale of analogy is applied to themselves (as in "Nazi", "fascist", etc.) the right wing acts like they have been horribly wounded.  Tough.  If you can't take it, don't dish it out.  On an unnecessarily civilized scale you good ole boys are practicing vicious forms of argumentum ad hominem (personal slander) and ignorantiam (ignorance).  If you can't be restrained to argument by the logical rules of debate, don't expect your opponents to be so shackled. 

The second defiled word that I want to reclaim is "conservative".  The present political definition of "conservative" is a fundamentalist, anti-human rights, supporter of the loudest, most macho posturing demagogue (unless the "conservative" is that demagogue, then he simply supports himself).  Webster's has a more satisfying definition; "a cautious or discreet person...tending to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions...marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners."  I believe that definition applies to many of the people that the right opposes and few of the politicians they support.  Especially the last section; "elegance, style, or manners" are in short supply from the far right.  Take a look at the Times picture of Dornan and Ferguson (Hayden, L.A. Times, 6/24/86) for examples. 

I think any intelligent reader of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Jefferson, Paine, Washington, Whitman, or Thoreau would be forced to link Tom Hayden's positions closer to a true "American" stance than the rantings of Bobby Dornan or the posturing of Guilt Ferguson.  The difference between the quality of Dornan's "a liar . . . a coward . . . and a traitor" (or Dornan's ranting at a closed door, "I am a member of Congress!") and Hayden's "My country, let me right the wrongs" should shed some light on the subject.  These two "conservative" politicians remind me of another phony patriot's heroism.  Anybody ask where "Rambo" was during the Vietnam period?  He wasn't hiding behind twenty layers of officers and enlisted men, but he was safely in a foreign country exposing his chest at a girl's school.  It doesn't take courage to assume a right-wing stance. 

This country is full of simple people, who will follow the man who tells them they are "number one".  They will follow him off the tallest cliff top.  Hitler didn't go against the popular grain.  Dornan and Ferguson know where the prevailing winds blow.  They know the cost of fighting the crowd (They may not have a motive, though.).  History contains a long list of men without morals and/or wisdom who followed the chanting of the masses.  It does not present them well.

I can't give a retired general much credit for patriotism.  Possibly radical protectionism, but not patriotism.  Scores of these profiteers parade their self-claimed heroism after short twenty-year careers of poor quality middle-management while having their every whim catered to by enlisted boys.  Then, using the guise of "sacrificing servant", they double-dip into the public coffers with civil service careers or political ambitions; paid for by the companies whose over-run, pitifully-designed products their mis-managing allowed into the cynical military industrial simplex.

Military men are military men.  They aren't about ideology and it doesn't matter which side they are on.  For them, the struggle between right and wrong is reduced to tactics and firepower.  If our imagined invaders leave anybody in place, it will be the middle-to-upper military management.  It would not be cost-effective to replace them, since they won't need re-training or expensive additional linguistic education.  If they are left in place (or slightly re-sorted) they will carry on as before with a few new phrases to shout at their fool soldiers.

During a recent conversation about the real or imagined threat presented by Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union, I began contemplating what changes would occur from such an invasion.  The most radical right-winger's scenario goes along these lines: The far-right often uses examples of what sets us apart and above the "communists".  Freedom of speech and press is often example numero ono.  I've noticed that "conservative" politicians seem to be in the forefront of censorship's fan club.  I suspect that they are merely honestly interested in their own comments and would be strongly in favor of shutting the rest of us up.  Freedom of religion is close to every rightist's heart.  Especially those fundamentalist types who offer the rest of us the freedom to join their religion or find somewhere else to live.  And we can take our radical, pornographic, or un-nationalistic free press with us!  Their interpretation of these freedoms seems to closely resemble the freedom another Mr. Christian offered Captain Bligh. 

I could be missing something, but this all seems suspicious.  It has been often noted that government officials are most interested in limiting access to documents that chronicle their foul-ups and criminal actions.  I suspect that the government officials in the Kremlin who are responsible for the notorious communist press repression are the same kind of people that are interested in that sort of authority in our own government.  In fact, I suspect that, if the Russians could have non-violently overthrown our political system, they would employ the same people just to simplify the language difficulties that a new government would face.  Walt Kelly and Pogo might be even righter (no pun) than ever with "We have seen the enemy, and he is us."

From sometime in 1986


#97 Management Perks and Necessity (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

From the working class employee’s perspective, "upper management" is the portion of the company that has no purpose.  The higher-ups attend every party-time trade show, personal improvement seminar, and marginally work-qualified travel junket the company can afford.  They often attend events the company can’t afford.  In many organizations, a "need/not needed" formula can be applied to the company’s positions: “the people who are required to do work are necessary, the people who are are not are expendable.”  Using this formula, you may find that most of your company’s executive branch is expendable. 

For example, assembly personnel are logically required to be at their work stations on time, every day, for the whole day.  They have to be in place because they are part of a  process that allows for no surplus staffing.  Many executive positions are allowed total freedom of  arrival and departure.  They don’t have to be in place because the company will function just as well without them.  Their absence is often an improvement in the workplace.  Using my formula, these executives are expendable and the assembly personnel are not. 

I’m not interested in why business works this way, it just does and every company generates its own reasons for executive existence.  “They were there first,” is as good an explanation as you are likely to get.  What I am interested in is the few managers who actually want to make a contribution and don’t know what that contribution should be.  So, if you believe you “deserve” your big office, your tiny work load, and your out-of-proportion salary, find something else to read.  The rest of this article is going to continue to insult you and question your value to your company, the economy, and world ecology.  If you want to make an important contribution to your company and employees as a member of what Peter Drucker calls “the management class,” please read on and I hope to repay your effort.  You are a rare bird who needs help to avoid extinction. 

A simple perspective every manager should take is, “What services do I manager provide to the people who work for me?  Do those services justify my existence to them and to my own managers or customers?  How do I add value to those services so I can continue to justify my existence and increase my value in the future?”  The answers to those questions will return an answer to the next question, “What am I worth to my customers?”  You can replace “customers,” with employees, supervisors, other departments, and the end users of your product or service.  In most companies, the customer is the enemy; no matter where he comes from.  In a well run company, customers come from every direction. 

In the usual organization, the only real customer inside of the organization is the CEO, owner, or Big Cheese.  If Cheese has lost that critical bit of perspective, the company will exist soley to provide for his gratification and only the foolish dedication of a middle manager or two will drag out the company's painful death.  If Cheese has at least some grasp on reality, he or she will give some direction to the people who do the work and that will contribute enough to the company direction to prevent bankruptcy.  If your name is Cheese and your style falls in these two categories, either you go away or your company will; it’s only a matter of time.  If Cheese is one of those rare birds who recognizes and promotes the company’s real customers, the problem becomes a matter of pursuing excellence with some real hope of achieving it. 

How do you know if your company is mismanaged?  If you are the mismanager, you probably don't have any way to know, because your employees won't be honest with you and you aren't likely to be honest with yourself.  But positive answers to the following questions are a good sign that your company is troubled:

  • Is there more than one corporate vice-president? (If the country only needs one, and no one knows what he does, why do companies need more?) 

  • Are the executives more inclined to play golf/tennis/etc. than to do work? 

  • Does the company tend to have "jeans days" when the execs are on business trips? 

  • Do people act cautious when you're around?

  • Get resources, protect from other managers and customers, play politics?

  • Do unsigned memos about “dysfunctional companies” appear on your desk? 

The most important thing to remember about managing is "power corrupts."  If you know that your position is corrupting you and you attempt to limit that effect, you have a shot at doing something positive in your position.  If you pretend that it can't happen to you and ignore your power abuses, you will drift into uselessness; eventually becoming a person the company can do without.   

September 2004