#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