#169 Moderating the Moderates

Being a "moderate" has always been a relative thing in the history of humanity. "A one-eyed man among a nation of the blind" is a long, sad tradition for our species. A constant reminder of this sorry fact is shown to us every time an atheist is interviewed on radio or television. The overwhelming majority of "unbelievers" are rational, scientific, humanistic, and well-spoken examples of the best from our species. However, every time a statement of doubt is expressed by someone not possessed by delusions of grandeur, that statement must be "modified" by a representative of the much more typical insane breed of "believers." In fact, in a recent collection of programs on "the new atheists" more time was given to rebuttal statements from the religious insanity crowd than was provided to the topic of the program. The supposed "liberal" NPR, PBS, and major media all committed this sin of cowardice within the last few weeks.

The reason for this spate of self-flagellation is a collection of books on "faith" that are so well written, so brilliantly considered, that even the occasional religious nut might reconsider his fantastic beliefs if exposed to the thoughts of these writers. Sam Harris' The End of Faith is one of these books. Harris' book is, if anything, a 237 page text that could be used in a philosophy logic course. Instead of taking the Rat Road, also known as the Sam Kinison Screaming in Your Face Tactic. In his rational but inspired approach, Harris uses basic logical argument, page after page, to point out the inconsistencies in the "god myth."

For his efforts, Harris was described as "the most shrill of the New Atheists" in a CBS program on the subject. Although, in the brief moment he was portrayed in this hack job, Harris was as calm, well-spoken, and rational as is the text in his book, the "moderate" religious nut CBS used to rebut the statements of the New Atheists claimed that Harris was the most extreme of the new class of non-believers. Apparently, logical thinking is "shrill" compared to the ranting, hillbilly-raving, tongue-speaking, wild man talk presented on almost every television channel every Sunday morning? I guess the MSM likes its crazies to be consistently and completely crazy.

One of the best, most rational pair of sentences ever written by a human is in the introduction chapter ("Reason in Exile") of Sam Harris' The End of Faith: "Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." From there, Harris spends most of his time discussing how people of "faith" use irrational self-delusion to protect themselves from having to evaluate the nutty things they say in the same way they'd evaluate crazy talk in areas outside of religion. It's a logical, well-considered approach that is as likely to convert religious whack-jobs as it was possible that Dubya actually earned a college degree by studying.

What I'd like to know, however, is why the media has made a habit of rebutting every rational discussion of religion with a collection of superstitious crazies? Sunday morning is dedicated to non-stop pontificating by all sorts of strange and ridiculous religious nut-jobs, without a moment of rational rebuttal. The public airwaves are jammed with hallucinating "faith-based" believers without a brief moment of equal time given to "reality-based" thinkers and no one seems to consider the possibility that this violates the First Amendment. Give a scientist ten seconds to describe how the universe might have been born without the involvement of magic and that must be followed by an hour of praying and apologizing to the myriad of gods and goddesses and Easter Bunnies that might be offended (if they existed) by humans partaking of the "fruit of knowledge." Why is that?

Every week or so, I receive a chunk of spam by my hysterical Midwestern relatives who are terrified that "da govamunt" is at war with religion, usually Christianity or some weird cultish offshoot of that powerful political organization. Religious folks have always been terrified by science, logic, and nature, but the more conservative we become the more timid we are. These days an expression of  doubt is enough to send Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, and Dubya into a hysteria of fear and oppression. We've been here before as humans and, unhappily, as Americans. Witch burning is founded in that same faith-based cowardice.

I've argued, often, that every attempt to install religion in government is based on the fear that "if you don't at least pretend to believe what I believe, I may lose faith." Like gangsters everywhere, theocracies all discount the difference between respect and fear. If they can't earn respect, they will settle for terrorizing into silence anyone who might express a difference of opinion regarding any aspect of their slight grip on "faith." The overwhelming majority of the world's spiritual leaders have advocated a solitary spiritual journey, but the bulk of humanity needs the reinforcement of a like-minded crowd to maintain a delusion of magic and faith. Producing a spiritual crowd through laws and the threat of government violence is the easiest way to make-believe "everyone" is on the same spiritual page.

Humans have been doing this song and dance since the days of caves, clubs, and witchdoctors. The long, slow, sad history of humanity is littered with the debris of collapsed dynasties, discredited gods, scientifically displaced delusions of how the universe really works, and disappointed believers who have found that "god" wasn't on their side. This is the reason that the authors of the Constitution argued for a clear "separation of Church and State," as Jefferson explained. Religion has too often picked the wrong horses, historically. Conservatives, usually with the moral guidance of their religions, have backed corrupt nepotism and aristocracies, vicious and perverted theocracies, dictators of all sorts, self-destructive corporations and insane robber barons, slavery and racial discrimination, short-sighted and nationally-destructive economic policies, cruel and unusual punishments, regional and worldwide wars, and every known evil committed by humanity.

I'd say that evidence proves that every expression of faith should be counteracted by equal time provided to rational analysis. The history of religion is bloody, oppressive, and evil and something that consistently nasty ought to be given careful analysis anytime it rears it's predictably conservative head.

January  2007


Rat Links

When I started The Rat’s Eye View in 1, I had a mission. That mission shifted on me more than a few times. Looking through the pages of that seldom read website, I found a few things I decided I want to continue in some fashion, like my Links:

Business Stuff

  • Don Lancaster's Incredible Secret Money Machine Lancaster and his book, The Incredible Secret Money Machine, are benchmarks in the available information for small business owners.  Lancaster was a hero of mine at the beginning of my technical career for his Cookbook Series with Sam's Electronic Books.  The Secret Money Machine just solidified his value to me. Harvard and the other MBA-clone manufacturing sites are decades behind what Lancaster told us 30 years ago. 
  • Dr. Zimmerman's Tuesday Tips Not always useful, but often, at least, interesting. 

Political Stuff

    • BBC NEWS | Programmes/Newsnight For what's left of English-speaking MSM news, the BBC is it. This international news source is not available anywhere in the US, other than through the Internet. Not on a cable channel, not anywhere. That is freakin' scary, since the Brits are supposed to be one of our few actual remaining allies.
    • Arabesque: 9/11 Truth It's hard to find anything remotely honest about the events leading to the Saudi attacks on New York and Washington D.C. and even harder to find real information about the cover-up that followed, but this site provides the kind of information that a real national media would be all over if the media wasn't part of the problem.
    • Brill's Content (commentary and criticism on the media, this is a lot more interesting than it sounds)
    • Capital Hill Blue Doug is inconsistently good, but always informative. This website has probably broken more major Washington stories than all of the other news sources in the nation.
    • Common Dreams - "Breaking News and Views for the Progressive Community"; enough said.
    • Jim Hightower - America's #1 Populist One of G.W.'s first political victims. Hightower is, possibly, the sole reason why Texas should be allowed to remain in the Union when the revolution comes.
    • Michael Moore Yeah, that Michael Moore. Inconsistent, but often courageous. What more do you expect from your news?
    • t r u t h o u t News Politics One of the only actual news sources left in these United States. t r u t h o u t is an incredible source of news, opinion, and facts that the MSM chooses to ignore because they don't promote the corporate fascist point of view. The fact that so much of what is found on this website never makes it to the news is a national embarassment.
    • Think Progress Another great investigative news source.
    • Yahoo/IOpEd Richard Reeves Editorials (Richard is a radical progressive who writes what he sees.)
    • Yahoo/IOpEd Ted Rall Editorials (Rall is another radical progressive who's mother must be really concerned for his health in this "conservative," right-wing, neo-Nazi political environment.)
    • Beyond Oil It isn't being regularly maintained, but Kenneth Deffeyes' website (intended to promote his book, Beyond Oil) is often a source of useful insight regarding current events and their relationship to energy.

Cool Stuff


#168 Just Lucky, I Guess

To start the new year off, the goofy head of the University of Minnesota's Athletic Department, Joel Maturi, fired football coach Glen Mason. I suspect that most college football fans outside of Minnesota don't even know that Minnesota had a University of Minnesota football team. Mason's overall record was 64-57. His conference record was 32-47. Even more hilarious was his record against Top 25 teams: 5-27.

The chances are pretty good that any half-decent high school coach could drop into the Minnesota program and do as well as Mason, at a tiny fraction of the cost. The cost is the issue, here. Mason was grossly overpaid, $1.65 million a year, and will continue to be a cash drain to the state, $4 million in other payouts after being fired for incompetence. Minnesota's state college system, like most state college systems, has become unaffordable to anyone but little rich kids, who only go to schools

I guess this is more of academia following in the foolish footsteps of business. Executives regularly get rewarded for incompetence. In fact, there is no way to connect business success to any action or activities of executives. Corporations pay the giant, wasteful salaries of CEOs and other white collar criminals because nobody tells them they shouldn't, can't, or will go to jail if they do. Jail is exactly where a board of directors should be sent when they sign off on a huge paycheck for non-producing executives. "Non-producing" means non-inventing, non-manufacturing, or non-sales producing. A manufacturing company that pays an accountant or lawyer CEO millions of dollars is wasting money on a non-producing executive. A technology company that does the same is pretending that bean counters inspire innovation. That is simply bullshit and everyone in these companies knows it is bullshit.

Glen Mason was a boring, predictable coach who inspired mediocre performances from his organization. Anyone who watched more than two Minnesota games could guess what play Mason would call in a given situation. Most of his opponents were able to anticipate his habits, which resulted in his mediocre record. Mason's only saving grace was that many of his opponents were the same kind of overpaid, underachievers.

My wife, upon hearing the morning news of Mason's firing and the money waterfall that he would enjoy as a result of his failure, asked "what do you have to do to get one of these jobs?"

That's one hell of a question. I've sat in board meetings, surrounded by million dollar salaries and powerful men, and wondered exactly the same thing. I saw no evidence of superior intelligence, exceptional management abilities, brilliant intuition, or incredible math skills. I mostly heard middle aged men worry about how various business problems would affect their stock options and bonuses. The intellectual level of the discussion was depressingly low. Business or technical insight was totally absent. Simple, base self-interest ruled the meetings and I have a hard time imagining that many companies are different than the companies I experienced. The people are the same, sometimes exactly the same people who crush one company move on to destroy another, so why would their motivations change?

Luck has a lot to do with who gets the big bucks and who is paid less generously. The best thing a corporate exec can do is to avoid work. Real work (research, invention, design, manufacturing, project management, and, even, sales) involves risk and failure. Fake work (accounting, legal council, marketing, sales management, and administration) appears to be accomplishing something practical, while avoiding risk and failure. Accountants simply count the beans others grow. Lawyers forever "practice law," so any mistake they make they can blame on the ambiguous character of the legal system, while claiming any accidental successes to their own brilliance. Marketing departments are often a simple waste of air. Watch television for a couple of hours for all the evidence you'll need to prove this argument. Sales management and administration are non-service providing organizations that expand to fill the available space, but they rarely provide value to the people they pretend to serve and never take the blame for organizational failures, since they don't produce anything that is directly related to the organization's success. Characters from these areas of an organization often rise to the top, simply because they've been lucky. They've never been identified with a project failure, they've never directly lost the company money, and they take credit for every project that has succeeded in their general area.

In a rational world (business, political, or academic), big mistakes would carry big penalties. If a professor at the UofM lost the college a few thousand dollars, he would surely be fired almost instantly. Joel Maturi made mistake after mistake with Mason, including upping the scumbag's contract when Mason shopped himself to other institutions while still under contract with the UofM. In the end, Maturi spent $5.6 million of the state and university's money on a non-performing, then fired, coach and there is no sign that Maturi will pay any price for his incompetence. This kind of irrational behavior happens all the time in business, which probably explains why an MBA isn't ridiculed as being a "gimme degree" like FizzEd or Communications.

Money, like water, apparently flows downhill. The lower the institutional value a person represents, the more money is attracted to that person. The key to becoming grossly overpaid, and rewarded for gross failure, is to begin your career being useless and to perfect that quality. And be very, very lucky.

January  2007


#167 Three Dead Guys, One Long Year

In the past eight years that I've been writing Rat Rants, I haven't once bothered with an "end of year wrapup." I'm not sure this will be such a conclusive document, but all the hand-wringing about Jerry Ford and Saddam Hussein's death this week brought out the rant motivation this morning. Listening to eulogies from characters like Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, Donny Rumsfeld, and the like approached ruining my New Year's eve morning coffee.

Everyone who was a conscious adult in the 1970s knew that Jerry Ford made a deal with the Nixon Administration to pardon the head criminal and create a distraction that would allow the legal escape of a long list of Nixonian criminals. The almost universal disgust regarding Ford's pardon of Nixon was evidence of that knowledge when Ford was solidly trounced by a Georgia peanut farmer who was, four years later, trounced by a b-movie acting, failed California politician. Ford's attempt to "end our long nightmare," was just beginning of a much longer nightmare. The nation has not recovered from the cynicism and radical distrust of our institutions that was began by Nixon's criminal behavior and has been continued since, because Gerald Ford established a precedent that demonstrated that criminals do not have to pay for their crimes, if those crimes are big enough. The Bush Administration's huge collection of criminals are counting on this precedent, which is why Cheney spoke so emotionally (for a zombie) at Ford's funeral. If Nixon didn't have to pay for his wide array of crimes against humanity and the nation, surely Bush and Cheney will escape their criminal activity equally unscathed.

Ford's legacy includes allowing some really vicious Nixonian characters to remain in the Republican national party; Rumsfeld, Cheney, Casper Weinberger, and many of the Rat Pack who have made up the past 30 years of Republican incompetence. As for his redemption in the short attention span of the American media, the New York Times stated that his pardon of Nixon was "a profoundly unwise, divisive and unjust act" which wreaked Ford's "credibility as a man of judgment, candor and competence." Nothing in the last 30 years has changed to restore any of those qualities to Jerry Ford. Much in that amoral action has contributed to the long nightmare that was continued by Reagan, Bush I, Clinton (the "Eisenhower Republicans") and Bush II. A public trial, conviction, and new laws to protect the nation from a despot President would have followed Nixon's escape from Washington. We could be a massively improved nation if that had happened, Ford made sure it did not.

Thanks for the legacy and the endless nightmares, Jerry.

Another legacy was created Saturday, two days before the New Year, the hanging of Saddam Hussein on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival. Just to be certain that portion of the world understood how insensitive the United States and our microscopic "coalition" is to Islamic feelings, Traditionally, Muslims execute an animal on this day, in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to slaughter his own son on God's command. Only the least informed citizen could believe there was anything legitimate about Hussein's trial, conducted by hand-selected judges while the nation is occupied by American troops, so the symbolism is pretty clear to the Mideast. Hussein has probably been elevated to the unlikely stature of "hero" in the eyes of many Islamic fundamentalists. No one ever (intelligently) accused the Bush cronies of being sophisticated or having a sense of timing. I don't know where you'd find better evidence of their incompetence than this incident.

Finally, someone for whom I actually cared died Xmas Day, 2006. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the true Kind of Rock and Roll, and a revolutionary of the best sort, died at 73. James wrote and performed the song that should be the modern national anthem, "Living in America," in 1987. He lived it as he played it, too. The multicolored band that performed that song in the movie and music video from Rocky IV was as American as a professional basketball team; representatives of every race, clothing designer, and popular musical instrument rocked out to a cowed and boring Russian crowd. James shouting, "I'm an American, eat your heart out!" to that audience was the only highpoint to an otherwise mindless, worthless movie.

For most of my life, I've taken crap from family, friends, and other musicians about my "James Brown rules!" convictions. From "he can't even sing" to "that's nothin' but jungle music," I've heard it all. And it's all wrong. Anyone suffering through another artist attempting to sing "A Man's World" knows how difficult Brown's music is to recreate. All of the lame comedians who grossly failed to even remind us of any aspect of JB's performance skills discovered how complicated, technical, and physically demanding this music is.

I don't imagine that one minute of 2007 will be taken up with my memories of Saddam Hussein or Jerry Ford, but I'm going to miss James Brown and the hope that I'll have another chance to see "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business" again. 

December 2006


Texas Evolution

My wife and I spent about three weeks in Texas this winter. Texans are, as a group, pretty clueless about themselves and how they are perceived outside of the Silly South. National politics and most of the pressing issues of the day are beyond their limited comprehension. For example, if you were to ask a Texan about goofy, illiterate, criminally-vicious Governor Perry, you’ll hear strange things like “he’s the cutest governor in the nation” and “the problem was the debates” (not Perry’s inability to put together a sentient sentence or comprehend a single issue in an adult manner).

The state’s highways are not only poorly maintained, but they are miserably engineered (poor materials, terrible workmanship, and often dished instead of arched for drainage, at the least). Texans blame their weather, in spite of the fact that New Mexico and Oklahoma highways are unarguably better roads and subjected to similar or worse weather. The problem isn’t the environment, other than the corrupt, inbred, good-ole’-boy way of doing business in Texas. You have not seen lethargic road construction crews until you’ve been to Texas in the springtime. They have three-legged shovels to keep the “workers” from falling over.

Thanks to Texas’ dimbulb state government, the state’s low income citizens are deprived of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, since Perry and his cronies turned down the federal funding to fill in the ACA’s “donut hole.” The Texas Republicans are hoping that the state’s voters are brainless enough to pin the blame on Obama and “liberals”; and they’re probably right. Texas voters are notoriously foolish. Texans believe the rest of the country suffers from the same problems, but Texans are so on the defensive when they leave their hell-hole of a home they are unable to see how much better off many less natural resource endowed states are than Texans.

This isn’t new. “At the risk of descent into unscientific generalization, I must report to you that ninety percent of Texans give the other ten percent a bad name.” John H. Holliday reporting on his Dallas, Texas experiences to his Georgia fiancé, Martha Anne. Nothing appears to have changed in 130 years. There is a wonderful tiny core of Texans who stand out as stark anomalies in comparison to the majority of the state’s residents. Many of them, however, are not native Texans and will probably leave the state if it continues to de-evolve. Texas suffers under the illusion that the nation needs them, but the opposite is the true situation. Texas desperately needs the brains, work ethic, science, and engineering provided to that state by the rest of the country; mostly the dreaded “Yankees.”

Actual economic activity in the majority of Texas is limited to second hand shops and gun stores. Cruising through the dead state’s small towns, one thing stands out; gun sales are up even if every other business in town is down. It is simply amazing how many gun shops there are between the boarder at Clovis, New Mexico and the Oklahoma state line near Arkansas. You’d think there was something, other than people, to hunt in Texas. There is, in fact, but hunting in Texas is the sort of thing Dick Cheney does for fun; domestically raised “wild animals” chained to posts so the big game hunters can find, shoot, and call in the help to haul away the day’s slaughter from the convenience of a golf cart. Otherwise, the state’s natural game has been long disposed of. Texas is pretty much a dead zone, outside of the national parks. The place has been raped and pillaged so completely that flies are about the only natural fauna left in the place. They have plenty of flies, though. And guns.

On our way out of the state, Fort Hood suffered another mass shooting from another deranged military vet. It’s not an unusual occurrence in Texas. In 2012, College Station enjoyed the attention of one of the NRA’s finest, Thomas Alton Caffall III, who pretty much limited his aim to local police officers and himself. The whole sniper-in-the-public thing started off in Texas, back in 1966, with ex-Marine Charles Whitman blasting 16 students from the University of Texas’ Tower. Texans love their guns and are pretty fond of killing each other with guns, staying in the top 15 gun-violence states consistently for decades. “In Texas, rocks are considered inadequate weaponry during school yard scuffles. Dallas children carry a brace of loaded pistols, a concealed Deringer [sp], and a six-inch toadsticker in one boot. That’s the girls, of course. Boys bring Howitzers to class.” John H. Holliday wrote to his cousin and ex-dentist partner, Robert Holliday. Nothing has changed. Texans love their guns and love using them to make as much misery as possible.

After a couple of weeks in Texas, my wife and I shared Doc Holliday’s opinion, “I believe I have enjoyed about as much of Texas as I can stand.” And we were right on the border of Texas and Oklahoma at Lake Texoma in a private park that was as pleasant as any place I’ve ever seen in Texas or the south. Next time we travel to New Mexico, I believe we’ll go by way of Denver.