Greed, For Lack of a Better Word, Is Good

So after reading 50 Best (and Worst) Business Deals, I had to go and watch Wall Street to get a nut’s-eye view of the 1980s and the corporate raiders and LBO artists.

Man, what a cool movie. I rather liked Gordon Gekko, who rose from humble beginnings as a city college kid to become what he was. I mean, read his speech to Teldar stockholders. It’s a pretty rousing bit.

But almost to the end of the movie, in the confrontation between Gordon Gekko and Bid Fox over Bluestar Air, suddenly Michael Douglas opens his mouth and Oliver Stone’s economic theories come out. He calls capitalism a zero-sum game and vomits forth a Paul Krugman column.

Stone’s projecting. Everything he captures right about capitalism in the movie he negates with this single speech, where capitalists are fleas and Martin Sheen’s working man is the noble dog.

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Saturday Night I Was Downtown, Working for the FBI

Well I’m gonna be forgiven
If I wanna spend my living
With a long cool woman in a black dress
Just a 5-9 beautiful tall
With just one look I was a bad mess
‘Cause that long cool woman had it all
Had it all, had it all, had it all…

Day two thousand, four hundred, and seventy-nine two. Surviving on beer, popcorn, and cherry flavored Craisins.

Hurry home, honey. I miss you.

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Book Review: The 50 Best (and Worst) Business Deals by Michael Craig (2000)

I picked up this book on one of the book-buying binges Heather and I shared last month. I found it in the business section of A Collector’s Bookshop, Sheldon’s new hole in the wall in Maplewood. He doesn’t have much on hand, yet, but I expect that to change. Regardless, this looked interesting. So it is.

Craig has structured the book around 10 common sense rules, with each chapter containing a capsule analysis of several deals that epitomizes the rule, or proves how ignoring the rule can break a deal. For example, one rule is “Take advantage of your adversary’s weakness” (Chapter 2). Essentially, it boils down to buy when the seller has to sell. France needed a hunk of money to finance its European wars, so the United States got the Louisiana Purchase at the bargain basement price of three cents an acre.

Because of Craig’s background as a big dog attorney means he focuses a lot on the leveraged buyouts of the 1980s. To be honest, all I really remember about them is the mythology handed down as received wisdom, mostly from people who disapproved of them. However, as encapsulated in these vignettes, it makes sense in some cases. Even breaking up companies that are underperforming. Call me a capitalist.

The book weighs in at under 200 pages, and the easily digestible chapters and sections make it a book you can put down. And pick back up. I read this book at work, during lunch breaks, without missing beats. Some books are good for that.

So this book is worth a read. The rules are common sense, but the rewards for following them, as well as the negative sanctions for not following them, offer concrete illustrations that The Art of War does not.

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Put a Pig’s Head on a Stick

Fark links to a story about an incident at a party wherein one person spilled a beer upon another, which led to a person getting shot in a rather Orient Express manner–the original shooter passed the gun onto friends who proceeeded to put a slug into the offender.

Man, I am glad the Atari Party never gets out of hand like that. With all those offended people throwing a superball at each other to break down the defenses and destroy the corner icon of the other, someone could put an eye out!

Crap! Should I have included a “spoiler alert” above when I mentioned how Murder on the Orient Express turns out? Man, I suck!

My apologies to my newbie Agatha Christie fan demographic. (Wait, no such demographic exists? To whom will I appeal?)

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Brian Gets His Second Perfect Score

Well, friends, I have gotten my second perfect score on a philosophy test. My beautiful wife led me to a test that rather simplistically asks a dozen questions to determine how your thinking relates to those of profound thinkers from ages past. And I got 100!

  1. Ayn Rand (100%)
  2. John Stuart Mill (86%)
  3. Jean-Paul Sartre (74%)
  4. Aristotle (65%)
  5. Kant (64%)

I would have to explain my seeming embrace of utilitarianism as a recognition of the tension between assuming rational people will follow the rules and the embrace of the rule of law to ensure that everyone minds a handful of codified manners. Which also explains why I won’t vote Libertarian for an executive branch position, sort of. While I’m sure that you, a reasonable person, will understand that theft is wrong, I’d rather have the pooled power of the State to enforce it in case you forget.

Also, there’s the problem with shoehorning my thought into a radio button answer, and the interpretation of the questions. However, let us recognize that the greatest good for the individual is also the greatest good for the greatest number. Some will fall through the cracks willfully or not, but that’s the nature of the statistics. All the children cannot be above average.

What about my other perfect score? Funny you should ask. My only perfect score on a college exam was my sophomore year in my Philosophy 104: Ethics. Man, I wonder how well I would have done in that class if I had bought the textbook? (Ask me sometime about paying your way as you go through a prestigious private university, and I will tell you how to get around niceties like textbooks.)

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META Group Recommends Mind Wipes At Exit Interview

The META Group, a bunch of people marketing themselves as people you can pay to think for you, alerts us to this great danger – Camera-Enabled Phones Pose Significant Liability for Most Enterprises, Warns META Group:

STAMFORD, Conn. (December 9, 2003) — With the cost of adding cameras to mobile phones becoming marginal ($2-$5 per phone), META Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: METG), expects the majority of phones to include this capability within two to three years. However, for many organizations, cameras represent a significant liability or security risk — such as inappropriate candid shots of employees, pictures of production lines.

While the quality of most cameras in current phones is poor, it nonetheless represents a potential channel for leaks of sensitive data or other images that can produce unintended consequences. META Group recommends setting up a clear policy of no camera-enabled phones.

While META Group invites any of you with change in your pockets to visit its Web site for a vigorous upturning and shaking called its “high-value” approach to generating quotable blather, META Group does not address the similar dangers of disposable cameras, regular cameras, or human memory that can also capture and transmit proprietary information to your world-class, best-in-class, best-of-breed enterprise caliber solution’s competition. But none of these buzzwords would yield hits in a current search for “relevant” news. Which is what META Group’s really trying to do, to get you, a key decision maker in your organization, to look at them like a precocious child who can recite poetry it doesn’t understand.

Look in wonder, friends. I wonder who pays these guys, and if I can get in on the grift.

(Link seen on Hans’s site.)

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Drastic Flu Vaccine Shortage! Everyone Panic NOW!

And a special tip of the hat to the media, who’ve apparently discovered that the national health industry does not routinely order two doses of flu vaccines for every man, woman, child, cat, and dog in the country. So when the media whips the populace into a frenzy because of the dangers of influenza, and then hits them with the headlines

Flu Vaccines Running Out:

You People Gonna Die

it creates a run on the flu vaccines. A run by able-bodies and healthy adults who aren’t risk. Good work, fellows. So then elderly and exteremely unelderly (children) people don’t get a flu shot because Joe Athletic Yuppie got it instead and those at-risk members of the population start dying, the media can run the headlines

Flu Killing People:

Current Administration, Capitalism Accomplices

Oh, the humanity!

Not that I want to plant a seed in your heads, dear journalistic activists, but did you know that the local branch of the bank down the road from you doesn’t have enough money to give to all its depositors if they all came at once? That’s right. Why don’t you run a headline like

Banks Short of Cash:

They Don’t Have Your Money

It’s your duty to bring this to the attention of the public. They have a right to know about scarcity and allocation without understanding the reason why so they can decide to panic mindlessly as needed.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this oversight.

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Words By Which To Live

Neil Steinberg relates wisdom in his latest column:

Elias wrote an excruciating book about surviving Auschwitz. I heard her five years ago, so can’t quote her, directly, but she ended her speech by saying something like this:

I have this dream. I dream I am walking up to my family’s home in Czechoslovakia. The windows are all lit up, and I know that everybody is well, and there, home, waiting for me. And then I awaken, and it’s so sweet, because they were all there, clearly, and so sad, because it was only a dream. And that is what I’d like to tell you today — if you are lucky enough to be going home later, and the lights of your house are bright, and your family is all there, waiting, you should stop and savor it as the precious gift it is, because someday it too will be just a dream.

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Reality Check reports:

ALL THAT JAZZ: In the film “Erin Brockovich,” Julia Roberts played a working-class mom with a penchant for short skirts who, despite being constantly underestimated by men, ultimately manages to secure the largest class-action settlement in American history. But according to the Wellesley News, an all-female jazz band hired locally during the filming of Ms. Roberts’s latest film has filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the actress and her production company, saying that they were paid half what an all-male band was getting in the same film. As band member Jeanne Daly told the paper: “I find it amusing that we have to ‘Erin Brockovitch’ Erin Brockovitch for [the] hypocrisy of gender discrimination.”

I find it amusing that the band member confuses Julia Roberts, the actress who portrayed a real litiguous activist in the movie Erin Brockovitch, with the title character and real person Erin Brockovitch. Since Jeanne Daly also confused proper noun ‘Erin Brockovitch’ with a verb, I’d say she’s probably a confused individual.

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Where’s the Racial Sensitivity?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on the Ricky Clemons scandal at University of Missouri, and relates this anecdote about Ed Stewart, an assistant athletic supporter or something:

“Ed come home, every time he come home, he be like, ‘Them crackers shaking. They going crazy. They don’t know what to do. They shaking. They can’t talk to Ricky. They’re like some crackheads running around there.'”

How sweet. He lets out some racial epithets, and the johnking St. Louis Post-Democrat publishes it.

Heaven forbid a white person say any six letter word that begins with n, ends with r, and has a double consonant in it. Were I to say I like Nutter Butters, certain segments of the population think I am deni-oppressing not only members of a different race, but the women therein.

Where’s the sensitivity for my easily-bruised feelings? Why are cracker, gaijin, bleach blood, and haole allowed and nigger isn’t?

Rhetorical question. It’s because we’re crackers and deserve the abuse. I matriculated with a degree in English. I learned these things in college.

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Book Review: Black Alley by Mickey Spillane (1996)

Wow. 1996 this book was published. A Mike Hammer novel. A two-fisted, hard-boiled detective novel, something straight out of the pulps. Right before the dot-com bubble. This isn’t a Perry Mason novel from the 1960s, which you can lose yourself in because it’s timeless and only when you concentrate do you notice they’re not using computers. Mike Hammer knows of all these things and ignores them because he’s a throwback.

Mike Hammer’s older, but he wouldn’t admit it. He’s also been shot up and is recovering, although not as fast as he would with strict, or even any, bed rest. A dying war buddy lets Mike know he’s hidden billions in stolen mob money and challenges Mike to find it. It was bad enough that the mob shot Mike up, but once they think he knows where the stolen billions are, they squeeze. So does the IRS. And Mike can’t hold a gun, so he’s got to go on his reputation and his balls. And those of his secretary Velda, whom Mike realizes he ought to marry.

Wow. 1996.

The style’s definitely a throwback, but the character also recognizes his age and that the world’s changed around him. Outstanding. Of course, Ayn Rand liked Mickey Spillane, so who would I be to argue. It’s a little weird to have a hardback Mike Hammer, though. This book definitely belongs in a dimestore format, in the mass market paperback. After all, Mike Hammer’s a product of the 1960s, same as Mike Shayne, Shell Scott, and Parker. They just didn’t have Stacy Keach to lend them credibility with a television character in the 1980s and 1990s (well, Parker did, but they changed the name and the focus of the character in the Mel Gibson movie).

I liked the book, and I read it relatively quickly. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the good guy wins. Thank genre fiction.

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Oops, I Am Revealed

So I am reading this piece in the Implement change to overcome workplace anarchy“, mainly because I transposed the verbs when I read the headline, and it says:

I’d seen it before with other teams. It was another “Lord of the Flies” situation. The leadership vacuum had created a breakdown in moral behavior. Like in William Golding’s famous book, “The Lord of the Flies,” the group had deteriorated into anarchy, with some members resorting to cruel control tactics to assure their own dominance and survival. Newcomers were mistreated, positive acts were sneered at, rude and cruel treatment of teammates prevailed, management’s directions were ignored or challenged, and customers were barely served.

The circumstances leading up to this situation, were predictable: a weak leader, or a series of many leaders over a short period of time; a hardened, cynical group of workers; a few positive employees; a band of negative employees, who filled the power void with intimidation and retaliation as their weapons; and some fence-sitters, who kept their heads down and their mouths shut.

The new leadership team had to take back control and restore order and civilized behavior. But where to start? First, we needed to get a clear picture of what we were dealing with. I lead the management team through a process to determine where each member of the team fit: positive leaders, negative leaders and fence sitters. As we stood back and took a look at the finished product, the picture emerged — most of the employees were either fence-sitters or positive, with only a handful of negative, bitter leaders at the other end.

and I thought, “Great, a bunch of MBAs hired from outside the company with no real knowledge of the way the software works but has so damn fine book and spreadsheet theories, so they hire a hotshot consultant to troubleshoot our attitude. I hope I’m in charge of the trust fall when this nutbar goes down so I can catch him by his necktie.”

The new management’s probably just preparing for layoffs anyway.

So now you know what sort of co-worker I am. As I explained to El Guapo, maybe Cagey, and certainly my other co-workers, I am the worst case scenario guy. Whatever the company-wide e-mail says, you come to me and I’ll augur the worst possible scenario from it. Worse than you could think of, werd.

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Roeper Ruins Another Day

Johnk you, Robert Roeper. You’ve ruined my day again by asserting in your Chicago Sun-Times column that:

Actress Joey Lauren Adams, the squeaky-voiced girlfriend in “Big Daddy” and the Amy of “Chasing Amy,” was arrested Friday in San Diego on suspicion of drunken driving after she allegedly kept running into a curb in a gas station. She’s 38, and how did Joey Lauren Adams get to be 38?

It’s a lie. It must be a lie. How can the women I lusted for in my age group be nearing forty?

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Introducing Johnk

All right, I can’t leave it alone.

However, I am introducing a new placeholder for that most unwordly of unwordlies, the dreaded f-word which appears on this blog slightly less than The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler. All three of my regular readers know I prefer schnuck as a stand-in, based upon an essay I wrote some time ago about the need for better, more creative cursing. That essay’s lost to antiquity, but the message lives on.

And so in honor of John F. Kerry, indistinguished (some politicial office holder or another) of (some tiny, self-important coastal state), I introduce johnk, a single syllable which can capture every sort of meaning the f-word can, and with less shock among women and children and definitely more mockery of the Democrat party.

Plus, let’s savor the word itself. A single syllable word with a nice, hard terminal consonant rox. Try it: Johnk!. Ooh yeah. And if you slur the first syllable, it can be haughty and French-sounding. Zzzzhonc! That’s a twofer you don’t get with an unvoiced labiodental fricative.

As an addendum, I wish to say to the driver of that red Aztek that ran a red light on Hanley to cut across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn from the right lane this afternoon, Johnk you, you johnking heinzingjohnker. I hope the Jaws of Life bite into your candy-apple vehicle and find half a worm.

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