Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Corporate Scum

devil

Any competent journalist could write a very large book about the history of corporate malfeasance. Hell, you can buy any number of very large books dedicated to one particular company’s history of malfeasance.

Why is there there so much bad behavior in business? Why do corporations behave so horribly compared to most other lawful assemblies? Is it the money? Is it the thirst for power?

No. Corporations are prone to bad behavior simply because it’s easy for them. Just like it’s easier to kill someone with gun than with your bare hands, when a large bureaucracy becomes single-minded, it becomes dangerous because evil is so easily employed as a means to an end.

Bob Kearns

Ford fucked me and I fucked 'em right back!

Meet Bob Kearns.

In 1964, Bob invented the intermittent windshield wiper. He patented his invention and went to Ford, offering them the opportunity to use it in their cars. Ford told Bob to go fly a kite. By 1969, Ford was selling cars with Bob’s intermittent wipers. They screwed Bob big-time.

Couldn’t they have just given poor Bob Kearns a tiny piece of their massive pie? No. Why? Because that’s not how Ford does things.

It wasn’t personal. Bob’s a nice guy. Ford just can’t un-clench its fists a tiny, tiny bit. It has an entire system of executives, accountants, lawyers and bureaucrats whose single-minded purpose is to squeeze blood from rocks.

Well, Bob Kearns eventually got his comeuppance when he successfully sued Ford and Chrysler for patent infringement. He won over $30 million, but Bob wasn’t after the money. He just wanted to make them publicly humbled for lying to him, for cheating him.

In the macro world, this type of thing happens regularly. Husbands and wives, artists and critics, politicians and journalists. We all get pwned at one time or another.

But not corporations. It’s extremely rare that they ever get pwned. Years ago, an exasperated engineer friend said something to me that stuck: “Ted, did you ever notice that no marketing department has ever made any mistakes? Just ask one. Any one.”

Corporations have the legal standing of an individual, and even though they’re comprised of people, they aren’t people. They are an amalgam of human traits. Greed, lust, desire, envy, intellect, drive and wit. These are things we celebrate as part of the human experience. They are also all features of a sociopathic personality.

There was a book about this, but I think the author was off just a bit. Corporations aren’t psychopaths. They’re sociopaths. Here’s the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder from the DSM IV-TR:

Hannibal

Hi. I'm Exxon. Hannibal Exxon.

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.

2. Deceitfulness, lying, conning others for personal profit.

3. Impulsive, short-term thinking.

4. Easily irritated and prone to behave arrogantly or aggressively.

5. Reckless disregard for the safety of others.

6. Consistent irresponsibility.

7. Lack of remorse; indifference or rationalization about having hurt, cheated or mistreated others.

Sound about right? This is exactly the behavior Ford displayed regarding good ole’ Bob Kearns and his intermittent windshield wiper. So, who was responsible? The CEO of Ford? The executive who spoke to Bob? How about the lawyers who assured management they could weather this deal? Was it maybe the Board of Directors who created and allowed a culture of corruption?

It was all of these. And none of them. The Ford Motor Company has been rewarded time and time again – by government, by the market, by society itself – for continually putting profit before people. Ford was only acting in its own interests and those of its investors.

After all, only a fucking sap would leave a dollar on the table because it’s the “ethical” thing to do. You leave a dollar on the table, and the next shark will suck it right up. And that shark would be your competition. Only an idiot would play to lose. If you were smart, you’d grab that dollar. Fuck Bob Kearns. He’ll get over it.

marx

What could possibly go wrong?

Karl Marx predicted that this aspect of capitalism – it sociopathy – would be its downfall. Marx felt that capitalism would eventually have to come to terms with the huge number of people screwed by corporate excess. One day, workers in every industrial power would rise up against their corporate masters and demand an end to the sociopathic behavior. He was wrong.

Marx was wrong about a lot of things. Centrally-planned economies are impossible to maintain. Just ask Brezhnev. Marx was also wrong about the inevitability of a populist workers’ revolution. America was nearly brought to its knees last autumn. Corporate excess and deceit put us at the very edge of complete disaster, but what did the populists protest? Government taxation and deficits.

Marx underestimated the stupidity of the proletariat. His academic arrogance wouldn’t allow for the possibility that the heroic worker was, in fact, a fool. This is probably because Marx never really held a job.

So, what’s the answer? Communism is a well-documented FAIL. A friend of mine would assert that transition to a non-monetary egalitarian society is the answer. He may be right, but I have two reservations:
1) We only have one modern example of a money-free society: the Khmer Rouge.

2) The transition away from money would be thwarted as soon as want became need. We are only five meals away from shooting our neighbors.

Last autumn showed us that doing nothing isn’t an option. Here is what I propose:

– Too big to fail is too big to exist. Break ’em up.

– Subsidized access to talented civil attorneys. The independent judiciary is America’s last surviving check on power. The average schmuk needs access to lawyers capable of facing down the Goliaths. Lawsuits aren’t a sign of degeneration. They’re a sign of robust public control over our lives and liberty.

– A return to the ~35% corporate tax rate. (Remember the 1950’s? American industry’s Golden Age? Hmm?)

– Meaningful incentives for corporations to police themselves. Tax breaks for every company that publicly corrects at least one major act of malfeasance per month.

– Ditch the “Hollywood Minute” on TV news and replace it with the “Corporate Scum of the Week” minute.

At their core, corporations are mere people. Like most people, they sometimes need to be reminded of their humanity.

Idiot Box

tv_crap

Got 113 channels of shit on the TV

It’s cliche to say “I don’t watch TV”. Of course, it’s true for some people. But for most folks making this snooty declaration, it’s more hyperbole than truth. They fess up to occasionally watching “intelligent documentaries” and “important news” but they sneer at the very mention of “reality TV”.

More power to ’em, I guess. I have a wholly different aversion to TV. I just can’t stand the sound of it.

It’s that over-compressed, drill-your-ears wall of presence that just irritates the crap out of me.  I just can’t hack it. As a result, I watch very little television. I’ll go months without seeing any TV at all.

go_read_book

Thanks. I will.

Want irony? For many years I was an electronic technician whose specialty was projection TV. I know more about TV broadcast and display technology than anyone else you know. Really. For many years my workday was in a huge room surrounded by the glowing eyes of multiple televisions staring down at me, burning in their new components and proving to me they wouldn’t fail after their owner came to pick them up.

I know TV. But even when I was a tech, I could hardly stand the sound of them. My TV’s all ran silent. I’d play the radio to keep myself occupied. I recall fondly the many moments when the music on the radio played counterpoint to the bilge on the screens.

Like most Americans, I grew up with TV. When I was a little kid, we had an old black and white Zenith. We lived in the NYC area, so we had seven channels that delivered The Munsters, Speed Racer, Get Smart and the Beverly Hillbillies.

As the 1970’s flowered, we got a new TV and enjoyed the Brady Bunch and the Mod Squad in living color. Then, when I entered high school, my TV viewing started to peter out. I was much more interested in beer, pot and teen girls than TV. I wasn’t home much, and home was the only place I’d watch TV.

Throughout my 20’s, I had a love/hate relationship with the thing. Staying up late to get stoned and watch Nightflight or SNL was a treat, but being surrounded by the glowing eyes every day at work was a total drag. My TV-phobia had begun.

tv_vomit By the late 1980’s TV had reached new levels of brainlessness. Popular music wasn’t much to rave about, either. Culturally, I had shut down. I was living in California, where the sun always shines, so it wasn’t hard to find other things to do.

My indoor recreation involved boinking various women and hanging out with my pal Dale, who turned me on to the joys of getting blazingly high and watching VHS kung fu flicks and horror movies – the cheesier the better.

Was this fare “smarter” than TV? Maybe. Maybe not. But it was nowhere near as irritating as TV and far, far more entertaining.

In the early 1990’s, I moved to Bellingham. My new roommates had no TV, which suited me fine. Most of my new friends didn’t own TV’s either. I felt I had truly found the place where I belonged. But yea, the draw of the idiot box is strong.

My gig as lead tech for an electronic outfit afforded me plenty of second-hand gear, including fancy speakers, top-end audio components and – of course – as many free TV sets as I wanted.

My then-girlfriend liked TV, and being the adoring boyfriend I brought home TV sets of ever-increasing screen size and capability. We’d watch TV together. Our favorite was E.R. We’d hum along to the theme song and dance around the living room. It was fun.

When we went our separate ways, the TV went with her.

Since then, my TV viewing has dwindled to a tiny trickle. Don’t get me wrong: I still own a TV. A big, fancy HD screen.  But I don’t watch TV on it. I watch DVD’s and Netflix streams.

I just can’t fucking stand TV. And my hatred goes beyond just rolling my eyes at “reality” TV or grinding my teeth at yet another GM Canyonero commercial. The very fucking sound of television burrows into my spine like a meningitis tap. I get the same reaction from TV that most people get from fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. I fucking hate it.

Now, it’s not good to hate TV that much. Americans watch more TV than any other culture on Earth – by a huge margin. Thus, nearly everyone you know watches more TV than just about anyone else on Earth. If you are fully ignorant of TV, you must be a religious nut or a hippie. I’m neither, but I live in a community and I need to be conversant with my community.

flav_love

What I'm missing.

So, how can I maintain cultural ties with my community when I don’t watch TV? By reading about TV! I have never seen Jon and Kate Have 8. But from all the hilariously evil and awful comments on fark.com, I know that Kate is a harridan, Jon is an idiot and they squirted out 8 kids for some stupid reason. There you go! Instant membership to the peer group, and I didn’t even have to show anyone my belly or let them sniff my butt.

Fortunately, media convergence continues apace. I love South Park, and every episode is available online. A friend recommended Mad Men, so I rented one of the DVD’s and I sometimes watch recent episodes on Chinese websites. It’s a really good drama, even with Chinese characters scrolling across the bottom.

Maybe one day I’ll watch TV again. But for now, no.  It’s the goddamn sound of it. That screeching, compressed, noisy, irritating, idiotic buzz that just drives me up the fucking wall. No TV. Not in my house. Instead, I’ll bitch about it online, rent movies, listen to music and read books.

After all, while most of America learned new details about Jon and Kate, I learned how the Ottoman empire very nearly toppled the Austrian empire in 1683. Would Jon and Kate be as compelling speaking Turkish? I think not.