Sunday, October 20, 2002

Food Fright

The trip featured the usual assortment of aggravations. There were some high-powered executives. A local crew we had to get used to. Any number of missed meals. And of course, mixed in were the usual airline headaches, rental car hassles and strange hotel rooms. But none of that was really a problem. After all, if your job includes any kind of travel, especially today, you get used to dealing with the unexpected, used to coping with the unforeseen, used to rolling with the punches without getting too cranky or uptight.

So leave it to the menu to stress us out.

Directed to the latest and greatest restaurant in town, we were thrilled to be able to score a reservation where the local movers and shakers liked to see and be seen. And indeed, the décor was unusual, the crowd good looking and the aromas tantalizing. The attractive young lady who was our server took our drink order, and returned with libations and some menus. We chatted a bit more, sampled the wine, and then picked up our copper clad, hand-printed, four-color rundowns. And that's when it hit us.

We're not in McDonald's anymore, Toto.

After all, restaurants can be broken down as much by the cuisine they serve as by the way to describe it. Some places offer simple fare described likewise, with entrees like "Burger Deluxe" and "Chef's Salad." You know what they mean, they mean what they say, and assuming the food is up to snuff, it's a comfortable place to get a bite. Still others cloak these rather pedestrian dishes in elaborate monikers, like the "Joe DiMaggio Meatball Wedge" or the "Larry King Grilled Cheese Sandwich." Even the aforementioned Mickey D's plays this game, grafting a "Mc" onto the front of virtually everything in the shop. But despite the clever turn of phrase, the underlying dish is usually fairly easy to decode, affording you the opportunity to order something pleasing to your palate.

However, as restaurants go upscale, they try to turn their menus into the culinary equivalent of a Tom Clancy novel, going into excruciating detail about each ingredient, whether the diner cares or not. They seem to care not that it means little to any poor sucker who doesn't have a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. The result is "Free range capon crisped with a demi-glace of passion fruit, accompanied by a ragout of rendered new potatoes finished with a Cajun influenced chipilote sauce." Uh, are we talking chicken with a fruit sauce and some spuds with a spicy topping? I think that about covers it. And no, it still doesn't justify the $22.50 price tag.

Indeed, this was the black hole that we had fallen into on a quiet Wednesday night in San Diego. To be sure, we had been warned. The food was described by one of our local hosts as "eclectic," a mix of cuisines, ingredients and styles, all presented with a flair for the dramatic. And that was a good place to start. But just as comedian Robert Klein had a classic bit called "Every Record Every Recorded," this wasn't merely a menu; it was a recitation of every vittle that ever crossed someone's griddle.

The description of the place in the posted reviews at the entrance should have given us ample warning. "Pigeonholing the cuisine is tough. We'll call it updating the indigenous fare of the Americas. An audacious mix of Mexican, Pacific Coast and Native American flavors, the food reflects cooking that originated in a simpler time with a modern adaptation." Or in other words, what the magazine reviewer was saying is "we have no idea what it's all about."

Our local contact had told us to start with the baked brie. But not just any warm cheese was this. Instead, "Pumpkin & Sesame Seed Crusted Brie on a fresh corn tortilla with mole negro, honey roasted garlic & grana-scallion flatbread with serrano jelly." Uh, OK. We passed on the "Arugula, Frissee & Radicchio dates wrapped in pancetta, cotija cheese & prickly pear dressing," as well as the "Grilled Romaine fried capers, chipotle-anchovy crème on fig jam flatbread." The reason was simple: try as we might, we couldn't figure out in advance what anything might actually taste like.

Forget comfort food. This was one of those menus that required huge amounts of effort just to get in the ballpark. The only way to cope was to say each ingredient in a given dish out loud, conjure up a picture of it in your mind, and then add the next. Interested in the fish? "Whole Scarlet Snapper..." Wait... I think I've got that. "Roasted with avocado leaf & epazote..." Uh... I didn't know avocados had leaves, and what the hell is a epazote anyways? "Coated with a citrus pibil broth..." Citrus? Like lemon or lime? And do you squeeze or milk a pibil to get its broth? "Accompanied by an oven-fired root vegetable skewer." Do I eat the root, the vegetable or the skewer?

And that was just one entrée. After much discussion, speculation, consternation and outright guessing, my companion ordered the "Alderwood Plank Salmon with cucumber-dill moleto on horseradish flatbread, with squid ink pasta & smoked oaxacan cheese," while I went with the "Mojo Bone-in Rib Eye stuffed with huitlecoche & honey roasted garlic, white cheddar tamal & acorn squash with bourbon-walnut butter." It all tasted fine, if not a little confusing. And no, I have no idea what a huitlecoche is, and if I can be arrested for doing it to a minor.

I admit we left more than full, and the next morning gave a suitably positive appraisal to our local hosts. On reflection, I think it was all tasty, but I might merely have been punch drunk. All I know for sure was that the next night on the way out of town, we looked at the gaggle of options available to us in the whole of the city... and each, without hesitation, decided to order a piece of pizza.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes ordering in sushi bars by the pictures. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Friday, August 23, 2002

To Tree or Not To Tree

I need you to break a tie.

We're evenly divided in our family. It's not that we have two democrats and two republicans. Or two liberals and two conservatives, two Peter Jennings fans versus two Tom Brokaw fans, or two who like their steak well done and two who like it rare. Actually any of those might be true...I'm not sure if I've ever actually checked. Rather, a mammoth debate rages as we drive down the highway, spot the evidence, and bicker as to whether it makes any sense to cloak a cell tower as a pseudo-tree.

I'm sure you've seen the examples, both pro and con, with your own eyes. After all, it seems everywhere you look there are antennas sprouting up which carry the white rectangular transmitters and receptors for the cell service we all crave. The reason is simple: we have to have it. Hard to believe that practically none of us had mobile phones a mere ten years ago, and now we panic, turn around and go back to get ours should we accidentally leave it at home when we take a 5 minute jaunt to the market.

Unfortunately, though, you can't have blanket coverage without the blanket. And that creates a conundrum. In community after community, residents walk around with phones glued to their ears and bemoan the lack of a perfect signal, while at the same time complaining about the unsightliness of the steel superstructures that bring them the service. Some lucky locales have been able to place them on water towers or on the top of office buildings where they blend in or virtually disappear. Still others have had existing structures for other electronic transmissions that they have been able to add to, so no new intrusions occur. And still others have been able to work out deals to hide them in church steeples or crosses. But many are faced with a variation of the classic NIMBY reasoning: put up enough towers to create a seamless web of service from one end to the other, just don't put it in my backyard... or in any backyard I can see.

Making the process more difficult is that the government has decreed that a community cannot flat out refuse to allow a tower in its midst. If it finds a site objectionable, the most it can do is to propose an acceptable alternate location. And that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, as a sort of reverse version of "Capture the Flag" gets played out around towns. And in this case, nine tenths of the law includes not just possession, but sight lines as well.

But regardless of the community, eventually the music stops and you run out of chairs. Somebody wins and somebody loses. At that point, the cement trucks pour their footings, the steel workers erect their trusses, and the engineers string their cables. And soon thereafter you find that you're able to have a mobile conversation as you drive in your car... hands free, of course... where less than half of the exchange goes as follows: "Can you hear me? Wait... How about now? Hear me now? Wait... it'll get better in a minute. Ah... I'll call you back."

And that's when the cosmetics come in. In an effort to placate those for whom the look of a steel tower sticking up above pristine rolling hills is simply too much to bare, some towers are being constructed to look like trees. On the surface, the idea is laudable. Using the "hide in plain sight" principle, the thinking is to make the technology blend into the surroundings, and thus make it invisible to the casual observer.

Unfortunately, though, the idea of making the towers as one with the local flora and fauna isn't always possible. That's because in order to be effective, they must, by definition, tower above all the local vegetation. And so regardless whether the rolling hills of your town are filled with pines or laurels, with oaks or maples, the designers have borrowed a page from Muir Woods, and created towers that look like ersatz giant sequoia redwoods, soaring to equally impossible heights.

The result is that as you drive down the highway, your can see from miles away a ramrod straight missile aimed at the heavens, lording itself above the surrounding countryside and confusing the hell out of the local squirrels. If anything, it doesn't disappear from your field of vision. Rather, it's very artificialness makes it more pronounced and draws your eye to it. It is as if in order to disguise fire hydrants and make them blend into their surroundings, they cloaked them as mailboxes but painted them chartreuse. Sure, you wouldn't notice any hydrants... but every dog in town would spot them in an instant, and know where to lift their leg.

And so I leave it to you to cast the deciding vote. In either case, you'll get the clear reception you crave. All that is up for debate is whether to disguise the method or to let it stand out for all to see. To tree or not to tree? You make the choice. And hopefully, Kathyrn Harris won't be counting the ballots.
Marc Wollin of Bedford wonders if cell tree towers will lead to more woodpeckers with sore beaks. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Musical Pain

Take the article, "The." Add to it an obscure descriptive noun, as well as a one referring to an idea or plan. Or try an unusual male or female name... place it first or last, doesn't matter... and pair it with "of" and an odd noun or verb. Or perhaps you can reference a month or a season, or something related to aviation. And maybe make it all lower case to be more poetic. The results? You get variations like "the recess theory," "Ordination of Aaron," and "Rockets to the Moon." No, it's not poetry by refrigerator magnets (though that would work as well). Rather, it's how you name an emo band.

Emo is the latest genre of popular music to stumble towards the mainstream. Joining Swing, Be-Bop, Do-Wop, Motown, Rock & Roll, Disco, R&B, Country, Metal, Indie, Grunge, Bubblegum and Thrash, this post-punk movement is the newest to be noted and cataloged, along with the hits and stars that define the category. You think you're hip if you listen to House and Hip-Hop, to Techno and Tejano? Well, forget it. You're as square as your parents if you don't have the latest vinyl... yes, vinyl... of Weezer's "Maladroit."

Just what is this stuff, the current pretender to the throne formerly occupied by Brit Rock, Rockabilly and Boy Bands? Emo... short for emotional... has been around since the eighties, but is just now reaching out to a wider audience. Almost the opposite of feel good music, emo is tough to define, other than to say that it's a downer. The closest description is that it's a punk rock derivative that, according to one enthusiast, consists of "screaming confessional lyrics over rising and falling guitars." An anti Bobby McFerrin angle... a sort of "Please Worry, Don't Be Happy" approach... emo is focused on specific personal pain, usually involving bad relationships. Or as John Szuch, the founder of Deep Elm Records, a major emo label says, "When I'm talking to one of the singers in a band, and he's broken up with his girlfriend and really depressed, I know there's a great record on the horizon."

The generally accepted first emo band was Rites of Spring, a punk quartet from Washington DC, which is to emo what Seattle was to grunge. The band was looking for a different approach, while keeping their trademark speed and frenzy. Abandoning pure aggression and trying to connect with the audience via shared pain, it changed the core emphasis of the music from energy to emotion. Striking a chord, other bands started to follow suit. And so, even with the breakup of Rites of Spring, the movement shouldered onwards.

As with any style of music, as the word spread and copied, various offshoots occurred. But while even the faithful were not crazy about the moniker, emo kept reaching out, attracting more and more attention. Released mostly on small independent labels, many of the early bands themselves disintegrated and reformed quickly, making establishing a commercially successful beachhead difficult. Nonetheless, a few stalwarts survived and flourished, using names like Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day and Get Up Kids.

But if the instrumental side was reprocessed punk, the vocals were not. Intense only begins to describe it, ranging as it does from normal singing in the quiet parts to a kind of pleading howl to gut-wrenching screams to actual sobbing and crying. During live shows, emo bands like to play with their backs to the audience during the calm parts. During the loud, exploding sections, the musicians have a tendency to jump and shake unpredictably and knock things over... especially mic stands. Combine this with the fact that the singers often fail to make it to the mic in time to sing, and decide just to scream at the absolute top of their lungs wherever they are when the time comes, and often an entire show will pass without the audience being able to hear the vocals. Perry Como it's not.

Of course, as with any music, some bands have broken out of the pack, though to hear the faithful talk, this almost negates their credentials. The current top-of-the-pops is the aforementioned Weezer, fronted by lead singer Rivers Cuomo, as well as Dashboard Confessional. Weezer packs 'em in with such uplifting lyrics as "I can't say that you love me, so I cry and I'm hurting." And Dashboard Confessional... actually an acoustic solo act known to the rest of us Eagles fans as Chris Carrabba... sits on stage and strums chords while his audience screams out his lyrics such as "Close lipped/another goodnight kiss/is robbed of all it's passion/your grip/another time, is slack/it leaves me feeling empty." It's like Rod McKuen on downers.

In terms of record sales, the most prolific emo bands sell a few hundred thousand copies on their albums at best. There are exceptions... Weezer has more than 2 million copies of its self titled debut album in print. But the movement is growing, and with it, the audience for CD's. At the moment, N'Sync has nothing to worry about at Sam Goody's... that is, unless they encounter an emo band in person, in which case the band would probably kick their butts, and then write a depressing song about how bad it made them feel.

It's all up to the fans. There is a seemingly endless well of teenage angst to plumb, and those are the folks buying the records. Hopefully, success and the mainstream won't go to their heads. Or as Josh Tyrangiel of Time Magazine noted about emo, "like Boston Red Sox fans, in emo, you're only happy when you're sad."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is still trying to understand and appreciate Miles Davis. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Tea Leaves

If you listen to the gurus, we're coming out of it. If you check with the local caterers, we're still mired in it. The real estate folks say it's spotty, while the deli owners say they still don't see daylight. No, they're not talking about the weather or the war on terror, or the summer movie season. Whether they have a degree from the London School of Economics or from the school of hard knocks, they're all talking about the economy.

But talk is cheap, and the more you listen, the more you come to the same conclusion: nobody really has a clue. You can find a set of numbers to support most any point of view, from recovery to stagnation to deepening recession. Even those trained in the black art of economics have widely differing viewpoints... or as well known economist Edgar Fielder says, "Ask five economists and you'll get five different answers... six if one went to Harvard."

So what tea leaves should you be scanning for insight? Well, most folks, professionals and civilian alike, take at least a cursory glance at the standard ones. There's the consumer price index, the CPI, perhaps the most-followed measure of inflation. It tracks the average change in the prices paid by urban consumers for a fixed market basket of goods and services, including everything from cigarettes to university tuition. Housing starts reflect how many new houses are being built in a month. Not only a measure of the construction industry, this is often looked upon by many as a broader indicator reflecting consumer confidence and general economic health. And then there's the much-watched gross domestic product, or GDP, which represents the broadest general barometer of the economy. Comparing the numbers on these and many similar benchmarks puts you in the same camp as Allan Greenspan.

But professionals looking at the big picture have also identified a number of non-traditional benchmarks. Derived from real life as opposed to real numbers, these bring new meaning to the phrase "voodoo economics." Some work better than others, but each has enough adherents among the cognoscenti to make you pay attention.

The Super Bowl Indicator is a case of chance correlation - a win by a team from the old NFL, before it merged with the American Football League, is good news for the market, while a victory by an original AFL team is a surprisingly accurate warning of a pending bear market. This year, with the New England Patriots as the newly crowned champs, the indicator points to a bear market. But the indicator, though accurate in 28 of its 35 years, has been off in recent years: back-to-back wins by the Denver Broncos, an original AFL club, in 1998 and 1999, would normally have spelled a bear rampage. But exactly the opposite happened, as the tech bubble pushed stocks to record gains.

The Taxi Driver/Soccer-Mom Indicator is what many analysts and strategists do to gather anecdotal evidence and to hear the word on the street. "I talk to cab drivers in different cities to see how business is. I think it's a good indicator of the economic conditions," said Patricia Croft at Sceptre Investment Counsel. UBS Warburg strategist George Vasic said conversations with soccer moms are good places to gather anecdotal research. "When I'm watching my kids' soccer games, I listen to the questions people are asking me. Typically, it's a lagging indicator. If they're asking me of resource or tech stocks, you know the phenomenon has run its course and has already peaked."

According to the logic of those who follow the U.S. Presidential Election Indicator, the current president doesn't meddle in the economy during his last two years of office. This is generally seen as good for Wall Street, since the last thing it wants is for the White House to meddle in its affairs. During the 20th century, the Dow Jones industrial average was down just seven times during 25 presidential election years.

The Hemline Indicator (also known as the "bull markets and bare knees" indicator) looks to the length of women's dresses and skirts to determine market sentiment. The shorter the skirts -- or the higher the hemline -- the better the market. Long skirts and dresses bring bearish times. The hemline indicator has been historically accurate since the late 19th century, when long skirts and bearish markets were the norm. Then, during the roaring '20s, the stock market soared while women's knees were bare. Women's fashion in October 1987 shifted from the once-popular miniskirt to longer ones. And notably, the market then crashed.

The January Indicator works on the premise that the first month dictates how the rest of the year will go. If stocks rise in January, then stocks will rise for the rest of the year, with the opposite also being true. With the Dow, the indicator has been accurate in 45 of the 51 years since 1950, though it was wrong last year.

There are others. The "Singing Gorilla" index is based on the idea that the more people that make purchases like the aforementioned pet, the better the economy is doing. Other seers count the number of sushi bars in New York, on the theory that it means there are more tourists coming here from Tokyo, favorably influencing the balance of trade. And the "Gadget Index" looks at how many stupid gizmos are being sold at The Sharper Image and Brookstone as an indicator of economic health.

Finally there's the Monkeydex. It was started in 1999, when six-year-old Raven, a female monkey, chucked darts at a board covered with the names of 133 companies... and her picks placed her as the 22nd best money manager on Wall Street. It turns out that she may have been even smarter than that. She retired in 2000 to count her bananas, missing out on the bursting tech bubble.

The bottom line is that it's all a guessing game. True, some guesses are more educated than others, but that doesn't make them any more correct. Or as Paul Samulelson noted, "Wall Street indices predicted nine of the last five recessions." So as the old carnival barker says... you pays you money, you takes you choice.


Marc Wollin of Bedford invests on the assumption that whatever he buys will go down. His column appears weekly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Generation X Men

There seems to be no end to the controversy found in the way the military is handling their Taliban and Al Qaeda charges in Guantanamo Bay. On the one hand, it would seem that they are being treated eminently fairly, especially considering the conditions in which they're used to existing. They have shelter, medical care, sanitary facilities, religious services and snappy orange jumpsuits that you're sure to see on the runways come fall. But their handling is also generating heat from rights organizations, European governments and Arabic nations for everything from accommodations to methods of restraint to interrogation procedures.

Interestingly enough, there has been no quarrel found with their mess service. While maybe not room service at the Waldorf Astoria, they are none-the-less getting a nutritionally balanced, religiously correct meal, filled with selections such as pita bread, fruit and Asian spices. And in an inadvertent attempt to bend them to the ways of democracy and all it can produce... inadvertent, or else the CIA Psych Ops guys are far more clever than we all give them credit for... they also get breakfast packs of that bounty of capitalism, Froot Loops. If it all works out, before long they'll give up their chanting of "Death to America!" and replace it with "Coo coo for Cocoa Puffs!"

But it seems as though the biggest controversy of all revolves around the most intangible of things. With all that's going on, with the active ferreting out of Osama and Omar, with the goal of identifying fellow travelers in other countries, with the task of labeling which countries actually constitute the next targets, no one can quite agree on what to call the captured fighters that they dug out of the caves and flew halfway around the world to Camp X-Ray.

Besides the obvious ethnic slurs, it turns out the... well... let's refer to them as detainees for the moment... actually fall into different groups. There are the Taliban soldiers, who were serving as fighters for and at the direction of the political leadership which effectively ruled the country. By most traditional standards, these unfortunates would have to be considered soldiers, even if they don't wear spiffy uniforms. Then you have those more directly associated with Al Qaeda, a renegade terrorist organization with a distributed cell structure. And then there are the mercenaries from a handful of Muslim countries, who signed on to battle the Great Satan if for no other reason than it was better than sitting home counting goats.

With the whole world watching, it's most likely that the all will be treated in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention. That high-minded declaration set the rules on how captured forces should be handled, addressing such issues as interrogation and communication with outside monitoring agencies. But while the government has no problem with adhering to those rules from a humanitarian standpoint, it wants to avoid formerly labeling all as "Prisoners of War." That's because that would mean that they would have to be content with "name, rank and serial number" kind of answers, something the CIA wants to avoid.

So the question remains: what do you call a group of people you dislike, have information you think might be helpful and who circumstance has thrown together, assuming that the terms "in-laws," "employees" and "neighbors" are not appropriate. Well, a glance through the thesaurus offers a couple of possibilities.

The most obvious is "guests." After all, they're being treated to government hospitality, with room and board far above what they're probably used to at home. But since the lodging is somewhat coerced, that might be an overstatement. After all, "guests" can come and go as they please, and the barbed- wire, handcuffs and armed guards would seem to negate that.

Some might want to refer to them as "hostages." True, they are being held in exchange for something more valuable, in this case information about either their bosses or their plans. However, "hostages" suggests that they were innocents who were seized as part of a criminal act... a situation diametrically opposed from what landed them there in the first place.

Seeing as how the army has decided to designate the detention center as "Camp X Ray," the term "campers" comes to mind. Certainly there are organized activities, assigned bunks, regimentation and a great many rules to be followed. And I'm sure that some of the guards have acquired nicknames based on how easy or strict they are with their charges. But "campers" also implies a happy go lucky kind of attitude... and that's probably not exactly the case.

Or, again playing to the name of their hotel, "Generation X" might work. In many respects it fits: people who seem lost, who took up a cause because they lacked a more productive direction. But to use it would fight against a stereotype that the name connotes... and odds are there isn't a skateboarder among them, nor any known as "Dude Mummar."

Finally, since they're all men and they are at Camp X-Ray, maybe "X-Men" would suffice. After all, they are a band of misfits who feel oppressed and banded together to fight a common enemy. No, they don't have sleek spandex suits nor super powers, but until the camp barber got a hold of them, most looked like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine on a bad day.

There are lots of others to choose from. Depending on your political leanings, you might favor terrorists, victims, defendants, freedom fighters, or scum. But on so many levels, the simplest appellation is probably best: losers.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would like to call the wind Mariah, but it's been done. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

It's The Principle

"When a man says he approves of something in principle, it
means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into
practice. "
Otto von Bismarck

Most people have a set of principles that govern their day-to-day actions. For the vast majority of us, it's pretty basic, ten commandments type of stuff: don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, don't throw rocks through the window of the kid next door who plays his guitar with the amp turned to 11 in the middle of the night.... even though no one would blame you.

While the particulars might vary, the drivers of these guiding lights are generally the anchors of an individual's world... his or her family, religion and friends. Do your parents return the extra change that the cashier mistakenly gives you? You might too. Does your church group donate time to kids in trouble? It might fit into your schedule as well. By the same token, if you hang with a gang who shoplifts for fun, there's a good chance that there's a bail bondsman in your future.

But while the development of your core values might be organic, for a manufactured entity they must be invented. They must take into account the tenor of the organization, its mission and purpose, as well as the environment in which it operates. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the modern corporation.

Companies of old had one but one focus: to make money. But in today's equal opportunity, ecologically sensitive, gender neutral, racially blind, politically correct world, that's not enough. The interest of the different stakeholders has to be addressed, from employees to shareholders to customers to community. It's a tough balancing act to accomplish, but woe to the company that devotes itself to merely trying to turn a profit.

In most cases, these high minded creeds are plastered on walls and entombed in Lucite tchotchkes to adorn hallways and desks. And in the main, they are basically adhered to. Yes, we are good corporate citizens. Yes, we have respect for our customers, employees and communities. Yes, we strive to be the best that we can be. Yes, yes, yes. But occasionally, like all mortal beings, companies have been known to fall from the paths of the angels. And nowhere has that happened more spectacularly than at Enron. In fact, when you look at the big picture, there's not a single aspect of its underlying moral codes that it failed to obliterate.

For instance, just take a look at that company's published core values. "RESPECT: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here. COMMUNICATION: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another ... and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people. INTEGRITY: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won't do it. EXCELLENCE: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be."

Talk about batting a thousand. There's not a single aspect of the creed that hasn't been disregarded. "Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance" not only did belong there, there were in fact guiding principles. "We believe that information is meant to move..." Sure, as long as we move out of the stock first. "We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely." C'mon. And "Excellence?" Well, there you might have something. They raised the bar on deceit to unheard of levels.

OK, you can argue, the top management of the company played fast and loose with their own rules. But surely it didn't extend to outside oversight, did it? Well, we know the firm's accountants, Arthur Andersen, was busy shredding evidence, certainly not a shining tenet of its profession. And it was recently reported that the full board of directors of the company twice suspended the company's ethics code during 1999 in order to allow two outside partnerships to be headed by a top Enron executive who stood to financially benefit from them. You can only hope that your own 17-year-old isn't half this incorrigible.

The good news is that if you go to Ebay, you can purchase a piece of this testament, the way someone might want a piece of the Triangle Shirt Waist factory. On that web site, you can find the Enron "Visions and Values" paperweight, featuring the corporation's core values for just $76. Or even more germane is the company's Code of Ethics handbook and its Risk Management manual. Not surprisingly, both items are listed as being in "mint condition," like they were never read... which, in fact, they probably weren't. At last check, the most recent bid was over $300, though it might just be a bidding war between Justice and the SEC to see who gets the evidence.

Not to create too much revisionist history, but one wonders if, given what we know now, Ken Lay and friends would have adopted one more core value. Best espoused by Groucho Marx, it goes as follows: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."


Marc Wollin of Bedford hopes this is his only obligatory Enron column. He's afraid it's not. His other attempts will be found regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Al Qaeda Inc.

From: Head Cave
To: All Employees
Re: Exit Strategies

There have been a number of inquiries received here at headquarters with regard to recent events. Rather than answer these piecemeal, or have any of you see it on Al Jezeera, we wanted to get you the most current information we have available without Gunga Dan putting his spin on it.

First, before we get down to the nitty gritty, a few personal notes are in order. To begin with, a big Al Qaeda "Thank You" to the Phillip Morris organization for their thoughtful name change. While it wasn't a coordinated effort, it's only a matter of time before George W confuses Altria and Al Qaeda. He'll probably call back some of the Marines who are currently stationed in Kandahar and send them to Park Avenue. Every little bit helps.

I also wanted to acknowledge the help... though unintended... from Toyota Corporation for their great pickups. They've been just super in driving on some pretty bad roads, outrunning laser guided missiles and swerving around bomb craters. We've had such good luck with them that we're currently in talks about an endorsement deal. Current slogans under consideration include "Built Terrorist Tough" and "The Truck the Taliban Depends On. " I personally prefer the more pithy, "Not that YOU'LL ever have to retreat... but it's good to know that you can." Special thanks to Mullah Abdul Hamashi in our Tokyo cell for spearheading this one.

Now, to the business as hand. I know that everything hasn't been going our way as of late, leaving a lot of you locked up, on the run or holed up in the countryside. Since the concerns of each group are a bit different, let me address the situations separately.

First, the lucky ones. If you've been detained in a foreign country, it will be noted in your file as a company sponsored vacation. After all, you'll have a warm and comfy cell, three square meals a day and won't have to keep up the "hide in plain sight" ruse that can grind on your nerves. True, the lap dances will be missed, but in light of the alternatives, consider yourself fortunate. The criminal justice system in the west takes years to run its course, and we've got a lot of good lawyers on retainer. I admit that the military tribunal thing is a bit worrisome, but we're working on it.

On the other hand, those captured here at home might have a bit rougher time. All those basic rights and protections that we've exploited so effectively overseas are almost non-existent here. When our good pal Mullah Omar was in charge and we were on the winning team, it didn't make much difference. But with the shoe on the other foot, we're working behind the scenes to make things happen. Before you were captured, perhaps you saw some footage of the meeting in Bonn. Rest assured that at every chance, our representatives are invoking all those treaties we never honored, like the Geneva Convention and the Warsaw Agreement. Our advice is to drink a lot of water, and chill out.

Now... turning to those of you fleeing from the Northern Alliance, our advice is to go with the flow. Remember, we've been there before, with the Russians most recently, the British before that, and on and on for the last couple of millenniums. Do what your fathers and grandfathers did for the past few centuries... change sides. But just don't make a big deal out of it. Don't start preaching jihad and all that; just become a member of the next village. Odds are you'll find someone there who speaks your dialect and has the same ratty caftan. It shouldn't be that hard to play the refugee card and meet the tribal elders.

I would, however, recommend that you keep your guard up in case. Just be careful not to jump to any conclusions. Why, just yesterday, I shot my cook, because I thought he was a CIA operative. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be the 13th son of my fourth wife. He doesn't hold a grudge... and I'm certain that your new neighbors won't either.

Finally, for those of you... myself included... who are spending way too much time underground, rest assured that you are not alone. Our strategy is to just wait it out. Given what we've seen in Somalia, Iraq, Haiti and other third world hot spots, eventually the western public gets tired and they move on other important issues, like the Britney Spears new CD. So in spite of Crazy Donny Rumy and his merry band of soldiers, the calendar is on our side. I know many of you doubted it at the time, but I hope you now see the wisdom of getting all those PS2's at bargain prices to wile away the hours. Just turn down the sound so they won't hear you.

While we fully expect to weather this storm, it is possible that we'll all eventually have to bury the guns and melt into the woodwork for a while. In that case, my advice to each of you is to just flip over those reversible turbans, trim your beard, and blend right back in. If you don't hear anymore from me, it's not because I don't care, I'm just running for my life. Worse case, let's all meet by the big tree in Islamabad two years from next Wednesday, and have a drink. I'll be the one with the "Al Gore for President" pin.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is wondering which organization tanked faster... Al Qaeda or Enron. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.