Enron

I’ve been spending the past week with Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow and the whole gang from Enron.

It began Sunday afternoon, when I saw a screening of “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” the new documentary based on last year’s book.

So what really felled Enron? Was it hubris? Greed? Well, yes of course, they played a part–they are the cornerstones of American enterprise, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. No, the downfall of Enron was mostly about bad business practices and worse management, not nearly as exciting but twice as deadly in the business world. Yes, there was also criminal activity involved, but it was the poor management that allowed the criminal activity to play such a huge role in bringing down the company.

It’s perfectly natural for a young executive like Fastow, motivated by hubris and greed, to propose hare-brained schemes which, so he thought, would benefit the company while making him obscenely rich. What is un-natural, pathological, is that all the control measures carefully put in place to protect against such idiocies were so consistently subverted by the company’s management.

Steve Martin, tax attorney

I’m almost certain that everyone reading this remembers this great old-time Steve Martin Bit:

You can be a millionaire–and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire–and never pay taxes! You say, “Steve… how can I be a millionaire, and never pay taxes?” First, get a million dollars. Now, you say, “Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You, have never paid taxes’?” Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot!” How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”? Let’s say you’re on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.” Let’s suppose he says back to you, “You have committed a foul crime. you have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, ‘I forgot’?” Two simple words: Excuuuuuse me!!”

Well, after all these years, someone has finally put this technique to the test–but it’s not working out too well for Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief of Tyco International. Saying “I forgot” to declare a $25M bonus he received in 1999 isn’t helping his case any:

”I just was not thinking when I signed my tax return that I had a $25 million loan forgiveness,” he said. ”Year in and year out at Tyco, my tax returns for the most part had been correct. I didn’t pick up on it.”

Fascinating! I’m midway through Conspiracy of Fools, a great book on the Enron debacle, so more on corporate “mal-feance” to come!

Politcs and the Schiavo story

Anyone tracking the Schiavo story for the past few weeks is doubtless aware of the now infamous “GOP Schiavo Talking Points memo” which was circulated by GOP leaders on the senate floor around March 18th, and subsequently leaked to and reported by the press in the next few days. Something of a footnote in the whole affair, the memo included rather crass language about the Schiavo case being “a great political issue, […] a tough issue for the democrats.” The memo also stated that “the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.” >

The story took on a new life, however, when many right-wing pundits declared that the memo was a fake, that this was Rathergate part II, a dirty trick by the Democrats. The blogs, especially, were pounding this story with daily updates. The Powerline blog was a leader in this tirade, which is understandable since the blog’s writers were very uncomfortable with what Bush & Co. were doing with the Schiavo case, and would rather focus everyone’s attention elsewhere.

What was odd about this protest was that for at least some Republicans, the Schiavo case clearly was being used for political purposes. Tom DeLay was recorded making comments to the effect that he was grateful for the Schiavo case, which he felt served to illuminate attacks against him and the conservative movement as a whole.

Yesterday, it was announced that the memo was authored by the senior counsel to senator Mel Martinez (R-FL). Martinez has also admitted distributing the memo, although he still denies having read it, which is somewhat odd. So the initial reports of the memo having been authored and circulated by GOP leaders were correct. Here is the memo itself, complete with the typos that many thought were proof of the memo’s inauthenticity:

S. 529, The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act

Teri (sic) Schiavo is subject to an order that her feeding tubes will be disconnected on March 18, 2005 at 1p.m.

The Senate needs to act this week, before the Budget Act is pending business, or Terri’s family will not have a remedy in federal court.

This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.

This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.

The bill is very limited and defines custody as “those parties authorized or directed by a court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment.”

There is an exemption for a proceeding “which no party disputes, and the court finds, that the incapacitated person while having capacity, had executed a written advance directive valid under applicably law that clearly authorized the withholding or or (sic) withdrawl (sic) of food and fluids or medical treatment in the applicable circumstances.”

Incapacitated persons are defined as those “presently incapable of making relevant decisions concerning the provision, withholding or withdrawl (sic) of food fluids or medical treatment under applicable state law.”

This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy. S. 529, The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act

The Martinez aide who wrote the above has offered his resignation, which Martinez has accepted. It’s odd that the aide took so long to come forward, when so many were branding this memo as a Democrat dirty trick. Martinez himself ran a very controversial campaign, and he won with only a 1% lead. Two days after the election, the St. Petersburg Times ran an incredibly prophetic editorial, which included the following:

But Martinez will need more than a gesture to separate his office from the ugliness and excesses of his campaign.

Long after leaving Republicans embittered by his appeals to bigotry and his vulgar attacks on former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, Martinez used his general election campaign to tar Castor, a distinguished former legislator and education leader, as a terrorist sympathizer.

When challenged, Martinez was too eager to assign blame to his staff or to groups he said he couldn’t control. As a senator, he will need an office and a staff that speaks with the measured and centrist tone he says will be his own. He can’t pretend to be above it all if the people he employs are not.

Cyril Rugby is Cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.

Firewire audio interfaces & such

An anonymous friend, who still prefers that quaint old techology, email, writes: I’ve got a tech question for the computer gurus over at krunk audio (that would be you). I’m just assuming you know more about digital audio than I do these days. Is it safe/advisable to run both one’s audio interace and one’s audio recording HD off the same firewire interface? I’m finally in a position to spring for a computer recording setup, and I’m thinking of doing it by having an Edirol FA-101 and an external HD both into the firewire. That way I can have all the audio hardware and storage outboard, and move freely between my laptop and desktop for recording/mixing. Any glowing pearls of wisdom you have would rock…

OK, great question. FireWire is Apple’s trademark, so let’s refer to the standard by its official name, IEEE 1394. 1394 offers maximum bandwidth of 400 Mbps. What kind of bandwidth are you trying to push? That’s simple, in 24 bit 96 kHz mode, you have a maximum of 10 tracks. Your bandwidth would then be:

24 x 96,000 x 10 = 23,040,000 bps
= 21.97 Mbps

This means you have oodles of available bandwidth on the same bus. For realtime applications, IEEE 1394 offers an isochronous mode, which is clocked at either 100, 200, or 400 Mbps with no dropouts. This makes it ideal for both audio and video. The FA-101 also can do 6 tracks at 192 kHz. If you do the math, the bandwidth requirement is only a little higher. You should be able to plug that 1394 drive into either your PC or the second connector on the FA-101 without any problems.

Now, some questions for you! I see this unit listed at about US $500, but it doesn’t seem to come with any software. If you don’t already have good DAW, software, remember that purchase will drive your price way up. The Digidesign Digi 002 Rack is more than twice as expensive, but comes with Pro Tools LE and a few plugins.

Also, what are you planning on plugging into this thing? Did you notice that inputs 3-6 run at +4 dBu, which is the pro input level, rather than -10 dBu which is prosumer. Your synths & such might not like that. Only inputs 7-8 are selectable to -10 or +4 dBu. The SP/DIF I/O is optical only (kind of lame).

Personally, I would stay away from Edirol and stick with a company that specializes in audio and has lots, and lots of users, like Digi or even Tascam, which has some neat looking new stuff. But whatever you wind up getting, we want a full report, and of course, lots of audio to hear!

Off to the races

To begin with, I have to note with some sadness that Saul Bellow has died. It’s perhaps not necessary for me to mention that he was a great writer, since he actually won the Nobel prize in literature (rather than just being nominated by some insane senator from FL). It was in 1989 that I went on a Bellow jag, reading four or five of his novels in a row. My friend Steve recommended them to me, and I met my friend Dan while reading More Die of Heartbreak, smoking a cigarette, waiting for a bus in Aspen Colorado. After that jag, I lost touch with him, but what always impressed me with his writing was his keen insight into human nature (and the dark sense of humour helps). But he was also a guy writer; I don’t think his women characters quite come off. Like Robertson Davies, perhaps.

Running season is officially underway now. I have to be honest, I’m a little out of shape at the moment. OK, a lot out of shape. Right now my midsection is more like what you would see on Stretch Armstrong than on G.I. Joe. But that will change. On Tuesday nights, it’s the New York Road Runners running class with Bob Glover. If you don’t know Bob, he wrote the book on training for the NY Marathon–actually, he wrote two of them. Every Tuesday night, 50 or so of us go out (usually) to Central Park to do speed training: hill repeats, short repeats, long repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats. The lather and rinse comes afterward.

But tonight, he threw a change-up our way; every once in a while, we go running along the East River, from 81st Street to the Triboro Bridge, then back again. It’s a brutal workout, 2.4 miles each way, run at the infamous “5K race pace.” In fact, they’re all brutal workouts. That’s exactly the point. And as bad as the run back always feels, tonight the Manhattan east-side skyline, my home, my 59th St. Bridge, they were all especially beautiful. 65F, no humiditiy, serene bliss. If you don’t know that glorious post-run feeling, then I feel sorry for you.

In their own words

The events of the last few weeks have brought a whole slew of political topics to the fore: the separation of powers, state’s rights, the role of religion in America, the meaning of conservatism. Here, with no commentary, editing or emphasis, are some interesting statements on these topics. I have backed up a few months in order to pick up the roots of the “culture of life” meme. Here they are in their own words…

George W. Bush, third presidential debate, October 13 2004:

“I think it’s important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life. I understand there’s great differences on this issue of abortion, but I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.”

George W. Bush speaking before anti-abortion rally, January 24 2005:

“I appreciate so very much your work toward building a culture of life, a culture that will protect the most innocent among us and the voiceless. We are working to promote a culture of life, to promote compassion for women and their unborn babies.”

Armstrong Williams, column entitled “Judicial Tyranny”, March 7 2005:

“I do not take the death penalty lightly. The decision to end a criminal’s life is perhaps the most solemn decision that the state can make. This decision is never easy. I mention this merely to point out that it’s for the people and their elected officials to decide when it is appropriate to extend full criminal punishment. This is not a decision that the constitution leaves to five old people in black dresses. The police power resides solely in the state government. It is a fundamental violation of the separation of powers when five unelected, unaccountable judges use their own sense of morality to invalidate the laws of 19 states. Justice Kennedy’s assessment that executing juveniles violates “evolving standards of decency” has no basis in reality.”

George W. Bush (President’s statement on Terri Schiavo) Thursday March 17, 2005:

“It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected – and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.”

House Majority Leader Tom Delay speaking to the Family Research Council, Friday March 18, 2005:

“It is more than just Terri Schiavo. This is a critical issue for people in this position, and it is also a critical issue to fight that fight for life, whether it be euthanasia or abortion. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, one thing God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what’s going on in America. That Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks. I mean, in America that’s going to happen if we don’t win this fight. And so it’s bigger than any one of us, and we have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position, and let me just finish with this: This is exactly the kind of issue that’s going on in America, that attacks against the conservative moment, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and to defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges, link up with all these do-gooder organizations funded by George Soros, and then get the national media on their side. That whole syndicate that they have going on right now is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to destroy the conservative movement.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Meet the Press, Sunday March 17 2005:

“Look, I want to say generally, very briefly, that the mix of God and government, of religion and politics, is quintessentially American, and it was there at the beginning. The fact is that in the first American document, the Declaration of Independence, the founders of our country said that they were forming the new government to secure the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they saw as the endowment of our creator. So this government, this country was not neutral about God right at the outset. One, accepting that there is a creator, so our existence here is not accidental. And secondly, that as a result of the creation, we have an inherent unity. We are all equal. We have equal opportunity for those rights. We are a country based on a vision, a belief in creationism. And part of that is not only the humans, who were created on the sixth day, but the but the natural Earth. You know, look, I believe based on what I just said, that America itself is a faith-based initiative.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Meet the Press, Sunday March 17 2005:

“We have to always remember that the Constitution, in my opinion, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

Christopher Shays (R-CT), quoted in NY Times, March 22, 2005:

“My party is demonstrating that they are for states’ rights unless they don’t like what states are doing. This couldn’t be a more classic case of a state responsibility. This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.”

Rick Santorum (R-PA) on WABC, quoted at newsmax.com, March 22 2005:

“You have judicial tyranny here. Congress passed a law that said that you had to look at this case. He simply thumbed his nose at Congress. What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo. That means he has to hold a new trial. That’s what the statute said. What he’s saying is, ‘I don’t have to hold a new trial because I’ve already determined that her rights have been protected. That’s nice for him to say that. But that’s not what Congress told him to do. Judges should obey the law. And this judge – in my mind – simply ignored the law.”

Grover Norquist, quoted in Washington Post, Sunday March 26 2005:

“Advocates of using federal power to keep this woman alive need to seriously study the polling data that’s come out on this. I think that a lot of conservative leaders assumed there was broader support for saying that they wanted to have the federal government save this woman’s life.”

House Majority Leader Tom Delay, March 31 2005:

“The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another.”

George W. Bush Thursday March 31 2005:

“I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others.”

Army Captain Rogelio Maynulet, found guilty of assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter for killing a man in Iraq but not sentenced to serve time, quoted in Stars and Stripes:

“He was in a state I didn’t think was dignified. I had to put him out of his misery.”

Cyril Rugby is cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.