Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crying Colleagues

There were some nasty scenes at work this week as the marketing department (of which, bizarrely I’m a member) shut down.* This didn’t surprise anyone, as it’s been anticipated for months, but it’s still unpleasant to see talented hardworking people getting shown the door through no fault of their own.

As so often, I’m struck by the sheer good luck/bad luck randomness of this event, and how little it had to do with if the marketing department was any good or not.

Here’s what happened:

About two or three years ago, a huge bank decides that this Internet thing is hot, and to secure their future they need a piece of the action.

The bank employs a consultancy company, who produce a list of small/medium sized companies that seem good prospects.

The bank buys the companies, including three successful and profitable ones that all compete against each other. I currently work for one of these three companies.

The bank let things run for a year, then merges the three companies into one, with a single product range. As I type, this process is ongoing, and three marketing departments have just been merged into one – hence the redundancies this week…

Let’s step back a bit, and do a simple cost/benefit analysis of what this acquisition and merger has done.

On the plus side:

The huge bank has managed to establish itself on the internet, without having to do any costly/risky R&D work of its own.

The bank’s share price rose slightly with the news of the acquisition and merger of the three companies.

The owners of the three companies made a load of money, and will now be able to retire, if they couldn’t before.

Several legal companies that specialise in corporate law drew up elaborate and largely unreadable contracts.

A consultancy firm earned a nice consultancy fee for a fairly straightforward research job.

On the minus side:

Two years ago a consumer had three choices of Internet banking product, today a consumer has two less. The two “disappeared” products were killed off not by the market, but by a bunch of technicians who were looking at the easiest common platform to produce a ‘merged’ product that would be supplied to all the previous customers.

Three accountancy, marketing, administration, development, personnel (spit!), and management teams that were once competing against each other have been merged into one.

A large number of competent hardworking people are now looking for work, in the same way they would be if their companies had failed because nobody bought the products. Nobody said life was fair, but at the same time, it’s worth acknowledging just how unfair to people this is.

Three dynamic, innovative, and small/medium sized companies have been replaced by a single, slightly larger, much more cautious entity, which has two fewer competitors to deal with, and a huge bank as the back seat driver.

I could go on, but basically there is a huge amount of evidence that mergers and acquisitions often reduce consumer choice, promote monopolies, reduce innovation, and in the long run destroy shareholder value.

This M & A was actually quite benign compared to one I narrowly missed a few years ago. That was a case of a successful company being bought by its larger competitor and then closed down, to eliminate competition.

Unlike many friends, I’m actually a fan of capitalism, at least as practised in a lightly regulated but law abiding form. The innovation and inventiveness you get is brilliant and inspiring. But I also believe it has huge problems, since its ideal condition, which is many companies all competing fairly in the same market, is intrinsically unstable and in practice doesn’t last more than a decade or two.

In the real world what happens is this happy state of innovative competition results in a very rapid culling of companies, (many of which are merged and acquired) to be replaced by a few companies, then over a longer period one or two monsters emerge that barely compete at all in the accepted sense. This is exactly what happened to the civilian aircraft industry over the past 50 years, and what happened to the computer software industry in my own working lifetime (yes I can remember when Microsoft just made a rather clunky operating system!).

Keeping that weird wonderful and unstable market where a customer has a wide choice of products is very difficult, and it’s obvious that too much regulation is a great way of killing it. But given the unimpressive record of M & As, I’m surprised there isn’t more scrutiny of them, and more aren’t rejected as the patently anti-competition, anti-consumer moves they are…

* The tek riting dept’s future is secure, at least for now. We’re only part of the Marketing department because nobody knows where to put tek riting departments. For instance, in my last job we were part of the training department.


Monday, February 20, 2006


Urgh - woke up hopelessly late today and was one and half hours late for work (shit!).

My excuse - there isn't any excuse. I'm lazy and hate my job (even a nice job with good people like this one) and would rather sleep in on a Monday morning.

There is a reason I'm so tired though - I had to watch the good bad horror film Final Destination II to the end last night (see picture above).

It was well amusing and featured what must be one of the most OTT vehicle pileups in cinema history. That sequence, and indeed the whole film, was filled with the exploding cars convention. You know the one - subject any type of vehicle with an internal combustion engine to an impact of 25 m.p.h or more and it explodes into a huge bright yellow/orange fireball. It's a strange convention, as most of us have been involved in a car accident at some point, and one of the striking (pun pun) things about them is how reluctant cars are to explode. In fact, despite high pressure fuel injection systems, it's amazing how few cars even catch fire after a shunt.

Aliens viewing our film and TV dramas would assume we're using a hydrogen-napalm-nitroglycerine fuel in magnesium vehicles with high explosive tyres...


Friday, February 17, 2006

Fucking Quisling!

I've just overheard an English turd say "I'm ball parking."

It's hard to express the rage I feel at hearing non-American turds using expressions like that but the emotion is real and there are several causes for it:

  • The use of a completely alien expression - we don't have "ball parks" (Baseball stadiums) in the U.K. One of the charactistics of British culture is that Rounders isn't a professional sport.
  • The origin of the term is the American expression a ball park number (an estimated number) which in turn comes from the expression That's in the ball park or Keeping it in (within) the ball park which is a number within a specific (usually acceptable) range.
  • It's a very dated expression, which belongs to Ronald Fuckwit Reagan era 1980s American business culture. What a sewer of an era from which to draw anything, even something as trivial as an expression!
  • There are several better alternatives including the straight forward I'm estimating to the more informal (and often more honest) I'm guess-timating. Ironically, guess-timating is not used much in American business culture and sometimes gets you a cheap laugh from business fuckwits who wear suits and suffer from coffee breath in the USA.
  • To use such an expression signals unconditional surrender to American cultural imperialism. To use it during the reign of President Dubya Fuckwit is the mark of a traitor.
  • The use of jargon when a perfectly acceptable substitute is available and understood by everyone deserves complete contempt. With such turds, I generally ask the turd to explain the expression, and then say something like Oh I see, you mean you're making an estimate. If only you'd said that. The objective is to make the turd feel like the fuckwitted Quisling they are.

I'd better stop now before I turn into the child killer and professional ranter Melanie (Filth) Philips...

John Dolan

Years behind the curve (at my age change is no longer an option, if it ever was) I’ve discovered the book reviews and articles of Doctor John Dolan. You can find a great store of them on the excellent Exile site, and for those of you who don’t know his work, here are few samples.

The first is a cool insight that isn’t found in the biography of Stalin he’s reviewing:

We want the great killers to have the mark of the beast somewhere on their preserved pelts. And they don't. They aren't monsters. Nor are they "banal," in Arendt's idiotic, endlessly misapplied cliche. They're just prime specimens of their type -- smart, ruthless, tough guys. Attila was a great steppe chieftain, no more and no less. You could put him through a thousand CAT scans, strap him down on a shrink's couch for a month, and learn nothing -- because there's nothing to learn. All that can be said of him is what Sam Elliot says of the Dude: "He's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there."

The next one is from a surprisingly sympathetic piece on the life and times of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin:

Dworkin's fatness and madness hardly disqualify her from intellectual distinction. If we excluded the fat and/or crazy from recent intellectual history, we'd be left with a very bland, Clinton-style consensus. And that, of course, is the goal, the point of these non sequiturs. They're great for dismissing loud, unbroken voices. American academics have a habit of skipping to the slur with disconcerting speed, as I found out a couple of years ago when I mentioned my love for Wallace Stevens' poetry to a Film professor. She winced, then said, "Wasn't he a racist?"

She didn't really know or care whether Stevens was a racist. As I realized later, that wince meant that she hadn't read Stevens, didn't want to be shown up and so had simply reached for the nearest available non sequitur. The notion that Stevens might be a racist AND a great poet, just as Dworkin might be a fat loon AND a crucial figure in feminist intellectual history, is simply beyond our Beige compatriots.

I’m pleased to note that the good doctor shares my views of the great Doctor Hunter S Thompson himself:Well, he hadn't lost it. He kept writing well -- better than they could. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best post-1945 American novel I know, with Dog of the South and Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch its only real competition. Thompson, waxing boastful in his old age, claimed it was as good as Great Gatsby; I say he was being absurdly modest. It's vastly better than that rusting hulk welded of Preppie bathos…

…Thompson took all that was good about the South: personal honor, toughness, gun love, jokes; and abandoned, once and for all, the vile baggage that went with it, without whining about his loss. He backed Ron Dellums for VP in 1972, and never even thought about going back to Dixieland schmaltz when it became fashionable again at the turn of the millennium.

And finally, some honesty about the classics emerges from an article on the fraudulent memoirs of James Frey:

He gave his readers more than enough clues to realize he was a complete fraud. Nobody with an ounce of sense, with a trace of integrity or the slightest attachment to reality, could have read that paragraph and continued to believe. Even the list of great books begs you to call its bluff! Every one of those books is in the class of unreadable classics. I've spent my life reading and yet never managed to get past the first chapter of Don Quixote. Comedy has a short shelf life, and what wowed 'em in Castile a few centuries back is now paper pulp.

And Leaves of Grass? Oh, come ON! Porterhouse would either have taken Whitman's hint and sodomized Frey to those King James cadences or simply whopped him with a tray again to stop the noise. Ah, but the crowning lie is that Porterhouse loved War and Peace. Again, this is the old noble savage, cultural virgin myth. Ever try to make somebody read that book? Unless they're Slavic majors, they can't even get the names straight, and unless they're born phonies they'll admit they're rather have six root canals on a time-dilating drug than be forced to slog to the end with that "moralizing infant" Tolstoy.

Amen! Nobody, but nobody reads classics as difficult as those for pleasure. You read them because you have too, because they are on the syllabus, or because you need a long quote or two to pad out the essay that must be in at 9:00AM tomorrow morning. Even at the time, you dimly realise that old classics comprise some sort of weird late adolescent rite of passage that has sod all to do with literature or illuminating the human condition.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Things are picking up all of a sudden.

I’m about to start a three day week-end with a trip to Blue Water tomorrow to see old friend Sweet Jane. The name Blue Water seems very strange for a shopping centre which is presumably like Brent Cross only a bit bigger. For me the name has associations with a shark film, an expensive navy, and another shark film. Are these really the sorts of associations you’d want for a monument to consumerism?

After a long period of burn-out (due to boredom, not lack of money) I’ve found my poker batteries recharged, and I’ve been doing reasonably well in a series of small on-line tournaments. Over the week-end I came 141st out of 1000+ runners on Party Poker, frustratingly short of the money, but on Tuesday night I finished just in the money at 30th of of 250 players at Paradise, entered the same tournament last night and came a solid 6th out of 253. It's nice to know I can still cut it, especially as my cards haven't been too clever.

Finally, Floozy of Montparnasse sent a lovely vivid e-mail today that describes her first couple of days as an English teacher in Thailand. Her situation sounds basic yet slightly idyllic, especially the working hours - three hours a day over a five day week.

Dunno what to think about Thailand. A lot of my friends have lived and worked there over the years and I’ve always thought I’d go one day, even though the distant colonial French vibe of Vietnam and especially Laos has more appeal. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll rent a copy of The Beach, or maybe Brokedown Palace (the excuse for the picture above) this week-end? If nothing else they'll take my mind off England in February...


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Thick of It

It’s rare that any TV series really grabs me, although I still have fond memories of Cracker and the cruel yet compelling Cardiac Arrest from the 1990s, and more recently the gritty satire of Bodies.

Both the medical dramas were scripted by the brilliant Dr. Jed Mecurio, who was forced to write Cardiac Arrest under the pen name John Macure, as he was still a serving NHS doctor at the time. I suppose under the right set of circumstances, it's possible to view both as very dark comedies.

Last night was the last episode of another very dark comedy, the wonderful political drama The Thick of It which walked a very clever line between comedy and realism. The acting and the fly-on-the-wall atmosphere (it's all hand-held cameras and what appears to be natural light) are a treat. Let's hope there's another series in the works...

Core belief: If you keep your eyes open you can get all the laughs you’ll ever need at work…