Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 262 – Big Chance (conclusion)

Juvenile Snook cruises the tank at Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center - Hutchinson Island

          I’m still trying to figure out what kind of lesson, if any, to take away from this discomfiting series of contacts with Volkswagen. I know I’m not alone in this. We all like takeaways. Usually, though, the lessons we want are what we could do differently to get a better outcome. In this case I don’t know. I did my best in the circumstances and that wasn’t good enough. Perhaps I already got the best outcome possible—that is to escape having to work for Volkswagen in general and in Chatanooga in particular. The more I think about it, the more I have to conclude that this is the case.
I was prepared to like VW as an employer. It certainly would have been the biggest company I ever worked for, and, if there is anything to economies of scale in terms of job satisfaction and career potential, would certainly be capable of providing excellent opportunities over time.
I have always admired VW. It is an innovative and progressive company. It makes good products that are well thought out in terms of the way they work and that suit the market. I have owned 4 of their cars in my lifetime—two new and two used. I could easily own more.
Volkswagen has an immodest vision for itself. Its goal is to become the biggest car manufacturer in the world. I think they have a legitimate shot at it. They are dogged in the pursuit of their aims. They have both the corporate chops and the historical DNA to make it happen. They were conceived in the midst of a quest for global domination and emerged from the ashes of its failure. To make matters easier, Toyota and GM are currently squirming in sticky pits of their own devising. The time is right for VW. It would seem, however, that whatever they do they are going to do it without me.
I never should have been brought to Chatanooga. It was a waste of time and money, mine as well as theirs. The board members I interviewed didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t know why I was there. I don’t know who did. The accounting manager seemed to have an agenda, but he did a lousy job of communicating what that was—at least to me, and apparently to the board guys as well.
Maybe he didn’t have time. Maybe he was stretched too thin. I don’t know. All I do know for certain is that, at the end of a long and arduous day of travel and discomfort, I didn’t feel any better about having interviewed the Germans than I would have about interviewing Ivan or Henry or any one of a handful of bozos from Albatross. I came away from the experience with the uneasy feeling that I had had a narrow escape, but from what I cannot say with any certainty.
          Here is what I think I learned: Even though VW is at the top of its game, it is not much better when it comes to managing its affairs than anyone else I have ever worked for. Poor communication and the bone-headed decisions to which it leads are not the exclusive franchise of small companies and small-time managers. The differences between top-flight companies and also-rans are measured in inches and hundredths of seconds, not yards and minutes. The best of companies suffer from the same dysfunctions, faulty precepts, hidden agendas, second guessing, and grandstanding power-plays that cripple their less successful competitors. That their results are better is often a matter of pure dumb luck and the fact that they are so big that their course is not easily diverted by petty deficiencies. This may be the true advantage of economies of scale.
          Volkswagen would have been a departure for me from my usual employment environment. I’ve always thrived in a smaller company. I’ve always been a big fish in a little pond. At VW I would have been a little fish in a big pond. I was going to try to be okay with that, but that may have been a big mistake on my part. I don’t want to do in desperation what I would never do in more serene circumstances.
I’m 62. I don’t need to thrive. I just need to survive until retirement. A big fish has to perform, and in a small pond the ways to do so are limited by the size of the pond itself. A small fish may need to perform too, but it also needs to devote a certain amount of its focus on not being eaten. Survival occupies a relatively larger amount of his energy. A big fish doesn’t compete with the other fish in its own pond. A big fish competes with other ponds. A small fish has to compete with all the fish in his own body of water. This means a small fish spends a lot of time looking back over its gills. In addition to knowing its job a small fish has to be adept at pond politics.
I’m not an aggressive predator. I like to work in concert with people. I don’t think it should be necessary for the rails of my career to be laid over the carcasses of my fellow workers. In fact I think that kind of success runs counter to the best interests of the organization I work for. Ultimately it is teams that succeed best, and teams are not generally made up of cut-throats and back-stabbers. Fierce competition within an organization weakens the organization.
Last week I was thinking of myself as a grasshopper. This week I’m a fish. I’m not a barracuda or a shark, though. I’m more like a snook. I like to hold behind structure where the current is slowest, conserving energy, waiting for opportunity to come floating by. This is probably not the best way to get ahead, but it is a style that suits me.
Snook do okay by it. They are prized game fish. Some of them grow quite large. The Florida record, near as I can tell, is 48 inches long and just short of 44 pounds—no great white, but a respectable fish and, perhaps more important to me, a fish that does not inspire fear and loathing as the big sharks do. Snook are admired, prized even, for their fighting ability, their speed, and their native cleverness. They are hard to catch. Snook occupy the middle ranges of the food chain. They manage this while still being essentially ‘lazy’ predators. I think that’s a worthy enough aspiration for an old guy like me. I’m content with it. Of course I’d never say that I was lazy in a job interview. Oh, wait…I kind’a did.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 262 – Big Chance (continued)

          The turnaround on the travel arrangements to Chatanooga was quick. The day after the video interview I had reservations for flights and a rental car and had directions from the airport to the leased VW headquarters downtown. The travel was scheduled for the next day—up in the morning and returning in the late afternoon. There was a connection in Atlanta. There is always a connection in Atlanta.
          I had time to reflect on the curious turn of events while I was in the air. I couldn’t believe that I was going to the next stage in the interview process. I felt there was something missing, but I couldn’t say what. Ted had been kind of non-committal in the video interview. Maybe he was embarrassed by my verbal gymnastics. Maybe he just didn’t want to seem too enthusiastic about me until he knew which way the wind was blowing with the accounting manager.
I never felt like I had established any kind of rapport with the accounting manager. For one thing he was hard for me to understand. He was a Mexican national. He had an accent, albeit a mild one, and he was soft spoken. These, coupled with my high frequency hearing loss and the vagaries of the audio connection at the video conference center had me struggling to understand what he said.
I have this problem a lot. My usual tactic is to nod my head and smile. I have no idea to what I might be agreeing. Since this was an interview and the results had some import for me, I really tried to focus on what he was saying. If I couldn’t piece it together to my satisfaction, I made him repeat himself. Mostly people hate to be made to repeat themselves. I know I do. I was afraid that my repeated requests for repetition were wearing thin with the accounting manager.
I thought he thought my answers to his questions were flippant and contrived. I thought he thought I was full of crap about being an Excel power user. I thought in the end he would be much happier with someone who had actual experience in the disciplines required by the particular job he was trying to fill.
I didn’t have any idea why they were flying me to Chatanooga on two days notice. I couldn’t work any of this out in the 2 ½ hours of flight time to Chatanooga. The best I could do for myself was resolve to chalk it up to practice if it all went south.
          All of these considerations had to do with the interview itself and the unusual way in which the circumstances had unfolded for me. I also had reservations about the job. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live in Chatanooga. I’ve  been through it enough times to know it’s a lovely place. I’m equally sure that the people there are as nice as they can be.
In my experience, the further you get from the borders of the contiguous continental United States the more congenial and pleasant are the people to be around. I’m not making a judgment. I’m merely stating a fact. I love the people I know from New York, Virginia, Florida, Texas, California and Montana just as much as I love the people I know from Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
The fact is though, if I had to choose a place to live based purely on its citizenry, I would choose Oklahoma without any hesitation whatsoever. Why? Because I know that every twenty minutes or so in Oklahoma I am going to witness an act of uncommon civility. I know that in Oklahoma the driver behind me is not going to lay on his horn and flip me off if I am not already accelerating through an intersection as the light changes from red to green. I know that in Oklahoma when I do something stupid, as I know from long experience that I will, the Sooners who witness my failure will smile and shrug their shoulders as if to say, ‘Could’ve been me, Pard. Hope the rest of your day is better.’
There is a lot to be said for living in a place like that, and if you’ve ever done it you will forever after be calculating what you might be willing to give up to return.
          Now, having said all that, I have to say that I really don’t want to leave Florida. I have family here—family that needs me. It’s not just Nelson. My kids and grandkids are here too. They have medical issues of their own. It’s good for my wife and me to be handy to them. We can help.
Beyond that I like the climate. I like salt water. I like palm trees. I like seafood. I like that there is no snow or ice or sleet to stay the post people from their appointed rounds. I like the casualness of everything. I like sandals and bikinis, shorts and T-shirts, outdoor dining and Tiki themed bars. I don’t want to move to Chatanooga, to do work I don’t care for anymore, when I know I’ll be trying the whole time to figure out how to get back to Florida. I might have to do it, but I’m not going to like it. How much better would it be to get a job in Florida and not have to leave? Way, way better is what.
So I’m conflicted. I’m going to do an interview that I don’t understand why I got and that I don’t think I’m going to do very well at for a job I’m not sure I want in a place I’d rather not be. Still, under the circumstances, I’m committed to doing the best I possibly can…if only for the practice. I’ve remarked before that I was raised Roman Catholic. I can carry a boatload of baggage into almost any situation. Why should this be any different.
The actual interview took 18 minutes. It was over before it started, although it took a long time to start. I had to cool my heels for 45 minutes in the first floor lobby before someone came down from personnel to collect me. I say cool my heels, but there was nothing cool about it. It was hot as hell. The air conditioning either didn’t work or was just inadequate for the acres of glass that seemed to magnify the heat of the street outside. There were no chairs in the lobby either. It was torturous.
When I finally got upstairs I was put in a closet for a preliminary meeting with the accounting manager. He told me that I needed to tell the board members I was interviewing that I was being considered for one of two positions—the capital investment analyst and a general accounting position. That’s all he had to say. He was in and out in 30 seconds. I would like to have known why the board members didn’t already know this. It seemed odd to me that I needed to tell them what they were interviewing me for. That and this is the first I was hearing about the general accounting position. Something didn’t smell right…again.
The board guys were a little scary in a vaguely Eastern European kind of way. I’m sure they are wonderful men, good husbands, caring fathers, pillars of their community. Maybe it was the accents, or the accents in concert with the leather jackets and a level of dishevelment two days past needing a haircut. I don’t know. Germans can be imposing to the rest of us. I say this even though I am ¾ German myself. My German imperiousness is always getting the better of my Irish sensitivity.
Germans are almost always scary on TV and in the movies. I think the scariest character I ever saw, admittedly in a lifetime of avoiding scary movies, was the Gestapo officer in the black leather trench-coat in Raiders of the Lost Ark. That dude was evil.
Whenever Hollywood wants to make someone scary they make them look like Nazis. As evidence I submit Darth Vader’s WWII German helmet and the uniforms of the Imperial officers in Star Wars, Nazi imagery in Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of Lord of the Rings, and even the comic edginess of Cloris Leachman’s Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety. I know there are many others.
So I found these two guys from Germany to be intimidating. I may have been unfairly pre-disposed to this feeling, but that doesn’t make it any less real and I guarantee you they didn’t do anything to dispel it.
The first thing they wanted me to tell them was how much actual experience I had analyzing capital investments. I told them I had none. They asked me if I therefore wanted to terminate the interview. I told them I was being considered for two different positions. They told me that I was not. I decided it best not to argue with them.
I didn’t think they were packing Lugers, but I didn’t want to test that supposition either. I told them that I felt I could do the job they had in mind because I had a wealth of experience, but I was sorry to have to tell them that I had no direct experience with capital investments analysis. They asked a few perfunctory questions about the experience I had and told me they would be in touch. I walked out, stunned. It had gone even worse than I imagined.
The HR lady met me outside the door. She wanted to know how I felt it went.
“Not very well,” I said.
“Oh,” she asked, “why not?”
“Because it lasted less than twenty minutes,” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “They have a lot of people to see today. Every candidate has been allotted 22 minutes, and they are determined to stay on schedule.”
It didn’t feel right to me…no matter what she said.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 262 – Big Chance

          I scored another interview last week. This one had me excited for several days. It started with an e-mail from a fellow I used to work with at Albatross. He was something of a wit, but he was also knowledgeable, engaging, and extremely competent. We were both division controllers when we worked together. When he left to take another job at a home appliance manufacturer, all his work got assigned to me. This was in addition to my own work. I didn’t get any more money. By that time I was already used to that kind of treatment.
This fellow—we’ll call him Ted—once showed me a graphical report that he used when he had worked previously at BMW. It tracked production starts and deliveries against incoming orders and against budget. It was part of a group of indicators referred to as a dashboard, and its purpose was to alert management to trends that were likely to result in too much or too little inventory. The report was divided into bright red and green areas separated by a bright yellow warning track. When the trend lines were in the green, things were good. When the lines went into the yellow warning track, it was time for management to wake up and do something. When the lines went into the red area, someone was going to lose their job. Things were never ever supposed to get in the red.
Ted felt we should adapt this report to our own needs an Albatross. I agreed. I duplicated his formulas and entered some trial data from my own division. Where Ted had used bright primary colors, I elected to use pastels. For one thing I thought the pastels would use less ink, thereby saving the company a few cents a page. I also hated the glaring colors. I preferred the more restful shades of rose, canary, and sage. I showed a sample to Ted. He was not impressed.
He said, “The formulas are fine, but I prefer the heterosexual palette.”
At the time I thought this was the single funniest thing I had ever heard at work. It probably wasn’t, but I was under a lot of stress already and my emotional responses tended to be a little exaggerated. Still it was a pretty clever thing to say, and my estimation of Ted’s value as a human being surged upwards by a considerable amount as a result. When he left I was sorry to see him go…and not just because I had to do his job for free.
According to his e-mail Ted had just taken a job with Volkswagen of America at a new assembly plant they are building in Chattanooga. He thought they might have a place for me as well. I sent my résumé.
          A few days later I got a call from HR with some preliminary questions about my experience and credentials. They told me a little about the job they thought I might fit. It was a capital assets analyst position—something I have never done, but also something I thought I could easily assimilate. I told them I was interested even though it would mean taking a lower annual salary and having to relocate. It’s a buyer’s market for labor. I judged that the potential for improving my situation at VW far outweighed the initial negatives.
          HR called back next day to schedule a video conference interview. I had to drive up to Vero Beach to a video center and talk to three people from management over a video connection. The three managers turned out to be the young woman I had already talked to from HR, Ted, and the accounting manager. I figured I had a pretty good chance of coming off well.
          I like video conferencing. As a rule you get two screens to look at. One displays the people at the other end of the line. The other displays your own image. It’s like you get to constantly check yourself in the mirror while you talk without it being immediately obvious to the people you are talking to what you are doing. This is great interview feedback. If you lose your poker face or nervously play with your earlobe or dart your eyes around the room like you are being probed by alien life forms, you will know right away that you need to adjust your on camera mannerisms before it is too late. I wish all my interviews were on video conference.
          I suppose that for some people there is a danger that they will be so distracted by their own image that they will be unable to focus on the job at hand. These are the people who are too attractive—or think they are—for their own good. If they also happen to be enthralled with the sound of their own voice, they will be doubly handicapped. Fortunately I am not one of these. I know such people exist though. I have met some, and you probably have too. You can read about some others here, and here.
There is a FaceBook group called Sexy Accountants. I used to belong. I joined because I thought I could get the sexy accountants to read this blog. I was especially interested in getting them to read the entry titled Budget Burlesque. It didn’t work. Apparently accountants who think they are sexy are too self-absorbed to read about other would-be sexy accountants. If you go to this group’s page and review the list of members you will immediately notice that the sexy accountants mostly are not. There is maybe one notable exception. I’ll leave it to you to decide who that is.
          Now as it turned out, the video interview with Volkswagen that I thought would be a cake walk was instead fairly arduous. They asked hard questions that forced me to get creative in responding about my abilities and shortcomings. The accounting manager was especially pointed in some of his questions. I guess he was making up for what he assumed would be ‘softball’ questions from my friend, Ted. He wanted to know a lot about my management style, which I found odd as the job was not a management position.
He also asked a lot of typical questions from the HR interview handbook—questions like what are your three best and your three worst qualities in terms of performing this job, and give specific examples of each from your work experience. I know how to answer that question, but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s one of those questions where you are expected to seem like you are considering it on the fly and thinking on your feet, but where you have actually rehearsed the answer so that it conveys a precise message while sounding spontaneous. It is bullshit. There is nothing that answering this question skillfully can convey to the interviewer except that you are a good liar. Of course a good liar may be precisely what they are looking for.
I like to turn questions like this upside down and then talk my way out of the shambles I create. For instance, I like to say that my best quality is that I am lazy. Saying that never fails to get the interviewer’s attention. They can’t believe anyone would say that in an interview. They always need to hear more, and they never fail to pay close attention to the explanation.
I tell them that I don’t necessarily mind hard work, but I hate having to do anything twice. I hate wasting my time, so it is important for me to do everything correctly the first time. When you get it right the first time, you don’t have to do it again. It’s a simple and rewarding concept. To execute it you go just a little slower than everyone seems to think that you ought. You spend a little time thinking about what you have to do and how you are going to do it before you start. This kind of thing seems to satisfy an interviewer because, I suspect, they don’t know how to think the process through to its logical conclusion.
In practice, if someone sees you sitting at your desk thinking, they are apt to surmise that you are thinking about what you are going to have for lunch or about the colors and textures of the receptionist’s lingerie. They are apt to think that you ought to be working as hard as the grunts across the hall frantically spinning their wheels off in the wrong direction.
The result is that your work outcomes will shine but your performance reviews will be bad. I try to forestall bad performance reviews by keeping my door closed. That way I get excellent performance reviews right up until the moment that I get fired. My managers like my results, but they can’t stand that they don’t have any idea what’s on my mind. It makes them nervous.
The Volkswagen accounting manager wanted to talk about my familiarity with Microsoft Excel. I told him I was an early adopter—that I had been using Excel since the early eighties. I told him that I had taught Excel as an adjunct instructor in a state university in Arkansas. I told him I was a power user. He commented that I must then know about the several glitches in the Excel code that produce erroneous results. I did not. He insisted that I must, else I wouldn’t in fact be a power user. I apologized for not knowing what he was talking about. I told him that I had used Excel extensively on a daily basis for decades and had never run into a problem. I couldn’t say there were no problems, only that I had never experienced them. He nodded in a dismissive way, and that was pretty much the end of the interview. He said they would contact me within a week or so.
I thought I had really blown the interview at that point. I figured the guy had taken my different experience with Excel as evidence that I was full of crap, and that my chances were blown out of the water. I left the video center and drove home, dejected. I was even a little pissed at Bill Gates, and not for the first time in my life.
Before I got all the way home—the trip is about an hour—the HR lady called to invite me to Chatanooga for a face-to-face meeting with some board members that were coming in from Germany. She said they would make all the arrangements and e-mail me the details. I honestly didn’t know what to think about that past that I must have fallen down a rabbit hole or slipped into a rip in the fabric of space and time. It was not a comfortable feeling. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 255 – The Ant and the Grasshopper

            I always liked the Aesop fable about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant spends the summer storing up grain and supplies for the coming winter while the grasshopper sings and plays the fiddle and, in some tellings, ridicules the ant for wasting the idyllic days with industry. When winter comes the ant is warm and well provisioned while the grasshopper is cold and hungry. When the grasshopper comes knocking on the ant’s door for a handout, he is in turn roundly castigated by the ant for wasting the plenteous days of summer with idle pursuits when he should have been working to store up provisions.
The grasshopper is turned away to die in the ancient versions of this story, and invited in to sing and dance in exchange for the ant’s largesse in some more modern iterations. I like the versions where the ant shares his bounty better than the ones where the grasshopper dies. This may be because I am now forced by circumstances to consider that I have in fact become one of life’s grasshoppers.
          There are more modern versions still—sarcastic ones but apocryphal nonetheless—where government intervenes on the grasshopper’s behalf, condemns the ant for greed and acquisitiveness, confiscates the ant’s wealth, and redistributes it to the grasshopper. The left-leaning sensibilities of our modern world, the re-spinners of this yarn would have us believe, have turned Aesop’s wisdom upside down.
          I am not a communist, not a socialist, not a Marxist. I do not believe in the forced redistribution of wealth. I do not think it is a good idea to strip the risk-takers and innovative thinkers of the comforts they have managed to accumulate for themselves by industry and perseverance and to give it to a bunch of lay-abouts in the interest of social fairness. I think doing this is an excellent way to guarantee the end of progress and the diminution of wealth and quality of life for society as a whole.
          I am still, however, as I have already pointed out several times, a vengeful bastard. So if you are talking about stripping the executive helicopter from Joe Gregory (Lehman Bros.) or the $6,000 suits from Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan) or the Manhattan apartment from Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs) or the multimillion dollar bonus from any one of several thousand bank executives and traders who profited hugely from the financial troubles that are still troubling the rest of us, and giving that stuff to me, then I say go for it. It’s only fair. After all, these scalawags precipitated a forced redistribution of wealth in the name of unabashed capitalism, and they remain, not just unrepentant, but proud of their accomplishments.
          These yahoos, just like the muddling managers I used to work for, have broken the system that sustains them, and now, while the victims of their shameful duplicities, frauds, and ignorance languish in unemployment, despair and powerlessness, they are engaged in self-congratulatory celebrations of their return to profitability. They made the hard choices, they say, they took their lumps such as they were, and emerged stronger than ever from the wreckage they caused. Who in their right mind does not believe that these lugubrious flim-flammers should be rounded up and horse whipped?
          Ah, but I digress—easy when you are a grasshopper, and even easier when you consider that, in the current circumstances, the ants have not fared very well either. In fact the ants may have suffered worse than us grasshoppers. They certainly had more to lose at the outset.
Sometimes, when I think of what might have been, I am glad that I didn’t give up the life I had at the time in order to make a better one in the future. Sure, I worked hard for what I got, but I didn’t give up as much life balance as I could have in order to accumulate stores for my future. And what I did get I mostly spent when I got it—better in retrospect than denying myself for a future that was going to be stolen from me in any event. How pissed would I be then? Pissed enough perhaps to have joined the Tea Party so I could go to rallies with crackpots and stare at Sarah Palin’s bosom.
As a grasshopper I depend on the ants. Their surplus is my birthright. Not all of it mind you, just the amount they are willing to give up for my fiddling and dancing. This is not without precedent. There are others who add no value to our economy, but still manage to fare very well on stipends for their entertainment value. Tom Cruise comes to mind, Brad and Angelina, virtually all the various Real Housewives (very few of whom it turns out really are), Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, the Kardashians, everyone from Twilight.
These are just the most egregious examples I can think of. Arranged into categories, professional athletes, entertainers, artists and writers, celebrities of every stripe are useless in terms of their ability to add to the collective wealth of society. These people are all paid from the stores of the real producers among us, and many of them are paid very well indeed. They are paid so well that a lot of actual productive workers aspire to be just like them.
Now there is a world turned upside down, although it may be as much due to the attendant fame and sex appeal as to the pay scale. Who would not rather be tricked out in the resplendent colors of the grasshopper above than the drab monochromatic uniform of the fire ant I wrote about some days ago? On the other hand, if one were going to try to relieve Jamie Dimon of one of his resplendent suits, who would not rather have the formidable resources of the fire ant at his disposal? The fire ant’s arsenal though is the exclusive preserve of power mongers and rebels. In the world where I live, the world where fables are mostly just entertainment, the ants would mostly rather be grasshoppers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Accountants Were Harmed in the Making of this Blog

          While I was traveling last week to visit, and ultimately to bury, my 90 year old mother who had suffered a devastating stroke, I got an e-mail telling me that someone had posted a reply to a comment I made at Going Concern. Going Concern is a blog that deals primarily with accountants and accounting issues. I started reading it early this year when it was full of news of the alleged accounting irregularities and possible audit failures surrounding the bankruptcy and collapse of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008.
          I like to post comments at Going Concern because I get a lot of readers for my blog from there—not enough to get me recognized anywhere and certainly not enough to add any cash to my coffers, but still a significant addition to my total traffic.
          This particular reader, the one who replied to my comment giving rise to the e-mail, took exception to some of my confessions of regrettable fiscal decisions that led to my filing bankruptcy. Here is the text of the e-mail, which includes the whole of the reply:

Jigaboo (unregistered) wrote, in response to jonahgibson:

I read your little blog ... you sound like an idiot. 20 years of credit card date [sic] at 23% +. Why, for the love of God, why would you not refinance???? This is an accounting website. You are hurting us here with your nonsense.

Link to comment:

          Notwithstanding that he is of course correct—I do sound like an idiot—I find it ironic that Jigaboo, who, hopefully at least, does not realize that his screen name is a racial slur and who apparently does not bother to check his text before he posts, thinks that my paltry bankruptcy and my few foolish decisions, all of which I have documented here, are actually injurious to accountants. I wonder whom, exactly, he thinks has been injured, and how.
          I would have hoped that Jigaboo understood that the point of my little blog—at least in the entry about my bankruptcy, which is the one to which he alludes—was precisely that I had made bad choices, that where I had managed other people's money as if it were my own, I had managed my own as if I were the federal government. I don't think that Jigaboo has read much of my blog. Otherwise he might not have called it 'little' and he might have had a better grasp on the often self-deprecating timbre of my posts. In fact, according to my reader stats, Jigaboo, who logs in from Brooklyn, has only read two or three pages of my blog and only spent a few minutes doing that. This is perhaps long enough to form a New York opinion, but one should consider that it was largely New York opinions that held Repo 105 transactions to be appropriate accounting.
          I think Jigaboo is wrong in his assessment of any damage I might have done to the accounting profession. I may have made some bad choices, and I may have undertaken to get myself out of the mess I'd got into in a manner entirely too late and unsatisfactory to him, but I have not committed 'nonsense' enough to do any injury to accountants in general or even to the concentration of Big 4 denizens and alumni who frequent Going Concern. They may have been hurt, but not by me.
          Accountants have been hurt by the kind of people who would never make the mistakes I've made. They've been hurt by the same arrogant, self-righteous bastards I've been talking about for nearly 100 entries now. They've been hurt by guys who are the opposite of me, the kind of guys who get their own finances right but play fast and loose with the money that belongs to the rest of us, the kind of guys who believe that it's their right to be 'too-big-to-fail' and who are more than happy to take taxpayer money to bail them out of the mess they created but don't want to accord the same benefits to anyone else.
          The damning evidence that they must have known they were doing wrong is that they used accounting legerdemain to hide their actions. Yet now they are content to take fat bonuses and to congratulate one another for getting away with it. These are the folks, their collective sense of entitlement pumped up on steroids and their collective conscience atrophied by lack of use, who remain unapologetic as they lobby for a regulatory status quo. Meanwhile the world is still trying climb out of the smoking wreckage that their mostly unregulated excesses brought us.
          Accountants have been hurt by these guys in the same ways that the rest of us have. They've seen their investment portfolios shrink to a fraction of their former worth. They've watched the value of their homes decline. They've seen their credit sources dry up. They've seen their livelihood put at risk by business declines everywhere.
          Accountants, though, have also suffered a blow to their credibility. Not very many people seem to trust accountants anymore—at least not to the extent they once did. Accounting has slid down in the rankings on the list of honored professions—and not just because it's so hard for accountants to get girls. Their integrity and their acumen have been splintered by broadside after broadside. It's not the investment bankers they have to thank for this either. It is the partners and managers at the top of the accounting profession, in the largest firms, with ostensibly the most to lose, who are to blame. These are the auditors who saw firsthand the accounting sleights and subterfuge being used to cover up the cancer in our financial institutions, and elected—elected mind you—to call it Kosher. They passed on fraud. They aided and abetted the crime. They took their fees and helped to hide the truth and now they want a pass themselves.
          My friend, Jigaboo, doesn't have much to say about these guys. My guess is that one day he'd like to be counted among their number. I think he aspires to be one of them. Why else would he be so adamant about protecting their precious reputations from nonsense such as mine? Why else would he be so keen to banish us idiots from discussing our failures in the same place where we profess to be accountants? Jigaboo wants to maintain the veneer of intelligence and acumen that will allow the next generation of accountants and auditors to abet the next generation of scalawags, and none of them will ever be jobless like me.
          So thank you very much, Jig. I appreciate your concern. I feel good that you are out there making the world safe for defenseless accountants who might otherwise be caught unawares by idiots and nonsense. I just think that you have missed the forest for concentrating on trees like me who have already been felled by the truly dangerous idiots among us.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 248 – Modern Communications

          Nelson has been complaining of pain in his back and shoulder. It started in his back, and he was convinced that it was sciatica. When it moved into his shoulder he became convinced that the physical therapist was overworking him. We got her to go easy on him for a few days, but the pain did not abate. Anne made him an appointment and took him to the doctor on Thursday last week. The doctor sent him for x-rays. As usual, Nelson undertook to make the rest of us suffer for this unexpected additional medical procedure. Anne bore the brunt of it because she was stuck in the car and in the waiting room with him.
          The results turned out to be bad news, although just how bad is yet to be determined. Among his other ailments, Nelson has prostate cancer. At his age this has not been particularly worrisome as prostate cancer is a slow moving disease and fairly easily contained with medication. The likelihood is that, at 89 years of age, Nelson is going to die from one of his other health problems before the cancer ever gets him.
          Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a contrary case. Apparently Nelson’s prostate cancer has metastasized into his spine, neck, and shoulder. The doctors want to do some additional tests, of course, to confirm, but this looks to be the issue underlying Nelson’s pain.
          There has been a lot of discussion back and forth between his daughters. Nelson’s daughters like to plan things in minute detail and well in advance—even things over which, realistically, they have no control. They just like to know what is going to happen and when. As a group they are responsible, caring, and sensitive to a fault, but they are not ideally suited to dealing with surprises. This new development has thrown them, and is requiring a lot of discussion in order for them to get their plans readjusted in their heads.
          I am reminded, perversely, of the time when my wife and her sisters discovered e-mail. E-mail represented a tremendous boon to their collectivity. It expanded their ability to keep up with one another by quantum bounds and was therefore cause for a lot of excitement among them. I was excited myself because I saw in e-mail a way for the ladies to increase their connections to one another and at the same time actually save money on long-distance telephone charges. Boy was I wrong.
          Here’s what happened. One of the lovely sisters would decide she needed to communicate something of relative importance to her sisters. She would carefully craft an e-mail and send it, often to all three of her sisters. Once she’d hit the send button she would commence to worry that somehow the missive had gotten lost in the labyrinth of wires, cables, and junctions that comprised the internet. She would fear that the message would not be received, or not be received timely, or, even worse, accidentally sent to a Donkey Kong screen in some remote Chuck E. Cheese pizza house where a raucous t-ball team was celebrating their first victory of the season.
Once the sister was sufficiently convinced that her message had indeed gone astray—a process that usually took about 20 minutes—she would begin making long distance calls to her sisters to see if they had received the e-mail. A lengthy discussion would then take place about the contents, the spelling, the things they might have forgotten to mention, and ending with heartfelt wonderment about the marvels of modern technology that allowed them to stay so connected. Indeed.
Anyway that’s what they’re all doing now, my wife and her sisters, calling and e-mailing one another, trying to work these new developments into their plans for the rest of Nelson’s life. Nelson just wants to be left alone. He’s not really interested in having cancer or not. I think he suspects the whole thing is just another elaborate trick being played on him by the growing number of doctors he’s offended in some way. He doesn’t feel any worse than he did yesterday, and that was plenty bad enough, thank you very much.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Death in the Family

My 90 year old mother passed away Friday afternoon after suffering a massive stroke on Monday. I'll not be able to update the blog regularly until after the funeral. Still making arrangements, but it will probably be Thursday, July 8, before I am back to my customary level of connectivity.