Infamy and Success

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“Fame has a fifteen minute half-life, infamy lasts a little longer.”

The quote was taken from the film The Insider. Now, The Insider is not a particularly great film for the simple reason that there is very little action. I don’t mean cars blowing up, guns firing, and hand-to-hand combat action, I mean that most of the film involves people sitting across from one another talking. Nevertheless, it’s a dramatic retelling of Jeffery Wigand blowing the whistle on the cigarette industry. More specifically, the story is about his interview on 60 Minutes and the legal battle that ensued to get his interview aired (official transcript of interview). The power of his interview did not lay in the fact that cigarette can cause cancer or other health problem, but that cigarette companies knew about the addictive properties of nicotine and actively attempted to manipulate cigarettes to make them more addictive.

However, cigarettes are not the point of the quote. CBS was unable to air the interview when they originally intended due to a legal battle with the cigarette companies. The Insider implies that the corporate offices of CBS tried to brush the interview under the rug. Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace uttered the aforementioned quote in response to an executive’s claim that CBS’s complicity with the tobacco industry would be forgotten shortly.

Granted, Plummer’s delivery makes the quote even more special, but like many quotes that I hold onto, it jives with my personal philosophy. At one job, my supervisor asked why I was so meticulous with certain projects. My response was something along the lines of, “When you do something right, you won’t hear anything from anyone. They take it as ‘Things working as they should.’ To some extent, they’re right. However, if something goes wrong, not only will you be sure to hear about it, but everything you do from there on in will be tainted with the memory of the time you messed up. In fact, you don’t even have to mess up, something could just go wrong, but it’s under your watch, so it’s your fault.” I still believe it to be true, and anyone would be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

With news of Don Imus returning to radio, I got to thinking about the infamy quote again. It’s not the first time that infamy has been a good career move. Better to be talked about in a bad way than not at all, right? I’m not saying that Imus should never return to radio. I don’t believe that he should be deprived of his right to make a living. I believe he made a mistake, he apologized and though he may not get a complete pass, I didn’t think he should be crucified. Nevertheless, he was fired. Something just strikes me as wrong, in the fact that Imus could now conceivable turn a profit from his admitted mistake.

Martha Stewart was another person to turn a profit off infamy. She was convicted of obstructing justice and perjury (something not wholly unlike insider trading), went to prison for five months and on her release, her stock goes up (entry date versus release date). Granted, last I checked, her stock price was close to the day she entered, but for a little space in time, you could have turned quite the profit from someone going to jail.

O.J. Simpson signed a book deal, which eventually got Harper Collins editor Judith Regan fired. Now, the Goldman family may be repackaging the book and reaping the profits.

Infamy is not always a sure-fire key to success. Despite all her problems and run-ins with the law, Lindsay Lohan’s I Know Who Killed Me, has only taken $7.3 million. I would be surprised if that covered production costs.

Maybe Britney Spears should have timed her OK! Magazine meltdown for when she had an album ready for release.

Additional Links:
Martha Stewart Prison Diary

Job Persona

Personal 1 Comment »

I’ve never been fired, but I think when I left a job or two, some people were glad to see me go. As with much of life, I don’t expect everyone to like or agree with me. However, at a job, I do expect a degree of professional respect. “I know that you don’t like me, but don’t let your personal opinion cloud your judgment of the work I do.” In time, I would come to learn how naive that last statement was, is, and will probably continue to be.

Anyone will tell you that you should always dress for the job that you want, not the job you have. When you go for an interview, you should dress formally, make sure your teeth are clean and that you don’t smell. All true. All correct. All functionally worthless.

The most important part of a job interview is getting across the right vibe. If the interviewer likes you, if they feel some form of bond or kinship with you, you will be hired. I’m sure if you think about it, you can come up with at least one story (maybe not a personal account) of someone being hired because they were a fan of a certain team, or because they smoked a joint with the interviewer (friend of mine).

These rules apply once you receive your job. Being seen as a valuable employee is 2% work and 98% vibes. You only have to stay conscious while at your job if people like you.

In my previous job, I got to put these rules to the test. Generally, I’m pretty quiet and sometimes too forthright. If you ask, “Is there a problem with something?” I’ll tell you the problem and potential solutions. I’m not rude, not curt, but I don’t pander or soft-shoe around the issue. Apparently, some of my coworkers did not take kindly to what I perceived to be an attribute. I was told by my immediate superior that my job was in jeopardy. So I made an immediate about-face. I kept a smile plastered onto my face for the eight working hours of the day, and whenever anyone asked me a question, the answer was always, “Yes.” Yes. YES. Yes and yes. Nothing but yes. Even when I knew something would not work, I said, “Yes.” When aforementioned “thing” did not work, I would say, “Gosh, that’s weird. I don’t understand how that could have happened. It couldn’t be something you did. Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you right away.” My supervisor said, and this is a pretty accurate quote, “I’ve never seen such a turnaround in the opinion of a person. Everyone is really happy with you. I’m glad to see you’re doing better.”

…pause while I try to resist vomiting.

I found that a healthy dose of sarcasm, in the right company, can be very therapeutic. You have to be careful when exposing your true emotions with coworkers. Some will understand your persona and intentions, others will use it against you. Some people can understand that even if you do not like someone, you can work with them, be polite, and even excel at your job. Most people cannot understand the separation between how you feel and what you do.

Below is a sample of some sarcasm, recently re-found by a former coworker and sent my way. I had to come up with a tagline for an online account management program. Keep in mind that our clients preferred to pick up the phone and call us, rather than making any effort, any effort what soever to figure something out on their own. I was told to come up with “something that will make them interested in trying out this online service”. Here are some choice outtakes:

  • Self-Service – This one requires two hands
  • If you can read, this should be of interest to you.
  • Service yourself, you bitches!
  • Good stuff to see if you get your head out of your ass.
  • Participate in something other than a gang rape.
  • Make an investment without someone dragging you kicking and screaming all the way.
  • Take control and take interest. Caution: Requires a clue.

It may seem a little hostile, but consider this: The computer is one of the few, if not the only, invention of the 20th century without a set purpose. For some people, it is a means of communication (email, video conference, bulletin boards), for others, it’s a business machine (word processing, spreadsheets), for some a graphic tool (layout, picture editing, drawing), and for others a sound recorder/sculptor (multi-track recording, sound creation and editing). Yet for all the possibilities that exist with this computer, very few jobs offer comprehensive, if an training whatsoever. The rationale is, “The computer is a pretty intuitive device, so you should be able to pick it up quickly.” While this may be true to a certain degree, it may not hold true for every person or instance. A person can be a trained CPA, a fine accountant of the highest caliber, and have no idea how to create an initial chart of accounts in a multi-layered, modular accounting package. Sure, he knows the theory, but not necessarily the programmatic practice. The response is usually, “This program doesn’t work right,” or “This thing is broken.”

Perhaps this would explain why the people who work in IT, the people that have to field your support calls are usually smokers, coffee drinkers, and eschewers of the light. They don’t hate you, but at times, you can be a threat to tolerance.

History

Politics 1 Comment »

Matt Murphy could have been ripped to shreds, if not for the SFPD, when he caught home run ball #756. However, despite his lumps, he holds a piece of history, the baseball which launched “out the yard” to break “the most hallowed record in all of sports”.

The film, Blind Spot is a video interview with Traudl Junge, Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary (yes, that Adolf Hitler). It’s incredible to watch. There is no background music, the camera does not move, there are one or two fade-ins and no additional footage is added. Nevertheless, you can’t help but sit in amazement because this person was right next to the most infamous man of the 20th Century.

Fog of War is an interview with Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. Granted, this film does have plenty of historical footage, some excellent bits of editing, and an excellent score by Philip Glass, but McNamara himself is completely engaging.

What is the fascination with certain aspects of history? Each of the above fall into different categories, Murphy: Touching History; Junge: Infamy; McNamara: somewhere between history and infamy. What determines the intensity of our fascination? Sometimes, it is the prospect of selling a piece of history for a great deal of money (selling a baseball). Other times, we may feel a personal connection to the subject because it affected our lives in some form (serving in Vietnam). It may even be morbid fascination (“What was the monster really like?”).

Additional Links:
NPR: Errol Morris Interview

Brigitte Harris

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I’m very surprised that this story has not gotten more mileage. After the country went ape over the castration of John Wayne Bobbitt, I thought that a stock like this, stocked full with abuse, revenge, postmortem mutilation, movie references, and allusions to alternative lifestyles would have been the kind of national media fodder that keeps people glued to their television sets. Let’s just do a little tally of the elements that make for great, low-brow entertainment:

1. Allegations of sexual abuse
This always garners a response. It’s a terrible tragedy for the victims, especially when they are children, and usually leaves them scarred for life. Nevertheless, sex abuse almost always makes it to the first few pages of the newspaper.

2. Revenge
It’s a theme that is almost as central to the American movie as is having a hero and villain. It’s found in the western, the action film, even the comedies and dramas. We love to see bad guys get their just deserts.

3. Pop-culture references
Harris called herself Lady Vengeance, a probable reference to the Korean film in Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy. It’s about a young woman that has to serve six years in prison because she is forced to confess to killing a child. The person that forces her is a sexually-abusive man who she may or may not have had a relationship with. At the end of the film, he ends up tied to a chair and tortured. Sound familiar?

4. Minority within a minority
Harris is a black woman, minority number one. She is a black woman who is a self-described “goth”, definitely a minority in the black community.

I’m really stunned that no one has piggy-backed on this to make political statements, either about violence in music and movies, or about sexual promiscuity in the black community. Mind you, I’m not saying that anyone should, but the fact that it has not happened already leaves me wondering, “Why?” Maybe there will be more attention when the case goes to trial. Then again, maybe this will just fade into obscurity.

More links:
Harris Enters a Mental Institution
Save Brigitte Harris Website

The Right of the State

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NPR did an interesting story on U.S. States taking possession of unclaimed property. This property extends from real estate to jewelery to un-cashed checks. The story immediately brought to mind the old saying, “Possession is nine tenths of the law,” and the term “eminent domain” also came to mind. All of the preceding terms are merely different ways in which the state can exercise power over the citizenry.

What options does a person have when the law is stacked against them, however unfairly? Anyone that is a victim of the state claiming their property might be able to take office-x to court, but do most people have the money to retain the legal council to win that battle?

This is ridiculous. Who is going to have an unclaimed piece of property? At the very least, people have to pay taxes on it. There is no way that is could unclaimed for any substantial period of time. I initially thought the same thing, but consider two things, and be patient with the explanation.

One: Real estate (or property, at least) is the basis of inherited wealth. After the Civil War, freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule, not money or gold bullion. If you invest in land today, you would be hard pressed to loose money on that investment.

Two: Imagine that someone owns a house. For whatever reason, said person suffers an untimely demise. Because of the untimely demise, he was unable to put his affairs in order (make out will, contact family, etc…) The nearest relatives live in a foreign country and do not check in very often. By the time they get around to looking for passed relative, the state has seized the property.

Still sound crazy? Listen to the report (top link). Some states spend hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating property that they can seize, but only thousands on locating rightful owners. Add to this people loosing their homes because they cannot keep up with taxes, changing building codes, and/or inflation in mortgage rates. Still seem far-fetched?