Monthly Archives: February 2015

Paint A Target On The Board Of Directors

For those of us above the 49th, watching Target stores go down the porcelain facility was an exercise in schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.  Target bought up a lot of the old Zellers real estate, changed the livery to the ubiquitous red and white splat then sat back to wait for the drooling parka-clad throngs to bust down the doors screaming “Shut Up, and Take My Money!”.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Target Canada came off as a “special” cousin to Zeller’s or maybe K-Mart’s addle-minded Uncle Gordie.  Target drooled a little, smelled funny and didn’t have actual stock in the stores that people wanted to buy and prices that were competitive.  Canadian consumers tried Target once, perhaps twice, then vowed never to go back.  By January 15th, Target Canada announced the closure of all 133 stores, tossing about 17,000 employees into the ditch with a hearty “Thanks for working at Target!”

Now coming to light are a couple of outrages that are being perpetrated on the cadaver.  Former CEO Gregg Steinhafer got a golden parachute that was bigger than the severance issued to the now-former employees of Target Canada.  Steinhafer was fired by the way, not ‘resigning to pursue other opportunities’ or ‘spending time with family’:  He was s-canned, but like most CEO’s had negotiated a deal with the Target Board that unless he was found on the Washington Mall at noon hour, drunk, disheveled and engaging in an unnatural act with a live penguin, he’d get his piece of pie.

The second outrage is one of insolvency jiggery-pokery.  A Toronto-based market research firm was told to switch its invoice for $232,328 from Target USA, who hired them, to Target Canada, a few days before Target Canada pulled the yellow handle.  When Target Canada did the deed, that invoice, now residing with an insolvent company might be worth $50,000, maybe, maybe not.  Essentially, Target knew they were going under and tried to bury as much as they could in Canada, to maximize their going-out-of-business profits through the liquidation process. 

We’ve got two beefs here.  By definition a Board of Directors is charged with ensuring the company is being run in a way that is prudent and profitable for shareholders and to provide a group of savvy multi-disciplinary advisors to the corporation to ensure prudence and profitability to the shareholders:  Not the employees, not the suppliers, not the kid who collects the shopping carts after school every afternoon.  Fine, that’s the capitalist system we work under.  It sucks sometimes, but that’s what we’ve got as rules of engagement. 

Where most Board of Directors fall over is in their sheep-like mentality of not questioning anything.  A well-suited, pricey-per-diem Compensation Consultant tells the Board that the CEO must be paid a grotesque amount of money “to attract the right candidates” for the position.  Yes, CEO is a good-paying gig and most CEO’s don’t last long, so the candidates negotiate big money and big perks up front.  The candidate is not incentivized to play the long game, as all the goodies come home on Day 1, not Day 995 of their gig.  The Board nods sagely dazzled by the haircut and the cufflinks and the CEO gets his or her payday, so even if caught up to the bristles in a penguin, the CEO still gets a mammoth payout.

The second beef is boning the suppliers.  Businesses of any kind run on third-party companies that provide things to the business to conduct their operations.  The amount of credit from a supplier is a conscious wager by the supplier that the company is going to be paid for what they’re providing.  It does not matter if it’s 40 footer full of green garden hoses, or the contract for the guy to push the floor cleaning machine around the store, the supplier is trusting the company to pay their bills on time, in full, for services or goods provided.  Those suppliers need that money to pay the minimum wage to the guy behind the floor cleaner, or the Xiolang Tractor Painting and Garden Hose Manufacturing Cooperative #22 in Baoding, China, who shipped over the container full of garden hoses.  And the shipping company and the trucking company and the warehouse people and the printers and packagers and so on down the line.  Everyone gets boned.

What the Board isn’t doing is making sure that the company is doing what is the Right Thing to Do.

Henry Ford, the noted rapacious capitalist and owner of the Ford Motor Company back in the day, did it very simply.  He paid his people very well for the time, and priced his goods at such a point that his employees could actually afford the products they were making on the earliest assembly lines.  This is called Enlightened Self-Interest.  Ford knew that his folks on the line would bust their guts to do the best possible work, for a really good wage, so they could buy a car.  That created an instant market of 12,000 employees who were potential customers. 

Ford also played the capitalist card well.  When the Steel Combine in the US decided to up the prices on the raw material for the cars that Ford was making, Ford essentially said “Screw you, I’ll make my own damn steel”  Then he did it.  The River Rouge Complex in Detroit was the result.  Ford brought in the ore on his own ships, to his own steel mill, to make his own steel that they smelted, forged and stamped on site to make the cars coming off the other end of the assembly line.  Our long-lamented 1987 5.0 Mustang was made at the Dearborn Assembly Plant with copious amounts of River Rouge steel and glass.

So what about the Board of Target?  They’re getting theirs, collecting their per-diems and ‘creating value for shareholders’ at least as measured by this month.  Are the doing the Right Thing?  Not by a long shot.  The Board, like most Boards, are sheep.  Nobody is rocking the boat, asking pointed questions like “What the hell are we paying this clown for?”, “How will this be good for us in two/three/five years?” or “Is this the Right Thing To Do?”

For that, they should be ashamed.

Vaccines, Research, Benefits and Ladders

We’re going there, sorry, but the stories are getting out of hand.  We’ll start with the anti-vaxxers who point to a “prestigious study” in The Lancet that says vaccines cause autism in children.  Here’s the link to the article, Feb 2 2010 where The Lancet retracted the article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, because his research was, to be generous, bullshit. 

There are no scientific links between being vaccinated and becoming autistic, or any of the other shades of autism spectrum disorders.

Yes, there has been thiomersal in many vaccine fluids.  Thiomersal is an organic mercury compound in use since the 1930’s as a preservative and anti-fungal.  It was developed because an early (1928) diphtheria vaccine under testing created a more than 50% fatality rate when injected as the vaccine did not contain a preservative.  The children died of staphylococcus from the injection media, not the vaccine.

Oddly enough there was no incredible uptick in the cases of autism when thiomersal was incorporated into vaccine preparations in 1930.  One would think that there would be several generations of autism victims to research, but that doesn’t seem to be true.

However, since us humans shouldn’t be exposed to any more mercury than is really necessary, the CDC asked vaccine makers to remove it, just in case, and since 1999, they have.  Thiomersal is still used as a preservative in contact lens solution, nasal sprays and tattoo ink. 

Using the anit-vaxxer logic circuits then, any woman either pregnant or hoping to become pregnant should be prohibited by law from wearing contact lenses, using nasal spray or getting some ink.  Needless to say, young kids should never get tats until they’re older and can make bad decisions on their own. (Daddy I can’t get a job for the summer, nobody will hire me! It’s because you have have Donnies’ Fuck Bitch poorly and illiterately tattooed on your face, dear daughter.  Now what did I tell you about the possessive apostrophe?) 

By way of comparison of the concentration of thiomersal in a vaccine, you would have to take a piss in an Olympic sized swimming pool, then drink all the pool water to equal the concentration.  You probably get more mercury exposure from being near a burned out compact fluorescent light bulb.  Funny how nobody has drawn a link between CFL’s and autism.  Could it be there is no link?  Just sayin’. 

What the anti-vaxx movement really shows us is how dumb we have become.  We have near-instantaneous access to a gazillion pages of learned research, from people who have forgotten more about disease prevention than we will ever know, but yet we grab at that one miniscule outlying data point in a million that ‘proves’ our opinion.

Here’s a suggestion:  Do your due diligence before opening your mouth.  If you think that there is a causal link between A and Z, odds are you can find research by someone that will give you more leads to more research, from more people.  This sounds like Journalism 101 and in many ways it is very rudimentary research. 

The other concept to keep in mind while doing your research is this one:  Cui Bono?  It’s Latin for Who Benefits?  To contemporize it, follow the money, meaning who is paying for the research.  Sorry dear scientists, but money rides and ethics walks when it comes to primary research these days. 

Now, if you can find three unrelated, probably accurate, unbiased sources, odds are the idea is nearing the department of truthiness.  There are hard facts out there.  We use Wikipedia for some of them, but tend to keep our use to things like How many square miles is France (247,368) or what is number 44 in the Periodic Table of Elements (Ruthenium).  When it comes to opinion or analysis, there are too many sources to list, but we do tend to investigate both sides of an argument to find where the middle ground is, as that is where the real truth is most likely to reside.

The third concept to keep in mind is the overall benefit of something.  Back in the 1960’s seat belts in cars were considered weird Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugger, stream-tasting, safety-freak articles.  Drivers and car makers complained that they would be trapped in their cars with seatbelts and millions of innocents would drown or burn to death in crashes, strangled and mummified by seat belts.  Fifty years later, we belt up automatically.  (I’m primary research in the efficacy of seat belts, having survived a couple of serious and fatal crashes:  Seat belts are the only reason I’m alive.)

Overall benefit is sometimes tough to measure and there are always mitigating opinions on both sides.  Take the simple tool of a ladder.  Ladders are wonderful things and have been around for thousands of years, but they can be tricky for idiots to use.  Go to Home Depot and look at a ladder.  If you can find the rungs behind all the warning labels, you’ll find a useful tool.  Those labels are there because someone sued someone else, which has nothing to do with the overall benefits of a ladder – It has plenty to do with Cui Bono

This doesn’t mean that ladders are inherently dangerous, but it does mean that idiots should use them with caution.  There is no international conspiracy of ladder manufacturers to make them more dangerous, so you will be forced to hire a licensed ladder operator to change that light bulb in the foyer.  The overall benefit of a ladder exceeds the number of morons who have climbed up two storeys and their last words have been recorded as “Honey, watch this!”

To tie this all up, use your brain.  If you see an internet posting that says stuffing two sticks of unsalted butter and a dill pickle up your ass will cure cancer and you believe it to be true, then you need to step away from the keyboard, slowly.  Do some research, follow the money and look at the overall benefit of something before pontificating.

An Effective Reply to ISIS

We were discussing the appropriate reply to ISIS the other day.  ISIS or ISIL has become a source of outrage and offense of global proportions.  Today’s latest was burning a Jordanian prisoner to death; locked in a cell, doused with fuel and torched.  There have been beheadings, throwing people off buildings, executions of every possible kind.  Our consensus is this must stop. 

We worked through a number of scenarios after the video of Kenji Goto’s beheading was released and after today’s outrage, are more convinced of our favoured reply to ISIS, which we are of mixed feelings for sharing. 

Our initial responses were considered and lengthy, starting with simple ones like sending over 250,000 troops from an international coalition to hunt every member down like rabid dogs, incarcerating them and letting the Hague figure it out in trials that might last for decades.

One featured B-52’s with a full combat load of dumb iron bombs, starting at map coordinate X and working up the alphabet to A, making nice boxes on Google Maps 2016 that look like the surface of the moon.  Iron bombs are cheap, the BUFF is reasonable in its maintenance hours to combat hours ratios and it gives the US Air Force some important and needed practice in terrain modification without expending the expensive precision ordinance.  Mark-84’s run about $3,100 a piece and a H model BUFF can rack 51 a trip, so just under $160,000, not counting gas, maintenance and crew.  Compared to others fancy-pants Things That Go Bang that start at $100,000 a go, we don’t need that expense, what with the economy these days.      

Others were a tad excessive, involving turning significant parts of Syria and Iran into large lakes of glass with tactical weapons of a nuclear nature.  We eventually considered that the collateral damage (making a few thousands square miles of the Middle East uninhabitable for 10,000 years) and the unintended immolation of a few million innocents was, well, excessive.

Then we struck upon the proper, reasoned and effective response that combined the right notes of economy (Coalition military response is pricey and cumbersome with weird political overtones) and the clarity of a well-stated message that cannot be misinterpreted, even by illiterates, uneducated, or those in the narcissist throes of some jihadist fantasy of being immune to discipline as their own blessed caliphate.

Jordan, happily, does not have the greatest international reputation for being kind, considerate or caring, (see Norway, or Canada as a compare and contrast exercise) so they are a natural fit in our scheme. Jordan has several dozen convicted ISIS members in custody.  The reason ISIS was holding Kenji Goto hostage was to use him as a bargaining chip to get their people released from Jordanian prisons.  The same is true with the Jordanian Air Force pilot, although Proof of Life has not been provided by ISIS yet, so negotiations are at an impasse.   

Since ISIS wants their people back, we should give ISIS what they want.

Every two or three days a lone or escorted Jordanian Air Force helicopter ($500/hour gas, maintenance and crew) can bring one of the ISIS members in custody over some of the lands held by ISIS. Come in fast, if only to keep the RPG interference to a minimum.  Slip into a quick hover over a village square, or some gathering place, preferably on market day when there are a lot of ISIS-supporting people milling around.

Attach a simple note in the appropriate languages to the ISIS prisoner.  The text should be along the lines of:  You want your people back?  Here you go.  We’ll be back in a while with another one until you smarten up.  Lay down your arms and give it up.  Sincerely, The Rest of the World.

Then deliver the prisoner to ISIS.  From 1,000 feet.  Alive.  Without a parachute. 

Post video of the whole thing, from inside the helicopter, watching the prisoner all the way down to his or her somewhat unpleasant (and probably pixelated) impact. 

Retweet it, cross-post it on every social media site that ISIS uses to recruit new members.  Hack the ISIS web pages and post it there too.

We figure it will take about three trips for the message to be received and understood.

If your opponent is a savage, the only thing they can comprehend is greater savagery.  We’re better than that, but if that’s all ISIS can comprehend, then game on.

Enough. We’re pissed.  Send in the savages.