Monthly Archives: May 2011
I have a few of these, including Jeff Skilling and Scott Yeager, but this is the only one I can find right now. It’s Ken Rice. I plan to make stickers and post them all over the city, then blow them up three stories high and plaster it to walls and over stop signs.
Or not. But that would be some really cool urban art, I think. At the very least, it would confuse people.
In Conspiracy of Fools, Mr. Eichenwald describes a scene in which Rex Shelby walked into his office and put his head in his hands (or shakes his head or something like that). You know it is fiction when you see that because the only time Rex would do that is if he was joking with somebody. Problems animate Shelby rather than causing him to sit at his desk and mope. Mr. Eichenwald’s depiction is actually a very serious charge: it is painting Mr. Shelby to be something other than what he is. In fact, those who know him say that Eichenwald’s portrayal is the exact opposite of who Rex is at the most fundamental level. Making matters worse, Mr. Eichenwald was actually sympathetic to Mr. Shelby in his book. He seemed to think Rex was just a cockeyed optimist who sort of fell into Enron. That viewpoint, however, is insulting because Rex Shelby has proven with his work that he is always self-directed; he makes deliberate well-considered choices, then takes full responsibility for the consequences.
Sean says that I live a very cinematic life. I am not sure exactly what that means, but I will agree with him that things that happen to me generally serve a narrative arc – there is a smooth story there, not just a series of random events.
In 2004 I met Sean. He was still radiant from grief after his wife perished in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. We were in a weird period and didn’t want to be alone together. I was afraid I was going to fall in love with him, which I thought was problematic, and he thought the same, though guilt was the engine behind his hesitation. We tried to have as many people as possible between us to act as some kind of buffer. He’d invite me to come to New York and then fill every day with events with friends. We’d go to Nantucket with his best friend from college. Then to meet his parents for brunch. Then whatever. We’d kiss, but anything more than that and I’d suddenly have a headache or he’d feel like running seven miles.
It went on like this for months.
One summer night we were downtown with a coworker of his. It was a housewarming party and I knew nobody except Sean. By ten o’clock I was ready to leave. So I did. Without telling anyone, I walked out the door. I had no idea where I was or where I was going. I was angry and sad and felt like going directly to La Guardia and grabbing the first flight back to DC. The streets were foreign and I quickly became lost. I didn’t care – it was beautiful and I felt dangerous. I remember Catherine Street which was in actuality a tiny alleyway. I remember pausing and by the dim blackbody light, seeing the massive graffiti on the walls. I’d never really noticed graffiti before, but the fact that I was hopelessly lost, and the fact that I was in a subversive mood sort of opened it up to me. I wandered into the alley, perhaps the only place in New York where a person could actually be alone, and I just gawked.
It changed me. Exactly like the first time I saw Van Gogh’s Boots or anything by Jackson Pollack, it changed something inside me, and it altered the course of my life. I felt suddenly radicalized. Opened up. Happier than I’d been in a long time. It wasn’t even the graffiti itself, which in my memory was just names and stupid stuff. It was the fact that somebody – lots of somebodies – were compelled to announce their existence in maybe the only way they knew how.
You can’t have that kind of conversation with yourself without something happening. So I went back to the party, found Sean, and told him, nicely, that I wanted to go home now. Once the taxi dropped us at his building on Central Park West, we rode in silence up to his apartment. As soon as the door was closed, I asked him, “Do you know who I am?”
Maybe he saw that I was different. Maybe he saw me and not the wreckage of the World Trade Center. For whatever reason, he didn’t answer. He slammed me against the wall and kissed me.
Flash forward to 2011.
I am utterly ravenous for art like I’ve never been in my life. I’m devouring books, hitting galleries and museums, and still I want more. I called Sean from Houston and told him that I want to take up the aerosol can and stencil rats all over the city. I want to buzz the overpasses with my name. And draw bunnies with Lolita glasses. Get a crew together, some scaffolding, stencils and turn this town into a beautiful place, like a big marauding gang of art crusaders.
Sean laughed, “You’re just bored.”
Maybe. Mr. Big is busy. I get listless when he’s gone too long. “But maybe you should bring the art to you,” he said.
And my brain froze. BANKSY. I suddenly had to have a Banksy. I had to have it in my house. So that no matter what happens with Mr. Big, or Sean, or anyone else, I will have this one thing. One sacred thing. This one thing that will keep me wild and radicalized, no matter how proper I am on the outside. This one thing – a genuine Banksy – will make me permanently happy.
“Can I borrow two million dollars?”
“Find the art you want, and I’ll make sure you get to keep it.”
Banksy is not Mr. Big, but depending on the piece, he might be an acceptable (very) short-term substitute.
Conspiracy of Fools is an entertaining read – and quite insidious because it is well researched enough to give the veneer of truth. It isn’t true though. A deconstruction of the book will eventually be posted, but for now I’m focusing on something relatively tiny but which I think illustrates Eichenwald’s sneaky style.
Things that are quite ordinary are seized upon in the book as if they were black swans. For instance, “the revolvers”, as Eichenwald called Enron’s revolving credit facilities.
Eichenwald writes on page 5:
The revolvers. The billions of dollars in standing lines of credit that Enron had available from its major banks. That was disaster money, the financial equivalent of a nuclear fallout shelter. And Enron needed it now.
I don’t want to de-emphasize how badly Enron needed cash at the end of its short life, but “pulling down the revolvers” is not a life-or-death type of act. Most companies have revolving lines of credit. They use them for all kinds of things – building stuff, shipping stuff, buying stuff. Using them wasn’t like a “nuclear fallout shelter”; it was more like having Puff Daddy’s personal valet hold an umbrella over you during a light sprinkle. Basically it is having a loan or credit card at your fingertips instead of having to go through the trouble of actually applying for one when you need one.
It was part of Eichenwald’s strategy to make all this ordinary business stuff seem exotic and strange, and basically confuse the reader enough to make them think that sophisticated crimes were afoot. He did the same thing with take-or-pay contracts, structured finance, etc. My cynical view is that he was relying on the general ignorance of his readers. Had more people known what a “revolving credit facility” is, then I’m sure that scene on page 5 would not have been nearly so dramatic.
Incidentally, if Enron was doing the equivalent of seeking a nuclear fallout shelter, why didn’t the execs tap into its notorious “reserves” to help leverage itself out of the liquidity crisis? Instead, the executives’ first thought was to grab at some credit — a completely legitimate move. Strange how they weren’t all criminals, all the time, isn’t it? Why, one could say that pulling down the revolvers is the exact opposite of what a criminal would do since there were still retirement accounts to raid, balance sheets to manipulate, and shareholders to gouge.
Today is Friday so I feel like I can be a little silly with my blog. So today I received a joke from Mr. Big who knows that I am all about zombies:
What a zombie girl said to another zombie girl:
“Sure he’s cute, but it is his brains that I’m attracted to!”
Oh my God, he’s such an idiot and I love him so much.
This came across my desk today:
I know it is nerdy but it made me giggle. It makes me wonder about the people who named their company “LJM Partners”. Like naming your son Ted Bundy Johnson. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with LJM. Had it been run by someone who was not the CFO of Enron Corp. it would have been just peachy.
Coulda woulda Prada.
The name “Carol Coale” should be familiar to anyone who has seen the Smartest Guys In The Room. She was an influential equity analyst with Prudential and featured prominently in the music video.
Here is her June 26, 2001 report on Enron, stating that a recent meeting with executives has strengthened her outlook, though she was lowering the price target to $55.
It’s actually a pretty interesting document as she touches on LJM and, importantly, the California energy crisis, noting that Enron was being scapegoated for the sake of political warfare. There are several interesting items in the report. Check it out!
On August 30, 2001, Ken Lay sent an email with the subject line “Lay It On The Line” to all Enron employees:
At the all-employee meeting two weeks ago, I talked about the major challenges that I believe Enron is currently facing and what we are doing to address these issues. I also reviewed with you our vision for Enron to become “The World’s Leading Company,” and what that means to me.
Your management team and I remain committed to this goal and are confident that by working together, we can achieve this vision. After the all-employee meeting, a number of you came forward to voice your concerns about what you saw as additional challenges for Enron, and for that, I thank you. We have already begun working on many of the concerns you expressed. Now, I would like to hear from more of you about what you see as the most critical issues facing Enron in the next twelve months. In other words, “Lay It on the Line” for me by completing the attached survey.
I assure you that your individual answers to this survey will remain confidential. The new Management Committee will use this information to help us identify immediate action steps to address your key concerns. We will communicate the results to you, both positive and negative, and what we plan to do about them, as soon as we can. Thank you in advance for taking the time to help us move Enron toward its new vision of becoming “The World’s Leading Company.”
We need your answers no later than Tuesday, September 4, 2001.
To access the survey, click on or copy the following URL onto the Enron intranet site: ;. If this link does not work, go to home.enron.com under “New & Notable” and click on “Lay It On the Line.” If you have problems with the survey, contact the HRGIM Help Desk at 713-853-5666.
I think the most interesting part is the question titled, “From [these] issues facing Enron, please identify the top five that you think need to be identified in the next 12 months.” The first was “Stock price”. This is actually quite telling; it implies that it was not just the greedy, voracious executives who were trying to keep the stock high, but the employees too – which raises the question: who exactly were the victims of Enron’s supposed efforts to keep the price high? Second is “internal employee morale.” Third is “PRC”, fourth is “external reputation and image”.
The first two actual projects to appear are California and Dahbol, sixth and seventh, respectively. Altogether it is an interesting document. I hope you think so too.
Well this is a hot mess. It is an Excel spreadsheet of Fat Boy trades, but WordPress will not allow me to upload Excel spreadsheets. So I had the bright idea to create a PDF from an Excel workbook. In a word: yuck. It looks awful. My columns are destroyed. However, if you’re at all curious about the Fat Boy trades, you can check them out. Meanwhile I am trying to put together a Ricochet document as well.
The government’s reply:
Opposing Motion to Dismiss for Prosecutorial Conduct
Updated to add that Hirko and Shelby’s motion is a particularly good piece of legal writing. The motion includes mentions of the Skilling case as well as the Nigerian Barge defendants, showing a pattern, as Ed Tomko writes, of the ETF only partially meeting its Brady obligations (ie, turning over exculpatory material.) It is well worth the time it takes to read it.