In the Bowels of the Beast
Or, How to Succeed
in Consulting by Planning for Disaster
|May 11, 2008
Against my better judgment, I accepted a subcontract to work within
a government bureaucracy. It was every bit as horrid as we’ve always suspected.
I worked downtown in the office of the company administering a big
state project. The company is a Fortune 500 firm known worldwide by its
initials, but for this narrative, we’ll call it Smith Business Systems.
The project is a comprehensive plan to salvage the databases of 27
state agencies in case of disaster. Metaphorically speaking, my task was
to turn the vague cloud you see in network diagrams:
into a box or boxes, usually about 8½ x 11” in dimension.
Except the disaster planning project is itself a disaster. The State
and Smith are at each others’ throats, and so are two project groups within
Smith dealing with the project.
My first day on the job, my supervisor – we’ll call him Greg Mallahan
– told me that the State was threatening Smith with a $100,000 penalty if
it didn’t provide a draft of the plan by May 5. The other Smith group,
the one he’d been quarreling with, had procrastinated for months and then
produced a 55-page plan cobbled from other companies. I perused the plan
to write an executive summary for Mallahan. The plan was a hack job. Even
the original formats and fonts remained unchanged from the sources, which
means they change constantly from chapter to chapter. Moreover, the top
software architect pointed out that the content was incomplete where it wasn’t
Under the circumstances, I wasn’t sure why I was there, except as a
pawn Mallahan could use against this other group. Sure enough, this other
group stonewalled my queries. And as a pawn, I had to do with a crap laptop
missing two of the software applications I needed to do the job properly.
I also had to do without a Smith-authorized ID, which meant I operated without
a Smith e-mail account, or even a permanent cube. Instead, I used
an old Hotmail account, which the other group claimed was a security risk,
and thus a reason not to send information.
I couldn’t even go to the restroom at my leisure, because I had no
badge and no independent access. It was almost like being back in elementary
school. I ate less and drank no coffee to reduce the times I’d have to
borrow somebody’s badge or ask the receptionist – a real bitch – to let
me back into the office.
On my seventh day, I learned the State hated the 55-page draft. The
project ground to a halt while the parties began a new round of recriminations,
and incidentally tried to figure out what to do next. Of course, this meant
the end of my services, as Mallahan regretfully told me after he visited
my cube – my third of the week. Then Mallahan spent 15 minutes complaining
about his job.
Why did I put up with this? The contract was only for two weeks. And
for mostly sitting around, I’ll be collecting about two grand soon. Mallahan
even wanted to bring me back. But don’t think of my paycheck as taxpayer
money squandered. Think of it as a libertoid stupidity tax.1
The real solution, of course, is to eliminate state agencies.
I’m back on the street, looking for work, but I’m not too worried.
The Austin Business Journal reports that experts recommend companies
hire for attitude. Which means I should be inundated with job offers.
Miss KT’s been saying for years nobody has as much attitude as me.2
Been There. Done That. Almost Got the T-Shirt.
The evening of my last day, I networked at the Chamber of Commerce’s
free 2nd Annual Brain Party, in Building 5 at The Domain. Local rock babe
Patrice Pike, perfoming in an early ‘70s mainstream rock style, constituted
the official entertainment.3 “Of course, if this were
really a brain party, they’d be featuring Allan Holdsworth,” I told Pat
Dixon, in between sampling the well-provisioned buffet.4
Unprompted, Pat brought up some recent troubles within the post-libertarian
Libertarian Party. His defensive defense was some quantifiable matter,
probably the number of candidates running in Texas.
Then his cell phone rang. He excused himself to answer it, and soon
scrambled from the party. Unless it was a ruse to avoid my impending sharp
response. People like that, with the wind in their ears, usually can’t hear
what they need to.5
Quantifiable matters can be misleading. All too often, we hear of some
company doing well, but only because the executives in charge made some
legitimate but short-term decision for short-term gain that didn’t fix
the underlying problems that kill the company’s future soon after.
That’s where the LP is today. The problems stemming from the Portland convention, in turn stemming from severely flawed frameworks by the fake and flake
factions, haven’t been fixed. Then I hear comments of the sort I heard
from Pat, and it’s obvious people like him still don’t get it. They
still think they can run an ideological organization without the ideology,
that they can keep screwing up without consequence, that the Constitution Party can’t capitalize on the LP’s
turmoil, and that they aren’t vulnerable – at the ballot box, on ballot
access, and in fund raising – to a concerted beating by their pissed-off
constituents. The libertarians at the Denver convention later this month
– assuming there are any – should keep that in mind when they weigh Dixon’s
re-election bid to the Libertarian National Committee.
To his credit, he got Ron Paul to endorse him in a successful re-election
campaign for Lago Vista City Council on Saturday.6 To
his discredit, he promised in his post-election message “to do my best
to promote the principles that we share.”7 What principles
are those? I don’t know what the LP stands for anymore; I doubt it does,
either. There’s also nothing about payback against the Lago Vista establishment
that did everything it could to quash him in his last term two years ago.8
Are we sure this guy is really Irish?
In other political follies, Wes Benedict, Travis County commissioner
candidate, held a joint campaign event May 3 with Vegas oddsmaker Wayne
Allyn Root, one of the plethora of LP presidential contenders. The
event was at County Line on the Hill barbecue restaurant, and featured
an all-you-can-eat buffet with the admission fee. Obviously, I didn’t
attend. But I wonder what was cheesier: the buffet, or Root?9
In establishment politics, the Democratic presidential primaries have
reached a new low. Time’s May 5 cover uses the tag line, “There Can Only
Be One” – obviously some editor’s smarmy homage to “Highlander.”10
No matter who wins the nomination – or ever less likely, the general election11
– he or she will always be tarred by the association with a cheesy, albeit
quotable,12 late ‘80s flick.
My old journalism school told me it’s discontinuing its monthly newsprint
newletter “to conserve precious resources” in favor of a monthly e-mail
update “if we have your e-mail address.” Translation: “Not enough of our
alumni feel like giving us money, but please give us your e-mail so we can
frictionlessly pester you with spam.” Fat chance, J-school.
A blackout hit the neighborhood for two hours late Apr. 28. My backup
uninterruptible power supply really paid for itself when the DVD I was watching
continued to play before I stopped and ejected it, and shut down the computer.13
I went outside and met some of my neighbors for the first time. The police
arrived 15 minutes later, even though a station is a few blocks away.
Sodade Coffee House has opened in the Gracy Farms Center strip mall,
in the spot formerly occupied by Ben & Jerry’s.14 With its
“certified fair trade” blends and minimalist hipster interior décor
and song selection, Sodade may be too pretentious to last in these here
parts – even if they are becoming the “new downtown.”15
Speaking of failed pretention, a new Goodwill store will open in the
former Randall’s grocery store off Parmer Lane on May 17.16
In other local business openings, Parmer Laundromat has opened in
the strip mall at Parmer and Rampart Street.17 Community Impact
Newspaper, which now appears free in my mail, has business profiles of
AccuWater, maker of irrigation controllers, and The Organic Beverage Co.,
maker of organic energy drinks.18 Also, the same publication
reports that five “green buildings” exist in the neighborhood, including
at least one I would’ve guessed has a serious mold problem.19
The owners of the Madison at Walnut Creek have put the apartment complex
on the market.20
On May 6, KGSR-FM reported an auto wreck at Parmer and MoPac Expressway.
Austin Death Watch
One of my salsa dancing spots, Dallas Nite Club, has been shut down
after more than 25 years by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.21
Incidentally, this is the same TABC a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission
said last year should be abolished. He should’ve pushed harder.22
Councilwoman Jennifer Kim’s re-election bid went down in vendetta-fanned
flames in the May 10 municipal elections, just
as I predicted three years ago. The woman who replaces her on the
Council is no improvement.23
Despite the millions in the City budget, the City is looking at skipping
street maintenance because of a money shortage.24 Meanwhile,
the Business Journal reports City leaders are considering leasing the
airport to an Australian firm to raise cash for their light rail schemes.25
It’s a start.
1 AD No. 102n8 (Nov. 12, 2007).
2 Shaw, Dave. “Hiring Soon? Experts Say to Look for Skills but
Go for Attitude.” ABJ 4 Apr. 2008: 24.
3 Corcoran, Michael. “Pike’s Streak.” AAS 29 July 2006: E1.
4 AD No. 89n26 (Mar. 29, 2006).
5 Updike, John. Rabbit Redux. 1971. Rpt. Rabbit Angstrom:
A Tetralogy. New York City: Everyman’s Library, 1995: 312.
6 Election results. AAS 11 May 2008: A11.
7 Dixon, Pat. “Pat Dixon Back in the Hot Seat.” E-mail, 11 May
8 AD No. 98n15 (June 11, 2007).
9 AD No. 108n8 (Apr. 28, 2008); Barton, Patrick. “Benedict-Root
Campaign Event a Success!” Lone Star Liberty 3 May 2008 <http://lonestarliberty.com/?p=28>.
10 Highlander. EMI Films/Highlander Productions Ltd./Twentieth-Century-Fox
Film Corp., 1986.
11 AD No. 106 (Mar. 7, 2008); AD No. 107 (Apr. 12, 2008).
12 Knowles, Harry. “Highlander: Endgame Review.” 5 Sep. 2000 Ain’t
It Cool News < http://www.aintitcool.com/node/6846>.
13 Kobler, 266.
14 AD No. 79n40 (May 22, 2005); “Perk Up.” CIN Apr. 2008:
15 AD No. 106n48.
16 Goodwill Scofield Farms. Advertisement. AC 2 May 2008: 10.
17 “Wash and Dry.” CIM Apr. 2008: 4.
18 AD No. 98n59; Young, Tiffany. “Business Profile: AccuWater.”
Idem., 6; Idem., “Business Profile: The Organic Beverage Company,” 7.
19 Idem., “Businesses Growing Green,” 1+.
20 Taboada, M.B. “Equity Vacating Austin, Selling Area Apartments.”
AAS 9 May 2008: B6.
21 AD No. 94n25 (Nov. 25, 2006); Holt, Patrick. “Re: Dallas
Nite Club Closed.” E-mail to Austin Salsa group, 6 May 2008; Lisheron, Mark.
“Club Closes Amid Liquor License Fight.” AAS 8 May 2008: B6.
22 Lisheron. “Alcohol Regulation Hammered.” AAS 9 Feb. 2007: A1.
23 Coppola, Sarah. “Shade Easily Beats Kim.” AAS 10 May 2008:
24 Humphrey, Kate. “Austin Scraping for Street Maintenance Money.”
AAS 9 May 2008: A1+.
25 Harrington, Kate. “Could ABIA Be Privatized?” ABJ 5 May 2008: