In the Bowels of the Beast
Or, How to Succeed in Consulting by Planning for Disaster
Austin Dispatches
No. 109
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 inaccurate.

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

Media Indigest

e109fig2 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.

Neighborhood News

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 2008.
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 <>.
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 <>.
13 Kobler, 266.
14 AD No. 79n40 (May 22, 2005); “Perk Up.” CIN Apr. 2008: 4.
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: A1+.
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: 1+.