Sunday, February 27, 2011

A tale of two abuses.

OK, look at Joe Nocera's column in yesterday's New York Times (here) ("Biggest Fish Face Little Risk of Being Caught"), and then look at Gretchen Morgenson's column today (here) ("Waiting Seven Years for Two Answers"). My own conclusion is that there's no downside risk to overreaching in ways that hurt consumers.  (Mozilo, no jail time? Wells Fargo Bank, with three different stories about the reasons behind its inability to demonstrate proof of holding a note on a house?)  Of course things aren't going to change.  Not until there's some real, personal, honest-to-goodness, scary consequences for executives who tolerate obscenely bad behavior.  And I'm not counting on there being any, unless Elizabeth Warren's Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection actually figures out a way to get the incentives for (1) punishing bad behavior and (2) allowing innovation right.  If anyone can, she can; but I'm not sure it's possible.  

And I come back to the same question, time and again:  where are the boards?  How do those independent directors get the information that they need to ensure that their officers are behaving appropriately? And how do those directors fight the urge to get along by playing along?

Friday, February 25, 2011

The GWU law students were exceptionally funny this year.

Warning:  adult language.  But see here.  And a hat tip to one of our students, Jason Lather, for letting me know about it.

And some funny stuff from my buddy Rod Fong....

Rod sent me these sayings:*

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes take debate.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles , U.C.L.A.

The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.

The batteries were given out free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.

A will is a dead giveaway.

If you don't pay your exorcist, you can get repossessed.

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I'll show you A-flat miner.

You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

Local Area Network in Australia : The LAN down under.

A boiled egg is hard to beat.

When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the fellow whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

If you take a laptop computer for a run you could jog your memory.

A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.

When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory which was never developed.

Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.

Acupuncture: a jab well done.

Thanks, Rod!

*Rod wants y'all to know that he didn't write these.  They've been passed along to him, and he's passed them along to me.

Shout-out to the Faculty Lounge blog.

I always like reading that blog, and today's gave me an honest-to-goodness spit-take.  I love Malcolm Gladwell's books, and we were delighted when he agreed to let us reprint one of his articles in our second Enron book.  That being said, this post cracked me up (here).  In particular, check out the design for "Slurp."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Some rules to live by, forwarded to me by Dad.

Here's what my dad forwarded to me recently.  I loved them.

16 Rules To Live By
By Bob Parsons, Founder & CEO of

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we're in our comfort zone. I hear people say, "But I'm concerned about security." My response to that is simple: "Security is for cadavers."

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it's attempted. Just because what you're doing does not seem to be working, doesn't mean it won't work. It just means that it might not work the way you're doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn't have an opportunity.

3. When you're ready to quit, you're closer than you think. There's an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed."

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of "undefined consequences." My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, "Well, Robert, if it doesn't work, they can't eat you."

5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, "As you think, so shall you be."

6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don't look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

7.  Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.

8.  Be quick to decide. Remember what General George S. Patton said: "A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

9.  Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched improves.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don't know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven't examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you're doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you're doing as anyone else, provided that what you're doing is legal.

13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn't fair. You make your own breaks. You'll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

14.   Solve your own problems. You'll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you'll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: "You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others." There's also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: "A wise man keeps his own counsel."

15. Don't take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

16. There's always a reason to smile. Find it. After all, you're really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: "We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time!"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Heroes don't like to be called "whistle-blowers."

In today's New York Times Gretchen Morgenson column, she describes the travails and eventually victory of former Countrywide exec Michael Winston (here).  Winston sounds like exactly the sort of stand-up guy I'd want running my company (if I had one).  Like other heroes who have called shenanigans on their company's blatant misdeeds, he probably would prefer just to say he did his job.  Thanks to my former jobs, I've met a few other heroes of this ilk.  (See here, here, and -- although I didn't meet her in person, she did agree to let us excerpt a few of her bio chapters in our second Enron book -- here.)  Except for Cynthia Cooper's publicist, who does identify her as a whistle-blower, most of these heroes equate "whistle-blowing" with "snitching."  They just call what they did "being ethical."  And that's why they're my heroes.

From my buddy George Connelly:

A list of paraprosdokians, from my friend George:

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

3. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

4. If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. Evening news is where they begin with "Good evening," and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

9. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops.  On my desk, I have a work station.

10. How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

11. Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.  (This one's doubly true for our two cats.)

12. I thought I wanted a career; turns out I just wanted pay checks.

13. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says "In an emergency, notify:" I put "Doctor."

14. I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

17. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

18. Hospitality: Making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.

19. I discovered I scream the same way whether I'm about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.  (That one's credited to Kevin James.)

20. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

21. I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

22. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

23. You're never too old to learn something stupid.

24. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

George has a sense of humor that I love.  Thanks, George!

A nice salute to Judge Steen, on his retirement.

See here.  I didn't know Charlie Fielder (the second part of the post), but it's clear that he made many lives better.

Judge Steen's one of my fave folks--and he definitely made the world better on his job's watch.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tim Canova's point about the budget crisis.

My buddy Tim Canova writes very interesting things, and here's his latest op-ed on the national budget crisis (here).

Two examples of why my dentist ROCKS.

 See here....
and here....

Not only is Sam Savage a great dentist, but he and his staff are some of the nicest people around.

A nice salute to a very talented CRO--William Snyder.

See here.  I've seen his work in person (twice) and read about his work in other, equally high-profile matters.  He's absolutely at the top of his game, and I have a great deal of respect for him.  To read more about him, see here.

On days like this, it's hard to be a proud Texan.

See here.  We need to rectify this, and pronto.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A professor to watch.

I really like Michelle Harner's work (for an example, see here--the Legal Ethics Forum just highlighted it).  Her combination of experience as a former law partner and her work analyzing the behavior of various players in chapter 11 makes her one of my "must reads."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

More on Brent Newton's article about law faculties.

Over at TaxProf Blog, Paul Caron has highlighted some juicy quotes from Brent Newton's article (you can download it here) about whether law professors are qualified to teach law (here).  The article, and the post, remind me of this article (here).

Update on the Samsung printer.

After I sent a letter to the Samsung America headquarters asking for compensation for the hour of computer guru time it took to get my printer up and running, Lisa from the President's Office called.  Suffice it to say I'm compensated.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Bragging on my Professional Responsibility students.

So I'm teaching Professional Responsibility again this semester, and I'm doing it primarily through "law firm" presentations:  groups of law students who have to present the day's material in a way that provides coverage and encourages class participation.

Students have used movie clips, television shows, and games (including a rousing game of "Jeopardy," in which one of the categories was "What Would Rapoport Do?"--every day's presentation has been extremely good.  What makes me particularly happy about each of the presentations is that the students are learning that they can teach themselves the law.  That's a skill they'll need throughout their careers.

So:  we've covered in class the notion that whether someone is a client depends on whether that person reasonably believes that she is a client.  I've joked before that lawyers should wear shirts that have "I am not your lawyer" on the front and "This is not legal advice" on the back.

But I never expected one of the law firms to take me so literally:

Meet Kristin Gifford, Cheryl Grames, Anna Clark, and Chelsey Bosworth.  I expect that they will add entrepreneurship to their legal skills after graduation.