What a Difference a Century Makes

John D. Rockefeller got rich by essentially creating the oil industry. True, he lied, cheated, and stole to do so, but he created an industry nevertheless.

Henry Ford got rich by inventing the assembly line for manufacturing cars—THEN he paid his workers the unconscionable rate of $5.00 per week so they could afford to buy Ford automobiles.

Thomas Edison got rich by inventing a practical light bulb, sound recording, motion pictures, and anything else that caught his fancy.

Michael Ovitz (Disney), Carly Sneed Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard), Stanley O’Neal (Merrill Lynch), and soon (probably) John Stumpf (Wells Fargo) all got rich—or richer—by being fired and collecting on golden parachutes, accumulated stock options, etc.

Economists are befuddled by the US economy, yet the biggest corporations hire people with a mechanism to reward them if they screw up. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say, “We’re hiring you to be our chief executive. As long as the company does well, you’ll be well paid. If you screw up, you’ll get your last paycheck up to the day you were fired, any unused vacation time, and not one thin dime more. After all, if we were idiotic enough to pay you for screwing up, would you even want to work for us unless you’re an idiot, too.

Pharma Tour

Megabux Pharmaceuticals can trace its roots to a humble beginning in the early twentieth century. In the days when filling prescriptions required a mortar, pestle and a scale, it started as a neighborhood pharmacy in Euclid, Ohio. Back then it was known as Blake’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe. Eventually, Blake’s was purchased by Drugall, a pharmacy chain, which was then acquired by—well, you get the picture. Today, what were once independent small businesses, are all consolidated into a single large corporate structure.

I recently toured Megabux Corporate Center in West Podunk, North Carolina. Since the collapse of the buggy whip industry, this area has offered a low cost of living, inexpensive property, and as a right-to-work state eliminated the need to worry about unions. The two story cinderblock building was obviously another cost effective measure, looking more like a warehouse than a corporate headquarters. There were few windows except those in the entry foyer.

My guide was waiting for me; she was your typical public information type—young, pretty, female, well dressed, all wrapped up in a bubbly personality. In my letter requesting the tour, I had mentioned that I was specifically interested in the Research and Development areas.

“We actually have two R & D sections,” she told me as we walked down the hall, stopping at a blue door with the requisite electronic lock. Using her identification card and entering a code, she opened the door and ushered me in to a laboratory the size of a football field, well equipped with ventilation hoods, laboratory glassware, microscopes, and everything else a major pharmaceutical company would need to develop tomorrow’s wonder drugs. There were at least 60 work stations; about a dozen people in white lab coats were clustered around the three tables closest to the entry door.

“Big conference?” I asked, wondering where all the other chemists, biologists, and other scientific types might be.

“Oh, this is everybody that works down here,” she replied. “The other R&D section is much busier and has over 600 people working in it.”

“Please, let’s check it out,” I said. She showed me to the elevator and pressed the button. When the door opened, I was amazed. There were people everywhere carrying computer printouts, conferring with one another, and obviously intent on their work.

“You see,” she began, “the incentive in the pharmaceutical industry is no longer to find new drugs that treat diseases. Actually, cures are the worst because people buy one or two bottles of our product, get better and stop buying. We get better results by using a cadre of lawyers, accountants, and marketing people.

“This section,” she explained as we walked, “focuses on how to extend the patents on drugs we already have. Over here they find other clinical uses for our drugs. Bob over there,” she said waving to him, “is an actual physician and he suggests off-label uses; the legal staff then helps set up clinical trials at various hospitals so we can sell a drug for a whole new set of reasons.

“Marketing works over here, and I’m sure you’re familiar with their work. George,” she said, pointing at an elderly gentleman, “was the genius who came up with the line ‘Ask your doctor . . . .’ Unfortunately, we were not able to trademark it. Pity, it’s worth millions.

“And finally, here we have the cream of the crop when it comes to creative accountants. They devise ways for us to increase the price of our products, AND,” she continued excitedly, “they also handle tax loopholes, offshore banks, and such. This corporation actually pays less in taxes than a middle class family of four.” She smiled.

“So all your research is focused on making money?” She smiled broadly and nodded. I continued, “And you do almost no research to develop new drugs.” She blinked, then looked at me, bewildered.

“Why in the world would we want to do that?”

Ho Hum, Another Terrorist Attack

Yesterday someone detonated a bomb in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The bomber(s) had (at least) two devices, the second being discovered undetonated. The second device, at least, was similar to those used at the Boston Marathon in 2013 by the Tsarnaev brothers, which was based on an Al Qaida design.

Twenty people were injured when the bomb in Manhattan was detonated on Saturday at 8:30 PM. Clearly it was intended to kill, maim, injure, and frighten people. It was, in my humble estimation, a terrorist act.

I first noticed it on the internet, so I picked up the morning Virginian-Pilot from the driveway and at first didn’t see the story. Since I didn’t know the time of the attack, at first I assumed that it had happened after the newspaper was “put to bed” and printed. I was wrong.

On page 13 the report of the bombing was awarded 3 inches of text in one column.

What was the front page headline complete with colored font? “Saying goodbye to your pet is hard. That’s why she helps.” Being that our pets are treated like family, I find that a worthy story, but not so important as to move a terrorist attack on American soil all the way back to page 13? Page 13 is barely one step higher than spiking (eliminating) the story.

All I can hope is that the media has decided to strip the terrorists of the publicity they seek rather than indifference. Given the media’s general performance, however, I find that hard to do, but I’ll wait and watch before I decide.

Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon Is a Comin’

Wells Fargo is in the news because 5,600 employees (at least) were opening accounts without permission so they could get bonuses. Naturally, no senior managers are in trouble; it was apparently just a coincidence that 5,600 employees made the same dumb mistake.

I briefly banked with Wells Fargo. When I set up a savings and checking account they asked if I wanted overdraft protection; if I wrote a check for more than was in my checking account, they’d transfer money from my saving account. I’d used that service with a previous bank and found it convenient.

One day my wife and I both wrote checks, which together amounted to more than what we had in checking, but, hey, there’s money in savings so no problem, right.

Wells Fargo charged me $25.00 to transfer $3.00 of my money from my Wells Fargo savings account to my Wells Fargo checking account. Heaven knows what they would charge for an actual overdraft ($500 plus they break your kneecap?).

The next day I closed every account I had with Wells Fargo and moved to another bank. I was careful to use the Wells Fargo restrooms—I’m sure there would have been a hefty charge attached.

So, when I saw today’s scoreboard:

Employees: 5,600

Executives: 0

I was not surprised.

Not Different Enough

I am totally opposed to ISIS, ISIL, Da’esh, as well as the Taliban and any other violent extremist group (VEO). That’s easy enough to say or to write, and many would agree with me. Do our actions support this?

VEOs are intolerant of those who do not adhere completely to their beliefs, but listen to talk radio, watch cable news, or political advertising in America.

VEOs believe in killing someone who has disgraced their honor; every day I see news stories about someone being killed because they “disrespected” someone at a party.

VEOs use violence to claim an area as their own, yet our own cities are splattered with gang graffiti defining who controls which turf.

VEOs claim that their religious beliefs are the only righteous ones, and every other belief is false. Have you ever heard of a Christian sermons saying the same thing?

VEOs kidnap women to be used as sex slaves, but we haven’t stopped human trafficking, in which women are forced into prostitution and owned by their pimps.

VEOs have elites. They preach jihad suicide, but would never do so themselves. Here, celebrities, athletes, and politicians expect to be treated differently from everybody else.

VEOs lie, cheat, and steal in the name of their god. There are many Americans whose god is greed and act the same way.

The difference? There are those who seek to serve themselves while some seek to serve others. The Golden Rule, “Treat others as you want to be treated” needs to be taken out of storage, dusted off, polished up, and put into practice on a much larger scale. That is what will make us different.

Hermine

Although Hermine (Hurricane, Tropical Storm, and all around inconvenience) didn’t directly hit us, but we’ve got a few limbs down, and the lightning did a number on us.

At last count we lost about 18 LED light bulbs (“LASTS UP TO 17 YEARS!” says the package), none of which were turned on at the time. I lost my main computer and two printers.

Like most things in life, it’s not the impressive high wind or the crashing surf that creates problems. It’s the lightning that’s so far away that you don’t fear it. Isn’t this a lot like the moral choices we face in life? Not the direct confrontation, but the subtle forces that turn us away from God and our goals. The tweaks to our values that tell us, something should be wrong, but it’s really okay. That something convenient or desirable doesn’t really fit within the rules.

There’s a lot one can learn from a storm.    

Deadly Females

There’s a story in the news today that female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes. Personally, I think they’re referring to female named hurricanes. I doubt that anyone has been able to verify the external genital characteristics, much less verify the presence or absence of Y chromosomes, in order to accurately determine the sex of these storms (or, for the purists, the gender of their names).

Long ago I read that when they first started naming hurricanes, they named them after politicians. After all, it was an ill wind that blew no one any good (as opposed to an oboe, which is an ill wind that no one blows good—sorry about that, I was a bassoonist). Getting back on track, it didn’t take long for the politicians, or more likely their staffs, given the intelligence of most politicians, to see what was happening and demand (under pain of loss of government funding) that this practice stop, immediately.

So, the weather people (I don’t know if we can truly call them meteorologists back then) knowing that as a government agency they needed funding, complied and sneakily began naming storms after the wives of politicians, which went unchallenged because wives couldn’t vote, and whenever they brought up a logical, legitimate complaint, they were summarily ignored by their husbands and everybody else. Hence, hurricanes, for many years, were assigned female names (not because, as the old joke goes, that they were hurricanes, not himicaines).

Today we choose from male names, female names, transgender names, not-really-sure names, and names that someone just makes up and tells everyone else, with a straight face, “No, really, that’s a name!” These are the same people who you will find cheating at Scrabble.

So, remember, when a devastating force of nature begins to destroy everything that you or your family have ever owned, the most important question to ask, is:

    Did we assign this storm with a politically correct name?

Let’s hope we have the courage to answer in the affirmative.