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Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

all but earned a commemorative plaque last week for its strong earnings, and for now The Business Press Maven, awed by the company's abilities, will be happy to dust that plaque.

But in every earnings conference call, folded into all the jargon and obfuscation, there is often that defining moment, that one phrase or claim that can serve as a future point of reference to judge when even the best company has

jumped the shark

.

Some companies, of course -- and Google might be one -- will go years without jumping the shark.

Take

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

, a quality operation if there ever was one.

Sometime in the early to mid-1990s, The Business Press Maven heard Starbucks claim it would never, ever sell artificially flavored coffees such as Vanilla Hazelnut -- end of discussion. No matter how boilerplate the rest of the call was, I had my long-term takeaway.

When competition got so stiff that the company had to go into artificially flavored coffees to compensate and draw customers back, it was trouble.

That's why The Business Press Maven was doubly interested that though Seeking Alpha and I took away the same long-term claim from the Google call, we had

different conclusions

.

During their well-deserved victory lap of a call, Google said the following:

Over half of local businesses don't have Web sites yet, based on the estimates we see, and our local business center helps those businesses easily create a Web presence so they can advertise online.

To me, it sounded a bit like the old

Onion spoof

about how Google was going to destroy all the information it could not catalogue.

Seeking Alpha saw long-term opportunity, but The Business Press Maven sees that defined moment: When we get to that point in time where Google starts talking about the need (that's the key, right now they don't need) to usher small businesses online so Google can shake them down for advertising revenue, I'll be beyond cautious.

Many small businesses, such as my dry cleaner, for example, are not online for one and only one reason: There is absolutely no reason for them to be.

I don't need to track the progress of my lightly starched shirts electronically.

As long as Google is making light work of the long-term potential of this market, God bless. But when Google starts taking it more seriously, beware. It will have jumped the shark.

While we are on the subject of technology behemoths and good results, let's go to

The Washington Post

this morning for a good post-mortem of how

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

-- which seemed to jump the shark once and lived to tell the tale -- has even

revived its business

of technology services for government agencies.

This was one of the first things IBM gave up more than a decade ago, when it was throwing divisions off the side of the boat.

A figurative guillotine for CEOs set out in the public square?

Another chief executive probably sentenced today to a stick-up man's term, fated to be chased around a prison yard for a generation?

A judge

telling

Richard Grasso in no uncertain terms to pay back an amount of money the size of his overblown sense of self?

Investors too often need to take out a protective order when the business media start pontificating about trends.

As The Business Press Maven has pointed out many times, the generally accepted practice is that if it has happened three times, the media can start referring to it as a trend, whereupon they start drawing many strained conclusions.

But at the risk of taking too big a risk, let's look around this morning.

News abounds of real consequences for three different types of bad behavior by CEOs.

Since the resulting punishments rate far above the level of gesture (unless you consider job loss, enormous fines and/or prison-yard politics fun and games), you have to start believing that the stock market has been turned into a safer place for investors.

In modern business history, bad-boy CEOs with various levels of an I'll-take-what-I-can-get ethos have enjoyed grand deceptions and sleazy pay grabs and have vandalized shareholder value in a consistent, tacitly accepted and widespread way.

But look at what (I dare say) can now legitimately be declared a new trend of CEOs getting called to account in a consistent, accepted and widespread way:

Jeffrey Skilling, former Enron chief executive, faces sentencing in Houston, and the morning papers show the media seem to assume he'll face a prison term along the lines of that awarded to former WorldCom CEO Bernard J. Ebbers, who was the proud recipient of 25 years for his malfeasance.

The

Associated Press

points out

that the options backdating scandal has cost an increasing number of high-profile CEOs from stalwart companies such as

UnitedHealth Group

(UNH) - Get Report

and

McAfee

(MFE)

.

And in so doing, it conjures up the specter of the guillotine: More than 100 companies are still under investigation, and with high-profile CEOs starting to lose their jobs, many of those companies might just throw their CEOs out to appease the Justice Department and

Securities and Exchange Commission

.

And then there's the New York State Supreme Court's decision to make disgraced former

New York Stock Exchange

head Richard Grasso give back $100 million (more than The Business Press Maven makes over the course of two years).

Anyhow, making exception for those who are jumping sharks, the water does look safer.

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children.