1. How to Enron a Business Into the Ground
Let's get the weekly
item out of the way, shall we?
Enron, the energy-trading firm that has turned out to be one of the most spectacular flameouts of the New Economy, filed Sunday for bankruptcy protection.
This is the same company that months ago boasted a market cap of $70 billion and was the undisputed leader in the market it helped create. The same operation that had the ear of Dick Cheney as he devised the nation's energy policy in an undisclosed location. The same company whose CEO responded to questions about Enron's murky finances by publicly addressing a skeptical analyst as a body part my editor won't let me repeat.
And whom did this towering example of free-market commerce blame for its demise?
I'll give you a hint. It's not Enron.
Simultaneous with its bankruptcy filing, Enron sued rival
alleging that Dynegy "has torn a hole in Enron's business" by reneging on its deal to rescue Enron by purchasing the troubled company.
Obviously, blaming Dynegy is a smart business move. When billions of dollars evaporate, it's standard practice to sue everything that moves, in the hopes that a judge may redistribute a few shekels your way. Heck, maybe Dynegy did breach its contract with Enron.
But from a common sense perspective, give us a break. Dynegy didn't rip a hole in Enron; rather, Dynegy was the only seamstress willing to patch up the emperor's old clothes once he'd boarded the Titanic. Blaming Dynegy for Enron's demise is like jumping into the
shark tank at the Coney Island aquarium -- then suing a friend for not saving you once the bleeding starts. And what were you doing in Coney Island to begin with?
2. A Whole New Dimension to That Christmas Wreath Idea, if You Get My Drift!
Speaking of high-risk behavior in the public markets, what better way is there to ring in the holidays than to buy something that causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema, and may complicate your pregnancy?
Yup, that's the approach
is taking to pep up celebrations across the nation.
The Wall Street Journal
reminded a forgetful public this week, the big Mo -- not content to settle for near-universal scorn over
its plan to adopt the meaningless moniker Altria -- is inviting wrath with a limited-time line extension to its Marlboro cigarettes called Marlboro Special Blend.
Marketed from Nov. 19 through Dec. 31, the Special Blend is "a special promotional offer to adult consumers," according to a statement, consistent with the practices of other consumer-product companies. In other words, it's like a holiday beer, except it's cigarettes.
We called for Philip Morris to tell us exactly what makes Special Blend so special -- is there a pine scent that makes SB homier than
the usual Marlboro blend of tobacco, water, sugars, glycerol, propylene glycol, cocoa & cocoa products, licorice extract, diammonium phosphate, ammonium hydroxide, and natural and artificial flavors? (We got that from their Web site.)
A PhilMo spokesman wouldn't discuss the taste of Special Blend. "You'd have to try it yourself and figure it out," he said. Unfortunately for Five Dumbest's quest to increase the sum total of human knowledge, our investigative team has to draw the line somewhere. Cigarette tastings fall on the far side.
Yeah, we at FDT know it's Philip Morris' duty to shareholders to sell as much tobacco as possible to consenting adults. So does this holiday cigarette thing sound as dumb as we think it is?
Hmm. Maybe we're not qualified to judge. Stuff a pack in your loved one's Christmas stocking this year and find out for yourself.
3. Martha, My Bear?
Flash from the New York
, by way of
Jim Romenesko's Media News: Martha Stewart, the doyenne of domiciles, decorative arts and dinner-table settings, said this week that she plans to publish a financial magazine special issue next year.
Now, we have no reason to doubt the wisdom of the chairman and CEO of
Martha Stewart Omnimedia
Well, actually, we do: On Wednesday, Stewart launched in Japan the bizarrely titled magazine
Martha Stewart Martha
. Kind of makes me want to change my byline to George Mannes George. Or maybe watch some reruns of
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
Anyway, we applaud Martha Stewart Martha's plans for expanding the horizons of her magazine. But we're at a loss to figure out how she'll cover personal finance in the hyperprecious, do-it-yourself, impossibly perfect manner that she brings to family life. This is the same woman who -- I'm not kidding -- recently published a photo essay on how children can use obscure kitchen utensils to detail their snowman.
So what approach will Stewart Martha Stewart take to personal finance? Build your own stock exchange? Organize your own bid for AT&T Broadband AT&T? Roll your own cigarettes for Philip Morris Philip? We at the Five Dumbest research laboratory, snowman included, can't wait to find out.
4. Fall Street
And now a quick segue back to the theme of Wall Street hazards -- specifically, the
Human Transporter, the alternative transportation device unveiled Monday after a hype storm not seen on this planet since, oh, the release of the Harry Potter movie last month.
Inventor Dean Kamen Dean -- OK, I'll stop -- envisions a day when "empowered pedestrians" will use the HT to navigate city streets across the nation.
Empower this, you
insert Enron-favored body part here.
HTs aren't literally on Wall Street yet, but once they start rolling up and down the sidewalks, they'll no doubt be Dumb Things. Bump into someone on the crowded streets around the Exchange, and we fear that New Yorkers' legendarily courteous treatment of strangers might be sorely tested.
One wonders, also, how much Segway riders will suffer in the cause of scientific investigation. Seems like every story we've read on the device discusses its near-magical ability to help riders keep their balance, thanks to the HT's gyroscopic mechanism. We at FDT are personally curious about how far forward you can push an unsuspecting Segway rider before he crashes to the sidewalk rather than bounces upright like a
Welcome to New York, Dean. But watch your back.
5. Speaking of Listing Perilously...
Finally, some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed, stock market wise. That's what the heretofore obscure customer relationship-management software firm
found out Wednesday when it was delisted from the Nasdaq SmallCap Market. An accident, the company told
. A bookkeeping error that led Nasdaq to believe Sedona hadn't paid listing fees. And this only a few months after the sub-$1 stock successfully fought off a nonaccidental delisting procedure initiated by Nasdaq.
By Thursday, Sedona was back on the Nasdaq track, enabling it to fall 9 cents in heavy trading to close at 81 cents.
We assume that Nasdaq apologized profusely to Sedona. Or maybe they just blamed Dynegy.