advice from a fake consultant

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Saturday, June 2, 2007

On The Challenges Of The Future, Or, Meet The SurvivaBall

It is now well understood that the economy of the future will be profoundly affected by the coming changes brought on by alteration of the Earth’s climate.

The rising sea levels, desertification, and the likely change of Europe into an Arctic climate all suggest enormous migrations, competition for newly scarce resources, and the eventual conflicts that follow will all be an important part of the story of the 21st Century.

As we learned during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, civil disorder can follow a natural disaster unless on-site management is present to assess the situation, direct the recovery, and, most importantly, identify opportunities for private-sector entities to interface profitably with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and other Federal contract providers.

As often happens in times of exigency, the marketplace has acted, and an exciting new tool for crisis management has become available from America’s greatest expert in international “situational support”.

Did you attend the LexisNexis Catastrophic Loss Conference this past May 8th and 9th, at the fabulous Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Florida?

If you did, and you got up early for the 9:00 AM “Disaster Preparedness: How To Plan and React to a Catastrophic Event” seminar you were treated to a fantastic demonstration of the SurvivaBall, presented by Fred S. Wolf and Dr. Northrop Goody of the Halliburton Corporation; previously of Texas, and currently a newly settled corporate citizen of Dubai.

SurvivaBall, you ask?
In a nutshell, here’s the concept:

A single-occupant, self-sustained, inflatable “pod” (think “Boy In The Bubble” here), containing environmental, communication/data acquisition, defensive, and other operational systems. A pod that offers multiple means of locomotion for the occupant; and the ability, due to the robust design, to allow managers to function on-site in virtually any circumstances with complete efficiency and safety.

“It is essentially a gated community for one” Mr. Wolf told the attendees.

For those interested, the “usage and safety card” explaining the basic systems of the Model X7 SurvivaBall can be viewed here.

As those who viewed the card noted, the SurvivaBall has extraordinary capabilities that put this device truly in a class by itself.

First, of course, is the ability of the pod to obtain power from either wind or tidal forces (through the use of the detachable propeller fans), or, if no other means is present, the ability to capture power from living animals.

Even more interesting, however, is the application of a concept pioneered by coral-the ability to aggregate individual SurvivaBalls into a multi-dimensional self-contained and limitlessly scalable structure that can adapt to any management challenge.

Would this technology be prohibitively expensive?
Only if you ignore the upside potential.

Consider this: if Halliburton had been able to deploy managers in SurvivaBalls during Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, then as soon as the weather cleared, Halliburton could have landed a contract with FEMA for security services that could have brought in billions of dollars in additional revenue-even if no real risk existed. After all, Halliburton managers would be the only outside personnel functioning on the scene, meaning FEMA’s perceptions of the security situation could be effectively managed in the most profitable way possible.

How many of you knew all of this was satire?
How many of you know “The Yes Men”?

For those who don’t, it’s time for an introduction.

The public suffers when corporations are able to “disguise” their real identities, and The Yes Men are specialists in “identity correction”. To quote the website:

“Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.”

Here’s another example:

Dow Chemical is associated with the disaster that affected the citizens of Bhopal, India, due to its merger with Union Carbide. Neither company has ever acknowledged liability; a page posted by Union Carbide asserting the Indian state government of Madhya Pradesh is the current responsible party can be seen here.

Enter The Yes Men.

A series of actions were launched against Dow, including this:

On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, a Yes Man, impersonating Dow Chemical corporate representative "Jude Finisterra", made an announcement on BBC World Television that Dow had admitted liability, planned to offer compensation to all victims by selling all its corporate assets, and would become a generally better corporate citizen going forward.

The international uproar resulting from that incident forced Dow to issue a press release to confirm, publicly, that they do not intend to compensate anyone, and that nothing had changed.

Now, here’s the crazy part. The group has been able to effectively mimic opposition websites, in order to spread a more “corrected” message about the target. This causes confusion not only amongst members of the general public, but in the corporate world as well. As a result, they are invited to speak at conferences by those who think they are representatives of the actual target company. (As was the case at the Loss Conference.)

This is how “Erastus Hamm” came to appear at a London banking conference, announcing that Dow had introduced “Acceptable Risk”; a software tool that allowed companies to determine exactly how much corporate malpractice might be acceptable in various regions of the world, as long as sufficient profit can be identified. (The fake “Mr. Hamm”, an unaware South African banker, and fake Dow’s mascot Gilda, the Acceptable Risk Golden Skeleton can all be seen posing in this group photo from the event.)

This is not the first identity correction the group has performed. The hilarious movie “The Yes Men” documents the outcomes of previous successful efforts in spoofing George W. Bush’s and the WTO’s web presence, including a masterful prank that placed a “WTO” representative on CNBC.

The sophistication of these actions is stunning-costume design, the “presence” they create, the message they put into the public’s just amazing.

Which, finally, brings me to my point.

I am in receipt of an email from the group that informs me that “an event” will soon occur, but that a considerable amount of preparation will first be required.

So I am asking those of you who might support such an undertaking to consider making a small donation (or a giant one, if you’re George Soros, for example) to The Yes Men.

For purposes of disclosure, I am not personally involved beyond the fact of writing this story, and that I am an owner of the DVD I mentioned above.

So that’s my story-good people are trying to change the world, one prank at a time, and if we don’t give them a hand, we might someday see a real SurvivaBall out there.

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