August 22, 2007

Crime Inc.

The sun makes its daily descent into the ocean, and Nick Stanton ponders the same question he has been chewing on for the last sixteen days. A lit Montecristo in one hand, Mario Puzo in the other, Nick stares at the sun, rolling a simple question around in his head like a marble. What do you do with $107 million in cash and securities, an adventurous mind, and idle hands? It's been the same routine for Nick since he arrived in Moorea. Up at 7:30 for a run on the beach. Breakfast with Connie, the woman he brought on this trip, then quiet reading time on the spit of beach in front of his villa. Lunch is delivered at noon, then a quiet siesta during the heat and rain associated with the afternoon. Connie could be counted on for a good lay in the afternoon, but she wasn't very encouraging when it came to the budding idea he kept coming back to. It's not that Connie wasn't a bright or creative woman, but Nick wondered if any woman understood the basic attraction between a man and a life of crime. The books Nick brought with him should have been the giveaway to where the idea would come from. How many people mix "Thriving on Chaos", "The Innovator's Dilemma", and "Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family"? The idea technically started at a dinner party back in the Bay Area about a month ago. Somebody mentioned they were hooked on, where the acts of stupid criminals were documented and commented on in hilarious detail. The conversation crystalized in a brief moment for Nick when an ambiguous blond blurted out "I guess the gene pool self filters by sending the stupid into a short life of crime!" Somewhere in the days of oceanside reading, mindless fucking, and boring dinners with blasé tourists, Nick rehashed the blonde's seemingly irrelevant statement. Crime doesn't require a college education. All it takes is access to a blunt object and a plan on how to liberate valuable objects from their owners. Duck taping one's face to hide your identity or leaving behind your rear bumper with attached license plate when you foolishly try to steal an ATM machine with your pickup truck proves that plenty of unintelligent folk are drawn to crime. But what if you were amazingly smart and dedicated yourself to crime as a business, a lifelong profession? Smart crime would not make the annals of "Cops" and Smart criminals appear on the news only when they make mistakes. Smart crime was glorified in some of the books Nick brought on this trip, but these were only works of fiction and the stuff Hollywood cast in movies like "The Thomas Crown Affair". As a child, you can decide at an early age to become a policeman. It's a venerated profession. Good grades and average athletics will get you into the local police academy after high school. Great grades and above average athletics will get you into the FBI after college. You can join a fraternity of professionals who dedicate their lives to training and exercising their minds in the pursuit of criminals. A morally exemplary lifestyle and limited government benefits await all who enter this field. But what about the criminal? If you rely on fictional works and Hollywood adaptations, you'd believe all criminals are either immigrants warping the American dream, dimwits, or were born criminals because it was their father's job. You learn the profession, so to speak, in the school of hard knocks. Learn by doing. Progressive media outlets occasionally focus on the smart criminal. Between the South American drug cartels and the new mob groups originating in Russia and China, you learn that the modern criminal uses cutting edge technology. They heavily encrypt their data, use layers of shell corporations to launder their activities, accountants and lawyers to obfuscate and protect their employees, politicians to bend the law, and when needed, excessively modern brute force to accomplish their goals. Their operations are global, compact, and shielded by the best technology and processes typically available only to governments and corporations. With a fulfilling pull on the Montecristo, this accumulation of thoughts became the warped answer to his nagging question. Crime was the next human endeavor that needed exposure to the Information Age. Corporations and governments spend large percentages of their annual budgets recruiting and training bright people to do their bidding. Experts in all lines of work are brought together to make, or tax, money. They train, execute, and build intellectual capital in the pursuit of money. Why hasn't someone created the "corporation for criminals"? Imagine if you will a company, built over years, that specializes in crime? The best minds in computers, engineering, mathematics, social engineering, etc. are recruited in the same way the FBI or CIA courts talented young adults. They join a crime conglomerate that uses the latest organizational theories, the best equipment, technology, and training money can buy, and a relentless passion for the same goal that Fortune 100 companies strive for; return on investment. You want for nothing as long as you work hard and protect the company's shadowy but criminal intent. It's hard to imagine an average bloke taking the idle fascinations of too many days in the southern Pacific sun and deciding might just be the "next thing", but when you are Nick Stanton, this idea is no less crazy than the last one that brought him millions and too much idle time. Years at Stanford University netted him an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, an MBA, a huge imagination, and the friends needed to make imagination into reality. A raucous night tasting vodkas from around the world led to starbuk$.com, a social networking startup Nick started with his Silicon Valley and Stanford buddies. Betting fictitious money on whether Hollywood stars popularity would rise or fall might not have been the most inspired use of the startup's intellectual capability, but the name alone drew the ire of the coffee giant, which in turn led to massive media exposure. Lindsey Lohan's and Britney Spear's exposure of their private parts lead to media scandals which fueled the viral growth of their budding venture. Nick always chuckled when he contemplated how much idle time middle American housewives have to consume on their broadband Internet connections. One thing led to another, and four months ago News Corp decided it needed to broaden its internet property appeal beyond the Gen Y MySpace crowd. $230 million later and Nick had too much money as a departing founder, an adventurous mind, and idle hands. As the sun finally departed for the evening, Nick wondered if he was crazy, stupid, or just bored. Another mind numbing evening discussing French politics and the stupidity of America's George Bush awaited him at his table at the Fare Nui restaurant. But a mind numbing life of serial entrepreneurship and Silicon Valley ego swaggering awaited him if he returned to life's normal course. All his money might not save him from that path, his friends were seemingly stuck on that path, and Connie, despite all her beauty, was definitely not going to change the arc of his life. Was re-engineering crime the adventure and passion of a lifetime? As he departed to join his female companion in dressing for dinner, he knew he had something solid to chew on mentally...
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