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Home / Book Reviews / dot.bomb
dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath
by J. David Kuo
ISBN: 0316507490
Publisher: Time Warner
Publication Year: 2001
Publisher Price: Absurdly high, even for Time Warner
Cover Type: hardcover

PARASITE : n. 1. [Biology] An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. 2a. One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.

The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

The full title of this book is dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath →Optimism→Lunacy→Panic→Crash; I Survive to Tell the Tale.

Indeed, the author did survive. Certainly, he did so at the expense of his company, ValueAmerica.com, which had lavishly wined, dined, chauffeured, yachted, jetted, and overpaid their “senior vice-president of communications” to do . . . nothing, basically, but play cheerleader to and apologist for Craig Winn, ValueAmerica’s entrepreneur and chief megalomaniac:

My job would be to know everything about the company, everything about [Winn}. I needed to know it all, because I was the one who would be selling it to the media . . . .

Ultimately, Kuo was to play willingly the role of a corporate Judas Goat: the one who can convince others to follow him up the ramp of a slaughterhouse, because he knows that he alone will be spared. This role was the source of the kind of dubious achievements we’ve come to expect from a so-called communications expert who was acting from within a cutting-edge information-based business: the reinvention and celebration of herd instinct, usually just in time for an IPO or quarterly earnings statement.

Well, what next for a man of Mr. Kuo’s talents? $250K a year to exhort us all to blink at loud noises?

Why not? That’s what we plebian suckers of USA, Inc., have come to admire about and expect from folks like Kuo, who was a former CIA analyst and political speechwriter for the likes of Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp, J.C. Watts, and Bob Dole. They will survive. Hey, hey.

Like rats, cockroaches, silverfish, and termites, Kuo and his species seem to persist in the environment, despite all attempts at eradication. They are remarkable, really.

When cornered or frightened by perceived cash-flow problems, pure verbal silk will stream forth from out their asses, hopelessly entangling the credulous or unwary.

If you fling them from the lofty heights of their own towering greed and vanity, they will either pop open their golden parachutes and float softly down into the gated community of their choice, or they will miraculously spin, flip, revolve and land, catlike, on their feet—and on the backs of the laid-off workers whom they will sucker again if books such as dot.bomb are sold in quantities greater than three.

dot.bomb is not a Coleridgian saga of personal transformation and redemption through intense suffering, although the author shares at least part of the Ancient Mariner’s fate:

And a thousand slimy things/Lived on; and so did I.

Rather, Kuo’s tale is a formulaic one: a Liar’s Poker with websites, a Funny Money at cyberspeed. The ending is predictable—to everyone but Kuo, that is. The author’s thick, unctuous, choking layers of self-interest seems to blind him to the rising tide of implausibility that only briefly lifted his company on top of the Nasdaq Sea, before dashing it on the rocks of fiscal reality.

In fact, the most interesting thing about this book is its formulaic construction. dot.bomb is actually an ingenious by-product of the author’s attempt to follow a 12-step program for greed addiction. dot.bomb is Kuo’s effort to admit his powerlessness over greed; to profess a belief in something greater than himself that will restore him to health; to make a searching and fearless inventory of his numerous failings; to make a list of all of the people he has harmed, and so on.

But greed is a tenacious demon. Almost all of Kuo’s decisions were balanced precariously upon the pointy horns of self-promotion and job security. From the very minute his future boss inflates Kuo’s own credentials during an initial hiring interview [and Kuo does nothing—on two separate occasions—to correct this misinformation], you know the author is about to fall off the wagon again. Throughout his almost two-year tenure with ValueAmerica—throughout all of the hair-raising misrepresentations, disinformation, deceptive accounting, and political mind-control experiments that were couched in the form of corporate marketing junkets that seemed to embody “business as usual” at ValueAmerica—Kuo refused to act honestly, courageously, morally. When he did act—betraying his boss’s confidences to a rival corporate officer so that he could continue to “prosper”—it was too late, and the company melted down and oozed into some federal bankruptcy court in Virginia.

Back to Greed Anonymous for you, J. David.

Boys and girls—can you say “Enron?”

Sure you can.

J. David Kuo will teach you.

© Copyright 2002 by KNS Maré.