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It's been a strange year, and that's hardly helped by the fact that New Year's Eve celebrations are, as of this writing, poised to be haunted by the sense that we're all still hanging on the edge of the fiscal cliff, promising an economically difficult 2013.
For a little much-needed levity, let's ponder some of the weirdest and most inappropriate moments of 2012.
Dark side of the moon
In 2005, a Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) executive, Jason Selch, got angry at corporate executives about compensation issues and mooned several of them. Shockingly enough, Selch wasn't immediately let go for dropping his trousers. As it turns out, though "99%" of employees would have been immediately shown the door for such behavior, Selch's boss argued that he was in a tier of valued employees who apparently could get away with a simple "formal warning." Lucky guy!
In the end, other executives demanded Selch's firing. Instead of letting it go, Selch showed more of his posterior by suing the company, particularly because he lost millions in bonus cash due to the firing. Fortunately, for sanity's sake, this year the court deemed mooning a justifiable cause for taking away a job (and bonus), regardless of one's percentile status in a company's executive hierarchy. The buck -- and, ahem, the butt -- stops here.
Nobody puts Baby in a binder
In 2012, we endured the usual ridiculous circus of political campaigning, which of course became even more intense because the presidential election was at stake this year. At one point presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made a comment about gender equality in the workplace that came out very awkwardly: "I had the chance to pull together a Cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men. I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?' and they brought us whole binders full of women."
Of course the comment was subject to social media's firestorm of ridicule, but perhaps the funniest part was that one of Amazon.com's pages for white binders became extremely, er, popular, with many people visiting and "liking" the page, as well as writing witty commentary on the political gaffe in the product review section. It's pretty clear that this messed with Amazon's algorithms, because if you're like me, you may have occasionally received emails from Amazon suggesting you might be interested in a nifty white binder for organizing, you know, more reasonable things one might collect in binders.
John McAfee loses it
John McAfee's known for the antivirus software bearing his name, but recent events show early success doesn't always play out very well into the future. After being pursued for questioning related to a neighbor's murder in Belize, McAfee went on the run, and allegedly indulged in bizarre behavior such as burying himself in sand up to his head and using a cardboard box to cover that bodily part to avoid detection by authorities.
McAfee managed to keep in contact with American media during his ordeal, talking to Wired's Joshua Davis and commentators on CNBC. Although he insisted on his innocence, he made a litany of strange remarks on everything from his current plight and the Belize legal system to whether or not he would use drugs like bath salts (also high on 2012's buzz-o-meter for their tendency to make users so batty that it was tempting to think the zombie apocalypse was upon us).
McAfee may have thought he had some sage advice for people in business and investing when he told CNBC: "Making money is easy. Any idiot can make money, it's keeping it that's the hard part." Of course, many of his publicized musings and revelations about the super-bizarre turn his life had taken in Belize also caused many of us to wonder exactly what it was that he had actually lost -- what's gone missing may be way more important than money.
When word got out that noted hedge fund manager William Ackman had shorted Herbalife (NYSE: HLF ) , given the stock a price target of $0, and described its business as "a pyramid scheme," Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson hardly responded with grace.
Johnson immediately responded by denigrating short-sellers, crying "market manipulation," giving vague details to defend the company's soundness, and even went so far as to say, "The United States will be better when Bill Ackman is gone." Keep it classy, guys.
Personally, my first reaction to Ackman's short news was that everybody should take a chill pill. Ackman's known to be a smart individual, but his track record isn't perfect: Consider his long calls on now-defunct Borders and still-struggling J.C. Penney. However, commentators like Henry Blodget have been pointing out that Ackman's making valid points about Herbalife's model.
When a CEO reacts angrily to criticism, though, investors should think twice about the stock in question. There's a difference between a "passionate" defense and a temper tantrum; rage implies maybe something really is wrong. When there's smoke coming out of a CEO's ears, there might be fire in the financials.
Have I missed any inappropriate moments in business and investing in 2012? Add your thoughts in the comments box below, and above all, have a Happy New Year's!
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