Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Great letter in today's FTonline from Takashi Ito pointing out that John Thain, late of Merrill, late of Bank of America is a prime example of the Japanese phrase "kuuki-yomenai" or KY for short.

KY means "cannot read the air " , the nearest English phrase is perhaps "not knowing which way the wind is blowing", but that doesn't quite capture the willful disregard of what is happening to others and the refusal to accept any blame. KY seems an addition, like schadenfreude, to our range of expressions.

John Thain, buying $1064 waste paper baskets, spending over $1 million on an office re-design, arranging for his staff to get million dollar bonuses at this time of global belt tightening and when Merrill was just about to announce a $15 billion loss, is not alone in his inability, Sir Fred Godwin is reported to have argued fiercely to be compensated for loss of office.

This total focus on self reminds me of Leona Hemsley's comment "I don't pay taxes, only little people pay taxes."

The Athenians used to have a vote, written on clay tablets, ostrakos, on whether to send into exile those people who had become too arrogant and powerful to be retained in the city. Perhaps we should bring back ostracism as the punishment for those who cannot read the air.

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