The Character: Morton Stickler

Morton Stickler appears toward the end of Sable Shadow and The Presence.  Formerly a non-executive director of United Carbide, he stages a board room coup and becomes chief executive of this very large (fictional) corporation.  He persuades the board that the strategy of the current CEO – to make gradual changes that will improve the profitability of the corporation – is short-changing the shareholders.  He proposes a different strategy: sell off large chunks of the business and buy more profitable pieces.

The reader will almost instantly dislike Morton Stickler.  He seems totally self-absorbed, dismissive of others to the point of rudeness, and totally convinced that his way is the only way.  He is going to prove that not only could he make a huge fortune in venture capital, but that he is also a brilliant executive.  He uses very simple business models that were developed by management consultants to gain new clients.  He does not like people who disagree with him.

Are there really people like Morton Stickler loose in the world of big business?  In my experience, the answer is ‘yes’.  I have to say that I never knew a CEO who had all of Morton’s negative characteristics, but there were some I knew who, if one selected their individual bad characteristics, could be combined into Morton Stickler.

But this then prompts two questions: how does someone like Morton Stickler get to become CEO of a big corporation like United Carbide?  And, once ‘the powers that be’ find out what he is really like, why don’t they get rid of him?  The partial answer to both questions is that there is a dysfunctional board: a board which is cliquish, composed of prima donnas, who have little management experience, and who do not see themselves as servants of the shareholders.  Boards like this may be relatively rare nowadays, but they weren’t so rare a generation ago.  Board members could be very impressed by a guy like Morton.  He’s confident, he’s made tens of millions, and he promises to make them all look like heroes.  When things go wrong, a guy like Morton can find ways to cover up or divert attention from his failings.  And, perhaps interestingly, guys like Morton may just be lucky, or paradoxically, their harsh medicine is just what the business needs.

In any case, Henry, the key character in Sable Shadow and The Presence falls foul of Morton, and he is fired.  But he is fired in circumstances which make the loss of his job – important as it was – seem trivial.  We don’t learn what happened to Morton, except that he (and United Carbide) had to pay Henry for wrongful dismissal and slander.  Did they pay him enough?  Perhaps the test of ‘enough’ is that in his new identity, it isn’t a topic of concern for Henry, much as he may have disliked Morton when he worked for him.

Is Surveillance Undemocratic?

There is an article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as follows:

“More than 500 of the world’s leading authors have condemned the scale of state surveillance, warning that spy agencies are undermining democracy.  In a statement the writers from 81 different countries, including British authors Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Irvine Welsh, and Martin Amis, call for an international charter enshrining digital rights.  The authors warn that the extent of surveillance has undermined people’s right to “remain unobserved and unmolested” in their communications.

“This fundamental right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes,” it says.

“A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.  To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as well as in real space. . . . Surveillance is theft.  . . . . This data is not public property.  It belongs to us.  When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else – the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.”

The statement comes after eight of the biggest technical companies formed an alliance to call on Barack Obama, the American president to reform surveillance laws.  Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Yahoo have united to form a group called Reform Government Surveillance, marking the first time competing companies have presented a united front.

From what I have read about Reform Government Surveillance, it seems to make a lot of sense.  But I have major reservations about the language used by the authors in their statement.

Reform Government Surveillance seeks five areas of reform:

1. The government should codify sensible limits on surveillance, limiting surveillance to known users and eliminating bulk surveillance.

2. Executive powers should be subject to strong checks and balances.

3. Government should be transparent: it should allow companies to report demands for data and it should promptly disclose the data publicly.

4. Governments should not restrict the international flow of data.

5. Legal conflicts between different government jurisdictions should be eliminated.

I have no problem with these five reforms, but, for example, where do people get the right to “remain unobserved and unmolested in their communications”?  If we speak publicly, we give up the right to be private and unobserved.  Just ask any celebrity who’s made a mistake on Twitter (or any other public place for that matter): are they unobserved?  No!  Are they unmolested?  They may not feel like it.  Hasn’t the person who wrote this statement for the authors heard of libel or slander laws?

“A person under surveillance is not longer free.”  Strictly speaking, this is true, but does it pass the ‘so what?’ test?  Where in the US Constitution or in the Declaration of Independence is there mention of ‘freedom from surveillance’ (or observation).  No civilized society can function without its citizens being able to observe the behaviour of others.  For a starter, we would have no witnesses in court.

“Surveillance is theft” . . . and when it happens, “we are robbed . . . of the principle of free will”.  There is a leap of logic in here somewhere.  It sounds a little like the existentialist concept of ‘Other’, but even the existentialists believed in free will.

You may have read about the trial currently underway in London of two Islamic terrorists who are on trial for murdering and trying to butcher a UK soldier in the street.  One was a Christian who converted to Islam.  In his defence (he denies murder, but admits killing the soldier) he said that he is a ‘soldier’ (he never served in the military), and that Allah told him to kill a soldier in revenge for all the Muslims who have been killed.  Can we afford, as a society, to overlook the behaviour of people like that?  I don’t think so.  I agree with the eight technical companies, but not with my fellow authors.

By the way, if I had been the prosecutor in the above trial, I would have asked the defendant two questions:

One: did he ever consider the possibility, as a religious person who believes in God and knows about the devious, lying devil, that it was the devil, not God, who gave him the instruction?

Two: has he studied the Qur’an sufficiently to understand, as most Muslims do, that to kill someone is a major sin?





I will make three, free copies of my latest novel, Sable Shadow and The Presence, available to readers who agree to post a review of 100 words or more on this blog.  Please leave me your name and address.  First come, first served!

The synopsis of Sable Shadow and The Presence is as follows:  This is a fictional autobiographical novel of Henry Lawson, who at a young age hears strange voices which, at first, he does not recognise.  He attributes one voice to ‘Sable Shadow’, a confidant of the devil, and the other to The Presence, a representative of God.

In high school, Henry is introduced to the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, and he begins to see life in existential terms, while not infringing on his rudimentary Christian beliefs.

Upon Henry’s entry into the world of business, he receives guidance from Sable Shadow; this advances him to a high corporate level.  With his career nearly at its peak, he suffers a series of devastating tragedies.  He feels tormented and attempts suicide.  With the help of his wife, and a psychiatrist with whom he engages in existential dialogue, he constructs a successful, new Identity.

The novel follows Henry’s growing and selective acceptance of existentialism, and his efforts to make it a personal guide to living rather than a series of abstractions.

The novel has philosophical, psychological and theological dimensions, but it is firmly set in the every-day world of good and evil, triumph and tragedy.

I will extend this same offer to my other four novels: Fishing in Foreign Seas, Sin and Contrition, Efraim’s Eye, and The Iranian Scorpion.   Information about these novels can be found at my website:

Each reader will be limited to one book until a review on the previous book is posted.

My email address is: bill at williampeace dot net