Saturday, March 09, 2013

Audacious Behavior

Attention, students. Today we will explore the words "audacity" and its cousin "audacious."

The first thing you need to know about these words is that they are loaded with nuances.

Audacity is heroic and inspiring. The SEAL mission that terminated Osama bin Laden was audacious. So was George Washington crossing the Delaware on a dark winter night in 1776 to attack the British in Trenton. The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk were audacious. So was Neil Armstrong when he set foot on the moon.

Audacity can also be evil. 9/11 was audacious. So was Pearl Harbor. So was the systematic roundup and annihilation of Jews by the Nazis.

Audacity can be artistic. Picasso was audacious. So was Beethoven. And Elvis Presley. Stanley Kubrick defined the word as a film director. Marlin Brando and Katherine Hepburn did it as actors.

Audacity can also be absurd. In the words of author Jim Butcher, "There's a fine line between audacity and idiocy."

One person who crossed that line is Mark Sanford. You remember Mark. He was the former South Carolina governor who threw away his political career and his family to chase after some Argentinian hottie he called "his soul mate."

It was 2009 when Sanford disappeared from the Governor's Mansion for six days, his whereabouts unknown to his staff and family. It turns out he was in Argentina with a lady love to whom he was not wed.

He told an aide that he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail," which instantly became a sarcastic euphemism for extra-marital hanky-panky.

His wife and four sons moved out of the mansion and she shortly thereafter filed for divorce. In the midst of this, he refused to resign his gubernatorial position despite being threatened with impeachment.

Fast forward to now: Sanford, apparently feeling the tug of political life, has decided to run for Congress. He certainly has name recognition. But what he really needs is a top-rate campaign manager to smooth his return to the national stage.

So who does he turn to? His ex-wife, according to a story in New York magazine. They haven't exactly been exchanging Valentine's Day cards but she has a reputation as a shrewd political strategist who helped run his gubernatorial campaign. So Sanford, mustering all his charm, tells her, "I could pay you this time." What a silver-tongued devil.

She declined. And you can bet the word "audacious" crossed her mind.

Audacity gone wrong isn't always fatal. Consider the case of Roy Brown, who died recently at 96.

Brown was a veteran automotive designer in the 1950s who was charged with overseeing a new car the Ford people wanted to produce. His marching orders were to produce a car that could be recognized from a block away.

He did just that. In spades. Brown brought forth the Edsel, a car that was long on audacity and short on appeal. Indeed, it became one of the greatest flops in automotive history.

His chrome encrusted behemoth was, in the words of automotive industry analyst Maryann Keller "almost grotesque." She cited among the vehicle's flaws its "hundreds of pounds of unnecessary weight in bumpers."

Undeterred, Brown went on to help design the Thunderbird and a show car that inspired the Batmobile.

He expressed pride in his doomed creation and drove an Edsel until he died. When people would ask to buy it, he would reply, "Where the hell were you in 1958?"

Last but not least, audacity can be expensive.

The principality of Monaco perched on the French Riviera has become the most expensive city in the world when it comes to real estate, according to Knight Frank, a London-based real-estate firm. It reported that the average price of real-estate in Monaco was between $5,350 and $5,920 per square foot.

To put that in perspective, that means spending $1 million will get you a 200 square-foot closet - presumably without a water view.

By comparison, New York, which is nobody's bargain, prices in at $2,161 a square foot.

The question is: which is more audacious, the asking price or the people willing to pay it?

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