BUSINESS CLASS: Everybody's talkin'

This week our travels take us to Vienna, where George Soros thinks all the world's a stage, on to Wall Street, where an oath bubble is forming, and back to Paris, where fake facial hair is in fashion.

Let's talk it through. What better way to rehabilitate our battered spirits as we drag ourselves through these bleak economic and environmental times? Because let's be honest people, it's been ugly. Depressing. Frightening. Old world order-altering. Mind-numbingly repetitive...

So let's just get it all out. Stream of consciousness-like. Let's be open and let's be frank. And let's start with you, George Soros.

"The collapse of the financial system as we know it is real, and the crisis is far from over," said the billionaire investor at a conference in Vienna on Thursday. "Indeed, we have just entered Act II of the drama."

Soros' bleak, thespian reminder that we're all going to hell in a handcart grabbed end-of-week headlines in that bad-news-is-good-news kind of way – and that wasn't all the rain he had for our parade. "When the financial markets started losing confidence in the credibility of sovereign debt, Greece and the euro have taken centre stage, but the effects are liable to be felt worldwide," he added. Good to know.

Next on the couch we have Alan "Ace" Greenberg, the 83-year-old former chairman and CEO of Bear Stearns who opens up to Bess Levin (in her New York Observer capacity) about the "real" Bear Stearns, his ex-colleague Jimmy Cayne, and why he will not be quitting his post at JP Morgan any time soon – even despite having some very interesting hobbies, like performing magic with playing cards and shooting deer with a bow and arrow.

Asked whether he wished he had advised the Bear Stearns board to oust the retrospectively controversial then-CEO Cayne, Greenberg says no: "It would've been very difficult to get rid of Jimmy. Things were going well. The stock was making a new high. I knew a lot about my business, but I didn't know much of what was going on in the mortgage business, so I couldn't have gone and said, 'He's doing something wrong.'"

And fair enough too. Why, even if he did know what was going on with Bears' 'mortgage business', it mightn't have done any good, because as Greenberg later admits, he's "bad at hypotheticals. Quote me on that." Done.

Meanwhile, beleaguered Wall Street types are busy swearing oaths. So much so, in fact, that Michael Lewis wonders whether it isn't "too early to say if oath-taking has attained a permanent new high, or we are living through some kind of 'oath bubble'."

It's even happening at Harvard Business School where, in the past year, hundreds of students have taken something called the MBA Oath, says Lewis, the gist of which says: "Wherever I face a choice between my self-interest, and the interests of the wider world, I pledge to act in the interests of the wider world.” Nice idea. Let's see how they go with that at the coal face.

But talking it through doesn't work for everyone. BP chief Tony Hayward, for example. Indeed, Hayward's knack for regrettable utterances dates back to the beginning of his reign at BP, says The Guardian's Terry McAlister. "He promised he would focus 'like a laser' on safe and reliable operations... said he wanted a low profile for himself ... (and) In particular ...wanted to eradicate the perception that BP had become so entrepreneurial that it had developed a culture of risk-taking that critics said separated it from rivals Shell or ExxonMobil." So far so good.

Three weeks into the spill he offered a fresh perspective by saying that the Gulf of Mexico was "a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." And then not long after that he really loosened up and ventured that there was no one who wanted the oil spill over more than he did, because "I would like my life back." – but "probably not as much as the 11 workers who died in the blast," suggests Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard. And we would add, don't hold your breath, Tony.

Looks like Hayward could take a leaf out of McDonalds' book, which was awarded a gold star last week for voluntarily recalling 12 million "Shrek"-themed drinking glasses.

The fast food giant took the measure because the paint used on the glasses contains cadmium, a potentially harmful chemical – even though the Consumer Product Safety Commission has said the products being recalled didn't pose a toxic risk to consumers.

"You won't hear McDonald's complaining, shifting blame or running for cover. In fact, the ubiquitous fast food retailer has taken pains to accept responsibility for the problem and moved at lightning speed to fix it," says Fortune's Kit Roane. Now, to tackle the issue of the western obesity epidemic.

And finally, with all this talk, we thought we'd give a shout out to some people out there who are taking good old-fashioned action. Under the eye-catching headline of "Bearded Women Challenge French ‘Boys Club’ Boards in Paris," Bloomberg reported Friday that "a group of women wearing fake beards stormed the podium at Veolia Environnement SA’s shareholders’ meeting in Paris last month, challenging Chairman Henri Proglio over the gender makeup of his overwhelmingly masculine board." Who needs words when you've got fake beards?

And on that note, we should inform our readers that this will be the last edition of Business Class for the time being. So thanks for reading – putting it together has been a joy. Our attention is now shifting to 'greener' pastures, and the exciting new ...

Pre-register now for Climate Spectator, edited by Giles Parkinson, launching soon. See you there!

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