Monday, February 19, 2007

Imam Musa

I have some astounding luck when it comes to Amtrak seatmates. Yesterday, on the train from New York to Baltimore, I sat next to a kind-eyed, pleasant fellow who asked me where I was going. Was I born in Baltimore? No. Where was I born? Oakland, I replied. Where? East 33rd and Fruitvale. Ah, he said, I know that neighborhood very well; I'm from East Oakland myself.

Thus began a pretty goddamned fascinating conversation with Abdul Alim Musa, who is the face of radical Islam in America (to Fox News, anyway). He was fresh from an interview-- literally hours ago-- with Sean Hannity, who kept asking him "Do you hate America?"

Mr. Musa is the imam of a major mosque in Washington, D.C., but he began his career as a drug dealer in Oakland known as "Big Hank." Big Hank was fascinated by American entrepreneurs like J.C. Penney, and quickly rose up the Oakland drug ladder through innovation. "I was one of the first-- if not the first-- to make a lot of money (I mean a lot of money) selling smoke." Formerly a small-time drug with a casual economy in Oakland, marijuana got the J.C. Penney treatment from Big Hank.

I have just done some breathtakingly extensive research on J.C. Penney, and discovered a Wikipedia entry on the man. It includes this quotation: "Business is no longer a matter of profits alone. Profits must come through public confidence, and public confidence is given to any merchant in proportion to the service which he gives to the public." That's pretty much how Big Hank approached it. He attained public confidence through a number of familiar measures: branding, attractive and standard packaging, and quality standardization. Random spot-checks and customer follow-up helped ensure the latter. I dunno if he got to the level of Six Sigma, but this is weed we're talking about.

More tomorrow.