Archive for the 'business' Category

Some bads and a good

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The faculty lounge and its allies have been in a long-term losing battle with reality on subject after subject, and it’s beginning to wear on them. Therefore, they would like you kindly to shut up and sit down. It’s the sign of weakness and a losing hand, but these folks can cause a lot more damage before common sense and a decent regard for our ancient human nature adequately reassert themselves over the current cultural rot. On the other hand, consider the tardigrade, a remarkable creature that for some reason suggests to us that the probability of life elsewhere in the universe has a near 100% probability.

Ad fontes

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Terry Teachout on TCM’s 20th anniversary in the WSJ:

On Monday it will be showing, among other things, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” “Gaslight,” “Gone With the Wind,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” You couldn’t ask for a more representative sampling of the best of studio-era Hollywood…Ever since its launch, the audience for TCM has consisted primarily of people who want to watch studio-era movies. While the channel has diversified its offerings over the years, it remains committed to accommodating the conservative tastes of its regular viewers, which is why it steers clear of the franker films that Hollywood started to release around 1970. Look at the schedule for the month of April and you’ll find just 20 films made after 1970, most of them forgettable mediocrities.

If you believe, as I do, that American film entered a new period of artistic maturity in the 1970s, you’ll find little to confirm that belief. Where are “Apocalypse Now,” “Cabaret,” “Chinatown,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Godfather,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Network,” “Patton” and “Taxi Driver”? Not on TCM. Nor do its potential problems stop there. With under-30 moviegoers reflexively tuning out black-and-white films because they look old fashioned, how can a channel that specializes in the oeuvre of Gary Cooper, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart hope to eventually replace its aging viewers

The Renaissance was marked by a return ad fontes, to the texts of Greek and Roman classics, and indeed the Reformation featured a return to an ancient text. Things can get lost for hundreds of years, like perspective in art, and then get rediscovered, to the great benefit of civilization.

TCM is not just entertainment; it is a course in American history. Unique in that it is the first time in history we have the voices and pictures of human beings of yesteryear speaking to us directly. In important cultural ways, the America shown on TCM is superior to that of the 70′s and thereafter — the 40-80% illegitimacy trend of the last four decades is a cultural disaster of the first order.

TCM should stick to its knitting, and not worry that kids might currently prefer 3D to B&W. Niche marketing is fine. More importantly, kids can grow up and perhaps discover that BS and malarkey aren’t a viable path to rewarding lives. In that sense, TCM isn’t just a view of the past frozen in amber, but a reminder that a better future culture is possible.

(Incidentally, both Scott Johnson and Mark Steyn would be excellent fill-ins for Robert Osborne, but TCM’s chairman emeritus might object.)

Worth reading today

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Kevin Williamson has a very amusing piece on the life in the Beltway. Many of Mark Steyn’s readers are also pretty good writers. Some anniversaries arriving: it’s ten years since Kill Bill (Sheriff Earl Parks and Esteban Vihaio are the same guy), and coming up on ten years in August since the forging of the Rathergate memos. Finally, we can report that from seeing college age kids talk that George Will’s statement on TV today is true, as political correctness morphs into absurdity (not that it was such a long trip).

Strange and getting stranger

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Ali, Steyn, Steyn, McCarthy, and Simon on the Brandeis debacle. (BTW, does Steyn have a twin brother? He seems to be writing at light speed these days.) And what about the incredibly weird BLM story from Nevada? Finally, can’t the MSM even photoshop competently? Good night and good luck.

Way too much time on their hands

Friday, April 11th, 2014

According to CNBC, the DOJ and FBI are investigating Herbalife, an MLM company, so, knowing that, you’re already forewarned as an investor. The company’s auditor is PWC, which we’ve used and found to be straightforward and highly professional. And we’re also a decade removed from Enron and Arthur Andersen, so one presumes the toleration of shoddy accounting practices in controversial companies is not common in what were once the Big 8. Finally, storied investors are on all sides of the Herbalife trade.

We were introduced to cash flow and revenue recognition problems in the ancient case of Stirling Homex‘s bankruptcy, which featured something called “unbilled long-term receivables.” Points for creativity, Mr. Stirling! In the case of Herbalife, it would be very interesting to know the length of the cash cycle from product creation to payment by the final consumer of the product, not just one or two L’s in the MLM. (Herbalife’s auditor is a successor to that of Stirling Homex.) So there is plenty of history to such issues and plenty of real experts on the case; hence it seemed an odd use of time for additional federal employees. Then again. Hmmmm.

Shoe, meet other foot please

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

WSJ: in a column about the 77 cents rubbish, we learn that 92% of work-related deaths are men. But it’s hazardous being a lady, particularly if you might get an honorary degree or join the board of a public company. (We’ve previously commented on both ladies here and here.) Question: what’s missing from these stories that we’d be hearing about nonstop if the shoe was on the other foot?

The musical fruit that kills……..

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Daily Mail:

Lord Simon said: ‘In a programme some months ago on the BBC it was stated that this country has the largest production of baked beans and the largest consumption of baked beans in the world.’ He asked Lady Verma: ‘Could you say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission resulting therefrom?’ Lady Verma described his question as ‘so different’ but she appeared to suggest that people should think twice about over-indulging in baked beans or any food which causes flatulence. She added: ‘You do actually raise a very important point, which is we do need to moderate our behaviour.’

Hey, give up burgers too. HT: DC

Protean man, again?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The strange myth that human nature is malleable by force of will is here again, and boy howdy! How tiresome. Here are some alternatives to Firefox, BTW (some add-ons too). If we had to guess, we’d say that the recent extreme and authoritarian developments of the anti-free-speech movement signal that we are closer to an end than a beginning, but we don’t have much confidence in that guesstimate. The source of our hunch is that, despite the brave face the media put on things, dreary reality can’t be abolished from the millions whose experience is the exact opposite of the approved media story line. We’ll just have to see what happens. Meanwhile, we’ve bought a dozen handbaskets just in case.

Miscellany

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Smith and Wesson has a market cap of less than a billion dollars. Meanwhile, the maker of this game just went public in an IPO with a valuation of over $7 billion. Go figure.

In other news, Wretchard explores the increasingly strange world of banned v. compulsory, which we noted in passing the other day (that’s the 1790′s BTW.) Chubby Checker has some thoughts on the subject.

Final point from the shameless plug department: Liz Smith wrote a fabulous review of this forthcoming book authored by a friend of ours. Buy it! (Janet Maslin is not a fan of his, so perhaps that’s an additional reason to buy it.)

GrubHub and Uber versus the ACA

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Funny thing. We read the S-1 for the GrubHub IPO and we saw no reference to the difficult management task of supervising all the delivery guys. How can they be managed without a large central authority? And what about Uber? They’re likely to do an IPO, we’re told. But how can a company like this function without a big Taxi and Limousine Commission bureaucracy to scrub their every move? (France tried, unsuccessfully.)

Oh wait. In the case of GrubHub, the (mostly family owned) restaurants already have ways and relationships to do delivery; they’re just getting better use from them. And in the case of Uber, customer feedback is instantaneous; you don’t need Jack Welch to get rid of the bottom 10% of drivers, let alone some government bureaucracy. We thought the crew doing the ACA characterized themselves as hip and youth oriented; instead, they’re so old and outdated, with a 1917 model of economic organization.

Scenes from the nineties

Friday, April 4th, 2014

A company says it

believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

A guy mentioned by Roger Simon:

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue

There certainly are a lot of angry people in the upper crust today. There are many reasons to dislike corporations, government, and crowds of all sorts.

April 1?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The NYT actually ran this on 3/25:

I believed this legislation, signed four years ago this month, would free people to pursue their dreams, start new companies and not worry about the health insurance penalty. What I didn’t count on was that it would make things harder for me and my wife.

First, we were notified that we would be kicked out of our existing $263-a-month Anthem Blue Cross plan because it didn’t meet the minimum standards of the new law. No problem, I thought. The plans in the new Covered California exchange would most likely be better and cheaper.

But we were shocked at what we confronted. The least expensive premium for a couple like us in our 40s would be about $620 a month. And because our household adjusted gross income is likely to be over the $62,040 cutoff this year, it’s doubtful we’ll end up with a subsidy to help offset that price increase…

I have mild asthma. Normally it’s not a problem, but when I get a chest cold, it becomes severe. One recent day I found that I couldn’t breathe. My inhalers were all expired. I’d held off refilling them since my insurance would reduce the costs of the $58.99 inhalers only by a little more than $9. I knew from past experience that I probably needed a prescription for antibiotics, so I tried frantically to find a medical facility that would take our new Covered California Anthem Blue Cross bronze plan. When I did, they said it would be three weeks before I could see a doctor…

(Nelson developed a skin infection. I got an appointment at the vet’s the next day. They prescribed an antibiotic…The medication caused diarrhea so I called his internist at his vet hospital, PetCare, and she prescribed a probiotic. Nelson’s $40.42-a-month pet insurance…paid almost all of these costs…I was envious. My 11-year-old brown Labrador was getting the kind of treatment that I could only dream of. I wanted to go to PetCare. I wanted pet insurance.)…

It’s still hard to understand what coverage we have. It’s like trying to read tea leaves. Benefits descriptions can be contradictory and run nearly 200 pages long. One summary attached to my online account seems to say that if I go to the emergency room, I could potentially owe thousands of dollars. Another document suggests that I’m responsible for only $300. I’ve had two representatives give me two different explanations…the new plan has more coverage, including pediatric vision. But we don’t have children…

if you see a doctor outside your network, look out. We found this out the hard way. My wife and I both had to see a doctor in January. Our old policy and our new Covered California policy were both with Anthem Blue Cross, so a representative there told us to use our old ID cards for our visits since our new cards hadn’t arrived yet. We were covered, he assured us. At the medical center, we gave our ID cards to the receptionist, who accepted them as valid, and went in to see our regular doctors. But later we found out that they were not in our new network’s plan. The out-of-pocket cost for my simple 30-minute office visit: $303. My wife’s annual exam and a couple of minor procedures: $918.

We’re still waiting for quality health care that we can actually use, afford and understand

What a complainer this former WaPo reporter is! Doesn’t he know that if he liked his doctor, he could keep his doctor? Doesn’t he know that if he liked his plan he could keep his plan? Period! (It’s rather amazing to see a guy like this sound just like Ann Coulter.)

Let there be blight!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

AP:

if greenhouse gases continue to rise, the world is looking at another about 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 or 4 degrees Celsius) of warming by 2100 instead of the international goal of not allowing temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius). The difference between those two outcomes, Princeton’s Oppenheimer said, “is the difference between driving on an icy road at 30 mph versus 90 mph. It’s risky at 30, but deadly at 90″…

more than 100 governments unanimously approved the scientist-written 49-page summary — which is aimed at world political leaders. The summary mentions the word “risk” an average of about 5 1/2 times per page.

Here’s a mental exercise. Picture the Princeton fellow wearing sandals and a sandwich board, standing at the corner of 53rd and Park in NYC. He’s saying: “the world is ending! the world will be 7 degrees hotter in 86 years! it is written! the computer has said so!” You might ask, what about Hide the Decline? What about a little skepticism? We all know that there has been some warming, and recently some cooling, and we all know that, on balance, CO2 should favor the former over the latter. But really, 7 degrees in 86 years because some guys’ computers said so? (Maybe you missed the subprime meltdown: GIGO from the smart guys.)

Let’s see. 100 governments unanimously approved this thing about what’s definitely going to happen 86 years from now if we don’t give those guys trillions of dollars today. Hmmmm. That’s reason to pause, right there. What would governments have predicted in 1913 about wars over the next 86 years? How about in 1 year from 1913? 86 years ago was 1928. If you were a stockbroker in NYC then, what might you have predicted about 2014, or 1929? Thanks, experts!

Final point. Gallup shows AGW is 14th out of 15 concerns of ordinary Americans. We’ll just have to see who is right.

Of cowboys and cow dung

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Peter Bogdanovich has a delightful piece on Scott Eyman’s new book about Duke Morrison, the American screen cowboy. One of the roles that transformed his career was about a tough cattle drive. Gotta get those cows to move their hind quarters quickly to their last roundup. That was then.

Sadly, this is now: Mark Steyn has a mooving commentary on America’s (and the West’s) current take on the bovine posterior. (BTW, if you’re interested in cutting government waste, every one of these horses’s patoots could be downsized.)

Unusual development in the SP

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

If you don’t have a narrative of your own, you’re using the other guy’s narrative. Roger Simon says why that’s a bad idea, both stylistically and substantively. One fellow who is breaking the mold is Rand Paul. Whatever you think of his other merits, he’s doing something very unusual for the Stupid Party: going on Smiley and West (where he got a lot of respect from the call-in audience BTW), going to Detroit and then following up substantively on that trip, and to Berkeley, where he apparently got a standing ovation for torching the NSA. In each case he sought pretty successfully to use areas of common ground with his audience. As we said, unusual for the Stupid Party, but then again not as stupid as focusing over and over on 2 or 3 counties in places like Florida and Ohio to try to eke out 334,000 votes to just squeak by in an election.

Picture worth a thousand words…….and from “must” to “should” in 5 years

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Here’s the picture. (It’s not even the faculty lounge that’s doing America’s business; it’s the freshman dorm.) Here are Krauthammer’s thousand words (747 actually). Krauthammer’s piece raises a very interesting point about how things have changed over the last five years. Five years ago, the world was told what it “must” do — over two dozen times in the Cairo speech alone. Now, as Krauthammer points out, the operative word is not “must”, but “should”. As a mental exercise, try to imagine yourself lecturing a billion or more people on what they “must” do. Hmmmmm…

BTW, it’s not as though there are easy answers to these logical responses by Russia, etc, to America’s empty bloviating at this point, but speeding to energy independence, reversing course on Iran, not cutting the military, empowering a red-tape-cutting task force on the economy, and using Google and Yelp and GrubHub as metaphors for health care rather than the USSR — these could be a start.

Science, religion, etc.

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Fred Singer:

tipping points occur quite frequently in science. I have personally witnessed two paradigm shifts where world scientific opinion changed rapidly — almost overnight. One was in Cosmology, where the “Steady State” theory of the Universe was replaced by the “Big Bang.” This shift was confirmed by the discovery of the “microwave background radiation,” which has already garnered Nobel prizes, and will likely get more. The other major shift occurred in Continental Drift. After being denounced by the Science Establishment, the hypothesis of Alfred Wegener, initially based on approximate relations between South America and Africa, was dramatically confirmed by the discovery of “sea-floor spreading.”

Thomas Kuhn: “the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced.” Precisely.

Then and now

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Spengler quotes Bottum on the Catholic world pre-1965, in a fascinating discussion of the secular religion of today:

The embroidered arcanery of copes and stoles and albs and chasubles, the rituals of Holy Water blessings, the grottos with their precarious rows of fire-hazard candles flickering away in little red cups, the colored seams and peculiar buttons that identified monsignors, the wimpled school sisters, the tiny Spanish grandmothers muttering prayers in their black mantillas, the First Communion girls wrapped up in white like prepubescent brides, the mumbled Irish prejudices, the loud Italian festivals, the Holy Door indulgences, the pocket guides to scholastic philosophy, the Knights of Columbus with their cocked hats and comic-opera swords, the tinny mission bells, the melismatic chapel choirs— none of this was the Church, some of it actually obscured the Church, and the decision to clear out the mess was not unintelligent or uninformed or unintended.

It was merely insane. An entire culture nested in the crossbeams and crannies, the nooks and corners, of the Catholic Church. And it wasn’t until the swallows had been chased away that anyone seemed to realize how much the Church itself needed them, darting around the chapels and flitting through the cathedrals.

That’s the Catholic Church that’s been lost, but most of Bottum’s book is about the today’s post Christian Puritans in America: “We live in a spiritual age when the political has been transformed into the soteriological. When how we vote is how our souls are saved.”

Indeed. A major dividing line is how we think about the past. We have high government officials who believe the past is outdated and, it follows, irrelevant. We think they’ve been beguiled by the metaphor of technological progress, as well as their own good fortune in life. Is there a way back from this fantasy world? Of course, but it is highly unlikely to be pleasant.

(On the lighter side, we offer examples of outlandish but fashionable idiocy, here, here, and here, which suggest that maybe, just maybe, things might right themselves without cataclysm.)

Low, going lower

Monday, March 24th, 2014

In a world where this is considered normal, this is what you get. They sow not; neither do they reap. But they sure can complain and lecture.

Lighter side: Moonglow and a scene from Picnic.

Wheels within wheels

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Henry Kissinger:

For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one…

Ukraine has been independent for only 23 years; it had previously been under some kind of foreign rule since the 14th century…Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709 , were fought on Ukrainian soil. The Black Sea Fleet — Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean — is based by long-term lease in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia…

Ukrainians…live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939, when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up.

Roger Kimball has lots more. This is certainly more complex than the US simpletons on either side of the issue make out.

(For today’s light reading, Clarice’s pieces are simultaneously funny and depressing.)