ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Opening Ceremony for the Olympics - A Beautiful Orwellian Performance

I found myself looking at the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics with a mixure of awe and horror.

The awe was for the amazing beauty of it all. The inspired design and choreography were a wonder to behold. It was visually perfect.

And therein was the problem.

Every member of the cast of thousands was a cog on an enormous machine. Each interacted with the other with perfection. It was flawless and seamless. I have never seen anything like it. It was a bit frightening in how perfectly it illustrated the communist ideal.

Then there were the mindless commentators for NBC (who else?). They had obviously been spoon fed the Chinese government's lines about "harmony" (read: regimentation)and how the Communists had brought "stability and security" to he people of China. Well, maybe so, but look at that order, a total absence of individuality. All that was before these guys from NBC passed without analytical comment. Then there were the laughable concerns for environment, global warming and the like, concerns clearly not shared by those in power in China. ("Bejing, the city where birds cough.")

Orwell's story took place in 1984.

He was off by some 20 years.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: MontereyJohn

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

$44,000 to learn about Microsoft Excel

Very interesting article in the WSJ today about a journalists experience attending the Harvard Business School (or HBS).

It's a must read, discussing the new-age b.s. that passes for a degree at an elite university. However, here are a few things which caught my eye:

Back to School,
Turning Crimson

August 5, 2008; Page A17

Ahead of the Curve
By Philip Delves Broughton
(Penguin Press, 283 pages, $25.95)
In any case, no serious student, even a serious Harvard student, should have to suffer through New Age group bonding games, as Mr. Delves Broughton and his classmates are forced to do. Another required "personal development exercise" is called "My Reflected Best Self." He quotes the instructions: "The Reflected Best-Self Feedback Exercise differs from other performance mechanisms in its explicit focus on understanding how key constituents experience individuals when they leverage their strength constructively."

Mr. Delves Broughton remains appropriately appalled at this, but as the semesters wear on and he unspools his story, he shows signs of succumbing to a version of Stockholm Syndrome -- a hostage identifying, if not with his captors, then at least with his professors, even those who pretend to teach "leadership skills." His prose, usually breezy and ironic, begins to sprout words like "team-focused." By the end of his two years in Cambridge, Mass., he writes, "I was happy I went." He knows how to do a regression analysis, and he has learned how to make an Excel spreadsheet do everything but play canasta.

Keep in mind that tuition at the Harvard Business School is $43,800 - per year. Total estimated annual costs are approximately $80,000 after room & board, health services, etc.

I hate to break it to Mr. Delves Broughton, but there are less expensive ways to learn about the robust features of Microsoft Excel or how to perform a regression analysis. These are skills which could be taught at any local community college, for example.

Or he could have simply called this guy and gotten a free CD with the info on Excel. If he wasn't completely satisfied, he could have gotten his money back, less shipping & handling.

Heck, he may have even learned how to make Excel play canasta.

For $200k, I'd be happy to show him (or program Excel to do it)!!!!

Apparently they do not teach Return On Investment analysis at HBS, because Mr. Delves Broughton would've realized that his personal ROI for such a shoddy education will likely never turn positive in his lifetime.

Then, this final paragraph from the story:
He hasn't found a suitable job yet, though, and readers will be happy to see that he retains a hint of skepticism about the whole HBS enterprise -- enough, at least, to include this wonderful bit of data from a study by a banking analyst who tried to track the American equity markets in relation to the number of HBS graduates who chose to go to work in finance each year. If the figure was less than 10%, the market went up not long after. More than 30% and the market was headed for a crash. In 2006, Mr. Delves Broughton reports, 42% of the HBS grads went to work in finance. Right on schedule.

Ahh... the eager, entitled, and worthless HBS grads heading off into a particular industry to wreck it with their lack of knowledge.

How predictable...

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ted Kennedy Tribute Video at DNC

From the Boston Herald:

DNC video crews prep for Ted K tribute
By Hillary Chabot | Monday, August 4, 2008 |

Camera crews descended on the ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Hyannis compound this weekend to film an emotional tribute scheduled to air at the Democratic National Convention in August.

One source close to the senior senator said the roughly 15-minute film could be a sign that Kennedy, who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, won’t make the convention.

“The bulk of his treatment is completed, but he still gets chemo once a week. His immune system is still repressed, so right now his staff believes he won’t go,” said the source. “You never know with him, though. He might get up one day and decide he has to be there.”

The tribute will include clips of the Kennedy family throughout the years and feature the statesman and his wife, Vicki, said the source. It will be similar to the heart-wrenching 1968 convention tribute Charles Guggenheim compiled after Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

After that footage was aired, the convention hall in Chicago came to a standstill for 20 minutes.

“I think he’ll talk a little bit about how much this election means to him, and I think it will have a message about (Barack) Obama and about health care,” said the source, who hasn’t seen the film.
Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor and has been treated at Massachusetts General Hospital since.

In the film, Kennedy is expected to say the following:
If only our great country had socialized medicine, I'd be dead by now - waiting in line for my turn for surgery from a 2nd rate, novice surgeon (assuming that one even had the cojones to continue practicing after I put enough controls on the industry).

And by controls I mean excruciatingly detailed regulations on every aspect of medical care...

you know... keep the powerful politicians corporations from impacting America's health care.
At least, that's what I would hope he would say.

We all know that the elite never have to suffer through nationalized healthcare systems. It's only for the "little people."

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Windfall Government Spending

I only wish that Government's "windfall" spending received as much scrutiny as "Big Oil's" windfall profits.

Excellent analysis at the WSJ today:

What Is a 'Windfall' Profit?
August 4, 2008; Page A12

The "windfall profits" tax is back, with Barack Obama stumping again to apply it to a handful of big oil companies. Which raises a few questions: What is a "windfall" profit anyway? How does it differ from your everyday, run of the mill profit? Is it some absolute number, a matter of return on equity or sales -- or does it merely depend on who earns it?

Enquiring entrepreneurs want to know. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama's "emergency" plan, announced on Friday, doesn't offer any clarity. To pay for "stimulus" checks of $1,000 for families and $500 for individuals, the Senator says government would take "a reasonable share" of oil company profits.

Mr. Obama didn't bother to define "reasonable," and neither did Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, when he recently declared that "The oil companies need to know that there is a limit on how much profit they can take in this economy." Really? This extraordinary redefinition of free-market success could use some parsing.

Take Exxon Mobil, which on Thursday reported the highest quarterly profit ever and is the main target of any "windfall" tax surcharge. Yet if its profits are at record highs, its tax bills are already at record highs too. Between 2003 and 2007, Exxon paid $64.7 billion in U.S. taxes, exceeding its after-tax U.S. earnings by more than $19 billion. That sounds like a government windfall to us, but perhaps we're missing some Obama-Durbin business subtlety.

Maybe they have in mind profit margins as a percentage of sales. Yet by that standard Exxon's profits don't seem so large. Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).

If that's what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery -- both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%) round out the Census Bureau's industry rankings. The latter two double the returns of Big Oil, though of course government has already became a tacit shareholder in Big Tobacco through the various legal settlements that guarantee a revenue stream for years to come.

In a tax bill on oil earlier this summer, no fewer than 51 Senators voted to impose a 25% windfall tax on a U.S.-based oil company whose profits grew by more than 10% in a single year and wasn't investing enough in "renewable" energy. This suggests that a windfall is defined by profits growing too fast. No one knows where that 10% came from, besides political convenience. But if 10% is the new standard, the tech industry is going to have to rethink its growth arc. So will LG, the electronics company, which saw its profits grow by 505% in 2007. Abbott Laboratories hit 110%.

If Senator Obama is as exercised about "outrageous" profits as he says he is, he might also have to turn on a few liberal darlings. Oh, say, Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett's outfit pulled in $11 billion last year, up 29% from 2006. Its profit margin -- if that's the relevant figure -- was 11.47%, which beats out the American oil majors.

Or consider Google, which earned a mere $4.2 billion but at a whopping 25.3% margin. Google earns far more from each of its sales dollars than does Exxon, but why doesn't Mr. Obama consider its advertising-search windfall worthy of special taxation?

Read the whole thing...

And of course, such idiotic talk coming from America's politicians only increases the incentives of major corporations to spend more money lobbying for their interests. You see, if there's a competitor who's coming after your business, you can take certain strategic and tactical actions to try and counter that competitor.

Only the government has the power of the law (which can be enforced through the barrel of a gun and/or bars) which you cannot counter - unless you have a ton of cash to throw at the problem.

This is a fundamental truth that the Left cannot recognize - the more you regulate something, the more those being regulated will seek to influence policy.

It's not the free market that creates "special interests."

It's the politicians who seek to control everything.

I for one can't wait for my regulated healthcare...

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler