“Aiming for an Ivy and Try to Seem Less ‘Asian'”

Title of a story in the New York Times about applicants of Asian descent tailoring their application materials to maximize their chances for getting into an Ivy League school.  Some Asian applicants check “prefer not to say” when the demographic questions such as the one on race pop up .  Another hid her competitive chess success. Harvard doesn’t want winning chess-playing Asians on its campus.  As one young women noted — it is tough to hide who are unless you change your last name.

It is hard to believe we now live in a country in which disclosing your race means that you stand less of a chance in getting into a top college.  The best way to stop this problem of discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision coming next year on Harvard’s negative scoring of Asian applicants, well, we may experience a halt to discriminating on the basis of race. We did fight a Civil War and the battles of the civil rights era to stop this.  Apparently, it just changed the directions of the cannons.  Still discriminating after all these years

Amy Qin, “Aiming for an Ivy and Trying to Seem Less Asian,” New York Times, December 3, 2022, p. A1.

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Disney Hires McKinsey

Now there’s a combo — the consulting firm that turbo-charged pharmas to millions in liability with its advice on increasing opioid sales and their inventories.  Even McKinsey settled up for its part in that fatal national crisis. Now McKinsey meets the Magic Kingdom, a fiefdom that somehow has managed to produce movie bomb after bomb even whilst alienating its own employees with political hot potatoes. Bad judgment meets worse judgment.

Robbie Whelan, Joe Flint, and Jessica Roonkel, “Disney Hired McKinsey for Revamp, Spurring Dissent,” Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2022, p. B1.

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FTX– Some Safety Tips for Avoiding Ponzi schemes

The Barometer has said it before, but bears repeating:  How many times of we have to go through these genius scams before we recognize them for the frauds that they are? To no one’s surprise, except perhaps FTX  investors and its employees, that crypto currency darling turned out to be a scam run by a nerd that was propped up by the online braggadocio of Caroline Ellison who ran Alameda, another company founded by Mr. Bankman-Fried.  Ms. Ellison has a string resemblance to Pippi Longstocking,

The nerd and his gal-pal did very well, for a time. They were darlings of the field of philanthropy and Democrats in Congress.  John Jay Ray III, one of the biggest names in sorting through bankrupt companies, including Enron,  concluded that this one is the biggest mess he has ever seen. Alameda now owes FTX $10 billion for loans it received.  FTX owes $8 billion to creditors. We are into territory doubling and tripling previous scandals. David-Yaffe Bellamy, “Chief Tapped to Clean Up FTX Calls Mess the Worst He’s Ever Seen,” New York Times November 18, 2022, p. B1

So, some safety tips for proactive recognition of fraud in place of the post-mortem outrage coupled with, “Who knew?”

  1.  If you are investing in a company run by a guy who looks like Jerry Robinson from The Bob Newhart Show, but with worse clothes, you may be taking some risks.
  2. If the founder of the firm you are investing in says that he will be using his money to “prevent nuclear war” and “future pandemics,” you might have a trickster on your hands. If “altruism” is their buzzword, it means they are doing good with your money.
  3. Watch for posts by executives, such as Ms. Ellison.  Her are a few of her musings.  Following a phone call with CEOs of other companies, she posted, “Oh, thank god [sic], I think I fooled them into thinking I’m a real adult.”  (Tumblr) And revealing the habits of trades at Alameda and FTX, she wrote, “Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, nondedicated human experience is.” (Twitter).
  4. If the founder of the firm you are investing in is cozying up to lawmakers with donations and regulators with advice to keep both at bay, you may be investing in another Enron.
  5. If the founder of the firm that has your cash is running away (on camera) from Tom Brady, another investor, as Mr. Brady did an endorsement, you may be taking a leap into a bankrupt firm.
  6. If the firm you are investing in is loaded with Hollywood and entertainment world A-listers, well, study history.  In particular, see all the folks who were duped by Madoff, Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny at Theranos, and CDOs at banks pre-2008.
  7. If Maxine Waters heads the committee that would regulate the firm you are investing in, run away.  Her oversight is so well done that she has missed the collapse of Fannie Mae as well as the dramatic blow-up of mortgage and real estate markets in 2008. In the case of FTX, she was filmed blowing kisses to Sam Backman-Fried following his appearance at a hearing.
  8. If the firm you are investing in is an ESG darling, sprint away.  The criterion for being a “good” company in that endeavor does not calculate fraud into its definitions for environmental and social responsibility or corporate governance.  If they did, the girlfriend might not have been running FTX.
  9. If the firm you are investing in is hopping into a new field with only a little proven track record, stand back and let others get it all straightened around.
  10. If the board members are the same at the trading firm working with your firm, you have some conflicts issues that should have been raised and addressed.
  11. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and it is readily available through the study of history?  How many Professor Harold Hills does it take to make innocent and gullible  fall for 76 trombones every time?  Repent, all ye sheep who find the next-great richer-than-ever dreams. Become wary of the too-good-to-be-true hucksters, especially those who look like Peter Bonerz.

David Yaffe-Bellany, Lora Kelley, and Cade Metz, “Collapse of FTX Puts Focus on Obscure Crypto Trader,” New York Times, November 24, 2022, p. B1.

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When Success Comes Too Soon and Too Easily

John R. Tyson, the great grandson of Tyson Foods founder, graduated from Stanford business school with an MBA in 2019.  He was then hired at Tyson foods as Vice President of strategy and chief sustainability officer.  In September 2022, he was promoted to CFO, a position he began, at age 32,  in October 2022.

On November 6, 2022, a female resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas woke up to find said John Tyson asleep in one of her bedrooms.  The homeowner, who does not know Mr. Tyson,  called the police who came scurrying.  The police persuaded Mr. Tyson to wake up.  Mr. Tyson tried, but the spirit was willing and the flesh was weak.

Reeking of alcohol, the lad was escorted out of the house to Washington County Detention Center, presumably to sleep it off. He was released on Sunday evening and  issued an apology:

“I am embarrassed  for personal conduct that is inconsistent with my personal values, the company’s values, and the high expectations we hold for each other here at Tyson Foods.”

Patricia Thomas, “Tyson CFO Held on Charge of Home Trespass,” Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2022, p. B1

Mr. Tyson is getting counseling on alcohol usage.  Yes, choosing the wrong house for one’s homecoming may be rock bottom.  The youngest CFO serving at an S & P or Fortune 500 firm has some drying out and growing up to do. The family may want to reconsider its promoting-from-within-policy and look without.  Preferably for someone whose frat days are behind him.

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Lessons from a Cab Ride

The Barometer needed a cab to get from the hotel to the airport.  There were no cabs in sight but there was a long line of guests waiting. The desk valet said, “I can get you a cab.”  He made a call and three minutes later a cab arrived.  The Barometer gave the desk valet a tip as he loaded her suitcase into the cabin.

Once in the cab, the driver told the Barometer, “There was no need to tip him.  I take care of him.”  The Barometer was confused and said so.  The cabbie said, “I pay him for getting me customers.”  The industrious, albeit graftifying cabbie, explained that he paid the desk valets at all of the hotels in that area because then he did not have to go to the airport and sit in the queue.  He added, “I pay him.  He gets me customers.  You pay me and tip me.  God sees this and I get more desk valets and more customers.  God helps us when we work hard.”

The Barometer too is convinced that God helps us when he work hard, but is not sure about the graft thing.  In fact, I should have had the cabbie take a look at Exodus 23: 8: “And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.”  Or Deuteronomy 16:19″ Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.”

During the 30-minute drive to the airport, the Barometer listened to the cabbie’s reasoning as to why God loves a bribe.  The Barometer witnessed an impenetrable  monologue.  No one could break through such a barrier of words and rationalizations on how blessed we are in a world of bribes.

AS we drove by the cab queue at the airport, with hundreds of cabbies waiting their turn for the next passenger, he pointed and said, “Fools!  I’ll have three fares by the time they get one.”

At the end of the lecture/ride, the Barometer asked the cabbie for a receipt, and he said, “I’ll give you two receipts.  One is for this ride.  The other is blank for you to submit as an extra expense to your employer for, just make something up — like  a cab ride to dinner.”

The Barometer stood and watched in wonder as the cabbie drove away — back to his circle of hotels and his agents who work their front doors for him.  The Barometer never got the chance to ask the cabbie, “Do you have any idea what I do for a living?”

The Barometer has  the blank cab receipt — it is now immortalized.

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NYC Hires McKinsey to Research Its Garbage Problem, i.e., Too Much Garbage

Fresh off its opioids settlement, maybe McKinsey can find a way to tackle garbage. However, a consulting firm needs to manage garbage?  Why not hire Waste Management? Those folks might just know a thing or two about waste and its management.

Gina Bellafante, “Will McKinsey Put a Lid on Our Garbage?” New York Times, October 9, 2022, p. A37.

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“Am I Obligated to Look After My Insufferable Mother?”

Question to “The Ethicist,” New York Times Magazine, October 9, 2022, p. 16.

Yes, you are.  Because your mother looked after the insufferable you for many years.

Caring for our aging parents is no easy feat.  But this daughter is missing a tremendously rewarding opportunity for growth — selflessness found during the last precious time in her mother’s life.

However, the daughter was willing to adopt the mom’s cats but mom objected.  Cats are easier to care for than mothers. And cats seem to hang tough with mom when no one else will.

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Cheating in Chess?

The chess world is abuzz. Hans Riemann, with the hair of Adam Neumann (former head of WeWork), has been accused of cheating. A previous investigation found him admitting that he had cheated in online chess.  Why would anyone be surprised?  We in the academic world concluded years ago that there is no way to prevent online test cheating.  A few toggles here and there in a chess game would be a cake-walk compared to cheating on stats exams.

However, Mr. Riemann denies cheating at over-the-board chess.  His opponent, world champion Magnus Carlson, believes Mr. Riemann cheated in their recent match. Mr. Carlson said that during their match Mr. Riemann “wasn’t tense or even concentrating on the game.”

Mr. Niemann says he has cheated online in the past, but no more. Referring to Chess.com he said, “They have the best cheat detection in the world.” As for the live chess folks, they only offer this, pre-investigation,:  Mr. Niemann’s fast rise to the top is “statistically extraordinary.”  Stats and cheating are inextricably intertwined.

Andrew Braton and Joshua Robinson, “Report Finds That Chess Grandmaster ‘Likely Cheated’ More Than 100 Times,”  Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2022, p. A14.

 

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The Frat Bro Executives at Apple

An Apple  Vice President of procurement appeared in a TikTok video as he parked his Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and bragged about the perks of his wealth.  One of those perks involved his interactions with women that would spark a major blaze in HR’s world of hair on fire.  And an Apple ad executive posted a memoir of his days at his previous employer, Facebook. “Sexist” and “misogynistic” were the terms used to describe his musings.

Both have left the company.  Apple described their departures as “left the company.” One “left” after just weeks on the job.

The internet has an interesting effect on the human brain. There is a drop in IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence).  There used to be a solution — growing up.  That process was an age-old remedy that cured us of pranks, lack of discretion and judgment, and the desire for that shallow moment of attention. Now, apparently, tech companies are really good at finding executives who escape the refiner’s fire of adulthood. They even hire them, if only for a few weeks.

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“We Were Given an Order to Kill Everyone We See.”

In the truth percolates department . . . Russia has denied the commission of any war crimes in its war against Ukraine and claimed military superiority, even victory.  The  phone calls  from Russian soldiers to their families and friends tell a different story,

On Russia’s war capabilities and equipment:  “Some guys took armor off of Ukrainians’ corpses and took it for themselves. . . Their NATO armor is better than ours.”

There were 400 paratroopers.  And only 38 of them survived. . . . Because our commanders sent soldiers to the slaughter.”

On war crimes . . . a solider to his girlfriend describing capturing Ukrainian soldiers:

Soldier: “We detained them, undressed them, and checked their clothes. Then a decision had to be made whether to let them go.  If we let them go, they could give away our position.  . .  SO it was decided to shoot them in the forest.”

Girlfriend: “Why didn’t you take them as prisoners?”

Soldier: “We would have had to feed them, and we don’t have enough food for ourselves, you see.”

On looting:

Soldier: “So, we went to this house.  Misha and I opened the safe with a key. There was 5,200 (5.2 million rubles.”

Soldier’s partner:  “Put it back.”

Soldier: “I’m not an idiot.  I have an entire apartment in my pocket.”

A shipping company in Belarus stopped a solider from shipping clothes back to his wife in Russia. other soldiers brought home a vacuum and a Kawasaki.

Some war. Some ethics. 

Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak, and Evan Hill, “Bitter Tales of Failure and Fear in Russian Troops’ Calls Home,” New York Times, September 30 2022

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Nikola Founder Trevor Milton “Was Prone to Exaggeration in Public Statements”

So testified the company’s current CEO, Mark Russell.  Nikola was the Tesla of electric trucks except for one thing.  The trucks never worked. Mr. Milton built a multi-billion dollar company out of, well, absolutely nothing.

The videos Mr. Trevor showed to investor of a fast-moving truck actually depicted a truck being sent down a hill.  Film editing  magic made it look like it was a truck speeding along I-10  on Texas flat lands.

The question thus remains, “How come the CEO didn’t say anything?”  Could he have mentioned that the video was a fraud?  We (and the markets) would have been intrigued. Instead all we got. even under oath,  was that the founder “was prone to exaggeration.”  The founder was prone to high-tech fabrication, aka fraud.  He’s on trial for that now.

The amazing thing is a conga line of witnesses from the company are all saying the same thing under oath, “There was no electric truck that worked.” Would have been nice if they had spoken up before the video aired.

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“Wegmans Halts App for Self-Checkout Over Losses”

During the pandemic, Wegmans decided to make it easier for customers to avoid germs and check out quickly.  Customers could use an app to “scan as they went” through the store picking up their food items.  The customers loved it, but, as Wegmans put it, “Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state.”  Alyssa Lukpat and Jaewon Hang, “Wegmans Halts App for Self-Checkout Over Losses,” Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2022, p. B3.

Poor naive Wegmans.  Our current society  does not prosecute those who smash store windows and then grab anything designer in sight.  Not much chance  that grocery store customers would ante up for a can of Hunt’s Tomato paste they hurl into their backpacks with scanning or paying. And all without smashing any windows.

Wegmans did not give a breakout of its losses to the phone app.  But the shrinkage rate in self-checkout is 4%, a loss rate that occurs as an employee stands watch over the self-check customers.  With no guardrails the app, the losses must be double or triple that percetage.

People steal.  And with inflation pushing 9%, they will be stealing more.  Eventually the window-smashing will hit grocery stores — about the time  Pop-Tarts reach designer price ranges. You have to steal $1,000 in California before anyone will even prosecute a case of theft. The great civil society is eroding. Would you sell your soul for a can of tomato paste?  Apparently Wegmans shoppers are okay with that.

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Governor Kathy Hochul: Amoral Technician Extraordinaire

New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, is a too-clever-by-half type.  New York has a longstanding executive order that prohibits governors from accepting donations from gubernatorial appointees. Ms. Hochul reissued the executive order on her first day in office.

Lo and behold, the gov has been accepting donations from gubernatorial appointees, $400,000 worth.  Her explanation is that she did not appoint those members; Andrew Cuomo, the offer governor, did.  Ergo, per Governor Hochul, she is not in violation of the executive order.

Technically speaking, she has found a loophole, a gray area, and she is going to use it unless and until the legislature steps in and codifies the executive order as law. Complete with penalties.  Otherwise, there are some board members who have donated who will continue to donate and will remain in their positions as long as their donations continue.

The exact type of quids and quos the executive order was attempting to stop have actually now been supercharged. Folks on boards from Buffalo to Yonkers are in for a long haul.  Governor Hochul is in for a big haul because she will be claiming donation immunity for years to come. “Don’t look at me.  I didn’t appoint them.” But she can put them to financial use.

Jay Root, “Hochul Donors Include Officers of State Boards,” New York Times, August 30, 2022, P. A1.

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From the New York Times, Friday, November 15, 1929

American industry is fundamentally sound and undisturbed by the recent financial upheaval, according to the Department of Labor in its monthly employment bulletin issued today.

The stock market break has not caused reduction in employment . . . and the belief was expressed that it might bring more money into industrial development.

Why, the Times was at it then! “It” being a lack of candor about the fate of an economy.  The market had just crashed in late October, but the federal government clung to its DOL stats and concluded, “Nothing to see here.  We are just fine.”

One decade later the United States was still in a depression.  But government bureaucrats insisted, “We’re fine!  Movealong!)Lots of jobs in WPA and other government programs.  We By 1932 the stock market had lost 89% of its value.  Multiply your retirement funds by .89 and then subtract that number from your current funds and you have 11% to survive upon as the government fiddles.

Not to worry — the Times is on the job today reporting every word of President Biden.

“It underscores the kind of economy we’ve been building,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. “We’re seeing a stronger labor market where jobs are booming and Americans are working, and we’re seeing some signs that inflation may be beginning to moderate.”

“The slower price increases are also likely to reassure the Federal Reserve, which has been waiting for any sign that inflation is starting to moderate. But central bankers are likely to see this as a first step in the right direction rather than a definitive victory, because the cost of many goods and services continued to pick up rapidly even as gas and travel-related price declines pulled overall inflation lower.”

“On the surface, this is good news for the Fed,” said Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights. “This is the first baby step toward the moderation they want to see on a regular basis.”

Sheer optimism from the gray lady. Again.

Thanks to Jay Evensen of Deseret News Weekly for including part of the above intriguing quote and teaser in his column onFebruary 21, 2022.  He inspired further research.

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