What exactly are we watching when we watch sports?

In baseball we have the umps checking the hats, gloves, belts, and fingers of the players. The umps are looking for sticky stuff! They have made players change their hats and take off their belts. One player dropped his drawers mid-field in protest to these checks for “sticky stuff.”

The only “sticky stuff” permitted under MLB rules is rosin. So, the players have been mixing pine tar or rosin with sunscreen. That concoction gives pitchers an extra grip on the ball. With that grip, pitchers get that spin on the ball, something that makes life tough for batters. So, MLB is cracking down, as it were, and checking for “sticky stuff.” So, you have the spectacle of umps examining discolored hats, running their fingers through pitchers’ sweaty hair, and checking gloves, goggles, and anything else baseball players wear. The human mind has no limitations when it comes to getting around rules in order to win.

Now moving along to basketball. The Barometer had spent the day cleaning and sat down with husband and sons for some quality time as they enjoyed the final two minutes of a Suns-Clippers game. Thirty-five minutes later, we were still watching. The Barometer sounded her barbaric yawp, “This is not basketball. This is watching 10 grown men try to win by getting around the rules. They had a simple formula: ball in play, foul, free-throw, deliberately missed free-throw, ball in play, repeat.

There was no basketball. No skills on display. Indeed, the trick was to at least hit the rim on your free throw but don’t let it go in– the goal was to get the ball following the free throw. Then get fouled.

The NBA players were no different from the companies in business trying to maintain or improve their earnings. They aren’t doing business. They are gaming the system — finding ways around the rules. It’s not real. No skills. No benefits. Waste of time for the sake of the win.

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The Lordstown Intrigue

Lordstown Motors Companies was supposed to be building electric trucks at a former GM plant in Ohio. However, the company, which went public in October 2020, appears to be yet another electric/alternative truck folly. You may remember that Nikola, the maker of a hydrogen-powered truck, admitted last December that it sales video showing one of its trucks rolling along quite quickly was actually just rolling down a hill, courtesy of gravity. Soon after its CEO disappeared and GM was left holding the keys to a nonworking truck and a bad investment.

Lordstown admitted earlier this month that it did not have the resources to begin producing trucks. When it issued its first financials there was a 23-cent-per-share loss. The CEO said, however, that his company had “pretty binding orders” for the truck. Three days later there was a clarification. Once the lawyers took over with a formal SEC filing the language was that its vehicle purchase agreements “do not commit the counterparts to purchase vehicles, but we believe that they provide us with a significant indicator of demand.” It all depends on the meaning of the term “order,” or more relevantly “nonbinding orders.” Two board members had already resigned over their disagreements with management on the definition of “orders.”

Let’s add to the excitement that with the nonbinding orders came the disclosure that several top executives at Lordstown unloaded their stock just prior to the public announcement of its earnings (or, more accurately, the lack thereof). As one expert phrased it, the stock trades reflect “weak internal controls.” However, internal controls are but the guard rails. What you have here is a company with letters of interest from truck purchasers for trucks that the company lacks the funds to produce.

This is a company in bad need of some truth, candor, transparency, orders, and trucks. So far, it looks like it is 0 for 5.

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Portland’s Full-Page Ad in the New York Times: A Truth-in-Advertising Issue or Just Candor?

Portland, Oregon has had its share of newsworthy events over the past year. There were 56 homicides in Portland in 2020, the highest number in 26 years. Through April 6 of this year, there were 25 homicides, so Portland is on track to break another record. Total burglaries in 2019 were 4,190. For 2020, Portland finished the year with burglaries at 5,436. After nearly a year of protests, the Portland police took down the fencing around the Hatfield Federal Court Building. Anarchy reared its ugly head once again.

The police, businesspeople, and protestors are still arguing over the amount of property damage — somewhere between $2.3 million and $23 million. It depends on the actual number of Louis Vuitton bags the looters took from the downtown mall.

Contrast this data with some of the phrases in Portland’s ad, aimed at getting tourists back to Portland:

“Some of what you’ve heard about Portland is true. Some is not. What matters most is that we’re true to ourselves.” [That ought to get the tourists rolling in.]

“Anything can happen. We like it this way.” [It’s just that visitors are unclear on the meaning of “anything,” and whether it includes robbery and such.]

“We have some of the loudest voices on the West Coast. And, yes, passion pushes the volume all the way up. We’ve always been like this. We wouldn’t have it any other way.” [Note to Portland: Tourists are not into volume. They also prefer a tear-gas free downtown area.]

Some recruiting tips for The Portland Chamber of Commerce: Not everyone enjoys seeing a riot on vacation, no matter how much Portlandians do. They also prefer returning home alive.

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Pharmacy Benefit Management

There is something about third-party pharmacy benefit managers. Put them together with state attorneys general and you have a 100% chance of uncovering overpayments under medical plans for government and private business employees as well as for recipients of Medicare benefits. The pharmacy managers do a lot of managing, from negotiating prices with pharmaceuticals, to deciding on drug coverage, to formulas for reimbursement, and developing relationships with retail pharmacies. With all those layers of managing it becomes difficult to understand who is paying whom how much and how much the third-party manager is getting for its work.

Centene just agreed, without admitting fault or liability, to settle disputes with Ohio and Mississippi for $88 million and $55 million respectively. Despite admitting nothing, Centene indicated that the settlement related to its practices in 2017 and 2018 and those practices have now been halted. We did not do anything wrong, but, just in case, we’ve changed what we are doing. That last line seems to be a part of every settlement at both state and federal levels when it comes to regulatory oversight.

Some follow-up questions:

1. If it was not wrong, was it a gray area?
2. Were you operating in loophole territory?
3. Was there full disclosure to all involved about your practices, procedures, and payments?
4. Did other companies engage in the same practices?

Those four questions would go a long way in preventing the settlements for doing nothing wrong.

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The Definition of Diversity at Google (Alphabet)

Alphabet, Inc. (Google parent) hired Kamau Bobb in 2018 as its “global lead of diversity strategy and research.” Ironically, research revealed that in 2007, Mr. Bobb wrote a post entitled, “If I Were a Jew.” Dr. Bobb wrote in his post that if he were a Jew he would “be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defense of myself.” Dr. Bobb has been reassigned at Google. Google’s spokesperson assures us that Dr. Bobb will be nowhere near the diversity team. Good decision.

When will companies learn to check the online activities of senior officers before hiring? Here’s an idea — Google their names and see what pops up. Or ask Google Assistant. Even better: Ask Amazon to ask Alexa.

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Rationalizing Breaking the Law

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was once a senior advisor in the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. During the Trump administration, from October 2017 until her arrest in October 2018, Ms. Mayflower Sours Edwards leaked SARs (suspicious activity reports) to that crackerjack news operation, BuzzFeed.

The SARs included information about former Trump campaign aides, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. Ms. Mayflower Sours Edwards entered a guilty plea in January 2021 to conspiring to unlawfully disclose confidential financial reports. Ms. Mayflower Sours Edwards was sentenced to six months in prison on June 3, 2021.

No matter how a federal employee feels politically about the commander in chief or his aides, confidential means confidential. SARs are confidential with good reason. Suspicious activity reports (SARs) are just that: suspicious. It is a fundamental deprivation of due process to leak such reports before an investigation, and perhaps most importantly, before those named have the opportunity to respond. If you have ever wired money in excess of $10,000, well, you might have had a SARs.

You don’t leak suspicions, no matter how your politics lean or how long your last name. Rationalizing your personal exceptions to laws and policy are the roots of corruption. Corruption undermines markets, republics, and the law itself. See the Wild West.

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Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester: Tough Slog in Her Re-Election Campaign

Lovely Warren in the mayor of Rochester. Her name is musical. Her luck is bad. And her husband has been arrested for being part of a cocaine-trafficking ring. Her Honor herself was indicted one year ago for financial fraud in her 2017 campaign. “People will try anything to break me,” said the lovely Lovely Warren. Maybe so, but when a police raid nets $100,000 in cash and $60,000 in crack cocaine and powder, political motivation seems like a stretch. Mr. Warren has entered a plea of not guilty. Mrs. Warren, lovely though she is, currently trails her primary opponent by 10 points. And she trails him in cash raised by $100,000. You cannot make up either the names nor the facts of these cases,

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Merrill Lynch Trainees No Longer Get Cold-Call Training

In the 1970s TV series, Taxi, Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito strikes again) had to get a temporary job as a stock broker. He used the obituaries to make cold calls to widows, posing as a cousin.

That age-old practice may not be disappearing soon, but Merrill Lynch has prohibited cold-call instruction in its revamped training program. Lest we believe in the nobility of the move, the underlying reason may be simply that no one picks up their phones any more or their phones block unknown numbers. In short, cold calls do not work anymore. It must have been bad because in the 1980s, a broker who got 1% of those called to purchase a stock, they were like gods in the training room. In an industry based on ROI, something was clearly wrong with the whole picture of the boiler room with young ‘runs driven by the promises of Wall Street millions.

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450,000 Cars That Are Sold Each Year Have Altered Odometers

Ferris Bueller rollbacks and Danny DeVito antics in Matilda aside, altering an odometer reading has been illegal since 1972. Since 1986, those selling used cars must disclose the mileage on their vehicles, under that federal penalty thing. However, apparently with the penalties in leases (especially on luxury cars) there is a real market for tools that can swing that odometer back. There is even a YouTube video that shows you how to freeze the odometer on an Audi A8. So much for the crackerjack Zuckerberg committee on pulling videos, accounts, and posts. Apparently, social media community rules are not as outraged over odometer tampering.

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Dartmouth Medical School: The 17 Med Students Cheating on Remote Exams

Using software that takes over student computers, colleges and universities can now examine what students were doing with their computers during their exams. At Dartmouth Medical School they found 17 students had looked up information on the internet in order to answer exam questions. Student are protesting invasion of their privacy and lack of due process. The students are pushing for in-person exams and asking for leniency. One quote, “Some students have built their whole lives around medical school and now they’re being thrown out like they’re worthless.” Natasha Singer and Aaron Krolik, “Cheating Charges at Dartmouth Show Pitfalls of Tech Tracking,” New York Times, May 9, 2021, p. A1.

Actually they are being thrown out for cheating, not because they are worthless. As Dean Duane A. Compton of Dartmouth’s Giesel Medical School explained, “We take academic integrity very seriously. We wouldn’t want people to be able to be eligible for a medical license without really having the appropriate training.” The privacy issues are red herrings. Most colleges and universities make it very clear that when you are using their online programs you have no privacy. Indeed, colleges and universities are required to monitor things such as the unauthorized downloading and pirating of copyrighted films and music or risk costs and penalties themselves. That those systems can pick up cheating is a given once the student has signed one. Another given is that the tests is to be done alone and without Google.

Speaking as a patient, the Barometer feels that a doctor should know the basics by heart: That the shoulder bone is connected to the arm bone and the arm bone’s connected to the wrist bone, etc. Having one’s doctor looking up terms and body parts online during a visit would rattle all a patient’s bones and nerves.

Update: All the cheating charges were dropped against the students. The dean apologized to the students who were charged with violations of the honor code. In seven of the cases the administration decided that the online activity data of Canvas can be in error as to whether students are online during exam times. With the remaining ten students, the dean decided to just let things go, Canvas error or not. Given the Canvas cover, we will never know. The university is silent due to privacy rights of the students. The students are silent because, well, why risk anything? You have a pass and a plausible explanation. Still, that question of whether they know about the knee bone connected to the leg bone and all– it looms large.

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Bar Owner Arrested for Selling Fake COVID-19 Vaccine Cards

You knew it was coming. Todd Anderson, the owner of a bar in Clements, California, was arrested on charges of identity theft, forging government documents, falsifying medical documents, and, for good measure, having a loaded, unregistered handgun. Mr. Anderson allegedly sold four fraudulent vaccine cards to undercover agents from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverages. The transaction, for $20 per card, went down at Anderson’s Old Corner Saloon.

The agents obtained a warrant and found 30 blank vaccinecards and a laminating machine. FYI — the cards are ubiquitous on social media sites, commerce platforms, and blogs. No longer, however, are they available at the Old Corner Saloon.

Pandemics bring out the best in doctors, nurses, and those who care for the elderly. They also bring out the worst in some governors, bar owners, and that blasted internet. Let’s hope the tech powers-that-be get busy banning these folks for life.

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So Long Arthur Beale: A 500-Year-Old London Store Bites the Dust

As the Wall Street Journal noted, London’s sailor shop, one that had survived Nazi bombings, bubonic plague, and fires, was brought down by COVID 19. Located in the heart of the theater district, the shop was the vendor of ropes needed in the production of plays. It costs $140,000 in rent and taxes to run the shop. With no plays, London locked down three times, and little to no sailing allowed, there was no choice. Arthur Beale will head to the internet.

As we continue to read about all we have lost we know that life will never be the same. Even now, with the mask-mandate lifted, friends and loved ones are gone, learning was suspended, graduations, weddings, and celebrations were canceled. There is a sadness that comes because of all that we have lost. With the ability to see faces once again, we can once again mourn together our losses and hope that in the future public health crises are handled with greater perspective and common sense. Arthur Beale, we hardly knew ye. But we still mourn for your ship bells that will toll no more.

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The Cheaters — Now They Have Created a Marketplace for Assignments

While West Point is focused on catching those who cheat on exams, the rest of us are facing a bigger problem. You know that trouble is afoot when you read these words, “Consider hiring me to do your assignments.” Bless the little cherubs. Whilst the adults are arguing over masks and teacher pay, students are not only finishing their jokes-of-homework, they have captured the entrepreneuiral spirit and are offering assignment services and even their own homework assignments. You can put in bids to grab an assignment. Clever little demons, aren’t they? You can buy an assignment instead of copying something from the internet because schools have software to detect that kind of cheating.

Face it, all you educators on your health-concerned high horses and computers at home, no one believes that real learning has gone on for the past year. The Wall Street Journal confirmed it with its solid work on cheating. In fact, cheating is so rampant that we now have firms that will help schools detect who is behind the cheating scams, schemes, and auctions. Tawnell D. Holmes, “Cheating at School Grows Rampant,” Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2021, p. A1. The net revenue for one of these online detective firms increased 57% over the past year.

One more thing, and something that emerged in defense of the cadets who cheated on an exam, rationalizations abound. One teacher noted that students commented that it was “unfair” to put them trough a disciplinary process because they “were going through a pandemic.” Ah, COVID 19 has taken the place of “The dog ate my homework.”

Oh, the things we learn about ourselves when we shut down the country for over a year. Kids grew businesses to facilitate cheating. Adults gamed the system to leap-frog ahead on vaccines. Government officials stepped in to get friends, relatives, and donors tested and vaccinated ahead of our most vulnerable. And presidents gave away patents. Looks like the rules don’t matter, and if someone calls us on violations, well, just say, “The pandemic made me do it.”

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The Fourth Bob Baffert Story

On September 22, 2019. July 30, 2020, and November 6, 2020, the Barometer posted Bob Baffert stories. All of them involved horses Mr. Baffert was training. All of the horses had tested positive for some banned substance. All of them found Baffert excused with a slap on the hand. All of them involved the same type of explanation: The banned drug was in the feed. The banned drug came from the groomer’s hands because he was using the ointment to treat his back pain.

Now comes a positive drug test for Medina Spirit, the horse with 12-1 odds who won the Kentucky Derby a a nose. The initial story from Mr. Baffert was that he would never give his horses betamethasone. The story changed today and now goes back to the original formula: Medina Spirit had dermatitis on his bottom and the vet recommended Otomax, a cream that contains betamethasone, as the treatment. Mr. Baffert says that he did not know, but the vet informed him. And it remains to be seen whether the cream treatment could produce the drug test result of 21 picograms in Medina Spirit’s drug test. The follow-up second test will reveal more information.

However, the follow-up test will take weeks. So, we are into the same pattern that we had with Justify. The horse keeps running while the tests are done. The Preakness at Pimlico is this Saturday. The Maryland Racing Commission has a decision to make. There is due process. There is also a Baffert pattern. Perhaps he just did not know or perhaps he just pushes the envelope. In his book be prayed for help when he neglected to vet a horse before buying him for an owner. The horse turned out to be fine. It is not his first rodeo before a racing commission. Always an accident. He did not know. Who does know? Perhaps no one, but a pattern of positive drug tests and lame, as it were, excuses does add up.

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