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Sunday, March 18, 2007

 

Ides of March Plus Three

A few alert readers might have been looking for an Ides post, but it was delayed until today by a combination of circumstances, mainly some diverting NCAA games and the usual St. Pat's festivities (glug, glug, glug). The Ides marked Caesar's exit from this world and my own entrance, but with all due respect to the very late Emperor, if it wasn't for Willie Shakespeare, no one would have any idea about the Ides except for a few Classics Professors and their unfortunate pupils. I remember Haverford's resident Classics expert from my era, Professor Gilles, who after learning that I had endured four years of Latin in high school, embarked on a futile 3 and a half year campaign to enroll me in one of his courses. He was one of several faculty members who I had pretty enduring friendships with though I never took a course from them. Seems like the one sure way to curtail a prof's interest in me was to actually enter his/her classroom. Anyway, if there are a half dozen from my era still on the active duty roster, that's about it, which is more or less what you'd expect heading into class reunion #35. You can go home again, but it ain't quite the same.

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Regarding the NCAA's, the secret to a winning bracket pool entry in recent years has been to play the conferences. You could count on the Big 10 and the PAC 10 to underachieve, the Southeast and the Big East to overachieve, and the ACC to be, well the ACC. Still not a bad guide, but the essence of the first week of March Madness so far has been the extremely formful results, a credit to the seeding committee and their ever more analytical strength-of -schedule assessment tool (the RPI). The few upsets that have occurred have been mostly the mild type - 9 beating 8 or 5 beating 4. If they get much better at placing these teams, we'll soon be able to dispense with the actual tournament, allowing the players some rare hours in the classroom (yeah, right).

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Occasionally justice is served so rwm is pleased to note that California charges have been dropped against ailing Patricia Dunn in the HP pretexting scandal (federal charges still pend in this particular non-crime), and of course, in the unwinding of the Duke lacrosse scandal, attention has finally turned against the runaway DA who used the non-case to burnish his "reputation." Now, we can confidently turn to the ultimately successful appeal by Scooter Libby, as noted here previously. When that happens, we can pronounce Ms. Plame's fifteen minutes of fame over. In the meantime, there was the circus act she performed before a Congressional Committee last week, during which she claimed that by "outing" her, the Administration put lives at risk. I assume she was not at liberty to identify those lives. Unlike her, the people she had in mind might have actually been under cover. In contrast, Ms. Plame is a publicity hound, hardly the behavior of someone interested in cover.

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Just a step above her are our esteemed Senators Levin and Graham, who, somehow finding a microphone not in reach of Senator Schumer, announced an investigation into Guantanamo inmate and 9/11 mastermind KSM's allegations of torture by the US military in obtaining his confession. This should really play well in Peoria. Can you imagine questioning anything that involves the capture and punishment of the beast behind 9/11? Frankly, most people with any recollection of that event (including about 15 million people in the NY and D.C. metro areas) wouldn't care how that confession was obtained, and probably look forward to a very short and horrible existence for KSM. What are these guys thinking about? It is indicative of the disconnect on this issue between the folks who look at 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities as criminal acts to be tried in court, and those who view them as acts of war, to be settled quickly and militarily.

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We continue, in the midst of this market correction, to have companies announce bigger and bolder buybacks of their own stock as a way of rewarding their suffering shareholders. As a shareholder in something like 60 companies, including my own, I say no thanks, please don't do me any favors. I don't think buybacks are an appropriate way to reward anyone other than the entity selling the shares, and especially the stock analysts who have recommended the stock by making them look better temporarily. If you want to return some money to the shareholders, announce a special irregular dividend. At least that gets money to the people who are actually continuing owners. Buybacks increase the company's debt-to-equity ratio, reduce its market cap, indicate that the company is out of creative growth ideas for investment, and create a temporary overpricing of the stock by inserting artificial temporary demand. So when you see your company announce a buyback, you have the choice of taking advantage of it (by selling) or just gnashing your teeth in the face of management's lack of backbone in dealing with the analysts, the only community that really clamors for buybacks.

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On 3/14 I bought 100 shares of GWR for the taxable account at 25.00.

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