• Jeff Fox: Something just doesn't add up

  • It’s so good that the elections are over so we can ditch the inane and repetitive political ads and get back to the usual inane and repetitive ads.

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  • It’s so good that the elections are over so we can ditch the inane and repetitive political ads and get back to the usual inane and repetitive ads.
    The politicians may stretch the truth from time to time – hypothetically, let’s say – but that debug-your-computer company makes an absurd claim that its product will make your PC run 100 percent faster or even 150 percent faster.
    Now, look, I’m good at basic arithmetic but anything beyond Algebra II makes my brain hurt. So someone needs to help me out. If a given computer function takes 10 seconds, let’s call that a measure of speed. One hundred percent of 10 seconds is – steady now – 10 seconds, so a 100 percent improvement means we’ve cut that function down to zero seconds, which is a nifty trick.
    The claim of a 150 percent improvement suggests we are somehow going backward in time, because that 10-second function now takes minus five seconds. Now we’re on to something – if it’s true – but honestly, black holes and wormholes make more sense.
    If that’s not bad enough, perhaps someone could explain to me the batteries that promise “four times less waste” or the toothpaste that promises teeth 97 percent as clean as if you went to the dentist.
    More than one gentle soul among my many friends has suggested that I not get too worked up about all this, but I must confess that over the years my addiction to political news has worsened to an addition for business news, and those people spout clichés, mixed metaphors and brain-bending mathematical claims that make the politicians look like Einstein and Lincoln.
    Call this a cry for help. If it’s not CNBC, it’s Bloomberg. The chatter is oddly soothing as the markets gyrate through the hours and each promised or threatened IPO is treated like Y2K or the second coming. It’s the elevator music of my workday.
    I think the goal of most corporate executives who appear for a few minutes because earnings are up or they had a sudden fit of strategic realignment is just to sit there, appear amiable – and say absolutely nothing of substance. Their questioners do try, but they are overmatched.
    The other day some expert was trying to explain why fear, oddly enough, tends to drive the stock market up. It’s an old idea, but I’d never heard it put quite this way:
    The bottom line, he said, is the end of the world only happens once.
    That’s such a mishmash of clichés that it’s actually profoundly true.
    In casual conversation, the bottom line rarely about revenue, expense and profit. Usually “but the bottom line is ...” precedes a statement that the speaker asserts is unarguably true. It’s a means of moving the debate onto your preferred turf, and it can be somewhat bullying.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, the end of the world – you know, slipping into a black hole or an unfortunate encounter with an asteroid, the ceasing of operations on this planet – perhaps really, metaphorically is The Bottom Line. No math, no accounting for profit or loss, is needed beyond that point.
    I don’t expect to see Yoda on CNBC, but if guest after guest spews enough clichés – mindlessly is probably better – perhaps a little wisdom can be found amid the chatter.
    Jeff Fox promises his Twitter followers that he’s entertaining and informative. He’s @Jeff_Fox. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or jeff.fox@examiner.net

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