Tag Archive: Napoleon Bonaparte


It would be hard to make this up.

Our Club Universe American tour guide to the “Evil Empire” in 1981 was named … Joseph McCarthy.

Over a round of adult beverages in the “office” (e.g., hotel bar), he assigned an unofficial tag line for the state-run Aeroflot, essentially public transportation in the sky: “The Longer the Flight, The Longer the Delay.”

If your flight was about two hours from Moscow to then-Leningrad; now-St. Petersburg, the delay was about two hours. If you were flying eight hours from Moscow to Novosibirsk…Lenin help you.

aeroflot

The in-flight cuisine was Tatiana delivering plastic cups of mineral water. That’s all, folks.

With Aeroflot at the time, you knew what to expect. Yes, there was a consistency of product.

You were back in the USSR; You don’t know how lucky you are boy…

The Soviet Union has now gone into the history books, even though Russia with all of its backwardness and sadness (even with the temporary joy of the Sochi Olympics), still exists.

What also exists are customer expectations and consistency of product. And in most cases that is a “Good Thing” as Martha would say.

Take Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) for example.  The line sometimes goes back to the door. The prices are high. Knowing the author of Almost DailyBrett and $3.70 will result in a Grande mocha with no whip. And yet so many will shell out for their daily fix. The Grande mocha tastes the same in Dublin, Ireland as it does in Ellensburg, Washington.

Some may scoff at McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), but the company has nailed fast food. You know what you are getting and there is a consistency of product. Yes, a Big Mac tastes the same in Tokyo as it does in Brussels as it does in Hood River, Oregon.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has essentially pioneered digital retailing. The company even acquired online shoe store, Zappos, which built its reputation on under-promising and over-delivering (shoes arrive before their promised delivery date), literally providing customers with the consummate “wow” experience.

Amazon fulfillment center

Digital search-engine leader Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has become a verb, an ultimate sign of success as in “Google this; Google that.”

For flyers of Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), you know what you are getting and not getting. Plan on joking flight attendants, Boeing 737-700s that are habitually on time, peanuts and/or pretzels and a soft drink. Don’t plan on assigned seats or in-flight cuisine. There is a consistency of product, and that speaks to the company’s brand as the nation’s leading low-cost carrier. Reportedly based on percentages of applicants vs. acceptances, the percentages are more in favor of being admitted to Harvard than landing a job at Southwest.

The point is these firms have learned the lessons from failing companies (or companies that should be put out of their misery), including J.C. Penney, Braniff, and Circuit City.

What is the usual customer expectation driving into the parking lot of any state’s Department of Motor Vehicles? There are three absolutes in life: Death, Taxes and DMV.

As you emerge from the car, you can sense your pulse quickening and your blood-pressure rising. Your dog-eared copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is ready at your side. Will Napoleon’s Grand Armee drive to Moscow and beat a snowy retreat to France before your number is called at DMV?

dmv

Everyone, staring at the linoleum floors, sitting in the plastic chairs, and waiting for the cheerless bureaucrats, has the same pained look on their collective faces. Are your papers in Ordnung? If your papers are nicht in Ordnung, you will be sentenced to the gulag…another trip to DMV.

Yes, your expectations are being fulfilled, and (alas) there is a consistency of product.

Even though DMV operates in a monopoly position, similar to nationalized industries in the former Soviet Union, would anyone in their right mind invest in this stock: (NYSE: DMV)?

Keep in mind, DMV does not have a corner on the market when it comes to a desultory customer service experience. There is always (drum roll), the United States Postal Service.

How about staking a portion of your life’s savings in (NASDAQ: USPS)?

The USPS reached an all-time peak of volume served in 2006. It has been all downhill ever since. In 2013, the USPS lost $5 billion on top-line revenue of $66 billion. Not only is the USPS underperforming vis-and-vis its private sector competition, Fed-Ex and UPS, but the digital writing is on the wall as the Internet is providing even more reasons (e.g., online bill paying) to avoid costly snail-mail.

postoffice

This reality is evidenced in those selected to provide “customer service” at USPS stores (e.g., post offices). If there is the potential of staffing four registers, the USPS will offer two joyless staffers even though the customer line is stretching out the door.

Yes, there are customers standing in long lines at many Starbucks, but they have a happy ending in the offing in the form of a latte, cappuccino or mocha. At the USPS, joy comes with reaching the front of the line, shipping your package, buying snail-mail stamps and then mercifully…leaving.

To many, the word “corporate” has become a dirty word. And you can see the roots of the negativity, multi-million executive “golden” parachutes, Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, Walmarts driving smaller competitors out of business etc. etc. etc.

Having acknowledged the obvious, there is a flip side to the word, “corporate.” The other side of the story revolves around great products, literally millions of jobs, and bursts of innovation. Do we think of Starbucks or the DMV (or even Amtrak) when it comes to a superb product and a super customer experience? When it comes to innovation, would we bet our future on Amazon’s ability to move products or the USPS?

Many are wary of the prospect of DMV-style “service” when it comes to services provided by government, whether it be auto registration, mail delivery or maybe even health care.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zappos

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing,” — Jean Baptist-Colbert, French Minister of Finances under Louis XIV.

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you drive to city, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet,” – George Harrison, Beatles’ “Taxman,” 1966.

The Beatles certainly were not the only hugely successful British rock-and-roll band to ever feel the heat of punitive taxation. Nonetheless, they were paying far more than their “fair share” for their musical achievements and the opening song of the band’s “Revolver” album was a form of open protest against excessive taxation and class warfare.

“‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes,” said the late George Harrison, the Beatles guitarist. “It was and still is typical.”

For their chief competitors, the Rolling Stones, the crushing taxation in the UK in the 1970s forced the band to leave their homeland, England, to seek refuge in France and record the aptly titled “Exile on Main Street.” Like Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba, the Stones were forced into Mediterranean exile.

exile

The history of the Beatles and the Stones relative to taxation has direct bearing on the modern-day open debate on just how government is too much government and exactly how much taxation is too much taxation. The leader of the free world has called upon the rich to pay their “fair share,” but what exactly is the definition of fair share? And what constitutes “rich” in Obama’s America? The devil is in the details.

Is 98 percent fair? “Preposterous” you say? Not if you review the history of the United Kingdom prior to the rise of Margaret Thatcher.

The “progressive” tax regime of former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson was simply staggering, a top rate for income tax of 83 percent + a 15 percent surcharge on “un-earned income” (investments and dividends), bringing the marginal rate of 98 percent (no typo). Reportedly, 750,000 British taxpayers were liable for a 98 percent tax rate in 1974. Is there a fine line between taxation and almost total confiscation, and when is that line crossed?

In the case of the Stones, they were not only hissing like plucked geese, but fleeing the country…an option that is always available to the wealthy to escape oppressive taxation. The wealthy (at least for the time being) do have the means, and many times they vote with their feet or by means of air travel.

haroldwilson

Reflecting on the time, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman said in the band’s DVD “Stones in Exile” that if a band member made a “million quid,” he would be taking home only 70,000 pounds. “It was impossible to make enough to pay Inland Revenue.”

“I had to get out of the country to pay the tax that was incurred on me,” guitarist/song writer Keith Richards remembered.

Singer/song writer Mick Jagger was worried about fan reaction of the Stones leaving the UK for tax reasons, thinking that followers wouldn’t like the Stones anymore. “When you leave for tax reasons, it is not cool.”

But is a 98 percent tax rate cool? Is that paying your “fair share?” Let’s see the achiever gets keep two cents on every dollar, the government takes through a variety of taxing mechanisms the remaining 98 cents on that same dollar.

Extreme? You bet, but it happened. And it occurred in Mother England and it really wasn’t that long ago. As you know, there are some who want America to be just like Western Europe, but do they really support 98 percent taxation?

No one will ever accuse the members of the Beatles and the Stones of being conservative warriors for limited government and Lafferite low taxation to jump-start economic growth. The Stones in particular proved that the real wealthy or the so-called wealthy have options. They can move to lower tax states (e.g. Texas and Florida come immediately to mind) or even to other nations. They may not want to do it, but again they may not have any other choice.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stones_in_Exile

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Wilson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exile_on_Main_St.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Laffer

“Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the heading coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged 8.4 wins per season since 1994.” – Athlon Sports, “Coaching Jobs from First to Worst.” http://www.athlonsports.com/college-football

Make that 8.5 wins per season for Oregon since 1994 with potentially three more this year.

Chip Kelly’s job as Oregon’s head coach (he is 19-3 in his nearly two years at the helm) is rated as the 15th best gig in all of college football. In contrast, Notre Dame is ranked as the 12th ranked coaching destination and the main reason is the “T” word for tradition. http://www.goducks.com/

“Notre Dame has three unique advantages compared to almost every school in the country – a national following, its own television contract (signed through 2015 with NBC) and an unparalleled history that includes 11 consensus national titles and seven Heisman Trophy winners.” http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/061908aaa.html

Holy Touchdown Jesus and Number One Moses that is friggin’ impressive until you start pulling down the recent numbers. In fact, Notre Dame defies the Almost DailyBrett Law of College Football: Tradition is Now.

bamaND

Do I dare infuriate Lou Holtz and Beano Cook by speaking ill of Notre Dame?

Will I be excommunicated by Rome?

Let’s just let the numbers do the talking.

Number One Oregon (10-0) has consistently out competed unranked Notre Dame (6-5 including a loss at home to Tulsa) over a span of the last 17 years and there is no doubt the Ducks with Darron Thomas and LaMichael James running the spread offense would blow the Fighting Irish off the field this year. According to the Jeff Sagarin ratings for USA Today, Oregon would be favored by 25 points, if the game was played in Eugene, and 19 points, if the contest was played in South Bend. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin/fbt10.htm?loc=interstitialskip

But wait a minute…Notre Dame has won all these national titles…Quick when was the last time that Notre Dame was the best team in all the land (Hint, Reagan was president)? Wonder who is the number one team in the BCS rankings that came out tonight? Sorry Mr. Leprechaun, it is not you.

For the record, the last ND Heisman trophy winner was Tim Brown in 1987. Since that time, no member of the Irish has even sniffed the famous straight-arm. For Oregon, Joey Harrington and Dennis Dixon were serious candidates the last decade and James is expected to be at least invited as a finalist to the ceremony in New York in three weeks.

Let’s match up the two including this season in progress and going back to 1994:

Oregon is 145-62; Notre Dame is 120-84.

Oregon has been to 14 bowls and is 6-8 in these post-season contests (includes two Rose Bowls, one Fiesta Bowl, one Cotton Bowl and most likely either BCS championship game or the Rose Bowl this year). Notre Dame has been to 10 bowls and is 1-9 (interrupting a NCAA record nine straight bowl losses with a win in…the 2008 Hawaii Bowl).

Since 1994, Oregon has missed two bowls and recorded only one losing season. Notre Dame in this span has missed bowls six times and has recorded four losing seasons.

Oregon is on the cusp of winning its fourth outright Pac-10 title and fifth overall since 1994. The Ducks are second only to USC in Pac-10 titles, who dominated the conference from 2002 to 2008. Speaking of USC, who would the Trojans rather play, Notre Dame or Oregon? If you asked the Notre Dame and USC alums they would wax poetically about the “Greatest Intersectional Rivalry” in all the land. If you ask the USC players, they would grumble about the 100 points that Oregon has scored against them in the last two games.

DAT1

Since 1994 (they play this Saturday), Notre Dame has compiled a 4-11 record head-to-head against the Men of Troy, including losing the last eight. In contrast, Oregon is 8-5 against USC during this stretch including winning the last two and three out-of-the last four.

Using marketing speak, NBC’s Dick Ebersol described Notre Dame as the “most storied brand in college sports.” Really? Does that mean NBC will televise more ND losses to Connecticut, Navy and Tulsa for the benefit rapidly aging subway alumni, who fondly remember John Huarte and Paul Hornung? That is east of the Hudson River thinking that reflects the proverbial East Coast bias.

Let’s face it Notre Dame has a Little Napoleon complex as epitomized by their pint-size mascot and their relatively quiet stadium. Oregon in comparison offers college football’s loudest and most intimidating venue, Autzen Stadium, and the one-and-only triple-threat mascot, the Duck. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/columns/story?columnist=maisel_ivan&page=iZone091028

Yes, the push-up champion Duck can go by land, sea and air…Let’s see the sham(rock) Leprechaun pull off that feat. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ve92hOixGo

%d bloggers like this: