Thursday, May 15, 2003
SUPREME COURT RULES EARNINGS SHOULD BE PROTECTED AS "ART"
Recognition of Pro-Formalist Movement Gets WorldCom, Andersen Off Hook
Washington, D.C. -- In a surprise decision that exonerates dozens of major companies, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that corporate earnings statements should be protected as works of art, as they "create something from nothing."
"One plus one is two. That is math. That is science. But as we have seen, earnings and revenues are abstract and original concepts, ideas not bound by physical constraints or coarse realities, and must therefore be considered art," the Court wrote in its 7-2 decision.
The impact of the ruling was widespread. Investigations into hundreds of firms were cancelled, and collectors began snatching up original balance sheets, audits, and P&L statements from WorldCom, Enron, and Global Crossing. Meanwhile, auditing firms such as Arthur Andersen (now Art by Andersen) were reclassified as art critics, whose opinions are no longer liable.
"Before we had to go in and decide, 'Is it right, or is it wrong?'" said KPMG spokesman Dan Fischer. "Now we must only decide, 'Is it art?'"
In Congress, all further hearings into irregularities were abandoned in favor of an abstract accounting lecture given by Scott Sullivan, former Chief Financial Artist of WorldCom, which had been charged with fraud for improperly accounting for $3.85 billion.
"Art should reflect life, so what I was really trying to accomplish with this third quarter report was acknowledge that life is an illusion," said Sullivan, explaining his acclaimed work, "10Q for the Period Ending 9/30/01."
U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, however, was forced to apologize, admitting he could only see a lie.
"Yes, well, a man with a concretized view of the world may only be able to see numbers that 'Don't add up,'" said a haughty Sullivan. "But someone whose perceptions are not always chained to reality � a stock analyst, say � may see numbers that, like the human spirit, aspire to be greater than they are."
Several Sullivan pieces are now part of a new show at New York's Museum of Modern Art entitled, "Shadows & Spreadsheets: The Origins of Pro-Formalism."
Robert Weidlin, an SEC investigator and avid collector, was among the first to peruse the Enron exhibit, which takes up an entire wing of the museum "You look at these works, and you say 'Is this a profit, or a loss? Is this firm a subsidiary, or a holding company?'" said Walden. "I have stood in front of this one balance sheet for hours, and each moment I come away with something different."
Like other patrons, Weidlin said he didn't know whether to be impressed or outraged, a reaction that pleased Andrew Fastow, the former Enron CFA who is a leading proponent of the Trompe L'Shareholder style.
"An artist should not be afraid to be shocking," said Fastow. "As did the Modernists, we should fearlessly depart from tradition and embrace the use of innovative forms of expression. Like, say, 'Special Purpose Entities' and 'Pooling of Interests.'"
Sullivan, meanwhile, said he was influenced by the Flemish Masters, particularly Lernout & Hauspie, the Belgian speech recognition software company that collapsed last year after an audit discovered the firm had cooked its books in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
"Lernout & Hauspie simply invented sales figures, just willed them out of thin air and onto the paper," he said. "Me? I must live with a spreadsheet a long time before I begin to work it. You must be patient and wait until the numbers reveal themselves to you."
And what about the reaction to his work? "I realize people are angry, people are hurt. But I cannot concern myself with that," he said. "As with all true artists, I don't expect to be understood during my lifetime."
(The MOMA exhibit runs through Sept. 3. Admission is $8, excluding a one-time write down of deferred stock compensation and other costs associated with the carrying value of inventory.)
Wrigley Launches "Internet Bubble" Gum�
Chicago, Ill. -- The world's biggest chewing gum maker today unveiled Wrigley's Internet Bubble Gum�, the "irrationally overpriced gum" that produces an "unsustainably large" bubble. The gum, which went on sale this morning at $14 a pack, reached an intraday high of $84 a pack, but ended the day at just 25 cents. As a result, Wrigley announced it will reevaluate its ingredients model, and lay off one-third of its employees.
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