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  • feedwordpress 08:01:12 on 2018/06/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , Mark Twain, ,   

    “A firm’s income statement may be likened to a bikini- what it reveals is interesting but what it conceals is vital”*… 


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    A recent (Roughly) Daily noted (by way of a quote from James Surowiecki) that “the challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud.”  A painful recent example was, the failure of credit ratings agencies honestly to assess the risk of derivatives being traded against home mortgages, which contributed mightily to the crash that occasioned The Great Recession.

    But, as Richard Brooks argues, there’s a bigger and more pervasive problem still lurking:  accountancy used to be boring – and safe.  Today it’s neither.  Have the ‘big four’ firms become too cosy with the system they’re supposed to be keeping in check?  Are we in for Enron all over again, only this time on the financial system-wide basis?

    The demise of sound accounting became a critical cause of the early 21st-century financial crisis. Auditing limited companies, made mandatory in Britain around a hundred years earlier, was intended as a check on the so-called “principal/agent problem” inherent in the corporate form of business. As Adam Smith once pointed out, “managers of other people’s money” could not be trusted to be as prudent with it as they were with their own. When late-20th-century bankers began gambling with eye-watering amounts of other people’s money, good accounting became more important than ever. But the bean counters now had more commercial priorities and – with limited liability of their own – less fear for the consequences of failure. “Negligence and profusion,” as Smith foretold, duly ensued.

    After the fall of Lehman Brothers brought economies to their knees in 2008, it was apparent that Ernst & Young’s audits of that bank had been all but worthless. Similar failures on the other side of the Atlantic proved that balance sheets everywhere were full of dross signed off as gold. The chairman of HBOS, arguably Britain’s most dubious lender of the boom years, explained to a subsequent parliamentary enquiry: “I met alone with the auditors – the two main partners – at least once a year, and, in our meeting, they could air anything that they found difficult. Although we had interesting discussions – they were very helpful about the business – there were never any issues raised.”

    This insouciance typified the state auditing had reached. Subsequent investigations showed that rank-and-file auditors at KPMG had indeed questioned how much the bank was setting aside for losses. But such unhelpful matters were not something for the senior partners to bother about when their firm was pocketing handsome consulting income – £45m on top of its £56m audit fees over about seven years – and the junior bean counters’ concerns were not followed up by their superiors.

    Half a century earlier, economist JK Galbraith had ended his landmark history of the 1929 Great Crash by warning of the reluctance of “men of business” to speak up “if it means disturbance of orderly business and convenience in the present”. (In this, he thought, “at least equally with communism, lies the threat to capitalism”.) Galbraith could have been prophesying accountancy a few decades later, now led by men of business rather than watchdogs of business…

    A chilling, but important report: “The financial scandal no one is talking about.”

    * Burton G. Malkiel

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    As we count beans, we might recall that it was on this date in 1873 that Samuel Clemens (the author known as Mark Twain) received a U.S. patent, his second, for a self-pasting scrapbook (No. 140,245).  His creation used a dried adhesive on its pages so that users need only moisten a page in order to attach pictures.

    In 1871, Clemens had scored his first patent, for “an Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments”–an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist that was later used on women’s corsets, and is considered by many to be the precursor of the adjustable bra strap.  He earned his third patent in 1875 for a history trivia game,“Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder Game.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:40 on 2017/06/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Mark Twain, , Samuel Clemens, , ,   

    “Besides black art, there is only automation and mechanization”*… 


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    THE AUTOMATIC MOTORIST, a British short film from 1911, wants you to avoid self-driving cars at all costs. In it, a robot chauffeur is developed to drive a newly wedded couple to their honeymoon destination. But this robot malfunctions, and all of a sudden the couple is marooned in outer space (and then sinking underwater, and then flying through the sky—it’s complicated)…

    More on the film and its maker at “This Bizarre 1911 Film Warns of the Perils of Self-Driving Cars.

    * Federico Garcia Lorca

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    As we keep our eyes on the road, we might recall that it was on this date in 1873 that Samuel Clemens (the author known as Mark Twain) received a U.S. patent, his second, for a self-pasting Scrapbook (No. 140,245).  His creation used a dried adhesive on its pages so that users need only moisten a page in order to attach pictures.

    In 1871, Clemens had scored his first patent, for “an Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments”–an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist that was later used on women’s corsets, and is considered by many to be the precursor of the adjustable bra strap.  He earned his third patent in 1875 for a history trivia game,“Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder Game.”

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:38 on 2017/02/18 Permalink
    Tags: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, , , , , Mark Twain, , ,   

    “If I had to choose a superhero to be, I would pick Superman. He’s everything that I’m not.*… 


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    The images that pop up in most people’s heads when they think about superheroes can be traced back to the 1938 debut of Superman and the genre evolution that followed. But it’s possible to go back even further, connecting the Hulk to the ancient epic poem of Gilgamesh, and Batman to 17th Century cross-dressing crimefighter Moll Cutpurse…

     Heroic history at: “How Ancient Legends Gave Birth to Modern Superheroes.”

    * Stephen Hawking

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    As we investigate our icons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the U.S.   Considered by many to be the Great American Novel, Huckleberry Finn has been controversial from it birth (e.g., here and here)– indeed, the controversy began before its birth:  The UK and Canadian edition came out two months earlier; the U.S. version was delayed because one of the engravers added an obscenity to one of the illustrations: on p. 283, an illustration of Aunt Sally and Silas Phelps was augmented by the addition of a penis.  Thirty thousand copies of the book had been printed before the unwanted addition was discovered.  A new plate was made to correct the illustration and repair the existing copies; still, copies with the so-called “curved fly” plate remain valuable collectors items.

    Huck, as drawn by E. W. Kemble for the original edition of the book

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:16 on 2016/02/13 Permalink
    Tags: , catalogue, , Dewey, , , indexing, , , Mark Twain,   

    “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go till you come to the end; then stop’”*… 


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    Index cards are mostly obsolete nowadays. We use them to create flash cards, write recipes, and occasionally fold them up into cool paper airplanes. But their original purpose was nothing less than organizing and classifying every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world. Later, they formed the backbone of the library system, allowing us to index vast sums of information and inadvertently creating many of the underlying ideas that allowed the Internet to flourish…

    How Carl Linnaeus, the author of Systema Naturae and father of modern taxonomy, created index cards… and how they enabled libraries as we know them, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the Web: “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

    * Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

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    As we do ’em up Dewey style, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the handwritten script of the first half of the original draft of Huckleberry Finn, which included Twain’s own handwritten corrections, was recovered.  Missing for over a hundred years, it was found by a 62-year old librarian in Los Angeles, who discovered it as sorted through her grandfather’s papers sent to her from upstate New York.  Her grandfather, james Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer and collector of rare books and manuscripts, to whom Twain sent the manuscript in 1887, had requested the manuscript for the town’s library, now called the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (where the second half of the manuscript has been all along).

    Gluck apparently took the first half from the library, intending to have it bound, but failed to return it.  He died the following year; and the manuscript, which had no library markings, was turned over to his widow by the executors of the estate.  She eventually moved to California to be near her daughter, taking the trunk containing the manuscript went with her.  It was finally opened by her granddaughter, Barbara Testa.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:24 on 2015/12/16 Permalink
    Tags: cold, , How to Cure a Cold, , , , Mark Twain, remedy,   

    “If it don’t cure them, it can’t more than kill them”*… 


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    Your correspondent has been wrestling with a remarkably recalcitrant rhinovirus.  Searching for solutions, he found this…

    While the Civil War was raging back East, Samuel Clemens (who had recently begun using the pseudonym Mark Twain) lived in Virginia City, Nevada, where he came down with a serious cold and bronchitis that plagued him for the much of the summer in 1863. His ailments didn’t keep him from traveling, first to the home of his friend Adair Wilson near Lake Bigler (now Lake Tahoe) and then to Steamboat Springs. In a series of letters and reports to newspaper editors in Virginia City and San Francisco, Clemens detailed his adventures and the spirited (if half-hearted) attempts to attack his illness with various remedies…

    More backstory, and Twain’s piece in in its short-but-glorious entirety, at “How to Cure a Cold.”  (Your correspondent settled, as Twain did, on the remedy featured finally in the piece…)

    * Mark Twain (from the story featured above)

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    As we reach for the tissues, we might send bounteous birthday greetings to the incomparable Jane Austen; she was born on this date in 1775.  One of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony, and sensible social commentary– along with her persuasive plots– have earned her a place of pride among readers and scholars/critics alike.

    Check out Five Books on Jane Austen.

    Portrait of Jane Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2014/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , Clemens, , , , Lucy Knisley, Mark Twain, summary,   

    “‘I DON’T CARE!’ Harry yelled at them… ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH’”*… 


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     click here for zoomable version

    As of July 2013, the Harry Potter books had sold between 400 and 450 million copies, in 73 languages, making them one of the best-selling book series in history.  The last four books consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, with the final installment moving approximately 11 million copies in the United States within the first twenty-four hours of its release.  (R)D readers who aren’t yet readers of the Hogwarts chronicle may be feeling the need to catch up– a particularly uncomfortable pressure given the temporal constraints of the Holiday season getting underway…

    Fear not:  comic artist Lucy Knisley has created this intricate illustration, which sums up the entire saga. The full-size image measures 2700 x 4458 pixels, and covers all of the major plot points of Harry’s epic journey.

    [via Mighty Mega]

    * “Harry Potter” in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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    As we celebrate classics, illustrated, we might send trenchant birthday wishes to two of history’s most acute observers of the human condition:  Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, was born on this date in 1667.

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    And Samuel Langhorne Clemens– Mark Twain– the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and its sequel, “The Great American Novel” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was born on this date in 1835.

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    Swift ultimately rose to high church office, serving as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.  Clemens did not.

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:58 on 2014/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: Chinese-Americans, , , Innocents Abroad, , Mark Twain, mustard, Mustard King, Poison Jim,   

    “A self-made man may prefer a self-made name”*… 


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    In the Museum of Chinese in America, two blocks north of Canal Street in New York City, a small, illuminated tile informs visitors that “sometime before 1865,” a Chinese American squirrel trapper known as “Poison Jim” found the mustard plant “growing weedlike in the Salinas Valley.” By selling the seeds, he “unintentionally turn[ed] mustard into a commercial crop” in the United States. A textbook published in 2010 repeats the story, with Poison Jim making and selling mustard until it “became a major California product.”

    “Poison Jim Chinaman” was first documented by the little-known writer Owen Clarke Treleaven, who published a six-page story about him in a 1919 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine serving middle-class readers a diet of human interest pieces and folksy caricatures of the American West long after its wildest years were behind it. Writers glibly peddled stereotypes about the multiethnic fabric of frontier societies; the issue in which Treleaven’s story appeared also included an article on “Queer Korean Superstitions” and a poem called “Loleeta—An Indian Lyric”…

    Read the spicy story of Jim’s story, in it’s entirety, in The Awl: “The Legend of Poison Jim, the Mustard King.”

    * Learned Hand

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    As we take our mustard with a grain of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Mark Twain published his account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” aboard a retired Civil War ship, the chartered vessel Quaker City, through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers– The Innocents Abroad.  Masquerading as an ordinary travel book, it cinched Twain’s reputation as a humorous observer; it was his best-selling book during his lifetime, and is one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:57 on 2014/06/01 Permalink
    Tags: English as She is Spoke, Friar John Cor, , Mark Twain, phrase book, , scotch whiskey, , , unintentional humor, whiskey   

    “Translation is the art of failure”*… 


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    For to ride a horse.

    Very dissatisfied customer (brandishing pistol): Here is a horse who have a bad looks. Give me another; I will not that. He not sall know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered. Don’t you are ashamed to give me a jade as like? he is undshoed, he is with nails up; it want to lead to the farrier.

    Terrified horse dealer: Your pistols are its loads?

    O Novo Guia da Conversação em Portuguez e Inglez– or English as She is Spoke, as it was titled in it’s English version– was a Portuguese/English phrase book published in 1855.  It’s widely believed that it was written by Pedro Carolino and misleadingly additionally credited to José da Fonseca, whose (perfectly serviceable) Portuguese/French phrase book was the source for Carolino… who spoke no english, and simply used a French/English dictionary to make literal translations from da Fonseca’s work.

    The result is a masterpiece of unintentional humor– one of which Mark Twain wrote:

    In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts. Its delicious unconscious ridiculousness, and its enchanting naivete, as are supreme and unapproachable, in their way, as are Shakespeare’s sublimities. Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure…

    Read (or download) English as She is Spoke in its blissful entirety at Project Gutenberg.

    * Umberto Eco

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    As we polish our phrasing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1494 that the first recorded mention of scotch whiskey occurred: an entry in the Exchequer Rolls lists “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae (water of life, as the then-medicinally-justified liquor was known)”– a sufficient quantity to produce almost 1,500 bottles, suggesting that distilling was already well-established.  Indeed, some historians believe that the “Heather Ale” drink brewed by the Picts was actually early scotch whisky– suggesting that whisky could date back to the late Iron Age (100-50 years BC).

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