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  • feedwordpress 08:01:08 on 2018/07/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , financial markets, , , P.T. Barnum, ,   

    “Optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers”*… 


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    It’s been 10 years since the beginning of the Great Recession…

    Some of the more pessimistic commentators at the time of the credit crunch, myself included, said that the aftermath of the crash would dominate our economic and political lives for at least ten years. What I wasn’t expecting – what I don’t think anyone was expecting – was that ten years would go by quite so fast. At the start of 2008, Gordon Brown was prime minister of the United Kingdom, George W. Bush was president of the United States, and only politics wonks had ever heard of the junior senator from Illinois; Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France, Hu Jintao was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, MySpace was the biggest social network, and the central bank interest rate in the UK was 5.5 per cent.

    It is sometimes said that the odds you could get on Leicester winning the Premiership in 2016 was the single most mispriced bet in the history of bookmaking: 5000 to 1. To put that in perspective, the odds on the Loch Ness monster being found are a bizarrely low 500 to 1. (Another 5000 to 1 bet offered by William Hill is that Barack Obama will play cricket for England. I’d advise against that punt.) Nonetheless, 5000 to 1 pales in comparison with the odds you would have got in 2008 on a future world in which Donald Trump was president, Theresa May was prime minister, Britain had voted to leave the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party – which to many close observers of Labour politics is actually the least likely thing on that list. The common factor explaining all these phenomena is, I would argue, the credit crunch and, especially, the Great Recession that followed…

    The always-illuminating John Lanchester ponders what happened, why, and what we have– and haven’t– learned: “After the Fall.”

    [image above: source]

    * “However, optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers. One of the lessons of the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession is that there are periods in which competition, among experts and among organizations, creates powerful forces that favor a collective blindness to risk and uncertainty.”   – Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

    ###

    As we do our best to learn from our mistakes, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.

    A sharp observer of the human condition, Barnum wrote and spoke frequently of characteristics that made “promotions” of the sort in which he specialized both possible and profitable:

    Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.

    There’s a sucker born every minute.

    In what business is there not humbug?

    Barnum came by his wisdom the round-about way: he founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

    “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

    source: Library of Congress

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:13 on 2017/01/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , P.T. Barnum, , , The Anatomy of Melancholy,   

    “Only laughter can blow [a colossal humbug] to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”*… 


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    P.T. Barnum, impresario behind the “Greatest Show on Earth,” could not abide a humbug: a man who tricked and swindled others for naught but his own gain. In Humbugs of the World (1865), he outlined the various types, with none being singled out for such ire as the humbug who believes nothing at all…

    The greatest humbug of all is the man who believes—or pretends to believe—that everything and everybody are humbugs. We sometimes meet a person who professes that there is no virtue; that every man has his price, and every woman hers; that any statement from anybody is just as likely to be false as true…

    More of the pot commenting on the kettle at “Pronouncing a fool.”

    Resonate with today’s headline, David Byrne weighs in: “A Resistance With Laughs Is Irresistible.”

    * Mark Twain

    ###

    As we melancholize, we might spare a thought for Robert Burton; he died on this date in 1640.  An Oxford scholar, he is best known for his classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, an odd mix of wide=ranging scholarship, humor, linguistic skill, and creative (if highly approximate) insights– a favorite of scholars and authors from Samuel Johnson’s to Anthony Burgess.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:08 on 2016/04/07 Permalink
    Tags: , dissection, , , , , P.T. Barnum, ,   

    “There wasn’t an anhydrous lacrimal gland in the room”*… 


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    For more than 100 years after the founding of America’s first medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765, faculty members personally peddled tickets to their classes in order to fill lecture halls. So if a prospective surgeon, like Samuel Gartley, whose name appears on this delightfully morbid ticket featuring dancing skeletons, wanted to study anatomy under W.S. Jacobs at the University of Pennsylvania around 1800, he would seek out Jacobs and buy a ticket to attend his “dissecting class.”

    “With roughly 10 to 15 dollars in hand, anybody could purchase admission to a course of lectures directly from the professor, who profited directly from the students’ fees,” write Carol Benenson Perloff and Dr. Daniel M. Albert, the authors of a new book, Tickets to the Healing Arts: Medical Lecture Tickets of the 18th and 19thCenturies. Customers included not only matriculated medical students but also practicing physicians and “apprentices” laboring within the older, informal system of medical education. This proprietary enrollment system was upheld by unsalaried professors who worked like independent contractors, paying rent and overhead to the school’s dean out of ticket sales while pocketing the proceeds…

    * Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

    ###

    As we take our seats, we might spare a colorful thought for Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he died on this date in 1891.  Barnum founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the “‘Feejee’ mermaid” and “General Tom Thumb,” but also serious scientific exhibits, for which he actively collected natural history specimens.) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

    “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

    source

     
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