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Posts Tagged ‘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

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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

 

Written by LW

July 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

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

 

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

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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 to Anthony Burgess.

 source

 

Written by LW

January 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

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

 

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

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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

Written by LW

April 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Cartoons are not real drawings, because they are drawings intended to be read”*…

 

Hilarious, subtly subversive, and unique for his time, Virgil Partch was a 20th-century gag cartoonist whose “pleasingly grotesque style” still delights people today.  Virgil, cousin of the composer Harry Partch, began his career at Disney, but left after a few years to supply cartoons, all signed “VIP,” to essentially every major outlet– though only a few to The New Yorker, as editor Harold Ross hated VIP’s style.

The Rumpus features more of Partch’s work, and  a Q&A with designer, writer, and filmmaker Jonathan Barli on the life and work of the absurdist and visionary cartoonist, the subject of Barli’s new book, VIP: The Mad Life of Virgil Partch (Fantagraphics).

* Chris Ware

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As we draw the line, we might recall that it was on this date in 1863 that miniature dancing chanteuse Lavinia Warren married Charles Sherwood Stratton… or, as he was better known, General Tom Thumb.  The couple met as performers in P.T. Barnum‘s shows.  Lavinia was hotly pursued by the tiny entertainer Commodore Nutt, but her affections belonged to General Tom Thumb from their first introduction.

The nuptials, promoted by Barnum, were front-page news: held at Grace Episcopal Church in New York, they were followed by a gala reception at the Metropolitan Hotel, attended by family, friends, and one thousand people who paid Barnum $75 each.  With Barnum’s help, the couple became perhaps the most famous public personages of the 1860s: President Abraham Lincoln and his wife hosted a reception for the newlyweds at the White House; and Tiffany and Co. gave them a silver coach; and they amassed a fortune performing.

Wedding photo by Mathew Brady

source

 

Written by LW

February 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

Mown down…

George C Ballas, Sr, the Houston, Texas, dance studio owner who changed the way America cut its grass when he invented the Weed Eater aka the weed whacker, died [late last month] of natural causes. He was 85. Ballas (seen here with an early prototype) got the idea for the mower while sitting in a car wash wondering if those spinning bristles could be modified to trim grass and weeds in areas a lawnmower couldn’t reach. Turns out they could. He founded his Weed Eater company in 1971, made a bundle, and later sold the invention to Emerson Electric for an undisclosed sum. “A Weed Eater comes along once in a lifetime,” he said. Although he’s known as the Weed King, Ballas’ life was dance. He was an Arthur Murray dance instructor and his own Dance Studio USA was the world’s largest (43,000 square feet); his wife was a noted flamenco dancer; his son Corky is a champion ballroom dancer; and his grandson Mark is a professional dancer, a regular partner on Dancing With the Stars. (AP photo)

Via World of Wonder.

As we dance our way under those inconvenient hedges and into those pesky corners, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.  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”) 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

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