Seven Things

7things7Brain Pickings is a fantastic site and a wonderful daily read. It has nothing (directly) to say about the markets and investing, but it has loads to say about life. I could not recommend it more highly. To celebrate the site’s seventh anniversary last Fall, proprietor Maria Popova wrote a lovely little piece describing the most important things she learned during that time. A short video has now been developed outlining these themes. It’s well worth a watch. I hope you will.


Unexpected Joy

Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. got an early Christmas present Tuesday. A single cellist took a seat in the middle of the lobby and began to play. He was soon joined by 120 other members of the United States Air Force Band (full disclosure: my terrific son-in-law, Josh Cullum, is a member).

The musicians filed in gradually from behind museum exhibits and the crowd. They were then joined by brass and vocalists who filled the museum’s second floor balcony. The six-minute performance climaxed with a rousing version of “Joy to the World.” You may find a full list of the Band’s holiday performances in the Washington, D.C. area here.

You may see video of the performance below.

Money Corrupts

Whether it comes from bosses, politicians, plutocrats or others, we’re used to big shots behaving badly. We’ve all seen leaders of one sort or another acting like jerks, deadbeats or Lotharios just because they can.

Paging Anthony Weiner….

The power paradox is the idea that the traits that help people gain stature tend to disappear once they get it. In Lord Acton’s famous expression, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Recent research with respect to wealth, discussed below, further supports the general point. 

Whatever else these findings may suggest, it’s pretty apparent that the dynamics of wealth, power and privilege can profoundly influence how we think and act.

25 Years Ago Today

Twenty-five years ago today, in Moscow, President Ronald Reagan talked with students at Moscow State University about freedom in a speech written by a friend and colleague of my daughter.

The money quote, with its oh-so-subversive message:

“Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to dream—to follow your dream or stick to your conscience, even if you’re the only one in a sea of doubters. Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.”

We Suck at Probabilities

I have often noted (for example, here) that we generally suck at math, to our great detriment.  I have also noted that we are especially poor at dealing with probabilities.  If a weather forecaster says that there is an 80 percent chance of rain and it remains sunny, instead of waiting to see if it rains 80 out of 100 times when his or her forecast called for an 80 percent chance of rain, we race to conclude — perhaps based upon that single instance — that the forecaster isn’t any good. Data trumps our lyin’ eyes, but we don’t routinely see it. Continue reading