Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Looking Ahead to the Past

"Never make predictions, especially about the future." --- Casey Stengal.

I don't buy watches from guys on street corners, don't by clothes from places called "warehouses" and don't bet on sports that are played on ice.

I also don't make predictions. At least not very often.

I made two in the past year. I predicted I would go on a diet and lose 20 pounds. I gained 10. I predicted Hillary Clinton would become president. She didn't even get to the Big Dance.

But that's small potatoes compared to some who dared to predict what 2008 would bring.

Consider this sampling culled from self-appointed crystal ball gazers:

"If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she's going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her...Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I'll predict that right now." William Kristol, Fox News.

I'm glad someone else bought into the Hillary bandwagon. But at least I recognized that Al Gore was yesterday's candidate.

"Peter writes: 'Should I be worried about Bear Stearns in terms of liquidity and get my money out of there?' No! No! No! Bear Stearns is fine! Do not take your money out. … Bear Stearns is not in trouble. I mean, if anything they're more likely to be taken over. Don't move your money from Bear! That's just being silly! Don't be silly!" Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's "Mad Money" who has been advertised as one of the most influential voices on Wall Street.

I don't know who Peter is but I hoped he learned to follow his own instincts when investing. Bear Stearns lost 90 per cent of its value before being sold to JP Morgan Chase at fire sale prices. Which leads me to believe that trusting the advice of a guy who is the Wall Street equivalent of Crazy Gideon seems like a bad idea.

"...The risks to maritime flows of oil are far smaller than is commonly assumed. First, tankers are much less vulnerable than conventional wisdom holds. Second, limited regional conflicts would be unlikely to seriously upset traffic, and terrorist attacks against shipping would have even less of an economic effect. Third, only a naval power of the United States strength could seriously disrupt oil shipments." -- Dennis Blair and Kenneth Lieberthal, Foreign Affairs.

That was before a group of Somali pirates in rubber boats hijacked a Saudi tanker containing 2 million barrels of oil. Back to the drawing boards.

"[A]nyone who says we're in a recession, or heading into one --- especially the worst one since the Great Depression --- is making up his own private definition of recession. Donald Luskin, The Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2008.

Luskin joined a host of other pundits who blamed the economic downturn on negativism and panic cooked up by the nation's media. I hope he didn't follow Jim Cramer's investment advice.

We can be thankful these gems from the psychic community did't pan out:

-Donald Trump loses a bet and shaves his head.

-A remake of "Gilligan's Island" will be pitched to Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy. They both accept.

-Britney Spears gets pregnant joining her 16 year old sister.

While these gaffes are real eyebrow raisers, they don't begin to approach some classics from the past.

For example:

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899.

"If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women." David Riesman, American social scientist, 1967.

"It will be gone by June." Variety, passing judgement on rock 'n roll in 1955.

"Reagan doesn't have that presidential look." United Artists executive, rejecting Ronald Reagan as lead in 1964 film "The Best Man."

"With over 15 types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself. " Business Week, August 2, 1968.

"Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure." Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison's light bulb, 1880.

"The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty,a fad." The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

"Space travel is bunk." Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of the UK, 1957, two weeks before Sputnik orbited the Earth.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1927.

"Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

And last but not least:"We will bury you." Nikita Krushchev, Soviet Premier, predicting Soviet communism will triumph over U.S. capitalism, 1958.

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