People believe what they see

This article was originally published on Five Thôt.

If a politician looks intelligent, he’ll be a good president. If a car looks shiny, it’s a good purchase. If an economic policy looks like it will help people, it must be a good idea.

“Who are you going to believe,” my dad used to say. “Me or your own lying eyes?”

In 1850, the great French economist Frédéric Bastiat wrote an essay entitled Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (“That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen”) that described how people are fooled by what they see. Continue reading

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The Gothic Survivor

This article was originally published on Five Thôt.

Winston Churchill, a historian and something of a cynic, wrote, “History is written by the winners.”  Even if that’s too cynical for your taste, you have to admit that history can only be written by the survivors.  More importantly, it tends to be written about the survivors. You have to last around long enough to do something worth writing about.  Sometimes, just the act of surviving is enough. Continue reading

The Last Battle of Nathan Bedford Forrest

History forgets more than it remembers. What we know about even important days in the lives of notable people is fragmentary and misleading. We theorize. We patch the holes in what we know with a rough mortar of what we hope or fear or guess.

For instance, we don’t know for certain what the weather was like that day, Independence Day, July 4th, 1875. The weather records only go back to 1902, but it’s almost always hot in the summer in Memphis, so let’s say it was hot. There were no photographs of the ceremony. A reporter from a Nashville paper scribbled down what was said, who knows how accurately. Like much of life, what follows is guesswork.

Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA (retired), was only 54 years old on that hot day, standing there in the hot sun on the fairground just outside Memphis. Only 54, but war ages a man, and the failure and notoriety that marred his life since had aged him still more. His back hurt from the injury he got at Corinth Road, and his feet throbbed. Continue reading

The Chubby Blonde Hypothesis

This article was originally published on Five Thôt.

Remember that old TV show “The Odd Couple”? There was an episode where Felix Unger (played by the inimitable Tony Randall) is trying to get out of a citation for scalping theater tickets. He cross-examines the complaining witness about whether he ever asked her for money for the tickets. “No,” she admits, “I just assumed…”

“Never assume!” Felix thunders. He goes to the court-room’s blackboard to explain. “When you ‘assume’, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’!”

Clever wordplay aside, assumptions can be dangerous. It’s very easy to forget that they were assumptions and confuse what you’ve assumed with what you know.

But you only live once. Let’s live dangerously. Let’s throw caution to the wind and make some assumptions — and the riskiest kind: assumptions about men and women. Continue reading