a.) Ron Popeil invents an excellent product, the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, but it becomes a best selling product because of his exceptional selling skills;
b.) Most popular food products are more diverse in the last 20 years to meet different consumers seeking what they like best but Heinz ketchup, which covers all 5 tastes - sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (the last the “proteiny full-bodied taste of chicken soup” / it adds body to foods), defies the trend;
c.) Nassim Talub is the ultimate contrarian betting there will always be major unexpected events in the stock market. He loses money for months at a time but when there is a sudden significant shift, such as 9-11, he makes huge sums. It is the ultimate sell when high and hold until low strategy. What makes his strategy unique is that he does not have to time the highs or lows. By dealing in options he automatically times them. He has a wonderful simple analogy. Seeing 100,000 white swans does not prove all swans are white. Seeing 1 black swan is proof. The only risk I can see if the market ever does a black swan of stability for years. It has not happened since the market was invented. I try to minimize risk by diversifying investments and investing in good companies. I would like his strategy but I think there is a lot of skill in identifying when to buy options. The patience needed is mind boggling;
d.) Plagiarism – He discusses a British playwright, Bryony Lavery, who significantly copied from an article he wrote on serial killer psychiatrist, Dorothy Lewis, for her play Frozen. Lewis reacts very negatively to the close, but not identical, character created on her persona. Gladwell is more nuanced arguing there is a “certain property fundamentalism” over-reacting against copying when near identical paraphrasing is accepted. He accepts her right to copy when not used in a new format – a play rather than a non-fiction article on a serial killer psychiatrist. Lavery gave attribution to a real life inspiration for another character but did not credit Gladwell as she thought it was “news”. Gladwell appears very accepting of Lavery’s statement she was “careless”. To me she was reckless and, possibly even worse for an artist she was lazy. She copied vivid images that gave power to the play. If she could not imagine these images attribution or paraphrasing were in order. I thought of the literary piracy of H.G. Wells in The Spinster and the Prophet. He mentioned historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I thought of Historians in Trouble. In both examples the members of the establishment are either excused or lightly punished. Judge Learned Hand wrote numerous judgments exploring copyright infringement during the 1920’s. Most recently there is the scathing British trial decision on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood / Holy Grail;
e.) Criminal profilers – Using the BTK killer as the focus he examines the history and practice of criminal profiling. Essentially he sees it as junk science.
It took me until near the end of the book to realize he is really a contrarian. He consistently supports conclusions that run contrary to conventional wisdom. He is a superb essayist. (Jan. 20/10)