In honor of Harold Camping's end-of-world prediction for May 21, CNBC has this fun collection of "14 Spectacularly Wrong Predictions." They're good. Some I'd not seen before. (Yes, I do collect them in a file.) But take note of the ones they missed. The impossibility of flying machines, for instance. Or that electric power would ever be generated from the atom. Or that Hitler would be satisfied with stealing Czechoslovakia.
Or that movies with sound were a bad idea. ("Who wants to hear actors talk," the kind of thing you'd expect Hitchcock to have said, but it was Harry Warner, in 1927. What Hitch said was: "It is not true that I said actors are cattle. I said they should be treated like cattle." Goldwyn was on the money when he insisted that the advent of larger cinema screens would only make lousy pictures twice as bad.
In 1998, Russian political writer Igor Panarin predicted a 2010 U.S. civil war that would end with some of the world's other major nations carving up the Republic. Chalk it up to the author's likely sour grapes over the Soviet empire's collapse just seven years earlier. I delight in Panarin's op-ed having appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which has been spreading misinformation at least since 1929, when it editorialized that this stock-market-crash-thingy would blow over in a few months. Panarin doesn't rank among the greats in the Errant Prophets pantheon, having given himself a lot of wiggle room: "There's a 55 to 45 percent chance right now that disintegration will occur,” he wrote. I know I'm being picky here, but I would talk with the EU about trading our newly acquired Mountain and Plains states for New York and New England.
This exquisitely timed bestselling crackpot theory appeared in 1999 (and was excerpted in the then-conservative Atlantic Monthly), just before the dot-com bust and the Dow's plunge to 7,286 by October 2002. The Dow reached a new low, of 6,500, in early 2009 after the onset of the Great Recession. Under Obama, the Dow has recovered 91% of the ground lost since then, leaving the authors just 22,559 points shy of where they said the market would be by the mid-2000s.
Glassman went on to succeed Karen Hughes as George W. Bush's undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, becoming the third person to try and fail in that Bush-created post to repair America's declining popularity abroad. Glassman was later named first head of the George W. Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University.
Co-author Kevin Hassett was later an economics advisor to 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, whose economics policy team also included Carly Fiorina, earlier fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. who last year bucked the Republican tide and failed to win a U.S. Senate in California for the GOP, inflicted with a drubbing by incumbent Barbara Boxer. So, no, Rummy and "Brownie" were not exceptions to Dubya's preference to surround himself with incompetents.
With the advent of TV, Hollywood went from producing several hundred films a year to the current 100 or so. The studio chiefs were sore about the new competition. Studio exec Darryl F. Zanuck famously predicted in 1946 that TV would never catch on. "Television won't be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months," Zanuck said. "People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." In 2010, the average American watches almost five hours of TV a day.
I've always been inclined to give Zanuck a break on this. TV technology had been around since the 1920s, was officially launched at the 1939 World's Fair in New York by the legendary Robert Sarnoff, but didn't find its mass audience until well into the 1950s. Reception was grainy, you had a choice of four or five channels, and the content was limited to the likes of "My Mother the Car" and "Ed The Talking Horse" until the advent of cable in the 1970s.
Harold Camping, as you know, says he was merely off by a few months, that Judgment Day will now occur October 21. I have my bucket list ready:
* Impound the assets of the Catholic Church in Canada until Rome gets serious about tracking down every active and retired pedophile in the priesthood, from monsignors to bishops to cardinals to the Holy Father himself, if it comes to that. (Of course, I'd have to be PM to do this, and that's not on my bucket list, so a bit of a quandary there.)
* Get myself appointed Stephen Harper's chief handler. I think of it as a The King's Speech scenario. I'd impose on Harper a drop-dead date for completing his NHL history, which I expect will be a marvelous tome and would also distract him for awhile from mucking about with the country. I'd arrange for at least three high-profile piano concerto appearances a year; the man's a superb pianist, and he's already given at least one well-received performance with a top orchestra. And lots of pictures of Harper with the kids, whom he overtly adores, and with Laureen, possibly being driven about on her Harley.
* Buy the Maple Leafs and turn it into a hockey team.
* Meet Nelson Mandela and George Clooney.
* Meet Lloyd Blankfein and punch him in the nose. I've never hit anyone. But it's all I can think of, since the law chooses not to touch him, and Goldman Sachs has been a very naughty company.