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Alex Castaldo continues:

Mercury mainly damages the Central Nervous System. Some of the symptoms include tremors and memory loss, (the mad hatter).

Arsenic is a slow acting poison that gradually builds up in the body, as the body finds it difficult to eliminate. Visible symptoms include skin lesions and an increased cancer risk

Bill Egan comments:

Arsenic interferes with the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the cell's energy source. Arsenic is also a carcinogen. Arsenic might then be analogous to high interest rates which drain money from the system. Cancers are useless cells which drain resources, such as companies like Enron, and so fraud might be a carcinogen.

Mercury damages existing proteins via direct interaction and oxidative stress. It also prevents the formation of new proteins. Mercury is also believed to interfere in the function of selenium containing enzymes by binding to the selenium and making the enzyme lose activity. The central nervous system and kidney are prime targets for damage from mercury.

Proteins can be thought of as both the infrastructure of the body and its messengers. Enzymes convert one thing into another without being used up themselves. Marklet toxins similar to mercury would damage information processing and market infrastructure (exchanges/brokers/market makers). Thus, the effects of Al-Qaeda's attack on the WTC and world-wide markets would be mercury-like.

The action of mercury producing kidney damage is an interesting thought. Our bodies die if we cannot excrete waste products. Markets which are not permitted to remove waste, such as failing or bankrupt companies, would be damaged, too. Tariffs which protect poor industries from more able foreign competition might fall into this category. Banks making bad loans to poorly performing companies and then receiving taxpayer bail-outs alos come to mind. Gov't interference=mercury?

C Sork comments:

Unfortunately, my college schedule didn't allow for time to take the seminar in Forensic Chemistry, but I have always been intrigued by the stories of a jilted spouse exposing herself to small, but growing levels of arsenic over a long period of time in order to develop a tolerance. She then poisons her husband by adding a lethal amount to his meal, while her newfound resistance helps to disguise the nature of her crime.

There is almost certainly an investing parallel in there.

I have never heard of this type of tale describing a husband murdering his wife. Always the other way round.

Sushil Kedia adds:

The Encyclopedia of forensic science (a guide to the science behind crime investigation) by Brian Lane, that I purchased after reading the Chair's interest in applying parallels from Forensic Science to the markets a year ago describes the chemical reaction behind the occurrence of all forms of death as one wherein the body becomes incapacitated to absorb oxygen and thus leads to a dwindling of energy for functioning of the various organs including the heart and the brain.

Though this excellent manual covers good amount of ground on a wide expanse of topics in forensics it has failed to describe the precise chemical reactions that are behind the reactions leading to an oxygen cutoff.

In the case of both Arsenic and Mercury poisoning the body does display a bluing of the skin (due to the obvious oxygen cutoff) Arsenic has a unique property of being deposited in small amounts within the body and a conspirator can administer it in small doses over a long period of time to reach the threshold when the body would cave in. This made Arsenic a highly popular poison in the 19th century Europe leading the passing of the Arsenic Act, 1851 in the UK making it mandatory for a pharmacist to sell Arsenic to only a person known to him. Even a normal human being has about a millionth of the body weight equivalent Arsenic deposited in his/her bodies stacked inside hairs/nails. Arsenic can be found after several decades in bodies buried after death and does stays deposited in roughly the same amount as administered in a body. One of the most lethal 'irritant poisons' that invariably gives feelings of depression in the subject who has been administered.

In case of mercury the single dose is important in whether it merely creates dysfunctionality or causes death but is not mentioned to be one where slow poisoning can be effected. Both have several salts through which they could be administered (mercury even in the form of vapors is lethal) and both have a commonality as poisons to be damaging the stomach and the intestines.

The Clinical symptoms, fatal periods and post-mortem symptoms can differ so greatly with the use of individual mercuric salts that the encyclopedia finds it difficult to accommodate that in a 800 page manual on the broad science of forensics.

Another perspective that may have a bearing on understanding markets from this lens that I picked up while ferreting for relevant information was that no more than 6% deaths due to poisoning are reported in murders in the modern world. Primarily, the reason is that availability of poisons to murderers are getting more difficult in the modernizing world and generally the doubt of the involvement of a medical professional with the murderer in the case of poisoning is highly probable.

Phillip J McDonnell suggests:

Two pieces of trivia may be noteworthy in this discussion.

First, Hitler instructed his personal physician to give him small carefully increasing dosages of arsenic during his last year of life. He miraculosly survived the bomb plot involving Rommel et al. He had reason to fear a second attempt and wanted to build a tolerance. Historians have speculated that the poison may have driven him mad during his final year. My quibble with that claim is the poison may have driven him madder.

Criminal profilers have long known that men tend to perform murder in a violent way. The weaker sex tends to use stealth and deception to achieve their ends and thus poison is often the method of choice.

Steve B observes:

I am not a specialist on any chemicals but it would appear that market actions may act like chemicals to the receptive brain. In this sense poison chemicals such as poison news of terrorist acts - which may be plotted for a Friday to get the most news effect - may cause investors to act if they are poisoned. Could it be that poison is the noise in the markets?

Bill Egan adds:

A technical point - CO does not "beat oxygen to the blood platelets." CO has a binding affinity for hemoglobin that is approx. 250-300 times greater than O2. Exposure to an atmosphere of 0.1% CO is sufficient to convert 50% of your oxyhemoglobin to carboxyhemoglobin. Put another way, both O2 and CO each move at the same speed but CO sticks much harder and longer when it reaches hemoglobin. This is why CO kills you - any exposure to even small amounts of CO will permit the CO to displace O2 from hemoglobin. CO then comes off the hemoglobin much more slowly than O2, so you run out of O2 even if you are breathing plenty of O2 into your lungs. The O2 cannot get on the taxi (hemoglobin) and get to where it is needed, so you effectively suffocate. Normally, conversion of 50% of your oxyhemoglobin to carboxyhemoglobin is fatal, but cases have been reported when 20-30% conversion was fatal. From 1979-1988, there were 56,133 deaths related to CO exposure. Perversely, carboxyhemoglobin has a cherry red color and so one thing forensic investigators look for is whether victims have a "healthy glow" to their skin. Nifty stuff, that carboxyhemoglobin - I had to make some from my own blood once for an experiment and it really does look like that.

Riz Din comments:

I recently watched a docu-drama on the first emperor of China (Qin Shihuang). Being a mere mortal was not good enough for the emperor and in a search for the elixir of life, Qin consumed balls that contained mercury. His advisers prescribed these to him as a possible solution to his quest to live forever. As previous contributors have discussed, mercury is extremely poisonous. It drove him to paranoia, insanity and led to his eventual death. Lessons for market practitioners relate to the potential consequence of outsized ambitions, the risk of being misguided and accepting elixirs of supernormal returns from others, and the problem of continuing to carry out a particular practice that you think might be good for you, but that is actually eating away at your capability to survive over the long-term.