I have written before about meaningless statements in finance, like "overdue correction." This sort of thing is not unique to finance, however.

Someone flipped his Mustang over the median and ran into a truck in Oklahoma City today. I am watching the news right now. The police say "speed was a contributing factor." Well, isn't speed a contributing factor in every automobile accident? How does one car hit another if speed is not a contributing factor? I suppose that if a car were parked precariously on the wall of a parking garage and the wind blew it off and it fell on to a car below that speed would not be a contributing factor, but that's about the only example I can think of.

What they mean, of course, is that excessive speed was likely what caused the accident, i.e., the idiot was doing 100mph around a turn and lost control. But if so, why not just say that?

It reminds me of the two years I spent on a federal grand jury (one or two days per month). A DEA agent was before the grand jury telling us about a drug bust, and he emphasized that the suspect had a "saleable amount" of cocaine.

I asked him what a saleable amount was. He said "He had X grams, and that is enough to sell." I said "But isn't any amount of cocaine a saleable amount?" He said "Well, he had X grams."

I said, "I understand, it's just that you didn't say that he had 'an amount' of cocaine. You said he had a saleable amount. I am trying to determine what the cutoff is for a saleable amount. If he had the tiniest amount on the eraser on a pencil, would that be a saleable amount"

He said, "Well, yes, you can sell any amount of cocaine."

And I said, "Well, that is my point, the phrase 'saleable amount' has no meaning, and you just use it for effect."

He started to say something, and then the Assistant US Attorney stepped in and stopped my line of questioning. Something also happened when I questioned the definition of "packaged for sale" when it comes to drugs. In short, unless it is scattered on the floor, it is packaged for sale.

Craig Mee replies:

I recently drove with my father. He has much driving experience, though he hadn't been on a highway for quite some time. With me in the passenger seat, he was tailgating cars at 100kph, not something he has normally done. The perception of distance and safety for him has obviously been impaired, as has sensing trouble with cars braking in front of him.

The relationship to the market is this: Having a good understanding of trading and knowing what needs to be achieved may be fine. But diminishing perceptions and feel for the market may interfere with results over time and might lead to a major disaster if not detected early.

My father also recently mentioned to me that life and death situations which he narrowly avoided in his youth, and did not think too much about at the time, had recently come back to haunt him in the shape of dreams and waking up in cold sweats.

Being on guard and aware of changes taking place is paramount.

Nigel Davies adds:

Consider how someone knows he's driving too fast. Speed tolerance varies greatly from one person to another. For me it's when I feel tired after the journey because of the stress. My body's telling me I wasn't fully in control. Of course, here in the UK there are so many speed cameras now that it is difficult to get so stressed without losing one's license.

Can this be applied to markets? Are constant feelings of market-related stress due to "lack of control" an important message from our bodies? 

Sam Humbert notes:

From After the Race, in James Joyce's 1914 collection Dubliners

The car ran on merrily with its cargo of hilarious youth. The two cousins sat on the front seat, Jimmy and his Hungarian friend sat behind. Decidedly Villona was in excellent spirits, he kept up a deep bass hum of melody for miles of the road. The Frenchmen flung their laughter and light words over their shoulders and often Jimmy had to strain forward to catch the quick phrase. This was not altogether pleasant for him as he had nearly always to make a deft guess at the meaning and shout back a suitable answer in the teeth of a high wind. Besides, Villona's humming would confuse anybody: the noise of the car, too.

Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money.


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