|»The Daily Reckoning by Bill Borner|
Certain Mistakes (Like Suicide Bombing) Can Only Be Made Once
20 NOVEMBER 2015
Stocks in America finished yesterday about even. The Fed says it will begin to leave its emergency low rates behind next month. But if anything goes wrong, it promises to back up fast.
If we were you, dear reader, we would stand clear.
Caterpillar posted another month of falling sales, making it 35 in a row. But the latest figures show something new - sales are now dropping in the US as well overseas.
Corporate profits have begun to fall too. And earnings per share would be going down as well, were it not for buybacks (which have reduced the number of shares).
Sales, meanwhile, which have been weak for the last seven years, are slipping badly in some sectors.
And default rates are increasing, with corporate debt back at 2008 highs. (Corporations used 100% of this debt, unwisely in our view, buying their own shares.)
Scene in a Paris Restaurant Last Night...
A middle-aged man, balding, French, with a grumpy look, sat down at a nearby table. Then, we heard a screech coming from the front door. Turning around, a young boy, about five years old, was being dragged by his mother towards the same table.
'Shussh...' the woman said.
The boy put up a little fight, but went along...sat down...fidgeted...occasionally letting out another yelp or whine.
Mother and child looked almost exactly alike...and nothing like the man they joined. Black hair, sharp noses, olive skin, dark eyes.
They reminded us of people we had seen in an illustrated history book. Parthians? Or Scythians? Or Assyrians? Strange-looking people.
The woman had an intense, slightly off-putting expression, as though she could pull out a curved knife and slit a throat at any moment. Neither smiling nor frowning, she showed no emotion, not when trying to manage her child nor when talking to the man in front of her.
A little later, a girl and her mother came in. The girl was about 15 and looked exactly like the man at the table next to us - blonde, blue eyes, squarish face.
The mother was about 50, a little overweight but still attractive. Reddish hair. Glasses. The two groups exchanged pleasantries. Then, mother and daughter sat at a nearby table and ordered their meal.
When the first group had finished, the Parthians, mother and son, got up and left. The man got up too, but before leaving went over to the other table. For the first time, he smiled...
He and the woman talked about parking tickets and phone bills. He kissed the young girl and then left.
'What was that all about,' we asked Elizabeth.
'Wasn't it obvious? The man took up with that young woman and had a child with her. Now he regrets it.'
Life is full of regrets. Regrets give you experience. Experience helps you avoid mistakes. Alas, life is too short; some mistakes like - suicide bombing and wrecking dad's car on prom night - you get to make only once.
And what a delight it is to have a wife at our side to explain it to us.
What follows comes from our archives. It is an account of one of our trips together to London in June of 2007.
God Only Knows
Elizabeth has joined me on this trip to London. On a business trip! It is a pleasure to have her with me; we work so well together.
What couple ever divided its labour more exquisitely? I earn; she spends. I write; she reads. I listen; she talks. She is sunny; I rain. I worry about the important things: money, politics, global warming, war; and she thinks about the trivial problems of everyday life: what we eat, where we live, how we spend our money, and how the children are getting along...
We make such a perfect team...as if designed to fit together by nature...or God Himself.
Elizabeth chose a play for us last night: God Only Knows, written by a fellow named Whitemore, which promised cultural and intellectual enrichment.
The play opens with a discussion of the LTCM hedge fund debacle of the late 90s.
You will recall that LTCM blew up after its Nobel Prize winners miscalculated the odds on certain very risky investment strategies. Things that were supposed to be 'once-in-a-billion-years' events actually happened within a couple years after the hedge fund began operating.
'People just want to believe that they can do the impossible,' explains one of the characters on stage. 'They want to feel they can do what you're not supposed to be able to do.'
The two couples, relaxing one evening while on vacation in Italy, are interrupted by the arrival of another Englishman...a man on the run. Who is he? What is he running from? What has he done?
It develops that the man is a scholar, Humphrey Biddulph, who has been working on some old documents in Rome. Into his hands has come a particularly explosive piece of paper - a letter from a Roman senator, written in 110 years AD.
The letter, whose authenticity is uncertain, reveals that the Senator's grandfather had participated in what - if true - would have been the biggest con of all time.
He claims that the Romans staged the resurrection of Jesus by getting a lookalike to pose as the Nazarene after the crucifixion.
Why would the Romans do such a thing? Because they found it difficult to keep their subject populations - Jews, Gauls, Britons, Levantines, Aramatheans - under control. (They never got control of the Parthians.)
To a group of people who were the enemy of so many other groups, 'Love Thine Enemy' had an appealing ring.
And so, according to the letter writer, the Romans conspired to pull off the greatest scam in history, creating a phony resurrection for the man who preached turning the other cheek.
And what a spectacular success! The martyred Jesus was a big hit - bigger than Che or Abraham Lincoln.
Within a few centuries, Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Empire. Now the sandal was on the other foot.
The Holy Roman Catholic Church, to which your editor owes qualified allegiance, then began to persecute non-believers and suppress contrary opinion.
'But what does this have to do with you...what are you afraid of?' asks one of the vacationers.
Ah, glad you asked. I made the nearly fatal mistake, explained the man on the run, of revealing the letter to a Roman Catholic priest.
'Don't you see?' he continues, 'If the letter is authentic, no resurrection. No resurrection, and the whole of Christianity rests on a lie.'
The owner of the letter died in a mysterious car crash days later. And now, 'they' are out to get our hero, Humphrey Biddulph... Don't you see, dear reader?
Whitmore spends the second half of the play telling us that Christianity is all a big lie. And that the Roman Catholic Church has been ruthlessly suppressing the truth for 2,000 years.
'Jesus could not have been born when they say he was born...' explains Biddulp. 'And there is no historical evidence for the "massacre of the innocents". Besides, Herod was dead four years before Jesus was supposedly born. And the Virgin Birth? Completely made up. The word used in the original testaments meant "young woman", which was mistranslated into Greek as "virgin"d. And the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the Holy Trinity, celibacy, and Papal Infallibility - all of it invented by the Roman Catholic Church...and all of it nonsense.'
'Faith', he continues, spitting out the words, 'is just an excuse for cowardice and irresponsibility. People don't want to face up to the truth.'
If only The Truth were so easily faced. Blabbery Trotskyites, blustery patriots, and self-assured playwrights could produce reams of it - enough to overwhelm whatever secrets might be hidden in Vatican vaults.
But truth is as hard to confront as it is to suppress. Even in the 21s century, truth does not expose herself readily. She hides as easily in a mountain of information as a desert of ignorance.
Even in this Information Age, dear reader, there are questions for which the World Wide Web hath no answers, and problems for which not even Janet Yellen - the best-known public servant since Pontius Pilate - hath no solutions...
And for every tiny fragment of truth you find...there are some dozen bloody fools who went bankrupt and mad...were crucified by their own hands and now rant in some particularly sweaty corner of Hell.
The vacationers offer only token resistance. 'Religion is very useful,' says one. 'Without it there would be moral anarchy.'
'I don't care what you say,' says another. 'I still believe.'
What a pity.
As for The Truth, God only knows. But it would have been such a better play if the others had put up a good fight. Catholic scholars and Bible thumpers alike have been debating these points for centuries.
Surely they could have given the know-it-all Mr Whitemore a good thumping. They're very good at it.
'What that play needs is a good Jesuit,' Elizabeth remarked.