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Fair Game, Amateur Traders and Tapioca

Stan Jonas once told me about… and I made it my home page. Every day it has links to all sorts of new articles, books reviews and essays.

The other day there was an article by Carl Elliot, a professor of bioethics at Minnesota, about the use of beta blockers in Olympic competition. I had read something about this before. Beta blockers were first used competitively by classical pianists and other musicians to still their nerves, and are now used by pistol shooters in competition as well. Elliot claims they stop the symptoms of your nervousness (trembling fingers, etc) but not the nerves, and so it’s OK to use them. If your hands don’t tremble anyhow, they won’t help you; if they do, they will; hence, if I represent him correctly, it’s OK for everyone to use them and not to ban them; they only help those people who have a problem. Steroids, on the other hand, help everyone, and so, counter-intuitively it seems to me, since they help everyone, are unfair. Beta-blockers equalize, steroids unequalize.

The whole question of what constitutes legitimate drug use in competition – distinguishing between enhancement (steroids) vs cure (sudafed for a runny nose, cortisone for allergies) always eventually leads me to the unwelcome conclusion that if caffeine goes then anything goes. Caffeine helps everyone.

I find it depressing how hard it is to come up with a consistent argument for anything in the human sphere, from taxes to sports. Once you draw a line in the sand, there are a million reasons for why you should move it. There used to be amateur sports and athletes used to get expelled for taking small gifts of money, and now we have paid professionals at the Olympics. Roger Bannister, who was a real medical student, was amateur enough to go mountain climbing in Scotland to relax the week before his assault on the four-minute mile, which was apparently just the wrong thing to do from a training point of view. And even he used rabbits for each quarter mile to pace him, which seems unfair to me, using a team approach rather than an individual one. By the way, for interest’s sake, at least mine, he broke the four-minute mile at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, which was cinder and ONE-THIRD of a mile around, not the traditional quarter-mile.

Now that there seems to be a movement to change the name of Black-Merton-Scholes to Bachelier-Thorp, I have my own proposal. Since amateur athletes are people who pay for themselves and don’t take external sources of money — that is, are self-financing — I would like to propose that we no longer use the word self-financing to describe trading strategies that borrow the money they need, but call them rather ‘amateur’ trading strategies. It’s a much nicer word.

Anyhow, this led me to look up some more stuff by Elliot on the web, and I found he’d written several articles about otherwise healthy people who want, and go to great lengths, to have some of their limbs amputated. God knows why. But it reminded me of a great science fiction book I read many many years ago, and I’m not a science fiction fan. It was called Limbo 90 then and is now called simply Limbo, written by Bernard Wolfe in the Sixties and set in the Cold-War Nineties. As I recall, a pilot in the Western bloc has gone AWOL to escape his duties and leaves behind a diary in which he cynically suggests that the only way to disarm society is to dis-arm them, literally. Then he crash-lands in Madagascar or some other tropical island and lives there happily in a Gaugain-like paradise with his new-found native woman, eating tapioca (very important for feeling peaceful) and living peacefully. (Tapioca is really good if you make it from scratch. Rice pudding is merely poor man’s tapioca.) Meanwhile, cynical politicians find his diary and take it seriously, starting a political movement in which people voluntarily have one or more of their limbs amputated in order to promote and fulfill disarmament. It gets more complex etc. Meanwhile some of the amputees are willing to use prosthetics, because you can remove them when you feel violent. Prosthetics engineering moves ahead by leaps and bounds, the Olympic Games then becomes a cold-war battle between the prosthetic engineers, in which the Eastern bloc athletes one day show up and high jump a hundred and sixty feet. And so on. Eventually the pilot returns and then ?

I have been busy with a psychiatrist friend of mine studying the effect of tapioca pudding on the PET scans of traders brains. I’m not allowed to say too much, but I will point out that there is a long-term boom in commodities and that you can trade tapioca futures on the AFET, in case you didn’t know.

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