Building Pyramids on Mars
The Week in Review -- September 18, 1998
by Jerry Thomas (

Greetings, Fools.

One more week ticks by. The markets rise and fall like the humidity, like the hope of nations, like blobs in a lava lamp. Winds keep blowing, rains keep raining, chartists keep charting. The stock market remains as inscrutable as an Old Navy Jeans commercial.

A thousand years ago times six, people looked at the sky and knew, somehow, that it was important. They invented astrology to help them understand it. Never mind that it wasn't true; that wasn't the point. What mattered was that they believed it, and blind faith will do a lot to calm your nerves when you are afraid that a flood will wash away your village. Today, despite our modern pretensions, we are no less irrational. We see shadowy faces in fuzzy photographs of Mars, and know that it must mean something. And so we build Martian civilizations in our imaginations. Crop circles appear in English fields and crank theories blossom around them, attributing the phenomenon to alien pranksters in UFOs or to plasmic fluctuations in the aether.

There is a book called You Have More Than You Think, by David and Tom Gardner. I'm thinking of writing a sequel called And Not Only That, You're Probably Thinking Too Much. We complicate things that are simple for no rational purpose that I can imagine. People will stare at a stock chart until their eyes go fuzzy, trying to make sense of the senseless. They will plot their trend lines and their resistance levels, their Bollinger Bands and their Leibnitz Pre-Harmonic Oscillators. Most of that time would be better spent building pyramids on Mars.

We human beings, we very Foolish human beings (and let's not forget, we are all of us, at bottom, only Fools), will complicate our lives by multiplying our hopes by our fears. We will make those emotions contend with each other in our imaginations, and stage those dramas in a theatre called The Unknown. Consider the Millennium Problem, the unsettling proposition that all our computers will fail on January 1, 2000, just 469 days from now. What frightful demons we have conjured to torment us from that realm. Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck), who seems to have been very busy this week, took a close look at the hysteria in a Foolish five-part Y2K series. Frankly, in reading it, I am troubled not so much by the very real difficulties presented by this annoying computer glitch, but more so by the grand schemes of mayhem some people have dangled from this particular hook. But I'll leave that tale for Yi-Hsin to tell.

So what shall we make of this week? Stocks went up when Alan Greenspan looked chipper; stocks went down when Alan Greenspan looked dour. Jeff Fischer called it a "full circle" in Thursday's Fool Portfolio Report, which I mention here not because it is of any great consequence -- it's not -- but simply because it is a splendid piece of writing. Jeff considers the circuitous nature of the markets. From time to time they will wander senselessly, at random. Is it not more intelligent to accept its sometimes senseless nature than to build imaginary pyramids on Mars to explain the odd shadows on the landscape?

Life goes on in Fooldom, same as usual, same as ever. We have a regular feature called Dueling Fools, where two combatants square off to debate the pros and cons of a given stock or a given issue. This week, Dale Wettlaufer (TMF Ralegh) and Yi-Hsin Chang went at it like pro wrestlers in a steel cage match over the prospects of Nike (NYSE: NKE), the legendary sneaker maker that just might have worn a hole in its sole. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a new buy was announced for the Drip Portfolio. It's Mellon Bank (NYSE: MEL). The purchase was proclaimed Wednesday, and Jeff Fischer (TMF Jeff) examined the new position further on Thursday. One more week ticks by.

Most exciting to me -- and yes, I do get excited about such things -- are the changes occurring in our Community. New message boards have been created, and new categories of message boards have been established as venues to hold them. Stop in and find the new Fools of a Feather message boards, where Fools -- college students, Baby Boomers, Wall Street professionals -- who share a common interest can meet. There are boards now dedicated to the devotees of certain Books -- Gorilla Gamers and Buffettologists. And then there is the Fool Cafe, a place where nonsense and tomFoolery are especially prized. Please, register with our community and join the conversation.

Also, let me recommend member Anne Duncan's marvelous Fribble, which appeared on Tuesday. Anne recounts her steady evolution toward Foolishness. Perhaps, after reading it, you might even imagine yourself taking a similar journey. And I can't resist making mention of "Starrgate or Stockgate," the Friday Fribble where Bob Bobala (TMF Bobala) has some Foolish fun with the current shenanigans in Washington.

Finally, please remember to stop by the The Motley Fool bright and early next Monday morning, when we'll be expanding our coverage of the markets with our new feature, Breakfast with the Fool.

Until next week,
Fool on!



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