The Vomit Comet

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Years ago, people assumed I was really good in math, because I got mixed up in microcomputers starting in 1979. For some reason, people thought computer geeks were math wizards. I wasn’t. I was a writer, as I am to this day. So metaphors, not math, are more my thing.

A few days ago, one came to mind which struck me as particularly good, so I thought I would share it. So join me on a mental model which I think will help explain the past nine years.

Imagine that you find yourself on the interior of an airplane. Its fuselage is largely empty, with merely a flat floor so that people can stand.

To your surprise, you see a man standing over a man who is laying on the floor, and the standing man is gripping an anvil directly over the other man’s head. Neither of them seem particularly concerned.

The sort of thing Gartman might want to invest in.

“Hey, what do you think if I let go of this thing?” he asks you. Horrified, you scream out that he should not.

Unimpressed with your entreaties, he releases it, and your heart seizes. However………..the anvil floats harmlessly in the air. The other people in the plane start laughing at your fear, and they commence to going about their business.

Unbeknownst to you, you are a passenger on the legendary “vomit comet”, the jet which goes to a high altitude and then enters a controlled dive, allowing those inside to experience a zero-gravity environment.

Wheeeeee!

For reasons that defy explanation (this is a poetic metaphor, after all), this circumstance goes on for days…….and weeks………and months. The “anvil over the head” prank is played out again and again. Sometimes they even ask you, “What’s going to happen?”, and you tell them that the anvil will fall on the other man’s head and kill him.

And yet it never happens. In spite of a lifelong experience with gravity and its effects, you are, in fact, absolutely wrong in your speculation about what should take place. The rules you’ve known all your life no longer apply. After years of this, when they ask you, you just stare forlornly down and answer, “I dunno. I guess the anvil will just float.” And it does.

One day, though, without warning, this all ends. The guy’s standing over the other guy. He’s got the anvil. Everyone is smirking at you. The anvil is released……….and blood and bone go flying all over the cabin. Everyone, including you, is in a state of shock, because what should happen – – what normally happens – – actually happened. And now you’ve got a guy with a squished head to deal with.

This, I believe, is what took place this quarter, starting precisely on October 1st. For nine solid years, people had become accustomed to defying the rules. Even though they didn’t understand the circumstances that created their situation (think of Plato’s cave allegory), their experience inside the jet shaped their internal ruleset about how life is supposed to operate.

You, being the only sane member inside the cabin, had to witness and deal with this. And, based on the fact that your assertions about how gravity works and the dangers of hanging out beneath anvils, you were wrong again and again……….and again. So much so that THEY seemed sensible and YOU were the crazy.

But no one told any of you that the jet had landed. It’s out of fuel. And it’s not going to be airborne anymore. The old rules are back.

The dangerous thing, of course, is that you’ve got a cockpit full of people (many of whom are probably eager for a bathroom break, but that’s besides the point) who are absolutely convinced that the so-called rules do not, and should not, apply. And, crazy as it is, there are going to be a lot more anvil experiments, and a lot more crushed heads, until people realize that gravity is back in style again, and they’ve spent the past nine years getting tricked by exogenous forces that no longer exist.

Old habits die hard. The next two years are going to be extraordinary.

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