The Time Of The Asterisk

One cliché that get’s bandied around more than any other today is, “Well, it’s different this time.” The problem with that statement is its ability to be both right and wrong for different reasons, while simultaneously being the exact phrase to sum things up. I’m beginning to think we’re trying to use words to put into context what we all understand when we see it displayed on paper or in text. The symbol * known as the asterisk.

Everything today seems to need an asterisk beside it. From baseball, to politics. Nothing, and I mean nothing seems to be able to stand true for what ever the reasons.

Baseball, the world of stats and figures where numbers were referred to in the same context as religions look upon their holy writ. Now? Can anyone with a true passion for the game and love for the history and records look honestly at today’s home run record and more without feeling the need for an asterisk?

This once regarded use of trying to clarify a statement, stat, or what ever so one could put things into their proper context is now used as a way to justify every attempt as to deceive or cloud with some form of legalese. In my view the term, “Beware of the fine print” has morphed into “Should there be an * here?”

So much so is the world now in need of asterisks everywhere it’s hard to know if anything is either real – or should be believed.

Off the top of my head as I’m sitting here typing I could list a page full. Rather for brevity here’s just a few…

  • China’s opening ceremony fireworks display for the Olympics® on television. Breathtakingly spectacular*. (Many “displays” were video generated and inserted for television.)
  • Olympic athlete competes and wins gold medal. This runner is considered by many to be the worlds fastest man*. (Unlike his competitors that actually have human feet, he is equipped with mechanical prosthesis.)
  • Whitney Houston delivers one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner at ’91 Super Bowl®*. (Prerecorded and lip-synced.)* Although for my money it still stands as one, if not the best ever. Lip-synced or not.
  • You must pay your taxes or face penalties, fines, or imprisonment*. (Unless you want to be in charge of the very agency that enforces those rules. As evidenced with the appointment of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.)
  • A lower Unemployment rate means more people are finding jobs and back to work*. (Only using Bureau of Labor Statistics accounting practices. i.e., 100 people have jobs – 10 get laid off – UE rate = 10%. Inform BLS for next report those 10 workers will not be rehired. New count 90 people. No additional lay off – Unemployment now at 0% or full employment*.) (Unless you’re 1 of the 10.)

I could go on however, I believe you see my point. Nothing means what it originally meant anymore. This use of the asterisk has now morphed into some type of art form. A marketer’s dream. Anything and everything can be explained away by using some form of verbal asterisk and the fine print be damned. To me, this is an all and out assault on rationale. Just what means what anymore?

We look at financial markets today with soaring stock prices and more. Yet, anyone with a minute understanding of business knows it’s nothing but another bubble forming. The only people pushing the idea that it’s not are people directly tied to making their income from people believing; “This time it’s different!”

You don’t get to call a market “great” when all the reasons for why it should be much lower as reasons why it’s now “fantastic and time to jump in with both feet.”

How can people come on television, write in syndicated media or more that the markets are “solid, and going higher” when Wall Street itself is hemorrhaging staff by the thousands. Still!

Analyst’s, commentators, and more all come on and say this, that, and the other thing to explain why this stock is up. That stock is up, and more. Then what does one have to wait for? The verbal cue or verbal asterisk. (*Unless the Fed stops pumping.)

If I hear one more time about cash on the sidelines I really believe I’m going to hurl. “Corporate balance sheets are so strong right now, just wait till they start deploying cash.” (Quick, where’s my antacid?) Or, the creme de le creme, “Buy with confidence because the Fed’s got your back…Booya!” (Please, if there’s a Lord above. When a buzzer gets pushed have it open a trap door beneath him…Just once, that would really be comedy!)

Now here’s the real guts of it. So far they’ve been correct. And, a person like myself can be labeled with monikers such as, “Chicken Little,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and many more. However, I’m far more comfortable with people that don’t or wont indulge in any fact finding or the doing of any research calling me or others like myself wrong.

In today’s world there are just far, far too many that want to take what ever is told to them as truth never to look or see if possibly there might be some form of asterisk present. Whether printed, or insinuated verbally.

In this time of the asterisk there will be one “*” that will have more relevance to everyone. Especially those currently not feeling the need to pay attention where, when, or how once empirical (or important) data is being generated or reported. The consequences of not knowing will be far more than superficial down the road.

Who’s advice or reasoning are you putting weight behind? The people telling you everything is great and hunky dory while applying asterisks to nearly everything they give as evidence or reasons?

Or the others that say everything is not as it appears and, if not for the dazzling use of asterisks – most would be charged with libel.

It’s time for all to understand how much meaning is behind such a small little symbol.
* (see footnote)

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr

*footnote: If anything I state is either right or wrong and turns out to be the exact opposite, that should be taken as exactly how I meant it. What’s wrong maybe right, and what’s right might turn out wrong. This way my stat as being always correct remains unblemished*. (Except with my wife.)