Catch-22: Chapters 22 & 23

Chapters Read:22. Milo the Mayor, 23. Nately’s Old Man

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Status Report: In the last thread, Greg remarked: “Is anyone else finding their humor being infected by the circular logic and non sequiturs used in the book? The witty remarks I make daily to friends and colleagues have started to sound like dialog from Catch-22.”

I thought nothing of the comment at the time. But the following day, I posted this to an online forum I frequent:

When more of a company's stock is purchased, the price per share goes up, right? And when more of it is sold, the price per share goes down. So say I buy a huge amount of company X's stock--so much stock that it actually causes the price per share to go up. Then I immediately sell it for a profit, causing the price to go back to it's original valuation. Then I buy it again ... and so on, continually making a profit out of thin air. Someone explain to me why this doesn't work--or does it.

And the day after that, I read chapter 22, in which Milo Minderbinder pretty much does exactly this.

It’s true! I’m infected with Heller-Ouroboros!

P.s. Halfway though, sucka.

Favorite Passage: “You put so much stock in winning wars,” the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. “The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.”

Words Looked Up:

    Pomade: A perfumed ointment, especially one used to groom the hair.

    Panatella: American Spanish, meaning ‘a long thin biscuit’ and Italian, meaning ‘small loaf’.

    Concupiscent: A strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust.

    Crump (as in “Tubas crumped”): 1. to crunch or make a crunching sound, as with the teeth; 2. (of an artillery shell) to land and explode with a heavy, muffled sound; 3. to make a crunching sound, as in walking over snow. (Hmm, I think Heller mighta just made that one up.)

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19 comments.

  1. I’ve come to realised, from your “Words looked up” section, how much I just ignore words I don’t understand :) thanks muchly for looking them up!

  2. This weekend I took my kids to see Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Not the worst kid’s movie I’ve been subjected to, but a bit of a yawner. I spent a good portion of the movie trying to make a clever connection between the names Magorium and Yossarian. Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t come up with anything. I take from this, however, the fact Heller has now definitely gotten into my head too.

  3. A panatella is also a name for a thin cigar. Maybe it wasn’t in the time the book is set, but it is now.

  4. I just finished reading Catch-22 in September, which was the second time I read it. I first read it back in the 70s. I found it hard going, even this second time, and I also found Heller’s circular logic irritating. Frankly, it bugged me, but I am still glad I read it again. If I hadn’t just finished it I would join you all. But I have never read Ulysses and I might join you when you start it. Although I am afraid I will find it completely incomprehensible. I have heard it is a very difficult book!

  5. “When more of a company’s stock is purchased, the price per share goes up, right?”

    Not necessarily. If you are the only one trading a stock at that moment, it may or may not increase the stock price (depending upon how many shares you purchase, and how many are available at that price.)

    When you factor in other people buying and selling that same stock, it is possible (and even common) for the stock price to be lower after you make a purchase.

  6. Yet another instance of you coming across the same new word I do while I do NaNoReMo on an entirely different book (‘concupiscent’). Same thing happened last year with ‘punctilious’ between Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov.

    And what’s more, I realize that last year you actually mentioned ‘canticle’ and moreover ‘Canticle For Liebowitz’, which is what I’m doing this year- but I hadn’t remembered you mentioning that you had read it.

    SPOOOKY GRAMMAR.

    Anyway, you’re clearly beating the tar out of me with post frequency, but your book is far longer anyway.

  7. I’m a physician and wanted to let you know we use “crump” when a patient declines rapidly/goes down the tubes/might die. As in, “My patient in the ICU crumped last night.” I didn’t look up the exact passage (I love the book!) but I bet that’s what he meant.

  8. I use pomade.

  9. There is an effect similar to the effect on stock that you mentioned. The problem is that you have a continuously shifting price atmosphere, and it also takes a huge influx of money to sway a stock significantly, which makes it difficult to sell all of your shares at once, and you are experiencing the drop in value that you yourself are causing.

    It is a good reason to check and see how large of mutual fund is, for instance, as they can be at risk of shifting values simply by buying their way into a company.

    One other thing, if I remember right, a panatella also refers to a long, thin variety of cigar. The same way that a Churchill is a kind of cigar shape/size/style, panatellas are as well. Not a cigar guy, but they do make these cheap panatellas that are in all the slightly high rent delis here in NYC.

  10. I think that it does work. Ask Warren Buffet.

    Also, I am up to Milo the Mayor!

  11. “The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost.”

    I think the U.S. is going to have to learn this art pretty darn soon.

  12. I love this book. Our book club re-read it a few months ago, and it was my first re-read since college. I still think it’s brilliant.

    re: “When more of a company’s stock is purchased, the price per share goes up, right?”

    Your enemy is the efficient market. Even with all other factors kept at bay, it is really hard to buy fast enough anymore to get the desired effect. As you buy, volume accumulates and trading algorithms quickly note that and say, “whoa! big demand for stock XYX, time to jack up the price!” and the price literally moves AS YOU TRY TO BUY. So you can’t assume you can log into etrade and buy a 2MM block of anything at the quoted price without doing it in chunks at rising prices. And the same happens in reverse as you sell.

    Unless you’re Milo, where the normal Rules of the Universe clearly do not apply.

  13. re: stock prices

    You should note that a stock’s listed “price” is what the last person paid for it, not what you will pay for it. In your rudimentary model, the price goes up when you offer to buy, not after you buy. So you end up paying that higher price when you purchase a share of stock. When you offer to sell, your offer drives the price down. So you receive that lower price when you sell it. This is why your idea of buy it up and sell it down will only cost you money.

    What this translates into in reality is that any given moment, there is normally a different price to buy a stock than there is to sell that same stock.

  14. Isn’t “crumping” a kind of hip-hop dance? I mean, not in Heller’s day, but it is now. (OK, they spell it “krumping.”) Reading that passage, all I could see was the Florida A&M sousaphone line greeting Milo.

  15. “When more of a company’s stock is purchased, the price per share goes up, right? And when more of it is sold, the price per share goes down.” — but surely, exactly the same amount is purchased as is sold in every single transaction.

  16. I thought Milo’s trick was buying with the government’s money, and then selling the goods for a profit (his profit).

    Todd’s point above me also makes so much sense to have me totally confused about the actual stock market.

  17. Hee, I LOVED Milo. Totally a whack-job. His circular logic about the eggs (not sure if you’ve gotten there yet) is amazing. And I was impressed at how he got away with…well, ok, I won’t spoil it. But it involved contracts with the Germans, and contracts with the Americans…I think there’s good reason his name was Minderbinder. It makes your head reel.

  18. Well, he wasn’t selling goods for his profit, it was the syndicate’s profit. So, we all benefit! (What, aren’t you in the syndicate?)

    Also, panatella definitely refers to a cigar in this instance. “Cuban” is the clue there.

  19. re: stocks, to drive this sub-thread to death…

    Also, remember that just because you buy a lot of stock and drive the price up doesn’t mean that people are willing to buy it at the inflated price. Many people set a price they are willing to purchase stock for, and there’s a gap between what most people are willing to sell for and most people are willing to buy for.