The Options & Spreads article that follows has been written by an expert who trades successfully for a living. He also offers a course on trading Options & Spreads. For more info on the course click here.
The following article is very educational, informative and well-written.
OPTIONS & SPREADS: What Are the Sheared Sheep Hiding?
Two Irish ditch-diggers worked in the street in front of a house of prostitution. They saw an orthodox rabbi enter the place. The first ditch-digger remarked, "Tis a sad state of affairs when a man of the cloth goes in there."
A bit later, they saw a local Presbyterian minister enter. The second Irishman declared, "No wonder young people are so confused nowadays -- what with the clergy setting such a bad example!"
After a while, a Catholic priest went into the brothel. "Ah, that's so sad," lamented the first Son of Erin. "One of those poor lassies must be dying."
Your English teacher explained that a writer or speaker "implies" and a reader or listener "infers." Probably omitted from the lesson was the word "extrapolate," defined by Merriam-Webster as "inferring the unknown from the known" or "projecting or extending data known or experienced into an area not known or experienced.
From smoke, you infer fire. Pollsters ask 5,000 people how they will vote, then project or extend the percentages onto millions of voters. Among the listed synonyms appears "conjecture" on which the dictionary hangs both approving and disapproving definitions: "supposition; inference from defective or presumptive evidence."
So what is the significance for speculative traders? Plenty and then some. Too many traders see vast fortunes in places that will not produce any just as the Irish ditch-diggers saw a deathbed ritual with holy oil in a house not noted for such activity. The negative definition of "conjecture" should have added "inference by people believing what they want to believe." All the dreamed-of treasures followed by cleaned-out bank accounts in the real world attest to this.
Extrapolating can be done wisely. In a passenger train rode a company vice president and a corporate accountant, seated side by side. It passed a farmer's meadow in which livestock grazed. "The sheep have been sheared," observed the vice president.
The accountant responded, "On this side, at least." The accountant would conjecture nothing, would not presume to read a closed ledger. The corporate vice president was more a man of vision, which requires envisioning what ain't in plain sight at the moment. If the side an animal you can see is covered with wool, you reasonably surmise that the far side is not covered with chop suey or ticker-tape. You notice the tip of an iceberg and infer the remaining seven-eighths.
You see a man staggering drunk at two o'clock PM and suppose or presume he will be in no condition to handle dangerous machinery at three. You spot molten nuggets of gold and extrapolate more under the soil. But the hazards! A rabid anti-communist sees a sheared sheep and envisions Marxist propaganda tattooed on other side. A fervent fundamentalist infers tattooed satanic symbols and writings. Folks "fill in blanks" a la how they think.
Worse than that, huge numbers of traders conjecture on the far side a treasure map or a pattern chart for next month's wheat futures or a yen fluctuation affecting foreign currency options. If not on the lambskin or beyond the door of a brothel, then over a beer or between golf links or in a Web chat room. Between 80 and 90% of all futures traders lose money and over 90% of all out-of-the-money options expire worthless.
What does that say about all those inferential compasses and believe-what-you-want-to-believe maps? Multitudes of latter-day Forty-Niners stare at many different compass points. The manufacture and sale of limousines and Learjets remain about the same. The financial graveyards continually expand their borders. Suppositional fortunes, real wipe-outs, and still more people suppose or surmise.
Merriam-Webster's definition of a surmise: "a thought or idea based on scanty evidence." It is not confined to Irish ditch-diggers. It hangs like a ghost around brokers' phone numbers and Internet trading accounts.
A man in Illinois told me in a letter, "Your articles got me interested in horizontal calendar spreads with options, but I must admit your ancillary comments grated on me. You wrote that if doubling one's money again and again was as easy as a lot of traders think, Yankee Stadium would be crowded to the rafters with millionaires.
"If those are not your exact words," he continued, "it was something like that, that every doorman and bellhop would be filthy rich. You make speculation sound like such a bog down in a swamp. If I thought it was that bad, I never would have left certificates of deposit. I agree with you about the roulette-player with the pad and pencil. He never stops and wonders how come all those guys with pads and pencils at the roulette wheels in the past are not riding limousines.
"Like you, I've read books on investments and books on Wall Street printed in 1800s, you at the New York University library and me at the University of Chicago library. I read all about the fly-by-night curbstone swindler and all about the sleazy stock-jobbers with their cubbyhole offices. Please, Mr. Donio, give some credit to the fact that this is a scientific age. Risk trading is safe and there are scientific ways of finding the combination.
"I admit I crashed on take-off a couple of times, but you cannot expect the safe to pop open on every try, whether it is the commodities or the calls or the puts. Also, please let me know if there is any flexibility with your number rules on the option spreads.
A spread of less than a point and a half, a near-in-time out-of-the-money option selling for more than 3-points -- these restrictions really narrow the field and shut out an awful lot of possibilities. Your keys on horizontal calendar spreads put too much of a limit on where to dig."
My reply: Scientific age or not, speculative trading remains a zero sum game. Some poor soul must lose a dollar for every person who gains a dollar. A teardrop for every smile and vice versa. Perhaps the conjectural or "based on scanty evidence" vault combination can be found tattooed on the far side of the sheared sheep.
During the 1700s and 1800s, speculators usually ended up with gloomy faces and plenty of worthless paper to stuff in their tinderboxes. How much has changed thanks to this "scientific age? Gloom, plenty of worthless paper but no more tinderboxes.
Later in this writing I shall address the restrictions or inflexibilities of my option spread "keys" or guidelines. The letter writer said he shared my interest in investment history but did not mention whether he matched my curiosity about current speculative snares, pitfalls and questionable practices. Such a curiosity is essential for traders. Even if your jungle diamond mine makes profits, you need a mental list of region's venomous snakes and serums.
Another Ponzi scheme in the newspaper is like reporting that the sun rose. Yet all financial venturers stand vulnerable because when a scamster palms off investment dollars as profit dollars, the money looks the same and needs no disguise.
The big print in the financial section of the New York Post for Oct. 22, 1999: "Ponzi Play Sacks Pros." The piece says "professional athletes have lost untold sums of cash to a huge Ponzi scheme run out of a South Florida mansion, according to a recently unsealed criminal complaint."
Elsewhere in the financial news, "IBM Warning Gives the Dow Big Blues." On Philip Morris: "Big Mo Sinks to 4-Year Low." Both are components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average; not penny stocks from a boiler room or unpromising promissory notes from a mansion but the bluest of blue chips. Blue-frocked bishops would never enter such a house! Shares from the over-the-counter dives and the bulletin-board back streets might demean themselves but not . . .
As hazards proliferate, so do the hard-sell and the soft-sell and the you-may-not-know-it's- a-sales-pitch. The front page of the New York Times for August 23, 1999 announced, "Stock Huckster Thrive on the Web." A company claimed to have discovered an AIDS cure. "And with that news, transmitted at lightning speed over the Internet, Uniprime's shares more than doubled. On-line chat rooms buzzed with investors' happy patter about the company's prospects, making Uniprime one of the Internet's most talked about stocks."
The front page piece continued, "The AIDS cure turned out to be a stock fraud cooked up by a self-described doctor . . .
"Like snake-oil salesmen who traveled the frontier peddling cure-alls more than a century ago, modern hucksters have taken to the Internet with gusto."
While technology advanced over time, the constants have been the scamster and the dupe, the hard-sell and the financial collapse. Promoters sold shaky shares at London taverns when people communicated by bells. The curb trickster of the 1800s used Western Union to promise paper securities and the Pennsylvania Railroad to skip town. Alexander Graham Bell's invention brought boiler rooms. Now with the Web, the financial snake-oil huckster no longer needs horse & buggy when giving you the pitch.
Please give some credit to the fact this is a scientific age! You need not bear the discomfort of wearing a powdered wig while conjecturing fast future wealth. You will not be interrupted by the noise of a Stanley Steamer when you buy paper of the kind that caused 90% of last month's buyers to lose money. High-pressure salesmanship on the street has been replaced by higher pressure-on the Internet. But myriad would-be millionaires locking horns in a zero sum game -- this has not changed.
A commercial on the financial cable channel says, "Invest in Spiders!" meaning S&P 500 composite shares. Own the Whole, S&P!" With all the "instant treasure" come-ons, surely the trader needs a robust sense of skepticism. He gets too many urgings to bet from people who do not bet themselves. Yet that doubter's warning light may operate more dimly in the speculative sphere than elsewhere.
Mr. Skeptic sees a book entitled Winning at Dice and he infers or surmises a writer who took shafting after shafting at the gaming tables, then wrote this to make money. Like a physical fitness book by Fatso Fogarty, ha ha! But is he so non-gullible in his own field?
Somebody is buying all those Gain $1,000 in 3-Hours books and seminars from people who got cut to pieces trying it and then made money selling "the secrets." With futures tis an old story, Horatio, and a new one with daytrading.
In a TV commercial, a man shooting billiards boasts, "A slight fluctuation in the yen turned my $5,000 into $15,000." Small print at the base of the screen says "results hypothetical" and "risk involved." Startlingly, this appears on a general audience channel, not a financial one geared mostly to risk-venture veterans. So the pitch targeted "suitable clients" -- only people who could turn a TV dial and slap down money. No ghosts or mummies.
Then the mail arrives and a certain phrase is destined to repeat. The brochure says Reality Based Trading Company -- continuing the Bruce Babcock Legacy. It offers for sale several trading systems and books.
The stand-out trading system contains a grid of financial figures headed "Compare These Eye-Popping Results With Any Other" and smaller type underneath saying "Hypothetical tests. . . The sample portfolio producing just over 50% profit for the year was the weakest of the six portfolios listed.
At the bottom of the page appears the statement required by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission: "Hypothetical or Simulated Performance Results . . . The Trades Have Not Actually Been Executed . . ." What is to keep those Reality Based fellows from dipping into their personal bank accounts and generating some "Eye-Popping" real profits from their "Best System in The Universe?
I shall be the first to applaud them when they do. Then they can say, 'to hell with you, Trading Commission! Real performances, not simulated." Until then, imaginary profits can only be laughable. It would be funny if someone announced, "I just won the Millionaire Lottery, based on hypothetical results."
Afterward on the financial channels, other spots push "great opportunities" in futures and options. Such TV blurbs come from brokers, promoters, and employees whose own financial inflows are usually of commissions, salaries, bank interest. I have nothing at all against insured deposits except when they serve as Hudson River ferryboats and Lake Erie charters ridden by people who send others to financial "great opportunities" up the savage Amazon.
I want the two Irish ditch-diggers to say about me, "He puts his money where his ink is." I am an active trader in stock options and have been for years. May no hoarse utterance call me a military theorist who stays off the battlefield or a seller of bullet-proof vests who never faces gunfire. As to my specialty, could I explain it well if asked in an Irish pub?
Could I spell out horizontal calendar spreads between dart throws and sips of cream ale? Well, a spread is essentially a buy and a sell -- stress the "and" -- with what you sold paying for part of what you bought, so you pay less for the buy -- stress the "less."
Vital point: Buying something gives the right to create something else that you sell -- stress the "create" and the "something else." It is like buying a $5,000 racehorse just before she gives birth to a foal that you sell for $3,000.
So how much did you actually invest? $2,000. How does this give you a head start on the other horse-buyers? Somebody paid $3,000 for what you sold and somebody else paid $5,000 for something similar to what you bought but without foal, i.e. without spreading.
You invested only $2,000 and, by both buying and selling, you used mostly other people's money to do the buying. This gives you a much better chance than they have of reselling at a profit.
As a spread strategist, you go through life buying cars and then selling what is in the trunk, which if you choose wisely, pays for most of the car. The trunk opens beforehand and you have eyes, so choosing well is not difficult. Will you be able to resell the racehorse or the car at a profit some time in the future? No one can say. But your "miserly" stake stacks the mathematical deck toward the plus.
If the concluding figure reads $2,600, is that good or bad? Lousy, nearly a 50% loss, to someone who paid $5,000. But a pan of shiny nuggets, a 30% gain, if you ventured $2,000. Doubtlessly, the non-spreading hazarder of $5,000 hoped to double or triple his money, and quicker than the life-expectancy of a six-pack in a duck blind. Like the bookmaker, the spread strategist tends to be the 25- or 35% who waits a few weeks and who profits off other people's grabby conjecturing about 10-pound nuggets over that hill.
As for my own specialty and individual way of expediting it, I would need surroundings quieter than tavern hubbub to explain these. Yet horizontal calendar spreads and my particular "keys" are less complicated than the one-hand accounting ledger under the counter, though deeper than formulae for mixing drinks.
I always lose a few potential spreaders when I talk or write of 30-plus percent profits instead of dollars multiplying by exponential squares and cubes. I lose even more when I mention, "learning a business."
Every wiped-out horseplayer wishes he could "make out like a bookie." So what stops him? For one thing, he wants to run his couple of hundred into a couple of thousand before sundown.
He would scoff at, say, a 10% gain in a day, even though it annualizes to 3,650%, which would certainly bulge the eyes of real businessmen or investors. Also, the bookmaker thinks in terms of weekly revenues and monthly profits -- a businessperson's mind-set while the rockets-&-flares-in-the-nervous-system gambler wants Fort Knox to pour into his lap.
With speculative trading as with gambling, the "quick million" grabbers of yesterday show up as the sad faces in the saloon today. Yet how man groaners on barstools are willing to learn a business?
Aim for realistic, business-size profits? Just plain think like a businessman? No, they still expect to find the vault combination or the location of the Holy Grail tattooed on the out-of-sight side of the shorn sheep. So the zero sum game deals out more zeros.
Call horizontal calendar spreads a "paper mutton & wool business. This form of optioneering does involve "buying the sheep but it sells much future mutton and wool that never materialize. It peddles much disappointment tattooed on the skins of the critters, wrong safe combinations and gold mine maps going nowhere. Yet it can make money and it reduces the hazard from a crap-shoot risk faced by most option-traders to a business risk. It does this by using mostly other people's cash.
Let us assume you know what stock options are, and the details of puts and calls, strike-prices and expiration dates, in-the-money and out-of-the-money. It stands essential for a successful trader to be well-read on the subject, so the books of George Angell and Courtney Smith deserve much recommending. Spreading means buying one batch of options and selling another batch, usually on the same day. Two batches have the same underlying stock and are either both puts or both calls.
Horizontal calendar spreads are horizontal because the bought and the sold have the same strike-prices, i.e. are level with each other on that figure, and calendar because they have different expiration dates. Buying gives you the right to "create and sell," the "sold being nearer in time expiration-wise than the "bought" usually just one month apart.
In a recent example from my trades, Applied Material common stock was trending downward to just below the 70 mark. The only options that a horizontal spreader even considers are out-of-the-money, meaning calls with strike-prices above the share price and puts with strike-prices below. I prefer to place a call spread above a rising stock that has a conservative price/earnings ratio or a put spread below declining shares that have an inflated P/E.
The price/earnings ratio is one of the easiest figures to find, listed on the daily financial page, to the right of each stock's symbol, dividend and annual yield. By my reckoning or approximation, "inflated" and "conservative" are on the high and low sides of 30 respectively. Applied Material had a P/E of worse than 100 and had been trending downward over a period of several weeks. With the share price just below 70, out-of-the-money puts carried strike prices of 65 or lower.
The strike-price should be close enough to the share price to give the options "meat" or value but not so close that a slight fluctuation in the stock would place the options "in the money." I have found approximately a five-point difference to be pretty right. The time was mid-August. Among the Applied Material puts with strike-prices of 65, the ones with September and October expiration dates fitted what the Illinois letter-writer called my "keys." More on this momentarily.
I bought 10 puts with a strike-price of 65 and an expiration date the third Friday in October, for a purchase price of 4-3/8-points, meaning $437.50 for one or $4,375 for 10. On the same day, I sold 10 with a strike-price of 65 and an expiration date the third Friday in September, bringing me 3-points, $300 each or $3,000 for 10. That was instantly credited toward the cost of purchasing the Octobers, so that I had to pay only the difference of 1-3/8-points -- or $1,375 of my own capital plus brokerage commissions.
This spread of buy October 65 / sell September 65 was horizontal because of the same strike-price and calendar because of the different expiration months. The phrases "miserly investment" and "other people's money" figure crucially. Notice that whoever bought the 10 Septembers I sold paid $3,000 and whoever bought 10 Octobers identical to the ones I bought but without spreading paid $4,375. My investment: $1,375 plus commissions.
The latter figure resulted from my buying the car for $4,375, so to speak, and selling what was in the trunk for $3,000. The spread strategist pays markedly less because other people's money does most of it. Thus he must be stingy with his own capital. Thus he must choose his cars carefully and open all the trunks while selecting.
The precise "keys" of my option methodology referred to by the Illinois letter-writer are as follows: The gap or "spread" must be less than a point and a half. Therefore, when I bought the Octobers for 4-3/8 and sold the Septembers for 3, the difference came to 1-3/8, which fell within the "less than" brackets. Second numerical key: The near-in-time or "sold" options must sell for 3-points or more. The Septembers trading at 3 just about qualified.
When I looked at out-of-the-money puts & calls on the options page of the Wall Street Journal, the 3-point Septembers and the less than 1-1/2-points between them and the Octobers caught my eye like gold dust in the mud would a prospector's. Reply to the man in Illinois: The day I relax or "get flexible" with these keys on a one-month-apart spread will be the day your grandmother sews Frankenstein together. They are my thick, high boots in the snake-bite country or the 90-percent-get-bitten country of option speculation.
Trader's Diary for 8-31-1999: Approximately two weeks after I opened the position with a spread of 1-3/8-points, the October 65s have slipped to 3-3/8, a minus of almost 25% for anyone who bought at 4-3/8, and the September 65 have fallen to 1-1/4, a loss of more than half for whoever bought the ones I sold at 3. End of diary entry.
A teardrop for the holder of October puts and two teardrops for the holder of Septembers, but for the spread strategist? Notice the gap or difference between them has widened to just over 2 from 1-3/8, an increase of more than 60%! The value of the Octobers I own: $3,375. The value of the Septembers, which are my debt, or IOU: $1,250. Thus spreader's territory maps out as difference, and its widenings are his nuggets and ore.
All out-of-the-money options lose value with passing of time, but near-in-times get "melted" more-and faster than the far-in-times, even with an expiration date difference of just a month.
This makes for widening canyons between the "boughts" and the "solds" -- the two ends of the calendar spread. This does not guarantee a win but it often casts the "buy April, sell March" methodologist as the cheerful bookmaker between the two grieving gamblers as he whistles a song entitled "Other People's Money."
Occasionally I am asked "How do you know when to pull out?" or when to close a spread position. This stands as a crucial question, because at this point the spreader has a special vulnerability.
At beginning and early stages of the spread, the trader enjoys the cushioning or armoring of other people's cash -- more-than two-thirds other people's, the way I do it. But at the later, more mature stage of the position, most of other folks' capital has burned or melted away.
When the trader sees the gap widen at the mature stage of the spread, he beholds paper profit but he also observes the armoring getting precariously thin. The near-in-time "sold" options still represent horse-gambler's-option-buyer's cash in the spreaders bookmaker's till but they have shrunk. Meaning smaller IOUs on the spreader's debt or obligation end but also less shielding.
In the Applied Material example cited earlier, the near-in-time "sold" puts melted from 3-points to 1-1/4 while the gap or spreaders investment grew from 1-3/8 to 2-1/8. The spread strategist's end of it has fattened appreciably but the other-peoples-money end has lost nearly two-thirds of its thickness as a protective barrier. This places the spread trader more ahead but more exposed.
New York University professor of finance George Barone lectured about short-selling with stocks and the unlimited loss potential thereof. His advice: "Panic early!" Pull out the instant things start to move the wrong way. This also serves as excellent advice for a spread strategist with a paper profit.
When the near-in-time options descend to one point or slightly higher, that is one good time to grab the lever of the parachute ejector. If it falls to less than a point and you have not already ejected, grab fast.
Another strong "pull out" indicator is the position of the underlying stock. Shortly after the 8/31, Trader's Diary entry quoted earlier, Applied Material shares edged upward away from the 65 strike-prices and broke the 70 line. Alarm box. The near-in-time puts shrunk from just over a point to 11/16 of a point. Another alarm box. So when you have a paper profit, parachute signals do not lack and you need only one.
Act fast! Panic early! This requires deciding beforehand what the signals are and then responding promptly when they occur. These classify with "mental stop-losses" and "mental stops to protect profits" and many people laugh at the very mention of them. Why the laughter? As with New Years resolutions and decisions to stop drinking, many people make the decision and then do not act on it when the time comes.
With mental stops and signals, often two inner forces work against each other: The decision to pull out if" versus the hope of a turn-around. Many a stock investor or short-seller sets a mental stop-loss, then when the shares cross the line, he hesitates over it and then abandons it because a voice inside says, "Things may turn around any time now, and move in the right direction!" Yeh. Spread traders with a paper profit should cultivate immunity to such voices. Respond quickly to warning lights and bail-out bells. Panic early!
On the subject of forces working internally against each other, what seemed a cultural bias in the Wall Street Journal now appears to be the split test of split personalities. The Leisure & Arts page of the October 27, 1999 issue carried a piece entitled "Lisa Saffer: A Soprano on the Rise" which said of her, "Decked out in the baroque finery of Handel's opera 'Ariodante,' the soprano looked every inch a Gainsborough duchess miraculously come to life, with a delicacy of posture and movement to match."
Alas, after the Leisure & Arts page there exists an invisible dividing wall of immense thickness. What follows it, the Editorial Page, the Op-Ed Page, every Friday "Tastes" Page, seem to function on a whole different planet. They continually serve as soap boxes for Right Wing reactionaries, which is to say, "good old days" folks whose "cherished past" may go as far back as Walt Disney after his hair started graying.
In Wall Street Journal for 10-11-99, Judge Robert H. Bork wrote in a critique of George W. Bush, "Much of popular entertainment ranges from the vulgar-to the obscene. Affirmative action and multiculturalism are splitting us into a nation of antagonistic groups."
What if a Greek-American expresses pride in his ethnic heritage? What if he decides to "work at it" ethnicity-wise by seeing a certain classical drama? The Greek chorus laments that Oedipus "entered the door he had once exited, and sowed his seeds in the same ground that had sent him wailing forth."
In countless publishings from "one-nation conservatives" or the one-culture Right Wing," ethnic pride and heritage have been denounced as "the menace of multiculturalism" which supposedly threatens to "fragment the nation" into a "scattering of ethnic tribes."
The conservative's idealized "one people" with "one set of values includes legalized censorship aspiring to "old-fashioned decency not so old. Pat Boone movies are plainly more recent than patricide and incest in Greek drama or adultery and stabbing in Italian opera. From the vulgar to the obscene? If Welk is your yardstick.
What about the cultural contributions of the various ethnic groups? Florence came to be known as the second Athens and Dresden has been called the German Florence. What can this mean to people who want to go back to Lassie movies and Harvest Moon songs? Anyone who has read Robert Bork's book Slouching Toward Gomorrah knows his envisioned "golden yesteryear" was closer to Norman Rockwell prints, film censors and "Singing in the Rain" than to Gainsborough paintings or coloratura sopranos.
Judge Bork is just one Journal voice fitting this description. Others include Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, Princeton Prof. John DiIulio, and film critic/author Michael Medved.
There seems to be an unwritten rule at the Wall Street Journal you cannot write on cultural matters for any page beyond the Leisure & Arts, one if your knowledge goes farther back in time than Irving Berlin or Flicka the Wonder Horse.
Do "the culture" and "the media" cause youth crimes or bad sex? Those who say yes appear all across the Editorial Page, the Op-Ed Page, and the Friday Tastes Page. Soap boxes on the Right. Those who know that drama by Euripides did not provoke human sacrifice, that Ingres' painting of beauties in the Turkish bath did not kindle sex crimes, that operas about Faust did not cause infant murders or hangings of young unwed mothers -- they are ghettoized in Leisure & Arts and do not seem to get a word published on those other pages.
What has this to do with you, dear reader? If the Street's publishings prove anything, then the financial and investment community needs far more people with culture worthy of the name and tradition worthy of the name. Granted, times have changed. This is no longer the era when the Wall Street carriage-trade tycoon wore a top hat, lit his cigar from a gaslight, and frequented the opera house, the art museum, and the archaeology exhibit.
Yet now and in the new millennium, Verdi's music is still polished gold alchemized into sound. New Kirov ballerinas dance naiad-like to Prokofieff exquisitely, as did their great grandmothers. In the Millet painting (see Leisure & Arts), the goose girl still has her milk-&-roses glow between her white flock and sky-blue pond. The archaeological artifacts from the tomb of Ramses II echo splendor after over 3,000-years.
The lack of a horse-drawn hansom cab notwithstanding, you can be a voice for culture and tradition of the gem-true kinds, whether in your private thoughts and activities or in a letter to an editor or a congressman. Please let the detailings in your psyche and your writing include traceries of Pompeiian marble or the baroque jeweled sword or something better than the Borkina cracker barrel that currently throws its crumbs on Op-Ed Pages.