Watch this.  (Thanks, Mel!)  Four minutes.

And read this for at least a sense of how they do it.

(Or this if, not satisfied by a murmuration of starlings, you seek a hover of trout, a knot of toads, a rafter of turkeys or — the perennial favorite — an exaltation of larks.)

It was engaged in this research on your behalf that I learned today, after a mere 43 years of misunderstanding, what midges are.  I had first encountered them reading Bernard Baruch’s famous 1932 preface to Charles MacKay’s even more famous Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, continuously in print since 1841, to which I had the privilege of appending this foreword in a later edition.   (“If you read no more than the first 100 pages — on money mania,” I wrote of this 724-page book, the remainder of which is worth a quick skim at best — “it will be worth many times its purchase.”)

Bernard Baruch knew more than a little bit about investing.  He claimed Extraordinary Delusions had saved him millions.  And he asked in his preface:

Have you ever seen, in some wood, on a sunny quiet day, a cloud of flying midges – thousand of them – hovering, apparently motionless, in a sunbeam?…Yes?…Well, did you ever see the whole flight – each mite apparently preserving its distance from all others – suddenly move, say three feet, to one side or the other? Well, what made them do that? A breeze? I said a quiet day. But try to recall – did you ever see them move directly back again in the same unison? Well, what made them do that? Great human mass movements are slower of inception but much more effective.

Why does the stock market move as it does, when it does?  Are we a bit like midges?

And what are midges?

I had just assumed they were starlings — or at least birds — by another name, much as the little boy in The World According to Garp assumed the dangerous “undertoad” at the beach he was always being warned about was something reptilian.  You just get a thing in your head and it sticks there for 43 years.

And do you know what?  (Well, you probably did know, but I didn’t.)  Midges aren’t birds.  They’re tiny gnats, basically.  (Which collectively are called a cloud, but I think should be called an annoyance.  A pandemonium of parrots, a descent of woodpeckers, an annoyance of gnats.  Or of telemarketers.)



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