Today’s Word: aegis (noun) – In classical mythology, the aegis (EE-jis) was the shield of Zeus or Athena. We use the word to refer to something that provides protection, support, or sponsorship. Example from Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry by Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon: “Will she refuse to protect with her aegis the most humble of her adorers?”

Did You Know?: Porcupines float in water.

Worth Quoting: “Trying to get without first giving is as fruitless as trying to reap without having sown.” – Napoleon Hill

What I’m Reading: Little Failure: A Memoir By Gary Shteyngart and Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Shteyngart’s memoir about being a child in Russia and then growing up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn is smart, funny, perceptive. Such a contrast to Noah’s memoir about growing up in South Africa as a colored person. Noah’s observations are more profound and inspired, but Shteyngart’s ideas and articulation are more impressive.

Watch This: I’ve introduced you to Steve Ludwin, my friend the venomous snake aficionado. He’s landed a series with the VICE TV network in which he travels around the world interviewing people that have fascinating connections with deadly snakes. This particular episode is about preachers in Western Virginia that “handle” snakes.

Today’s Word: bête farouche (noun) – Bête farouche (bet fah-ROOSH) is French for “wild beast.” I used the term this way today: “And most importantly, he should recognize that inflation is a bêtefarouche whose movements are wild and cannot be reliably anticipated – and, therefore, he should be very careful about long-term commitments to it.”

Did You Know?: The earliest use of the yin-yang symbol was in Rome, not China.

Worth Quoting: “It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.” – Oscar Wilde

What I’m Reading: I took surfing lessons once in Hawaii, and I liked it. But when I tried to surf in front of my house in Florida, it wasn’t as much fun. I sometimes think about trying it again sometime. If I do, it will be down the beach from my home in Rancho Santana. I got this into my head while reading this update from the Rancho Santana team…

“The best breaks in the area”

Remembering Jack Bogle: Two people that have had a great impact on my thinking died last week – Mary Oliver and Jack Bogle, the founder and CEO of The Vanguard Fund and the author of some very true and helpful books on investing.

Bogle argued for an approach to investing defined by simplicity and common sense. Below (from Wikipedia) are his 8 basic rules for investors:

  1. Select low-cost funds.
  2. Consider carefully the added costs of advice.
  3. Do not overrate past fund performance.
  4. Use past performance to determine consistency and risk.
  5. Beware of stars (as in, star mutual fund managers).
  6. Beware of asset size.
  7. Don’t own too many funds.
  8. Buy your fund portfolio – and hold it.

Today’s Word: mutatis mutandis (noun) – Mutatis mutandis (myoo-TAH-dis myoo-TAHN-dis) is a Latin phrase that translates as “with the necessary changes having been made” or “with the respective differences having been considered.” It is usually used in a legal or academic context, but not always. Example from The Americans by Henry James: “Roderick made an admirable bust of her at the beginning of the winter, and a dozen women came rushing to him to be done, mutatis mutandis, in the same style.”

Did You Know?: CBS’s 60 Minutes is the only TV show that doesn’t have music or a theme song.

Worth Quoting: “Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best.” – Max Beerbohm

What I’m Reading: Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie. The Reformation that began with Martin Luther in 1517 started with an argument about religion – whether only priests could interpret the Bible or whether each person, as Luther argued, was his own priest. But it sowed the seeds for the secular notion we have of democracy in the USA, including our belief in limited government and the equality of all races, religions, genders, and classes.

Remembering Mary Oliver: Mary Oliver died Thursday. A Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poet that wrote poems straight and truly, the way they should be, she was a welcome antidote to the more common variety of modern and contemporary poets that write as though they feel that expression rather than communication is the proper cause of writing anything.

Here’s a poem that demonstrates that and why I admire her – a contemplation of her own death…

When Death Comes

By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world


Today’s Word: waggish (adjective) – Waggish (WAG-ish) means like a wag – i.e., humorous in a playful, mischievous, or facetious manner. As used by Booth Tarkington in Alice Adams: “No, that isn’t it,” he said, chiding her with a waggish forefinger.”

 Did You Know?:  Horses evolved from lamb-sized animals 55 million years ago. There’s no telling how long humans have appreciated their beauty. (There are cave paintings of horses that are 16,000 years old.) But the first evidence that they were used as transportation is 5,000 years old, in the form of fossils of horse teeth worn down by bridles. Of course, they could have been ridden without bridles long before that. Before being used as transportation, they were probably used for meat and milk.

Worth Quoting: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus

Watch This:


Today’s Word: aesthetics (noun) – Aesthetics (es-THET-ix) is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty. As I used it today: “Lots of people think the world would be better if they were in charge of everything. I just want to be in charge of beauty,” I said. / “A Grand Minister of Aesthetics?” Andy offered. / “Exactly.”

Did You Know?: “Justice was voted 2018’s “word of the year” by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. The publisher said the word was looked upon its website 74% more in 2018 than in 2017.

Worth Quoting: “Beauty is truth; truth beauty.” John Keats

What I’m Reading Now: The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art by Roger Kimball.A smart book by a witty man (editor and publisher of The New Criterion) about how art appreciation classes at universities are now all about Marxist political theory, radical feminism, postcolonial studies, and “other weapons in the armory of academic anti-humanism” rather than aesthetics. He examines the works and chief bullshit critics of Courbet, Rothko, Rubens, Winslow Homer, Gauguin, and van Gogh.


Listen to This: What Our Two-Party System and Coca Cola Have in Common

We all know what monopolies are. And we know that monopolies are generally not liked by consumers because they operate without competition. Which means they can degrade quality and increase prices with little regard for their customers.

Duopolies – like Coca Cola and Pepsi – have those same advantages and two more.

  1. Because they are not monopolies, they don’t have the capital M strung around their necks, and…
  2. They can compete with each other while cooperating (even colluding) to make sure no third party comes into prominence.

In a recent podcast from Freakonomics Radio, Steve Dubner introduces a new and interesting idea: that in the US, our two-party system operates as a duopoly.

Here’s the link.

Today’s Word: tome (noun) – A tome (TOHM) is a large, heavy book. As used by the Indian-American writer/critic Karan Mahajan: “Novelists get to say plenty in their massive tomes; rock singers only get four-minute songs with two verses and a chorus worth of lyrics, and so there’s a real pleasure in accessing the intelligence behind the music, even if it doesn’t qualify as ‘great literature.’”

Did You Know?: Spaghetti was invented in China.

Worth Quoting: “Every day above earth is a good day.” – Ernest Hemingway

What I’m Reading Now: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This is actually a relatively long history of nearly everything, beautifully (i.e., simply) written. Bryson begins by explaining the origin of the universe and moves on from there. It took him three years to research and write the book, but that seems like no time compared to the accomplishment.

Something to Think About: “This Could Be Worse Than 1929”

By Bill Bonner

This is an essay from Bill Bonner about why “buy and hold” investing might not work. I find his long-term gold/Dow system intriguing and exciting, so I’ve made it a point to keep following it.

I have a system for buying and selling stocks that is still in development. (I’ve told you about in dribs and drabs, but it’s not “official” yet.) It is also about timing, but it is not about selling stocks to avoid crashes.

I like my system. But as I said, I’m also interested in Bill’s. I’m passing this essay along so you can judge for yourself…

Today’s Word: exoteric (adjective) – Something that’s exoteric (ek-suh-TER-ik) – as opposed to esoteric – is commonplace, simple; suitable for or communicated to the general public. As used by Marcel Duchamp: “The curious thing about the Ready-Made is that I’ve never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me. There’s still magic in the idea, so I’d rather keep it that way than try to be exoteric about it.”

Did You Know?: Topolino is the name for Mickey Mouse in Italy.

Worth Quoting: “Only those who dare to fail can achieve greatly.” – Robert Kennedy

What I’m Reading Now: Man Up: How to Cut the Bullshit and Kick Ass in Business (and in Life), by Bedros Keuilian

I’ve always disdained the common disdain for “motivational” speakers and writers. The implication is that we don’t need is any more inspiration. We need facts and specific strategies to show us how to succeed. The opposite case could be easily made, though, because the strategies are relatively simple and widely known but the energy and the courage and the tenacity to follow them is always on the verge of disappearing.

Put differently, you need to learn the strategy only once. But the inspiration to pursue the strategy… that you need every single day.

It is with that thought in mind that I can recommend Man Upas a good, fast-reading, and inspirational book about breaking out of the quicksand of laziness and fear and victimhood and moving on, energetically and responsibly.

I was a bit worried by the title that the advice would be in the genre of what I call Bully Coaching – where the protégé is belittled and then bullied to “man up” and follow the coach’s rules. But it’s not. To his credit, Keuilian explains his rules of success (which are of the ilk of being responsible and decisive and honest with yourself) by recounting experiences in his own life when he wasn’t manning up.

Something to Think About: “Love Is Now a Hate Crime”

The white man’s dilemma – hate yourself or be hated.



Today’s Word: whelm (verb) – To whelm (HWELM) is to submerge, engulf, overcome completely. As used by Dante Alighieri in Paradise, Canto 27: “That canst not lift thy head above the waves / Which whelm and sink thee down!”

Did You Know?: The last course in a traditional Chinese meal is soup, so that the earlier courses can “swim” toward the stomach for digestion.

Worth Quoting: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard

What I’m Reading Now: South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion. Not a novel. Not a memoir exactly. More a series of notes about a trip she took with her husband through the South and some notes she made during the Patty Hearst trial that turned out to be about privileged young women growing up in California. The thesis of the book, if there is one, is that the culture of the South, however backwards we feel it is, is steeped in history and likely to endure, while that may not be true of California’s very different culture. It is really well written. Sparse and precise and at times poetic.

Didion was a very attractive young woman who grew up wealthy and connected. But her writing is undeniably good – and that is a fact that cannot be diminished by her various advantages.

Watch This: Every time I go to San Francisco its streets are dirtier and more depressing. It’s sad to see one of America’s great cities decline so steadily. There is always hope — New York is now a much cleaner and safer city than it was 30 years ago. It took the intervention of an administration or two that recognized the fact that a city’s survival is based on its ability to attract and keep good businesses.

This video — though a bit preachy — is funny and depressingly accurate


Today’s Word: mise-en-scène (noun) – In film production, mise-en-scène (meez-ahn-SEN) – French for “putting onto the stage” – refers to the arrangement of everything that the camera sees: the actors, the setting, the lighting, the props, etc. The French film director/screenwriter Bruno Dumont explains its importance this way: “The landscape is a reflection of the inner life. Since I can’t shoot the inner life… I can only really touch the inside through the mise-en-scène . So through the mise-en-scène of the outside we can explore the inside.”

 Did You Know?: If you plant an apple seed, it will likely grow a tree that produces a different type of apple.

 Worth Quoting: “Self-contempt…sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others.” – Eric Hoffer

 What I’m Reading Now: The Writing Life is the first Annie Dillard book I’ve read. It is a thin book, but not necessarily a quick read. You want to read it slowly because it’s finely written. You want to know it. And enjoy its many enjoyable bits. It’s about what the title announces: the writer’s life. Or, more exactly, Annie Dillard’s life as a writer. Her interest in her profession is mostly about the work. How it’s difficult. Why it’s difficult. And why it matters, if it matters. There’s a lot about how the struggle is less about the subject matter and more about the medium itself: the words and sentences and paragraphs and how they tend to shape the narrative. Another major theme is the often-unpleasant necessity to reduce, delete, and revise early words and sentences and paragraphs. These are issues that all true writers contend with.

 Something to Think About: Friendship

 Friendships formed in tribulation tend to be the deepest and most enduring. Even when life’s circumstances pull you apart for long periods of time, the reunions have that magical quality of beginning again just where they left off.

Such is most of the friendships I formed as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad from 1973 to 1975. One of my friends from that period, Harry, sent me this memory about a mutual friend, Charlie, that I enjoyed. You know neither Harry nor Charlie, but I’m sure you have friendships like I have with them.

My Friend Charlie

A Story by Harry Birnholz

Charlie was a great friend and human being. I will miss our random encounters that, over nearly 45 years, would bring us together somewhere in Africa, the US, or the Balkans.

I think anyone who has spent time with Charlie knew what a funny, engaging, committed and full-of-life person he was. He would ask smart questions, would comfortably make fun of himself, and was always there to lend a helping hand. But I’ll bet there is one thing most of us did not know or hear Charlie talk about: his entry into the world of magic and Voodoo.

I can’t recall exactly when the topic first came up with Charlie, but undoubtedly, sometime in 1975, on one of his visits to my village when we were Peace Corps Volunteers in Benin. My recollection is that Charlie lived in a somewhat isolated location in a region renowned for its powerful magic. He stayed in the village or as we would say in Peace Corps, “en brousse” for an extended period of time. He was determined, and it was his nature, to want to integrate himself into the life and culture of the village. I think I had heard that his predecessor had been initiated into one of the magic cults of the region, giving him a certain credibility and legitimacy amongst the village elders. It was also a passport to better promote the use of the improved grain silos being introduced into the region to reduce crop loss due to insect and vermin infestation.

I recall asking Charlie about the stories I had heard about his predecessor entering the cult and then I began to understand that Charlie had become an initiate, too. He told me that it was almost expected of him by the elders of the village if he was going to become part of the village society. He would not let on much, but I understood that he saw it as a positive force. I understood from him that the initiation process was not a laughing matter and both physically and mentally demanding. As volunteers, living in Benin and interacting with our local counterparts and village neighbors, we came to understand the power and influence that magic and secret societies had on daily life.

Once in a while I would tease Charlie and ask if he could whip me up a magic potion or make a good luck amulet, commonly referred to as a “gris-gris.” He would laugh off my request and tell me this was not to be fooled with.

Sometime in the 1980’s I was on a visit in Washington DC and met up with Charlie at a bar in Adams-Morgan. We sat at the bar and ordered beer. (These were the days before Charlie decided to take alcohol out of his life.) The barman was black and had an accent that piqued our interest. We asked him where he was from and he said Benin. Quickly the conversation switched to Fon, the predominant language of southern Benin. The bartender was floored to hear this little bearded white guy speaking fluent Fon with a mastery of talking in proverbs.

At some point there was a change in the bartender’s demeanor; I noticed that he was lowering his head and not looking into Charlie’s eyes when responding to him, a sign of respect accorded to village elders and persons of importance. And without any request on our part, he was constantly refilling our drinks. When we finally got up to leave, the bartender refused to give us a bill and proceeded to go through a long ceremonial goodbye and bid us a safe return home. Charlie later told me that the bartender was from the region of Ouidah where Charlie had been a volunteer and that he understood that Charlie was bestowed by the village elders with a certain knowledge and power of magic. We never spoke about this again.