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.

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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…

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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.



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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


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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.

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Today’s Word: shenanigans (noun) – Shenanigans (shuh-NAN-ih-gunz) is mischievous, devious, or dishonest activity or maneuvering. As used by Lawrence Kudlow: “Corporate share prices should not be driven by political tax games. Profits, not Washington shenanigans, should be the mother’s milk of stocks. And this shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.”

 Did You Know?: You can live more than 3 weeks without food, but only about 3 or 4 days without water.

Worth Quoting: “Satire is the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. When aimed at the powerless is not only cruel, it’s vulgar.” –  Molly Ivins

What I’m Reading Now: The January issue of Independent Healing

 Including information on:

* Why America’s most popular exercise is all wrong for people middle-aged and older – and what you should be doing instead

* How it can cut your heart attack risk by 70%, improve your memory, prevent diabetes and depression, and get rid of high blood pressure (It can even save you from dying of cancer.)

* How one 61-year-old got into terrific shape by spending just three minutes a day doing a simple at-home workout

* The “muscle vitamin” everyone needs… and the fast-gain supplement that pumps you up in three days

 Watch This: Unless “Off the Rails” pays for itself, which is not going to happen, I’ve promised K that I’d never produce another movie. But of course, I meant feature-length, not a short. “The Spa” is the video equivalent of a Hallmark card, but I found myself thinking that I’d be happy to make a bunch of these. I just have to find the right talent.

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Today’s Word: transmogrify (verb) – To transmogrify trans-MAH-gruh-fie) is to change completely. As used by Robert J. Sawyer: “Writing is transmogrifying, not just for the reader but also for the author; an author becomes someone he or she isn’t by living the lives of his or her characters.”

 Did You Know?: The most popular New Year’s Resolution (as if you couldn’t have guessed) is to lose weight.

 Worth Quoting: “A new year is a gift, a small piece of infinity, to do with as we will.”  – Jean Hersey

 What I’m Reading Now: There was a time when scientists believed that the Homo sapiens brain evolved to store large amounts of information. In The Knowledge Illusion, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach refute this. They contend that the brain evolved to interact with other brains, and they attribute the fact that we thrived as a species to this “social brain hypothesis.” Therefore, they would like us to believe that we need to redefine smart: that it’s not only IQ (and it’s certainly not the ability to remember lots of things), it’s also the ability to contribute to group tasks. I sort of like the social brain hypothesis because it is a friendly and inclusive idea. Just because Larry’s IQ is 96 doesn’t mean he’s going to be less useful to himself or his social group than Mary, whose IQ is 132. But I sort of worry that this theory has no more scientific validity than any other social theory. The data that support it could easily have been manufactured by selectively designed social surveys – the swampy ground upon which almost all social science is built.

Watch This: Hawk vs. Squirrel

The photography in this battle between hawk and squirrel is amazing…

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Today’s Word: augury (noun) – An augury (AW-gyuh-ree) is a sign, omen, portent of things to come. As used by Jacob Abbott in Romulus: “If the augury was propitious the work was entered upon with vigor and confidence.”

Did You Know?: To welcome the New Year, Americans make resolutions, eat black-eyed peas, and watch the ball drop in Times Square. Nothing weird about that, right? But in other parts of the world… The Finns predict the future by burning metal in a pan and observing the shadows it casts by candlelight. Ecuadorians burn scarecrows. The Swiss drop ice cream on the floor. And in Siberia, people dive into ice-cold lakes while carrying a tree trunk.

Worth Quoting: “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

What I’m Reading Now: Someone told me that “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane was one of Hemingway’s favorite stories. I’m a Hemingway fan. So I read it. It’s a novella – a long short story – about five strangers who end up playing cards together in a small hotel in a small town in the Old West and how one of them, “the Swede,” dies. Was it murder? An accident? Suicide? Crane never makes that clear. But the plot is compelling and the diction is crisp and the images are vivid. As a reader, you feel as if you are in the room with them, wanting to leave for your safety but riveted by curiosity. What will they do or say next?

I did see Crane’s influence on Hemingway here. So if you know Hemingway, the read will be worth it simply to see that connection. Also, if you’ve read a bit of American literature, ”The Blue Hotel” might help you see a line of influence that runs from Stephen Crane (and possibly Melville before him) to Mark Twain and then to Cormac McCarthy.

Watch This:

Best of the Web 2018.- I doubt that these are the best Web clips from 2018, but it gives you an idea of why you might, like me, devote a few minutes every day to marvel at what is being done.




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Today’s Word: Yuletide (noun) – Yuletide (YOOL-tide) is the entire Christmas season – from December 24th to January 6th. As used by Harold Leland Goodwin in The Egyptian Cat Mystery: “I’m so full of Yuletide spirit I may bust a seam from sheer joy.”

It’s Fun to Know:

Question: What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?

Answer: “It’s Christmas, Eve.”

Worth Quoting:

“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” – Benjamin Franklin

What I’m Reading Now: After the second paragraph, I realized that this was going to be a skimmer. Skimmer books are like Chinese food. I can finish one in 20 to 30 minutes, but an hour later I’m hungry again. I’m talking about The Power ofBroke by Daymond John and Daniel Paisner. This is a book that was clearly written by Paisner. If John had anything smart to say about business,  it didn’t get through. Even the premise of the book – that launching a business without a bank account is a virtue in disguise – is, well, not true. You can’t launch a business without money. John had money. Not his own money, but he had money. What really made this book feel like chop suey were the nuggets of wisdom like these: “Think of your brand as a personal relationship between you and your customer.”

Watch This:

Holiday Feast for Dogs

I’m a sucker for these…

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Today’s Word: heartsome (adjective) –Heartsome (HAHRT-sum) means cheerful, spirited. As used by Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant in her 19thcentury novel Merkland: “The very look of them was heartsome in a house.”

 Did You Know?: One reason kittens (and other young animals) sleep so much is because some growth hormones are released only during sleep.

Worth Quoting: “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” – Mary Sarton

What I’m Reading Now: After enjoying Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, I couldn’t resist ordering a copy of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, also by Yuval Noah Harari. This is a very different book. It’s not about how, over millennia, we came to be what we are. It’s about a specific cultural threat that we face right now. And that threat is the one suggested in Sapiens: that 21st century Homo sapiens face the threat of extinction because of advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and neurobiology, to name a few. And these changes, Harari persuasively argues, will make contemporary men (i.e., us) less and less necessary.

Watch This: Techno Christmas Lights

I’m not a fan of disco or whatever this music is, and my taste in Christmas decorations is very traditional. But I am awed by the thought that some energetic techie went to all this trouble to make his house one of a kind.

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