Talking about bridges

Talking about bridges

History reminds me of a river: in most days, sitting nearby a bridge, we could see it calmly flowing before our eyes. However, in times of storm and heavy rains, a bridge is where danger occurs.


Many years ago, I became very close to an adorable girl from a town named Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During one of our nocturne conversations, that often took place facing the Mediterranean while sitting on Nice old town pebbles beach, she told me the story of Mostar bridge.

Stari Most, “the old bridge” in English, was built in 1566 by Mimar Hayruddin, apprentice of famous architect Mimar Sinan and stood for 427 years. Croats deliberately destroyed it using mortar shell bombing on 9 November 1993, during the ethnic conflict that opposed them to Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sinan disciple engineered its aerial pull to last forever and statics laws prescribed it could only be annihilated by an equal and opposite push of human hate. By shattering the old bridge, Croats intended to eradicate memories of pacific co-existence of Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic populations living on the banks of Neretva river.

Between 1991 and 2001, several conflicts tore the territory of the former Republic of Yugoslavia leading to the death of approximately 130000 persons. It all happened a few kilometers away from our borders: in Puglia we saw F104 taking off from Italian air force bases, ready to bomb Serbian positions during Kosovo war and rockets were deployed on our beaches in protection from retaliation.

I did not understand such slaughter: Yugoslavia was a developed and prosperous country that colonel Tito managed to steer firmly for almost forty years after the end of World War II, navigating through cold war perils while maintaining peace among many different ethnic populations living within its borders.

Flashback to the sixteenth century, when great Mimar Sinan, Hayruddin master, disseminated Ottoman Empire of remarkable landmarks. One of the most accomplished displays of his craftsmanship was the bridge on Drina river in Višegrad, built in 1577 and named after Mehmed Paša Sokolović, that became four centuries later the splendid scenery where the epic plot narrated by Ivo Andrić in The Bridge on the Drina unfolds.

Artillery had been silenced for a while at the time when I read the novel. I found there answers to all my questions about wars in ex-Yugoslavia: stories of the generations living near Višegrad bridge were the best illustration of how Bosnia-Herzegovina was cursed by both history and geography, condemned to be one of the sharpest friction points between Arab and European civilizations, “impersonated” in that region by Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.  My Bosnian ex-girlfriend mom used to say that in Balkans every generation has to live through three wars; according to this rule current generations are safe, what about the future ones?

Few writers reached Ivo Andrić heights in representing events that shaped Western world history and among them I surely count Ernest Hemingway, one of my youth literary heroes. Talking about bridges, “Old man at the bridge”, first published in May 1938 and later included in “The first forty-nine short stories“, is a little shining literary gem where, in purest Hemingway style, no word is redundant. Bridges are a great writers affair.



Old man at the bridge

An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.
It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge. There were not so many carts now and very few people on foot, but the old man was still there.
“Where do you come from?” I asked him.
“From San Carlos,” he said, and smiled.
That was his native town and so it gave him pleasure to mention it and he smiled.
“I was taking care of animals,” he explained. “Oh,” I said, not quite understanding.
“Yes,” he said, “I stayed, you see, taking care of animals. I was the last one to leave the town of San Carlos.”
He did not look like a shepherd nor a herdsman and I looked at his black dusty clothes and his gray dusty face and his steel rimmed spectacles and said, “What animals were they?”
“Various animals,” he said, and shook his head. “I had to leave them.”
I was watching the bridge and the African looking country of the Ebro Delta and wondering how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there.
“What animals were they?” I asked.
“There were three animals altogether,” he explained. “There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons.”
“And you had to leave them?” I asked.
“Yes. Because of the artillery. The captain told me to go because of the artillery.”
“And you have no family?” I asked, watching the far end of the bridge where a few last carts were hurrying down the slope of the bank.
“No,” he said, “only the animals I stated. The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others.”
“What politics have you?” I asked.
“I am without politics,” he said. “I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometers now and I think now I can go no further.” “This is not a good place to stop,” I said. “If you can make it, there are trucks up the road where it forks for Tortosa.”
“I will wait a while,” he said, “and then I will go. Where do the trucks go?”
“Towards Barcelona,” I told him.
“I know no one in that direction,” he said, “but thank you very much. Thank you again very much.”
He looked at me very blankly and tiredly, then said, having to share his worry with some one, “The cat will be all right, I am sure. There is no need to be unquiet about the cat. But the others. Now what do you think about the others?”
“Why they’ll probably come through it all right.” “You think so?”
“Why not,” I said, watching the far bank where now there were no carts.
“But what will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?”
“Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” I asked. “Yes.”
“Then they’ll fly.”
“Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others. It’s better not to think about the others,” he said.
“If you are rested I would go,” I urged. “Get up and try to walk now.”
“Thank you,” he said and got to his feet, swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust.
“I was taking care of animals,” he said dully, but no longer to me. “I was only taking care of animals.”

There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old man would ever have.


Post Scriptum

Ernest Hemingway had a passion for Spain and a long time ago inspired me for a 5000 Kilometers drive through Andalusia and Algarve, two regions that, despite being in the heart of Christian Europe, were ruled for centuries by Moors and went under the name of Al-Andalus. Spanish Catholic kings finally conquered back Al-Andalus but for long the lower part of Iberic Peninsula, likewise Balkans, was a perilous bridge between civilizations. During my road trip, I walked across the bridge that joins the two parts of Ronda and was impressed by its daring architecture.  This story started flowing under the stones of the old bridge in Mostar and comes to its end on Puente Nuevo in Ronda; The great Sinan would have loved it.

(Ulaanbataar, 23 of April 2017)

Once were heroes… Fallen angels

Once were heroes… Fallen angels

This is the second of two blog posts about Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In Once were heroes… shining stars, we revisited the stories of Usain Bolt, Joseph Schooling and Micheal Phelps, maybe the most memorable Rio heroes, that combined for a total of 9 gold medals.

All medals have a reverse and Olympic ones make no exception: while the three men I just named ascended the highest heights of sports glory, four girls were hiding in a dark corner at the opposite end of the trajectory, sharing a tale of falls and painful defeats.

It is now time to look at the other side and into the life of few athletes whose names are not to be found on Rio Olympic champions lists.

Falls – Part I

Pole vaulting is a raffinate exercise of subtlety. In order to excel, an athlete has to perfectly control every fraction of his body and mind, while melting together speed, precision, grace, power, guts, iron muscles, lightness. In no other track and field specialty, a human body falls from a higher height than pole vault.

Yelena Isinbayeva jumped thousands of times in the long decade where she dominated this discipline and was trained to fall like no other. Nevertheless, the fall she had to experience while preparing for Rio, was of a kind she never endured before. A kind that hurts badly.

Nothing in Yelena childhood and family background anticipated that she would become one of the most successful athletes ever. Born from a humble family, her father is a plumber, her mother a shop assistant, she approached sports at the age of 5, when her parents enrolled her in gymnastics in her hometown Volgograd, Russia. At that time, they both worked full time and were looking for a way to keep Yelena busy.

She trained as a gymnast until at the age of 15 she attained the height of 1.74 meters and became too tall to be competitive in gymnastics. One day, her coach suggested she tried track and fields and pole vault but Yelena objected that she had never heard of such discipline. Her coach told her that if she did not like it, she did not have to continue. She ended up listening to the advice and her brilliant career was started.

Yelena Isinbayeva was undefeated for almost six consecutive years between 2004 and 2009, establishing an amazing 30 world records along the way. She was the first woman to pass the mythical bar of 5 meters, both indoor and outdoor and improved the world record by a total 24 centimeters. She was named Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

Many coaches analyzed Yelena jumps and observed that what sets her apart from any other woman specialist is her exemplary mastering of the so-called “L-Phase”, where it is vital to use the pole’s rebound to convert horizontal speed into height. They credited her gymnastic background for such a better gesture. Yelena explained her approach to pole vaulting with simpler words: “I like that I can control my body” she said once. “I like to fly. I like those feelings when you’re over the bar. It’s more beautiful than other track and field events.”

I witnessed one of her world records a summer night in Monaco in 2008, where she raised the bar to 5.04 meters and passed it. Yelena is a very communicative athlete: I remember that night her eyes full of joy and absolute determination.

In an unconventional move for an athlete of her caliber, who can easily make several hundred thousands of dollars at each appearance, in 2010 Isinbayeva decided to take a break from competitions.

She came back one year later, to face a fiercer pool of opponents. After conquering a bronze medal in 2012 London Olympic games she started cultivating the wish of a retirement in style, after Rio Olympics, a gold medal around her neck.

Another couple of years passed, Isinbayeva took another break to give birth to her daughter Eva in June 2014. In December of that same year another member of Russian athletics team, Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitaliy, appeared in a documentary on German television uncovering a large-scale doping fraud: Russian athletics officials supplied banned substances in exchange for 5% of athletes earnings and falsified tests together with doping control officers. Successive investigations revealed implication of Russian government, RUSADA (Russia anti-doping agency), secret services, WADA (World anti-doping agency), IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations). Two former directors of RUSADA died in 2016; one of them had just approached the newspapers telling that he would publish a book on Russia state doping.

The scandal eventually led International Olympic Committee to ban all Russian track and field athletes from 2016 Rio Olympic games. In August 2016, WADA reported that Yuliya Stepanova’s account, containing confidential information like her personal address, had been hacked while no other athlete profile had been accessed. Stepanova and her husband had fled Russia after appearing on German television in 2014; after giving a fundamental contribution to the fight to re-establish transparency in sports, today they seek asylum in foreign countries and fear for their lives. They have been completely abandoned by sports institutions.

The ban was the sunset of Yelena Isinbayeva Olympic dreams: she was denied the possibility to compete, despite a spotless 14 years career where she never tested positive to an anti-doping examination. In a press conference, she said: “I will never agree with, and never forgive, my exclusion from the Olympics”. Paradoxically, being banned as a result of a doping scandal, she has been elected by  fellows to serve an 8-year term on the International Olympic Committee’s athletes commission.

After Rio, during the Russian nationals, Yelena Isinbayeva posted the 2016 world leading jump of 4.90m and finally announced retirement.

Falls – Part II

The problem, in sports today, is that often the show on display on our TVs is pure fiction. We pretend to believe that what we see is real, but we know that it’s not true. Athletes take forbidden substances that enhance their performances and in doing so are covered by organizers, sponsors, sports institutions, that all happily sing with one voice “the show must go on”. Illegal betting alters results of football, tennis and many others sports worldwide.

From the very moment sponsors and television money invited themselves to the party and started crunching sportsmanship ideals, the race between doping and anti-doping technologies is as intense as the chase to new records.

The reality is that Russian athletes banned from Rio 2016 track and field were not the only cheats. Others have been unmasked during the games, many have probably gone uncaught, some will fall and will have to return their medals in the years to come when anti-doping tests will be repeated on samples collected in Rio. In this situation, believing in sports today is almost impossible.

I said “almost” because from time to time, we witness stories like the one of Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin.

The episode has become iconic, but I wish to recall it to those who missed it.

Heat 2 of women 5000 meters. Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin line up with favorite Almaz Ayana to chase a place in the final. In the second part of the race, while athletes are grouped in a confused bunch, the two girls collide and crash on the blue track.

Hamblin remembers: “(one moment after the fall I was down, thinking) What’s hit me? Why am I on the ground? And then suddenly there’s this hand on my shoulder, like, ‘Get up, get up! We have to finish this!’ And I was like, ‘Yep, you’re right. It’s the Olympic Games. We have to finish this!’ ”.

The voice was D’Agostino’s who jumped back on her feet and was about to restart running when she saw that Hamblin was still not moving. Nikki raised herself and the two girls resumed the race, but D’Agostino was clearly hurting and soon collapsed again. This time, Hamblin was there to lend a hand.

Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D'Agostino fall in 5000m Heat 2
Abbey D’Agostino stumbles on Nikki Hamblin in 5000m Heat 2
Get up! We have to finish this!
Get up! We have to finish this!
Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D'Agostino crying on the finish line
Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino crying on the finish line
D'Agostino in a weelchair greeted by Hamblin
D’Agostino in a wheelchair greeted by Hamblin

4 and 1/2 laps, almost 2000 meters, were still to go. Hamblin injury being way less serious than D’Agostino’s, Nikki passed the finishing line well behind the other athletes, in 16:43.61. Exhausted, she turned around and saw D’Agostino staggering down the track; Abbey finally crossed the line at the last place, more than two minutes after the winner, with a time of 17:10.02.

Nikki Hamblin waited for Abbey D’Agostino on the finish line, passed her arms around the other’s neck, then the two girls cried together.

Abbey D’Agostino had run for more than two kilometers with a torn cruciate ligament and was in too much pain to leave the track on her own feet. When race officers urged for a wheelchair Nikki helped Abbey to sit down and kept looking at her as she was carried away.

“I’m so impressed and inspired that she did that” Hamblin later declared and her words are the best possible end of the story.

The metaphorical medal that Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin won in Rio is more precious than Schooling, Bolt and Phelps ones and even more deserved than the one denied to Yelena Isinbayeva. It is a medal made of transparent, clean and fresh air, a substance that in today sports is much more needed and rare than gold.


Original images of this sportsmanship tale can be found here. Watch them, they are really refreshing.


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Once were heroes… Shining stars

Once were heroes… Shining stars

Lights went down on 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer Olympic Games a few weeks ago and athletes from different disciplines are again spread around the world.

National football championships replaced badminton, Judo and synchronized swimming on our TVs and sport fans habits are back to normal routines. However, how amazing it is, every four years, to observe sports stop worldwide, as stars athletes move in the Olympic village along with perfect unknowns and compete for the same objective! Olympic Games are a comet: a bright periodic collision between ideals of sport and reality of money.

In this cycle of two posts, I will take you through the stories of a handful of Olympic heroes, examples of talent and dedication that enlightened Rio nights. Today I start with two phenomenal athletes, bearing destiny in their names.

Catch me if  you can

Bolt noun (LIGHTNING):  a flash of lightning that looks like a white line against the sky

“I am a living legend”, Usain Bolt said at a press conference on 12th of August 2016, after dominating the 200 meters final in Rio and no one could really argue. The statement came just before the curtain fell on his last Olympics, enshrined by Jamaican relay team win in 4*100, leading Bolt to his third triple-gold medal.

As of today, Usain Bolt has nine gold medals in Olympic Games, 11 in Athletics World championships; he holds the world record in 100m, 200m and 4*100m. Before him, no sprinter had even come close to such records, and the one that will equal such performances is probably not born yet.

Usain is today 30 years old and the remaining of his athlete career is likely to be a sweet celebration of his legendary gestures, a few more displays of his trademark lightning sign, retirement and immediate induction into track and field hall of fame, a “best of all times” tag close to his name.

After his tenure is over, will his records be what we’ll remember best of Usain Bolt?

History will tell but, besides his monster performances, the Jamaican surely deserves to be remembered for the way he turned track and field sprint disciplines upside down. From the very first moment he appeared on the running track, all in him seemed to be coming from another world, starting from his features making him better suited for volley or basketball than sprint. Usain is 1.95m and, while his competitors are often short and very compact, he is slim and abnormally tall. His reaction times, not the best in class, and his body structure slightly handicapped him in his late days in 100m. On the other hand, his unusual height makes him simply unbeatable in the 200m, once he can fully develop his speed.

Usain Bolt persona is unusual too, to say the least. Before him, sprinters used to be arrogant, nervous, and unapproachable. When the Jamaican appeared on the scene, he started a carnival of his own: he would smile and play with cameras in the most terrifying moments, just before Olympics 100m starter gunshot. During the race, he would relax, slow down, hit his chest in a dominating sign, turn and look around, all before the finish line. Then he would smile, again and again. In case you missed it,  give a look to Rio 200m semi-finals finishing and appreciate how Usain plays with Andre De Grasse in a hilarious “catch me if you can” movie remake.

The show is not over, yet, but the end is coming closer. After Usain Bolt retirement grim athletes will likely take possession of sprint again and world-class athletics will no longer be as fun. He has been the fastest but also one of the coolest dudes on Earth and for almost a decade he managed to make us believe that 100m in around nine seconds is as easy as a smile.

Maybe this is the biggest lightning Bolt legacy.

23 to 1

School verb [ T ]: to train a person or animal to do something

I have been living in Singapore for almost three years and, since I moved here, I am intrigued and fascinated by this small country. What startles me most is how everything is carefully planned and relentlessly executed.

This systematic approach led Singapore to great achievements: the country is today a full-scale lab where social, technological, economic experiments happen every month, most of the time ending up in an improvement of collective conditions of living. Of course, the medal has a dark side, but I am not going to talk about it in this post.

Before Rio, Singapore constant performance improvement score was not showing up at all in sports. After participating to 15 previous editions of the Games, Singapore Olympic medal count was stuck at a sad zero (gold medals), two (silver), two (bronze).

At the opposite side of Olympic success spectrum stood Michael Phelps, the almost unbeatable swimmer who, before lining up for his fifth Olympic games in Rio had already won an amazing 18 gold medals, holding the enviable title of most decorated Olympian of all times.

Allow me to roll back time to a morning in 2008 when U.S. swimming team visited a Singapore club where a 13-years old local kid, named Joseph Schooling, was training. Phelps was part of the team and back then had already won six gold medals, more Olympic metal than a talented athlete can dream of.

Schooling recalled that morning in a recent interview: “They came to the country club that I trained at, everyone just rushed up and was like “it’s Michael Phelps! It’s Michael Phelps!’ and I really wanted a picture … It was very early in the morning and I was so shocked, I couldn’t really open my mouth”.

After that morning, Phelps continued dominating the scene for the years to come: the only upset came from South African Chad Le Clos, who beat him in London 2012 Olympics 200 meters butterfly. After London, Phelps announced his retirement but came back in 2014, when he started preparing for next Olympics in Rio where he wished to right his wrong towards Le Clos.

One year after meeting Phelps, inspired by the American and supported by his family, Joseph Schooling, the young Singaporean, moved to the United States, first going to Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida before attending the University of Texas, where he became a member of the Texas Longhorns swimming team, one of the top collegiate swim programs. Across the years, Joseph underwent continuous improvement in butterfly style swimming. He easily qualified for Rio 2016 Olympics, where he was bound to meet Michael Phelps again, but this time, the encounter was set to happen in the pool.

While everyone was looking at the unfolding of rivalry between Phelps and Le Clos, an underrated Schooling dominated his 100m butterfly semifinals on 11th of August. When swimmers positioned themselves on the starting blocks again for the final the day after, Goliath (Phelps) was in lane 2  and David (Schooling) in lane 4.

Many know the end of the story: Schooling claimed the win against his personal hero Phelps in one of the most surprising Olympic results ever. He led the race from the start and in an unseen final rush, Phelps, Le Clos and László Cseh of Hungary, touched the wall together, exactly three-quarters of seconds later, clinching a collective silver medal.

During the victory lap after the race, Schooling turned to Phelps and said, “Dude this is crazy, out of this world, I don’t know how to feel right now”. Phelps smiled and simply replied, “I know”.

Upon his return to his country, Schooling, the first ever-Singaporean Olympic gold medalist, was acclaimed like a God. He received a prize of one Million Singapore dollars (~730000 US $) and a parade was organized to celebrate his glory.

Today Olympic gold medals count stands at 23 (for Phelps) against 1 (for Singapore), but for this little country, such a slim account could not taste sweeter.


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When the others go away

When the others go away

This is the first post in my blog new “Role Models” category.

An Italian proverb goes more or less: “lucky is the country that does not need heroes” and I fully buy into it. Superheroes belong to Marvel comics and many strong political leaders, often sung by today “journalists”, routinely walk over worn out democracy rules. Nevertheless, being part of the big human race circus can be confusing and role models are reassuring when we fail to see with clarity. I turn to them when facing complex situations or my own contradictions, and ask myself: “what would HE do?”; the answer I get in return is usually the right one. I have very few, they are quite unconventional, and I am happy to introduce them to you. Of course you’re not obliged to admire them like I do.

Before we start

It is time to take a few stands and give some credits:

Number 1: I usually illustrate this blog articles with relevant photos, but in this case, images will be neutral. This story is about a war surgeon whose life mission is to repair broken human bodies. Navigating the web, I found lots of pics documenting effect of cruelty on men, women, kids, babies. Those images are disturbing and I do not intend to shock or wake morbid curiosity. World Wide Web is out there for those who feel the need to see more.

Number 2: I will not promote anything else than expressions of creativity, such as bands, movies, books, writers, photographs, on this blog. Period.

Number 3: Just to immediately contradict previous statement, at the end of the article you will find a link to a non governmental organization website. This is a one-off and I am doing it because maybe after reading the story, you will think that these guys need support.

Number 4: Article below was written and belongs to , and appeared on online version of The Guardian online edition on 14th of July 2013. You will find a few more links are at the end of the article.

Meet Gino Strada

Three years ago, the photographer Giles Duley walked into the Salam centre hospital in Sudan and was taken aback by what he saw. It was unlike any hospital he’d seen anywhere, let alone a country as desperate and chaotic as Sudan.

It performed world-class open-heart surgery free of charge, it was calm, ordered and spotlessly clean. “I mean absolutely spotless,” says Duley. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” At its centre was a beautiful garden. And there, in a corridor, he found the only unruly aspect of the entire operation: the man who created it all, a bearded, straggle-haired Italian called Gino Strada, leaning against a wall, chain-smoking.

In the studio in east London where Duley was photographing him for the Observer last week, Strada was still straggle-haired, still chain-smoking: “Though I can stay 10 hours at the table in the operating room and I don’t even think about a cigarette,” he says stepping outside to have a quick one between doing the interview and having his portrait taken. “I don’t even think about it until it’s over.”

The operating room is where Strada lives. He’s a surgeon, a heart-lung transplant surgeon by training, who should be living comfortably in some well-to-do Italian suburb, but who instead has devoted the past two-and-a-bit decades of his life to living uncomfortably in some of the worst places on earth.

Aged 65, when other men’s thoughts might turn to retirement, Strada spends months-long stints in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan or any other of the 47 healthcare centres worldwide set up and run by Emergency, the NGO he founded. Although both Strada and Emergency are practically unknown in the UK, he has quietly got on with doing the world’s dirty work: Emergency provides free high-quality medical care for the victims of war, 90% of whom are civilians, and the majority of whom are poor and have nowhere else to go.

“We think everyone has the right to be cured,” he says with the air of a man who’s been saying the same thing for decades. But then he has been doing exactly that. Which in part explains the world-weariness that accompanies him like a particularly faithful dog. (“He may appear tired and cynical on the surface,” says Duley, “but underneath he never relents.”) Strada has seen the very worst the world has to offer.

Even the most committed doctors rarely manage more than a few months in a war zone. Strada has done years and years. Emergency, in its 18 years of existence, has treated 5 million people under some of the most dangerous conditions in the world. He personally has operated on 30,000 people; an almost unimaginable number, I say.”Yes, but I always find it very, very interesting. When I wake up in the morning, I’m happy to go to the hospital. When I worked in Milan and I woke up in Italy, I wasn’t that excited; it was more like a routine.”

Emergency is doing extraordinary work, and yet that is not the most extraordinary thing about it – not the thing that struck Duley so forcefully when he walked into the hospital in Khartoum. The Salam centre for cardiac surgery is not some bush hospital patching people together with sticking plaster and a couple of aspirin: it offers world-class free cardiac treatment to patients from across Africa. (Many of its patients are young: rheumatic fever, which is endemic in Sudan and neighbouring countries, destroys the heart valves and disproportionately affects children and teenagers.) It’s the only hospital of its type on the entire continent and Strada’s view, which challenges most people’s ideas about how “aid” works, is quietly revolutionary. He believes that Emergency’s hospitals need to equal if not better those in the west.

But nobody believes that, I say. No other organisation is saying this.

“If you think of medicine as a human right, then you cannot have some hospitals that offer sophisticated, very effective, hi-tech medicine,” he says, “and then go to Africa and think, ‘OK, here’s a couple of vaccinations and a few shots’. Do we think that we human beings, we are all equal in rights and dignity, or not? We say, ‘Yes, we are.'”

At Emergency, he says, “we want to establish good hospitals, but how good should a hospital be to be good?” After a lot of debate, they decided the measure should be: “if it’s good enough that you would be happy to have one of your family members treated in it”.

Emergency’s hospital in Sudan is so clean that infection rates aren’t just lower than in hospitals in the UK and the US, they’re “lower by a power of 10”. And the cardiac centre is just the first in what he hopes will be a network of these specialist hospitals, all centres of excellence, that will stretch across Africa, the next being a paediatric facility in Uganda, designed by his good friend, the Italian architect Renzo Piano.

There’s an almost Fitzcarraldo quality to Strada – the Werner Herzog film about the man who pulled a steamship over a hill in order to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle. People thought Strada was nuts “and worse” when he decided to build a cutting-edge, world-class cardiac hospital in the Sudanese desert. “They wrote all kinds of things about it and me in Italy.” But he did it anyway. A children’s hospital on the shores of Lake Victoria designed by the man who co-created the Pompidou centre is relatively straightforward in comparison.

But then Strada negotiated with the Taliban at a time when Nato said negotiating with the Taliban was impossible, in order to operate a hospital behind their frontlines. He considers himself a surgeon above all else and, as a surgeon, he just likes fixing things.

“Emergency is just not like any other NGO,” says Duley. “I’ve worked with so many of them, but it’s just profoundly different in the way it treats people with such dignity and such respect. The hospitals are such oases of calm, they’re incredible.”

It’s impossible not to make Duley a part of this story, because he has championed Strada and Emergency’s work. He’s passionate about getting their story heard. During his visit to the Salam centre in Sudan, Strada urged him to visit Afghanistan, which Duley did. While he was there, as we’ve covered previously in the Observer, he was blown up and lost both legs and one of his arms. (Strada feels terrible about this “though it’s incredible to see Giles now, how it’s just made him even more determined”.)

“I knew that the first story I did afterwards would get a lot of attention,” he said. “And, for that reason, I knew I wanted it to be about Emergency.” It’s only because of Duley’s urging that Strada has stepped out of the shadows, appearing at two events in London last week.

And there’s no doubt that Strada’s work deserves to be better known. In Afghanistan alone, it operates four hospitals and 34 clinics. It has opened three during the past month. Strada says that the Red Cross has pulled 95% of its personnel out of Afghanistan “now the war is over” and Nato forces have built not one civilian hospital. “And the war is not over! The fighting is getting closer and closer to Kabul.” The casualty figures were up last month, he says, by 40%. We went to war in Afghanistan. Our government did so on behalf of us the people. And it’s been left to a small Italian NGO to mop up our dirty work.

“It’s absolutely criminal… I mean, you know Nato forces, they have their own back-up system. Their own medical facilities. And for the population there is nothing left. And even more than that, the Afghan government has to record the cost of the services international aid organisations provide, so it’s going to pay in the end. Very few can afford treatment, and for all the others there’s nothing. Therefore, if you’re injured or you’re sick, you just die, period.”

Opening and running one of his hospitals for three years costs €3m (£2.5m – “or the cost of three western soldiers for a year”). Drones – the victims of which they’re seeing in increasing numbers, at least 40% of them children – are just another obscenity. “Particularly if you think that thousands of miles away someone is putting down a killing list. The Nobel peace prize is signing a killing list every week.”

What do you mean?

“I mean, President Obama. He’s personally signing a killing list. They have squads of assassins, professional assassins, who kill people. Is this the idea of justice of the new millennium, that someone gets killed because someone else decided this one deserves to be killed without a trial, without pause, without nothing? Just crazy, crazy. It’s another human way to wage war. It’s not a human one, but this one is particularly nasty and particularly cruel.”

But then Strada believes that war should be abolished. Abolished?

“It has to disappear from human history,” he says. “Same as slavery had to disappear from the human history… and today the concept of slavery is disturbing.”War should disturb us equally, he says. It makes absolutely no sense. “It’s very peculiar to the human race and it’s crazy because what you are destroying is humanity… When you operate on children and teenagers, you ask yourself what the hell do they have to do with war? I mean, these people, they don’t even know why a war is fought around them, and they don’t even know who’s fighting whom.”

He reserves his harshest judgment for “humanitarian wars”. “Whoever speaks about humanitarian war should be eligible for a long stay in a psychiatric institution. It’s complete nonsense. No matter what people say or think, the end result is that 90% of victims are civilians.”

Emergency programs
Emergency programs

There are few people who can talk with the moral authority of Strada. He has earned the right to be listened to. Few people have seen the things that he has. Far fewer have done anything about it. He challenges you to think differently about things you thought you knew about (the inevitability of war, the inequality of suffering) and simply refuses to accept the status quo.

Duley is right. The world-weariness is a front. And there are signs that the world is starting to notice a little. A documentary short about the Salam centre, Open Heart, was nominated for an Oscar this year and Strada found himself flying from Afghanistan to the Academy Awards. But, given the scale and scope of his work, it seems ludicrous that he’s not better known.

He travels continuously. He rents a house in Venice but is there for only a few weeks of the year, for only a few days at a time. He’s had open-heart surgery himself: a quadruple bypass after a heart attack he suffered while under fire from Saddam’s forces in Iraqi Kurdistan a number of years ago. And in 2009, his wife, Teresa, with whom he co-founded Emergency, died.

Has it been difficult continuing alone? “It has, although it might sound strange, but it gave a bit more strength because we didn’t want to waste everything that Teresa had given. She developed Emergency in Italy, and we now have 4,000 volunteers there, and these people decided to support Emergency’s work because of Teresa.”

His daughter, Cecilia, now continues her work, and Strada is back on the road. Don’t you ever think sometimes you should be at home in Venice tending your roses? “It’s a nice idea” – he says – “but I’m a surgical animal. I like to be in the operating room.” The roses will wait.

What did we learn?

Hearing a statement such as “war should be abolished” you might be tempted to dismiss Gino Strada as one among many idealists. But when the others go away and the noise of battlefield no longer resonates in your TV, he stays. He is to be found always in the same place, the operating room, fixing human bodies, living by his beliefs and helping others, most of the time in silence. It might not be possible to build a better world, but he is fighting hard every day not to make it too worse. Respect.

What else?

If you want to learn why Gino Strada launched an Emergency program in Cambodia, read Smile Cambodia on this blog.

Here you can learn more about Emergency and maybe help them.

Afghanistan, when the others go away is a short movie about one of Gino Strada ideas: bring medicine students to Afghanistan to complete their studies in a war hospital. The movie is captivating, but it contains disturbing images. Also, it is in Italian.

Another interesting article on Emergency in Afghanistan appeared on New York Times Magazine online version on 18th of May 2012. Read with care, content is unsettling.

Viva l’Italia

Viva l’Italia

Mark Twain once wrote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Well, not much prejudice will be left in me when, in a few years, I will reach a moment, where I will have lived longer abroad than in Italy, my home country.

Having spent a long time lately hearing languages I do not understand, eating food I would not be able to cook or struggling to absorb cultures that do not resonate in  me, a light and mellow nostalgic feeling brought me to question myself on the meaning of being an Italian far from Italy, today. Seen from Asia doesn’t Italy look like a small boot, caught in the middle of its walk between Central Europe and the doors of Africa and Middle East? And still, even from a distance, how vivid is this beautiful country in my heart, how much it permeates the way I speak, move, live my life!

So, I asked myself: “what is it like being Italian?” and the first answer that came to me, when I finished sipping my espresso was: “it is simple”. No need to overthink it. Italians are loud, lively, seductive, unreliable, full of passion and everybody will expect you to be like that. Just conform to expectations and they will be happy. They will probably go back home and tell their friends they met a real Italian and he was just like in the movies. Being Italian gives you an extra boost that can make people a bit happier and I am not sure Germans have similar stuff in their toolbox, for example.

But if you scratch the surface a little, reality is bitter-sweet and Italians know how to suffer, as well. To make it simple, our Greek cousins were stranded on our coastline long ago and found landscape and climate enjoyable. They brought with them an unequaled aesthetic taste that Romans managed to corrupt and sublimate at a slow pace, in the millenary cycle of Empire rise and fall. Armored with genius, Romans ruled the world and after the Empire slowly succombed its own contradictions, the soft spot they left in the middle of Europe teased appetite of people from everywhere, who arrived or left Italy to plunder, trade, paint, love, write, sail, plot, play music, build cathedrals, conquer. After all this simmering of arts, ambition, passions, Italian people was born uneven, attracted by good and evil in a symmetric way; our eyes relentlessly chase sin, beauty and other unreachable ideals, like in a Piero Della Francesca perspective.

“After all this simmering of arts, ambition, passions, Italian people was born uneven, attracted by good and evil in a symmetric way; our eyes relentlessly chase sin, beauty and other unreachable ideals, like in a Piero Della Francesca perspective”

The French expression “pourriture noble” could be translated in English by “noble decay” and designates a bacterium exploited in wine making to produce some of the sweetest and most delicious wines. Italy is undergoing a noble decay process for centuries now, and  cycles bring us ripe fruits such as Renaissance and more sterile periods.

“Italy is undergoing a noble decay process for centuries now, and  cycles bring us ripe fruits such as Renaissance and more sterile periods”

So, this is it: for those who want to grasp how tragic and beautiful Italian public life has been in recent past, I have put together faces and images that are an hymn to tragedy and creativity, to Italians we love and admire. To those that from time to time, still managed to awaken our weary pride and distracted us for a moment from our important occupations, like flirting or cooking spaghetti ai frutti di mare!

If I shot a movie on Italy, it would be like this

Original Soundtrack

Francesco de GregoriViva l’Italia

Starring: in order of appearance

Enzo Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve

Gabriele Salvatores Mediterraneo, Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991

Architect Renzo Piano

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in Luchino Visconti‘s Il Gattopardo, from Tomasi di Lampedusa novel

Director Claudio Abbado

Sergio Leone and Robert De Niro at C’era una Volta in America screening

Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren on Otto e Mezzo shooting

Fiat 500 – Urban scene in Florence

Paolo Rossi and Enzo Bearzot at 1982 football world cup in Spain

Sprinter Pietro Mennea

Giorgio Armani, an icon of style

Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini‘s La Dolce Vita

Songwriter Fabrizio De Andre’

Years of lead

Bud Spencer and Terence Hill

Enzo Bearzot and Sandro Pertini at 1982 football world cup in Spain

Vittorio Gassman on his Vespa

Hugo Pratt‘s Corto Maltese

Iconic Tuscany

Songwriters Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci

Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider

Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica

Legendary Vespa Piaggio scooter

Nanni Moretti on his Vespa in Rome

Writer Dino Buzzati

Writer Umberto Eco

Marco Tardelli and Claudio Gentile at 1982 football world cup in Spain

Vlora ship in Bari, 8th of August 1991

Milo Manara sketch

Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, both killed by the mob in 1992

Gilles Villeneuve, arguably the most spectacular F1 driver ever, and his Ferrari

Writer Italo Calvino

Songwriters Lucio Dalla and Francesco De Gregori during Banana Republic tour in 1979

Beware of the wolf (of Wall Street)

wall street.png

The story

Recent investment narrative is dominated by dark stories like 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse. Names like Bernie Madoff and Jerome Kerviel sound familiar to most of us while Jordan Belfort even made it to become a modern days icon in Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street.

Newspapers headlines screaming of latest Wall Street crackdown trigger our worst fears and effectively spoon feed active fund management business. Anguished by paranoia, many are forced to believe they need a captain to steer their boat in dangerous waters of speculation and run to financial advisors, begging to be ripped off. Simple and effective mass psychology: we get scared by complexity we do not understand and surrender to panic, thinking that a professional investment salesman will “know it better”.

Then come those who believe they’re smarter then others and are seduced by stock picking game. When I came out of uni and was starting my first job, internet technologies created a bunch of individual stock pickers providing online trading platforms to the masses. How ironic is that when internet bubble which gave them the trading tools popped with the power of a Tsunami, self-made stock pickers were washed away by the waves. I was young and irrational back then and I used to say: “I invested most of my money in Rum and Coke and it always paid off”; I still believe Rum and Coke beats stock picking. If you’re tempted by the game, google “stock picking contest”: you’ll find endless stories on how sheeps, monkeys, babies and maids routinely beat celebrity stock pickers.

While paranoid and smart-ass tribes run free in modern investment prairies, wealthy fund managers, banks and salesmen of all sorts look and pile up money waiting for next bonus.

Luckily, there is a third tribe, to which all of us should aspire to belong, which sits at the opposite side of investment strategy spectrum. You all probably know Warren Buffett and his legendary quote:

“When we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever.”

I have to admit that I never heard of John Bogle until a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine dragged my attention to the subject of investment strategy and now I am totally fascinated by his personal story.

I recommend reading John Bogle biography and interview below to discover why this calm gentleman, father of 6, is the granddad we all would like to have.

In a few words, he is the founder of Vanguard Capital and one of those American self-made entrepreneurs that still consider failure an essential ingredient of success. Even more, he debunked finance industry and created the first index fund ever, inventing a model that puts  common sense in the spotlight of investment theater.

Thanks to John Bogle, we no longer need financial advisors: every you and every me can read, understand and apply his pillars to creation of a solid economic future. I stop here, have a good reading!

6 Questions interview to  John Bogle

The interview below is extracted from following URL:
http://www.aaii.com/journal/article/six-questions-with-john-bogle
Interviewer: What is the best recipe individual investors can follow to maximize their long-term wealth?

Jack Bogle (JB): Well, the best recipe for the individual investor, I think, is simple but not easy to do. But you have to do it. Save you must, is the first rule, because if you don’t save anything, you will end up at retirement with nothing. And none of you want to do that. So that’s the number one rule.

When you start to invest, make sure you’re very broadly diversified. Make sure you keep costs out of the equation. Trade the absolute minimum. Trading is ultimately a losing game, so the more turnover you have in your portfolio, the less well you’re likely to do. And keep at that.

I’ve often said, also, when you get those regular retirement plan (…) don’t open them. Don’t peek. And when you do peek—which you’re only allowed to do when you get your final retirement statement—be sure you have a cardiologist standing by. Because you will be so amazed at how much money you’ve accumulated over 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years that you won’t believe it. You’ll probably faint, or something worse, and there will be a doctor there to revive you.

You should definitely start with a base of equities. And by far the best way to own equities is to own them through either a Standard & Poor’s 500 index fund or a total U.S. stock market index fund. Hold it forever—Warren Buffet’s favorite holding period—and you will win.

Doing those things really works in the long run. You will do better than your neighbors. There’s no way around the math, because you will capture the stock market’s return less about five basis points—five one hundredths of one percent. You get almost all of it. The money goes to you, not to the managers, not to the salesmen, not to the brokers, not to anybody else, but to you. So that’s the tried and true formula and it will work. It has worked.

So, do all those things. And then, as I’ve often said, stay the course.

Interviewer: Do you think there are any advantages individual investors have over professional investors? If so, what do you think they are?

JB: Well, individual investors can chart their own course, number one. Now, that means it’s a curious way of looking at things, because professional investors are often running individual investors’ money. But that need not be; you can run your own money. But don’t do things like buy individual stocks or even individual funds, because you’re subject to a lot of risks out there.

I’ve talked a lot about the index fund, but what it does is eliminate the risk of picking individual stocks. It eliminates the risk of picking managers that fail, and it eliminates the risk of various sectors. Is growth going to do better than value, for example? With index funds, you don’t have to worry about those three principal risks of equity investing. In index investing, they’re all eliminated, so it just plain makes sense to do it that way.

Interviewer: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen investors make? And can you give suggestions on how investors can try to avoid repeating them in the future?

JB: Let me count the ways. Let me count the ways that investors make mistakes when they invest. First, all of us go into investing like we do everything else. We think we’re above average: We’re above-average drivers, and we’re smarter than our neighbors. That’s not true. In the world of investing, we’re all average. We all divide up the stock market’s average. Some of us can do better, but for each one that does better, somebody else does worse. It’s a zero-sum game.

But it’s not a zero-sum game once the croupier, the broker, the salesman and the money manager gets into it, because their costs come out of those returns. So the stock market is a loser’s game. For all of us together, as investors, there’s no way around this so you might as well lose the absolute minimum. So keep costs down as much as you can. Keep fees down as much as you can. Keep sales loads down. Basically, I would say to eliminate them.

Keep portfolio turnover down as much as you can, because activity is the enemy of the investor. It costs money, and it’s often, because of your behavior, counterproductive. For example, we know in this industry, the mutual fund industry, that investors look at fund performance and think it’s a prologue to the future. So when a fund is hot, if you will, they pour their money into it. Then the fund cools off, because all funds revert to the market mean. Then they get out of the fund and get into another hot fund. That’s a way to guarantee that you will not have very much money by the time you retire. So that’s yet another mistake, relying on past performance, because the past is not prologue to the future.

But you should try not to react, because the stock market is a giant distraction to the business of investing. How do you solve these behavioral problems? Well, the way to solve them is not to engage in them. Don’t engage in trading. Here, again, obviously, the index fund comes into play. It’s the one fund that you don’t need to trade.

Still another mistake is listening to tips and rumors, and all those kinds of things.

Another mistake is, I think, the feeling that we need to take action in a very different way than I was just talking to you about. And that is, we react to events in the marketplace. We react to the idea that the Federal Reserve is going to do something, or China is going to do something, or Russia is going to do something. Or the Republicans and Democrats have a debate, whatever it might be.

Our promise, here at Vanguard, is that you will have the same non-manager that you have today when you retire 50 years from now. That’s what the index fund is. People are not aware of this, investors are not aware of this. But in other funds, the typical fund manager changes every eight years. Typically, half the funds in business now will probably be gone a decade from now. There’s a lot of noise in the fund business that you can’t capture.Eugene Fama and Kenneth French, the academics at the University of Chicago and Dartmouth, tell us that a money manager has a 3% chance of beating the market over 50 years. Well, if you own two managers or three managers, that 3% drops to 1% and then probably, finally, 1/10th of 1%. I hardly need to tell you that those are terrible odds. So do the simple thing: Capture the market return and, if you can, just keep that in mind.

Another rule is don’t peek. Don’t look at your statements when they come in each month: your statement from your IRA, or your 401(k), your personal retirement account. Don’t look. It’s just distracting. It will grow; just be patient. And don’t open any of those envelopes until the day you retire. When that day comes, as I said earlier, my strong recommendation is that you have a cardiologist at the house, because you are probably going to have a heart attack when you see how much money you’ve accumulated.

You won’t believe it because the miracle of compounding returns—if it’s not overwhelmed by the tyranny of compounding costs—just produces remarkable returns. Albert Einstein called compounding the greatest economic miracle of all time, or something along that vein.

Interviewer: If you could share one lesson with individual investors, what would it be?

JB: Don’t worry about the complexity of investing. This is put out as a complex business. You hear opinions all day, every day—newspaper, television, magazines, the media generally—talking about the stock market. Ignore it. Do your best to ignore the noise and just go about your own path of investing.

Because this is not a game about the markets; it’s a game about the productivity of American business—the dividend yields that you receive and the earnings growth that follows when the rest of the company’s earnings are reinvested in future opportunities. So right now stocks are fairly highly valued, I don’t think dangerously so. It may take time, if we get a revaluation in stocks, measured by a price-earnings multiple. But over time, it will take care of you. The market will take care of it, just by its internal rate of return.

Interviewer: Many AAII members are near or in retirement. Is there advice you could give them about getting their grandchildren interested in investing?

JB: Well, I’ve done it the easy way. I have 12 grandchildren. And I’m not sure I’d recommend this to anybody reading this, but what I do is put money away for them every year in a Vanguard balanced index fund: 60% total stock market and 40% total bond market. That’s very conservative, because I’m a conservative person. And I’ve been doing that for a long number of years and it’s amazing.

I’m going to have to have it tied up in some kind of trust so that they don’t get it too soon. But they will be nicely taken care of. I mean, it’ll be enough to help them buy a new house or something like that, when the time comes. Or start a business. Whatever they want to do.

I talk to them about it, just once a year. Talk about how simple it is. Talk about the principle of balance. If the stock market has a very good year, I’ll say, “You know, I would’ve been better off having all the money in an S&P 500 index fund, or a total stock market index fund.” And they don’t dwell on it. I don’t tell them the value of their accounts, by the way. Everybody has a different feeling about that.

But, essentially, the way to get children interested is to have stock-picking contests and that kind of thing. I think that’s very unhealthy, because that’s not what investing is all about. They should be thinking about compounding of returns. Show them what a compound interest table looks like. It might be a little complicated for some of them, but just show them the difference between a 5% return and a 1% return and a 7% return or 8% return over a long period of time. Their eyes will bug out, as the kids might say.

Everybody has to do this their own way. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve picked a total stock market or S&P 500 index fund with no bonds. And that’s maybe what you want to do, depending on the age of your children. A lot depends on that. It’s your decision, but it’s basically an asset allocation decision and the decision to totally diversify the portfolio. Keep them posted on the returns of the portfolio (personally, I don’t reveal the actual amounts in their accounts) once a year or something like that.

Interviewer: Are there any personal achievements that you are most proud of?

JB: Well, you know, yes, there are. First of all, I’m proud of my family. I will have been married 60 years this coming September to my wonderful wife. We’re the parents of six children and the grandparents of 12 and various in-laws—grandchildren-in-law or whatever we call them—and we’re happy to see them get through life as good citizens. They’re all doing very different things. Some of them are struggling a bit; everybody has those things in the family. But the idea, I think, is to produce good citizens in this country, and I believe we’ve done that.

Of course, I’m proud of starting Vanguard. There’s a song from Miss Saigon telling about one of the orphans over in Vietnam. “Conceived in hell and born in strife,” is the way they describe it in the song. And that’s the way Vanguard started. It was a very messy start. It took a lot of determination to bring it around. I’d been fired from my previous job. I was basically at sea, disgusted, disappointed, tearful, but I knew I had to find a new way in life.

And that led to starting Vanguard. That led to two of my very best ideas, which are the two I’m certainly the most proud of. One is our structure and number two is our strategy. The Vanguard mutual structure, where we operate the funds for the benefit of shareholders and at cost, is one of the great ideas of all times. And it’s so popular in this industry that after 40 years of leadership we have no followers. Think about that one for a minute.

As to strategy, we immediately focused on the index fund. We had a lot of managed funds in those days—a number of them, maybe half a dozen. But the future was always going to be with the index fund. It was going to take a long, long, long time for the index fund to get anywhere, so we made the other funds as index-like as we could with relative predictability of their portfolios compared to their peers. They have correlations of 98% or 96% with their peer groups, so they don’t depart very much and win on cost.

Those are good ideas. Those are sound ideas. Those are ideas that conform with the relentless rules of humble arithmetic—you know, two plus two equals four. They’re very simple ideas, and they’re very inexpensive ideas, and they’re ideas that are very easy to implement. They, with the help of a few other funds in Vanguard, are basically changing the nature of the fund industry. And I’m proud of the company we have here, proud of the people that work here.

I also have two other totally different achievements that I’m also proud of, and that will end my list. That is, I helped lead the rebuilding of a school I went to, Blair Academy. It’s now one of the strongest independent schools in America. I’m also proud of helping to build the National Constitution Center down in Philadelphia, which has the lofty purpose of trying to make the average American, people like you, understand the meaning and importance of our United States Constitution.

When you get to improve the educational system, in a little way; increase awareness of our national heritage; start a good company with good values, strategies and structure; and have a good family, what else is there?

Five pillars of sound individual investment

John Bogle gave several guidelines for how individual investors can achieve long-term success. Among them are:

  • Save: This is the first rule. If money is not routinely set aside for investing, a person will end up in retirement with nothing.
  • Stay Broadly Diversified: An index fund eliminates the risks of incorrectly picking individual stocks, selecting managers and choosing sectors.
  • Keep Costs Low: Investing is not a zero-sum game with winners and losers, since the investment industry keeps a share of investors’ returns through fees and other expenses.
  • Keep Transactions to a Minimum: Doing so will help keep costs low.
  • Don’t Look at Your Statements: If you don’t open your investing account statements until retirement, you’ll be amazed at how much money you have accumulated throughout your working years.