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Errata for my book Succeeding

The third edition of Succeeding came out 12/6/11. Here are pertinent things I learned about after it came out.

Regional and ethnic accents can be changed and should

I saw a TV documentary about the Army spring football game at Fort Benning. Army in this case meaning the football team of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, my alma mater. One of the cadets shown was a black from Georgia with such lousy pronunciation and grammar that I said he was unfit to be a cadet or military officer. I previously criticized Herman Cain, who was nowhere near as bad but who failed to upgrade his also rural Southern bad grammar. In a subsequent TV commercial, I noted he actually conjugated a verb.

This is not just a problem for blacks, although many of them seem to have taken isolating themselves from the rest of American society to new heights with language, dress, names, and so on.

It was also a problem for me. I grew up in Southern New Jersey and Delaware and had a severe South Jersey accent. I did not realize it until I heard a tape of myself doing my radio show on KDET Radio at West Point. I was horrified and simply consciously got rid of the accent in about a year. I can still talk like South Jerseyans, but now I just do it as a comedy shtick.

Anyway, I failed to discuss this in my book and I should have. Regional and ethnic accents are changeable. Furthermore, they generally make you sound stupid and in some cases, mean or belligerent or unfriendly. Unless you never leave Hick County or the PS 124 school district in Ghettoville, you need to lose your regional accent. See my article on that cadet in the Army Spring Football Game TV show at

Cultural Literacy book

On page 207 of the third edition of Succeeding, I said there was a book about 20 years ago that listed all the stuff you need to know to go to an Ivy League cocktail party and never miss a beat—and you save the $200,000 cost of going to an Ivy League college. But I could not remember the name of it or figure it out from Internet research.

A reader has told me the name. It is Cultural Literacy, what every American needs to know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. published in 1988. It is mainly narrative chapters discussing the nature and importance of cultural literacy—it’s more important than just going to Ivy League cocktail parties. Fundamentally, it is part of the language of educated, informed people. The appendix the meat of the book. It is simply a list of 5,000 words an phrases that every informed American should know. It is a test of your cultural literacy that has probably been administered to you, in small pieces, many times in your life and will again in the future.

There is a new and updated version as of 2002.

The valid portion of the criticism leveled at Sarah Palin, essentially, was that she did not know enough of the 5,000 words and phrases at the end of Cultural Literacy.

Here are ten of them from the middle of the alphabetical list along with my off-the-top-of-my-head answers to each:

word or phrase
my definition
Madrid capital of Spain, been there
maestro master in Italian, typically used in music
Mafia Italian crime organization
Magellan Spanish explorer from back in the 1400-1700 era
Magellan, Strait of Named after the explorer, I don’t know where it is. A strait is a narrow waterway connecting two large bodies of water like the Strait of Gibraltar which connects the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean.
Maginot Line line of concrete military defense bunkers on French border with Germany, did not work very well, foolish idea to rely on fixed fortifications in the 20th century
magma hot lava made of melted rock in volcano
Magna Carta document specifying certain rights of the people signed by the king of England under duress from citizens in 1066
magna cum laude Latin for top academic honors in a graduating class


magnetic field area around a magnet where it will move lightweight ferrous metals

I did not check to see if I got these right. But you get the idea. I think most college grads would do well on this. I suspect Sarah Palin, who is a college graduate, would not. And the fact that she did not probably cost her a chance to be president. That was a dumb reason for her to lose that chance.

That’s why it is mentioned in my Succeeding book. I want my readers to succeed. I think I would have liked to see Sarah Palin succeed. She was told, by Charles Krauthammer among others, essentially to study up on stuff like these 5,000 words and phrases as well as foreign policy, law, and economic policy. She did not. Oh, well.

Primarily, this book is needed by those who did not go to college but who want to be culturally literate. And it is a hell of a lot more efficient than reading all “The Great Books” or graduating from Columbia and its famed “core curriculum” as my son did.

If I had my life to live over again, I probably would have been educated by myself, not by going to formal educational institutions like those I graduated from—West Point and Harvard Business School. And I may write a book on autodidacticism—educating oneself instead of the formal, expensive, inefficient, leftist indoctrination K-12 and higher education institutions we now have in this country. If I do that book, Cultural Literacy by Hirsch will be listed in it as required reading. I got most of what’s in it from formal education and reading and watching TV and such. But in the absence of formal education, you probably need Cultural Literacy to fill the gaps. Reading is the main self-education method. Working in the field in the second-most important.

Mark Steyn and Glenn Beck are famous modern autodidacts. Neither ever set foot in a college. Steyn strikes me as having mastered Cultural Literacy but not necessarily through the use of that book. Beck probably needs to get a copy and fill his gaps.

Most adults already are autodidacts, but before they figured that out, they wasted a lot of time and money going the formal route. The key arguments against self teaching are loss of socialization (from living in a dorm and at a college with thousands of people your age, marital status, and IQ level) and the need for credentials in many formal and informal situations—like seeking a professional job like lawyer or doctor or filling out an online-dating service question about education.

‘Nonemployer firms’

The Census Bureau says there are 21 million “nonemployer firms.” Those are sole proprietors or one-man shops. I am one of them. Great way to live.

Three-quarters of all U.S. businesses are sole proprietors. We gross as a group $972.7 billion, about 3% of all U.S. business activity. And probably have 97% of the happiness.

TIPs bonds

In Succeeding 2nd edition, I recommended Treasury Inflation Protected securities. These are U.S. government bonds in which the principal amount is adjusted semi-annually for changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). They also pay interest although much less than regular U.S. government bonds.I thought they were great protection from deflation because they pay the original face amount at maturity regardless of deflation. That’s still true.

But in the course of researching for my latest book, How to Protect Your Life Savings from Hyperinflation and Depression, I delved more deeply into TIPs and found they are unsatisfactory for inflation, especially hyperinflation.

One problem is both the interest and the inflation adjustments are taxed by the federal government when they are credited to your account. But you cannot get the increased principal from the federal government until maturity. That takes away about 40% or so of your inflation protection.

You can hold them in a tax-deferred IRA as I did, but when you withdraw them eventually, you will be taxed at your normal ordinary income tax rate. Also, if you withdraw other than as allowed you will also have to pay a penalty. In these dynamic financial times, retirement account restrictions and penalties are more likely to be triggered. The laws and rules pertaining 401(k)s, IRAs, and SEPs more or less assume no great inflation, no exchange (problems at the stock or bond or commodity exchange where you trade them) risk, no counterparty risk. Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. Those assumptions are not valid as the last several years should have taught us.

Perhaps the most important flaw is the three-month lag. During Weimar Republic hyperinflation in Germany in 1922, the rate hit 30,000% per month! At that rate, here would be the purchasing power $90,000 in TIPs during the three month lag.

Day 1: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stops its horse-and-buggy CPI data gathering to calculate your inflation adjustment. Your TIPs have $90,000 of purchasing power in May, 2010 dollars.

Day 30: BLS is still calculating. Your purchasing power in May 2010 dollars is now down to $300.

Day 60: BLS is still calculating. Your purchasing power in May 2010 dollars is now down to $1.

Day 90: BLS announces your inflation adjustment based on what prices were three months ago. Your purchasing power is down to 1/3 of one cent before the adjustment. After the adjustment? Who knows? Maybe that will take it back up to 2/3 of one cent, maybe a whole penny.

Some inflation protection, huh?

Drucker law

Management guru Peter Drucker said

Profits migrate to the supplier of the missing component necessary to complete the system.

That’s another way of saying the most basic advice in my book. One way I put it is to match your strengths and weaknesses to a situation where your strengths are needed and valued and your weaknesses are irrelevant or unimportant.

Additional weight loss

After reaching a peak weight of 203 in my late 50s, I decided to get my weight down to 170, which I did when I was 59. Lately, I decided to push it down further. On 3/27/09, I was 165. Since I am 5'11", that gave me a body mass index of 23.1. Doctors recommend your BMI be 18.5 to 24.9.

Although 170 was nice and seemed like enough of a challenge when I weighed 200, I now want to get to my ideal body weight. Why not? It’s healthier and looks better. 

Uncovering ‘definition’

When there is a prolonged drought, water levels in lakes and rivers go down exposing the wrecks of ancient ships and buildings. Getting down to your ideal body weight after being heavier does the same. All that stuff you see in doctors’ drawings of muscles are there in your body, but invisible because of fat. You may have seen those muscles in the mirror when you were younger. The good news is they’re still there. When you get rid of the fat, all sorts of “definition” appears.

A friend of mine recently had a long bout of pneumonia. He lost a lot of weight and was not overweight to begin with. He said when he was most emaciated in the hospital, he had abs—the legendary six-pack. No sit-ups or other workout required.

All God’s children got abs. But yours are covered up and therefore invisible by the fat on your belly. Because they are rather flat and tucked way below your rib cage and therefore hard to see, it turns out you have to get your body fat down to around 10% or lower to make your already existing abs visible. Don’t bother to do any sit-ups or any of that until you get down to 10% if visible abs are your goal.

According to various online calculators, my body fat is now about 12%. That is a level medical authorities call “athlete” (5% to 13%). Below 5% is unhealthy. You are considered “fit” if your body fat is between 14% and 17%. 18% to 25% is considered “acceptable.” Over 25% is “obese” and unhealthy.

I am not sure what my ideal body weight is. I suspect 160 to 165. The problem is they have a different one for each “frame” but it ain’t that simple. One test of my wrist says I am “small” frame, but what about my shoulders, arms, and head which are significantly bigger than average? The Web site I just linked above to says my ideal body weight is 136 to 179. The mid-point in that range is 158. They also say the ideal body mass index is 19 to 25 which has a midpoint of 22. And they say that the whole range is reasonably equally healthy. If that’s the case, appearance would be the criterion that would get you to a more specific ideal body weight.

I’m gonna get down to 160 and see how I feel and look. I suspect that’s about what I weighed when I graduated from West Point. No one said I looked unhealthy then. Indeed, I had to pass numerous physicals and tests not the lest of which was Army Ranger School. I still have the various goals I set for myself each year at Christmas. In 1976, when I was 30, my weight goal was to be 165. Mission accomplished—albeit 33 years later.

The following was posted later. I got down to 162. I felt like I was made of balsa wood. I also had the thought, “Hey, I remember feeling this way when I was in college!” Essentially, I had a reunion with my college body at age 64. However, when I weighed that much at age 64, friends commented that I looked like  I was wasting away. My face was gaunt and the backs of my hands were boney. On the grounds that I am probably equally healthy at 172 as at 162, and at 162 I look emaciated, my current ideal weight is about 171-172.

Economic consequences

By the way, losing weight has economic consequences. You spend less on food but more on clothes. I now have a nine-inch drop, that is, the difference between my chest (42) and waist (33). Furthermore, because I have broader than average shoulders, the drop is more like ten inches. Because the shoulder seams must be correct from the start, whereas they can take in the chest. To get clothes to fit well when your body dimensions, waist mainly, are significantly different from the usual obese American to whom the clothing manufacturers want to sell, you have to get custom made, made-to-measure (maybe—the drop is a problem), tapered, and so forth. The clothes I had taken in when I first lost weight now have to be replaced, probably by bespoke stuff (custom made from scratch). I also routinely get jackets and shirts taken in at the waist after I buy them because they typically are made to fit the people who are part of the current obesity epidemic in America. That is, they have lots of blousing (pear-shaped wide diameter of loose cloth) around the waist.

The trick to losing 38 pounds and keeping it off?

Many have asked me what the trick is to losing 38 pounds and keeping it off.

Eat less.

Does exercise also take off weight? As a practical matter, no. You exercise to strengthen your muscles and bones (weight training) and your cardio-vascular system (exercise bicycle, jogging). That will burn some calories, especially cardio, but is is not feasible as a way to lose weight by itself. It takes hours per day and if you do a lot of it, you incur over-use (excess wear and tear) injuries and/or acute (muscle pulls, tears, broken bones) injuries. Just do stuff like take the stairs instead of the elevator and do your strength training and cardio workouts and eat less.

Workout improvement

I have been doing the following workout routine, which is on page 53 of the second edition of Succeeding, for the last three years:

Day 1: ride Schwinn Airdyne stationary bicycle 34 minutes
Day 2: weight training—curls, sitting bench press, lat pull downs, dips
Day 3: ride Schwinn Airdyne stationary bicycle 34 minutes
Day 4: weight training—leg press, leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises

This routine contains a flaw that injured me. While playing over-55 baseball (hardball), which I also discussed on page 53, I injured my throwing shoulder. “Acute impingement syndrome” the doctor called it. I had to rehab it for six months to get it better. The physical therapist said my bench press made my pectoral (chest) muscles tighter, but that I was not exercising my upper back muscles similarly. That caused my shoulder joints to be pulled forward. She had me add rowing (pull a weight toward your chest rather than pushing it away from your chest as in bench press) weight training to days 2 and 4.

Such balance is an important principle of weight training. Note that most of my other weight training lifts get both sides. Leg extension works the quadriceps (front of thigh) and leg curls works the hamstrings (back of thigh). Curls work the front of the bicep; dips, the back of the bicep (tricep). Exercising back muscles also improves posture which has health and appearance benefits.

My therapist has also had me doing a bunch of light weight exercises designed to rehab the shoulder impingement syndrome.

The real nationality of my maternal grandfather

On page 49 of Succeeding, I said I tried to find my maternal grandfather, Frank Simonsick, in the Ellis Island records when I visited there. They had no such person and recommended names like Franz Simonsic which was Slovenian, not German. I had long suspected Simonsick was not German because I had studied German and Simonsick is not how they spell words in that language.

Well, Bingo! My niece, who is the great granddaughter of Frank Simonsick, spent many days tracking all this stuff down.

My grandfather did indeed come to the U.S. through Ellis Island on the then-two-year-old Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse ship (Norddeutscher Lloyd Line) from Bremen, Germany. The arrival date in New York was October 24, 1899. His name then was Franz Szemancsak. He was accompanied by his mother Anna Szemancsak. They had been preceded by Anna’s husband (my great grandfather) John. (I am not sure of that spelling. The records from which we got it are all hand-written. When you search for that name you get no results and a reference to Szemcsak instead.)

You don’t need to have studied German to recognize that Szemancsak ain’t no German name. There is a column labeled “Nationality” on the ship manifest. For Anna Szemancsak and her son Franz (my grandfather), the nationality is listed as Hungary. We also got the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. The 1930 census asked then Frank Simonsick where he was born. Answer: Budapest, which he said was in a country named “Hungary/Germany.” There was a country called Austria-Hungary around the time my grandfather was born in 1889. When asked in the 1930 census what language he spoke at home before he came to the U.S., my grandfather said, “unknown.” I don’t believe that.

The residence, which apparently means the town they came from in Hungary, is Kis Salak, or something like that. Apparently all records back in 1899 were handwritten. I would appreciate help from anyone knowing Hungarian place names.

I asked my grandfather once when he was alive what part of Germany he was from. He said Leipzig, apparently another lie. He was born in Budapest in 1889 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1899. Not much time to be moving back and forth to Leipzig especially in the horse-and-buggy days.

But this all seems to support what I said in Succeeding when I expressed suspicion that my grandfather’s family lied about their ethnicity when they came to the U.S. because Germans had higher status in both the U.S. and Europe than Magyars. Budapest is in an ethnically Magyar region. There are about 15 million Magyars in the world today, but they have been scattered all over Europe and North America in a sort of Magyar Diaspora since a 1920 treaty. Magyars today are a people without a country—perhaps another reason to claim to be German.

In the 1930 census, my grandfather said his parents were both born in Germany. That would be plausible today, and possible, but less likely, in the 1860s in Eastern Europe. There is also the issue of why a German couple would have the last name Szemancsak.

What does all this have to do with Succeeding? I covered it in the chapter on what you can change and what you cannot change. Your ancestors are one of the things you cannot change. Although it is politically incorrect to say so, who your ancestors are may have two effects on who you are:

• DNA matters with regard to appearance, susceptibility to certain diseases, and perhaps personality, athletic ability, and such
• If DNA does not matter, as the politicians claim, many people still believe it does

In either event, you should at least have an accurate notion of your ethnicity, especially if you are inclined to behave according to what you think it is.

Also, I commend investigation of this sort to you. I have done similar investigations as a journalist and as a researcher. It is quite fun. There was an excellent movie about the drama of such investigations: All the President’s Men.

I also felt the need to put it here because I started the discussion in the book including my suspicions that my grandfather had lied about being German.

I also noticed I got the math of my ancestry wrong on page 49. The correct breakdown is

1/4 German or Magyar
1/4 Irish
7/16 Scots-Irish
1/16 Cherokee

But wait there’s more—from DNA—mystery solved

Stock picking

On pages 170 and 171, I talked about Warren Buffett agreeing with my advice to put your stock market money in low-cost, broad-based index funds like the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares (VTSMX) or the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares (VFINX). I did that because almost everyone points to Buffett to prove that one can get rich by buying the right stocks. Such fortunes are pure luck not skill.

Buffet has now made a very public bet. He bet Protégé Partners LLC that the Vanguard 500 Index Fund would outperform five hedge funds that they run over the next ten years. Understand that hedge funds like Protégé Partners claim not only to be great stock pickers; they also claim to do even better than great stock pickers because they manage the companies to an extent and because they buy from a wider universe than just publicly-traded corporations.

I believe Buffett will probably win the bet, but I must note that his losing the bet would not be dispositive. The best way to answer the question of whether the Vanguard fund is better than hedge funds is to compare their performance over the entire history of both types of funds. Hedge funds refuse to release their results as a general rule. Could there be any reason for that other than that they are ashamed of them?

The bet was chronicled on in the 6/23/08 Fortune magazine and at

Page 138 of my Succeeding book says copyrights last 50 years. It’s now 70 years.

A reader who seems to be an expert disagreed with my comments about patents. He said they typically last 20 years and that they cost more like ten times the amount I quoted from Forbes magazine. He also said they are of more value than I suggest.