The Deipnosophist

Where the science of investing becomes an art of living

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Location: Summerlin, Nevada, United States

A private investor for 20+ years, I manage private portfolios and write about investing. You can read my market musings on three different sites: 1) The Deipnosophist, dedicated to teaching the market's processes and mechanics; 2) Investment Poetry, a subscription site dedicated to real time investment recommendations; and 3) Seeking Alpha, a combination of the other two sites with a mix of reprints from this site and all-original content. See you here, there, or the other site!

30 March 2008

A chrestomathy of sorts

Well, if it is not one thing, then it is another. And while I might not be here blogging away as usual, the markets continue... to open, to trade, and to trend. Which, I suppose, proves the point I make in post after post.

And while I lacked the time to write comments re the markets, I continued to share via other methods; specifically, this blog's sidebar. This post shines the spotlight on four excellent sites that merit your attention; there are many, many others. Find them all in the sidebar on the left side of this page.

1) Portfolio Management and Financial Tutorial
"Asset Allocation and Portfolio Management are the process of determining optimal allocations for the broad categories of assets that suit your investment time horizon and risk tolerance."

Excellent primers and tutorials that offer the rudiments, and more, of money management.

Quantifiable Edges
"Assessing Market Action With Indicators And History"

Another excellent site. This one analyzes (current) market conditions via filters that sometimes are statistical, sometimes scientific, but always historical; indirectly squashes 'analysis' founded on emotional responses.

Going Private
"The Sardonic Memoirs of a Private Equity Professional"

The author's insider insights into markets, both private and public, are dependably spot-on correct. "Sardonic," yes, but also irreverently witty, and many times laugh-out-loud funny.

4) Phil’s Favorites
"I’ll be posting interesting reading material for Phil's Stock World from a collection of Phil’s favorite websites"

In truth, this excellent site wholly is the result of Ilene Carrie's vision. Ilene saw the need for a site that was more than a mere repository of links to that day's articles and commentaries of interest, so she created a sorta-kinda chrestomathy. (Not literally, but darn close!) Ilene's site has become more than a must-read for me; it is indispensable.

Please share your favorite sites as a comment reply, or email them (along with a brief description of why you like it/them).
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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20 March 2008

An incomplete list of my investing rules

"I don't know if you trade any SPY or similar, but on the chart you posted, would you have carefully noted the breech of the primary trending late July 07 (before the Aug 16 low!), perhaps bought off of support, and then sold at a primary trendline retest mid Sept or early October?"

Eric's question includes several misperceptions about my methodology (not Eric's fault, but mine); thus, his question inspires me to offer more information than it requires. (Sorry, LOL.)

Rules for my methodology include, but not limited to...
Long side investments only.

- Rising market trends typically endure for 2/3 of a given epoch (a measurable interval between two time points; specifically, a beginning and ending), whereas declining market trends typically endure for 1/3. I attempt to be on the 'right' side of the then-current trend.
- What better time than during a general market decline to perform due diligence on my investments and opportunities? (Especially for a long side only investor.)
- Balance. I seek balance in my life via pursuing other interests. General market declines offer the opportunity to enjoy the gains from the previous up trend. Too, I suffer no need to be all things to every market climate.

No options. Options are not a method to invest, although many shrewd investors develop savvy techniques using options to obtain their investment positions.
No mutual funds. Each investor can create his or her own mutual fund -- without the ridiculous expenses and fees.
Company shares exclusively. I seek intellectual excitement, in addition to the possible profits, if I risk my savings. Finding companies that lead their industry in advance of Wall Street satisfies this urge.
Management is crucial. True talent in the executive ranks is rare.
Fundamental and valuation measures are key, but not crucial. Most such measures fail to reveal as much as their proclaimers believe they do.
Charting and technical analysis tell me only when to buy, not what. I have zero use for any person who claims the role of professional investor but refuses to use all the tools available.
Invest in companies, not general market direction. I consider company shares to be the true investment whereas 'investing' in market averages qualifies more as a directional bet, expressed as a function of time. But that is just me.

This all is just one person's investing methodology, mine; inappropriate for everyone else. We each seek more information and understanding about our investment opportunities; I believe we should know most everything before we invest. (Investigate first; then invest.) I must note that when I post to this blog about a company/stock, it does not follow that it qualifies as an immediate purchase, no matter how compelling I, or anyone, makes the opportunity seem.

Back to your question. After all the foregoing commentary, it should be no surprise that I do not "trade the SPY or similar." As for those trend breaches and tests -- How do you know they would not continue in each direction, except in retrospect?

Here is a test. Print a daily basis bar chart of anything -- stock, market average, etc -- but one with which you have no familiarity. Take a piece of dark paper and cover over the chart. Now reveal the chart one bar at a time. Ask yourself as you reveal each daily bar, "What action do I take today -- buy, sell, or hold?" This exercise on the hard, right edge of the chart should reveal many core lessons re chart action, and your real time interpretation of same. Market oscillations will no longer appear to be random. (Such as Tuesday's big rally, which, considered alone, did nothing to change the market's setup.) The exercise also will help you develop a set of chart patterns that you can rely upon; you will know how the pattern fulfills itself based on historical precedent. You will seek them out for your favored opportunities. Ergo, the market comes to you (your price and value) rather than you chasing after the market's runaway express.

Finally, and more valuable, the exercise will reveal your core truth as an investor.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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17 March 2008

A smile for a gloomy day

We all welcome a chuckle at any time, but especially today.

The cartoon below did precisely that for me... Made me chuckle, don'cha know! (Thank you, S!)

[click on cartoon to enlarge]

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


16 March 2008

Four Horsemen

A caveat before I begin this post that deals with the perception of a double bottom pattern in the market averages and indices... Charting, technical analysis, and the visual analysis of trends does not displace diligent understanding of risk and opportunity, and proper techniques of money management; nor should any user interpret its message as prediction. I like Carl Swenlin's denotation of technical analysis, "Technical analysis is a windsock, not a crystal ball."

After decades of sampling various studies of technical analysis, I whittled it all down to my core precepts, what I term my 4 Horsemen. Likely to strike some readers as simplistic (I contend elegant), these essential four tools are price, volume, area pattern, and trend. (The Greeks believed that 4 essences comprised all life -- earth, air, fire, and water. But greater even than those four lay the highest, rarest, and most important, the fifth essence, or quintessance.) The continuum is my quintessence, or 5th Horseman.

Price and volume would be constituent parts of area patterns, area patterns a constituent part of trends, and all four constituent parts of the continuum. Which means that, to me, the analysis of only one is done in a vacuum rather than placed within the context of its continuum, and therefore is incomplete, faulty, and likely wrong. To identify a possible double bottom, but fail to place that area pattern within its trend, and the trend within its continuum... Well, let me show you what I mean.

[click on images to enlarge]

We see, via the correctly placed trend line (A), the powerful uptrend in place since the 2003 low, the 4 year old trend's high trade, the building of a top (B, and next chart), the breach of primary trend line A in January 2008 (highlighted in yellow), and the gathering downward momentum since the trend line breach. Zooming in for closer look...

Line 1, although not a trend line, shows clearly the market's loss of upside momentum (loosely captured by the direction of line 2); in fact, a top (area pattern A) builds due to this loss of momentum. Studies of price and volume within area patterns reveal subtle clues as to potential changes of the extant trend; for example, basic peak & trough analysis (in essence, lower highs and lower lows during a declining trend; higher lows and higher highs during a rising trend). Intra-day and inter-day volatility help define any area pattern, such as areas A and B above. Note that in area B (the possible double bottom), no short term trend endures for more than 3 days in either direction; a crucial tell. So what is happening in area B, the so-called "double bottom?

A double bottom (or, conversely, top) must conform to specific rules; most investors see two lows and perceive a double bottom. (Or, conversely, two highs, and see a double top.) Moreover, as with many area patterns, a double bottom occurs retrospectively; only the trade above the intervening high (~1400 for the double bottom we discuss) confirms the pattern. The pressure to tilt decisively downwards increases, however, as the 50 day simple moving average now trends down, begins to crowd recent prices, and acts as formidable resistance. Just as it is formidable support during a rising trend. A double bottom tends not to crowd crucial support (at ~1270) at the second low, but instead bound higher. In addition, distribution occurs on an almost daily basis within this pattern; individual price bars and area patterns suggest sellers grow increasingly anxious, while buyers tuck away their wallets. This situation -- sellers anxious to sell (at any price) while buyers go on strike -- represents a potentially negative outcome; the possibility for downside price gaps. NB: The yellow highlighted bars represent negative reversal days for the S&P 500 index; their increasing preponderance likely means this 4 month old down trend probably will worsen. Soon.

Of course, I hope I am wrong. Indubitably, the market is deeply oversold; unfortunately, when markets suddenly change directional trend, most investors fail to adjust their measurable ranges for what constitutes oversold and overbought conditions. In the current market, that would be to down from up.

But markets and trends do change. "Be prepared to adjust your tactics and strategy if conditions change." (Carl Swenlin again.) I admit that my opinion is only one among many, and that I am too often wrong. I have no problem being wrong. When investing, I would always rather have my portfolio loaded (laden?) with my Core Opportunities, and manage those portfolio positions, than watch the markets squiggle this way and that, hoping against hope that the next squiggle would ratify my market thesis -- while owning no stocks. My method fulfills the role of an investor -- to invest; the latter method is that of market seer. Investments and investing serve my interest to make money, not satisfy my emotional need to be correct.

As a professional investor, I prefer to seek investment opportunities, especially as the tendency for price declines is to be painful, dramatic, frightening... and fleeting. This is one reason I prefer to manage portfolio holdings, not market oscillations. So, yes, I would purchase Google/GOOG for a contra-trend rally; every journey begins with a first step. But I never lose sight of that windsock.

As always, I welcome your comments, insights, and questions.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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14 March 2008

Fessin' up

Among the many private issues that managed to steal my time the past ~6 weeks, one item in particular stands out when it comes to this blog effort...

I purchased a new CPU in mid-January, and began the migration to it in late-January... just before the hard drive on the old CPU died. Whew. However, the new CPU has plagued me with non-stop problems. At first I blamed the manufacturer, until I learned the true responsibility -- blame, if you will -- belongs to Microsoft's Windows Vista OS. What words could begin to describe that OS? How about buggy, unstable, non-functional, s l o w (and I have 4Gb of RAM!); I could continue, but why? These problems are not unknown.

The irony is that I really wanted to buy my first Apple computer, but chose this CPU as a time patch, because I could be up & running immediately rather than endure the learning curve for Apple's OS right now. Oops, my error; six weeks later -- and a major crash yesterday -- simply have consumed WAY too much of my time. And resulted in fewer posts to this blog during extreme market conditions. I am sorry for not being here, as I more typically would. And, obviously, for not writing the promised post re double bottoms; I will do it this weekend.

So where do I sign up for an Apple computer? Perhaps readers who were Windows users but made the switch will share their stories with how successful and easy the change was/is.

I am all ears.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


13 March 2008

Double bottom?

Market chatter increases that the market averages and indices might be forming a double bottom.

Have none of that particular helping of nonsense. Viewed in isolation, the specific pattern is possible; however, place the specific pattern within its continuum, and the viewer immediately recognizes its improbability. For the hoped-for double bottom to have even the possibility to occur now, after yesterday's stunning reversal, the markets must once again hold the lows, and then turn up for more than 3 consecutive days. We shall see.

Trade and invest prudently!
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


12 March 2008

And where she stops...

The market decline of the past 4 months has been especially ferocious and pervasive that, quite honestly, it seems to have been around for far more than merely 4 months. So does this decline qualify as a bear market?

Bear markets, at least as I denote them, occur rarely. Whereas market up trends tend to be typical, usual, enduring, and the investors' mindset, general market down trends (bear markets) tend to be rare largely because no market is monolithic. Only rarely do all groups and sectors trend down; some group(s) somewhere bucks the trend. The trouble, for the market observer reliant on general market averages for directional cues, is whether the rising group or sector is a component of the market average or index; if not, than that group's rising prices provide no support to a declining market.

Many articles and commentaries circulate today that serve to frighten the bejeezus out of each of us; for example, this excellent Atlantic Monthly article by James Fallows, which is intelligent, well written... and disconcerting. Needless to say, there are others of its ilk. To further mine that vein, market action the past several months reveals an acceleration both of the down trend of the US$ and the up trends of gold, oil, and most commodities. Equities have been caught in the crossfire, and thus sold for a variety of reasons, including the (desperate) need for liquidity and the fear that today's price will be higher than tomorrow's price.

Which qualifies as only one reason I believe faith to be a prerequisite to invest long term. (That is, to identify and invest in a leading company that offers the best product or service in a growing industry.) The investor requires faith because, in the final analysis, a stock is little more than a piece of paper -- unlike (corporate) bonds, which represent a senior claim on a company's revenues. And do not forget that investment bankers create new pieces of such paper (shares of equity) seemingly every day. In one sense, stocks qualify as a giant confidence game; as long as we believe in the system, the game continues. Of course, investing is not really a con game, but the suspension of disbelief required to believe the markets', and the economy's, structure will not implode also qualifies as a form of faith. In addition, the investor relies on faith to carry him through the ubiquitous cloud of unknowing and uncertainty, to buy when other investors sell, to acknowledge the possibility of follow-on short term financial pain after he or she invests, and the vagaries of time. Lots of time. Time might heal all wounds, but it also creates its own uncertainty; really, who knows what the future will bring, whether fashions, stock prices, or Presidential elections.

Consider Google/GOOG. Pretty much the market leader straight out of the chute (post-IPO), the company and its shares became Wall Street's darling -- until the shares peaked in November 2007; its $300 decline since then erased its gains from October 2006. In doing so, its sudden decline breached crucial levels of support. Or did it?

[click on chart to enlarge]

Negative articles proliferate about Google/GOOG as well; one commentator suggests the shares now could plummet as low as $350. He certainly hopes such an event occurs; it would allow him the opportunity to cover his short position for a 100% loss. (Yes, he has been recommending investors short GOOG all the way up.) After looking at the chart above, ask yourself these questions:
1) Is Google today the same company it was 18 months ago?
2) Is Google a better company today than 18 months ago?
3) Are Google's revenues and earnings the same level, or even less, than 18 months ago?
4) Is Google a flash in the pan company; here today, gone tomorrow?
5) Will Google continue to grow as a company, and as enterprise?
6) Is today's price, recent ferocious down trend notwithstanding, a fair price for investors?

Long term investors always ask questions of this type; other questions, whether re company fundamentals, stock valuation, or stock chart analysis are all ephemeral. For example, all trends die, which is the precise purpose to identify and delineate trend lines. (Those moments provide inflection points.) And, yet, despite the presumed horrid news ("Google shares are collapsing! I told you the company is another dot bomb..."), the company itself remains. Throughout its 40 month bull market straight out of the chute, many investors hoped for a correction in Google's price and value that would allow them the opportunity to invest inexpensively, even cheaply. So here is the opportunity you hoped for, handed to you on a silver platter, tarnished though it might appear. Will you seize the moment?

Yes, it is difficult to catch a falling safe, and Google/GOOG's plummet earthward has been frightening. This recent down trend could continue. But will it? You buy at $420, and GOOG continues its plummet to $350 -- what then? Is a deeper decline to $350 from $420 truly consequential when the decline began at $750? How low is low, before a countervening trend occurs? Certainly, the more bearish yammering about GOOG, the better I feel.

Those last comments might seem, at first blush, simple, even simplistic; I argue them to be elegant. We each, as humans, have a preference to prefer the complex answer to the simple; complexity, as explanation, makes nothing more transparent; it only obfuscates. Moreover, I believe complexity in the service of explanation to be the work of charlatans. Probably no surprise that I seek the elegant answer in everything.

Which includes technical analysis, a valuable tool to identify reversals and trends. TA certainly is not for everyone; heck, most investors use it incorrectly, and then deride it when the 'answers' gleaned from their faulty analysis prove wrong. That comment aside, I note various technical measures suggest GOOG's decline could have hit bottom at $413, although a secondary test in the days and weeks ahead would not be uncommon. For the nonce, I seek chart clues that $413 will prove to be the low trade of this correction. No prediction, but, as an investor, I like Google/GOOG at $420. Google/GOOG, however, is not alone out there, screaming, "Buy me... steal me!"

Despite what you might read elsewhere, positive investment returns can be made in all market environments, although the requirement for extra prudence arises during severe declines.

Full Disclosure: Long Google/GOOG.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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02 March 2008

How dumb can we get?

Once was the time that I received regular complaints re my vocabulary usage; my word selections were too often too big and unfamiliar, which required extra effort to understand.

But, you see, that was the point. The more valuable an item, the rarer it is, and all the more difficult to attain. Understanding anything (investing, life) is like that. When I write a post that includes big words previously unfamiliar to you, especially when its topic is investing, please consider my purpose:
1) A single word could provide a specific, precise meaning that a sentence or paragraph fail to convey;
2) If you truly want to understand the investing process, then take the time to learn a word's denotation rather than ask me to dumb down the text. The market will never dumb down for you.

So, to me, the use of big words, and the precision of meaning they provide, etc make for greater understanding via less misunderstanding. The article below helps make my point, albeit on a grander scale.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist
How dumb can we get?

It's bad enough that Americans are increasingly ignorant about science, art, history, and geography. What's frightening, says author Susan Jacoby, is that we're proud of it.

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble—in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ... and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science, and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.


First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper, and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book—fiction or nonfiction—over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing, and videogames.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

espite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time—as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web—seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in The New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible—and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate—featuring the candidate's own voice—dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.


The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

his is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic–Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."


That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism—a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.


There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Susan Jacoby's new book is The Age of American Unreason.
This essay was first published by The Washington Post. Used with permission of the Los Angeles Times–Washington Post News Service. All rights reserved.

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