The Week in Review -- May 7, 1999

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A Mountain and the Moon
by Jerry Thomas (

Greetings, Fools.

This week, mountaineers near the summit of Mount Everest found the body of George Mallory, the legendary British climber who had been missing for 75 years. Virtually simultaneously, and on the other side of the world, deep sea explorers discovered Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft three miles deep in the Atlantic, where it has been resting since it sank there in 1961. On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 11,000 points for the first time, exciting only those who needed to write a headline that afternoon.

Meanwhile, in Omaha, Fool Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck) logged her series of reports from the Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A and BRK.B) shareholders meeting. Throughout the week, on our Credit Cards message board, some Fools celebrated their mastery of consumer debt, while others braced themselves to do battle against this greatest spoiler of financial freedom.

You have heard of George Mallory. It was he who famously replied "Because it's there" when asked why anyone should ever trouble himself to risk so much in climbing to the highest elevation on the planet, beyond which there is no climbing left to do. He was last seen in 1924, ascending near the summit of Everest, when he disappeared into the mist, and into legend. Nobody knows for sure if he ever reached the top. With the discovery of his remains, perhaps some of the mystery surrounding his fate can be resolved.

Warren Buffett is a man with his own record of achievement. Yi-Hsin Chang's reports, linked above, describe this week's celebration of that success. Thousands of Berkshire shareholders have been enriched by Buffett, a gentleman graced with a patience, a temperament, and an aptitude that have made him the ideal investor of the century. Readings of chance meetings at Dairy Queen, or a study of the Chairman's words themselves, do much to explain why Buffett's following is so fervent. His achievement has touched even those of us who aren't fellow shareholders, because we can examine his methods and learn the lessons of his example.

To climb the highest mountain -- itself a clich� -- to plant a flag, then to pause for a moment to admire the view -- there are many who would argue that such transitory rewards are not worthy of the effort required to achieve them, never mind the posthumous glories heaped upon Mallory and the others who have surrendered their lives climbing Everest. I believe these naysayers have a point, that we do risk losing some greater truth in overly romanticizing what is, after all, just a long walk uphill.

Still, I think there is much to learn in such tales of the art of human striving. We state our aims, and we set out to achieve them, however Wise or Foolish they might be. I see the same human capacity for resolution demonstrated in the posts of those who participate in the discussion on our Credit Card board. A goal is stated, a plan devised -- and while the struggles are more commonplace, more mundane, and surely more earthbound -- they still represent, and are still worthy of, a share in what we might call the Human Endeavor. Our friend Joann, who we know on our message boards as "Hunzi," celebrates that spirit in Tuesday's Fribble, which may in its own way inspire you to read this past week's postings on the Credit Card board. There is quite a view from that vista.

Alex Schay (TMF Nexus6) wrote a two-part Fool on the Hill commentary about (Nasdaq: PCLN) this week, appearing Monday and Tuesday. Efforts like these still surprise me as we work to create our quiet Foolish revolution. Just a few years ago, information like the kind that Alex presents would have been hard to come by without paying a large sum, either through commissions to a full service broker, or as a fee to the research firm that prepared it. But here it is, Alex's detailed study, available to anyone who will trouble himself to click. This Human Endeavor business is getting easier all the time.

Proof: You heard this week that Arthur Levitt, Chairman of the SEC, had some important words to say about the risks of online securities trading. You want to read them. Okay, Fool -- just click.

Perhaps it is the case that I am still too easily impressed by these new technologies. I still compose these weekly Notes on a yellow pad with a ballpoint pen before coding them digitally for your perusal. I draw little boxes around the key lines of text to remind myself where to place the hyperlinks. Pen and paper seem amazing enough to me as far as technology goes, and our grandchildren will laugh at our clumsiness with these new tools. But building that legacy, putting these new technologies to their best possible use -- this is our own striving, our own aim, our own quiet effort.

If I asked you to read Friday's Fribble, would you? It, too, is about legacies, and contributor Jim Padar describes the purposes behind our efforts far better than I ever could. Read, also, Monday's Fribble by George Stateham, which describes his own method for demonstrating the principles of Foolish investing in a way that will resound profoundly through the generations of his descendents -- his own "Because it's there," a phrase we remember not merely because it is a glib retort, but because it is also somehow a summation of human hope.

On July 21, 1961, astronaut Gus Grissom, his flight suit filling with water, was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean as his Mercury space craft sank to the bottom of the sea. He escaped drowning that day, only to die in a 1967 Apollo fire, giving his life in another crazy human stunt, this one to put a human being on the moon so that he could plant a flag and look back to admire the view. It is ironic that it has taken more time to rediscover that primitive capsule, just three miles beyond our reach, than it took to travel to another world and cast our eyes homeward. I don't know what real value there might be in going to the moon, or in recovering that space capsule, except to add them to the list of pointless, glorious things that people do. Maybe that's reason enough to be Foolish.

One last note: Now you can listen to The Motley Fool Radio Show each week from anywhere in the world through our new Webcast via Just click here for details.

Until next week,
Fool on!


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