Favorite Quotes

“I do not know even this one thing, namely that I know nothing”
Francisco Sanches

Francisco Sanches 1551-1623

Francisco Sanches 1551-1623

This is the first line of Sanches’ Quod Nihil Scitur “That Nothing Is Known,” a book published in Lyons, France, in 1581 that  rocked European intellectuals and helped lay the groundwork for the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the Age of Reason.

Sanches, “the Father of Modern Scepticism,” questioned Aristotelian theories of logic and science that had gone unexamined for centuries.

And he didn’t beat around the bush in trashing the “scientific” knowledge of his time: “Do you call this knowledge?” asked Sanches. “I call it ignorance.”

He attempted to answer that tantalizing question that still resonates today: “Can we ever have certain knowledge in science and religion?”

Sanches argued that it was impossible to have certain or perfect knowledge of the rational world–only God possesses that. The best we can do is use observation, experience and judgment to understand in a limited way the natural world. It’s the start of scientific thought.

Francisco Sanches was born in northern Portugal in 1551. His father was a physician and a converso—a Jew who had converted to Christianity. Converses were targets of both the Portuguese and Spanish inquisitions.

When Sanches was a boy his family fled to France as the attacks of the Inquisition on Portuguese converso families increased (shades of Nazi Germany in the 1930s).

Like his father, Sanches became a doctor. He was a professor of medicine and philosophy at the University of Toulouse. He lived as a devout, church-going Christian—his two sons became priests.

Sanches is  sometimes classified as a Jewish philosopher because his skepticism stretched to Christian theology. His writings never mention the Gospel but do quote the Jewish Tanach (the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament). Some scholars claim he outwardly appeared a Christian but in secret practiced Judaism, as some converso families did.

A distant cousin of Sanches is the famous philosopher and essayist, Montaigne (1533–92), whose family had also escaped the Inquisition to live in the same area of France. Montaigne and Sanches were between them, as one leading scholar put it, “responsible for a re-examination of old claims to knowledge by thinkers in the 17th century.”

So the totalitarian Inquisition chased out the best and brightest, just as Einstein fled Hitler’s Germany to come to America.

What I would like to see is someone with Francisco Sanches’ intellectual cojones appear today to take on all those who insist, with all the pharisaical, bombastic self-righteousness of  a Grand Inquisitor, that man-made climate change (aka “global warming”) is a scientific certainty. Anyone who questions them or raises doubts is heretical, a “denialist.”

Yes, there certainly is climate change. But what I object to is people who approach this subject as if it were a religion. They use climate change–and the fear of the apocalyptic consequences of climate change–to push their agenda. They want power. They want to tell other people how to live.

Fanatical believers in man-made climate change attack anyone who dares question their orthodoxy. The Inquisitors in Spain and Portugal, who for three fearful centuries persecuted heretics, Jews, Muslims and anyone who wasn’t a “right-thinking” conformist, would approve.

Sanches wouldn’t waste his time on anyone with this mindset.  As he wrote, challengingly, in his introduction to That Nothing Is Known, “Let them be deceived who wish to be deceived; it is not for them I write, so they need not read my works…”

His intended audience is those who, “not bound by the oath of fidelity to any master’s words, assess the facts for themselves, under the guidance of sense, perception and reason.”


Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

censer (noun) covered incense burner
censor (verb) to inspect conduct, morals, documents
censure (verb) to criticize or reproach in a harsh or vehement manner

inequity (noun) injustice, unfairness
iniquity (noun) gross injustice or wickedness

lickerish (adjective) greedy, lascivious
licorice (noun) a candy flavored with licorice root

lighted, lit
According to Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors, either is correct. Lighted, however, is more usual when the word is being used as an adjective (“a lighted torch”).

palate (anatomy) roof of mouth
palate (noun) the sense of taste: a dinner to delight the palate
palate (noun) intellectual or aesthetic taste; mental appreciation
palette (noun) thin board on which a painter mixes pigment
pallet (noun) small temporary bed; portable platform

further, farther
I was taught that “farther” should designate distance and “further” is for quantity or degree.

But my Merriam Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage has muddied the waters for me. Seems further is taking over meanings that used to belong exclusively to farther.

The folks at MWCDEU track present-day usage trends of commonly confused and disputed words and phrases. They’ve had their eye on farther and further for quite some time (I saw references going back to the 1920’s).

Farther as an adjective, the MWCDEU says, is now limited to instances where literal or figurative distance is involved. And further competes even in this function: “It was the furthest thing from everyone’s mind.”

“So for the adjective we can see that further has squeezed farther out of the additional sense and is giving it pressure in the more distant sense.”

I was beginning to feel sorry for farther, but then read that, used as an adverb, farther still dominates “when spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved.” Such as, “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

I was farther and farther, or is it further and further?,  from understanding when to furt and when to fart, as it were.

For clarification, I turned again to my expert of choice, Bill Bryson:
“Insofar as the two are distinguished, farther usually appears in contexts involving literal distance (‘New York is farther from Syney than from London’) and further in contexts involving figurative distance (‘I can take this plan no further’).”

Which explains why there’s a “furthermore” but not a “farthermore.”

And another great word arrived in my email from Dictionary.com:

fugacious \fyoo-GAY-shuhs\, adjective:

Lasting but a short time; fleeting.

When he proposed the tax in May, Altman thought it would follow the fugacious nature of some flowers: bloom quickly and die just as fast.
— Will Rodgers, “Parks proposal falls on 3-2 vote”, Tampa Tribune, June 27, 2001
[What an extremely erudite and poetic newspaper report on such a mundane topic. The headline is hardly compelling: “Parks proposal falls on 3-2 vote”]

Fugacious is derived from Latin fugax, fugac-, “ready to flee, flying; hence, fleeting, transitory,” from fugere, “to flee, to take flight.” Other words derived from the same root include fugitive, one who flees, especially from the law; refuge, a place to which to flee back (re-, “back”), and hence to safety; and fugue, literally a musical “flight.”

Reminds me of the wise guys’ favorite word: “Fuggedaboutit!”

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words I’ve posted to date

What’s In A Word?

I investigate words, allusions, metaphors and such that catch my interest.

Best Word of the Day yet from my dictionary.com e-newsletter:

triskaidekaphobia \tris-ky-dek-uh-FOH-bee-uh\, noun:

Fear or a phobia concerning the number 13.

Thirteen people, pledged to eliminate triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13, today tried to reassure American sufferers by renting a 13 ft plot of land in Brooklyn for 13 cents . . . a month.
Daily Telegraph, January 14, 1967

Past disasters linked to the number 13 hardly help triskaidekaphobics overcome their affliction. The most famous is the Apollo 13 mission, launched on April 11, 1970 (the sum of 4, 11 and 70 equals 85 – which when added together comes to 13), from Pad 39 (three times 13) at 13:13 local time, and struck by an explosion on April 13.
— “It’s just bad luck that the 13th is so often a Friday”, Electronic Telegraph, September 8, 1996

Despite NASA’s seemingly ingrained case of triskaidekaphobia, which forced managers to impose the bizarre, ’13-free’ numbering system on its flights, the crew of perhaps the most important Shuttle mission to date clearly were unsure if STS-41C was supposed to be unlucky or not.
— Ben Evans, Space Shuttle Challenger: Ten Journeys into the Unknown

Triskaidekaphobia is from Greek treiskaideka, triskaideka, thirteen (treis, three + kai, and + deka, ten) + phobos, fear.

Some famous triskaidekaphobes1:

  • Napoleon
  • Herbert Hoover
  • Mark Twain
  • Richard Wagner
  • Franklin Roosevelt

1. Source: “It’s just bad luck that the 13th is so often a Friday,” Electronic Telegraph, September 8, 1996

Friday the ThirteenthBe warned, triskaidekaphobes, there’s a Friday the Thirteenth coming in November!

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Word of the Day, interesting words, Dictionary.com news, and more!

I also twitter Mr. Dictionary to learn about the birth of new words. Always interesting!

Energy, Enthusiasm, Sunshine and Smiles at NAMI Walk in Santa Monica


NAMI Walk in Santa Monica had people of every age, ethnicity, and background, brought together by a terrible illness. Too many suffer in silence. Today, we were their voice.

NAMI Walk in Santa Monica had people of every age, ethnicity, and background, brought together by a terrible illness. Too many suffer in silence. Today, we were their voice.


A bigger than expected crowd–more than 2,000 energized, smiling people–showed up Oct. 3 on a glorious, sunny Saturday morning in Santa Monica for the NAMI Walk.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a national grassroots support and advocacy organization serving the needs of all those whose lives are touched by mental illness. About 70 Walks for the Mind of America were held Oct. 3 all over the country.

The Walk’s purpose—besides raising funds for research, resources, and services—is to raise awareness of improvements needed in the mental health system and to advocate for the millions of Americans who suffer not only from brain disorders but from the stigma society holds for the mentally ill.

It was my first NAMI Walk, and I picked a good one: I’m told this was the largest turnout for NAMI Walks Los Angeles County since the event started in 2003. I don’t know if the overall financial goal was reached, but at the NAMI Pomona Valley meeting Tuesday night I learned that our chapter raised over $15,000. Donations were almost twice as much as last year, and this in hard times!

With my sponsors’ support, I raised $425. My goal was $300, so I was elated and blown away by the generosity of people who know about my wife Lizzie’s struggle with schizophrenia.

[UPDATE: As of Oct. 15, NAMI Walks Los Angeles County has raised 91% of its goal of $300,000. Donations will be accepted on-line or in the mail until December 2.  Go to www.nami.org/namiwalks/ca/los and make a small donation to top our goal!]

Thanks to all my sponsors. From what I learned at the NAMI Walk, your money will be well used to help the mentally ill and their families in Los Angeles County. I know that I have benefited from the NAMI Pomona Valley meetings. I’ve found resources and information that helps me take better care of Lizzie.



We came for relatives and loved ones suffering with brain disorders. We were there for ourselves, to encourage one another as caregivers. And we showed up to smash the stigma of mental illness that shames and prevents so many people from seeking treatment and discriminates against those who are ill with a brain disorder.

You could feel the energy and enthusiasm. We were itching to do something about the suffering of the mentally ill. Whenever you see people smiling and laughing who day after day face the challenges, heartbreak and frustrations of caring for someone with mental illness, you know something special is happening.

It’s no walk in the park dealing with a brain illness in a loved one, but today was different. We were taking a walk, in beautiful Palisades Park overlooking the Pacific.



I saw banners from NAMI chapters all over LA, and found my group from Pomona Valley NAMI. Lots of college students, from Santa Monica City College, UCLA, USC, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Northridge. God, it’s great to see young people getting involved in mental health service, gives me hope for the future! People of every age and ethnicity came from all over Los Angeles County for the Walk.

Walking from the parking structure and then down Third Street Promenade to the event, I felt out of place among the upscale stores, tony restaurants and well-heeled, affluent shoppers. This is one of the premier shopping destinations in LA. It might as well have a sign posted, “No Unattractive People Allowed.”

I lived and worked in Santa Monica in the ‘70s, when the Santa Monica Mall was in steep decline (bums and panhandlers outnumbered customers). Santa Monica, we joked then, was the city of “the newly wed and the nearly dead.” I once saw Mae West near the Santa Monica Mall. She looked incredibly old, a grotesque caricature of the movie star she once was. Santa Monica in the 1970s was a faded caricature of what it once was, too.

All of what I remember from those dismal, dowdy days is gone, except for the Sears at Colorado and Third, just up from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier. That Sears, which was built about the time I was born–we were both products of the post World War II boom–looks as out of place in its now chic surroundings as I must have among the Beautiful People sipping their lattes at the Promenade’s sidewalk cafes, who radiated youth, wealth and privilege. Even their dogs were beautiful.

But when I came upon the NAMI event, I immediately felt comfortable and unselfconscious. So reassuring to be with people who understand my life, my challenges loving someone with schizophrenia. Who care for someone like my wife Elizabeth and know about the voices, the fears and rages. And the joys and good times, the sweet days, too. I felt good seeing so many people turning out for the NAMI Walk.


LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky addresses the crowd at start of event. Yaroslaksky urged political advocacy, warning that "Mental Illness, despite all the progress, is still in the shadows politically, nationally and locally."

LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky addresses the crowd.


The speakers who opened the event reinforced the positive energy emanating from the crowd. Speeches were short, sweet and right to the point, with an emotional bang, just the way I like them.

LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky stressed advocacy:  “Mental Illness, despite all the progress, is still in the shadows politically, nationally and locally. Mental illness is not a weird thing, it’s an illness and should be treated just like any other illness.”

Another speaker reminded us that mental illness affects one in four families and that 5- to 7-percent of the population has a serious mental illness. In LA County, with a population of close to ten million, that could mean as many as 700,000 people with a serious brain disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.

“There should be 100,000 people walking with us today, a million,” he said. “Too many live in silence, suffer in silence. We walk to be seen, to be heard… to give voice to the silent.”

“The bottom line is Hope,” said Dr. Marvin Southard, who heads the LA County Dept. of Mental Health. “Our work makes a difference.” An example is his son, who has long battled schizophrenia. Today, according to Dr. Southard, “My son has a striking level of recovery, of engagement in life.” And he echoed Zev Yaroslavsky, “Mental illness is just like any other illness. There is no shame to mental illness.”

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez spoke about the frustrations of both finding help for the mentally ill and trying to help them (they must be the most difficult patients in the world), frustrations he experienced firsthand when he befriended Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic homeless man, who happens to be a musical prodigy.

Nathaniel, who trained at Juilliard until his schizophrenia forced him to drop out, ended up homeless on LA’s Skid Row, playing classical music on his violin for spare change from passersby and dreaming of playing at the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Lopez came across Nathaniel on a downtown LA. street corner, began an unlikely relationship and helped Nathaniel realize his dream, but it was a rocky road. Lopez documented the ups and downs in a book that eventually became a movie, “The Soloist.”

Now that I think of it, “Soloist” is a good description of someone with schizophrenia: withdrawn, lost in a world they cannot share with anyone, without the slightest empathy for others, and further alienated by paranoia and unpredictable anger… totally a solo act.

Lopez had a surprise for us. Nathaniel Ayers, he said, may make an appearance and perform for us, though Lopez wasn’t sure he’d make it. Lopez anxiously scanned the crowd then concluded his talk. The next speaker had just finished when Lopez jumped back on stage and announced, “Here he is!” and Nathaniel appeared.

I recognized him. Shortly after I arrived at the event, I saw what looked like a homeless street musician strolling by. I thought he was someone who usually plays for change at the Third Street Promenade. He appeared distracted, a little confused and slightly amused by the crowd that had taken over his spot. How Nathaniel got to Santa Monica, I don’t know—he came alone. He travels solo.


Nathaniel Ayers played his violin for us right before the Walk began. I couldn’t tell what the composition was—a mishmash of classical music played in fits and starts, but played well. I had the feeling he was not playing his violin for us but for himself and the sheer joy of making music. He doesn’t need an audience. He doesn’t need anyone. He’s a soloist.

Nathaniel played on and on; he has no sense of time. Finally, someone on stage came up behind Nathaniel and began to applaud. That was our cue to clap too, and released, we began the Walk.


The Walk gets underway. Within yards we crossed through the Farmers Market, which grabbed this couple's attention.

The Walk gets underway. Within yards we crossed through the Farmers Market, which grabbed this couple's attention.



The walk first crossed through the Santa Monica Farmers Market. A man at the Santa Barbara Pistachios booth gave me a handful of samples as I walked by. (Delicious, best pistachios I ever had, but today their company slogan was a little offensive: “Not Your Ordinary Nut”!)

Then we proceeded down a residential street, lined with trees, parked cars, apartment buildings and small hotels. I thought we’d be walking down the Third Street Promenade, but I guess that would have disrupted commerce and scared shoppers away.

The residents seemed nonplussed as we filed by, they must see these mass walks often. Still, I thought we were delivering a message–we couldn’t have been very visible to the public strolling down this quiet street.


Third St. becomes a narrow residential street and the Walk stretched out as walkers went single file on both sides of the street.

Third St. becomes a narrow residential street and the Walk stretched out as walkers went single file on both sides of the street.


After a few blocks of this, we turned left on Montana Ave., towards Palisades Park and the ocean.

Palisades Park is on a narrow strip of land between Ocean Blvd. and the edge of high cliffs, the palisades. Below is Pacific Coast Highway, the wide beach and the ocean, today calm and sparkling in the sunlight. Incredibly high palm trees line the park.

The narrow neighborhood street had stretched the walkers out for blocks. Now, as we crossed Ocean Blvd. into Palisades Park, we were making an impression, though the people in the yoga class at the park near the rose garden ignored us.

LawnSignsAll along the pathway were dozens of lawn signs, like those old Burma Shave signs, some remembering a loved one with mental illness, others bearing messages of support from the Walk’s sponsors.

We first walked north along the Ocean Blvd. Side of Palisades Park, then doubled back on the palisades side, where the view of the beach and ocean was spectacular. It was one of those sunny days when everything, and everyone, looks great, when it’s good to be alive.

All the walkers kept up the enthusiasm and energy they had when we launched off on the Walk. But I have to admit that I grew a little tired. My feet began to hurt. I’m out of shape and getting old. And I admit it: I took a short cut in Palisades Park.



We crossed Ocean Blvd. and walked the last few blocks to Third Street Promenade and where we started.

Because I cheated, I was one of the first to return. We lined both sides the last stretch of the Promenade and cheered the walkers as they came to the end of the 5K walk.

I noticed with no little chagrin that walkers came to the finish line not even winded or limping or even appearing at all tired.

After awhile of this, knots of people began to leave. It was pretty much over.

I had to get back home to Lizzie, who is in an episode, hearing voices, and she really can’t care for herself. I make the meals, bathe and dress her. She has trouble getting around, so I worry when she’s by herself for a long period of time.

On the long drive home, I had a chance to think of all the things I heard, the people I met, the oneness I felt with two thousand strangers—all our lives touched by mental illness.

And I remembered what Dr. Southard had said, “The bottom line is Hope. Our work is making a difference” He said his son is in recovery from schizophrenia.

“Recovery,” that magic word.

Until today, I thought there was no chance for Lizzie’s recovery. No treatment or meds that could defeat her schizophrenia. The best I could hope for is it wouldn’t get worse.

Now I dare to hope that Lizzie will get better.

That’s a big hope, and reality keeps pulling me down. She’s too old, I tell myself. Lizzie’s been schizophrenic a quarter century. The damage is done and can’t be undone. Still, I hope and pray one day she’ll be well, that the demons will leave her and we can enjoy our last years in peace and happiness.

And I also hope and pray that some day all people with a brain disorder will get the treatment they need to lead happy, productive lives and not be stuck in the shadows.

The NAMI Walks For the Mind of America were steps in that direction. Thanks again to all who sponsored me.