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The One Frequency to Tune in This Holiday Season

By Jim Woods

There has been a lot of name-calling on the calendar of late.

There was “Black Friday,” which was followed shortly after by “Cyber Monday.” Then yesterday, it was all about “Giving Tuesday.”

No doubt we consumers have been bombarded by retailers and charitable organizations for our attention, and our dollars, over the past week, and that bombardment isn’t likely to cease anytime soon. Now, I know many people who just tune this bombardment out. Fair enough.

Most of us have too much to do this holiday season just handling our own business, family and social commitments to pay close attention to much else. And while I certainly understand the need to “tune out” all the seasonal noise, there is one frequency that I make sure I keep my mental receiver tuned to, and it is the frequency that reminds me how truly lucky I am in life.

Hey, I was born and raised in America in the 20th century. That alone is something to feel supremely lucky about. Then, I also had the luck of being born into the care, protection and guidance of a two-parent household. I had the benefit of a strong father who taught me the importance of physical and mental confidence. I had a mother who taught me the love of learning and who pushed me to do well academically. A Latina “Tiger Mom,” if you will.

So, does this make me lucky? You’re damn right it does.  

Unfortunately, the luck on the parental front that I and so many of us enjoy isn’t shared by everyone. In fact, the sad reality is that there are way too many kids in this country suffering from not-so-fortunate parental circumstances.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 700,000 children who suffer from various kinds of abuse each year (physical, psychological, sexual). Think about that for a moment. Many of these children also find themselves worrying about where their next meal will come from, or if they need to hide from a violent parent. These unlucky kids mostly need to focus on survival. As such, they have little or no time to experience the simple joys of being a child.

Fortunately, there are those who have devoted themselves to righting the ship of unfortunate childhood circumstances by putting a little luck back into the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, are in need. I am referring here to the dedicated souls who work at the Texas-based charity Upbring.

Upbring is a faith-inspired nonprofit organization working to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. Upbring partners with federal, state and local government agencies, community groups, small businesses, large corporations and dedicated individuals to deliver services that produce measurable progress toward what they call the “five key markers” of every child’s well-being. Those markers are: safety, life skills, education, health and vocation.

I happen to know some of the staff at Upbring, and I personally can vouch for the commitment, conscientiousness and dedication they bring to their work. That work includes helping some 30,000 families each year with its life-changing programs, including foster care, adoption, education, children’s centers and community services.

Now, readers of this publication know I like to go a few onion-skin layers deeper when it comes to analyzing issues, and that’s another reason why I like Upbring. The organization is committed to delivering innovative programs and services that address the root causes of child abuse and neglect. Because you see, it’s only by getting to the root causes that you can affect real change.

Whether we are talking about a societal problem such as child abuse, or our own personal psychological, emotional or philosophical issues, getting to the root by digging through deep woods is what’s required for true and lasting improvements.

To help us help Upbring do just that, the organization has teamed up with some of the world’s largest retailers so that we easily can help make an immediate impact on the lives of children and families who need extra support. The Upbring Marketplace is an online site where you can go to purchase items most needed by Upbring to help kids in their charge with the essentials they lack.

From Huggies to cookies, and from pajamas to plush toys, all you have to do is point, click and purchase a few items that go to this worthy cause. I bought plush toys for the kids, because when I was a kid, I knew the power of the plush toy (hey, I still do).

So, among the noise of this holiday season, I implore you to tune in the frequency that reminds us all how lucky we are. Doing so will likely prompt you to pause and to consider the fate of those who aren’t quite so lucky. That reflection will, I hope, prompt you to help Upbring carry out its vital mission.


ETF Talk: Telecom Fund Uses Market-Cap-Weighted Index

The Communication Services Select SPDR Fund (XLC) tracks a market-cap-weighted index of U.S. telecommunication and media and entertainment components of the S&P 500 index.

XLC offers exposure to the Communication Services sector, which was redefined by September 2018 changes to the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS). The exchange-traded fund (ETF) includes all members of the former telecommunications sector, which was expanded to include internet service providers, as well as media and entertainment companies previously classified in the consumer discretionary or tech sectors.

The fund is one of the 11 Select Sector SPDR funds that draws its holdings from the S&P 500 index. Typically, trading volume in these products is high. The expense ratio places the fund in the middle of the competition.

Most of XLC’s holdings, 71.08%, are in media, communications and entertainment companies such as Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Alphabet Inc. Class C (NASDAQ: GOOG), Alphabet Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS), Comcast Corporation Class A (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Charter Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: CHTR), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX) and Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA).

Chart courtesy of

The fund currently has $3.73 billion in net assets and an average spread, which is the difference between the bid and ask prices of a security, of 0.03%. It also has an expense ratio of 0.13%, so it is relatively cheap to hold in comparison to other exchange-traded funds.

To sum up, this ETF provides a practical representation of media, communications and entertainment companies of the S&P 500 Index, seeking to give investors a strategic edge. However, with the current relatively volatile state of the technology sector, it is not without risk. Investors should exercise due diligence to consider whether or not the fund is worthwhile for their portfolios.

I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.


Saber Rock: An Indomitable Spirit Under Horrific Conditions

What can we learn from a man fighting desperately to conquer theocratic control over his country — all with a huge smile and an infectiously positive disposition?

Plenty, and that’s exactly what you’ll learn in this episode of the Way of the Renaissance Man podcast, featuring the indomitable spirit known as “Saber Rock.”

Saber Rock is an Afghanistan subject matter expert, English Language Institute president, and an interpreter for the U.S. Marine Corps and Coalition Forces in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In this interview from the FreedomFest conference, you’ll hear his heart-wrenching personal story of valor, camaraderie, humor, pain, loss, action, adventure — and his fight back from death’s door to become a real-life hero.

Saber Rock’s values and virtues, along with the incredible story of his efforts to free the Afghan people from Taliban control, is the subject of the award-winning documentary film “Saber Rock,” which was directed and produced by my friends the Locastro brothers. If you haven’t seen this short documentary, see it now. I guarantee it will be some of the best 30 minutes you’ll ever spend.

I am honored to be able to share Saber Rock’s story with you, and I’m even more honored to call him my friend.

Topics discussed in the podcast include:

  • How Saber Rock helped United States Marine Corps and Coalition Forces sway the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
  • What gruesome measures the Taliban took to stop Saber Rock and his efforts for a Taliban-free peace in the region.
  • What America doesn’t understand about the different tribes of Afghanistan and who the enemy really is over there.
  • What it was like to be killed and brought back to life.
  • How the United States government wants to send him back to the front lines.
  • Plus, much more.

I was incredibly moved, and forever positively changed, by Saber Rock, and I hope this podcast has a similar effect on you.

Finally, if you like the Way of the Renaissance Man podcast, I encourage you to subscribe to the show on iTunes.

Doing so is free, and it will ensure you never miss the latest episodes.


The Wisdom of Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

’Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.

— Robin Fowler, “The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Ban”

There’s an old Irish adage that says, “Never trust a man who doesn’t like cats.” Well, I like cats. I like them because a cat is an independent spirit that adds warmth and beauty to one’s life. We also can learn a lot from cats.

Photo courtesy of Jim Woods and “Danica”

Cats go about their business hunting mice, sleeping, playing and interacting with humans. We humans go about the business of productive achievement, nurturing relationships with family and friends, engaging in pleasurable pursuits and training our minds and bodies to battle life’s dragons. And like cats, we are capable of doing it all with graceful aplomb — if we allow ourselves to do so.

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.


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