Churchill: A Life

I just finished reading “Churchill: A Life” by Martin Gilbert, as part of my ongoing effort to read some of the Goldman Sachs reading list. While I knew something about Winston Churchill, this comprehensive text brought much more to light. He was a whiny child, a reckless young soldier, and a passionate member of Parliament. His school assignments were sometimes unsatisfactory, his military strategies were often ignored, and his fellow ministers pushed him to resign. In short, Churchill was neither a perfect leader nor an indefatigable orator, but a genuine person. He enjoyed painting and swimming and he wrote several biographies and historical texts. He suffered through depression and many health issues during his long and full life.


I don’t read many biographies, but perhaps I should. Gilbert’s biography of Winston Churchill inspired me a great deal. Learning about a great person’s life proves that they aren’t great all the time. People are just people. It seems to me that the great ones had a deep passion in the foundation of their being, they then pursued that passion (whether politics, leadership, business, art, or anything else) with a fanatical drive, then, crucially, they don’t stop. Churchill got out of politics when he physically could not do it any more, and not a day sooner.

Although he was well-born, Winston Churchill had some money problems, especially early in his life. Most of Churchill’s money came from his book sales and his lectures, which was not always steady income. In his mid-twenties, he wrote to his fellow Conservative candidate:

Yes please make some profit for me if you can. I have got a thousand pounds now in hand, which I was about to invest in something tolerably solid, but there is no reason why it should not have a gallop first. I don’t understand your prospectus but I shall be very much obliged if you will make me some money.

Later in life, his achievements had grown to such a scale that his income from his dozens of books and a few estates was such that he didn’t need to worry about finances anymore. Officially as First Lord, he completed a business transaction on behalf of the British Government to purchase a 51% share in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company for just over £2 million.

By this purchase, he explained…the Royal Navy would secure all the oil it needed to maintain its warships, without depending on any private company or any foreign government…over the next fifty years the interest alone of Britain’s 51% share of the oil profits was to pay for the cost of all battleships build after 1914.

While serving in the trenches, Churchill told his officers to “Laugh a little & teach your men to laugh – great good humour under fire – war is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.” When Churchill served in higher office during World War Two, he almost always advocated a strategy of constant attack. He refused to accept defeat or delay and insisted that Britain take the fight to the Germans as soon as possible, and at every opportunity. He believed that “peace is our aim, and strength is the only way of getting it.”

I cannot help but compare great historical leaders against the current political climate of the United States. The world is a far more complicated and hateful place than in Churchill’s day, yet, modern leadership has not risen to the challenge. Instead, we are left making the least bad choice, and hoping to survive, rather than thrive.

Each night, I try myself by Court Martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawing the ground, anyone can go through the motions, but something really effective.

There are very great things to be done by those who reach a certain scale of comprehension & of power in their early prime. As long as health & life are ours, we must try to do them – not to be content except with the best and truest solutions.

I never saw him tired, he was absolutely totally organized, almost like a clock. He knew how to husband his energy, he knew how to expend it. His routine was absolutely dictatorial. He set himself a ruthless timetable every day and would get very agitated and cross if it was broken. (Bill Deakin, on Churchill)

Writing a book is an adventure, to begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.

Never flinch, never weary, never despair.

Churchill: A Life

Beach Vacation 2016

I usually don’t take vacations. Every year, the HR lady calls down to the sunken storage closet I work out of and tells me that my two weeks of vacation time will expire unless I use them right away. I always let them disappear, I have nowhere to go anyway.

This time was different. My mom’s side of the family (40ish people) got two houses at Sandbridge in Virginia last week. Instead of working, like a productive member of society, I spent the week swimming in the ocean, walking on the beach, eating good food, drinking responsibly, watching the olympics, and playing card games with my many relatives.


It was great. Now, I want a beach house.

I didn’t get nearly enough reading done, and I’m not looking forward to the mountain of work waiting for me in the office, but overall, it was a great way to shake things up. I think that’s the point of vacations, not necessarily to relax, family trips can be more stressful than daily life, but just a change of pace. I’ll catch up with the workload and everything will be back to normal soon enough, so it’s always worth taking some time, and a few hundred dollars, to ride the waves, kick the sand, and re-connect with increasingly distant family members.

Beach Vacation 2016

House Poaching

At the end of March, I got a realtor and loan officer. I hadn’t planned on getting this process started until Mid April, but I was a little impatient.

Anyway, we looked at 6 houses and put an offer in that day. The house needed a lot of work. I don’t mean “maybe some paint, and a few lightbulbs.” I mean, the entire roof (five or six layers of shingles (illegal) on top of a slate roof on top of the original (water soaked) boards. And the entire electrical system, most of which was un-grounded, some of which was scorched. I mean it needed a lot of work. After weeks of painfully slow back-and-forth, I got out of that contract. I was willing to see it through if the sellers fixed the big stuff, but they never responded, so that was that.

The second choice should have been my first choice. No house is perfect, and it needs a few things taken care of, which the seller has already agreed to fix. It has its caveats: one car garage instead of two, somewhat strange layout; but it’ll be ok.

We’re planning to close on June 3, and there are many more hoops to jump through between now and then. Hopefully I can lock it down, figure out the moving logistics, and start my new life.

House Poaching

The Dictator’s Handbook

I gave this book a 5 star rating. I don’t know how you determine your review system, but I only give 5 stars if it changed my life.

The Dictator’s Handbook illuminated key policy differences between governments that rely on pleasing a small coalition of supporters, and those that need to keep a larger group happy. This is the key difference between dictatorships and democracies; the former leader richly rewards a handful of co-conspirators, the latter enacts public policies that benefit the voting majority.

Once in power (via election or coup), a leader’s overarching goal is to stay in power by securing the money and using it to reward their supporters. Through this lens, it’s easy to see why some despot-led countries, rich with natural resources, ignore and oppress their citizens. The leader doesn’t need to care about the people, so long as they continue working and exporting. Similarly, a democratically elected leader doesn’t need to care about those who didn’t vote for her.

This thoroughly researched text is refreshingly cynical and calloused. Like all great expository and explanatory works, it focuses more on verifiable fact than comfortable fiction.

I found the chapter on foreign aid most controversial. As you may remember, I had planned on volunteering overseas, but after reading this, I’m not sure anymore. The authors argued that government-to-government foreign aid is used to buy policy concessions, most of these examples came out of the Cold War era. Of course, dictators are more cheaply bought, so the US (among other countries) would donate funds, solidify foreign policy positions, and help keep despots in power.

Also, NGO donations might do more harm than good. So long as living conditions are abhorrent, freedoms are denied, disaster and conflict run rampant, and the people are in great need; wealthy nations and NGOs will donate. So long as donations keep flowing into the bloodstained hands of the autocratic leader, why would he lift a finger to alleviate his people’s misery?

The Dictator’s Handbook

I’m No Entrepreneur

I’m no entrepreneur and I’m ok with that. I recently read the first few chapters of “E Myth Mastery” and learned beyond a reasonable doubt, that I do not have the passion necessary to invent / create / pour my heart and soul into a startup company.

And that’s ok (hopefully), I’m perfectly fine with sticking to the plan, which is, after all, why it’s the plan in the first place. I’d like to have a wellspring of entrepreneurial passion, I’d like to not experience debilitating nerve pain, I’d like to really enjoy something in my life. But that’s the way it is, I have learned an important lesson, and now I don’t need to read the last 333 pages.

If I do start a company someday, and I plan on it, it will be a holding company for my real estate investment properties. I think that type of venture would suit me very well. I don’t have the passion for a daring startup company, but I have the focus and patience to manage long-term investments. I don’t have the burning need to create, but I have the dispassionate void where my heart used to be to keep logic at the forefront of my decisions. I’m no entrepreneur, so I’ll play to my different strengths.

I’m No Entrepreneur

A Call To Action

I have been planning on volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for some time now. During that time, I have done quite a bit in order to prepare: I paid off my student loans, learned some basic Spanish, earned an IT certification, and took many courses on non-profit management, all to be of use once I arrived in Bolivia.

No one regrets more than I do that this hasn’t come to fruition as I expected it would. Due to some complications and uncertainties in other areas of my life, I cannot afford to volunteer in La Paz as I had hoped. I’ve learned that even if one has the heart to volunteer and help the needy, it’s very difficult to actually make it happen. I’m still not sure if it’s better to discard one’s dreams or defer them, but either way, I won’t be volunteering internationally for the foreseeable future. I emailed the director this morning with the bad news.

HOPE’s service and health programs in La Paz, Bolivia have helped thousands of disadvantaged people live better lives. Together with Foundation Arco Iris, they provide healthcare, education, food, clothing, and volunteer support to impoverished families. Bolivia is the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, over 50% of the population lives on less than $2 USD per day. There are approximately 30,000 children and orphans who live and/or work on the streets of La Paz. The need is great.

Please follow this link to see more of their work in Bolivia, follow their WordPress blog, and seriously consider donating to support the effort. I ardently wish that I could help in person, but if it’s not meant to be, we can help from afar.

A Call To Action


I found this trending hashtag this morning and learned about the stabbing attack in a London Underground station yesterday. The suspected terrorist stabbed three people before he was arrested. In one of the videos of the incident, a man yells “You ain’t no Muslim bruv” to dismiss the attacker’s professed faith-based motive.

This was the best response to a terrorist attack I’ve seen thus far. With one sentence, he differentiated between the crazed knife-wielding man and the religious beliefs held by millions of peaceful people. This distinction is not only crucial for the world at large to recognize, but can serve as a rallying cry against those who pervert scripture to suit their own hatred.