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

#YouAintNoMuslimBruv

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.

#YouAintNoMuslimBruv

Trapped

I see how people get stuck in a job or a place that they don’t really want to be in. Changing ones life is difficult, the more I plan and work on changing my life, the harder it gets. So many pieces have to fall into place, and it can take years of intense focus to make it happen.

Maintaining is easy. Well, not always easy, but certainly easier. To stay in this job because you know the office and you understand the work and you don’t want any instability and you’re getting a bit older and and and the excuses go on and on. To stay in this city or state or country because you have an established routine here, you know some people, you wave to the neighbors, you have a reserved parking spot, and maybe someday you’ll do something crazy, but someday never seems to arrive.

I understand. The more I plan and work toward my future life, the more I realize why most people don’t bother doing this sort of thing: it’s arduous. I’ll need a pile of money, a new job, a temporary place to stay, a new driver’s license, new plates on my car…and then I’ll need to actually buy a house, which has it’s own long list of issues and contingencies and hurdles.

But I think it’s worth it, I’d rather spend hundreds of hours working toward the life I want than spend that time idly hoping someone else would change my life for me.

Trapped

FREEEEDOOOOM!

I just paid off the last of my student loan debt and my ebullience knows no bounds. Part of me is concerned that there’s another forgotten loan out there, lurking in the dark, but after so long, I’m sure the lender would have tracked me down by now.

I graduated from the University of Maryland in May of 2011 with a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The parchment, which is still rolled-up in the cardboard mailing tube buried in the basement somewhere, cost me approximately $70,000. I had to take out loans for everything. I also worked while in school, but that money paid for car insurance, fuel, and other living expenses. I kept costs low by not buying textbooks after freshman year.

The plan was to teach English in Guangzhou, China, but that wouldn’t pay enough to cover my debts. So, my first job after school was as an assistant manager at Abercrombie & Fitch. Folding jeans in the mall wasn’t what I had anticipated, but a job is a job. Afterwards, I secured an office position with my current employer, no major complaints thus far; I’m just glad I don’t have to wear skinny jeans and flip flops to work anymore.

The overarching goal was to get out of debt as soon as possible, which necessitated certain sacrifices. I had to move back into my parent’s house to cut down on housing costs. (I pay rent there, don’t worry, it’s not just a handout.) I have never owned a car with fewer than 100,000 miles on it, they have all been rusty too. I have never owned a smart-phone, my basic one costs $20/mo. I have not gone on vacation in six or seven years. I cut my expenses to the marrow, put approximately 60% of my net income against the loan debt, and paid it off within 4.5 years.

But enough about the costs, let’s not forget the benefits. By surviving this gauntlet of compound interest and debtor’s prison, I developed a few relevant life skills. First, I learned to budget my money. I have set budgets before, but none as detailed and crucial as what I live with now. Second, my credit score rose as I paid my debts, it’s around 725 and should be higher, but not bad since I’ve never had a credit card. Third, I learned how to plan well. With no excess funds, all I could do was plan for future events. I made lots of spreadsheets to compare volunteer opportunities, project car builds, and investments. Fourth, with no social life to speak of, I read a lot and took online courses on everything from IT and supply chain management to philanthropic giving and marketing. Finally, I daresay I have a much stronger hold over my personal finances than the average 26 year old.

Now, nothing really changes. The money that was going to the loan payments has been redirected to save for a downpayment on a house. But in another six months, who knows, everything might change.

FREEEEDOOOOM!

How To Lose Money In The Stock Market

I bought my first stock approximately 2 months ago and it caused me no small amount of concern and trepidation. I wanted to get into the market, and for better or worse, the world runs on gasoline, so I bought 1200 shares of New Source Energy Partners (NSLP). Before oil got cheap a while ago, they were trading at $22, but I bought these shares for a mere 57 cents each. If someday they returned to their former heights, I would have profited handsomely.

The price fluctuated, but I wasn’t worried, I knew this was a long shot. On September 9th, NSLP was removed from the New York Stock Exchange. Overnight, my 1200 shares became worthless. I didn’t even know de-listing could happen (obviously I do now) so this was a shock.

Days later, once everything shook out, NSLP ended up on the Over The Counter markets, you may have heard about these Pink Sheets on “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” The shares floated around the 10 cent mark for a few weeks. I refused to sell because I was trying to follow Warren Buffett’s Rule #1: Never lose money.

But the analysts kept lowering their ratings on NSLP, from buy, to hold, to underperforming, to sell. The company themselves stopped paying dividends because they foresaw funding issues in the immediate future. Today, I read that one firm lowered their rating to “strong sell” and I thought, maybe I should cut my losses and get out before they declare bankruptcy.

I sold my 1200 shares at 35 cents each and lost approximately $260 doing so, which was a better result than losing it all.

The important thing is that I learned a few important lessons:

  1. I was speculating, not investing, I didn’t do enough research beforehand
  2. An inexpensive security does not necessarily deserve to increase in value
  3. Once investor confidence is lost, it is very hard to regain
How To Lose Money In The Stock Market