This is Satriale’s From The Sopranos

They sit around tables covered in checkered cloths, sipping espresso. The conversations are hushed. As you approach, they fall silent.

This is Satriale’s, the butcher shop that served as headquarters for Tony and his crew in The Sopranos. These scenes were shot at a storefront in Kearny, New Jersey, a working class, mostly Spanish town near Newark. Yesterday, I went there to see what was left of this iconic spot.

Unfortunately, the storefront was demolished shortly after the end of the series. There were plans to turn it into condos, but as of today it’s a township parking lot. I can’t believe they didn’t preserve the building and sell tickets!

Here’s how it looked in the series:

And how it looked yesterday:

Even with the iconic building no longer there, it was still a thrill to stand on that sidewalk where my favorite characters had so many memorable moments. The building to the left remains the same, and I could also look across the street to the same streetscape Tony and his crew saw so often. It looks almost the same as it did in the series.

Here’s how it looked then:

And now:

Just a couple blocks away is another Sopranos filming location, and this one looks exactly the way it did in the show.

Richie Aprile’s office sits just two blocks south of Satriale’s on the same street. You can see this storefront when Richie chases Matthew Bevilacqua away after he tries to kill Chris.

Here’s how it looked then:

And now:

The building appears to be a private home now. If you zoom in, you’ll see the same yellow sign for China Star restaurant that was in this scene over 20 years ago.

It was a lot of fun to see the Soprano family’s home turf! Even though Satriale’s is no more, I’d still recommend checking out the neighborhood!

Dig into these posts for more on The Sopranos:

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Can Bitcoin Protect You From Inflation?

Bitcoin is often referred to as digital gold. Unlike fiat money such as the US dollar, its supply expands at a slow, steady rate.

The Federal Reserve has printed so much money during the COVID crisis that money supply is up over 25%. This has led to fears of inflation. The consumer price index (CPI) jumped by 4.2% in the first quarter of this year, the highest since 2008.

So can bitcoin, with its steady supply, provide protection from inflation? Bitcoin hasn’t existed long enough to provide a good test, but the evidence we have indicates that it doesn’t really correlate with the price index and thus is unlikely to provide a good inflation hedge.

Take a look at the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index excluding volatile food and energy prices. It’s been pretty consistent in the last decade, bouncing around the 2% level:

At the end of 2020, prices plummeted, pushing the US economy into deflation for the first time since this data series began in the 1950’s. If bitcoin is to provide an inflation hedge, it would need to drop when prices do and increase when prices rise. But we saw the opposite behavior, with bitcoin going vertical:

If you look at CPI as an inflation measure, you see the same pattern, with a noticeable decline in 2020 that wasn’t reflected in bitcoin:

Bitcoin doesn’t seem to perform well as an inflation hedge, although it could be useful for other purposes. If you’re worried about inflation, I’d suggest Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, which pay you a fixed rate plus the rate of inflation, protecting your interest payments from erosion by rising prices.

Dig into these posts for more on Bitcoin:

Photo: “Bitcoin, bitcoin coin, physical bitcoin, bitcoin photo” by antanacoins is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Bitcoin Is Worth More than the GDP of Switzerland

Ah, Switzerland. Home of fine chocolate, discreet bankers and pharma giants. It’s one of the richest countries on earth per capita, and home to world-leading companies like Nestle and Novartis.

But this entire nation of nearly 9 million people with a history going back to the year 1300 has a GDP smaller than the total value of bitcoin, which has existed for just 13 years. The IMF pegs Swiss GDP at $824 billion, versus $921 billion for bitcoin.

The total value of all cryptocurrencies is over $2 trillion, comparable to the GDP of Italy, the number 8 economy worldwide.

These stats show just how accepted cryptocurrencies have become. They’ve gone from a fringe technology to a size comparable to the entire economy of major countries.

Will they someday pass the biggest GDP heavyweight, the United States?

Dig into these posts for more on bitcoin:

Photo: “Switzerland” by T@H!R – طاھر is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

You look out onto a small grassy area in a nearby park. Surrounding you are tall brick buildings and in the distance, the New York City skyline. Wait…is that something moving?

A few days ago in West New York

This is how I discovered the adorable groundhogs of Auf der Heide Park in West New York, NJ two years ago. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as five or six, and they can be found reliably spring through fall every year. In winter, they hibernate deep in their holes, the way we sometimes wish we could!

Last summer

My favorite groundhog was an older gentleman I met last spring. It was early April, during the worst part of the COVID crisis. There wasn’t much to do really, besides walk. One day, I figured I’d bring up a few snacks for the little guys. They love fruits and veggies but don’t care for carbs. Perhaps they’re on the Atkins?

That’s when I came across an adorable Grandpa Groundhog. I fed him a few veggie snacks, and as he ate, I noticed his back right foot was severely injured and barely attached. I later spoke with staff from the Animal Medical Center in New York as well as animal control, but they recommended against trying to trap a wild animal for treatment. So I just kept visiting him.

He soon became so tame he would sit on my foot and eat like a dog. Then, after a week or so, I stopped seeing him. The other groundhogs weren’t very nice to him and tried to steal his food, probably knowing he was weak. But not too weak to give them a penetrating stare that had them backing off in a hurry.

Here’s a video of him:

I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he may have passed away. I’m happy he had at least one friend in his last days, and I’m honored I got to be that friend. At that time, I needed a friend too.

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors:

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Palantir’s $100 Million Loss

Palantir released its earnings for the first quarter of 2021 today, and it’s not looking good. This 18 year old company that has never made a profit turned in a net loss of $123 million, versus $54 million in the first quarter of 2020.

This is actually a little better than the full year results in 2020, where losses reached nearly $100 million per month. But quarter on quarter, the picture is significantly worse. I’ll be curious to see if last year’s pattern of escalating losses through the year holds again in 2021.

Selling and general/administrative expenses held Palantir’s results down. I saw a similar picture in 2020, and one factor may be the extensive free trials they give customers. I question whether this business model can produce profits, especially given its long history of burning cash. Amazon and Google invested for the future and delayed profits, but not into nonexistence. Google was profitable in 3 years and Amazon in 7.

These poor results don’t seem to trouble CEO Alexander Karp, though. He took home $1 billion in compensation last year while the company lost a similar amount. Hey Alex, how about returning that so the shareholders can at least break even?

Dig into these posts for more on Palantir:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Welcome to Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero’s House from The Sopranos

Birds call in a cemetery in the early hours. Two men appear on a balcony. One hands the other a newspaper. Their faces are grave.

This is the backdrop for a classic scene of The Sopranos. Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero brings FBI Special Agent Skip Lipari onto his balcony, where Lipari questions him about a high profile murder. Both suddenly clam up when Pussy’s wife comes out with the trash.

The lonely calling of the birds and Pussy looking out over a graveyard make a haunting image. The headstones, so close to Bonpensiero, subtly foreshadow his murder later in the season, when Tony Soprano finds out he’s an informant.

Big Pussy’s house is in Jersey City, NJ and I had the opportunity to visit yesterday. While we don’t see it from the outside in the series, when Tony visits in season 1 you can clearly see the same metal door and brick pillar as above.

The street is a dead end and Pussy’s house borders the vast Holy Name Cemetery. The house is upscale…evidently Pussy’s heroin business paid well! The cemetery itself seems like something out of The Sopranos, with the profusion of Italian names on the markers.

On the way home, I stopped by another Sopranos filming location, this one from season 6. Tony and Paulie are on the run as the FBI investigates a decades-old murder. On Kennedy Boulevard near Pussy’s house, Silvio Dante breaks the bad news to Tony that the FBI has found the body.

The liquor store has had a facelift since then, but the streetscape is still quite recognizable.

It was quite the thrill to see where these great scenes really happened!

Dig into these posts for more on The Sopranos:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Palantir CEO Paid $1 Billion to Lose Money

Palantir CEO Alex Karp earned compensation worth about $1.1 billion in 2020, primarily through equity awards granted shortly before his software company went public.

More here.

This company is losing $100 million a month and has never turned a profit in 18 years of existence. I know, I know, Amazon. But Amazon and Google turned a profit in 3-7 years. In my work investing in early stage tech startups, I routinely see even young companies that have reached the breakeven point. Why can’t Palantir?

Palantir is losing $100 million a month and has never turned a profit in 18 years of existence. #palantir #stocks

It’s no wonder that the CEO is able to pay himself so well. He and a couple other co-founders control the voting shares in the company even if they sell their shares. The votes each of their shares has rises whenever they sell, so they maintain control. This arrangement is so controversial they’re actually being sued for it as we speak.

Palantir reminds me a lot of WeWork. Charismatic founder, heavily hyped tech company, nonexistent earnings, ironclad founder control, and excessive CEO pay. And we know how that turned out.

Indeed, Karp seems to be cashing in as fast as he can while things are good:

At the time of the New York Stock Exchange listing, Karp owned about $1 billion worth of Palantir stock. He’s since sold about $350 million worth at share prices ranging from $9.10 to $31.59, according to SEC filings.

Dig into these posts for more on Palantir:

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This is Where New York Ambushed Tony Soprano’s Right Hand Man

“Gerry warned you Eli!”

Dim streetlights reflect off wet pavement. In the background, a red neon sign flickers out. “Kay’s Spring Garden.” As Hesh Rabkin and his son-in-law Eli prepare to head home, a black Lexus suddenly pulls in front of them. In an instant, they’re surrounded by thugs banging on the car. Finally, a burning rag inserted into the fuel tank gets them out of the car, desperate to save their own lives.

This classic scene in season 6 of The Sopranos ended with Eli in the hospital with severe injuries and after Gerry Torciano’s men attacked him for poaching Torciano’s loansharking customers. Even Hesh, Tony’s long-time confidant and business partner, got roughed up.

This scene was filmed on Congress Street just off Central Avenue in Jersey City’s Heights neighborhood. I actually lived just 4 blocks away for two years. So what is this location like in real life?

Kay’s Spring Garden is a real Chinese restaurant. I actually went past a couple of weeks ago, and it still looked exactly the same as it did in this Sopranos episode from 2006. It sits on Central Avenue, the main commercial street of Jersey City Heights. The stores on either side are different now: the flower shop has become a realtor, and Goehrig’s Bakery, long vacant, has become a high end cupcake shop.

The Heights has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants. First the Germans, then Jews and Italians, and now Hispanic people, often from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. When I moved there in 2015, it was just beginning to gentrify. Today, it’s a mix of immigrants and young professionals.

Central Avenue is a charming street that I still love to walk down, even though I no longer live in the neighborhood. The bustle, the cute, family-run stores selling delicious food, the ambience, it can’t be beat!

The way the neighborhood looks at night in The Sopranos is very accurate to reality. It’s dark, quiet, and deserted. You don’t see many people around. Until a black Lexus pulls in front of you…

For more on The Sopranos and entertainment, check out these posts:

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Urban Combat: Lessons from Chechnya

At its widest point, Russia spans nearly 5,000 miles from the Vistula Spit in the west to the Kuril Islands in the east. In 1994, its military numbered 1.4 million. It had a massive air force and heavily armed infantry, along with the latest technologies like guided missiles.

Chechnya is a small, impoverished region about the size of Connecticut. It has been inhabited for over 40,000 years and been a part of many empires, from Persian to Russian to Soviet.

In 1991, Chechnya declared independence from Russia. Reports of mistreatment of the Russian minority inflamed tensions with Russia, and Russia began to bomb the tiny breakaway republic on December 1st, 1994. (This same casus belli was used by Putin against Ukraine.)

For 12 years over two separate wars, this tiny country held off the Russian colossus. How did they do it? As former Navy SEAL Commander Jocko Willink details in his excellent podcast, superior leadership and infantry tactics outweighed Russia’s seeming advantages.

Russian soldiers encountered unexpectedly heavy resistance as the fighting moved to Grozny, the capital. The Russian soldiers had major air power behind them, while the Chechen air force had been quickly destroyed at the beginning of the war.

But the Chechens neutralized Russia’s key advantage with a simple tactic: move closer. The air force couldn’t bomb the Chechens without bombing their own comrades as well. They bombed away anyhow, and many Russian soldiers died of friendly fire.

Their air superiority neutralized, the Russian military’s shortcomings in more basic areas became evident. They didn’t have ladders to get into buildings, an essential urban combat tool. Their leaders micromanaged and worked at cross purposes.

Chechens terrorized the Russians whenever they could. They put the heads of Russian soldiers on pikes for the survivors to see. Booby traps were everywhere (an echo of America’s experience in Vietnam and Iraq). Many Russian soldiers began to suffer mentally, and either became unable to fight or indiscriminate in their aggression, attacking civilians and driving the population to the insurgents.

Maybe it all started when the Russian soldiers stopped shaving. This was the first breakdown in discipline. It was small, but noticeable. Later, soldiers stopped following rules about boiling drinking water, leading to massive outbreaks of illness.

Eventually, Russian food supplies fell short. These tired soldiers, many of them teenagers, faced illness and hunger. The attacks from the Chechen rebels, many seasoned veterans of the USSR’s war against Afghanistan, were relentless.

Facing a grim situation in Chechnya and declining support for the war at home, Russia declared a ceasefire in 1996 and soon signed a peace treaty. Chechnya would ultimately fall after a second, and much longer, war. But this band of ill equipped rebels held off Russia for years, an incredible feat.

What did the Russian military learn from this, and what are the lessons for us? Here are a few key points:

  • Don’t count on airpower. Determined infantry wins wars.
  • Maintain discipline, even in small things.
  • Urban warfare is manpower intensive with high attrition. Be sure to have fresh troops available and an extensive mental health staff to deal with the psychological stresses of urban combat.
  • Get the civilian population on your side. Don’t hurt them. Respect their leaders and give your orders through them.

This is a fascinating history lesson that can inform US policy and even our daily lives. Where are we letting our own discipline slip?

Dig into these posts for more on history and the military:

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Photo: “Chechnya/Чече́нская” by LOreBoNoSi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bitcoin Is Now Bigger Than Facebook

As you cruise down the tree-lined road, the first thing you see is a giant thumbs up. You pull into the winding driveway and an endless panorama of multicolor buildings appears. This is the headquarters of the one of the most powerful companies on earth: Facebook, Inc.

1.8 billion people use Facebook every day, and its profits last year totaled nearly $30 billion. It controls news and social relations across the globe.

But all this is worth over $100 billion less than bitcoin. The total value of all bitcoin is $1 trillion. The total value of all Facebook stock trails far behind at $892 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, but no one really knows who invented bitcoin. Its creator called himself Satoshi Nakamoto, but he has never appeared in public and may not exist. “He” could even be several people working together.

I find it interesting that despite all his entrepreneurial genius, what Zuckerberg has built is worth less than what was built by an extremely obscure man who may not even exist. There is no monument like the palatial Facebook headquarters to mark bitcoin’s ascendance, but ascended it has.

I don’t invest in cryptocurrencies. Still, I can’t help but be impressed at what bitcoin has achieved. It reminds me of a quote from Godfather II:

“Michael, we’re bigger than US Steel.”

Hyman Roth

Dig into these posts for more on bitcoin:

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