Category Archives: Podcasts

Paul Castellano’s Last Day

Salvatore Gravano, a made member of the Gambino crime family, walked into a room with a heart shaped bed. The sheets were red velvet. Mirrors lined the ceiling.

This was no romantic getaway. Gravano had just murdered the most powerful mob boss in the country. Now he was on the run.

In an engrossing episode of the Our Thing podcast, Sammy the Bull describes the murder of Paul Castellano and its aftermath.

The love nest Sammy found himself in belonged to Joe Watts, a fellow soldier. Sammy and his crew hid there after the hit, bracing for the war they were sure was coming.

Gravano, exhausted, took the couch instead. His fatigue after the hit is a strange parallel to Irish mobster Whitey Bulger, who often slept after his many murders.

This is the biggest hit of all time.

Frankie DeCicco

The war never came. The Castellano hit had been conducted brazenly amid the crowds in Midtown Manhattan. Anyone who had a problem with Gotti and Gravano kept their mouths shut, afraid to meet to same fate.

John Gotti was made boss of the Gambino family in the basement of a school. A fellow mobster had a connection there.

I picture the children who came the next day, never knowing what happened.

More on the mafia:

‘THEY GOTTA GO’: GRAVANO ON THE CASTELLANO HIT

THE MAFIA’S HOBOKEN FORTRESS

HOFFA MURDER SUSPECT TONY PRO’S UNION HALL

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

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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.

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%! 

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. 

‘They Gotta Go’: Gravano on the Castellano Hit

Gambino family boss Paul Castellano had a problem: he couldn’t get hot water in his shower. The mansion he had built on Staten Island’s Todt Hill was so large that water cooled in the pipes before it could reach the bathroom.

The contractor he got to help him was a rising star in the Gambino family: Salvatore Gravano. Gravano had his men wrap heating coils around the pipes, and the problem was fixed.

Castellano couldn’t have known that the man who fixed his shower would one day murder him.

On this fascinating episode of the Our Thing podcast, Gravano breaks down how the notorious murder of Castellano, the most high profile crime boss in the country, happened. Castellano would be killed outside the exclusive Sparks Steakhouse on Manhattan’s 46th Street. The hit was planned meticulously for months and the shooters even obtained walkie talkies to communicate outside Sparks.

As the day of the murder approached, Gravano and Gambino consigliere Frankie DeCicco hid in the maid’s quarters of an associate’s home in Staten Island, practically under Castellano’s nose. And their scheming went beyond killing Castellano. Should John Gotti, who would become boss after the hit, not cooperate with them, they would kill him as well.

“This is a do or die hit.”

Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano

On December 16, 1985, a group of men in white jackets and distinctive fur hats began to approach Sparks. Castellano and his driver, Tommy Bilotti, pulled within a few feet of Gotti and Gravano on the narrow Manhattan streets. But they never noticed Gotti or Gravano, who directed the hit and was also there as a backup shooter.

Uniforms, radio communications, reserve forces: the hit had a military precision. Castellano and Bilotti were quickly shot to death, making John Gotti the boss of the Gambino family.

In this podcast, Gravano portrays Gotti as a reckless loudmouth, even as the late Gotti no longer has any chance to defend himself. It’s hard to know how accurate his account is, but it’s certainly entertaining!

More on the mafia:

THE MAFIA’S HOBOKEN FORTRESS

HOFFA MURDER SUSPECT TONY PRO’S UNION HALL

A NOTORIOUS MOB INFORMANT’S HOBOKEN HEADQUARTERS

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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.

Did COVID Come from a Lab? A Doctor’s Perspective

In southern China near the border with Laos, there is a mine. To this day, it is heavily guarded by the Chinese government. Any journalist who tries to visit is detained.

Inside the mine: the possible origin of the COVID pandemic.

Scientists identified the animal that first transmitted the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) within 6 months. The culprit was the civet cat. But no animal intermediary for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has ever been found. Meanwhile, we know that bat guano samples from that mine were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and studied. Is that lab the real source of the pandemic?

In an excellent podcast by the eminent Doctor Peter Attia, he and journalist Katherine Eban dig into the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan lab. There are many precedents for this: SARS-Cov-1 has escaped from labs several times. And the Wuhan Institute was not very secure: some of its labs had biosafety level (BSL)-2 precautions. This is about the same level of security as an American dentist’s office.

There is no longer any scientific consensus on whether the virus came from an animal or a lab. But we may never know for sure where SARS-CoV-2 came from, since China has stonewalled international researchers and the Wuhan Institute’s database of virus info just happened to be taken offline in September 2019, shortly before the pandemic began to rage.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

More on China:

IS CHINA USING ITS COVID VACCINES TO CONTROL OTHER COUNTRIES?

CHINA IS CRUSHING ONE OF ITS MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

HOW CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY DIES

Note: The doctor I’m referring to is Dr. Attia. I have no scientific or medical background.

Photo: “File:Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance.jpg” by Ureem2805 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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! And please leave your comments at the bottom.

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.

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

The Unstoppable Wave Behind Stocks

In the last year, a torrent of money has flooded into Exchange Traded Funds (ETF’s) that track the stock market:

Over the last 12 months, about $650 billion has flowed into stock and bond ETF’s, a flow that’s unusually large versus history and may help explain why markets have been so strong.

Despite the attention to volatile stocks like GameStop, a far bigger firehose of cash is aimed at ETF’s. When investors buy ETF’s, fund managers have to buy the stocks in the index. If I buy an S&P 500 index fund from Vanguard, for example, Vanguard has to buy the 500 stocks in the index in proportion to how much of the index each comprises. This pushes up the stock market.

A big force behind this buying may be increasing personal income, partly due to COVID-related stimulus. With consumer balance sheets looking flush with cash, I expect this trend to support markets for the forseeable future.

Dig into these posts for more on markets:

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Photo: “Huge wave” by bluesbby is licensed under CC BY 2.0

From Anticommunist to Navy SEAL: “I Owe Everything to America”

“I owe everything to America.”

That’s Thomas ‘Drago’ Dzieran, who left Communist Poland in the 1980’s for freedom in America and became a Navy SEAL. His path to the teams is singular.

Drago began to oppose Communism at an early age. He refused to learn Russian in school and was promptly hauled to the principal’s office. The principal explained to him that if he refused again, he could be taken from his family and sent to a foster home.

This did not stop Drago from questioning the Communist system. He listened secretly listened to the BBC on the radio, a highly illegal act. There he learned that the Communist government was killing people in Poland. He covered himself in blankets to dampen the sound as he listened, but his mother scolded him to use even more blankets and pillows lest a neighbor hear. If anyone heard, she could go to prison.

But Drago didn’t need a radio broadcast to tell him things in Poland weren’t right:

“I was always cold in Poland because we didn’t have good clothes.”

Privation was the norm, and he often went to school hungry. He took to assaulting the children of high party members, who were well fed. If you want to eat tomorrow, bring two sandwiches, he told them.

As a young man, Drago found himself in a Polish prison for printing anti-Communist leaflets. When released, he emigrated to the United States, and found himself resettled in Memphis, Tennessee by a refugee program.

The luxury of America amazed him. He had never seen air conditioning before, and found himself particularly mesmerized by American grocery stores. The cereal aisle had so many choices, and the packages were so attractive, he decided to try one. And another, and another. Soon, his cart was full of 50 boxes of cereal! But he couldn’t stop his curiosity:

“I didn’t even know what a cereal was.”

After a stint as an auto mechanic, Drago was looking for a way to serve his adopted home. He settled on being a Navy SEAL, but at 32, he was at least 4-5 years beyond the typical age limit. No matter. He powered through the qualification tests and insisted on being allowed into BUD/S. Drago later distinguished himself as a SEAL during the Iraq war.

Drago’s commitment to freedom continues today, as the founder of a censorship-free social network called Connectzing.

What really struck me in this interview was Drago’s perseverance, along with the stark differences between the United States and where he comes from. On living conditions in Poland under Communism:

“I would trade my life in Poland for prison here.”

After all, they get food and medical attention! That’s better than he got much of his life.

Drago says he owes everything to America, and that’s equally true for those of us who are native born. Let’s seize the opportunity, remembering these words:

“This is America. You can be whatever you’re able to be.”

For more on leadership and service, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Navy SEAL Graduation” by uscgpress is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This Is How Vlad Tenev Built Robinhood

“You can break down Robinhood into a series of small steps, the first one being start Robinhood, and every subsequent one being some variant of don’t stop and keep going, right, and you end up where we are today. “

In his mid-20’s, Vladimir Tenev lived in New York City. His apartment was tiny and spare. All his time went into his high frequency trading startup. Then mom came to visit.

When she saw his shabby surroundings, she began to cry. She told him she had a friend who worked at Macy’s. Maybe, she could get him a job there.

It must’ve taken great fortitude for Tenev to push ahead with his own business, despite few signs of success and the anguish it caused his family. But push ahead he did. Today, the company he built, Robinhood, has over 13 million users and plans to IPO soon at a valuation of around $40 billion. Tenev’s net worth exceeds $1 billion.

Tenev came to the United States as a child from Bulgaria and attended the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which US News ranks the best public high school in the entire country. What would’ve become of Tenev if he had stayed in Bulgaria? He might have had a very normal life. But giving this smart kid a superb education and access to a great entrepreneurial ecosystem turned him into a billionaire executive.

Tenev didn’t stop learning when he finished school. He taught himself to write iOS apps by watching free Stanford courses online while commuting on the Caltrain. It really shows you what a person can accomplish learning on one’s own for nothing now that knowledge is much more freely available.

Robinhood faced numerous obstacles along the way, but Tenev and co-founder Baiju Bhatt blasted through them. It took two full years of constant work to build their product. Venture capitalists were highly skeptical of their business. How could they make money without charging commissions? How could they beat giant competitors like Etrade and Charles Schwab? And could a couple of math guys make a beautiful consumer product?

But they kept pitching, and ultimately raised $250,000 from Google Ventures. Tenev couldn’t even get a job interview at Google 4 years prior. What if he had let that discourage him from ever approaching Google for an investment?

Just days before a meeting to approve a critical license Robinhood needed to operate, they were still $500,000 short of the required capital. Only the birth of an executive’s baby saved them by providing an excuse to postpone. By the new date, Tenev had raised the money.

A key lesson for startups: Robinhood didn’t worry about monetization until it achieved a large user base. It was confident that, like Instagram, winning enough users would give them all the opportunities for revenue they’d need. And they couldn’t put the cart before the horse.

What sticks out to me most about the Robinhood story is Tenev’s perseverance. At first, his business looked laughable. Later, it gained a bit of traction but faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in fundraising.

But he just keep pushing, day after day. Now, 11 years after he started his first company, he sits at the helm of one of the hottest startups in the world.

For more on startups, check out these posts:

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Photo: “File:TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 – Day 2 (26902081436) (2).jpg” by TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jocko on Leadership: “Ownership Is the Most Valuable Compensation”

What motivates subordinates? A fat paycheck, stock options, maybe a free trip to Hawaii?

Perhaps. But on Monday’s Debrief podcast, Navy SEAL Commander and author Jocko Willink named another, more powerful inducement:

“Ownership is the most powerful compensation you can give a human being.”

People want control over their lives, including at work. So, rather than have subordinates execute your plan, Jocko favors giving them a goal and letting them figure out how they’ll get there on their own.

When a person gets a chance to come up with a plan themselves, they’ll find increasingly efficient ways to do it. After all, most of us like to think we’re smarter than the boss and should really be running things. This is our chance to prove it, and we’re unlikely to blow that chance.

What’s more, whether in the military or civilian world, subordinates are a lot more familiar with the nitty gritty of a certain job than the boss is. Leaving the details of a plan to them, with the boss just setting overall goals and then approving the plan to reach them, gives them more latitude to bring that experience to bear.

Finally, running things is fun! When it’s your little idea, you’re a lot more invested in it. So give your subordinates a chance to come up with plans themselves, rather than just waiting for instructions. You may be surprised how well they do.

For more on business and leadership, check out these posts:

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“Everybody Thought I Was Crazy”: How Brian Armstrong Built Coinbase

“Everybody thought I was crazy.”

That’s Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase. When he started the company in 2012, it was a small and quirky startup. Bitcoin had only been in use for three years and remained relatively obscure.

But now, it’s safe to say not many people think Armstrong is crazy. His company just went public yesterday and its valuation currently sits at $66 billion. Coinbase holds $200 billion in cryptocurrencies, around 11% of all crypto in existence. So how did Armstrong go from lunatic to visionary?

Armstrong had to build interest in his new product. He settled on a cost effective and attention getting marketing tool: send people free money. But not just any money; bitcoin, of course! He sent tiny amounts of the cryptocurrency to countless people. One of them was angel investor Garry Tan, who became one of Coinbase’s first backers. His $300,000 bet turned into $2.4 billion yesterday.

In an interview with Jason Calacanis on This Week in Startups, Armstrong emphasized the importance of entrepreneurs being scrappy and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. His original approach to investors, repeated countless times, paid off in a major way and Coinbase was accepted to Y Combinator, the most prestigious startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. Armstrong’s resourcefulness and persistence definitely inspire me.

To build a major business, Armstrong had to make sure not to run afoul of regulators. Unlike, for example, a social media app, finance is heavily regulated. Armstrong ditched the anonymity most people expect from cryptocurrencies, abiding by “know your customer laws.” In turn, he offered users a much more secure way to store their cryptocurrencies:

The selling proposition here is security—security conspicuously lacking at some of the exchanges with which Coinbase has competed. The Mt. Gox exchange in Japan went bust in 2014 after hackers spirited away coins worth $480 million. Customers of QuadrigaCX, which was one of Canada’s largest exchanges, have been unable to retrieve $150 million in crypto since the founder supposedly died suddenly in December 2018, holding the only set of keys to unlock their money. They now want the body exhumed.

Armstrong wasn’t afraid to reimagine the crypto business in a way that could grow big, and he doggedly pursued anyone who he thought could help him do it. I find his extraordinary career quite instructive.

For more on Coinbase and crytocurrencies, check out these posts:

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NBA Top Shot: An Overnight Succcess 8 Years in the Making

NBA Top Shot’s popularity is exploding. Users pay to own an iconic basketball image or video clip, such as Lebron James dunking on someone (plenty of those choose from!). Their ownership is recorded on the blockchain in what’s called a Non-Fungible Token (NFT).

NBA Top Shot is a creation of Dapper Labs, a Canadian blockchain company. It started selling NFTs of cats called CryptoKitties. From these humble beginnings, Dapper Labs has grown to a million users on NBA Top Shot alone and recently raised $300 million in venture capital at a $2.4 billion valuation.

In an interview with CEO Roham Gharegozlou, angel investor Jason Calacanis marveled at how far this company has come:

Another 8 year overnight success in the making. It’s so funny how, as a founder, you can go from being like a punchline of a joke to the absolute belle of the ball.

Calacanis noted that video games have already sold digital items for real money for years, so the NFT business model is really not that much of a stretch. What’s more, for the young, owning a digital asset feels much more natural than owning a baseball card.

Dapper Labs plans to branch out to other sports leagues, and ultimately to recording ownership of items beyond video clips and images. If Dapper controlled the ownership records of, for example, cargo, this could be a truly massive company.

I was impressed with Gharegozlou’s perseverance over nearly a decade, going from obscurity to a partnership with a top sports league and a unicorn valuation. I was also impressed by how forward thinking the NBA is. If the creator of CryptoKitties came up to most major businesses with a proposition, they wouldn’t even get a reply. In its work in the crypto industry, as well as its highly successful COVID protocols, the NBA is clearly doing something right.

Give this intriguing interview a listen!

For more on NFTs and crypto, check out these posts:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!

Photo: “LeBron James New York City More Than a Game 3 by David Shankbone” by david_shankbone is licensed under CC BY 2.0