Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hamilton Cigars

English: George Hamilton receiving a star on t...
English: George Hamilton receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on his 70th birthday on August 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the height of the cigar boom, George Hamilton came out with a line of cigars.  As I recall, someone in his family had been in the tobacco business, and he is a cigar smoker.  I bought a box.  Candidly, they weren't very good.
I don't hold him responsible; at the peak, finding good tobacco and skilled rollers was exceptionally difficult; even the oldest largest and best firms were having difficulty obtaining quality tobacco.
I smoked a couple, then stuck them away in one of my humidors.  That was at least ten years ago (I've got to learn to label my boxes with purchase dates). 
I came across them the other day and smoked one to see if aging made a difference.  It did.  While still a bit on the harsh side, it tasted pretty decent.  The wrapper is rough - like fine sandpaper.  It burned a little unevenly, but drew OK.  I'll keep them around to see how they develop as they mature further.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thank You - Venture Capitalists

I've been helping  - or rather attempting to help - Serality raise capital.  Full disclosure - I made an angel investment in Serality about two years ago.  As of this moment, I've contacted 143 venture investors.

I want to thank fifteen of them.  Those fifteen have turned us down.
Obviously I'm not thanking them for that.  But I understand it.  They have a business to run and they need to make a profit.  If our business plan is off-strategy for them, or we are too small or too early-stage or they simply think we've got a bad idea; all that is OK.  I appreciate the straightforward turndown. 
Serality is aimed at helping real-world communities that support the over-50 population - which is surging with millions of aging baby boomers.  That has lead to some interesting comments from some firms even though they are decling to invest.  Comments such as: "this isn't appropriate for us, but I've recently been dealing with my aging parents - you are on to something really important".

To: Charles River Partners, Edison Ventures, Flywheel Ventures, Weston Presidio, 406 Ventures, Hummer Winblad, Sequoia Capital, Ed Dorado Ventures, Firstmark Capital, KB Partners, Crosscut Ventures,, Onset Ventures, Heritage Health Ventures and Shasta Ventures, thanks for getting back to us and letting us know were we stand.
To the firms that have expressed an interest and are now getting to know us and our business strategy better - we are looking forward to making a lot of money together.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Add This Great Work to Your History Bookshelf

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more I study American history, the more I realize how little I really know. I just completed Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals in which she explores the inter-workings, personalities and politics of the Lincoln administration.   Every American schoolboy or schoolgirl knows that Lincoln presided over the most difficult period in American history save the George Washington era.  Most know that he struggled with a series of second rate generals until Grant emerged. And that he was tragically assassinated just as the War Between the States ended.
But how many of us know that many of the cabinet members opposed Lincoln in the primary?  That many of those thought he was unqualified for the office?  That one of them – Salmon Chase – actually tried to build support to oppose Lincoln in the 1864 election?  Or that Lincoln’s opponent in 1864 was former General McClelland, who so famously failed to take advantage of his superior numbers early in the war.  Or that the Democratic Party had a substantial “peace wing” that was prepared to negotiate an end to the war in 1864 that would not have required the freeing of slaves?  Or that his first love was one Ann Rutledge, who he undoubtedly would have asked to marry, however, she died very young, sending young Lincoln into a deep lasting depression.  He was in such despair that friends feared for his life.
The book summarizes his early life, but really begins with Lincoln as a young lawyer in Illinois, and tracks his career, which had numerous, severe setbacks, through his very clever strategy to win the 1860 nomination, up to his assassination.  My admiration at Lincoln’s talents only grew as I read this work.  I had no understanding of his deep political skills but Goodwin brings out his knowledge of human nature, ability to connect to people, and his careful analysis of the landscape that let him out-maneuver rivals.  The book is appropriately subtitled The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, with his plain appearance, lack of a formal education (he was almost entirely self-taught, quite literally reading with candlelight after long hard days of farm labor), from the humblest of situations, was consistently underestimated by the press, rivals and even foreign governments.  To a certain extent he probably used that to his advantage.  Widely disparaged in the press and by political opponents as “that rail splitter from Illinois” as the Presidential election unfolded, and even more in the early days of his administration, by the end of the war, “rail splitter” was a term of admiration and endearment.
Of course, as the title suggests, he was also able to overlook, not just slights, but harsh, demeaning rhetoric from rivals to recruit the best possible Cabinet ministers.  (As an aside, one forgets how the Cabinet has exploded in membership – his consisted only of a handful, including War, Interior, Treasury, Attorney General, State and Postmaster General.  It is probably time to downsize our current Cabinet).  Many were reluctant recruits, believing that they were far more qualified to be President than Lincoln.  Over the next five years however, he earned their respect, trust, and confidence and to a man they came to the realization that he was one of the greatest Presidents. 

One of the interesting facets of Abraham Lincoln was his spirituality.  He was clearly a Bible scholar.  His mother provided most of his early education, in part by reading scripture.  He was seen on numerous occasions, including during his Presidency, studying his Bible, and could quote scripture – including some fairly obscure passages, at will.  We can assume that he believed in God, however, it isn’t nearly so clear that he believed in an afterlife.
To her credit, Ms. Goodwin does not speculate on what would have happened in a Lincoln second term.  He made it crystal clear that he was completely opposed to a vindictive approach to the conquered South. His death put (only barely qualified) Andrew Johnson into the office.  One can question whether there was anyone who could have stepped in to follow the brilliant and immensely capable Lincoln and succeeded, but it certainly was not Johnson.  Lincoln’s death was a tragedy for the country, quite possibly for two generations, as the incredibly corrupt Reconstruction, rise of segregation and the Ku Klux Klan ensued.

When I read this kind of wide-ranging history, with references to hundreds of diary entries, letters, speeches, etc. I marvel at the time it must take to write such a work.  Ms. Goodwin, in her notes, mentions 10 years of research.  But she is not just a great researcher, she is a great story teller.  This could have been dry and dull but it is the opposite – great history and a great read. 
Highly recommended.

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Small Celebration

The market melt-up this summer has been good for me.  As a result, I had a little celebration this weekend with a glass of Sterling Merlot and a Sancho Panza.  That cigar was purchased about a dozen years ago in Dublin, where the rules on country of origin are different than here....

Very nice.

I hope that the fall will be good for all of us.  Here's to the best to our country and you for the rest of 2012!