Category Archives: Biography

Al’s Revenge

Al in prison

Al in prison

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Al was sentenced to prison after what he did to Uncle Joe. Everybody loved Uncle Joe. It served Al right. Now he would have a cozy stay in a country club atmosphere for the next eight years. Lucky Al. Better not complain, Al.

His first cell was no larger than a broom closet. It was impossible to sit or lie down. And he was ordered to stay awake. If he was caught with his eyes closed, he’d be dragged out of his cell and chewed on by guard dogs. He was beaten and interrogated, and finally sentenced to hard labor.

He found himself imprisoned with other people who had also done bad things to Uncle Joe. Quite a few of these inmates loved Uncle Joe, and they were truly repentant. Nonetheless, they were forced to work very hard to win remission for their sins. And they were fed very little. Many died.

Some of them wrote letters to Uncle Joe before they died. They wanted him to be aware of just how unbelievably harsh these prison conditions were. Surely if he knew just how bad it was, he’d reform the prisons immediately. Uncle Joe was a very affable, nice guy, and a hero to all the common people. Certainly he would understand and do something.

Al survived. He was released from the country club after eight years, in 1953. But he didn’t like Uncle Joe anymore. He began writing a very long book. He researched thoroughly, and scrivened in secret. Uncle Joe was now dead, but many still loved him. He had to be very careful. He once wrote, “during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.”

He wrote other works also which, after 1960, his government was willing to allow in print. He gained world-wide fame, and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But this book about his prison experience had to remain a secret. His government already hated him for his success and that infernal Nobel Prize. In 1971 they even poisoned him with ricin. It made him very sick, but he survived.

Twenty years had passed since his release from prison and he still wasn’t sure when to exact his revenge. But the police were on to him. They tortured one of his typists until she revealed where a copy of the manuscript was hidden. Then she hanged herself. Al knew he had to act quickly before more co-conspirators were harmed. Several friends managed to smuggle other copies of the manuscript across the border. He gave the go-ahead signal.

In December 1973, it was published in France. It cost him his country. Six weeks later his government expelled him, and he had to live in exile for the next two decades. He returned to his home only after his government finally collapsed, unable to sustain itself under the weight of world criticism and internal dissension.

Al is one of my favorite literary figures, though I’ve only read his magnum opus. His famous book he kept secret for so long is The Gulag Archipelago. It documents Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s experiences, as well as the experiences of hundreds of other inmates in the Soviet gulag of prisons under Joseph Stalin. They had been arrested for making mildly critical comments about their country’s beloved “Uncle Joe”.

The Gulag Archipelago graphically exposed the dark secrets of the Soviet Union’s treatment of political prisoners. Communism was portrayed as subsisting on forced labor, and lost its luster to western ideologues. The Soviets were staggered. They stumbled about for the next eighteen years until finally their government crumbled.

It’s a long read. I recommend the abridged version. Which is still a long read.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, at the age of 89. That he survived so long is testament to the power of luck, persistence, and very careful planning. And perhaps also to the restorative power of revenge. He did what many of us dream of doing. He exposed the corruption and horror of unchecked authority. And he served his revenge on a plate twenty years cold. A revenge as chilly, yet invigorating, as the snowy winters of Siberia.

Harry Browne

My thumbworn copy. Could be a collector's item, since it's out-of-print. But no, I'm not selling it.

My thumbworn copy. Could be a collector’s item, since it’s out-of-print. But no, I’m not selling it.

Harry Browne died ten years ago today. Harry who, what the heck? Harry Browne. He was a candidate for U.S. President, you know.

I was in my 20’s. I was depressed and suicidal. I was broke and my life was going nowhere. Then I picked up the book How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne. This great book is now out of print, and that’s a shame. It applies libertarian philosophies to the traps we find ourselves in life, and shows you how to free yourself from those traps. Browne describes traps such as, The Morality Trap, The Group Trap, The Government Trap, The Despair Trap, and so forth.

Harry Browne was a disciple of Ludwig von Mises, who had a heavy influence on the libertarian movement in the mid-20th century. I, myself, became a disciple of Harry Browne. I applied his teachings to my life, and really did turn things around. I shook off my dependence on others and embarked on a path of self-determination. I pursued the things in life that truly made me happy. I found a successful career. I met my current wife, and we’ve had a close, loving relationship for nearly a quarter century now.

I owe a lot to Harry Browne.

In the early days of this freedom path, I was a perfervid proselyte of libertarianism. I crafted my own moral code, avoided group efforts, and regarded government with great skepticism. Harry Browne’s advice was that government does not solve any problems, and I took that to heart.

You can mine a lot of valuable gold from the libertarian philosophy. But beware of the fool’s gold. No one can be completely independent, as wonderful as that sounds in theory. Reality checks have moderated my passion. Apparently they moderated Browne, also.

Harry augured against being caught up in the Group Trap and the Government Trap. But he also gave investment advice, which included investing in stocks. Stocks are issued by corporations, and corporations are group efforts. Also, corporations cannot exist without government laws and charters. So we must fall into the Government Trap if we want to follow his advice and invest in stocks.

Harry Browne even ran for president, winning the Libertarian Party’s nomination in 1996 and 2000. In 1996 he garnered 485,798 votes. One of those votes was mine. So he and I were both kind of caught in the Government Trap, he by running for office, and me by voting for him.

He was an investment analyst for most of his life, and developed the permanent portfolio investment strategy. It’s designed to protect your assets from large losses. However it also make spectacular gains virtually impossible.

In 1970, he authored the book How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation, where he accurately predicted the devaluation of the dollar, and a sharp rise in gold prices. Had you abandoned the permanent portfolio strategy and followed his advice in that particular book, you would have made a fortune.

In 1989, he authored the book The Economic Time Bomb: How You Can Profit from the Emerging Crises, where he inaccurately predicted a global economic apocalypse. Had you followed his advice in that book, you would have missed out on the skyrocketing stock market during the 1990s.

But in most of his books on investing, Browne warned about following the advice of anyone who predicts an economic downturn or upturn. He claimed that no one can consistently predict the future of any investment with accuracy, and you should calibrate your investment strategy accordingly, by diversifying.

So he fell into the very traps he warned against. And he made predictions, while advising us to beware of predictions. He was a man of contradictions, faltering on the very philosophical paths he advocated. But don’t we all?

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Harry Browne shocked many of his followers when he wrote a column entitled When Will We Learn. It criticized our nation’s foreign policies as being a catalyst for the 9/11 attacks. He lost some of his followers over this, including the conservative radio and television personality, Larry Elder, who quit the Libertarian Party and became a Republican. Nonetheless, it became his most widely-read column.

Harry Browne succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease on March 1st, 2006. He was 72. He was eulogized by Congressman Ron Paul.

My life has been guided by many philosophers, but he is one of the foremost. So on this day I remember him. Keep resting in peace, Harry Browne.

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