• Five Rules to Solve Everything

    January 4, 2023 // 1 Comment »

     

    Raising kids we tried to keep things simple, boiling down the basics into five rules which apply to everything from surviving high school to regime change in Syria. As the kids get older and the U.S. remains on the ground in Syria and Iraq (true, look it up!) here are five rules to help everything work out better.

     

    Drugs are not for stupid people.

    Our kids like everyone else’s were exposed to drugs at an early age. And unlike when I was in school and drugs meant 3.2 percent pseudo-alcohol beer and maybe some gnarly weed, today a full range of chemicals is available, cheap, to everyone.

    So the rule was meant to understand the temptation and suggest a way to deal with it without denying the issue existed. Don’t be stupid. Don’t take drugs you do not understand, even if some guy in Starbucks who seems really jumpy says it’s cool. Don’t take quantities you don’t understand. Don’t try it the first time in the wrong place. Don’t be stupid about driving under the influence. Don’t try something new the night before the SAT. If you are going to take risks, legal and healthwise, assess your risk and mitigate it when you can.

    This advice scales well. Geopolitically, one might not want to embark on a 20-year-long war bender in Afghanistan without thinking through two decades of unintended consequences and with no idea of how to get home.

     

    Talk to a lawyer first.

    I had pretty good kids who as far as I know never got into any serious trouble, and no arrests. But the rule in case things went sideways was always “Be polite and respectful to the police but request a lawyer before you say anything.” Show you are informed about your rights without challenging/confronting the cops. You have no value in angering them. The cops are just doing their job, which is the gather information for the prosecutor to use to find you guilty. It says so right on the label, “anything you say can and will be used against you.” Note the words “will be.”

    People think they are clever, but the cops know certain factors mean the difference between misconduct, harassment, minor assault, felony assault, and self-defense. If following a scuffle you do not know the case law in your state differentiating those things and the cops do, you need help from a lawyer. The first thing a lawyer will do is ask “what have you already told the police?” It is easier to start off the right way then to fix something already goofed up before the pros arrive. Law enforcement is allowed to lie to you, mislead you (“let’s just talk off the record”) or persuade you to voluntarily talk saying things like “Lawyers are expensive and a hassle. We can wrap this up in a few minutes between us.” They might say “it’s not about you, we just want to learn more about this other thing.” You are not smarter than they are. You cannot game them. Simply assert your right to remain silent until they have a court order to force you to testify or your lawyer is present. That is your only advantage in this kind of situation.

    You can hear this same advice from the ACLU, or a real lawyer.

    Another version of this might be “call an electrician” first. Of course the YouTube video on how to rewire the dimmer and three way switch is clear. Of course you remember watching Grandpa do it in 1965. Of course the smoke coming out of the socket and the firefighter saying you are lucky they got there so fast is normal.

    The larger concept here is multi-headed. Think before you speak. Sometimes don’t speak. If you find yourself stuck in a hole, step one is to stop digging deeper. Know your intellectual limits and get help from experts. Being uninformed has real consequences. Ignorance is expensive and not bliss. In a real world context, for example, if the entire Cabinet does not know the difference between Sunnis and Shias, check with someone who does.

     

    Clean as you go.

    My kids never worked in a restaurant so they needed to learn this at home. Anybody who has worked at a restaurant knows you can’t go home at night until everything is cleaned for the next day. If you clean as you go throughout the night, it is easier than starting at 2 am. It is even better to not make a mess in the first place.

    So the rule was to think ahead. Term paper due in a month means start researching next week, with a first draft in two weeks, that sort of thing. Proof the paper as you go along and you do not need to stay until 2 am the night before it is due.

    In the real world, this means picking up beer bottles a couple of times during the night is easier than doing it hung over Sunday. If you happen to be president, think about the consequences of say creating an off shore penal colony at Guantanamo and do something with the prisoners as you go along, instead of leaving the next guy and the next guy and the next next guy a real mess. Or when you realize your organization has lied to the FISA court to launch a fraudulent investigation into the president’s ties to Russia, shut it down instead of dragging it out onto thinner and thinner ice.

     

    Work, Save, Invest.

    It turns out it is really hard to become rich. The deck is stacked by the already rich, who make their money primarily by owning things (capital) and passively watching their wealth grow while the rest of us have jobs to “earn” a living. Capital grows faster than wages ever will (because the rich control your wages as paid out of their wealth) and is taxed at a lower rate.

    So your only chance is to work, save, and invest. Work is the big one. It is about getting money, as much as you can within the law. It is not primarily about having fun, giving back, community, or making a difference, although it is great if you can combine those things with making money. You can also do them on your own time by volunteering. But you work to earn a living. Earn means it is not always easy or free.

    Save means not spending money you don’t have or buying things you don’t need. That way you avoid giving money you earned to people who have not earned it by way of interest on the money you borrowed. It’s kind of obvious, right – to get that flat screen TV I’m going to work extra hours so I can pay Best Buy for the TV and then pay VISA 22 percent of the purchase price in addition.

    Invest is your only chance of making money like rich people. It is literally free money, which should be clearly seen as a good thing. You put some money into something like a mutual fund with low costs at a reliable place and over time it becomes more money. Note the word time. Investment growth takes and needs time, but historically given that time it does grow. If you’d have invested $10,000 in a general stock fund in 2011, you’d have over $30,000 today. By doing nothing. This is what rich people do, er, don’t do instead of working for wages, and it is magic. Historically, from 1926 to today, stocks have grown about 10 percent a year on average, counting the Great Depression and the 2008 Crisis.

    In the larger lesson, as you get free money, you will also start to understand how the world really works, why we have the One Percent controlling everything, and why those people plan to stick with capitalism. The even larger political lesson has something to do with accruing massive government debt but I can’t quite get it clear in my head.

     

    Call for a ride and use birth control.

    It’s hard to imagine Dad won’t be a little grumpy about coming out in the middle of the night to give you a safe ride home, but imagine how angry he’ll be at the emergency room an hour later after you demonstrate why drunk driving is such a bad idea. Same for a parent finding those condoms in your underwear drawer. An awkward talk and some tears beats the heck out of picking out a baby’s name during World History class.

    So maybe before deciding to bomb Syria again to look tough think about how it might squash larger plans for some sort of peace in the greater Middle East. Sure, Dad and the media will be angry at first you did not display American leadership with a 500 pound cluster munition, but after they calm down they will see it was the right thing to (not) do. Also applies to killing American Citizens with drones and lying on FISA applications.

    Another larger lesson might be seen, for example, in when George Bush found himself mired in Iraq too drunk on hubris to win, and instead of calling for a ride out he decided he could drive home drunk and on the way crashed America’s foreign policy. That sort of thing.

    Alongside the smart precautions and knowing when to suffer the short term pain for long term gain, try to avoid a single point of failure situation. When planning something (a vacation, getting up on time for an important job interview, regime change in Syria) avoid creating a situation where one thing can derail the whole thing. So print out the document as well as have it on your phone. Set a second alarm. Have an alternate plan if the Russians intervene. Sometimes this translates into additional cost or hassle but ask the question this way: if standing at the airline counter having a printed document in hand saves your whole trip, wasn’t the trip to Fedex to print it out worth it?

     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Other Ideas

    Flashback! Questions from the Last Time America was Supposed to “Take Out” Assad

    April 25, 2017 // 5 Comments »

    assad
    History is a funny thing, because we forget it so easily, and so quickly. That forgetting is usually based on the political needs of the moment, and politicians and the media count on us being that way so they can manipulate us. Works nearly every time, too.

    One of the latest versions of this is the media meme that the Syrian quagmire is kinda new-ish, and that the most recent American spurt of 59 cruise missiles into that country represents something, maybe an escalation, maybe a change of policy, maybe some domestic political thingie. To help disprove all that, here’s an article I wrote about a year ago.

    Let’s see how that holds up in hindsight.

     

    Quick Summary:

    Despite over 400,000 dead and ongoing ground and air campaigns inside the country by the U.S., Russia and several others, 51 U.S. diplomats in 2016 publicly demanded the Obama administration launch strikes directly against Bashir Assad in Syria.

    The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1970s with an iron hand, employing secret police and other standard dictator tricks to suppress dissent. Things got so cozy between Syria and the U.S. that in the early days of the war on terror the CIA was sending “suspects” to Syria for some outsourced torture, as nobody can run a secret prison better than Arabs.

    Papa Assad passed away and his son Bashir assumed the presidency in 2000. Some ten years later Assad did the same thing most Arab dictators did, including U.S. allies like Egypt, and ordered crackdowns on Arab Spring protesters. The U.S. then decided in an on-again, off-again fashion to “remove” Assad. When no one in the U.S. really liked the sound of that following the disastrous failed regime changes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the U.S. attacked Syria anyway in the name of smiting Islamic State [ISIS]. Assad, whatever else he is, is also at war with ISIS. Some 400,000 Syrians have died so far in the civil war.

    And there’s a photo above of Secretary of State and Bashir Assad hanging out in better days. Times change, man.



    A Memo

    With that as background, 51 mid-level American diplomats took the brave stand of writing a memo (technically known as using the State Department dissent channel.) The memo was promptly leaked to the press [Note this was in mid-2016].

    Oh, a memo calling for more war written by people who wear suits and ties to work (technically known as chickenhawks.)

    The memo says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of standoff and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”



    Regime Change

    Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”

    Regime change. Bloody change, as it seems odd to imagine Assad would negotiate his own ouster.



    What the Memo Left Out

    The dissent memo makes no suggestions, actually no mention at all, about who would succeed Assad, or how this regime change would be any different than the failed tries in Iraq, Libya or Yemen, or how ISIS, who also seeks the end of the Assad regime through violence, would not be further empowered, or how the U.S. would get away with airstrikes given the overt Russian support for the Assad regime. Everyone except for those brave memo-ists has seen this movie before.

    Also missing from the memo are any notes on what if any military service the 51 signatories have amongst them, or why this call for more blood comes from the State Department and not from the military, whose commanders have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Assad was forced from power. Their questions are likely motivated by the fact that they would be asked to risk their lives to clean the mess.

    Finally, no one seems to remember anymore why “we” need to “take out” Assad. He is no doubt a terrible person who kills to protect his power. But leaders like that are not in short supply across the Middle East, in Africa, in North Korea. It seems a more specific rationale, tied directly to some clear U.S. strategic interest, is needed (remember, Assad is fighting ISIS and has never sought to export terror to the U.S.) Assad also enjoys support inside his country by some minority, who will not go away quietly if he is changed out. See what happened to the Baathists in Iraq, who organized some of the first resistance to the U.S., and went on to help staff up ISIS.

    History sure is funny. It also bites hard, especially when you ignore its lessons.

     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Other Ideas

    What is Missing from the Memo 51 U.S. Diplomats Signed Urging Strikes Against Assad in Syria

    June 20, 2016 // 22 Comments »

    assad


    Despite over 400,000 dead and ongoing ground and air campaigns inside the country by the U.S., Russia and several others, 51 U.S. diplomats are publicly demanding the Obama administration launch strikes directly against Bashir Assad in Syria.


    Quick Summary:

    The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1970s with an iron hand, employing secret police and other standard dictator tricks to suppress dissent. Things got so cozy between Syria and the U.S. that in the early days of the war on terror the CIA was sending “suspects” to Syria for some outsourced torture, as nobody can run a secret prison better than Arabs.

    Papa Assad passed away and his son Bashir assumed the presidency in 2000. Some ten years later Assad did the same thing most Arab dictators did, including U.S. allies like Egypt, and ordered crackdowns on Arab Spring protesters. The U.S. then decided in an on-again, off-again fashion to “remove” Assad. When no one in the U.S. really liked the sound of that following the disastrous regime changes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the U.S. attacked Syria anyway in the name of smiting Islamic State [ISIS]. Assad, whatever else he is and he is no doubt a real bastard, is also at war with ISIS. Some 400,000 Syrians have died so far in the civil war.

    And there’s a photo above of Secretary of State and Bashir Assad hanging out in better days. Times change, man.

    A Memo

    With that as background, 51 mid-level American diplomats took the brave stand of writing a memo (technically known as using the State Department dissent channel.) The memo was promptly leaked to the press.

    Oh, a memo calling for more war written by people who wear suits and ties to work (technically known as chickenhawks.)

    The memo says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of standoff and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

    Regime Change

    Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”

    Regime change. Bloody change, as it seems odd to imagine Assad would negotiate his own ouster.

    What the Memo Left Out

    The dissent memo makes no suggestions, actually no mention at all, about who would succeed Assad, or how this regime change would be any different than the failed tries in Iraq, Libya or Yemen, or how ISIS, who also seeks the end of the Assad regime through violence, would not be further empowered, or how the U.S. would get away with airstrikes given the overt Russian support for the Assad regime. Everyone except for those brave memo-ists has seen this movie before.

    Also missing from the memo are any notes on what if any military service the 51 signatories have amongst them, or why this call for more blood comes from the State Department and not from the military, whose commanders have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Assad was forced from power. Their questions are likely motivated by the fact that they would be asked to risk their lives to clean the mess.

    Finally, no one seems to remember anymore why “we” need to “take out” Assad. He is no doubt a terrible person who kills to protect his power. But leaders like that are not in short supply across the Middle East, in Africa and places like North Korea. It seems a more specific rationale, tied directly to some clear U.S. strategic interest, is needed (remember, Assad is fighting ISIS and has never sought to export terror to the U.S.) Assad also enjoys support inside his country by some minority, who will not go away quietly if he is changed out. See what happened to the Baathists in Iraq, who organized some of the first resistance to the U.S., and went on to help staff up ISIS.



    That said, it sure is a nicely-typed memo. Luckily no one in Washington pays much attention anymore to the State Department. So, State, go back to what you do best: hiding emails, and leave this stuff to the adults.



    BONUS: Funny thing about that “dissent” memo. It seems that the dissent expressed in fact parallels the feelings of Secretary of State John Kerry, and possible next-president Hillary Clinton, that the U.S. should attack Assad directly. Leave it to State t find a way to change dissent into ass kissing.




    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Other Ideas