• 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?

     

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