Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Tax Man Cometh

Our tax system is out of control. We have a quasi-governmental, quasi-legitimate body with the power to destroy lives seemingly on a whim but really because of the monumental cluster that is our tax code. Our income tax system has so many rules and loopholes and contradictions that even the simplest filing requires a trained professional to complete. And even they often get it wrong. The Affordable Care Act certainly didn’t help by adding another layer of red tape to the mix.

The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, gave congress the ability to confiscate money from the people. Rather than providing an efficient way to generate revenue to run the government, this only served to enable Senators and Representatives to enrich themselves by playing Peter Pan. Since the 16th Amendment, Congress has largely ignored actual needs of the country, in favor of incessantly working toward re-election by promising the “little guy” that he’ll “stick it to the man” to pay for your [local ball park, roads, schools, community centers, etc.]. Meanwhile, out the other side of their faces, they’re selling favors to special interest groups and corporations. All on our dime.

The fix should be simple. Scrap income tax altogether and replace it with a VAT, or consumption tax. (Unfortunately, this will require a Constitutional Amendment). There will need to be serious negotiations and studies completed to determine what items and services are taxable and what are exempt, and what individual exemptions may be allowed, but at its core, this is a progressive, rather than regressive tax because it doesn’t touch anyone’s income. And certain things like food, pharmaceuticals, and housing will not be taxed, or will be taxed after a certain dollar amount so that everyone may file for a standard refund every year, based on criteria like dependents, head of household status, etc. This will be a boon to those who only spend money on what they need. Those who like to have the new toys and expensive clothes and fancy cars will be paying more taxes. And that makes sense.

All this said, the reality is that we’re probably stuck with income tax. But even with income tax, there’s a way to ensure reform, and save taxpayers and their employers a lot of money, while creating accountability for politicians - which is something they sorely need. The automatically deducted income tax remittances are problematic for a few reasons:

  • Out of sight, out of mind. Most people have no idea how much they pay in taxes. They count on their net pay. That is just wrong. Employees should be paid everything they’ve earned, and then should file their own taxes.
  • Most employers aren’t actually in the business of tax accounting, but this forces them to provide that service. If you remove this responsibility from the companies, they would save a tremendous amount of money administering something that has nothing to do with their core business.
  • It hides the theft in plain sight. Because the money is gone before the employee ever receives it, and most employees are fine with that, the government can steal as much as they want.
  • The government is the beneficiary of a free loan from millions of taxpayers. The taxpayers who have too much withheld are, in essence, giving a free loan to the government every year. If they put that money in even a simple passbook account, they would earn at least a modicum of interest. But the government just returns it, interest free, after forcing you to prove they took too much in the first place. 

If taxpayers had to stroke a check every quarter, or even just once a year, for the taxes they owe, there WOULD be tax reform.

To pay for highways and bridges, and other infrastructure items, we should be allocating gasoline (or whatever fuel is purchased to run motorized vehicles) taxes and auto registration fees. This is what the gasoline tax was intended to do in the first place, but like so many other things, politicians have robbed that bank to pay for their pet projects. And if fuel taxes and registrations aren’t enough, we can implement tolls for upgrade and new construction projects. Those would be tightly regulated to generate a specific amount of money and when that goal is reached, the tolls would be removed.

Finally, much noise is often made about corporate taxes and how corporations are able to get away with not paying their fair share - whatever that is supposed to be. This wrongly assumes that corporations pay taxes. They do not. Corporations may be responsible for actually stroking a check to the IRS for taxes, but it is, in fact, their customers who pay the taxes. Why we even bother with the charade is anyone’s guess. That’s not to say that corporations (and by extension, their customers) shouldn’t help defray the costs of public goods and services that help them operate - like roads and sewers and environmental damage mitigation and the like. But taxes, qua taxes, should be eliminated from the corporate lexicon.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Foreign Affairs / Military Entanglements

For far too long, our government has been in the business of entangling itself in the affairs of other sovereign nations. While sometimes things happen abroad that may affect our national security, most of our foreign affairs seem to be from a position of meddling and adventurism.

The events of September 11, 2001 provide a good example of what can happen when you take the wrong reaction to a devastating event. When 19 hijackers from Egypt and Saudi Arabia flew our own planes into the World Trade Center, our government took the very illogical actions of invading Iraq, based on faulty or manufactured intelligence, and Afghanistan, based on the probably mistaken notion that our prime suspect (Osama Bin Laden) was there. And while the Taliban were no friends of ours, it still remains unclear (and in my opinion, improbable) that he was ever in Afghanistan for any significant time after our invasion.

These two adventure wars might have involved deeper strategies. Our ally, Saudi Arabia, is at political and philosophical odds with our enemy, Iran. By taking out two of Iran’s neighbors - Afghanistan and Iraq, it might make it easier to eventually invade Iran, overthrow the government and install some sort of puppet “democracy”. However, our next move as a people was to elect a president much more sympathetic to Iran and other Shia Muslims than the previous administration. Which means all the blood we spilled and treasure we spent was in vain. And now we’re left with a middle east in tatters, a raging civil war in Syria (which has probably more to do with a proxy war between the east and west over a natural gas pipeline, than it does with ideology and human rights) and fewer and fewer friends in the region.

Our only stalwart friend - Israel - has been the target of the Obama administration in numerous ways. The most recent are the end-around regarding the UNSC resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank, and on his last day in office a $221 Million “aid” package given to the Palestinian Authority. That is a Palestinian Authority that has no legitimacy because it is ruled by two different, competing factions, one of which is a terror organization whose explicit goal is to destroy the nation of Israel. Additionally, this is the same Palestinian Authority that has shown, time and again, it has no problem spending aid money on weapons and tunnel construction for the sole purpose of conducting terror operations on Israeli civilians.

Where does all this rambling lead? We have prosecuted unprovoked wars on sovereign nations ostensibly to bring about order and democracy. We have achieved neither. What has been wrought from these actions is millions of lost lives, trillions of wasted dollars, and an entire region of the planet on the brink of a disastrous collapse.

Our overriding policy should be similar to the fictional “Prime Directive” from the Star Trek universe. Unless we are engaged, we should not engage. We have long-standing treaties with allies - and those should be honored. If our ally is attacked, we are attacked and should therefore respond. But unless we or one of our allies is attacked, we should simply observe and keep our military grounded.

The other part of this equation is financial. Or as I call it “Aid and Trade”.

In our (at least recent) history, the United States has used aid in kind of a “carrot and stick” scheme. The carrot being aid and the stick being our war machine. The problem is that the protocols dictating how we use the carrot and the stick have become very muddied. Sometimes we’re giving the carrot, while at the same time applying the stick. That’s an expensive proposition, especially when you have few clear objectives and any objectives you might have could change with the next election.

Aid after WWII made sense. The places where we planted our dollar were absolutely devastated and needed a hand to rebuild. They have all become modern, liberal, western-style democracies. But we had to beat them down in a bloody war first. Now it seems we play at war then give some aid, then play a little more war, then give some more aid. The aid we provide now seems more like an extortion payment or a bribe than true aid.

Rather than just providing free money to other nations with no real plan, our aid dollars should be more judiciously distributed. There are places in the world where there is real poverty and real need and those should be the places we offer aid, but even there, the aid should come with restrictions and strings. But to provide aid just to curry temporary favor is a bad idea and should be gone.

But an even better idea than giving financial aid to other nations, would be to help them by providing the means for them to earn our dollars through trade. If you make something that we (collectively) want or need, we will buy it from you. If we make something that you (collectively) want or need, we will sell it to you. We’ll need to work out some rules to keep it fair - like restrictions on tariffs and currency manipulation, and moratoria on military goods, but for the most part, we should have a free market - buyers and sellers. That’s better for the economy, it’s better for relations and it’s better for people - most especially working class people who suffer the most in times of war and stifled trade.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Happy First Birthday Asher

(Okay, so I'm publishing this about 5 months late. I've been busy. I have a one-year-old.)

What a year! You showed up early and we were almost ready, but you presented me with the best birthday present I’ve ever received. You were little, and healthy, and perfect, and in that respect, not a lot has changed.

Oh you’ve grown, boy have you grown. At times, we’ve been quite surprised by your growth. Your 1 month appointment showed you were in the 2nd percentile for weight, but 90th for length. By your 3 month appointment you were up to the 3rd percentile for weight and 85th for length. At 6 months you were up to 6th percentile for weight and down to 75th for length. Normalizing. By the time 9 months rolled around you were stable at the 75th percentile for length but had jumped up to the 16th percentile for weight. Woo hoo!

All the while you developed at an astonishing rate. For the last year we’ve watched you eat your feet at 4 months, and the doc told us “that’s a 6 month trick.” Before you were 4 months old, you were already holding your bottle and feeding yourself. You were standing up at 4 months and by 6 months you were a crawling demon.

It wasn’t till you were almost 9 months old that you began clapping your hands and giggling every time we sang “If you’re happy and you know it” to you. And banging toys together, and sitting down without plopping. You started climbing the stairs at 7 months and by 9 months it was one of your favorite activities - climb the stairs and explore all the bedrooms. Down was still a problem, but at 9 months, you were determined to figure that out.

Teeth have come in too. It started on the 4th of July weekend with your 2 front bottom teeth. You were not happy that weekend. That was it for another month and a half before you started growing top teeth. They didn’t seem to bother you as much, although you chewed on everything you could get in your mouth. And boy did you drool a lot.

You’ve always been a hairy little bugger. You were born with wispy blond hair and then a couple of months in, you looked like you were growing a mullet. Eventually your head grew into your hair and the mullet went away. Only to be replaced by frat bangs and peyot. Your mom trimmed your peyot so we wouldn’t have to start dressing you in black wool. But we did wonder if we would have to invest in Oakleys, Croakies, a golf visor and plaid Duckhead shorts to go with your frat bangs.

For your first 6 months of life, we didn’t sleep much. You never napped well, and you didn’t sleep at night for more than an hour or 2. But when we figured out you were playing us - we started letting you cry at night. After about 2 nights of temper tantrums, you figured out what bedtime was and started sleeping all through the night. After that, you seemed to grow a lot more and always wake up happy - and hungry.

Which leads me to the next thing that has amazed us. You love food. All food. At 6 months old, when the doctor told us we could feed you whatever we eat, we took it to heart. In fact, that very evening, we went to a restaurant for dinner and I shared my cold potato leek soup with you. It was your first grown-up food, and you loved it. And after that, if we went out or cooked something for ourselves that you were still awake for, we shared it - scallops, lamb, risotto, pasta, peanut butter, yorkshire pudding, french toast (that became your breakfast staple), all manner of cheeses, every fruit or vegetable that came into the house, eggs, sausage, hamburgers… You loved it all. Except the tandoori chicken. That was maybe a little too spicy for you. I hope you always keep your love of food, but don’t let it rule your life.

The one thing we’ve found most entertaining is how easy you have been in restaurants. We would roll you right into the place in your stroller and park it next to the table. In smaller venues, we’d fold it up and leave it at the host station and just carry you in your car seat. I think it must have been at nine or ten months old that we finally bought you a booster seat and started just leaving the car seat and stroller in the car and carry you into the restaurant. You loved that. Always so happy and engaged, and you ate everything that came close to your mouth. If we were lucky and the weather was nice, and the restaurant had outside seating, you could sit and watch the cars, trucks, and buses passing on the street, and the pedestrians walking by. You loved to flirt with the waiters and waitresses, and they thought you were so cute.

By ten months, you became a real chatty Cathy. We’re not sure what you were talking about, but it sure did seem important. You tried to mimic things we said, with mixed results. You figured out “cat” pretty early on. Or maybe it was “cow”. Or “car”. I’m not quite sure. You used that word to describe your little foam car toys, your book with a cow on the cover, and the print in my office with three cats. Maybe they all sounded different to you. Or looked the same.

Walking seemed to come late for you, but I think that was just us projecting. We figured it’s because you could crawl so fast, and were always in such a hurry to get places, you figured walking would slow you down. If you’re like me, that won’t change. I’d rather get on a bicycle and get there already. I can slow down when I arrive.

Your first Halloween was a special treat. With no cultural context for creepy things like skeletons and ghosts and goblins and zombies, you showed no fear of all our neighbors’ decorations. In fact you loved the ones that moved and made sounds and talked to you. You generally loved being outside anyway. Cars, and people, and dogs, and squirrels, and the wind blowing the trees, and the leaves falling down, and cicadas all captivated you. For a chatty Cathy, you sure got quiet and pensive every time we went riding on your tricycle or in your stroller.

All of this doesn’t really mean much. They’re just details. We have so much hope and love for you. Who knew a little wiggly potato could turn two people’s lives upside down so completely? And that they would be completely happy about it? That’s a rhetorical question, of course; everyone with kids - especially your grandparents - knows this.

This letter won’t mean anything to you for many years, but I wanted to write it down while it was all still fresh in my mind. Apart from all the details and all the late nights, and all the wondering “why’s he crying”, you have brought more unabashed joy into our lives than we could have ever imagined.

Your squeaky giggle is the best sound ever. Your fascination with the dogs, and your perseverance at getting to things we don’t want you getting to is mesmerizing. Your awe at all the new things - from the sound of cicadas, to your reflection in the mirror, to the noise the vacuum cleaner makes, to the splash in the face you get at the pool when kids do cannonballs nearby - it has entertained us immensely. We can see you learning and engaging with the world. Curious. Happy. Healthy.

Your personality is starting to really develop and you’re becoming quite the little character. You’ve never been shy or shown fear. You’re gregarious. You love being in the presence of others and laughing and participating. Don’t change. Always be friendly. And when it’s time, be kind and courteous.

Your next year will be as big as the last. And we can hardly wait. You’ll be talking in real words and sentences soon enough, and walking and running and playing with other kids. For me, I can’t wait to have a conversation with you.

Happy Birthday son. We love you.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How To Fix Welfare

Do we want to fix welfare? I mean really want to? It seems mostly like one of those tools that people on the left use to rally the indegent to the polls and the right use to rally the anti-poor to the polls. No one wants to make practical fixes that will actually help anything. They just want to talk about it and use it to get votes. But if we really wanted to fix it, the solution doesn't need to be all that complicated. Expensive in the short term for sure, but not all that complicated. The idea below lacks a lot of details, but it's a good start.

Although actual welfare makes up a relatively small part of our federal budget, it is one of those hot-button issues that causes big arguments and will elicit visceral responses from people of all political stripes. Some want more largess, and less oversight, while others want drug tests, forced sterilization or doing away with it altogether. As with most things, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle.

Welfare should not be a lifestyle. It shouldn’t be easy. Nor should it be stigmatized. Things happen. People fall. Let’s look at the problems people fall into and see if we can help them stay off of welfare through their own hard work and ability.

Here’s the solution. If you need welfare, you can get that welfare but there will be stipulations.
  1. You will show up to a welfare office or satellite office every weekday during normal (9-5) business hours.
    1. Half your time will be spent in job training, job searching, education, and counseling on how to interview for, dress for, behave at, and keep a job.
    2. The remainder of your time will be spent doing community service - picking up trash on the side of the road, cleaning up public parks, planting flowers in medians - anything to keep you occupied and productive, and contributing to the community. If there’s nothing that needs to be done, you’ll continue with training, job searching, education, and counseling.
  2. You will be paid at the beginning of the week for last week’s welfare, rather than at the end of the week. This is to help you better manage your funds and remove some of the temptations that weekends hold.
  3. If you have kids, childcare will be provided - daycare for young children and after-school care for older kids.
  4. You will be drug tested. This will not be done in order to deny welfare, but to get you any substance abuse help you might need, and to allow you to dry out before those drugs cost you a job.

There will be people who cannot be helped. This is unfortunate, but inevitable. And make no mistake, this will cost money. But the goal is that, eventually, it will cost less money because we are helping people learn to be self-sufficient and getting them out of the system by providing them the means to provide for themselves. And the dignity and sense of pride and self-reliance they will gain from that, will pass down to future generations.

Friday, August 5, 2016

It's been a while...

This election cycle seems to have us all up in arms and sometime speechless. I don't have much to add, really. I'm not for her OR him. I'm for the other guy. When I have a moment to sit down and distill my thoughts on the subject, I will. But for now, look over my old posts. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let's Donate $1,000,000

I want to try something and I need your help. Between FB, Twitter, G+, and LinkedIn, I have roughly 1,500 friends/followers, give or take. If each one of those friends/followers has just one friend who doesn't overlap my network at the first or second level, that gives a reach of over a million people. Here's what I want to try...

If we can get 1,000,000 people to each make a $1 donation to a single worthy charity, that will make a big impact. If this works, I'll pick a different charity every month. So for $12 a year, and sharing links with your friends (which you do anyway) we can make the world better in 2016 and beyond.

Feel free to suggest a charity but we're starting with Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) . Please share this status and link. If you are not using the share feature, let me know in the comments section that you shared it. And don't forget to donate your dollar. That's the important part.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Letter to My Unborn Son

Dear Asher,

Welcome to the world! We’re glad you’re here. But there are a lot of moving parts and you have a lot to learn. I want to share with you a number of ideas, many coming from cliches, but they’re important - and they became cliches because they’re important. So let’s get started.

Life is an interesting thing. You’ll hear people say it’s too short for this or that, but to be honest, life is the longest thing you’ll ever do. And you have a choice, every single day, whether it will be a happy life, or an unhappy life. 

I don’t say that lightly. You can choose happiness, and we’ll be there every step of the way to help you make that choice. We want nothing more than for you to be healthy and happy. 

To be precise, happiness comes second in the list of things you should be striving for. First is to  do the right thing. Now, the great thing about that is if you always try to do the right thing, you can be content in knowing that you did your best not to harm others - and that is something you can be happy about. 

It won’t always be easy to do the right thing, and sometimes it won’t even be clear what the right thing is. I hope that as you grow and learn and observe the world around you, you’ll figure it out through your own intuition and through good (or bad) examples set by others. 

Many people like to see the evil in the world and bemoan its shortcomings and decay. To be sure, there is plenty of evil and if you watch the news, you’ll see plenty of examples of decay. But beware - what you see is not always an accurate representation of reality. We live in a time of amazing advances in science, technology, and human rights. While there are still places in the world where women are treated as second class citizens, or others are punished simply because they look different, love different, or follow a different god - at the same time we are shining a spotlight on all those places and forcing the guilty parties to stand up and be recognized by the world for who, and what, they are. 

It is of paramount importance for you to be smart, patient, observant of your surroundings, tolerant of others and their philosophies, and above all else, kind and empathetic. If you take every possible opportunity to pause, quietly pay attention to everything and everyone around you, understand your position relative to people, things and environment, and try to see your world from a different perspective, before speaking and acting - you’ll do fine. 

Empathy and sympathy. I’ve struggled with how to explain this to you in a way that is compelling, understandable, and untrite. These are very important notions. Empathy should be your guide when dealing with all people - try to put yourself in their shoes, so you can start to understand their motivations. Sympathy is a little more complicated. People dealing with chronic issues probably don’t want your sympathy. The handicapped don’t want you to pity them. It’s okay to offer assistance, but it’s not okay to insist, it’s not okay to stare, and it’s not okay to treat them any differently than you would anyone else. However, maybe your best friend whose dog got run over by a car wants your sympathy. You can feel sorry for him. But even that starts with empathy. Imagine how you would feel if your dog got run over.  

One of my favorite adages is “Patience is a virtue.” Patience IS a virtue. It’s also incredibly difficult to practice. People act carelessly, stupidly, obliviously, discourteously, rudely, inconsiderately, and just plain meanly literally all the time. It’s easy to get angry. You’ll see me get angry. You’ll see your mom get angry. The anger provides a momentary release but holding onto it only hurts the person expressing it. You can scream and shout all you like at someone who has slighted you, but more often than not, he will dig his heels in and act with defensive aggression, and righteous indignation. Try not to get sucked in. 

This is where empathy plays a huge role. That person who just broke in line in front of you, or said something rude to you, or totally ignored your presence might be dealing with something profound. Maybe she’s just a jackass. But you have no way of knowing. By making the assumption that she’s got something else more serious on her mind, it will make it easier for you to let it go, and continue about your day. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, how much have you lost? A couple of minutes?

Which reminds me of this nugget - “Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” It is true. The easiest way for you to respect others is to respect their time and effort. If you’ve made an arrangement to meet someone at a certain time, be sure to be there at the appointed time. To waste someone’s time is the height of rudeness. And while you’re there, give that person your undivided attention. 

Don’t hold grudges. People will hurt you. They will lie to you and undermine you. Sometimes they will go out of their way to rook you out of something you deserve, for their own short-term benefit. Leave it behind. You don’t have to be friends with those people. You don’t have to deal with or trust them ever again. But you shouldn’t hold a grudge. The person who bears the weight of a grudge is the person holding it. Learn from the slight and move on. 

Ignoring someone’s slights is not to suggest for a moment that you should be a shrinking violet. You should always stand up for what’s right, and stand up for yourself when it is warranted. On the important things, always speak up. Eventually you’ll recognize what the important things are and you’ll understand two more adages; “Pick your battles” and “Live to fight another day.” 

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This quote comes from a religious source (something I’ll discuss later) but it is objectively very powerful and deserves absolute consideration. Eschewing judgment of other people is quite possibly as difficult as practicing patience. There’s a weird little primitive part of our lizard brains that takes pleasure in putting ourselves above others, in whatever way is easiest. It is really easy to judge someone who is too short, too fat, has a big nose, or buck teeth, has a bald spot, or is missing a finger. Or maybe he has a different color skin or hair, or too many freckles. It’s easy to judge people who aren’t as smart as we are, or who can’t run as fast, or who believe different things. But if the differences don’t actually do harm to anyone, and if they are truly only superficial differences and not differences in how they treat others, then they have no bearing on the quality of another human being, relative to your own quality. By judging them, you make yourself less. If someone holds up his difference as somehow making him superior, then it’s okay to judge - but not the difference, only the superior attitude. Most of us have gifts to share. Try to find the gifts in people. Sometimes the easiest place to look is in their differences. 

“Honesty is the best policy.” A thousand times, yes. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember your lies. Be honest with yourself and be honest in all your dealings with others. Sometimes the truth hurts. But it hurts far less than it will if it’s preceded by a lie. 

“Cheaters never prosper.” This is actually not true. Sometimes cheaters prosper tremendously. BUT, the worse they cheat, and the deeper they dig themselves, the worse the retribution will be if they get caught. And they often get caught. When you cheat, you hurt other people. But worse than that, you hurt yourself. Every time you cheat, you lose a little of your soul. Don’t forget that when all is said and done, it is you that you have to look at in the mirror. If you’re disgusted by what you see, you have only yourself to blame. Always strive to take the high road. Always try to do what’s right. If you cheat, you cheat someone else out of something they deserve, and you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to improve and learn.

“Curiosity killed the cat.” WRONG. The only things curiosity ever killed were ignorance and time. Be curious. Question everything. Seek the truth. Find out why a thing is what it is and how it became so. Explore the world. Meet new people. Try different foods. Read new books. Do things that make you uncomfortable. It is the best way to learn - about people, things, the world, and, most importantly, yourself.

A smile and a kind word never hurt anyone; use them liberally. Smiles and kindness make people feel special. They can diffuse tense situations. They can alleviate fear, loneliness, and insecurity. But they must be sincere. If you can’t say a kind word sincerely, it’s best not to say anything at all. 

“Please” and “Thank you” are magical phrases. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. Actually, try it all the time. If someone holds a door for you, say thank you. If the waiter asks if you want more water, say please. When the waiter pours more water, say thank you. No matter what a person does from day to day, no one wants to be treated like they’re invisible. Smile at the garbage man. Thank the doorman. Thank the taxi driver. Say please and thank you to the barista. Treat everyone with the same respect you would treat the president. Most of the time, you will see that respect returned.

Strive to be the best at everything you do, but take joy in others’ success as well. As hard as you try, it’s unlikely you’ll be the best at everything you attempt. Be happy for the person who betters you. As long as you did the best you could do, you have nothing to be ashamed of. And remember, be gracious in your losses, and humble in your wins. Don’t gloat. Thank your opponents for a good match. 

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” You will have to take risks in life if you ever want to accomplish anything. Sometimes you'll lose but it's only through those losses that you'll learn to succeed the next time. Be grateful for your losses, without them, you won’t learn much, and you won’t truly appreciate the wins. 

Don’t blame others for your failures. You will fail. Sometimes miserably. Don’t be afraid of failure. When it happens, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn from it. Why did you fail? What could you have done differently to prevent failure? If you have an opportunity to try again, will you? Will you be able to make the necessary corrections next time? Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Sometimes it might seem that others are responsible for your failures, but don’t forget that you are the one who put those people in that position; either through your trust, or your lack of judgment, or your ignorance or naivete of the situation. Learn for next time. 

Understand, others will blame you for their failures. Whether it’s because they perceive you to be rich, or because you’re white, or because you’re a man, or because you’re smarter than they are, or better looking, or a faster runner, or myriad other excuses that may or may not have any basis in fact - you will be blamed for others’ failures. It stings to catch blame for things you had nothing to do with. Shrug it off. Don’t get caught up in their weakness. They are blaming you because they can’t accept their own shortcomings. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that, so it’s better just to walk away from it. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This might seem counter-intuitive, considering the previous paragraphs, but no man is an island. Everything you do is caused by a ripple and will, in turn, cause ripples. Asking for help is a ripple. Most people are happy to help others when and if they can. Asking for help shows your humanity and your humility. You’ve put someone else in a position of authority and made him or her feel special and needed. That’s usually a good thing. 

Always admit when you’re wrong. This goes hand-in-hand with not blaming others for your failures. It’s fun to be right. It’s fun to win an argument. It’s sometimes nice to be the smartest person in the room. But one of the most disarming phrases you can ever utter is “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” It immediately puts everyone else at ease because it’s such an unexpected admission of imperfection. “I was wrong” is one of the hardest things to admit. “I’m sorry” is equally difficult to say. And it shouldn’t be said insincerely. You should rarely apologize just to placate someone. Only apologize if you truly mean it and if you truly did something you know to be wrong. (Some will tell you that if you’re in a romantic relationship, you should learn to apologize even if you’re not wrong. There is merit to that.)

And while we’re talking about hard things to say, you should learn “I don’t know.” Don’t try to fake it. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to admit it and offer to find the answer. “I’m not sure” is also acceptable. Like I said before, it’s not okay to lie. 

Exercise your mind and your body. Do puzzles, read books, play games, study. But don’t forget to run and play sports and lift weights, too. Keeping your body healthy will help keep your mind sharp. But don’t go overboard - sometimes it’s nice to sit on your ass and watch a movie, or a cartoon, or just close your eyes and enjoy the sound of the surf or traffic, or just silence. 

Education is the silver bullet. But I don’t just mean school. School is important, and you’ll come to a point, one day, where you’ll need to decide if continuing your formal education is right for you, right now. Maybe you’ll want to take a break and come back to it later. Maybe you’ll always be taking classes and earning degrees of some sort. Maybe your education will come from traveling and working and observing the world around you. But whatever you do, don’t ever stop learning. 

Eat right, but as with exercise - keep it in moderation. Enjoy fruits and vegetables, but not for the sake of the ‘healthy virtue’ of eating them. Enjoy them because they taste good, or because they were grown or prepared with care. But sometimes a Krispy Kreme is good. And if you don’t do it too often, it can be just as healthy, if only because it makes you smile. 

Understand where your food comes from. Over the course of your lifetime, I suspect that you will see more and more people turning to vegetarianism, veganism, and even insectivorism. As humans have evolved, and humanity has progressed, the question of whether it’s moral to eat animals has grown more contentious. I don’t think that question will be settled anytime soon, but I know this - if you are a carnivore, as your mother and I are, you must never discount that an animal gave its life for your sustenance. It’s okay to enjoy meat (for now). But don’t think it came from a grocery store on a styrofoam plate, wrapped in cellophane. It was a living, breathing, feeling animal, raised on a farm to become food, or perhaps hunted and killed in the wild. Respect that. If, one day, you choose not to eat meat at all, that is fine too.

You don’t deserve anything you haven’t worked for. It’s a hard concept to swallow. You were fortunate enough to be born into a family who loves you very much, and who collectively earn a decent living, and in one of the wealthiest and freest societies in history. Should things continue the way they are, you need never want for anything. Don’t think for a moment you deserve it. You have done nothing to earn it. Fortune has smiled upon you and for that you should be grateful, but not prideful. Strive every day to earn your own way; to deserve the things you have.

Be proud of your accomplishments, not your possessions. Your actions and accomplishments define your character. Your possessions are a weight you carry with you. It’s okay to enjoy your possessions but it is never okay to hold them up to others as somehow making you better than… There’s an old proverb that says something like “Beware of your possessions; they own you.” And to an extent, this is true. Life isn’t about the acquisition of things. We all die and we leave all those things behind. Life is about the acquisition - and enjoyment - of knowledge and experiences. 

Money is a tool and nothing more. It’s a means to conduct business and trade with others, making it way more convenient than trading a dozen chickens for a bicycle. If you have a lot of it, that’s nice - it can make life easier. But it doesn’t make you a better person. If your goal in life is to accumulate monetary wealth, you may be setting yourself up for extreme disappointment. However, if your goal in life is to be content and self-supportive, the measures of success are much broader. And you still might end up wealthy along the way.

Be charitable, but don’t put yourself in the poor house. Charity is a good thing, but charity to the point of your own poverty only adds another soul to the world’s burden. Take care of yours and your family’s needs first, then help others in need. 

Find what gives you joy, and do that thing often. Many people would like to believe you should do what you love for a living. And that sounds great, but it’s not always realistic. Most of us have to do jobs we’re good at for a living, which has nothing to do with how much we love those jobs. A lucky (and hardworking) few get to do what they love. But just because you have to do something else to pay the bills, doesn’t mean you can’t still do the thing you love in your off-time. Whether it’s singing, or dancing, or writing, or painting, or riding a bicycle, or swimming, or jogging, or rock-climbing - find your passion and enjoy your passion. If you’re so good at it that people are willing to pay you for it, then kudos to you - you’ve achieved the dream. Be thankful for it every day.

The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. If you don’t know the answer and you want to know the answer - ask the question. Even if you know the answer but you want clarification or verification - ask the question. Some people don’t like to be questioned - some people can blow it out their ear. As long as you’re respectful, there’s no reason you shouldn’t ask the question. 

The words “never”, “always”, and “forever” are, for the most part, useless in your daily vocabulary. Just as soon as you utter one of those words in any emphatic way, life will step up to prove you wrong. In fact, hyperbole and superlatives are rarely useful in any practical sense. They might help you make a point, but they’re seldom accurate. 

Always (okay, sometimes “always” is okay) consider the benefits of your actions. Before you say or do anything, think about who or what will benefit from it, and how. Then, if you realize there is no discernible benefit to anything or anyone, consider if you really want to do or say it. Maybe you do. Maybe the benefit is that it will make you feel good. Or that it will be fun. And if the risk of harm is minimal, then maybe you go ahead. But if the risk of harm is substantial, and the potential benefit is minimal; you should rethink whether you actually want to do it or not. 

Unfortunately, peer pressure is something everyone has to deal with. And most of us succumb to it from time to time. No one expects you to be perfect, but we do expect you to think about what you are doing before you do it. And like I said earlier, stand up for yourself. Don’t do something you don’t want to do, just because someone tells you it’s cool. Make up your own mind. Decide for yourself if it’s cool or not. 

Do your best to stay in control. The aforementioned peer pressure will seek to convince you that it’s okay to get high or stoned or sloppy drunk. But it’s bad news. When you lose control of your faculties, you lose control of your decision-making abilities and you relegate all your subsequent decisions to someone else whom you HOPE has your best interest in mind. I’m not advocating being a tea-totaller, but be smart. Moderation, in all things, is one of the keys to a happy life.

It is possible to be both proud of your accomplishments - and humble. It sounds contradictory but it’s not. If you’re demonstrably good at something, it’s okay to say so. It’s okay to be proud of it. But there’s no reason to crow about it or bring it up at impertinent times. Just be happy you’re successful. Your continued success will speak far louder than your voice anyway. 

Don’t be a martyr. No one likes a martyr. Every single person you meet is struggling with something you may not understand. You’ll struggle with things. It’s okay to talk about them and be consoled by loved ones. It’s obnoxious to bring up your struggles at every opportunity to ensure the spotlight is on you. The sympathy you get from it will be insincere. It’s quite likely that no one outside your circle of loved ones cares about your struggles; they’re all dealing with their own already. 

You have no right not to be offended. You will see and hear things throughout your life that you will find offensive. Deal with it. One of the linchpins of our society is the right to free expression. There are many out there who don’t like this right because they feel that simply hearing something they don’t agree with is somehow hurtful to them. It’s a ridiculous notion. You might hear something you find disgusting and completely insulting. Get over it. It can’t hurt you. You are free to say something about it; to complain, to reply, to rebut. But to suggest that the person who said it should be punished or officially silenced is a dangerous proposition for everyone. 

People believe a lot of stupid nonsense. It’s part of the human condition, I guess. Most people hold some kind of irrational belief or philosophy, and they hold it dearly. Anything from gods, to alien abductions, to ghosts, to conspiracies, to Bigfoot. There’s really nothing wrong with it. If people don’t act on their beliefs in a way that hurts others, and if their beliefs make them happy, help them behave, or give them solace in a time of need - then good for them. It’s not your place to try to convince them they’re wrong. The exception would be if someone (or many) tries to convince you that their nonsense philosophy must be for you too. Or if they try to compel everyone through force of government to follow their beliefs. If it’s easy enough to ignore it, ignore it. If you can’t ignore it, then you may call shenanigans on their kooky beliefs. 

Quite possibly the most important thing you’ll hear about dealing with other people is “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Simple. Straightforward. Logical. It’s called “The Golden Rule” for a reason. If you wouldn’t want someone stealing from you, you shouldn’t steal from someone else. If you wouldn’t want someone making fun of your clothes, or hair, or weight, or family - you shouldn’t make fun of someone else’s. But this has even more facets that we don’t think about. Never expect people to take on tasks that you wouldn’t be willing to take on yourself. If you have to clean up dog poo and you think it’s gross, probably everyone else thinks it’s gross, too, so make sure you’re willing to help if you ask someone else to do something gross. 

“Waste not, want not.” Living efficiently doesn’t have to mean living a sparse existence. In this modern age, scientists and laymen alike are beginning to recognize the damage we humans have done, and continue to do, to our planet. Some believe it to be a myth - they’re wrong. Others would have us stop all progress and modern ways of life - they’re delusional. The truth is (as usual) somewhere in between. If each and every one of us makes an effort to waste as little as possible, recycle as much as possible, and do our best to leave things like we found them, we’ll eventually find the right path. That means turning off lights when you’re not using them; walking or riding a bike instead of driving, when it’s practical; eating as much as you need, but not throwing food away - all simple behavior modifications we can do to create less impact. 

Try to keep your outrage to yourself, or at least in a private place with your nearest confidants. One of the most interesting things that’s happened in the 21st century is that social media have given a megaphone to all the wingnuts with an ax to grind. And they spout their goofy outrage regularly and loudly. The normal people in the world are beginning to ignore it as just so much white noise. But it continues because “Likes” and “Follows” give these yahoos the idea that they have an audience. So they’re not likely to go away. The problem is that all the white noise means those with legitimate beefs get lost in the din. Adding to the cacophony doesn’t really do any good. And don’t get me wrong - I do it and I know lots of other who also add to the cacophony. I just don’t have any notion that I’m doing the world a bit of good. 

I know this is a lot to absorb, you know, you being a fetus and all. But these are important things to remember as you grow and try to negotiate a seemingly complex world. There are a few you should try to keep at the front of the line - be strong, be kind, be respectful, be honest, and be happy. If you do all that, the rest should fall right into place.