3 Eye-Opening Insights from People Outside My Circle

by Darwin on May 30, 2011

When you associate with the same people day in and day out, the conversation invariably shifts back to familiar topics – how the kids are doing, your recent vacation, a fun debate over politics or whatever.  Recently though, from various talks with people I hadn’t seen in a long time doing different things with their lives, I heard some pretty interesting insights I thought worth passing on.

Iraq – What (or who) $10,000 Buys

We have one guy in our office who did a tour in Iraq as a junior officer.  He was praising the company for being so supportive of his deployment and return and things along those lines and he had some interesting things to say about the military and how we conduct business.  On one hand, he was talking about military recruiters and the intense pressure they’re under to drum up new recruits and how inevitably, that results in some unethical things being done to sign them up.  That was a little eye-opening, as I’d never really contemplated what it’s like to be a recruiter.  But even more interesting were some tidbits he shared on life on the ground in Iraq.


“Only 1 AK-47 per Household”

Apparently, there had been an effort to kind of “keep the peace” and present minimal intrusion into people’s lives over there while at the same time, disarming unfriendly forces.  This presents a bit of a quandary when you can’t really tell who’s on your side, who’s on the other side and who’s in between.  So, what his outfit was doing daily was going around the various villages with metal detectors, finding weapons people had buried in their yards (evidently, this was quite common, about as common as having a shed in your back yard in America) and digging them up.  But since it’s “their property”, you can’t just walk off with their stuff, right?  So, apparently, they would leave 1 gun with the family, since there was a “1 AK-47 per male” rule there and then pay them off in cash for whatever else they took.  So, if they took a few extra guns, maybe that was worth a few hundred bucks.  An RPG, maybe another few hundred.  Depending on what sort of weaponry they dug up, his group was authorized to pay off the homeowners for taking it off their hands.  He said they’d go on patrol with about $10,000 in cash and come back with tons of weaponry each patrol.  Apparently, the notion of taking these weapons off their hands was kind of “OK” with the locals since they were being paid a fair amount of cash for the trouble.  In many cases, it might not have even been their weapons, but just a place some enemy combatants were storing them with or without their consent.

I’d heard about the various factions being paid in cash for their loyalty, security, whatever.  I hadn’t heard about this phenomena of routine villagers having all kinds of weapons buried in their yards and Us patrols going around paying them off and leaving them with “just 1” AK-47.

Wealthy Bankers Like to Divorce During Bear Markets, Stick it Out in Bull Markets

During the financial crash, the mainstream media was touting how the trophy wives were going to start leaving all the Wall Street bankers that were losing their jobs and losing money since presumably, money was all these women were after (according to the talk shows).  Well, my friend is in the divorce and forensic accounting space for Wall Street clients and he had quite the opposite to say.  He said that wealthy male clients would confide in him that during the crash, it was actually an optimal time for THEM to divorce their wives because it was much less expensive.  As the value of their portfolios tanked, it became much more palatable to part with their better halves than at any point in history.  Then, as the market has rallied close to 100% since the low, many of his male clients say it’s just too damned expensive to divorce their wives.  They claim that they couldn’t fathom parting with the kind of money their stock and options would be valued at so they’re just “stuck with them”.  It was kind of bizarre to hear about how strong a factor the current S&P500 level was in a divorce decision.  I dunno, I figured it was more of an emotional/relationship decision than it was a financial decision, but evidently, depending on how the market’s doing, it really drives decisions in that world.  Interesting and eye-opening.

What It’s Like to Defend People You Know are Guilty

We have another friend who was both a prosecutor and a public defender for a few years and now he works for a private law firm (defense attorney).  He said most of their work is representing clients who were charged with DUI and other criminal charges.  Because it was an interesting conversation and he seemed willing to say anything, I asked him, “In all your years of defending clients across all these different types of cases, have you EVER, EVER defended one that you actually believed was innocent?”.  He thought for a minute and then he started laughing.  “No”, he said.  He replied that in all the years he’s been practicing law, he never actually thought a single person he was representing was actually innocent.  To reiterate, he didn’t say that nobody that was ever FOUND GUILTY was innocent but rather, he’d never even been asked to REPRESENT someone that was innocent.  Either through the blatantly obvious evidence, things they said, the way the behaved or otherwise, he was very confident that every person he defended was actually guilty.  And with the number of people he got off (surely greater than zero!), that’s basically that many people walking around who (he believed) had committed a crime and not been convicted.  I found this to be both insightful and a bit shocking.  I mean, we all know you’re entitled to a fair trial, but my hunch had always been (and he validated it), that in America, in this day and age, most of the time, when you’re charged with a crime, you probably did it.  That’s not to say people aren’t wrongfully accused, especially with the fallibility of eye-witness testimony.  And I’d want my day in court.  But I wonder if people tend to overestimate the actual rate of false convictions that occur because of all the attention a single exoneration gets.  If there were 1000 people sentenced for crimes they actually committed but DNA evidence overturned a conviction from 20 years ago, that’s the one people think about.  Rather than weighing how many times we get it right, the outlier where the justice system got it wrong is what people tend to focus on.

If you’re a veteran, a banker or a lawyer, perhaps none of this is surprising at all.  But it was to me.  As an engineer/project manager without much exposure to other walks of life, I found each of these tidbits to be both interesting and worthy of mention.

Any Interesting Tidbits You’ve Come Across Lately?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Maggie@SquarePennies May 30, 2011 at 11:54 pm

When it comes to the justice system, I’d rather a few guilty people walked than everybody being condemned as guilty before they ever set foot in a courtroom. The public “perp walks” in the US are a disgrace, IMO, because they treat the suspect as though he/she is guilty. Whatever happened to being innocent until being proven guilty? It’s that kind of disrespect for human rights and human dignity that caused our founding fathers to write the Constitution. Our law and order culture is getting more and more near-sighted about the rights of the individual. We don’t need to return to the “justice” of the Old World that our ancestors gave up so much to escape from.
As far as marriange among the wealthy, I have no idea how many in that group view it as a business deal, but I susprect it is all too often.


Darwin May 31, 2011 at 8:20 am

Most Americans would agree that they wouldn’t want to live under any other law system. I am surprised and often disappointed by how many obviously guilty people aren’t convicted due to “technicalities”, not allowing evidence into court, etc.


101 Centavos May 31, 2011 at 6:45 am

The comment on the trophy wives as as interesting as it is logical. Of course, if a spouse is only considered an accessory, a ripe time to make a change would be when it’s most financially advisable.
Interesting about the “just 1” AK-47. A shotgun is much more practical for home defense, but apparently in Iraq battle rifles are more common than shotguns. I wonder how many Iraqis rushed out to stockpile broken and worn out weapons in anticipation of the “law” coming by with wads of cash to buy them up…


Darwin May 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

Interesting thought on the home defense angle; maybe there’s a market there for shotguns! Or maybe the rule was as many shotguns as they like “but only 1 AK-47”. I’ll have to ask.


Financial Success for Young Adults May 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

It’s interesting to see that bankers wait until they have less money in order to divorce. I guess it makes a lot of sense but I would think that they would have other ways of hiding money like offshore funds or Swiss bank accounts.


Car Negotiation Coach June 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Only 1 AK per household? That’s crazy. I’d at least want my wife to have one too.

But seriously, that’s nuts!


Paula @ AffordAnything.org June 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

The economics of when to get a divorce is very interesting. On the middle-class side of the picture, more couples stick together during financial hard times because they can’t afford a divorce lawyer and can’t afford to establish two households, with two sets of furniture, two cable bills, etc. It’s interesting that in the high-earner segment it’s best to divorce when your chips are low.


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