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‘Don’t Be Schnook,’ And Other Sound Advice For Protecting Yourself


It’s 2017. The world is a scary place. There are lots of people out there who are willing to hurt other people or take someone else’s stuff that doesn’t belong to them. But in a world of carjackings, identity thieves, and spam for Russian Viagra, how does the average Joe protect himself and his family?

Such is the idea behind Beware The Predator: The American’s Guide to Personal Security by Warren D. Holston. This book covers how to protect yourself in the two worlds we all inhabit in 2017, the physical and the virtual. Holston is a decorated intelligence officer, so he knows what of he speaks, and he brings his extensive background to this volume.

This book emphasizes two things: awareness and tradecraft. Awareness means keeping an eye on the situation around you and tradecraft are the skills and techniques to protect yourself. A lot of this book covers simple things things you can do to protect yourself, practical applications of common sense. Some of them are obvious, many are things you may not have thought of.

Train Yourself

Even if somehow you’ve mastered the technological world of 2017, you’re going to be out of date in a few years. Rather than suggest the latest gadget, or the latest software, the ideas is to retrain yourself, in thinking and behaviors. It teaches concepts and techniques, things you can train yourself to do as second nature.

Consider how you drive a car. You pay attention to the road conditions, the weather, the traffic, the other drivers around you, and where you’re going, all while listening to the radio or a podcast. You’re able to do this even on long road trips to places you’ve never been and while driving an unfamiliar car.

How can you do that? Because you’ve trained your mind and body (in the form of muscle memory) to do all those things as habit. If you train yourself properly, the techniques from this book work under almost any circumstances, so you’re not tripped up when you’re in a strange city or confronted by an unfamiliar pop-up window.

For example, Holston talks about life patterns. You leave the house at 6:35 every morning to go to work. You get gas at the same Sunoco every Tuesday. You go grocery shopping every Sunday morning at the same two supermarkets. Between your credit card and E-ZPass tag, it’s not hard for someone else to track your life, for good or ill.

So what do you do about it? Well, you don’t need to turn into Ron Swanson, but it’s important to realize that if you pay the deductible on your prescription herpes medication with your credit card, that company now has that information to sell, and no, it’s probably not covered by HIPAA because it didn’t come out of your medical record.

Don’t Escalate the Situation

Again, most of it is common sense (but still helpful to hear), like the instruction to shred any mail with personally identifying information. But there are plenty of useful tidbits I would have never thought of, like keeping wasp spray handy at home in case you ever need to defend yourself in a pinch. And if it comes down to it, the key to defending yourself is, as the book instructs, “sudden violence,” “extreme aggression,” and a war cry.

However, a lot of this is advice to not let things get that far. A constant refrain in the book is to not escalate the situation with your own action. I used to work in a group home with developmentally disabled adults, some of whom had behaviors. I had a week-long training class (with an annual renewal) to teach us how to take someone down and restrain them if need be. But most of the emphasis of the class wasn’t on how to take someone down, but how to prevent things from getting that far.

Holston also covers overseas travel and something he calls the “James Bond Syndrome.” If you’re abroad and suddenly some foreign knockout takes a liking to you, “As a rule and without exception, when this happens the traveler is being targeted for something nefarious.” (Emphasis original.) In other words: Don’t be a schnook.

An ‘Endless Series of Hobgoblins’

So you’re not a spy and you’re not a corporate executive. Does this book apply to you? Absolutely. This book is an excellent resource. I live in a safe place, but I dogeared severed pages to be sure to return to later and after my wife reads it, we’re going to go through the checklists, just to make ourselves a little safer.

However, here’s my problem with this book: I fully accept all the information and tips about cyber awareness and minimizing your risk online. We should all follow them because there is real risk there, and the danger is far greater than you imagine. That stuff in the book is pure dynamite. And yes, we should all be aware in our day to day lives about our personal safety, and proper preparedness and situational awareness can prevent accidents and crimes. That awareness is what separates responsible adults from minor children and grown-up fools.

But it’s important to remember, despite the scaremongering in the media unfortunately perpetuated by the political class, that with a few notable exceptions, the crime rate in the US is historically low and, statistically speaking, children are as safe now as they were in the 1950s. It’s important to see through what H.L. Mencken called the “endless series of hobgoblins” perpetuated by politicians.

That being said, so long as you don’t give in to scaremongering, this book is great. Read the book, fill out the checklists, and pass it around to your kids, especially the teenage and college age ones when they’re about to go away on a trip somewhere overseas or on spring break. Not only will you breeze through the thing (it’s only about 150 pages), but you’ll be better off for it.