Animal Torture in Iowa – The Government Moves to Help … Abusers

turkey abuseI was, once again, made aware of the sick depths to which government will bend to those who pay the election bills. It’s become a fairly regular occurrence for an Animal Rights Activist group to gain employment at animal husbandry facilities and then take videos of the vicious, vile, sickening torture of animals.

In Iowa the state legislature has responded with House File 589. This bill bans people from taking employment at factory farms under “false pretenses”. Thus, the people who get into the farm and film the vile, sickening, disgusting, horrific, inhuman torture of animal will be put in prison for gaining access under false pretenses. The people who do the abuse, the people who allow it to happen on their property, minimal punishment when they are found out.

I urge you to brace yourself and watch this video.

Butterball is horrified by this abuse and is taking action. Frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m disgusted. I’ve seen a number of these videos now and it kills a little part of my humanity every time.

The Iowa legislature is made up of 42 Democratic Representatives and 59 Republican. 26 Democratic Senators and 24 Republican. The Governor of Iowa, who signs the bills, is Republican Terry Branstad.

They will tell you, with a straight face, this bill is designed to keep vandals off the property of farms. That is a lie. It is designed to prevent animal rights groups from filming the horror of animal abuse. How these politicians look their children in the eye I do not know.

I beg you my Republican and Democrat friends to vote for independents. Vote for people who still have a conscience. Vote with your purchases. Buy your meat from local farmers who treat their animals with dignity.

Insist on legislation that puts 24-hour-a-day cameras on the farm workers. Web cameras are cheap and could easily be put into all factory farms at minimal cost. The video could stream live and activists could watch at no cost to the government. There would be many volunteers. I’d be willing to bet animal activists would install and maintain the cameras for free with no government intervention, no cost to the farms, and no cost to the taxpayers.

Please take a stand, we can’t let evil win.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Five Star Book Reviews – for a Price

Five Star ReviewThere is an article in the New York Times that strikes directly to my business model in trying to sell my Sword and Sorcery novels. It turns out most of the five-star reviews you’ve read on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords were likely purchased. The going rate was fifty reviews for $1,000.

Supposedly Amazon and B&N have caught onto the practice and banned the main offender but I’m very skeptical. When I first entered the self-publishing world with The Staff of Naught, I joined a number of author groups all over the internet. I was immediately inundated with offers to review my novel for a fee. I gave a free copy of my book for one of these reviews. I got a four-star review that looked as if the person hadn’t read the book and the review seemed based mostly only the blurb I put as the description.

I had a recent experience that shocked me. One avenue that I use to publicize my novels is to self-pirate it to torrent sites. The torrent site that I use is the immensely popular Demonoid which was recently shut-down by the government. While reading an article on ZDnet I ran across an author who wrote a “good-riddance” letter. I posted my own experience with Demonoid wherein the majority of my book sales stemmed from torrented files that the person read and then purchased. The author who posted the “good-riddance” message got into a bit of a flame war with those who supported Torrenting and some of those people posted negative reviews of her book.

Now comes the shocking part. The author asked Amazon to remove the negative reviews and they did! Apparently this is a common practice. So, not only are positive reviews manufactured but negative ones can be deleted.

My books are priced at $2.99 and a reviewer of The Hammer of Fire, one of two neither of which I solicited in any way, pointed out that while this seems like a small sum there are so many terrible self-published books that even such a minor expense is difficult to make without reviewer proof of a good novel. But, if reviewer proof is manufactured where does that leave the consumer?

Personally, I’m not going to pay for a review ever again, not even for just a copy of the book, and I’ve never asked my friends to write positive reviews. I have asked people who read the book to put an honest review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords.

Don’t think for a moment that is positive review practice is limited to books. And don’t think that competitors aren’t out there writing negative reviews. What’s a writer to do? What’s a consumer to do? It’s a dilemma.

I would suggest finding the author’s blog if they have one and read it to find out about their style. Download the sample and read it. See if they have a GoodReads Author Group where they answer questions. See how they respond to reviews. I have a samples of all my books at my site, you’re currently reading my blog, I have an author group (with six whole members), and I respond to my reviews.

I think there’s a lot of a great writing out there but it’s difficult to find. I think anyone who spends $2.99 on my books will find that they get value for the price. But, in the end the market will determine if that’s true.

Don’t trust reviews, particularly five-star reviews that don’t go into details about the book in question.

Oh, and for sure, BUY MY BOOKS!! 🙂

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Republican Convention Ron Paul Tribute – Without Ron Paul

Ron PaulI couldn’t let this one pass without comment. The Republicans are planning on having a Ron Paul tribute at their upcoming National Convention but would only allow Congressman Paul to speak if he agreed to have his speech vetted by the Romney campaign team and only if he fully endorsed Romney. Congressman Paul, of course, said no thanks.

A tribute to a man and he’s not allowed to speak? Seriously? Congressman Paul will be giving a speech nearby.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign continues to do everything it can to keep properly appointed Paul delegates off the floor and away from the campaign. It is shocking hypocrisy but nothing I find unusual, sadly.

I only wish Paul, and his son Senator Rand Paul, would just leave the Republican Party once and for all and join the Libertarian Party. Their thinking, not wrongly, is of a practical aspect. They believe they can do more to influence the country from within the ranks of one of the two major parties than they can from outside of them. I think they’re wrong but it’s certainly their decision.

The two parties both are tied irrevocably to moneyed interests and have little to nothing in common with Libertarian ideals. Both parties try to talk about the principles of real men like Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy, of small, less intrusive government, of noble government, but both parties support massive, corrupt, and intrusive government in virtually all of their policies.

A Ron Paul tribute in which the honoree is only allowed to attend if he bows down and betrays his principles. That’s the current condition of the United States of America. What a shame. What a terrible, terrible shame.

Only you can change it. Don’t vote Democrat or Republican. Vote Independent.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Critical Thinking Fail – Lance Armstrong Story

Critical ThinkingA fellow by the name of Arthur Caplan wrote an opinion piece about the Lance Armstrong doping and banning situation. The article has some merit but right at the start he uses a bizarre analogy that has a meaning exactly the opposite of what he is trying to say. Very strange and fodder for today’s Critical Thinking Fail post.

Basically Mr. Caplan uses  the analogy of a female swimmer named Shirley Babashoff to try to illustrate his point that Armstrong has been convicted in the court of popular opinion without evidence. I’m actually on Mr. Caplan’s side in that stripping Armstrong of his wins and claiming he is somehow worse than his fellow competitors is a sham. However, the analogy is insane.

Babashoff was a swimmer in the 1972 and 1976 games when East German women were winning all the medals largely through the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). She accused them of such wrongdoing and was largely ignored only later to be proven correct.

In this case it is Armstrong being accused of using PEDs so the comparison to Babashoff, the accuser, is mind-boggling. Armstrong is the equivalent of the East German swimmers in this example and Babashoff compares to his accusers.

I’m all for a critical examination of Armstrong and the fact that he didn’t do anything his fellow competitors were not doing. I’m opposed to stripping him, or any competitor of trophies and records when it’s highly likely that their opponents were doing the same thing. It’s hypocritical nonsense to do so. But, Mr. Caplan’s use of an analogy that is actually the opposite of the point he is trying to make is, in my opinion, a Critical Thinking Fail.

What do you think (not about his main point, about the Critical Thinking)?

[polldaddy poll=6488014]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

None of the Above – Nevada

None Of The AboveAn interesting case was just decided in Nevada about having “None of the Above” on the ballot. The basic premise is that in 1976 the people of the great state of Nevada decided that they would add “None of the Above” to the choices in addition to each candidate for every elected office. A fine idea if you ask me.

From a philosophical point of view the case seems relatively simple. The vote of “None of the Above” is a shout against the candidates put forward. From a legal point of view I must admit that I see merit to the judge’s ruling. If, by some chance, “None of the Above” wins the election, the law in Nevada voids it and the candidate with the next highest total wins. The judge suggested that in those circumstances if the election itself was voided and the position filled by appointment or new election then “None of the Above” would be constitutional.

It’s probably too late for this election but I hope the men and women of Nevada go ahead and change the “None of the Above” choice in the way suggested by the judge.

The reality of what I want to discuss is why “None of the Above” is an important decision opposed to not voting at all. The reality of not voting is currently an issue but simply hands the election to the minority who do vote. We see that today. When anyone wins a “mandate” from the people the reality is they had a relatively small percentage of the total possible votes while gaining a majority of those votes cast. Not voting is a bad choice. Voting for “None of the Above” meets with my approval.

My own voting habit is to cast my ballot for any independent candidate that happens to be on the ballot and write myself in when there is no such candidate. This is because I’m of the opinion that our two-party system is essentially a one party system and that party is moneyed interests. I detail this idea in posts here and here. The basic idea is that the only way we can expect politicians to pass legislation we desire is if they feel that is the only way they are going to get elected. As long as we elect only Democrats and only Republicans they will continue to bow to those who provide the campaign money.

“None of the Above” is a vote in that direction. If enough people start to vote for Independent candidates or “None of the Above” then change will eventually follow. If you like the direction this country is headed then please feel free to vote for you Democratic or Republican candidate, it makes only a slight difference. You are fooling yourself if you believe that if the other party wins the country is doomed. That’s the logic the two-party system advocates want to foist off on you. It keeps them in power together and eliminates any real chance of change.

One final note, the case in Nevada against “None of the Above” was financed and brought forward by the Republican party. Their thinking is that independent minded voters like myself are more inclined to vote for Republican candidates than Democratic ones. I can only speak for myself but … fat chance. Republicans are so far away from Libertarian ideals they are, in many ways, for bigger, and more intrusive government than Democrats.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Women at Augusta National

AugustaNationalToday I’m returning to my true love, the sporting world. I love sports. My mom is a St. Louis Cardinal fanatic and has season tickets. I’m a huge St. Louis Rams fan (yes, I know they suck, no need to comment on it, repeatedly) and have season tickets. I love the St. Louis Blues! My buddy Jeff has season tickets to Mizzou and I’m loving the idea of traveling to some beautiful stadiums in the SEC over the next few years. But, today’s topic is golf, specifically Augusta National Golf Club’s decision to allow women into their ranks.

Judging by talk radio and conversations with friends at work this is apparently a controversial issue. I really don’t understand why it’s such a big deal one way or the other. People seem to be up in arms that Augusta was pressured into allowing women or that Augusta National was so backwards as to not allow women for all those years. I just don’t see it as a big deal either way.

Augusta National is a private club and they can allow whoever they want to be a member. Women are citizens of the country with full constitutional rights and it is well within their power to ask to be members of the club. Organizations that want to protest or pull their money from Augusta National are fully within their rights to do so. We have a long history in this country of boycotts and protests which are largely protected by the Constitution. I absolutely support Augusta National’s right to not admit anyone they don’t want to admit. I likewise support any organization’s right to boycott or protest this policy.

For many years August National did not allow women and for many years people protested. For whatever reason Augusta National decided to invite a couple of women into their ranks. Good for them. Not that many years ago a similar controversy rose over the admission of minorities. Augusta National eventually invited a minority member. Tiger Woods understandably didn’t like their previous policy and it would have been well within his rights to refuse to play at the club because of those policies. Likewise, the club might well have said, fine, don’t play.

This is in many ways exactly what the United States is all about as a country. We have personal freedoms and this is a good thing. I find it mildly upsetting that both sides are so up in arms that it’s become a controversy but, by my own argument, that’s ok also!

As a fairly good writer once wrote, Much Ado about Nothing.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Representative Todd Akin – Legitimate Rape

It’s all over the news so I probably don’t have to fill you in on the details but a candidate for U.S. Senate from my great state of Missouri made some controversial comments. I’m not going to spend time analyzing the statement itself but I do want to address the follow-up remarks. I want to examine the difference between misspeaking, forgetting a fact, lying, breaking a promise, misunderstanding, and saying what you meant to say. I think it’s a hugely important distinction that speaks directly to the character of the person making the explanation.

First the story. Representative Akin said that doctors have told him that women who are raped rarely become pregnant because their bodies naturally have “ways” of preventing the pregnancy. It’s all on video so you can judge yourself.

Now, the possibilities are that he misspoke, that he forgot some facts, that he lied, that he failed to keep a promise, that he misunderstood something said by someone else, or that he actually meant exactly what he said. Representative Akin now claims that he misspoke.

Misspeaking

When someone says something incorrectly, uses improper grammar, inserts the wrong word where they meant another, switches word order, these are examples of misspeaking. Some examples:

  1. President Obama visited 57 states when he meant 57 states and territories. He clearly does not think we have 57 states. He misspoke.
  2. President George W. Bush said “I’ve been in the Bible every day since I’ve been the president.” He meant that he read the Bible everyday. He misspoke.

Forget Facts or Lie

It’s easy to forget that something happened and when presented with such evidence suddenly remember. It can be difficult to differentiate between someone who claims to have forgotten and someone who lied. Some examples:

  1. Congressman Paul Ryan repeatedly said he never asked for stimulus money up until the day he was presented with letters he wrote asking for stimulus money. He is either a liar or legitimately forget he (or an assistant) wrote said letters.
  2. President Reagan could not recall authorizing Oliver North to trade shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in order to obtain money to fund the Contra revolution in Nicaragua.

Misunderstood

It’s possible for someone to tell you something but you either heard incorrectly or misunderstood the point they were trying to make. An example:

  1. I wrote earlier how many people think a woman raped in Islamic culture must provide four witnesses to the event but actually reading the wording of the Quran shows that the accusers must provide the four witnesses or he is deemed to have lied. I think most people just misread this passage.

Failed Promise

A failed promise is when you promise to do something, give it a realistic try, but fail.

  1. President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison and failed. It can be argued that he didn’t try hard enough but he certainly tried.
  2. An athlete who promises a sick child a particular sporting feat but is unable to accomplish the deed.

Spoke Truthfully

This is when a person says exactly what they meant to say.

It is particularly pertinent in this case because Congressman Akin did not misspeak. It is possible he lied or misunderstood when he claimed doctors told him that women have ways of terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape but his basic premise is exactly as he expressed it. He believes that women should not have abortions even if raped. He believes, wrongly, that women generally spontaneously miscarry from pregnancy caused by rape.

This is my problem. He now claims he misspoke. He didn’t. He said exactly what he meant to say. He was clear. However much I disagree with him, I would have actually respected it if he came out and affirmed his original position. He might have said I was misinformed about the spontaneous miscarriage but that doesn’t change my position. But, the one thing he didn’t do was misspeak. So, when he claims he misspoke he moves directly into the realm of lying.

Here is my advice. When you say something that is unpopular, that is wrong, that is a lie, admit it. Oops, I misunderstood some facts and reported them incorrectly. I meant to say this. I forgot about that incident. In my enthusiasm to get elected I said something that was false and I knew it even as I was saying it. I’m sorry.

For you Representative Akin, as a proud resident of the great state of Missouri, I say this: No vote for you.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Post Office Financial Woes

US Postal ServiceIt’s a little after the meaningless default but I wanted to talk today about the financial situation the U.S. Post Office finds itself in and, more importantly, the political dividing line that it has created.

Basically, the Post Office owes the Federal Government $5.5 billion and they are unable to pay it. What’s important to understand is that this is not money they owe to their employees for work, or money they owe contractors for building, repairing, and working on existing post offices. This is money they owe the federal government. That in itself should cause you to raise a few questions.

Why does the Post Office owe the federal government anything?

First lets examine what they do. They employ half a million people (including many veterans), deliver over 600 million pieces of mail to over 140 million places. They operate 31,000 post offices and over 218,000 vehicles. Suffice it to say that it’s a big operation. These operations are funded by stamps. People pay to have packages and letters delivered. The Post Office is not funded by the Federal Government or taxes collected by that entity.

Now, why does the Post Office owe the Federal Government? We have to put on our time travel hats back to the mid 1980’s in order to fully understand this situation. After the Carter presidency the United States was in a recession and the Reagan administration’s solution to this was stimulus. We spent money and this in turn raised our national debt from $800 billion to $2.4 trillion in eight years. This dramatic increase caused a great deal of concern, well-deserved I might add. In order to mask this precipitous increase the Federal Government instructed the Post Office to start to pre-pay their pension rather than deducting salary from worker’s checks.

As the debt rose the amount of pre-pay increased until it reached $115 million a week. This represents a 75 year in-advance pension payment. 75 years. That’s not a typo. The post office fully funds retirement for employees who won’t be born for 3 years, that is, if they work until they’re 72. All this to mask the true debt.

The pension payment was based on the growing employment of the Post Office and the growing U.S. population which seemed to go hand in hand. But then something important happened. Email.

The ever-increasing prevalence of email and instant messaging has reduced the Post Office’s workload, and revenue, by about 30%. They responded by eliminating many jobs and increasing productivity. Now, we have a collision here. The Post Office pays pension on an estimate of an ever-growing workforce while shrinking their actual workforce. So, as of now the Post Office has overpaid their ridiculous 75 year pension payments by $75 billion. So, not only is their pension payment insane to begin with but they’ve overpaid that madness by $75 billion and now they are going to default on a $5.5 billion payment to the entity that owes them at least $75 billion. How does that make any sense?

Meanwhile the leaders of the Post Office have repeatedly asked Congress for permission to close post offices and reduce delivery days only to be denied. They are denied for three reasons all of which should anger every small government, libertarian out there. The Post Offices are generally named after Congress members. The Post Offices serve as a place to reward loyalists with a job of Postmaster. And most insidiously, if the Post Office is forced to borrow money from the Treasury rather than work on a break even basis the banking industry makes huge amounts of money on interest on those loans. Yep. Greed, paying off those who finance the campaigns, corruption, graft, massive egos, you name it and it’s part of the problem.

Now, despite the loss in first class mail revenue the post office has offset this loss with increases in package delivery for small businesses engendered by internet shopping.

If the Post Office was allowed to close offices, reduce delivery days, had not been robbed of $100s of billions, and had not been forced to take out loans and pay them back with interest they would be more than solvent. They would likely be profitable. Even if they were not they would have a nest-egg to pay off their debt as they restructured.

My big question is why has the fiscal woes of the Post Office split the electorate with Democrats largely on the side of the Post Office and Republicans against it? It doesn’t make sense to me. The Post Office is not an example of big, wasteful government. It was explicitly authorized by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution of the United States. If it had just been allowed to do its job without Big Government interference it would be delivering mail to your house and making a profit all the time, or at least breaking even.

To me the demise of the Post Office should be a rallying cry to all Americans. It was interference from the federal level that ruined it, a Republican talking point, and it was a shining example of government working well to the benefit of all citizens, a Democratic talking point.

Now, it lies in ruins because of greed.

Don’t write your Congress person. Don’t protest at the mall. Don’t spout off to all your friends. Vote for someone who offers realistic solutions to the issue. That’s how we change things.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

How to Succeed

St. Louis RamsToday I drift into the world of sports and the St. Louis Rams football team. It’s been a tough slog for the Rams since they won the Super Bowl and spent time as an elite team in the NFL in the first part of the 21st Century. We’ve gone through three coaches and many, many losses since then. The Rams play their first preseason game later today and their new head coach, Jeff Fisher had a quote in the morning paper that really resonated with me.

What you want to do through the preseason is not give up a lot of points, keep the penalties down, … protect the football, block and tackle and execute, and let the score take care of itself.

Now, a good quote does not a season make, but I’ve been hearing from everyone how confident and composed is Fisher and that snippet really seems to confirm everything I’ve heard. That quote is one to follow if you want to succeed in life. The basic idea is that if you do all the small things correctly you will reach your goal.

One of the things that’s important to do in life is set goals for yourself. That is a good thing. But the thing you can’t do is set goals for yourself without looking at all the steps necessary to complete the goal. The space program is an excellent example of this sort of thing. A manned trip to Mars is something that has long been on the minds of men with Wernher von Braun proposing such a trip in the 1950s.

In January of 2004 President George W. Bush proposed the Vision for Space Exploration which focused largely on a manned mission to Mars. Great, it is good to set goals, now, what are the concrete steps needed to make this happen? The Bush administration didn’t lay it out, they didn’t fund it, they didn’t even have real technology, and most importantly they didn’t understand the fundamental little things that needed to be done to achieve success. Much of the program failed at the cost of a lot of tax payer dollars. This is not the strategy to take to achieve success. Fisher’s strategy is far stronger.

State high lofted goals, Fisher has stated more than once the goal of his season is to win the championship. All coaches say that. He drafted and signed players towards that end. Again, every coach in the league does that. But, that one quote, that I’m not worried about the score or even winning the game, I just want the players to play properly is very encouraging. We need to have that attitude about life, about everything we do. It’s good to have goals but understand the steps necessary to achieve those goals. In this case; tackle, avoid penalties, avoid turnovers, and make blocks.

Apply that thinking to your own life and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Go Rams!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Olympic Spirit 21st Century Style – Crass, Win at all Costs, Hypocritical

OlympicsAhh, the Olympics, a time to rejoice in the joy of competition, the thrill of victory, the spirit of sportsmanship, or not. Is anyone else completely turned-off by the nature of the modern Olympics? I think I first noted it in 1980 and 1984 when cold war enemies traded boycotts but it was probably coming before that.

To start my little journey I’m going to don my time-travel hat and head back-back-back in time. Where did I leave that thing? Closet? Nope. Counter? Nope. There it is, how on earth did it get in the freezer? Anyway, pop it on the old noggin, brrr, spin three times, special effects and KAPOW!

The ancient Olympics were held in Olympia, Greece from about 760 BCE to 394 CE when it was suppressed as a way to promote Christianity. The reason it was suppressed is that the ancient games were largely a religious festival as well as a sporting event. The religion being to honor the pagan god Zeus. The ancient Greeks stopped their wars and even death penalty sentences during the truce imposed during the games.

Moving on to more modern times a fellow named Pierre de Coubertin, building on a foundation laid by others, reconstituted the games. He saw them as a beacon of amateur sport as opposed to professional athletics. He also saw them as a way to spread cultural ideas and tolerance among nations as athletes competed with one another. In fairness, he wasn’t all that enlightened as he excluded women from the games. His vision for the Olympics are summed up in this statement:

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Sound familiar? No, not a surprise. It is not familiar because it has no place in high-level professional sport. In amateur sport, yes, but when money is involved, winning is everything.

The original modern Olympics in Athens had forty-three events. Now there are 400 money-making opportunities, er … events. (total includes the Winter Olympics).

In the modern Olympics we pressure athletes to leave because they once dated racists but allow terrorist states to participate. One or the other please. In the modern Olympics professional, not amateur, athletes are the rule. Bribery to get the Olympics and Bribery win a match? We’ve got that. Cheating, rampant (the excuse that everyone else is doing it being completely legitimate). A trail of broken child athletes in the wake of commercialism and dollar hunting, plenty of that. Terrorists? Yep, them too. Brazen political exploitation, sign me up.

The Olympic Creed: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Ha.

Were did it all go wrong? Berlin 1936, Munich 1972, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, frankly, I don’t even know where to start and where to stop.

I can say this, I don’t much enjoy it anymore, be it NBA players or girls dancing with balls. I suppose I’m alone or at least in the minority judging by television ratings. Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve been on the outside not wanting to look in.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Space Exploration Man versus Robots

Space ExplorationOne of the major debates about space exploration is the idea of putting people in space versus the idea of focusing on robotic exploration. It’s an argument that brings out a lot of nerd rage and I aim to take it head-on today. I’m bracing for some backlash!

I’ll tell you my position up front and avoid any suspense. I’m not a proponent of manned exploration. I think money is better spent on robotic exploration.

Now let’s take a critical look at both types of exploration and their advantages and disadvantages. Oh, and for the politically correct crowd, when I reference manned versus unmanned I’m talking about people, men and women.

Manned Exploration

The biggest advantage of sending people into space involves their ability to react to an unknown situation in a way that a computer cannot, at least cannot yet. The argument runs that if something were to go wrong that people would be able to fix it on-the-fly as it were. My rational against this idea is that at the speed events are happening humans largely cannot react fast enough, the space shuttle disasters being examples of this. The counter-argument is Apollo 13 where men were able to find a solution to a problem and fix it. My argument against that would be that there never would have been a problem if men weren’t aboard Apollo 13 in the first place. The systems involved to transport people are more complex than those used to transport machines. Oxygen catches on fire. Robots don’t need oxygen.

The second big reason you hear to promote manned missions is that if we as a race are to eventually colonize the moon and Mars we must learn how to live in a deep-space environment. This is a reasonable argument but I think there is plenty of time to test those complications out after we send in the robots to explore and prepare the way for manned missions.

Unmanned Exploration

The advantages here are many. The cost of sending robots into space is far less than sending people. The complexity of sending robots is far less than for sending people. One of the major obstacles for sending people into space is that they must have food and water. The biggest job the shuttles to the Space Station have is sending up food and taking back waste. Believe it or not, human waste is a major problem in space.

Another huge advantage of sending robots is their durability. Rovers on the moon and Mars can operate for years in the open. While it is true men would be able to drive the rover far more quickly from place to place, they are heavily restricted by radiation concerns. Shielding is a major issue for a journey to Mars or an extended stay on the moon. Men must stay in shelters a great deal of the time and prolonged exposure to radiation is a major problem for which there are not really good solutions as of yet.

To my mind the entire International Space Station idea has been a terrible waste of time and resources for the United States and the world. It is locked in low earth orbit. The total cost of the ISS is calculated at $150 billion dollars which includes shuttle flights and components provided by other nations. For that $150 billion we’ve gotten exactly what? We’ve learned about how deep space affects the human body, something we don’t need to know if we only send robotic missions. I’m not sure what else we’ve learned? It’s a long article with many links and I’m sure a proponents of Manned Missions can fill me in!

Meanwhile our robotic exploration continues to provide actionable information about planetary bodies, meteors, the sun, and other useful things that will help us eventually exploit the solar system.

I’m not completely opposed to manned exploration, I just think our resources return much more value when spent on robotic exploration. Curiosity cost about $2.5 billion although operational costs will continue (at a far cheaper rate than the ISS) to rise. Opportunity continues to provide useful information eight years after it landed and the twin rovers (Spirit conked out) total cost to date is about $1 billion.

The manned moon missions, while certainly romantic, brought us back a bunch of rocks of little value. If we put people on Mars or establish a station on the moon what is our goal? Just to do it? That’s noble but I’m all about practical when it comes to spending my tax dollars. I’m a huge proponent of space exploration and I’d keep my support if manned missions to Mars continue apace, I’d just rather see all that money spent on robotic exploration. Robotic science is in its infancy and the ability of these tools to explore space, deep-sea, underground environments far exceeds those of men.

Don’t hesitate to tell me I’m an idiot in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Sikh Temple Murderer – Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, and Wrong Again – Moron

TurbanAnyone who attacks unarmed civilians to make a political point is a disgusting piece of garbage but Wade Michael Page leaps to the bottom of the class of morons.

Let me count the ways this moron is a moron.

In his act of bravery to save the United States from those of a different color than him, Page murdered a bunch of unarmed citizens and shot the heroic police officer who came to help them. Shooting innocent people doesn’t make you friends, it doesn’t inspire other people, it shames them.

Sikhs!? Really? Sikhs? The Sikhs whose last name is Singh which means “the lion”. They live up to that. The main tenant of the Sikh religion is protecting the religious and political rights of all people and preventing discrimination.

The fighting lions who make up 1.87% of the Indian population and 15% of its army and 20% of its officers?

The Sikhs who thrive in every society they live in? Who make up prominent intellectuals and whose hard-work has led them to tremendous success in every culture? Who helped build the Atomic bomb that ended World War II?

Sikhs like Gobind Singh who fought with the British in World War II?

Sikhs like Uday Singh Taunque who died for you, Wade Michael Page?

Sikhs like Ajaypal Singh Banga who runs MasterCard?

You, butt-wipe Wade Michael Page, and anyone like you is a moron. An idiot. If you want to help the United States of America, shoot yourself in the head.

I have a bulletin for everyone out there. In America we want people who work hard and succeed! Come on over! It is Sikh men and women and those like them that make America great. Mind you, this is coming from an Atheist.

Men and women who work hard and achieve success? Yeah, that’s who we need to kill to make the United States great again. You murderous, vile, moron!!

I’m a little pissed about this one. You may have guessed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Life on Mars – Curiosity and Religious Spirituality

Curiosity RoverFor my fellow science and space geeks; on the evening of August 5/6 a special event occurs as NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, attempts to land safely on Mars. It is an extremely heavy rover and the landing is going to be complex. Watch this video and you will be spellbound!

What I want to talk about today is not the astonishing engineering involved nor the budgetary crisis that is affecting NASA at the moment. Both fodder for future blogs but the topic for today is the spiritual effect of finding microbial life on Mars.

There is a lot of speculation in the atheist community, the scientific community, and the religious community on the spiritual impact of such a discovery. In particular this affects biblical literalists. This becomes an issue when dealing with the story of creation. Essentially, there is no mention of god creating life anywhere except on Earth.

Man is given dominion over earth and all its beasts but nothing is mentioned of dominion over Mars and its animals.

I don’t really see this as an issue for those of a faith-based thinking mentality. It will come as no surprise to me that they simply reinterpret the bible to accommodate for new scientific discoveries. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

That is one of the beauties of Faith Based Thinking, its incredible flexibility. It really doesn’t matter what anyone says, what the facts are, it is completely up to the believer to determine what they want to believe. It stands in stark contrast to Critical Thinking.

One good example of this, at least as far as the topic at-hand is concerned, is the planet Mars itself. It is nearby to earth (relatively speaking) and has been the subject of speculation since ancient times. Prior to 1965 there was a great deal of thought, both private and scientific, that Mars was home to life. This was based on the changing colors of the surface, the so-called canals, and in no small part to speculative fiction. In 1965 Mariner 4 visited the red planet and dispelled all these illusions. That is science, look at the evidence at hand and make a reasoned hypothesis. When the evidence changes then move on to new theories.

Faith based thinkers threatened Galileo with torture for his support of Copernicanism and the theory of heliocentrism. But, when indisputable facts arose they were able to nimbly change their biblical interpretations. I think we are all generally critical thinkers. When it comes to certain religious ideas people are extremely reluctant and even violently opposed to facts that might oppose those theories.

Therefore, I’m of the opinion that finding life on Mars will not be a threat to those of Judeo/Christian/Islamic beliefs. I’d like to here from my religious readers, if there are any, about what effect the discovery of life would have on their beliefs. Particularly from Evangelicals or others who support biblical infallibility.

Meanwhile, I won’t be staying up until one in the morning to watch people “watching” the landing. I’ll wait until morning and hope for the best!

What effect do you think finding life on Mars would have on religious beliefs?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Internet Sale Tax – Coming Soon

Internet Sales TaxLegislation is slowly making its way through Washington D.C. that will institute a Sales Tax on internet purchases. Those in favor of this tax, although most refuse to call it a tax instead using the phrase Collection Issue, say it is unfair that internet sales do not have a sales tax whereas brick and mortar stores do have such a tax.

To understand why it is completely fair that Internet Sales don’t have a sales tax while Brick and Mortar do have one we have to understand the purpose of a Sales Tax, or any tax at all.

The rationale for such taxes is that in order to sell something to a consumer, the product and the customer must get to your store by state and federally built roads. They park in your store on free use parking lots generally built and maintained by municipalities. Stores use utilities; gas, electric, water, sewage, whose infrastructure requires government moneys. Internet sales clearly do not require this upkeep although if there is a warehouse where the product is delivered in the state it does require such resources. The roads used to deliver such a package to your door are also under that umbrella of activity.

However, the trucks that deliver goods pay gas taxes for the upkeep of the road. Gasoline taxes are generally justified as a way to pay for road and bridge building and maintenance. That makes perfect sense to me.

The only real justification for this new tax is the warehousing of goods which need employees to unload and load product for the consumer. These employees need water, heat, parking, etc. That is why Amazon is working out its own sales tax scheme with various states because they are building a network of warehouses all over the U.S. to ensure that your product is delivered promptly.

Now, here is my main point. If we become a society that orders our goods online we will significantly lessen the burden on utilities, parking lots, roads, and other government provided services. Brick and mortar stores will disappear and parks will appear. If we stop driving our cars all over to pick up toothpaste then the government spends less money and our taxes should likewise decrease. But, if we tax internet sales, whose price is lower for natural, capitalistic reasons, we are unfairly benefitting brick and mortar stores! Taxes should be lower on internet sales. This will, and is, creating many positive effects on consumption of gasoline, water, electricity etc! Not that the government should decide this one way or the other. If one business practice is cheaper and people like it then it should win out.

I’m not totally opposed to taxation on internet sales whose goods go through a warehouse in that state or municipality. I’m just saying it should be significantly lower for those specific cases and if there is no warehouse, there should be no tax at all. The reason it is lower is that only large trucks have to deliver the goods as compared to many cars coming and going. Warehouses have fewer employees than equally sized brick and mortar store where one warehouse might replace fifty or more traditional business locations.

The benefits of internet sales are many and we shouldn’t be discouraging this with unfair taxes that help brick and mortar stores under the misguided guise of “fairness”.

Tell me what you think in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Olympic Badminton – Playing to Lose

badmintonThere is a fascinating case unfolding in the Olympic Badminton tournament in London. Because of the seeding situation it became favorable for teams to lose a match thus ensuring a more favorable seed later. The basics are as follows: They have a system wherein the top two teams from a group advance to the quarterfinals, much like the World Cup in soccer (or football for my non-US friends).

Here’s what happened. The tournament favorite was upset and ended up as second seed in the next round. Thus, the team that won a particular match (both had already assured advancement) would have to play that heavily favored team. So, the teams in that match both tried to lose. There was a similar situation in another group and both of those teams likewise tried to lose.

In response the Olympic committee disqualified all four teams. Interesting!

The teams were playing to win by losing, right? By losing the current match they had a better chance to advance in the tournament. The goal is to win the tournament. So, if they actually played to win they were diminishing their chances of overall victory!

It’s easy to sit back and say, gosh, they didn’t give their best effort for those paying spectators and I do see the Olympic Committee’s point on this issue. But, I really do see the player’s point as well. It’s like an NFL football team losing their last, largely meaningless, game of the season to secure a better draft position. It makes sense.

Certainly situations are going to occur when losing is to the benefit of the team playing. How are such things to be handled? I suppose the team trying to lose will just have to pretend harder to try to win although they really are trying to lose. Isn’t that as much of a mockery as simply trying to lose outright? We’re saying, go ahead and try to lose but pretend harder.

It’s a really interesting question. I’m not sure there are any good solutions but perhaps there could be some Losing Benefit rule wherein a team could say, hey listen, it’s to our benefit to lose, so go ahead and count it as a loss but we’ll play our best for the paying customers. If we win, it still counts as a loss. I don’t know. I can see objections to that as well. At least it’s intellectually honest and the crowd gets to see a genuine effort.

Tell me what you think in the comments!

[polldaddy poll=6433003]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire