Paula Deen and the word Nigger

paula deenYes, you see correctly. I don’t use the euphemism “n-word” when I mean to say nigger. Am I worse than every newscaster, magazine writer, blogger, and general person who says “n-word” when they mean nigger? Read this blog and then tell me what you think.

Paula Deen admits to using the word nigger when referencing black men. Nigger is a vile word with a vile meaning. Because she has used the word in conversation she is paying a significant price. Today I want to examine her use and understanding of the word, the public reaction to said use, and the lawsuit that brought it all to the public’s attention.

Paula runs a very successful restaurant that grew into a Food Network television show which spawned a number of food related books, magazines, and other endeavors. She has made a lot of money because of her hard work and apparently tasty food. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten any of her recipes. We can be certain that people like it.

I’m sure you know the story by now but to recap for those of you who, like me, were largely ignoring it up to now, she is being sued by a woman who was offended by the fact that Paula used the word nigger in her restaurant. This employee has bi-racial nieces and nephews and is filing suit against Paula and the restaurant because the employee was personally offended. During the trial it was brought up that Paula planned a “plantation themed” wedding for her brother that would include black servers.

Because of these revelations Paula has lost her television show, her book deals, and many of her sponsors.

I think the word nigger is horrible. When Paula used it in front of the employee the person should have told Paula that it was offensive. Maybe she did, I don’t know the details of the case. Paula says the word was used commonly as she was growing up and I don’t doubt her for a moment. I’ve heard the word used in all its ugly connotations a number of times over the years and I always tell people I don’t like it, please don’t use it in my presence. If they continue, they continue, I can’t control them. I can stop being around them, an employee doesn’t have this luxury.

Is Paula an evil person for saying nigger? It certainly doesn’t reflect well on her. Does she discriminate against black people? Apparently not. Does she hate black people, the evidence seems to be no. Does the idea of a plantation themed wedding including all black servers seem in poor taste, you bet.

What bothers me most about the entire story is the prevalence of the “n-word”. If people didn’t say the “n-word” when they mean nigger then maybe Paula, and a lot of other people would have gotten the message.

Nigger is a nasty term meant to convey laziness, lack of trustworthiness, thieving character, and a no good lay about. It’s applied to black people because that is the stereotype associated with them, used to explain why they could be kept as slaves against all human decency. Paula, when you say nigger, that’s what you are saying. If someone had told Paula that twenty years ago I bet she would have stopped using it right at that moment. She seems like a pretty decent sort who just didn’t know the ugliness of the word she was using.

I know it seems strange to suggest that she didn’t understand the meaning but I think that’s often the case. When we say the “f-word” and the “c-word” and the “n-word” instead of “fuck”, “cunt”, and “nigger” we hide the ugliness of the word. We hide its true meaning. People say nigger who don’t mean nigger. Not to excuse Paula, she said it, she should have known what it meant.

If people want to remove themselves from Paula’s life; be they advertisers, networks, publishers, or just an average person, that’s their right. I don’t begrudge them for a moment.

However, from what I can make of this entire episode, Paula just didn’t understand how awful the word nigger truly is, and she’s not alone. If we in society would stop saying the “n-word” and start saying nigger, I think people like Paula would understand. When we say the “n-word” we are hiding behind semantics. We are saying nigger without saying it and it truly causes confusion.

What I would respect the most from Paula was if she stood up in her next interview and said nigger. Tell us she said nigger. Tell us she knows the meaning of the word nigger. Tell us she’s sorry for using the word nigger not only for the word itself but the meaning behind it. That she knows nigger is an awful word. That she understands why it’s a terrible thing to say.

And I would respect her advertisers, sponsors, and friends if they then all forgave her.

I don’t think it will happen. I think everyone will continue to say the “n-word” and I think that’s too bad. No one knows more than me that words have power. Do we not tell German children about the holocaust because it’s so awful? Just the opposite. Here is what happened. This is what a word means. We, as a nation, enslaved another group of people. We made them seem sub-human. We applied words like nigger to them. It was awful and terrible. We should be ashamed.

When you call someone a nigger you are saying you don’t think slavery and everything associated with it was a terrible thing. If you mean that, then go ahead and call a black person a nigger. If you know what it means and hate everything associated with it, then explain to other people what the word really means. Don’t hide the word. Bring it out into the bright sunshine. Expose it to the world for what it truly is.

Evil grows in hidden corners, away from plain sight. It shrinks when exposed, when ridiculed, when attacked by good people who are not afraid. Other people are encouraged to be good themselves, to not use vile words with terrible meanings. The world becomes a better place. I’m all for that.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (it’s honestly a fun and easy read, just ask my mother! $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Way Government Works

Government BullyIt wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about the wild horse problem that is plaguing western states. That particular situation has brought to light something that I’m well aware happens but still rankles me to no end.

First some background. Wild horses are accumulating in record numbers in the western states and there are now 50,000 of them held in pens and about 32,000 roaming free. Every year thousands of them are rounded up in often brutal chases and forced to spend the remainder of their lives penned up. Not such a great life for an animal used to running free.

I suggested that instead of penning up these animals we instead slaughter them and use their meat. There are a number of countries in the world that eat horse meat and currently the United States ships about 130,000 animals to foreign countries for slaughter.

The federal government refuses to allow horses gathered in western roundups to be part of those sold. The reason the federal government refuses to allow it is because a great number of people love horses. Horses are more than a domesticated animal, they are more akin to dogs. They are companions, friends.

Now, all of this is really just a prelude to the real point of my argument. The federal government has no business telling us what we can and cannot eat.

It might be argued that they should protect us from food that will poison us. Horse meat doesn’t fall into this category. Those against eating horse meat say that the animals are given certain medications banned for livestock and there is a modicum of truth to this argument, but it would be quite simple to apply the same rules to horses as to cattle.

Now to the thing that makes me angry. In 2006 the government decided that they didn’t want people eating horses. There was no actual ban on horse meat, there was no legislation to outlaw eating horses, this because such legislation would be far beyond what the Constitution allows the government to do.

Here’s how they did it. The U.S. government requires that all meat undergo a federal inspection before being distributed as food. The real purpose of this law is to prevent small farmers from slaughtering their own meat and sending money into the hands of feed-lot owners, but again, I’m drifting. What the government did to effect this anti-horse meat ban was pass a budget that had $0 for inspecting horse meat plants. Instantly it was illegal to produce horse meat despite the fact that no one actually made it illegal. Anyone in the domestic horse meat business went bankrupt. Destroyed by the government. Even if they were doing a thriving business providing horse meat to those who wanted it. Destroyed by a single line-item in a vast budget. Those who ran such operations tried to squawk I’m sure but they were in the minority.

This is the way the government operates today. They create legislation that pours money to those that help get them elected. All under the ruse that it is for our well-being!

I think the horse meat issue is an interesting topic but the point I’m trying to make is that our government is now in the business of picking who succeeds and who fails at the swipe of a pen. One tiny line of a budget, hardly noticed, and an industry is destroyed. This happens all the time. Business does not succeed because of hard-work, good ideas, being smarter than the other guy. It succeeds because someone paid of the government to wipe out the competition. Because someone in the government didn’t think we should eat horse meat, despite the fact that it’s none of their business.

That’s not good for this country and it’s not good for you, regardless of your opinion on eating horse meat.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Political Activism in the Internet Age – Your Click Counts

Internet Political ActivismNot long ago I wrote a post about a phony cancer treatment called Aura-Etheric Body-Chi. I wrote about it to expose what I thought was a dangerous fraud being perpetuated on sick and desperate people.

The way I determined it was a fraud was to do a search on Google and Bing and read about the company. The first three or so pages of search results revealed that it was simply a Facebook business with no real presence outside that arena.

Well, if you do a search today for aura-etheric body-chi, and I’m going to explain why you should a little later in this post, you will find my blog post intermingled on the first page of results. My arguments that it is a fraudulent product might be read by a cancer-stricken person tempted to plunk down a few dollars. After reading the post they might choose to spend their remaining time and money more wisely!

I feel very good about that. I can’t begin to describe the joy that fills my body at the thought that I’ve helped someone avoid such a scam. That some desperate, cancer stricken person might not become a victim yet again.

That’s not my point here today. What I’d like to talk about today is how important it is that accurate information make its way to the front of all Google Searches, to the front of all Bing Searches, to the front of all news outlets. There is plenty of inaccurate information out there. There is fraud galore. People with agendas who post anything and everything. The web is filled with lies, hate, and deceit.

If we get accurate information to the front of the web then we inform people accurately about events, about products, about news. If we can shove inaccurate information, lies, and hate to the fifth page of a search result then that information doesn’t have the chance to fool someone, to hurt someone.

In the past people marched on Washington. They boycotted products and had a say in their world. Those days are over. Anyone who organize a march or a boycott is wasting their time. Do you want your voice heard? Do you want people to know what you think? Here’s the strategy, search it, click it.

Do you think my message about aura-etheric body-chi is an important message? Do you think my blog about Good and Evil is worth passing on? Do you want to help me sell my books? Do a search and click, if not, don’t. A few hundred clicks on my post and I’ll be to the top, number one! Now, not every topic is so easily moved in search results but the process absolutely works. What comes to the top of search results is what people are clicking on. It’s all math. The good news (and bad news) is you can’t click repeatedly yourself. The search engine algorithms are too smart for that. But, if you and like-minded people out there do some clicking, your point of view rises. If smart people click then good rises to the top.

Don’t think for a moment that news providers aren’t keenly aware of what terms are being searched the most. Google, Yahoo, and Bing post that information.

What is hot is profitable. If you click it, it rises; if it rises, people see it; if people see it, it makes headlines.

You hold the keys! We hold the keys to real change.

At no time in the history of the world have the people held so much power. With great power, as Peter Parker would say, comes great responsibility. Your clicks matter, each and every one. Use them wisely.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (Search it, Click it, Buy it!!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Good and Evil

Good and EvilI wrote a series of posts in March of 2012 about stupid platitudes and one of them passingly referenced prayer. The post wasn’t really about prayer at all but about the stupid platitude. Nevertheless I did suggest that prayer was rather silly. I went further into that concept in another post much later.

In any case, a reader stumbled upon the platitude post and began a dialog with me expounding on why I was wrong about prayer. I replied and so on. Eventually the person began to wander far afield from the original premise and posted the following:

… if you personally know that there is no God, what do you believe about things like little girls in the Congo being raped to death? Is that bad? If so, why? Who decided it was bad? I believe rape and murder are EVIL and horrific, and my worldview has an explanation for the concept of evil. A gap in the godless explanation of the universe is that there I have found no convincing evidence as to why we should view anything as bad or good.

I read this to mean that in a world without god there is no differentiating between raping and murdering little girls and serving them tea and cookies. I was physically upset by this argument. My stomach churned, I felt like vomiting. That the lack of belief in god meant lack of belief in evil, or good for that matter. Not even just the belief of evil but that evil and good do not exist without god.

I suppose one could argue that without god the world would not exist and good and evil are part of the world but I don’t think that is what is meant here. I think what is meant here is that if the world exists, but wasn’t created and governed by god, that there is no difference between good and evil.

I was so horrified, so outraged, that I decided to wait a few days before posting anything.

“Who decided it was bad?” How about every single human culture that has ever existed, regardless of their religious view. Long before you, long before Jesus, long before the Jews, people knew it was bad.

Rape, by the way, is mentioned in a number of place in the bible. My favorite is Deuteronomy 22:28-29 in which the rapists is punished by having to give the father of the rape victim fifty bucks and has to marry the woman he just raped.

After I settled down I began to wonder if the person commenting actually had a christian view of evil or if they were misinterpreting the concept. I did some research.

I went around and read articles about evil and articles about divine law. From everything that I can find, the christian view of evil is not that god defines it. There are broad parameters of wrong but by in large god decided to allow evil to exist because otherwise people would not know good. Nowhere could I find a clear definition. In a number of places christians try to explain why in the old testament god orders his people to murder, to rape, to enslave their enemies but in no place is evil defined. Rape is largely explained as wrong because it is fornication, sex outside of wedlock, not because you are forcing yourself on a woman who doesn’t want to have sex with you.

There are many restrictions in the bible, in particular the Book of Leviticus; adultery, eating four-legged insects (used to be birds but got changed on reinterpretation), offering grain without yeast, eating blood or fat, giving birth to a boy, skin disease, moldy clothes, well I could go on and on. The point is evil is not defined. Behavior, certainly. Evil simply exists.

So, in the end I can’t get too upset. Either the person making the comment didn’t explain what she meant very well or she is confused as to the biblical interpretation of evil.

The concept is interesting though because I’m often asked by religious people when they find out I’m an atheist, “Why are you good? What keeps you from doing bad things?”

The answer of course is everything Rand. I do good because it’s in my best interest to do good. If I raped little girls I’d be thrown into prison, murdered by outraged parents, beaten to a pulp by brothers and friends.

Even if I was a soldier, invading an enemy land, and could rape a girl without consequence I would not do it because I respect her as a human being, I respect myself as a human being. Because I know if someone raped one of my sisters I’d want to kill that person. As would anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, since the beginning of humanity.

Why do I think rape is evil? Because I decided it is.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 is a bargain for 300+ pages of great reading)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Power of the Bikini

The Power of the BikiniAs some of you may have noticed I ran a blog on Saturday about a lawsuit associated with social media sharing. The cover picture was an attractive young woman in a bikini. You can read the entire story here but it’s not what I’m going to talk about today. Today is the idea that sex sells.

I write sword and sorcery fantasy novels. I write blog posts frequently. After yesterday I must ask myself if I am going about the business of doing it poorly. My books have sold very few copies, of late my blog attracts about twenty viewers a day and I’ve accumulated over 700 followers. That’s a pretty low number in the big scheme of things although certainly not awful.

Prior to yesterday my single best day was 81 views with the exception of my Freshly Pressed article about the St. Louis Cardinals and how being a fan was an important part of my life. Freshly Pressed means WordPress puts the blog on their front page for a couple of days. I had 440 views on the day I was Freshly Pressed.

Yesterday, with an attractive, fit seventeen year old girl in a bikini on my blog page I got 138 views which represents about a 41% increase on my (not Freshly Pressed aided) best day. Should I write about bikinis more often? Should my Sword and Sorcery novels take a turn to the vampire and zombie realms?

The main topic of my post on Saturday was Social Media and privacy. I got one comment. The vast majority of viewers came simply to look at the picture of the young woman and likely did not even read the story.

As a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist I know that to some degree it’s a numbers game. Higher views of my blog translates to more clicks on the links to my books. Click on the links to my books translates to sales of my books. Do I want more sales? More views? My course is obvious … more bikinis.

However, what if my books and this blog are about my Libertarian Ideals. Ways I think the world, the United States, the state of Missouri, the city of University City, and the people who read this blog and my books can improve the quality of their life. I hope to impart ideas to people to make them think, to help them make better decisions, to make everything around them better. If this is my goal then bikini pictures are irrelevant.

I’d be lying if I said every blog post I make doesn’t have an eye toward viewers. I often pick sensationalist stories that are big news on that day. I read all sorts of articles on various news outlets looking for ideas. When I posted yesterday I calculated using Chelsea Chaney’s name in the blog title to help SEO, I put in the bikini picture knowing it would attract attention. It was not random chance.

Where is the line between holding onto idealism and selling-out so that my efforts have a better chance to be seen? Where do I cross-over into sensationalism and leave behind the noble goal?

If no one buys my books, if no one reads my blog then all my idealism is pointless. If I stray from my beliefs and write zombie/vampire/bikini blogs and books then I’ve destroyed the very message I set out to impart.

What’s a boy to do?

I’m happy with my compromise so far. I write my blogs with an eye towards publicity. My novels, they are about Randian Objectivism and Sword and Sorcery Adventure, that I will not change. Ever.

It’s an interesting question that I imagine all of us have to face not just in the world of art. Idealism and pragmatism. Both have their value in the real world. At work, at home, in the car, and just about everywhere else. Have you battled with those concepts? What was your resolution?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery novels with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (No bikinis but Jon Gray is one handsome and heroic fellow and Eleniak, the Dancing Flame, yeah, she’s a hottie)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Facebook Privacy and Chelsea Chaney

Chelsea Chaney Snoop PictureThere’s yet another Facebook Privacy story in the news lately and I thought in this case it was interesting enough, and different enough, to talk about.

In this situation a student in Georgia posted a family vacation picture of herself wearing a bikini. Somewhat surprisingly she posted on Facebook instead of Instagram because all the nerdy adults like me use Facebook whereas the cool kids have long since moved on. That aside, this is where things take a turn to the interesting.

Somehow a copy of the picture ended up in the hands of the school’s director of technology who used it during a presentation to demonstrate the permanency of social media information. The director of technology did not get, nor even seek, permission to use the photo in the presentation. The student is now suing the school district for $2 million.

There seems to be a lot of passion on both sides of the debate with one group calling Chelsea Chaney stupid for posting on Facebook and not expecting the picture to be displayed publicly, greedy because of the lawsuit, and apparently a slut because she wore a bikini. The other side seems to think the director of technology was likely a pervert and disgusting for using the photo.

To understand whether or not the picture was used legally we must examine something called Fair Use and Copyright.

Whoever took the picture had copyright ownership immediately. There is no need to register a work for it to be copyrighted. This right includes the right to perform or display the work publicly. So, the picture clearly falls into that category.

In this case the Fair Use doctrine falls under the education exception. Basically people can often use images of this nature if they are not for profit and for educational purposes. Clearly that is at least the intention in this case. The law gets pretty murky about the definition of educational and profit and the courts will eventually decide.

I see both sides of the story here. Chelsea is an attractive young woman and the picture was used at least partially because of this. The school claims the picture was chosen randomly but I strongly suspect that’s not the case. It was chosen specifically because she is attractive and the picture would garner attention. The fact that she posted it to Facebook really isn’t a factor from my perspective. Someone besides Chelsea was using her image in a way she did not intend. She was, at that time, not a public figure. She is now and that’s why I can get away with using her picture without the threat of a lawsuit. Also, the picture above is considered a thumbnail and generally avoids copyright restrictions.

On the other side I suspect the director of technology meant only to use it to make a point about the permanency of images posted to social media. It was not meant to make a profit or embarrass Chelsea.

That being said, it did embarrass Chelsea. I cannot tell her whether she should be embarrassed or horrified, that is her decision. If she says she was, then she was. That’s the law. You cannot prove mental pain and suffering. If the plaintiff claims it, then it exists. It’s up to the judge to decide on how big a settlement, if any, should be awarded.

What should be the resolution? Here’s my take. The director of technology should publicly apologize to Chelsea in front of as many people as were at that conference as can be reasonably gathered. A school official should publicly apologize to Chelsea in front of the entire student body. Chelsea should accept both apologies and drop her lawsuit. She should explain that she filed merely because she didn’t want to happen to others what happened to her.

Finally to the ugly undercurrent of the many comments I see. Chelsea is a pretty girl with a nice figure. Therefore people get their jollies calling her stupid, a slut, someone deserving of what she gets. Chelsea is a pretty girl with a nice figure so the school administrator must be a disgusting pervert because he was drooling over her pictures.

We are too quick to judge in this world. If we insist that cave dwellers are the only ones eligible to be president, to be co-workers, to be teachers, we are going to get the kind of people who live in caves. We don’t want them. We want people who have lived, who take fun pictures (Chelsea), who have made mistakes in life (the director of technology). The kind of people who are our friends, our family, our co-workers, the kind of people we are ourselves.

Stop judging and start living.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages of sword and sorcery excitement)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Broken Social Contract – Who is to Blame?

Social ContractThe other day there was a thought-provoking opinion piece in the New York Times written by Thomas B. Edsall suggesting the social contract in the United States is broken. This is not a new idea in itself but he even-handedly looked at two possible causal effects for the phenomenon.

I’m going to first examine the idea of the Social Contract and what it means in the U.S. and then I’ll talk about Edsall’s article, the factors involved, and my ideas for real solutions.

The idea behind the Social Contract is fairly straightforward and the Wiki article, as usual, does an excellent job of explaining it in great detail. Basically, people give authority to the government in exchange for the protection of their remaining rights. We The People allow our various government agencies, Federal, State, and Local to pass laws limiting our freedom but gain protection of our rights in exchange. Strange but, I think, true. As a very small example, the humble stop sign. It limits my ability to freely travel from hither to yon. Yet, this restriction actually allows me to travel freely with greater ease.

When everyone in a society recognizes the governmental limitations of the stop sign we are all better off. When people begin to ignore the stop sign then society begins to break down. If one person runs a stop sign then another person does the same. When everyone ignores stop signs the government loses the ability to enforce penalties for the violation and we apparently have more freedom in that we don’t have to stop at stop signs, but in reality we have less freedom because driving is significantly more difficult. The Social Contract.

In the context of Edsall’s blog it references the perceived financial and ethical decay in the United States and the long-term implications to our country. The blog quite nicely summarizes two possible causes of the decay. One blames unrestrained greed while the other blames single parent households and the inability of people to hold down a job. I’ve over-simplified to a large degree but the idea is that as the Middle Class shrinks the ability to transition from disadvantaged to wealthy vanishes as well. This is bad for our country.

I spoke about this subject in a blog blaming stupid and unhealthy people. I don’t want to reiterate my points here.

On one side we blame unrestrained corporate greed. Corporations no longer care about contributing to the general community and that making money is the only goal. There is truth to this argument as stock prices, rather than a quality product at a reasonable price, is the main factor in business decisions. On the other side we blame fewer fathers, single mothers, and lack of education. Fathers are seen as a driving force in social cohesion. A single man with no children has no real need to coach the little league team, to improve the school, to fight for a stop sign at a dangerous intersection. That a single mother has a difficult time raising the child and doing any of those things. Stupid and unhealthy people cannot hold down a job and become a drain on society.

I think all those ideas have merit. I don’t think they are opposing ideologies. I think corporations, driven by unsustainable modern business practices, are less involved in making sure society is equitable, that there is reasonable chance to improve one’s station in life. I also think that single parent families face significant difficulties that dual parent households do not. That as jobs require greater mental ability, stupid people are left behind. All these contribute to the decline of the social contract.

However, I think the underlying problem is none of these things. All of these things are products of the lack of objectivism in the people of this country. When we examine a thing for its true nature without bias and presupposition, we can make good decisions. It’s a bad decision to run a company to the detriment of the society that makes business possible. It’s a bad decision to have a child when you are not prepared to support that child. It’s a bad decision to not study in school.

We look to a bowl of ice cream for happiness. Immediate, tasty, and gratifying. Make money, have sex, eat until we have heart disease, knee problems, diabetes. We do not examine a situation and make decisions with a long-term goal in mind. Immediate gratification is winning over delayed and long-lasting gratification. We do the things that make us immediately happy and find, much to our surprise, that our lives are miserable. We do not think through the consequences of our actions. This is the problem and it is solved by teaching people to think.

The uneducated, unprepared, and greedy are not the problem, they are symptoms of the problem. The fact that a larger and larger percentage of our society is made up of these people is what is driving the decay. Until we teach people to think clearly, to make decisions that are in their long-term benefit, we will continue in our current spiral.

When a business leader makes a decision that will result in long-term benefit for that company it generally means long-term benefit to the employees, to the region, and to the nation. When a person makes decisions that will result in their long-term benefit it generally means those around that person will also flourish. When I succeed those who associate with me often succeed as well.

It is when we make decisions based on immediate gratification that we, and those around us, suffer.

As Marcus Aurelius said quite a bit more succinctly, That which is not good for the bee-hive, cannot be good for the bees.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and it’s awesome)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Second Grader Ostracized or Not?

OstracizedThere is a highly emotional story making the rounds in the news world these days and I’m more than a little frightened to jump into the fray because I think I’m on the bad guy side.

The situation is that a second grader with spinal muscular atrophy was taking his class picture. They had the students set up on a bleacher and the kids didn’t quite fill the section leaving about one kid’s width room on the side. Miles Ambridge, confined to his wheelchair, was moved as close to the edge of the bleachers as possible but this left about a three-foot gap between him and the nearest child. The gap was the extra bit of bleacher along with the wheels of the wheelchair. The kids were also sitting up very straight with their hands in their laps adding to the perceived gap.

His mother saw the picture and decided that her son was being ostracized by the adults who organized the picture. Miles’ father is incensed because Miles seems so happy with his big smile in the picture. “He’s naive as to how people treat him” was the comment.

Some people commented that he should have been taken out of the wheelchair and placed with the other students but that seems to me to be an unlikely possibility. Moving someone with a severe spinal disease onto a bench with a bunch of other potentially squirmy kids? At best they could have sat in an off-center position to the edge of the bench and the gap would have been decreased by half but there still would have been a gap. Maybe they could have ditched the bleachers altogether but it’s likely the camera was setup with lighting designed for that position.

The picture I’ve included above is an example of being ostracized. When I was in sixth-grade they conducted an interesting exercise with us. They asked us a complex math problem and told us to figure it out in our heads. They wanted answers from two of us, me the nerd, and the pretty, popular girl. I had one answer. She had another. They asked us to move to opposite sides of the room and told everyone join the person they thought was right. I was alone and ostracized in the little game in the way I often felt in real life. It’s not fun to be ostracized. Kids can be very cruel. Adults can be awful as well.

Here’s my take, I just don’t think Miles was ostracized. Miles is different. He’s in a wheelchair and can’t sit on the bench. There’s no denying that fact. By making such a fuss the parents are not helping, they’re actually emphasizing that he’s different. It’s hard to tell from one picture but he looks like a pretty happy kid.

We can’t make other people be nice to us. We can’t stop kids from being cruel to one another over differences, real or perceived. Some kids will be mean to Miles but there are others who will not, particularly if Miles is happy with the way he is. We should teach kids to be themselves and accept their real limitations while striving to attain their maximum potential. To make good friends, do as well as they can, to have fun.

I’ve got some advice for you, Miles. If someone ostracizes you because of your disability, screw them. Keep smiling, be friends with the kids who like you for being you, wheelchair and all. Be good at what you’re good at, it won’t be sports or sitting in the bleachers. Your parents aren’t improving your life by forcing people to be “fair” to you. However, if you keep smiling like that you’ll end up with real friends and a great life.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of nerdy D&D inspired fun for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Tom v. the Lemonade Stand

Lemonade StandI recently became aware of a Hulu show called Dan Vs. and have been rapidly making my way through the episodes. Today I happened upon the Dan Vs. The Lemonade Stand Gang and it reminded me of an incident that happened last summer.

I live in a neighborhood that is within walking distance of several grocery stores, my gym, a large number of nice restaurants, and a little park. On weekends I often walk to the grocery store or a restaurant for lunch and it was on one of these occasions that I was beset by the Lemonade Stand. On my way into Clayton I pass a church. While on the trip I noted a pair of young boys with a lemonade stand setup on the church lawn. Now I’m an atheist, it’s true, but I’m also a supporter of the entrepreneurial spirit and headed over to the stand with a smile on my face.

I plunked my dollar down and watched in horror as the boys pulled out, from its strategically hidden spot under the table, a two-liter jug of Country Time Lemonade. I have nothing against Country Time. I admit that I’m not a fan of the two-liter jug but mostly because I don’t drink soda. Next they half-filled a tiny plastic cup with the lemonade and handed it to me. No ice.

I walked right by them on the way back.

It’s not an important incident in my life. The dollar lost on a warm lemonade is not going to change my lifestyle but the moment sticks with me. Every time I see kids at a lemonade stand I think about that incident. I haven’t purchased lemonade from a stand since that day. I’m not sure I’ll ever purchase from a stand again. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I shouldn’t judge all children and all lemonade stands by the one instance, but I do.

Let’s not fool ourselves, that lemonade stand could well become a multinational corporation based on their business practices. They might fund the local Alderman campaign and have all the other lemonade stands ruled illegal. They might have the legislature pass a law ostensibly for public safety saying we must all purchase lemonade three times a day. They could be watching me right now! Reading these words with some sort of lemonade spy device. They might send the police to come and arrest me! Soon we will all be forced by to drink government mandated lemonade from the owners of that stand!

On the other hand, their parents could tell them what they were doing was wrong. They could raise kids that understand the difference between ripping people off and making money by providing a good product at a fair price.

I might be overreacting a tiny little bit here but I do think it’s symptomatic of our society and a business model based primarily on growth. And, gosh darn it, I’m still mad about that warm, half-filled, cynical cup of lemonade. I want my dollar back!

What would you do if you found out your children were involved in that sort of a lemonade stand operation?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (It’s good, it’s priced reasonable at $2.99, and it’s 300+ pages of rip-roaring fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Nature of Fraud – Aura-Etheric Body-Chi

Healing FraudOne of my friends recently Facebook Shared an advertisement for an anti-cancer product called Aura-Etheric Body-Chi. I was immediately outraged by the claim in the advertisement that it was ten-thousand times stronger than chemotherapy. I’m certain that being ten-thousand times stronger than chemotherapy doesn’t have any real meaning because there is no single chemotherapy treatment. There are many types for different sorts of cancer. Nevertheless, the advertisement is clearly trying to claim that the product is a much better cure for cancer than is chemotherapy.

My sister is alive today because of chemotherapy. That’s not the point here but perhaps it explains my passion on the subject of false medical promises made to sick and desperate people.

Before I posted a reply on Facebook to my friend’s Share I looked up Aura-Etheric Body-Chi on the internet. As far as I can tell it doesn’t exist outside of Facebook. They have no website, the first two pages of results are all different language Facebook posts for the product. So I broadened my search to Etheric Healing. This does seem to be an industry. There are any number of practitioners of the art selling their methods and offering certification in the art of Etheric Healing. I tried to find it on Wiki but didn’t have much luck. Here is a list of Esoteric Healing (curing people through faith or human will) methods which doesn’t include Etheric Healing.

There is something called the Etheric Body listed and doesn’t seem to mention Etheric Healing either.

I finally stumbled on Bio-Etheric Healing but that seems more about healing through understanding of past lives, Chakras, and things of this nature. Not some fruit that has ten-thousand times the power of Chemotherapy.

I concluded the product is phony. I made a post suggesting that this product was fraudulent and designed to steal money from sick, desperate people. That it might convince some people to turn away from chemotherapy and real cures in the hopes that this product would help them. That those people would then likely die from cancer.

I was immediately set upon by a defender of herbal remedies in general. This person stated that medical science often looks to nature to find cures and that I was fear mongering. That people have a right to put into their own bodies what they want. This is called a Straw Person argument. I actually agree that medical science looks to nature to find cures. I’m not opposed to eating healthy foods to treat illness. I completely agree that people have a right to put into their bodies what they want. Those were not my points.

I responded in an effort to clarify my objections to the ad. I said that I was infuriated by a product that seemed solely designed to bilk money from very sick, desperate, and vulnerable people. That my opponent was supporting this effort. I was told to calm down.

So now I’m writing a blog post, I guess I’m not calm yet.

To the point of this blog. Fraud. Yes, cancer stricken people, afraid of death, desperate for a cure, could choose not to purchase this product knowing it is likely fraudulent. They share some of the blame for being deceived. However, if we allow companies like this to exist we might as well not have a law against fraud at all. If people get fooled then they are fooled. Shame on them. If someone lies to you, practices to deceive you, tricks you, then it’s your fault, not theirs. There is merit to the idea of Caveat Emptor. I agree that people should be wary, they should suffer the consequences for bad decisions, but I cannot idly watch a scam designed to part the victims of a horrible disease from their money. I choose to speak out. To attack the deceiver even while admonishing those fooled to be more careful.

I urge all my rational thinking friends to speak out when they see things of this nature. Be a voice of reason. Do not let Facebook scams slide by silently. Your silence encourages the spread of irrationality, of evil. I think the makers of this product are evil. I won’t pull punches. They are despicable in their aims and their methods.

I’m not asking you to go on a crusade, to write a blog post, I’m asking you to make one comment. Be a beacon of reason. Tell people when you see something that is wrong and understand that you might be attacked in return. The right path isn’t the easiest path.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of fantasy fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

NCAA Provides Riches for Almost Everyone

Pay to PlayMy blog yesterday was about how much money those associated with the NCAA earn. Almost everyone associated with the NCAA, that is. The employees of the NCAA make a good deal of money with the president getting about a $1.6 million annual salary. The University Presidents are basically fund-raisers and sports teams are their main sales pitch.

Game-day announcers make very nice money. Coaches make big money. Assistant coaches make good money. Sports radio personalities make money. Stadium owners make money on ticket sales. Broadcasters earn money in advertising revenue. Advertisers earn money in increased sales. Sports paraphernalia stores sell jerseys. Video game manufacturers make money. Stadium vendors earn money. Construction companies build stadiums and make money. Referees make money. I’m sure you can think of a few more people who benefit either directly or peripherally from college sports.

The people who don’t make money are the student-athletes. They get a scholarship. The perceived value of the scholarship is the cost of a year’s education but this is also false. The scholarships don’t cost the university anything, they gain the university millions of dollars. The money the athletes generate pays for the scholarships many times over. The cost non-athletes pay in tuition is higher in part to cover the scholarship of athletes. Still, there is value in a college education for an athlete although many of them would have gone to college anyway if the athletic scholarship was not available.

There are many reasonable arguments why opening college athletes to direct pay in the form of professional sports is not the best idea. The open competition would create an unsavory atmosphere. College coaches would be bidding for the services of their players and something akin to a draft would be required eventually. That or splitting college athletics into pay and no-pay divisions. The student-athletes would be just athletes with no pretense at going to school. Without  scholarships the athletes for sports other than basketball and football would vanish.

There are a number of proposed methods of paying the players for their services and avoiding these dangers. A system like minor league baseball is one idea. A lump sum payment at the start of their college career is another idea.

I think something akin to a 401(k) is the best solution. Money is put into a fund for each year the student stays in the system. This money is untouchable until the student finishes their eligibility or leaves school. Students in the sports that generate the most money, men’s football and men’s basketball, would be slotted for higher payments while less financially lucrative sports would get smaller amounts or simply the scholarship they currently receive.

The money allotted could be drawn from both the money raised by the school and by the NCAA as a whole. Television contracts, jersey endorsements, ticket sales, etc. I think it would be best if the money was the same for all schools in the same division and sport. Thus Division I men’s basketball players would be slotted a certain amount. This avoids an imbalance where higher paying schools attract better recruits.

A percentage of this money from the NCAA and the schools would be lumped into a fund and divided by the number of players in that sport, with Division I men basketball and football players getting the lion’s share. As an example, there are 13 men on each of the 340 Division I basketball schools giving us a total of 4,420 players. Let’s say we put away $50 million for the players. That’s about $11,000 or so for each player for each year in the league. It’s not a massive amount but it’s not horrible and it’s better than nothing. Personally I think the $50 million is a very low figure.

I think it likely that we would have to redefine the Divisions based on revenue raised. Something akin to the European soccer relegation rules where if a team doesn’t make enough in television revenue and ticket sales they are reduced to the next lowest division. Schools that had no interest in participating in such a scheme, such as the Ivy League, could opt-out in a non-payment division.

It’s not a perfect scheme and there are pitfalls that I’m sure my readers can find but I think it is far more equitable than the current shameful system.

What do you think? Comment away!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages of adventure, excitement, and fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

How do you Solve a Problem like … the NCAA?

NCAA HypocrisyThe nuns kicked Maria out of the abbey because she wasn’t an asset. What do we do when the bosses are the problem? That’s the NCAA for you.

For those of you not aware of the facts of the matter, the NCAA runs a big business. The business of college sports. Here’s the page for their Enforcement Arm. It’s filled with gems like Commitment to fair play is a bedrock principle of the NCAA, and The enforcement program is dedicated to creating positive student-athlete experiences by preserving the integrity of the enterprise.

This blogger is committed to calling lying sacks of garbage … wait for it … lying sacks of garbage. They are in it for the money. There is lots of money in college sports for everyone except the men and women providing the entertainment that generates all that money. The do get to go to college for free which is not a bad compensation for many of them. A four-year stint at Duke costs about $200,000.

Not bad although the head coach at Duke earns $1.7 million per year. That’s the football coach. The hoops coach, try $4.7 million. The university itself pulled in a cool $67 million in 2008 thanks to its athletic department. Athletic departments pull in huge amounts of money through television rights, game-day tickets, post-season play, jersey sales, and various other arms of fund-raising. NCAA sports is big business and the regulation arm of the NCAA is primarily concerned with keeping that revenue stream healthy, not creating positive student-athlete experiences. By the way, the term student-athlete was created by the NCAA as a legal dodge.

It’s hard to blame them. People willingly offer up their hard-earned money to wear jerseys of their favorite players, see the game, and watch it on the streaming device of their choice. College serves as a free farm system for the NBA, the NFL, NHL, and increasingly MLB. It’s a place for the stars of the game to hone their skills before the payout finally comes in professional sports. You see, the NCAA runs an amateur organization where the players aren’t tainted by being paid, conveniently forgetting that a scholarship is a form of payment. Tuition, room and board, books, no charge, but that’s not payment because we value the purity of the sport, don’t you see the difference?

The NCAA punishes players who sell game-day jerseys worn in the big game. Kids who want a little money because they aren’t allowed to have jobs while on scholarships. Kids who aren’t allowed to talk to lawyers who could actually offer them some pretty sound financial advice, lawyers called agents. Really, they can’t talk to a lawyer to advise them about their future? Can’t talk to a lawyer!? Seriously? Accused criminals are reminded they have that right. College athletes, nope, rules violation. The team gets endorsement dollars for wearing sneakers, by the team I mean the coach and the university, certainly not the players. Video games of NCAA sports, primarily football and basketball, can’t put the player names on the back of the jersey, any guess why? Is it a commitment to fair play?

Meanwhile announcers, cameramen, referees, beer vendors, radio sports broadcasters, construction companies, and countless other thousands earn a living on the backs of these athletes.

Sports is a strange beast. The draft? Yeah, that’s clearly unconstitutional. That’s not the topic today but boy, once I get started with the madness of sports I can’t stop myself. National Letters of intent that legally bind a seventeen year old to one, and only one, university or he has to forfeit a year from his scholarship? It’s all about money. It’s about collusion, the suppression of constitutional rights in the pursuit of money.

I went to the college of my choice. I could have transferred anytime I wanted. I got a job at the company that offered me the best deal. They didn’t draft me and lock me into a preset dollar amount based on the position of the pick.

What do we do? How do we solve this problem? With this much money at stake it’s not an easy solution. I doubt there is a complete solution that is viable for all parties. That being said the travesty of justice that is coaches, athletic directors, university presidents, announcers and all the rest making millions and the athletes getting a scholarship angers my Libertarian principles. Don’t kid yourself, there are thousands of broken kids, used up in college sports, who never make the pros, tens of thousands of them. They got a college education which isn’t bad, but it’s not fair compensation compared to the money they generate for other people. It’s just not.

Tomorrow I’ll offer some ideas on how to right this wrong. It won’t be ground-breaking. They are all ideas that have been vetted many times. See you then.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery novels with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 a bargain for 300+ pages)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Passion and Hard Work

Hard work and PassionWhile my legion of loyal followers knows me as a prolific blogger and author of stupendous Sword and Sorcery novels I’m not ashamed to admit that neither one of those endeavors pays the bills. I’d like for my novels to become best-sellers and box-office blockbusters but, as of this moment, what allows me to live comfortably is my job at Acumen Consulting as a Technical Trainer and Website Developer.

One of our former employees likewise has a real passion outside of her daytime job and that is massage therapy. She invited me to come and talk to a group that she and a few of her fellow therapists created called the Bloom Connection. The association is designed to give massage therapists a resource to help grow their business. I was to spend a few minutes talking about Search Engine Optimization which is one of my specialties in the web development industry.

After my presentation the next fellow up was Nick Dunne who works as a the social media director for SCOSAG. They are a non-profit organization that helps children learn about art in the St. Louis area. After we both finished our lecture we answered questions. People wanted to know from Nick how important it was to have a Facebook presence, a Twitter presence, a LinkedIn presence, a Pinterest presence, etc. He suggested that the more things you do the better off you are but all this blogging, website building, and tweeting was intimidating to the group. They just wanted to use their hands (and feet) to make people feel better. That’s when something emerged from the murky recesses of my brain.

I blurted out, If you’re passionate about what you do and work hard, you’re likely to succeed.

If that isn’t the United States of America then I don’t know what is. That’s why people from around the world flock to the United States. They are passionate about something in their lives. They want to work hard. Be they from Mexico or Iraq. Be they Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Christian, Atheists, or anything else.

In other places in this world working hard isn’t nearly as important as is paying off the powers that be. In other places in this world working hard is no substitute for having friends in government. In other places in this world if your skin is the wrong color or you religion is frowned upon you cannot succeed, no matter your passion or your work ethic. In other places in the world your passion will end up sending you to prison or the gallows.

And that’s the message of this blog. Let’s not stifle hard work. Let’s not promote graft and crony capitalism. Let’s not mindlessly support laziness from people of our race, religion, or political affiliation. Let’s purchase products and services from passionate people who care about their community, who care about what they do, who work hard at a job they love. It doesn’t matter if they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Mexicans, Lebanese, or anything else.

By golly, let’s be more like America and less like those other places.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery novels with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (passionately written at the great price of $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Traitor or Patriot – a Matter of Conscience

Benedict ArnoldThere are two stories in the headlines today that bring to mind an incredibly difficult dilemma that men and women of conscience must sometimes face. I will examine this question in great detail in my next novel, The Spear of the Hunt. Where is the line one crosses between being a patriot and being a traitor? At first glance the two seem diametrically opposed to one another but in these stories they are clearly linked.

A fellow named Bradley Manning leaked secret military information to an organization called WikiLeaks and is currently being tried for this transgression. Another man named Edward Snowden recently admitted to releasing secret government information about U.S. intelligence agency techniques used to monitor telephone conversations. He has fled to Hong Kong. Both of these issues are extremely complex and I’m not going to debate the right and wrong of them here today. What I do want to discuss is the decision that both men had to make. A decision that many people have had to make throughout history and, as I mentioned, that the protagonist of my next novel will have to make.

I don’t doubt for a moment that both Manning and Snowden believed they were doing the right thing. I don’t think either man meant to hurt the United States and both  likely suffered tremendous mental anxiety before they decided to release their respective pieces of information. There is also no doubt that both men did compromise U.S. interests by revealing these secret. A fellow named Benedict Arnold faced a similar question in his time.

Let’s put ourselves in their situation for a moment. We love our country. We have information that causes us to doubt the path our leaders are taking us on. We make some sort of attempt to rectify the situation through accepted channels but our effort is rebuffed. What should we do? This decision defines us as either a traitor or a patriot. We want to do what’s right, to make our nation stronger. Perhaps we are naive, perhaps we are stupid, but our intentions are good. Do we expose what we consider to be dangerous activity by our government or do we keep the secret? Our parents taught us to do what’s right, not to be a mindless worker drone content to simply follow orders. There are plenty of those out there and that kind of person doesn’t build a nation. Men and women of courage, who stand up for what is right are the kind of people who make a nation strong.

One only has to read the commentary on Manning’s case to see the vitriol his decision has engendered. People want to hang him. People want to pin medals on his chest. I’m certain Snowden will likewise face such scrutiny. Their lives are forever changed because they had the courage to stand up for what they thought was right. Standing up for what is right is not the safe way to journey through life. You can suffer for doing it. It takes courage and leads to change. Whether that change is for the better or not is unclear.

My goal today isn’t to exonerate or eviscerate either Manning or Snowden, but simply to point out that their actions cannot easily be classified as right or wrong. As much as we’d like to sound bite judge I think a more careful examination is in order. History will eventually give them their place in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proclaiming them heroes. There are plenty of examples of people of courage standing up for what they think is right when it was completely wrong. There are many examples of murderous villains who stood up for their misguided principles. Lynch mobs, Islamic bombers, men who open fire on politicians, they all thought they were doing right, they weren’t.

I’m not sure where Manning and Snowden will eventually find themselves in the public eye. The fine line between Patriot and Traitor is worth examining because it can apply to even our lives. At work, at home, when is it best to stay quiet, when does our conscience insist we speak up?

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of adventure for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (General Yumanar must decide between supporting the corrupt politicians or overthrowing them)

The Chicago Cubs vs the Rooftops

Wrigely Rooftop ViewThere’s an interesting situation brewing in Chicago-land between the evil, well, misguided, no, actually, pure evil Chicago Cubs and the owners of rooftop buildings around Wrigley Field. The rooftop buildings offer a view into Wrigley Field and there was a time when friends would gather there to watch the game and have a few beers. Those days are over.

The buildings are now valuable real-estate partially because the owners have built little venues on the roofs and sell game-day tickets to fans. They have comfortable seats, food service, beer service, and other amenities to provide for paying customers. The Cubs worked out a deal with the owners of the rooftops so that the team is paid 17% of the gross revenue taken in by the building owners. The Cubs now think they can generate more revenue by building large billboards in the outfield. These billboards will cut into the value of the buildings across the way because they might block the view from certain venues. The current contract between the Cubs and the building owners runs through 2023.

The Wrigley Rooftop Association is now threatening to sue the Cubs to prevent them from building the signs. The Cubs figure the revenue from the signs will far outweigh that gained from the buildings across the street and plan to go ahead with construction. The war of words is heating up.

When I first read this story I didn’t even think it worth talking about because it seems, at first glance, that the Cubs certainly can make any addition to their stadium they desire. The WRA doesn’t have a say in how the team operates. Then I started to think about the contract which provides the Cubs with 17% of the revenue from buildings, buildings over which they have no say in said operation. I haven’t read the contract so my focus here is going to be more on what both parties expected rather than the legal letter of the law.

Technically the buildings are under no obligation to pay the Cubs anything. There are large office buildings across the street from New Busch Stadium here in St. Louis that offer a view into the ballpark during the games. The Cardinals have asked for no money from the building owners nor have the building owners asked the Cardinals for anything in the way of construction demands.

In this case, the two sides came to a mutually satisfactory agreement. The nature of this agreement seems plain to me. The WRA is paying the Cubs not to build any obstructions to the view garnered from their rooftops. Otherwise what’s the point? The building owners are under no obligation to pay anything to the Cubs and the Cubs are under no obligation about their operations to the WRA. Again, I haven’t read the actual contract but it seems plain this is the reason it exists. If this is the implicit understanding of the agreement, the Cubs should not be allowed to build the signs, contrary to my first thought.

I’m fairly certain that some sort of buy-out can be arranged wherein the Cubs purchase the remaining years on the contract and go ahead with their signage. It’s possible the WRA won’t deal in which case it will end up in court. I suppose it depends on the metrics of the sign revenue, the current revenue from the buildings, and the cost of the buy-out.

Still, I found the story interesting because after examining the situation closely I completely changed my original opinion. I guess that’s my main point here. Always look at a problem fully because you never know what nuances might influence your opinion. Don’t make up your mind before you know the facts, and if the facts don’t support your original supposition, admit your error and move on.

Go Cardinals!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99, c’mon, pony up, it’s good, I promise)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Pay it Forward is Nonsense

Pay it ForwardI’ve noticed that the concept Pay if Forward seems to be in the news lately. It’s a concept that goes against everything Randian and she spoke directly to this idea in her novel Atlas Shrugged when John Galt needs a car to ferry Dagny Taggart around Galt’s Gulch. He goes to his friend Midas Mulligan and pays him a dime for the day’s rental.

This scene demonstrates what I consider to be one of the most important concepts of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

The concept of Pay if Forward is that after you do something nice for a person you don’t expect them to pay you back but to perform a similar act for another person when the opportunity presents itself. I’m certainly not suggesting that we stop doing kind things, I’m just suggesting that there is value to effort and when we reward people for such work we also encourage other people to do the same. When we give the undeserving rewards we encourage people to do nothing.

It’s an odd contradiction and I long struggled to understand that scene in Atlas Shrugged. I enjoy doing nice things for friends, it’s makes me feel good to buy a lunch or give a present to one of my nieces. It’s still not easy to put into words the idea that we should pay for the services we desire because by rewarding the people who provide a good service at a reasonable price I make the world a better place. When I simply give away my skills in the hopes that someone else will do the same I set in motion a chain of events that leads to decay.

It’s a difficult concept because it seems heartless, it’s not. As an example, I think taxes that support a school system are a good thing. I think education has a value to society that is almost impossible to value. I don’t have any children. I strongly appreciate that educating children leads to a better world for me in any number of ways that seem self-evident and therefore I won’t discuss them in-depth now. It’s in society’s interest not to have poor people, it’s in my interest to not have criminals roaming the streets. Paying taxes for schools isn’t to just to benefit children, it’s to make my life better.

One of the things I do supposedly for free is the writing of this blog. I do it to bring my philosophic interpretations of Rand to others, to the masses. This in turn hopefully makes them Randian in their behavior which benefits me.

I sell my books for $2.99. These books are written largely to illustrate my ideas about how we can make this world a Utopia. However, I do not write them solely to make the world a better place. I want your $2.99. I want a lot of people’s $2.99. I want to sell millions of books and make millions of dollars. I want my books to be made into movies and the studios to pay me more millions. I also want you to read about Jon Gray, Silenia, the First Rider, Shinamar the Unbeliever, and General Yumanar, the heroes of my novels who showcase my philosophies.

We cannot make this world a better place by Paying it Forward. This idealism actually leads to our nation and the world becoming a worse place. Let’s examine the ultimate goal of the Pay it Forward philosophy. Imagine a world where everyone helps everyone else without payment. It sounds good but it isn’t. That is a world in which lazy people rule because they don’t have to do anything. They are given everything by others doing good deeds. Of course, eventually this leads to a society where everyone has nothing because no one does anything. Naturally this philosophic endgame is never going to happen because the Pay it Forward concept is, at its heart, bankrupt. It’s going to be impossible to convince people to Pay it Forward to the point where they have nothing left. But, the philosophic goal is to reach that so-called dream world.

We should pay for things so that we encourage people to provide those things we want. We should patronize restaurants that make food we like at what we consider to be  a reasonable price. This allows that restaurant to succeed and we get good food. That’s a win.

If we look at poor people in Westernized countries as opposed to third-world countries we see a difference. Poor people in the United States, in Australia, in western Europe, are not nearly as poor as the destitute in India, Pakistan, Africa. Poor is a relative term and countries that live closer to Randian Objectivism, where the best are rewarded for their efforts, are far better off than their counterparts. This is the benefit of a system that doesn’t Pay it Forward. It encourage those who provide service to continue to do so. It rewards success instead of failure. That’s good for everyone, in the long run even the failures.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (yes it’s $2.99, yes it’s awesome)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt(Yes it will be $2.99 and awesome)

A Power Down Power Struggle

Cell Phones FlightsPlease power down all electronic devices until we reach cruising altitude. Why do we have to do this? Because someone figured that electronic devices might interfere with avionics. Has an electronic device ever interfered with avionics? Not that anyone can prove. Have they done plenty of tests to try and prove that electronic devices interfere with avionics. They sure have and the results are not surprising. No correlation. Do pilots use their tablets in the cockpit? They sure do. Are we losing many hours of productivity (and game playing) because of the ban? That’s an affirmative. Are there anecdotal accounts of a device being correlated to a problem, yes, but they can’t be reproduced in the laboratory.

This is one of those situations where someone got an idea and it spread throughout an industry despite the complete lack of evidence that the idea had merit. Sometimes just because something sounds good doesn’t mean that it is right. I’m not opposed to being a little cautious when it comes to passenger plane service and the original supposition seems to have merit. However, when in study after study they cannot cause an electronic device to interfere with avionics I think the point has been reached where the ban needs to be rescinded.

While I do think that the FAA and the FCC are generally acting in what they think is the interest of safety I also suspect a more sinister motive. They just like telling me what to do. You can bet my Libertarian principles rail against that one. I really don’t mind a little crowd control to keep the unruly in line and I appreciate a traffic officer who keeps the cars moving when the lights are not working. I don’t like a petty dictator who tells me what to do not for the general welfare but because they enjoy the power trip. I think we’ve reached that point.

Originally the ban was all about money. Airlines used to make a lot of money from in-flight calls on their services. Nowadays we can call during flight so that little cash-cow is gone but old habits die hard. Europe is already starting to allow phone operation during takeoff and landing and there have been no incidents.

Basically, there used to be financial incentive to ban cellphones and there remains a bully mentality that forces people to turn them off. It needs to stop. This sort of behavior is a microcosm of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. I’m not opposed to rules, to civility, but I am opposed to rules solely designed to inconvenience. Rules designed to part me from my money. Rules created by the small-minded so they can feel better about themselves.

I leave you with Mr. Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of swashbuckling adventure, that’s too good to pass up!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

DNA Collection from those Arrested

Fourth AmendmentThere is a very interesting case at the Supreme Court this week and oral arguments took place the other day. At question is whether or not the police can take DNA samples from those they arrest. The Fourth Amendment makes it quite clear that law enforcement officials cannot conduct searches and seizures  without reasonable cause. There are exceptions to this right for those who are arrested, fingerprinting being currently accepted as reasonable.

The particulars of this case are that the person arrested was swabbed for DNA and linked to, and eventually convicted in, a rape case from six years earlier. The DNA evidence was used in the conviction.

Those defending the right to swab arrested suspects argue that it helps solve crimes and puts offenders in prison. Justice Scalia points out that if the police went house to house searching everyone and everything that would also solve crimes and get convictions. This sort of unwarranted search is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Alito calls the case one of enormous importance. There are many people currently incarcerated who were swabbed in such a manner.

One argument that I hear frequently in favor of allowing law enforcement officers to use such tools is that only the guilty need be worried by these tactics. That if you are not guilty then why do you care? This argument completely fails to understand the point of the Fourth Amendment. The root of the law seems to be that in the colonies the government had the right to enter your house pretty much at will, largely under the rational of looking for customs violations. Imagine in today’s world if the police, sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), entered everyone’s home looking for pirated music, movies, and literature, and software. We are protected from such intrusions by the Fourth Amendment and I’m leery of weakening it, as are the justices. But, let’s examine the case in question.

To a large degree the case comes down to how invasive the justices consider a DNA swab. Is it equivalent to a fingerprint or a search of you home? If the former then it is permissible, if the latter, then it is not. Certainly the ease with which the sample is obtained is more akin to a fingerprint as it can be done in seconds. Opponents argue that a DNA sample holds far more information than a fingerprint and thus the two are not similar.

In the case in question the arrested man was being charged with assault and evidence of a much more serious crime was found in their search. If the police arrest me for failing to pay a parking ticket can they then enter my home looking for evidence of any crime and convict me with anything they find? The Fourth Amendment says no. The Fourth Amendment says the police must obtain a warrant from a judge after showing probable cause. In this case the police had no probable cause to suspect the arrested man of the rape six years earlier and thus, goes the argument, the evidence obtained by the DNA swab was illegal.

It is a difficult case and I find myself torn.

A DNA swab is simple, easy, not intrusive, and the man was arrested for a crime to begin with. On the other hand I’m not sure I like the idea of the police arresting me for a crime and being able to take my DNA. The police can arrest and hold you for up to 48 hours, depending on the state, without any justification. Perhaps an officers doesn’t like me, arrests me for some made up reason, swabs me, runs the results through the database, and finds a distant relative of mine committed murder thirty years ago. This is not as unreasonable as people would like to think. The police arrest people all the time who turn out to be not guilty or not even remotely connected to the crime. It is part of their job to investigate all possibilities and arrest is a tool in their arsenal.

In the end I find that I choose to broadly interpret the Fourth Amendment. I think the police can take DNA swabs from suspects but that information cannot be used in unrelated cases. If they want evidence for a different crime they must go through the process of obtaining a warrant. This interpretation would set the rapist free and I can see how people will disagree with me. It’s a tough case and I eagerly await the decision.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages of daring deeds)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt