Shea Allen and the Confession that got her Fired

Shea AllenThe last time I talked about a social media post getting someone in trouble it involved a seventeen year girl wearing a bikini. I broke records for number of blog hits! I say, why not try again? Although this time it’s an adult woman and other than apparently going sans-bra now and again there are no racy images.

A young reporter in the great state of Alabama wrote a blog post confessing a few fairly innocuous things and was fired from her job as a reporter at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.

The station first asked her to take down the blog and she complied but upon having second thoughts she put it back up defiantly. In the blog she admits to turning off her microphone during interviews if she feels the subject is blithering on too much. She also apparently has failed to wear a bra during a newscast or two. She is disturbed by the elderly and is good at sitting in such a way as to conceal her weight from the camera.

 

** EDIT **

The updated stories indicate Shea was not asked to take down the blog before she was fired. This certainly puts a different light on her actions. I still support her honesty in talking about her real flaws but she seems to be complaining now about the firing. If she posted the blog knowing she was going to be fired that is, in my opinion, admirable and was largely my point in this blog. If that’s not the case, and it appears not to be, then my admiration for her actions is diminished. I still think people should be allowed to express their true opinions without being subject to discipline. That we get a society of people who live in fear of being themselves, of admitting mistakes, and that hurts us in the long run.

** CLOSE EDIT **

I’m not sure what the law is in Alabama but it’s likely the station had the right to fire her. I don’t want to discuss if what she did was a something for which she should be fired, nor do I care to discuss her right to say such things. What I would like to delve into is what sort of society we are creating when we fire people like Shea.

Shea is a product of the modern world. She is not afraid. She posted a few things that people might find offensive and got fired because of it. She didn’t do anything accidentally or without understanding the consequences of her actions. She knew what could happen, what would likely happen, and did it anyway.

If that station doesn’t want me, she seems to say, then I don’t want them.

How can I put this delicately in a way that won’t offend … Hell ya!

Dissent is not a good thing, it’s a great thing. Welcoming opinions that are not your own makes you strong, not weak. Being brave enough to state your mind when you know others won’t like it is an admirable quality. We need brave people standing next to us everywhere, at work, in the line-of-fire, and everywhere in-between.

I’m tired of newscasters getting their talking points from the administrators and having to hear the exact same words on every broadcast.

Somebody hire Shea! FOX, NBC, CNN, ABC, grab this girl and grab her quick. She’s going places. She won’t do what you tell her to do and this country is starving for people like that. Libertarians like me are dying of thirst when we watch the talking heads repeat the mantra doled out by their masters.

Give us water! Give us Shea and people like her.

If you don’t, if you fire everyone strong enough to state an opinion different from the company line, then this nation is doomed. Those who lap up the drivel, who ask you to lie to them and whimper in ecstasy when you do it, they won’t make this country strong again. Right now people like that are winning. This country wasn’t built by yes-men but it sure can be destroyed by them.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and no sensibilities are spared)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Lies in the Search for Stem Cells

Stem CellsBy now most people have heard of stem cells. These are cells with tremendous medical potential but also ethical concerns. There was a recent case in which it appears fraudulent claims were made because of these ethical concerns. Lies told in an effort to sway popular opinion.

If you’ve followed this debate then you’ve probably heard the fraudulent claims touted as amazing advances. This is an extremely dangerous event, dangerous to scientific progress, dangerous to public understanding of science, and dangerous on a personal level because of its potential to change the course of research and cures.

First a quick understanding of stem cells. I’m going to explain them at an extremely basic level; for a greater and deeper understanding I would highly recommend the Wiki article.

Every part of the human body is made up of cells. Your heart, lungs, liver, and other body parts are made up of cells which divide again and again to eventually perform a particular function.

Stem cells come in two flavors; embryonic and adult.

Embryonic cells can turn into any other type of cell and regenerate themselves. This has obvious medical potential. The ethical problem is that harvesting these sorts of cells means destroying (killing) embryos. These embryos are generally created during in vitro fertilization designed to eventually implant in a woman wishing a child. The process generates excess embryos which are either destroyed or used for scientific purposes to harvest stem cells.

I do not exaggerate when I say that embryonic stem cells have the potential to make people immortal. They can potentially regenerate any and all of your aging organs and body parts. One injection of stem cells into your heart and it is young and strong again. We’re certainly not at this point yet but astounding progress is being made.

On the other hand adult stem cells are useful in medicine but apparently did not offer the same potential. That is until November of 2011 when at a scientific gathering sponsored by the Vatican, a fellow by the name of Mariusz Z. Ratajczak announced he had found something called VSELS; cells which essentially acted like embryonic stem cells but were found in adults!

That’s a huge win. All the legitimate ethical concerns don’t matter anymore because these cells are harvested from the person seeking medical care. No embryos are destroyed.

This very much excited those who oppose embryonic stem cell research and much money, church money, was poured into a company called Neostem which was to repeat the findings of Dr. Ratajczak and further develop it. The church sponsored a number of efforts to promote the idea of these VSELS both from a scientific perspective and a publicity platform. That’s probably where you’ve heard of these adult stem cells that have the power of embryonic stem cells.

Here’s the reality. They’ve done four independent studies now and not only cannot find evidence of the regenerative power of VSELS but they cannot find the cells themselves. Their very existence was a lie, or if you’re in a charitable mood which I am not, wishful thinking.

This lie meant that money was spent by research agencies trying to duplicate the results of Dr. Ratajczak instead of finding ways to use stem cells to cure horrible diseases. Time was wasted, lives were lost.

Essentially, in order to save the lives of embryos, people lied. They lied and promulgated supposed scientific evidence to rational people who then passed those lies along to others. This creates an illusion of reality where it does not exist. When public perception trumps reality there is real danger.

When the goal is to sway opinions rather than present evidence we venture into the realm of propaganda. If we tell a lie often enough, loudly enough, and with enough conviction people believe it. People take actions based upon it. In the end the lie is revealed and people are hurt, badly hurt.

Just ask Aaron Rodgers.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Prayer in School – a New Twist

Prayer on School StepsThere’s an interesting situation happening in Concord, New Hampshire wherein a woman has been going to the steps of her local high school and praying, quoting the bible, and expressing her religious views out loud every morning as the students enter the school.

Two of her children attend the school and she was prompted to begin the vigil in February when there was a report that some cartridges were found in a school bathroom.

For the sake of clarity a cartridge is made up of a projectile (bullet), the case, the propellant, the rim, and the primer. People often say bullet when they mean cartridge.

There were complaints from students almost immediately and a local atheist group filed a request seeking to see if the woman was granted permission to do what she was doing. The school eventually asked her to stop speaking but continued to allow her to stand on the stairs. With the coming school year they’ve decided to ask her not to return and she has said she will not, although will continue to pray from across the street or at home.

It’s a reasonable resolution as far as I’m concerned but I’m a little interested in what my readers think. When I answered the poll at the site it indicated 68% thought she should be allowed to continue essentially proselytizing on the school steps. A quick perusal of the comments indicated perhaps the opposite, most people thought she should not be allowed to continue. The religious community in Concord is apparently split as well.

From my perspective her behavior is extremely rude and quite possibly a sign of mental illness. People who insist on shouting out their beliefs in a public setting should just shut up and are not infrequently insane. I don’t like blaring musicians after a Cardinals game where I’m forced to walk past them. I don’t like fanatics at the park yelling whatever they want when I’m trying to enjoy a lunch. I don’t like activists chanting on the sidewalk as I drive to work.

The question here isn’t rudeness or sanity though, it is legality. Should anyone, of any religion, or an atheist for that matter, be allowed onto school property to verbally or even non-verbally express their opinions to what is essentially a captive audience? What about a private school? What about your place of business? What about a restaurant?

The First Amendment guarantees us that the government shall not establish a religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof. Is the woman freely practicing her religion? Does the fact that it is being done on school grounds, which money from our taxes purchased, mean that it is government sponsored? People have the guaranteed right to religious freedom in this country and this means I shouldn’t be forced to listen to your religion when I’m essentially trapped in a public place. At your home, at my home, quietly over dinner at a restaurant, even in a classroom where open debate is allowed and all sides are given equal time, your right to speak outweighs my right to not have to listen. I can largely leave those situations as I desire.

Noise interrupts my privacy and my constitutional rights. When one person is shouting or even talking loudly in a public place it intrudes on a lot of people. The argument that I don’t have to listen is false. If I want to attend that school, I’ve got to walk past  her or go out of my way to another door. She invades my rights, she invades everyone’s rights who has to walk past and I think that outweighs her own rights no matter if a school, sidewalk, restaurant, or any similar public place.

I think it’s an interesting question because both sides have guaranteed rights in this case. It’s a matter of deciding whose take precedent. I think mine do, but that’s probably not a surprise to anyone who reads my blog regularly.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Pot Raids and Death Sentences

Drug ViolenceThere were two stories in the news yesterday that are related in a sad way. A murderous scum was sentenced to death by a federal court and a marijuana dispensary was raided by federal agents.

How are these two things related? It’s a topic I’ve discussed numerous times before; the War on Drugs or as I call it the Drug Cartel. I spoke about how Mexico became a drug nation thanks in no small part to President Reagan and why the failed war on drugs is nothing more than a system designed to promote violence and wealth (for all the wrong people).

Today I feel the need to talk about these points yet again. I hope I’m not boring everyone.

Now, on to the stories. In 2003 a drug and gun dealer named Ronell Wilson was making a deal with two undercover officers. He decided to rob and kill them. After a number of trials he has been sentenced to death for the cold-blooded murders which no one is denying he committed. Meanwhile in present day America the federal government raided a legal dispensary of marijuana in the great state of Washington.

How are these two things related? Drugs. The only reason James V. Nemorin and Rodney Andrews ever came in contact with Ronell was because they were part of the Drug Cartel. We like to think that only Wilson was a member of the drug cartel but the reality is that without Nemorin and Andrews and others like them out there enforcing ridiculous drug laws, Wilson would not be the leader of a violent gang powered by drug money. Wilson would have had no money, no power. Nemorin and Andrews would be police officers out there today protecting and serving.

I’m certainly not blaming the undercover officers. They were doing the job they were sent to do and died because of it. I’m blaming the people who sent them to do that job.

Now, the marijuana dispensary was raided. There was no violence. The DEA arrived with eight vans, guns drawn, and stormed the place. Why? Because their experience with drug houses is that they are filled with guns and dangerous people. The legal marijuana dispensary was filled with clerks. The workers were scared and surrendered peacefully.

Look at these two incidents. Look at them! Voters, legislatures, courts, law enforcement officers. LOOK AT THEM!!!

I’m a little heated on this one I guess. Our laws and our enforcement of them created all this violence, all this death. Good men dead. Bad men created. If we make drugs legal they will be bought and sold in little stores by clerks instead of in back alleys by murderous scum. It’s that simple.

Will some people ruin their lives with drugs? Certainly. Will there be accidents caused by people on drugs? Yes. Those things are already happening and they are choices made by free people. They choose to take drugs with the bad that comes with it.

Our lives are worse because of the Drug Cartel. Drugs are plentiful whether illegal in nature or prescribed by a doctor.

Nemorin and Andrews are dead and aren’t coming back but maybe we can save someone else. End the Drug Cartel. Make drugs, all drugs, legal. Create laws about activities allowed to be done while under the influence of drugs, create laws on the age someone is allowed to purchase drugs, allow industry to supply demand. End the madness.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99, buy it, read it, review it)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Tiger Woods never come from Behind to Win?

Tiger WoodsI’m a pretty big fan of golf having worked in the industry for a number of years in my youth. I’m also a proponent of good critical thinking skills and the two have come together in a way that gives me an opportunity to illustrate my point.

If you watch golf with any regularity, or follow it in the news, you have seen the following or something similar to it many times in the last few years:

Tiger has never come from behind to win a major tournament.

This statement bothers me like you cannot imagine. Every time I hear it I want to break a 9-iron. First, some background.

Tiger Woods is a pretty good golfer and he had a huge number of fans at one point in his career. He turned professional in 1996 after a sterling amateur career that included three U.S. Junior Amateur wins, three U.S. Amateur wins, and two NCAA golf titles. Once he turned professional he started winning tournaments and what are called Major Tournaments with regularity.

He has so far won on the regular PGA Tour 78 times, second most all-time, and 39 times on the European Tour which is third all-time. He also won fourteen of the so-called Major Championships which include the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open, and the PGA Championship.

Until November of 2009 he was widely admired and universally considered the best golfer in the world. Shortly thereafter a series of incidents led to him admitting multiple incidents of marital infidelity.

Since that time Tiger has not won a Major Tournament and many of his legion of followers became a legion of haters. They don’t like what he did to his wife and they root against him. It is from this group you will hear the statement mentioned above the most.

I’m no Tiger fan. I think what he did was reprehensible and if his former wife Elin is looking for a date I am available. That being said; I choose to look at his professional career objectively.

He is no longer the dominant player he was prior to his awful behavior, that cannot be denied. He has won no major championships but he has won seven times on the PGA tour and once on the European tour since then. Only a few have done better over the same time frame. He is currently ranked #1 in the world.

But now let’s get back to my point and examine the idea that Tiger has never come back to win a Major title in his career.

A golf tournament consists of 72 holes broken down into four eighteen hole rounds. Tiger has come back to win Major Tournaments after being behind after the 1st round, the 2nd round, midway through the third round, and at different points in the 4th and final round including being behind after 71 holes at the 2008 U.S. Open. The only set of circumstances he has not come from behind to win is when he was not ahead at the conclusion of the 3rd round, or 54 holes.

This sort of selective logic bothers me greatly. I think it’s fine to dislike Tiger Woods, to root against him. You can certainly say that his play has slipped since 2009 using many factual arguments. The claim that he has never come from behind to win a Major Championship is ludicrous. When you say that to people you are passing along a lie.

This sort of thinking is the kind of logic I see all too often. I want something to be true and I find any narrow factual circumstance where the thing is true and use that to support my belief. I ignore other pertinent facts because I want to believe something so badly. This kind of thinking is dangerous because you can actually convince yourself that something is true that is actually false. This will lead you to erroneous conclusions, bad decisions.

Bad decisions hurt everyone involved; you, your family, your business. Don’t strive for them. Strive to avoid them!

Think clearly, find facts, make informed, logical decisions. You’ll find your life improves even if means there’s fewer bad things to say about Tiger Woods.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 – Buy it! Seriously, I could use the money)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Ryan Braun's So-Called Mistake

Ryan BraunThe big news in sports this morning is Ryan Braun’s suspension for PED use. The reason it is such big news is that Braun tested positive for PED use over a year ago and defended himself with strong words. I want to examine two things: the so-called rage of fans and the idea that he made a mistake.

First a quick look at why everyone is so upset by this particular suspension. Braun was exonerated in another case thanks to the fact that the sample was not mailed immediately to Major League Baseball because it was collected on a Sunday. This was a technical violation of the rules for storing samples. It was never disputed that the sample showed PED use.

There is a lot of hate for Braun this morning because previously he lied and blamed other people for his predicament; even now he tells us how difficult the situation has been for he and his family. It is quite similar to the Lance Armstrong story. It’s a combination of PED use and lies told with absolute conviction.

First to my complaint with Braun has nothing to do with his PED use or even the lies he told. This was his statement late yesterday after the suspension was announced:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

I’m tired of people claiming they made mistakes only after they are caught. They calculated the various advantages of action A and action B and willfully chose one or the other. This is not a mistake. This so-called mistake has served him very well. He signed a contract extension worth $105 million over the next five years. If he hadn’t taken PEDs and allowed players of lesser talent to have better statistics than him he would not make nearly this amount.

He won the Most Valuable Player award in 2011 and the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. He won these in part thanks to PEDs. His choice to use PEDs was anything but a mistake. That choice gained him adulation and riches.

This is the choice almost all athletes in the sporting world today face. One of the most decorated young players in the NFL, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, faces a four-day suspension for his first PED violation, which means his third positive test.

If the modern athlete does not take PEDs they fall behind players who do use them. Players without as much talent. The masking agents make it extremely difficult to be caught using PEDs. The doctors and masking agents are far ahead of the detection techniques. Braun was caught not by a failed test but by notes taken at the laboratory where he received his treatments. Many baseball players are facing suspension from these notes made at a company called Biogenesis.

The fans of Braun, Armstrong, Miller and others are actually thrilled by the so-called mistake these players make. They love the performance. Well, that performance is brought to you by PEDs. If you’re mad at Ryan Braun, if you somehow pretend that Braun’s lies fooled you, frankly, you’re stupid. He was clearly guilty the first time and you wanted to believe his lies.

If you choose to believe obvious lies then I have as much time for your so-called outrage as I do for Braun’s so-called mistake.

If Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina test positive for PEDs next week I won’t be surprised. I won’t be outraged. It’s the culture that we the fans have helped create.

Ryan Braun can claim that his choice to use PEDs was a mistake but I, for one, know better. Fans can scream, shout, and pretend outrage but they are doing the same thing Braun did. They were caught in a lie and are now feigning outrage to cover their culpability.

They knew Braun was guilty and willfully chose to believe him despite all evidence to the contrary.

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

Arrested for Barking

No BarkingThere’s a story in the news today that’s attracting a little attention and it certainly caught my eye. The full details are certainly not yet released but I think it’s worth talking about.

An officer in Alachua County, Florida, was responding to a report of suspicious incidents and a disturbance at a nightclub very early on Sunday morning. The officer was out looking at the vehicle that prompted the initial report. At that point a group of young college students happened to walk past the police car in which there was a police dog.

One of the young men barked at the police dog, later claiming it was because the dog barked at him first. I think that’s actually pretty funny. I’ve barked at a few dogs in my day and mewed at a few cats, I’ll even go as far as to admit that I’ve squawked angrily at a parrot or two when the mood struck me.

The officer ordered the barking man, not dog, to wait at the front of his police car. Then he tried to put handcuffs on the young fellow who resisted this attempt. An arrest quickly followed.

The reason this is big news is that the barking person is a football player for the University of Florida. Antonio Morrison is apparently not the most level-headed of fellows having been previously arrested just a few weeks ago for punching a nightclub bouncer in a dispute about the price of admission.

That being said, if the story doesn’t have any additional information, I’ve got a bone to pick with the arresting officer. In my capacity as a technical trainer I’ve worked with a number of municipalities and police officers and found them to be very reasonable, conscientious people dedicated to doing a difficult job. I’ve also been in a few incidents in which the police were called to house parties or stopped a vehicle I was in or was driving.

Almost universally the police officer who handles things like this incident with good humor results in a favorable outcome for everyone. A smile, ask the rambunctious young fellow to please not bark at the dog, even if provoked, and this sort of thing ends almost immediately.

On the other hand I’ve on occasion seen officers who don’t take the “Protect and Serve” slogan to heart. They use their badge to intimidate and bully. Those sorts of officers give a bad name to the rest. These sorts of officers break down what has to be the congenial and trusting relationship between citizens and law enforcement. When this relationship turns sour then society itself suffers.

The citizens of a nation must trust its law enforcement arm to be a force of protection, a force of good. Not a group dedicated to bullying, intimidation, corruption, and lies.

Now, the young fellow in question seems to have a hot temper and it’s quite possible the officer actually did try to cool down the situation before being forced into drastic action. If that’s the case then I’m completely wrong in calling out this incident. However, as the facts stand at this moment, I think the officer was way out of line. Arrested for barking at a police dog? That’s nonsense.

We think that these are small incident, laughable, but when we erode the relationship between citizens and law enforcement we endanger society. Bully officers need to be reigned in by their supervisors or we risk our freedoms. Good officers, who make up the vast majority of the group, need to step into these situations instead of immediately backing their fellow officer.

Again, I really don’t think this is a major incident but it’s one of those things that could be resolved in two ways. One that hurts society, and the other that helps it. When we have a choice, why not make the better choice?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and a bargain at that!)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Rolling Stone Cover Controversy

Rolling Stone CoverRolling Stone magazine is coming out with a story that is causing a huge amount of tumult and distress. The cover of the magazine has a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. For those of you who don’t know, he is one of two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon resulting in the deaths of three people and the horrific wounding of 264 others. These bombs were placed directly next to small children. The ensuing chase and capture caused more injuries and damage.

The reason this is causing trouble is that many see it as glorifying Tsarnaev. That it will encourage others to commit such acts so that they too can gain the cover of such a prestigious magazine. The people who were wounded or who lost loved ones are extremely angry at the magazine for putting him on the cover. People who were not hurt by the bombs are also angry.

A number of Rolling Stone outlets are not going to put the magazine on display. People are organizing boycotts and making threats to the magazine.

Rolling Stone editors explain that they are merely reporting a story. That they examine what turned Tsarnaev into the sort of person that can plant a bomb in the middle of a crowd that includes many children. That they often report on important stories. That the picture of Tsarnaev is the same picture that media news outlets of all sorts have been using since he became a prime suspect in the attack.

I’m of two minds on this one.

The media, Rolling Stone, or any other outlet puts up stories that people are interested in seeing. The reason they do this is because we are interested. If we weren’t, these stories would make their way to the back pages of trade journals. All that is good in the world is not interesting. Rolling Stone is catering to demand.

Every news outlet in the United States has put pictures of murderous scum on their cover. By publishing a story about Tsarnaev, Rolling Stone is doing nothing that every other media outlet in the United States hasn’t done repeatedly.

On the other hand, what they are doing is causing pain and giving Tsarnaev some sort of celebrity status. Rolling Stone generally puts musicians and movie stars on their cover and there is an expectation of such that does not come with other news outlets. There is a possibility the cover will encourage someone else to commit horrific acts so they get their own fame. I think people often commit these sorts of crimes as a way to get attention but one cover here or there doesn’t really add to the whole of the infamy desired. The news is reported everywhere, not just Rolling Stone. However, this cover being on a celebrity heavy publication at least contributes to the perception of fame.

People who do this sort of thing will likely always be with us and our fascination for disaster, horror, self-imploding celebrities, and general mayhem will probably not ever go away. If people want to see it, someone will provide it for them. That is the law of supply and demand and that is, to a large degree, capitalism.

If Rolling Stone wants to put monstrous scum like Tsarnaev on their cover I suppose it is their right to do so. If they sell more magazines, and I suspect they will, then it was the right move from profit orientated point of view. If people refuse to buy the magazine, if outlets don’t want to sell it, then they can act accordingly, that is certainly their right as well.

But all that rationalization is simply a way for me to pretend that I don’t have to take a position on this Rolling Stone cover.

I absolutely believe Rolling Stone has the right to put whoever they want on the cover their magazine. Also that a company has every right not to sell it. That an individual doesn’t have to buy it, doesn’t have to walk into the store where it is on sale and have to look at it.

That being said here’s my position. Rolling Stone is wrong to do it.

While they are occasionally a news outlet they are primarily a music and celebrity orientated magazine. Tsarnaev and others like him should not be on their cover. I do think it is important to understand why a person could do these things so we can take actions to prevent it in the future. I just don’t think Rolling Stone is the place for this examination. It’s not my magazine, I’m a lowly blogger who gets a few dozen reads a day. They are a huge magazine that sells millions of copies. Still, I’ll stand by my principles. I chose to put an old cover of the magazine on the front of this blog, not the cover of Tsarnaev. That was my choice and only I have to live with it.

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

Zimmerman Trial – Final Conclusions

Good choices and bad choicesThe George Zimmerman trial is finally over and the result has people angry. It’s been a long and tumultuous case that brought out some raw and powerful emotions from people on all sides. There are not simply two sides to this case, guilt and innocence and that’s what I want to focus on today, the nuances, the lessons, but also the final verdict.

For the most part people seem to be divided into the Guilty and Not Guilty camps but I think there is a lot more to this case than just that simple questions. There are lessons for everyone.

I’m not going to recap the entire thing because I think most people are pretty aware of the circumstances at this point. I think there is a lot of blame to go around from Zimmerman, to Trayvon Martin, to the police, to the prosecutor, the voices of black and white, total guilt or complete innocence, and, of course, violent protestors. This is one of those situations where emotions run high and it is difficult to analyze dispassionately. That’s what I’m going to try to do today. I suspect my thoughts will not soothe the anger on either side of the issue but that won’t stop me from trying.

A man of one race killed a teenage boy of another race. That’s a fact. No one is denying it.

The first mistake was made by Zimmerman when he didn’t follow police instructions, followed Martin, and didn’t identify himself as a member of the neighborhood watch. The second mistake was Martin’s when he didn’t calmly explain to Zimmerman who he was and why he had a right to be where he was. If Zimmerman is to be believed, and the evidence supports it, Martin made a second mistake when he physically attacked Zimmerman.

The next mistake was made by the police. Zimmerman was brought in by the police and questioned. One officer wanted to hold him and do a more comprehensive investigation but another, higher up friend of Zimmerman, squashed this idea and let him walk free. The police did not canvas the neighborhood looking for witnesses. They did at best a cursory investigation. This was a huge mistake and quite possibly led to the entirety of the rest of the situation. If the police had immediately held Zimmerman and done a thorough investigation much of what happened later could have been avoided. They didn’t. If the police had brought the evidence to the prosecutor, the grand jury, and either had found there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute, likely true, then I think most people would have accepted it at this point. Things would not have escalated.

The police did not and the community was enraged. They held protests. Zimmerman was arrested again. In order to get a lower bail he lied to the judge. Not a bright move. The judge was rightfully angry, his own lawyer furious. If I can give you any advice; don’t mess around with judges in their courtroom. You think doctors like to play god? It also taints any statement Zimmerman makes at a later date. He is willing to lie to judge? When won’t he lie?

Now the prosecutor was backed into a corner. Even without good evidence he was pressured into bringing the case to court. Still, that’s not an excuse. If there isn’t enough evidence to support a prosecution then it should not be brought to the docket.

Things then proceeded well from the state’s perspective. They held an orderly and fair trial, both prosecutor and defense attorneys vigorously did their job. A verdict was arrived at that seems largely just. Yes, Zimmerman is a known liar, but the evidence largely supports his story. It seems to me he cannot be convicted based on the existing Florida self-defense laws. Laws put in place by a legislature legally elected by voters.

Sadly the mistakes didn’t end there. Many people were upset by the verdict and some of them reacted violently which is both stupid in that it doesn’t further their cause and dangerous to them and others. In my opinion the largest disservice occurring now is the insistence upon making the entire thing racial, from both sides. I see Facebook posts comparing the Zimmerman/Martin case to the murder of white people by black people when the cases couldn’t be more dissimilar. I see people claiming Zimmerman got off because of his racial background, that he was only prosecuted because of his racial background. This case is not about, has never been about, the fact that Zimmerman is one color and Martin was another.

We should focus on the mistakes, understand them, try to learn from them. Martin is dead and nothing will change that.

Neighborhood watch members should learn to listen to police, to identify themselves. Innocent people should explain their actions when accused, particular if the accusation is unjust, rather than becoming belligerent, violent. Police should be thorough in their investigation of any incident that leaves one party dead. People should be less quick to blame one another and fire off angry words.

My final conclusion? My actions have consequences. The decisions I make are important to my life and to others. I try to make good ones. So should we all. Bad decisions can have tragic consequences. Let’s try to avoid them. Not much ground breaking there I suppose.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Immigration Reform – Robot Style

Grape Picking RobotI just read a fascinating article about how a new generation of robots is being created to harvest the food we eat. There are actually a couple of reasons that I find the article so interesting. For one, I’m a total nerd and robot articles always attract my attention. The second is the economic factors that are driving this robot revolution.

First let’s take a quick stroll down history lane and then I’ll wax poetic about what this new generation of agricultural robots promises us and why it is something to be welcomed, not feared.

Robots have changed the nature of work in developed countries. There is no doubt this is true. Early in the era of mechanical labor the term Technological Unemployment began to make its way throughout literature largely promulgated by people called Luddites. The idea was that robots and machines would take labor away from people leading to massive unemployment.

This didn’t happen. What happened is that horrible, nasty, low-paying, dangerous, and boring jobs that nobody wanted to do anyway were eliminated. In the information age we have elite, intelligent, well-trained, and well-paid workers capable of contributing to business growth. This is not a good thing, this is a great thing. This, naturally, requires an elite and educated workforce. Thus people who are not educated risk losing their livelihoods and this is a problem that I discussed in two other posts about the Shrinking Middle Class and the Broken Social Contract.

What I want to discuss today is the connection between cheap, abundantly available labor and wealth. When industry can employ a large number of people at an extremely low wage it is not good for society. It appears good for the business owners but the reality is that people who have little or no hope for economic advancement drain society in a number of ways. They largely pay no taxes, require government subsidies, have way too many babies, and commit most of the crimes.

The United States until recently had a huge surplus of migrant farm workers. Food producing companies employed them often at below legal wages and had no need for innovative robots that could save time and money. A couple of factors changed this. The economic down-turn and stiffer laws against illegal immigration resulted in fewer workers being available to harvest our crops.

The result is an explosion of innovation in produce picking equipment that can do the job more quickly, better, cleaner, more safely, and cheaper than workers. This technology has been long stifled because of cheap labor. People doing backbreaking jobs for minimal wages. The robots aren’t quite ready yet; machines have difficulty picking ripe fruit, avoiding bruising, and otherwise replacing people but change is coming.

My father tells the story of the summer in St. Louis he was a weeder at the Forest Park Golf Course. Basically he went out and picked weeds. If we could still get away with paying hoards of kids almost nothing to do a miserable job then they would still be out there. It’s good that we have machines to do it for us. Good for kids who now get a better job at a better wage during their summer vacations and good for employers in that the weeding gets done more efficiently and cheaper, and good for society in that people have more disposable income.

Cheap labor is bad for everyone. If people aren’t forced to find a better way, they often don’t. The world is changing. The information age is just beginning. There is a bright future for humanity awaiting us. A future where educated people actively take part in their line of work contributing not just in menial ways. A future where productivity occurs at a phenomenal rate, where every employee is well paid and happy. Where we go home at the end of the day having accomplished something and we feel good about that. Where robots do all the nasty jobs that no one really wanted, they just did it to feed their families. This is a my vision of the future.

My favorite quote in the original article was from farm workers talking about how bad mechanization will be for consumers: The fundamental question for consumers is who and, now, what do you want picking your food; a machine or a human, who with the proper training and support, can take significant steps to ensure a safer, higher quality product.

My answer? Robots!

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

Secession Chatter

SecessionToday I want to talk about the idea of part of a state seceding from the whole and becoming their own state. The main thrust of my talk is why I don’t approve. Why I think those making such suggestions are quitters and whiners. But first, a history lesson. Those wanting to get to my opinion can skip down a few paragraphs.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

That’s it. That’s the Constitution of the United States. That is the rule.

Basically, if you want to secede from your state you must have majority approval from the legislature of your state and you must have approval from the United States Congress. It’s happened, sort of, four times in the history of the United States.

  • Western Virginia counties successfully negotiated a secession deal with the rest of Virginia in 1790 and became a state, Kentucky, in 1792.
  • Eight counties of North Carolina were ceded, by the state itself, to the federal government and eventually became part of Tennessee in 1796.
  • Maine was legally but not geographically a part of Massachusetts. They seceded and became a state in 1820.
  • Finally western counties of Virginia illegally seceded from Virginia and were recognized as a state, West Virginia, during the civil war.

The last one is the one most interesting from a legal perspective because Virginia had already seceded from the Union on its own and didn’t vote to allow the western counties to leave, a necessary legal precursor. The U.S. government argued that because Virginia didn’t consider itself part of the Union that the Constitution didn’t apply. However, it was the policy of the U.S. government throughout the war that the secession of the southern states was illegal and they never really did leave the union. This, in my opinion, makes the entire state of West Virginia an illegal state.

When I’m in charge; back to Virginia with you!

Anyway, I’ll finally get to the point of my blog today. People become upset when their political views are not popular enough to win electoral victory. They lost an election. It happens. Rather than try to diligently spread their message, to convince people of the righteousness of their cause, they simply stomp off in a huff declaring they’re taking their toys and going home. Cry me a river. Little babies.

We live in a country with free elections. I’m tired of people trying to change the rules be it election reform laws (designed not to make elections fair but to disenfranchise voters who disagree with a particular party), gerrymandering (drawing up election maps designed simply to get more seats in congress that have no basis in geographical reality), talks of secession, or anything else.

We live in a time where anyone can get their message out. I’m an Atheist Libertarian. I feel trodden upon all the time. My party managed to convince a whopping one out of every one-hundred people to vote for us. Do you see me trying to change the laws so I can win? Trying to form my own state of Libertarians?

What you seeing me doing is writing my novels, writing this blog, talking to my friends, my family, and trying to explain my position. Trying to explain why I think the ideas I espouse are good for the world, good for the United States, good for my beloved Missouri. If I do a good enough job then Libertarians will start winning elections. If I don’t, I’ll continue to be in the minority.

I don’t blame Republicans and Democrats. I don’t think my friends who don’t vote Libertarian are Sheeple incapable of making a decision on their own. I think we are an educated electorate and we largely vote for the candidates who we best think will represent our point of view.

I lost the last election and the all the ones before that. I’m not holding my breath, whining, and taking my toys home. I’m out here trying to convince people I’m right, and I’ll continue to do so.

If you want to win an election; show people your ideas are better. It’s that simple.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99, buy it, read it, review it)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Relationship between Coach and Athlete

Player coach relationshipsI blogged not long ago about a coach’s behavior as fair game for scrutiny when a player engages in violent activities off the field of play. One of the complaints I heard from my legion of loyal followers was how unfair it is to blame anyone other than the perpetrator of the violence.

The main thrust of the argument against me was that a teacher couldn’t be blamed if a student killed someone outside of the classroom. It got me thinking about whether or not the teacher-student relationship compares with the coach-athlete relationship.

I’m of the opinion that the coach-athlete relationship is far more influential and far more familial, than the vast majority of teacher-student relationships. Certainly teachers have influence. Teachers build relationships but the reality is that the coaches and players are together hour after hour, day after day, year after year. This incident involved the relationship  between a college player and a college coach. I argue that this is, literally, the most important relationship any young athlete has outside of family, maybe even inclusive of family!

The college coach came to the house of the player and convinced said player to come to a particular college. The coach talked to the parents and convinced them that this was the right choice for their child. All before a single practice. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college team and coaches spend large amounts of time and effort convincing the best athletes to come to their school.

Once at the school the student is destined to spend four and often five years with that coach. Unlike a student-teacher relationship it doesn’t end after an hour in the classroom, after a semester. The athlete gets to know the coach, the coach’s family. They spend many hours on planes or buses with the coach. Hours are spent practicing.

Coaches take this relationship seriously. They talk again and again about the team being a family, about the influence they have on their players.

Players take this relationship seriously. It is often a life-long friendship.

I was an athlete. Not a particularly good one but I tried hard. I played hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis, swimming, water polo, and rugby. I had good coaches who cared about me and bad ones who didn’t. When the coach cares about the player as a person and not just as an athlete it is a special, profound bond.

Ask anyone who played for Dick Vermeil, or Bobby Knight, or John Wooden, or Mike Krzyzewski, or Woody Hayes, or Vince Lombardi, or Paul Bryant, or … well the list is endless. These men change the lives of those they coach. They can be a force of a tremendous good or a force of not so great. They can take a young man on the wrong path and turn him right or they can choose to ignore the bad because it will help the team win championships.

I’m certainly not saying even the best coach is perfect. I’m not saying that the best coach could have changed Aaron Hernandez. In the end Hernandez is responsible for his own actions. I am saying that a different coach might well have done better with Hernandez. It’s not black and white. The best athletes aren’t always the best people. A coach needs good athletes and even the best attempts to help can fail. When they let poor behavior go without punishment because the team needs that player, they encourage bad actions, bad decisions. This win at all costs attitude can eventually end with tragic results and I think the coach bears some, certainly not all, but some responsibility.

To all you great coaches out there, who care about the boys and girls you’re teaching, who know that learning to live a good life is more important than winning the game; a tip of the hat.

As those great coaches know well; if you surround yourself with good people, who work hard, have passion, and do things the right way, well, that almost always translates into wins. Wins in the game, and wins in life.

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

Ten Years for Trolling

Troll in JailThere are a number of interesting cases making their way through the justice system in several countries that involve threatening words written during internet conversations. It’s interesting for a number of legal reasons and it’s not as clear-cut as people would like to imagine.

A person makes one crazy post in an internet chat room and now sits in prison awaiting trial and a possible sentence of ten years in jail. Another makes a series of threats on a memorial page for a slain teen, pleads guilty, and is sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison.

Most threats of this nature not only never amount to anything but they weren’t made with any intention of being carried out. Still, when you threaten to kill people the authorities have every right to come by and see if you have made any plans to carry out said attack.

Part of me feels bad for Justin Carter and Reece Elliot but another part of me thinks that their incarceration is not without merit. When you threaten to kill a classroom full of children, when you post disgusting and threatening remarks on a memorial page for “a laugh” then maybe you shouldn’t be surprised to hear a knock at the door. The police take their difficult job seriously and well they should.

As the A.C.L.U lawyer mentions in the first article that I linked, we don’t joke around about bombs in airports anymore. We know it can get us, should get us, a conversation with a large man in a small room. Insane people are out there planning such attacks and if you joke around about making one yourself, well, don’t come crying to me that is was all in fun, a joke, sarcasm.

I do think prosecutors should be able to separate real threats from people just saying incredibly stupid things. That people who say violent, angry things but have no weapons, no plans to actually carry out their threats, have taken no actions towards carrying out threats, should be treated more kindly.

In the United States you cannot be arrested for saying you hate President Obama. You wish he wasn’t president. Political speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and rightly so. When the government can arrest you for saying you don’t like a politician, that you dislike, say, the Evil Chicago Cubs, then we have lost our freedom. However, if you threaten to kill the president, expect a visit from the Secret Service. If you have purchased weapons and bought a plane ticket to Washington D.C., well, you get what you very well should get. A stint in the big house.

I’ve said it over and over on this blog. Words have meaning. Words hurt. You trolls out there; keep that in mind. There is a line and it can be crossed. When it is crossed you won’t get much sympathy, not even from Libertarians like me. Prison is not the place you want to end up because you wanted a few lulz.

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

A Blogger's Friends

best friendsI’ve been blogging pretty seriously now for well over a year and I state my opinions forcefully. Unlike my fiction novels, what I write here on WordPress is largely based on events in my life and the world. Frequently I recount an incident that happened with a friend and expound upon why I think they were wrong.

I’m not going to partake of false modesty here; I’m a good writer. My words are chosen with care and I’m trying to make bold statements. What I write is intended to make people think. It attacks those with whom I disagree. It’s a particularly unfair attack at that. My opponents do not have their own blog, they cannot easily strike back.

In a conversation there is a back-and-forth exchange of ideas. At least in a good conversation. In a blog the victim of my attack can only sit, read, and fume. If my wrath is directed towards the position of a friend then they can, at a later time, engage me in conversation and try to dissuade me from my opinion. Even with that recourse they still must read my words in silence without chance to rebut publicly. This is clearly frustrating. Maddening even.

You will not be surprised to learn that some of my friends don’t like me as much after a particularly stinging blog. I’m not surprised. I don’t blame them for a moment. I know how frustrated I get listening to the talking heads of the news when I cannot point out the flaws in their logic. I know how angry I get when reading an article or blog that is clearly filled with errors.

I have recourse. I take to my blog and write. People I attack in my blog, both friends and strangers, do not have that option.

I’m not writing this blog post as an apology. If I wrote it in an earlier post, then I meant it. If I make a mistake, and I have, then I’ll try to rectify it in this blog. I’ll apologize in person and in public.

What I’d like to say to my friends here is that if you were my friend before I made a blog post, I still consider you the same friend. If I write my disagreement forcefully in a blog post it is nothing more than I was thinking when you expressed your opinion to me originally. Just because I disagree with you, just because I find one of your positions to be wrong, doesn’t mean that I don’t like you. That I don’t value your friendship, your ideas, our conversations, our time together.

If my blog post forces you to reevaluate our friendship for the worse, I’m sorry. Not for the blog post, but for the loss of a friend.

If I wanted to avoid offending anyone, keep all my friends, say nothing but inanities designed to make people like me, well, I’d get into politics.

Frankly, people don’t like me that much anyway, I’m a bit of an ass. I’m certain that does not come as a surprise to my readers. I’m abrupt, caustic, intolerant of what I deem to be stupid, and just not a good people person. Just ask anyone my mom pays to be my friend!

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 fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Rush Limbaugh’s Death Party

HateAs a Libertarian I often find myself in the middle of the political spectrum depending upon the issue in question. When I argue that Abortion is a State’s right issue I get some grief from my Democrat friends. When I argue that Gay Marriage is a State’s Right issue I get grief from my Republican friends. The thing that I find strangest in my most strident friends on the Democratic and Republican side of issues is their real hatred for those on the other side.

Their wishes of harm and death seem to be more than words. They want President Obama to be killed. They hope Senator Kerry’s wife dies because she married Senator Kerry. They plan to throw parties when Rush Limbaugh dies. I just don’t get it. I remember when President Nixon died and I sat around the table listening to people talk about how glad they were. I’ve heard people speak in unbridled terms about how they want to kill Hillary Clinton. I once watched in horror as a man told a little girl named Hillary that she had an awful name and she should change it. A little girl!

These friends of mine are convinced that only evil people who want to destroy the United States would vote for someone of the other party. I realize that the Democrats and Republicans together foster this attitude to ensure that voters do not consider third or fourth-party alternatives, but the reality is people make up their own minds to hate.

When you are filled with hate for a dying woman who happens to married to a Democrat or a radio host who spews increasingly erratic proclamations in the mad dash for ratings then it’s you who has the problem. Not the woman, not the radio host.

When you speak ill of a man immediately after his death it tells me all I need to know about you.

Whenever I have this discussion people always ask me if I would have celebrated Hitler’s death. It’s an interesting and fair question. Was Hitler himself Nazi Germany? Am I happy to see one Boston Bomber captured and the other killed?

Certainly Hitler was an evil man. As were the terrorists who flew the plans on September 11th. Osama bin Laden orchestrated the attacks that ended in the death of almost 3,000 of my countrymen. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. So, I think I can honestly tell you my answer to that question. No.

The reason is twofold. The things these men represented are not dead. There are other deranged people out there willing to hurt innocents to further their ends. The ideas are not dead, just one promulgator of them. Secondly, celebrating the death of another person just isn’t in me. I didn’t cheer at the death of bin Laden. I am certainly happy that he isn’t around to hurt anyone else but the death itself just leaves me empty. Not hate, not joy. It’s just sad. A man, a driven man, a man who could have done so much good if his energies, if his mind, were not poisoned with hate.

So many of my friends are similarly poisoned. Not to that extent, of course. They talk of murdering. They spew hateful words but they do not act on them. Still, I find it sad that there is that much hate inside of people I know, people I like.

The end of a life, anyone’s life, is a time to reflect upon that life. The good, the bad, what could have been. It’s not the time to throw a party.

I think a lot of people won’t like what I’ve written here today. They had friends killed by bin Laden or someone equally evil. They truly believe President Obama is trying to destroy the United States.

I understand their hated but that passion does not fill me. I want people to work together, to realize we’re all in this together. We all want to make a decent living, have a few fun times with friends, accomplish something at work, at home. Live a pleasant life surrounded by those we love.

Hate always takes us further from these things. Even when it’s evil we hate.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a many hours of reading pleasure)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Aaron Hernandez and Urban Meyer

Win at all CostsFor my followers who are not sports fans there is a terrible story making headlines in the National Football League (NFL) these days. A player in the league is accused of premeditated murder. That he killed one of his friends reportedly because that friend was talking to some other people.

The case is in its infancy and guilt or innocence will not be determined for a long time so I’m not going to get into the particulars of the incident. Likewise there is much talk about the violent tendencies of NFL players but statistical analysis seem to indicate that professional athletes, football players included, are no more criminally inclined than the rest of the nation, actually less so.

What I do want to talk about is the culture of winning that pervades college and pro athletics. The responsibility a coach has when one of their players commits crimes, particular violent crimes. In this case the player in question, Aaron Hernandez, was coached at the University of Florida by Urban Meyer. There were apparently a number of incidents at Florida that put a question to Hernandez’s character, and more importantly to the NFL, his potential to be a great player instead of a public relations nightmare.

Meyer told Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots that Hernandez was worth drafting although he was drafted well below his ability level, likely because of his off-field problems. Meyer has said that it is wrong and irresponsible to connect either he or the University of Florida to the misbehavior of Hernandez.

I strongly disagree. I will not lay the blame squarely on Meyer, Belichick, Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft, the University of Florida, the NCAA, or the NFL but there is certainly a connection. People with special ability in the sporting world are given chance after chance that other people do not get. They are entitled, coddled, favored, and allowed to behave badly without consequence again and again.

Here in St. Louis we drafted an extremely talented cornerback named Janoris Jenkins with a troubled past including failed drug tests and an arrest in a nightclub fight.

It angers me when I hear Meyer instantly dismiss any responsibility in the situation. Not only dismiss responsibility but actually attack anyone who dares suggest that he might have done something to prevent the situation. Meyer could have kicked Hernandez off the team, as Meyer’s successor Will Muschamp did to Jenkins almost immediately upon taking over as head coach at Florida.

It can be argued that Jenkins was a far more talented player than Hernandez. That Muschamp’s decision to kick Jenkins off the team was a much more damaging move than would have been removing Hernandez.

So far Jenkins has been a relatively trouble-free in St. Louis. He missed a curfew and Coach Jeff Fisher suspended him for one game. That’s what I’m talking about here today. That’s my point. Muschamp made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Fisher made Jenkins responsible for his actions. Apparently Meyer and Belichick did not do the same for Hernandez.

Who is ultimately responsible for our own actions? We are. Hernandez is. Jenkins is. But so is Meyer. He allowed Hernandez to continue to play and recommended him to the NFL. Personal responsibility doesn’t mean blaming everyone else when you make a mistake in judgment.

Meyer could have said that he understood Hernandez had problems. He tried to help. He wanted the best for the young man and gave him chances with that in mind. Instead he chooses to deny all responsibility. To bury his head in the sand and avoid any consequences to his actions. A terrible role-model, a terrible person.

I’m not blaming Meyer for Hernandez, I’m blaming Meyer for Meyer. Taking responsibility doesn’t always mean taking the credit when things go well. Personal responsibility means accepting consequences, or at least scrutiny, when things go wrong.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for hours of reading pleasure)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Price of Gold

Gold PricesThere was a very interesting article in Yahoo Finance about the price of gold and what will happen to it in the coming months and years. The point of the article that I found fascinating was the interview with a fellow named Jim Rogers who is considered somewhat of a commodities genius.

After reading the interview I can see why he’s done extremely well in his chosen profession. He is a clear, analytically minded thinker, yes. But he has one quality that sets him apart and that’s what I wanted to talk about today. His forecast for gold is based on what he calls the Mystics, the True Believers.

Gold is a strange thing. Despite what people tell you it has very little inherent value other than its scarcity. I wrote about the various gold standards and elastic currency along with their benefits and shortcomings a while ago but that’s not going to be the focus of today’s thoughts.

What Jim understands, something I often fail to grasp myself, is that so-called mystics who place their faith in belief rather than facts are not to be completely scorned. I have a problem with that. Once I see a person is incapable or unwilling to engage in logical thinking I pretty much discount them. This is a person who offers me nothing in conversation, nothing in ideology, nothing in intellectual stimulation. To me the price of gold is based solely on its usefulness. When I look at making an investment in gold or anything else I make my determinations on solid facts.

This is where Jim proves me wrong. It is the mystics, the true believers, those who have faith despite the facts, that drive many markets, many decisions. This is not only the case in commodities but they are certainly a good case-study. The price of gold is based on people’s belief of its value, not its real value. The salary I’m paid is to some degree based on my perceived value to my company, not my actual value.

This non-logical thinking pervades the world and sets the price of things, the value of things, to something that is inaccurate. I rail against this faith-based thinking in blog after blog but the fact that it exists, that it influences our world, is undeniable. This is where Jim succeeds and I fail.

He takes faith into account when making his decisions. He understands faith-based belief and, using logical thinking, comes to accurate and lucrative conclusions. He is wealthy and successful. I could learn a lesson there. I argue that decisions should be based on logical thinking only. That the price of gold should reflect its real value.

Maybe Jim would argue the same thing, I can’t say. However, this illogical, faith-based thinking and his understanding of it have made him a rich man. I’m not unhappy with my life by any stretch. I have good friends, I like my co-workers, and I have good relationships with my family members.

Jim does offer a lesson for me. Rather than sit there baffled as I listen to someone making irrational decisions I should make my own decisions to take advantage of their way of thinking. Rand tells us to make the most of a situation, to do our best. No great insights here today.

No axes to grind. Just some simple advice for the other logical thinkers out there in the world. If other people choose to think illogically it’s not your fault. It’s not wrong to take advantage of it. I’m not saying to actively practice to deceive but if an advantage arises because of someone else’s inability to think clearly, grab it! Thanks, Jim. I learned a lesson today.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 it’s a logical decision to buy it at that price!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Wages Paid via Fee Ridden Cards

It's My MoneyAn increasingly large number of Americans do not have bank accounts. This number has grown by about ten percent in the last four years and is expected to climb. This presents what some view as a dilemma and others view as an opportunity.

In this internet age it is more expensive for an employer to print out checks and much cheaper to use direct deposit. This being the case, more and more employers are dropping the check option. Whether or not this effects you is dependent upon where you live as there are different rules in each state. It is a growing trend and one that will certainly continue to rise.

The problem end of the issue is how to pay employees who don’t have bank accounts of any sort and cannot accept direct deposits. To solve this issue banks began to allow employers to pay their employees onto what are called payroll cards. At this point all seems well and good. If people choose not to have a bank account that’s certainly their option. If companies choose to save money by using direct deposit that is also within their legal right, depending upon the state.

Banks incur some expenses in issuing these payroll cards and the plan was to recoup this amount through charges on the cards. There is a charge to deposit money on the card, a charge to withdraw money with the card, a charge to inquire on the balance of the card, a charge to receive a statement for the card, a charge to replace the card, and even an inactivity charge if you don’t use the card!

I think you can guess that the banking industry quickly realized that this service they were providing offered an opportunity to make a lot of money. They started to push the idea to the companies, some even give kick backs … er … rewards, to businesses that have their employees use payroll cards.

Companies enjoy these rewards and started to make it easier for employees to get the payroll cards and more difficult for them to use direct deposits. A woman sued because a McDonald’s refused to direct deposit into her Credit Union. That was, of course, illegal and they’ve agreed to start offering direct deposit to their employees now.

Other companies are simply making it very difficult to use direct deposits because banks are offering them major rewards for every employee then can get on the payroll card.

I’m not totally against the banks here. They are providing a service to people who choose not to have bank accounts and that service needs to be paid for with fees. However, it is clear that the banking industry sees this as not a way to provide a service but a way to steal money from people. Yes, I said steal. If the banks were charging some minimal fee and making a small profit on the cards I wouldn’t call it stealing but when they colluded with companies to provide no other option and charge far more than it costs to provide the service they are engaged in anti-trust practices.

This practice affects the poorest people the most as they are generally the ones without bank accounts and without other recourse. They need that minimum wage job and can’t easily go somewhere else. As the check payment method continues to decline their options will become even more limited.

What’s the solution? It’s not easy. The government could start to regulate these payroll cards for excessive fees like they do banks for other services but such efforts often end up with unintended consequences.

What I would love to see is a return to real competition. A group of people sees an opportunity to offer cards with lower fees and starts a Credit Union or Bank. This forces the existing banks to lower their fees until a competitive and fair level is reached. Right now the we don’t live in a capitalistic country anymore. We live in a country where if you tried to do that you’d be legislated out of business by the crony capitalist in your community, your state, and in Washington D.C. Anti-trust practices are ignored. The business that pays for the elections gets legislation passed that ensure their success and rival’s failure.

This system is so dangerous that it could potentially destroy our great nation. It is not the threat Ayn Rand warned us about in the communist dominated era when she wrote her novels but the effects are the same.

Rand warns us of the dangers of giving not what is earned but what is needed; communism.

If she was alive today I think she would have warned us that it is just as dangerous to allow success not to be derived through hard work, fair prices, and good ideas but instead through political connections; crony capitalism.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 is a fair price for 300+ pages of my hard work, if you disagree, don’t buy it!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt