Correlation does not equal Causation – or how the Oarfish predicted an Earthquake

Correlation not equal to CausationI was reading a rather silly article today when I stumbled across a great comment about that story and the immediate and negative response that comment received.

The article cited an instance where a pair of rarely seen oarfish washed up along shore in southern California and how people took this to be a sign of impending disaster. The article cited a number of instances where animals exhibited unusual behavior immediately before some sort of natural disaster.

The comments on the article immediately began. Most of these were anecdotal stories about how pets have behaved strangely immediately before a disaster and how this had saved someone’s life. Among all these comments was a missive that was a fine example of laconic wit and which made me very, very happy.

Correlation does not imply causation.

The point of this phrase is that we as humans often see events that happen sequentially as being related to each other in a cause and effect manner. The reason we see this relationship is because there is often, in fact, such a relationship. When my finger pushes down the letter “p” on the keypad, said letter appears on the screen. This is an example of Cause and Effect.

It is vitally important to understand that Event A which occurs immediately before Event B is not necessarily the cause for Event B. Often the two events are completely unrelated.

The reason this is so important to understand is that if you mistake correlation with causation you are going to spend a great deal of time and effort futilely trying to make your life better. If you do not fully understand what it is that caused the thing you are trying to fix, your ability to resolve the problem is deeply inhibited.

This is one of the main ideas of Critical Thinking. The lack of critical thinking is what drives bad decisions in life. Bad decisions in life lead to less happiness for you and those around you.

We have all been victim of the idea that correlation equates to causation and we’ve all wasted time trying to fix a problem in completely the wrong way. What’s important is trying to assign accurate causation to the events of our lives.

The next time you encounter correlated events take a moment to examine them for causation. Get in the habit. It will make a difference in your life.

Each time you practice your Critical Thinking skills you will get better at doing it. Now, repeat after me: Correlation does not equal Causation.

Now, off you go.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Do You Support Presidential Term Limits?

Term LimitsI read an article just a moment ago that suggested it was time to repeal the 22nd Amendment and remove the two-term limit to the office of the President of the United States. The comments indicated that the vast majority of people not only opposed repealing the amendment but wanted to institute term limits on Congress and the Federal Judiciary.

Besides the 22nd Amendment, which was ratified in 1951, there have never been restrictions in the Constitution of the United States that limit the amount of time a politician or judge can serve.

States have a variety of term limit laws with 36 states having gubernatorial limits while fifteen states limit the amount of time state representatives can serve. Additionally the 22nd Amendment was ratified by 41 states with 2 states rejecting the amendment and a further 5 states not considering it. As a bonus trivia question for my well-educated and thoughtful viewers, why does the total of states not reach 50?

Those who argue for term limits generally suggest that politicians become corrupted upon being repeatedly elected and garner a dangerous amount of power. That they do as they desire without regard to the electorate as would a tyrant.

Those who oppose term limits largely argue that voters are the ultimate factor in how long a president serves and often quote George Washington who said, “I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public.”

They also argue that artificial term limits change the way a president governs. That last term office holders have a difficult time building coalitions and accomplishing anything. That last term office holders can effectively do whatever they want without worry of repercussions. That term limited and popular politicians will simply end up with a rotation system where allies are continually elected as proxies. This particular idea reached its highest level of absurdity when Lurleen Wallace was elected governor of Alabama in 1966.

Personally I am for repeal of the 22nd Amendment and the removal of term limits in general. In my opinion term limits are largely designed to correct the problem of elected officials accumulating too much power. That these limits are merely a substitution to our responsibilities as voters in a Representative Republic. That such artificial solutions solve nothing and, in many ways, make the situation worse by giving the illusion of security.

The duty of every voter is to cast their ballot for the most qualified candidate. The candidate that will best serve our nation, our state, and our community. If a politician fails to do so, we have recourse. If we fail to avail ourselves of said recourse then no law can save us.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Child Endangerment in Arizona and the Amish

Amish Hershberger Child EndangermentThere are two stories in the news that bring forward difficult questions about what responsibility the state has over children. In one case a couple imprisoned three young girls and in the other parents are refusing medical treatment for their daughter.

In both cases the state stepped into matters and the public reaction is relatively predictable. In the Arizona case almost everyone agrees that the mother and step-father needed to be arrested for keeping the girls locked in the house while in the Amish case the majority seem to think it is the right of the parents to deny potentially life-saving medical care to their daughter.

I’d imagine that almost all of my readers agree with the state interceding in the Arizona case but opinions will be more divided in the Amish case. Both situations involve parents behaving in ways that appear to be at odds with what is in the best interest of the child.

In one situation girls are apparently imprisoned and the other a girl is essentially being allowed to die when the medical community thinks she likely could be saved via chemotherapy.

The Amish case in particular is difficult because Sarah Hershberger might die even with treatment and there is a chance she could live without treatment. There are no guarantees either way.

I suppose Fernando and Sophia Richter might argue that they were protecting the girls from the dangers of the outside world, that they were home-schooling them, that the girls were locked into the house in punishment for particular misdeeds, that as parents they have the right to make these rules and enforce them.

The bigger question, from a Libertarian perspective, becomes: When does the government have the duty to step into a situation and protect children from their parents?

I think we can all agree that parents do no have absolute control over their children. We can also agree that a child does not have absolute control over their own decisions. Sarah doesn’t like chemotherapy but what if she doesn’t like going to bed at 10:00 p.m.? Perhaps a ridiculous comparison but the reality is that we frequently don’t allow children autonomy over their lives.

So, when do parents lose their rights? That’s the question.

What if the Hershberger case the medical community said there was a 99% chance of survival with chemotherapy and a 99% chance of death without? What if the odds were 50/50?

What if Andy Hershberger didn’t believe in antibiotics and Sarah got a cut. It became infected and against doctor’s advice antibiotic were not applied. What is sepsis set in and she died? Would that be endangerment? Should the state step in and apply antibiotics?

I don’t have any answers for you today. I think the courts must make these difficult decisions on a case-by-case basis. These decisions then go into effect. If we don’t like these decisions we can vote out the legislators that appointed the judges and in many cases the judges themselves.

One thing I don’t like is people pretending these are simple decisions. That the line is firmly drawn and that those that disagree are wrong or evil.

These cases involve children who are being abused and potentially being allowed to die unnecessarily. This brings out passionate debate and that’s a good thing. Try not to let your passion become anger and hate.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Instant News and the Issues it Creates

MistakesI just read an update on an ongoing crime story that reminded me that this instant news society we now live in thanks to the internet sometimes carries with it significant issues.

There is such a rush to get a particular news story distributed that the news outlets don’t wait to get a complete story. They immediately publish the story even with only partial information. Even if the main news outlets waited there are a plethora of bloggers like me who want to jump ahead with a story. More than once I’ve reported on news that later turned out to be at least partially inaccurate.

I do my best to immediately update any story which I’ve reported incorrectly but that doesn’t mean the people who read the story also read my correction. This is one price we pay for the luxury of getting immediate information.

People are clearly interested in news. That much is undeniable. People want to read about the story not as soon as it happened by while it is still happening. This being the case we can’t expect media outlets to wait on stories while their rivals go ahead. This, naturally, leads to errors. Stories are reported that are not true. Hoaxers take advantage of the immediacy of news to play games.

Sometimes honest mistakes happen. Sometimes people with agendas lie to reporters and mistakes make their way into the story. People like me unknowingly repeat those inaccuracies. People like you read the information and repeat it to your friends.

Where does that leave us?

It leaves us with a lot of misinformation out there. The amount of misinformation is growing and I don’t see any way to stem the tide. With so much misinformation out there the burden falls to each of us to verify the original the story as best as is possible. We must continue to follow the story and evaluate new information with a critical eye.

The tendency to leap to judgment must be tempered. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking at the facts as they are currently understood and making a decision based upon them. What’s important is a willingness to reexamine the situation when new facts arise or old facts prove to be false. This is what is difficult. People do not like to admit mistakes and will defend an original opinion in the face of facts that no longer indicate as much.

In short, we must avoid being defensive about our positions and listen to opposing opinions, evaluate facts with an open mind, be willing to admit errors, and not to gloat when we prove to be right and our opponent wrong.

Anyway, something I was thinking about.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Stadium Collapse or Misleading Headline?

Stadium Collapse BrazilI’m tempted to create a series of posts entitled “Misleading Headlines” as the practice of putting headlines on stories that sensationalize articles to the point where they are misleading is becoming all the more common. I could write a daily post about ridiculous, attention promoting headlines from the online financial adviser Motley Fool.

In this case there was a story about a stadium collapse that caught my eye because of a comment a friend made over lunch the other day.

I’m a football fan and by that I mean a soccer fan. The World Cup is approaching and it is being held in the football mad nation of Brazil. The Brazilians are arguably the most successful national team in the history of soccer and having the World Cup played in their nation is a matter of tremendous local pride.

Back to that lunch. My friend heard that there were pollution problems in Brazil associated with upcoming 2016 Olympics and a bit of research on my part showed that they do have considerable issues in regards to fecal matter in the various waterways that will serve as venues for some sports in the game.

When I read about the “Stadium Collapse” I thought to myself that this was another example of problems within Brazil associated with upcoming sporting events.

The article was updated and in reading it I learned that a construction crane fell. This then caused a chain reaction that tore down part of the roof and a scoreboard in the stadium. While the incident is horrible and two people were killed it’s hardly what I would call a “Stadium Collapse”.

A crane fell on a building and caused some damage. That’s what happened.

Anyway, for those of you who thought, as I did, that a stadium had actually collapses, that’s the real story.

Stay tuned for more misleading headlines!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Offended by a License Plate

Offensive License PlateI just read a story that isn’t that big of a deal except that it happens to have taken place here in my beloved Show Me state of Missouri. A woman was offended by her state issued license plate.

Take a look at the image and see if you can figure it out and then read on.

According to the offended Missourian it reads – Whore Eight Times.

I thought it read Who Rate X?

I’m on record as saying words have power and I will not deny that there are combinations of randomly generated letters and numbers that could and should cause offense. Not many people want a license plate that has truly offensive words on it. The state attempts to avoid this and even refuses to allow relatively innocuous license plates because they might be misconstrued.

In this case the woman could have paid $17 to get a replacement plate but instead, over the principle of the matter, took it to the local news station. The bad publicity eventually got the state to waive the fee and issue a new plate.

The woman claims that people were yelling offensive terms at her when they saw the plate and therefore it was up to the state to replace it. Again, I don’t think this is that big a deal but why should I have to pay for the cost of replacement over something that isn’t blatantly offensive? Someone’s $17 in taxes for the state of Missouri went to cover that replacement.

In addition I’d like to address people who make fun of other people over a license plate. It’s like when you’re a kid and someone makes fun of your name. It’s a state issued license plate. It’s the name you have. When I was ten years old a fellow who happened to have the name Lipschitz provided short-lived amusement. By the time I got to High School it was pretty clear to me and everyone I knew that making fun of a person’s name was juvenile.

So what can we take from all this? People who make fun of random letters on a license plate aren’t worth worrying about. People who tease you because of your name aren’t worth thinking about. They’ve got their own problems. In addition, people who worry about non-offensive things in their life have bigger problems.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Are you Still Paying for TV? Why?

Cable TV SubscribersI just read an absolutely fascinating article from the financial world about how the television business is having a dismal year and the future looks bad.

The reason I found the article fascinating is that it completely agrees with everything I’ve been saying about those who make content and those who deliver it to the consumers. Here’s a hint for anyone that wants to be my friend, just tell me I’m amazingly smart and always right!

Massive ego aside, I did want to take a quick look at what the metrics from this article mean about our future consumption of content. What I think is happening is that there is a growing separation between those who create content and the companies that distribute it to us. In the past these two industries were often combined. The networks, studios, publishers, and labels created the content and delivered it to us.

With wireless internet becoming more universally available and with devices that can take advantage of that medium becoming almost ubiquitous we are seeing a trend where people consume content when they want and where the want. That content is no longer tied to a provider.

I’ve been hammering away for years that the major content creators should simply give up on delivering content. They should give their content away for free to the providers and get revenue each time someone consumes content.

Naturally there has been reluctance to accept this business model. The content creators had huge revenue streams through their delivery arms.

What is happening now is that people don’t want to pay for access and subscribers are falling. They want to pay for individual items they purchase. We don’t pay to have access to the grocery store, we pay for the items we buy. As times goes on fewer and fewer people will have dedicated television or internet devices. All media will be delivered electronically to whatever device we are viewing at that moment. We will pay for this by watching advertisements and possibly some monthly fee. Advertisers will pay the content providers a certain amount per view. The content providers will then pass along a share to the content creators.

As it stands, when I see my favorite shows being pulled from Hulu, my favorite sporting events being pulled from ESPN3 I get angry. However, I see a bright future for me and others who enjoy content. No longer will we be tied to a service. I will watch what I want, when I want. Those that provide popular content to the largest audience will get the lion’s share of the revenue.

The content creators will open their vast libraries to Hulu, Netflix, ESPN3, and other providers that will arise in the future.

New content creators will arise, regular people who write their own amazing Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels for example! People will consume what we want at a reasonable price.

There will be more success stories like Felicia Day. Regular people will be able to showcase their talents directly. More content, more creativity, more variety, more goodness!

Children will dance in the streets. Dogs and cats will live in harmony. The Cardinals will win the World Series every year (darn you and your beards; evil Red Sox).

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Privately Funded Mars Mission from Dennis Tito – Not so Private

Inspiration MarsNot that long ago a fellow by the name of Dennis Tito proposed a privately financed mission to send a pair of travelers to Mars and back. I was opposed to the project in principle because I prefer robotic missions to manned missions for a number of reason.

My opposition stopped short of saying he shouldn’t go ahead with the project. I felt that if Tito wanted to spend his own money or raise said money from Crowd Sourcing then it was his to spend. That the publicity of the mission might do some good.

Well, the truth comes out. Tito now admits without NASA technology and government money the mission will not go forward. He tries to shame the government into funding his mission and pretty much tries to shift any blame for the mission not taking place to a reluctance by the government to spend your tax dollars.

Tito claims that without the government money he will go ahead with another plan that will launch in 2021. I’m not holding my breath.

The reason I’m posting this update is for those who were greatly enthusiastic about the original story but will not have followed subsequent events closely. It’s a good lesson for all of us. When we hear grandiose schemes we are naturally excited. The idea of doing great things, of participating in such events, is very attractive. I’m not opposed to dreamers and those who support them.

That being said, I’m a pragmatist at heart. It’s great to dream big but it’s vital to work out the details.

A vast quantity of our tax dollars were wasted when President George W. Bush laid out a scheme for a manned mission to Mars and a Lunar Base that was completely unrealistic. At least in this case it’s Tito’s money, not mine.

It seems to me that one of the major problems that we face in the United States is not lack of dreamers, we have more of those than ever, but lack of practical doers. Everyone offers up amazing plans to fix everything and no one does any of the real work necessary to make them happen, or even takes the time to come up with a realistic plan of action. It’s enough merely to promulgate an idea. If that idea doesn’t come to fruition then it’s easy enough to blame someone else.

The next time you hear some amazing story from Tito, Elon Musk, your neighbor, your representative in Congress, or your favorite talking news head, well, take a few minutes to do some research and find out what it will take to make such a plan become reality.

Just a suggestion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Taxed by Miles Driven – An Oregon Proposal

Gasoline TaxThere’s an interesting idea being tested in the Beaver state of Oregon and it has the potential to have a negative impact on me. The state has started a pilot program wherein drivers will pay a tax of 1.5 cents per mile driven instead of the 49.5 cents/gallon they currently pay in taxes. This includes the 18.5 cents/gallon federal tax.

The reason for this idea is that cars have become significantly more fuel-efficient in the last twenty years and that has greatly reduced the revenue generated by gasoline taxes. Adjusting for inflation it seems as if the revenue stream has dropped by about 40%. The money from such taxes are supposed to be used to pay for both the upkeep on existing roads and bridges and any new construction.

According to most surveys, the roads and bridges in the United States are in abysmal condition and that is a dangerous situation for anyone who travels on them.

The reason this method of taxation has a negative effect on me is because I own a Prius and get about 45 miles to the gallon. This means I fill up my tank about half as much as someone getting 23 miles to the gallon. Thus I pay about half the Missouri gasoline tax (35.7 cents/gallon) as my fellow Show Me state brethren.

The new system means that I would pay exactly the same amount as someone who drove an equal number of miles in a year.

As a Libertarian I’m often criticized for not wanting any government but that is an over-generalization. I think roads are one of the most important services the government provides and I think it is only equitable that I pay for the use I get from them. Not only my own driving but that of goods that are shipped over them to the stores I frequent.

However, this new per mile method doesn’t take into account the weight of the car which is a hugely important factor in damage to the roads. Lighter cars do far less damage to the roads than do heavier vehicles, particularly trucks. Now, roads are damaged not only by heavy vehicles but also by weathering and even the government is going to be hard pressed to find  a way to tax the weather (although I wouldn’t put it past them).

So, what is an equitable solution? I think Oregon is going in the right direction but it could easily be a multiple of the miles driven by the weight of the car. It seems like a formula would not be difficult to derive.

We all like our roads and benefit from them in many ways. The lifestyle we lead is in no small part based upon the transportation system in the United States. It is in our best interest to maintain it at peak efficiency.

All taxes should be based upon the service that government provides. If my Prius does X amount of damage to the road then I should be taxed X with Y added for the general weathering damage. People who drive more, who use heavier vehicles, should be taxed more than those who drive less or not at all.

This is an important argument in the Libertarian arsenal. We are not against taxes but we think that taxes must be justified by expenses. If the gasoline taxes, if all taxes, are designed to generate exactly the revenue necessary to maintain that particular service I will gladly pay them.

I applaud Oregon’s effort, which faces a number of tests including how to determine the number of miles driven and miles driven by out-of-state visitors. The idea is a move in the right direction, let’s see how the implementation goes.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Carlsen v. Anand – The King is dead, Long Live the King

Carlsen Anand chess matchI’m a chess player so recent events in the world of chess have captured my attention. Perhaps most of the people who read my blog will be less interested. The World Chess Championship between former champion Viswanathan Anand and the  new champion Magnus Carlsen just completed and it was an interesting match for a number of reasons that go beyond the world of chess.

Carlsen is the epitome of the young challenger while Anand filled the role of the aging champion of diminishing skills. Age is a factor in all sports including chess which is physically as well as mentally demanding. It is not easy to keep your focus during the entirety of a six-hour chess match. One moment of exhaustion can lead to a miscalculation and at the level of chess that Anand and Carlsen play this mistake is the difference between victory and defeat.

Going into the match Carlsen was the huge favorite. Not only is he twenty-plus years younger than Anand, 22/43, but he has also been the best chess player in the world for the last few years. His tournament play has him ranked first in the world and his rating is the highest in the history of chess. Anand, as he has grown older, has seen his play slip and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

The final score of the match was 6.5/3.5 with Carlsen winning three of the ten games played and the other seven ending in draws. The format was for a twelve-game match but the player who scores 6.5 achieves an unassailable position and Carlsen managed this after the tenth game, thus ending the match.

What I really love about a match of this nature, and of sport in general, is the competition between equals. Here we have two players, competing directly against one another, and one proves to be better than the other. There are no excuses, no controversies, no blown calls, no charges of cheating, just a pair of competitors doing their best. We can say Carlsen won and Anand lost but the reality is that when we have this sort of competition there are no real losers. The chess world wins, Carlsen ascends to the throne where he will in all likelihood reign for many years, Anand bookends a great career by losing to arguably the two best chess players the world has ever known. Anand lost his first bid at championship to Garry Kasparov who, until Carlsen, had the highest rating in the history of chess.

It’s a great time to be a chess player as well. Computers have opened up new lines of thought and play and there are a bevy of young competitors who will doubtlessly challenge Carlsen in the coming years.

The nature of life is that we have champions, that said victors grow older and make way, reluctantly with fangs bared and claws unsheathed certainly, to the young challengers. This test of fire hardens the new champion. This lesson in life is not just for champions but for each of us. We do our best at everything we try. We play by the rules and sometimes emerge the victor sometimes the defeated.

The only real losers are those who cannot be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. Those who equate victory more highly than sportsmanship and simply doing their best. When we do our best; we have won.

Hail to you Viswanathan Anand, the vanquished champion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Pizza Wars from Jon Stewart

Pizza StyleThere was a recent spat on the Jon Stewart show about what sort of pizza style is the best. Stewart is in the midst of an erudite debate with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in which the highest levels of oratory and rhetoric are on display in their quest to determine which style of pizza is the best.

I do not suggest that I am at the same level of popularity as Stewart and Emanuel but I do have an opinion on pizza and I suspect that some of my loyal following might as well.

Now, there is much debate between the two great cities about the merits for and against the Deep Dish style for which Chicago is famous and the more traditional New York Style. Being from St. Louis I thought it might be fitting for me to at least introduce St. Louis style into the debate. To discuss the merits of the super-thin crust pizza that is a favorite here in my home town before moving on to the debate between the more well-known Chicago and New York styles.

With that in mind I think I can sum up St. Louis style in a single word. That word being abomination.

Thus unburdened I can now, in good conscience, move on to the more pressing matter of the debate between New York and Chicago.

We have a pizza place here in St. Louis that specializes in deep dish, Chicago Style, pizza. It is called Pi. It’s a fancy pizza to be certain. It’s popular, this is true. People flock to the restaurant and praise the pizza with all their heart.

I can distill my opinion into a few words. Better than St. Louis style … barely.

But for pizza? For real pizza? For tasty pizza? New York style is the only answer.

Now, a short trip down memory lane as I remember some of the best New York style pizza I’ve ever eaten.

In the Loop there was a place called Racanelli’s. It was owned and operated by a Yankees fan with a broad, and I mean thick, New York accent. They had a spinach slice that brought tears to my eyes. I used to ride my bike down to Forest Park, around a time or two, and then on my return trip home stop by to get a slice. I had dreams about those slices. The owner had no problem with St. Louis Cardinals fans but I would suggest not wearing a New York Mets cap in his presence. Sadly, they were bought out and went straight down hill. Sigh.

I flitted hither and yon for a few years trying Joanie’s Pizzeria, Sunflower’s, Dewey’s, and the not bad at all Whole Foods Pizza Pie but I did not find a good slice until wandering into a neighborhood joint, La Pizza, a few years back. It’s a shack, this much is true, but the slice is good.

Now, if Mr. Stewart wanted to invite me out to New York and show me a place or two he thinks might have a better slice, well, I would be willing to stray. I’ll wait by the phone.

Now, my loyal fans. I put the question to you. What’s your favorite slice? New York, Chicago, or the Lou!

[polldaddy poll=7584294]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Trail of Tears Football Banner – Opportunity Knocks

Trail of Tears BannerThere’s an interesting story making the news rounds about a high-school football team that used what is called a break-through banner which taunted their foes using the term Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears refers to the events surrounding the 1830 Indian Removal Act in which many Native Americans were forcefully removed from their homes in violation of previous treatise. This law was passed by both the Senate and the House although not with enough votes to override a veto in the House of Representatives. It fell to President Andrew Jackson to sign the law or veto it.

The history books I’ve read on the subject suggest that he was conflicted. The debate on this issue was passionate. In the end, from what I’ve read, Jackson felt that settlers were going to move into the region and getting civil authorities to prosecute these settlers was going to be difficult if impossible. That these settlers and Native Americans would eventually get into conflicts. That the opening of the land and the relocation of the Native Americans was inevitable. In the end he signed the legislation and the supposed voluntary removal led to both Trail of Tears and Second Seminole War.

These two events are stains upon the honor of the United States and it can be argued that the removal act as a whole was a decision that shows the United States in a poor light.

My blog today isn’t about this history, it is not even about the banner, it is about the result of the banner. There are those calling for the resignation of school administrators that allowed the banner to appear. The principal of the school, Tod Humphries, took responsibility for the banner, apologized for the banner, and promised that the entire school would be educated about the Indian Removal Act of 1930.

So, we have two options here. We can vilify Humphries as the person ultimately responsible for the banner or we can both accept his apology and use the moment to educate people about the Trail of Tears and our history.

You can probably guess my position. It appears to me the apology is sincere and I’m willing to take the principal’s word that they will educate students at the school about the Act and its terrible results. I think that Native American leaders should embrace the proposal. They should publicly and vocally accept his apology. Offer to visit the school and speak on the subject. Use the moment as an impetus for good. Shake his hand and vow to make the world a better place.

Can you imagine a world where we embrace those who make mistakes? A world where we move not to blame but to make right? A world where we work with one another even when we disagree?

What do you think should be the result of the banner?

[polldaddy poll=7575738]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

What’s in a Name? The Redskin Controvery

Redskin NicknameThere’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the use of Native American nicknames for sports teams. Many people think some of these names are derogatory in nature and would like to see changes.

The most prominent case is the Washington Redskins who are under moderate pressure to change the team nickname. Meanwhile throughout the country there are many schools and teams that use the word Redskins to reference their mascot. The origin of Redskin is somewhat in dispute but it is generally recognized as a pejorative term. Not everyone feels this way though. The name Redskin is almost always used with pride when in reference to the school mascot or team.

There are certainly any number of Native American names used within the English language with fully 26 states having such names. Professional sports teams include the Chicago Blackhawks named after Sauk leader Black Hawk.

We also see the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Hawks, the Golden State Warriors, and countless colleges and high schools with such monikers. My own high school, University City, changed their nickname from Indians to Lions in response to such pressure. The Stanford Cardinals were once the Stanford Indians.

The question is if teams with such names should change them to be less offensive.

There is a lot of passion on the subject. People who have cheered for their teams for many years certainly do not consider the names to be derogatory or negative. They take great pride in the names. Likewise there will always be those who consider certain words to be negative in meaning; Redskin, in general use, is a far more derogatory term than Chief, Seminole, or Brave.

What’s my opinion?

I’m going to take the middle-ground on this controversy. If a team, writer, college, or person wants to use the term, particular when they use it in a positive way, then they absolutely can do so. Likewise, if the owner or college or whatever decides to change the name because they feel it is a net negative then they can do that as well. It’s up to them and it’s their decision to make, not mine.

If the Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskin’s organization says they won’t change the name then I support that decision. If the Neshaminy high school Redskin’s editorial staff chooses not to allow the use of the word then that’s their business. Students that feel differently can get on the editorial staff next year and reverse the ban.

There is no doubt that words carry power and I’ve written on that subject a number of times. If I say something offensive then I might suffer consequences but it’s my decision to say it, not yours.

Go Rams! Let’s Go Blues! Cardinals! M-I-Z ….

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

 

Increased Fees for Solar Panel Homes in Arizona

Rooftop Solar PanelsAs alternative energy sources like solar become more affordable it is only natural that people will want to use them as a way to both save money and be environmentally friendly. This is particularly true for solar power in western regions like the Grand Canyon state of Arizona that see a large amount of sunshine over the course of the year. This presents a problem to utility companies who derive their revenue from the monthly fee that customers pay to get their electrical services.

Customers who install rooftop solar panels reduce the amount of their monthly fee by a large amount both in limiting the amount of electricity they use but also in selling power during sunshine hours, when they are using nothing from the power plants, while others are at peak demand. They only use power when there is no sunshine and then at a reduced rate.

The reason this is a problem for utility companies is because the fees they charge for their electricity include upkeep on their vast distribution network. This includes the installation of power lines and poles as well as the constant upkeep on those items. Those who use solar panels are both receiving and sending electricity through this infrastructure.

In Arizona there was a proposal by the utility companies to charge anyone who put solar panels on their roof up to $100 a month in excess of their normal bill. The rational being that solar producers reduce their monthly rates by about $100. This fee would cover the difference so that solar panel owners would pay their share of the upkeep and maintenance of the infrastructure. The real reason for the massive fee is, of course, to discourage people from purchasing solar panels and keep them dependent on the power companies.

The power companies spent $4 million on a campaign to convince people the fee was justified. The argument being that if there was no fee that the companies would have to charge more in general to cover the revenue gap. The regulatory committee decided on a $5 a month surcharge to anyone with solar panels.

In my opinion the utility companies are acting disingenuously. The reality is that solar power is becoming increasingly economically affordable without any subsidies. As this happens more and more people will install such panels. Batteries are becoming more sophisticated so that such people will be able to store energy accumulated during the day and rely even less on utility companies.

Those who get solar panels and reduce their costs should not be punished for such a move. Power companies that try to disrupt the future of solar energy are fighting a losing battle. They must recognize this coming trend and adjust their business model rather than trying to regulate competition out of business. One suggestion in the comments that made sense to me was to break the bill into sections for actual electricity use and infrastructure. Everyone would pay the infrastructure portion of the bill equally but payment for use would be based on … use.

This attempt to disrupt natural capitalistic processes via regulations stands against everything for which a libertarian stands. Let the market dictate. If solar becomes viable then it will produce its own economic winners in an organic fashion. If it is not viable, then it will not.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

 

A ‘D’ Student on the Honor Roll?

Honor RollThere’s an interesting story making the rounds that is the sort that inflames passions. A student in Pasco Middle School of Dade County in the Sunshine state of Florida got 4 A’s, 1 C, and 1 D on his report card which was good enough for a 3.1667 Grade Point Average.

The Pasco Middle School has the cutoff for honor roll students at 3.15, thus young Douglas Tillack received the honor. This apparently upset his mother who thought any student getting a D on their report card could hardly be called an honor student.

It is prominently mentioned early in the article that nearly 50% of all students at the school are on the honor roll. I expected there to be a firestorm of anger in the comments about the lowering of standards in U.S. school. Certainly the article prominently featured a woman with that complaint. There was some of that to be sure but I was surprised by how many people came to the same conclusion as did I. If the cutoff is at 3.15 and the score was 3.16 then he rightfully deserves a place on the honor roll.

If the system was that in addition to the 3.15 you could have no single grade lower than a B then Douglas would have been left off the list. We have to draw lines and it’s important to follow the rules.

I am in agreement with Mrs. Tillack in that the qualifications to be on the honor roll probably need to be increased. She was also upset that on his report card it was written, “Good job“. Upon her complaint this was changed to “Work on civics. Ask for help.” Civics apparently being the subject in which Douglas received a D. This is a reasonable outcome.

This story doesn’t really rouse my passions. I think Mrs. Tillack basically did the right thing except the interviews with the media. She went to the school board and asked for a change.

What I don’t like is the opportunistic outcry from people who think this is symptomatic of the lowering of our standards. Of the “feel good” movement to encourage kids even when they are doing poorly. I don’t see this case as such an example. In this case I see a School Board, duly elected by voters, who decided what was going to qualify a student for the honor roll. I see them following the rules they set out.

If the people of that school district don’t like the qualification being at 3.15 or at including students with D’s and F’s then they have recourse. They vote for the School Board members. They can petition them to change the rules.

Don’t go to the media and air your complaints. Don’t use it as an excuse to attack ideology with which you disagree. It’s your school district and your rules that allowed it to happen. Get out there and make change!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Unemployment is a Two-way Street

Skill GapI just read a pair of articles, here and here, about the United States’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and the causes thereof. The basic premise is that there are plenty of jobs but young Americans don’t have the skill to fill them, the so-called skill gap.

I’m quickly approaching my 50th birthday and many of my friends are now in fairly high-level positions with their companies. I know a woman who is highly placed at Monsanto, another who one day will likely be the owner of her family chemical company, a good friend is a high-level executive at AT&T, another few friends are in managerial positions at Boeing, and another friend’s wife has a prominent position at Siemens. I don’t mention these people to brag about how well some of my friends are doing, although I’m certainly glad that such high-achievers hang out with a teacher and writer like me!

My point is that there seems to be a fairly strong consensus in the business world that not enough young Americans have the skills necessary to do the work required. At my workplace we’re constantly trying to hire computer technicians and, as often as not, the young hires can’t do the job.

The astonishingly weak scores of young U.S. students in testing indicates this problem is not going away and is, in fact, growing worse.

The world is transitioning to the information age and this is as important as was the industrial revolution that occurred during the 19th century. We need workers who can do the job. These workers will rise through the ranks and become tomorrow’s leaders.

The lack of skills are not simply based in technical knowledge but includes huge problems with writing and communication. Practical experience is woefully inadequate.

How do we resolve this situation? There are no easy answers.

It starts with parents stressing education and achievement to their children. That’s what they are doing in India and China. It’s what Jewish and Asian-American parents have done for generations and it works.

Schools must make sure students know how to learn. This is especially important in the early years of education because technical skills will be taught later. Teachers must demand more from their students, not less.

Higher education must focus more on practical realities and less on theory, for certain fields at least.

Business must make it clear to the education providers what it will take to be employed in the modern world. What sort of skills are necessary. This is already happening as more and more companies reach into universities to hire summer interns and eventually transition them to full-time employees. Apprentice programs in Europe and particularly Germany encourage kids to skip higher education altogether and go straight into the business world and learn a trade.

The important point about this sort of thing is that there is no single solution. There is no overnight change that can be implemented to solve the problem. We must work together to promote various ideas. The solutions I’ve outlined above are merely nascent ideas and not fully detailed plans-of-action.

What we must imagine is what will happen to the United States if we don’t produce enough people to do the job properly. What will happen to our industry, our innovation, our economic power?

It’s not just about being employed, making a living, having quality of life. Unemployment, when it is driven by lack of qualified personnel, is a harbinger of danger for our nation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Kill all the Chinese and Fire Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel as HitlerI’m not exactly certain how I missed this earth shattering story but apparently a segment of the Chinese-American community is incensed about what a kid said during a Jimmy Kimmel show.

Kimmel has a Kids’ Table segment where he asks young children questions about serious issues the nation and world face. In this case he asked what the country should do about the $1.3 trillion we owe to China.

One young fellow decided that killing all the Chinese was a reasonable solution. Kimmel tried to suggest that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea but quickly moved on to other suggestions. One young girl argued rather persuasively that if we tried to kill all the Chinese they would try to kill us back and that might not be good. The boy countered with the idea that the Chinese would all be dead by that time so we had nothing to fear. In other words, children lobbing childish ideas. It was all rather humorous, if a bit dark.

In the ensuing outrage Kimmel offered an apology for offending anyone of Asian or Chinese heritage. He expressed the idea that the show merely meant to entertain. That they don’t control or condone what the children say.

This apology apparently did not go over well with as many as 1,500 people protesting outside the ABC studio where his show is produced. Jimmy is accused of teaching kids hatred, promoting genocide, and being a general Hitler like figure in the world. A petition to fire Kimmel was posted on the White House website and has generated a significant number of signatures.

I suppose the idea is that Kimmel should have stopped the segment and gotten into a serious discussion about how genocide against the largest population on earth was not a good idea. He laughed, he told them it was a bad idea, they’re kids. End of story.

A large part of me wants to think the entire protest is actually just an attempt at humor but apparently it is not.

I don’t even know how to respond. Should I try logical arguments about how kids say silly things they don’t mean all the time? That kids often say illogical and ridiculous things. Should I point out that Kimmel laughed it off and tried to explain why the idea was bad? Should I tell people being overly sensitive does their various causes no good? Should I try to write a dissertation about humor?

I’m stumped.

I will make one suggestion and I’ve made it before. I’m of Jewish heritage and history is my favorite subject. I know a thing or two about Hitler and the Nazi party. How in the early 1930’s young German women were paraded around town tied to polls and physically assaulted because they refused to call off engagements to young German Jews. How citizens were beaten and even killed for not giving the Hitler salute during parades. How they rounded up disabled children telling parents the children were being taken to schools where they would be treated with the latest medicine, and then killed them.

My advice, don’t compare Jimmy Kimmel to a Nazi, to Hitler. You don’t win me over.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

The Public Perception of Being Overweight

Hating Fat PeoplePerhaps I’m not the best person in the world to be talking about overweight people and the public perception they face in the United States. I’m 5′ 7″ and about 165 pounds. I work out five days a week and come from a family of relatively thin people. Still, the pure mean-spirited nastiness I see directed towards overweight people sometimes stuns me.

I just finished reading a story about a Frenchman who was denied a flight back to France because he weighs over 500 pounds. The airline couldn’t accommodate him because of his weight. In the article it was mentioned that he was in the United States receiving medical treatment for a hormone disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This is in all likelihood at least partially responsible for his weight gain while in the U.S.

The family made alternate plans and will now take a train to the coast and liner to Europe. I understand the airline and their policy and certainly the family itself does not seem to have an issue with happened, or at least nothing of that sort was mentioned in the article.

What prompted me to write this blog was the avalanche of horrible comments below the article itself. I’ve a number of friends who battle weight problems and, even though I’m relatively thin, I’m trying to get a little more fit and drop some weight.

The thing about losing weight that is so difficult is that eating is something we do every day. Eating can be an incredible joyful and sensual experience. I love to eat good food. I’ve been accused by dining mates of having sex with a particular good order of oysters. Drool … oysters on the half-shell.

If you are a drug addict, or a cigarette smoker, or an alcoholic the best method of removing the addiction from your life is to completely end the habit, cold-turkey as they call it. That’s just not possible with food. We must eat and it is generally healthy to eat multiple times each day. There is temptation at every turn. To lose weight and keep it off you must be strong for not a week or a month but for the rest of your life.

In addition it is not just eating better but you must exercise. You must find time in an already busy day to get to the gym and do cardiovascular and weight work. That is the only true path to fitness and anyone who tells you it’s easy is lying.

I’m single, I have no pets, I work at most 40 hours a week so it’s not that hard for me to get to the gym almost every day, but even then it’s not easy. I have to make myself do it. I shop only for myself so if I refrain from buying fatty foods at the grocery store then I’m not tempted by having them nearby.

Losing weight and keeping it off is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. It’s not easy, it requires effort every day, multiple times a day.

What bothers me the most is all the hate towards overweight people. It’s not like I’m covering exciting new ground here. The vast majority of people know that it is difficult to keep off weight. The diet industry is huge. The exercise industry is huge. Food is cheap and abundant. It is designed to be tasty so that we overeat. Human nature is to eat while the eating is good.

So, why all the hate? Why the nasty comments? If almost everyone realizes how difficult it is to lose weight and get fit why do we see so many spiteful comments?

When my overweight friends take steps to solve the problem I encourage them. I help in any way I can. I don’t make nasty comments about them to their face or behind their back. What’s the difference between me and the people making those nasty comments?

I’m at a point in my life where I’m increasingly less inclined to be cruel to other people in order to feel better about myself. In fact, being cruel makes me feel worse about myself. If you’ll forgive my smug self-satisfaction, I’m simply the better person.

Are you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Hazing Can Be a Good Thing

Rite of PassageHazing is in the news lately with a plethora of stories about the Miami Dolphins football team and in particular the incidents between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.

There are a lot of opinions about who is in the wrong in that particular case. What I want to talk about is the real purpose of hazing and how it clearly got out of control with the Dolphins.

One of the major issues is that people confuse the term hazing with the idea of Rite of Passage. Most hazing is really just Rite of Passage ceremonies gone out of control. When hazing is done properly as a Rite of Passage it serves a useful and productive purpose.

When someone joins an organization there are already established veterans of that group in positions of leadership. There is a clear delineation between those who have already worked for an organization and those who are newcomers. This is most clearly seen in groups that are exposed to dangerous situations, particularly the military.

These Rites of Passage tend to be modestly painful and somewhat humiliating but are on the whole affirming in nature. It means that a newcomer to an organization has successfully joined and is welcome as a full-fledged member.

So, where does it all go wrong and become hazing? How does a bully and sadistic person like Incognito get into a position where he can satisfy his sick urges by hurting other people? I’m not here to argue about who is right and who is wrong in the Dolphins situation, there are no winners there. Incognito is a sick man and his history of behavior throughout life shows it. Martin was too timid and let things get out of hand. What I want to talk about is how Incognito and men like him are allowed to live out their violent pseudo-sexual fantasies without being curbed by rational men.

The Rite of Passage is a good thing but it attracts bad people. People who enjoy hurting others. People who enjoy humiliating others. People who get a perverse sexual satisfaction from being in a position of power and abusing those under them. People like Incognito. If you’ve ever seen the movie Dazed and Confused the opening scenes illustrate the difference starkly and the entire movie studies this subject with great clarity.

The sociopath and borderline personalities of the world are attracted to the hazing process; of this there is no question. However, as long as veteran leadership is alert to such individuals and takes active steps to curb them, then the Rite of Passage will remain a positive experience. When leadership fails then disaster follows.

Leadership, or coaches and veterans, on the Dolphins bear the brunt of the responsibility for what happened. They willfully chose to allow it to happen. They can claim ignorance all they want, it’s their job to be leaders. It’s their duty to help the rookies and young players become better men. It’s their responsibility to curb men like Incognito who are what they are and always will be so.

This failure of leadership, this utter abrogation of responsibility, this moral and ethical indifference is what allowed everything else to happen. Good people must always stand up when they see abuses of power. Good soldiers, good police officers, good football players, good college students. When this happens the sick people who relish in pain and abuse cannot succeed. The police officers who abuse suspects, the military officers who torture prisoners, the prison guards who abuse inmates, the teachers who abuse students, and all of their ilk cannot destroy the lives of those under their control.

If you are a leader, be a leader. A lot of people’s lives depend on you.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Your Freedom is my Freedom – Child Forced to Participate in Pledge of Allegiance

Your Freedom is My FreedomThere’s a great story in the news today. A teacher from the Sunshine state of Florida forced her Jehovah’s Witness fourth grade student to place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. When the student resisted the teacher told him “You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag.

Why is it a great story? Because the teacher was suspended for five days without pay and the comment section is filled with people who absolutely agree that the teacher was in the wrong.

It’s not about patriotism, it’s not about loving your country, it’s not about being a free-thinker; it’s about your constitutional rights, it’s about my constitutional rights. I’ve got a buddy who doesn’t stand during the national anthem and we get looks, angry looks. The constitution isn’t about uniformity. The constitution isn’t about conformity. The constitution doesn’t make for a pretty country. The constitution doesn’t make for a nation in lockstep formation.

The constitution guarantees me rights. It guarantees you rights. It guarantees members of the Ku Klux Klan the right to assemble and say vile things. The constitution guarantees the right of members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest the funerals of service members.

The constitution guarantees you the right to say nasty things about President Obama. To make fun of his name. It guarantees you the right to say vile things about members of the Tea Party. It guarantees all these things but most importantly it guarantees me the right to say and do as I please with some limits.

Don’t like it? Tough.

If someone wants to look at my buddy with hate because he doesn’t stand for the anthem that’s their absolute right. If someone wants to tell him they don’t like it, well, I’ll tell them right back to mind their own damn business. This is the United States of America, bub.

His Freedom is my Freedom. Your Freedom is my Freedom.

Those who spew hate? Their Freedom is my Freedom.

A Flag Burner’s Freedom is my Freedom.

You want to take my freedom? Here I am.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne