Why Writing Posthumous Notes to your Children is Selfish

posthumous lettersI’m not going to win any friends with this post but there’s a trend I’ve noted of late that I find unhealthy. I just read yet another story in which a soon to be deceased person plans to write a long series of messages to their child.

This trend apparently took its cue from the movie P.S. I Love You.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Garth Callaghan has only the best intentions as he pens a note a day to his young daughter. He wants to express that he loves her and offer her advice as she moves on in life. He knows that he might die in the near future and wants to let his daughter know he loves and cares about her.

As well-intentioned as these notes are, I think they are ultimately selfish. They are about him and not his daughter. They are about his unwillingness to accept the fact that death might be imminent. He wants to remain alive and imagines he is doing so by writing these notes. I’ve not see P.S. I Love You but the premise, from what I can tell, is the same. That the dead husband has only the interests of his widow at heart. That he wants to help her move on with life. I’m certain this was exactly the result of his letters in the make-believe world of movies.

It’s my opinion a series of posthumous letters from a dead relative cannot possibly ease the loss but only exacerbate them. Constant reminders of your dead father, husband, wife, or dog cannot be good for a person’s mental well-being. Yes, it’s good to have memories, loving memories. I’m not even saying a long-farewell letter shouldn’t be written. I’m suggesting this constant barrage of letters telling a loved one how to act or how much you still love them, even after death, is purely selfish and not in the interest of your loved one.

I’m not questioning the motivation, just the action. If we want to tell someone we love them we should do it, now. If we want to give someone some advice, we should do so. This idea that I have all the answers and will continue to do so even from beyond the grave is delusional and selfish.

I know my opinion on this isn’t going to be popular. I don’t think Callaghan is intentionally doing harm.

Some people might argue that this very blog is all about Tom Liberman and not about the reader. They’d be right! It is about me. It’s my opinions. I’m expressing them because I think they should be heard. But have no doubt, this blog is selfish and it’s largely about me, me, me. I want you to read the blog, click the links to my books, and purchase them.

Before you lay into me about how wrong I am, I would like you to honestly answer one question. After that, do as you will.

If you were to write a bunch of letters or emails or whatever to a loved one to be delivered after your death; are you doing it for your loved one or are you doing it for you?

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

Doffing and Donning the Final Decision

Donning and DoffingI recently wrote about the case before the Supreme Court which asked the question of whether or not a company must pay their workers for time spent putting on and taking off required clothing and safety gear. The main issue being safety gear.

Well, the court has ruled!

In my original blog I discussed how difficult a question the court was examining. I found it not surprising that most of the commenters didn’t think it was a tricky question and wondered why the court was examining something so “simple”. Most people thought the case was rather silly but the reality is that industry was watching it very closely. There are many jobs which require a uniform or considerable safety equipment and the amount of time spent changing clothes can run from a few minutes to more than an hour for “clean room” laboratories. Police Officers, Firemen, food industry workers, mill workers, the list goes on and on and it was an important question. Are companies required to pay people for the time they spend doffing and donning?

My suggestion was that some minimal change time be the responsibility of the employees and anything over it be the responsibility of the company. Let’s say five minutes to change in and out of clothes at the beginning and end of the workday. So, if it takes an emergency technician eight minutes to change in and out of clothes they must be paid for the three minutes over the “free” period.

What did the Supreme Court decide? In a unanimous decision written by Justice Scalia they decided it was not their business. If a contract between employees and a business stipulates that donning and doffing should be paid time then, it should be so; it not, it shouldn’t.

This is viewed as a “win” for U.S. Steel because the current contract with the union does not pay for such time. The reality is that the union will just have to negotiate such pay in future contracts. It’s not really a “win” for anyone, it just clarifies the law. If you want to be paid for donning and doffing then you have to make sure it’s in the contract.

Upon reflection and reading the opinion I’m in agreement. My system would, as Justice Scalia points out, convert federal judges into time-study professionals.

It’s good when laws are clarified so that everyone knows the rules and can write contracts accordingly. People may view this as a win for business and a loss for employees but I don’t see it that way. Employees who spend considerable time donning and doffing will have to make sure their contracts cover such events. Companies that want to attract the best and hardest working employees understand they will have to offer such compensation where a large amount of time is spent in such activities.

I would tell the Justices “good job” but I don’t think they much need to hear it from the likes of me.

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

Scarlett Johansson and the Banned Phrase

Scarlett and SodaStreamSuper Bowl 48 (yes, I wrote 48, not LXVIII) is fast approaching and that means it is time for advertising executives to get their game face on. I suppose the players need to prep as well.

There’s an interesting controversy that gives me the opportunity to write a blog about Scarlett Johansson, football, capitalism, and my libertarian ideology.

Win, win, win, and win!

Scarlett is doing an advertisement for a company called SodaStream that allows people to make soda in their home from raw ingredients rather than having to purchase finished soda.

There is another controversy over the fact that SodaStream is an Israeli company with a factory in the West Bank but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. What I want to talk about is a commercial SodaStream planned to run during the Super Bowl in which Scarlett says, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi“.

This was apparently enough for Fox, who is airing the game, to refuse to the show it. They have told SodaStream to change those words to something that doesn’t mention the two beverage giants by name.

Some countries have laws against comparative advertising but the United States actually encourages it as long as the comparisons are clearly identified, truthful, and non-deceptive.

So what’s the problem? Pepsi and Coca-Cola are both sponsors of the Super Bowl and advertisements shown by both companies are much more aggressive against each other than is this SodaStream advertisement against them. Coca-cola representatives claim they didn’t put any pressure on Fox to refuse to air the commercial.

I suspect it is an effort by someone at the Fox Network to curry favor from Coca-cola and Pepsi. Normally I would say that it’s their network and they have the right to refuse a commercial. I only wish they had censored the Go Daddy, Bar Refaeli kissing scene from Super Bowl 47. I’m eating here!

But this refusal seems to be for no good reason and smacks of censorship, favoritism, and particularly crony capitalism.

Of course, it accomplishes the opposite of what was desired in that it gives SodaStream a huge amount of free publicity and everyone will want to see the original ad.

That being the case, I can’t get overly angry about Fox’s decision but I don’t like it. It’s difficult enough for a small company to take on an Enterprise Business in the world today. If small businesses aren’t even allowed to advertise as they desire, within the realms of legality, then their uphill struggle is even greater.

Competition is good. Suppression of competition is bad. What’s good for our country is the free exercise of capitalism, not Crony Capitalism.

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

Misleading Headline Crowdfunding and Zach Braff

ZachBraff and CrowdfundingZach Braff tried to destroy crowdfunding, at least that’s what the headline seems to proclaim.

Despite Zach Braff, crowdfunding Continues to Grow.

The article goes on to explain how Braff’s crowdfunding movie project, Wish I Was Here, brought a whole new level of interest to the idea of crowdfunding which is exactly the opposite of what the headline suggests.

For those of you who are not familiar with the idea of crowdfunding I’ll explain. The concept is that you start a project and anyone donates money towards it in exchange for future rewards dependent on the level of money given. For a movie perhaps you would get entrance to the screening and attend an after-party with Braff.

As I read the comments below the story there was a distinctly negative tone to them. People were angry that the wealthy, like Braff, were asking regular people for money to fund projects. The comments were filled with angry people suggesting that anyone donating money was a fool.

I shook my head, why this animosity, why the anger? Time to put on my Critical Thinking cap. Who would be against crowdfunding?

A quick perusal of the Wiki article brings immediate clarity to the subject. Bankers. Legislation is already signed and regulation is on the way. I expect a veritable flotilla of articles and politicians trying to convince us how dangerous is crowdfunding and how it must be regulated. All for our own protection, of course.

Let’s imagine for a moment a community needs a road repaired. In the past the government would contract out to do this using bonds. Perhaps a business needs to make a capital improvement and they raise money by borrowing it from a bank. The money is returned with interest.

In a crowdfunding situation who is left out of the equation? Banks.

I contribute to a cause of my choosing directly. I’m aware of exactly what my “interest” payment will be. Perhaps I fund a Kickstarter campaign for a Pathfinder Compatible Role-Playing Game called Throne of Night. I give $150 dollars and, if it is completed, get all the books in the campaign signed by the authors.

Naturally there is a risk. The books might not be finished; although there are then legal remedies to get my money back. Crowdfunding is considered a legal contract.

Crowdfunding appeals directly to my Libertarian ideology. If a community cannot raise the funds for a road improvement then perhaps the improvement was not needed.

The idea is certainly appealing to people as more and more projects are funded this way. Imagine a world where projects that are the most worthwhile to people are the ones that get financial backing. Wasteful projects that appeal to a very few cannot get funded. You loan directly to friends; you take out loans not from banks but from a group of people who believe in you. Tax dollars not needed because projects were funded directly by the willing.

Is there danger? Certainly. Is it possible that a hugely valuable project isn’t appealing to the masses and doesn’t get completed? Yes. Can you lose your investment to shady operators? Absolutely. Are your neighbors going to crowdfund your gutter replacement, probably not.

I’m certainly not suggesting that crowdfunding can pay for all capital expenses but each project funded by people is one less funded by banks. That’s money out of someone’s pocket.

I expect to see a big push to vilify crowdfunding. It’s a danger to a certain group of people. People who have a lot of money and a lot of power in politics.

Where do you stand?

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

Psyche Mission – How Big is Big?

Psyche AsteroidI read an article the other day about how scientists would like to send a probe to an asteroid called Psyche (16 Psyche). The article itself focused on the fact that the asteroid is thought to be made up almost entirely of iron-nickel. It is irregularly shaped at 240x185x140 kilometers.

This was not a particularly “sexy” science article and didn’t attract the usual stream of trolls. A healthy number of the comments were from science geeks like myself. I’m not sure they would embrace the term geek, as do I.

Much of the talk centered around bringing Psyche into Earth orbit and mining the metal. One person mentioned the weight of Psyche 2.27x10E+19 (10 times 10 times 10, nineteen times) kilograms and how moving such a massive object would not be easy. Most people skipped right over this reality. I think because the number is really too large to fully comprehend.

I wanted to see if I could figure out the math and maybe get an idea in my mind how big is BIG. The NASA calculation is based on the influence that Psyche has on the orbit of objects around it but I hoped to figure out how much a roughly 200 kilometer sphere of iron would weigh. Math is not my strong suit so off to the Internet I went.

We need to be able to calculate the volume of a sphere and know the density of iron.

The volume of a sphere is calculated by this formula: 4/3*Pi*radius^3 (cubed).

Iron has a density of 7.87 grams per cubic centimeter.

So to get the volume comparable with the density we need to convert the roughly 200 kilometers into centimeters. Easily done. There are 100 centimeters in a meter and 1,000 meters in a kilometer so there are 100,000 centimeters in a kilometer. Multiply that by 200 and we get 20 million centimeters.

Our equation thus reads 4/3*Pi*20,000,000^3.

The next thing we need to know is that math isn’t always done left to right, it’s done by something called an Order of Operations. Some of you might remember Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. The operator takes precedent over left to right.

  1. Parenthesis
  2. Exponential
  3.  Multiply and Divide
  4. Add and Subtract

The upshot of that is we take 20 million cubed first. Then go back and take 4/3*Pi and multiply the cubed result by that. The volume is 3.35103E+22.

From here is relative simple to multiply that result by the 7.87 grams per cubic centimeter density of iron and then convert grams into pounds for many in my audience. I ended up with a result of 5.81E+20 lbs or 2.64E+20 kilograms.

My numbers don’t match the official mass of Psyche likely because I roughly guessed the spherical size and based the entire weight on the density of iron. Both of these were estimates but the result I got is fairly close to the official mass and I think I’ve done my math right.

What’s the point of all this?

When it is noted that Psyche has a mass of about 2.27x10E+19 kilograms what we are really saying is that it weighs this much:

  • 22,700,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms
  • 50,044,933,515,967,200,000 pounds.

No wonder most people just skipped over it. That number is so big it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist at all. We cannot imagine such a thing and yet Psyche is just a fairly large object in the asteroid belt. The biggest object in the asteroid belt is called Ceres and contains more fresh water than is found on earth.

What’s the point of all of this?

I suppose I’m suggesting that we stop and smell the density. Having a great idea, mining iron from Psyche, is a good thing; but don’t ignore obstacles because they are difficult to grasp. They are the most important thing to consider in any plan.

Think about how Big is Big and what difficulties it presents. Not just in mining an asteroid but in everything you do.

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

What’s the Best Thing that happened to you Today?

Happy MomentAs I walked into my yoga class today the instructor asked me the following question: What’s the best thing that happened to you today?

People have accused me of being too literal, of over-thinking, and of other general traits wherein I take something apparently simple and make it difficult. I’ll run through my thoughts about that question and then you let you decided if I do exhibit such traits.

So, what did I think when asked that seemingly simple question?

Today is the day I published my new website and that was pretty nice but the act of publishing was not a particularly great accomplishment. All the work I did in making it, building the pages, styling, creating the navigation, writing the content, and more led up to a relatively simple moment.

Once the site was published came the task of trying to figure what was wrong, with the help of Dave Mueller, and fixing it. Eventually most of the mistakes were ironed out but a few tasks need still be finished.

So I asked myself, what was the best part of all of that, and was any of it better than the fact that on a snowy, blustery, bad driving sort of day I timed every light perfectly and barely slowed down all the way from my driveway to my favorite parking spot at work?

So much happens to us in a day and most of it is good. The alarm goes off when it could have failed. The power stayed on overnight and everything was warm when I awoke despite the cold outside. Was this the “best” thing that happened to me all day? For if the power went out and I woke to a frozen house with bursting pipes,well certainly that would have been much worse than delaying my website for a day.

Many people when asked about the best thing that ever happened to them will recall weddings, graduations, births of children, and things of this nature but none of them happened in isolation from the rest of life. You did not instantly marry your spouse but made a series of decisions, presumably good ones, that led to that moment. Is there in fact such a thing as a best thing in a day or a life?

Each incident is part of the whole. How am I to rank them? In my drive to work which of the several green lights I arrived at in succession was the best? Were they all equal? Was the last the best? The first?

I ran these thoughts by my yoga instructor who looked at me with wide eyes, I didn’t think I was asking that complicated a question, she said.

That’ll teach her. Ha!

Then I realized my answer. The question was the answer. For the question inspired me to think, and thinking is the thing I love the most. It also inspired me to write this blog and I truly enjoy writing this blog.

What’s the best thing that happened to you today?

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

New WordPress CMS Website

New WebsiteI’ve had a website for a couple of years now but it was hand-coded and difficult to maintain. I decided to update to a WordPress based website using a Responsive Theme. I’m not the best at site design but I think the new one looks lots better than the old one.

WordPress makes it so easy to edit content that I’m sure I’ll keep this one much more up-to-date than the old one.

http://www.tomliberman.com

I think it’s a lot easier to navigate and if you want to purchase any of my books there are easy to find buttons that will take you to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

All in all I think it’s a huge improvement.

Check it out and tell me what you think.

Thanks, WordPress!

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

 

Netflix Doomed! – Stupid Headline of the Week

Netflix Stupid HeadlineThe financial sector seems to be the most rife with stupid headlines although this week it’s The Street instead of Motley Fool that takes the prize.

Netflix Could Crash – Hard – Next Week boldly screams the headline.

When you click on the article you find a highly speculative piece of fluff wherein the author has a hunch, based on the assumed ulterior motives of another story, that this might be the quarter that Netflix doesn’t meet its subscriber expectations.

Now Rocco could be correct about Netflix, but this article is so speculative and filled with assumption, rather than any actual metrics, that it’s hard not to ridicule the author. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want him providing me with financial advice. It’s not only a stupid headline but the article is probably worse.

Enjoy.

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

 

Robert Gates and the War Powers Resolution

Separation of powersFormer Defense Secretary Robert Gates is out hawking his book Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War and he’s making a few people angry. He’s a man who tells it like he thinks it and there are some candid criticisms (and praise) about the men and women he’s served with; including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and others.

The man is trying to sell books and make some money, an endeavor I intimately understand. That being said his latest criticisms struck a nerve for me. He accuses Congress of abrogating their responsibilities in regards to the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Gates presided as Secretary of Defense over two wars he now seems to think should not have happened. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars started during the Bush administration. One continues to this day and the other of which we will face consequences from for the foreseeable future.

I’m not going to debate the wars (Or Gates’s various criticisms) but I do want to discuss that idea that Federal and State elected representatives continue to weaken themselves and allow an increased amount of power to flow to the Executive branch. In particular the War Powers Resolution.

As an Independent I hear the complaints of friends who are both Democrats and Republican and it might come as a surprise to my partisan friends (but not fellow independents) that the complaints about concentration of power in the Executive Branch are exactly the same from both and always come from the side not currently occupying the office.

It was argued the War Powers Resolution was designed to make the United States a safer place by allowing the President to make aggressive war, on short notice, without approval from Congress. The reality is that Congress didn’t want to be held responsible for the unpopular decision to send men off to war, off to die. It should be an unpopular decision, it should be a difficult decision to make. We shouldn’t be in the business of making the decision easier and laying the blame on others.

President Nixon vetoed the act but Congress override the veto.

The act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 244 – 170, the Senate by votes of 75 – 20 and 75 -18 (on the veto override).

The breakdown by party for those interested is:

House of Representatives (65 not voting)

Yes: 162 Democrats, 75 Republican

No: 38 Democrats 84 Republicans

Senate (3 not voting)

Yes: 47 Democrats and 27 Republicans

No: 7 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

The override vote was largely the same with a few more Yes votes from both parties.

One must be cautious assigning blame or credit to one party or the other because it’s a fairly common tactic for those that are actually for a bill to vote against it once they know there are enough votes to pass. Because the Democrats were in power they largely made the decision although if enough Republicans had united it likely would have been blocked.

Republicans have had sole control of Congress at times since 1973, and so have Democrats, and yet the War Powers Resolution remains in force. It could have easily been repealed at those times by either party. Easily. It has not because those in charge like the trappings of power, it is those out of power who scream of the abuses only to become silent when they get elected.

Solutions?

I don’t see any because, from what I can tell, the average US citizen is as adverse to accepting responsibility for mistakes as are elected officials, no surprise that.

The next time you get into a debate and your opponent brings up a valid point do a little self-analysis on your response. Did you acknowledge the opposing idea or did you deflect, launch a counter-attack, and blame someone else? Did you even listen to the other side?

I leave you with a single thought. The Founding Fathers created a government with Separation of Powers for a very good reason. If that separation is eroding, what does it mean for our future?

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

No Shoppers, No Stores

Retail Foot TrafficWarning – Warning – Warning! Boring economic blog ahead.

I just finished what I think is a great article about how foot traffic at retail stores is dropping dramatically and how less retail space is opening each year in the United States.

Great news? For the doomsayers it means that Americans have no money and aren’t doing any shopping. I take an entirely different view. Firstly, Americans aren’t going to the store nearly as often because they can do most of their shopping online. That much is pretty obvious and is a trend that has been going on for a number years. The second thing I think it means is that Americans are more wary of going deeply into debt to purchase things.

The most recent economic crisis made us wary, just like it made those who survived the Great Depression big savers. For too long the government has encouraged us, nay, bribed us to spend, spend, spend.

From 1946 to 1973 the US economy grew by an average of 3.8% a year and median household income grew by 2.1% a year. The children of the Great Depression died and their children grew up expecting an expanding economy that would go on forever.

Since 1973 the economy has grown at an average rate of 2.7% a year and median household income has grown by 0.3% per year. Even these number were largely propped up by your tax dollars in the form of “Stimulus”. It started under President Reagan, the Democratically controlled House, and a Senate controlled by Republicans from 1981 to 1987. They managed to triple our national debt trying to stave off economic recession.

It’s been nothing but the same since. Ever increasing national debt in the pursuit of economic growth to match the post World War II era. That’s not my point today. My point today is that it just might be possible that Americans are voluntarily tightening their belts!

I know the naysayers will claim we are still in a depression, the unemployment numbers are higher than they seem. It’s funny, when a republican is President it’s my democrat friends who claim the numbers are rigged but when it’s a democrat in the White House it’s my republican friends who make the exact same argument. Thus you gain a little glimpse into the life of an Independent.

The reality is the numbers are rigged, but they are the same number so they are useful as comparison tools. The equations are largely unchanged, and if they show the economy is growing and the deficit is shrinking, it is doing so in comparison to numbers from previous years.

I can also judge by personal stories of friends in various businesses. Things are going much better, for virtually everyone I know, than they were in four years ago. Not that I think the policies of the democrats or republicans are to be credited or blamed, it’s more of a natural cyclical event.

So, if the economy is growing, certainly not booming, why are retailers not building, why are shoppers not shopping? Online spending is up immensely but not quite enough to cover the losses of the retail brick and mortar stores.

It’s certainly possible I’m wrong and that Americans are not becoming more frugal but it’s undeniable that we’re staying home to do our shopping. This is something I’ve spoken about in before. Read that blog to understand why I think it’s such a great thing, I won’t reiterate here.

So, when I hear fewer shopping malls are opening, when I hear that foot traffic in existing malls is way down, well, it brings a smile to my face. Then again, I’m an introvert. See you online!

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

Why I’m Against College Football Playoffs

BCS National ChampionshipI saw an article this morning about how Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, didn’t like the Bowl Championship Series in college football and would prefer a sixteen team playoff. I think he is likely in the majority. Most people would prefer to see a playoff and we’re going to get one starting next year when the top four teams will playoff for the NCAA National Championship.

The arguments for a playoff center around the possibility that the eventual NCAA football champion generally has not proven itself to be the best team on the field. There are often multiple teams with equal records and the champion is picked through a series of formulas and human driven polls. This leads to a murky picture when it comes to a single champion.

In many forms of college sports there is a championship at the end the year with the most notable being basketball with March Madness. It is the same in wrestling, baseball, swimming, and other sports so it seems perfectly reasonable to expect the same with football.

I’m not going to say that people who want a playoff, be it sixteen teams or just four teams, are wrong. I’m just saying that I prefer the Bowl Games.

My rational is simple. It’s better for the kids playing the game. The vast majority of the seniors will be playing their last organized football game. Most of them won’t be going on to a professional career. These Bowl Games give those seniors one last memory, and for half of them, one last win.

As an example; the college team I most identify with is the University of Missouri and they lost in the SEC Championship match against Auburn. If there had been an eight team playoff it’s likely Missouri would have been invited. That means that they probably would have lost the last game of their season although it’s possible they would have emerged as the National Champion.

What happened is they got a great trip down to Arlington, Texas for the Cotton Bowl and managed to win a hard-fought battle against Oklahoma State. Those kids ended their college football career on an amazing high. Many of them were playing their last game of football, as I mentioned before. I think this is a good thing. I think it’s great that a young athlete can go out with a win, a memory. It think it outweighs the public’s desire for an outright National Champion.

I realize that most people disagree with me. I realize there is a lot of money to be made in a playoff system. I realize people find the current system unsatisfying.

My reasoning boils down to the rather simple idea that the game is for the players; not the fans, not the networks, not the college presidents, not the highly paid broadcasters and sideline reporters, not the NCAA enforcement bureau, not the stadium contractors, and not for me.

Maybe the Aaron Rodgers of the world disagree with me but I’d like to think that there are a lot of guys out there, sitting in an office, who won their last game and cherish the memory and the trophy.

I guess about some things I’m just hopelessly naive.

I doubt I will make many converts with this blog and I’m certain I won’t bring about any change, but I wrote it anyway.

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

Can Bourbon be Japanese? Jim Beam Sold to Suntory

Jim BeamAs I get older I find that I don’t enjoy drinking as much as I did as a lad but I still enjoy a beer, scotch, gin, or whiskey now and again. I started drinking whiskey about twenty years ago when a friend of mine and I frequented a little place here in St. Louis that doesn’t exist anymore. We decided to have a little taste-testing excursion with bourbon. I’ve never looked back!

None of this is really pertinent to the story but perhaps explains why I was a little distressed to find that the iconic bourbon maker Jim Beam was being purchased by a Japanese company called Suntory. Judging by the comments I read at the bottom of the story; I think most people had my initial reaction to the sale, distress. I thought I’d write a blog on why it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Jim Beam is certainly an iconic American whiskey but those of us who imagine the romantic ideal of the family owned business that is beyond the globalization of today’s market are living in a fantasy realm. Beam purchased National Brands and renamed it Fortune Brands in 1987. This purchase brought with it a number of liquor brands and other products. By the time 2010 rolled around the company wasn’t doing so well and Fortune Brands began to spin-off their non-spirit components. The remaining company ended up being called Beam Inc.

During this time they worked hand-in-hand with a number of foreign companies namely Pernod Ricard of France. In addition they sold much of their wine operations to Constellation Brands. For most of the time they were also working directly with a Japanese brewing and distillery company named Suntory.

Beam acted as distributor for Suntory in a number of nations while Suntory did the same from Beam in other countries.

This is reality. We live in a global market and business leaders understand this. The next time you speak with a wealthy person ask them what percentage of their portfolio is in U.S. stocks. It’s not just about average folks purchasing Asian goods at Walmart. This is the world in which we live and those who don’t understand it are doomed to fall by the wayside.

We can spend our energy writing vitriolic comments about how United States has less economic power in the world but it’s not going to reverse the trend. We can complain and moan about how a great American Distillery has been sold out but the other option is worse; they are swamped by larger and more profitable companies and vanish.

While there are certainly dangers to globalization it is the reality of modern business. If you want the United States and the companies therein to bury their head in the sand, to wave their flags and ignore the economics of the actual world, well, be prepared for what happens.

I know we don’t like to hear it but its embrace globalization or be buried by it. This isn’t a joke, ask the CEO of any Fortune 1,000 company. Ask Parker and Craig Beam. They get it.

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

When 3rd Place is really 4th – Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner

Nagusa WagnerThe 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi are fast approaching and many of the US athletes vying to get into the games are entering their final stages of preparation.

The US Olympic Figure Skating Championships, in which no figures are skated, just finished up in Boston and the third place finisher in the Senior ladies side was a young woman named Mirai Nagasu. The Championships are the last big event before the Olympics and generally, but not always, the top three finishers are chosen to represent the team.

I’m not going to go too deeply into a rant here because the reality is that events such as Non-Figure, Figure Skating are judged. Where there is judgment it is difficult to define a quantitative winner. Non-Figure, Figure Skating, Gymnastics, Diving, Ice Dancing, jumping up and down with ribbons and balls, and any number of other Olympic sports are scored in this way. They’ve tried to quantify it by assigning values to particular moves to remove bias and favoritism but there is no way to eliminate such inequity completely in a judged sport.

Even though the media darling Wagner finished in fourth place she was chosen ahead of Nagusa for the Olympic team. The committee in charge of the selections came up with the usual excuses for such a change but it likely comes down to marketability and television ratings. I spoke about the potential demise of wrestling in the Olympics not long ago and before that about the spirit of the Olympics; which ain’t what it used to be.

This particular contretemps which is roiling the Non-Figure, Figure Skating community is so familiar to me that I can’t even get up enough energy to roll my eyes although apparently I can manage to write a blog post.

Is there a point to all this anywhere on the horizon? I suppose.

The thing I love about sport is that the best player or team usually wins. Now, sometimes an official makes a huge error in judgement and changes the outcome but far more often than not there is a battle on the field of a play, and someone wins and someone loses. It is a test of ability and if all sides give it their best effort they can all leave the field with pride. Sure, one team or player lost but if they gave it everything they had, they are a winner.

In sport it doesn’t matter if you’re the huge favorite, if you opponent is an unknown qualifier, you must take the field and beat them. It’s anybody’s game, as they say.

Not so in these heavily judged events. It’s about money, it’s about influence, it’s about popularity on television (money), it’s about how much your friends and family donate to the committee (money).

So, the committee chose not the best skater, but the young woman they thought could generate the most interest. Ho hum. Nothing to see here.

To those who are fans of Non-Figure, Figure Skating I ask one simple question. Why does this incident surprise you?

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

The Worst Investment Ever – Stupid Headline

Warren Buffet Investment StrategyMotley Fool once again rises to the top of the weekly heap with what is truly a stupid headline but for different reasons than usual.

Warren Buffett Says This Is the Worst Investment You Could Ever Own blares the headline.

The headline is so stupid that most rational people will assume it is a nonsense, sensational story. That’s why this headline wins my weekly award. The story is well-written and gives solid financial advice. Avoid large sums of cash as an investment and put your money where it will grow.

The article notes that the majority of people in the country believe that holding cash is your best investment and that purchasing stocks is your fourth best choice. There are a number of graphs and other items sprinkled throughout the article but its basic message is extremely sound. A small amount of cash (as a percentage of your portfolio) is a good idea but if you are not taking advantage of growth funds you are essentially throwing money away.

My message to Motley Fool this week? Don’t hide useful articles behind sensationalist headlines. Something simple like Warren Buffet explains why Cash is a Bad Investment would suffice and, I think, draw in far more viewers.

When you persist in wild headlines you eventually become the boy who cried wolf too much and people will simply ignore your articles, or at least rational people will do so. At least rational people who aren’t scouring the headlines looking for stupidity!

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

You are Destroying America by Linking too Much (Share this Post Now or Your Family will Die)

Spreading LiesA friend of mine just went on a Facebook rant about how blog posts are often Liked, Shared, Linked, and otherwise disseminated to the public with no one actually bothering to check if what was written has any validity. Apparently he saw one too many miracle cancer cures roll by on his feed.

I’ve sort of spoken on this topic before. Here I talked about our culpability in spreading fake cancer cures on Facebook, and here I spoke about the idea of how the news story you click on drives it up the page. I have a weekly Stupid/Misleading Headline feature on this blog.

My friend included a link to this beautifully written and researched blog post on how to spot lies and distortions on the internet. After reading and admiring the post I didn’t want to simply reiterate the points so accurately made by David Wong.

The ways to spot fake articles listed by Wong are not particularly earth shattering. Whenever we read such a headline or story we generally realize it probably isn’t true. What harm could there be in putting in a Link? A Share? A Like? It’s just one click. Wong eloquently explains how these links, shares, and likes drive a story to more and more viewers, generating more and more hits, causing the information to gain credibility.

So, why am I writing this post? I hope to get people to spend some time thinking about their own responsibility for the plethora of false information out there. There is so much false information that it’s very easy to believe what you read and then spread the lies. When we pass along lies of this nature we are doing no one any favors. It is likely that a friend will believe us and tell someone else who will then laugh at them and correctly call them stupid. When you believe something, particularly something that seems unlikely, without bothering to do any checking of facts; you are stupid.

This problem has become so prevalent that many dishonest people are taking advantage of your clicks. They are using you for their own ends. Wong’s blog goes into great detail. As an example; magazines like Forbes now post the blogs of anyone who signs up. This is designed to drive their click rates up. Anyone can write anything and the blog link appears to go to a Forbes article. By having the Forbes name on it, the link seems legitimate, it is not.

The same goes for completely made up science articles, polls, news stories, and just about anything else you see. People simply make up something attention grabbing and sensational and then count on you to link to it.

The very nature of this fraud goes to my Libertarian philosophies of personal responsibility. Do you really want to link horoscope information? The article that proclaims your least favorite politician is DOOMED? Do you want to spread lies? Most of us would feel extremely guilty if we spread a lie about a friend but every time we Share an article we are spreading that information, if the article is a lie, we are liars.

Each time we do something like this we increase the amount of false information on the internet. This sort of thing cannot be stamped out through legislation. It is up to each of us to examine the information and Share it only if we have spent at least a few seconds confirming its veracity.

My advice is that you should avoid being stupid. Spend some time looking into that article before you share it with friends. And, of course, SHARE THIS NOW!!!

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

Are Teachers to Blame for Cheating Students?

Cheating on examThere was an interesting article about what we can learn about teaching from students who cheat. The article references a book called Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty written by James M. Lang.

The article suggested that nearly 75% of students cheat during college and I would guess the number is closer to 100% if you count things like glancing at a neighbor’s result to see if it matches your own. I doubt there are many people at all who have not engaged in at least the mildest form of cheating at one point or another.

The article suggests that certain types of teachers and methods of teaching engender cheating. I’m going to go into that in a minute but I want to quickly talk about what the article was not about.

While reading the comments on the story it became clear that majority of people thought the article was somehow absolving students of culpability if they cheated. That this was some sort of attack on personal responsibility. The idea being that it wasn’t the student’s fault they cheated, it was the instructor. That’s not what the article was about at all. If anyone chooses to cheat, regardless of the circumstances, they should face the consequences of their actions. Again, that’s not what this article was about in any way but I’m trying to prevent comments that are off topic.

Back to the point of the book and the article. The first point of the article suggested that failure was becoming less of an option. With mandatory federal dollars involved in passing an exam, both teachers and students didn’t see failure as viable. The students had to pass the test for the school district to get the money. This led to an environment where students spent most of their time in repetitive (read boring) drills designed to pass the test but not necessarily designed to actually learn material. The book cited several studies in which students who embraced failure as a part of learning ended up learning more.

Certainly in life we often tell people they cannot succeed unless they are willing to fail. In an educational environment where failure is to be avoided at all costs it makes perfect sense to me that achievement and higher level learning would suffer, counter-intuitive though it is. The book suggests rewarding perseverance and hard work over achievement. Again, this seems illogical but a closer examination seems to me to reveal veracity to the idea.

The best way to find achievement is through hard work and tenacity. If we want achievement and don’t stress the methods necessary to get there; we simply invite, even encourage, cheating. If we strongly encourage hard work, study, and perseverance, achievement will take care of itself.

The second thing discussed in the article is that a stimulating environment produces better results than a boring classroom. This seems to me to be self-evident but I’ve witnessed a number of educators suggest otherwise. Learning should not be fun, it’s hard work, I’ve heard more than once.

The article again references the idea of the government mandated testing which results in a stagnant and dull learning environment. Disengaged students don’t learn and often cheat.

The idea here is more straightforward. Educators who provide a stimulating and interesting environment produce students who cheat less and learn more. I have no doubt this is true. It’s easy to think that students fail more difficult classes at a higher rate; however, I think the premise of the article is correct. That a stimulating, interesting, and engaged teacher often has a class that is far more difficult than other teachers but that the students score higher and learn far more. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

I’m certainly not saying we can eliminate cheating altogether but if we can reduce cheating, increase learning, and make things more fun; isn’t that a noble goal? I’m also not saying that those that cheat shouldn’t be held responsible. I’m saying that we shouldn’t dismiss the idea that cheating might be more the fault of the educator than lack of ethics by the student.

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

Legalizing Marijuana will increase Crime – According to this article

mexico and marijuanaI didn’t know if I should post this article under stupid and/or misleading headlines or just express my outrage in general. It’s one of the most irrational pieces of nonsense I’ve read in … well … days. (I read a lot of nonsense trying to find something to blog about)

The headline blares: Legalizing Pot Makes Mexican Cartels Even More Dangerous

Oh no! I’m so very, very frightened now. We must not legalize marijuana for it will be very, very dangerous for me!

Here’s the insane rational for this argument. Marijuana, according to the article, generates about $1.425 billion in annual revenue for Mexican drug cartels. Because of this loss of revenue the cartels will have to resort to other criminal activities. Thus there will be an increase in crime!

The article goes on to discuss how the Mexican drug cartels are terrorizing citizens, carrying out large-scale ransom based kidnappings, extorting legitimate businesses, running prostitution rings, smuggling migrants into the United States, exporting harder drugs, smuggling cigarettes, stealing gas, stealing solvents, and not making poopy in the potty! (Okay, I made that last one up).

All this is true. The drug cartels are doing this thanks in part to the $1.425 billion that marijuana smoking Americans send them! The article suggests, in no uncertain terms, that we should continue to send them this bribe so that they don’t increase their criminal activity. Are you kidding me?

I’ve got news for you, they are already engaged in violent crime! Cutting off their funding is a good thing! They aren’t going to stop committing crime because they’ve got too much money. They are constantly looking for new revenue streams. Giving them $1.425 billion less to finance their operations is … wait for it … a good thing!

The article goes on to lament that conservative groups haven’t banded together strongly enough to try to prevent the decriminalization of marijuana. Don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of supposed small government conservatives and the DEA.

This article is fear mongering at a level of ridiculousness that makes me want to laugh and weep at the same moment.

Happily, judging by the outrage in the comments below the article I’m guessing this argument is not swaying many people. So, at least we’ve got that.

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

Cyberbully to Punish Cyberbully?

Cyberbully BullyI just finished reading an interesting article about how the mother of a young girl found out that her daughter was engaged in online bullying of another girl. The mother then posted online a picture of the young girl holding up a sign admitting her actions and detailing her punishment (selling her iPod and donating the money to a Stop Bullying charity).

The article questioned the idea of punishing someone for a deed by inflicting that same misdeed to the transgressor. The girl bullied another girl over the internet and was now being punished by being bullied over the internet. I think it’s a conversation worth having.

Having no children myself, I know that I open myself up to second-guessing when looking into a topic like this but I’m willing to take the heat!

On one side we know that punishing wrong-doing is an important part of parenting. Certainly praising proper behavior is an extremely effective method of encouragement and should always be the biggest weapon in a parent’s arsenal. Still, there is no doubt that punishment is at times required.

On the other side is the idea that if we exhibit exactly the kind of behavior we are trying to stop our hypocrisy is painfully apparent to the person we are trying to correct. Not only is our punishment hypocritical but it is often completely counterproductive.

It is argued that such punishment is more about satisfying our own desire for control and vengeance than it is about rectifying the behavioral issues.

Study after study shows that children who are subject to violent punishment grow up to be abusers and violent criminals. There is absolutely no doubt about the correlation between child abuse and psychologically damaged adults who commit horrific crimes.

Let’s examine a stark example. Let’s say your child bites another child. Is biting your child an effective punishment? Does it teach them it’s perfectly okay to bite someone if you have power over them? Does it teach them not to bite?

But if we can’t punish a child for biting another child how will we stop the negative behavior?

It’s a dilemma. I would argue the answer is incorrect punishment exacerbates the problem that it tries to correct. That we must find correct punishment. Easy to say, certainly. Not easy to achieve, particularly in the heat of the moment.

Let’s look at the case in question. The girl used the internet to bully another girl. The parent tried to correct the problem by forcing the child to sell a possession, use the money garnered to support an anti-bullying cause, and post an embarrassing picture on the internet.

I would have suggested limiting use of the device used to commit the act, probably the computer. A personal apology to the girl in question. A few hours of volunteer time at an organization that helps combat such bullying. That being said, I don’t think the parent in this case was out-of-line. The punishment was designed around the issue and I think the daughter will be the better for it.

It was an interesting article. I think it is something every parent and society itself should keep in mind when meting out punishment for various crimes. We don’t want the result of our punishment to be that the person so disciplined becomes a worse human being.

Sorry to disappoint anyone looking for final solutions to complex issues. If you’re looking for easy answers, five-second fixes, and absolutes; well, you’ve come to the wrong place.

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

Wright v. Penn – More Signs I’m Getting Old

Robin Wright and Dylan PennI’ve been blogging about some pretty serious topics of late so I thought I’d lighten it up with one about how a recent celebrity photo brought home the stark reality that I’m getting pretty old (I’ll be 50 in June).

I’ve pretty much been in love with Buttercup, er, I mean Robin Wright, since I saw The Princess Bride for the first time. A quick Bing Image search revealed that the passage of time has not lessened my ardor in any way.

So I see what appears to be a familiar face in the headlines but it’s not my pretend girlfriend. It’s Buttercup’s twenty-two year old daughter, Dylan.

Really? My celebrity crush has a daughter old enough to legally drink? It was bad enough when I realized a few years back that not a single player on my beloved St. Louis Cardinal’s was older than me, but this is getting ridiculous.

The good news, for those of you worried about me becoming a dirty old man, is that I think Buttercup is way hotter than her daughter!

What do you think? Buttercup or Dylan?

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

UFO Sightings from a Critical Thinking Perspective

UFO SightingsIt seems like every few months or so there are reports of Unidentified Flying Objects in the news and that these reports are generally associated with alien visitations. There were recently such reports from multiple sources across California and in reading the comments I was struck by how many people had their own story to tell. In addition a new crop-circle has generated much interest.

The study of these various reports comes under the category of UFOlogy and a lot of people, including various governments, have spent a great deal of time and tax dollars in trying to determine the nature of these events.

Many people claim to have seen aliens or UFOs and there is no chance I will be able to change the minds of those who are convinced that alien races are visiting our planet;  what I’d like to do is to make a critical examination of the general idea.

First a disclaimer. I do not think alien races are visiting our planet. I think all UFO sightings have logical, non-alien, explanations. Most of them have to do with the limitations of human vision and the plethora of natural events that can fool our eyes.

For the sake of argument, let us suppose there are alien races visiting our planet.

Sheer Volume of Sightings

Evidence

The enormous number of sightings in which people are absolutely convinced they witnessed an alien craft indicates that these aliens visit frequently, have been here for a long time, and are actively interested in our world.

My Thoughts

If aliens are frequently visiting our planet, if they are putting on shows in the atmosphere regularly, if they are kidnapping, speaking to, and otherwise engaging the people of our world; well, we’d have hard evidence by now. There is no plausible explanation of why they would engage in such a plethora of activities and yet supposedly want to keep their presence a secret. It’s illogical. Either we would know they are here because they communicated broadly and indisputably, or they are not here at all.

Behavior of Visitors

Evidence

The aliens kill farm animals to examine them and kidnap people to examine them.

My Thoughts

Any species that can master interplanetary travel could easily tap into our vast communication network and gain whatever anatomical information they desire. Why would they do things so overtly if they want to keep their presence secret? It makes no sense.

Fleeing Authority

Evidence

Many of the stories we hear depict the alien vessels fleeing at the first sign of military or government intervention.

My Thoughts

These aliens can clearly avoid detection. If they have been hanging out in the solar system for centuries, which reports indicate, they clearly can avoid detection from modern probes which are constantly looking at the sky. It makes no sense that they would have to flee when they are clearly capable of easily avoiding detection.

The God Delusion

Evidence

People generally want to feel in control of their lives but there are many things that are completely beyond our ability to change. It comforts us to think there is a guiding hand orchestrating events. This has historically taken the form of all-powerful gods.

People need an explanation as to why something happened. They want a reason. They assign a mystical being as this explanation.

My Thoughts

Aliens make perfect fodder for unexplained events. If you see a strange light in the sky, the easiest and most comforting explanation is that it was an alien or a god, same difference. A more intelligent creature guiding us is a soothing idea for many people.

Motivation

Evidence

There isn’t a lot of evidence as to why the aliens are visiting but speculation runs from wanting to use humans as a food source, to conquest for slaves, to friendly alliances.

My Thoughts

If the aliens had any of the motivation as suggested above they would simply make them happen overtly. What possible motivation could they have for centuries of subtle contacts, crop-circles, or abductions? There is no rational explanation for why aliens would be hovering around for so long, making their presence known in little fits and starts, and yet not do anything.

Imagine you are completely superior and want something from a technologically inferior species. You would simply do whatever it is you wanted and be done with it. There would be no need for games.

This for me is the most compelling reason I do not think aliens are visiting us. What reasonable motivation could such a vastly superior race have for behaving in the manner they do?

I understand people can come up with explanations but they don’t resonate with me.

That the aliens feed off our confusion or irrationality is probably the one I’ve heard the most. I call it The Matrix explanation; that the world is not what we suppose it is. That aliens or robots or gods are feeding off us, without us knowing. It seems self-evident to me that they could get the same result without all the nonsense.

Conclusion

I’ve gone on too long here I suppose. I just find the obsession with aliens to be irrational and it bothers me. I appreciate that your think you saw an alien space ship. You didn’t.

I also realize that I’m not going to change your mind. Please feel free to comment with your irrational explanations about why aliens are real and I’m an idiot. I had my say, you’re entitled to yours. Know that I won’t try to argue with you.

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