Allison Mack and the Multi-Level Marketing Sex Traffickers

Allison MackA relatively famous actor named Allison Mack has been charged with sex trafficking for recruiting women to join a multi-level marketing company called NXIVM and an associated group called DOS. What is interesting about all of this is the supposed crimes were committed largely against eager and willing victims.

When it comes to the idea of human trafficking, the United States is currently in the midst of a Moral Panic. Supposedly 15,000 people are so trafficked every year but there is almost no actual evidence to support this number. That hasn’t stopped the government and a large number of well-meaning but largely self-deluded citizens from passing useless laws and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the largely non-existent problem.

That’s where Mack and a fellow named Keith Raniere get involved. Raniere is a despicable fellow. He runs a multi-level marketing company called NXIVM which is slightly different than others of its kind. Instead of simply bilking people of their money with barely legal promises, he also uses the company to convince women to serve as his sexual slaves. Under his charismatic control they allowed themselves to be branded with his initials in their pubic regions. Mack served as leader of a subsidiary organization that recruited women to serve sexually. DOS stands for dominus obsequious sororium which is Latin for master over the slave women.

There are allegations that Mack and Raniere used blackmail to keep women in NXIVM and this is against the law. The fact that women joined a group and served as sex slaves is not, much as many would like it to be, a crime. Legally competent adults should be able to choose what they want to do with their lives, even if sexual perversions are involved. Where there are charges of coercion and blackmail, they should be investigated.

If Mack was involved with blackmail she should be so charged. The problem here is we are using laws created to stop a non-existent problem to prosecute people for a particular activity we find distasteful. Something that should never have been illegal in the first place. This is a microcosm of the entire War on Drugs and also the needless traffic crimes which result in the theft of billions of dollars from citizens.

I think it is telling when the government went to Mexico to arrest Raniere, the woman at his compound hopped into their cars and chased the police all the way to the airport trying to rescue him. They are clearly not victims here. Certainly, they are dupes and fools but they are participating in something and they eagerly want to continue to do so. The government should not be trying to prevent us from doing that which we desire, even if it isn’t in our best self-interest. That is our job.

Raniere is scum. Mack is as well. But unless they drug an unwilling victim and keep them imprisoned either physically or through blackmail, they haven’t committed a crime. I know the headlines are shrieking human trafficking but that’s not what happened.

As much as my stomach is turned by the behavior of Raniere and Mack, their freedom is my freedom. If they can be arrested for convincing someone to be a sex slave can I be arrested for convincing someone to purchase my books because the government might not like their content? It’s not as big a stretch as you might imagine.

We must guard not only our freedom, but those who we dislike as well, particularly those whose behavior is most disturbing.

Tom Liberman

Why Does Russia Want the United States Involved in Syria?

syria-bombingThere is strong evidence Syria carried out chemical attacks against those arrayed in civil war against it. This happened shortly after President Trump announced the United States would likely be withdrawing troops from the region. The predictable result was renewed U.S. presence in the area with pledges of commitment for ongoing support. It is clear to me this plays into the plans of our foes. The question becomes, why?

I think it is vitally important to understand the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is intelligent, an excellent politician, a strong patriot, and incredibly well-versed in political intrigue. President Trump was making clear indications he wanted to withdraw the U.S. from the conflict in the region that involves not only Syria and the rebel factions but also Turkey, Iran, and the people known as Kurds who are vying for autonomy. The Syrian chemical attacked crossed well-established boundaries established by Trump. Not even a year ago we launched a largely ineffective bombing campaign after a previous incident of this nature.

It’s clear to me that Putin was well-aware of the effect the chemical attack would elicit. He wanted the U.S. to launch airstrikes and renew their presence in the region. He wanted to reignite the fire of interventionism on behalf of the U.S. and other western countries, who joined in on the assault.

I cannot know for certain why Putin wants this, but I can speculate and I hope the powers that be in the U.S. are doing so as well. If we simply react to Putin’s provocations in a predictable way, the final outcome cannot be favorable for the U.S. and, by extension, for me.

As a Libertarian I support Trump’s instincts to remove us from these conflicts all together. We have enflamed the region with hatred by our various interventions over the years dating back to orchestrating the toppling of the Iranian government back in 1953. The more the U.S. tries to look out for their interests in the region, the more those who live their hate us.

Our machinations in Yemen at the behest of Saudi Arabia are not helping us, they are simply creating new generations of young people dedicated to destroying the U.S. Our interventions in Syria are driving a wedge between the U.S. and NATO stalwart Turkey. Putin is actively trying to establish a stronger relationship with Turkey which, if successful, would do potentially irreparable harm to NATO, perhaps even cause the breakup of the organization.

Putin also has a vested interest in gaining the alliance of Muslims who make up a significant portion of the population of his country and the nations around it. The more we interfere in the region, the closer we drive these people to Russia and Putin.

Perhaps Putin is orchestrating these events for another reason beyond my current divinations. He is crafty and the Game of Thrones he is playing has enormous consequences for the world and the U.S.

What I don’t like is the dance we are performing like automatons to the tune of Putin’s violin. It seems to me, if we continue to cavort to his music the inevitable outcome cannot be healthy for this country.

In the world of fiction, Tywin Lannister falls while Jon Snow emerges victorious. This isn’t a novel.

Tom Liberman

King of Donkey Kong Dethroned and it is Big News

billy mitchell donkey kongThere is a story making its way to near the top of the various news sites about a fellow named Billy Mitchell who had his world record Donkey Kong scores invalidated and removed from the site that listed them. What I find interesting about this is that it is mainstream news. I’m sure lots of people didn’t notice it, but the fact it has stayed near the top of my news sites indicates clicks.

I’m not interested in a highly technical discussion about how Mitchell was caught cheating and why the records were revoked. What I’d like to talk about is why the news is generating a lot of interest and what that means to me personally and to society as a whole.

I’m a gamer. I love playing games, watching others play games on Twitch.tv, and I played Donkey Kong in the arcade back in the day. It wasn’t my favorite game, I was a Tempest master, but that’s not the point. Back in those days gaming was a very small subset of culture in the United States and around the world. Most of us were considered nerds. Sure, a few people cared about setting records but not many.

As time has gone on the world has embraced the gaming culture. We are in a Golden Age of both video games and board games. Thanks to Crowd Sourcing, independent designers can create and distribute games that would never have seen the light of day even ten years ago. There are games for people of all different interests and they are relatively cheap. You can venture over to Steam or GoG and purchase an independent game boasting great reviews and in a genre that seems appealing for as little as ten dollars or even less.

This broadens the appeal of such games beyond the traditional young male audience to which I once belonged, I’m old now but still male. This means stories like that of Mitchell and the faked Donkey Kong high scores are making the news. That’s a wonderful thing. Why do I think so? Let me tell you.

One of the driving ideas behind my Libertarian ideology is that people should lead their lives as they choose and associate with others who enjoy the same things. Playing games is an activity that I think everyone enjoys as children. It is a glorious pastime that enriches our lives and helps us learn. Board Gaming was big fifty or sixty years ago with Monopoly and Risk but with nothing compared to the audiences we have today.

Far more people and a much higher percentage of the population are gamers now. They can play their games in person or over internet connections with each other no matter where their physical location. Friendships are being forged, competitions like the quest for the high score in Donkey Kong are raging, and people are having a tremendous amount of fun.

We have this one life to lead and we should try to cram as much fan as we possibly can into it. Gaming is one way to do that. The fact that more and more people are discovering the joy of adult gaming is a wonderful thing.

I encourage everyone to create an account at Steam or GoG or head over to Board Game Geek and find an inexpensive game in a genre that looks appealing. Give it a try. The next thing you know you might be reading complicated technical articles on how people caught a cheater at Donkey Kong, and, trust me, no one will be calling you a nerd, they’ll be laughing and having fun with you.

Tom Liberman

The Subtleties of Racism as Demonstrated by Yadier Molina

molina and lovulloHere in baseball land St. Louis there was an ugly incident between beloved catcher Yadier Molina and Arizona Diamondback manager Torey Lovullo. I’d like to use the reaction to the situation to examine the idea that there is nuance to racism. I’m not talking about Lovullo or Molina but those who are commenting on the story.

Many people are calling Molina a thug and worse for his reaction. It’s my opinion the vast majority of those doing so would be defending, say, Roger Clemens if he reacted to the words in the same way. They’d be calling Clemens a stand-up guy who had every right to react to the ugly words in a physical way. Many are defending Molina and it seems likely some would be less vociferous of their defense of Clemens in similar circumstances. That’s the version of racism I’d like to talk about and why it’s such a difficult word to raise in these situations. There are levels of racism and we tend to incorrectly categorize them as all the same.

If my hypothesis is correct, that the race of the player is a significant factor in the perception of events, then that is racism but a very subtle version of it. It’s not someone out in the streets chanting all people of a certain race are criminal thugs who should die. I think the people who are calling out Yadi and would not call out Clemens are not racists in the classical sense, but they are exhibiting an opinion on which race bears a factor. They are guilty of a subtle and relatively common form of racism.

There is no question we all have particular biases. I think it’s possible because I’m a Cardinals fan I’m more likely to justify Molina’s reaction in this situation than Javier Baez of the hated Cubs. I like to think that I’d support Baez should an equivalent bruhaha occur between him and the manager of some other team. Perhaps I wouldn’t. That’s my point. It’s easy to throw around the word racist in situation like this when it’s not truly applicable.

It’s not easy to come up with a word to describe those lambasting Molina who would not do so should it have been Clemens. As I said, I would not call them racists, but I absolutely think that race is a factor in their opinion. For others its not race but team based, they hate the Cardinals and are eager to find fault in the behavior of the team or its players.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I don’t think these reactions rise to the level of racism but I’m struggling to name it anything else. I don’t think it’s fair, given the current understanding of the word, to use it.

We are all guilty of racism on one level or another. Most people know it’s wrong to think this way and imagine they don’t.

I’d love for people to examine their own opinion of this incident and see if they think they are being influenced by race. Does me pointing it out make them think twice? Reconsider? What if someone was posting hate about Molina and read this, examined their heart, and said, yeah, that Tom’s got a point. I’ll have to change my mind on this one. That would be great.

Tom Liberman

There is a Last Number and also Infinity

InfinityI’ve decided while the concept of infinity exists so does a final number. Full disclosure: I’m not good at math and I’m hardly a mathematician. That being said, the subject of infinity and numbers proves to be an endlessly fascinating subject for me. I assert that infinity and a final number can coexist. Any mathematicians care to tell me the depths of my stupidity? I’ll be reading the comments.

It would seem at first glance the two concepts are incompatible. If there is a final, last number, then infinity cannot exist and vice versa. Here’s the factor that existing theory, in my opinion, fails to take into account. Neither numbers nor infinity are real. That is to say they are both incredibly useful constructs but they don’t actually exist. In the same way the words you are reading don’t really exists, that emotions like love and hate don’t have physical form.

Sure, we feel love. I’m not denying we have emotions. Nor do I pretend the words I have written and you are reading don’t have meaning. I’m just saying they only exist as constructs of the human mind that help us organize our world in convenient ways. Words are merely jots on a page approximating sounds. We give those sounds meaning in the same way we give letters and groupings of letters meaning they do not actually have.

Numbers are wholly constructed to make life easier to understand and move through. Time is likewise a human construct that simply does not actually exists in a physical way. You cannot weigh an emotion, a number, a word, or a unit of time. These things are all incredibly useful. We would not have the world we live in without these constructs but they are simply that, constructs.

If numbers don’t actually exist, which is my assertion, then the last number is simply the largest number we have so far named. Certainly, a larger number can be imagined but until that moment; it does not exist, even in a constructed fashion. Currently we can say that Graham’s Number is the largest number in the world. That being said, the concept of infinity is also a human construct and exists as such side by side with Graham’s Number.

Pi does not really exist and therefore the last digit of Pi, base 10, is the one we have most fully calculated. Thus, Pi has a last digit but is also infinite.

What are the practical implications of my hypothesis? Nothing, really. The world is the same whether or not we consider numbers to be real or simply constructs. My life does not change nor does yours. However, once I accepted this idea, that time, numbers, words, and emotions are merely names we associate with constructs in order to make our world more orderly, the less importance they have. They are tools to be used to achieve results but I need not worry about their bounds or origins.

Who created the numeric constants of the universe? Us, simply because they don’t actually exist.

Tom Liberman