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, 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

Satan or Snowflake Misleading Headline

Satan ICBMAll over my news feed today is reference to a Russian ICBM called “Satan”. Yeah, I knew about it before the headlines. It’s an extremely capable ICBM replacing an earlier generation missile called the R-36M which was actually called the Satan. The new missile is named RS-28 Sarmat by Russia and has been designated the SS-X-32 Snowflake by NATO.

I think the idea is an ICBM named Satan is a littler scarier, or has better clickbait allure, than one called Snowflake. I will not deny the missile has an operational capacity that is astounding. It can handle up to fifteen smaller (350 kiloton) nuclear weapons, ten larger MIRV payloads, or up to 24 of the new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles that, if they work, render all missile defense systems forever obsolete.

Shame on all those headlines. The weapon system is extremely scary. Trust me to understand as much without giving it demonic names.

Tom Liberman

Immediacy of Consequence and Faith in the Improbable

faith-and-reasonWith the plethora of stories involving things along the lines of Flat Earth I’ve been thinking about why people are willing to believe certain things on faith while being much more pragmatic in other areas of their life. For example, the belief in alien visitors is, so far, a faith-based ideology. Whereas the belief in the chair you are sitting in is based on strong physical evidence.

I understand people make what they think are rational arguments for a Flat Earth, Pizzagate, Aliens, and many other theories; but the evidence for these things is universally lacking. Those same people would look at you quite askance should you tell them there was a comfortable chair ready for them to plop down into right behind them. They would look for said chair and confirm visually that it did exist. They might reach their hand or foot through the area to confirm nothing was actually there. They would then dismiss your assertion and refuse to sit.

Why are people much more likely to believe fanciful accounts of a Flat Earth but universally unwilling to believe something about a simple object in front of them? I believe the answer is the immediacy of the consequence associated with the belief. A more immediate and greater penalty for the belief inevitably leads to a sounder thought process.

Should you believe the person claiming the chair is actually there and sit down, you face a rather painful and embarrassing fall. Should you believe the Earth is flat you risk no physical harm although you might face some ridicule. Many enjoy the ridicule. They enjoy coming up with improbable or impossible arguments to prove the attacks of September 11th against the World Trade Center and other targets were actually orchestrated by some conspiracy minded organization aside from the actual perpetrators. Such improbable beliefs actually set them out and give them a sense of individuality. They actually feel smarter and better about themselves for refusing to be fooled, even though they are actually quite stupid.

Belief in such things entails no immediate risk. Belief that aliens are secretly directing our actions doesn’t really change your life in any tangible way. You still go about your daily business in pretty much the same way you would if the notion was false. There is no immediate punishment for such beliefs.

However, if someone tells you that the car you are planning on purchasing is a fantastic car, most people will not accept this advice. They will do some research to make certain the automobile meets their desired needs. The same goes for any major purchase. The more money you are planning on spending the more likely it is you will spend time in pragmatic research to ensure the product is exactly what you need.

Many people are happy to spend a few dollars on a product advertised as a miracle drug without much thought. Scam artists rely on this facet of human nature. Imagine a group of 100 people was asked to spend five dollars on a product that guaranteed fresh breath. I would guess at least half would do so. However, if the same product was offered for five hundred dollars I suspect only a few people would be willing to make the outlay.

Where do you think you fit in on this scale of faith? I would guess most people, myself included, consider themselves pragmatic thinkers requiring good evidence. I think most people would be wrong.

On the Bell Curve of Faith Based Thinking where would you put Yourself?

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Tom Liberman

Right is Right when it Comes to the Nuns and Katy Perry

Katy PerryAn ongoing story involving Katy Perry and a pair of nuns recently heated up again when one of the nuns passed away in court and the other claimed bankruptcy. I think what’s important to understand is Perry is completely in the right. Yet, there are clearly many who think she should give up her claim because the elderly nuns are a sympathetic pair. Bah humbug, says this scrooge.

I think the first step we should take is to examine the case itself. Five nuns lived at a property called Los Feliz for many years although moved away a few years back. The property is owned by the Los Angeles Archdiocese although two of the five nuns claim they were the actual owners because of their long years living there. The three other nuns are not part of the legal situation and support the Archdiocese’s right to sell.

Katy Perry expressed an interest in the property and was in negotiations to purchase it when the two nuns got wind of the sale. They watched a few of Perry’s videos and decided they didn’t approve of her. So, they contracted with a third party and quickly sold it for well under it’s value with a miniscule down payment.

The judge ruled that they had no right to sell the property and the third party was engaged in tampering and ordered Dana Hollister to pay Perry and the Archdiocese no small fee. “Clearly invalid,” was the term the judge used in regards to the sale.

It seems clear Perry is right from a legal aspect but I’m willing to go significantly further. I think she’s right from an ethical perspective. The nuns are behaving horribly and using their position to vilify Perry and break the law. They are acting in an incredibly entitled fashion. We don’t like Perry. They claim they are somehow breaking their vows by allowing the property, that they haven’t lived at for years, to be sold to someone so evil as Perry. Their behavior is despicable and filled with selfish and righteous horse manure.

The two, now one, are a playing on the sympathies of those who look at them and see a pair of elderly nuns being taken advantage of by a ruthless mogul when the opposite is closer to the truth. The nuns are acting ruthlessly and viciously exploiting their position to turn public opinion against Perry.

The surviving nun is now claiming she is bankrupt despite the fact the Archdiocese continues to pay all her living expenses and has expressed it will continue to do so until her death. She is saying terrible things about Perry.

I will not stand by. I’m calling her out! Try to be a decent human being in your last years of life you angry and bitter old woman. Yep, I’m yelling at a nun and I’m doing it because she is legally and ethically in the wrong.

Don’t give up the fight, Katy. And, if you ever happen to visit St. Louis, dinner and a drink? My treat.

Tom Liberman

United Airlines and Would You Trade a Quarterly Bonus for a Chance at a Big Prize?

United AirlinesUnited Airlines recently announced they were doing away with a quarterly bonus of $300 to all eligible employees and instituting a lottery wherein those same employees have a chance to win $100,000 and other prizes. What I’d like to ask is if you would want such a plan at your place of work?

Let’s look at the metrics. United Airlines employees almost 90,000 people although we have no way of knowing how many of those get the incentive bonus of $300. It is based on things like attendance so it doesn’t sound particularly difficult to achieve. I’m going to say that about a quarter of the employees get the bonus. That’s 22,000 bonuses of $300 awarded each quarter for a total of $6.6 million in payouts.

We have to do a bit more guesswork on the value of the remaining prizes United Airlines is giving out but let’s say the total package is worth $2 million. That’s a saving of $4.6 million dollars for the company. Pretty nifty. It might be more, it might be less, but I think it’s fair to say the new policy is designed to save the company money. United Airlines executives claim it will generate employee excitement but I think it’s reasonable to infer this line is somewhat disingenuous.

Under the old plan an employee who met the standards receives $300 each quarter. That’s not a life-changing sum by any imagination. A bonus of $100,000 and trips are, obviously, of significantly greater value to an individual employee. The employee who wins the bigger prize is quite happy while all the employees who gave up the $300 for nothing are not as thrilled. From a metric point of view that’s about 21,900+ employees who are angry and 100, depending on how many prizes are offered, who are happy, each quarter.

Will this mean more employees seek the bonus? Fewer? These are interesting questions to me. They speak to psychological motivations. Would you do more for the chance at a greater prize or do less because your chance of getting something is greatly diminished? Would it not change your work behavior at all?

What do you think?

Would you be for or against a plan like United Airlines?

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Tom Liberman

Protectionism and the Steel Industry

steel-tariffPresident Trump plans to establish a large tariff on steel and aluminum. He is an avowed protectionist and that generally means making it more expensive for foreign companies to do business in the United States. I wrote a blog specifically about the trade in automobiles and our agreements with Mexico in January of 2017 but the situation is different enough this time that I thought I’d revisit the subject.

The basic idea behind almost any tariff is that foreign countries are engaged in supporting various industries in their nation and this gives those companies an unfair advantage over competing companies in the United States. I will not be getting into a discussion about the long-term impact of trade wars and how industry in the United States might be negatively impacted if countries choose to retaliate against our trade laws. Nor will I be talking about what constitutes unfair trade and our own transgressions in that regard. I’d like to keep today’s topic on the simple idea of the immediate impact of the tariffs.

Countries that import aluminum and steel into the United States will have to pay more in order to do business in this country. In the case of steel, a whopping twenty-five percent more. This means companies in the United States currently producing steel will gain a competitive advantage. Those companies might hire more workers and open more plants to start producing steel at a price higher than is currently being sold by those foreign countries but at a lower price than after the tariffs come into play.

Let’s imagine a steel manufacturer in a foreign country currently produces steel at a price of X. A competing company in the United States produces steel at a price of Y. X is less than Y and therefore foreign companies are selling us lots of steel. However, X is less than Y*1.25 and thus United States companies will be aided. They will benefit. That’s the main idea behind protectionism and at this point you might be nodding your head and thinking what a great idea it is. There is, as they say, a rub.

Everyone in the United States purchases and uses products with steel and aluminum in them. From soda and beer cans, to cars, to packaging, to windows, to doors, to siding, to many household items, street lighting, electrical lines, and more. Steel is used in buildings, roads, appliances, guns, cutlery, watches, surgical instruments, and more.

When the price of steel inevitably goes up because of these tariffs then everyone who uses these items, and that means everyone in the United States, every man, woman, and child, pays more. If people have to pay more for one thing then they inevitably have less money to pay for other things. Perhaps a family decides not to get their deck rebuilt or decides to pass on that Nashville vacation this year.

The case against Chinese steel has merit. It is possible the government is helping industry manufacturer steel at a price that cannot be met by U.S. steel companies. The question we must ask is who is hurt by this practice and who is helped?

The answer is quite straight forward. The companies and people in the United States who produce steel are hurt as are the taxpayers in China. The people who are helped is everyone in the United States including the steelworkers who get various products at a cheaper rate.

That’s economics. If you can get a comparable product at a cheaper price then you do so. You should do so. That’s a good thing. That good thing is what tariffs subvert. These tariffs will help a small percentage of the people in the United States, there is no doubt about that. That’s the appeal. We see an industry and want to help it, not thinking about the larger ramifications of such policies.

Whenever I’m talking about subjects of this nature I always remember the underrated gem, Other People’s Money. Danny DeVito plays Larry Garfield and gives an impassioned speech about the last buggy whip manufacturer. If a company can’t compete, they need to get out of the business before they are totally bankrupt.

If the government steps in and increases the price of steel then United States companies will be able to sell their product in the United States but there alone. No other country will want our high-priced steel. Eventually the tariffs will fail, as they always do. Then the steel companies and you will be back where we started. The difference will be that you’ll have less money in your pocket.

That’s the facts. That why economists don’t like tariffs and protectionist policies in general. They stave off the inevitable at an enormous cost.

Do I feel pity for the steel industry and the workers? You bet I do. It’s a sad fact of life. Everyone can’t be a winner in the game. That’s the nature of the world and of economics. President Trump would be far better off using taxpayer money on retraining steel workers for industries that can compete. I’d be all for that.

I cannot, I will not support tariffs. They just don’t work.

Tom Liberman

Polish Poker Players are from Poland and Play Poker

pokerI was watching one of my favorite poker streamers the other day when someone posted in chat a question about Polish Poker players. What did Tonkaaap think about them? He replied, without much thought, that he supposed they were poker players. This seems like a small thing but it struck my Objectivist ideology with an arrow shot to the heart.

The idea behind the question is that in the poker community there are those who think players from various countries have particular traits and certain tactics might be used to have better results against such people. Tonkaaaap dismissed this idea casually and with barely a moment’s thought. He was right to do so, naturally, but I wanted to spend some time discussing the nature of tendencies and why they mean nothing about an individual.

It’s absolutely true that groups of people have tendencies based on the cultural and social norms from where the originate. It’s quite possible that a certain percentage of poker players from Poland will behave in some general fashion during the course of the hand. This tendency is a natural product of spending time with a similar group of people.

I’m going to use chess as an example. I played chess as a youngster but the number of people I played against was limited by geography. We had no internet and the only way to play was staring at the person across a physical board. This meant I played the same people all the time and they, of course, did the same. This meant that we all fell into tendencies based upon the limited pool of opponents. If you were to play against someone from St. Louis you might find we play a similar game. However, you could not make such generalizations about all players from St. Louis and if you did would certainly be setting yourself up for defeat as you encountered stronger players from the region. That’s Tonkaaap’s point. He is playing for real money. He can’t afford to make assumptions about individual players simply based on their geographic location. He must play against each player as an individual, analyzing their tendencies, and making the best decision possible at that moment.

This is, in a nutshell, Objectivism. We certainly can and do judge people based on superficial things like place of birth, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, heritage, age, appearance, and any number of other things. But, when we do so we not only do them a disservice, we set ourselves up for failure. If you discount or even simply refuse to consider someone because of these things then you are hurting yourself.

Let’s imagine you are the coach of a baseball team. It’s quite clear that men are bigger and stronger than women on average. The best baseball players in the world are all men. If a woman tries out for the team and you refuse to give her a chance you might be missing out on a player who can help you succeed. This goes for all aspects of life. Groups of people have differences, but we can’t let these general tendencies guide our decision-making processes. We must judge individuals on their actual performance.

Another thing to consider is the nature of globalization. Getting back to my chess. I now play people from all over the world thanks to the internet. I am no longer constrained by geography. This has improved my game tremendously and also largely eliminated all the tendencies I learned playing a boy.

This exposure to new ideas and things means we are all losing our geographic based tendencies. It means anyone, from anywhere, can succeed or fail based solely on their merits. And that’s a good thing.

Tom Liberman

Exorcism Requests on the Rise

exorcismCases of people asking for demons to be expelled in rights of Exorcism are rising rapidly in at least Italy if not elsewhere in the world and the Catholic Church is responding by holding a conference on the subject. The church hopes to train more priests capable of properly performing the exorcism. There are apparently many young priests who find the entire process questionable and refuse to take part. Good for them.

I’ll be honest right out of the gate, I’m an Atheist. Just as there is no god there are no demons. What people consider demonic possession is generally one of two things. It is mental illness or someone who has done something horrible and is unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions. According to the church, if someone is possessed by a demon they are not responsible for their actions. It’s a good thing our legal system is absolutely not based on the Judeo/Christian religious teachings. Can you imagine if it was? Would any Christian ever be guilty of anything, ever again? It’s a free pass.

The Old Testament is pretty much devoid of anything resembling a demonic possession although there is a very questionable incident that depends on a favorable translation to fit even remotely into the idea. Exorcism is almost entirely based on scripture that references first Jesus and then his disciples casting out demons with a simple command.
If Jesus could do such a thing it must mean that demons do exist. If demons exist then they must be able to take possession of a person and force them to do things they would otherwise not do. It seems clear to me that people are capable of the most vile and disgusting acts of inhumanity without any supernatural intervention whatsoever. There is also plenty of evidence of mental illness which, until quite recently, was treated in horrific ways.

The issue that presents itself is people are increasingly of the opinion they are possessed by demons. The church and its priests must deal with this phenomenon. It is absolutely real to them and to be treated in the same way any other problem is handled. If a person has a cold, treat it. If a person is possessed by demons, treat it.
There is a list of supposed symptoms that the afflicted will sometimes display if it is a demonic possession rather than mental illness or a simple ruse, but there little or no ability to distinguish between them.

My problem with all of this is twofold. Believe what you will. That’s religious freedom. But when mentally ill or criminally irresponsible people are being treated for exorcism; it means they are not being treated for their real problems. That makes me both sad and angry.

I’m not foolish enough to think that I can change anyone’s mind on this issue. Either you believe demonic possession is possible and can be treated with an exorcism or you think it is complete nonsense. I’m just sad and angry.

Do you believe Demonic Possession is real and Exorcism a Remedy?

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Tom Liberman

Died Searching for Forrest Fenn Treasure

Forrest Fenn TreasureA fellow by the name of Jeff Murphy recently died while searching for the Forrest Fenn Treasure. The entire series of events speaks directly to this Libertarian about the place of government in society. He claims to have left the Fenn Treasure worth approximately $2 million somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and at least four people have died searching for it. What do we take from this?

Fenn is unapologetic. He says life is dangerous and if people choose to look for the Fenn Treasure that he claims to have placed, that is their business. It is not his responsibility should they die while doing so. The relatives of the people who have died, and those who have spent considerable time and effort, seem to largely agree.

The gold coins, jade figurines, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and gold nuggets that Fenn claims are buried somewhere in the Rockies are supposedly worth about two million. The people who spend many hours of lives looking for this treasure seem to have no regrets, nor does Fenn, despite the deaths.

As a Libertarian I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to choose to spend their time looking for this treasure despite the potential dangers. I also think it’s not a legal issue if he chose to place the Fenn Treasure in a hidden location. Now, that being said, I think it’s a bad idea. Fenn has largely instigated the events that led to people dying, but the deaths are entirely the responsibility of the searchers. They chose to look for the treasure. They well understand Fenn might be lying. People lie all the time, it’s not illegal to lie.

Fenn receives nothing from those who waste their time searching for the potentially non-existent treasure. He has written a book on the subject and people have purchased it, but no one is being forced to buy the book or to spend their time searching for the treasure. That is their own decision, foolish as it might be.

People do stupid things all the time. I might relate my own story involving a dark-haired vixen at the gym whom I recently pursued to no avail but I shall remain silent. There is no law against being stupid and that is a good thing. It is exactly when the government tries to save us from our own idiocy that we run into significant issues. It’s just not the government’s job to stop us from doing dumb things, that is up to us.

To my way of thinking it is situations exactly like this that lead to government overreach and with the willing help of We the People. It’s tragic that Fenn has either placed the treasure or lied about doing so because it led other people to die. He is undeniably irresponsible. On the other hand, many people have gone searching for the treasure and had fine adventures without hurting themselves physically and probably gaining some benefit from the time spent exercising outdoors.

When it comes to personal liberty there is always a tradeoff in safety. Freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Should there be laws against doing what Fenn did?

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Tom Liberman

Chinese Casino Owns Saipan

Saipan CasinoA company claiming to be a Chinese casino purveyor completely owns and largely operates the United States island of Saipan. The total corruption of government is something that happens in foreign countries, not in the United States of America, or so you thought.

Saipan is Commonwealth of the United States. This means it operates under United States law. Well, at least it did until a Chinese company called Imperial Pacific moved into town. They claim to own and operate casinos although they are really a money laundering organization. Wealthy Chinese citizens fly to Saipan, turn in enormous sums of yuan currency, play the tables for a few days winning or losing small amounts, and then collect their money in dollars, euros, or sterling. This allows them to take their money out of China, where it might be seized by the communist government at any moment, and transfer it to banks throughout the world where it less likely to be stolen. The middle people take their cut and that share has completely corrupted the government of Saipan.

The problem is they need the support of the local government in order to make this happen. Before the casino was finished, it still isn’t in full operation, it was doing about $2 billion a month in transactions. Imperial Pacific pays $15 million a year to the local government and has hired former U.S. Governors and high-level FBI and CIA officials to front its operations. These are merely bribes to ensure they can continue their operations without legal oversight. Lawmakers in Saipan have changed any number of laws in order to accommodate Imperial Pacific’s various schemes. The families of the leading politicians are all on the payroll one way or another, construction projects, zoning plans, land deals, etc.

The casino itself was built in an unsafe way by undocumented workers, all because the politicians of Saipan and their friends in the United States willfully turned, and continue to turn, a blind eye. There’s money to be made, after all.
That’s the moral of the story. Never has the world been so awash in money, enormous sums. When people try to resist this avalanche of cash they are simply ignored or punished. The only people who get ahead are those on the take. Government is swept away in the wave.

You might think the United States is immune to the malign influence of corruption, graft, and bribery. Those days are over. Wealthy democracies are slowly succumbing to this influence. Those who worship money are quickly coming into positions of power the world over.

What’s at stake? Your freedom.

Tom Liberman

Jail for Baptizing Baby Misleading Headline

The headline reads: North Carolina mother jailed for baptizing 2-year-old daughter. The reality is quite different. Kendra Stocks was jailed for violating a court order that gave the baby’s father final say in legal custody decisions including those of a religious nature.

Stocks was specifically told by the judge not to have the Baptism without the father present. The two are engaged in a custody battle over the baby. She went ahead and did it anyway. Now she’s in jail.

I would hope nobody has a problem with it.


Blue Apron or Food Stamps?

food stampsPresident Trump is apparently championing an effort to change the way food stamps are allocated to people in the United States who cannot afford to feed themselves and I wanted to examine this from a Libertarian point of view. The current program distributes food stamps which can be used to purchase a variety of products although there are limits on the type of food that is allowed to be bought. The proposal is to replace this system with ingredients which are then prepared by the recipient, in the style of Blue Apron.

I suspect the reason this proposal is being considered is the perception people who are getting food stamps use them on wasteful items like processed foods such as chips or on expensive items like steak, rather than using them for staple items. This perception is largely incorrect although not particularly relevant to my objections.

There is certainly a visceral appeal to the idea of providing simple ingredients using healthy options to the people who use food stamps. I also agree it is probably healthier for many of those who get food stamps. There are a number of problems with this plan although I’d like to focus on a single one. The plan assumes government knows better what foods people should eat than the individuals themselves.

While government might be right in some instances, it is a classic example of the arrogance of those who promote a beneficent and intrusive government. We know what is better for you than you do, just trust us to put the right things in the food and don’t worry about anything else, we’ll take care of you.

Now, there are other issues. It is certainly more expensive to contract this work out and where billions of dollars of government contracts are in play there is inevitable corruption. There is no doubt the companies who receive the bids to provide the food will end up skimping on ingredients and hurting some people. Still, with that said, my objections are purely Libertarian.

Government should not be the one to make decisions about what you eat. Even if you are poor, cannot afford to purchase your own food, and must rely on government help, that does not give a bureaucrat the right to make such decisions for you.

Personally, I think the existing restrictions on food stamps should be removed. If people want to purchase chips, candy, and steak with their government allotted stamps, that’s their choice. Certainly, it is a bad selection that has negative impact on the family in question, but it is their choice.

While this particular cause will most likely be championed by so-called conservatives, it is really extremely liberal. It is big government, just one with which conservatives happen to agree. This apparent paradox is quite consistent with what I observe about our current political divide. Principles mean nothing, it is simply a matter of what is expedient to whichever party you imagine is on your side.

When we cede power to government over the individual we slowly erode our freedom. Do you agree with government deciding on the food we eat? Even if it doesn’t affect you but simply the poor people who, for whatever reason, are dependent on government aid?

Tom Liberman

Is a Diamond a Diamond?

diamondCompanies have been able to manufacture diamonds through industrial processes since the 1950s but with advances in technology it is now possible to create a diamond that is equivalent to those found in nature in all respects except, perhaps, resale price. These grown diamonds are significantly cheaper than their naturally occurring counterparts and their share of the market is increasing, much to the chagrin of those companies who sell found diamonds.

I think it’s an interesting study in human behavior because found diamonds and their grown competition are essentially identical from a practical respect. Yet, I imagine most people are so enamored with the illusion of a real diamond they would, if they had the financial wherewithal, generally purchase the more expensive version.

Let me be honest, I find the entire diamond industry to be largely artificial. Diamonds are not particularly rare but for a long time the companies that mine them kept enormous numbers in warehouses to create scarcity. In addition, those same companies launched successful advertising campaigns which promoted the idea of their value. I have no problem with either of these tactics, no one is forcing anyone to purchase an overly expensive rock. I just don’t plan on shelling out a bunch of money for a diamond.

That being said, I’m in the minority as far as this goes. Diamonds are considered an almost necessary declaration of love between a couple. The giving of diamonds from one person to another is considered of great importance in matters of romance. This is why people pay large sums for relatively common sized stones.

It’s also no surprise established diamond companies would like to convince people the grown stones are not equivalent to those found. Those companies producing the grown diamonds are quite interested in overcoming this perception. This is business and all quite normal.

I don’t have any great insight into this issue. I don’t really know if grown diamonds will eventually completely usurp their found counterparts or if the industry will continue to distinguish one as better than the other. Possibly diamonds will simply lose most of their value as people don’t find them useful in matters of the heart anymore. I don’t know, I just find the entire situation interesting from both a marketing standpoint and that of human psychology.

For those of my readers who actually have something more than an emotionless, pea-sized, black, barely beating heart; if you had enough money would you purchase the more expensive found diamond over the grown diamond despite their being molecularly the same?

Would you pay more for a "found" diamond?

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Tom Liberman

Lady Friendly Doritos and why a Gender Trend is not Sexism

DoritosPepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi recently gave an interview in which she noted market research indicated men and women generally have different habits when eating Doritos, a snack made by the company. She said the company planned to release products that catered toward the eating habits of women. Social Justice Warriors Triggered!

How dare a company market a product designed specifically for men or for women besides, say, tampons and jockstraps. What unbridled sexism to suggest research indicates women generally don’t like to lick their fingers of the Dorito residue or pour the crumbly remnants of the bag directly into their mouth.

The problem is groups of people do perform tasks differently, eat particular foods, and otherwise differ from one another for a variety of reasons including gender. If PepsiCo has done market research indicating certain Dorito eating trends in women then promoting a product to that gender’s preferences makes sense. What it doesn’t mean is all women eat Doritos in a particular way. That’s the gist of all the tumult. An angry female says: I’m a woman and I do like to lick my fingers of the Dorito residue. I’m a woman and I enjoy pouring the crumbs from the bag into my mouth.

No one at PepsiCo is telling you how to eat your Doritos. They are simply creating and marketing a product toward particular trends their research indicates. They discovered a certain percentage of women don’t eat Doritos because their fingers get sticky and they don’t like leaving the crumbs behind but are unwilling to pour them directly into their mouths. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do these things just as I’m sure there are plenty of men who don’t like sticky fingers and crumbs.

Let’s imagine the research indicated 70% of women don’t like to eat Doritos in the way described. With there being about 300 million people in the United States and approximately 150 million of them being women that suggests 45 million women out there do not meet the trend. That’s a lot of ladies. It also means about 105 million of them behave as the marketing indicates. Now, I’m making up the 70% figure but let’s work with that for the sake of argument.

What PepsiCo has found is their product is unappealing to 105 million women because of the sticky residue and crumbly product. They want to target that large group of people, who happen to be mostly women. Is that wrong? Is that sexism? Is that terrible and awful? I say absolutely not. I say it’s finding a market and making a product that appeals to it. That’s smart business, not sexism.

No one is saying all women eat Doritos in a particular way or that all women are dainty and all men are rough. It is impossible to deny there are differences in women and men. Savvy companies use those tendencies to market their product to specific segments of society. Does anyone deny certain television shows and movies appeal more toward women than men and vice versa? Does this mean all women love Chick Flicks and hate Action Movies? Does it mean men don’t like Chick Flicks? No. I think Steel Magnolias is a great movie but I love The Right Stuff and Fight Club as well. It’s a tendency, not a sexist agenda.

Men and women are unalike in some respects and their respective preferences in eating Doritos might just be one of those differences. That’s a fact whether you like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Will Study Disproving Fish Oil Health Benefits Dissuade Believers?

fish oilA study involving 78,000 people shows taking Fish Oil supplements does nothing to prevent heart attacks or in any way reduce heart disease. No surprise there. The American Heart Association came to similar conclusions in a study last year. That being said, I’m fairly confident the study will almost certainly not change the purchasing habits of the almost 21% of United States citizens. Why?

A quick perusal of the internet shows me that a bottle of the pills can cost as little as $10 and as much as $40. Why would anyone continue to make the purchases when there is clear, empirical evidence they are completely ineffective? There are a number of reasons including something called Confirmation Bias but what I’d like to discuss today is the role pride has in all of this.

Pride seems to drive any number of poor decisions. By concluding all the money spent on fish oil supplements over the years was wasted, we are admitting a certain level of stupidity. There has long been a great deal of skepticism about supplements in general and fish oil in particular. It is quite likely most of the people taking fish oil supplements have been spoken to by friends and family expressing doubt about the efficacy of the product. The women and men taking it, and spending money on it, over the years have almost certainly defended the practice.

Many aficionados have likely read about the supposed benefits of fish oil touted by the manufacturers and decided to believe these claims despite the skeptics. There is some sense of their own self-worth tied up in taking the supplements.
This pride will be manifestly displayed in people who continue to take fish oil pills even after being confronted with incontrovertible evidence of their ineffectiveness. What does this tell us? It suggests that Pride is indeed one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

The entire thing is really just an interesting study in human nature. We don’t like to be wrong and when I say we, I include myself. That being said, it is important to attempt to engage your critical thinking skills as much as possible when presented with information of this nature. If you take fish oil supplements, take a moment to consider the implications of the test. Take a few seconds to think about alerting your like-minded friends that the benefits do not exist, that taking the pills is not helpful to your health or to your financial future.

It is only when we can take our pride out of the equation that we can hope to make better decisions.
And to finish things up, an informal poll. If twenty percent of people in the United States are at this time taking fish oil supplements then certainly a few people that read this article will be among them. Will this study, and the one’s the preceded it, dissuade you from future purchases?

What is your take on Fish Oil Supplements

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Tom Liberman

Disgusting Behavior at the President’s Club Charitable Trust

president's clubThere’s a pretty interesting story making the headlines in London and throughout England in regards to the President’s Club Charitable Trust where many members of a group of wealthy business men behaved crassly toward the young women who acted as hostesses for the event. What I find fascinating about the proceedings that transpired is problems could have easily been solved by some simple communication.

First, let’s review what occurred at the event for those not familiar with the story. The charitable gathering was attended by only men. The female hostesses were groped, propositioned, pulled onto laps, and otherwise harassed during the occasion. Before the dinner began the women were told their job was to serve drinks and put up with annoying men.

The woman who exposed the activities, Madison Marriage, was working undercover as a hostess and in her article, admits that some of the hostesses, most likely those who knew what to expect and came as a group, had fun and enjoyed themselves during the event but many others were horrified and tried to hide in the restrooms to avoid the situation. These women were escorted out and forced to rejoin the party. This dichotomy of experiences tells us virtually everything we need to know.

The President’s Club planners needed to communicate with the hostesses exactly what sort of behavior they could expect and the men attending needed to understand what sort of activities would be tolerated. I’ll give you an example. Marriage indicates a man in his seventies asked a nineteen-year-old woman if she was a prostitute. Many people find that horrific. I have no problem with it. He asked, she told him no, and he continued on his way; presumably without bothering her further. That is the way the entire event should have unfolded.

The President’s Club should have been explained to the men attending they should keep their hands to themselves unless a hostess acquiesced to whatever he had in mind; maybe just holding hands, or sitting on his lap, or perhaps even performing sexual services for an agreed upon financial return. That any man who violated these rules would be warned and ejected if they persisted.

Meanwhile, the hostesses should have been told men would be propositioning them, hoping to hold hands, sit on their laps, perhaps asked to gyrate in only their underwear but they were under no obligation to do so. It’s clear to me from the story that some of the hostesses knew exactly what to expect, turned down propositions they didn’t like, and acquiesced to those requests they welcomed. They earned money for attending the event and possibly got side payments for particular behavior.

Communication was the key element missing from this entire sordid affair. The women and men were all adults of legal age and competent minds. They just needed to know what was expected and what would be tolerated. If that had been done I think everyone would have had an enjoyable experience.

Sure, the men are pigs. I get that. I’m a fifty+ year old man. A like looking at a pretty young woman. I enjoy it when the attractive waitress puts her hand on my shoulder or touches my elbow. I don’t grab her ass or try to shove my hand up her skirt but I might touch her shoulder and say thank you. Perhaps she wants a larger tip or maybe she finds me attractive and hopes I’ll ask for her phone number; maybe she wants both! That’s her prerogative and I think it’s wrong to tell any young woman she shouldn’t attend an event of this nature; provided she knows what she is getting into and the men are punished for behavior that goes over the line.

The idea older men should not be interested in slap-and-tickle with younger women is a hopeless concept. Some men will always be interested. And the general assumption the women were all harassed, abused, and needed protection is also nonsense. Some women enjoy this sort of event and should be allowed to attend without shame.

Adults should be trusted to make these sorts of decisions on their own. The women don’t need to be protected and the men don’t need to be punished; provided everyone knew what was expected and reasonable limits were kept. That is the fault of the hosts.

The most egregious thing that happened at the event was the President’s Club forcing clearly uncomfortable women back to the party. That is despicable; the rest of it could have been easily avoided.

Tom Liberman