The Solar Wall and President Trump

solar wallPresident Trump made building a wall between Mexico and the United States a big part of his campaign although actually funding it has proved difficult. He recently suggested putting solar panels on the wall. A solar wall as it were, so that it could pay for itself. That’s the thought process I’d like to examine. Yes, the thought process.

What’s the first thing you think about when using solar panels? For me, what comes immediately to mind is the idea they have to face the sun. Unfortunately, by far the greatest surface area of a wall is going to be facing away from the sun. A wall, by its nature, is up and down with a narrow top. Now, it’s certainly possible to make a wall of a greater thickness so solar panels can sit on top of it, but that’s going to dramatically increase the amount of material required for the wall, which of course, adds cost.

There is also the possibility of attaching angled panels to this solar wall but that would seem to largely defeat the purpose of a wall, to keep people from being able to cross over it. If there is a big, angled roof to the thing, it would seem that scaling it would be made significantly easier.

Anyway, let’s imagine there is some way to attach the panels to the solar wall without greatly increasing the cost of the base material of the wall while not inhibiting its stated goal of preventing people from crossing over from Mexico.

How do we get the generated power from the power source to the people who need the energy? That’s an enormous problem with all power plants. You have to be able to transfer the energy to users. This is done through infrastructure. Traditional power plants are built in a single location so all power lines can emanate from them. With a solar wall, this is not possible. Basically, your power generation is occurring over a huge area. So, in addition to the panels the entire infrastructure must be created to take that power and distribute it. The cost of this is something I’ll leave to your imagination.

And this is what I’m talking about. These are thoughts that I’m almost certain didn’t even begin to occur to President Trump. He doesn’t think things through. That’s not a quality I admire in anyone. Let alone the President of the United States.

Honestly, this is what I imagine. “You know, President Trump, we’re having a terrible time getting financing from Congress to build that wall. You know what would be cool? Solar panels on it!”

Trump, “That’s a great idea, hey, when’s lunch?”

Then at the next opportunity Trump touts the solar wall as a fully realized possibility without having given a moment’s thought to the practicality of building the thing. I’m serious here, when you heard Trump talking about the solar wall what was your first thought? Mine was, interesting idea, but how is that going to happen? Yet I watch people cheering madly an idea that it seems to me is obviously impractical if not impossible, and certainly not cost effective.

I suppose this is the world in which we find ourselves. Sigh.

Tom Liberman

Rick Perry and Supply and Demand

rick perrySecretary of Energy Rick Perry apparently incorrectly defined Supply and Demand while speaking to workers at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia. What I’d like to talk about today is Perry’s understanding of the idea of Supply and Demand, not so much his mistaken understanding of the meaning.

What Perry said is this: Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there, and the demand will follow. The real law of Supply and Demand does not mean that, but I’m not going to get into what it really means. I’d like to discuss Perry’s actual statement, which presumably he believes.

The idea is related to something called Say’s Law. Basically, if a product is put out there, people will purchase it. It’s not exactly what Perry said but it has correlation. Say’s Law was largely meant as a way to understand how we get gluts of particular products, excess that people are not purchasing. It was generally considered correct until the Great Depression when a great supply of workers created no demand. It is now almost the opposite of current economic theories. Supply is created by demand. If people want something, others will produce it.

I don’t want to get into a complex economic dissertation here, one I am not qualified to make. It seems fairly logical to me that the very idea people will simply purchase something because it is available is nonsense. This is even more true in today’s connected world than it was around the turn of the century, primarily because people have access to far more information. They can look at competing products and decide which they want to purchase.

Now, we could talk about marketing. Certainly, that gets people to purchase products they perhaps do not need or want. Even then it is not the mere presence of the product that is driving demand. You can ask any retail store manager. If they put more of a low-selling product on the shelf, they are largely going to have extra inventory.

That’s what disturbs me about the statement. Not that Perry incorrectly defined Supply and Demand, but that he apparently thinks what he said is true. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise, unless he misspoke, which is possible. It seems to me he said what he meant to say.

Happily, it’s not a big deal, Perry is the Secretary of Energy. Wilbur Ross is the Secretary of Commerce and if he made that statement, well, then I’d be concerned. So, basically, a bit of a useless kerfuffle. Still, I learned something about economic theory, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Tom Liberman

The Election Integrity Commission Spawned by Circular Reasoning Fallacy

election integrity commissionAh, what danger we weave when first we practice to use Circular Reasoning. President Trump believes he won the popular vote but the tally indicates otherwise. This means there must be something wrong with the count. This means we now have something called the Election Integrity Commission which will suck up millions of dollars, vast resources, and most certainly violates the spirit of the Constitution of the United States if not the letter.

I, Tom Liberman, am always right.

How do you know, Tom?

Because I said so and I’m always right.

As ridiculous as that sounds, this sort of logic is the reason we have the Election Integrity Commission.

Trump absolutely believes he won the popular vote in the election, his hubris will not allow any other explanation. He said as much on any number of occasions. Each state is in charge of how they choose to assign their Electors, as is expressly declared by the Constitution of the United States. Without exception, they use popular voting as this method.

The various states don’t believe there is any significant voter fraud. There is certainly no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Therefore, they are largely refusing to turn over to the federal government any of the information they have gathered in regards to voting. They view it as an overreach. I agree.

The problem here all stems from circular reasoning. Trump believes something for which there is no evidence. This becomes a problem for a man with an apparently unshakeable belief in his every pronouncement. When we say something that is wrong, our first tendency is to attempt to support the statement when others refute it. When the person trying to support an almost certainly suspect premise is in a position of power, we get things like the Election Integrity Commission. If this doesn’t worry you, then you’re reading the wrong blog.

A person who appears ready to violate the Constitution of the United States in a vainglorious attempt to support what is almost certainly an untrue statement is a dangerous figure. I realize that I’m stepping on dangerous legal grounds when I assume the request made by the commission for information about the voters in the various states is unconstitutional. I don’t have a background in Constitutional Law. I could be wrong about a legal violation but I’m certain I’m right about a violation in spirit.

The federal government is not supposed to be meddling in how states run their elections and for good reason. How an election is conducted is under the purview of the state.

I’m not completely naïve, I know the United States has had special commissions created not to find truth, but to spread unwarranted seeds of doubt. That being said, this is the first time I recall such an investigation being a direct attempt to prove as true a presidential misstatement. This is the first time I’ve seen Circular Reasoning from the President of the United States send so many people scrambling into action.

The danger here is manifest. If the government feels obligated to force its version of the truth on the people of the country, we are living in dangerous times. Trump, or any other politician, can say as they please, it is only when their actions threaten me that I become alarmed. What concerns me about this is not so much the Election Integrity Commission, it is certainly stupid and I’m glad most states are refusing to cooperate, but the long-term implications of a head of state who not only cannot admit a mistake, but must manufacture, via dubious Constitutional actions, a truth that fits the narrative.

I hope it concerns you as well.

Tom Liberman

 

Sorry to say but Connie Yates and Chris Gard are Evil

yates-gardPeople who do horrible things to other people are evil. Connie Yates and Chris Gard are stealing a bunch of money from people and using it to allow a zombie baby to take up space and resources in a hospital that could be used to help someone else. That’s evil.

They are parents and they love their child, Charlie, that I don’t deny, but they have let that love become twisted into something horrible. Something that borders on, and in my opinion, crosses into a realm we call evil. Those who support them are not just enabling this situation but contributing to it.

Charlie was born with a terrible disease that left his brain destroyed. He is unable to breath or move. He is blind and deaf. Even if the cause of this tragic disease could be treated, and it can’t, his brain is dead. He is simply a lifeless zombie. I can only hope Charlie doesn’t have nerve activity and he is feeling no pain. Still, there is tremendous pain being intentionally inflicted by Yates and Gard playing to people’s heartstrings with the impossibility of the boy’s recovery. They are stealing money from people, not for themselves, but for doctors offering an experimental treatment that will do nothing to reverse the brain damage.

One of the most fundamental issues of this situation is the reversal of normal morality. In many cases it would be immoral to allow a sick child to die. If the child had a disease which can be cured, it would be despicable to place that child in the woods and allow it to die. This was done throughout history but medical care has improved to the point where children who were doomed to horrific lives until a few hundred years ago, can now live full and fulfilling lives. Thus, when we hear about a sick child whose parents are trying to get medical care, we are predisposed to think of them as heroes and those who are opposed as villains.

In this case it is the reverse. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. The professionals at Great Ormond Street Hospital are the ethical and kind players in this story. The judges who have made their rulings are moral.

What I’m saying is brutal. It’s not nice. I’m not a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll be happy to confirm I’m often times quite a jerk, quite forceful, when it comes to putting forward arguments. Be that as it may, what I’m saying is true. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. That’s the bottom line. The parents are engaged in behavior that I can only describe as evil.

There are a number of people in Social Media and other places who supported and continue to support this behavior. They encouraged the parents to take money from many people for the pursuance of an immoral act. They encouraged the people to keep poor Charlie on life-support for the last ten months when they could have ended this entire ordeal, and saved a huge amount of pain and suffering. Those who support Yates and Gard are contributing to the evil.

If that’s you, I won’t apologize. Get your act together.

Tom Liberman

Clueless: A Libertarian Movie Review

cluelessYes, time again for a Libertarian Movie Review. Today I examine the timeless Jane Austin novel, Emma. That is to say, in the more modern form of Clueless. Released all the way back in 1995 it was a hit and is often considered a classic. It launched the careers of Alicia Silverstone, Stacy Dash, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, and director Amy Heckerling.

Clueless largely tells the story of Cher Horowitz, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Beverly Hills litigator, marvelously played by the always great Dan Hedaya. In one of the early and most important scenes in the movie, Cher is given a subpar grade by a grumpy teacher and rather than accept it, she goes to work to get it changed. Not through computer hacking but in improving the life of her teacher, who will then hopefully be more open to a better grade in future negotiations.

While Cher is certainly Clueless in some regards, she is clearly well educated and has goals in life. Some of them shopping, most certainly. After igniting the romantic fires of two of her teachers, and getting a bump up on her grade, she decides that doing good things makes her happy. And, by golly, she’s right. When we help others, when we improve the lives of those around us, we also improve our own lives. She is helping people using what Ayn Rand would call selfishness.

Cher wants a better grade and finds the best method to do so is to make her teachers happier. Her life improves, as do the lives of those around her. Cher then sets out to do good for everyone including the tragically, her words not mine, unhip girl at school. Things begin to go wrong when Cher tries to pair Tai, played by Murphy, with a rather shallow and socially conscious boy, when it is clear she prefers the skateboarding and fun-loving Travis.

The failing isn’t in Cher trying to help her friend, just in not seeing the best strategy to make Tai happy. These things happen, we try our best but we often fail. Cher then experiences other failures, but rather than dwell in misery, she takes an introspective walk. She examines her own failures and tries to determine where she went wrong, and gets in a little shopping while she’s at it.

Clueless offers a lot of reality and some excellent Libertarian philosophy while doing it. Sure, Cher is a spoiled and Clueless fifteen-year-old girl, as would be anyone raised in such an environment. But she has brain, she uses it to improve her life. She has cool clothes and a great car, and that helps with her popularity but Silverstone plays a girl who would be popular everywhere, in almost any circumstance. She is intelligent, funny, and easy on the eyes.

When she is helping Tai, it is not all about being fit, there are vocabulary lessons and book reading exercises. Cher understands you don’t get far in this world without being able to think clearly. Despite setbacks, she clearly demonstrates her intellect and her unwillingness to give up.

The main lesson here is that by helping yourself, you help those around you. That is one of the most important core tenants of the Libertarian Philosophy. Therefore, Clueless gets a full Five Freedoms from this reviewer. A wonderful film worth watching again, or for the first time.

Tom Liberman

Chris Soules and Venus Williams

Chris Soules Venus Williams
There were two car accidents recently in which a person died. One of the accidents was caused by a white man, Chris Soules, with a strong belief in Jesus as his savior who also happens to live in rural Iowa. The other was caused by a black woman, Venus Williams. She doesn’t speak of her religion and lives in an urban environment. I find the general tenor of the comments on the two stories to be incredibly telling. First let’s look at the accidents.

Soules purchased liquor at a store. He smashed into the back of a tractor sending it into the ditch and killing the driver. Soules then reported the accident, waited for paramedics to arrive, but then fled the scene before police arrived. He went home and when officers came to question him he refused to come out for five hours. Open liquor containers were found in his car.

Venus Williams attempted to make a right turn but traffic prevented her from moving forward. She was stuck in the middle of the intersection, which is her fault. She shouldn’t have made the turn without it being clear. Another car didn’t notice and ran into her vehicle from the side. One of the passengers was an elderly man who was taken to the hospital where he eventually died two weeks later.

Now that you know the circumstances of the two accidents can you guess the general thoughts in the comments sections? Williams is a murdering scum who deserves to be put in prison. Soules is a poor unfortunate who hit a tractor that probably didn’t have its lights on and maybe cut in front of him and possibly he was tired and it was going to take the police a long time to get to the scene so he just went home. He was asleep so when the police were yelling at him to come out and calling his phone for five hours, he just slept through it. He feels terrible about the accident and has been punished enough. What purpose does it serve sending him to prison?

If you aren’t disgusted by the stark contrast between these two reactions there is something wrong with you.

I’m not saying everyone is exonerating Soules and eviscerating Williams but I am saying that the majority of comments on both stories are exactly as I’m portraying them.

I’m not sure how much of it is a black and white thing or a belief in Jesus thing but it is most definitely a thing. And it is horrific.

I’m not saying Williams is completely innocent or Soules is totally guilty of a crime. I’m just saying the reaction to both is out of proportion and based on things other than actual facts.

I really don’t have a whole lot to add. There is something seriously wrong with the critical thinking skills of people in this country. There are many people in this nation who are filled with unjustifiable rage against people they perceive as different. I don’t get it. I never will. But I can speak out against it.

Tom Liberman

Where a Hugging Seal and Whale is Fake News

seal whaleA photo of what appears to be a Beluga Whale and a Southern Fur Seal apparently hugging one another spread across social media much like a wildfire. It’s a fake news photo. I’d like to spend a little time analyzing why so many people loved the image and viewed it as some sort of harmonious moment in an ever more tumultuous world, and how this relates to the more dangerous phenomenon of fake news.

To toot my own horn for a moment, I saw the picture myself and immediately guessed it was a fake. Believe me if you will, I have no evidence of my opinion. I’m quite sure most of the people who believed the photo to be real, or at least suspected it was authentic, are now of the opinion they knew it was a fake all along.

Anyway, a few days later when the image was definitively proved as a fake, it hit the news again. A lot of people are apparently upset. The artist herself, Elena Vizerskaya, has a webpage where she creates many fake photos. It was from the site it spread so quickly through the internet.

Why did people believe the image? Why are they so angry it turned out to be a digitally created? I think that’s a fascinating subject for discussion.

It’s a sweet image. Two animals apparently embracing. We humans like to anthropomorphize animals; that is to say, we like to think animals display the same sort of behavior patterns as we humans. When we hug another person, it is a sign of affection. When two creatures of different species do the same, we see some sort of metaphor in which the world can be a united and better place. If a seal and a whale can love each other, why can’t we?

We want the world to be like this. Where everyone gets along and there is harmony and joy. Thus, when we see an image that seems to validate this desire, we are inclined to give it more credence than is deserved. This is called a Wishful Thinking Fallacy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the picture was true gives way to the conclusion the picture is true.

We run into this way of thinking virtually every day, and it leads us to faulty conclusions. The people who truly believed the photograph then create a world for themselves in which the photograph was real. When the person so believing is given strong, or even irrefutable, evidence the original photograph was not real, we often see one of three results.

One group of people will continue to assert the photo is real. They will deny the evidence of the website finding some excuse to continue with their belief. Perhaps the photo is real but being denied because the government has a secret program going onto move Southern Fur Seals from the Antarctic to the Arctic. Certainly, President Trump or former President Obama would be the instrument of this conspiracy.

Another response is to accept the new evidence and feel betrayed, lied to. This group of people is furious at those who they perceive wronged them. They will lash out violently, with words at least, and probably blame one of the two aforementioned presidents at some point or another in their rant.

The third possibility, and the one usually in least abundance, is that people thus mistaken laugh, shake their heads, and admit they were rather silly to believe such an obviously fake photo. Sadly, there aren’t very many people in that third group left in the world.

Thus, we see the photograph as a microcosm of all the Fake News in the world today. It seems to me people have largely succumbed to the Wishful Thinking Fallacy when it comes to political decisions. I think most people do not do this when dealing with business and personal choices that have an immediate impact on their life. But when it comes to politics, we seem perfectly happy to accept any reality that matches what we want for this world.

It is only when we develop the ability to laugh at our mistakes that Fake News will lose its power. I’m not holding my breath.

Tom Liberman

Solitaire and Changing Your Mind

microsoft solitaireIt’s not a bad thing to change your mind when presented with a new argument you hadn’t considered, that happened to me when I was talking about Microsoft Solitaire. It seems like people are largely uninterested in listening to facts that might change their thoughts on a subject. They merely want to confirm their own opinions. I recently changed my mind on a subject of relatively little importance but I think it demonstrates a useful way of thinking.

I like to play Microsoft Solitaire. So do a number of people I’ve met at the Facebook page dedicated to discussion of these games. There are two sorts of situation with the games. There are daily games. These are five games; one each of Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, Pyramid, and TriPeaks. If you manage to complete every game during the course of a month you get a Perfect Badge.

They also have a tournament every other day which involves completing a series of games as quickly as possible. You are grouped with ninety-nine other players and whoever can complete the most games quickly finishes with a higher rank and has the potential to get any number of badges.

One of my favorite types of games in either format is one in which there is a time limit to finish. This requires not only playing wisely but also playing quickly. I really enjoy the countdown of the clock as I try finish the game and I’ve finished a few of these with seconds left. They leave me feeling exhilarated, or frustrated, with my heart racing. I love them. When I see a time gamed, I immediately get excited.

Anyway, not long ago I was extolling how fun these types of games are and I noticed several people on the Facebook page lambasting the games as unfair. I could have immediately told these people they were incorrect, that I enjoyed the games and they should enjoy them as well, just because they’re hard doesn’t mean they are unfair. Instead I chose to read their arguments.

Several of the people who hate these types of games have arthritis of the hands, or some other medical condition. These people cannot move the mouse quickly or click fast enough to ever possibly win a timed game. This means it is impossible for them to complete an event or get a Perfect Badge. That is actually unfair. I was wrong. It’s not unfair to me, I’m a pretty decent player, but it is unfair to people with physical handicaps.

Now, that’s not to say Microsoft should stop including games of this type. The games are also unfair to blind people. They are largely less fair to older people and those who don’t have fast reflexes. Life is filled with unfairness at every level. There is no end to the unfairness of life.

I sympathize with those who cannot finish these types of games and therefore cannot get the rewards associated with completing them. They were right, the timed games are unfair.

At issue is my willingness to change my opinion. I didn’t originally consider the games unfair at all, but as soon as a point of view I hadn’t considered was pointed out to me, I immediately changed my mind. I don’t think this is any world altering change of opinion. I didn’t go from being a Cardinals fan to being a Cubs fan. Shudder. I do think it’s a valuable lesson in life. Be willing to listen to arguments that don’t support your point of view, and if they are convincing, maybe it’s time to change your opinion.

Too often we simply lock out anything that doesn’t agree with our preconceived notion. That makes the world a worse place.

Have a great day and maybe play some solitaire, it’s fun!

Tom Liberman

Gold Trade Spike and Conspiracy Theories

goldSomething interesting happened in the gold, or bullion, market when someone traded over 18,000 lots and sent the price down by 1.6% in about a minute. This sort of volatility is unusual but had no long-lasting ramifications. When I read comments on the story I was struck by the fact almost immediately the most suggested theories were conspiracy based.

When reading about what happened, it becomes clear gold traders are completely unalarmed and know precisely the reality of the situation. Someone tried to trade 18,149 ounces of gold but accidently chose to sell the same number of lots. A trade of this nature in ounces is quite typical. Gold is currently a pretty flat commodity without much movement or trading and thus the larger trade, a lot is about equivalent to a hundred ounces, was unusual.

I find this incredibly interesting. The logical and rational explanations, well clarified in the article, fall on completely deaf ears. There are quite a few people who are invested in various financial collapse schemes. These people want your money. They want you to be convinced an imminent downfall is coming and the price of gold will spike. They want people to be scared, because frightened people are fleeced of their money all the more easily.

These sorts of doomsayers have been around for as long as we have written records. They’ve always had the same motives. I think it’s highly unlikely the people commenting on these stories are those who will reap the financial windfall cascaded on them by willing fools. The conspiracy commenters are merely unwitting agents and future victims.

There is no great financial collapse coming. Buying gold is not going to make you rich. No one is manipulating the market. The only easy way for you to make millions of dollars in the commodity market is to understand human frailty. People are easily frightened and, when so, lurch as a pack toward a single objective. I’m reminded of watching a soccer game where the competitors are all about five or six years of age. They chase the ball as a herd. If a couple of players are smarter and more skilled than the rest they can easily use this tendency to score goal after goal.

That being said, it’s your money. Do with it as you will. If you want to purchase gold, or anything else, because you believe disaster is right around the corner, far be it from me to stop you. I don’t begrudge those who understand how things work their profits. To the smart go the spoils.

Tom Liberman

I am a Strange Atheist

atheistNot that I’m a strange person, which I am, but the more I encounter other Atheists the greater struck I am by how I came to be an Atheist. I’ve rarely run into an Atheist who wasn’t religious first. Someone who found that what they were being taught didn’t correspond with their experiences of life. I wasn’t necessarily born an Atheist but I was raised in a largely non-religious household. I was never religious and I never believed in a god.

I thought today I’d talk about my experience in coming to Atheism. As I said, I was born in a non-religious family. My mother dabbled with Buddhism but there were no religious ceremonies in my house and I never went to any sort of religious service. My parents were divorced when I was very young and my father married an Orthodox Jew. So, there was a lot of religion when I was over there every other weekend, but I wasn’t asked to take part for the most part. I read the section during the Seder reserved for the young boy of the family, the Four Questions, but that was pretty much the extent of any indoctrination.

I never even really thought much about religion growing up. I suppose I called myself an Agnostic because I didn’t really want to tell anyone there was no higher power. People seemed so sure. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to learn about Critical Thinking, Ayn Rand, Libertarianism, and that sort of thing. Up until then I pretty much stuck with the Agnostic line.

One day I asked myself why I didn’t believe in Zeus at all but was willing to accept the idea that god might exist. So, then I was an Atheist and I’ve been one ever since. I didn’t come to it by studying the bible and many of the logical problems therein. I think that makes me rather unusual. I’ve learned in the ensuing years about all sorts of issues with the bible but not until after my epiphany.

My knowledge of the bible, the koran, and the torah is pretty weak. I’ve learned a fair amount simply by having to perform research in order to counter particular religious arguments and by watching more well-versed Atheist discuss the subjects.

I think one of the important things about me being an Atheist is that I simply cannot believe in god or whatever. It’s not really a matter of choosing to believe or not; I don’t, I can’t, I’d be lying if I said anything else. To my way of thinking there is clearly no higher power. The various interpretations of that higher power don’t make any sense and are largely filled with vile stories of awful atrocities committed by said deity. If your god revealed himself to me in some undeniable way, I’d tell it to bugger off, I want no part of you. Frankly, I’d assume it was some jerkoff alien with sufficient technology to be indistinguishable from magic trying to yank my chain.

Life hasn’t been tough as an Atheist. I don’t think I’ve ever faced discrimination or ostracism because of Atheism, or Agnosticism from when I was younger. I’ve never had a friend refuse to talk to me or associate with me because of my thoughts. And my thoughts were not secret. I went to college in Idaho and many of my good friends were very religious. Some of my great friends even today have quite strong faith.

I’ve definitely faced ostracism but mainly because I’m a socially awkward fellow, I don’t blame my lack of religion, just my lack of social skills.

That’s pretty much it. I’m not trying to convince anyone to be an Atheist. I’m not complaining or bragging.

Tom Liberman

Malaysia Steals, Australian Gifted, United States Steals

jho-low-malaysia-chronicleA fellow by the name of Jho Low worked as a financier in Malaysia. He is accused of taking money from a fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He then used this money to buy jewelry for Australian actress Miranda Kerr. Now the United States has taken her jewelry as stolen property.

I suppose, on some level, I understand the general idea that someone who steals something should pay back what was stolen. The reality is that is not how the justice system works. If someone murders someone there is no way to give life back. The majority of crimes cannot be dealt with in an eye for an eye fashion. We have a criminal justice system that weighs the various crimes and assigns penalties based upon them. This is our attempt to arrive at justice.

I’m all for justice, but this sordid series of events is anything except. Let’s follow the trail from beginning to end. The Malaysian government controls 1Malaysia and puts money into the fund from revenue generated by taxes. This is money that belonged to people in Malaysia and was transferred to the government.

Now, the money was siphoned off to individuals like Low to be used not for the benefit of the people of Malaysia, but for him individually. He used this money to purchase jewelry from various suppliers. These suppliers sold him the jewelry at a fair market price in good faith. They received money for the jewelry. Said jewelry was then given to Kerr while she and Low were dating.

As a gift of tremendous value, it is treated as income. Essentially Kerr had to report these gifts and their worth to the Australian government who certainly taxed her at the appropriate rate. It is largely the same as earned income from a tax perspective.

Now the United States government has forced Kerr to turn over the jewelry to them. In addition to the jewelry they’ve seized other assets worth approximately $1.7 billion. Why the United States is involved at all is not clear to me, but I’m guessing the assets in question were purchased in the United States.

So, from what I can deduce, the government of Malaysia stole a bunch of taxpayer money from its citizens and now the United States has stolen the property purchased with this money.

What would be justice? Quite simple. Return the items to the sellers in exchange for the money paid for the goods and then give that money back to the taxpayers of Malaysia. Anybody think that’s going to happen?

Now, it certainly wouldn’t be a perfect solution as the gifts have likely depreciated since their original purchase but it would be more just.

The way things stand we simply encourage foreign governments to rinse and repeat. Steal a bunch of money from taxpayers, buy lovely things, pay taxes on the purchases, pay taxes if they are gifted, use them for a while, and then give them to the U.S. government.

All we’re doing is collecting money from the stolen goods at every step of the way. That money no more belongs to the United States than it does to me. The worst part is this isn’t unusual. Local, State, and Federal government steals from thieves all the time. They call it seizures but it’s nothing more than theft.

Will the United States pay back the taxes collected on those purchases? Will Australia? Will Malaysia? Will we give the original money back to the citizens of Malaysia? They are the only victims here and they are not recompensed in any way. Everyone else makes a profit and one or two scapegoats will spend a few years in prison.

That’s government for you.

Tom Liberman

Chess Prodigy Misleading Headline

shogi recordJapanese chess prodigy, 14, breaks 30-year winning streak record screams the headline. Yes, he is 14. Yes, he did break a winning streak record. No, it wasn’t chess. He plays chess and is reportedly good at it, but the streak was in a game called Shogi.

What’s wrong with a headline saying he broke a Shogi record? I’m a chess player and had never heard of a winning streak record so I was intrigued by the article. Nothing against Sota Fujii who is clearly a fine player of Shogi. I just wish the headline could have been more honest.

Tom Liberman

 

Facebook to Remove Posts from when you were a Minor

facebook kidsThe latest nonsense from government is a proposal to force Facebook to remove all posts made prior to your eighteenth birthday. It’s making its way through the English Parliament and has the support of the Queen who announced its existence in her speech on June 21.

Fine, I think it’s a silly law, but why? Let me clarify, because that’s what people who are interested in real conversation do. We don’t just tell you you’re an idiot and move on. We explain why you’re an idiot and listen when you explain why we’re wrong.

My first objection is all about freedom and liberty. I’m free to delete any post myself. Now, I agree the current system of having to delete posts one at a time rather than in bulk by date should be updated, but there is no way we should be allowing a Facebook algorithm to delete millions of posts automatically.

Breaking news, I’m old enough that when I turned eighteen Facebook, Social Media, and the World Wide Web simply did not exist. None of my pictures are going to be deleted. It’s not a concern of mine, but if I were one of the affected parties, I’d be angry my pictures were being deleted without my permission. There’s no way the government should be in charge of that decision. And let’s not blame Facebook if this law is enacted. It’s not their fault. It is simply the government telling me any pictures I posted before I turned eighteen are potentially dangerous for me.

This leads me to my second issue with this proposed law. It is part and parcel of a mantra that makes me literally sick to my stomach: We’re doing it to protect the children. No, you’re not. You’re doing it to force your misguided sense of morality onto the rest of us. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard wannabe fascists claiming they want to take away my freedom because they are trying to protect the poor, helpless children. The children are always the excuse and my freedom is always the victim. I’m not buying it.

It also insults everyone under eighteen. Basically, the law is telling them they might do something foolish, therefore we’re going to protect you from yourself. My experience is that quite a few people under the age of eighteen are far less foolish than many adults I know. Sure, some kids post photos that might embarrass them later in life, so do many adults. The government can’t protect us from such self-inflicted damage nor should they be trying to do so. Parents should monitor their child’s Social Media posts, not the government.

My fourth objection is less philosophical and more practical. Every post that anyone makes is available to be Shared on Facebook. It is available to be posted to other Social Media platforms. It is available to be copied and stored forever. Trying to delete something that’s been out on the internet is pretty much closing the proverbial barn door after the cows are out. It is not going to work.

So, let’s recap. The legislation takes away the freedom of adults by automatically removing pictures they might well want to remain in place and which they could relatively easily remove themselves. It is an excuse for government to intrude on our lives in the name of helping children. It insults the very children it is intended to protect. In the end, the pictures will probably still be out there.

Yeah, it’ll probably pass.

Tom Liberman

Why did General Grigsby Get Demoted for Having an Affair?

general wayne grigsbyGeneral Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. was demoted from Major General to Brigadier General for having an affair with another officer. He is the sixth such general in the last year to be demoted for such activity. Why? What about marriage infidelity would cause him to do his job less effectively? Why should anyone be demoted from their position? I think it’s an interesting question.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the army, or any employer, has the right to discipline their employees as they see fit as long as it doesn’t run afoul of the Constitution of the United States. However, I think it’s important to keep people who are good at their jobs in their positions even if they have human failings. We all have human failings. We all lie. We all make mistakes. In the military, there are potentially lives at stake. If Grigsby Jr. is an outstanding officer in every way, demoting him is detrimental to the military.

It’s also entirely possible Grigsby Jr.’s wife was perfectly happy for him to have affairs. It wouldn’t be the first marriage where such things were tolerated. It’s a well-known fact one of the finest generals in the history of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, carried on a long-term affair with his secretary. Would the country have been served by firing or demoting Eisenhower?

To be fair, it’s certainly likely having an affair can cause real issues in a command. It’s entirely possible there was good reason to demote Grigsby Jr. Certainly the circumstances of this case seem to indicate the demotion might well have been justified. That his behavior was negatively affecting his ability to command. I’m just worried by the fact so many officers are getting removed from their position for this personal issue.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’d be more comfortable if the military stopped using having an affair as the excuse to demote officers. Let’s judge people by the job they are doing. If the officer has lost control of his command, demote her or him for that reason. If the affair is having a detrimental effect on the other soldiers, demote for that reason.

What concerns me more is that I consider it undeniable the military is quite aware other officers are having affairs and is not doing anything about it. This smacks of cronyism. The officers in good standing are allowed to have their affairs while those who fall out of favor are subject to a strict interpretation of the rule. Even if this isn’t happening, even if the military only moves to make changes when the affair becomes detrimental to the command of the unit; there is the appearance of impropriety.

When the military first demoted Grigsby Jr. they cited lack of confidence in his ability to control his command. Good enough for me. Why elaborate? Why have specific examples of behavior that will result in potential issues? Because then you have to be consistent. If you punish one officer for doing something, you must punish all who behave that way. At least if you want to be consistent.

The question should simply be if the officer doing a good job.

Tom Liberman

Cell Phone ban for Children in Colorado

cell phoneThere are a number of studies indicating cell phone usage for young children can cause developmental problems and now the state of Colorado wants to pass a cell phone ban restricting the sale of such devices to anyone under thirteen.

Anyone who reads my blog well knows I’m a Libertarian and you can probably guess on which side of the issue I come down upon. However, it’s not quite as cut and dried as you might imagine. Naturally I think it’s a silly law, I hope that goes without saying. Parents have access to information indicating what is a good age for cell phone use and how much such devices should be used by children. Said parents should make the final decision about their child’s use of cell phones. It is ridiculous for the state to attempt to usurp the rights of the parents so.

That being said, the Constitution of the United States is silent on the subject of cell phone sales with the intent to distribute to a child. Where the Constitution is thus silent, it is the purview of states to do as they will. In this case, the constitution does not grant me, or anyone else, the right to own a cell phone. Therefore, the state of Colorado is free to ban the sale of such devices.

I think the passing of such ridiculous laws often results in exactly what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they tried to limit the power of government. It is when legislators try to impose such ridiculous bans on the people of our country that action is often finally taken. If the people in Colorado think this ban is insane, if manufacturers of cell phones move their business elsewhere, if a parent is denied the right to buy their child a cell phone and has to go through the inevitable black-market to get one; there is recourse. They can vote for representatives who repeal such a law.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. I think our elected officials are obligated to pass the laws they think are best for communities. They shouldn’t worry about the number of votes they get in subsequent elections. They shouldn’t worry about what the people of Colorado think about this law, if the politicians think it’s a good law, pass it.

Then the matter goes to the voters.

This is the driving force behind our form of government. It only works when politicians care about passing laws and stop worrying about public sentiment. I think this law is ridiculous, but the elected representatives of the people of Colorado may think otherwise. Good for them.

Tom Liberman

Otto Warmbier and our Nanny Country

otto warmbierI’m sick of it. Sick. We are a nanny nation. I’m reading comment after comment about the terrible death of Otto Warmbier and virtually everyone seems to think they know better than Warmbier, they know better than his parents, they know better than the travel agency, they know better how to lead everyone else’s life.

I’ve got advice for each and every one of you. Why don’t you try to lead your own miserable life and stay out of everyone else’s business? Is that too much to ask? Really? You get to tell Warmbier how stupid he was for going to North Korea. You get to tell his parents there must to be an autopsy. You get to push your political agenda by using the death of this young man. You’re sick. All of you! Sick, sick, sick.

When did we become a nanny nation? When did every single decision anyone makes become our business? People are concerned the United States is becoming a Nanny State where the government feels compelled to tell us how to conduct our lives? Well, look in the mirror. Just look and tell me what you see.

What was your last comment on any news story? Was it telling someone else they were wrong about something? How to go about their business? For whom they should vote? That they are ruining their lives by eating coconuts? Ruining their lives by not eating coconuts? Good grief. Shut up, the lot of you, leave people alone.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind an informed discussion. Here are the facts of the case and the opinion that I’ve arrived upon. What do you think? That’s reasonable. But no one does that anymore. It’s all somebody else’s fault. It’s all shouting and yelling and feeling superior because we’re certain we would do things better.

Are you so insecure with your own life that you have to tell everyone else how to live? Because that’s what it is. If you’re posting stories about how wrong and stupid other people are, it’s because you have no confidence in yourself. You might think you do, but the proof is in the proverbial pudding. If you actually had confidence, you wouldn’t feel the need to tell everyone else how to go about their lives, all the time!

How about you leave the Warmbier family alone to experience their grief in the way they choose to do so? Is that so much to ask, you miserable excuses for human beings?

Tom Liberman

The War Drums Beat and People Seem to be Marching

war drumsI see a familiar pattern in the beating of the war drums. Our enemies are readying to attack us. They are engaged in acts of war upon the United States. We must defend ourselves. It is quite similar to the mantra that came out of President George W. Bush’s Whitehouse prior to our invasion of Iraq. It seems to be resonating with the same group of people.

War is not a glorious endeavor. War means death, maiming, horrific psychological damage. Even if we are successful in various combat scenarios it entails long operations where soldiers are subject to guerilla style attack. It means families are split for years, that fathers and mothers are separated from children. And this is only for our troops, the ostensible enemy is mainly non-combatants and they will suffer the most, they always do in war.

War is sometimes necessary, this I do not deny. However, I see nothing to be gained from war in Syria or war in North Korea. I’m quite certain our military can inflict huge amounts of damage. We can kill hundreds of thousands of people. The losses of our enemies will likely be far greater than any we sustain, but to what end?

North Korea is a nation of twenty million people. It is physically adjacent to China and far from our shores. Supporting such an effort would cost trillions of dollars in addition to the money we are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, two conflicts from which are yet fully extricated.
Syria is in the middle of an incredibly volatile region. There are so many different factions involved it’s impossible to count them all. Any ally of ours today will almost certainly be an enemy tomorrow. Our troops in Afghanistan are being attacked by supposed allies on a weekly basis and the situation in Syria will be far worse.

Russia has a strong military, certainly not as powerful as our own, but one that can inflict serious damage to our soldiers. They can sink our ships and shoot our planes out of the sky. China can do the same.

Supporting our troops in these far-flung regions is not an easy endeavor and our allies are more and more closing their doors to our support lines. Our major airfield in the region is at Incirlik but the Turks are not in agreement with our policy regarding the Kurds. We have armed the Kurds and aided their attacks. It is likely Turkey will refuse to allow us to use this base in active war. We maintain bases in Iraq, despite any nonsense you’ve heard that we fully pulled out of the country, but they are not as functional as Incirlik.

I suppose people somehow get the illusion in their head that war will be easy. That we won’t take too many casualties, that not that many soldiers will be maimed. I’m not sure how, after recent events, people can think like this, but as I read the comments it is undeniably so.
And the drums beat on, those who support them are vocal. The more people support such saber rattling, such belligerent talk, such tough posturing; the deeper we become enslaved to these policies. We can’t back down once we’ve crossed certain lines. At least that’s largely the sentiment I perceive.

Sometimes I think it is people just carrying over their feelings from the recent election, half-troll, half-serious. I see this apparent eagerness to attack our enemies, to put our troops in harm’s way, to expose so many people to so much potential harm and people treating it like a game of words to one-up their friends on Facebook.

This is war. This is lives. This is not a game. Choose your position wisely.

Tom Liberman

The Long-Term Implications of the Castile Verdict

castileOfficer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty in the homicide of Philando Castile and while some people consider this an injustice and others feel it was a fair verdict, there are longer term ramifications to be considered.

At the heart of the case is simply the word of Yanez who said Castile was reaching for the gun he declared he possessed. Yanez was afraid for his life because Castile might pull out that gun and shoot the officer. Even if Yanez was alive to testify that he didn’t, in fact, reach for his firearm it boils down to a case of he said, she said.

In these sorts of cases, our court system is designed to protect one party more than the other. In order to be found guilty the jury has to be convinced one person’s story is the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. It is pretty much impossible to say, beyond reasonable doubt, Castile was not reaching for his pistol. Certainly, there was no reason for Castile to do so, having declared on his own that he possessed one. However, it’s the defendant who gets the benefit of the doubt in these cases. If the defendant was scared for his life and the plaintiff has a firearm and reached for it. It’s difficult to find the defendant guilty.

These are facts. What I think is important are the ramifications of this idea. If any person can, out of fear for her or his life, shoot another person who reaches for their pistol, the group of people who have the most to lose are police officers themselves. If I was stopped by an officer and it came to a situation where she or he was reaching for a sidearm, I would attempt to kill the officer immediately. As troubling and horrific as that thought is. What choice do I have? It’s clear the officer can kill me with impunity and claim fear as the justification.

I’m aware that sounds anti-police but that’s not my intent here today. I think police officers do an incredibly difficult job and deal with some of the worst people in our society. I admire many of them greatly and am thankful they are out on patrol. That doesn’t change the fact their lives just became incrementally more dangerous. A small amount of more hazardous is not good for officers out there doing their job. It’s already dangerous enough.

More and more the courts are basically allowing people to kill others because the shooter was ostensibly afraid for her or his life. Officers have benefited from this trend for the most part but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it’s going to go in the other direction soon enough. That makes me terribly sad.

Our court system is not going to change. That being said, there is a solution. It’s something I’ve spoken about many times in my various blog posts. The reason police officers are so mistrusted and even hated in communities is tied almost exclusively to the War on Drugs. It has turned officers from beloved and revered members of municipalities into the hated enemy. It has created an aura of distrust and hate between officers and the people of the community they serve.

The current administration seems intent on expanding the War on Drugs and that will only end up destroying more lives, police and civilian.

I wince when I consider the stories I’ll be writing blogs about in the future. About the unnecessary loss of life. I’m saddened by the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officers that will almost certainly arise from this verdict and others of the same nature.

As the mistrust between civilians and the law enforcement officers who protect them grows, there is an inevitable increase in fear. The constant companions of fear are violence and death.

Tom Liberman

Why Katy Perry Gives Me Hope for Humanity

katy perryKaty Perry just became the first Twitter user to have 100 million followers and this is a wonderful thing. It gives me hope for humanity. You’ll laugh, I’m sure. That Tom Liberman has finally lost his marbles. Katy Perry?

A quick perusal of the top personalities on Twitter reveals entertainers dominate. Aside from corporate entities like YouTube, Twitter, and CNN; the top twenty are all entertainers with the exception of former president Barak Obama.

I’m not a big popular music fan. I think Miss Perry is talented and relatively easy on the eyes but that’s not why I was so pleased to see she is the number one personality on Twitter. The top twenty list on Twitter is a celebration of what is right in this world and what is important.
People argue about politics but we save our real passion for entertainment. What in this world makes us happy? What brings us joy? When I see Miss Perry has so many followers and in second place is none other than Justin Bieber, I do not frown, my heart is not filled with rage, I smile.

People do indeed have their priorities straight. They value their own joy over the misery and rage that has become politics. Not by a lot sadly. Obama sits at number three and President Trump comes in at thirty-third. The first athlete on the list is at eleven, Cristiano Ronaldo. The first comedian is Ellen Degeneres at sixth. The first business orientated personality is Bill Gates sliding in at a cool twenty-seventh.

Despite the heated rhetoric we see in the news. Despite the terrible deeds of the lunatic and violent fringe. Despite the hate I read in comment sections each and every day. Despite all this, to paraphrase another wonderful musician, People Just Wanna have Fun!

That’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t be worried about politicians. We shouldn’t be worried about what everyone else is doing with their life and if we approve or not. We must focus on what makes us happy.

In the not too far distant future we will have abundant energy with all it entails; endless food and water for all. Medical science will make us all but immortal. Advances in robotics will end most labor and I suspect even money will become a thing of the past.

Can you imagine a world filled with people whose sole interests are things that bring them joy? Can you imagine spending your life doing things you love to do? Can you imagine not having to worry about what other people are doing?

So, if you want to listen to Miss Perry’s latest single and sing along, more power to you. I’m going to go play chess with some strangers because that’s what I enjoy doing. I may even throw a few thousand more words at my latest novel. A novel I hope you’ll someday enjoy reading.

In the future I envision, you don’t even have to purchase that novel. It’s available for free to all because I don’t need money. I write for the joy of writing and my payment is people who follow me on Twitter or post kind comments about the book.

Only 100,030,506 more followers to go until I catch Miss Perry. I can do it!

Tom Liberman

Whooping Cough and the Facebook Baby

Whooping CoughThere’s an interesting little post making the rounds on Facebook about a mother who doesn’t believe in vaccination and whose one month old baby died from a disease popularly known as Whooping Cough but technically called Pertussis. As you would imagine, people are up in arms.

I did some research on the internet and I couldn’t find this particular case but there are a number of incidents of parents with multiple children whose entire families contracted the disease, and some whose babies died. So, it’s close enough to reality to at least discuss the general issue.

What I find interesting is the child in question is reportedly one month old. That’s too young to receive a vaccination in any case. The child contracted the disease from some other source and then died. That’s a pretty typical pattern for this disease. In the past, older children and adults contracted Whooping Cough on a fairly regular basis, but it is largely only infants who died from the disease. It can also lead to complications that end up being lethal.

Another interesting factor is that childhood immunization does not last forever. It’s important for adults to get booster shots. In addition, children who delay the vaccine are less likely to be immune.

The statistics are undeniable. Prior to the vaccine becoming available in the 1940s over 175,000 people contracted the disease in the United States each year, the vast majority of them children. This is likely a large underreporting of the disease because adults and older children usually do not require hospitalization or medical care and thus their cases went uncounted.

Reported cases of the disease reached a low in 1976 with about only 1,000 being noted. That has gone up, particularly since 2004 when large numbers of people began to skip vaccinations for their children. In 2015 reported cases topped 20,000. In countries that don’t use vaccinations, rates of Whooping Cough and deaths from the disease are still prevalent.

Pertussis is the best example of why getting vaccinations is important. Those most likely to get the disease and die from it cannot get vaccinations. Just like the supposed case being reported on Facebook. The way these infants get Whooping Cough is through someone else who has the disease but is unaware of it. The disease is highly-communicable. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s airborne. Anyone who has it and breathes can pass it along to nearby healthy people.

I’m not going to get into a long debate about why I think vaccinations are important. Nor am I going to tell you that you should get your booster and make sure your children are properly treated. I think people are too well entrenched into their positions to be changed by a simple article.

I will tell you a personal story. A couple of years ago at my annual checkup my doctor noticed that it was time for my Whooping Cough booster. I’m in pretty good health and the disease presents no threat to me. I could easily catch Whooping Cough and be only mildly discomforted. As I sat in the doctor’s office and he stared at me expectantly a lot ran through my mind. Friends of mine with small children. Going to the baseball game and sitting near families with infants decked out in Cardinals’ gear. Walking through the park chasing Pokémon with children all around.

The thought of how I’d feel if I was inadvertently responsible for the death of one of those children.

“Bring on the needle”, I said.

Tom Liberman