The Public Perception of Being Overweight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you?

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

Jerky Treats from China and Pet Illness

China Jerky TreatsThere has been a story in the news off and on over the last five years but it seems to be getting headlines again. There have been about 4,200 reported cases of pets getting sick after eating jerky treats made in China in the last five years. About 600 of those pets died.

I suspect what I’m about to write is not going to be popular and might infuriate a few people.

That works out to about 120 dead animals and 700 sick animals a year from a sampling of millions. Let go with two million as a sample size. As far as percentages go that amounts to about .035% of animals that eat the treats.

By contrast 1 million human beings in the United States are sickened by Salmonella each year, 19,000 are hospitalized, and 300 or more die.

I’m not saying it isn’t the treats but each year animals do get kidney disease and in the story a veterinarian who treated three cases is cited as having “far more” than should be seen. How can 3 be far more than anything?

Also, the article says the cases “plummeted” after Nestle Purina and Del Monte issued a voluntary recall but then reports that 1,500 new cases were reported right after the FDA released their latest statistics. Which is it?

I’m for the testing. We should find out what’s going on but if the testing doesn’t support a conclusion should we allow the government to put people out of business? Because that is what is being demanding. People want all jerky treats made in China pulled from the shelves. If the treats are causing the illnesses then I support that idea but if the evidence says otherwise, is it right for the government to make such decisions?

Millions of treats, very small number of illnesses. Passionate and heartfelt anecdotal evidence but so far not supported by medical science.

The passion that I read in comments in these stories is not dissimilar from those I saw during the vaccine scare where symptoms of autism coincidentally followed inoculations. It also reminds me of the Sudden Acceleration panic which I wrote about not long ago.

I’m merely suggesting we go where the scientific evidence takes us, not where our heart pulls us.

I’ve had pets my whole life, I love my pets.

Please be gentle with me!

Tom

The Perceived Laziness of an Organized Person

An Organized MindOne of the employees at my office was let go today and, as I was discussing events with another employee, an interesting point of discussion arose.

The employee who was fired had what I would call a disorganized mind.

What is a disorganized mind? I think of it as someone who has trouble putting tasks in proper order of importance and who has difficulty stopping doing one thing and focusing on a second thing.

The second employee has what I could classify as an organized mind. I consider this to be someone who can keep track of a series of tasks and get them done largely in order of importance.

I don’t think that an organized mind and an organized desk are necessarily the same thing so I’m not talking about a person with a neat and tidy work area. Just someone with the ability to clearly define what needs to be done, how much time there is to do it, and in what order it should be done.

I consider myself to have a fairly highly organized mind although it does not carry over into my living quarters. Because of this ability to prioritize events, determine the best sequence to complete tasks, and the skill to ration my time appropriately; people with disorganized minds have, over the years, often considered me lazy. It’s a strange concept but it does make sense. To demonstrate let’s go back to the person who was let go.

At one point over the last few weeks she was unable to complete a task because there was “too much to do” and she asked the other person, “What do you do around here?” The idea being that the organized person had time to socialize, have a full hour for lunch, and appear to be calm and under control. Therefore that person must not have much work to do, certainly not as much as the harried, running around, unable to complete tasks person.

Of course the opposite is true. The organized mind completes more tasks, in a timely fashion, and with better results. What is unfortunate is that someone who appears to have plenty of time to do all their work is often branded as lazy or as someone who doesn’t have anything to do.

This has happened to me many times over the course of my business career. I would imagine that it has happened to virtually everyone with an organized mind at least once or twice. This is particularly distressing when the person so judging you is in a superior position within the company.

The hope is that you have a supervisor with an organized mind who understands that you are getting your job done in a timely fashion and doing it well. That this supervisor promotes such people and your business office becomes filled with organized workers.

I think too often we associate a frantic effort with hard work. Frantic effort is generally a product of poor planning. Now, there are times when unexpected emergencies arise and it becomes crazy but I’m talking about a more day-to-day way of going about your business. Even at the craziest of deadlines, with time running out, it is the calm person who can calculate what needs to be done and how long there is to do it that is most productive.

My point here today is to remind people, particularly supervisors, that those employees who appear to be easy-going and casual about their work might be much harder, and better, workers than those dashing hither-and-yon. When evaluating your employees look at the total amount of actual work they do, not how they appear to be doing it.

This is important to the success of your business. As employees succeed, a business succeeds, and in a larger sense, so does a capitalistic system.

For those with a disorganized mind, all is not lost. This is not irreparable. Write tasks down as they come to you and assign a numeric value to them. Keep this list handy and try to complete things in order of importance. If you practice being orderly in your thoughts often enough; you will eventually become so. I certainly wish I had applied this sort of thinking to my schoolwork when I was a boy.

If everyone did their job just a little better, what effect would that have on the world? It’s an interesting idea, at least I think so.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length eBook)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Air Conditioning and the Common Cold

Common ColdI normally talk about Objectivism, Libertarianism, atheism, and topics of that nature but a recent battle with the common cold brings me to a more mundane subject. What effect does being in an air-conditioned environment have upon a cold?

When I get a cold it runs an extremely predictable pattern. I get a sore throat which lasts for about four or five days, then I suffer from nasty congestion for a day where it seems my head will explode, and finally I start sneezing, coughing, expectorating, and blowing my nose for a couple of more days until finally the cold ends about a week or so after it started.

I’m sure all my loyal readers were happy to read these thrilling details!

The reason I bring all this up is what happens at the very end of my sickness. Generally speaking I like to keep the windows at my house open until the temperature gets above 90 or below 50. I’m strange that way. I like the fresh air and frankly, I don’t like paying insane heating and cooling bills.

When the last part of my cold arrives I find that I’m generally much better when I’m in a fresh air environment. For instance, as I type this post I’m breathing freely and haven’t sneezed or coughed in a while. I still feel a little tingle in the nasal region and I know I’m still sick, it’s just the symptoms are mild.

Last night when I went to my mother’s air-conditioned house for dinner I was the same way until I had been there for about two hours. At that point I started to sneeze and needed to blow my nose frequently. The same thing happened at work this morning. I was fine until I had been at work for a couple of hours, in the air conditioning, and then I sneezed and coughed more and blew my nose more. It grew worse as the day went along.

I’m wondering if anyone else has this experience or if I’m just strange. Well, I’m strange, I think that much can be admitted safely.

Perhaps I’m just imagining my symptoms are worse?  I don’t know. Sometimes the person experiencing a thing is the least well suited to understanding it objectively. When you are sick do you feel worse in an air-conditioned environment?

Anyone?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 and worth all 299 pennies!)
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Nature of Fraud – Aura-Etheric Body-Chi

Healing FraudOne of my friends recently Facebook Shared an advertisement for an anti-cancer product called Aura-Etheric Body-Chi. I was immediately outraged by the claim in the advertisement that it was ten-thousand times stronger than chemotherapy. I’m certain that being ten-thousand times stronger than chemotherapy doesn’t have any real meaning because there is no single chemotherapy treatment. There are many types for different sorts of cancer. Nevertheless, the advertisement is clearly trying to claim that the product is a much better cure for cancer than is chemotherapy.

My sister is alive today because of chemotherapy. That’s not the point here but perhaps it explains my passion on the subject of false medical promises made to sick and desperate people.

Before I posted a reply on Facebook to my friend’s Share I looked up Aura-Etheric Body-Chi on the internet. As far as I can tell it doesn’t exist outside of Facebook. They have no website, the first two pages of results are all different language Facebook posts for the product. So I broadened my search to Etheric Healing. This does seem to be an industry. There are any number of practitioners of the art selling their methods and offering certification in the art of Etheric Healing. I tried to find it on Wiki but didn’t have much luck. Here is a list of Esoteric Healing (curing people through faith or human will) methods which doesn’t include Etheric Healing.

There is something called the Etheric Body listed and doesn’t seem to mention Etheric Healing either.

I finally stumbled on Bio-Etheric Healing but that seems more about healing through understanding of past lives, Chakras, and things of this nature. Not some fruit that has ten-thousand times the power of Chemotherapy.

I concluded the product is phony. I made a post suggesting that this product was fraudulent and designed to steal money from sick, desperate people. That it might convince some people to turn away from chemotherapy and real cures in the hopes that this product would help them. That those people would then likely die from cancer.

I was immediately set upon by a defender of herbal remedies in general. This person stated that medical science often looks to nature to find cures and that I was fear mongering. That people have a right to put into their own bodies what they want. This is called a Straw Person argument. I actually agree that medical science looks to nature to find cures. I’m not opposed to eating healthy foods to treat illness. I completely agree that people have a right to put into their bodies what they want. Those were not my points.

I responded in an effort to clarify my objections to the ad. I said that I was infuriated by a product that seemed solely designed to bilk money from very sick, desperate, and vulnerable people. That my opponent was supporting this effort. I was told to calm down.

So now I’m writing a blog post, I guess I’m not calm yet.

To the point of this blog. Fraud. Yes, cancer stricken people, afraid of death, desperate for a cure, could choose not to purchase this product knowing it is likely fraudulent. They share some of the blame for being deceived. However, if we allow companies like this to exist we might as well not have a law against fraud at all. If people get fooled then they are fooled. Shame on them. If someone lies to you, practices to deceive you, tricks you, then it’s your fault, not theirs. There is merit to the idea of Caveat Emptor. I agree that people should be wary, they should suffer the consequences for bad decisions, but I cannot idly watch a scam designed to part the victims of a horrible disease from their money. I choose to speak out. To attack the deceiver even while admonishing those fooled to be more careful.

I urge all my rational thinking friends to speak out when they see things of this nature. Be a voice of reason. Do not let Facebook scams slide by silently. Your silence encourages the spread of irrationality, of evil. I think the makers of this product are evil. I won’t pull punches. They are despicable in their aims and their methods.

I’m not asking you to go on a crusade, to write a blog post, I’m asking you to make one comment. Be a beacon of reason. Tell people when you see something that is wrong and understand that you might be attacked in return. The right path isn’t the easiest path.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of fantasy fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Pay it Forward is Nonsense

Pay it ForwardI’ve noticed that the concept Pay if Forward seems to be in the news lately. It’s a concept that goes against everything Randian and she spoke directly to this idea in her novel Atlas Shrugged when John Galt needs a car to ferry Dagny Taggart around Galt’s Gulch. He goes to his friend Midas Mulligan and pays him a dime for the day’s rental.

This scene demonstrates what I consider to be one of the most important concepts of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

The concept of Pay if Forward is that after you do something nice for a person you don’t expect them to pay you back but to perform a similar act for another person when the opportunity presents itself. I’m certainly not suggesting that we stop doing kind things, I’m just suggesting that there is value to effort and when we reward people for such work we also encourage other people to do the same. When we give the undeserving rewards we encourage people to do nothing.

It’s an odd contradiction and I long struggled to understand that scene in Atlas Shrugged. I enjoy doing nice things for friends, it’s makes me feel good to buy a lunch or give a present to one of my nieces. It’s still not easy to put into words the idea that we should pay for the services we desire because by rewarding the people who provide a good service at a reasonable price I make the world a better place. When I simply give away my skills in the hopes that someone else will do the same I set in motion a chain of events that leads to decay.

It’s a difficult concept because it seems heartless, it’s not. As an example, I think taxes that support a school system are a good thing. I think education has a value to society that is almost impossible to value. I don’t have any children. I strongly appreciate that educating children leads to a better world for me in any number of ways that seem self-evident and therefore I won’t discuss them in-depth now. It’s in society’s interest not to have poor people, it’s in my interest to not have criminals roaming the streets. Paying taxes for schools isn’t to just to benefit children, it’s to make my life better.

One of the things I do supposedly for free is the writing of this blog. I do it to bring my philosophic interpretations of Rand to others, to the masses. This in turn hopefully makes them Randian in their behavior which benefits me.

I sell my books for $2.99. These books are written largely to illustrate my ideas about how we can make this world a Utopia. However, I do not write them solely to make the world a better place. I want your $2.99. I want a lot of people’s $2.99. I want to sell millions of books and make millions of dollars. I want my books to be made into movies and the studios to pay me more millions. I also want you to read about Jon Gray, Silenia, the First Rider, Shinamar the Unbeliever, and General Yumanar, the heroes of my novels who showcase my philosophies.

We cannot make this world a better place by Paying it Forward. This idealism actually leads to our nation and the world becoming a worse place. Let’s examine the ultimate goal of the Pay it Forward philosophy. Imagine a world where everyone helps everyone else without payment. It sounds good but it isn’t. That is a world in which lazy people rule because they don’t have to do anything. They are given everything by others doing good deeds. Of course, eventually this leads to a society where everyone has nothing because no one does anything. Naturally this philosophic endgame is never going to happen because the Pay it Forward concept is, at its heart, bankrupt. It’s going to be impossible to convince people to Pay it Forward to the point where they have nothing left. But, the philosophic goal is to reach that so-called dream world.

We should pay for things so that we encourage people to provide those things we want. We should patronize restaurants that make food we like at what we consider to be  a reasonable price. This allows that restaurant to succeed and we get good food. That’s a win.

If we look at poor people in Westernized countries as opposed to third-world countries we see a difference. Poor people in the United States, in Australia, in western Europe, are not nearly as poor as the destitute in India, Pakistan, Africa. Poor is a relative term and countries that live closer to Randian Objectivism, where the best are rewarded for their efforts, are far better off than their counterparts. This is the benefit of a system that doesn’t Pay it Forward. It encourage those who provide service to continue to do so. It rewards success instead of failure. That’s good for everyone, in the long run even the failures.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (yes it’s $2.99, yes it’s awesome)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt(Yes it will be $2.99 and awesome)

SLS Boeing Rocket – On Budget Ahead of Schedule

Space Launch SystemThere was a small story in the space section of the science category of NBC News the other day and it caught my attention. I thought about it and then came back to write this post and had to search long and hard before finding it again, it was buried deep. This generally means it didn’t garner much interest in the news community. Well, I noticed.

SLS stands for Space Launch System and it is a large rocket that will likely be used for the manned mission to Mars and other programs that will require a big launch vehicle. Ahead of schedule and on budget. I’ll repeat, ahead of schedule and on budget. How did this happen? Let’s find out!

Before I start I’m going to have to give a small disclaimer. Boeing has a major presence here in St. Louis and some of my best friends work as engineers there. I’m proud of Boeing and my friends although I don’t think any of them work on this project.

The story starts back in January of 2004 when President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration. Part of this plan was something called Project Constellation which included the Orion Mars Mission. President Bush vaguely outlined a series of lofty goals for the programs in question. Plans were started, studies were made, money was spent, lots of money. Eventually it was largely cancelled after limited progress was made because of the vague goals and reliance on unsolved technical and design challenges. The plans largely called for technology that someone hoped that someone else would figure out.

This is important. I’m not saying President Bush was wrong to dream big. Dreaming big is a good thing. However, it is vitally important to understand that you don’t achieve your dreams by dreaming more. You achieve your dreams by making a practical analysis of the obstacles and coming up with real solutions. The Bush administration failed this test badly. I think this is symptomatic of possibly the largest problem we face in the United States. Somewhere along the line the lesson has become Dream Big and don’t worry about the small stuff. Well, the small stuff is what makes the boom. Dreams won’t come true if you don’t make a realistic analysis of the steps necessary to achieve them.

I’m reminded of the likely apocryphal story of the World War II era German engineers sent to the Eastern Front to quiz the tank commanders on what they wanted in a tank. In the story a commander takes the engineers out back and shows them a Russian T-34, ‘that’, he says.  The engineers scoff saying they can do much better. While almost certainly not a true story the moral applies. We too often ask for a weapon system that relies on technology that does not yet exist. This leads to huge delays, cost overruns, and out-right cancellations. Look up the F-35 and VH-71 Kestrel as examples.

All right, enough of failure. Why is the SLS doing so well? Here’s why. It was designed using existing technology with upgrade “block” versions that will be able to lift increasingly heavy loads. This is important. They decided to start with something they knew could be done and, as progress was made, scale it up for larger payloads. No dreams there. Existing technology and know-how. A realistic plan. Goals analyzed and obstacles understood. Too many projects are built on dreams and that’s a problem. I see it everywhere and I’d bet that many of my readers out there have a story or two to tell about some great idea that consumed time, money, and effort but failed because people didn’t make a practical plan.

Now, there are critics of SLS because it uses Space Shuttle technology and for several other reasons as well. There is a long way to go before we see if the SLS delivers on its promise or not.

The reality is that right now the project is ahead of schedule and on budget. That’s a good thing. Hooray Boeing!

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

Mental Health and Gun Control

Crazy people with GunsGun Control is big news in the United States these days and much of the focus seems to be on particular gun types, background checks, high-capacity magazines, arming teachers, waiting periods, and a few other things. I think the main issue is one of mental health.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is unfortunately not completely clear and modern weapons with destructive potential far beyond anything the Founding Fathers could imagine muddies the issue further.

The Amendment mentions a well-regulated militia as the precursor to the idea that the right to own arms shall not be infringed. In a time when the country had no standing army this militia was envisioned as a potential army available to call up to defend the nation. However, the following wording indicates quite clearly that the people of this country have the right to bear arms and the government has no ability to limit that right.

I think there are a few people who probably think this right is absolute but most people agree that shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and hood-mounted .50 calibre machine guns are probably not in the best interest of safety. If you drive any amount of time in a given day you’d probably agree. The rage out there is palpable. Likewise I think there are few people who think a citizen owning a firearm for uses such as hunting, personal protection, or sport shooting should be restricted. There are people on both fringes of the argument of course, but most people are in the middle.

This is where I have my problem with the measures being proposed. They are essentially useless. They don’t address the real problem.

Cheap guns in the hands of criminals cannot be stopped by legislation and most of the gun murders we see in this country involve those sorts of weapons, generally associated with the illegal drug business (don’t get me started on the War on Drugs). Most murders and gun crimes are not committed with assault rifle type weapons. High-capacity magazines can now be printed and the vast number of them out there make any sort of legislation designed to ban them all but useless. The definition of a gun type will just encourage manufacturers to make guns that don’t fit the restriction and get around any bans.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the point here. The problem is mental health. The people who use firearms to attack movie theaters, schools, and crowds are insane. The idea is to identify and help crazy people, people who suffered abuse, people with mental illnesses. If we recognize that insane people are the greatest threat then we should eagerly put forward the effort to help them before they start murdering. If we can identify and prevent crazy people from driving cars into crowds, buying bomb-making product, and purchasing lots of weapons and many rounds of ammunition then we’ll have gone a long way to solving this problem.

Sure, there will still be gun accidents and gun crimes, I’m not pretending the world isn’t a dangerous place. I’m just suggesting that we spend more money and more time on the mental health issues that are the underlying cause of these sorts of attacks. Crazy is uncomfortable, crazy is something we don’t like to see, look at, or talk about but it’s real. In almost every one of these cases someone knew the person was unstable and sometimes even tried to warn people.

If everyone was mentally stable, rational, and an objectivist thinker; I think most of the troubling issues that we face in this world would vanish. Mentally unstable people can be treated with increasing success using modern drugs and therapy.

It frustrates me when I see so much effort, argument, rage, and dissension going on over solutions that don’t address the underlying problem.

I don’t think spotting and helping insane people is an easy thing to do but I think we’re not trying nearly hard enough. I’m not even really arguing for registration of crazy people and background checks, just let’s spend some public money to make sure insane people get treated. It’s one of the beneficial uses of tax dollars as far as I’m concerned. Let’s empower mental health professionals to alert the authorities. Let’s train the authorities to listen to mental health professionals. It’s not an easy road, I’m not one to live in a pretend world. I do think we can do more if we focus our energy on underlying causes and stop screaming at each other.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (awesome book, buy it today)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

2018 Mission to Mars – Crazy or not?

MarsA fellow by the name of Dennis Tito is making news in my little corner of the space-geek world with a plan to send a manned mission to Mars. One of my favorite bloggers, Alan Boyle of Cosmic Blog, wrote up an interesting summation of events so far.

I’ve long been a proponent of robotic missions over manned missions for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to get into today. What I do want to discuss is the nature of this particular plan and whether it is sheer madness, a great idea, or something in-between.

The broad plan itself is simply to send two astronauts to Mars on a trip that would circle the red planet and return to earth in a total of 501 days. As Earth and Mars rotate around the sun there are only certain times when the round-trip can be accomplished so quickly. The next such alignment occurs in January of 2018. This means the technology has to be ready to launch at that time. Five years is a remarkably short period to make this happen.

The detailed plan is extremely sketchy but the basic technology is understood and certainly not impossible. They would have to use a rocket that is currently incomplete but scheduled to be finished by that time. A major stumbling block is the speed at which the returning vessel would enter Earth’s atmosphere. There are other pressing problems that currently have no solution but the entire concept is possible.

The funding for the operation is to come largely from donations and Tito’s own personal wealth.

Is the plan a worthwhile endeavor?

As I stated earlier, I’m of the fairly strong opinion that robotic exploration is the most useful method for finding out information from Mars, the moon, and other places within the solar system. Humans are just too frail and concerns about radiation exposure, food and water, waste disposal and other barriers make human space exploration a waste of time and money. We’ve already sent plenty of robots into orbit of Mars. Landed them on Mars. In this case we’d be spending billions of dollars to send two people on a round trip to Mars for no good scientific purpose.

So, at this point you probably think you’ve got my final conclusion all figured out. You’d be wrong.

If Tito wants to raise the money and make this a reality, I say go for it. It’s his money and his donor’s money. The astounding publicity of the event will certainly make millions of people as big a proponent of space exploration as am I. In the end it might create more money and science dedicated to robotic exploration.

Personally, I’d prefer that he use his considerable charisma and effort to help NASA fund missions that have been cancelled because of lack of funds. To that Tito might tell me to do what I want when I’ve made a few billion of my own, and he’d be right!

I applaud Tito’s spirit and wish him well. Although I would offer one major criticism. Don’t say The Right Stuff times ten ever again. Such a thing is impossible. Thank you for your courage and sacrifice Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton.

Now, if only I could get a few million people to purchase my books maybe I could fund one of those cancelled missions!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Air Force Software Development – $1 billion wasted

OverbudgetThere was an interesting and still developing story in the news recently about money paid by the government for a piece of software that, to date, doesn’t work.

The reason it caught my attention was not really the dollar amount assigned to the waste but the fact that it was a software development project. That’s something my company does and I’ve been taking an increasing part in that process myself. I helped formulate my first bid recently and am beginning to get a more personal understanding of the concepts involved.

In this case the Air Force contracted for a complex piece of software that would do the job of many other pieces of software in a sort of unified system. There aren’t many details in the story and the contractor in question claims the software largely works. The Air Force spokesman says it does not.

What I want to talk about today is not necessarily the failure of this software but the entire idea of making the bidding process work.

My company is currently working on a piece of software that we seriously underbid. It’s an undertaking that has been going on for years. The thing that’s important to understand is that everyone loses. The company doesn’t have its software and we continue to throw man-hours at the problem without any extra pay. The problem largely arises from poor bidding practices. If the contract had been bid appropriately maybe the company would have said, no way, too expensive. They would have saved money and so would my company for we have spent for more in man-hours than we received in payment.

I see the bidding process with government agencies to be a mixed bag. Some agencies seem to be able to accept appropriate bids while others, particularly the defense department, seem willing to accept artificially low bids only to see projects fail to complete on time and arrive hugely over-budget.

This doesn’t work for anyone. The company that makes the low-bid ends up with the contract certainly but the amount of work they do is not commiserate with the pay and can turn into a losing situation for everyone, see the F35 debacle. The government does not get the equipment or at least only receives some substandard version of the equipment.

In this case what bothers me most is that the company that made the bad bid originally is still being contracted for a number of other government software programs. At the very end of the video they mention another $8 billion in software bids that apparently returned little or nothing.

As with my own company, this kind of thing can happen. People can underestimate bids, things can prove more complex than originally imagined. However, a company that fails this miserably should not get any more money. I don’t think that is the case with some government contracts. They are largely so rife with corruption that a fair and reasonable bid has no chance of getting the contract. I do think this is department dependent. Some departments manage their bids better than others.

The question becomes, how do we manage the bidding process to get the best product at a fair price? With billions and even trillions of dollars at stake the idea that we can remove corruption entirely from the process is naive. With that much money at stake unsavory sorts are going to be drawn in.

Capitalism means that the company making the bid should make money. The contract should then be fulfilled within a reasonable percentage of the original bid and a quality product delivered.

Sadly, I’m of the opinion that the money is so immense and the corruption so entrenched that there are no easy answers. An independent agency with the sole job of evaluating bids seems like a good idea but that adds complexity and cost because you have to pay those people. Possibly some sort of metric based system in which the quality of the final product and the proximity to the original bid are assigned numeric values. These values are accumulated over time to favor bidders with good track records. I’m generally in favor of such metric based systems although corruption in assigning values is still possible.

It’s a huge problem, not so much from the wasted billions, but the idea that if a company regularly fails to properly fulfill bids, said business should not continue to prosper. The very heart of capitalism, of Randian Objectivism, is rewarding success.

I’ve spoken about this many times. If we reward failure the system rots from the inside. This is not capitalism, however, it certainly is what we seem to have today.

Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Bad TV wins – why?

Don't trust the B in Apt 23I don’t watch a tremendous amount of television but there are a few shows on Hulu that I watch with regularity and something recently happened that, once again, caused me to question the rationality of television executives. Over the years we’ve all seen great shows get cancelled while shows not as good continue on. Sometimes it’s purely a ratings decision but I’m going to examine the situation a little more closely today.

Why is a good show cancelled and what is it that we call good?

The incident that brought about this examination was the cancellation of the show Don’t Trust the B* in Apt 23 while a somewhat similar sitcom called New Girl continues on. Apt 23 was regularly hilarious, generally funny, and occasionally stupid as cutting edge comedies often are. New Girl is almost always stupid punctuated by moments of funny. Apt 23 is well written and well acted. New Girl is poorly written with nonsensical situations highlighted by overacting and tired jokes. Yet, Apt 23 is gone and New Girl is highly touted by the network. Why?

The network spokespeople will suggest it is all about ratings but I’m not so sure that’s the case. See Firefly or American Gothic and even now Community for examples of a network mishandling a show with time slot changes, episodes shown out-of-order, lack of promotional activity, and other seemingly destructive policies.

As I try to be a rational thinker I want to examine some possibilities on the cancellation that don’t have to do with ratings. Perhaps a rational television executive crunched the numbers, the show production cost, distribution, long-term salaries, and weighed that against revenue, media sales of episodes already finished, and other factors. Is it possible that Apt 23 will make more money in DVD sales than it would have made if it continued in production for four more seasons? I don’t know the answer but it’s possible I suppose. Did the executive try to pick up Krysten Ritter in a bar and was shot down in humiliating fashion? It’s possible. Does the executive’s son hate James Van der beek? I don’t know, maybe?

Next we have to examine the idea of good. Is good a completely relative term? Just because I think Apt 23 hilarious and New Girl painfully bad; is this objectively true? Certainly there are those who think New Girl is hilarious and those who probably didn’t like Apt 23. I like to think there is an objective good. One joke is funny and another is not. Any comedian will tell you that certain jokes get laughs and others don’t.

What are the factors that make a television show good or entertaining? Funny jokes, a plot that is logically accurate to itself even if far-fetched and fantastic, see Big Trouble in Little China. Actors who effectively convince you that they are the character they are portraying. Sometimes called good acting. Good camera work. A thematic structure to each episode and the show in general. Dialog that is crisp. Characters that are consistent. I think all these things objectively define good even if people don’t always come to that conclusion. I think we can define Apt 23 as good and New Girl as bad.

That being my opinion I’m deeply saddened by the cancellation of Apt 23. I think about all the episodes of Firefly that were never made. I’m the loser because of this, I’m less entertained. I would argue that our society is the loser when bad wins out over good. Maybe it’s not a big a deal when it comes to entertainment but maybe it is. Maybe every time bad wins out over good we are all diminished.

Of course, there’s the possibility that New Girl is a great show and I’m just deluding myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if better always won out over worse? What would your world be like if everything that was better succeeded? That’s the ultimate goal of the Randian objectivist. I’m sure it’s not possible but I won’t stop striving. I hope you don’t either. And I hope a young network employee reads this and goes on to become an important executive.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Zimbabwe Economic Woes

ZimbabweThere is a lot of chatter about the economic condition of Zimbabwe in the news these days and I think it’s a very interesting situation.

The history of the country is fairly fascinating and plays into those condition. I’m going to go over that quickly before I get onto the pertinent economic issues. Like most African nations prior to the arrival of Europeans it was a tribal state for most of its history. The region was rich in gemstones and a fellow named Cecil Rhodes recognized this and largely created the country. Current day Zimbabwe is a major of diamond exporter and Rhodes, a mining expert, saw that potential. He is also the  founder of the De Beers diamond company.

The country was eventually named Rhodesia in his honor and prospered when Europeans (read whites) immigrated and began both mining and farming in earnest. During what is called the Colonial era these European subdued native (read black) rebellions and forged a self-governing British colony. This colony prospered thanks to both the diamond mines and burgeoning agricultural industry lead by tobacco and cotton. The farming industry once contributed as much as 40% of the country’s exports and was also self-sustaining in the production of maize to feed its own people. However, gemstones were and remain the main economic money-maker in the region.

Eventually the British colony fell under scrutiny for their racial inequalities and sanctions followed. The British themselves, who outlawed slavery long before the United States, were proponents of majority rule rather the status quo of minority rule. The natives eventually waged a war of independence and gained the control of the country in 1979 instituting a relatively equitable system. Whites kept their property and control of the police, civil service, and judiciary while blacks took control of the government. Clashes between enemy tribes then ensued and many blacks were slaughtered by other blacks.

On an economic front there was general despotic rule in which unions were suppressed and socialist government take-over of universities was at least attempted. This mix of socialism with crony capitalism is worth noting. We tend to lump socialists in one camp and capitalists in another but under totalitarian rule the two intermingle quite nicely. A small minority gets rich using monopolistic policies coupled with socialist takeover of industry. A mix of two bad policies leading to … disaster.

The totalitarian regime seized farmland from prosperous white farmers who controlled about 70% of the arable land despite policies designed to encourage blacks to purchase that land. This redistribution failed miserable, as might be predicted. Without experienced farmers, capital outlays, and a long-term strategy the farming community collapses. A drought didn’t help.

Meanwhile the powerful regime grew rich off the gemstone mines virtually enslaving the population. Western horror at the conditions in the mines resulted in sanctions driving the country further in bankruptcy. Hyperinflation like that in Germany after World War I plagued the country and they even created a one trillion note at one point.

Elections remain largely fraudulent. Disease, mainly AIDS, is rampant and life expectancy is currently 39 years, the lowest in the world.

There are some encouraging signs for the country but the despotic regime continues.

What’s the lesson in all this? If you read my blog frequently you know the answer. Let the best succeed. Reward achievement. If the early white settlers had been fair-minded objectivist instead of vicious racists then blacks might have joined in the economic boom times and the wealth of the country naturally distributed to those most capable. If the blacks who came to power had been fair-minded objectivist they would have rewarded those whites who stayed and worked hard it would have resulted in equitable wealth distribution and a prosperous nation.

Instead, racism, greed, and hate won. That’s what those three things will get you. Disaster. Every time.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

RG III and the I didn’t know Excuse

RG IIIAs my one or two loyal followers well know; sports is my first love. Long before I was writing Ayn Rand tribute novels dedicated to the ideas of Objectivism and Libertarianism I was living and dying, mostly dying, with the St. Louis Cardinals (football and baseball) and St. Louis Blues sports teams. While things have changed to some degree, I still love sports.

Last night I was doing some research into ACL injuries because of the Robert Griffin III situation with the Washington Redskins. I have an oar in the water on this one. My beloved, yes, I said “my”, read my Cardinals blog on the subject, my beloved St. Louis Rams have the Redskin’s first round pick next year and the year after. So, if RG III is disabled that would seem to indicate this pick might be of more value.

That’s not the subject of my blog today. What I want to talk about is how people use willful ignorance to avoid responsibility. Griffin is just my example.

The evidence that this is the case is a bizarre exchange between the doctor and the head coach of the Redskins. Griffin suffered an injury in an earlier game, came out for a play, and then went back in. Coach Mike Shanahan was asked about the incident and said that the doctored said it was ok for Griffin to return. The doctor, days later, denied even examining Griffin or clearing him saying he was very concerned by his return. Later the doctor hedged saying he didn’t examine Griffin and the quarterback went into the game largely on his own although the doctor gave some sort of a signal to the coach indicating it was ok for Griffin to return.

Here’s what really happened, in my opinion. Griffin partially tore his ACL at that moment. He knew something was wrong and avoided the doctor because that’s what incredibly tough football players do. Then he went back into the game. The coach didn’t want to ask the doctor because he wanted Griffin in the game. The doctor didn’t insist on examining Griffin because he also wanted Griffin in the game. The next few weeks the Redskin willfully pretended that things were ok by not doing thorough examinations. They didn’t want to know because knowing might be bad.

In the grand scheme of things this isn’t a huge deal but it mirrors something I see in today’s society and particular in our supposed leaders. These are the men and women who are supposed to be setting examples for all of us. They are our leaders, the men and women Ayn Rand writes about, the high achievers.

In the George W. Bush administration there was willful ignorance about our soldiers brutally torturing prisoners of war. There was a willful unwillingness to pass along information about the murder of a true Randian hero, Pat Tillman. President Obama didn’t know anything about the situation in Benghazi. Executives at Enron had no idea of the financial manipulations. The housing industry’s meltdown was systemic but no one wanted stand up and make hard decisions. No one wanted responsibility and underlings knew this and thus willfully refused to pass along pertinent information.

Rand writes specifically about this in the early chapters of Atlas Shrugged with Dagny Taggart makes a hard decision about the train on which she is riding. The people who are supposed to make the decision are paralyzed with fear that they will make the wrong decision and do nothing. She steps in and takes charge.

Failing to heed the moral of this story will bring this nation down. Leaders need to lead. They need to make hard decisions and sometimes make incorrect decisions. Voters need to elect those who are willing to make tough decision and be less eager to attack anyone who makes a mistake. Business leaders must lead instead of grub for more money and bail themselves out with golden parachutes.

I don’t want to be overly negative here. All is not lost. There are many leaders out there who are not afraid to make tough decisions and want what’s best their company, their constituents, their soldiers, and their country. Not only must such men and women step forward but we must honor those who do so and stop making excuses for those who don’t, even if they are from the party for which we vote.

Reward courage. Reward loyalty. Reward honesty. Reward honor. Reward kindness. Stop rewarding cowardice, betrayal, hate, and greed. Stop it in your own life wherever you encounter it, in the little things, in our everyday life.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Doomsday and the Calendar

Calendar SystemI recently helped celebrate my niece’s 17th birthday on Dec 12, 2012 and, as usual, found myself annoyed with any reference to the specialness of a particular day based on the numeric calendar configuration. As you might imagine; I made a nuisance of myself and alienated my mother, sister, niece, and people at nearby tables with my rants against such behavior.

I’ve had some time to think about why this sort of thing bothers me so much and I thought I’d try to explain my position in a rational, objectivist fashion.

Anytime we assign meaning to a date based on its numerical configuration we are essentially descending into barbarism. I know that sounds harsh but with the upcoming Mayan Doomsday predictions and recent memories of other such events I think it’s important for the rational people of the world to set a good example, even when it comes to things like 12/12/12.

Here’s my reasoning. All date systems are arbitrary segmenting of the calendar year into digestible chunks so that we can reference past and future events in a meaningful way. This is all based on the fact that the ball of rock and mud on which we live orbits around the big ball of gas we call the sun once every 365.25 times this same ball of rock and mud spins fully on its access. This spinning takes a period of time we call a day. The orbital period we choose to call a year.

We break this “year” down incrementally to help us reference past and future events. I’ll meet you for lunch on Thursday, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, etc.

There are any number of systems used to make designations on the “calendar”. There is a Chinese Calendar, a Jewish Calendar, a Mayan Calendar, a Julian Calendar, a Gregorian Calendar, an International Fixed Calendar (my personal favorite), and others yet. Each of these is based on some sort of numerical system. Each of these numerical systems has coincidental days where certain numbers line up in notable fashion. The fact that these numbers line up has no meaning. It’s really important to understand this concept. The lining up of numbers has no meaning whatsoever.

As an example. The very second you are reading this sentence is exactly six seconds, six minutes, six hours, six days, six months, and six-hundred and sixty-six years after some time in the past. Every second of every day meets this formula. Every second of every day is exactly 1000 years after some time in the past.

Every day is exactly 12 days, 12 months, and 1012 years after some time in the past. It is just a numerical assignment that has … no meaning!

Calendars are often altered for various reasons and this means that even numerical coincidences are not really fully accurate anyway. When we switched from the Julian to Gregorian calendar 12 days were removed from the counting system. Thus any numerical coincidence is just that, a coincidence.

What if we used a six month sixty-day calendar? Or a four-month ninety-day calendar?

My main point here is that when normally rational and intelligent people assign meaning to something as meaningless as the numerical alignment of 12/12/12 they are promoting barbarism. They are lending credence to nonsensical doomsday predictions. It’s our duty as the rational to dispel this sort of thinking.

So, next time the calendar lines up in some sort of interesting numerical fashion take a moment to explain to anyone nearby, particularly children, how meaningless is this alignment. Instead explain the orbit of the earth around the sun and how various calendars attempt to quantify that and why. You may get a lot of people clucking at how “un-fun” you are and what a “stick-in-the-mud” you are but accept that criticism and know that you are a force of rational good in the world!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water (at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords later this week!)

Psychics Mislead Grieving Families

Psychic NonsenseSadly, psychics are in the news again and things don’t seem to have changed much from the times of the ancient Greeks with the Oracle of Delphi to current times and  John Edwards. As a Libertarian and Objectivist I’m torn by this particular industry.

On one side I see that people are not being forced to go to a psychic, they are not being forced to spend their money, they are certainly not being forced to believe the nonsense they are told. I’ve had a number of friends go to psychic fairs and come back at least marginally convinced in the accuracy of their readings.

On the other side I see fraud against people who are at their most vulnerable. It seems fairly common that a psychic comes forward to give misguided hope to the family of a missing child, for a price. This sort of financial manipulation of grieving family members is truly vile and, in my opinion, rises to the level of criminality. Anyone who goes to a psychic is vulnerable in some way and they are being manipulated.

I’m not going to spend your valuable time trying to prove how ridiculous is the entire psychic industry nor how vile are those who take advantage of people in a distressed mental state. What I’d like to discuss is the culpability of the average person in this industry. My friends who go to a psychic fair, the parent who reads a horoscope to their child, the match-maker who uses astrological birth-signs to set up couple, all of these people are supporting an industry that preys on grief-stricken people.

A 2005 Gallup poll indicates that 41% of people believe in some sort of extra-sensory perception. However, I’m not willing to dismiss this group as hopeless. I think it’s clear from story after story that psychics prey on vulnerable people and far more than 59% of people find that disgusting. Even if you’re in the 41% who believe in some sort of psychic phenomenon you most likely despise this sort of manipulation.

So, I ask the 41%, is it worth it? Is the fantasy of psychic powers, of someone knowing the future, worth the damage it entails?

To the 59% percent I say, don’t stand idly by when your friends go to psychic fairs and read their daily horoscope. You don’t have to tell them they are stupid, that psychics are wrong and vile. Just say, out loud, that you don’t believe in that sort of thing. Every time you hear someone talking about such things; politely interrupt and say that you don’t believe it and then don’t participate in the conversation.

When we skeptics stand up, politely, you never know who we might inspire.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

Isolation as a Child leads to Brain Deficiency

brainsThere was an interesting article on Yahoo this morning and, as is often the case, the comment section was in many ways more thought-provoking than the story.

The gist of the article was that mice who were isolated from other mice or a stimulating environment showed significant brain abnormality as compared to mice who were not isolate or given an exciting environment. The main point being that early infancy is a vital time for children and that physical brain growth is altered by the environment in which the child resides.

What I found very interesting is that most of the comments focused on the idea that being alone is not bad at all. I’m someone who does not care to spend much time with other people but I think this is not at all what the study indicated. I wouldn’t mind seeing a study of adults who are isolated and the physical effect on their brains but I strongly suspect that the issue here is the growing brain of children.

I don’t want to get too far afield here but I’m always shocked by the number of people who either read the headline and not the article and come to an erroneous conclusion or those who actually read the article and apparently do not comprehend anything that it said.

Time and again I see earnest commenters, not those crazy-fun trolls, who have completely misunderstood what they are commenting about. Even in everyday conversation people just don’t make the effort to understand what the other person is saying.

That’s really about it. The article was very interesting but not unpredictable. The comments generally completely off base because of the lack of reading skills or the lack of reading comprehension. Nothing new to report. Take the time to understand what you read, what other people say, and react accordingly. Not a shocking conclusion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

P.S. I haven’t been doing many blog posts lately because I’ve been writing the rough draft on my fourth novel, The Sword of Water. I’ve written 50,000 words in the last two weeks. You can join Good Reads and check out my Q&A Group if you want to keep up with my progress.

P.P.S. I’m eventually going to be posting about the recent violence in the Arab world but I want to think about it a bit first. It’s an extremely relevant topic and I think deserves some serious thought before I start reacting to events.

Great Movie Monday – Rollerball

RollerballI’m sometimes accused of being a bit of a downer and I can see how my relentless Libertarian, Randian opinion along with all my philosophical rhetoric might become a bit tiresome. I thought I’d break things up with Movie Mondays for a few weeks at least and list some of all-time favorite movies.

Of course, I can’t be completely frivolous and I’ll talk about why the movies I enjoy often have a Libertarian spirit. We’ll start with my absolutely favorite movie of all time and one that is right up the Randian alley of objectivism.

Rollerball (the 1975 version). I prefer to pretend the remake never happened. There was a remake? Really? Never knew that. Was it any good?

Rollerball tells the story of Jonathon E, played by James Caan. It is a dystopian future in which corporate entities have taken over the world and brought peace, health, and comfort to the masses at the expense of freedom. One thing about the movie I find interesting is while it promotes the ideas of Objectivism and Ayn Rand it is a world that is exactly the opposite of what she feared in 1950’s communist leery America. She feared communism not corporate corruption although she certainly recognized that thugs could take leadership roles in place of true people of achievement.

In any case, the point of the game of Rollerball is to show the futility of individual action. This is demonstrated by the sheer difficulty and violence of the game in which one man cannot excel long without being incapacitated by opponents. Jonathon E is the exception to this rule as he has become the one true superstar as he leads the Houston (Energy) team to victory. It is decided that Jonathon must be stopped and the movie is about the corporations trying to make that happen in various ways.

It is a raw film. In one scene a woman is sent to Jonathon as a lover but she is truly a spy and agent of the corporations. Before he leaves for the Tokyo game where the rules have been changed to promote more violence and hopefully the death of Jonathon this woman tells Jonathon that she is “supposed” to go with him. He throws her down and slashes her upper cheek with the spike on his Rollerball glove. This sort of violence against a woman is both shocking and telling about Jonathon. He is a man who will take enemies on without subtlety. Then, fearing that his private helicopter is sabotaged he flies with the team to Tokyo.

Eventually the corporations try to bribe Jonathon with his ex-wife and she pleads with him not to play in the final game because the rule changes have ensured that everyone will be maimed (no time limit to the game). She argues for the corporations with this line:

But comfort is freedom. It always has been. The whole history of civilization is a struggle against poverty and need.”

Jonathon replies:

No! No… that’s not it. That’s never been it! Them privileges just buy us off.”

Clearly a marker of the world we live in today.

Jonathon understands that individual achievement is what drives a society forward. One man or one woman with drive, spirit, and ideas. Sure, they form alliances and teams but it is the power of the individual that makes it all possible. Jonathon realizes that and so he goes on.

In the end Jonathon emerges triumphant by doing the one thing that can win the game. I’ll leave it to you to see the movie.

Tell me your favorite movie, and why, in the comments!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Independence Day – July 4th = Synonyms?

Indpendence DayI pissed off a co-worker again. Not surprised, are you? I did hold back from making the full argument which would have really escalated the situation. It’s happened over a subject I’m a little passionate about and that is calling Independence Day the 4th of July. They are not synonyms! The 4th of July is a day of the year, like April 12th. Independence Day is a day that celebrates our independence from Britain.

I’ll recap the debate.

********************************

Co-worker: July 4th is coming up.

Me: Independence Day, you mean.

Co-worker: Same thing.

Me: No, actually not. Most countries have their own Independence Day and it is on different days of the year. The 4th of July is just a date.

Co-worker: What do they call the 4th of July in England?

Me: I’m not sure.

Co-worker: Ha, see, I told you so.

Me: I’m not sure you told me that. I suppose they call July 4th the 4th of July in England. But that’s not the question. What do they call Independence Day in France?

Co-worker: I don’t know.

Me: Bastille Day, it falls on July 14.

Co-worker: So, what do they call Independence Day in England.

Me: I’m not sure but not the 4th of July.

Co-worker: Ha, see, I’m right then.

Me: *Stunned silence*

Co-worker: Why are you being such a dick today, get out of here.

Me: *Leaves*

*******************************

So, what just happened there? My co-worker completely lost track of his argument and eventually took my original position and claimed it was his own. It’s a common tactic I see although I don’t really think it’s a tactic. I think it’s muddle-headed thinking combined with the inability to admit an argument is wrong, which is a hallmark of religious, faith-based thinking. Yes, my co-worker is a religious Republican. But, to be fair, I see it in religious Democrats well.

My co-worker, by arguing that everyone calls the date July 4, “the 4th of July”, but people have different names for independence day depending on their country of origin proves that the 4th of July and Independence Day are not synonymous. My original point. Yet, he believed he “won” the argument. I left without pointing this out, which save me from further alienating my co-worker, but rankles me. I don’t mind being wrong. I really don’t. When someone brings forth a fact or a thought I hadn’t considered I’m actually generally pretty happy. It’s like a shiny new toy for me. To think about, to analyze, to ponder. I like that.

The underlying issue is the inability to admit being wrong. I think it is general human nature to not want to admit to a mistake but I find that faith-based thinking leads to extreme levels of delusion when it comes to this principle. A faith-based thinker must somehow rationalize their argument as correct even when it is demonstrated as false.

The three ways I see this happening are 1) as above. The person changes his position to the correct one but claims that is what they said all along. 2) The person refuses to speak about it anymore generally at the same time calling the person or people on the other side idiots, or 3) The person sticks to their original, wrong arguments, but every more loudly and insultingly.

What it all means is that it’s difficult  to have a productive discussion with faith-based thinkers. They will not, cannot, accept being wrong about anything. Even one mistake might mean that their entire philosophical world could come tumbling down. interestingly this thinking rarely intrudes onto their business decisions but is paramount in political and philosophical questions.

What I want to say to faith-based thinkers, and rational thinkers who lock onto their positions is this. Relax, it’s ok to be wrong. Listen to the other point of view. Debate with logical arguments. The end result is worth it, even if it turns out you were wrong to begin with.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Subjective v. Objective

Subjectivity versus ObjectivityThere is an endless and possibly age-old debate about the concepts of Objectivity versus Subjectivity and while I’ve had that conversation many times over the years I haven’t discussed it in my blog until … today! So, strap on the critical thinking hats and get ready for a rumble because this one brings out the raw emotions.

The reason this topic comes to mind today is a conversation I had a work this morning. We have a new fish tank and it is absurdly loud. The sound the tank makes spurred the debate. It sounds like a bathtub being filled with water but a co-worker said it sounded to her like the ocean. The ensuing debate became heated. That sort of things happens to me a lot, which, if you read this blog regularly, you won’t find surprising.

At question here is if my co-worker actually thinks it sounds like an ocean is she correct? That is the heart of subjectivity versus objectivity.

A subjectivist argues that reality is perception. If she thinks it sounds like the ocean then it does, in fact, sound like the ocean. An objectivist argues that we need to listen to the sound of the ocean and see if the sound waves create a similar pattern. The answer, from my perspective, is clearly they do not. It sounds nothing like the ocean and the fact that my co-worker thinks it does doesn’t change that objective fact.

“It’s my opinion,” is the argument often used by subjectivists. What the subjectivist fails to take into account is that no one is saying they aren’t entitled to their opinion, just that their opinion is, objectively, wrong.

Now, the debate usually continues with arguments similar to this

****************

dvdChair

The objectivist says, “So, f you think this chair looks like a DVD does that mean the chair looks like a DVD?”

The subjectivist replies, “To me, yes!”

The objectivist says, “That’s nonsense. Please come back when you decided to debate like an adult.”

The subjectivist says, “I am arguing like an adult. If I think the chair looks like a DVD then that’s what I think. You can’t say I’m wrong.”

The objectivist says, “I can say you’re wrong. It looks nothing like a chair. If I think it’s ok to kill you, (at this point the objectivist is getting a little heated) then is it ok to kill you?”

The subjectivist replies, “It’s ok for you, but I don’t think it’s ok, so it’s not ok for me.”

The objectivist replies, “It’s both ok and not ok at the same time!? What – what – what?”

The subjectivist nods his head sagely and says, “Yes, it’s both.”

The objectivist leaves the room before his head explodes and the subjectivist looks baffled. Argument over.

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That’s the way it usually goes and everyone ends up angry.

You may have guessed that I’m a die-hard objectivist but I do think there is some wiggle room. There are certain levels of subjectivity when it comes to liking things, say food or movies. Some people hate fish. Many people hate Vanilla Sky. But, I do think even with food and movies we can objectively define some level of good. Chef’s learn what ingredients people like and these combined properly are good even if some people don’t like the particular flavors. Likewise, there is good writing, good cinematography, good acting and these things combined make good movies even if particular people don’t like the movie.

I think it’s largely dangerous to slip into subjectivity. There is truth, there is good, there is right. Likewise there are lies, bad, and wrong. When we try to suggest that truth is subjective we risk losing perspective on what will make us better people, what will make society better.

It’s important to be as objective as possible when it comes to our lives. The decision we make are important for ourselves and for others. We must objectively analyze and make the best possible decisions at all times. That being said, there is a certain level of subjectivity in our lives and we can’t end up in paralysis by analysis. Then nothing is accomplished.

Wrapping up, I think it’s ok to suggest that a particular sound reminds us of something even if it reminds other people of different things. That being said if we truly analyze the sound and determine the sound waves are dissimilar from what one person claims then we must come to a conclusion of objective truth. In this case, while entitled to her opinion, my co-worker was objectively wrong. I was objectively right.

Isn’t that what matters! 🙂

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Idealism and its Dangers

Idealism versus PracticalityI found myself reading political stories this weekend as President Obama and Mr. Romney begin their campaign in earnest. It’s going to be an ugly few months, particularly for those of us with a Libertarian point of view and our candidate, Mr. Johnson of New Mexico all but shut out of consideration.

One of things I find most disturbing about politics in the United States these days is the over reliance on idealism and the relegation of pragmatism and practicality. Both main camps, and I include even Mr. Johnson although to a lesser degree, rely almost completely on rhetoric, dire predictions, outright threats, and simple-minded idealism.

There are numerous examples of this idealism over pragmatism in our campaigns these days but today I’m going to take on one that is near to the hearts of my Libertarian friends and often seems to ally them with Republican candidates. The idea of personal responsibility or moral responsibility.

The topic in question is eating habits. Whenever I see an article about how Americans are becoming increasingly unhealthy the primary response of Libertarians and Republicans is that people need to take personal responsibility and stop eating. Democrats on the other hand offer legislation to prevent businesses from selling a product that is clearly desired. It’s an interesting case of idealism against practicality.

From an idealistic point of view I couldn’t agree more with my Libertarian and Republican friend in that we are ultimately in charge of our own bodies and that eating ourselves to death is our choice. From the pragmatic point of view I’ve come to the realization that this philosophy is not going to work until we teach Objectivism and Critical Thinking skills to all children and, importantly, this is not on the horizon anytime soon. Furthermore, the increasing unhealthiness of America has a direct and negative effect on me. I pay higher health insurance rates, I have to deal with huge people taking up all the seats, I have to do the work of people medically unable because I’m physically, relatively, fit. I’m not a professional athlete but I go to the gym, try to eat healthy, and am genetically predisposed towards a smaller body type.

So, does that leave me in the camp of Democrats who want to legislate healthiness? In a word, no. First off it doesn’t work and secondly it interferes with my freedom to purchase what I want when I want.

Now comes the problem. What is to be done to solve the general unhealthiness of Americans? Idealism doesn’t work. Legislation doesn’t work. My long-term goal of educating young people about how to think critically is great but no immediate solution and one that I suspect will never be implemented.

So I come to the conclusion of minimalist government intrusion. I see no reason to allow food manufacturers to be deceitful in their practices. I’ve talked about this before but there is nothing wrong with labeling a product to list its contents and the means by which it got to your table. If people want to eat products that result from humane treatment of animals then let that market flourish. Over-regulation kills this idea of course in that anything labeled “Organic” is hardly that thanks to lobbying efforts to change the definition of things.

It’s a difficult tight-rope between over-regulation and no regulation. Information is the key. Make accurate information available to the consumers and then let them drive the capitalistic forces. I’m convinced that people want to be healthy and if given legitimate choices, clearly labeled, they will purchase more expensive products that are healthy, energy-conserving, or otherwise “good”. There will always be a market but convoluted over-regulation muddies the definition of everything while no regulation leads to outright fraud.

Try to get out of the idealistic mode of thinking whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican. Instead try to come up with practical solution to real problems. Then maybe we can change the world.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian twist
Just Released: The Hammer of Fire