Steve Harvey and the Message vs the Delivery

steve harveyI just read an interesting story about entertainer Steve Harvey and a memo he released to his staffers. It’s getting a lot of bad press. What I find fascinating is that his basic message is perfectly reasonable. It is the delivery that gives rise, and reasonably so, to the criticism.

That difference between the message itself and the manner in which it was delivered is what I’d like to examine today. Let’s pretend we are on the receiving end of the memo in question. Let’s imagine our reaction depending upon the way it is written, rather than the content. We are an employee of Harvey or perhaps a perspective employee reading the memo in the news. How would we react? What actions would we take depending if we heard the basic premise or, instead, read the actual memo?

Now, as to the memo itself. Apparently, Harvey is often approached by staff while in his dressing room and during his time in the makeup chair. These disruptions make it difficult for him to focus on his job and cut dramatically into his free time. That makes perfect sense to me. When you are the lead talent on a television show, it’s important to manage your time properly. You can’t have unscheduled meetings throughout the day or you will find your performance suffers. Harvey is completely right about this.

Yet, his message repeatedly states the same point over and over again. He starts off in an extremely friendly tone but quickly degenerates into all capital shouting including threats of removal for as much as opening his dressing room door.

The first five paragraphs of the new rules basically list the same rule five times. Please don’t do A. If you do A, I will be angry. Don’t do A. If you do A you will be punished. Has anyone ever sat you down and told you the same thing over and over again? It’s incredibly condescending and annoying. The entire message could have been delivered in short but coherent memo not more than three paragraphs long. It could have been sent in a polite fashion or perhaps a firm fashion. That would be up to Harvey to decide.

It’s so fascinating to imagine myself on the receiving end of such a memo and my reaction to it. I’d like you to do the same. Let’s say you actually get the ranting, repetitive, all cap filled memo. If it was me I’d be thinking about a new job. The person who wrote it is clearly unstable. The person who wrote it most likely has anger management issues. It’s clear to me the person who wrote this doesn’t have impulse control and working for such a person is a nightmare. Even if I desperately needed the job, I’d immediately be putting my resume out there. I’d certainly think twice before taking a job for the person who wrote that memo. I would imagine anyone working for Harvey pretty much lives in constant fear of a mercurial and autocratic maniac.

On the other hand, if someone simply told me that Harvey doesn’t like being approached while in his dressing room or during makeup, I’d simply shrug my shoulders and say it sounds pretty reasonable. I’d go about my day without as much as another thought.

Now, maybe I’m fooling myself. I don’t actually work for Harvey. But the stark difference in the reaction I think I’d have is profound. If you are angry about a situation and thinking of writing a memo, I’d urge you to think about the situation. What impression do you want people to have of you?

It’s much more than the message itself, it’s the manner in which it is delivered.

Something to consider at least.

Tom Liberman

Battlegrounds Anarchy and Benevolent Dictatorship

battlegroundsAmong my few pursuits in life is watching people play video games on Twitch.tv and recently a new game called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has stormed the site. It is being played by tens of thousands of watched by more. One of the coolest features is the ability create a server where the host sets up many of the rules.

The games so created are a strange blend of Anarchy and Totalitarianism and I find the combination interesting. By technical definition, no two political philosophies could be further apart. In an Anarchic state, there is no real central government, just a collection of individuals with like interests. In a Totalitarian state the government makes all the rules.

What happens when a streamer on Twitch creates their own Battlegrounds server is that other players join and begin to play. When the host, or benevolent dictator as I prefer to call her or him, sets up the game, there are generally rules. Yet, there is no way to enforce these rules.

One example is a Zombie Apocalypse style game. In such a game one team of players is allowed to equip whatever weapons and armor they desire. These are the survivors. The other team must strip naked and grab only melee weapons like pans. There are several other rules designed to create a fairly balanced environment where both sides have a good chance of victory but, as I said, there is no real way to enforce these restrictions.

If a Zombie player chose to pick up a gun and start shooting, there is no mechanism to prevent it. Certainly, the benevolent dictator can alert other players and they can gang up on the person not playing by the rules. However, if a half dozen or so players decided to disregard the rules, the game would be largely ruined.

You must remember it is in the best interest of the players to have an evenly matched game. This is the absolute key to making such a system work. It must be understood that a poorly balanced game, in which one side completely destroys the other, just isn’t as much fun as a finely balanced match. It’s not much fun for the winning side and even less for the losers.

In these two things, we have a combination of a benevolent dictatorship and anarchy. The players who join the Battlegrounds game do so because they enjoy spending time with like-minded people. They agree to a set of rules designed to make the game more enjoyable. The rules actually change as balance shifts but the players largely follow them. The dictator sees how a session goes and tweaks the rules in order to create a game in which all players enjoy themselves.

No one has to join the server. Participation is completely voluntary and if a dictator creates a set of rules in which one team or group has an unfair advantage, she or he would soon find it impossible to get people to play the game. And, here’s the good news. It largely works. Sure, there might be an isolated case of someone breaking the rules now and again, but the vast majority of players abide by the rules and have a fantastic time while doing so, even when their team turns out to be the loser. For winning is less important than having fun, and much fun is had. Much.

Can you imagine a world that followed this pattern? People setting up systems in which everyone benefits. The people that create the most beneficial systems, those that are fun and fair, get more and more players. Those who create environments that are not so, are left behind. Would you want to live in such a world?

Certainly, we wouldn’t all choose to live on the same Battlegrounds server. Some people enjoy one thing and others might relish something else. As long as someone was creating environments, we could pick and choose that which we liked the most.

The world we live in today is not like this.

However, I believe we are headed toward such a world. I think the boundaries we call nations are at the beginning of the end. We separate ourselves by arbitrary differences like race, geography, gender, age, and more. In the future world, we will all be connected through technology, and we will choose with whom we wish to associate.

A fun, fair, and well-managed server succeeds because people join it. Seems like a good system to me.

Tom Liberman

Emma Watson Wins Best Actor Award

emma watsonEmma Watson played the character of Belle in the hugely popular and well-reviewed live action Beauty and the Beast movie. It’s not a huge surprise that she won the Best Actor in a Movie category at the MTV Awards show. Well, wait, yes, it is. Best Actor in a Movie? Yep, no more Best Male Actor and Best Female Actor and that’s got some people jumping for joy and others up in arms in rage.

Gender neutral awards. That word, gender, is a bit of a buzzword these days. Gender neutral. Same sex marriage. These are topics people feel strongly about and I suspect they are carrying those passions into this particular situation. They believe this yet another attack on what they consider their moral imperative. I don’t think it is. I think it’s a long overdue change.

The question I think is most pertinent is to wonder why we have any gender, race, creed, religion, or age specific awards? Is there a Best Male Actor Over the Age of 65 with Yellow Skin who Believes in Jesus as His Savior category? Of courses not, nor should there be. It seems self-evident to me that in a field like acting, gender has no role in excellence. The gender of the actor in no way gives them an advantage or disadvantage.

Many gender related restrictions are designed to allow women to participate. If there was no women’s basketball team, then there would be few women basketball players. Men are bigger and stronger than women and this gives them an inherent advantage. We’ve long seen that a woman who can compete with men is allowed to do so. We have hockey goalies, placekickers, pitchers, golfers, and other athletes who are women competing with men quite well. As they should. What we’re trying to avoid is bigger and stronger men competing and dominating physical events designed for women. That is also reasonable. We have the Special Olympics for mentally disadvantaged people. That also makes sense.

Where there is no inherent advantage, I’m convinced we should eliminate any gender based consideration. I don’t even see how this is controversial. It seems so obvious. Both men and women should support this even though their competition will now be doubled. There will be twice as many people competing for the same number of awards.

Think about what drives us to be our best. It’s competition. When we must compete against others we get better. If you increase the competitive field, the only result is the best has to be even better. We all benefit from this competition in any number of ways.

I strongly suspect people on both side of the political aisle will not like this idea. There are so-called Liberals who will note women will not win as many awards and be angry. There will be so-called Conservatives who think this is an attack on their moral and religious beliefs.

This united front convinces me even more that I’m correct, that MTV has done the right thing.

We should all be judged by our ability. This is the heart of equality. I’m all for that.

Tom Liberman

Hotel California not really Hotel California

Hotel CaliforniaFor anyone near my age, 52, the song Hotel California brings back strong memories. The song was an enormous hit for The Eagles in 1977. So, I was filled with curiosity when I saw members of the band have filed a lawsuit against a hotel in Mexico called Hotel California.

I’m also quite interested in all things legal and I find the case itself to be utterly fascinating. The Hotel California is a small hotel in Baja California Sur and had that name dating back to 1950. The hotel changed owners and names a number of times, but wily entrepreneurs began to market it under the original name in 2001. Using marketing campaigns and events at the hotel itself, they create an association between the establishment and the song.

The hotel was not the inspiration for the song and the band members feel as though their song is being used to falsely advertise the hotel.
Judging by the comments I’m reading in various articles about the lawsuit, opinions seem sharply divided. Some think it is a terrible overreach by the band while others think the hotel is clearly in the wrong.

Let me begin by telling you that I’m not a lawyer. My opinions herein are not based on a legal understanding of the case but upon a layman’s.

The hotel clearly has the right to use the name Hotel California. It was the hotel’s name long before the song. The Eagles have no right to stop them from using it. The lawsuit apparently simply wants the owners to stop using the false association. I’m guessing their argument is that people who stay at the hotel are disappointed it is not associated with the song and, perhaps, even blame the band for the misinformation.

It’s clear the hotel is creating a false association but that is not necessarily a crime. As the law says, Caveat Emptor. Let the Buyer Beware. The basic premise is that people have to take it upon themselves to understand the hotel is not associated with the song. They must spend the time to research this information before plunking down money to stay at the hotel. People presumably pay this money because they want the experience of staying at a hotel that was the inspiration for the song. Of course, it was not, but who is to blame for this mistake? The hotel or the traveler?

Yes, they are deceiving but have they actually lied? Do they claim the hotel is associated with the song or do they simply pipe in Eagles music, presumably for which they’ve paid royalties? Do they create an environment where the unwary might be fooled, but stop short of crossing legal lines?

Where is the border crossed between fraud and legal, but reprehensible, misinformation? I’m not sure but the entire thing is absolutely captivating.

While the legal case will likely remain in limbo for who knows how long, I think the events are a good lesson for all of us. Don’t assume something is true based on an impression. Pay careful attention to the exact words being used or written. We live in the Information Age. It is not at all difficult to determine the hotel and the song are completely unrelated. A short search on the internet can easily reveal this information. If you spend your money on the hotel assuming the relationship is there, when it is not, perhaps that is your fault.

Tom Liberman

Why was Charlie Sheen forced to Land his Plane by Federal Agents?

charlie sheenCharlie Sheen was flying back from Mexico in a private plane when federal authorities forced it to land and inspected it for drugs. They removed every piece of luggage and used drug sniffing dogs to search everything. In the end, there were no illegal drugs found although one dog, unsurprisingly, gave a false positive. Unsurprisingly?

I’ll take a moment to rant about drug sniffing dogs. They are wrong more often than they are right and they are wrong even more frequently when the person being searched is a minority. An Australian study found they correctly identify drugs about twenty-six percent of the time, the rest being false positives. Basically, the dogs take cues from their handler and, sadly, are not infrequently used simply so police can harass citizens. It’s my opinion they should be banned completely. They allow agents of law enforcement to search anyone they want without cause. If the dog barks, police get to search you despite having no evidence of wrongdoing. It’s a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Another huge problem is that someone in the federal government has the power to halt a private flight apparently for the sole reason that you’re a celebrity who reportedly uses illegal drugs. They can search your plane without any evidence it actually has narcotics.

I think all drugs should be legal, but we currently have laws against them in this country and therefore I’ll acknowledge government agents can search you if they have probable cause to do so.

There might be more to the story. Perhaps someone in Mexico tipped off federal agents that drugs were aboard the plane. It seems much more likely to me that some bright agent doesn’t like Sheen all that much and decided to take a chance. I can see a self-righteous drug enforcement agent standing around the water cooler, eating a donut, waving a pen, and a little light bulb goes off in her or his head. “Hey, Charlie Sheen uses drugs. His plane flies around in Mexico. Let’s stop it and search it! That’ll be fun.”

I pay for the water in that cooler, the donut you’re eating, and the pen you’re writing with. I pay for phones you used to force the San Diego air traffic controllers to force down Sheen’s plane. I pay for those air traffic controllers! I pay for the gas you used to drive out to search his plane. I pay for the dogfood you feed your incredibly inaccurate detection dogs.

Sheen pays for that private flight. He pays more when the flight is diverted and searched. Did the government reimburse him for these expenses and the inconvenience? If so, that’s my tax dollars also!

Does anyone have to explain to a judge why they diverted Sheen’s plane and spent who knows how much money on a fruitless search? If so, can that person be fired?

It’s harassment, plain and simple.

I don’t much like Sheen. He’s arrogant and pretty much a jerk. He thinks because he has money and power he can do what he wants. The government is all of that multiplied by millions. They have all the money in the world, your money. They have all the power in the world except that which our judicial branch infrequently denies them.

When the War on Drugs forces me to defend Charlie Sheen, doesn’t that say it all?

Tom Liberman

Dancing with the Stars and Democracy

dancing with the starsThere was an enormous surprise in the television show Dancing with the Stars when the competitors who turned in arguably the best performance of the evening, were eliminated. The determination of which dancers remained is combination of judge’s rating and fan voting. The events of the other evening give us insight into the workings of a true democracy, and it ain’t always pretty.

Exactly why the viewing audience was not enamored with Heather Morris and Maksim Chmerkovskiy is open to speculation. The reality is that they were not. Despite performing exceptionally well according to the judges, they received the smallest percentage of the popular vote and were eliminated.

This is democracy in action. When the people vote for something you’re generally not going to see the most qualified candidate win.

Here in my hometown of St. Louis there used to be a yearly Best Of … article in a local publication. The Best Italian Restaurant. The Best Athlete. The results were eventually so out of touch with reality that the publication turned the decision over to a panel of experts. Wise move.

If you sit any random group of people down at a table and present them with a tasting of wines, they will choose something sweet and awful. I’m not saying their vote is invalid, it’s accurate. Most people like sweet wine because they don’t have a palate accustomed to the more complex flavors of a rich wine.

If a random group of people sat down and was asked about their favorite restaurant, we’d likely see a mid-level chain get the most votes.
That’s democracy and that’s why the Founding Father’s didn’t establish one. I could say a lot about it but I’ll go with one of my favorite quotes from a fellow named John Witherspoon: “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”

One result of the vote on Dancing with the Stars was, arguably, the best dancers were eliminated. A second outcome is the dancers people really want to see, continue on. Therein lies the beauty of democracy. Fans of the show get a chance to have their input determine winners.

In a democracy, we get what we want.

There are places in this world where a democracy is certainly a reasonable method to determine things, Dancing with the Stars is one of those places.

The results are plain for all to see. So, you tell me; where else do you think we should let a large group of people make decisions by voting?

Tom Liberman

Cheese Rolling and the Modern World

cheese rollingI just learned about a wonderful little festival called the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake held in England in spring. The event involves rolling a nine-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill. A group of pursuers tumble after, hoping to be the first to reach the bottom and get the prize, the cheese.

The tradition has continued for many years but the modern world of litigation recently intruded in a fashion that I find quite interesting. Prior to 2010 the event was run in what is called a semi-organized way. Basically, the same group of people got things ready and monitored the event but didn’t really have an official role in doing so.

This became an impossibility as crowds to the rolling grew larger and the possibility of liability raised an ugly specter over the organizers. The event itself is dangerous, often times competitors are seriously injured as they fall while in pursuit of the cheese. The cheese itself attains high speed as it tumbles down the hill and spectators are at risk. With larger crowds came the need for spectator control. Boundaries had to be marked to make sure people weren’t trampled.

These dangers are not made up. They are quite real and the organizers faced no small financial risk for running the event without the proper safety measures. In 2010, there was an attempt to restrict entry by charging a fee and other rules were put in place to keep the crowd under control. These measures met a great deal of hostility from the people of the town, and eventually the organizers had to simply throw up their hands and disavow themselves.

Since then, the event has occurred spontaneously with no official organization. This means if something happens there is no specific entity to sue. Some people will find this a sad commentary on the state of the world. That we can’t even have a nice little cheese rolling competition without risking financial disaster through lawsuit.

Not that many years ago people could gather like this for an event and if some tragedy occurred, there would be general sadness but no call for financial remedies. Those days are gone for good or for ill. If a child is trampled, if a spectator falls and breaks a hip, if the course isn’t properly marked and someone is seriously injured, if any number of accidents occur; there will be lawsuits. That’s reality. We can’t deny it.

I don’t begrudge the former organizers their desire to abandon the event and I don’t blame the contestants for continuing it in an open fashion. I would imagine, as the event becomes ever more popular, some formal organization will have to come in and take control. That being said, there is something about a bunch of people coming together and having some fun that warms the heart of this Libertarian.

Just a bunch of folks having a good time chasing cheese. If a few legs are broken or an ankle sprained, that’s the way of it. Ambulances are standing by, but lawyers are not.

Tom Liberman

Melissa Etheridge Smoking Marijuana with Children

melissa-etheridgeSinger Melissa Etheridge recently gave an interview where she talks about smoking marijuana with her two older children. The comments are predictably judgmental although there are more people defending Etheridge than I expected. Count me among them.

I could make a lot of arguments comparing marijuana to alcohol. I had my first sip of beer at the tender age of ten from a can my father was drinking. I drank wine even before that at Passover celebrations. I could point out she lives in California where marijuana is perfectly legal. I could mention Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and marijuana can be a useful appetite stimulant. I’m going to forego all of those arguments for another that strikes directly to my Libertarian ideology.

What Etheridge does in the privacy of her own home with her adult children is none of your business. You don’t have any right to tell her how to behave both from a legal standpoint and more importantly, from an ethical position.

We are so overly sanctimonious in this country that I sometimes get physically sick to my stomach reading comments. I don’t care how much better you think you are than someone else, mind your business. I don’t care how your parents chose to raise you, mind your business.

I don’t care if you’re opposed to people smoking marijuana, mind your business.

The vast majority of people in this country or overly interested in what everyone else is doing. We have become a nation of busybodies and tattletales. I’m reminded of one of the great lines from The Right Stuff.

The John Glenn and Scott Carpenter characters are upset that some of the other Apollo astronauts are engaging in premarital sex with pretty young women interested in mingling with the heroes. The Alan Shepard character tells them off with Mr. Glenn, you are way out of line. I’d advise you not to try and foist your view of morality on anybody else in this group.

Exactly.

My morality is mine. Yours is yours. And that’s just fine. If you want to do things differently than I’d do them, fine by you. I can choose not to associate with you, but it is not my job to tell you how to lead your life.

We, as an entire nation, are way out of line. Do not question the way another person goes about doing their business. It’s one of the most important lessons I learned while at college in Idaho. The way another person goes about their business is largely none of your concern. We need to be far more worried about how we go about conducting our own lives and far less about everyone else.

This holier than thou attitude is not good. It pervades every aspect of our lives. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon but it seems to me with the advent of always available media and communication we are more than ever concerned with things that are just none of our business.

If Etheridge wants to smoke marijuana with her kids then more power to her. If you choose not to do so it doesn’t make you better or worse than her, just different. Stop pretending otherwise in some self-delusionary attempt to make yourself feel better.

Mind your business.

Tom Liberman

Little Carmine Lupertazzi Really was an Idiot

little-carmine-lupertazziLittle Carmine Lupertazzi is a character from the Sopranos and, if a fan of the show, you know he was generally portrayed as rather dimwitted. He often used malapropisms. He made poor managerial decisions and was largely not respected.

What’s interesting is that in the years after the show’s end his character has given rise to a rather popular theory that he was only pretending to be stupid. That in actuality he was luring his enemies into a false sense of security and biding his time to take over the family business. It is commonly, if not universally believed, the show’s controversial ending was actually the culmination of his nefarious plot. That he ordered the assassination of Tony Soprano and took over both families.

That’s what I’d like to discuss. Naturally we cannot prove anything one way or the other as it is a fictional show. Still, I’m of the opinion that it gives us an opportunity to examine the idea of how to be a good writer. Or at least one aspect of being so.

It is extraordinarily important to be honest with your audience.

Let’s imagine you are a mystery writer and the butler did it. You need to conceal this from your audience until the final reveal. To cover up the fact the butler did it you have an eyewitness see the butler somewhere else at the time the crime is committed. Only at the end of the novel do you reveal the butler has a twin brother. That is a betrayal of your audience. They have been given information which they used in their thoughts about the novel as it progressed.

This is bad writing. Your audience will be angry at this contrived conclusion.

Now, if you established the butler has the twin brother at some earlier point, then you have not betrayed your audience, you have merely fooled them. There is nothing wrong with this. The audience slaps their forehead and exclaims, “Of course! I should have known that. It was mentioned earlier.”

That is good writing.

This is why Little Carmine Lupertazzi is no secret mastermind. There is nothing to indicate as much. He is almost always portrayed as an utter fool.

We can say many things about the Sopranos as a television show but we cannot accuse the writers of being bad at their craft. We must assume the writers are good writers based on the content they provided us during six glorious seasons.

This is not just about Little Carmine Lupertazzi being an idiot. It is also a blueprint on how to be a better writer.

To a certain degree this is what separates excellent entertainment from its more common peer, garbage. What makes a good television show? Good writing, good acting, good directing, good lighting, etc. It is the sum of all these parts that brings us quality entertainment. Of which we desperately want more.

What books do you most enjoy? Movies? Television shows? Think about your favorite characters and ask yourself if their story was written in a consistent fashion.

We all want quality entertainment. Better television, better movies, better books. More shows like the Sopranos. That being the case, we must accept the fact that Little Carmine was an idiot.

Tom Liberman

Lessons from the Demise of the Motion Picture Production Code

hollywood-production-codeThanks to Bing Search I learned today the Motion Picture Production Code, more commonly known as the Hays Code, was first put into effect eight-seven years ago. It stayed in place for about thirty years before it eventually was replaced with the rating system movies use to this day.

The lesson I’d like to talk about today is why the code failed. Before we get to that, let’s find out what it was and why it was created.

Basically the code restricted all sorts of things from being depicted in movies. The list of banned items included any non-reverent mention of god, trafficking of illegal drugs, and ridicule of the clergy. The list of items to be treated with great caution included cruelty to animals or children, adults in bed together, and the use of firearms.

Movies that did not meet the standards laid out by the Code were not given a Certificate of Approval and could not be released.

The reason the code was put into place was a general feeling of moral outrage that movies were bringing unsavory ideas to audiences. The individual states had begun to put in place their own bans after the Supreme Court ruled movies were not subject to Freedom of Speech protection.

Enough prelude. I’m not going to waste time talking about why the Code was against Libertarian philosophy although I could. I want to focus, quickly and efficiently, on why it failed. That’s what is most important.

Starting almost immediately after the Code was emplaced movie makers started to create films outside the main studios that bypassed the rules. They released them independently.

It wasn’t until competition became an issue that the major studios began to make movies and release them regardless of whether they had a Certificate of Approval. In addition, Foreign films were not subject to the restrictions, television was not subject to the restrictions. The studios tried to keep foreign films from being shown but the Supreme Court ruled this illegal.

Competition. People wanted to see movies that included this sort of content. Not that they went to the movie simply because it had such content but it’s clear such movies had a much larger field upon which to play. They could tell stories in ways movies using the Code could not.

Lots of people wanted to see movies made without the restrictions of the Code.

And thus the studios began to make them and simply ignore the Code. Some Like it Hot was the film that basically ended the code. It was released without the Certificate of Approval and was a huge success.

The lesson to be learned here is when government attempts to enforce moral codes on people it is doomed to failure, simply because people want what they want. You cannot pretend because something is supposedly bad or dangerous, passing a law will fix the problem. It won’t. It will create a host of other issues while completing failing to solve the issue.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

Chevy Chase, Community, Hate, and Success

community_paintball_explosionI was browsing through some of the glorious paintball clips of the television show Community on YouTube when I came across this video. It reminded me one of the show’s stars, Chevy Chase, hated being on the show and most of the cast and creator were not particular fond of him.

If Chase hated being on the show and most of the people he worked with didn’t like him, how was the show so hysterically funny? How was Chase so good? How did the other actors create comedy gold in scenes with him? How did the show runner produce hilarious episodes one after the other?

In team sports there is something called chemistry. This is how the players and coaches interact with one another. It is universally considered a benefit when everyone gets along. When the culture of the team is good. But perhaps the reality is different. At least that’s what I’m thinking. Maybe liking each other isn’t all that important to success. Maybe working with talented people you hate can be and is far more of an indicator of success than so-called team chemistry.

As an extreme example; it’s pretty clear no matter how much the other players on the St. Louis Cardinals might like me as a person, I would be an anchor on the team, what with me striking out nine out of ten plate appearance (ok, 99 out of 100).

Is it pleasant to be around those we like? To spend time in the company of those we enjoy? Yes. Why, yes, it is. I enjoy life more when I’m surrounded by people whose company I enjoy. The question becomes, is it an element of success? It seems like it should be an obvious answer. If the team, be it sports or business, likes one another they should be happier and thus more willing to perform excellently. Yet, is it?

Does happiness engender success? These are the question managers must ask themselves while building their teams. Is this new person we’re adding going to improve the culture? Is this new person we’re adding going to improve our chances of succeeding at the project?

Who is more important? Douchebag super-talent or sweet person average talent?

Obviously we’d love both, but what I’m asking is which takes priority. You want the job done. You are the manager. What’s your choice? The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that success is more related to talent than chemistry. Much more. What do you think?

The poll question is a bit black and white and I understand there are nuances.

If you were building a team which would you place in higher esteem?

View Results

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
April 2017 Release: For the Gray

Britney Spears Getting it Together

britney-spears-wardrobe-malfunctionAbout the only place I get entertainment news is when I’m watching television at the gym and for the second time I’ve got a heartening Britney Spears story to talk about.

To put the news fully into perspective I think it’s important to know a little bit of history about Spears. She earned great success at 18 years of age with the hit song … Baby One More Time. This success brought her fame and fortune and all the good and bad attendant in those double-edged blades. By the age of 26 her life was beginning to unravel in a number of ways including drug addiction.

I’m not big on passing judgment. We’re all adults and responsible for our actions. Money and fame at a young age is not always easy to handle and many succumb to various temptations. Many are never able to recover. Spears made a mess of her life and she is responsible. Eventually her father took control of her finances and various other aspects of her life.

She is now performing in Las Vegas on a regular basis and that’s what this story is all about.

Spears suffered what is now called a wardrobe malfunction. Her top all but came off. It is quite likely there were many people in the audience who came to Las Vegas specifically to see Spears sing. Losing your top on stage in front of a large audience cannot be called anything other than traumatic. Spears handled it like a seasoned professional. She clutched her top to her chest and kept singing. Two of her dancers helped her button back up. The top malfunctioned again. Spears again went on with the show while a backup singer literally gave her the shirt off her back. She continued to sing throughout.

Now I’m sure many people will point out backup music was likely playing and Spears could probably have stopped for a moment with no serious repercussions. That’s certainly true but it makes no difference to my eyes.

She knew there were people in the audience who paid their money to see her. They traveled great distances to see her and she wasn’t going to let them down, even if it meant they got to see a little more of her than decorum would normally dictate.

I’m not a big fan of popular music but her spirit of professionalism is a shining example to everyone in all walks of life. The show must go on. Well done, young lady. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Crotches, Kisses, Britney, G-Eazy and Consent

britney-spears-g-eazyI’m an old man, 52, and I don’t keep up with the hip and happening culture of young people all that much but a story from the Video Music Awards (VMAs) that is hitting all the news outlets today peaked my interest. I haven’t yet watched the incident in question but I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on it from reading the news accounts. Singer Britney Spears was on stage with fellow musician G-Eazy. To my credit, prior to reading this story, I’d heard of one of them!

Anyway, they were performing and apparently engaged in some suggestive sexual activity. It went as far as Spears grabbing G-Eazy’s crotch, his penis for those of us who prefer to not to mince words, and he caressing her face while looking deeply into her eyes. Then G-Eazy went in for a kiss which Spears rebuffed with a firm shake of the head. The performance went on.

Why does this interest me? Because it’s a really good example of not only standing up for yourself but respecting other people’s desires and actions, on both sides. Certainly Spears invited further activity when she touched G-Eazy in such a way. His desire to further the sensual aspect of the show with a kiss is perfectly understandable. Spears acted in a way in which it was more than reasonable to think she might want a kiss. Spears did not want it and firmly said no. She has not, to my knowledge, claimed the G-Eazy was a product of the so-called Rape Culture. She hasn’t denied that her actions certainly led G-Eazy into his actions.

On the other side, G-Eazy took the firm shake of the head for a definite no and moved on. He hasn’t, to my knowledge, called Spears a tease or claimed she led him on and then left him stranded. He hasn’t complained.

We don’t always know what the other person wants in this world. Sometimes the other person doesn’t know her or his self. In many situations we are undecided until the last moment. That’s no reason to lay blame. A man who thinks a woman is interested and pursues is not part of any rape culture, he is a normal man. A woman who acquiesces and participates in a certain level of romantic behavior is in no way obligated to take it further. She is not a ball-buster. She can say no at any time, as can a man in reverse situations.

People often misinterpret the actions of others and act in unwelcome ways. When that happens simply firmly and clearly tell the other person that such behavior must stop. That’s the lesson.

When you are the person who is told to stop, stop.

That’s not going to solve all the world’s problems and some people are simply jerks who will try to pressure other people into doing things they don’t want to do and sometimes take things to a violent level. I’m not saying a firm no will stop everyone. I’m just saying it’s the correct first step.

G-Eazy behaved in a perfectly reasonable way as did Spears. Everyone came out of it just fine.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Pokemon Go Shaming and Fear

pokemon-go-memeAs if you didn’t already know, a game called Pokemon Go has become hugely popular in the last week.

Along with its popularity I’ve seen a huge spike of news stories and comments in social media attacking the game and its players. The question I want to try and examine today is why is there all this hate and fear?

The object of Pokemon Go is to physically wander around in public places and collect virtual Pokemon. These are little creatures that do battle with one another. A player who has stronger Pokemon can defeat players with weaker Pokemon. Thus it becomes necessary to collect ever stronger Pokemon to win battles. Players can join teams where groups battle one another. What makes Pokemon Go different is that you have to venture out into the physical world to find and collect your combatants. And people are doing it by the millions.

People are getting out of their houses and wandering the world at strange hours and visiting places they might not have visited before. They are getting exercise they would not normally get. They are meeting strangers whom they would not normally meet. Social boundaries are crumbling as people who would never so much as give each other the time of day because of their jobs, race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical locations are now meeting and finding common ground.

That, my devoted readers, is causing abject fear in the establishment. I know it sounds like I’m making way too much out of this but the plethora of news stories about the dangers of playing Pokemon and the social shaming I’m seeing everywhere must have an explanation. People of all religions, colors, nationalities, ages, sexes, and sexual orientations are finding out they have something in common besides our traditional way of separating ourselves. They enjoy playing the same game.

And, by golly, that’s with whom we should be associating! We should hang out with the people who love the same things we love regardless of all those other factors. Factors which are often merely the circumstances of our birth.

Look at that forty year old, white computer programmer sitting on the bench with those two young black men in baggy trousers teaching the police officer how to play. (That’s one of the few positive stories on Pokemon Go I’ve seen). You’re fooling yourself if you think images like that don’t frighten the authorities. What would the world be like if people with the same interests hung out with each other and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing?

What would happen to nations? To boundaries? To government?

I know, I know, I’m making way too much out of this. Still, my friends, go play Pokemon Go and make some friends you otherwise would never have met.

Be afraid, authority. Change is coming and it comes from unexpected sources.

Is Pokemon Go just a game or something more?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

Binge Watching and Writing Scripts

binge-watchingProbably a few of you know that I write novels and even fewer that I’ve written a number of screenplays although I’ve never sold any. I was thinking about the changing nature of television viewing habits and how that might effect screenwriters.

Many people binge watch televisions shows these days. The industry has recognized this as far a general content goes, they release entire seasons at once and story arcs that cover multiple episodes and seasons are now common.

What I’m considering is the idea that the script itself, the order in which things are presented, the nature of the Three Act Play and the Five Act Play might be twisted to accommodate and better entertain audiences in this new era.

For example, why do we have a cliffhanger at the end of an episode? If the audience can and does immediately watch the next episode, is it necessary or even appropriate? The entire season and even the entire show run is really just one long episode. On the other hand, cliffhangers keep the audience coming back for more and if we don’t have them at the end of individual episodes and seasons but in the middle of an episode, would that cause people to not start the next episode or season?

Should there even be episodes in the traditional format? Should the season just be released as one long video with chapters like a book? Some chapters might be an hour, others might be fifteen minutes.

Perhaps the chapters could come with delineated break points with links to a website where people could post their thoughts, vote in polls, and otherwise communicate with others who have watched up until that break. If the audience doesn’t know when the episode climax is coming, because the break could be at any point, does this add to their experience?

There would be drawbacks as well. If an episode is of varying length it’s not as easy to plan a time to watch it.

Might inter-season specials be released with audience participation in mind. Perhaps you could release an episode and allow voting to determine the ending. Then go back and film said conclusion.

I’m not saying any of my ideas are good, I’m just saying that it’s worth examining.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Chess and the Internet Live Update Controvery

agon-limit-broadcast-chessI know the title of this blog isn’t too exciting but if you’ll put up with me for a moment I think I can show how a controversy that is roiling the chess world might well have a big impact on you.

The situation is this: A company called Agon Limited contracted with the FIDE (World Chess Federation) to have exclusive rights to develop, organize, and commercialize the World Chess Championship cycle. As part of this exclusive control they demanded that no other site publish information about ongoing games in the just concluded 2016 Candidates Tournament. In the past other chess orientated sites have broadcast such events on a move-by-move basis. They didn’t broadcast a live view of the players, just the moves those players made on an image of a chessboard that was updated regularly.

Several sites refused to accept this demand and went ahead with their broadcast. Agon is now moving forward with legal action against those sites.

At this point, if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering how this effects you.

If Agon is successful in their efforts it means that no one can legally give information about an ongoing event without permission from the original content provider. This is an extraordinarily broad restriction. It means that sports websites like ESPN could not give you updates on the status of current events. It would mean, for example, that the only way you could learn what was going on in the currently running 2016 NCAA Basketball Championships would be to tune into the primary broadcaster. No other outlet could give you so much as an update on the score of the game.

It could be extended to non-sports events like awards shows. No entertainment outlet would be allowed to broadcast the winner of an award until the conclusion of the show.

The benefits for the original broadcaster are obvious. If the only way to get information about an event is to watch said event from the provider, it forces more people to watch the show. The drawbacks for everyone else are likewise apparent. Every other outlet that gains an audience by broadcasting information about the event is out of business. All users that cannot or do not want to watch the original broadcast are left without recourse.

One can certainly imagine if the primary broadcaster has sole rights to updates of an event, they might well find a fee-based structure in order to gain access. They have a captive audience. That also cannot be good for consumers.

Paying attention to what this about yet?

I’m hard pressed to believe the courts will support Agon in this lawsuit but it bears watching.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Advertisement, Outrage, or both? Terry Crouppen Superbowl Ad

crouppen-superbowl-angerIt’s been a few days since the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in the Superbowl but I wanted to take just a moment to discuss the commercial a fellow named Terry Crouppen paid to have shown during the game.

The backstory is that the owner of the Los Angeles Rams football team, Stan Kroenke, moved the team from St. Louis to Los Angeles. There was a protracted and ugly campaign between Kroenke and various interests in St. Louis on whether the team should stay or move. In the end Kroenke got his way.

The Rams football team had very little success while in St. Louis except for a short span from 1999 to 2002. They have been one of the worst teams in the league in recent years although have moved more towards the middle of the pack the last few seasons. One of the reasons Kroenke listed for moving was lack of fan support. So, obviously, there was a lot of animosity.

Crouppen’s commercial was basically him taking Kroenke to task for moving the team despite arguable good support from a fan and business base despite all the years of losing. That while Los Angeles certainly offered more revenue, Kroenke was already quite wealthy and could have kept the team in St. Louis without causing any sort of financial burden. Or was that really his point?

Now to the real reason for my blog.

I don’t doubt Crouppen’s anger at Kroenke. I’ll take him at his word. The reality of the situation is that Kroenke just doesn’t much care what Crouppen thinks and the commercial does nothing to change the fact that the team has already moved. What it does is make a lot of people in St. Louis appreciate and admire Crouppen, who is running a business. He’s a personal injury lawyer here in town who has long run advertisements on local media offering his services. Was this not really just more of the same?

He’s known, perhaps accurately or perhaps inaccurately, as an ambulance chaser. A lawyer who takes advantage of people who are desperate. A lawyer who feeds the Compensation Culture.

I do not know if these accusations are true or not but I do know it is the general perception of people here in St. Louis.

So was this attack against Kroenke a sign of moral outrage from Crouppen or merely a shrewd and, judging from the comments I’m reading, effective advertising campaign for his law firm? Or both?

You tell me!

Was Crouppen Angry, Shrewd, or Both

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Netflix and the Ridiculous 6

The-Ridiculous-6There’s an interesting story from the entertainment industry about an Adam Sandler movie called The Ridiculous 6.

It’s not an earth shaking story by any means but I do think it gives us an interesting insight into the nature of capitalism and the creativity with which people use statistics.

First a little background. Netflix entered into a contract with Sandler to produce four films for exclusive distribution on the Netflix network. It’s a nice way for companies like Netflix to have exclusive content but that’s not the gist of my blog today.

The Ridiculous 6 was roundly criticized as a poor movie by both critics and audiences. Rotten Tomato accumulates critiques from both professionals and regular movie watchers.

Now comes the story I referenced in the first sentence of this post. The Chief Operating Officer of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, announced that the movie has been viewed by more people in the first thirty days than any other Netflix movie. This statistic would seem to bely the many poor reviews for the film. If that many people are watching, it can’t be all that bad. At least that’s a relatively logical conclusion. That’s exactly the conclusion that Sarandos and Netflix would like you to have.

I have not seen the movie and I can’t say whether it is as awful as critics have described or if it’s not all that bad. But when I read that statistic my mind began to whirl. “Tom,” I said to myself. “That’s an odd statistic to put out there. 30 days. Most viewed. I wonder if there’s something going on that needs investigation.

Okay, I didn’t really say that to myself, my thought process was more like, “Ding, Ding, bullshit alert going off, check it out you sexy beast!

So I rushed home after the gym, put a kettle on to boil, put on my jammies, sat down in front of the computer, and got to work!

Here’s the deal. Netflix has banners all over its site promoting the movie and when you click one of them movie starts automatically. This counts as a view. In addition the Netflix Streaming Catalog is significantly smaller than their DVD catalog. Many of the biggest blockbusters are not available for streaming. So the competition is somewhat diminished when comparing the first 30 days of release.

I’m certain that Sarandos is telling the truth but I’m equally certain that this truth doesn’t tell the entire story and many people might easily come to erroneous, but reasonable, conclusions.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Netflix has every right to promote their original content as they desire and count views how they want. They are in a business and want to make money. As long as they don’t lie, more power to them.

Anyone who is “tricked” into watching the movie can turn it off at any time. Even someone who spends $10 to sign up for Netflix simply to watch the movie isn’t really out a significant amount of money. Let the buyer beware. The reviews are out there and anyone who claims they didn’t know it was supposed to be awful has only themselves to blame.

My only point here is that people should always take time for a critical examination when someone tells them something that sounds a little too good to be true. Statistics can be manipulated.

And that, my friends, is that. Catch you next time!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Playing not to Win Annoys People

Trivial-Pursuit-80sWhen I was younger I used to play everything to win. That was the goal and I had more than a bit of a temper when things didn’t work out. As I got older that was supplanted by a desire to simply have fun.

I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that this attitude, while quite healthy for me, is also very annoying to some people. Let me explain.

I was invited by a friend to partake in a Trivial Pursuit, 80s version, night of game playing. We divided up into three teams and I’m happy to say that those on my team pretty much had the same attitude as me. It’s nice to win and we certainly did our best but the main goal was to banter about the strange questions, eat the delicious food, drink the nice drinks, and generally have a good time.

Members of another team were a bit more serious about winning and, unfortunately, my team was winning and their team was losing. My attempts at good humor which sometimes gave clues as to the answer to the third team did not go over well with these opponents. My team bantered about the questions and tried to deduce answers even when it wasn’t our turn and this further annoyed certain opponents.

I certainly understand their point of view. In my youth, when I thought winning was more important than having fun, such an attitude among my fellow competitors was annoying to me as well.

I’m of the opinion that our attitude is healthier. I think when it comes to games it’s better to put having fun ahead of winning. Not that you shouldn’t always do your best. I always try my best but I’m not worried about losing if things don’t go right. I’m actually of the opinion that the desire to win and the ability to have fun are inversely related. The more we make winning paramount, the less fun we have. Winning is not the fun part of the game, playing is.

That’s not the point of my blog today. I absolutely think it’s true but the question I wonder is if, perhaps, I should be more attuned to those who want to win and repress my attitude, at least a bit. If my bantering and casual regard for winning annoys those around me, am I not diminishing their fun?

Isn’t the point for everyone to have fun? I can’t be responsible for the entirety of their experience to be certain, but it is also clear my attitude does effect those around me. I was annoying several of my fellow competitors.

Should I tone it down a bit in deference to them?

As a side note I would like to point out that, contrary to popular belief, it is largely women who seem to take winning at games much more seriously than men, at least as adults. That is clearly a subjective and anecdotal opinion.

Anyway, if you have an opinion I’ve got a couple of polls for you to fill out. Let me know!

Should I tone down my Fun before Winning attitude

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Is there a Gender divide in those who want to win most?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

The Soft Kitty Big Bang Copyright Nightmare

Copyright-term-extension-minUnited States, you’ve done it to yourself.

A woman named Edith Newlin wrote a poem in 1937. The Willis Music Co. published the poem in a book called Songs for the Nursery School that same year. Seventy years later the producers of a television show called the Big Bang Theory got permission from Willis Music to use those lyrics as a song in their show. They did not get permission from Newlin or her estate.

Newlin died in 2004 but her daughters are now suing.

I’m a writer and I believe those who create intellectual property own it and should have the exclusive right to make money from it for a period of time. The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution reads as follows: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Founding Fathers felt fourteen years was a good number for that “limited Times” with another fourteen years available if the author was still alive and filed to renew.

In 1831 the clause was changed so that the period of time was twenty-eight years with renewal available for fourteen more. The reason Congress did this was to give a fellow by the name of Noah Webster more time to profit from sales of his dictionary. You may have heard of it.

In 1909 the renewal period was extended to twenty-eight years. That’s a total of fifty-six years.

Assuming Newlin reissued her rights; by the standards of copyright laws in the original constitution the Soft Kitty song would have expired its sole ownership rights in 1965. By 1993 using the 1909 law.

The reason the Founding Father’s used the term “limited Times” is for the precise reason that the producers of the Big Bang show are now using the song. Newlin had plenty of time to make money off her work and by allowing it to extend into the public domain people can do more things with it. They can use it to entertain people.

Mickey Mouse, created in 1928, was set to become public property in 1984 so in 1976, anticipating this disaster, Congress voted to extend the “limited Times” to the life of the author plus fifty years. Another twenty years was tacked onto this in 1998. For Newlin this means the rights of her heirs to be paid for the song extend to 2074. The are other nuances to the law but I won’t get into them.

The vote in the Senate was 97 – 0 and in the House 316 – 7.

I could go on for quite a while about all of this and why it is so wrong but I’m going to stick to the point of this blog. As Nelson of the Simpson’s might have succinctly pointed out, Ha-ha!

Here’s the reality, like it or not. The daughters of Newlin have an excellent case. The published version of the song made it clear that Newlin retained rights. The publishing company had no right to authorize anyone else use. Copyright laws extend 70 years past the date of her death.

CBS, open those wallets.

Congress, take note. Write bad laws, expect insane lawsuits.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn