Fanaticism and Brain Damage

FanaticalWhen I look around I see a lot of anger and hatred in the world and yet there are relatively few people going out and murdering as many others as they can. There is certainly the perception that such attacks are on the rise but I wonder if statistical evidence supports this idea?

What I really want to look at in this topic is if people who do such things have actual brain damage. The textbook case for brain damage leading to mass murder happened in 1966 when a former marine named Charles Whitman climbed a tower at the University of Texas in Austin. An autopsy later revealed a highly aggressive brain tumor.

However, Whitman was court martialed from the marines, suffering from familial stress, abusing drugs, and suffering pain so it’s not clear that the tumor played a role in the attacks.

There does not seem to be a correlation between traumatic brain injury and violent behavior. There have been documented cases of behavioral changes but no particular bent towards violence. There isn’t even a correlation between schizophrenia and violence despite popular culture’s claims.

There are actually several studies that suggest interpersonal violence has decreased in modern society.

I would conclude that the targeted violence we see today towards people of one particular party, religion, or country in the form of terrorism, school attacks, work attacks, or other such behavior is largely not the fault of brain damage. It is the fault of failure in thinking mechanisms.

Wikipedia’s article on violence includes a prevention section which mentions several things that make sense. Children who are well nurtured by parents or caregivers are far less prone to violence. Children who learn coping skills to deal with stress are likewise less violent. There is also a very important intervention component. When someone sees a person starting down the road of fanatical violence an early intervention can do much to prevent it.

I’m of the opinion that this intervention can be very subtle. When a person is heading towards fanaticism simply conversing with them in a non-violent way and offering alternative points of view can be helpful. I talked about this concept at length yesterday so I don’t want to repeat myself too much.

I guess in conclusion; we can’t blame brain injury for fanatical violence. People who are raised in violence are prone to act in such a way and they’ll find a cause to support their insanity one way or another. There also seems to be a correlation with drug or alcohol abuse.

I’m left with the idea that what drives people to such madness is lack of critical thinking skills. Certainly violence in childhood, learned hatred of other groups, and drug abuse play their role but I’m of the opinion that if we can teach strong reasoning skills that we’d reduce such violence. Maybe I’m a dreamer.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Emotional Intelligence

Social GracesAfter yesterday’s post summing up my conclusions on intelligence I got a comment asking my opinion on how I thought “Emotional Intelligence” factors into success. So that’s today’s topic. I admit a complete lack of knowledge on this subject but that isn’t going to stop me from telling you all about it!

A quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals the following definition: Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

I’m willing to get over my initial distaste at the combination of the words “Emotional” and “Intelligence”, as the two things are paradoxical in many respects, and try to break down the concept. It seems to me what is being said here is equivalent to social graces. People who are good at judging others’ emotions get along in social gatherings. They are good at “reading” what another person is feeling and are able to respond appropriately. As a card-carrying member of the Aspberger Team this is not exactly my forte but I can certainly recognize the trait in others.

This is supposedly testable using something called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT … for short (insert eye roll here)). Event this admits it is testing against social norms. I don’t want to get into a big debate about testability. It is pretty clear that getting along socially is part of success in life, in answer to the original question.

So, if we say high intelligence leads to success are we not also bound to say that high emotional intelligence, or social graces, also tend to lead to success in life. My answer is … yes. Sadly.

Why sadly? I’ll tell you why. Because being good at social graces doesn’t mean you are good at achievement. People who are good at social graces get far in life. They convince people to trust them, they achieve positions of power, but they do not have the ability to actually achieve great things once they get there. There are exceptions, naturally. Some, rare, people have both high intelligence and high social graces. But, by and large what we are talking about here is The Monkeys or Milli Vanilli. Fake musicians who make millions of sales without doing anything other than being socially adept.

How many times have you lamented “politics” at work? This is someone using social graces to achieve promotion. Why do we call it “politics”? Because that is what politicians do. They get elected not on their actual qualifications but upon their ability to manipulate the emotions of voters.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe … well … probably. My social graces are next to nil. But, I think I make a valid point here. We want people who have the talents to get things accomplished in positions of power. Would you rather hire a charming plumber or a competent one?

I’ll wrap this up with a test question I’ve been asking for year. How you answer it is telling in this social intelligence versus intelligence debate.

Place in order your preferences for the checker in your lane at the grocery store:

  1. Friendly and Fast
  2. Friendly and Slow
  3. Surly and Fast
  4. Surly and Slow

My order is 3-1-4-2.

Yep, I prefer Surly. Why? Because I don’t want to have a conversation with the checker. It is rude to the people waiting in line and, frankly, I’d rather be at home analyzing my chess games and planning my next Dungeons and Dragons session.

In all seriousness, the issue isn’t black and white. Everyone has shades of Intelligence and Social Intelligence. But, I stand by my conclusions. I’d rather have competent people working with me than socially adept ones.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Critical Thinking Fail – Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

I originally hoped that I wouldn’t have to post critical thinking fail articles frequently but, in all honesty, I find that I have to use restraint lest I pester you even more than normal. But, I couldn’t stop myself when I read about VHEM. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Yep. You heard right.

The basic concept is that in order to prevent human suffering we need to stop giving birth so the human race goes extinct.

Hmmm, let me try to come up with the flaw in that attempt at critical thinking.

Yes, true, there will be no human suffering if there are no humans. Can’t really argue that one. You’ve got me there.

Um, well, if we wanted to eliminate the suffering of say the Southern Long-nosed Armadillo then the solution would be to …? I suppose the ultimate would be to destroy everything so that nothing suffered? The point isn’t to alleviate suffering by destroying everything. The point is to alleviate suffering by achieving great things! Lions alleviate the suffering of hunger by killing wildebeest, wildebeest alleviate the suffering of being eaten by avoiding lions. Let’s kill them all and avoid any suffering? Madness.

Even if you’re of the opinion, I’m talking to you Jim, that humans are a net negative on the world you still can’t give up hope and quit. So, VHEM, you win today’s Critical Thinking fail award.

Oh heck, just for the fun of it, fill out the poll.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Bad Apple

Bad AppleWhile reading the news I recently came across a story about how hugging is now illegal in a New Jersey School. Naturally the original story sensationalized the situation and a better explanation came forth. Still, it got me thinking about why the rule was created and how it reflect the United States’ plunge into fear. Likely a pair of middle school students were behaving in some sexual manner and this rule resulted out of fear.

This seems to me to be the root of the issue. The fear of a bad apple causing us to throw out the entire barrel. Not that raging hormonal twelve-year olds is something that should shock us but I’ll talk about this strange puritan-like fantasy we seem to have constructed in our minds when it comes to children another time.

This all comes down to fear and whether we let it rule our lives. I’m of the opinion that the U.S. has gone from a daring nation filled with courageous people to a nation cringing in the shadows afraid that something will go wrong. Not to say there aren’t heroes out there who are starting new businesses, taking chances, defending our streets and our nation, but I think on the whole we’ve taken a turn to the craven.

Maybe this transition from bold to fearful is at the heart of the descent of all-powerful nations. A nation with more to lose, more security, is one that would tend towards caution whereas the young nation with little to lose acts boldly. Or at least the people of that nation do so.

Fear is a tactic used by politicians in many circumstances:

“The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”Herman Goering

obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue” – The War on Terror phrase

The Daisy advertisement was used by a seasoned fear monger, Lyndon Johnson, against Barry Goldwater. It worked.

But, it’s not just politics, we see this is advertising multiple times a day.

Drunk DrivingAnti-drug adClimate Change

Much of the religious fervor we see is based on fear.

Here we have Jesus Camp and here we have Terrorist indoctrination.

Parents are told danger lurks at every corner. We see glaring statistics like 2,000 children kidnapped a day! Horrifying at first glance, hide your children. Except that the vast majority are “kidnapped” by a relative in a domestic dispute and returned within a week.

I could go on endlessly how people with agendas use fear to control us but now I want to get to the solution.

Fear is real, there are things to fear, and you should modify your behavior to this danger. However, you should analyze the motives of the person trying to scare you and absolutely go out and find if the things they are saying are true. For example, the ads I’ve posted above. Drunk drivers do kill people, drug addicts do turn to prostitution, climate change … well, it’s not going to turn you into a fish! However, is the solution to never drive again? Create a ridiculous, failed, expensive, “War on Drugs”? Reduce your carbon footprint by hiding in your house?

How about you pay attention when driving, particularly on weekend evenings? Look into the arguments for legalizing drugs? Switch to efficient lightbulbs and dryers?

Don’t let fear rule your life but don’t ignore it. Particularly pay attention to a politician who tells you that the sky will fall if their opponent is elected. The next time you have a political debate and your counterpart tries to frighten you; look them in the eye and say, “I won’t be scared.” Teach your children the same. If your twelve-year-old child is touched inappropriately don’t tell him or her to stop hugging, tell him or her to scream at the person who did it and if it happens again report it.

If we continue down this path of fear we will eventually find ourselves as a bunker of a nation peering out over the edge unable to act or live. We cannot trade freedom for safety because the result is neither.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety – Benjamin Franklin.

Comment away!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Bad Apple

Bad AppleThe expression goes that one bad apple spoils the barrel. I’m of the opinion that the fear of bad apples is much more dangerous than the bad apple itself. This fear is endangering our life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness. I’ll talk about how the United States seems to be becoming a nation that lives in fear rather than a nation that conquers its fears. It will likely end up being a multi-part article but I’ll get started tomorrow.

Stay tuned,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Government Week – Anarchism

GovernmentYesterday I spoke about Totalitarianism as a form of government and today I thought I’d turn that idea completely around and talk about Anarchism. An anarchist basically argues that state control is harmful to society and that government in general is unnecessary and causes more damage than it solves.

As a Libertarian this idea has merit to me but I don’t see it working in any practical manner. What I do see is many of my Libertarian friends being so disillusioned with government that they lean towards Anarchism rather than Libertarianism. This is a dangerous leaning from my perspective. Let’s get back to Anarchism.

The general definition is: The political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations.

An anarchist believes that society can run much like The Valley from Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged. The Valley is where achievers are allowed to achieve without any interference from government. It is an idealized location, cut off from the surrounding world, and only those deemed worthy are invited to join. This is where I have a problem with Libertarians. I don’t think this island is a good test for the ideas of Ayn Rand. In my own novel, The Staff of Sakatha, I have a valley like nation where the Freeriders roam. I talk about this idea more fully in this video.

Again, let’s get back to the topic at hand. The earliest we find anarchism in the world is by a fellow named Zhuangzi who wrote: A petty thief is put in jail. A great brigand becomes a ruler of a Nation. Powerful words true even today.

There are some who consider Jesus Christ a Christian Anarchist although the term anarchist didn’t enter the English language until the 17th Century during the English Civil War.

Modern Anarchism emerged with a fellow by the name of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and then another man named William Godwin. Much of what we consider organized labor sprang from the ideas of anarchism and state sponsored enslavement of workers that was seen at the outset of the industrial revolution.

An interesting topic of discussion was the United States willingness to limit corporate power through legislation making unions legal and the fact that Russia refused to do so. Eventually the abuses became so terrible in Russia the people had a revolution whereas the U.S. form of government remained intact. Perhaps fodder for another post.

Terrorism also has some roots in anarchy as public acts of violence were advocated by anarchists of the time who were being actively suppressed by the state. The rise of fascism is sometimes seen as a movement against the anarchy of the time.

Modern anarchism is broken into two schools of thought, the Social Anarchist and the Individual Anarchist. Both generally believe that the state lacks the ability to morally and ethically allow people their freedom and exists generally for the purposes of tyranny.

This post could go on and on as the topic is endlessly fascinating, you probably don’t agree :), but I think  I’ve given you at least the gist of the idea of anarchism and anarchists.

Share if you think a friend my find this interesting,

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Super Powers

Super Powers – Debunked

PsychicIn this final installment of my talk about Super Powers I’ll explain how some truly great people have spent much of their lives debunking those who hope to defraud us by claiming abilities beyond the normal. Yesterday I talked about the tremendous amount of fraud that is based on people who make such claims particularly in the realm of religion. Today I hope to demonstrate that the people who claim super powers are largely interested in stealing your money.

This sort of fraudulent behavior goes back as far as the written word as soothsayers in ancient Greece like the Oracle at Delphi made their living with fake prophecies for the desperate and gullible. The skeptics of the world have always doubted such nonsense and tried to debunk them.

I consider Gaius Julius Caesar one of the most admirable and remarkable men in history. In ancient Rome it was common for a soothsayer to look at the entrails of a recently slaughtered goat to determine if good or bad things were in store for the day. Suetonius attributes this quote to Caesar about that very subject: The entrails will be more favourable when I please; and it ought not to be regarded as a prodigy that a beast should be found wanting a heart.

Suetonius is trying to vilify Caesar but of course elevates him. Caesar knew this sort of fortune-telling was nonsense and makes no pretense about it.

In any case, let’s move forward in time to another of the greats, Harry Houdini. Mr. Houdini is best known as a magician and escape artist but he spent a great deal of life as a skeptic attempting to expose frauds who claimed super powers. He was a member of a Scientific American committee that offered a cash prize for proof of super powers. Prize never paid.

Here’s the rub, if someone had super powers, they could prove it in two seconds. If I could fly it’s easy to prove. If I can read your mind, it’s easy to prove. Sure, there are tricks that seem to indicate this ability but under controlled environments no one has ever succeeded. Ever.

Mr. Houdini’s friend, Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, was a firm believer and tied himself in knots trying to figure out how Houdini was proving all these other psychics wrong. It’s an interesting story should you care to read further. But, it illustrates how invested are people who want to believe in Super Powers. Again, religion comes to the forefront here as people want to believe so badly they are willing to suspend their reason and end up defrauded.

Before Mr. Houdini died he hired his friends H. P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy Jr. to write a book called The Cancer of Superstition. Sadly, Mr. Houdini passed away and a great book was never written. I mourn.

The modern inheritor of Mr. Houdini’s assault on mysticism and super powers is James Randi. He has offered a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who can prove  paranormal powers. You’ll be stunned to learn, unclaimed. A million dollars!

Now, most of the true believers claim those that really have the power keep it a secret and don’t try for the reward. This is a common argument tactic of faith-based thinking. It is a fallacy called Argument from Ignorance. Essentially, a proposition is true because it hasn’t been proven false. A great man named Bertrand Russell came up with an excellent example to prove the unsound nature of this argument. He suggested that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. You can’t prove it’s not there so it must be there. Be alert to Arguments from Ignorance when dealing with people who claim Super Powers exist in one form or another.

Back to Mr. Randi. He wrote a book calling Uri Geller a fake and subsequently won a lawsuit filed by Geller against him. Mr. Randi brilliantly set up a privately financed, fake psychic program called Project Alpha to show how flawed were the efforts to prove Super Powers. In a famous television appearance he debunked James Hydrick who claimed to be able to turn pages of a book with his mind. Mr. Randi simply put packing kernels around the book to prevent Hydrick from blowing the pages. Debunked!

In 1987 Mr. Randi wrote an important book called The Faith Healers as an outlet for his anger rising from compassion for the helpless victims of fraud. Sick people manipulated, defrauded, used. Well done, Mr. Randi! Well done, indeed.

Mr. Randi’s inspired a young magician named Penn Jillette who continues this good work today with books, a television show, and a Las Vegas show.

The point here is that when someone claims to have Super Powers they are trying to defraud you. Whether this is religious powers, supernatural powers, or comic book style super powers their goal is to steal something from you. Use your skepticism, your powers of logic and reason, inspire those around you to do the same.

We skeptics, we logical thinkers, can’t snap our fingers to make the world a better place but we can lead by example. We can show people better methods of thinking and inspire children. If we can raise generations of skeptics, of critical thinkers, then, we will change the world.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Super Powers

Super Villians

Super VillianYesterday I spoke about the apparently natural human desire for Super Powers be they psychic, religious, or comic book. Today I’m going to talk about how our desire for Super Heroes inevitably leads to Super villains. We want people, or ourselves, to have super powers for use for good but those that claim such powers almost always end up using them for selfish purposes that take advantage of others.

It’s fairly easy to disprove someone who claims they can fly or turn invisible so outside of the realm of magicians there aren’t that many super villains of the comic book type littering history but even then there are some examples. Mostly it is people who insanely thought they had super powers and used that as an excuse to tyrannize other people. What comes immediately to mind here is the supposed practitioners of magic. Be they witches, voodoo priests, or African witch doctors. These people take money from desperate, hopeful people in order to fulfill their wish of love, vengeance, murder, etc.

The problem here is that desperate people are being used and abused in a fraudulent manner. practitioners of many alternative medicines are taking money from people with the promise of a cure when none is forthcoming. This is truly despicable. Today, in the United States, fake doctors inject their patients with cement with the promise of better looks. Awful, criminal, hideous. I’m not even talking about aromatherapy or a host of other alternative medicinal practices that have no evidence of efficacy.

The much more common super villain we see is associated with psychic powers. It is generally the same concept in that they purport to help someone but in actuality simply take their money and provide no useful service. Often times the lies told by the psychic do further damage because the victim believes the lies and acts accordingly. The police even believe the lies and arrest innocent people.

Finally, the most common super villain we find is the one who claims religious inspiration. I’m not talking about Jesus and Muhammad but people who use religion to defraud true believers. This problem is immense because when it comes to religion people have a tendency to use faith-based thinking instead of critical thinking. I’ve spoken of these subjects at length in the past but a quick recap never hurts.

A faith-based thinker believes something to be true without evidence whereas a critical thinker examines evidence to make a decision. Faith based thinking is particularly prone to religious fraud because they so desperately want something to be true.

The personal story I have is a woman who was getting a patent for her invention. I happen to know a patent attorney (when’s the next lake house party, Clyde?) and the general costs of such a process. When this woman told me what she was paying for her patent I immediately informed her that perhaps she should use a different patent company. She replied that they were “a good, Christian” company. I knew there was no hope of changing her mind at that point. She was defrauded for tens of thousands of dollars.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. In order for a Super Villain to take advantage of us we must be willing participants who have abandoned our critical thinking skills. No confidence game works without the participation of the victim.

When someone tells you they can do something “Super” then immediately be on alert. The odds are strong they want something from you. Your money, your job, your wife, or who knows what else.

Keep your critical thinking cap firmly in place and don’t let a Super Villain hurt you or anyone you know.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Super Powers

Super Powers – Why the Fascination

PsychicI think most people in the world have a fascination with Super Powers be they comic book type like flying or becoming invisible,  religious like with turning water to wine or returning from the dead, or psychic like telekinesis or clairvoyance. I’m going to make this a multi-part post with today’s focus being why we are so enamored with the idea of super powers.

Interestingly enough I think there is a relationship between frustration, which I spoke about the other day, and the desire for, or the hope that, super powers are manifestly possible. Everyday things happen in our life beyond our control and there is an undeniable thirst to be in command of what happens to us. I think this starts as a very small child when we have power over almost nothing. This is a frustrating experience and although as we grow older we gain more control there will always be elements of our life that we cannot steer.

So, that is a common human experience. I think it is one of the main drivers of our belief in super powers be they religious, psychic, or comic book in nature.

I read an article yesterday in which some researchers used the scientific method to look at clairvoyance. Simply put, this is the ability to know things before they happen. I’m going to talk much more about that article in the coming days but today I’m focusing more on why we want to believe in Super Powers so much that, in fact, many of actually do believe.

The belief in astrology is quite popular all over the world as is general belief in psychic powers in one form or another. Certainly the belief that there is a magical father up in the sky watching over us is the prevalent view of the majority of people in the world. That agents of this power are capable of turning water into wine, walking on water, ascending (flying) directly into the sky, packing a boat full of animals that under no logical examination could fit inside.

So, I’ve blamed frustration for this belief and our childhood but that doesn’t seem to me to be enough to explain why grown men and women still believe in nonsense. I’m not just attacking religion here. Many religious people agree with me that the belief psychic powers is madness. So don’t feel too picked upon!

The other big reason I think we believe in Super Powers of one nature or another is our imperfect sensory input. By this I mean our eye, ears, nose, touch, and taste senses. They don’t work particularly well and fool us all the time. Optical illusions are everywhere and our other senses are easily fooled as well. So we have this constant stream of input coming in but much of it is false. To my way of thinking this leads us to the conclusion that there most be something “more” out there. Something hidden in the shadows just beyond our reach.

Well, there is something more out there, x-rays, ultraviolet light, high frequency sound, and thousands of other things that we can’t sense but that doesn’t make them magical. It just means we can’t sense them with or normal faculties. With devices we see and understand these things but it’s difficult to separate my personal view of the world as brought to me by my senses and the logical view of world brought to second-hand through instrumentation.

Finally, I think dreams play a large role in this belief in Super Powers. We dream but don’t remember them fully and they seem filled with strange imagery and prophetic power. I’ll just give one little story here and then wrap things up. I was having strange dreams quite a few years back and started to record them. I’d advise a pen that is capable of writing while being held upside down. After a few months of doing this I found my dreams were completely related to my work, my family, my personal life, and things going on everyday. It was just my brain reorganizing them. There was no mystery.

So, that’s it. Tell me, do you believe in Super Powers?

[polldaddy poll=6042114]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Frustration leads to Violence

FrustrationThis is a topic I’ve thought quite a lot about over the years. The relationship between frustration, anger, and eventually violence. The terrible actions of a United States service member in Afghanistan brings the topic to the front of mind again and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject with my vast audience.

I haven’t spoken with any psychiatric experts on this particular topic and I’m certainly not one myself but I think there is a direct link between frustration and violence and I’ll tell you why tomorrow. I’ll also talk about why this link is incredibly important.

See you then,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Home Team Blackouts

BlackoutIt was a happy day for me when my Uverse was finally installed after much bickering with AT&T. I gave up my television years ago and streaming sports on ESPN3 was choppy and Hulu television troublesome on my old DSL connection.

My beloved World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in Spring Training as I write this and I haven’t been able to watch most of their games for the last couple of years. I certainly got my high-speed connection for a number of reasons and watching the Birds on the Bat was one of those.

Major League Baseball offers an internet package where, for $124.99, you can watch every game of every team streaming on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Imagine my joy. I get to watch my World Series Champion Cardinals play every game! Then I clicked on the little blackout link and read this:

All live games on MLB.TV and available through MLB.com At Bat are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club’s home television territory, regardless of whether that Club is playing at home or away.

It goes on to mention the blackout applies even if the game isn’t televised. Home or away? Televised or not? Sold-out or not? I can’t watch the Cardinals!?

I’ve got $124.99 burning a hole in pocket to watch the 11 time World Series Champion Cardinals. Take my money, please?

Ok, wait, catching breath, bulging eyes recessing, fist pounding abating, let’s look at this rational, from a critical perspective. Perhaps MLB is justified in this policy. Think, Tom, don’t scream and rant like a radio talk-show host who would sell his mother into slavery to get a ratings point.

First stop, MLB Blackout policy page of Wikipedia. Have I mentioned my love of Wikipedia? Calmly reading. Keep blood pressure under wraps. Learn rational reasons behind policy. Keep calm … calm … soft music … calming waves … soothing … EXCLUSIVE TERRITORIAL RIGHTS! What? What? What?

Do we live in Communist Russia? Wait, stop , be rational, Russia isn’t communist any more … Do we live in Communist China? Socialism? Media control? Freedom Revoked?

Ok, breath slowly, long breaths, I mean, technically, television broadcast in St. Louis city could somehow be seen to be owned by the local team … the ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA blacked out for Cardinals, Cubs, Twins, Royals, White Sox and Brewers. HEAD EXPLODING!

Freedom being taken away, grab rifle, oh wait unarmed, maybe good thing, calm, calm, soothing sounds, ocean, babbling brook.

I know, let’s look at the easy to understand map of blackouts … ARGHHH … BUNNIES MUST DIE … DIE … DIE!!

Wipe frothing away from mouth, think happy thoughts, don’t kick cat, it’s going to be all right. There has to be a rational explanation, doesn’t there?

What is the idea? Ok, here we go, a broadcaster pays for the right to exclusively show the games on their channel. That’s capitalism, NBC shows, CBS shows, FOX shows. But, wait, don’t they stream on Hulu? I mean, the idea is get as much revenue as possible, isn’t it? Isn’t my $124.99 lost revenue? There are plenty of World Series Champion Cardinals fans all over from the great states of Iowa, Arkansas, Tennesse, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, isn’t that a lot of $124.99s? Wouldn’t it be easy for MLB to distribute a percentage of that money to the broadcasters? I mean, that’s a lot of lost revenue.

If you think I’m a diehard Cardinals fan you haven’t been to Germantown, Illinois! You haven’t been to Busch Stadium after a Cardinals win to see a family of four, kids decked out in Cardinal gear, taking pictures for their once a year trip to St. Louis from Lawton, Oklahoma to see the Birds on the Bat.

This policy is denying all those fans the opportunity to watch the Cardinals. It is denying the children of die-hard Cardinals fans from all over the midwest the chance to learn, like their parents, to love the best team in baseball (Shut yer yaps, yuse Yankee bums). It is killing marketing, it is throwing money away! Do you not want more fans?

Why are the Cardinals so beloved all over the midwest and beyond? Because KMOX radio was a clear channel signal that broadcast the games to all those areas, that’s why. Now, we live in the television era and you want to LIMIT BROADCASTING of games only to areas nowhere near the actual team? Where does that make any sense? MLB, broadcasters, work out a deal, there is money on the table. There are millions of fans waiting to be made. This is capitalism! This is marketing. This is America! Isn’t it?

Why does Fox Sports Midwest care where anyone watches the game? My tv, my computer, my phone, my tablet? It doesn’t make any sense! You want more audience, do you hear me, MORE AUDIENCE! Not less. More. Do you see? Hands shaking … must calm down.

Shower, must have cold shower, brain exploding, stupid, morons, idiots, more audience, spasm-spasm, more audience, more revenue, spasm-spasm, can’t understand, does not compute, spasm-twitch-spasm-twitch-twitch-spasm … more audience … more revenue … twitch-spasm-spasm.

Like, Comment, Tweet, Stumble, Share, and otherwise pass it along!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Activism

Activism for the Inactive

ActivismOr … how I eased my conscience by curing cancer, stopping child molestation, bringing down a brutal dictator, and wishing my mom happy birthday all in less than thirty seconds.

While having a delicious burger and fries from Five Guys and Fries with a young co-worker the conversation drifted to his social media inundation with promotions for the movie Kony 2012. The documentary movie is designed to put pressure on a brutal African dictator for his role in enslaving children for use as soldiers and sex workers.

I’m not a low picking fruit sort of fellow so I’m not going to spend any time talking about what a vile character is this Kony fellow nor express outrage at his activities. What I question is how much does social media activism actually accomplish? Does it help a cause or hurt it?

I’ll end the suspense right away, I don’t know. The way to find out is to put some metrics to it. Compare similar causes one of whom is highly publicized on the social networks and one who is not and determine who raises the most money and gets the most volunteer hours. See if the highly publicized causes are filled with fraudulent behavior more so than those less publicized.

But, I will say this. I get a post about how someone’s family member is fighting cancer almost weekly and would I please repost if I want to support them. I don’t. I have mentioned my own family’s trouble with that terrible disease here in my blog but I haven’t posted any support messages on Facebook or asked anyone to do the same. I did donate money to a chess marathon for breast cancer by Goose.

I see Social Media posting is as pretending to do something without actually doing anything. My young friend would call those who post such things and feel good about themselves Brazilian Hipsters. He tried to explain the concept to me but I think I’m too old. It’s apparently a terrible insult. I do agree with the concept that if you make a few posts and say, “I’ve helped” then you are in need of some insults.

Still, I’m not totally opposed to posting on social networks if it brings money or volunteer time to that worthy cause. Beware that those who intend to defraud are well in tune with the Social Media phenomenon and I’d be somewhat wary of donating to the cause celebre of the moment.

Instead of reposting, commenting, or Liking a post; donate some money, or better yet donate some time to a worthwhile cause. One problem with donating money is you have to be certain the charity is actually giving most of that money to those it purports to help. There is a tremendous amount of fraud in the charity business, fodder for another post I think, and you have to do your due diligence.

So, not much outrage here in the end. But don’t fool yourself. By Liking, Tweeting, Commenting, Digging, Stumbling or the others of its ilk you aren’t actually doing anything to help. If you feel strongly about a cause then think about investing some time and truly making a difference.

And for those of you, like my young friend, annoyed by an endless stream of requests to help one cause or another; don’t worry about not reposting. You’re not bad person.

Now get out there and Like, Digg, Pinterest, Stumble, Comment, PlusOne, and otherwise publicize my blog! It’s not for a good cause, it’s for me!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Activism for the Inactive

Activism
Or … how I eased my conscience by curing cancer, stopping child molestation, bringing down a brutal dictator, and wishing my mom happy birthday all in less than thirty seconds.

Yep, you guessed it my friends. Because I haven’t offended enough people in the last week with my tirade against dumb platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook, tomorrow I take on virtually every worthy cause you’ve ever liked, tagged, re-posted, or otherwise acknowledged.

Is such activism worthwhile it or is it simply an exercise in making myself feel better with no tangible results?

Find out tomorrow!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

You can do Anything if You Set your Mind to it

PlatitudeThe final day of my weeklong attack against Facebook Platitudes has arrived and I like to think I’ve save the best, and by that I mean most egregious, for last.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

I can do no better than to quote the magnificent Penn Jillette, “Eat the sun”.

I’m fairly certain I could simply call it a blog right there but I’m going to analyze the idea behind the platitude, the well-intentioned hopes, and the disastrous results.

There are two thoughts behind making this statement one of which is well-intentioned and the other is malicious. The first is to encourage a person to be adventurous and try things. This is excellent advice. Life is better if we enjoy it broadly rather than narrowly. There is much that is good in this world and being afraid to try things leaves us with a less than full life. It’s great to encourage a person to try things. This is just a poor platitude to do it.

Parents encourage their children with this platitude in the hopes the kids will leave their fear behind and experience life to its fullest. Again, excellent sentiment, I wholeheartedly approve.

The negative situation where I see this platitude thrown around is to blame people for failing to complete a particular task. It is often used when the failure is beyond the person’s control and is the tactic of a bully to deflect their own culpability in the events leading up to the failure.

You didn’t finish the job? Why not, you can do anything if you set your mind to it.

The bullies of the world take over when the achievers are not allowed to succeed. This is one of the central messages of Randian Objectivism and I’ll talk about it in another post.

Now let’s move onto why this idea is not only silly but dangerous.

If we tell children they can do anything they might actually believe us. A child that is told they can do anything is doomed to disappointment. They cannot do anything. They can accomplish more than they think they can, they can do amazing things if they plan and execute with realistic, objective thinking. But, this platitude sends a ridiculous message of entitlement. I’m going to talk about the sense of entitlement that pervades our culture in a later post. I really do think that telling kids they can do anything leads to adults who are unrealistic and entitled. This is bad for our nation. When we talk about greatness it is usually in reference to people who achieved after a great struggle. People who think they are entitled don’t bother with struggle. They quickly give up. Having to work for something is not a bad thing, in fact it is the opposite.

I’m playing a lot of chess lately and because I live in St. Louis, Missouri with its world-class chess club I get to see guys like Hikaru Nakamura play. Thanks to modern computers I get to watch a fellow with the monikor Chess Network play live on Twitch and actually get to play him now and again. I’m not of the opinion that I can beat either of them. However, I’m working on my game, playing better chess, advancing, and feeling pretty good about that.

This to me is the most important thing of all. We can’t raise a generation of people who have unrealistic expectations about themselves and about the world and hope to see western style democracy finish what the founding fathers started. So, don’t tell your children they can do anything. Teach them to think objectively, to plan, to try new things. And don’t just teach them. Show them. Be the example. It can be something as small as trying a new thing at the restaurant but not with peanuts if you are allergic to them! Be bold but understand the challenges and your limitations. Be prepared!

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

You can do Anything if you Set your Mind to it

PlatitudeI’m going to go ahead and tell you the topic for the epic denuement to my weeklong attack against Dumb Platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook. I admit that Facebook wasn’t the first place I saw this piece of insanity but it appears regularly enough.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

Good luck with that. I’m going to talk about why it is a tool of bullies and a destroyer of children. Hopefully after you’ve read my blog you’ll lambaste anyone you hear spouting this nonsense.

Stay tuned for the finale of Dumb Platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook week! Coming tomorrow.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

The Secret

PlatitudeToday I take on not a single dumb platitude but the concepts of the book and movie, The Secret, which takes much of its philosophy from the biblical quote: “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

The idea being that if you believe something to be true hard enough you can make it true, particularly by praying for it. What’s interesting about this philosophical idea is that it actually has some pretty firm roots and there are ideas here that are quite worthwhile. But, on the whole it is a dangerously delusional idea to promulgate.

The platitude that I’ll choose from the book/movie, which in all fairness I’ve only read summaries, is the one used on Wikipedia:

“One of the most powerful uses of gratitude can be incorporated in the Creative Process to turbo-charge what you want”

This is one of the main tenants of the Laws of Attraction that are the fundamental backbone of the philosophy. This Laws of Attraction essentially state that our thoughts can change the physical state of the world around us and much of this philosophy comes from books written by Thomas Troward.

First, I want to talk about where this idea has a lot of merit and then I’ll move on to why it is incredibly dangerous. Positive thinking is a great idea. Confidence is good. When I played a lot of golf the last thing I wanted to think before I began my swing was “Don’t hit it in the water”. Much better was “Hit it in the Fairway”. So, the power of thought on our physical actions is, in my opinion, unquestionable. When we do something with confidence the chances are better that we will carry the action through to success than when we move with hesitation.

The physical manifestation of this idea is expressed in the platitude, “Put your head down”. The idea here is to charge forward with confidence rather than with hesitation and, again, this has merit. I really like the concepts of positive thought. Before you try something look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I can do it.” Put your fears away and attack the issue. This is all good and I approve completely.

The idea that things are going to work out helps you become more confident and that confidence in turn leads to actual success. I know, I know, it seems like I’m a proponent of The Secret and the concepts it promulgates. But, here’s where things take a turn to the very bad.

It’s dangerous to tell people that all they have to do is think their way to success. You can’t just put your head down and jump the Grand Canyon. You’ll die. You can’t just tell yourself you’re going to get rich and then get rich. You have to have a plan of action that is based on the real and tangible world. You can’t expect tens of thousands of people to purchase your novels if you don’t write them, publish them, and promote them.

This is where I have the big problem. The movie/book promotes the idea that thought and prayer are the mode to achieve whatever you want in life. This is false.

The way to succeed in life is to critically analyze the situation, come up with an objective plan to achieve the goal, and physically carry out that strategy. Even then, success is not guaranteed, happiness is not guaranteed. Hard work is mandatory!

I’ll make no secret about it. The primary reason I’m writing this blog is to bring attention to my novels to promote sales. If people learn about Libertarianism, Ayn Rand, Objective Thinking, and other concepts that I think are valuable then so be it. But, I’ll tell you this much, I’m not going to get sales by thinking my books will sell or praying they will sell.

So, get out there, think positively, be confident, make a realistic plan, objectively analyze each roadblock as it arises, act on the plan, persevere through obstacles, and find success and happiness! That is the real Secret!

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Dumb Facebook Platitudes – Day 4

PlatitudeTomorrow I post the fourth of my week long attack on Dumb Facebook platitudes but it is going to be a little bit of a cheat. While I have seen sayings reflecting this point of view it isn’t a single actual platitude and the original time I saw it wasn’t on Facebook.

Still, I think the concept is one giant platitude and it’s worthy of inclusion. However, in the name of suspense and as always, I’m going to keep The Secret <—- hint … hint until tomorrow!

See you then,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Dumb Platitudes Day Three – Give 110%

PlatitudeDay three of my attack on inane and stupid platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook! Today I take on the sporting world. How many of you have heard someone say, I gave one hundred and ten percent? I think I could spend a week or two on dumb sports platitudes alone but I decided to choose this one because it is largely used as an excuse for failure or a dangerous encouragement to over do your effort.

As with most platitudes it is issued with fairly good intentions but the reality of it is that it gives people an unrealistic idea of what is expected of them or of the performance they’ve just witnessed.

I think the first thing to do here is to examine the idea of what giving one hundred and ten percent is intended to convey. It essentially means that a person gives their maximum effort and is usually invoked before or after a sporting event.

Relatively obviously it is impossible to give more than one hundred percent so the platitude causes me to roll my eyes right from the beginning. However, I want to give the expression a more in-depth examination.

The main reason I think it is dangerous is when used before an event to exhort someone to maximum effort. “C’mon team, we have to give it one hundred and ten percent to win”. Giving your all is definitely a good thing. When we are trying to achieve something it is important to give our best effort, otherwise the chance of failure increases. However, I am of the opinion that one hundred and ten percent means, or at least implies, something different than giving our best effort. It means to strain our bodies past their breaking point.

A good example of this is my yoga classes. When I started yoga I took the beginner classes and in them the instructor usually did a good job of explaining how to position my body so as to avoid injury. There was plenty of time spent on instruction and probably not as much on actual yoga practice itself. As I moved to the intermediate classes I immediately encountered instructors who switched quickly from strenuous position to strenuous position without much time making sure people were doing them safely. This is probably not a bad thing as the students in the more advanced classes want less instruction and more yoga. However, it does increase the possibility of injury. If I give one hundred and ten percent in a yoga class I’ll end up injured.

Another thing I often see when people are overly encouraged is an initial burst of energy which wanes over the course of an event. Sometimes giving your best means pacing your effort for the length of the race. When we exhort people to give one hundred and ten percent I think the message is often taken as “Go all out”. This is almost always a counterproductive plan of action. By reserving our energy for crucial moments and pacing our output we are far more likely to succeed.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen tennis matches where a player tanks a set to reserve energy and comes back to win the match. When you are down 5 – 0 the chances of winning the set decrease and the expenditure of energy can be counterproductive. I’m not exactly a fan of giving up either so there is a flip-side to this argument. I think judicious use of reserves is generally a good plan.

The other time we frequently see the platitude is by a player after a game or match. It is usually meant to convey that they tried as hard as possible. I prefer the platitude, “I left it all on the field”. This to me conveys that they tried their best, played their best, but the other player or team just had more on that day. To me, that is victory even in defeat. Whenever I can honestly say I did my best I have a good feeling about my effort, win or lose.

Conversely, when I hear someone say they gave one hundred and ten percent my immediate reaction is that they didn’t give their best effort and are trying to pretend they did. Maybe that’s unfair but that’s the way I see it.

So, everyone out there, give it your best!

Thanks for reading and Comment, Tweet, Link, Share, Stumble, Digg, Pinterest, and all the rest!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Everything Happens for a Reason

PlatitudeDay Two of Dumb Platitudes I’ve seen on Facebook continues with this nasty little choice: Everything Happens for a Reason. Interestingly, it is almost always said with the best of intentions. Usually we hear it when a child is pulled from her house, thrown into a field, critically injured, lingers a few days, and then dies. It’s often used in conjunction with God Acts in Mysterious Ways, It was her Time, and other such well meaning phrases.

The idea is that when tragedy strikes it will comfort us to know that there was a reason behind the event. Many people might actually find this somewhat comforting but I think it is important to understand why it is so dangerous.

First, let’s examine the real meaning behind the platitude. It tells us there is a blueprint/master plan for our lives. As if we were a house that must be constructed with an end purpose in mind. You were born for a reason, you contracted strep throat in third grade for a reason, you dropped your dinner knife at the restaurant for a reason, you moved your forefinger slightly to the left at 3:03 p.m. on Monday, March 5, 2012 for a precise and important reason. Everything is an all encompassing word and it must be. If even one thing doesn’t happen for a reason that means that it was an event within our control and invalidates the master plan.

And that, my loyal followers, is why this phrase is so dangerous. It teaches people that someone else controls the events of their lives and this is false. I want to state this as clearly as possible. Things do not happen for a reason. Everything that ever happened – happened. Everything that never happened – didn’t happen. This idea that our lives are steered by a magical hand forces us to relinquish the controls.

Your life is what you make it. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. You will make decisions and they will turn out well or they will turn out poorly but they are your decisions and it is your life and your life alone. This is Libertarianism, this is Critical Thinking. This is being empowered! I write this blog, I drive with caution, I go to the gym, I eat healthy (or not), but it is always, always, always, me.

There are things out of my control, cancer for example, but it is important to understand that’s okay as well. I control what I can and do my best with the things I cannot control. I don’t give the credit to the master plan and I don’t blame it.

And now I get to what is most important. How to build and maintain a nation that allows people the greatest ability to make their own lives. There is no question a child born in the Congo might be raped and murdered or starve to death and has less chance to make their own lives than a child born in the United States. A perfect government is one that provides the opportunity for education, provides safety, and allows the best and brightest to succeed because it gives us the freedom to make our lives whatever we choose. We fail because of our actions, we succeed because of our choices.

Sounds good, no?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Internet Chess and How to Improve your Life

Internet Chess You wouldn’t think that playing internet chess would give insight into a better way to lead your life but that’s exactly what happened to me when I started to play. I’ve discovered that diversity and balance improve life and I’ll tell you why.

I played chess as a young lad. My father taught me the game and I played him many times over the years. When I got to Junior High School, as they called it back in the old days, I joined the chess team. On that team I played pretty regularly with the same group of people and the instructor.

Once I got to high school I started to play water polo and never really looked at chess again except for the occasional game with a friend.

Many years later my niece took up the game in a relatively serious way. She started to play tournaments and I decided that I’d take up chess again so as to give her an opponent.

There are a number of places to play chess on the internet. I currently play slow chess at Gameknot and fast chess at ChessCube and Chess.com. The grand-daddy of chess sites is ICC where the masters play.

Now, as to my point. As a lad I played a lot of chess, particularly in junior high school. My game got to a level where I thought it was fairly good but the thing I didn’t consider was not necessarily the quality of my opponent but their quantity and different playing styles. In my youth I largely played people who used the same style and I played them over and over again.

When I joined the internet chess community I was immediately exposed to a multitude of styles, a huge variety of openings, and a vast array of levels. I played openings I’d never heard of against opponent both significantly weaker than me and infinitely stronger.

What I learned is that playing that variety of players with their varying styles improved my chess game far more quickly and comprehensively than playing the same people over and over again.

Now, I’m going to get a little philosophical. I think this lesson can be taken to your life as a whole. If you experience the same thing over and over again it is difficult to improve in anything. If your job has you doing the same thing again and again. If you have discussions with the same people again and again, if you eat the same food again and again, you are limiting your life. Not only are you not experiencing a full life but your skills are stagnating.

Try new ways of doing old things. Even if the new way looks really stupid give it a try. You never know what you might learn. Look at life differently, sit at a different place in the conference room, talk to someone new for a moment, try a different menu item or a whole new restaurant.

I suspect that the more of anything we experience the better we get. If you want to maximize your skills at anything then I’d suggest immersing yourself in a wide variety of that thing. Not that it is easy. It takes time and effort but in the end you will improve yourself and your life dramatically.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

P.S. If you’re playing chess on the internet and you see this flag then get ready for a beating!

Russia Flag