Twitter and your Future

I read a recent story about how a pair of British students were stopped at the United States border by Homeland Security because of a couple of harmless tweets. We don’t know the full story because there might have been other reasons for the detainment but that’s not really what this post will be about.

What I think it is quite fascinating is the potential of twitter and social media as a whole to effect our future as a country.

We’ve seen quite a number of stories, like this, where someone’s future was effected by social media. A youthful indescretion captured forever on Facebook, a silly statement made in the heat of the moment forever preserved in a tweet, all of these things have an effect. My question is not the effect on the individual but on the society.

One of Ayn Rand‘s constant themes is that those who are exceptional must be allowed to succeed in society for that society to, in turn, succeed itself. Social media seems to be a double edged sword in this regard. People who are bold, daring, speak their mind are weeded out because they offend. On the other hand, the same sort of behavior often catapults people into the spotlight and success.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I think the increased scrutiny on politicians and their personal lives is a negative. It discourages the best and brightest from participating because they don’t want to subject their families and friends to that sort of media pressure. I’m of the opinion, at this moment at least, that the quickness to judge one tweet or one Facebook photo as a weapon to hold back a person is a net negative on society. We lose the bold and we also chill open exchanges of thoughts and ideas.

I don’t think Twitter, Social Media, mainstream media, blogs, or any of the other methods of modern communication are going away and I personal benefit from the ability to publish my own books, post my thoughts, and in other ways interact with the world.

What I would suggest is that we reward those bold enough to state their opinions even if we disagree with them. We want strong, active people in the positions of power in our society. Instead of calling for someone to be fired or step-down from an election, reply with your own ideas, encourage the exchange of thoughts, the dialectic as it were.

Tell me what you think in the comments, subscribe, like, you know what I’m saying!

Tom Liberman
Sword and sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Half Dome at Yosemite

I recently read an article that explained how the parks department wants to curtail activity at the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

There are various reasons for the closing and you can read the entire article if you are interested in that debate but I’d like to talk about the solution to the problem.

Ok, my legion of followers, get ready to put on your Critical Thinking cap.

First, let’s cover the proposed solution which is to limit the amount of people who can use the pulley system up to the top of  Half Dome to 300 a day. Basically the parks department is creating a terrible headache for itself. What will likely happen is that there will be a mad rush to be one of the first 300 people in the line to get the tickets. This will eventually become so ugly they go to some sort of lottery system like they do for big game ticket sales. Anyone at the site before x-hour gets a lottery ticket and then 300 are picked.

This whole process takes time, effort, and management from a parks department that probably already has a lot to do. Now, with our Critical Thinking hat firmly in place let’s try to find a better solution.

Hmmm, you have a product that is so in demand that supply can’t keep up with it, what do you do? Is it really that difficult? Set a price point. If you want to go to the top of Half Dome it will cost $50 a person. If that price tag results in too few or too many visitors after the first year then adjust the price. It’s simple, easy to enforce, and people know what they are getting. Likely it’s a floating price that adjust seasonally. They can then use the money for other parks projects!

Now, the main objection is going to be that the National Parks are there for everyone to enjoy and this is making it a venture only for the wealthy. Now we put on another hat, wait a second, where is it, there we go, my pragmatist hat.

Here’s the deal, the number of people is going to be limited one way or another. So, if the parks department has it their way you could show up with your family, get up a 5:00 a.m. so you can get in line for a chance of getting one of the tickets and get nothing. In fact, that’s what most people would get, nothing. Or, you can decide if you want to pay the fee and then be assured of going.

As for wealthy people getting more, well, that’s capitalism. Getting to Yosemite is not something everyone can afford and the park charges to get in, to hike, and to stay in the lodges. All of these things price out certain groups of people.

In conclusion, I implore you to keep your Critical Thinking hats on for as much of the day as you can and keep that pragmatist cap handy as well!

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Oxygen and Life

There is a fairly angry debate going on about the ideas of human produced greenhouse gases effecting the long-term weather patterns on the planet. I’ll probably eventually blog about that sometime in the future but I thought I’d take on the role of oxygen and life forms. The reason I do this is because several people have told me, rightly so, that it is natural for the earth to have a much higher concentration of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere and it has in the past. But, do we want a world with those levels?

I’m going with the theory that the earth is somewhere around 4.5 billion years old and if you have strong religious beliefs that go counter to this concept then this blog probably doesn’t hold much of interest for you.

So, the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago and oxygen was basically absent and so was life. At about 3 billion years ago there is some evidence for life although this debatable. There was still no oxygen around. For a long while only simple, anaerobic forms of life existed.

About 2.4 billion years ago there was what is called the Oxygen Catastrophe. This essential destroyed most of the anaerobic life forms. The simple reason it occurred is that the iron that previously absorbed all the oxygen became saturated and then excess oxygen spread into the atmosphere. This combined with methane and made carbon dioxide which greatly reduced the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Still, greenhouse gases were in much higher concentrations than we see today.

About 300 million years later, in this still relatively low oxygen environment, we see the first emergence of multicellular animals. It seems relatively clear to me that as greenhouse gases decline and oxygen goes up so too does life increase.

We then see smallish life-forms until about 500 millions ago when there is a period called the Cambrian Explosion. It’s a relatively debatable “explosion” but one of the causes of the increase and diversification of animal species seems to be an increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. There are arguments that it was not the major cause but simply one of many that happened to coincide at about the same time.

Since then there have been a number of catastrophic events wherein most of the species on earth were wiped out. There is again debate about the cause of these events but oxygen seems to be pretty clearly related. Less oxygen, less life. Which makes an awful lot of sense.

This blog isn’t about whether or not climate change is real or if so, caused by the industrial age, but I simply hope to point out that having the atmosphere gain levels of carbon dioxide and methane and lose oxygen is … to coin a phrase … bad.

So, let’s do what we can to keep oxygen levels stable. Whether or not you believe mankind is contributing to the measurable increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; it seems reasonable to try to reduce the emissions we can control.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

What is the “Gold Standard”?

I’ve been reading economic articles and this based with personal conversations leads me to believe that the vast majority of people do not know what the Gold Standard is or, even worse, think they know but are mistaken.

I’m not going to try to explain the entire thing here and I’d suggest a lengthy perusal of the Gold Standard article at Wikipedia if you have more than a casual interest. Nor will I offer my opinion on whether returning to one form or another of the standard is a good idea. This blog is just to explain the standard in modern terms.

The most common misconception I see is that the Gold Standard is a rigid system wherein the total amount of money available for a nation to spend is equal to the market value of the gold they have in reserve. This is fairly close to the original gold specie standard which proved an unsustainable model for a variety of reasons that I won’t discuss today. Suffice it to say that almost no economist considers it a sustainable model.

What Congressman Ron Paul and other Libertarians generally reference as the gold standard is something called the Bretton Woods System. In this system, which took effect in 1945, other countries fixed their exchange rate to the United States and we promised to maintain the price of gold at $35 an ounce. Thus gold was no longer a commodity to be bought and sold which would inevitable lead to price fluctuations. Gold was largely never a commodity but simply money itself. I always cringe when someone talks about the intrinsic value of gold. It has little.

But at its heart the Bretton Woods System merely fixes the price of gold at $35 an ounce and other nations agree to keep their own exchange rate equal to that of the United States.

There are good arguments as to advantages and disadvantages of the Bretton Woods system.

President Nixon abolished the already faltering Bretton Woods system in 1971. There were good reasons for this and a lengthy perusal of the Bretton Woods article is worthwhile.

Looking back with the knowledge of the current economic crisis it seems that one of the best things the system did was prevent huge deficit spending. In 1970 the U.S. debt was about 370 billion dollars. In 2010 it stood at 13.5 trillion dollars. There are a lot of ways to parse that including as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product but I won’t delve into that little debate. What is clear, I think, is that the departure from the Bretton Woods System clearly precipitated vast deficit expenditures.

One of the major negatives with gold as an economic standard is its relatively fixed quantity. Thus, as a nation needs more money, for whatever reason, there is none to spend. This crimps economic growth and limits the ability of lending institutions. How many of you would have a house, a car, or much of anything without loans in one form or another?

So, I hope this makes a murky subject slightly more clear. As always, let me know what you think in the comments section!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

What is the "Gold Standard"?

I’ve been reading economic articles and this based with personal conversations leads me to believe that the vast majority of people do not know what the Gold Standard is or, even worse, think they know but are mistaken.

I’m not going to try to explain the entire thing here and I’d suggest a lengthy perusal of the Gold Standard article at Wikipedia if you have more than a casual interest. Nor will I offer my opinion on whether returning to one form or another of the standard is a good idea. This blog is just to explain the standard in modern terms.

The most common misconception I see is that the Gold Standard is a rigid system wherein the total amount of money available for a nation to spend is equal to the market value of the gold they have in reserve. This is fairly close to the original gold specie standard which proved an unsustainable model for a variety of reasons that I won’t discuss today. Suffice it to say that almost no economist considers it a sustainable model.

What Congressman Ron Paul and other Libertarians generally reference as the gold standard is something called the Bretton Woods System. In this system, which took effect in 1945, other countries fixed their exchange rate to the United States and we promised to maintain the price of gold at $35 an ounce. Thus gold was no longer a commodity to be bought and sold which would inevitable lead to price fluctuations. Gold was largely never a commodity but simply money itself. I always cringe when someone talks about the intrinsic value of gold. It has little.

But at its heart the Bretton Woods System merely fixes the price of gold at $35 an ounce and other nations agree to keep their own exchange rate equal to that of the United States.

There are good arguments as to advantages and disadvantages of the Bretton Woods system.

President Nixon abolished the already faltering Bretton Woods system in 1971. There were good reasons for this and a lengthy perusal of the Bretton Woods article is worthwhile.

Looking back with the knowledge of the current economic crisis it seems that one of the best things the system did was prevent huge deficit spending. In 1970 the U.S. debt was about 370 billion dollars. In 2010 it stood at 13.5 trillion dollars. There are a lot of ways to parse that including as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product but I won’t delve into that little debate. What is clear, I think, is that the departure from the Bretton Woods System clearly precipitated vast deficit expenditures.

One of the major negatives with gold as an economic standard is its relatively fixed quantity. Thus, as a nation needs more money, for whatever reason, there is none to spend. This crimps economic growth and limits the ability of lending institutions. How many of you would have a house, a car, or much of anything without loans in one form or another?

So, I hope this makes a murky subject slightly more clear. As always, let me know what you think in the comments section!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Five Star Reviews … Maybe

I just finished reading a fascinating article about marketing in the internet age. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work for my company about internet marketing and the article caught my eye.

Basically the idea is that a retailer gives you an online credit for your purchase if you give the product a good review. As companies learn the power of the internet and positive reviews this sort of thing was inevitable and it’s actually been going on in one form or another a for quite a while already.

There are a variety of methods including writers offering their services for positive reviews and companies aggressively reposting positive reviews. Unethical marketing practices date back to the beginning of time, most likely, and people will always look to tilt the scale in their favor.

The reason I bring this up today is to talk about the government’s role in protecting us from such tactics. I think it’s fair to say that unethical marketing can have an extremely negative effect on the market and work to erode capitalism from within. Let’s say a group of companies price-fix products or a price-war drives out the competition leaving a sole provider of a product who can then set the price as they choose.

So, I’m not a fundamentalist libertarian that thinks the government should have no role in this matter and it is up to the people to figure out for themselves what is best. But, I’m also of the opinion that there is no possible way to make every deceptive marketing practice illegal. That just creates a maze of regulation and hurdles for companies to overcome that in the long run can hurt the free market as much as the activities they are designed to prevent.

Where does that leave me then? Well, we have to write a good law that broadly prohibits unfair marketing practices and then arm the regulators with investigative power and punishments with teeth. Easier said than done but I think it’s the only method to allow a fair playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity to market their product. This allows the consumers to pick the product they want the most which is the driving force that allows capitalism to be successful. When unfair practices pervert the field then capitalism is subverted. I could talk more about how the government has become a purveyor of promoting the businesses that contribute the most to their campaigns but I’ll save that for another blog.

So, what sort of law would I write to make the internet marketing field fair?

Something like this: “No one shall promote a product by whose sale they benefit, nor pay or otherwise recompense anyone else to do so, without noting their relationship with the aforementioned product.”

Probably not perfect and I could do better if I spent more than five minutes on it but basically it just prevents anyone from promoting something they stand to profit by without noting it. You can’t post a positive review or encourage anyone else to do so without noting it. You want to give five-star reviewers a discount, fine, you have to mention the discount in the product description. A little burdensome but I don’t think too much.

Tell me where I’ve slipped up!

Tom
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

St. Louis Rams Football Fortunes

I’ve been blogging about critical thinking, disasters, personal responsibility, and other topics the last couple of days so I thought I’d take on something important this time … my beloved St. Louis Rams!

You can stop laughing now … no … I’m serious … this isn’t a joke … that is to say the blog isn’t a joke … the Rams … we’ll I’ve heard them called worse than a joke.

We fired yet another coach and now in St. Louis the debate begins. Is the new coach any good? Are the coordinators any good? Who will they draft with the second pick? Should they trade it for more picks?

I love sports and I truly enjoy the endless speculation that it engenders. Did the manager make the right move? Who is to blame for the loss? The only thing I don’t like this the mean spirited attacks against a particular coach or player but I’ll save that for a blog about why some people enjoy being filled with hate. For this blog I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

We’ve had a bad run of it here with the Rams the last five years with only the memories of the Greatest Show on Turf years to sustain us through the dark days. Coach Vermeil retired after the Super Bowl year and things were okay for a while under Coach Martz but soon everything fell apart in an ugly way.

So, what do I think about the new hire and our prospects for the future. I’m optimistic. I think the team was better than they played last year but a brutal schedule (most difficult in the NFL, six games more difficult than the next most) and a good number of injuries really piled up on them. No excuses, we weren’t a good team.

I think that’s what I love most about sports. We can spin why were good or how we got unlucky but the bottom line is the result. No one gives us a win because our father runs the company, no one puts a few more points on the board because of a little misfortune. You win and you lose and that’s determined in a quantitative fashion. If you have more points you win. If you don’t, you lose. So, we got more yards than our opponents, held the ball longer, outplayed them, none of it matters and that is one of brutal beauties of sport.

I hope for the best with my Rams, yes, “my Rams”, that’s the way I feel about it. They are my team, rain or shine, and I’ll root for them unless they move to Los Angeles or London. As I said, I’m optimistic and I think we’re going to win some games next year, maybe even 9 – 7 or 10 – 6. Call me a fool, a hopeless dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Go Rams!

Tom Liberman
Sword and sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Foul Language

My friend Dora recently undertook a scientific poll (she posted on Facebook) about whether or not women are offended by being called “gal”. For some reason this brought to my mind the power of words or at least the power that we give them. Be warned, the post is going to contain some pretty vile words so if you’re easily offended, read no more.

Why are words so hurtful to us? They are just words after all, not fists and feet. First, I think we need to dismiss the idea that words are not hurtful, because they most certainly are and it is not just us “letting” them hurt us. “I hate you”, “I don’t love you anymore”, “I just used you to get what I wanted”, these are all examples of words that can be devastatingly painful and I’m sure we’ve all experienced anguish because of words in the past.

So, words can cause pain.

Words are our way of expressing ideas. The words themselves are just conglomerations of sounds but we give them meaning. So, when someone says “Go fuck yourself” it isn’t the same as “I’m a little busy right now, could you get back to me with that later.”

The person expressing the words is trying to convey meaning and foul words convey meaning quite strongly. That’s why they are so prevalent.

Nigger, Spick, Hymie, Wop, Mick, Chink, these are words used to convey hatred and they are effective. I think it’s pointless to pretend that they don’t have meaning.

Now I’m going to get to the point of this blog. I’m tired of people pretending that they are not saying vile words by using euphemisms for those words.

How many times do we hear someone say “the f-word”. Fucking hell. If you want to say “Fuck” then say “Fuck”. Don’t pretend you’re not saying “Fuck” by saying “the f-word”. It’s a way that people get to say what they want to say while pretending that they are too good to actually say it. Fuck that.

The “n-word”. It’s vile, its derogatory, it’s cruel, it harkens back to a time when one group of people enslaved another.  But, don’t say, “I never say the n-word”. Say, “Nigger is a vile term. I don’t use it except to denounce its use.”

I don’t think hiding something is a good way to educate people. Bring it into the light of day. Show what it means. Tell people what it means.

I tend not use vile words except as part of a joke. I’ll refer to myself as a Kike or Hymie not because I think it’s true but to illustrate the stupidity of the word and the idiocy of the people who use it in its proper, vile, context.

My point, I guess, we can’t pretend words don’t have meaning nor we can we be so afraid of them that we hide them away. They have meaning and strong meaning at that. Use the proper words to convey what you mean. If you mean “Fuck you” then say it. If your parents taught you manners, then say, “I’m sorry but I can’t deal with that right now.”

Tell me what you think.

Tom
Sword and sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian twist

Correcting Errors

There was an interesting, from my perspective, moment during the presidential primaries the other day that I thought was worth a more in-depth analysis. During one of Rick Santorum’s town-hall meetings a woman shouted out that President Obama was an “avowed muslim”. Who knows, the president might be a closet muslim although there seems no evidence to support this, but the statement that he is an avowed muslim is clearly false.

When asked why he let the statement go without challenging it Santorum said, “Why do you guys ask these ‘Gotcha’ questions like it’s my job to go out and correct everybody who says something I don’t agree with?”

The inference is that it is not his responsibility to correct everyone who shouts out during one of his speeches. Certainly, there are a lot of people out there who think things are true that are not and is it somehow our responsibility to correct them?

I’d like to start the discussion with a more localized examination. How many times during an average week does someone say something in a conversation that you know to be inaccurate? What percentage of the time do you correct them? Now, we’re not talking about something that might be false but something you absolutely know to be inaccurate.

I’m not sure if I’m the best judge of this because when someone says something incorrect around me I pounce like a cheetah on a wounded gazelle, it’s not pretty. I’ve been known to anger a few people over the years, just ask anyone who knows me.

It is particularly galling to me when someone who agrees with my general position says something that is factually inaccurate. I pissed off a Facebook friend under these circumstances just a few days ago. I haven’t heard from her since. Should I have stayed silent?

What do you do in those situations? What is our personal responsibility in those cases?

I think it is important that we correct the person if not immediately then shortly thereafter, privately if possible. If we don’t make the correction then they are likely to continue to spout their claims and might even convince other people of the veracity of the argument. Often they don’t know they are wrong but are simply repeating what they heard someone else say.

Now, let’s examine the situation from the position of a person running for the presidency. If I have a responsibility to correct people for relatively minor mistakes in private conversations it seems to me that is vitally important that the men and women who vie for power must be held to an even higher standard.

This topic quickly leads to the question of why politicians tell us only things we want to hear. The simple reason is that it gets them elected. That’s another conversation.

My conclusion, we must strive to be as accurate as possible in all things. I now eagerly await my mother’s grammar corrections.

Tom Liberman
Sword and sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian twist

Cruise Ship Disaster

The recent crash of the Costa Concordia is generating a large amount of coverage and rightly so although I’d like to take a look at it from a different angle.

Let’s examine the critical thinking and decision making leading up to and after the accident. We don’t have a full picture yet so I’ll have make some suppositions which might well turn out to be inaccurate.

The main factor in steering the vessel close to share, and thus danger, seems to be that the tourists enjoyed the better view. A term called Tourist Navigation. Other cruise lines gained publicity and, presumably, higher capacity ratios at least partially because of said publicity. It appears to have been common practice to steer close to shore for this reason. The liners apparently encouraged or even pressured captains to do it. The decision was based on risk/reward, or more technically, risk-return spectrum. The risk being a grounding, deaths, etcs. The reward, more money.

Naturally the world universally condemns the practice but don’t well all engage in risk/reward behavior every day? Do we cross the street against the light, run the yellow too late, etc? We take our lives into our hands for minor gain. So, was the cruise line and the captain wrong to make this decision?

I’d say it’s their right to make the decision and most often it was the correct call, but they have to pay the consequences when the risk side of the equation hits.

Now, onto the captain who didn’t warn the passengers in time and left the vessel while people were still on board. Here are some decisions that I think are more obviously based on poor critical thinking skills.

In an emergency situation it is generally a good idea to go with safety first. My building at work recently had a water leak which set off the fire alarms. It was a pretty badly burst pipe and water was running down the stairwell but no one was in immediate danger of death. Nevertheless, the alarms went off and everyone was evacuated from the building. So, why did the captain choose to downplay the risk after the grounding, which, to be fair, he might not have understood was going to cause as much damage as it did?

He likely wanted to avoid embarrassment to the cruise line if it turned out to be a false alarm and not inconvenience the passengers. If he had taken time to consider the best case scenario, a few inconvenienced passengers and the worst case sceneario, largely what played out or even more disastrous, I think the decision is clear.

As for leaving the vessel early, well, I can only assign panic to that one. As the captain of the ship he knows his responsibility without question. I’m curious as to how he thought he could disembark before everyone was off. If he was panicked then I would hope one of the other officers would remind him of his duty. I’d like to hear what they did when the captain abandoned ship.

All, in all, a terrible tragedy but an opportunity to examine the critical thinking skills of those involved. Heartfelt sympathy for the families of those who lost loved ones and to those injured in the accident. Stay strong!

Tell me what you think.

Tom
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Finnish School

My friend’s son Peter, posted an article on Facebook about how Finnish school systems are among the most elite in the world. The article focused on the Finnish goal of equity being the primary reason for their outstanding performance and ignored, I thought, the more relevant issues.

The important factor seemed to be that level of personal responsibility the teachers take on in that school system. There is no standardized testing because the teachers individually grade students. The key quote is; Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.

It took me a second to deconstruct what that meant but it turns out to be a concept directly from Ayn Rand and her objectivist point of view. The idea is that if the teachers are personally responsible for their actions then no one has to check up on their accountability.

The more I thought about it the more it I came to the conclusion that accountability is really just a word for covering my ass. If people are always responsible then we don’t have to worry if they are doing their job properly. Even if something goes wrong it was an honest mistake.

Of course, the practical application comes in trying to teach the next generation how to be personally responsible for their actions. Sadly, I don’t think the current generations is setting a particularly good example which is probably the most important factor.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery, fantasy novels with a Libertarian twist