Facebook Girls Face Felony Charges

SlanderThere was an interesting article about how two girls, aged 12 and 13, created a Facebook profile purportedly of another girl and then used it to make posts to humiliate and socially hurt the impersonated girl. The parents of the victim approached the local sheriff who conducted an investigation and learned the identity of the girls who now face felony charges.

It’s an interesting case to me for a number of reasons. I had a conversation with a buddy about a year or so ago about this sort of situation that changed my mind. At first I argued that kids bully one another frequently and as long as it doesn’t get too physically violent it is just part of life. My friend pointed out that such behavior is not well tolerated in the adult world but more importantly that cyber-bullying leaves hard evidence behind.

Typical bully behavior from when I was a child would become a situation of he said/she said with evidence hard to come by. That is no longer the situation, as we see in this case. These young girls impersonated another person, not for financial gain, but to threaten third parties, reportedly from the first person, and otherwise cause social distress.

This is not an isolated incident nor is it a phenomenon restricted to young people. Small towns are undergoing an epidemic of such behavior via a social site called Topix. It is all pretty much like vicious gossip except, and this is important, there is hard evidence left behind. Evidence means legal remedies are more likely. People hurt by gossip, their business ruined, facing social ostracism, might well have legal recourse.

What’s the resolution? You know me by now, I’m not one to stand by and complain about a situation without offering solutions.

If you plan to break laws, be prepared to accept the consequences. If you say something bad about someone that might have real negative consequences to that person then there might be repercussions. Now, as to individual cases, I think they are best settled out of court with apologies, public confessions of wrongdoing, and parental punishment. I would argue that such resolutions are better for both the girls and the victim but I don’t presume to make decisions for those negatively affected. If they want to involve the police and the courts that’s their business.

Kids need to learn lessons and so do adults. If you tell a lie about someone that is potentially libelous or slanderous you might well face your day in court. Keep that in mind.

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

Jerry Frank Townsend Case – Wrongful Conviction

Jerry TownsendI often hammer home my theme of Randian Objectivism which includes rewarding those who achieve but there is another side to that and one almost as important. Those who do wrong must be punished or at least investigated thoroughly.

A mentally retarded man named Jerry Frank Townsend was wrongfully framed by police for a crime that DNA evidence eventually exonerated him from committing. The real criminal then went on and killed ten more women and children although at least one police detective strongly suspected that person even during the original trial.

Now, I don’t want to get into how awful the situation was for the wrongly imprisoned man, or how unjust were the subsequent rapes and murders. I do want to discuss why the officers involved in the original frame-up were not thoroughly investigated and at least reprimanded.

Prosecutors claim to have looked into the case and determined that perjury cannot be proven and I’ll take them at their word but they apparently never spoke with the detectives who handled the case. Detectives who testified that Townsend led them to the murder scenes and gave them information only the killer could have known, these being clearly false statements. There is a suggestion that the detectives fabricated evidence, coerced witnesses and the defendant (who confessed to the crimes), and even withheld evidence from the defense team.

I don’t know if any of that is true but I do know that the detectives that ran the investigation should be thoroughly investigated and at the very least reprimanded although both are since retired.

What I really want to discuss is why this wasn’t thoroughly investigated and I’d love for some police officers and detectives to chime in. I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of people want to do their job properly. Police officers in particular who I have met (I’ve taught some computer classes to officers) are extremely dedicated and conscientious.  They do their difficult job and take tremendous and well-earned pride in protecting me, my family, and my friends.

Just like I know people who I’ve worked with in the past who were corrupt I’m sure that the great detectives and officers out there are well aware of the corrupt few on the job. The argument goes that we must protect the honor of the institution. That if word of such misdeeds got out that it would tarnish the reputation of the company or industry. We see this logic again and again but it is completely flawed.

If such organizations would immediately ferret out and punish wrong-doing, or if the information comes years later, still go about the business of exposing such corruption to the light of the world then their organization would not suffer, it would blossom!

When we cover-up corruption and misdeeds we simply embolden the worst among us and inhibit the best. There is nothing worse than watching an incompetent co-worker be praised for a job poorly done. It saps our own desire to succeed and destroys the organization from within.

So, as a Randian objectivist, I say to Broward County, turn the full light of investigation on these activities. If nothing comes of it then nothing comes of it. But, by hiding the misdeeds of the few we hurt the honor of the many. We must punish misdeeds and reward heroics. That is the road to success, be it a business, an army, or a police force.

Please, tell me what you think with comments!

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

Throwing my Vote Away

Throwing Vote AwayI was out and about being social last night which is unusual for me (thanks AU). While out I happened to be speaking with a pair of Republican leaning friends although the conversation would have been virtually the same with friends leaning towards Democratic candidates. I was told, once again, that I’m throwing away my vote when I cast it for Independents like Gary Johnson.

I’m not and I’ll tell you why.

The argument that I’m throwing away my vote goes pretty much like this. You’re (me) voting for someone who has no chance of winning and therefore your vote doesn’t really count.

First: all votes count as one vote regardless of who wins or loses. The winning vote doesn’t count more than the losing vote nor does the vote for a candidate who wins by a huge margin. They all count the same.

Second: I think that when I vote for Independent candidates I’m voting for the person I want to win, not the lesser of two evils.

Third:  If independent candidates start to get enough votes then they will eventually become viable candidates. If I simply vote for the lesser of the evils; evil wins and independents never gain a foothold.

Fourth (and most importantly): If you vote for President Obama or Governor Romney you are voting to destroy the United States of America. Yep. You heard me right. You are voting for a candidate who will tell you what you want to hear and continue to drive this once great country to ruin all the while.

So, don’t tell me I’m throwing my vote away because I choose to vote to return this country to glory while you choose to vote for its destruction.

I think I’ve made my point. Tell me if you agree or think I’m a pompous jerk in the comments!

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

The Sword of Water

The Sword of WaterI’ve updated the page to my fourth Sword and Sorcery novel, The Sword of Water. I’ve really been thinking about the book more than actually writing at this point and I’ve only got about 10,000 words down at this point. But, things have really come together in my mind enough that I thought I could update the page with information that might be of interest to my fans.

The Sword of Water

The novel marks the return of Jon Gray and Sorus Nightwalk from their adventures in The Staff of Sakatha. About a year has passed and they two are on the trail of yet another relic of the Old Empire. There is a Sample Chapter available but it is from the rough draft so hold the comments on typos, spelling, and grammar errors! 🙂

I hope those few who enjoy my books are happy to see that work progresses on the next installment!

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

Soda Tax – Good Idea?

Sin TaxAs the Federal government continues with their financial woes and bond rate manipulation costs state and municipality millions if not billions of dollars those entities are coming up with creative ways to tax. One of the most common and popular way to raise revenue is so-called “Sin Taxes“. One new idea coming to a city near you is to tax soda consumption.

I’m going to explore the idea of a Sin Tax and whether it is a reasonable way for municipalities to raise money for their operations. I don’t want to get too deeply into the idea of waste and government overspending but focus more on whether these taxes are useful.

The Wiki article details the proposed benefits of such taxes which include the revenue raised and the societal benefit of increased cost and the accompanying discouragement of sin. In this case the societal good is the weight loss that might be associated with reduced soda consumption and its attendant health benefits.

Sin Taxes have a long history in the United States with tobacco taxes being the most prominently known. For those of you, like me, who love history, you’ll be interested to know that Alexander Hamilton proposed the first tobacco tax back in 1794. The current federal tax is $1.01 per pack while state and even city taxes vary. In Missouri, my home state, the tax is $.17 per pack. It turns out this tax burden is far less than I was led to believe by tobacco companies and smokers in general although that is to be expected. Missouri’s tax is the lowest in the nation.

There is, in fact, a correlation between higher taxes and reduced consumption. So that part of the argument seems to be true. If the price point rises to a certain level then a segment of the population will stop using the product. However, at least one study indicate that smokers and obese people are actually less of a financial burden on the health-care system because they die much earlier than healthy people.

One of the main arguments against Sin Taxes, and proposed nationwide consumption taxation, is that they are regressive in nature. What is meant by this is that two people who smoke a pack a day are taxed equally but one is wealthy and the other poor. Thus the poor person is paying a far higher percentage of their total income. In essence the tax forces poor people to quit or bear a much higher percentage burden. This could be deemed discriminatory.

There is no doubt that companies push such tax hikes onto the consumer but that is really beside the point. Studies indicate that raising taxes on soda will generate revenue for cities and will drive down consumption. Whether that consumption rate decline will result in less obesity and medical expenses is in doubt. It is certainly the right of cities, states, and the federal government to tax.

As a Libertarian I think people should largely be allowed to make their own decisions and government shouldn’t be in the business of discouraging or encouraging personal lifestyle choices. Contrarily I also think that all people and businesses enjoy the benefits of government building and maintaining roads, bridges, sewer systems, schools, and utility infrastructure and should pay for that boon. Back to the other side, I think taxing “sin” sends a bad message. We don’t want you to do something but we’ll happily take your money for doing it.

It’s a tough question. Certainly they have the right to tax soda but is it a reasonable exercise of government power?

I have to come to the conclusion that it’s legal but I don’t like it. I like taxes to be directly related to a function of government. A gas tax should go directly to roads and bridges. A property tax should go to schools. An airline tax should go to airports and their employees. Cigarette and Soda taxes should go towards public health-care costs if they are deemed to be an expense. When all the tax dollars are mixed and mingled strange accounting starts to happen and it becomes a magnet for waste and theft. Just as a quick example; let’s imagine all the money taken for Social Security was put into safe, low-interest bearing accounts and doled out only to those who paid in. It would be fully funded and not only fiscally solvent but be running huge profits by now.

I think that is a better solution than taxing soda but it would require a large effort. An effort that is worthwhile in my opinion. Have taxes support the specific government function to which they are related. If soda costs money in health-care then the tax should be used for that purpose. I’m not convinced reducing soda consumption will reduce obesity and even if it did that such effect would lower health-care costs. Thus, I don’t think a soda tax is reasonable.

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

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

Student Sues Over Grade

gradesI spotted an interesting story on Yahoo today and I don’t have all the facts so I don’t want to go overboard with my conclusions, but it did strike a nerve with me. I’m a teacher myself and I was a rather poor student at one time. I’ll review the facts of the case first and then tell you what I think.

This young student was a straight A, honor student who had completed all his work and earned a 106% score in the class. I assume this means he did much extra-credit and honors work. This is apparently not in dispute. He had a prior committment and couldn’t attend a scheduled lab for which he was given an excused absence. The teacher and student couldn’t come together for a make-up of the lab. This missed lab apparently dropped his grade from an A+ to a C+. That seems extreme on its own but I’ll take the story at face value until I learn more.

Efforts appear to have been made through the proper channels, the teacher, the administrators, the principal, but no resolution was found and the case is now in the courts.

This whole thing is a disaster from my perspective. It never should have come to this. I can’t make completely accurate judgments because I haven’t heard the teacher or district’s full account of events but I’m going to speculate a little bit and keep in mind I might have to retract later when the story develops further.

I’ve known students like this and teachers like this.

A student overly obsessed with his grades who thinks one bad score will destroy his future. There is some truth to the idea that an overall GPA is important in getting into college but there are many other factors and top-level schools do interviews where this case could be explained. I’m not sure he was in any real danger of not getting into his top school choices.

A teacher who enjoys making students dance to puppet strings over the threat of bad grades, particularly when they know the student is obsessed. I’ve known more than one teacher who purposely gave unfair grades to students so they would come begging for changes. Sickening but true.

Let’s assume the worst. The teacher is sadistic and the student is obsessed. At what point does the administration have to step in? When does the adult have to admit to being wrong? I think before it gets to court. The administration did change the grade from a C+ to a B in an effort at reconciliation but it didn’t work.

The teacher is clearly now entrenched in her position. The student and his parents won’t quit until they’ve had a favorable outcome so we end up with a giant mess where no-one really wins. The student comes across as obsessed, the teacher as vindictive. A mess.

If the facts are true as presented I think an administrator needed to step in and insist the boy be allowed to make-up his lab and let his grade reflect that event. I’m not saying give in and grant the student an A+ but let him take the lab. How hard is that? All parties honorably let off the hook.

Give the teacher a stern talking to about such things and let her know that she is being watched. Explain to the student that one grade isn’t going to change his life. Try and settle this thing before it spirals out of control. Too late for that now but, if in the future you see such a situation developing try to intervene before both parties become so entrenched in their positions the only resolution becomes the courts. You could save a lot of heartache.

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

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

NCAA – Penn State Sanctions – Justified? Legal?

Penn State Sandusky ScandalI’ve had some time to process the penalties the NCAA meted out to Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno child molestation cover up and I’m going to blog about it now. My question is whether the NCAA has the authority and/or obligation to punish the football program in this instance.

I’m sure most of you don’t need a recap but for the sake of thoroughness I’ll go over the situation quickly. A Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of child molestation. A subsequent report indicated that people at the top-level of the football program and university hid evidence of these attacks and allowed Sandusky to continue to be associated with the university and assault other young boys for many years.

In full disclosure I will admit that I have a bias against the NCAA governing body and their rank hypocrisy in rulings against student athletes who generate billions in revenue for the various universities and gain a free college education in return. Said students are allowed no financial remuneration and are often suspended or kicked out of school for taking small gifts or selling their game jerseys. There is an excellent South Park episode about this particular topic worth watching.

Back to the topic at hand, does the NCAA have the right to punish Penn State in this case? A perusal of the NCAA Manual seems to indicate the organization has pretty much the right to do whatever it wants, for whatever reason, to any member school.

I can tell you that likely every university in the country has had a sex scandal covered up by someone. Trust me, the list through the link is nothing. I went to college at the University of Idaho and there was sex between coaches and athletes plenty. There was money changing hands under the table plenty. This wasn’t even a major university. I’m sure a few readers can chime in with comments about their own experience. My point isn’t that such activities are normal and fine, my point is where does the NCAA get the right to choose which acts they will punish and which they will ignore?

From the other perspective, the events at Penn State are particularly vile and the cover-up truly disgusting by any standard. If the NCAA is supposed to govern these organizations then don’t they have not only a right, but an absolute duty, to bring down powerful penalties against the school?

The penalty handed down certainly affect most greatly those completely uninvolved in the incident but can the NCAA simply use that as an excuse to not penalize? For the most part the NCAA finds out about violations after the parties involved have moved on. Do they not have to penalize the organization as a whole in order to try to force others to follow the rules?

It’s a difficult question to answer but I’m not one to shy away.

I think the NCAA is out-of-bounds on this one because the activity in question really had nothing to do with their governing authority. The NCAA is not responsible for a coach who commits vehicular manslaughter, rape, or shop-lifting. Those are illegal act and subject to the laws of the state. The NCAA hands down penalties for recruiting violations which are not illegal, just against the NCAA regulations. This is their venue.

Sandusky is in prison where he belongs. Joe Paterno’s legacy is destroyed, which it should be. The others involved in this horrific incident will soon face their day in court. It’s just not the NCAA’s job to punish this crime. By claiming that they have the right to do so they are taking on far more responsibility than to which they are legally entitled, in my opinion at least. A number of entities punished in this ruling might well have legal recourse against the NCAA and we will see how all that plays out over the coming months and years.

I think the NCAA will rue the day they decided to get involved in this case when more criminal misconduct cases arise and they are forced to make rulings on events to which they should not be involved.

I don’t think my opinion will be too popular and I welcome those who would disagree! Tell me in the comments.

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

Pay Congress Minimum Wage – Good Idea?

Congress Minimum WageOne of my prolific Facebook posting friends recently posted a photo declaring that US Congress members should be paid at minimum wage. My first thought was it was a rather idealistic but silly idea but then I decided, what the heck, I’ll take a rational, Randian Objectivist look at it.

My first goal was to find the actual savings in real dollars. There isn’t an exact savings because the number of hours in a year fluctuates depending on how many weekend days there are and leap years but the formula looks basically like this:

Current Pay: (530 * 174,000) + (4 * 193,4000) + (1 * 223,000) = $93.2 million.

The breakdown is 432 House Members and 98 Senators at regular pay, Majority and Minority leaders at 193,400 and Speaker of House at 223,000.

Minimum Wage Pay: ($7.25 * 2088 * 535) = $8.0 million.

The Breakdown is all 535 paid for 2088 hours of a work in a fairly average year at the federal minimum wage. States have different minimum but I went with federal.

Savings: 93.2 – 8 = $85.2 million.

As a percentage of the 2011 budget this is (85.2 million / 3.7 trillion) = .0023%

So, the actual savings, negligible, although I’m not one to completely discount $85 million even if it is .0023% of a larger total. It’s still $85 million!

Now, as to the practical aspects of the idea. First the perceived cons:

  1. Only wealthy people could run for Congress as living on that salary would be extremely difficult.
  2. It would open up Congress members to bribery as they needed the money.
  3. It isn’t any real savings to the federal budget.

The perceived benefits:

  1. Saves $85.2 million in real dollars.
  2. Would attract only those who wanted to serve rather than those in it for the money

The cons seem to outweigh the pros at first glance but I’m not so sure. No one can run for Congress without financial backing anymore and the perks of being a Congress member, in the form of benefits given by lobbyist, far outweigh their simple salary remuneration. Congress members are already are bribed by lobbyist in the way of campaign contributions so I don’t think lowering the salary stops who can run or their susceptibility to bribes in any appreciable fashion.

The Supreme Court has ruled that anyone can anonymously give any amount to a campaign. Congress members will, until that decision changes, be completely at the whim of special interests in order to get elected. Once elected they might go against their financial backers but eventually such strong-willed individuals would be weeded out of the electoral process because they would get no financial backing the next election. Only those willing to do the bidding of the highest bidder would get elected.

The illusion of financial independence is simply that, an illusion. Our Congress Members are bought and owned by those who pay the campaign bills.

Having looked at it from this perspective I’d have to say, yeah, pay them minimum wage and save a small fraction of the federal budget but in examining it I realized something very interesting although off-topic.

I have an idea!!

The original the House of Representatives was to have one representative for every 30,000 citizens (Native Americans didn’t count and only 3 out of every 5 slaves counted). This has gone up with the increased population so that now we have one representative for every 700,000 citizens. If we went back to the original proportions we would have a Congress of about 10,000 members (300 million total citizens / 30,000).

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we do have 10,100 representatives (100 senators added). At minimum wage that is about $153 million in salary or an increase in $60 million from current expenses but …. they work from home! No staff. Each one represents a much smaller district and has less influence, huge decrease in the cost to get elected, and less individual power so that lobbyist must spread their money very differently. It might even be impossible for a lobbyist to bribe enough Congressmen to get legislation passed.

There would have to be some serious reorganization in regards to committees but with the speed of computers I don’t see this as impossible. Voting is easily done with computers. It makes it much harder to play the You Scratch My Back game. It makes representatives much more accountable to their districts.

It does leave the Senate as a beacon for bribery and misconduct but with their six-year election cycle they’ve always been a bit more independent.

I think it might actually work to remove corruption from the cycle and I’m convinced that the reduction in staffing, housing, travel, and the rest would end up saving more than $85 million!

Am I crazy? Could this work? Tell me in the comments.

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

Senator John McCain – The President He Could Have Been

John McCainThere was a wonderful article about Senator McCain today and I just can’t help a welling up of sadness in my heart. This was the John McCain who could have been President of the United States. A man who has dedicated his life to serving the United States of American. A man of conviction, a man of courage, a man of moral integrity. A man who would make the right decision even if it meant going against his political allies. A man who could have led this country back to the light.

Then, he decided he wanted to get elected and threw it all away. He sold his ethical outlook to collect money. He spat out vile lies and attacks to get votes. He picked a running mate not out of moral conviction but of political expediency.

This man, this senator, this warrior is an absolute bell-weather indicator of what is horribly wrong in the United States of America. He needed the religious vote so he turned against his own standards in an attempt to climb to the presidency. Governor George Bush and his hatchet man Karl Rove taught McCain that he couldn’t run on his moral conviction. They attacked his military record, they called him crazy, they used every dirty trick in the book and they won. McCain learned well that game. Meanwhile the country and the world loses.

Oh, the horror, the horror.

If you love your country, please, please, vote for men and women of conviction even if they tell you things you don’t like. If they go against their party standards and fight for what is right, vote for them! It’s not too late even in this election cycle. Look up Gary Johnson. But, more importantly, look at your district, your state senator, your local mayor, your county dog-catcher. Vote for the candidates that gives you realistic answers. Don’t vote for anyone who tells you that his opponent will destroy the country. Don’t vote for anyone who tells each new audience exactly what they want to hear.

Better yet, run yourself. School board, assembly-person, whatever. But don’t sell your convictions on any issues! Never give in to expediency. State your case, tell it plain, and if the voters want to bring change, you’ll win. If not, it’s hopeless and you sold your convictions for nothing.

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

Cyborg Olympian

Oscar PistoriousThe 2012 London Olympics are fast approaching and there is a fascinating situation unfolding. A South African by the name of Oscar Pistorious is being allowed to compete in the sprint competitions. Being allowed? Yep, he’s a cyborg! His legs were amputated at a young age and he uses artificial devices called blades in their place.

This is interesting because it won’t be long before athletes such as Pistorious are defeating their human counterparts with regularity. It wasn’t that long ago that a chess computer first beat a master but now they present a huge problem with the potential to cheat in chess competitions. Chess computers are better than human players.

It doesn’t take much extrapolation to realize that engineering technology will soon make legs capable of more efficient movement than human legs, arms stronger than human arms, and hands steadier than human hands. What does this mean for competition? It means that men and women with artificial attachments will defeat those who are completely human. Eventually but not immediately on the horizon are artificial implants wherein someone might have enhanced engineering but pass themselves off as completely “natural”.

Whether to allow such artificially enhanced humans into competitions is but one question we must face. Imagine a world where your child cannot compete for a job without artificial enhancements. Imagine a world where genetic engineering manufactures smarter, faster, better, people. There is an interesting movie called Gattica worth a watch but I’m going to dial this one away from science fiction and into science reality.

Oscar Pistorious. Should he be allowed to compete in the Olympics against people without engineering enhancements? The Olympic committees says yes now, but the problem is only going to become more severe in years to come. I’m going to agree with the Olympic committee which argues that the technology, as it exists today, is no better than human legs and therefore he has no advantage. However, it’s clear to me that this issue will soon be resolved in the other direction and engineering will provide an advantage. At that point I’m not sure what can be done. Amputee athletes will want to compete not just in the Olympics but in leagues for children all the way up to and including professional sports. Is it right to deny them the joy of competition? I don’t think so, but each one of them will replace another competitor, one who is not enhanced. Will we see young athletes opting to amputate their legs for the sheer purpose of getting better ones? It’s not so far-fetched as you might imagine.

I’m afraid I offer little in the way of resolution to this issue. People will always want to better themselves and trying to legislate against human nature is an exercise in futility. Brace yourselves for what is not too far in the future.

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

Why Throwing Tomatoes at Hillary Clinton is Good (not why you think)

TomatoSecretary of State Clinton paid a visit to Egypt the other day and was greeted by protestors some of whom threw tomatoes and shoes at her caravan as she drove past. At issue was the United States supposed support for the Muslim Brotherhood during the recent Egyptian elections.

I’ve noticed that Clinton seems to engender a lot of anger, maybe you’ve noticed the same thing?

The main group protesting Clinton’s visit were minority Egyptians including Christians who make up about 1% of the population. They are justifiably concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood might try to impose religious Sharia Law on them after years of relative secularism under the previous regime.

Hosni Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat ruled Egypt through the military and brutally suppressing dissidents but largely, after the peace treaty of 1979 ended the Isreal-Egypt war, were allies of the United States and allowed religious freedom although the judicial system includes a number of Sharia elements.

I’m a little divergent from my main topic here but now I’ll get to the point. During previous regimes if a protestor was to throw tomatoes or shoes at one of the dictatorial officials there was every chance they would be arrested, tortured, and even murdered while in prison. That’s what dictators do when they have absolute power.

The fact that dissidents were allowed to protest, not even completely peacefully, without facing arrest and incarceration is a huge step in the right direction. Any freedom loving government not only must tolerate protest and voices against the current regime but they must embrace them! This is the essence of free society and the heart of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The First Amendment, among other things, guarantees that people can speak out against the government without fear of arrest (Freedom of Speech) and can assemble peacefully to protest said government without fear of prosecution (Right to Peaceably Assemble). That we see these principles in Egypt is a great sign although it certainly doesn’t guarantee anything in the future.

A representative republic is a messy form of government where people are allowed, I would say encouraged, to protest peacefully and speak out against the current government without resorting to violence. This ability means that voices of change are not suppressed, that real ideas enter the mix, and that people are not eventually incited to violent rebellion because they are legally prevented from expressing said ideas.

So, I say to the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsy, well done. Good start. Keep it up! The Arab world is watching and you have the opportunity to lead it away from its current horrific violence and terrorist nature. Don’t be afraid of dissent. Embrace it! You can change the Arab world from one of violence and hate to one where people can go about their business, raise a family, hold a job, go to the beach, and otherwise lead their lives without trying to kill one another and their perceived enemies.

I would say to Americans as well, dissent is good. Disagree with President Obama, fine. Disagree with President Bush during a time of war or any other time, tell us about it. Anyone who says, “America, love it or leave it” doesn’t understand America.

I suggest, don’t throw things, don’t shout down opposition, express your grievances like a civilized adult, show respect for elected officials, but never stop disagreeing.

Tell me what you think in the comments!

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

Abused Students Sue School District – Paul Chapel Case

AccusationThere’s a horrendous case making its way through the court system and I suspect you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming months. An elementary school teacher named Paul Chapel was accused of lewd acts against children and suspended. At issue is that Chapel was previously accused of such crimes and that the school district should not have hired him. Two of his former students are suing the School District for not considering his previous record and hiring him in the first place.

That’s where the case takes an interesting turn from a societal aspect. In the original case the jury was unable to reach a verdict and Chapel was released. There is a third case as well where Chapel showed a sexually explicit video and made inappropriate remarks to students. He lost that civil case and paid the plaintiffs.

Now, if a person is accused of crime but not convicted is it fair or even legal to refuse to employ them for another job? That’s the crux of the lawsuit filed by the abused former students. Is Paul Chapel facing his date in court now, yes. Is Paul Chapel very likely a filthy scumbag, yes. If someone has been accused of say, robbing a bank, is it really necessary that a bank employ that person in the future?

There are a number of cases of people being wrongly accused and it ruining their lives. It’s a really difficult situation made even worse in this case because the crime so horribly affects other people. Wikipedia suggests that between 2% and 10% of all sexual abuse accusations are false. This seems to occur largely in custody situations when a parent is convinced abuse occurred and “coaches” the child who originally denied such activity.

Many of you may remember a panic about satanic abuse a few years back. A now discredited psychologist’s report about satanic abuse led to the McMartin case. I won’t go into details but please take a look. I’m just trying to display how someone’s life can be destroyed through false accusations and asking whether the school district would have been unfair to deny Chapel a job when he was not convicted of a crime.

This case puts a terrible burden on employers. If a prospective employee has been accused, but not convicted, of a crime and they hire that person who then commits a similar crime, are they liable? If so, they certainly must not hire the person. But, by not hiring someone who was never convicted of a crime is that person’s livelihood being taken from them unjustly thus presenting more legal avenues?

It’s a really tough one considering the nature of the crime but I have to come to the conclusion the school district is not liable. The civil case in which Chapel was found guilty muddies the water even further. I would say that a district could easily refuse employment because of that situation but perhaps Chapel convincingly apologized, claimed religious salvation, admitted to a terrible mistake and promised never to do anything like it again. I don’t know the details but all that seems plausible.

As a society we must try to remember that false accusations occur and that people so tainted should be treated fairly. If we don’t then we simply encourage false accusations by people with an agenda against the accused. It happens all too often. We see a similar phenomenon in politics where once leveled, charges remain in voters minds regardless of their veracity. That’s fodder for another day.

This is a brutal one and I’d love to hear other people’s opinion. Let me know in the comments.

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

Yoga Teacher Fired – Texting Student

YogaThere is a relatively small situation all over the news lately that I find endlessly interesting and worthy of discussion. A yoga teacher in San Francisco was fired from her position at the Facebook campus two weeks after giving a dirty look to a student who was texting in class. This is interesting to me for several reasons.

I take yoga classes, I’m big technology guy, I’m a teacher, and I’m a heavy user of social media. My good friend’s wife is the Social Media director at Siemans and I’m interested to see what she thinks about this case. I think it brings up several incredibly interesting points.

To start with I noticed the heavy preponderance of comments sided with the yoga teacher in question. They ran the gamut from suggesting lawsuits to vilifying the texter and I’d say it was about 50 – 1 against the firing. I’m going the other way on this one and I’ll tell you why.

As a teacher of adults I fully understand that the paying students are in my class on their time. They could be doing a lot of things but chose to pay money to take instruction from me. I think this is a fundamentally different situation from a primary school teacher whose students are children. Generally when a phone rings during class, my reaction is to tell the student that it’s not a problem. If they have to take care of business step outside and I’ll catch them up on the material when they return.

When I see students texting or checking their email during class I simply ignore it. These are adults with real jobs and in modern society jobs are not 9 – 5 anymore. It’s likely that my students are going to get important emails, texts, and phone calls during my class. These important work related items must be dealt with and are, in the big scheme of things, far more important than my class.

What’s not at issue here is that it was a ringing phone. Ringing phones can be a distraction at any sort of public gathering because they intrude on the other people. In this case the yoga student was answering a text. In yoga class a ringing phone is an issue because it takes focus away from the pose at hand. A text, on the other hand, is a quiet activity that is largely not distracting. I would equate it to a student who during a strenuous pose decides to move to a rest position. It’s not what everyone else in class is doing but it’s not disruptive in any way.

I also have an issue with the teacher giving the student a disapproving look. Again, we are adults here. I think the best way to handle a disruptive situation, which I don’t think this rose to a level of being, is to tell the student you understand work is important and to please take care of it outside.

In this particular instance it was to a group of Facebook employees! To be surprised and annoyed that they might be texting during class seems not particularly thoughtful to me.

Of course, it’s possible that the yoga teacher in question was not a good teacher for other reasons but that’s not really the question in this case. Maybe she was a great teacher. I just don’t think publicly chastising an adult student in a class is generally a good plan. There are certainly times when disruptive behavior must be dealt with but I’m of the opinion that this case did not come anywhere near that line.

Should she have been fired? Not if this was a one time incident, in my opinion. I think a quick session in which it was explained to the instructor that her Facebook students get important texts and will be dealing with them is part of the class. Communication!

What do you think? Was the yoga teacher perfectly reasonable? Was she unreasonable? Tell me in the comments!

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

Afghanistan Adultery Murder – The Bible

stoningA lot of people are up in arms about the execution of a woman in Afghanistan. As is my want I’m not going to go after an easy target. The people who would do this are vile. We all agree. Let’s take a look at the mentality that justifies such acts.

Old Testament

Leviticus 20:10 – If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Deut. 22:23 – If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her.

Deut. 22:24 – Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

The Reported Words of Jesus

Matthew 5:28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:32 – But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.


Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat 2 – The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.

Interestingly I had been badly misled about adultery cases. To be convicted of adultery the accused woman must be testified against by four witnesses who saw the act in question. I had alway heard that the woman had to produce four witnesses to prove she was raped but it is, in fact, the other way around. If four witnesses don’t confirm the original accusation the accusers is to be whipped.

Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat 4-5 – And those who accuse free women then do not bring four witnesses, flog them, (giving) eighty stripes, and do not admit any evidence from them ever; and these it is that are the transgressors.Except those who repent after this and act aright, for surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The religious case against adultery is clear. It is evil and wrong and punishable by stoning in Jewish/Christian faith and whipping or stoning in Islamic faith. And, according to Jesus, if you look at a woman with lust you have committed adultery in your heart. Not a lot of wiggle room there.

Of course, this is madness. Few, if any, Christians agree with the punishment although almost all agree that it is a crime; despite often being flagrant violators of it.

The biggest issues comes with literalism as contrasted with Biblical Criticism. Basically you either believe the bible or quran is the absolutely literal truth or believe it is in need of interpretation according to the times.

Literalism is most closely associated with Evangelical Christians in the United States and proponents of Sharia law amongst Muslims.

If the words of the holy book are literal truths and adultery, even looking lustfully at a woman, is a capital offense there seems to be only one solution. Kill all men, except the gay ones, oh wait, gotta kill them too!

This is one reason I’m proud to stand in front of any group and proclaim that my faith is in the Constitution of the United States. That the holy books were written by people. That I am an Atheist. There is no god and certainly the exact words of the supposed god and saviors are unmitigated insanity. There are others who think differently. Some of those others kill women for the crime of adultery.

Where to you stand? Let me know in the comments.

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

Science is good and so is the Higgs Boson

Higgs BosonThere was some fairly momentous news in the scientific community last week in regards to a sub-atomic particle called the Higgs Boson. It won’t be too difficult for you to find out more about this particle on your own but the purpose of my blog today is to speak to the topic of scientific endeavor and why it is such a good thing.

Lately when I read an article about scientific topics the comments tend to be filled with Luddite remarks about the practical worthlessness of research, generally from Republican based sources, or about how we could better spend the money helping people, generally from Democrat based sources. Not that the criticism is consistently from one side or the other. I just think that these sorts of advancements are crucially more important to society and my life than just about anything else. Yet, it seems, the majority of people in the United States are against funding research of this nature for one reason or another.

First off I will quickly mention something called Particle Accelerators. Not what they do but what damage a failure to appreciate this sort of research did to the United States. Many of the most amazing discoveries, scientific advancements, and great minds of the world are gathering at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It was built for 7.5 billion Euros (about 5 billion dollars depending on currency exchange rates). Sadly, a much larger collider, the Superconducting Super Collider which was scheduled to be built in the United States was cancelled in 1993. It was estimated it would cost $4.4 billion originally but costs spiraled to $12 billion by the time of cancellation.

Now, spiraling costs and mismanagement are terrible things and good project management is necessary. Congress, with a Democratic majority in both houses and against President Clinton’s advice, cancelled the program in a cost cutting move. For those interested Republicans were solidly for cancelling (about 70%) while democrats were moderately for keeping funding (53%) All the work currently being done in Europe, collecting the great scientific minds of our generation, is being done in Switzerland. Good for the Swiss, not good for the United States.

In our current financial mess other scientific programs, technological advancements, and varied other projects will be lost. The cost of all these losses is incalculable.

But, back to my topic, why is science so good?

Computer science was the main stimulus behind the huge economic boom of the 1980’s. What a few people accomplished brought comfort, profit, jobs, ideas, health, and other things to more people than can be imagined. Abundant, sustainable energy technology will drive huge profits and change the world but a lot of the research is happening outside the US. Not that I’m all gloom and doom. Key players continue to drive the US forward in this field and others. All is certainly not lost.

What disturbs me is the seeming increase in the view that scientific research is a waste of money and time. Just take a second to look around you at what science has provided. The fibers in your clothes, electronics, electricity, computers, your mattress, your vehicle, your eyesight, your health, there really isn’t a moment of your day when science hasn’t brought you comfort and ease. In a representative republic if the people think science is a waste of time so will government officials. And we are headed in that direction.

Sure, some projects don’t work out. And managers need to watch costs to keep things in line. But when we devalue science in the United States we hurt only ourselves.

If you wonder why such a momentous scientific event like the confirmation of the Higgs Boson happened in Switzerland then remember the Superconducting Super Collider. I can’t tell you exactly why confirming the Higgs Boson is so good for you but I know this, it is.

Science = good.

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

Baseball All-Star Game Selection Flap

LaRussa BakerThe feud between Dusty Baker and whatever team he manages and Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis Cardinals reached new levels of animosity when Baker accused LaRussa of leaving several Cincinnati Reds players off the All-Star team because of previous incidents having nothing to do with baseball.

I’ve got a take on it I haven’t heard yet from the various factions but first lets cover the dispute.

The two managers have a long-standing feud from their many year association with one another. There was an ugly brawl between the two teams in which one of the principles involved kicked backup catcher Jason LaRue in the head and ended his career and also spiked ace starter Chris Carpenter in the back leaving long scratch marks.

Baker and Johnny Cueto blame the brawl for LaRussa leaving both Cueto and second baseman Brandon Phillips off the team. The brawl was precipitated by Phillips calling the Cardinals players “little bitches” and saying that he hated them. The next time the two teams met Phillips tapped catcher Yadier Molina’s shin guard with his bat in a friendly greeting. Molina took exception and the brawl began.

LaRussa argues that Phillips and Cueto were in the mix but both were left off for reason unrelated to the brawl. Cueto was scheduled to pitch the Sunday before the All-Star game and thus unlikely to be able to pitch more than an inning in the actual game. Phillips has good numbers but was not voted in as the top second baseman and the presence of another second baseman based on fan votes precluded a third second baseman being on the roster.

Baker, Cueto, Joey Votto and other Red’s players, Phillips has remained silent on the subject, believe the players should be chosen simply based on their play on the field.

Here’s my opinion.

The manager should pick players he thinks are best for the team and no one else has any say. Anyone who claims they have more say than the manager is dead wrong. If LaRussa hates Cueto for ending the career of his backup catcher then he should leave him off the roster. It’s LaRussa’s decision. He’s the manager. LaRussa doesn’t need to claim that Cueto was pitching on Sunday. He could just say, “Cueto’s a punk. I hate him. I don’t want him on my team. Screw him,” and I would say fine. Just as if Dusty Baker and the Reds win the World Series this year then next year Baker could choose to leave off any Cardinal he wanted. He’s the manager!

LaRussa could say to Phillips, “Who’s the little bitch now,” and I wouldn’t care. Baker could say, “Molina is a punk and I’ll never select him to my team.” It’s the managers decision.

In all fairness I’m from St. Louis and Cueto’s kicking of Carpenter and LaRue bothers me to this day. He’s a nasty piece of work but a good pitcher. Still, if this went the other way I’d be consistent. It’s the manager’s decision. Final. Done.

What do you think?

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

Wrong Vote in Fracking Legislation

Voting ButtonsThere was an interesting incident in North Carolina when a legislator accidentally pushed the wrong voting button and overturned a veto by the governor. Unlike the article comments I don’t intend to debate the technology dubbed fracking. I want to talk about why the vote was ruled unchangeable.

In North Carolina it is permissible to change a vote after the final tally but not when said vote is the deciding one. At first I thought how stupid is that? You can change a vote except when it is most important? Then, being the good Randian critical thinker that I am, I sat down and tried to figure out why there would be such a rule.

It only took me a few seconds to understand the concept. Let’s say there is some legislation that is basically good but negatively impacts a particular representative’s district. Then that representative can vote against it so as to tell their constituents as a campaigning point. But, if that vote decides the issue they might think twice and change their vote so as to pass legislation with which they agree.

I pressed the wrong button might really mean, oh, didn’t realize my vote was going to be the decider, better change it. Once one vote swings the outcome then all of a sudden other legislators might say, oops, I voted wrong also and push it back the other way. A never-ending mess is created.

So, in this case, I think the North Carolina legislator has to stick to its rules.

I will note that the politician in question owned up to the mistake and understands the rules. She asked to change it, was denied, and is now moving on. Good for her. There will be more votes, lesson learned.

It’s sometimes amazing how a little bit of critical thinking can completely change one’s original reaction to an event. My current view is exactly the opposite of what I thought at first.

Don’t lock into a position! Think it through critically. You might be surprised what you end up deciding.

[polldaddy poll=6365319]

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

Brilliant Man – Miserable Manager

ManagementI just read a fascinating article about how the supervisory general on the Missile Defense Agency was a poor manager. I don’t want to spend time talking about this particular case, the missile defense system, military leaders, or the military as a whole. I want to discuss what makes a good manager and why.

This is an incredibly important topic because it is through leadership or management that a group of people comes together and completes a project. Good leadership can change the world whereas poor management can squander potential genius.

The concepts of management are not firmly set and there are different ideas about the appropriate way to lead a team but there are some general ideas that seem to be tested and true. I’d recommend a thorough perusal of the Wiki Article on the topic but I’ll try to tie it together quickly here.

In history a management style that saw much popularity was proposed by Niccolò Machiavelli who wrote the The PrinceHe recommends fear as a way to maintain control. I think this view is essentially wrong but the popularity of it remains today. One of the main reasons I think it is wrong is that in a free society people are not enslaved to their jobs. When trying to motivate slaves, serfs, or a people otherwise under complete domination; fear is incredibly important in maintaining control. But, for most of the western world, this system is not applicable.

A more modern, and better, look at the idea of management comes from Adam Smith and his book The Wealth of Nations. Here the idea is proper use of resources, using best processes, quality control, and things of this nature.

In the 21st Century the concept has changed even more in that even at the lowest level of employment people have the ability to communicate their ideas effectively. We have instant communication from blogs, tweets, instant messages, email, phone communication, etc. Modern businesses are taking advantage of these tools to listen to their employees from the bottom up. This empowers the employee in meaningful ways and changes the dynamics of the management situation irreversibly.

This topic is insanely complex but I want to stress some ideas that I think can help with management situations like those mentioned in the article. The general in question clearly subscribed to the Machiavellian philosophy. Bring out the best in your team by berating them. Tear them down and build them back up. It’s a philosophy that is not without merit but I think in modern society it’s bad idea. People are too empowered now.

I’m not saying that the boss should be everyone’s friend, or shouldn’t berate someone for poor effort, but I am saying that it’s a bad managerial philosophy.

I’ve had long discussions with my friends in management, Bob and Jeff primarily but others as well, and the idea of a manager is relatively simple. A manager needs to find a way to put each member of his or her team in the best position to succeed. It’s not easy. There are strongly motivated, highly talented people, and those with less motivation and talent. The manager needs to identify each team member and find a way to maximize their effort. Some employees respond well to negative feedback while others only respond to encouragement.

The topic is way too complex to get into real details but I’d like to lay out what I think makes a good manager.

  • A good manager understands the motivations and skills of each team member.
  • A good manager includes everyone on the team and encourages an open atmosphere where all feel able to contribute. This open atmosphere of equal contribution is at odds with the Machiavellian style.
  • A good manager knows the limits of each team member and tempers expectations accordingly.
  • A good manager understands the goal of the project.
  • A good manager sets forth processes from the beginning although is willing to alter them in accordance with actual results.
  • A good manager listens to all ideas but isn’t afraid to make a decision even if someone loses out.
  • A good manager must reward good work and not reward bad. When the bad workers gets the same reward as good workers moral drops. I’m not a huge fan of “punishing” bad work. If you have to fire someone, then fire them.

That’s a simple list I suppose but I think good management is absolutely essential from the simplest to the most complex projects. I have had some great managers over the years and did my best work in environments they created.

In the article they list a lot of quotes from disgruntled people who worked under the general in question but one really stood out for me.

Not the command climate I would have set

What I love about this comment is that it clearly comes from an employee who understands loyalty. They express dissatisfaction without personal insults. The person who said this understands management and leadership. I hope whoever it was finds themselves in a command position soon.

Do you have any great boss stories? I’d like to focus on good bosses rather than bad ones. Tell your story in the comments below.

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

P.S. To my United States audience, Happy Independence Day! Barbecue anyone?

Movie Monday – The Right Stuff

The Right StuffI’m keeping the momentum going on my Movie Monday series with a look at one of my all-time favorites, The Right Stuff. The movie is based on a book by Tom Wolfe that is historical fictional written about the Project Mercury Space Program of the 1960’s. Interestingly Wolfe has said the didn’t particularly like the film but I suspect that happens in the transition between novel and screenplay fairly frequently. They are different mediums and changes must inevitably occurs.

Let’s get back to why the movie is so darn good, at least from my perspective. One of the major themes of the movie is the fight between practicality and blind courage. The astronauts and test pilots are portrayed as both brave and moderately reckless whereas the engineers and politicians are more calculating and careful. Generally courage is portrayed in a more flattering light but the line about what makes the planes fly being “funding” rings true. I think both are necessary components to greatness.

The other beautifully portrayed theme is between the Mercury astronauts and Chuck Yeager who was not chosen for the program because of his lack of a college education. Yeager and the test pilots laugh at the foolish astronauts who have no control but are simply along for the ride but in the end the courage of both groups is aptly displayed.

The flying scenes, particularly Yeager in his attempt at breaking the altitude record, are spectacular and the moment when he goes for the height record and sees the upper atmosphere and stars is truly wonderful. Left out of Mercury … so close and yet so far.

For me the greatness of the movie is the competition between the astronauts as they fight to be the first American in space  (lest we never forget, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space) and that between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they fight their own battles.

These proud men compete with one another with all their skills and because of this emerge winners one and all. That is a life lesson that we seem to have forgotten here in a United States where winning is the only thing.

I would urge everyone to compete with sportsmanship as hard as they can and find victory in the effort regardless of the final outcome. Somehow winning has become more important than playing fairly. It is ok to cheat as long as you aren’t caught. It’s ok to foul someone going in for the winning points. I think the world would be better if placed our emphasis on the competition, not the victory. On our behavior, not the outcome.

I pride myself on pragmatism and I can see how people would call me a dreamer but there is evidence of sportsmanship all the time. We see it when a softball team carries an injured rival around the bases, when a basketball player intentionally misses free throws, in rowing where competitors rescue other races. We all applaud it when we see it but somehow we choose to win rather than play with style.

Anyway, that’s what I took from The Right Stuff. Do you agree?

Let me know in the comments.

Just to get a plug for my upcoming novel the idea of sportsmanship is going to be one of the main themes of my fourth book, the Sword of Water. In the book it’s not a matter of losing a game but your life in a world where thugs who understand, but do not believe in, honor can manipulate those who do to the detriment of their country and to the world.

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