Of Rats, Mermaids, and Gods

DelusionsA couple of stories in the news about rats and mermaids reminded me of the fact that our world is largely a landscape of self-created illusion. An imaginary realm where reality is a dream and our fantasies reality. Another couple of incidents that happened to me recently furthered my thoughts in this direction. One involved my older step-sister and another some friends of mine.

We live in this amazing world of sensation and our minds are capable of such imagining that it is often difficult to separate those things that we want to be true, that we ideologically believe, from those things that are not actually true at all. One only has to listen to a friend tell the story of an incident that happened to the both of you years before to see this is true. Their version is generally wildly different from yours. Why does this happen? Why do we cling to phantoms when reality stares us in the face?

I’d like to relate my own recent incidents as an example of why we live in this fantasy realm instead of reality. My step-sister is passionate about the topic of Israel and not long after becoming my friend on Facebook I grew tired of her posts on the subjects and removed her from my friends list. Years went by. Recently at my younger half-sister’s wedding I had the chance to speak with my older step-sister (I have five sisters). My older step-sister rather jokingly told me she wouldn’t invite me to any more Tea Party events. At first I had no idea what she was talking about but then it occurred to me the last event she knew before I removed her from my friend’s list was apparently an invitation to a Tea Party rally.

This is instructive. The invitation had nothing to do with why I removed her from my friend’s list but it was, from her perspective, the inciting incident. She sent me the invitation and I promptly removed her from my list. It’s actually quite logical although false. This is something that happens to all of us frequently. Our view of anyone else’s world ends the moment we are no longer communicating with them. We say our goodbyes and they are happy. An hour later we meet again and they are unhappy. What did I do? Are you mad at me? It, of course, has nothing to do with us but involved some other incidents that occurred in the meantime.

Someone gets overly upset at us for some minor transgression. It’s almost certain that they are mad about something else going on in their lives and took it out on us. Yet we feel as if we caused the wrath. That it is our fault somehow. We our the center of our world. Everything that happens, happens to us. This is false of course but we feel it, we think it. When lightning strikes my house it must because of me. I’ve done something, something to anger … who? Who could bring down lightning? Who could cause my hard-drive to crash? God, that’s who. It’s perfectly logical … and false.

The other incident that happened involved, of all things, boy scouts and astronauts! I was enjoying a wonderful meal thanks to my good friend who invited many of us to his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The son of another friends is a boy scout and we happened to be talking about space. Yet another friend mentioned that all astronauts were boy scouts. My friend’s son, I’m ashamed to say before me, immediately jumped in with the comment, “Except the girls”.

The man who made the original statement quickly said that he meant only the early, lunar astronauts. I smiled and said that another group of astronauts were not boy scouts. Cosmonauts. The man quickly asserted that the Russians actually had a very strong boy scout program. I was somewhat skeptical but he seemed absolutely sure. The mother of my friend then grabbed her cell phone and told me with certainty that Yuri Gagarin was a member of the Russian version of the boy scouts. At this point I capitulated, after all, this was from the internet!

That night I looked it all up. I don’t want to get into details but the Russians outlawed scouting in 1922 and Yuri Gagarin from the ages of thirteen to fifteen was living in a mud hut the Nazi soldiers living in his house let his family build out back, not scouting in the non-existent Russian scout program. Many of the lunar astronauts were boy scouts, but hardly all.

Why did my friends say what they did? This is another major clue as to why we live in this world of delusion. We make a statement that we want to be true, an ideology that fits with our view of the world. Someone postulates reasonable arguments as to the veracity of this world view and we defend our position. If we admit that one thing isn’t correct perhaps our entire view will fall apart. This is extremely common, extremely normal, and I do not hesitate to tell you that I’m guilty of it as well. The more pointed the question the more strident our defense. The war of the talking heads has begun. Rationality has lost.

My goal here isn’t to humiliate my friends. I’ve been guilty of the similar delusions many times. My goal is to urge people to look past their self-centered, ideological view of the world. Look at things with a critical eye and take nothing for absolute truth, whether it be mermaids, rats on Mars, or god.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of swashbuckling fun for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Flopping for Fouls

FloppingI wrote the other day about a situation in baseball where the players actively deceived the umpire and one of the big questions that is plaguing the NBA playoffs this year is a related issued called flopping. It’s not only basketball that suffers from this “strategy” as soccer players routinely hit the ground as if they’ve been brutalized and even in the tough-guy NFL I frequently see the instigator of a little scuffle suddenly fall down from a light tap in order to get a personal foul penalty called on the other team.

To pretend in this manner is called flopping. Flopping is not good for the sport, the fans, the officials, or the players. It is deceit. It is trying to gain an unfair advantage by lying to the officials. The NBA and EUFA (European soccer’s ruling body) are trying to cut down on this practice by calling penalties on the person faking and also fining said individuals. I think this is the correct policy to pursue.

Flopping, embellishing, working the refs; all these things are cheating. It is certainly an acceptable form of cheating. It is certainly practiced far and wide in virtually every professional sport, but it is cheating, plain and simple and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it when the player for the team for which I am barracking (that’s the Australian word for rooting and I like it) does it and it infuriates me when an opposing player does it. It’s out of hand and it should stop.

The question becomes how do we get it to stop? One way is the current system wherein officials call a penalty of some sort on the person flopping. Another is for the league to review video after the game and issue fines for flopping. I wouldn’t even mind some shaming by posting mandatory pictures in the locker rooms around the league of the most egregious violation. All these methods are legitimate. I’m on record as being for methods of officiating games that remove the human element and these tools will reduce flopping also. The reality is that flopping would stop almost instantly if the players themselves would stop doing it, if they would stop cheating and try to win through their legitimate talents.

Mike Golic of ESPN radio’s Mike and Mike in the morning often says that he doesn’t blame the players for doing whatever it takes to win. He played the game himself and his opinion has enormous sway. I disagree with him. I think this winning at all costs mentality is damaging to sports and dangerous for our country as a whole. One of the things that made the United States great was the work ethic of its people. Work hard, play hard. Work fair, play fair.

I would ask Golic if he taught his sons and daughters to lie to get a better grade? To lie to beat out an opponent? That’s all flopping is, lying to get a favorable outcome.

Flopping is an embarrassment to the player, to the team, to the league and there was a time in the United States where integrity in defeat was admired more than winning at all costs. If we don’t think that by allowing floppers to influence the outcome of events we aren’t teaching people that they should flop in non-sporting venues then we are fooling ourselves. We are raising generations of floppers. They will flop at school to get a better grade, flop at home to get out of doing the dishes, flop at work to get a co-worker fired. Do we want floppers running this country or do we want the best and brightest? Would you promote a flopper at work over a hard worker? Have you witnessed floppers getting ahead at work? Flopping isn’t just for the NBA, it’s epidemic and it’s hurting our country.

It starts with personal integrity and setting an example. Explain why it’s wrong even if your team gains an advantage. Boo, particularly when it’s a player for your team doing the flopping. Most of all, don’t ever flop yourself! Give it your all and shake the other person’s hand if you are defeated. That’s what being an American is all about, that’s what builds friendship, that’s what builds admiration, that’s what builds a nation.

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

Too Much Help – Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter ParentingThere was an interesting article in the news this morning that struck a chord with my Libertarian philosophies. The basic idea is that parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives do them no favors.

The article cites one specific study and indicates that others show the same trend but also admits that when it comes to parenting there are a number of styles that offer success. I don’t have any children myself and I’m probably not the best person in the world to analyze the data but I can, at least, speak from having worked with juniors in several golf programs over the years.

Let’s first talk about the concepts of helicopter parenting. The idea is that for children to succeed in the super-competitive modern world parents need to be involved in every aspect of their lives. This hovering is especially noteworthy around school where every grade is argued for the student, specialized tutoring is offered to help write college entrance essays, and other things of this nature.

The argument against this kind of parenting is that children who are not allowed to fend for themselves become anxiety ridden and unable to cope with the problems that arise in their lives. It’s fairly self-evident to me that if you do not allow a person to solve their own problems they will never learn that skill for themselves. It’s analogous the nanny state that America is becoming and I’ve talked about that in other posts.

One of the things I find discouraging about this country is how many people complain about the government without the realization that they are complaining about themselves. We are the government. We have the government we want. We chose them. I’ve talked about that topic before. My point in mentioning it here is that the nanny state isn’t responsible for helicopter parenting, it is our helicopter parenting that causes us to become a nanny state. Our representatives are us.

One of the ideas that I found most interesting about this sort of behavior was that parents who engage in it are actually less emotionally available to their children. They use modern technology to keep tabs on their children, fight with teachers, and defend their kids as a way to show their love without actually having to spend time loving. It’s like someone who clicks the “Like” button to support a cause. Look at me! I care! I hate cancer! Look at me, look at me. I’m better than you because you don’t hate cancer. I’m the greatest parent ever.

I’m certainly not suggesting that parents shouldn’t be involved in their children’s lives and their education. It just seems to me that a person who grows up not having to solve their own problems is not going to be a successful adult.

I’m reminded of my time at Spring Lake Golf Course in Quincy, IL under the direction of head pro Les Holcombe. We were teaching juniors when one little fellow came over to me and stated that “Jimmy took my club.” I was ready to offer my help when Les jumped in and said, “Then go take it back”. I immediately understood that Les was absolutely correct.

There are certainly circumstances of bullying, poor-teaching, and general life incidents that do require a parents intervention. I’m just suggesting that the first response to a  difficulty that arises should not be to solve the problem for the child. A person who grows up solving their own problems is a person who has a better chance to succeed in life. Isn’t that what any parent wants?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (watch Silenia grow from frightened lamb to an empowered young lady)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Double Play that Wasn’t

Bad CallWe want to get the call right and we want people to play with integrity. We say these things but do we mean them? In a Major League Baseball game between Seattle and Texas on Friday night, getting the call right and sportsmanship became an issue. You can watch the video of the missed call here but I’ll cover the basics.

On a ground ball with a runner on first the lead runner was forced out but on the return throw the pitcher intercepted the ball before it reached the first baseman. The umpire missed this, more on that later, and called the runner out.

Columnist Mark Townsend of Big League Stew calls it the worst call of the season. While I agree that the call was a mistake I actually don’t think it was a bad call from the umpire. On ground balls the umpire is generally listening for the sound of the ball hitting the glove as he watches the feet of both the base runner and the first basemen. It’s completely understandable how the umpire missed the call. If you read further down in the article you’ll find that the Seattle manager actually missed it as well and was arguing that the first basemen left the bag early, not that he didn’t catch the ball at all.

Now a missed call in a baseball game is not really worthy of an entire blog, unless we’re talking about the 1985 World Series and Don Denkinger, and what I want to discuss today is the culpability of the players in this mistake. I can’t stress this enough, we don’t want mistakes. We want the right call every time which results in the proper team winning the game. That is justice.

I’m of the opinion that one important thing happened that should not have occurred. I lay a great deal of the blame on our win-at-all-cost society. We teach these sorts of values rather than sportsmanship. There were two players on the field at the time of the incident who could have easily told the umpire that the first baseman did not catch the ball and that the runner was safe. First baseman Mitch Moreland and pitcher Justin Grimm. They chose not to do so. They chose to walk to the pitcher’s mound concealing the fact that the first baseman did not have the ball.

One can argue that it’s not their fault that the umpire made a mistake and it’s not their responsibility to point it out. I argue differently. The reason I do so is because  the direction our society is heading based on the win-first mentality. I’ve got nothing against winning. The goal is to give your best performance every time out. I’m not even going to call Moreland and Grimm cheaters for concealing the reality of the event from the umpire but I don’t like what they did. I don’t think it’s an example they want to set for their children, if they have any.

I’m not even going to pretend this is anything other than an unimportant indicator of the modern world. But it bothers me. Is getting an out more important than integrity? Is winning a game more important? Is winning the championship more important? Is winning the third grade spelling bee more important? What rises to the level where we teach kids that integrity, honesty, and sportsmanship need to be sublimated to winning, to getting money?

If we laugh off dishonesty in a May baseball game what sort of society will we have in twenty years? What sort of society do we have today?

I’m probably over-reacting but it really seemed like if Grimm turned to the umpire, smiled, and showed him the ball we’d all be a little better. Our lives are built, our world is made one decision at a time. I vote for integrity and honesty. That’s the world I want to live in.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages of ripping good fun)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

NFL a non-Profit is that a bad thing?

Non-Profit OrganizationCorporate tax status is in the news lately with Apple but I just read another interesting story about the NFL. It turns out that way back in 1966 in a deal negotiated by then commissioner Pete Rozelle the NFL and sports leagues in general were declared non-profit organizations. What this means in practice is that the NFL doesn’t pay taxes. This despite the fact that the NFL earned about $10 billion in revenue last year.

If the comments on the story are to be taken as any indicator then most people are fairly upset by this state of affairs. Just as many people are upset with GE for paying no corporate taxes or by Apple avoiding paying taxes by shipping billions overseas to phony companies in Ireland.

The question I want to pursue today is the effect of the fact that the NFL doesn’t have to pay taxes. That NFL employees don’t pay taxes on hotel rooms when they come to visit your city, but I pay huge tax rates on my hotel room, on my rental car, on my airline tickets. Those are the taxes everyone is for, taxes on visitors to the city.

The result of this tax-free status is that the NFL has more money to spend on salaries. They have more money that they didn’t spend on tax lawyers. They have more money to build their league. The result is the NFL pays great salaries (which are taxable) and puts out a product that people apparently want to see. I do, I have season tickets to the Rams and gladly fork over my money every year. The result of the NFL not paying taxes is good for everyone. Now, could the NFL do things differently, do I quibble with the way they’ve run their long-term disability insurance for former players injured while playing the brutal game? Yes. But, would taxes help? To my way of thinking absolutely not.

Are corporate taxes, as they are structured today, totally counterproductive? In my opinion yes. Basically, the way it works today is that any business large enough to help Congress members get elected gets laws passed that make it relatively easy for them avoid taxes while small businesses, who can’t afford to bribe congress members, bear the brunt of the corporate tax burden. Now we begin to understand the root of the problem.

Congress passes laws not to help businesses in general but to help a particular business. Generally the one that pays for their political campaigns. When Congress passes laws that will supposedly ensure the safety of our food in reality they are passing laws making it impossible for a small cattle rancher to slaughter cows because the owner of the feed lots foots the campaign bills. When Congress passes a law to help the technical industry with overseas business they are actually passing a law that allows Apple to store huge sums of money overseas to avoid paying taxes while a company like Acumen Consulting gets stuck with the real tax bill.

These laws, passed by supposedly pro-business Congress members discourage competition and destroy business. These laws help huge companies like Pfizer and make it an unfair playing field for small companies like Jost Chemical Co.

Congress is currently in the business of deciding which company will succeed and which will fail. This is not capitalism. This is Crony Capitalism.

Detractors will argue that a business that gets to keep all its profit will simply pay the upper management even larger sums and there is that possibility. The pay structure of average employee to CEO is way out of whack but I think part of that is the unfair business model that Congress has created. When the model is biased towards large companies, and it is, then smaller, vigorous companies have a far more difficult time supplanting the behemoths. Not to say it can’t happen, it’s just more difficult. If a huge multinational company pays all its top executive outrageous sums but neglects its best workers then they will quickly lose all their talented people to smaller companies that treat their employees better.

The current system allows huge companies to pay little or no taxes while small businesses pay close to the ridiculous 35% rate. That’s one reason big companies aren’t all that eager to encourage the Obama administration to lower the corporate tax rate. Or at least those businesses that benefit from the current system. Walmart, for example, doesn’t have a huge corporate tax law division and largely pays their taxes. They want to lower the rate. GE, they like things just the way they are.

I’ve gone on a little long here but I want to sum up. The corporate tax rate as it stands today helps only the largest businesses that help fund the election cycles. It doesn’t help small businesses. It doesn’t help employees, it doesn’t help anyone. One look at the tax-exempt status of the NFL proves it. Their league is doing great and generating profit for many people; jersey sales, parking lots, hotels, construction companies (Jerry Jones spent $2 billion out of his own pocket to build a stadium), and many others. It’s a model we should at least consider. Don’t tax business profits at all. Tax salaries, capital improvement projects, purchases, whatever. At least give it a try because the current system is broken.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (Jon Gray v. Eleniak the Golden Flame c’mon, that’s awesome stuff)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Bellyaching about Belly Putters

Anchoring PutterI don’t think most of my friends will be much interested in the recent USGA ban on anchored, or belly putters, but I find the topic quite interesting for a number of reasons. First a little explanation for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about.

Normally when swinging at a golf ball a player puts both hands down the shaft of the club and swings freely around his or her body. By anchoring a putter the golfer holds the end of the club against his or her chest or belly and swings it in pendulum fashion with the other hand. This has the effect of using the body to stabilize the club. Unless you move your torso, at least part of the swing is going to remain steady.

This sort of putting first started to gain fashion about twenty years ago and I know all about. Twenty years ago I worked at a golf course as an assistant pro. I wasn’t a particularly good player but the best part of my game was putting. I fooled around with anchored putters and absolutely loved them. They help ensure the club face is “square” or at a ninety-degree angle to the face of the ball when contact is made.

At this time the USGA allowed the practice and has continued to do so until now. The USGA decides the rule of golf in the United States while the Royal and Ancient Golf Club makes them for the rest of the world. Yes, the R&A, it’s a real thing you non-golfers.

There is tumult in the golf world about the USGA decision that effective Jan 1, 2016 anchoring will become illegal. Some players have been putting this way for many years and now it is suddenly against the rules. A number of professional golfers are angry about it but that pales in comparison to the PGA’s opinion. Why, you might ask? I’ll tell you why.

It’s an interesting situation. In most professional sports the rules making body is one and the same as the professional league. If baseball says corking your bat is illegal then it’s Major League Baseball making the rules for its game. If the National Football League says lowering your head to hit an opponent is illegal then it’s the NFL making the rule for the sport it runs. It’s not the same in golf!

The USGA makes the rules but the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) runs most of the tournaments. PGA players argue that anchoring the putter offers no statistical advantage and they are right … for professional players who practice putting hours upon hours every day. They get the putter face square to the ball virtually every time. When they miss a putt it’s because they misread the green or didn’t swing at the right speed. For your average golfer the anchoring, if done properly, is undoubtedly helpful.

The PGA makes their money from members. By that I mean average golfers. Many average golfers love anchoring. Many average golfers play gambling games with their friends while enjoying a round of golf. Many average golfers are older and the act of bending over a putt is not easy for them. Anchoring is very helpful in this regard when a longer putter is anchored against the chest. Many average golfers are rather upset that their friends are going to call them for a rules violation if they anchor their putter as they’ve been doing for twenty years.

The PGA could easily tell the USGA that they are going to ignore that rule for their members and their tournaments. Is it starting to sound interesting yet?

Now, obviously, the USGA can make whatever rule they want but just as obviously the PGA can choose to ignore it.

What will happen? I don’t know but I aim to keep watching. Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give my opinion on the subject.

I support the USGA’s decision as it’s their right to ban anchored putters, or square-grooves, or certain dimple patterns on a golf ball. I think the rules of the USGA should be followed by the PGA and by the players of the game, even at a casual level. However, I think that if a group of players wants to “give” a putt of less than the length of the grip on the putter, that’s fine as long as they all agree. Winter rules, Mulligan, all of these things are against the official rules of golf but if a foursome agrees to them then what’s the problem? I say let anchored putting fall into the same category. If the group says it’s OK, it’s OK.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (follow Jon Gray as he tries to find the legendary sword)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Enough is Enough – Say No to Superbowl LIX

Superbowl 48Ok, so it’s a few years from Superbowl LIX but I’m already annoyed. We’re only at Superbowl XLVIII which means we have LIX minus XLVIII divided by L, carry the V and … merciful Flying Spaghetti Monster someone please kill the  roman numerals. I mean really, Superbowl XLVIII?! What sort of madness is this? How did the Roman Republic ever last long enough to become the Roman Empire? Roman frigging numerals?!

Thank you, Khwarizmi, for introducing the west to the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. We’re grateful. Really, really grateful.

Why? Because it works. I admit that binary numbers held a certain charm for me as a not so young computer nerd, can you say Superbowl 110000? Of course there is no substitute for hexadecimal – Superbowl 30 it is.

Why not simply Superbowl 48? Good old Khwarizmi would be proud. If we continue down this path of madness we have Superbowl LI and Superbowl LIV on the horizon. Sure, it was cool back in Superbowl XIX and Superbowl XXI. Roman numerals have a certain romance up to a point.

I wore a toga at a few college parties back in the day and I have a fondness of Julius Caesar (yes I practice a day of mourning on March 15 and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that) that some people don’t understand but even I’ve had enough of this number craziness. How can anyone say Superbowl XLVIII with a straight face? It’s only going to get worse. Someone has to take responsibility and step in before it’s too late.

Stand up! Join me! Say no to Superbowl XLVIII. Shirt printers out there, I beg you to try the number 48. It’s a good number. A sound number. It foreshadows the deliciously round 50. It says I’ve been around a while. Maybe I’m not the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby (who doesn’t like to say Ooooooooooorb). Maybe America’s Pastime has had 109 Fall Classics (go Cardinals!). But 48 isn’t anything to smirk at.

I’ll not besmirch anyone who tries forty-eight. It’s a double-factorial of six (whatever that means). It’s a semiperfect number. Did you know that 48 is the smallest number with exactly ten divisors? I didn’t but now I do. 48 is a Stormer number, it’s a Harshad number, and believe it or not, it’s a Narcissistic Number if subtracted instead of added.

So, join me my loyal followers, find your black sharpies! Where you see the offending XLVIII take to the warpath!

For – tee – Ate!!

For – tee – Ate!!

For – tee – Ate!!

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

The Case for Ken Griffey Jr

Ken Griffey Jr.A recent spat of stories about the daughter of former major league baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. reminded me of what a player he was. More importantly, what a player he was compared to his peers. Most importantly, what a player he was without using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).

In an era when PEDs were becoming prominent Griffey didn’t use them. The reason I come to this conclusion is that as the years went on his performance declined and his injuries increased. That’s the opposite pattern of players who in advancing years see increases in their performance and recover more quickly from injuries. That pattern of improvement in later years is by far, in my opinion, the strongest indicator of PED use.

Griffey was truly great and had he not suffered a series of injuries or had he chosen to take PEDs he would probably be considered one of the best baseball players of all time along with Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. He was much like Mays with power (630 home runs), speed, and defensive greatness (10 gold gloves). In his first eleven seasons he produced 1,752 hits, 398 home runs, 1,152 RBI, and 167 stolen bases.

The important point for me is that Griffey played in an era when PEDs were being used and, I think, he chose not to use them. When Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, great players both, decided to become even greater they needed to use PEDs, Griffey Jr. chose to play without them.

When many of his peers were using steroids and other PEDs he gritted his teeth, went out there, and played with whatever his body had left. I think it’s difficult for everyday fans to understand the pressure a professional athlete faces in regards to performance. Imagine if tens of thousands of people watched you do your job every day. Imagine if younger, healthier workers came to your office every spring with the stated intention of taking your job, your livelihood. For a star, for a superstar, for a player just trying to make the team, the temptation to do anything to win, is strong. Especially if you know your main competitors are doing it.

I’m convinced that Barry Bonds turned to human growth hormone (HGH) only when he saw lesser peers exceeding his achievements. Can you imagine watching someone cheat away and get praised for it? Cheat away and make more money than you? Cheat away and maybe take your job?

Head on over to the Baseball Almanac and take a few turns around the hitting categories. See how Griffey Jr. compares to the all time greats and then start removing the PED abusers from the list.

I was lucky enough to be in the park the day he hit homer 500 on Father’s day with his dad there. Here’s to you Junior! From a National League St. Louis Cardinals fan. Thank you for the great memories.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of rip-roaring sword and sorcery excitement)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Drunk Driving at .05% Alcohol – a Life Saving Idea?

Drunk DrivingThe National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that the drunk driving limit be reduced from .08% to .05% in order to save lives. When I first heard about this I scoffed at the idea as a further example of the nanny-state of our country. But, I wanted to be fair so I started to look up some numbers.

The NTSB makes their recommendation largely on the idea that a number of European countries reduced their own legal limit to .05% and saw a reduction in drunk driving fatalities. The board certainly implies, but does not state explicitly, that the reduction in fatalities is related to the new laws. The reality is that in recent years the number of fatal crashes has declined across the board, largely because of huge strides in vehicle safety systems. The total number of accidents, fatal or not, has stayed relatively stable over the years.

Also, the number of fatal car accidents related to alcohol is highly skewed towards very drunk, or hardcore drunk, drivers. Drivers with a blood alcohol content above .15% cause 70% of fatal accidents and the curve follows a predictable path. As blood alcohol rate goes down, increasingly fewer accidents occur.

I think it’s safe to say that such a reduction will result in lives being saved but that reduction will be limited in effect. Drunk driving accidents caused by drivers between .05% and .08% are small in number. There is a reasonable argument that it’s worth it even if one life is saved. The question then becomes what are we giving up if we reduce the limit?

One argument is that we are giving up our freedom. That it is our right to drive in whatever condition we want to drive in. This is patently false. Any activity that is inherently dangerous is subject to reasonable restriction by the government. So, now we must ask our ourselves, is .05% a reasonable restriction?

Depending on the weight of the person; a relatively small amount of alcohol will produce a blood alcohol content between .05% and .08%. For people of smaller stature this can be as little as a single drink. But, should people be driving at all if they are impaired? Even if by only a single drink as it is clear that such impairment does indeed cause accidents and cost lives?

All right, I’ve examined the facts and made points in both directions and now it’s time for me to state my opinion. It seems clear that lowering the legal limit of blood alcohol content necessary to operate a motor vehicle will produce a small decrease in traffic fatalities. It is also clear that as citizens we enjoy certain freedoms and the vast majority of people drink moderately and drive safely. That laws designed to reduce fatalities will inordinately effect such people.

I think every state has a right to make it illegal to drive under whatever level of intoxication they choose. Drinking and driving, even in small amounts, is not a constitutionally guaranteed right. I also think lowering the limit to .05% is largely pointless. I do think that advancements in car safety will largely eliminate the need for this entire argument. Cars will continue to be safer as collision avoidance systems develop.

Frankly, I eagerly await the day when my car drives itself and all I have to do is get in and tell it where to go. Then fatal accidents, drunken or not, will drop to almost nothing and we can eliminate all laws having to do with drunk driving as they become obsolete  We can also get the police back to the job of stopping crime and hospitals back to the job of helping the sick instead of spending billions on emergency room care for the uninsured who get in car accidents.

But in the end I must come to a decision. I decide that reducing the rate to .05% is unreasonable. That the safety engendered by such a move does not rise to the level of the loss of freedom that it entails. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300 pages of awesome adventure for $2.99)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Wild Horse Roundups a Difficult Problem

Wild Horse RoundupThe rounding up and penning of wild horses in western states has gotten both a great deal of national news and personal Facebook postings of late. One of my good friends is an animal activist from Colorado and I’ve been reading about this activity, thanks to her links, for several years now. It seems to be finally getting some national attention as I spotted a lengthy story on the subject yesterday.

The reason I want to write about it today has to do with the complexities of the issue and the difficulties of finding solutions. Let me first describe the problem. Wild horses are not actually wild horses at all, they are feral horses. That’s not really pertinent to the issue but interesting nonetheless. These animals are the descendants of domesticated horses that escaped captivity long ago. In the western states there is a population estimated at about 82,000. Of these, 32,000 are free in the wild while another 50,000 are held in pens. These 50,000 horses were largely captured in annual roundups. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) own statistics about 1% of all horses captured this way end up dying because of injuries sustained in the operation. One percent doesn’t seem like a lot but it’s a significant number. Many other horses are badly hurt being driven into barbed wire fences among other things.

After roundup the horses are offered for adoption but the number taken in has been dropping and those in captivity rising. Capture operations and ongoing housing and feeding costs an estimated $78 million dollars a year. The costs are rising as more animals are being held. That’s taxpayer money.

We’ve got animal cruelty and big expenses. So, why is it happening?

The western lands where the horses roam is also home to sheep and cattle ranches. These animals need the grass to breed and survive. The ranchers who own these animals depend on the land for their livelihoods.

Environmentalists and animal lovers want the animals to roam free. Ranchers want to kill them all. The roundup as it stands is a compromise solution but it’s beginning to fail. So, we need to figure out something else.

The biggest problem is the BLM refuses to sell the horses for slaughter. Animal activists regard such a solution for the horses as anathema. So, to appease the ranchers we keep rounding them up and to appease those who love the horses we don’t kill them.

I know I’m not going to be popular here but the fact is we need a hunting season on horses. Sell permits and let people go out there and shoot them. Horse meat largely isn’t eaten in the United States but it is elsewhere in the world and for good reason. It is lean, low-fat, high-protein meat. Yes, we love horses, yes we find watching them roam the western lands beautiful. Here’s the reality, if we’re willing to compromise we can have it all.

Hunt the horses to keep numbers at a level satisfactory to ranchers and activists. Eat the meat and enjoy it. Allow thousands of the animals to roam the western landscape for the enjoyment of endless generations to come. The horse lives a life free to roam until it is killed. That’s a good life, maybe not as long a life as they would have naturally but better than being in a pen.

The best solutions generally don’t make anyone perfectly happy. That’s often the sign of a good compromise.

As for me, I’m digging my bunker and getting my food and water supply ready for what will surely be an assault by my horse-loving Facebook friend!

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

Cheating or Taking Advantage of the Rules

Phil IveyAn interesting case is taking place in England about a poker player who won a significant amount of money from a casino. The casino is refusing to pay because the player supposedly cheated. What I find intriguing about the case is that the so-called cheater, Phil Ivey, is not accused of breaking the rules but of taking advantage of the failure of the casino to note a printing error on its cards.

Basically, Ivey and a companion at the table supposedly noted a mistake on the cards which allowed them to correctly identify which cards were dealt even when face down. The question becomes: Is this sort of behavior is cheating? Is taking advantage of a weakness in the system cheating?

To my way of thinking this is different from cheating in that a cheater doesn’t play by the rules to gain an advantage. In this case the casino dealer had access to all the same information as Ivey. It all becomes rather interesting from a philosophical point of view.

I think we can say without reservation that it’s unethical. If you are playing baseball and note that your opponent’s shoelace has become untied, the sporting behavior is to point out the potential game-changing lace in order to even the playing field. It’s certainly the morally correct behavior but I’m of the opinion that ignoring the shoelace in the hopes your opponent falls down at a crucial time in the game does not rise to the level of cheating. If the casino’s accusations are true, that Ivey noted the printing flaw and played with that advantage to win a large sum of money, his behavior is unquestionably unsporting but, in my opinion, doesn’t rise to the level of cheating.

On the other hand, if he was somehow involved in introducing the printing flaw to the cards, then I think his behavior is not only cheating but criminal. In that case he committed fraud and theft. I don’t think anyone is accusing Ivey of such a thing and I only mention it as a philosophical idea.

The real question I’m pondering is at what point I would engage in unethical behavior myself. I like to think that in a friendly game of cards with friends; if I noticed that the cards were printed badly and I had an advantage, I would immediately alert my friends and we would get a new deck. I know that if a friend of mine noticed such a mistake on the cards and didn’t notify the rest of us and went on to win some money I would be somewhat angry. Not to say they cheated, just that I would consider it poor behavior.

I think it’s become normal behavior in our society to win at all costs. That taking advantage of a situation rather than pointing it out is largely the way we function in the modern world. I don’t think it’s a good thing but I do think it’s accepted. Judging by the comments I read on the Ivey story most people think what he did was perfectly reasonable. I don’t think so. I think it was unethical. I also think the casino owes him that money. He didn’t cheat, he just took advantage.

Would you take advantage of misprinted cards in a game with friends? In a game with tens of thousands of dollars at stake? Does the prize make the behavior acceptable? Interesting questions. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of action packed adventure!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Price of a College Education

Is College Worth the MoneyFormer Secretary of Education William Bennett is out promoting a new book and in a recent interview talked about how a college education is hurting more people than it is helping. The book itself looks at various colleges around the country and tries to determine if they give value for their investment. I have not read the book but its results are no secret. That only a few colleges and a limited number of degrees are worth the investment of both time and money. Not having read the book I can’t speak to the methodology of making the evaluations but the result certainly seems accurate as to what I see in the world.

Students are coming out of college, even with a degree, unable to gain employment in their field of choice. Over 40% of students simply drop out of college. I’m an excellent example of that group. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life and simply milled around for four years before calling it an education. Happily I chose a university, the University of Idaho, that didn’t charge huge fees and I was able to finish without debt. That’s not the case for the majority of students today who are leaving school with large amounts of debt.

In the interview Bennett talks about how he thinks college should be about teaching young adults how to think and that his own degree was in philosophy. I think even the strongest detractor of the current college education system would agree that learning how to think properly is a useful trait. The question becomes; is college a viable place to gain this skill? At this stage, with the price of an education going up and up, I think the answer has to be no. That’s a real shame. I’ll leave it to the book and Bennett to provide the arguments against going to college and I’ll take this opportunity to offer some ways I think we can improve the situation.

One of the most important things we can do is stop insisting that everyone go to college. It’s fine for me to spout off that people don’t need to go to college but what alternatives are there for people without degrees? I blogged just the other day about how people need to be intelligent to hold down a job in modern society. I think education is an increasingly important player in keeping the United States powerful. So, how is this accomplished except through college?

I’m of the opinion that a system of apprenticeship is an excellent tool in this regard. In Germany they have a strong apprentice program. I’ve worked with steel mill employees in Granite City who go to work immediately after high school and eventually rise into high-paying, skilled jobs. The idea is that someone who isn’t really interested in a higher education can immediately go into the workplace and learn a job. Many times the employer will not only pay the apprentice but encourage them to continue their education as well. This is a winning system in that young people are gainfully employed while learning a skill and companies have eager employees, with lower salaries, who move up in the company internally to higher paying jobs.

This system certainly cannot replace a degree in Philosophy or Engineering but it would dramatically cut down on students who didn’t really want to go to college in the first place. Even for degrees like engineering a student might well start out at a low-level job with a technical company and go to school part-time while working with skilled co-workers.

I think this would also have the benefit of alleviating high schools from having to prepare students for college and allow them to return to what many call a classical education. We could dispense with ridiculous testing and standards and get back to teaching kids how to think properly.

This is a hugely important issue in relation to the United States’ place in the world. If we continue to churn out people with a college education who cannot hold down a job, our nation is in peril. More disability, more welfare, less work, less excellence. The rise of a class system of haves and have-nots. This is a recipe for the decline of our nation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of neck snapping adventure)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

A Lesson in Sharing – Gym Style

Gym RulesJust the other day I realized that there is an interesting societal dynamic at the gym involving shared property. I’m going to examine that idea and how it applies to the modern world.

The gym is a classic example of a group of strangers sharing property. They share floor space, benches, and equipment. There are certain rules of etiquette at the gym and as long as everyone is playing by these regulations it works quite well. When there are those who do not play by the rules, particularly if they do so knowingly and selfishly, then the entire system is in peril.

Let me begin by explaining how things work at the gym. Generally speaking a person should only use a particular piece of equipment for a short period of time. The length of time depends on the piece of equipment in question and the number of people at the gym. A stationary bike or treadmill might occupy someone for sixty minutes while the bench press machine should only be used for perhaps a minute at a time. Another rule involves blocking off walking lanes or equipment. Certain exercises are done where there is available space on the floor. When partaking in these exercises it’s considered bad form to position yourself in a way that blocks access to such equipment. Another rule involves sitting at equipment when you are not using it. Generally it is polite to get up between what is called “sets” and allow another person to “work in” for one of their own. Wiping your sweat off equipment is considered good form as well.

I don’t want to get too deeply into a discussion of how life at the gym should proceed, but instead I will focus on the quality of the experience when etiquette is followed and when it is not. When I’m working a piece of equipment and step away and another fellow works in, then steps away allowing me to return; there is a sense of community that borders on euphoria. Everyone is playing by the rules and everyone wins. Likewise when someone is talking on the phone while sitting idly on a bench there is a malaise that descends upon the place. Everyone glances at the offender and grimaces. Even if someone eventually steps in and takes the bench the mood is somewhat ruined. There is some satisfaction in seeing a selfish person put in their place but being forced to do it is unpleasant.

Another example might be the highway entrance ramp when a series of drivers manuever their cars in every other vehicle fashion perfectly as opposed to someone rushing ahead to gain an advantage.

Therein lies the problem of course. People maneuvering to gain an advantage don’t play by the rules. They subtly or overtly diminish the experience for everyone else. Is it possible to get everyone to play by the rules or even desirable? Aren’t the rule breakers, the women who are not well-behaved, the ones who drive progress? Is there some middle ground where we follow the rules of polite public behavior and still push the edges of possibility? I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer but I would like to see people follow the simple rules of life.

I think angry and selfish people will always diminish the experience for the rest of us. I also think it’s a shame. It’s not a matter of teaching manners at school. It depends completely upon a person’s upbringing. I also think it’s possible to be aggressive, to try to win, to get ahead, and still be fair and polite. Maybe I’m wrong.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (or: How to overcome your dysfunctional upbringing and become a hero)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Monica Seles the Tragic Exception

Monica SelesA terrible anniversary passed by on April 30. If not for an article buried fairly deeply in the tennis section of ESPN I would have forgotten about it altogether. Twenty years ago on that day an obsessed fan dashed onto the tennis court in Hamburg, Germany and stabbed tennis great Monica Seles in the back. The wound was serious both physically and emotionally and Seles did not return to competitive tennis for over two years.

Fans of tennis were cheated out of many years watching her play to say nothing of the emotional damage done to Seles herself. Today I don’t want to spend too much time condemning the attack or wistfully imagining what might have been. The stabbing was horrible. The change of career trajectory to Seles a crime. These are true statements and I think no one will disagree. What I do want to discuss is the truly remarkable dearth of such attacks.

Sports fans are fanatical. Their willingness to attack one another inside and outside sports venues is well-known. Here in my home town of St. Louis it’s a rare Cubs or Blackhawks game that doesn’t result in at least a few punches. Red Sox and Yankee fans, Giants and Dodgers, Wolverines and Buckeyes, Crimson Tide and Tigers, these are fierce rivalries where trees are poisoned and fans are beaten. Despite this fever pitch of animosity there are rarely attacks on players. It’s as if some unspoken rule of sportsmanship prevents it.

Not only are players vulnerable at games but also in their daily lives where they interact with the public. A crazed fan could fairly easily attack the star player for a rival squad and yet it almost never happens. Why is that? What is the reason behind this restraint?

I can’t answer the question with any certainty but I can at least make a suggestion. Too often sport are associated with war. We go to war with the other team. We battle on the field of play. We fight for victory. Yet the reality is that sports is nothing like war. We play by rules, sometimes we push them, but we generally follow them. We don’t try to hurt our opponents, let alone kill them.

I hate the Cubs. There was a time in my youth when my hatred of the New York Mets was almost unquantifiable. Don Denkinger, I don’t like him. While it might cross my mind to harm those who dare play for the other team I know that such an action would be unsporting. If my team loses on the field because the other team did better, damn you Roy Oswalt, then I must accept it and wait for next year.

You might argue that I’m a rational fellow and there are plenty of people not as sane. I agree! That’s why I find the lack of physical attacks on opposing players to be so compelling. If crazy people, really crazy people, realize that it’s wrong to attack players for an opposing team; then sport must be doing something right. There is something in the fierce competition that brings morality, ethics. We root for our team, if they fail to win then we put away our disappointment and start getting ready for next year. Those most drunk amongst us may fight one another, but the players, they are off-limits.

This is a glorious thing. This is how life should be in all its aspects. We do our best. Our rival does the same. We play by the rules and, win or lose, come back next year to give it our best again. We weep in defeat but firm our resolve. This is society at its best. This is a nation at its best.

Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I do love me some sports. Let’s Go Blues!

Tom Liberman

McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuit

McDonald's Coffee lawsuitThere is a ridiculous news story making the rounds about a man who lost his life’s savings while playing a carnival game and it brought to mind the McDonald’s spilled coffee lawsuit that many people consider the epitome of frivolous cases.

I don’t want to talk about the stupidity of the man who lost his money at the carnival, there seems to be a consensus on that and I’m not the sort to join in with the crowd. I do want to discuss the McDonald’s lawsuit because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about that case.

I’d like to discuss not only why it wasn’t nearly as frivolous as people think but also how it has made all our lives a little safer.

McDonald’s serves their coffee quite hot and for legitimate reasons. Coffee cools over time and with the introduction of cream and other sweeteners more quickly yet. In this case the woman spilled it on her pants and suffered third-degree burns over six percent of her body, spent eight days in the hospital, and required skin grafting. She originally sued for the cost of her hospital stay. McDonald’s refused and the case, after much wrangling, was eventually settled for something less than $600,000. The exact amount is unknown as a gag order remains in effect.

It turns out that coffee served that hot is pretty dangerous. There were many cases involving coffee induced burns prior to this incident and there continue to be some although at a lowered rate. Basically the situation presents a real problem. Coffee served cooler is not as appealing. Coffee served that hot is dangerous. What has the industry done to resolve this issue? They’ve made major improvements in coffee cups and lids. The idea being that if you spill the coffee it is almost certainly because you were handling it negligently.

This is an excellent outcome. We’re all safer. It’s a shame McDonald’s didn’t just pay the original medical damages and then move to improve the cups and lids but sometimes the hard lesson must be learned.

It’s easy to be angry at companies for failing to anticipate an issue that results in serious harm or death, and it’s likewise common to label people who file lawsuits over apparently silly issues as cranks.

I’m of the opinion that our judicial system, while imperfect, is truly excellent. Average people have a way to redress legitimate complaints and large entities can defend themselves. Are there warts in the system? Certainly. Do people take advantage of the system? No doubt. Does the system largely function? Absolutely.

Who knows, maybe the man who lost his money at the carnival may also end up helping us. In any case I suggest that the next time you get a chance; don’t tell a lawyer joke, thank a lawyer instead. They really do help us all.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (it’s awesome, $2.99, what do you have to lose?)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt