Handbook for Mortals Scam and the Power Young Adult Readers

handbook for mortalsThere was a fascinating incident the other day involving the Young Adult Best Seller list from the New York Times which demonstrates the good that can be done through group communication. In essence, someone scammed the New York Times and had their book, Handbook for Mortals, put atop the list. Fans of such fiction launched an investigation and, by the end of the day, the listing was removed.

The events themselves are fairly remarkable but their implications confirm my opinion about the potential of the Internet and Social Media. In this day and age see we violent extremists gathering and organizing using such tools and these sorts of things frighten people. What we seem to overlook is that far more often groups of people with a like interest gather using the same tools and bring much good to the world and great joy to individuals.

I think we need look no further than Wikipedia to see the great good that can come from such gatherings, but this incident with the New York Times Young Adult Best Seller List is further proof.

What happened is a new book, Handbook for Mortals, appeared atop the list, but no one had even heard of the book. There was no advanced publicity and there weren’t even copies of it available for sale. This inexplicable listing caught the attention of a Young Adult author named Phil Stamper who noted it in a Twitter post. From there the crowd took over.

At least two book stores reported large orders of the Handbook only after the purchaser confirmed they reported sales to the New York Times. It can be inferred the scammers purchased thousands of the books from various stores in order to get it listed. But our story of sleuthing does not end here.

Other investigators found the author of the book was a former publicity agent who was noted for pulling such scams. Yet more tracked down the Publisher, GeekNation, and found they created a new book publishing division just last month. The company was founded by a woman who has ties to minor celebrities. It turns out they are planning on making a movie based on this book, which is likely the reason for the attempt to place it atop the best seller list.

The entire convoluted scheme is interesting enough in its own way, but I find the power of the crowd to be the real story. Someone saw something suspicious, reported it on Social Media, a few hour later a large part of the scheme was unraveled, and action was taken shortly thereafter. This sort of thing was certainly possible in the past with diligent investigation, commitment, and a great deal of time. Now, with thousands of people involved in the investigation, each looking at different leads, the entire scam was discovered and dealt with in mere hours.

How about that!

Good job Young Adult authors and readers. Keep up the good work.

Tom Liberman

No Recess During Eclipse

eclipseIf you were a child and told you could not go outside during a solar eclipse because looking at the sun was dangerous; would that make you more or less likely to go outside on the sly? I think the answer to this question gives us great insight into the problems associated with a state that tries too hard to protect us from ourselves.

The Cumberland Valley School District sent a letter to parents explaining that recess will be cancelled on Monday August 21st during the full solar eclipse. I think it’s a mistake and I’m happy to tell you why. I don’t disagree that looking at the sun is dangerous. I think children should be warned not to look at the eclipse as it could damage their eyes. I understand the danger of litigation. I just think preventing children from going outside during the event is a silly way to go about protecting the children.

A far better solution would be to assemble outside with all of the students and have a telescope with appropriate lenses on it for them to use. Another solution would be to have an assembly where a live broadcast of the eclipse is shown on screen. Perhaps parents could be asked to purchase eyewear that will protect the student and send it to class with their child that day.

There are many, many solutions available to the district and they chose the one that is probably going to endanger the students the most. By telling them they can’t go outside at all, they work against human nature. Just looking at the sun during a normal day will cause blindness. Children go outside quite frequently and manage not to blind themselves. I understand the special circumstances of the eclipse will generate more interest in looking at it, I just think the solution is utterly silly.

This attempted solution mimics what government does when they try to force behavior on its citizens. Using mind altering drugs can be dangerous. Getting married is a good thing. The government rewards behavior they think is useful and punishes behavior they think is dangerous. The problem is that such actions generally create new and bigger problems than those they are trying to solve.

I don’t want to give a series of examples, starting with the War on Drugs, to show the generally negative outcome of such laws; I just want you to contemplate what happened in school when you were young and there was a solar eclipse. Were you denied recess? Were you herded into a dark room to mitigate the chances you’d blind yourself? How many kids were blinded?

It’s always important to consider the result of any rule or law you might want to enforce. If the only good it’s going to do is make people feel like they are doing something useful, then maybe you should reconsider.

Tom Liberman

Garry Kasparov Disses Jennifer Shahade

garry-kasparovI’m lucky enough to live in the Central West End where the St. Louis Chess club is currently hosting the Sinquefield Cup and recently former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov visited the studio and joined Yasser Seirawan and Jennifer Shahade. During his chat, he essentially completely ignored Shahade both in spoken words and body language.

It’s an interesting situation because I doubt Kasparov is misogynistic. The first reality we must take into account is that Seirawan is objectively a better chess player than Shahade. Therefore, when analyzing the various games, it was to be expected that Kasparov would rely more on the opinion of Seirawan.

The second thing we must take into account is that Kasparov is somewhat, or perhaps a great deal, a pompous jerk. Not to say he doesn’t deserve to think highly of himself, he was the best chess player in the world for a very long time and it can be argued he is the best to have ever played the game. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, as the saying goes.

But, even taking all of that into account, Kasparov barely even gave indication that he knew Shahade was in the room, occasionally glancing at her with his eyes but never directly addressing her or asking her any questions. He leaned toward Seirawan the entire time he was in the studio. The mood was so obvious the camera crew focused in on the two men in a tight shot for the majority of the interview.

The obvious conclusion we can draw is that Kasparov is misogynistic, but I’ve already said I don’t think he is such. Chess is a sport that is dominated by men even today, but was even more so in the era when Kasparov was world champion. It’s most likely, although I am not certain, Kasparov never analyzed a single chess game in his long career with a woman.

Of particular note is his opinion of Judit Polgar who is largely considered the best woman chess player in history. Early in her career Kasparov was asked about her potential and gave what can only be called a misogynistic statement: She has fantastic chess talent, but she is, after all, a woman. It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche. No woman can sustain a prolonged battle. Later in life, however, after he had lost a rapid game against Polgar in 2002, Kasparov revised his opinion: The Polgars showed that there are no inherent limitations to their aptitude ….

I think it’s fair to say Kasparov maintains some dismissive attitudes towards women chess players and it came through, certainly unintentionally, during the interview.

I think the lesson here is that you don’t have to be overly sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, or any other sort of particular prejudice in order to behave like you are so. Be careful out there, people are watching!

Tom Liberman

Mercenaries in Afghanistan

mercenariesThere is an interesting proposal percolating at the White House in which the United States would withdraw our formal military operations in Afghanistan and use mercenaries as a replacement. These private contractors would support the government in its war against the Taliban. Naturally, there are a lot of strong opinions about this idea.

I’d first like to dispense with the idea of private contractors. What we’re talking about is mercenaries, plain and simple. These are people hired to participate in a conflict who have no national motivation but are simply in it for the money. We can use all the euphemisms we want in order to paint a particular picture, but reality is clear to see.

The United States has been fighting the war in Afghanistan actively since 2001. It began supposedly in response to the September 11th attacks against the United States. The war has had its ebbs and flows but by no measure is the United States winning. The Taliban controls large swathes of the country and our soldiers largely act to support the Afghanistan government rather than taking an active role in combat.

One of the major reasons officials are considering switching to a mercenary force is the cost savings proposed by doing so. It is estimated it costs about $1 million per soldier per year to continue the fight in Afghanistan. The exact costs are unclear but it’s probably safe to say we are spending in excess of $45 billion a year on the conflict. The mercenary solution would supposedly cost around a quarter of that although I’m highly skeptical.

The two arguments for such mercenaries are they will be cheaper and they will be more effective. The arguments against them generally revolve around the idea that fighters not under the discipline of the United States military command are more prone to atrocities, that they will do anything in order to further the cause of victory. I think there is merit to all of these arguments but, to be frank, it just doesn’t matter.

The United States military is largely just one big mercenary force at this point. We don’t fight wars to keep our nation safe, we do so in order enrich the coffers of whatever contractor produces military equipment. Said contractor then pays for vacations, dinners, tickets to events, and various other luxuries our leaders enjoy.

We don’t fight wars to defend the nation but we create them in order to further what President Dwight Eisenhower called the Military-industrial complex. We don’t have soldiers in hundreds of far-flung bases in the interests of national security, we do so to pour taxpayer dollars into the coffers of allies who in return offer their political support.

There is a very good reason we’ve been fighting this pointless and losing war for the last sixteen years. There is good reason we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, money. The Founding Fathers would not only have balked at the idea of this endless war but they would have fomented revolution of the people to put an end to it. Our soldiers are being sacrificed in both mind and body in the pursuit of money.

This push for a mercenary force is simply a tacit acknowledgement of what we already know. The United States military is nothing more than a hired gun, used by nations around the world to do their dirty work. Every soldier who volunteers for our military should do so with the understanding they are being used by the government to do the work of a mercenary at a cut-rate salary. They are being sacrificed to put money on the table of those who provide the equipment used by the soldiers.

It’s not about winning the war in Afghanistan. It’s probably never been about winning the war in Afghanistan. It’s about politics, money, and ego. To my way of thinking, there is little difference in using my tax dollars to pay soldiers wearing the uniform of the United States and paying the salaries of mercenaries.

The business is war, and it’s booming.

Tom Liberman

Josh Rosen Disses Alabama Misleading Headline

josh-rosenThe Headline Screams: UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen: Raise the SAT Requirement at Alabama and See what kind of team they have.

It seems like if you use a direct quote from someone it can’t possibly be a misleading headline but that’s exactly what happened in this case. What Rosen was talking about is the terrible incongruity between being a college football player and being a student. In the majority if the article he talks about how spending last season injured was a hugely eye opening experience. He was able to spend more time taking classes than he would normally be allowed to do. He learned that many of the requirements of his economic major are not even available at the times his normally limited schedule allow.

He used the Alabama quote not to deride Alabama but to simply illustrate that it’s impossible for many of the best young football players in the nation to also excel at academics. What he said, and I think he said it effectively, is that no Division I college football team is made up of athletes who are stellar students. That if we want to limit college athletes to the best students, the quality of football will suffer.

He was saying that the job of being a college athlete largely precludes being a strong student. Both are jobs and you can’t work hard at one without the second suffering. The primary job of young college football players is to play, not to study. Their schedules are designed to make it extremely difficult to accomplish both.

Perhaps he should have used UCLA as an example rather than Alabama but I have no problem with his basic point and I hate to see him getting trashed because of a Misleading Headline.

Tom Liberman

Donald De La Haye cannot Monetize YouTube and Play College Football

donald de la hayeI’m a Libertarian and my hate for the National Collegiate Athletic Association is as great as my dislike for any government agency. The case of Donald De La Haye reinforces that opinion. De La Haye has a YouTube channel which earns him money. The NCAA told him he is not allowed to do that unless none of his videos involves his athletic endeavors, which are essentially a significant part of everything he does.

De La Haye’s channel had over fifty-thousand followers before the controversy and more now. YouTube has a legal agreement with members that pays them money depending upon a number of factors including how many people watch the videos.

It’s important to understand that in addition to being good at YouTube, De La Haye is also good enough at football to have received an athletic scholarship from the University of Central Florida. This means he doesn’t have to pay tuition, room, and board while attending the University in exchange for playing football for the Knights.

In essence, De La Haye was told to either give up your YouTube channel or your scholarship. He chose the scholarship. I think it’s a wonderful decision but I’m saddened he was forced to make it.

Now, some of you will be confused as to why the NCAA does not allow its student athletes to have jobs. The idea is that in the past, star athletes were given essentially fake jobs and paid a good salary as an incentive to attend a particular school. Rather than spend the time and effort required to ferret out those doing wrong, the NCAA decided to punish every student-athlete by preventing them from getting a job. This rule predominantly hurt athletes from economically disadvantaged families because they need extra money for things like purchasing dinner for a romantic interest or having a night out with friends.

Basically, throwing the baby out with the bathwater as the expression goes. The NCAA recently agreed to allow exceptions to the rule which is why De La Haye was permitted to appeal and was given the supposed choice to continue his YouTube channel as long as he didn’t talk about his athletic endeavors. This was, of course, no choice at all. His entire life is largely wrapped around his athletic prowess. What the NCAA was asking was essentially impossible. How could he make any honest video about his life without mentioning football? But even that’s not the problem. Why shouldn’t he make money talking about football? What right does the NCAA have to prevent anyone from making a living?

The NCAA prevents athletes from selling their own signature to willing buyers but sells them itself in the form of silent auctions. The NCAA doesn’t put the names of the players on the backs of the jersey so the organization doesn’t have to give any money they get from sales to the athletes. I find the entire thing disgusting.

If a young man builds a career for himself we should be encouraging him. Sure, part of the reason he is popular on YouTube is because he is a good football player, but why shouldn’t he be able to profit off of that? Such profit is directly in line with the capitalistic ideals of our country.

Let the kid play. Let the kid make some money.

Tom Liberman

Biblical Morality Attacked in Jordan

moralityMany people are cheering the government of Jordan for removing a clause in their legal code by which a rapist is exonerated of their crime if they marry the victim. I, on the other hand, find this attack on biblical morality an affront to religious freedom.

The bible is quite clear on this subject. Deuteronomy 22:28-29: If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.

In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution is quite clear about Religious Freedom. The government shall pass no law that infringes on my right to practice religion freely. In the Bible, it is stated quite clearly that if I choose to rape a woman who is not engaged or married, my punishment is that I must pay fifty bucks to her father and marry her. That seems like plenty of punishment to me. I mean, maybe I just wanted to rape her because she was wearing really hot clothes and showing a bit of ankle. A man has his needs. Now I’ve got to marry the ho and I’m not even allowed to divorce her!

Before this affront to my religious freedom I would have applauded Jordan for applying biblical morality to their legal code and only wish the United States, whose own legal code is clearly and completely based on the bible, do the same. I mean, if I want to beat my slaves and they don’t die within a day or two, that’s totally my right. If I kill a dude who has the nerve to say God Damn It and thus violate the Third Commandment, I’m merely following biblical morality. It’s clear to me punishment for such a crime should be death, I mean, it’s third on the list of commandments and therefore of greater concern than murder.

Jordan has caved to the pressure of secularists who somehow think that men can come up with morality that is more just than that provided by an all-knowing, all-powerful God. If God says a rapist must marry the victim then that’s the way it should be, not to mention the $50 bucks!

Now, I know some namby-pamby, cry-babies are going to say, hey, what about the woman who was raped? Maybe she doesn’t want to marry her rapist. Give me a break, she’s soiled property now. Nobody is going to marry that ho after I raped her. I’m far and away the best options she’s got. I’m doing her a favor.

I don’t understand how people can possibly imagine the word of god has less weight than any legal remedy created by men. I mean, it is men who create the legal code. Women exist merely to glorify me and tell me how great I am. That’s what a wife should be doing, serving her man, by that I mean the fellow she is lucky enough to marry after he rapes her.

Secularists can suck it! Don’t cave my Jordanian brothers! Reinstate the Rape Clause because that’s what God says.

Tom Liberman

My Problem with the Multiverse or Why Infinity Does not Equal All Encompassing

multiverseI’m quite confused by why people seem to think that infinite equals all-encompassing. This seems to me to be one of the core ideas in the concept of the multiverse. This is to say, if there are an infinite number of universes, then all things must be represented in them somewhere or another.

Let me preface my article with the simple fact that I am not a theoretical physicist. My understanding of the Multiverse, or at least the postulations of such, might be mistaken. I’m going to continue on with my thoughts here as if my understanding is correct. If that’s not the case, I’m hopeful someone will explain it to me more clearly.

I’ll further mention one of the main purposes of this discussion is to further my ideas of atheism, rather than a fundamental understanding of the universe.

My understanding of the Multiverse is that it is infinite. That there are an infinite number of universes within the multiverse and therefore in one of them I am dating Jennifer Aniston. Now, this is certainly a pleasant thought, but I don’t think it is true. My main problem is the supposition that infinite must mean all-encompassing. If there are infinite universes, then all things must be represented in them.

Where this correlates with my atheism is when I hear this argument from those who believe in an omnipotent and omniscient god. If there is a multiverse then there is the possibility of such a god. If such a possibility exists, then it must exist because of the infinity issue.

The entire idea that infinity equals all-encompassing seems to me to be quite easily falsified. If I have an infinite list of even numbers, nowhere on it is an odd number. Nor can any delightful bowls of Ben & Jerry Cherry Garcia ice cream be found on said list, sadly. Infinite clearly is not all-encompassing. Therefore, it stands to logical reason that while the Multiverse might well be infinite, that does not mean any particular thing can be found within it. In none of the universes am I dating Aniston, again sadly.

It’s clear to me there are many things that do not exist in the universe. The last digit of Pi for example. The last digit at all. An integer that calculates exactly the square root of any prime number. There are almost certainly far more things not in the multiverse than are in it. Is there a pink unicorn named Edwina? Are any of the characters from my novels a real person in any of those universes? Of course not, although perhaps we can’t prove it logically as we can with mathematics. It’s mere common sense.

That’s pretty much it. Infinite doesn’t equal all-encompassing. As I stated earlier, perhaps I’m misunderstanding the ideas presented about the multiverse. I’d happily love to learn more.

Tom Liberman