A Poor Start for The Ark

The Ark

I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy and The Ark looked like it might be right up my alley. I’m sad to say the first episode was lackluster in a number of ways. What went wrong? Is it salvageable? These are good questions and I’ll take a look.

I will say that a first episode can be difficult. The actors and writers don’t always have a full understanding of the characters. The structure of the story can change as things move deeper into a show. Watch the first episode of a show you love and then compare it to what it became. Starting off slowly isn’t uncommon and I’m happy to give The Ark some time.

That being said, it wasn’t good. Let’s get on with the review.

What is The Ark?

The Ark details an interplanetary mission to colonize a new world. The best and brightest of Earth are on The Ark to find a new home for humanity. The crew is in hibernation while the ship makes its five-year journey to this new world.

The Opening Scene

The opening scene is designed specifically to set the tone for the show. There is some sort of disaster and the ship experiences catastrophic failures. The hibernation pods are turned on so the crew can deal with the problem. Unfortunately, the entire command crew of The Ark dies when their wing of the ship is destroyed.

This creates the underlying plot structure specifically mentioned by the show producer, Dean Devlin. The idea is to see how ordinary people work together once the people picked to be in charge are no longer around.

It’s an interesting idea and well-worth exploration.

The Stereotypes are Everywhere

The show stereotypes almost every single character and it’s more than a little annoying. The nerdy guy and girl are the geniuses who save the ship. The female lead is the headstrong, take-charge type. The hunky guy is full of himself. The pretty girl is a narcissist.

Some people are complaining the show is Woke, I guess because of the female lead, but in reality, it’s the opposite of Woke. The characters are all stereotypical and dull. They are excellent examples of anti-wokeness. Judge a book by its cover. Nerdy people stammer and are awkward. Pretty people are vain.

The Science is Bad

I’m certainly not a stickler for hard science in a show of this nature. What tends to bother me are scenes where doing the science right is simple and yet overlooked. What is with all the number keypads on the doors? Why is the drama wrapped up in the door not opening? Why does the combination work the third time when it didn’t the first two?

How are they going to grow crops in one inch of soil spread out on the floor? You need beds. Consult a gardener. How difficult is it to figure this out? Not to mention stomping all the soil it until it’s hard as rock.

How come the crew of this enormous spaceship is four-hundred people? There is a huge amount of space and almost no one living there. It makes no sense. What are all the open spaces? If the crew was supposed to sleep in hibernation until arrival, the ship is just an incredible waste.

Why do they need water recyclers? Again, the crew was supposed to sleep until a few weeks before arrival. They have food and water for that time-frame. No need for recyclers. There were a few other things I noticed but I’m rambling now.

Conflict with no Build Up

This was probably my biggest problem with the entire first episode. Each major obstacle occurred without any buildup whatsoever. The ship malfunction that awakened the crew is the opening scene.

Next is the water and food crisis. Why not have a few scenes where people are examining the situation, talking about the amount of food and water available. The number of crew members remaining. Discussing putting people back in stasis. There’s no setup, it’s just instantly a problem.

The nerdy guy, mentioned earlier, suddenly has a solution. Why not show him going to the cargo bay and making sure his special items are indeed stored? Have him discuss the possibility of growing food with someone. Build up to the crisis and then cover the possible solutions. The show just throws it all at us instantly.

The oxygen crisis came out of absolutely nowhere. Why not show parts of the damaged ship, show valves leaking oxygen? Show indicators as the problem slowly rises. Build some tension. Maybe one person notices it but is told not to worry.

Why not have the crew member charged with putting oxygen in helmets stop for the day at the important hallway? She’s exhausted and thinks about going on but then leaves it for tomorrow. This is foreshadowing. This is writing a plot, a structure. Building tension. When the conflict arrives out of nowhere with no warning, it’s just not as impactful as seeing it slowly coming.

Solutions with no Explanation

The oxygen problem is solved instantly because the nerdy girl, mentioned before, happened to do her dissertation on the guy who wrote the software. Why not spend some time with her beforehand where she discusses her life, her experiences. Perhaps even in a way that’s not incredibly annoying because the writers felt the need to stereotype her so badly. Then when she knows this stuff, we understand how.

Her solution isn’t really a solution at all. It’s just her pushing some buttons and everything being solved despite the leak still existing.

Conclusion

I’ve been rambling here for a while so I’ll wrap up. I did have other problems with the first episode of The Ark but I’ll leave them for now.

Stereotyped characters. No rising tension. No thought-out solutions. Rushed. That’s the word I’d use. Very rushed. Slow it all down. Let the stories unfold, build the drama. The first ten minutes of the show, the disaster, finding the command crew dead, survivors finding out what happened and adjusting to the new paradigm. That’s interesting. That’s a good first episode. Make that the first sixty minutes and you’ve got something. As it is, I’m not hopeful. Too much, too fast. Not interesting.

Tom Liberman

His Dark Materials a Descent into Maudlin

His Dark Materials

I recently completed watching the HBO series His Dark Materials and found myself with mixed emotions. The series is based on the trilogy of the same name by Philip Pullman. The three books, Northern Lights, Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass follow the heroine Lyra through a series of adventures.

Why am I mixed in my opinion of the show? The three season series went from superb to standard action fair to maudlin. When it was great, it was great. When it was not, it was not. Let’s get into the review.

A Season and a Half of Wonder

His Dark Materials starts out wonderfully with playful Lyra and her friend Roger running about with wild recklessness at Logan College where she is something of a ward, having been dropped off by her parents and abandoned.

The story unfolds leisurely but interestingly as we meet the major players. Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel and the evil Mrs. Coulter who are, of course, her parents. She becomes embroiled in the kidnapping of young children when Roger falls afoul of the villains.

What’s great about this first section of the series is it moves slowly but steadily. We are drawn into the plot and the characters. There are dramatic moments followed by frolic. Comedic relief. Action scenes. Things are mixed up nicely and the story tells itself, no one need explain what is happening and why. I found myself eager for each new episode and not disappointed when it came.

His Dark Materials becomes Action Adventure

The last couple of episodes of the second season suddenly abandoned this approach. It became standard action adventure. Everyone was running around fighting one another. One battle after the next. Lots and lots of running, shouting, and shooting.

All the pacing of the first part of the series vanished in this orgy of violence and drama. It’s almost as if someone told them to spice it up a little. It’s getting boring with all this pacing and interesting character development. Let’s shoot some things, crashes and explosions galore.

The Maudlin End

The death of Scoresby seems to signaled the end of any fun. The entire third season is nothing more than maudlin introspection, heartfelt conversations, and weeping. Lots of weeping.

At least the final season didn’t have as much running around and shooting as the end of the second. Instead, we had one teary-eyed important conversation after the next. We … will … speak … slowly … with … emphasis … on … every … word.

Particularly distressing was Mrs. Coulter’s transition from a frightening villain who brought fear into every room she entered to a weeping and wailing caricature of herself. Every conversation was of the Utmost … Importance and needed teary eyes.

Too Many Explanations

The books are complicated, I understand that. I think the screenwriters needed to remove a lot of complexity, dumb it down a bit. In the end we got tons of exposition but mostly without context. Where did Asriel’s army come from? What were his machines? The specters came from where? Who were the elephant things again? What exactly did Mary do? What was Asriel’s pit weapon thing? Why did worlds have to be closed? Why did the angel die when it killed the priest?

They tried to explain everything and give rationality to it all but it was too much. Too many rules being made up at the last second with little backstory to explain why things needed to happen. Confusing is the word I’d use. Very, very confusing.

The Real Ending

His Dark Materials is really about one thing. It’s the correct interpretation of the fall of man from the Garden of Eden. In Abrahamic religions this is considered a terrible moment. The end of eternal happiness and the beginning of the world’s miseries.

Pullman tells us Eve chose rightfully to escape a horrific cell. She was nothing more than a mindless pet, slavishly worshipping an egomaniacal warden. The escape was our salvation. All we enjoy today, all the good, the wonder, the happiness, and the freedom is a result of their willingness, the human need to escape such a pretty prison.

That’s what His Dark Materials is all about. In the final moments of the last episode, we finally get around to understanding this theme but it’s too late, too late to make it effective for the audience. We needed less time on the complications and more time on the underlying theme. Then it hits home with force.

Conclusion

The books are complex and the series spent the first two seasons in a largely compelling adaptation. Then they thought gunfights, chases, and tear-wrought scenes were what people wanted. It’s a shame they didn’t manage to finish the way they started.

Still, worth a watch.

Tom Liberman

Young Scooby-Doo Characters

Scooby-Doo

I’m following the reviews and general hate for the new Scooby-Doo animated show and it brought to my mind how interesting are the characters. I watched Scooby-Doo back in the day although I can’t say I was a huge fan. I found the show pretty formulaic and boring after a few episodes.

That being said, the characters are interesting and writer Tom, that’s me, started thinking about how I might portray the gang as youngsters, before they became Mystery Inc.

If you’re here to read yet another hate-review then best move along. I’m not going to talk about the current show as it exists, but how I might do it.

The Scooby-Doo Characters

I find the friendships between the characters quite interesting. Fred is a stereotypical dim but handsome jock. Daphne is the beautiful prom queen. Velma is the intelligent, nerdy girl. Shaggy is the stoner. Scooby is Shaggy’s loveable dog. How did such a diverse group become friends?

Early Relationships in Tom World

If this was a Tom Liberman production, I’d start off with them in their separate high school worlds. Fred and Daphne still in the same circles after a failed relationship. Both of them popular kids, consumed with sports, status, fashion.

We’d find Velma perhaps playing Dungeon and Dragons with the other nerds and in the advanced classes being a teacher’s pet to the annoyance of the other students. Shaggy perhaps once a promising young man introduced to marijuana and beginning to spiral into a haze.

How do we get them together? What propels their various arcs?

The Beginnings of Mystery Inc.

It’s obviously got to be a mystery of some sort. There are plenty to be found in the high school milieu. We don’t necessarily have to make them supernatural in appearance. It’s not necessary to keep the same structure as the earlier shows, this is a reimaging, so let’s use our imagination.

Perhaps a teacher’s gradebook was stolen and Velma and Fred are in danger of getting a bad grade. Something to get them together to solve the mystery. It’s a modern show so we are not tied to the episodic nature of the earlier show. We can have one main mystery cover the entire first season. Of course, there will be smaller crimes to solve along the way in each episode. Infidelity in the teacher’s lounge. Pay for grades scandals.

We can use Fred and Daphne’s failed relationship to make them antagonistic at the start, lots of references as to what broke them up, did he cheat? Did she cheat? Was it a misunderstanding? Plenty of material for conflict.

We might discover Shaggy was once an A student but his grades are falling off. Perhaps he has an absent parent, his mother is an alcoholic, something along those lines. The perils of genetic predisposition. Velma is under intense pressure from academically outstanding parents. Even a single B brings their scorn.

Anyway, the four discover they have some unexpected things in common. Breakfast Club style.

The Season Moves Along

Certainly, friends of the four protagonists are not going to like this change of dynamics. Not just the popular kids wondering why Fred and Daphne are now hanging out with the nerds but the other way around as well. Why is Velma, the pretty girl at the Dungeons and Dragons club, now hanging out with that jerk Fred?

There can be side-plots involving friends of the four trying to break-up them up. Sabotage. Lies. Teen angst. Lots of good material there.

How did Shaggy acquire Scooby-Doo? That could be an entire episode in itself. A lost dog wandering to school finds Shaggy stoned in the basement. Shaggy has to care for the beast, leaving his dope behind.

End of the Season

The mystery is solved. Is it back to social normal? How do the four feel about each other when they’re not solving mysteries? How do old friendships compare to the new? Daphne realizing her old friends were backstabbing her. Velma sees the jealousy toward her new popular friends and realizes Fred and Daphne aren’t the terrible people she imagined.

Throw in some sort of setup for the next year with a new mystery unveiled.

Conclusion

I’m not going to go on a rant about the failures of the new show, plenty of other are doing so. Nor am I going to tell everyone my ideas are wonderful and amazing. I find the characters interesting and worthy of exploration. It’s as shame the new show apparently is doing a poor job of it.

Tom Liberman

The Ten Thousand Dollar Blow Job

Ten Thousand Dollar Blow Job

In a show called The Deuce a former prostitute gives a ten thousand dollar blow job and it feels very dirty. I found my disgust at the situation interesting because a few episodes before she’d been performing the same service for twenty dollars.

How, you might ask, can a ten thousand dollar blow job be worse than one provided for far less money? Let me try to explain and you can tell me if you agree.

The Circumstances of the Ten Thousand Dollar Blow Job

Eileen, played superbly by Maggie Gyllenaal, has transitioned from her job as a Times Square hooker to making pornographic movies. She finds herself in Los Angeles for an awards ceremony and tries to sell her idea for a new movie based on the Little Red Riding Hood story.

The money-man is willing to help her with a check for ten thousand if she performs the aforementioned sex act on him while he writes the check. She clearly doesn’t want to do it but in a moment of self-reflections gives in. Later she stares at the check and smiles. It’s certainly the most she’s ever been paid for performing in such a way.

The Twenty Dollar Blow Job

When Eileen, or Candy as she called herself in those days, worked the streets she often gave blow jobs for twenty dollars. Men approached her or she flagged them down and that was that.

What’s the Difference?

What is the difference? That’s a good question. It was clear in my mind the ten thousand dollar blow job was worse. I knew it. Then I had to figure out why. Candy wants money. Eileen wants money. Men have the money and they want blow jobs.

Candy’s job is to give blow jobs. Eileen’s job is to make movies. Does Candy like her job? Does Eileen? We can argue perhaps she does not. It can be argued she likes one more than the other but the reality is we don’t know. Would she rather be doing something else for money?

The Difference

To me there is one important difference between Candy and Eileen. Candy’s job is to give blow jobs. Eileen’s job is to make movies. If the producer wanted a blow job, he could easily find a girl for far less than ten thousand. He used his position of having money and power to coerce Eileen. She didn’t come to him offering a blow job, she came to him with a good idea for a movie. He got his sick jollies by making her do something she didn’t want to do.

I think it’s not difficult to argue Candy doesn’t really want to give blow jobs either, that men use their money to make her do something she doesn’t want to do. The difference is she’s made the decision to give the blow job and men who see her on the streets know why she’s there.

The producer knew why Eileen was there. To make a movie. If he thought she was going to make a good movie then he should finance it.

Conclusion

It’s akin to your boss making you bark like a dog in order to get your paycheck. You’re there to do your job, not bark. Sure, you probably don’t want to do your job all that much but you signed up for it. That’s why you get paid.

The reality is the world is filled with people like the producer. They enjoy feeling superior to others. They use their money, or some other incentive, to coerce people into behaving a certain way. It’s wrong, it’s sick, but it’s reality.

Not everyone has the wherewithal to tell people like that no. Not me. Not this time, bub. It’d be nice if the world didn’t have people like the producer.

Stop coercing people.

Tom Liberman

The Pleasure of Shelling a Pistachio

Pleasure of shelling a pistachio

I thought I’d turn my eye to something important today, the pleasure of shelling a pistachio. The reason this topic comes to mind is a commercial I saw while riding the stationary at the gym this morning. I’m not sure what the commercial was about but in it an anthropomorphic creature of some sort flicked pistachios in a bowl and commented something along the lines of it’s time to get rid of shells.

I think I speak for a healthy majority of people in saying the pleasure of shelling a pistachio is a great deal of the joy in devouring the tasty nut. Yum. Now, I’m sure there are those who disagree and please feel free to tell me so. I welcome dissent here.

My question is, why do I enjoy the process of removing a pistachio from its shell and then eating it as opposed to having them pre-removed and just eating them?

The Unshelled Pistachio

Lest I be accused of not trying both methods, I’ve eaten from a large bowl of unshelled pistachios in the past. You just dig in with your grubby fingers, or perhaps use the spoon the germophobic hosts provide, and pop them directly into your mouth. They certainly must taste the same either way. A pistachio is, after all, a pistachio.

But do they taste the same? My answer is no, they don’t. My brain does something. When I pop pistachio after pistachio, or even a handful, right in a row, the taste is diminished. They just don’t taste as good to me this way.

Now, obviously, this is mental. There is something in the pleasure of shelling a pistachio that changes the perceived flavor, for me at least.

What’s the Difference?

Two things come to mind in trying to decipher why I enjoy the taste of a pistachio I’ve removed from its shell more than one I have not.

The first explanation is simply the time between eating one. When I shell them one by one, there is a delay before gratification. I’m not the sort to remove ten from their shell and then eat them in a row. I remove one, eat it, move to the next. I even take some time to sort out the larger and smaller at times. The smaller being more difficult to shell, generally.

The second explanation is the effort required to shell a pistachio somehow translates to the joy of eating it. The sense of accomplishment in getting it open, casting aside the shells, and then popping it into my mouth. There is also the satisfying sound of the shell breaking open.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt in my mind that I enjoy the taste of a pistachio I’ve removed from the shell more than one I have not. How do you feel about it? Is it a human thing? A Tom thing?

Do you like the taste of pistachios more if you shell them yourself?

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Tom Liberman

Tom Brady and FTX

Tom Brady and FTX

I don’t like Tom Brady. I’m convinced he and his teammates cheated the Rams out of a Super Bowl. I’m certain he was heavily involved in Deflategate. He left his pregnant wife for a super model. I don’t think he’s a good person. I think he’s a liar and a cheat.

There are now news stories he and his super model ex-wife were heavily invested in FTX and they might well face financial ruin. Am I happy about that? Does it make me feel good to see someone I dislike so intensely suffer? It’s a good question and I think it goes to the heart of a lot animosity we see in world today, particularly with politics.

Is the Tom Brady and FTX Misery my Joy?

The real question becomes, should I take joy in the misfortune of others if I don’t like them? I totally understand why people feel this way. If I don’t like a person then their misfortune makes me feel good. I’m guessing to feel this way is human, normal.

Then I start thinking about it a little more. Do I really want to be the person who cheers in joy when someone else is suffering? There is not only Tom Brady to think about. What about all those other investors in FTX who are suffering? People I don’t hate, probably people I like.

Then there is Brady’s family, his children, his friends. They also count on the money Brady provides to enjoy their life.

Should I feet bad about Tom Brady and FTX?

Taking into account the general misery of the entire situation and the total number of people affected, should I feel bad? I’ve spoken about the nature of Cryptocurrency scams. How the lure of easy money causes people to lose sight of their better judgement. How scammers steal from people with false promises.

Now Tom Brady is a victim, just like any other. I’ve written that I feel bad for people who are taken in by such scams but I also don’t excuse their greed. Tom Brady, like a lot of other people, got greedy. Maybe it was his financial advisors, maybe it was all Brady, I don’t know. Someone got greedy and is paying the price.

I feel bad for Brady and others, I do. It’s a terrible blow to lose your fortune like Kevin Bacon and so many others did in trusting Bernie Madoff. This disaster might well have played a role in Brady’s divorce, his decision to return to the football field and risk his health. Lack of money, or the pursuit of it, makes people do things they don’t want to do, sometimes dangerous things.

I really do feel bad for Brady.

The Bigger Picture

It’s my opinion this wishing ill upon people we don’t like his problematic in the United States these days. Every time I see thousands of likes on stories where a Democrat or a Republican figure suffers misfortune I think about it. Thousands of people relishing the horrific car crash that killed Anne Heche. Why are so many people happy to see those they dislike suffer, die? Suffering is terrible. I wish we lived in a world where no one suffered.

I’m not the most empathetic person in the world. I don’t feel the suffering of others. I’m far more intellectually inclined. Still, I do feel bad for Brady. I don’t like him, never will, but I get that his suffering isn’t my happiness. Anyone’s suffering is not my happiness.

Conclusion

Does this all make me a better person? I actually think so. I think people who relish in the suffering of those they dislike are not doing themselves or anyone else any good. I certainly understand it’s human nature. Believe me, when I first heard Brady may have lost his fortune, it made me smile. “Good,” I said. “No one deserves it more.”

Then I started to think about it and changed my mind. Maybe you can do the same when you see the misfortune of someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Maybe you can admonish friends who do the same. Maybe you can’t.

Tom Liberman

Bernie Kosar Gambled and got Fired

Kosar Gambled

Former quarterback Bernie Kosar gambled and got fired from his job for doing so. What’s up with that? Well, Kosar works for the Cleveland Browns, where he spent his career playing football, and is a regular guest on various programs associated with the team.

With gambling becoming legal in Ohio, Kosar gambled $19,000 on the Pittsburgh Steeler game this weekend. He bet on the Browns to win but that’s not really the cause of his firing. The NFL has strict rules about employees, in any capacity, placing bets.

Should Employees be Allowed to Gamble?

I find the situation quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Let’s dispense with any silliness right away. The league clearly has a vested interest in keeping their employees from gambling on games. This is the case for a number of reasons.

Employees who gamble might have access to inside information and tip other gamblers to a particular way to bet. Employees might well get into gambling debt and become compromised in some way or another.

Any employee gambling gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. Even betting on the team with which the person is associated doesn’t help all that much. Could the person know something about the other team? It’s a tangled web and I completely understand the various sports leagues prohibiting gambling.

I won’t go deeply into problem gambling that is escalating across the country as I spoke about that elsewhere.

Kosar Gambled his Job and Lost

Kosar knew the rules. He stated well-ahead of time he planned to make the wager. It was almost certain the Cleveland Browns had to let him go once he placed the bet. When Kosar claims he is “shocked” by the turn of events, I find that pretty dubious. He knew what he was doing, the consequences for doing so, and chose to do it anyway.

The League is a Hypocrite

Up until now you’d think I my case open and shut. Hardly. Sports leagues don’t have a strong ethical position to enforce this ban. The leagues and individual teams profit enormously from legal gambling. They are sponsored by legal gambling website. Some of the stadiums even have areas in them associated with those websites.

Gambling fuels interest and betting information is available in any number of places associated with the various sports leagues. It’s hard to say how much money the leagues and teams make from gambling but it’s not insubstantial.

Basically, what the NFL is saying to Kosar is they can associate with gamblers all they want but he cannot. Kosar gambled and he’s out. The league takes millions from gambling sites and that’s just fine.

I do recognize that gambling itself and being paid from the profits of those bets are two different things, but the association and hypocrisy is not to my liking.

Conclusion

Kosar’s firing is completely legitimate from the point view of the league and he should not be surprised. Those in power need to take a closer look at their own behavior. Winners here? Not that I see.

Tom Liberman

The Coffeezilla and Logan Paul CryptoZoo Kerfuffle

CryptoZoo

*** UPDATE ***

Paul has apologized to Coffee and dropped all threats.

*** END UPDATE ***

I know most of my loyal fans have no interest in Coffeezilla, Logan Paul, or CryptoZoo but I’m afraid that’s today’s topic.

In reality, my discussion is more about defamation lawsuits and frivolous lawsuits. It’s an interesting topic to me because it comes down to wealthy people using the law to stifle those who criticize them. It’s not something new and it’s growing.

Who is Logan Paul

Logan Paul is a media personality, athlete, and actor who specializes in self-promotion. There’s nothing wrong with someone hustling to promote themselves and make some money. Paul did so in questionable ways in the past; filming a corpse of someone who committed suicide and posting it on his YouTube channel as an example.

He’s largely been successful in his promotional activity and has a big following on YouTube.

What is CryptoZoo

CryptoZoo is a project headed by Logan Paul. In it he hoped to make a game where people purchased digital eggs, largely in the hopes of making a profit. Eggs were sold for millions of dollars. The game has thus far not materialized and several people involved in the project have lengthy criminal backgrounds.

Several of those people apparently made off with a great deal of the money although Paul is not one of them.

Who is Coffeezilla

Coffeezilla is a YouTube personality who specializes in exposing scams. He became interested in this when any number of people tried to scam his ill mother with phony cures. His coverage of several large financial situations including FTX and Save the Kids Token earned him a great deal of respect in the industry and he is now well-regarded.

What’s the Point of all this Tom-o?

I know you’ve been reading for a while and now I’ll get to the point. Coffeezilla ran a three-part episode in which he indicated his opinion that CryptoZoo was largely a scam from the beginning. The developers hired for the project had little or no ability to deliver the project. Millions of dollars in sales were made with only basic development on the project. Meanwhile Paul, when confronted with angry investors demanding refunds, continually claimed it would soon be finished.

Coffeezilla declared the entire project largely a scam from the beginning. Paul claims he too is a victim of the scam as his developer and main stakeholders absconded with most of the money. Paul is now threatening to sue Coffeezilla for defamation.

This is my point. Paul is quite likely guilty of mismanagement at the best. He’s probably lucky he didn’t cash out, like his partners, as there might well be fraud charges if he had done so. The point of the lawsuit is, I suspect, to silence Coffeezilla and Paul is not alone in using this tactic.

Frivolous Lawsuits

Frivolous litigation in the United States was once framed as lawsuits filed against big business in order to delay a particular activity. Weirdo crackpots trying to stop progress. If a judge determines a suit is frivolous the person filing might have to pay the legal fees of the other party and also face a fine.

In reality the law has been twisted from its original intent. Now, wealthy people and companies file such suits forcing their critics to hire expensive lawyers and spend a great deal of time, effort, and money to defend themselves. Meanwhile, if the suit is determined to be frivolous, it’s not a big deal to the wealthy person who can afford such activity, it’s simply the price of doing business.

If they can silence critics, force settlements for smaller sums from those who run out of money to defend themselves, cover-up wrongdoing, etc., why not file?

Cryptozoo Case

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t say whether a case against Coffeezilla brought by Paul will be successful, a failure, or determined frivolous. That being said, it seems extremely frivolous to my eyes. Paul has to prove Coffeezilla intentionally lied and from the videos I’ve seen, Coffeezilla did quite a bit of research and appears to believe his assertions completely. He makes a convincing argument.

Paul, on the other hand, seems largely eager to silence a critic using his financial advantages.

Conclusion

The law is perverted to help the rich, again. We’ve got a problem in this country and it’s with the legal system. The system was designed to be blind. To help the poor get justice when they are in the right. It’s not working anymore.

Tom Liberman

The Problem with a Skill Challenge

Skill Challenge

I play role-playing games and one of the difficulties in running an adventure is something called a Skill Challenge. At its heart, the skill challenge creates a problem because the character being played and the player playing that character don’t have the same talents.

The person playing the heavily muscled but intellectually challenged warrior might actually be the most intelligent and articulate person in the group. Likewise, the crafty rogue might be a player who doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the ongoing game. Thus, the skill challenge conundrum.

Incompatible Players and the Skill Challenge

A skill challenge can be something as simple as breaking down a door or something as complex as convincing a truculent character to reveal vital information. In either case, the person attempting the challenge isn’t always suited to achieve the goal.

A player might not have the adroitness of language to fast talk the information out of a non-player character run by the game master.

Easy Fix, just Roll the Die

The easy path is to simply have characteristics or skills that allow to test for success rather than relying on player interaction. A powerful warrior makes a strength check to kick down the door. A crafty rogue makes a Fast Talk roll to convince the bartender to give him the key to the locked chest.

The problem with this method is that there is no role-playing, which is the nature of the game. The fun of the game is the player getting to pretend for a few hours she or he is someone else. With this method, it’s just a roll of the die.

What if they Miss?

Missing the roll is another enormous problem. If the warrior needs to open the door for the adventure to progress and fails, where does that leave the game? It can be much more complex than a simple roll to open a door, it can be about finding a series of clues. If the players don’t have the luck to get the information, then the game master must somehow get it to them in another way. This can come across as railroading the adventure.

If the game master is just going to give us what we need to succeed, why bother even trying?

Best Solution to the Skill Challenge Problem

I’ve been playing and running role-playing games for over forty years now and I’m sad to admit there is no perfect solution to this problem. If the character with the best chance to succeed isn’t great at role-playing or the dice just don’t cooperate, it’s a problem.

I think the best solution is to give the player the opportunity to do some role-playing if they want but never bother with the dice. Just give them the answer no matter what.

Player: I try to break the door down with a running shoulder bash.

GM: You smash into the door and hear a crack as a panel breaks but it remains closed.

I’ve seen far too many adventures derail simply because of a bad roll of the die or a poor decision by the players in a crucial moment. That’s no fun for anyone, well, the sadistic game master might enjoy it but that’s another matter altogether.

Conclusion

Let the players succeed, that’s the fun of the game.

Tom Liberman

Does a Bad Link make a Difference?

Bad Link

I just witnessed a fascinating instance involving a bad link and a series of comments. One of my Facebook friends spotted what she presumably thought an interesting article and clicked the link. It went to a story about a completely different topic.

She then pointed out not a single person, other than her, noticed the story went to a bad link. Her observation was completely on point but not exactly what I want to discuss today. What about all those comments and likes?

The Headline is all that Matters

The picture and headline of the Facebook link indicated psychological reasons for feeling anxiety after heavy drinking. There followed some 150 comments and nearly 700 likes or emoji responses, primarily likes. Yet, it was a bad link. Not a single person making a comment or reacting to the story actually tried to read it, other than my friend.

Now, I’m used to the idea that people comment on stories without reading them. I see all sorts of behavior like that, particularly in regards to my Misleading Headline series. Even I, in my cynicism, didn’t imagine they don’t even bother to click the link.

What percentage of people commenting on a story failed not only to read the article itself but didn’t even try? From the evidence on display here, I’d guess it might be as high as 90%.

Is Humanity just a Bad Link?

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest a healthy percentage of people just don’t care. They don’t see. They don’t read. They don’t listen. They look for what they superficially desire and call it a life. Is this disturbing reality what drives much of the misunderstand between people we see in the world these days?

Has mass media, social media, quick snippets of targeted lies found their ultimate audience? Are the rational of the world doomed to be destroyed by those who don’t even bother to find out it’s a bad link?

Conclusion

I don’t think so. I think there’s plenty of hope for humanity but we need to start teaching critical thinking skills at the very earliest levels of education and never stop. Click the damn link.

Tom Liberman

My Encounter with a Bad Logic Troll

Bad Logic Troll

I read and comment on a lot of news stories and I thought a recent encounter with a bad logic troll might be of some interest to you, my loyal and vast audience. I follow chess fairly closely and commented on the recently completed Rapid and Blitz Championship which resulted in a pair of victories for Magnus Carlsen.

This comment resulted in me getting involved with a bad logic troll. I appreciate a good troll as much as anyone and I’ve engaged in the practice a few times myself. In this case I thought the use of logical fallacies worthy of an examination.

The Backstory

Magnus Carlsen recently declared he will not defend his world championship title in classical chess. This means when a new champion is declared later this year, he will no longer be eligible to win all three of the main chess championships in the same calendar year. A number of people are lamenting this fact and such thoughts led to my original comment.

One of the reasons Carlsen is not defending his title is such a defense occupies two years of his time. Carlsen preference is he’d like a yearly tournament to determine champion and I echoed that in my original comment. See the image above.

The Bad Logic Troll Arrives

Cue stage right, the villain has arrived! His or her original argument is a classical chess game, which lasts many hours, is unsuitable for a Swiss style tournament with many players. Now, at this point I already suspected a troll but I’m always willing to engage in conversation.

My Rebuttal

I replied, with a bit of snark you’ll notice when reading the exchange, there are Swiss style tournaments playing classical chess on a fairly regular basis. That one of these tournaments is called the Grand Swiss. The fact that Swiss style tournaments with a hundred or more players are not only possible, but happen, seems to win the argument.

End of story, right? Troll wrong. Tom right. Time for a whiskey and celebration. Not so fast. The bad logic troll now tries lying. He or she claims the Grand Swiss tournament is played over a long period of time and involves pools. Both of these things are false. Either it’s a lie or just made up to support her or his original assertions. We haven’t gotten to the bad logic yet although certainly the behavior exhibited by my foe is egregious.

My Reply

I reply with simple facts copied and pasted from the Grand Swiss wiki page. The tournament lasts thirteen days and is not a pool event. Irrefutable, you exclaim. Victory for Tom! There’s no way the troll is slipping out of this one. Ah, my naïve friend, you haven’t dealt with trolls, have you? Just you wait.

The Bad Logic Appears

The troll counters with an argument completely different than the one originally made and shows a not unanticipated lack of basic math skills in adding up the time between two dates. This is the bad logic. Rather than admit her or his first argument was clearly defeated by a superior intellect, that’s me if you’re not following along, the troll goes down a different path. It really doesn’t matter what argument follows. It’s always the same and it’s a logical fallacy called Moving the Goalposts. When the original argument fails, just try a new one.

Conclusion

What to do when encountering this fallacy? Well, I suppose you can continue to argue but the person with whom you are debating is not worthy of the effort. Cut your losses, move on. That’s my advice at least.

Smile with smug self-satisfaction knowing you’ve won the argument because they, by moving the goalposts, conceded the point.

Smug Tom Liberman

Iranian Women Chess players and Subtle Misogyny

Iranian Women Chess players

A subtle version of misogyny is on display in news stories about Iranian Women chess players. I’ve written about the subtleties of racism previously and today I take on a similar topic. Just because something is misogynistic doesn’t mean it’s obvious or even an intentional act.

Let’s examine stories making the rounds about Iranian women chess players. Basically, Iranian women are required to wear a hijab. Recent protests in that country brought attention to the practice and a pair of Iranian women, Sara Khadem and Atousa Pourkashiyan are playing the World Rapid and Blitz championship not wearing hijabs.

What’s the subtle misogyny in that? Let me explain.

What is Misogyny

I think the first thing to understand is the idea of misogyny. The dictionary defines it as dislike of, contempt, or ingrained prejudice against women. When we see a definition like this we think of open misogyny. Someone going around telling people that women are not deserving of human rights, they are weak, stupid, worthless.

The reality is that misogyny comes in many flavors and is not always obvious. That’s where such things are insidious. We look at behavior that, at first glance, appears perfectly normal, and accept it as such. Even when it’s actually not quite so harmless.

The Case of the Iranian Women Chess Players

If you look at the picture I’ve included at the top of this article, you’ll see of the players in question. Khadem on the left and Pourkashiyan on the right. Can you guess what image the articles in question are displaying? Both women? Khadem? Pourkashiyan? I don’t even really need to ask. You know the answer already. That’s my point.

In fact, when I first read about this story, the only name I saw was Khadem. They didn’t even bother to include the fact that Pourkashiyan also chose not to wear a hijab. It was only today I realized there were two women involved in the protest, if that word can be used.

Attractive Women are more Valuable

What’s the subtle message from the fact that Khadem’s picture is plastered all over the articles and Pourkashiyan’s is not? Prettier is better. A woman’s worth is in her beauty.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The picture of an attractive woman brings more clicks to the story. The agencies publishing such articles want clicks, therefore they choose to put up the picture of Khadem.

That being said, if we boil it down to its essence, the misogyny is there. It’s subtle, it’s not easy to see. Not virulent. Not overly damaging. A shrug of the shoulders type of misogyny, still, it’s there.

If you were the brother of Pourkashiyan, what would you say?

Conclusion

Little things add up in the mind of those prone to thinking this way. The path to misogyny, and most prejudices and hatreds, is not always obvious.

It’s not always easy to be a better person and sometimes we don’t even realize what we’re doing is wrong. In this case, it’s wrong not to include pictures of both women. It is misogyny, ever so subtle.

Tom Liberman

Gambling Banking to Increase Savings?

Gambling Banking

I just watched a YouTube video about gambling banking and how it might incentivize people to increase their savings. I’ve written about gambling addiction and predatory loans recently and this video brought both of those topics to my mind.

It’s highly likely that my research for those articles led the YouTube algorithm to send me this new video. In any case, I found the idea of gambling banking to be quite interesting and thought you might as well.

The Human Mind Prefers Gambling Banking

The basic idea behind gambling banking is the human mind’s propensity to prefer a low chance with a high reward more than a high chance with a low reward. Studies seem to show, and my own personal experience with people confirms, that people much prefer these types of gambles.

As a quick example. When offered a choice between a 100% chance to win five dollars and a 1% chance to win $500, people almost universally choose the later. Obviously, the math shows an equal return of investment but the allure of the high reward is much greater.

The studies cited in the video went into great depth to figure out exactly where the general cutoff point is in these mathematical models. At what reward point do people take the small amount over the large? If you’d like to learn more about those things, watch the video as I’m not going to focus on it any more. I think the results are accurate and that’s what’s important.

What is Gambling Banking?

Now, knowing that people much prefer the low chance, high reward model; a test case was setup at a banking institution. If people put a certain amount or more in their savings account, there was a small chance the bank would match that amount.

The result, according to the video, was startling. Many, many more people started putting money in at the minimum level, let’s say $5000, than the bank saw in the past. This makes sense to me.

Why is Saving so Important?

The amount of money you save is a tremendously important factor when it comes to predatory loans. People who have enough to pay for a financial emergency, a few thousand dollars, don’t have to take out high-interest loans. Thus, they don’t get into financial trouble that plagues them for the rest of the lives.

A common reason people take out such loans are car repairs. If they can’t get to work, they lose their job. A short-term loan of a few thousand dollars makes financial sense. Sadly, these are the sort of people who the bank generally will not give loans because of their poor credit rating.

Do we need Government?

This is the part of the gambling banking plan that really attracted this Libertarian. No government necessary. If the banking institution become aware of this model and realize it will result in people putting more money in the bank, they will implement it completely on their own. Banks don’t need the government to tell them how to make money.

Downside

It’s important to recognize there are very few scenarios without some downside. In this case, if people are putting more of their discretionary money into banks rather than buying luxury items, there is less spent overall.

Still, this isn’t a huge deal as the money people put into banks doesn’t just sit there. It is loaned out to others who use it.

Conclusion

Interesting study, great idea. Let’s go!

Tom Liberman

Predatory Loans in Utah

Predatory Loans

I just read an interesting article about how a loosely regulated market allows for what can only be described as predatory loans in Utah. It’s an interesting question for me because the main rational behind allowing loans with an interest rate of up to 200% is aligned with a Libertarian ideology.

Basically, predatory loans in Utah are allowed because the legislature in that state doesn’t put a legal cap on the highest interest rate allowed. Most states do so and the Federal Government mandates active-duty service members, but no one else, cannot be charged more than 36%.

Are they Predatory Loans?

Let’s dispense with this question right away. The loans are structured in a way to trap low-income borrowers into paying back far more than they took out. The loans are absolutely predatory. Most of them come with a 90-day stipulation that if you pay it back in that amount of time the higher interest rate doesn’t apply.

They are largely taken by people in desperate situations, often an unexpected car repair. Without a car the borrower will lose their job. Without a job …. Anyway, the design is predatory, that much is certain.

The Service of the Loan

While the loans are certainly predatory, the people who take them are in desperate need and cannot get a loan legally any other way. They generally have poor credit ratings and cannot get a loan from a bank that doesn’t offer such a high interest rate. This because most states regulate an interest cap.

Banks know that such loans have a high default rate. In order to make up for that default rate, a crazy-high interest rate is charged for those that cannot repay immediately.

The people who take these loans are the same people who end up owing money to extra-legal lending sources and payday loan companies.

Different than Banks and the Government?

I’ve written about how the government itself operates like a loan-shark with ridiculous fees and escalating fines for late payments. I’ve also talked about how the government and private industry intentionally created the student loan situation in which we find ourselves.

The government intentionally bankrupted the United States Postal service largely at the behest of banks in order to take out massive loans with the never-ending interest payments.

Financial Ruin of Unpaid Predatory Loans

One of the interesting things about loans is if a bank gives issues too many that default, the bank itself goes out of business. The bank doesn’t have a pile of cash sitting in the vault. They take the money you give them in interest payments and loan it to others. If enough others fail to pay, the bank gets into trouble. Some may remember the recent housing crisis. The student loan crisis we currently face. These are directly related to too many bad loans resulting in defaults.

This is why the Utah banks in question don’t do the majority of their business in such loans. It’s a dangerous game to play.

Is Utah in the Wrong?

Is Utah wrong to allow banks to charge up to 200% interest rates for these types of loans? If the banks do not provide this service, will extra-legal loan-sharks step in? The government, with their long record of predatory behavior, is hardly an institution I trust to rein in this practice.

There is real damage, of course. A certain percentage of those who take out the loans cannot pay them back in 90 days and end up with unsustainable payments. Even if people stop paying and incur some court-ordered lesser payment plan, they suffer financial difficulties for a long time if not the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

Ok, Tom. The loans are predatory and people will suffer. But you don’t think regulating them will help. Do you have anything useful to say or was this just an intellectual exercise?

Good question. I think some problems just don’t have solutions. As long as people are poor and need money, such loans will exist, legal or illegal. It’d be nice if we didn’t have poor people. If there was a way to provide for all people in need, whether they deserve it or not, whether they’ve earned it or not. There currently is not such a system in place.

I guess my only real point here is to beware of what appears to be a simple solution to a complex problem. It can make things worse rather than better.

Tom Liberman

Cloud Password Security Pragmatism versus Paranoia

Cloud Password Security

I just read an interesting article about Cloud Password Security in regards to the popular LastPass software. The comment section, as it often does, inspired me to write a blog about what’s going on and why I like to consider myself a pragmatic person.

The problem is simple enough. Creating a secure password is a bit of a pain and keeping track of all your passwords is even more difficult. Thus, cloud password security programs began to sprout up. They store your passwords online in an encrypted format and allow you to access your online sites without actually risking hacking.

What Happens when the Cloud Password Security Software is Hacked?

This is the focus of the article and what generated so much debate in the comments section. It’s fairly self-evident a storage silo for secure passwords is going to attract the attention of hackers. Why spend all that time getting my password when a hacking group can access millions all at once?

Lots of people chimed in with immediate and visceral responses. No way was he or she going to trust some cloud-based password system. In many cases the commenter listed local password security as a better solution. Generate your own secure passwords, store them locally in an encrypted way. That way you don’t put your passwords in a big old pile with a million others.

Pragmatisms versus Paranoia

The thing to understand about the various commenters lashing out against cloud password security is they have a point. The suggestion of storing all your passwords locally and encrypted is marginally more secure than using an online vendor.

The problem is, of course, the vast majority of people don’t want to or are technically incapable of doing so. With online cloud password security your passwords are automatically generated and put into sites you visit, bypassing the need for you to type them in manually. For many people, this alone is reason enough to use such services.

The real problem against using locally stored and encrypted passwords is much more pragmatic. A large majority of people simply do not create secure passwords and tend to reuse the same password over and over, perhaps with a number added to the end. Many people write down a list somewhere which means even a casual visitor or repair technician can get them easily enough. One of your kids’ friends. More people are in your house than you realize.

This means for the most internet users, their information is serious danger of being hacked. Your bank information. Your photos of loved ones. Everything.

My Personal Experience

It’s frankly impossible to remember all your passwords so you’re going to have to store them somehow. Over the years, several websites to which I belonged years ago informed me that they’d been hacked. That my password information for that site was now in the hands of the hackers. No problem for me, I never reuse passwords, but a huge problem for the majority of people.

Conclusion

I actually use a locally stored and encrypted system so you’d think I’d recommend that solution for everyone. I don’t. It’s just not realistic. I’m a pragmatist. I know the system I use for myself just isn’t going to work for many other people. What’s good for me isn’t good for everyone. That’s an important little life lesson all by itself but I won’t elaborate.

Please, for your own financial security, purchase a monthly subscription to a cloud password security service. You’ll hear horror stories about it being unsafe but don’t listen. It’s safer for the vast majority of people and that means you.

Tom Liberman

When is a Breakthrough not a Breakthrough

Breakthrough

I’m a bit of a buff when it comes to nuclear energy and a recent story racing through the internet involves a breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion.

I’m not going to get into a highly technical discussion about Nuclear Fusion or even the details of this particularly breakthrough. If you want to know more then please click the link above for a thorough and excellent article discussing the breakthrough and the challenges that lie ahead.

Free Energy

In this situation the headlines blared about an important breakthrough in nuclear fusion that promised endless and almost free energy. This is a concept I’ve talked about before. The possibility of such a thing is tantalizing and the effects on our world all but incalculable.

The Breakthrough that Isn’t

The problem with the blaring headlines and ridiculous promises engendered by them is it really isn’t the breakthrough people imagine. Yes, it’s an important breakthrough on the way to potentially using controlled nuclear fusion to generate energy. The problem is it’s nowhere near what is necessary to provide energy. Much more energy was used to create the nuclear fusion than was generated by it.

This is a problem with misleading headlines. A regular feature of mine that I’ve let slip the last couple of years. In any case, this story is not what people imagine and that’s the problem.

In this case the misleading headline is technically true but practically false. Again, for a full discussion of why this is the case, click the link provided.

Ramifications

Now I get to the point of this blog. What are the ramifications of publishing information about a breakthrough when many people will completely misunderstand the issue? Is it a dire situation? Not really. Most people will misunderstand the breakthrough but there is largely no practical problem with this confusion.

Controlled nuclear fusion is not coming anytime soon, if ever and no headline or personal belief on the matter will change that.

However, there is great potential for harm. Let’s imagine some fast-talking con-artist out there who wants your money and promises to make a fantastic, easy to build, nuclear fusion reactor. Lots of people give money to that person who spends a few years spouting out false promises only to fail to deliver in the end. What if that fast-talking con-artist manages to convince people in government; local, state, and federal, to give her or him a huge amount of tax-payer funds? What if that person becomes the richest person in the world or just merely a billionaire?

I think you see the problem. Con-artists love this sort of story in the same way they love conspiracy theories. It gets people excited and thinking irrationally. A fool and his or her money, as the saying goes.

What to Do?

My solution is almost always the same. Teach critical thinking skills at every level of education starting in preschool. If you’ve spent time watching science videos about nuclear fusion then you’ll be skeptical the moment you see the breakthrough headline. You’ll immediately seek out other sources to confirm it and you won’t be taken in by Theranos, I mean a con-artist.

Conclusion

If something looks too good to be true, it is. I’m not the first to say as much.

Tom Liberman

The Fun of a Support Character

Support Character

When it comes to role-playing games, I enjoy running a support character. What’s the appeal, you ask? That’s a fair question. What is a support character ask those of you not into gaming? Another good query.

My newest support character is the Staff Magus Ahmotep from the Mummy’s Mask of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, no worries, I’ll explain without getting too technical.

In role-playing games there are generally two kinds of characters, those who take the lead in various situations and those who tend to support them. The people who do the supporting are called Support Characters.

What is a Support Character?

I think most people prefer to play lead characters. That is to say, they like taking on the bad guy, stealing the treasure, blasting a roomful of enemies with a destructive spell. It’s pretty fun to play a lead character and I’ve done it plenty of times.

Meanwhile, a support character doesn’t really do any of those things. A support character tends to hang back to help the others. Maybe increase the damage done by the big fighter or turn the rogue invisible so she can do some good back-stabbing. In the case of Ahmotep, she grants a two-point bonus to any other character in the same location.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to understand game mechanics and I’m not going to bore you to death with anything too detailed.

My Love of the Support Character

Why do I enjoy playing a support character more than a main character? I think the appeal is I’m required to really pay attention to what is going on with all the other characters. Ahmotep can do some of her own exploring and fighting, she’s not a bad character by any means, but her biggest strength is that two-point bonus.

This means I must be aware of where the other characters are and what they are doing. I need to keep track of which character most needs that bonus and when. It’s not so easy because it requires me to think about the entirety of the situation. The more characters in the game, the more nuanced becomes my task.

Do I help the rogue in the Crypt or the mage in the Bazaar? Being a support character requires me to really pay attention to what is going on in the game. This keeps me engaged and improves my experience. I don’t let my mind wander as I complete tasks simply related to my own character. As the big fighter, it’s fairly easy to shut off the brain, rush in, and attack the biggest foe. It’s fairly straight-forward and simple and I don’t have to pay too much attention to what anyone else is doing.

I’m not Saying the Support Character is the Best

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy playing the brute or the damage specialist mage and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone else who does so. I’m also not saying just because someone else plays those types of characters they aren’t paying as much attention to the game as me.

What I am saying is that when I play a support character, I’m kind of playing all the other characters at the same time. If I don’t buff up the right character at the correct time it can be a disaster for the entire party. I’m more aware of the bigger picture, all the moving pieces. I enjoy that.

What about you?

For my gaming friends. Support character or main character?

View Results

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Tom Liberman

Special Rules for Puerto Rico to enter the Union?

Puerto Rico

I just read an interesting article about legislation passed in order for Puerto Rico to vote to enter the United States or separate from it. The reason it’s interesting to me is because the process of admitting a new state to the Union is spelled out directly in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States.

Why is any special authorization needed in order for Puerto Rico to apply for admission? It makes no sense to me at all, but maybe someone can explain it.

It’s all there Already

The entire process of joining the Union is completely laid out in the Constitution. Anyone territory or region that wants to join has a referendum and, if successful, can apply. Generally speaking, there is a waiting period while the territory or region puts together their state constitution and then Congress votes on whether or not to accept it into the Union.

It’s not rocket science. Are special rules required for Puerto Rico to apply for entry into the United States as a new state? It’s ludicrous. There is nothing to prevent any region or territory from applying. If some far-off country decided they wanted to apply, so be it. Congress is under no obligation to admit any territory or region.

Who is the United States to tell Puerto Rico they can or cannot Apply?

Since when do we make the rules for application for admission. It’s not up to us to determine if you want to apply or not, it absolutely is up to us to decide if we accept the application. Nothing else even begins to make any sense to me.

Why can’t anyone apply? It’s insane that Puerto Rico can’t apply. They’ve had a number of referendums ever since the United States took over from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico has been a territory ever since with the people being United States citizens but without voting rights, no Congressmembers, and no federal income tax on earnings made in Puerto Rico.

Good Idea or Bad?

I’m not saying it’s a great thing for Puerto Rico to join the United States nor am I saying it’s a good thing for them end territorial status and become an independent nation. I’m saying it’s up to them and always should have been. Why would they need a special law to leave or join? It’s a baffling mystery to me.

Add States to the United States

I will say that I think it’s a terrible shame we’ve admitted no new states since Hawaii in 1959. The United States should never have let partisanship prevent the entry of states. I won’t get too deeply into this topic or the sham that is West Virginia but I do think we should be growing and incorporating more of the world in the grand experiment, not cutting ourselves off.

Conclusion

If the people of Puerto Rico want to join the Union, so be it. They can apply. It’s as simple as that.

Tom Liberman

Tipping is Taxes at best Stealing at Worst

Tipping is taxes

I just read an interesting article about how little restaurant workers are paid and it reminded me that tipping is taxes. I’m not certain exactly how tipping at restaurant became ubiquitous in the United States but I suspect it was nefarious from the beginning.

The article in question details how a waitress at a restaurant got a paycheck for $9.28 after working for seventy hours. That’s quite a bit below what the government considers her lowest possible wage of $2.13 an hour but apparently taxes reduced her paycheck from $150.81 to the aforementioned amount. She posted the article to illustrate why you should tip your waitstaff when dining out. I have a different take.

Tipping is Taxes on you

When you tip, you are paying a tax. The tax is simply the restaurant’s way of charging you less for the food up front by paying their employees ridiculously low wages. The wages for restaurant employees are so low that no one would do the job if it wasn’t for tips. Working for that pathetic a wage is simply not a feasible alternative.

At some point someone got the idea we should tip restaurant workers. As I said, I suspect it was a restaurant owner who simply didn’t want to pay workers a reasonable wage. We think of tipping as a way to compliment the staff for their service but it is merely a tax, and a big one at that. One the state and community doesn’t track. Every time you pay twenty percent extra, or more, for dining out, you are paying a tax.

You Pay Taxes on the Food Too!

Not only do you pay a tax to cover the cost of employing the staff but you also pay the government a tax to eat the food. The restaurant owner forces you to pay for their staff and then the government swoops in and gets a cut as well.

I’ve written before that I’m not opposed to taxes altogether. The government collected money from citizens to build the roads leading to the restaurant and to create the infrastructure bringing utilities to the restaurant. I don’t mind this, that’s all well and good. What I mind is paying the staff. That’s the job of the restaurant. Do I tip when I shop anywhere else?

Not only is Tipping Taxes but it’s Essentially Theft

Basically, the restaurant is stealing from the employee every time the total income is less than what the market would bear if wages were based on work rather than tips. It’s the restaurant’s way of not paying their employees.

When tips exceed the normal payment of such an employee then the restaurant is stealing from you. You are essentially overpaying the staff for the food you got. That is a determination that belongs solely to the employer, not the customer.

Stop Tipping and Start Paying a Competitive Wage

People get all angry when a new tax is floated by the government but we pay a huge rate for simply sitting down to eat food.

Naturally, if restaurants pay a fair wage to keep good employees, the cost of eating at the restaurant will go up. That’s the price of doing business. You pay your employees their worth and if you still make a profit, you stay in business. That’s capitalism.

Conclusion

Tipping is not capitalism, it’s a tax. It’s not even a stealthy, hidden tax that we don’t notice. We all know about it. Many of us pay it although some people don’t tip at all. I don’t think anyone should tip. Pay your employees their worth and charge me accordingly.

Tom Liberman

Prime Time Sellout or Business as Usual

Prime Time Sellout

Is it a Prime Time Sellout for Deion Sanders to take the head coaching job at the University of Colorado or is it just business as usual in the college football world? It’s an interesting question that depends largely on how you define the word sellout.

Deion Sanders was, until recently, the head coach at Jackson State University where he compiled an excellent record and won two championships in the role. He just took the job at Colorado which as a Power Five Conference member means a big jump in salary for Prime Time.

A lot of people are angry at Deion for taking the job and consider it a Prime Time Sellout. What do I think? Let’s discuss.

What is a Prime Time Sellout?

The first question we must ask ourselves is how do we define a sellout? Is it simply someone who take a lucrative job over a lower-paying job which is perhaps a worse fit? If that’s the case then, clearly, it’s a Prime Time sellout.

If, on the other hand, a sellout is defined as someone backing away from their principles because they got offered a lot of money, then it’s a bit different. We have to figure out what it is that Sanders holds dear and whether or not he has betrayed those ideals.

What are Deion’s Principles?

The man’s nickname is Prime Time. That suggests quite a bit. It means he wants to be on the big stage and earn money for doing so. If we judge Sanders by this simple test then it’s clear he is absolutely not a sellout, in fact, he’s holding true to his principles. He has always grabbed for the spotlight with both hands and this is just another manifestation of that personality trait.

The Job at Jackson State

However, a nickname does not define a man. When Sanders left his lucrative commentary gigs to become the Head Coach at Jackson State he did so with a social agenda. Jackson State is a one of the Historically Black Colleges and University that dot the nation’s south. They exist because discriminatory policies often prevented black students from entering colleges and universities, particularly in the south.

When segregation finally came to an end and particularly when the big colleges around the country realized black athletes were the way to success, HBCUs fell on hard times athletically. The schools once proud tradition of excellence in athletic competitions began to wain as the best athletes went elsewhere.

When Sanders arrived, he pointedly addressed this problem, talking about the complete lack of funding for these schools. I’ve discussed how money makes a huge difference in athletics before and Sanders echoed my sentiments on this subject when he arrived at Jackson State.

If Sanders believed his words and his mission to elevate Jackson State along with the rest of the HCBUs, then his move to Colorado is truly a Prime Time sellout.

Conclusion

Where do I stand on the subject? I do think Deion meant what he said, or at least believed he meant it, when he took the job at Jackson State. He truly did want to elevate the school and highlight the shocking difference between athletes of wealthy Power Five Conferences and those schools with less money.

I also think the nickname Prime Time and his behavior off the field; including a reality show and a number of other appearances on television shows is indicative of a man who chases money first and foremost.

Is Deion a Prime Time Sellout? I say no. He’s just exhibiting behavior inline with what I’d expect from him. If I believed what he said when he took the Jackson State job and invested time and effort with him to elevate the school, well, then I’d be a bit pissed and I get those who feel betrayed.

What do you think?

Is Deion Sanders a Prime Time Sellout?

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Tom Liberman