Concerning Your Right to Discuss Your Pay Rate at Work

 

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Whenever I get a new job, I take one evening off from everything and I read the employee handbook, sifting through the legalese in search of opportunities. If I can find any fringe benefits — retirement savings match, cell phone discounts, etc. — I am going to take advantage of each and every one. Everyone gets excited about a new job, but not everyone makes a holiday out of the ritual reading of the handbook.

There have been multiple occasions where an employee handbook I read specifically prohibited any sort of discussion of my pay rate with any of my fellow employees. This was generally seen as a pretty high level offense, something that could get you fired. I can’t remember many times in the couple of decades I’ve been working where I could afford to be fired or even laid off for even a couple of weeks. I toed the line and I kept my job and I thought I was the better for it.

We’ve talked about how many people don’t even know they could be claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and getting loads of money back come tax season. Well, now we need to talk about another issue people are not aware of, the fact that it is illegal for your employer to prevent you from talking about your wages with other employees. Enforcement of said “gag rules” are in direct violation of multiple federal and state laws. I thought it might be a good idea to delve deeper into this topic.

YOUR RIGHTS

Different employees are protected under different laws. For the majority of private employees, excluding

any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 U.S.C. 151 et seq.]*, as amended from time to time, (29 US Code § 152)

protection is granted according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) which is also know as the Wagner Act after New York Senator Robert F. Wagner. The specific clause that protects an employee’s right to discuss wage information with fellow employees is § 157:

Employees shall have the right to… engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…

Employers who get in the way of any of these rights are guilty of Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) and subject to corrective actions administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The wording within the NLRA does not make it obvious that the Act protects your right to discuss your wages, but subsequent rulings of the NLRB have clarified the issue. Employers cannot distribute or reinforce policy forbidding wage discussion (Service Merchandis Company, Inc. v. Priscilla Jones, 1990), discourage wage surveys (Texas Instruments v. Internetional Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO, 1980), fire employees who copy and distribute payroll data (Brookshire Grocery v. Mark Moise, 1989), fire employees who discuss wages (Ambriola, Co. v. Unnamed Charging Party, 2011), or decline rehire for employees who discuss wages (Custom Cut, Inc v. Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters & Joiners of America, 2003).

Between 1982 and 2014, ten states passed legislation against “wage secrecy.” These states includeCalifornia (Labor Code, Section 232), Colorado (Senate Bill 08-122), Illinois (ST CH 820 § 112/10),Louisiana (“Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act” – Chapter 6A of Title 23 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950), Maine (Chapter 29, S.P. 33 – L.D. 84, An Act to Ensure Fair Pay), Michigan (Mich. Comp. Laws Section 408.483a), Minnesota (Ch. 239 – H.F. No. 2536), New Hampshire (S.B. 207; Title XXIII, Chapter 275), New Jersey (Title 10. Civil Rights, Sec. 10:5-12), and Vermont (Title 21 (Labor), Chapter 5 (Employment Practices), Sec. 495 (Unlawful Employment Practices). I’m proud to say that my home state of Michigan was the first to adopt state legislation to protect wage discussion, and less proud to find that my three adopted home states of Ohio, New York, and Texas are nowhere to be seen on this list. The Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act has a limited scope —

This Act applies only to any department, office, division, agency, commission, board, committee or other organizational unit of the state.

— but to my knowledge each of the remaining state laws applies to all employees within the state save for federal employees and those private employees excluded specifically by the NLRA.

Finally, President Barack Obama’s Executive Order — Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information establishes the right of employees of federal contractors to inquire about, disclose, or discuss their compensation with fellow workers. President Obama was quoted as saying:

Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it, not in federal contracting or anywhere else.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)) is a proposed bill that would presumably broaden the net of employees covered by such laws as NLRA, the various state laws, and Obama’s executive order, but we won’t know the details until some form of this bill is actually passed into law. In recent years, similar labor bills have experienced a great deal of resistance from Republican legislators and Republicans currently control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In other words, it may be a while before anything resembling the Paycheck Fairness Act is signed into law.

There are certainly some holes in the framework for many federal employees, most state and local employees, and a few subgroups of public sector employees, but I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone (or next to everyone) reading this article is protected by some statute or another and most likely the NLRA.

THE REAL WORLD

Most of us feel like the employers are winning. In recent years there have been more limitations than enhancements to a person’s right to collective bargaining passed. This is largely because of union corruption in past decades, but it removes some of the vital checks and balances that exist in favor of the employee. Henry Ford and John Maynard Keynes both predicted increases in productivity and decreases in the work week for the current generation. Their predictions for productivity have been spot on, but the resulting decrease in weekly labor has not followed, and economic inequality is being pointed to as the source of the discrepency. All additional profits from increased productivity have gone right back to the owners rather than being distributed to the labor force. We are thinking bigger about solving the world’s economic issues, but severely lacking the government and private industry support of previous generations.

I’m not going to split hairs about the issue of gag rules regarding employees sharing wage information with one another. Whether purposely or accidentally, people are getting paid less to perform more work because we do not talk about our wages. This is yet another method by which wealthy individuals continue to get wealthier while the median income either stays the same or decreases. I’m not going to fault the people of this country too much. I have seen my fair share of movements for wage equality over the years and I’ve seen a decent amount of bills signed into law as well, and yet wage privacy policies tend to harm women and people of color at much higher rates than anyone else. It is bad for everyone if our employers are able to constrain us from discussing wages, and it is much worse for minority groups who have already drawn the short straw on so many other issues.

How are employers able to get away with laws that discourage the discussion of wages?

Some are suggesting that the NLRB is not particularly tough on employers who break the rules. I cited a decent amount of cases where the NLRB took employers to court and ruled in favor of the employees, but the “punishments” for employers rarely go further than reinstatement of employees for wrongful termination, awarding employees back-pay for periods of unemployment, or posting notice in public places promising not to violate the law. I covered a couple labor disputes while I was a reporter for a local newspaper a few years back, and if justice was served it was certainly cold when it got to the table.

The main issue, however, is that most of us do not know our rights. As mentioned earlier, the IRS has amazing refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit available to poor people, but because they can’t afford accountants and the US tax code is complicated many people are not taking advantage of these credits. Similarly, most of us do not know that we have the right to disclose our wages to fellow employees under federal and in some cases state law. I would say that the majority of people I know are not aware that their right to discuss their wages is protected, and this reflects studies which suggest that well over half of private employees in the US believe their employers have the right to tell them no. In many cases, employees believe the right to discuss their wages is reserved for union affiliated employees only, not for the rest of us. This, like many of the other lies circulating about labor, is untrue, and these untruths have circulated at such a rate that I might just start believing someone is spreading them on purpose.

NOW WHAT?

If you have been discouraged from sharing wage information with co-workers either verbally, if you have been fired or denied rehire for talking about your pay rate, or if there has been any other form of retaliation for discussing how much you make, your first recourse should be to contact your regional office of the NLRB and file a complaint. If more people assert their rights there might be enough political capital for the NLRB to give harsher penalties to employers.

If your state is not one of the ten listed above, then you need to start protesting to get extended protection where you live. Get in your state legislators’ faces and don’t give up until the people of your state are protected. Feel free to use the NLRA and the laws of the states above as precedents and say, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

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We can all try to get further federal protection, but that is going to be an up hill battle. Congressional Republicans tend to oppose legislation such as this, and the GOP is currently in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Regardless of your personal political leanings, if you want labor protections you would probably benefit from a House of Representatives with more Democrats in it. That is how you pass a law like the Paycheck Fairness Act. A Democrat majority House is also the one condition required for me to be comfortable with a Republican President, but that is neither here nor there.

For those of us who are already protected by this law, we can pose a demonstration. I’m still in the market for a better name, but for the time being we can call it Paycheck Coming Out Day. A large group of people plans a day where everyone goes to work and shares their wage information. We would be armed with the right information, like what laws protect us, what precedents exist, and what we can do if our leadership retaliates in any way. I love using this blog for good purposes, but an actual demonstration would go a lot further toward disseminating information regarding labor rights. If anyone is interested in going through with this, drop me a line. I think it could be really fun, informative, and it would be in the service of justice, which is also a bonus.

Pay secrecy leads to pay discrimination, which further exacerbates income inequality. I don’t need to talk about what problems income inequality create. I just have to check the “All of the Above” box and leave it at that. I listed some ideas for action above, but I am all ears if you have your own ideas.

 

* The Railway Labor Act applies to employees of freight and commuter railroads, airlines, and companies directly or indirectly controlled by carriers who perform services related to transportation of freight or passengers. The purpose for the legislation was to prevent work stoppages that would cripple interstate commerce to the extent that people would be denied essential transportation services.

69 and British: Bowie, Rickman, et. al., and the Ties That Bind Them

January certainly started rough. On the 10th, we lost rock superstar David Bowie, and then actor Alan Rickman died four days later. I don’t know too many people who weren’t affected in a serious way by one of these two people, and in less than a week they were both gone.

Like all human beings, I have a knack for pattern recognition, so it didn’t take me long to notice that both celebrities were British, 69 years of age, and claimed by cancer. As a defense mechanism against my own woe — Bowie especially was pretty important for the majority of my family members — I think I naturally started working on a conspiracy theory. The Internet was quick to do the same with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan —

— but I personally think they are safe. Both safely entered their 70s years ago. It used to be that the best and brightest, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison included, happened to die at the age of 27. Now-a-days it seems like it is much more dangerous to be 69 and British.

I thought we could track people as they enter and exit this danger zone. The following celebrities are currently 69 years of age, British, and deserve some prayers and positive vibes.

Anthony Daniels

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If you don’t recognize actor Anthony Daniels from the picture above, maybe the following picture will ring a bell.

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Anthony Daniels is the only actor to be featured in all seven Star Wars films (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and The Force Awakens) with his portrayal of protocol droid C-3PO bringing comic relief to a series full of tragedy and conflict. He is expected to resume this role in at least two more films coming in 2017 and 2019. Interestingly, Daniels shares a birthday with recently passed 69 and British actor Alan Rickman.

Daniels hails from Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, UK, which places him firmly within the “danger zone.” He will be 69 until February 21, 2016.

David Gilmour

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David Gilmour is best known as the lead guitarist and co-lead singer of rock band Pink Floyd. Gilmour is an aviation enthusiast (“Learning to Fly”) and a personal hero of Longest Wind writer Stephan Mathos. It is not a wide known fact, but Gilmour is the godfather of actress Naomi Watts. It turns out her father was a roadie for Pink Floyd in the ’70s. In 2006, Gilmour was joined by David Bowie for a performance of the Pink Floyd hit “Comfortably Numb.” This concert would be Bowie’s second-to-last performance prior to his death.

Gilmour was born in Cambridge, England. He will be 69 until March 6, 2016.

Hayley Mills

Actress Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills is probably best known for her portrayal of twins Susan and Sharon in the 1961 Disney film The Parent Trap, in which she sings the duet “Let’s Get Together” with herself. During her time working with Disney, Mills was one of the most popular child actresses of the era. She was actually considered for the role of Lolita Haze in Kubrick’s Lolita, but Disney did not approve of the association so the role eventually went to Sue Lyon. My most beloved memory of Mills was her role as the title character in the short-lived series Good Morning, Miss Bliss which spawned Saved by the Bell. On April 18, 2008, Mills was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years later it was reported in Good Housekeeping magazine that she had experienced a full recovery.

Mills was born in London, England. She will be 69 until April 18, 2016.

Tim Curry

 

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Tim Curry hit the scene hard as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he haunted our every dream after playing the title character in a TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Both his mother Patricia and older sister Judy died from cancer in the last 20 years. In 2013, Curry suffered a major stroke, which left him wheelchair bound. Curry was the first member of the 69 and British club to be identified by social media, and many have already lamented the association with recently passed David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

Curry was born in Grappenhall, Cheshire, England, UK. He will be 69 until April 19, 2016.

Donovan Leitch*

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Singer Donovan of “Sunshine Superman” fame was born Donovan Philips Leitch. Though Donovan is best known for his own discography, he is also credited with teaching John Lennon how to finger-pick his guitar in 1968.

Leitch was born in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland. He will be 69 until May 10, 2016.

Brian Cox*

Brian Cox

Brian Cox is an actor who is probably best known for playing William Stryker in X2: X-Men United. In 1986, Cox starred as Hannibal Lecktor in the film Manhunter while Anthony Hopkins played King Lear at the National Theatre. In five years’ time, Hopkins played Lector (the correct spelling) in The Silence of the Lambs and Cox was now playing King Lear at the National Theater. Cox was fortunate to have worked with Alan Rickman in the BBC serial adaptation of Thérèse.

Cox was born in Dundee, Scotland. He will be 69 until June 1, 2016.

Barry Gibb*

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Barry Gibb is a singer and songwriter best known for his work with the Bee Gees. In 2003, brother and band mate Maurice Gibb died of cardiac arrest. In 2012, his remaining brother and band mate Robin died due to complications from cancer.

Gibb was born in Douglas, Isle of Man. He will be 69 until September 1, 2016.

Justin Hayward

 

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Justin Hayward is best known as the lead singer of the Moody Blues. The band’s album Days of Future Passed is often credited as the inspiration for the X-Men story arc (“Days of Future Past”) and film (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

Hayward was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. He will be 69 until October 14, 2016.

Phillip Pullman

 

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Phillip Pullman is a writer renowned for his fantasy series (though he might take issue with calling it “fantasy”) His Dark Materials. The first book Northern Lights was made into a film called The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. BBC is currently in the process of adapting the trilogy into a television mini-series.

Pullman was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England. He will be 69 until October 19, 2016.

* * *

I want to make it clear that this is not a celebrity dead pool. Some people noticed an anomaly in famous deaths and I am just doing the work to track and monitor this situation. More than likely this is an example of coincidental correlation and there is no underlying cause. At the end of the day, it can’t hurt to learn more about older individuals who have brought a lot of joy to a lot of peoples’ lives.

 

* I recognize that these celebrities were not born in England proper, but Scotland and the Isle of Man are close enough for concern.

Magic Wizards: Prime Speaker Zegana and Ezuri, Claw of Progress

I think it helps that when I play Magic: the Gathering with a group of friends, I do so with a guy who is a lawyer at heart, another who is a politician at heart, a woman who is a geochemist at heart, and another guy who is an engineer at heart. Throw in your friendly neighborhood logician/philosopher and you’ve got a group who really wants to know the ins and outs of the rules. You’ve also got a group of people who aren’t afraid to do their research. This is a good thing, because sometimes Magic gets messy, especially when you are playing Elder Dragon/Highlander (EDH), where every deck has somewhere close to 60+ unique cards and the interactions seem endless.

Unlike the previous post about Fellwar Stone, I feel fairly certain that the issue we are dealing with in this post is not outdated. It wouldn’t do for Wizards to ban two cards from Commander that are printed in their latest round of pre-constructed product, so this post should be safe for quite some time.

Does Prime Speaker Zegana trigger Ezuri, Claw of Progress?

If you’re familiar with the Commander 2015 pre-constructed deck Swell the Host, then you know it is built around a Legendary Elf Warrior named Ezuri, Claw of Progress.

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Because Ezuri gains experience whenever a creature with power 2 or less enters the battlefield under your control and uses that experience to put +1/+1 counters on other creatures, you want to be casting as many small creatures as you possibly can.

The deck also features a Legendary Merfolk Wizard named Prime Speaker Zegana.

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Zegana is a 1/1 creature which enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it, where X is the greatest power among other creatures you control. Zegana also works great when you need some card draw, because when it enters the battlefield you also get to draw cards equal to its power.

While we were playing the other night, a friend cast Prime Speaker Zegana while Ezuri, Claw of Progress was on the battlefield and it wasn’t entirely clear to all of us whether or not Zegana triggers Ezuri’s experience increase. On the one hand, the individual who cast Zegana thought that since the creature was 1/1 it would first trigger Ezuri’s extra experience and shortly thereafter would gain the +3/+3 from Ezuri (or maybe more — I don’t remember the greatest power among creatures but since Ezuri was out I know it was at least three). On the other hand, some at the table thought that Prime Speaker Zegana would not trigger Ezuri because the counters would arrive before Ezuri could check. Needless to say, we needed a third opinion.

This concern is not limited to Prime Speaker Zegana and Ezuri, Claw of Progress. The same issue could arise with any pair of cards in which the first card checks the power or toughness of creatures entering the battlefield and the second  card gains +1/+1 counters when it enters the battlefield.*

In the instance where Ezuri, Claw of Progress is already on the battlefield at the time Prime Speaker Zegana is cast, Zegana will not trigger Ezuri and the player in control of Ezuri will not gain any experience. Zegana will receive a minimum of 3 +1/+1 counters because Ezuri is a 3/3 creature. Though the printed power and toughness on Zegana is 1/1, there is never a time when Zegana is on the battlefield and has a power and toughness less than two.

If this is less than clear, we can examine what would happen if cards like Prime Speaker Zegana entered the battlefield as their printed power and toughness (in this instance 1/1), got checked by Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and following both of those steps, gained 3 (or more) +1/+1 counters. However, to drive the ruling home I would like to substitute for Zegana an Artifact Creature named Arcbound Bruiser which takes advantage of the Modular mechanic that was introduced in Mirrodin.

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Arcbound Bruiser has a printed power and toughness of 0/0 with Modular 3, which means that it comes into play with three +1+1 counters on it and it grants another Artifact Creature those counters when it enters a graveyard. If Arcbound Bruiser were to enter the battlefield with its printed power and toughness, as some might suggest Prime Speaker Zegana ought to, it would have a toughness of 0 and therefore go directly to the graveyard. It would not trigger Ezuri, Claw of Progress, and there would never be a target for the three +1/+1 counters. Oops. You just wasted five mana. It is because of issues like this that cards like Prime Speaker Zegana checks after its +1/+1 counters have been added. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and vice versa. If Arcbound Bruiser is a 3/3 and not a 0/0, then Prime Speaker Zegana will always be at least a 4/4 when Ezuri is on the battlefield and not a 1/1.

I hope this was informative. As for topics, the Commander 2015 deck Seize Control gains its name because you can dominate other creatures and make them your own. What is your favorite creature in all of Commander 2015 to steal and why? I know this deck can get insane, especially as you can seize control of another player’s commander, pump up your experience from two sources, and use the experience in two different ways. I’d love to hear of other insane combinations that are now available with a dominate deck and the option to get mana outside of your general’s colors.

 

* If you can think of cards that either check the power and toughness of creatures entering the battlefield or cards that gain +1/+1 counters when they enter the battlefield (outside of Ezuri and Zegano, of course), please let me know. If I can add those card names into the body of this post, it might help a few more people to find this page and understand the general rule.

Magic Wizards: Fellwar Stone in EDH

I wrote the following discussion of using Fellwar Stone in Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) before I learned that the rule which limits the color of your mana pool to colors in your commander’s identity was removed. I thought I would post the article anyways since it gives you an idea of how we would have dealt with this card in commander back in the day. Fellwar Stone is now able to produce any color of mana so long as your opponents possess a land that makes that color of mana. Problem solved. For a bit of historical Magic, read on:

How does Fellwar Stone work in EDH?

If you are used to playing other formats of Magic, Fellwar Stone is probably one of the most self-explanatory artifacts in the game.

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You pay two mana to play Fellwar Stone, it is an artifact, and when you tap it you can add one mana of any color that a land an opponent controls could produce. If your opponent has plains you can use Fellwar Stone for one white mana, islands blue, swamps black, mountains red, or forests green.

This card gets much more difficult when you’re talking about EDH. According to the rules of commander:

If mana would be added to a player’s mana pool of a color that isn’t in the color identity of that player’s commander, that amount of colorless mana is added to that player’s mana pool instead.

Furthermore, the following ruling was made on Fellwar Stone on 10/1/2009:

The colors of mana are white, blue, black, red, and green. Fellwar Stone can’t be tapped for colorless mana, even if a land an opponent controls could produce colorless mana.

Honestly, with the combination of these two rules it is unclear to me whether we should even allow Fellwar Stone into an EDH deck, and yet it is included in the pre-constructed Wade Into Battle deck for Commander 2015. The card does work, but it’s going to take a little bit of explaining to make sense of it.

For the sake of our discussion, lets pretend that I am playing with the Boros (red/white) deck Wade Into Battle, which includes Fellwar Stone as a mana ramp artifact, and that you are playing the Izzet (blue/red) deck Seize Control.

Since I am playing Wade Into Battle, I play Fellwar Stone looking to get some red or white mana to help me cast some of these big beasts as soon as possible. You are playing Seize Control and have already gotten a chance to play both a mountain and an island. It looks like I have my choice. Wrong. Because I can only add mana to my mana pool that exists within the color identity of my commander and Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas is a red/white creature, the only color of mana I would be able to produce from Fellwar Stone would be red.

This gets a little trickier when you don’t share any colors with your opponent. Let’s imagine now that I am still playing Wade Into Battle, but you are playing with the Golgari (green/black) deck Plunder the Graves. You have only a forest and a swamp, and since I do Kalemne is neither green nor black it doesn’t look like I can make use of Fellwar Stone. I wouldn’t be able to use it for colored mana because of the commander rule and I wouldn’t be able to use it for colorless mana because of the ruling on Fellwar Stone. At least, that’s what it looks like at first glance.

Looking a little bit closer at the rules, it appears that you can actually use Fellwar Stone while playing against any opponent who has at least one color of mana in their deck. A colorless EDH deck centered around Karn, Silver Golem, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre will still render Fellwar Stone useless. If I tap Fellwar Stone while playing against Plunder the Graves, I am tapping it for either one black mana or one green mana. Since I am tapping it for either white, blue, black, red, or green, and not for colorless mana, I am still obeying the ruling for Fellwar Stone. Now that I have tapped Fellwar Stone for green or black, the commander rule kicks in. Since I am tapping it for a color that isn’t in the color identity of Kalemne, the one mana that is added to my mana pool is going to be colorless instead.

Now for the less complicated explanation that doesn’t invoke either of the rules we just talked about.

If you tap Fellwar stone for a color shared by your commander, it will resolve as that color.
For example, if I am playing Wade Into Battle and I tap Fellwar Stone to take advantage of an opponent’s mountain, I will have one red mana added to my mana pool.

If you tap Fellwar stone for a color not shared by your commander, it will resolve as colorless.
For example, if I am playing Wade Into Battle and I tap Fellwar Stone to take advantage of an opponent’s forest, I will have one colorless mana added to my mana pool.

In other words, Fellwar Stone make sense in EDH. Wizards of the Coast was not stupid to add it to the pre-constructed Wade Into Battle deck. It is not as useful as it might be in other formats, but it is certainly a fairly useful card in terms of mana ramp.

Do you have any other questions about this ruling? Have you stumbled into another tough situation that you need a second opinion for? I’m happy to talk about other formats. I mostly just talk about EDH because that’s the only format I’ve been playing lately. I have a strong love for the other formats as well, and if you have a question it might be my only foray into standard, modern, or draft for the next few weeks. Whatever happens, lets keep talking about Magic. I needs it.

Comic Recommendations: January 13, 2016

As I was writing this week’s post, I started noticing that I was saying the same thing as I have for the last couple of months about the same comics, talking about how great Constantine – The HellblazerExtraordinary X-Men, Huck, and The Walking Dead are, and I started getting bored with my comic book posts. Here are just a few snippets from my first draft of this week’s post: “I am going to sound like a broken record,” “yet another fantastic issue,” “keep delivering the same script,” “you’re not going to be surprised,” “impeach me if the content is getting repetitive,” and “it is a bad week for me coming up with original stuff.” Yeah. It was time for a change.

If you’ve been following the comic posts for the whole time, I started doing spoiler-free and spoiler-rich descriptions of comics that I would give a four or five star rating to. At the beginning of this year, after writing about the best new comics of 2015, I started taking note of all of the new issues released each week as well. I’ve also been playing with reviewing older comics that I have overlooked in my conclusion. What I’m going to try out this week is dividing the posts into two sections, one for This Week’s Comics where I will say something about all of the new comics, all of the best comics, and any other comics that seem worthy of further discussion, and another that I’m going to call Book Club where we talk about some older series like my current read-through of Civil War.

It was a choice of either abandoning the comic reviews or changing. I decided to change. Let me know what you think.

NOTE: The Legend of Wonder Woman #1 was released in print this week, but the original digital edition came out on November 12, 2015 so I didn’t include it in the list.

THIS WEEK’S COMICS

Agents of SHIELD #1 (Marvel Comics)

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded significantly now that there is an in-continuity ongoing comic series featuring everyone’s favorite Agents of SHIELD.

Constantine – The Hellblazer #8 (DC Comics)

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There is no doubt in my mind that Constantine – The Hellblazer is probably going to be the most overlooked book DC publishes for the entire time this creative team is active. As a resutl, there are two benefits to putting this series on your pull list: 1. if you buy this comic that means it is less likely to get cancelled, and 2. in a couple of years when the rest of the world catches up to how awesome this book is your copies will likely go up in value.

Extraordinary X-Men #5 (Marvel Comics)

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Does anyone know if the events surrounding Scott Summers’ “death” happened in some other comic? Or is this something that we’re going to learn more about as this comic goes on?

Also, for some reason, this issue got me thinking about Illyana Rasputin’s original situation where she aged from a child to a teenager in Limbo. Would anyone else be interested with further stories where Illyana’s age keeps changing for whatever reason? Personally, I would love to see an Illyana who is at least a decade older than Colossus. I think a good writer like Jeff Lemire could have a lot of fun with an idea like this.

Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion #1 (DC Comics)

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Following the events of Green Lantern: Lost Army, Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion #1 follows a fractured Green Lantern Corps stranded in a previous version of the DC Universe as they try to get back home. I’m not sure how they got there and I sure as heck don’t know how they’re going to get out of it, but it sure sounds like a sticky situation to me.

Bonus: It looks like Mogo, the living planet and the largest member of the Corps, is going to be featured heavily in this book.

Gutter Magic #1 (IDW Comics)

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Gutter Magic #1 takes place in New York City in a universe where World War II was fought with magic instead of munitions. I’ve always been interested in stories where strange things happened in the past and the entire world is changed because of it. It gives you the sense that anything can be thought of as normal, like your dreams can come true and within a year you’ll be bored with them.

Huck #3 (Image Comics)

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I’m not ready for this mini-series to conclude in three issues.

Does anyone have any feelings about Huck’s family? In particular, I no longer think that his brother is going to be a bad guy. That said, a brother with good intentions might just pull Huck into a world of trouble.

Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

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Writer Gail Simone (of Batgirl fame) used Kickstarter funds to create an 80-page original graphic novel called Leaving Megalopolis where all of the city’s superheroes are turned into homicidal maniacs. InLeaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1 we are thrown right back into that whole Megalopolis scene and it is not pretty. Simone is one of those creators who is big enough to be a household name but small enough that she is still connected to her fan base, so it always feels good to support a book that she is working on.

Luna the Vampire #1 (IDW Comics)

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I’ll be honest. Space is not populated by enough fantasy and horror creatures. I mean, vampires don’t need to breathe, so why not spend some time in space.

Secret Wars #9 (Marvel Comics)

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One of my favorite literary references is a scene in Fyodor Dostoyevksy’s The Brothers Karamazov where a character describes spending a million or so years trying to get into heaven and the toil is unbearable, but after one moment in heaven it was worth every step. When I first read this passage, I found it a great way to describe Dostoyevsky. He writes in a very dense, very Russian fashion, and sometimes it can be really tough to get through a portion of one of his books, but then you read one sentence that makes it completely worth it. In case you hadn’t guessed already, Secret Wars #9 is so good, it was worth all of the weird stuff leading up to it, all of the confusion in the comics taking place afterwards, and all of the failed crossovers that came before. Does anyone know if this is Jonathan Hickman’s last book for Marvel? It certainly has the stink of finality to it, kind of like Geoff Johns’ last issue of Green Lantern. So good — I take everything negative back.

The Walking Dead #150 (Image Comics)

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Some people are suggesting that Robert Kirkman is going to end The Walking Dead at issue #300, which, if true, makes this the half-way point for the series. Does that change your perspective of this milestone issue? Do you think there’s going to be a different tone for the rest of the series? Personally, I think Rick is going to have to save himself and his friends from the machinations he put into effect in this issue.

Bonus Question: Do you think it would be a happy ending or a tragic ending if the world of The Walking Dead turned into our current world? Sure, there wouldn’t be zombies anymore, but there would be government corruption and massive wars and economic inequality… Is this what we want for Rick and company?

BOOK CLUB: CIVIL WAR

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I’m not sure how many of you are keeping up with the Civil War re-read in preparation of Captain America: Civil War, but I have gotten a lot further this week than I did last week. I had the time to read Fantastic Four #536, Fantastic Four #537, Amazing Spider-man #529, Amazing Spider-man #530,Amazing Spider-man #531, Civil War #1, She-Hulk #8, Wolverine #42, Amazing Spider-man #532,Civil War: Frontline #1, Thunderbolts #103, and Civil War #2.

What I knew about Civil War prior to actually reading it was that it was a stand-off between Captain America and Iron Man that involved basically the entire Marvel Universe and affected stories for years afterwards. (There is also that tragedy that I know about at the end of the saga that I don’t want to actually address until I get to it in the comics. I want to at least pretend that I’m going to be surprised.) From actually reading the comics, it feels like Spider-man is actually the central character of the drama. My favorite issues have been Amazing Spider-man #529-532 (issue #532 actually made me cry) and Civil War #1. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the character most affected by the registration of identities would be Peter Parker/Spider-man, especially because identity has probably been a more central issue for him than any other superhero in the Marvel universe. This being the case, Iron Man and Captain America represent the poles of possible responses to the Superhuman Registration Act and Spider-man becomes the every man, the lithmus test, the zeitgeist, and the soul of the Marvel Universe. Interestingly enough, the cover of Civil War #2 shows half of Spider-man on Tony’s side and half on Steve’s side.

The second topic that pops out is that Civil War is a really bold series that attempts to place the Marvel universe smack dab in the center of our universe. We are not dealing with space invaders or creatures from dimension X. We are dealing with issues that remind us of Guantanimo Bay, the Patriot Act, and building a wall between the US and Mexico. In the Frontline issues we see the perspective from reporters and the American public. While we do not have superheroes in our current reality, it feels like Marvel is trying to tell us that the issues that Civil War is dealing with resonate with issues America has faced in its past, issues it is currently facing, and issues it will face in the future. Decisions feel like they’re going to get harder and harder at this point, but each and every one of them is going to define who our favorite characters really are.

How far are you in Marvel’s Civil War? Did you read it when it first came out? What revelations have you had while reading? Is there a specific issue that you’d like to talk about more in-depth?

Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Warfront (SPOILERS)

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As General Hux gives a speech before a gathering of true believers and those gathered greet him with a salute that brings the words, “Heil Hitler” to mind, it becomes pretty clear that J.J. Abrams purposely folded Nazi and World War II symbolism into Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA). But to what end? A name like The First Order certainly resonated with The Third Reich, but is this connection necessary for us to understand that Snoke and Kyle Ren are the bad guys of this film? If not, then why does the youth indoctrination of Storm Troopers stink so much of Hitler Youth? Why does the term Supreme Leader remind me so much of the Fuhrer?* Certainly, the fallen state of the Empire and the need for re-purposing under strong leadership makes a comparison to post-World War I Germany kind of a no-brainer, but what I think we need to discuss is whether or not this was just a silly one-off gimmick that takes us out of the movie or if it brings a level of depth to our viewing experience that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

My friend Bobby — if you’ve read my post on family issues and the force in TFA, you’ll know that Bobby is the person I brainstormed all of these posts with — gave probably the most concise description of why Abrams included Nazi and World War II references throughout the film. His thought is that TFA is a film that is meant to give a memorable experience to children and adults alike. Whereas children might talk about that cute little droid named BB-8 or the escaped monsters on Han’s space freighter, these historical parallels bring a more rich experience to adults who are left thinking about what happened and possibly even writing long-winded blog posts about their thoughts (see what I did there). A good example of what Bobby is suggesting can be seen in the various works of Stephen Spielberg, who was one of George Lucas’ closest confidants during the creation of Star Warsand who worked with J.J. Abrams on the set of Super 8. Spielberg has consistently put out child-friendly films with blatant references to the Nazis and the historical plights of the Jews. The Indiana Jones film series is probably the best example. Children understand the Nazis only in their immediacy, as silly villains who say funny words like “schnell” and “verboten,” whereas the adult mind understands that these are dangerous people tied up in one of the most morally difficult situations in human history. I think Bobby is probably right that J.J. Abrams wanted to pull an Indiana Jones with the Nazi/WWII references, but I don’t want to end the discussion there.

There is some mystery surrounding the enigmatic old man from the beginning of TFA. As it turns out, this guy’s name is Lor San Tekka. What we know from TFA is that Tekka has been a supporter of Leia for a long time and that he knows her as a princess. Some are thinking that Tekka is merely a long-time supporter of the Rebellion. My gut feeling is that Tekka is a survivor of the destruction of Alderaan as witnessed in A New Hope. This may be because I have a serious problem with how little screen time has been devoted to dealing with the loss of a planet’s worth of lives in the Star Warsfilms.** Leia screams, Obi Wan feels a disturbance in the force, and from then on Leia Organa is the only Alderaanian to be named until the prequel trilogy brings us to a time before the planet’s destruction. I do believe that it would be difficult to deal with this emotional situation given the immediacy of Episodes IV, V, and VI, but the weight of the tragedy demands to be addressed, and we have some really talented creators who are perfectly able to walk the line between immediacy and reverence. Comparing an Alderaanian survivor to a Holocaust survivor is certainly not a 1-to-1 relationship. To our knowledge, the Alderaanians were not hunted down and placed in camps, but like the Jews they did witness countless friends, family members, and neighbors get put to death. If Lor San Tekka were an Alderaanian survivor, his motives for assisting General Leia and Luke Skywalker would make a whole lot of sense, and I would be pretty happy with some future character development beyond the one scene that he is featured in. Most importantly, Star Wars would be paying some long-needed respect to the victims of this intergalactic war.

It occurred to me that the Starkiller itself could itself represent the holocaust. After all, the Greek word roughly translated means “that which is completely burned” from holos, meaning whole, and kaustos (root word kaio, where we get the word “caustic” from), meaning burnt. In this sense, the tragedy that the Jews call Shoah, or catastrophe, is boiled down to the specific situation in which Jews were burnt alive. This was certainly the intent in the Starkiller, which was used to focus the fires of a star into directed attacks against the Hosnian System and its various planets. This is the easy comparison. The more difficult comparison is if we consider that the Starkiller was meant to represent the atomic bomb. The comparison is technically much more easy — in the United States we created a couple of hydrogen bombs which, because of their use of fusion reactions, have been described as harnessing the power of the sun — but emotionally it is much more difficult. Rather than pointing to The First Order as “them” (the Nazis, the Germans, the Axis powers), we would have to identify them as “us.”

I don’t have a huge problem comparing my own nation with The First Order. American imperialism is one of the most insidious forces in the world, especially because it doesn’t associate with (and publicly criticizes) the traditional understanding of an empire. If the comparison of Starkiller to the two H-bombs unleashed on Japan is meant to be cautionary, I can certainly handle it, but there is a slightly more interesting Star Wars theory that criticizing the “good guys” naturally leads to — the theory that Luke Skywalker is going to turn to the dark side and become the new Darth Vader. In comparing Starkiller base to the Death Star, we are forced to confront the question of whether or not a second Starkiller or similar weapon might be constructed in Episode IX much like the appearance of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Perhaps Luke Skywalker is involved in the construction of a Starkiller-like weapon of his own which the Resistance can use against The First Order. This one would be force-attuned, of course, and perhaps it would magnify Luke’s own force powers much like the inner chamber of Darth Vader’s custom TIE is rumored to do. In this sense we would be fighting fire with fire, holocaust with holocaust, and maybe, just maybe, we could see how American imprisonment of Japanese citizens and the subsequent bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an issue that needs as much attention as the German extermination of the Jews.

Probably the clearest Nazi/WWII themes actually surround our former Storm Trooper Finn, who works perfectly as the “Good German.” Trained from an early age as a tool of The First Order, his definition of the status quo would be the will of The First Order. In other words, good would be defined as coinciding with the will of Supreme Leader Snoke, and bad would then be understood as that which goes against Snoke. When Finn has his crisis of conscience, he commits what would be called an evil action in bailing on The First Order and freeing a prisoner. I think there might actually be a better example of this issue in American history if we’re OK with fingers pointing back at us. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Huck is taught that slavery is right and an escaping slave is wrong. As he is helping Jim escape, he believes what he is doing is wrong. I don’t think it is a coincidence that a character named Finn acts in a way similar to a character named Huck Finn, especially considering that Darth Vader’s name means “father” and he is Luke and Leia’s father.*** Finn is almost certainly meant to be a reference to Huck Finn and this specific comparison. Finn helps Poe escape similar to the way that Huck helps Jim escape. Coming back to the German reference, I guess the best comparison would be between Finn and Schindler. Of course, Finn would have to save a lot of people from The First Order before he’s anywhere as accomplished as Schindler.

I’m taking suggestions for the next Star Wars article. I may just try to tackle the big ticket mysteries starting with Rey’s parentage, gathering the theories together, properly defending each argument, and then deciding which is most likely and which would be the most fun. That said, I’d be happy to chase down any other interesting leads as well. Also, when I get some extra time, which may be never, but it may be soon too, I am thinking about delving into the entire new canon of Star Wars to see what comes of it. If any of you out there are interested, hit me up. I’m going to have to finish Marvel’s Civil War first, but I’d be happy to follow it up with intergalactic civil war next.

 

*  At one point, Adolf Hitler did dub himself the Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, and that’s just one word away from Supreme Leader.

** There have been comics written by both Dark Horse Comics and Marvel Comics that have attempted to address the diaspora of Alderaanians who were off-planet when Alderaan was destroyed. One of them, Marvel’s Princess Leia, is even considered canonical now that Disney has acquired the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas.

*** “Rey” is pretty close to a word meaning king or queen. If she’s Leia’s daughter she would be an heir to Alderaan and Naboo, and if she’s Luke’s daughter she would still be an heir to Naboo.

Longest Wind Briefs – Hoola Hooping, the 32-Hour Workweek, and Heads Up

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Life can be pretty entertaining, and sometimes it doesn’t take me ten pages to talk about it. Here are a few of the things that have piqued my interest in recent days. They’re all worthy of a longer article, but sometimes it is better to be brief.

Me, I Want a Hoola Hoop

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This is a very funny video that I saw a long time ago but which keeps coming to mind. I think it is the universe’s way of telling me that I need to share it with my people. Please don’t go another day without watching this video:

Ryan Carson’s 32-Hour Workweek

During my search for a modern-day Henry Ford, a hero of industry who had the courage to take a risk and change society’s opinion on how long a person ought to work each week, I stumbled across Ryan Carson, the CEO of Treehouse Island, Inc. As I mentioned in my previous article, The Atlantic did a short documentary on Carson titled The Case for the 32-Hour Workweek. I thought I’d embed it here for you to watch it:

You might notice that Carson approaches the problem from the humanitarian angle — people need time with their families — rather than Ford’s cold hard facts of industry angle. If Ford is truly the prophet some people have made him out to be, this might be why Carson had to go back on his promise of a 32-hour workweek in August of 2015. I’m not here to judge. I just thought this video was a quality source of food for thought.

Heads Up, Thumbs Up

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My friend Nick recently introduced me to an app for both Android and Apple phones called Heads Up, which I have been known to describe as “like going in the bathroom and doing coke with your friends” despite having never experienced the latter. I watch a lot of TV, OK? When I first introduced this app to my wife, she was unimpressed, but at a friend’s party after a couple of refreshments my lady begged me to pull it out. The game works a lot like the communication boosting game where everyone puts a card on your head and without mentioning the actual word on the card the people who can see its text must get you to guess it. With Heads Up, you pick a category and place your phone on your forehead. You have a limited time to get as many correct answers as possible. If you guess correctly you tip your phone down and if you pass or someone accidentally says the word you tip your phone up. This game gets really loud at a party with adult beverages. I remember a particular round where we were supposed to describe the film Father of the Bride to my wife. Normally, I am fairly good at communicating to my wife, but as soon as I saw the title of the movie I started saying things like, “Have fun storming the castle,” and “Cary Elwes,” which are clearly fantastic clues… if you’re describing The Princess Bride. The funny, somewhat existential, part for me was that everyone was screaming so loud that nobody noticed my error (though when I recounted the story to my wife, she did admit she thought she remembered hearing me say, “Anybody want a peanut?”). The app was created by Ellen Degeneres, costs 99 cents, and comes with a feature that makes everything more fun, especially if you don’t tell anyone about it prior to playing. I have only paid for three apps during my entire time owning a smart phone, $4.99 for Comic Zeal, which allows me to read digital comics on my iPhone, $2.99 for Civilization Revolution, a fantastic game worth playing over and over again, and now $0.99 for Heads Up. If it’s good enough to be in this anti-consumer Dutch boy’s pantheon of purchases, it’s almost certainly good enough for you too.

Magic Wizards: Casting Your General from Your Hand in EDH

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When I began playing Magic: The Gathering back in 1994-95, it was a lot less complicated. With only a couple of sets to keep track of, it was not terribly difficult to understand the rules for each and every interaction that you might encounter. It has been over twenty years since Revised Edition — the set that I remember playing and collecting the most — was released and things are MUCH more complicated now. I recently reviewed the Commander 2015 pre-constructed EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander) decks, and that was fun and all, but my main goal in writing about Magic was to provide a resource where common issues are addressed in a complete and non-judgmental way. When we come across issues while playing Magic where two players disagree on how a situation is supposed to play out according to the rules, everyone at the table hops on their smart phones and scours the message boards for the answer so we can move forward with the game without hurt feelings or bruised egos. I thought maybe we could convert our private good into a public good, so every time we have a question over a ruling I am going to post it here along with the solution. Maybe we can flood the search engines with some useful information in the process.

What is the commander cost for a general that has been returned to your hand?

Whenever your general would be put into a library, hand, graveyard, or exile from anywhere, you get the option of returning it to the command zone instead. The benefit of returning your general to the command zone is that you can recast this important central player over and over again as needed without having to wait for some method of retrieval. The down side is that each time your general is returned to the command zone, it costs 2 colorless mana extra to cast. This additional cost is called the commander tax. If your general has a converted mana cost (CMC) of four, for example, and gets returned to the command zone, it will cost 6 mana the next time you cast it. The next time it is returned to the command zone it will cost 8 mana to play, and so on, and so forth. The commander tax could be considered the convenience fee of the EDH format. You can access your general at any time without the random elements that are involved in playing your other cards, but it will be more and more expensive each subsequent time you cast it.

Since you have the option to return your general to the command zone, this means that you also have the option to allow your general to go into your library, hand, graveyard, or exile. For most players this would be a disaster, because — except for the example of returning your general to your hand — you would completely lose access to the one card that every other card in your deck is meant to interact with in either a direct or indirect way. However, some EDH decks are equipped with cards which allow you to fetch cards from your library (Demonic Tutor, for example) or cast cards from your graveyard (Meren of Clan Nel Toth). I don’t currently know of any cards that allow you to cast your general from exile, but the ability to cast your general from your library, hand, or graveyard gives you some options. It is also the source of the problem we ran into the other night.

Our friend Matt had his general bounced back to his hand. He then attempted to cast his general for its face value (without commander tax) alongside another creature. The total mana cost for both of these spells would leave him exactly tapped out. In other words, if Matt was required to pay the commander tax he could only cast one creature, but if he was not required to pay the commander tax he would be able to cast both. We were at that point in the game where everyone was rolling out their heavy hitters, so the solution to our question had the chance to seriously impact gameplay.

As it turns out, Matt — and you, by extension — wouldn’t have to pay the commander tax when casting his general from his hand. Not only that, but I could see the smile on Matt’s face as he cast both of his creatures. Win, win. If a general is cast from your library, hand, or graveyard, or if it were possible, from exile, you pay for it the same way you pay for any other card, by using the amount of mana signified in the top right corner of the card (or if you have a card that allows you to cast for an alternate price you follow that card’s text instead). I want to repeat this in case I overcomplicated my simple explanation: The commander tax only applies when a general is cast from the command zone. It does not apply when the general is cast from anywhere else.

There is another slightly more complicated issue that accompanies this discussion of when the commander tax applies. On a couple of message boards, there was some confusion regarding what happens to the commander tax once a general is cast from another zone. To be clear, casting your general from your hand (or anywhere else that is not the command zone) does not reset the commander tax. I think the best way of understanding how this works is by imagining that there are actually two costs in the upper right hand corner of your general, the pre-tax, normal cost (the one that is actually printed there) and the post-tax, command zone cost (the one that is calculated as the normal cost plus two extra mana for each time the general has been returned to the command zone). By imagining that there are two permanent costs (one subject to periodic increases), it is clear that the general will always be cast referencing one of the costs, the normal cost if cast from a library, hand, graveyard, or exile, or the command zone cost if cast from the command zone.

Let me know if you have any further questions about this issue. Also, I know I’m not perfect, and I am talking about a format that goes through periodic rule changes, so if you have a correction, please feel free to let me know. The only caviat I have is that corrections should be accompanied by a good source. As I’m sure you can all understand, I don’t want to get into a war of opinions. Finally, if you’re having trouble getting some sort of ruling on an issue that you have encountered while playing, regardless of whether it is EDH, Standard, Modern, Draft, whatever, hti me up. I’ll be happy to search for an answer and put it upon the blog. I miss talking about Magic. Let’s make a habit of it, K?

Keynes and the End of the Economic Problem

Economist John Maynard Keynes

When I was doing research for my first article on the outdated concepts behind the 40-hour work week, I stumbled across John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 writing titled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. There were two reasons I didn’t share this reading with everyone at that time: 1. it is not as quotable as the sources from Roosevelt and Ford that I have shared in the past — harder to embolden the key points, and 2. I wasn’t so sure that this was what I would call a meaty part of the discussion, something that you cannot get around. I was right on the first issue — this is a well-researched scholarly piece whereas Roosevelt’s was a public speech and Ford’s was a popular interview — but I was dead wrong on the second issue. Keynes is one of the foremost names in economics and basically everyone concerned with the amount of hours worked in America is referencing this article. To make up for my shortcomings, I have decided to include the full article in this post.

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We are suffering just now from a bad attack of economic pessimism. It is common to hear people say that the epoch of enormous economic progress which characterised the nineteenth century is over; that the rapid improvement in the standard of life is now going to slow down –at any rate in Great Britain; that a decline in prosperity is more likely than an improvement in the decade which lies ahead of us.

I believe that this is a wildly mistaken interpretation of what is happening to us. We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another. The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption; the improvement in the standard of life has been a little too quick; the banking and monetary system of the world has been preventing the rate of interest from falling as fast as equilibrium requires. And even so, the waste and confusion which ensue relate to not more than 7½ per cent of the national income; we are muddling away one and sixpence in the £, and have only 18s. 6d., when we might, if we were more sensible, have £1 ; yet, nevertheless, the 18s. 6d. mounts up to as much as the £1 would have been five or six years ago. We forget that in 1929 the physical output of the industry of Great Britain was greater than ever before, and that the net surplus of our foreign balance available for new foreign investment, after paying for all our imports, was greater last year than that of any other country, being indeed 50 per cent greater than the corresponding surplus of the United States. Or again-if it is to be a matter of comparisons-suppose that we were to reduce our wages by a half, repudiate four fifths of the national debt, and hoard our surplus wealth in barren gold instead of lending it at 6 per cent or more, we should resemble the now much-envied France. But would it be an improvement?

The prevailing world depression, the enormous anomaly of unemployment in a world full of wants, the disastrous mistakes we have made, blind us to what is going on under the surface to the true interpretation. of the trend of things. For I predict that both of the two opposed errors of pessimism which now make so much noise in the world will be proved wrong in our own time-the pessimism of the revolutionaries who think that things are so bad that nothing can save us but violent change, and the pessimism of the reactionaries who consider the balance of our economic and social life so precarious that we must risk no experiments.

My purpose in this essay, however, is not to examine the present or the near future, but to disembarrass myself of short views and take wings into the future. What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?

From the earliest times of which we have record-back, say, to two thousand years before Christ-down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was no very great change in the standard of life of the average man living in the civilised centres of the earth. Ups and downs certainly. Visitations of plague, famine, and war. Golden intervals. But no progressive, violent change. Some periods perhaps So per cent better than othersat the utmost 1 00 per cent better-in the four thousand years which ended (say) in A. D. 1700.

This slow rate of progress, or lack of progress, was due to two reasons-to the remarkable absence of important technical improvements and to the failure of capital to accumulate.

The absence of important technical inventions between the prehistoric age and comparatively modern times is truly remarkable. Almost everything which really matters and which the world possessed at the commencement of the modern age was already known to man at the dawn of history. Language, fire, the same domestic animals which we have to-day, wheat, barley, the vine and the olive, the plough, the wheel, the oar, the sail, leather, linen and cloth, bricks and pots, gold and silver, copper, tin, and lead-and iron was added to the list before 1000 B.C.-banking, statecraft, mathematics, astronomy, and religion. There is no record of when we first possessed these things.

At some epoch before the dawn of history perhaps even in one of the comfortable intervals before the last ice age-there must have been an era of progress and invention comparable to that in which we live to-day. But through the greater part of recorded history there was nothing of the kind.

The modern age opened; I think, with the accumulation of capital which began in the sixteenth century. I believe-for reasons with which I must not encumber the present argument-that this was initially due to the rise of prices, and the profits to which that led, which resulted from the treasure of gold and silver which Spain brought from the New World into the Old. From that time until to-day the power of accumulation by compound interest, which seems to have been sleeping for many generations, was re-born and renewed its strength. And the power of compound interest over two hundred years is such as to stagger the imagination.

Let me give in illustration of this a sum which I have worked out. The value of Great Britain’s foreign investments to-day is estimated at about £4,000,000,000. This yields us an income at the rate of about 6½ per cent. Half of this we bring home and enjoy; the other half, namely, 3¼ per cent, we leave to accumulate abroad at compound interest. Something of this sort has now been going on for about 250 years.

For I trace the beginnings of British foreign investment to the treasure which Drake stole from Spain in 1580. In that year he returned to England bringing with him the prodigious spoils of the Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth was a considerable shareholder in the syndicate which had financed the expedition. Out of her share she paid off the whole of England’s foreign debt, balanced her Budget, and found herself with about £40,000 in hand. This she invested in the Levant Company –which prospered. Out of the profits of the Levant Company, the East India Company was founded; and the profits of this great enterprise were the foundation of England’s subsequent foreign investment. Now it happens that £40,ooo accumulating at 3f per cent compound interest approximately corresponds to the actual volume of England’s foreign investments at various dates, and would actually amount to-day to the total of £4,000,000,000 which I have already quoted as being what our foreign investments now are. Thus, every £1 which Drake brought home in 1580 has now become £100,000. Such is the power of compound interest!

From the sixteenth century, with a cumulative crescendo after the eighteenth, the great age of science and technical inventions began, which since the beginning of the nineteenth century has been in full flood–coal, steam, electricity, petrol, steel, rubber, cotton, the chemical industries, automatic machinery and the methods of mass production, wireless, printing, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, and thousands of other things and men too famous and familiar to catalogue.

What is the result? In spite of an enormous growth in the population of the world, which it has been necessary to equip with houses and machines, the average standard of life in Europe and the United States has been raised, I think, about fourfold. The growth of capital has been on a scale which is far beyond a hundredfold of what any previous age had known. And from now on we need not expect so great an increase of population.

If capital increases, say, 2 per cent per annum, the capital equipment of the world will have increased by a half in twenty years, and seven and a half times in a hundred years. Think of this in terms of material things–houses, transport, and the like.

At the same time technical improvements in manufacture and transport have been proceeding at a greater rate in the last ten years than ever before in history. In the United States factory output per head was 40 per cent greater in 1925 than in 1919. In Europe we are held back by temporary obstacles, but even so it is safe to say that technical efficiency is increasing by more than 1 per cent per annum compound. There is evidence that the revolutionary technical changes, which have so far chiefly affected industry, may soon be attacking agriculture. We may be on the eve of improvements in the efficiency of food production as great as those which have already taken place in mining, manufacture, and transport. In quite a few years-in our own lifetimes I mean-we may be able to perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture with a quarter of the human effort to which we have been accustomed.

For the moment the very rapidity of these changes is hurting us and bringing difficult problems to solve. Those countries are suffering relatively which are not in the vanguard of progress. We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come–namely,technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.

But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of afar greater progress still.

II

Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that a hundred years hence we are all of us, on the average, eight times better off in the economic sense than we are to-day. Assuredly there need be nothing here to surprise us.

Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes –those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute needs-a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of us aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.

Now for my conclusion, which you will find, I think, to become more and more startling to the imagination the longer you think about it.

I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not-if we look into the future-the permanent problem of the human race.

Why, you may ask, is this so startling? It is startling because-if, instead of looking into the future, we look into the past-we find that the economic problem, the struggle for subsistence, always has been hitherto the primary, most pressing problem of the human race-not only of the human race, but of the whole of the biological kingdom from the beginnings of life in its most primitive forms.

Thus we have been expressly evolved by nature-with all our impulses and deepest instincts-for the purpose of solving the economic problem. If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose.

Will this be a benefit? If one believes at all in the real values of life, the prospect at least opens up the possibility of benefit. Yet I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.

To use the language of to-day-must we not expect a general “nervous breakdown”? We already have a little experience of what I mean -a nervous breakdown of the sort which is already common enough in England and the United States amongst the wives of the well-to-do classes, unfortunate women, many of them, who have been deprived by their wealth of their traditional tasks and occupations–who cannot find it sufficiently amusing, when deprived of the spur of economic necessity, to cook and clean and mend, yet are quite unable to find anything more amusing.

To those who sweat for their daily bread leisure is a longed–for sweet-until they get it.

There is the traditional epitaph written for herself by the old charwoman:–

Don’t mourn for me, friends, don’t weep for me never,
For I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.

This was her heaven. Like others who look forward to leisure, she conceived how nice it would be to spend her time listening-in-for there was another couplet which occurred in her poem:-

With psalms and sweet music the heavens’ll be ringing,
But I shall have nothing to do with the singing.

Yet it will only be for those who have to do with the singing that life will be tolerable and how few of us can sing!

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

Yet there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society. To judge from the behaviour and the achievements of the wealthy classes to-day in any quarter of the world, the outlook is very depressing! For these are, so to speak, our advance guard-those who are spying out the promised land for the rest of us and pitching their camp there. For they have most of them failed disastrously, so it seems to me-those who have an independent income but no associations or duties or ties-to solve the problem which has been set them.

I feel sure that with a little more experience we shall use the new-found bounty of nature quite differently from the way in which the rich use it to-day, and will map out for ourselves a plan of life quite otherwise than theirs.

For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!

There are changes in other spheres too which we must expect to come. When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

Of course there will still be many people with intense, unsatisfied purposiveness who will blindly pursue wealth-unless they can find some plausible substitute. But the rest of us will no longer be under any obligation to applaud and encourage them. For we shall inquire more curiously than is safe to-day into the true character of this “purposiveness” with which in varying degrees Nature has endowed almost all of us. For purposiveness means that we are more concerned with the remote future results of our actions than with their own quality or their immediate effects on our own environment. The “purposive” man is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom. For him jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam to-morrow and never jam to-day. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.

Let me remind you of the Professor in Sylvie and Bruno :

“Only the tailor, sir, with your little bill,” said a meek voce outside the door.

“Ah, well, I can soon settle his business,” the Professor said to the children, “if you’ll just wait a minute. How much is it, this year, my man?” The tailor had come in while he was speaking.

“Well, it’s been a-doubling so many years, you see,” the tailor replied, a little grufy, “and I think I’d like the money now. It’s two thousand pound, it is!”

“Oh, that’s nothing!” the Professor carelessly remarked, feeling in his pocket, as if he always carried at least that amount about with him. “But wouldn’t you like to wait just another year and make it four thousand? Just think how rich you’d be! Why, you might be a king, if you liked!”

“I don’t know as I’d care about being a king,” the man said thoughtfully. “But it dew sound a powerful sight o’ money! Well, I think I’ll wait-“

“Of course you will!” said the Professor. “There’s good sense in you, I see. Good-day to you, my man!”

“Will you ever have to pay him that four thousand pounds?” Sylvie asked as the door closed on the departing creditor.

“Never, my child!” the Professor replied emphatically. “He’ll go on doubling it till he dies. You see, it’s always worth while waiting another year to get twice as much money!

Perhaps it is not an accident that the race which did most to bring the promise of immortality into the heart and essence of our religions has also done most for the principle of compound interest and particularly loves this most purposive of human institutions.

I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue-that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.

I look forward, therefore, in days not so very remote, to the greatest change which has ever occurred in the material environment of life for human beings in the aggregate. But, of course, it will all happen gradually, not as a catastrophe. Indeed, it has already begun. The course of affairs will simply be that there will be ever larger and larger classes and groups of people from whom problems of economic necessity have been practically removed. The critical difference will be realised when this condition has become so general that the nature of one’s duty to one’s neighbour is changed. For it will remain reasonable to be economically purposive for others after it has ceased to be reasonable for oneself.

The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be governed by four things-our power to control population, our determination to avoid wars and civil dissensions, our willingness to entrust to science the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science, and the rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption; of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three.

Meanwhile there will be no harm in making mild preparations for our destiny, in encouraging, and experimenting in, the arts of life as well as the activities of purpose.

But, chiefly, do not let us overestimate the importance of the economic problem, or sacrifice to its supposed necessities other matters of greater and more permanent significance. It should be a matter for specialists-like dentistry. If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!

This may be the philosopher in me — I am one of those despicable types who has read Immanual Kant in his free time — but I really enjoy reading the rich thoughts, stemming from economics to history to ethics to poetry, of John Maynard Keynes. He has a basic classical disposition, reading like a John Stuart Mill or a John Locke or a Thomas Hobbes, and his thought is clearly bigger than simply financial theory. I would imagine there are some folk out there who have read Keynes extensively. If you have any recommendations — based on the quality of the work moreso than the relevance to the current topic — I would love to read more.

As for the discussion of the length of the workweek, the response from most people who read my previous article was pretty grim, and rightly so. However, after reading Keynes I realize that we couldn’t possibly be liberated from our financial woes until 2030, so we’re still good… (You can’t blame me for trying to stay positive.) Even if economic freedom is not on the horizon, I do think that Keynes’ imperative — here comes Kant again! — to stop focusing on the means (the money) and start focusing on the ends (the good that you intend to do with the money) is important. While there might be some more insidious factors (post forthcoming) that have kept us from the shorter and shorter workweeks that Keynes imagined, the causes that fit within our circle of immediate influence are certainly our obsession with consumerism in this nation. What would you do if you could actually enjoy your life without spending more money than you actually have to do so?

Longest Wind Briefs – Guns ‘n’ Roses, Yelling Seal, and Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman

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I really hope nobody ever gets tired of this picture of kittens on a clothes line, because it will be quite a tall order to replace it. For now, the posts…

GnR Reunion Blues

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When I first heard the rumors in 2015 that Axl Rose and Slash were going to be getting back together and touring as Guns ‘n’ Roses I was completely nonplussed. I have heard rumors like this for years and they never turn into anything, when rumors like this do end up being true all you get is some half-baked album like Chinese Democracy, and I honestly don’t know if Axl’s voice is really up to snuff anymore.

When the official announcement of Guns ‘n’ Roses tour dates in 2016 came on NPR a day or two before New Years I had a completely different reaction. I was driving to work in my cold Scion xD when all of a sudden this flush of warmth came over me and it honestly felt like I was blushing. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I’d just taken a shot. I started remembering what it felt like to listen to Appetite for Destruction for the first time with that raunchy LA dive feel and those siren-like guitars.

I’m not sure which part of me is the better judge, but my brain is unexcited about the GnR reunion despite how into the idea my heart seems to be. At the end of the day, I think whether or not I see the band live is going to be the choice of my wallet, though, so I’m going to have to find a way to curb my enthusiasm somehow.

Pet Sounds (If Your Pet is a Seal)

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For a few days in early January I think my wife and I spent more time laughing than breathing. This is because we stumbled across a video that features a seal making a ridiculous sound. Because I am reading Moby Dick, I imagined how one might classify the seal during the peak of the whaling industry. I summoned to mind a wave-lapped old man in ratty clothing telling tall tales about a beast that looked like a dog on its front end, a fish on its hind end, and screamed like a man. Here is the video that inspired the high heights of my recent ecstasy:

Wonder Woman (2007)

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Not too long ago, in about ’06-’07ish, Joss Whedon was hired by Warner Brothers to write and direct a Wonder Woman film, but the film fell apart. Joss Whedon said, “We just saw different movies, and at the price range this kind of movie hands in, that’s never gonna work. Non-sympatico. It happens all the time.” Now, Wonder Woman, written by Jason Fuchs and directed by Patty Jenkins, is going to be coming out in 2017. I imagine, after learning about this, Joss figured he was never going to get to use his script for a Wonder Woman film, because his original script for the film was recently released to the public. All I had to do was read the first little bit of description —

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— and I was hooked. The script is 116 pages long and it is available all over the web. I highly recommend giving it a read. The script is incredibly visual, charming, and funny. Diana comes off like The Little Mermaid, misunderstanding the workings of the world like fear, greed, and stubble, but she also sees humanity from a stranger’s eyes. We have the potential to become something bold and original, and yet we fall into all of the same scripts. As Wonder Woman, Diana can be a guide for humanity to reach for our higher nature. Steve Trevor is a fantastic partner, courageous and worldly, but dedicated toward the good of others. They teach one another and they criticize one another, and every once in a while Diana swoops him up in her arms like a “damsel in distress” and escorts him out of harm’s way.

It is probably issues like the gender role reversal that I just mentioned that kept this film from getting made. Whedon was diplomatic about his parting of ways with the production company, but you have to wonder if his vision was censored by the people with money. Whedon’s Wonder Woman is intensely critical of humanity’s tendency toward war, clear gender boundaries and roles, and the status quo in general at the peak of the Bush administration when pacifist views were seen as “letting the terrorists win,” when marriage was defined according to the Defense of Marriage Act as between one man and one woman, and when anyone who questions the way things work would be labelled a Communist by the neo-McCarthyists we voted into office. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman was bold, and possibly the best thing he’s ever written. You all can keep dreaming for Firefly Season Two. I’m holding out for DC’s reboot of Wonder Woman with a Whedon script.