Landsberg’s Law

The Book of the Week is “Landsberg’s Law, a Journey of Discovery” by Mark Landsberg, published in 2006.

Born in Los Angeles at the tail end of December in 1937 or 1938 (the author provided references to various of his birthdays throughout the book as though to remind himself of his age, and was vague about other dates), Landsberg chose the hedonistic life of playing poker on the beach as often as possible, when he wasn’t living abroad.

While attending college in California, Landsberg worked for the U.S. Postal Service. His employer ignored him when he tried to tell them of an idea that would save them millions of dollars. “One of the drawbacks of Civil Service is that it stifles initiative.” Other places the author encountered a similar frustration were: in the Navy, and at University of California at Berkeley. “Thinking must be painful since so many people go to such lengths to avoid it.”

Along these lines, it might be recalled that for a time, the CBS network had the 1980’s promotional slogans for its TV and radio “news” divisions respectively:

“Americans. We like straight talk. We want hard facts. We demand the truth. We know who we are, and we know who we trust. Dan Rather. CBS Evening News.” and “Don’t let anyone tell you what they said. Hear them say it. CBS News.” True story.

In the late 1990’s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, certain content-creators had good intentions. They knew that the world reaps untold benefits when people freely (at no charge and with no censorship) exchange information and ideas. They sincerely believed in educating people in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately, roughly twenty years later, most website administrators cannot afford to exist unless they allow their sites’ content to be dictated by political hacks, including, it appears, Wikipedia.

Throughout history, humans have engaged in endeavors whose original purpose was fun. Money has corrupted those endeavors: all kinds of amateur activities in art, music and sports, science fairs, and many others. Over the past half century, even areas in which people used to make a modest living while enjoying themselves, have become pressure-cookers of greed: the medical industry, professional sports, publishing, Hollywood, the music industry, etc. With the evolution of all systems, the profit motive takes over.

Greed will also fuel the country’s economic recovery in an ironic (!) way. Most of the distressed assets resulting from this pandemic will be bought by the “one-percenters” who will create new, enterprising entities that will move the country forward. Also, Americans who are in a position to do so, will move to the places that offer them the most freedoms and/or economic opportunities. The nation’s most oppressive regions will suffer capital flight and brain drain.

Anyway, back to Mr. Landsberg. Around 1970, some Scrabble players formed a club in Beverly Hills, California. They were forced to call it a “Word Club” because Selchow and Righter (S&R), the then-owners of Scrabble’s intellectual property rights were possessive of the game’s name. Anyway, Landsberg and his friends were a few of the first players to formulate counter-intuitive strategies for winning at Scrabble.

The author even produced a manuscript called “Championship Scrabble Strategy” but of course was forced to request permission from S&R to publish it. Through 1972, the two parties had months of serious discussions but the latter put it on the back burner. By the following year, S&R had hired a college dropout to publish a book on-the-cheap using Landsberg’s material without telling him.

Landsberg’s federal lawsuit demanded $25 million from S&R. Read the book to learn of how the author fared in his court case, which included the causes of action of: breach of contract, and plagiarism.

ENDNOTE: In general, some might say that the U.S. government has breached its contract with the American people, and that the president committed plagiarism by taking a page out of Nixon’s playbook (not that other politicians have not also done so). Sadly, on both sides, bashing is all the rage these days: Trump-bashing, Obama-bashing, China-bashing, Cuomo-bashing, FBI-bashing, Biden-bashing, Republican-bashing, Democrat-bashing…

But wait. We’re all in this together! And Americans can trust CBS, and everyone else. True story.