The Harsh Interrogation of Jamal Khashoggi is Perfectly Reasonable

jamal khashoggi harsh interrogationWhy all the faux outrage about the regrettable and accidental death of Jamal Khashoggi over a little bit of harsh interrogation? These things happen. It’s war. The safety of the nation is in the balance. We can’t tie the hands of our intelligence community, that would be putting our lives at risk. Our friends the Saudi Arabians have used harsh interrogation techniques on prisoners we sent to them in extraordinary renditions. The head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, was in charge of such a prison and accidently destroyed many tapes where such useful and humane techniques were used on evil journalists, er, I mean, terrorists.

The former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, is a vocal and active supporter of such techniques. Many of my good Christian friends have told me personally they support enhanced interrogation, in between patting themselves on the back and going to church. Our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has rightly and with the power of the holy spirit denounced efforts to end our heroic use of harsh interrogation and black prisons. It is Pompeo who was sent to consume excellent food and pat his belly in bloated satisfaction while meeting with the architect of this supposed crime, Prince Mohammad bin Salman. I’m sure they enjoyed a good chuckle at all the phony outrage.

The United States of America is a leading proponent of harsh interrogation techniques and happily uses countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Turkey, and many others to carry out our bidding. President Trump himself has rightly suggested harsh interrogation is an excellent and useful technique. Sure, sometimes a prisoner dies, but it’s obviously well worth the risk.

In a representative republic, our politicians reflect our moral and ethical outlook. We clearly want harsh interrogation and relish in punishing those leftist journalists, er, I mean, terrorists. This will clearly send a good message to the leftists that they can’t write negative stories about our glorious leaders. If you don’t want to be subject to harsh interrogation techniques while being held against your will where you might well accidently pass away, well stop writing such articles. It’s fairly simple. Get a clue, idiots.

Why pretend to be outraged at all? Own it. Amerika!

Tom Liberman

Cut Soccer Player Sues to be Put on Team

Ladue SoccerIs it legal when a coach decides to cut a high school junior soccer player from the Varsity team and the Junior Varsity team is generally reserved for freshman and sophomores who have more years to play, leaving the soccer player without a team? The parents don’t think so and are suing the school district for age discrimination. This is all happening right here in my hometown of St. Louis, MO at a Ladue Horton Watkins High School and thus catches my attention. There is a lot going on here worth discussing.

I have a long history of playing sports and I’ve had good coaches and bad coaches. I’ve had coaches who showed favoritism and coaches who simply wanted the best players at each position. There’s no doubt in my mind the coach might have unfairly or unjustly cut the player. It’s also clear that the age of the player is absolutely a factor in not being placed on the Junior Varsity team. The coach admits as much in a letter written explaining why the player was cut in the first place. If the youngster was on the bubble, as the letter says, then it is highly likely he has the skill necessary to help the Junior Varsity team.

Here’s the problem with all of that. It’s the soccer coach’s decision and the best player isn’t always the one that helps the team the most. There are all sorts of possibilities in play. Maybe the player in question is the fourth best forward and tenth best player on the team but there is only room for the top three forwards. So, despite being clearly one of the ten best players on the team, there is no room for him at his position. This happens all the time. At the college level a player in such a situation transfers to another school. At the professional level they are traded. At a private high school, they might move to a different school but a public school, such a Ladue, they are largely bound by the district in which their family lives.

The same rule applies to Junior Varsity. A player with three more years of eligibility has more to offer to the team in the long run than one with but a single year remaining even if they don’t currently have the skills of the older player.

It could be the player just has a bad attitude in the locker room and contributes to disharmony on the team. As I said, there are plenty of good reasons why the player was cut but there are also plenty of bad ones. Maybe the coach is friends with the family of another player who was kept on the team. We just don’t know. Maybe the coach is making a bad decision. Again, there is really little way to know.

In the sports world the thing that ends up mattering is results. If the Ladue soccer team fails to succeed in the coming years the coach will eventually be fired. If the coach makes a bunch of poor personnel decisions then failure is likely.

Life is filled with injustice but the final arbiter is generally success. This is nowhere more evident than in sport. I certainly feel badly for the player in question, particularly if the coach’s decision was based on anything other than merit, a possibility I not only admit exist but readily understand happens all too frequently. That being said, such personnel decisions must be left to the coach, not the state.

Tom Liberman

Is the Vandal Bonfire burning in Effigy a Racist Attack?

Vandal BonfireVan High School in Texas conducts an annual homecoming ceremony, the Vandal Bonfire, in which a straw figure wearing the jersey number of the star player from their rival school is burned in effigy atop it. This year photos and videos of the Vandal Bonfire showed a figure wearing jersey number 8. This happens to be a black athlete from rival Brownsboro High. Outrage ensued.

A statement from the district explained the ritual has been going on since the 1940s with a brief pause after some students were injured a few years back. The tradition of the Vandal Bonfire is to have the best player from the opposing team atop it in effigy. The district statement promised in the future it would no longer have such a figure at the top of the bonfire.

It’s an interesting situation in that, if anything, the Vandal Bonfire is actually honoring the opposing player rather than denigrating him. However, burning in effigy is an act often associated with anger at the person being so represented. This combined with a racist history in this nation of lynching and burning crosses stirs strong emotions in many.

It’s my opinion the school district can do whatever it wants in this case. I don’t think the display was racist in any way although I’d like to hear the opinion of the player burned in effigy at the Vandal Bonfire. The very act of burning someone atop a bonfire does strike a nasty chord and I’m glad the district has found a way to move forward with the tradition while eliminating what is something a reasonable person might find distasteful.

Another solution might be to invite the opposing player to the event and allow him or her to set the bonfire ablaze. In many ways it seems we are intent upon finding ways to divide people when, in my opinion, we should be striving for the opposite. We have far more in common with one another than we imagine and getting people together in social settings to learn about these things is something to be encouraged.

It is clear the football players and fans for both teams have many common interests but happen to go to, or root for, different schools. If they were to get to know one another they could play the game and, when finished, possibly enjoy a lifetime of friendship they might not otherwise have enjoyed.

Tom Liberman

JR Smith, a Tattoo, and the NBA

JR Smith TattooA fascinating story involving basketball player JR Smith, his new tattoo, and the National Basketball Association is making the rounds on various news sites this morning. Smith got a tattoo on his leg depicting the company logo for an apparel company in New York called Supreme. The league has a rule against players displaying company logos on their body or shaved into their hair.

I have several problems with this rule. In the first place I think a player should be able to put whatever they want on their body and the league should have no say in the matter. I go as far as saying if an athlete wanted a swastika, a racist term, a misogynistic image, or anything else offensive on their body, that’s their business. Now, a particular team has every right not to sign such a player, that’s the team’s freedom to decide.

My second problem is the rank hypocrisy of the rule. The NBA makes an enormous amount of money through its various endorsement contracts. The Nike logo currently appears on the jerseys of the teams and all sports leagues have similar financially lucrative deals. For them to be pulling in money hand over fist and deny individual players the same right when it comes to a tattoo strikes this Libertarian as grossly biased although certainly legal. The players have all sorts of their own apparel contracts in which they support various companies and are financially remunerated for doing so. Why shouldn’t this apply their own body, the mostly uniquely individual and privately-owned thing of all?

My third issue is that the NBA has allowed several players with tattoos to play without fines for the last few years. This means they are engaged in selective enforcement of their rules. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact the tattoo is of an apparel company as opposed to a television show but one has one’s suspicions.

In the end, the league is free to make their own rules and that’s a good thing. I just wish people and organizations would realize the freedom they enjoy to do as they please should extend to everyone else as well. JR Smith’s freedom is my freedom.

Tom Liberman

What do Unused Water Bottles in Puerto Rico say to You?

Water BottlesThere’s been an interesting image of a large number of water bottles sitting on a runway in Puerto Rico circulating throughout the news and my social media feeds. It shows tens of thousands or perhaps millions of water bottles sitting on a runway apparently unwanted and unused. What conclusions have you drawn from this event? I’m going to tell you what conclusions I originally drew and then what I found out when I investigated the issue.

Government waste of my tax dollars. Some stupid government agency either ordered way too many water bottles, didn’t arrange for transport of the bottles to needy citizens of Puerto Rico, or simply forgot about them and left them on the runway. Then I did some research. In my original guess as to what happened I thought it was one of three stupid things; surprise, it was all three.

FEMA purchased, loaded, shipped, and unloaded far too many water bottles. The water bottles on the runway were not needed. FEMA didn’t release the water bottles to the government of Puerto Rico until they had been sitting in the open, exposed to the elements, for months. FEMA didn’t make any arrangements to distribute the water. Finally, someone noticed the water and contacted FEMA, who released them to the government of Puerto Rico, who then began to distribute them but found the water was fouled by its exposure. So, there it sits. Now someone has to clean it all up, again, using tax dollars.

Yay! Government hard at work as usual. Is it any wonder the disaster relief in Puerto Rico and other places has been less than stellar in its execution? I’m not saying disaster relief is an easy thing to do. There are many moving parts and a huge amount of coordination is required. We need professionals in charge of this sort of thing, not people who raised a lot of campaign dollars and want a nice salary. People suffer because of failed government and my tax dollars are given to bottled water companies for no good purpose. At least those businesses are happy.

My final question is to you. What did you assume when you read the story about those water bottles? Something different? Don’t lie.

Tom Liberman

Battle of the Sexes for Science

Battle of the SexesI was just a boy of nine when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in Houston on September 20, 1973 and remember the hype of Battle of the Sexes quite well. It was actually the second match for Riggs after he defeated Margaret Court earlier that year but the first Battle of the Sexes hardly had the media frenzy of the second. There have actually been a number of such events over the years with a variety of rules enforced to attempt to create an even match.

What I’d like to find out is exactly how good are the best women players of various sports in the world compared to their male counterparts. It goes without saying that Serena Williams could crush me in tennis. The only points I’d win would be her double-faults, if she had any. It likewise seems obvious Williams would not win many points against Novak Djokovic. Any attempt to handicap a match so that the obviously inferior player has a chance is of little interest to me.

I’d like to see Serena play a real match against the three hundredth ranked male player in the world. If she wins then play the two hundredth or if she loses try the four hundredth. I’d like to throw the WNBA Champion Seattle Storm against a good men’s college team and see what happens. No handicaps, no special rules, just men and women playing together and see who wins.

The reason I find this interesting is not to somehow prove male superiority to women, which is sadly why I think these sorts of matches are often proposed. It’s clear that in general men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Not to say there aren’t plenty of women bigger, stronger, and faster than me; just that the best male tennis player in the world through the undeniable differences in genetics is a better player than the best woman.

But how much better? Let’s say we find the level in tennis is at five hundred. That means there are four hundred and ninety-nine men in the world better than Williams and all the rest of us are worse. That’s pretty damned impressive considering the physical differences inherent in gender.

I’m certain that determining this information won’t result in anything particularly useful nor will it make the world a better place. It’s just something I’d find interesting. It also gives us a benchmark with which to compare gender differences in the future. Let’s say fifty years from now the best woman tennis player in the world can now defeat the four hundredth best male player or only the six hundredth. We can now start to make valid comparisons to players over the generations.

It also could make mixed gender leagues, or Battle of the Sexes, a common reality and that might provide excellent entertainment. Perhaps top high school boy’s teams could regular play women’s college teams. I think there might be public interest in such matches. Money to be made.

In any case, just me thinking aloud.

Tom Liberman

Does Ticketmaster Mind Scalpers Breaking Rules?

TicketmasterThere’s a fascinating story in the news involving Ticketmaster being complicit in scalpers reselling tickets. The idea is simple enough, Ticketmaster has a service called TradeDesk in which people who have tickets sell them to willing buyers. The problem is TradeDesk is largely a way for scalpers who purchase tickets on Ticketmaster to resell them at higher prices.

Why is this problem? At first glance it doesn’t seem as if Ticketmaster is doing anything wrong. They sell the tickets to whoever is first to purchase them and then are involved in the resale at a higher, or lower, price. This is obviously lucrative for Ticketmaster as they get a percentage of all sales; essentially, they are profiting twice off the same product. However, thanks to some undercover work from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it seems Ticketmaster is making it very easy for scalpers to purchase large numbers of tickets to events before the public has a chance to do the same. Ticketmaster has a rule in which no one is allowed to buy more than a small block of tickets but they essentially ignore it when scalpers bypass it.

Thus, people who want to purchase tickets to an event never really have much of a chance and are forced, if they still want to attend, to buy the higher priced tickets at TradeDesk. Sales representatives for Ticketmaster told undercover investigators they pretty much were facilitating such transactions. The company is denying the allegation and said they are looking into the practice. They claim they attempt to stop such large purchases to the best of their abilities.

This entire thing intrigues me from a Libertarian perspective. Let’s imagine Ticketmaster doesn’t have the rule about blocks of tickets. Then what we are seeing is capitalism in action. The event promoters generally set the ticket prices and if resellers are able to get a higher price, it’s likely the promoters set the original price too low. That’s their bad. The scalpers are merely capitalizing on a mistake. The risk is all with the reseller. If they misjudge and have to resell the tickets at a lower price, because there is little interest for instance, they lose money.

I totally agree Ticketmaster is not being transparent if they are, indeed, allowing scalpers to purchase large blocks of tickets with the intent of reselling in violation of Ticketmaster rules. The reality of the supposed crime is more complex. Even if Ticketmaster cracks down on large blocks of tickets being sold to a single user, I’m fairly certain the scalpers will refine the technology they use to call and order and still scarf up the majority of the tickets.

Is it fair to the average user who just wants to go to the concert or see the game at the price of the original ticket? No. That’s clear. Then again, such a viewer can simply choose not to spend the extra money for the resold ticket.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman

Let’s Not be Real

Let's Be RealA phrase I hear a lot these days is Let’s Be Real. The idea largely being that we should be perfectly honest with one another and express our feelings without reservation. At first glance, this certainly sounds like a good idea. It’s not. We are not real for even an hour of the day. We don’t tell everyone what we are thinking all the time and that’s not just a good thing, that’s the only reason society survives!

The word of the day is specious. I think it’s a good word because it tells us things that appear to have value on the surface often do not. Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it can be implemented to any useful effect. In this information age we seem to be more real than we’ve ever been in life and it’s not doing us any good.

In the old days people said things like: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s some good advice right there. Another great old quote is: It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. But no, today we’re just keeping it real and confirming the stupidity for all to see. A pox on let’s be real!

I’d be grateful for some good old-fashioned politeness and manners when reading the news. I’m certainly not suggesting we can’t disagree with one another but how about we do so without calling anyone on the opposing side a complete moron or worse?

The reality is the world is a complex place and there are largely no single, simple solutions to some of the complex and even relatively uncomplicated problems we face. There are many factors and people hold opinions for a variety of reasons.

Being real is just an excuse to be cruel. I’m not calling you nasty names, I’m being real. I’m not a jerk, I’m just being real. The reality is you are calling someone horrible names and you are a jerk. You are doing these things no matter how much you want to excuse that reality.

Let’s be real isn’t just overrated, it’s downright dangerous. Let’s not.

Tom Liberman

Fortnite Pits Pros against Casual Players in Enormous Mismatches

Fortnite NinjaIn the widely popular video game Fortnite the best professional players pit their skills against rank amateurs some of whom are brand new to the game. Can you imagine a similar situation in any other sporting or gaming endeavor? The situation was brought to my attention by a commenter on my story about Stream Sniping in Fortnite and I think it bears some consideration.

The complaint centered around the idea casual players have no chance against incredibly skilled professionals like Ninja. Ninja and others like him make large amounts of money playing Fortnite and do it for a living. They are essentially like a top-level professional athlete in tennis, golf, or any other sport. Meanwhile they are pitted against casual players repeatedly, hour after hour, day after day. These other players have no chance to win and can grow frustrated.

I certainly understand their pain. I played sports from a young age and, like virtually everyone else, quickly came up against players with more natural athletic ability who put in more hours of practice than me. I stood no chance against them. Unlike in Fortnite, I didn’t continue to play against such competition as I grew older. They went onto higher levels than I could visit. I still played sports but against lesser competition and eventually I stopped playing competitively. A Fortnite player has little choice but to attempt to compete against the very best in the world.

Here’s the issue. The best players deserve the rewards. They work hard at their craft and have become skilled from both practice and natural ability. They deserve to win the game. They should defeat lesser players and gain the prizes. This is the very nature of competition. What is the alternative? Should we punish good players by giving them a handicap? Should we refuse to allow them to play? Do we allow the local high school baseball team to compete against the pro teams but handicap the pros by allowing them fewer players on the field? Do we force the best tennis player in the world to use a smaller racquet and compete against lesser players? The answer is, and should be, no.

This is an excellent illustration of the inherent nature of life. Some people are going to be better at things than you. Don’t be like the commenter who thinks it’s an unfair system. Work harder, get better.

Certainly, the makers of the game could create instances in which players of certain skills were forbidden. This is merely a virtual reflection of what happens in real life. Not only do lesser teams not get to play the best teams but the professional players are not allowed to enter tournaments against lesser players. I think it would be a great idea although implementation might not be easy.

Nevertheless, my point stands. Just because someone is better at something than you, doesn’t mean they should be denied the rewards of their efforts.

Tom Liberman

Have your Starbucks Coffee any way you Want

Starbucks CoffeeIs there a wrong way to order Starbucks Coffee or a bagel? That certainly seems to be the conclusion of the great democracy that is the internet. My various social media outlets have recently been filled with people ridiculing other people for exactly how much flavored sugar they want in their coffee or what sort of strange toppings they want on their bagels.

It’s more than just outrage. It seems to my degreeless psychological perspective that people manage to inflate their self-esteem because they don’t order that many pumps of Cinnamon Pumpkin Cotton Candy in their Starbucks Coffee or have the audacity to put capers on their raisin filled bagel.

I find what other people eat to be disgusting at times and my non-oyster and non-sushi loving friends certainly don’t pay me compliments when I ingest two of my favorites. Does this make me better than them or them better than me? Does it really make any difference whatsoever what someone else chooses to eat?

I remember as a young lad being somewhat disturbed when a friend mixed a bizarre combination from the soda fountain at a fast food restaurant. I remember something more important as well. Some of my other friends started to ridicule the choice my first friend made and that struck as being wrong. I wasn’t a Libertarian back then, or at least I didn’t know about the concept of being one. I’m fairly certain I didn’t fully understood why it bothered me, but it did.

Now that I’m older, and presumably wiser, I know it is makes me the lesser person when I make fun of someone, pretend I am better than someone else, simply because of the strange soda blend they choose to drink. If someone enjoys a Starbucks Coffee with a million pumps of sugar in it, then let them enjoy it. Yes, it’s not particularly healthy. Yes, it sounds vile.

It’s quite easy to ridicule other people for their choices in life. Try to refrain. Sometimes people make really dumb decisions. I’d say someone who drinks a Starbucks Coffee with an outrageous amount of sugar in it is doing themselves no favors health-wise. All that sugar doesn’t taste particularly good to me but their drink is not my problem.

To sum up, don’t be so quick to judge other people. Spend more time worrying about how you conduct your own life. Part of a being a decent human being is to stop denigrating everyone who does something differently than you.

Tom Liberman

Pluto is What Pluto is

PlutoIs Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet? This question has roiled both the scientific and public world for the last twelve years. When it was discovered way back in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh it was given the designation of planet. In 2006 the definition of what is a planet was changed and the little, relatively, world was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

I well understand the need to classify things so that we can communicate. Without definitions we have a difficult time expressing meaning to one another. In this case the reality is the only thing of importance. The designation means nothing. Pluto was discovered by humans back in 1930 but it has been galivanting about the solar system for billions of years in largely the form it is today. There is no name we can call it that will change its nature. Planet, Dwarf Planet, Kuiper Belt Object, whatever, it is the same. It is only we people who are upset about the classification and that is, to my way of thinking, somewhat telling.

Why do we care? Will it make any difference in your life? If Pluto is a planet are you better or worse? Is Pluto any different? The designation is merely so we can communicate effectively and the reality is in this case it doesn’t make any difference. The only chance of any confusion occurs if we are talking about the Disney character rather than the orbital body.

The question becomes why is it such a contention issue? Why do people have their own self-worth wrapped up in the fact that Pluto is or is not a planet? I cannot say for certain but I suspect the cause is related to our ego. We want to be right. We want to be better and smarter than the other people. We find like-minded allies and pat ourselves on the back at how smart we are because we know Pluto is one thing or another. This somehow validates our feelings about ourselves and that’s a shame.

Pluto is what Pluto is, regardless of the designation we give it. You are who you are, with no importance given to what others may call you. Nothing changes. The kind of person you choose to be is defined by other things: The way you behave towards others, the things you say about other people. Your behavior defines you. Your existence. Not the names people call you, that’s their problem.

What makes you a better or worse person has nothing to do with how others designate you. You are you and so Pluto is Pluto.

Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

Bob Ross and the Value of Talent and Serenity

Bob RossI was not surprised to find that painter Bob Ross, eighteen years after his death, is finding a new audience on streaming services like YouTube and Twitch. Mr. Ross, for those of you who don’t know about a PBS television series called The Joy of Painting, was a painter who used a wet-on-wet technique to quickly create beautiful landscapes. His calm and happy demeaner mixed with his skill made his show amazingly popular for the time. I can only imagine how many viewers he’d have to today if Lymphoma hadn’t struck him down at age 52 in 1995. If he was painting live on his channel I’d guess he’d be among the top-rated content providers.

In addition to hosting a popular television show he also inspired countless artists throughout the United States and now that message is being spread worldwide. What I’d like to talk about today is the value of what Mr. Ross provided and what it tells us about humanity as a whole.

What is it about Mr. Ross that is so appealing? His genuine good nature? His skill as a painter? His happy little trees? I’m of the opinion it was a combination of his talent, serenity, and ability to communicate a complex procedure in a way almost everyone finds understandable. Mr. Ross made you feel good about yourself and about life as a whole and that’s a message of astounding popularity.

On the other hand, the internet is filled with people spewing messages of rage and hate against anyone and everyone who disagrees with them about anything. Those people get an audience as well but not as big as Mr. Ross’s. Ask yourself, is watching someone like that helping you? Does it make you happier, better, nicer? Does watching Mr. Ross achieve those ends?

It’s an important question in deciding how you go about leading your life. Do you think you’re helping yourself by calling other people stupid or making fun of their politics? Sitting around patting yourself on the back about how smart you are and how stupid and wrong everyone else is? I think you are not. I think you are harming yourself.

My advice is to head on over to the streaming service of your choice and watch Mr. Ross paint a picture. Especially if you’ve been listening to one of the angry, talking-heads on your favorite news channel or social media network.

Happy is better than angry and Mr. Ross proves it. His popularity demonstrates what people truly want in their lives, even if they don’t know it.

Tom Liberman

Good Intentions with Johnny Bobbitt and Kate McClure

Johnny BobbittAbout a year ago there was a feel-good story in the news about a homeless man named Johnny Bobbitt helping a woman named Kate McClure when she ran out of fuel. Bobbitt, a homeless man living under a bridge near where McClure was stranded, walked to a gas station and spent his last dollars purchasing a canister of fuel to get her home. The aftermath is a study of good intentions when there is no plan.

McClure started a GoFundMe campaign in order to help Bobbitt out of his situation. The news went viral and soon enough they collected $400,000. Bobbitt is a drug addict. McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico now had a pile of money to manage and no plan. They aren’t financially savvy nor did they have any idea how to deal with a person in Bobbitt’s situation. They paid for rehab but, as is often the case, he relapsed.

Perhaps McClure and D’Amico had the best of intentions and for the moment let’s assume they did. D’Amico said much of the money from the fund going to Bobbitt was being spent on drugs. D’Amico pointed out that if they gave all the money directly to Bobbitt he’d probably be dead not long after. It’s a valid point. So, they had to manage the money. This takes time and costs money in and of itself. They missed work trying to organize it all and spent time and effort ferrying Bobbitt to his addiction meetings. To make up for this, McClure and D’Amico paid themselves from the GoFundMe campaign money. They took trips, purchased an expensive car, etc.

GoFundMe has launched an investigation into the idea the entire campaign was fraudulent. If the couple can’t account for the money they might well be facing prison. The donors who gave all that money are understandably upset much of it went to the couple instead of Bobbitt.

Meanwhile, Bobbitt is back to living under the bridge and panhandling because he doesn’t have any money. What’s the lesson in all of this? Good intentions are not enough. Grand ideas are not enough. You must make pragmatic and realistic plans. McClure and D’Amico should have immediately hired a financial advisor and a drug rehabilitation specialist to organize their efforts. This costs money, naturally. They chose to handle it themselves and now they face serious legal consequences.

This pattern of good intentions without a realistic plan is part and parcel of the fabric of our everyday life. Look no further than Washington D.C., your local government, or your church. You might well be a good person, a decent human being, and want to help. If you don’t plan you will most likely do far more harm than good.

Tom Liberman

An Ode to Shower Eight

Shower EightFarewell, Shower Eight. I will miss you. For the last year and half, since my retirement, I’ve been going to the gym in the morning. This means I shower at the gym after my workout six days a week. There are about a dozen showers available but only one stole my heart: Shower Eight. Sadly, my gym is moving to a new location starting Monday and today was my last shower at the current site.

Shower Eight has many excellent qualities and I will miss it. The water pressure is just right. The temperature is steady. The handle is firm and does not slip. The drain works perfectly and water doesn’t pool at my feet, an issue because I shave in the shower and tend to be in there for a while.

Oh, Shower Eight, I will miss you. Nothing makes me appreciate the glories of Shower Eight more than those few times one of my fellow Wellbridgedonians is using the shower and I am forced to use another. Shower Four with its skin peeling water pressure I do not like you. Shower Six with temperature that goes from freezing cold, to scalding hot, to a pleasant in between without notice and with unfortunate frequency, you do not capture my affection. Shower Twelve has many fine qualities. Good temperature, nice pressure, but your handle is loose and, in my luxuriating, I can sometimes bump into it, thus spinning it forty-five degrees to a temperature that is unsafe for human bathing.

It is you, Shower Eight, that I will miss the most. You cannot return my affection, not having a brain and all. It won’t miss me. It doesn’t smile with joy in the morning when I approach in the same way I do when I see it is empty and ready to plunge me into watery delight.

Oh, I’m not saying things were perfect. There was that week it sprang a leak on the shower head and sprayed me down with icy water before it had a chance to warm up, but soon enough that was fixed. I admit there was a time or two when the drain wasn’t functioning with its usual alacrity but I blame some of my more ursine companions at the gym for this problem, I don’t blame you, Shower Eight. Once the handle was rather loose but that problem was also quickly resolved. I choose to forget that horrible day when the shampoo dispenser was broken and I was forced to wander, wet and bare, to another stall to scoop up a handful of the necessary substance.

Still, there are bumps in all relationships and Shower Eight had fewer than most. I forgive.

Oh, Shower Eight, I shall miss you. I have no illusions about the fate of my friend. The building is to be torn down, Shower Eight will not be moved in total to the new location. I will have to find a new friend, a new watery companion. I can only hope I find one as good as you.

Farewell, old friend, farewell.

Tom Liberman

Why is the United States Placing Cyanide Devices in Western States?

M-44 Cyanide DeviceThere’s an interesting legal case ongoing about a device called a M-44 Cyanide device which is used mainly in western states as a way to control coyote populations. One of the devices injured a young man from Pocatello, Idaho and killed his dog.

There are two elements to the situation that intrigue me. First is the case itself and second is the reason Wildlife Services places the devices at all.

The case is interesting in that the boy’s family describes the incident in which he was injured in a way that is largely impossible. They claim it exploded when he touched it but it has only a spring-loaded mechanism. It sprays cyanide when an animal bites the scented end and pulls with force.

The assumption here is that Canyon Mansfield likely did more than simply touch the device in order to set it off. That is the government’s argument for why they won’t pay damages. It’s probably true. They claim the Mansfield was negligent in handling the device and responsible for his own injuries.

Still, if I were in charge of the case I’d make the payment. It’s not going to set a precedent. People aren’t going to run out and mishandle the devices in order to get settlements. No one wants to be doused in cyanide.

The second thing I find interesting, from a Libertarian point of view, is why we are using the devices at all. Since the 1930s the United States has been placing the devices in order to kill coyotes and wild dogs. The M-44 Cyanide device killed over 12,000 coyotes in 2016 alone so they are clearly effective. This is out of the 76,000 the service killed overall. The reason we are killing such animals is they are a threat to livestock. Naturally they also kill pet dogs on occasion and at least 22 such animals were killed between 2013 and 2016.

I’m certain the Wildlife Service argues that far more pets and livestock would have been killed by coyotes if the devices were not used. My question is why is the government killing so many coyotes on public lands? The reason is simply because the United States leases these lands to ranchers in western states. The ranchers have livestock on the land and the government is spending your tax dollars to protect those animals.

This is at the heart of a number of problems, some of them having engendered major headlines in the last few years, associated with federally leasing such land. The ranchers depend on the land to feed their livestock. Without that land they couldn’t produce much of the beef we eat. Many of them have come to think of that land as theirs. However, if the land was owned by the ranchers they’d have to spend money to keep it up. As it stands, the government does all that work for them although the price of the leases mitigates the cost to some degree.

Basically, the government is killing millions of animals each year, yes, the number is that high, essentially to help out ranchers. There is pretty good evidence much of the killing is unnecessary. If the ranchers owned the land themselves they would probably carry out killings as well but because they don’t have an essentially unlimited budget, they’d probably only kill as many as necessary to protect their investment.

So why does the government own all this land which is being used largely by private industry? If you thought this problem was complex before, we haven’t even gotten started yet. That being said, I’ll give it a rest. I won’t bore you with the Bureau of Land Management, Native Americans, Public Land as a whole and the issues therein.

It’s not an easy issue to solve. I’ll say that much at least. Democrats largely wouldn’t want to turn the land over to private industry and Republicans largely wouldn’t want to force the ranchers to own and maintain that land. So, here we stand.

Tom Liberman

Millions to Stop Drug Trafficking in Haiti to no End

Haiti Port au PrinceFor the last two years a pair of Drug Enforcement Agent whistleblowers have been fighting their way through the system in regards to an incident in Haiti. The big complaint is that a large shipment of drugs was found by dock workers and immediately looted by everyone including drug enforcement agents before anyone tried to stop it. This might seem egregious to you but it’s not my problem with events.

What I’d like to talk about is the $250 million of my tax dollars that have gone to Haiti with $18.7 million of it earmarked to train drug enforcement agents at the port in question. This is the War on Drugs. The tax dollars the United States sends to countries like Haiti supposedly to stop drugs is largely used to line the pockets of who knows how many people. The entire War on Drugs has created an industry devoted to taking that money and doing just enough to get more while pocketing most of it.

Haiti is a perfect example of this situation but hardly the only one or even the largest. The DEA has an enormous budget and employs huge numbers of people. They are tasked largely with prosecuting the War on Drugs. Does anyone think they are winning? Would there be more drug addiction, more violence, more harassment, more illegal seizures, more anything if the DEA were to simply cease to exist? I think it’s fair to say there would be less of most of those things.

The United States spent $250 million over eight years to help Haiti police stop drug shipments. That’s a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. Yet, it’s really not. Compared to what we send to other countries for the same reason it’s really just a drop in the bucket. After we spent $250 million of which, as I mentioned, almost nineteen million, went to secure the port at Port-au-Prince; the authorities not only allowed drugs to be taken from a ship docked there but some of them participated in the theft. Is that a good use of our tax dollars?

For two years DEA whistleblowers have attempted to call attention to this incident and been essentially silenced. One was so harassed by a supervisor that it affected her or his health. The names of the whistleblowers are not being released. With the amount of money the United States is throwing at people in Haiti and all over the world, it’s unusual to not want to steal it. You’re a weirdo if you actually don’t want to dip your hand into the never-ending slush fund. You’d likely be the same, face facts.

Almost everyone is stealing tons of money, no one is caught, the people who don’t steal get harassed and fired, more cash keeps piling in, there is no accountability, and no one cares. Tell me you wouldn’t participate. Go on, I dare you.

Tom Liberman

Rich Give Almost Fifteen Billion in Charity Despite Crony Capitalism

Charity GivingThe nation’s top fifty donors scraped up $14.7 billion to give to a charity this past year. What sort of things are the rich trying to do with their money? How can we encourage them to give more?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone donated $4.8 billion to charity organizations with a large hunk of it going to education. Educational organizations dominated the donations this year. The reason largely given is that it’s vital to have an educated workforce in the coming generations. Menial jobs are going away and highly skilled positions are going unfilled.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the biggest donors these days represent Technology Industries. They have supplanted finance donors in recent years and they, more than anyone, know their source of income is being generated by skilled workers. Without such workers, their income evaporates. It is in their interest to have educated workers but it is also in the interest of the people getting an education. A symbiotic relationship that highlights the ideas of Enlightened Self-Interest and Rational Egoism. In other words, charity isn’t just helping someone else.

At its heart is the idea: What is good for me is generally good for those around me. Anyone who runs a business isn’t going to do well without good employees and customers with ready cash. At least it used to be that way. We’ve perverted things in the United States with Crony Capitalism.

Business leaders today also spend a great deal of their money attempting to bribe, that is to say finance, politicians in their campaigns in order to influence policy. The reason business leaders do this is that political leaders determine the success and failure of business through legislation. Politicians hold the reins and with the stroke of a pen can promote one business and destroy a competitor. This forces businesses to spend money buying influence instead of running their company.

The cause and effect relationship here is infinitely interesting to me. The ostensible reason politicians were given this ability to regulate business is the impression that corporate leaders are going about their jobs in a manner detrimental to the consumer. Politicians must save us from such evil! This, in turn, led to businesses becoming overly involved in politics. It was a matter of survival.

Despite having to give enormous sums of money to politicians, these fifty people still managed to donate nearly fifteen billion to charity. I wonder how high that number might be if they didn’t have to worry about bribing, I mean donating, to politicians. If politicians can’t decide the fate of a business, then business leaders don’t care who is elected. They can go about improving their company. This means giving customers what they want and training better employees.

What started with good intentions, regulating egregious and criminal business practices, has become egregious and criminal of itself. If my competitor gives more money, that business will win through the efforts of legislators who don’t care about good products or educated workers. They create winners and losers with regulations.

We didn’t solve the problem, we made it far worse and have taken away who knows how much money from charity in the meantime.

If the solution is making the problem worse, it’s not a solution at all. Something to think about.

Tom Liberman

No Planning means no Military Parade

Military ParadeThere’s an interesting story in the news about plans, or lack thereof, for a military parade in Washington D.C. The parade was on but then it was off again. I wasn’t that interested in the story until I read the sequence of events that led to President Trump announcing the parade was cancelled, not that I think it is permanently cancelled, the president is a man of mercurial whim and anything can change. That being said, I think this incident gives us some insight into the nature of his administration. Lack of planning.

Trump wanted to have a military parade ever since he saw the Bastille Day celebration in France back in July of 2017 and has been credibly reported as saying he wanted something similar in Washington D.C. He’s been talking about this idea with various members of the Armed Services and others for over a year now. Apparently, his insistence finally started some action but this is what I want to discuss.

If you speak with the women and men charged with planning any sort of a parade, even a kindergarten march through the school, they will explain to you the necessity of making plans. Lots can go wrong in such events and a military parade through downtown Washington D.C. is something that I hope anyone, regardless of political affiliation realizes, is a complex affair. There is much organization and coordination between various groups required.

City officials were notified on August 8, 2018 to be aware planning for a parade was under way and they would be involved. The letter from Homeland Security listed one detail and that one being vague, it would happen on or around November 10, 2018. The announcement the parade was cancelled because of cost came on Aug 17, 2018. That’s eleven entire days. Which is hardly enough time to make a proper estimate, but it gets much worse.

The city didn’t receive any other information about the parade until Aug 14, 2018. Even then officials were not told how long the parade would last, how many people were involved, what route was planned, what military equipment was involved, or apparently much of anything. They were then asked to estimate the cost to the city!

It’s hard for me to put into words how idiotic is this request. How can anyone make an approximation without at least some information? The data given to them made it impossible to make an estimate. City officials then threw out a number, a mistake if you ask me, of $21.6 million. I’m guessing they looked at expenses for other such events with extra pay for police, fire, and emergency services, cleanup costs, etc. Still, they should have just told the White House they had no idea and needed more information before any sort of an estimate could be offered.

The Pentagon has apparently long resisted this parade and someone began throwing out numbers with one being $92 million. General Mattis, who would supposedly be in a position to know about the plans, in an overt admission said that no one had any idea how much the parade would cost and any estimates should be discounted. Mattis at least had the courage to admit no one planned a damn thing and it was impossible to guess the cost. Maybe he hoped no one would comment on the incredibly stupidity of the entire organizational failure. Wrong. General Mattis, you bear some responsibility for this nonsense.

The worst part about all of this is that it seems like standard operating procedure for this administration. If you support it, please take note of how lack of planning is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. From tariffs, to immigration, to travel bans, the entire administration simply fires on the whim of the president. Maybe you like that, maybe you support that, but don’t come complaining to me when things go horribly awry. Without plans, as even the most ardent support of the president knows in their heart, chances are things will spiral into disaster.

Tom Liberman

Punishing by Playing Antonio Callaway and Hue Jackson

Antonio CallawayThere’s an interesting story making the rounds about a Cleveland Browns player named Antonio Callaway and his coach, Hue Jackson. Callaway was stopped for a traffic violation and marijuana was found in his car. Jackson decided that Callaway’s punishment should be to play almost every offensive snap in the preseason game against the New York Giants. Many people are questioning this method of punishment.

I won’t keep you in suspense as to my opinion on the subject, it’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. If he thinks it’s an appropriate punishment then it’s his call to make. That won’t stop me from suggesting it seems like a very bad idea from a misguided coach.

Callaway ended up playing 57 of the 63 offensive plays Cleveland ran in the game and was exhausted and asking to be removed at several points. He was refused. This seems to me to put Callaway in physical danger. A player who is tired is not running plays properly which is clearly demonstrated in this age of specialization. Players are rotated in and out at a far greater rate than in previous decades.

It also seems very unusual to punish a rookie player by giving him more repetition at his position. There are certainly other wideouts on the Browns hoping to make the team and each of them was denied chances to impress because Callaway stayed in the game.

All this is certainly true but my original assessment stands. It’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. What’s important to consider is if his methods are working. His record as head coach of the Browns is an astonishing 1-29 over the course of two seasons. He accumulated an 8-8 record in one season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders before he was fired there.

Perhaps his methods are wise and will be part of a turnaround for the Browns and they will become a playoff team. Perhaps this punishment is indicative of a coach flailing away for solutions, a coach who doesn’t know what he is doing or why and his abysmal record will continue.

We just don’t know but we’ll certainly find out. I think Jackson was wrong in his methods and so do some other people. It’s quite possible I’ll be incorrect in this judgment, because that’s all it is, an opinion based on the evidence.

I won’t be personally insulted if the Browns start winning games and Jackson turns out to be an excellent head coach. I won’t defend my position to the death. I’ll shrug my shoulders and say I judged the evidence that was available to me and came to a conclusion which turned out to be wrong. Best of luck.

Tom Liberman