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 Bobbitt*EDIT*

I’m sorry to say, it now appears this was a scam involving all three parties. There never were any good intentions at all. Still, much of the blog is applicable.

*END EDIT*

About 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

Are Super Nerds Ruining Baseball?

Jayson Werth Super NerdsFormer Major League Baseball Jayson Werth claims baseball is being ruined by hard-core statisticians he calls Super Nerds. The basic idea behind Werth’s claim is that advanced statistical analysis, Sabermetrics, have changed the way the game is played with home runs becoming more valuable and thus increasing strike outs. Certainly, it’s more complicated than this quick explanation but what I’d like to examine is the general idea that statistical analysis is causing harm to the game of baseball.

Sabermetrics came to the forefront of baseball decision making when Billy Beane incorporated the ideas of Paul DePodesta into the day to day operations of the Oakland Athletics. The movie Moneyball was based on these events. The Athletics were very successful with these techniques and soon the Boston Red Sox incorporated them and won the World Series. Not long after this most teams embraced the ideas of the so-called Super Nerds.

The idea is that men and women with advanced understanding of statistics make better baseball decisions than the people who have played the game for their entire lives. It’s no wonder people like Werth and Goose Gossage have come out with scathing comments about the change in baseball and the generation of largely Ivy League educated men who brought about those new methods.

The proof is in the pudding. The methods employed by the Super Nerds work. Sport is a result orientated business and if ideas are failing they are generally discarded. That doesn’t really address the claims Werth is making. He isn’t saying the Super Nerds are making bad decisions that hurt teams, he’s saying they are making the game boring, something no one wants to watch.

I suspect he’s making that claim because attendance is down this year by about 6% although major weather factors early in the season account for much of this. Over the last twenty years attendance statistics are relatively flat with about as many people, 72-73 million, attending games each season. It’s neither up or down. This seems to put Werth’s statements to question.

I strongly suspect great athletes like Werth feel their territory is being usurped by statistically minded men and women with advanced degrees and no experience with the game of baseball. I can understand that attitude. It seems fairly normal to resent newcomers telling you how to do your job.

The evidence suggests the new methods are superior in producing winning teams and have not had any effect on attendance as a whole.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing stays the same. If baseball has changed to focus more on home runs, that will alter the underlying statistical base and a new metric will eventually be adopted to counter the trend.

The lesson, if there is one, is that change is inevitable, like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Cienega High and Senior Grad Trips Stealing Big

Senior Grad TripsThere’s an interesting story in the news about a travel company called Senior Grad Trips and various high schools including Cienega High in Tucson, Arizona. Basically, a company called Senior Grad Trips organizes high school senior trips to a variety of locations. They take the money and then apparently don’t deliver the trips. I don’t know all the details so I’m going to have to do some speculating but the basic idea is that stealing big is easy if you’ve got good legal advice.

The line from the story that really resonates with me comes from the mother of the one of the students from Cienega who had her money stolen, I could go to a grocery store and shoplift, and I would be put in jail that night. This man stole, and it’s taken more than a year for someone to say, ‘We’ll do something.’ What does it take for someone to care? Ronda Dillon made the comment after spending the last year trying to recoup the money her daughter and friends spent for the trip. So far to no avail.

Here’s what I’m guessing is the issue. Senior Grad Trips created their company with fraud in mind. The owners wanted to take money from various students, then use the profits on a party life. They had the contracts written with that in mind. They engaged in advertising designed to deceive. They covered their legal bases and there is little recourse against thieves of this nature. That’s why no one has been able to do anything as of yet.

Dillon is correct when she claims if she did some minor shoplifting she’d be charged and fined almost immediately. Our law enforcement agents are almost universally focused on petty crime while those who steal on a grander scale simply get away with it, smiling and nodding to our legal system all the while.

Deceptive contracts are the norm, not something unusual. Every contract you sign is designed with the idea of legally getting away with as much as possible. From your phone to your television viewing. Does anyone even dispute this?

Laws have been passed in recent years making it easier for a business to declare bankruptcy while individuals find it much more difficult. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, should there be an eventual resolution to this issue, if the students never get their money back and the owners of the Senior Grad Trips simply go on about their way, probably starting up some new scam.

That’s where we are. Practicing to deceive is not even fraud any more. It’s just a perfectly legal way to steal your money.

Tom Liberman

Ajit Pai Thinks he Didn’t Lie about Cyber Attack

Ajit PaiIn the IT world there’s been a heated and interesting debate going on for over a year about a denial of service attack Ajit Pai claimed happened to the FCC after his Net Neutrality announcement. The veracity of the attack has long been doubted and now Pai finally admits the truth but he is, of course, innocent of all wrongdoing.

I wrote an article detailing the entire episode which you can read to learn more about the actual events but what I’d like to focus on today is the smug expression of joy that Pai utters in assuring us he did nothing wrong. I’m pleased that this report debunks the conspiracy theory that my office or I had any knowledge that the information provided by the former CIO was inaccurate and was allowing that inaccurate information to be disseminated for political purposes.

I suppose there is some chance Pai is an abject moron and wasn’t suspicious about the claim of an attack and therefore passed along the information in all honesty but I find that all but impossible to believe. Pai is an intelligent man whose parents are both doctors. He got an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Chicago. There is no possible way he is moronic enough to have believed the lies told to him by the former Chief Information Officer of the FCC. Certainly, he wanted to believe those lies because they made his own announcement regarding the ending of Net Neutrality apparently less controversial.

Those lies served his purpose quite well but there is no way he didn’t at the very least recognize the statements he was making were highly improbable. What a person of integrity does under such circumstances is wait before publicly repeating the lies. A person with character interviews other people and makes a determined effort to find the truth rather than immediately disseminating the information for political gain.

Pai is not any of those things. He is a self-serving punk who is now patting himself on the back because technically he didn’t lie. He repeated things that were almost certainly lies without making any effort to find the truth. If I do him the disservice of believing the statement he didn’t suspect something was wrong, then I’ll apologize for calling him a lying punk, he’s just a complete and utter moron. But, I’m fairly certain that’s not the case.

It’s this kind of delusional thinking that is destroying our country. Well, technically I didn’t know it was a lie therefore I’m in the clear. Please, don’t inform me of any important facts because then I’ll know the truth and I’m so much happier simply not knowing anything because it gives me plausible deniability. What a leader! Isn’t this the kind of person you want in charge?

Tom Liberman

Thule Air Force Base Meteor Misleading Headline

Meteor Strike Misleading HeadlineA Misleading Headline would suggest to you that the United States Air Force is covering up an enormous meteor strike that hit near the Thule Air Force base in Greenland. It’s true a meteor did explode some twenty-seven miles above the earth with a force of 2.1 kilotons. It’s also true the Air Force is not reporting about the incident. That may seem like some sort of cover up but you have to take several factors in to account.

First, the Air Force isn’t the one that reports meteor strikes, that’s the job of NASA and their Fireball and Bolide Report. That report includes this particular strike. The data indicates it was no different than dozens of other such events that occur yearly. So unremarkable was the strike that no one even bothered to write a story about it until it was reported by an Australian Astronomy organization.

Then Fox News got a hold of the article and began splashing the headline across its front page. Suddenly it was a huge story. It’s not.

Tom Liberman

How a Decent Person Reacts when they Accidentally Share Fake News

Fake NewsFake News is an important part of our lives now and it can be difficult to spot at times. I read a lot of stories and my Fake News detector is always at a pretty high state of alert so when someone I’m friends with on Social Media posts something suspicious I’m usually right on it. I attempt to verify the story and, if it turns out to be Fake News, alert my friend. It is the reaction thereafter that is the focus of my post today.

I’d like to begin by talking about how pervasive Fake News is becoming. I see false stories almost every single day going from complete fabrication to subtly nuanced exaggerations to simple omissions of vital information. Some of the fake stories are laughable bad and easy to spot while others are cleverly disguised and designed to pull at the political or social ideology of the reader. It is not always easy to spot Fake News and just because you post something that you thought was good and useful information but actually turns out to be false doesn’t make you a bad person.

That being said, when it is pointed out to you the article you shared is, in fact, Fake News, your reaction says a lot about your ethical standing as a person. This came home to me just the other day when a young woman who is the daughter of a friend posted a story and I immediately leapt to my normal level of jerk-hood and told her the story was both false and racist. Her reply? I’m so sorry. Story deleted. The end.

What a great reaction. I’ve told other, older and supposedly wiser and more moral people, her or his story was false and gotten a universally different reaction. Mostly I’m told, well, it may be false but the underlying ideology matches with my point of view and it is still good information to know so I’m going to keep it up. I’ve been told by people who absolutely consider themselves good and moral they don’t care it is Fake News, it matches their political beliefs and go screw yourself Tom. In all caps no less.

I’ve been completely ignored. I’ve been told I’m the immoral person. I’ve been attacked claiming the news is completely true even when I point out the obvious flaws. Deny, deny, deny. I did nothing wrong. I didn’t write the story, I just passed it along. I’m not responsible. I hate Fake News. I’m a good person. It’s not my fault, it’s the other person. I’m decent. I love my kids. I go to church. I don’t hate foreigners. Endless excuse making and lies, mainly lies to themselves.

To my friend’s daughter, well done. I’m very proud of you. We can all be fooled but it’s our actions afterward that show our character.

Tom Liberman

Vaginal Rejuvenation, Chipotle Gift Cards, Ginger-less Ginger Ale, and Critical Thinking

Critical ThinkingA plethora of news stories in recent days reminded me why I’m of the opinion that the solutions to many of the problems we face today lies in teaching Critical Thinking skills from an early age. Solutions will never come from government warnings and the illusion we are safe because of such intervention does more harm than good.

Let’s take a look at the trio of stories that caught my attention. The Food and Drug Administration is now attempting to shut down various Vaginal Rejuvenation clinics whose services have no known efficacy and, if improperly performed, can cause harm. Many people have been fooled by a fake $100 gift card for Chipotle. Finally, a woman is suing Canada Dry because there is no ginger in their Ginger Ale despite advertisements that suggest there might be such.

What do all these things have in common? The people who are harmed lack Critical Thinking skills. In the first case, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has been vociferously lambasting Vaginal Rejuvenation as a scam for over ten years. Anyone who goes in for treatment of their body without doing at least a cursory investigation of the procedure about to happen is clearly not engaged in Critical Thinking.

At least some of the people who fell for the Chipotle scam gave away personal information to the scammers in order to get a free $100. Probably the motto of the Critical Thinking movement should be: Nihil est in vita liber. Nothing is Free in Life. If you thought Chipotle was going to let you purchase $100 worth of food for simply passing along a web link you are clearly lacking in Critical Thinking skills.

In the case of the ginger less Ginger Ale, the ingredients are on the bottle. Certainly, the advertising is designed to fool but if you want to make sure you get your daily dose of ginger, then it is imperative for you to look at ingredients.

All three of these problems require no government intervention. Certainly, if a medical procedure is botched there should be ramifications and the legal system can be invoked, but that would be for doing damage, not for you getting a stupid procedure that doesn’t work when there was readily available information to that effect.

We may look at the people fooled in all three cases and happily pat ourselves on the back for being too smart to avoid it but the reality is more sinister. As more and more people exhibit an inability to engage in Critical Thinking, the fabric of our society becomes unwound. Those of us capable of making good decisions are increasingly harmed by those who cannot. When a certain percentage of people in a society can no longer think critically, the society will most certainly be crushed.

More and more people entertain ludicrous conspiracy theories and act in ways that can potentially harm us all. This is dangerous for me and that’s the person I care about the most. I don’t really care that a bunch of idiots are harming themselves, that’s the way the world works. I care they are harming me.

How do we solve this problem? There is no way to account for everyone’s gullibility and stupidity. Some people will be foolish no matter how much we warn them. However, if we start teaching Critical Thinking skills at every step of the schooling process I’m of the opinion we will do far more good than any number of government regulations designed to protect us.

Nihil est in vita liber.

Tom Liberman

Terrell Owens and the Football Hall of Fame

Terrell OwensTerrell Owens was recently elected into the National Football League Hall of Fame and, in an unprecedented move, has decided to skip the induction ceremony where he would normally give a speech. He is the first living NFL player to do so. The best thing about this story is the reaction of Hall of Fame President, David Baker. That’s what I’d like to discuss.

First a little background information. Owens is clearly worthy of selection with statistics that stand up with the best wide receivers in the history of the game. He had a cantankerous relationship with the press during his career, some undoubtedly his own fault, and it is those writers who vote on candidates to the hall. They did not choose Owens in his first or second year of eligibility and that is what rankles him. He is of the opinion they did not respect him during his career and then used their position and their dislike to delay what was certainly a deserved honor.

People can, and certainly are, taking Owens to task for his pettiness in refusing to attend the ceremony. Many people don’t like Owens and are not shy about making nasty comments. Others support him and his decision and they do not hesitate to make their opinion of the various writers involved known.

But it is what Mr. Baker is saying and doing that tickles this Libertarian’s fancy: He’s got a mind of his own, he’s a grown man and we need to respect his right to make that decision. Baker goes on to say: If he doesn’t come to the enshrinement, he’s welcome here every day for the rest of his life. Our job is to honor the heroes of the game.

Mr. Baker, if you are not already a Libertarian I hereby formally extend an invitation to our little group. His attitude is, to some degree, the embodiment of what I think it means to be a Libertarian. Every person has a right to make their own decisions, even if these are childish, petty, and ultimately self-destructive. This stands in stark contrast to what I see everywhere in the United States these days. In almost every article I read it seems people from the President of the United States on down think they know best what others should do and that laws, rules, social pressure, and who knows what else should be brought to bear to make everyone else stand in line.

This is wrong. When it is choice between personal liberty and an action that does not directly harm others, we should almost universally choose freedom. No one is being harmed by the fact Owens will not be attending the Hall of Fame ceremony. We should respect his decision even if we disagree with it. Certainly, we can suggest another course, we can ask why he is doing so, we can point out the potential problems, but in the end, it is his life to lead, not yours.

Mr. Baker might have sought to punish Owens by refusing to put his banner up at the ceremony, not having images of Owens at the stadium, cutting video of him in television promotions, and who knows what other method of coercion. A lesser person might well have done all those things. Mr. Baker chose otherwise.

Well done, Mr. Baker. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman

The Interesting Origins of a Witch Hunt

Witch HuntThe idea of a Witch Hunt is much in the news lately and I realized I didn’t really understand the origin of the practice. Off I go to find out more. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about the modern usage in regards to politics but the ancient usage wherein people were accused, tried, found guilty, and murdered by the hundreds of thousands for doing something they could not possibly have done. If you aren’t fascinated by that, well, stop reading.

Witch Hunts date back throughout recorded history and likely beyond with the Code of Hammurabi being the first written instance of legal remedies. The code commands throwing the person who has had a spell cast upon them into the river. If they don’t drown, the person accused of casting the spell should be killed.

The impetus for a Witch Hunt, which we see widely across the globe in a variety of cultures, seems to be straight-forward enough. If misfortune befalls someone we look for a reason behind this occurrence. It is largely the same when fortune favors someone. We humans are pattern finders extraordinaire. We see shapes in clouds and rock formations. We look for cause and effect in virtually all aspects of our lives and this serves us exceedingly well for the most part.

Sadly, pattern recognition also leads us to see associations that don’t exist. If I lived in the middle ages it’s quite likely I would imagine that exceptionally crazy, er, passionate, girl at the gym to whom I am attracted to like a moth to the flame but who is currently in a relationship with some other poor sap was under some sort of spell. After all, how could she be remotely interested in someone besides me?

If I lived in Ancient Babylon I would throw myself into the river, first taking a few swimming lessons and taking a trial run or two, and, having survived, would have her current beau put to the fire while I took his house and hopefully her love. Win!

Interestingly enough, in ancient Greek there were no Witch Hunts but the Romans were not so logically inclined and persecuted and murdered those thought to cast evil incantations or spells. This was curtailed, believe it or not, by the introduction of Christianity. The Old Testament has the famous Exodus passage thou shall not suffer a witch to live but early Christians frowned upon witchcraft as it was considered blasphemous to suggest people could cast spells. Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female servant as a witch, for it is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds.

By the late middle ages this sensible approach was abandoned when witchcraft was determined to be a result of Satanic Worship. Those people who worshipped the devil were, in fact, capable of casting evil spells. After this various European communities went through periods where the Witch Hunt was common and at least tens of thousands of people were put to death.

By the 18th century such murders were dying out in the western world although are still taking in certain places in Africa, South-Central Asia, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia. People are still executed in all of these places.

The lesson to be learned from all of this? To me it’s fairly obvious. Just because something happens that doesn’t have an obvious explanation is no indicator of a supernatural cause. As an Atheist, I’m willing to go further. There are as many people of casting malevolent magical spells in this world as there are gods. That is to say, none.

Tom Liberman

Papa John Schnatter Assumes Colonel Sanders was a Racist

Colonel SandersAn interesting story making the rounds these days involves the founder of the Papa John’s Pizza chain, John Schnatter, who assumes Colonel Sanders was a racist. This assumption appears to me to be based solely on the fact that the restaurant chain Sanders founded, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is from the south and that Colonel Sanders was therefore clearly a racist who must have often used racially charged language.

From everything that I can find about Colonel Sanders he was a plain-spoken fellow who didn’t hesitate to criticize and had little good to say about the changes that took place at Kentucky Fried Chicken after he left. While owner he was known to push food onto the floor in surprise visits to chains if it didn’t meet his standards.

Yet I can find nothing indicating he was a racist or ever used derogatory language to describe minorities. That’s what I find so interesting in all of this. Schnatter seems to be under the impression every white man from the south is a racist. He figured, well, Colonel Sanders is from Kentucky, by the way he’s from Indiana, and he was a white man, so he probably said terrible things and got away with it. I find that to be a disgusting insult to not only Sanders but to fine and decent people all over the south.

Yes, there are racists in the south and in the north as well. The assumption itself sheds light onto the character of Schnatter and also brings to mind a deeper issue we have in this country as a whole. People from the rural areas often assume people from urban areas are ill-mannered and irreligious. People from urban areas often think people from rural areas are uneducated and overly religious. People from southern states think people from northern states hate them and vice versa. People who are Democrats think Republicans are stupid and vice versa. None of these assumptions are true.

People are individuals which is, to some degree, the heart of Libertarian beliefs. I cannot and will not assume anyone is anything until I have seen them speak, read the words they have written, or spoken to them. A person’s geographic location does not define her or him.

It seems to me more and more people are unwilling to make the effort to understand other individuals and, because it is simple and easy, lump them into some negative category so they can dismiss them.

There are huge numbers of wonderful people all over this world and artificial divides created by those who profit from our hate keep us apart from one another. These assumption about each other prevent us from finding friends with whom to share our lives. All these assumptions are a terrible shame.

Screw you Schnatter and screw your assumptions.

Tom Liberman

Bacon Sandwich Misleading Headline

bacon sandwich finePlane passenger who wanted bacon sandwich fined $300 reads the headline from Fox News but the reality is somewhat different. Ronald James refused to buy lunch for his daughter while at the airport hoping the airline would feed her for free. The didn’t.

He refused to accept the answer given to him and insisted on speaking to the captain of the flight. When refused he harassed and physically menaced flight attendants for a good portion of the flight. These are not allegations at this point, James pleaded guilty and has been fined.

Tom Liberman

Is it Wrong to Point out Mike Matheny is a Handsome Man?

Mike MathenyI noticed an interesting trend on the Facebook posts of some of my women friends in the aftermath of the firing of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Many of the women commented on what a good-looking fellow is Matheny and that they’d miss him for that aspect at least. Male friends immediately responded that if men made such a comment about an attractive woman coach or manager they’d be subject to attack from Social Justice Warriors.

It’s an interesting point because it’s true. Men who make such comments about attractive female athletes are often attacked as misogynistic. The conclusion that men seem to be drawing from this truth is, on the other hand, completely incorrect. They should be able to make such observations and so should women.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out the attractiveness of another person and women have every right to make such observations, as do men about good-looking women. Our looks are simply a trait, like any other.

Certainly, Matheny’s record as a manager and ability to lead the team is a far more important factor in his being fired than his relative attractiveness. The issue is we can’t get angry at someone for pointing out what they perceive to be the truth. We can certainly suggest his appearance shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not he keeps his job although the women posting made no such claims. What we should not do is pretend he isn’t viewed as attractive by women.

I wrote an article about a golfer named Paige Spiranac and how she used her looks to get an invitation to a golf tournament for which she would otherwise not be qualified. That’s all well and good. A person should use all their assets in an attempt to succeed in their chosen profession and life as a whole. There is nothing wrong with noting such things.

It’s important to make decisions based on pertinent factors. For Matheny, his looks have little impact on his managerial abilities. For a model, her or his strategic baseball knowledge is of little consequence to success. The person doing the hiring and firing is the one who makes these decisions and if they decide poorly, they too will suffer the consequences.

If one of my female friends were in charge of the Cardinals and hired Matheny because of his appearance rather than his skills as a manager, she would eventually lose her job as well. That being said, what’s wrong with pointing out a physical feature that doesn’t necessarily correlate to job performance? To my way of thinking, nothing.

A final point as to Matheny himself. He suffered numerous concussions during his career as a catcher and his mannerisms have always struck me as somewhat dulled. I hope he is consulting medical professionals and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Tom Liberman