Why Racists Often think they are not

Racists

I just read what many people will find to be a horrific article about a group of racists who happen to be police officers. What struck me about it was that after being caught making virulently racist comments, the three racists claimed they were not racists. It’s a refrain I’ve heard many times from racists over the years.

I wrote about my experience sitting at the table with people who made racist comments right in front of me but I’d like to spend some time today discussing why these clearly racist people think they are not racists. It’s fairly simple, in their minds if they don’t hate every single person of a particular group; black, Muslim, Evangelical Christian, Jewish, Atheist, whatever, they are not racists or bigots.

This is what leads many racists to mention how they are friends with a black person. Being a racist is quite simple. Do you hate someone because of the color of their skin, the religion they practice or don’t practice, the circumstances of their birth? If you do, you’re a racist. If you believe every person is an individual and you cannot hate or have any feelings at all about a person before you know them, then it’s likely you have Libertarian leanings.

Racism is an interesting topic for Libertarians. It is an absolute foreign concept to the ideals of the philosophy. Each person is an individual and must be judged by their words and deeds. You can never make assumptions about a person based on meaningless external factors. However, racists are entitled to their stupid opinions and, if they want to express their idiocy for all to see, that’s their business.

What’s important to understand is the world is filled with people who pat themselves on the back thinking they are not racists, like the three officers in question, when they are quite clearly racist scum who have no business in any position of authority, let alone law enforcement. I’ve known any number of people exactly like this. I had a police chief say to my face that he had never met a racist police officer. Perhaps I should have asked him how he defined racism and pointed out how he was living in a world of self-delusion. I did not, blame me for that.

You might think you aren’t a racist. You might think you’re a good person. Your friends might like you. You might behave in largely kind and decent ways to your friends and family. That doesn’t mean you’re not a racist.

If you choose to acknowledge it or not is your business. I’m not going to tell you to wake up. If you want to face the reality of your beliefs and actions, that’s up to you. However, I do think you’re a piece of garbage and if you die tomorrow, the world will be a better place.

Tom Liberman

Aston Villa and the Goals that did not Happen

Aston Villa

The Aston Villa futbol team is embroiled in an interesting situation that gives me the opportunity to speak about the ideas of Enlightened Self-Interest. Aston Villa was involved in two incidents, one last year and one recently and the way those situations played out brings interesting questions to mind in regards to what is best for the team. I’ve written about this before.

The incident a year ago involved Aston Villa and Leeds United. In that game Leeds United was fighting for promotion to the Premier League in English Futbol. I won’t go into details but each year the best finishers in the lower division move up to the Premier League while the worst finishers in that league move down. There are enormous financial interests at stake because being in the Premier League is far more lucrative than being in the lower level.

In any case, Leeds scored a goal while an Aston Villa player lay injured on the pitch. The Aston Villa team largely stopped playing after the injury assuming that game would be stopped. It was not and Leeds, as I’ve stated scored. There was a huge kerfuffle and the manager of the Leeds team, Marcelo Biesla, instructed his players to allow Aston Villa to score uncontested to make up for the situation.

This year Aston Villa is at the bottom of the Premier League and facing relegation. In their game against Sheffield United their goalkeeper fell back into the net while holding the ball. This is a goal. The Video Review team somehow managed not to see this despite it being readily visible to other cameras and almost every fan and player at the game. Play went on. The head coach of the Aston Villa team, Dean Smith, did not allow Sheffield to score a goal at the next stoppage in play.

This leads us to the idea of enlightened self-interest. It is easy to argue Leeds acted against their own interests by allowing Aston Villa to score while it’s equally easy to assume The Villa acted in their behalf by not conceding a goal. But, is this the case?

Leeds generated an enormous amount of goodwill by their gesture of sportsmanship. Their manager and the team as a whole are viewed upon as honorable and decent. Meanwhile, as you can well imagine, Dean Smith and his team are largely being vilified in the press and public forums.

Is the short-term gain of possibly getting to or staying in the Premier League worth the long-term loss of prestige and personal integrity? It’s not a question that has easy answer and different people will put forward reasonable conclusions on both sides. This is often the case when dealing with life, there are no simple answers, despite what pundits might tell you.

Now, of course, I’m no wall-flower. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and not have an opinion here. I’m not that sort of fellow. If you read my blogs and my novels, you’ll know that I share my thoughts all too freely.

A pat on the back to Marcelo Biesla and Leeds United. You’ve got my support. A job well done. Dean Smith? Aston Villa? I won’t be cheering you on, ever. Not that you care.

Tom Liberman

You have been Buying Wine Properly All this Time

Buying Wine

Have you been buying wine properly? That’s the premise of a clickbait Facebook post from Naked Wines that’s circulating through my friends’ timeline. Lots of people are buying wine and there is certainly an interest in doing it properly. It’s not so much the article but the comments that interest me.

The premise of the article is that more expensive wines are largely the same as less expensive wine but you are paying for marketing, brand recognition, and overhead rather than the simply the wine in the bottle. The comment section was predictably filled with people who laughed at those fools who purchased expensive wine opposed to those who ridiculed bumpkins for their unsophisticated palate in cheap, sweet wines. What a surprise.

The reality of the situation is pretty clear. When buying wine, you should purchase what you want. While I might wax poetic that such is the mantra of the Libertarian, the reality is we all feel this way. We all, largely, buy the things we want to buy for a variety of different reason. Perhaps you like inexpensive wines, perhaps you don’t particularly like cheap wine but you lack the funds to purchase the wine you enjoy more, maybe you don’t have the money but want to treat yourself, maybe you find the taste of cheap wine vile and only purchase expensive bottles. In the immortal words of Tripper Harrison, it just doesn’t matter.

We can argue subjective versus objective but I’ve done that before. If you like the cheap wine then drink it. If you prefer buying wine of an expensive nature, for whatever reason, then do so. Most importantly, the kind of wines someone else purchases are their business and the only reason you are annoyed by that is feelings of inadequacy in yourself. Your underlying lack of self-worth is what drives you to criticize others in this regard, doing so makes you feel better. That’s the crime in all of this.

If you find yourself criticizing the choices of others; the wine they purchase, the sport they enjoy, their hobby, who they choose to ignore on Facebook, or any other choice, then you are the problem, not them. Look in the mirror.

If you find yourself constantly ridiculing those with different tastes than your own then you have a significant problem, not them. If you get enjoyment by putting others down, demeaning them, calling them names, it is you who is failing life.

If you want lead your life in this fashion, whatever. I’m happy with the way I am and I don’t really care all that much. Be a shit if you want but don’t expect me to care about your opinion.

As for buying wine and drinking it? My advice, enjoy.

Tom Liberman

The Daly Vodka Cure Misleading Headline

Daly Vodka Cure

Is the Daly Vodka Cure really what golfer Jon Daly was suggesting in his recent video? It’s an interesting Misleading Headline because Daly pretty much did say that his one drink a day, an entire bottle of Belvedere vodka, was the way to kill Covid-19. However, I don’t think he is really suggesting the Daly Vodka cure as a serious panacea.

If you watch the short video, he advises people to be careful and to be safe and appears, at least to me, to be joking about his Vodka Cure. Here is where it gets fairly interesting for me besides the simple Misleading Headline. I do think Daly is kidding and I think the vast majority of people will agree with me. However, I well-understand people will believe pretty much anything, regardless of how ludicrous, as long as it aligns with what they want to believe.

It’s entirely possible that thousands of people will take the Daly Vodka cure seriously. They will begin to drink a bottle of vodka, washed down with a McDonal’s diet Coke apparently, as a way to ward off the illness. I’m frankly surprised that Daly didn’t suggest his two-pack a day cigarette habit isn’t actually the miracle that warded off Covid-19 but that’s not really the point today.

Daly is a self-destructive person and his habits have wrecked his health and curtailed what was once a promising golf career. People like Daly and in many ways, he is a likeable personality. They find him humorous and entertaining. They see his life and think, why not. It’s not so bad, sure, I’ll likely die young from cancer or cirrhosis of the liver but what the heck, have fun now. And, they are right. That is to say they are right for them. Not for me.

I love life and want more of it. I don’t want to curtail my ability to go hiking, meet fit women at the gym, go out with friends, and enjoy the occasional cocktail. Daly is not of that opinion and I’m sure he is not alone. That’s none of my business. If you think drinking an entire bottle of vodka is a good idea for you, have at it. If you think it’s going to cure your case of Covid-19 when all evidence suggests heavy drinking makes you more susceptible to the disease, again, that’s your decision to make.

I’ll even turn a blind eye, although my favorite mixologist over at Sub-Zero might see it differently, to the horror of blending Belvedere Vodka with Diet Coke, though doing so offends my sensibilities greatly.

Do remember one thing, in addition to the Daly Vodka cure, Daly suggests staying safe and taking care. If you want to destroy your own life, have at it, but if you’re going to risk getting Covid-19 through risky behavior, do the rest of us the favor of staying away.

Tom Liberman

Lori Loughlin is the Covid-19 Response from the United States

Lori Loughlin

Do you want to be Lori Loughlin and fight for a long time or Felicity Huffman and take your punishment up front and move on? Sometimes in life you have a choice between suffering today or delaying the pain until later in the hopes of avoiding it altogether. It’s an interesting decision from a Game Theory perspective and I like to examine it today.

In the case of Covid-19, the United States trod the Lori Loughlin path of delaying the pain in the hopes it would go away. It didn’t and now we’re paying the price. Meanwhile countries like Japan and South Korea went the Felicity Huffman rout and took the punishment early, avoiding more disastrous consequences later.

Is one choice better than the other? If you choose to avoid punishment today there is always the chance the pain will never come. Perhaps Lori Loughlin will have the charges against her dismissed or she will not face any prison time. Felicity Huffman, on the other hand, pled guilty and served a few weeks in a minimum-security prison. She has that on her record forever but she is basically living her best life now and has been for a while.

There are arguments both ways. It’s sort of like staying in place when a hurricane is forecast for your region. If you don’t leave and the disaster doesn’t come, you’ve saved a lot of time and effort. However, if it does come, you might well die, be horribly injured, lose family members, or otherwise suffer for a long period of time.

In this case, President Trump and many of his political allies decided Covid-19 wasn’t that big a risk. That it probably wouldn’t get bad and we shouldn’t risk economic pain today for the uncertain forecasts of its dire consequences tomorrow. Some of them maintain that position even today despite the dying going on all over the country.

To be honest, we still face that very same decision right now. We are currently avoiding public gatherings but people are still getting sick and dying. The question we cannot answer is how many might have died; how bad would the economic impact be if the disease spread more quickly and widely throughout the United States? How bad might it get if we give up on social distancing too early?

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that had people continued to congregate normally the eventual economic impact could have been far worse. If huge numbers of people got sick then everyone would isolate without prompting from the government, merely out of self-preservation. This would hurt the economy far worse than we are currently experiencing.

Of course, it might not have been that bad. That’s the risk you take when you decide to avoid pain today in hopes it won’t arrive, and be significantly worse, tomorrow. It’s the decision you face right now in regards to social distancing. Accept the suffering today? Put it off and hope it won’t be so bad tomorrow?

Perhaps Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman might give us cogent answers to these questions. As for me, I think it’s better to take the consequences today rather than suffer later, you may disagree.

Tom Liberman

The False Choice of Economy or Lives

False Choice

People in the United States are being bombarded with the false choice of either ruining the economy or losing tens of thousands, if not more, lives to the novel coronavirus, Covid-19. Giving us a false choice is something government and fear mongers are quite fond of doing and we are seeing an extreme example of the tactic and the damage it does. Let me explain.

On one side of the false choice is the idea that millions will die if the government doesn’t force people to stay home and avoid spreading Covid-19 rapidly to the entire population. The opposite side of this coin is the impression if the government enforces such an order the economy of the United States will collapse and this will cause more damage than the lives lost.

That is the false choice being presented to the public and being championed on social media and online forums throughout the country and indeed the world. The problem is that neither is largely true or largely false. The reality is somewhere in between and the government has far less influence than you imagine.

Long before various local and state governments started to give shelter in place orders, before they started closing schools and businesses, people were practicing enlightened self-interest on their own. Many people don’t want to get the disease or pass it along to vulnerable members of their family or friends. Businesses were shutting down on their own. The economy suffered and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, despite orders not to congregate, people around the United States continue to gather in large crowds at churches, on beaches, in public transportation centers, and at shopping venues. No amount of government intervention can prevent people from acting to their own detriment. People are continuing to catch Covid-19, to fill hospitals, to overrun available resources, and to die.

In other words; no matter what the government does, the economy will suffer and people will die. If state and local government acts more aggressively or less, it is certain the suffering in lives or economic ruin will shift in one direction or the other but both outcomes are already assured, despite the false choice offered by those who wish to divide us for their own gain.

The central theme of my novel, The Gray Horn, is this false choice offered by those who wish to separate us, who desire us to fight so they might take away our freedom. Both sides claim the choice is vital, that our lives, our financial well-being, is at stake. We must choose one or the other. This is the false choice.

Act in your enlightened self-interest as best you can. Try to avoid places where you might catch Covid-19 and then pass it along to loved ones. Meanwhile do your best to support local businesses. Understand that some people will die, the economy will suffer. The false choice offered by government is actually no choice at all.

Tom Liberman

The Philosophy of Pasta Sauce

Pasta Sauce

A philosophically inclined friend of mine recently posited a tongue in cheek question about her batch of pasta sauce and her family’s disinterest in eating said treat. Is it delicious if no one eats it? While frivolous and fun, it is also an interesting question from a philosophical standpoint and, because I am unable or unwilling to resist the temptation to dive into such a feast, I shall attempt to examine it.

It is obviously a twist on the old if a tree falls in the forest question but there is an important difference. When a tree falls in the forest there is a sound save and this is a measurable phenomenon. Even if no one is there to hear the noise, it exists on a physical realm. Now, certainly pasta sauce exists in a physical way and taste buds in our mouths react to those flavors. But the idea of delicious is a construct, it does not exist physically but metaphysically.

Deliciousness itself is a subjective idea, its nature as a construct defines it as such. I find certain whiskeys quite delicious while others describe the taste of the same beverage in less favorable terms. If no one eats the pasta sauce then it cannot be delicious nor can it be vile. Yet, the pasta sauce is clearly made up of physical things that have flavors. If we compare those flavors with others that people have described as delicious, then it is certainly fair to suggest that Ellen’s pasta sauce most certainly is delicious despite it not having been tasted by her ungrateful family.

Much like Schrodinger’s cat, the pasta sauce appears to be in a state of quantum superposition. I know this will appeal to my friend whose dissertation is entitled, Mental Disorder in a Biomedical Age: Problems with Symptoms, Perils of Reduction. Yes, I know I’m a cyberstalker. Before she married herself off to a great fellow, before she gave birth to a pair of lovely children, and before she prepared her batch of pasta sauce, I was crushing on her at the gym. That is neither here nor there and we must return to the topic at hand.

Is the pasta sauce delicious? I think I’ve shown, with some logical consistency, that it is not delicious at all and it is quite delicious at the same time. I suspect you will find this conclusion as unsatisfying as a bowl of pasta, dripping with delightful sauce, of which you are not allowed to partake. Philosophy can be that way.

Take care and attempt to eat the pasta we call life with as much gusto as you can manage.

Tom Liberman

Was Golfer Ryan Palmer Wrong to Cause a Long Wait?

Ryan Palmer and the Long Wait

There’s an interesting story this week in the golfing world related to a long wait at the end of the 2020 Sony Open. Ryan Palmer hit a shot that looked like it went out of bounds; rather than playing a provisional ball, he chose to go look for his original and then, when it couldn’t be found, went back and played a second shot. This while the tournament leaders had a long wait of forty minutes on the final hole.

Normally when a player hits a shot like Palmer’s they will play a provisional ball so that, if the original can’t be found, they can immediately go to that one and continue play. Palmer chose not to do this which caused the long wait because he had to go back, setup and hit another shot, then finish the hole. The controversy is bigger because the two players waiting behind him were the leaders and such a long wait can, obviously, disrupt your round. In fact, one of the players hit a poor shot and wound up losing the tournament.

Palmer heard some angry opinions about his decision but remains, at the time I’m writing this article, unapologetic. He has stated that he’d do it the same way again in the future.

Let’s first get rid of the notion that I, or anyone else, knows better what Palmer should have done than he himself. It was his decision to make and he made it. Hitting a provisional ball in that situation is completely optional and he was not required to do so.

That being said, let’s talk about what a reasonable person might have done and if it’s permissible to criticize Palmer.

The entire purpose of hitting a provisional ball is to alleviate the wait of competitors behind you. It’s the polite thing to do. This was the final hole of a tournament and Palmer was well-aware the two players behind him were vying for the tournament lead. At the time he made his decision he was still in contention himself although the penalty he incurred from his wayward stroke dropped him down the leaderboard.

There is no doubt in my mind that a polite golfer would have taken the provisional ball. That even in the heat of the moment a golfer who neglected to do so would offer up a mea culpa and apologize to the golfers affected by the decision.

Palmer is choosing to be impolite. He chose to ignore the possibility of the lost ball and potentially inconvenience the players behind him. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people saying exactly that. Just as it is Palmer’s right to be unapologetic.

People are allowed to be rude and they don’t have to apologize but you get to, going forward, treat them appropriately based on that knowledge, that’s your decision. The other competitors on the PGA tour can deal with Palmer in any way they want, Patrick Reed is learning that lesson, or not learning it, even as we speak.

Tom Liberman

Scarves and My Life of Privilege

My Life of Privilege

An incident the other night brought the reality of my life of privilege into clarity and it involved a lost scarf. I don’t have a life of privilege because I’m very wealthy or particularly personable with many friends, it is largely based on my innocuous appearance and relatively polite manners.

If you were creating a dictionary with the term innocuous in it you might be well-served to put my picture on the entry. I’m not particularly large or imposing, I’m white, my features are regular and I’m decent looking without being overly handsome or particularly striking. I’m just a normal looking fellow and I try to treat strangers politely with a smile and a kind word, I save my dark side for family and friends, just ask them.

In any case, on with the story. I was out drinking with a friend and we met a nice young lady. Over the course of the evening she left her scarf at one of the places we visited that night. I happen to live in the neighborhood in question and offered to pick it up the next morning. I walked over to the establishment and politely asked if anyone had turned in a scarf. The woman behind the counter insisted that I describe the scarf and said she couldn’t hand it over without such a description. I was startled by this encounter, the reason being, normally when I ask for something politely, people assume I’m telling the truth and comply.

I think it’s an exaggeration to suggest if I politely asked to borrow the sidearm of a law enforcement officer, she or he would hand it over, perhaps admonishing me to be careful with it, but it is not much of an overstatement. I’m quite used to walking into places and asking for a little special treatment without any difficulty whatsoever. Can I have some fruit on the side even though it’s not on the menu? Can you plug in my phone for a bit? My ride is on the way, can I just leave the hospital after my procedure and wait for them outside by myself?

Who knows how many times my life of privilege has aided me without me noticing. When someone actually challenges me, it’s startling. What, do you think I wander into places and steal scarves from the lost and found? Do people do that? They probably do, what do I know, I have a life of privilege.

While I recognize that my appearance has more than a little to do with my life of privilege, I do credit my polite manners with at least some of it, so, pat on the back.

Tom Liberman

Arkham Horror Card Game Losing to Win

Losing to Win

I’ve been playing through the Arkham Horror Card Game and, along with my stalwart companion, reached the scenario called Undimensioned and Unseen. The game mechanics of that particular session contain a setup rule that gives me the opportunity to wax poetic about the concept of Losing to Win.

The premise of Losing to Win is if you do badly in a particular situation you are, to some degree, rewarded by getting a better chance to win in the future. We see this scenario most vividly in North American sport league’s drafts and I wrote extensively about my objection to them another time. The ideology is those who are not doing well need some extra help in order to succeed.

In this case, Undimensioned and Unseen is preceded by a scenario entitled Blood on the Altar. In that session you are tasked with saving various people from sacrifice to the Elder Gods. The number of victims who survive has a direct impact on the number of Brood of Yog-Sothoth that appear in the subsequent scenario.

Daisy Walker, played by Andrew, and Zoey Samaras, played by yours truly, had both skill and the luck of the dice on our side when we vanquished Blood on the Altar with only a single person sacrificed to the Elder Gods. Hooray, we thought. Then we read the setup scenario to Undimensioned and Unseen which told us the people saved in Blood on the Altar was inversely proportional to the number of Brood of Yog-Sothoth in play. We had to fight the greatest number of enemies, five, whereas teams that watched horrified as all the kidnap victims were killed only had to fight two of the enemies. Luck was not on our side this time and we were soundly crushed after killing three of the Brood.

Had we done nothing in the previous scenario, we would have easily won this scenario. Should we play again, we will undoubtedly pursue such a strategy, why wouldn’t we? That is the problem with rewarding failure and punishing success. You encourage Losing to Win.

The issue in real life is quite a bit more complex than a card game. If a person has terrible setbacks in life, do we reward her or him with food and shelter she or he would not otherwise be able to afford? Do we allow a company that utterly fails to declare bankruptcy and not pay their obligations? These are not easy questions to answer and I’m not going to attempt to do so today, but I am aware the issue is complicated and has many nuances.

Still, I think my basic premise is sound. We should reward success. We often need not punish failure as it is painful enough on its own. In this manner we avoid Losing to Win scenarios like Undimensioned and Unseen. And thus, the victims are not sacrificed, which, except for a few peckish Outer Gods, is a good thing!

Tom Liberman

What to do about Useful Money from Bad People

Useful Money from Bad People

A rather despicable fellow named Jeffrey Epstein donated large amounts of useful money to any number of philanthropic causes and these gifts are now causing problems for those who received them. People are returning useful money and resigning from their positions, or being asked to do so. What I’d like to examine is the nature of philanthropic money in general.

Many of the people who donate to causes are not the greatest people in the world. Certainly, Epstein is viler than most but the question remains the same. As an example, let’s imagine you are the financial officer of a charitable organization and you have strong views on religion. Perhaps you are an Atheist or perhaps you are a Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, Jew, or Hindu. You are offered a large amount of useful money from someone who has a completely different belief system than you. Do you take that money knowing it will contribute to doing what you perceive to be good? What if the person has a criminal record? What if they are giving the money in order to improve their reputation because of some misdeeds in the past?

While my question is hypothetical the reality exists to the tune of billions of dollars in charitable donations. The events surrounding Epstein are forcing the financial operators of these organizations to ask themselves this very question. Should I refuse the donation because of the nature of the person who is giving it? Does the money, and the good that is done with it, override my concerns about the source? The money given by such a person intermingles with the money given by many better people and helps us fulfill our mission. Should I deny a child from Make a Wish their wish because I don’t like the person who is giving the money? Doesn’t that just hurt the child?

This is no idle question, if organizations turn down money from disreputable or unaligned donors, they will have less money to complete their mission. Those who would benefit instead go without. There are no easy answers here but I will not shirk from a conclusion simply because the question is complex and difficult.

I’ll happily tell you what I would do were I in charge of such a charity. Not that my decision is proper for anyone else, it is right for me and me alone.

I’d take the money from any source, even if Epstein were alive today in order to give it. I’d also be completely honest about my distaste for such a horrible person. I’d highlight the donation in my monthly and annual literature. I’d speak loudly to the stakeholders in the charity about why I took the money. About how the vile criminal Epstein was attempting to restore his reputation through the donation and that I wanted nothing to do with him other than cashing the check. I’d consider re-donating a goodly portion of it to help his many victims and organizations devoted to helping them and those like them.

Perhaps you disagree and I respect your right to do so. I can certainly understand why you would.

Tom Liberman

An Atheist can be an Asshole and Atheists Should Always Say So

Atheist

I just watched a YouTube video from my favorite Atheist show, The Atheist Experience, and I thought it an extremely instructive example of how we should all try to behave. In a nutshell, if you largely agree with someone on a subject but they are saying something stupid; you need to be the one to tell that person her or his behavior is idiotic.

The Atheist Experience is a show in which theist call in with arguments against Atheism although the show also takes atheist callers albeit less frequently. The hosts of the show rotate fairly regularly but for the call in question, the main host was Matt Dillahunty along with his co-host David Warnock. Dillahunty is a former Southern Baptist well trained in the arts of debate and logic with a deep understanding of theology. He is a fearsome opponent in any sort of philosophical debate and is internationally recognized as such.

The caller to the show, a woman named Rose, was clearly a well-meaning and rather sweet older woman who wanted to prove the existence of God through a particular line in the Bible. She had come to a gun fight without even the proverbial knife. Her points were logically dismissed with almost careless ease by Dillahunty but it is only after this that the important part of the call occurred.

Rose mentioned that her son asked her to call into the show. Dillahunty immediately came up with the hypothesis that her son was an Atheist and had sent his mother, if you’ll forgive me, intentionally into the Lion’s Den in order to humiliate her. Dillahunty asked Rose if her son identified as an Atheist. Rose confirmed the hypothesis and that’s when Dillahunty and Warnock got angry, not at Rose but at her son.

“Your son is a dick,” was basically the first thing Dillahunty said after he found out the reason Rose called. “He makes us all look bad,” followed shortly thereafter from Warnock. They admonished the son, told Rose that the boy should apologize to her. They refused to speak anymore about the religious aspects of the topic because they did not want to further attack Rose, although they continued to harangue the son, who happened to be on the phone and attempted to explain his reasoning. Dillahunty and Warnock were having none of it.

The son was chastened. I feel very confident in suggesting that if religious people had rightly told the son his behavior was reprehensible, he would have given their opinion less consideration than he did that of Dillahunty and Warnock. That’s a lesson for us all.

When we look into the topics of politics, religion, sports, whatever; people are not much interested in listening to or giving credence to the opinions of those who oppose them. It is only when people are called out by those on the same side that real change is likely to happen.

If I may pat myself on the back and recall an incident that happened at a St. Louis Rams game some years ago. I was a season ticket holder and had seen the decline in the years after the Greatest Show on Turf. One week we played the Denver Broncos who were coming off a season in which they reached the Super Bowl. The Rams played an outstanding game and dominated the Broncos. As the crowd was filing out one of my fellow Rams fans started yelling idiotic thing to nearby Bronco’s fans. I immediately told him to show some dignity in victory, turned to the Broncos fans and thanked them for visiting St. Louis and wished them well. I’m happy to say the Rams fan shut his fat yap.

In any case, that’s my advice to you. Don’t worry so much about yelling at people you hate, call out the ones you like when they are behaving badly. If everyone did that, we might see some progress in this world.

Tom Liberman

Casey Smitherman and Doing Good to Make Yourself Feel Better

Smitherman

The story about Casey Smitherman who made a false insurance claim to help a sick student has been much in the news lately and gets me thinking. Thinking about what, you might ask? Thinking about people who try to do something good largely for the purpose of making themselves feel better, not the person they are supposedly helping.

First the situation. A student in Smitherman’s school district, Ellwood Community Schools, missed some days of school and Smitherman went to the home of the student and took the boy to the doctor. There she used her insurance card and claimed the student was her son. This is insurance fraud.

I would guess the average person reading this story will laud Smitherman as a hero. While what she did was illegal, it was with the best intentions of the student at heart. This demonstrates an idea I wrote about a while back called Relativistic Morality but I don’t want to rehash that topic in this blog. What interests me in this case is that Smitherman has resigned and at least one family member of the boy who was treated is happy about it. Why? Because Smitherman came into the family home, took the boy, got medication, and gave it to him without permission from his guardians.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know all the facts about the case. I don’t know the circumstances of the boy’s life or the responsibility of his guardians but that fact bring into doubt Smitherman’s motivations. Basically, it’s possible she was simply doing it because she wanted to feel better about herself and was less interested in helping the boy. That’s the idea I’d like to examine in this blog. People who claim to be helping others when in fact they are trying to make themselves feel like better human beings.

How many of us are guilty of the same thing? We see something that appears to be an egregious situation and step in, without permission, to right the wrongs. How many of us stick our noses in the business of others where it does not belong?

If we see a parent disciplining a child in a way we deem to violent, should we step in? Most people want to be helpful and kind. It makes us feel good to help others. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads people to overstep their authority and place. We jump into someone else’s life with the hope of aiding them but in reality, we are just trying to make ourselves feel like a good person. They did not want nor need our help.

There are no easy answers here. Sometimes it’s very important to step in and help people. Other times we are doing it for the wrong reasons and we are making a situation worse. One of phrases I like to think about in these circumstances is: Don’t criticize the way another person goes about doing her or his business. Before intervening, I suggest you consider why you are doing it. Is it to help the other person or is it simply to make yourself feel like a good person?

I think Smitherman crossed onto the wrong side of the line when she took the boy without permission and her actions should be taken in that light. You may feel differently.

Tom Liberman

Russia and the Battle for Soft Power

Soft Power

I just read an interesting article about how Russia is advancing their political cause by opening up educational opportunities to foreign students, this is an element of something called Soft Power. In the last twenty years Russia and China, perhaps realizing the United States military is largely unassailable, have been ramping up their use of this method of acquiring power in the world and we need be aware of this strategy.

I’ve written about how the United States is losing their edge in the education world more than once and you might want to peruse those articles here and here. Meanwhile, I’ll continue with this one.

The idea of Soft Power essentially means getting other nations to want to be like you. For the entire history of the United States we have enjoyed an enormous advantage in Soft Power simply because our Constitution guaranteed us freedom and with this freedom came upward mobility on a scale never before seen in the history of the world. Our colleges attracted foreign students in enormous numbers, and still do. These students went back to their home countries with stories about the plentiful opportunities the United States has to offer.

The effectiveness of this Soft Power was demonstrated particularly after World War II when it defeated the Soviet Union who, at the time, was much more interested in Hard Power. The United States offered hope and opportunity, a lady with open arms and a welcoming smile in the Upper New York Bay. When the United States came into existence there were very few nations in the world where the people were free, that has changed, largely because of our use of Soft Power rather than military exercises. Freedom has spread.

Success engenders imitation and the leaders of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, are spending a great deal of time, effort, and money in that flattery. They see it works and are now implementing various strategies across the globe designed to demonstrate the value of China and Russia to the people of other nations.

Meanwhile the United States is going in the opposite direction. We have fewer foreign students than we had ten years ago. We are actively attempting to reduce the number further. We are sanctioning more and more countries making it difficult or impossible for our greatest Soft Power asset, capitalistic ideology, to do business with foreign states.

The United States is still a leader in propagating Soft Power throughout the world but we are heading in the wrong direction while our chief rivals are moving to supplant us. An America first plan ensures that we will become America third before too long. Relying on Hard Power didn’t work for the Soviet Union and it’s not going to work for us.

Tom Liberman

Yoga Mayhem Generated by Loss of Routine

Yoga

This morning in my yoga class there was something wrong with the environmental controls and I’m fascinated by how this relatively minor problem created a situation of so much unease. We humans like routine and when that is disturbed it can completely change our entire disposition. Let me explain.

At my new gym the yoga room environment is controlled by an automated system based on the class schedule. There are free-flowing advanced classes, called Vinyasa, in which the practitioners build up a good sweat. In such classes the room is generally kept cool. There is yoga in an intentionally heated and steamed room, called Bikram, in which the room is artificially turned into a sauna-like environment. And there are others, all with their ideal temperatures. Because the instructors of the previous class sometimes forgot to change the temperature to a setting comfortable for the next class; it was decided the new classroom should do it automatically. Hurray! Except when it doesn’t work.

This was the case today. When I arrived, it was clear the room was anticipating a Bikram class as there was a strong sense of moisture in the air and the yoga room was quite hot. The system began to cool the room not long after I arrived but that didn’t stop a virtual hurricane of anxiety as each new person came into the room and commented on it thus triggering replies from those already there.

About ten minutes into the class the steam came on and the room became decidedly warmer. The instructor kept her head, turned on the fans, propped open the door with a block, and largely remained calm. That being said, she was thrown off her game and the feeling of uneasiness crept into the room. I can only imagine how bad it might have become with a less calm instructor.

The class flow itself lost cohesiveness as the instructor attempted to keep the students calm while adjusting various exercises for the new paradigm. We took a Child’s Pose in the midst of active maneuvers because our instructor was concerned people might be overheating. Eventually the temperature ameliorated and the steam shut off.

Still, I found the entire episode instructive. It’s amazing how quickly a situation can turn from calm control into utter chaos. Luckily, in this case, our instructor was level-headed and the situation only mildly degenerated despite the feeling of panic that was hanging in the air for a little while. I can only imagine what might have happened with a less professional instructor.

It doesn’t take much to throw people out of their routine and into panic. It’s important in such situations to remain as calm as possible and carry on.

I’m not saying there was the potential for disaster but I can easily imagine some yoga classes degenerating into chaos under similar situation, with everyone babbling and losing the flow entirely. That would have been a waste of my morning and I’m glad it didn’t happen.

Tom Liberman

Bread and Water because Mom Did it that Way

Bread and Water

I just read an intriguing article about the elimination of Bread and Water as a punishment in the United States Navy. I’m not amazed by the punishment itself but rather how it started and why, until recently, it was still being used.

Bread and Water is a disciplinary action available to captains of naval vessels where they can punish a sailor by restricting her or his diet to simply bread and water. The modern terms of the punishment limit the amount of time to three days and ensure that the sailor in question is given as much bread and water as they desire. In 1909 the maximum time was reduced from thirty days to seven and sailors could no longer be chained while undergoing the punishment.

The bit I found most interesting is the idea for Bread and Water punishment was derived from a similar practice in the British Navy. At the time that naval power was largely considered the finest in the world so adopting some of their practices made a great deal of sense. However, the British Navy outlawed the punishment in 1891. That’s not 1981 in case you are a little bit dyslexic, as am I. It was banned in the British Navy over one-hundred years ago. Yet the Bread and Water punishment persisted in the U.S. Navy until 2019.

This is the equivalent of doing something for the sole reason that your mother or father did it that way. That is, to a large degree, an enormous component of human psychology. I wrote sometime ago about why so many people feel it should be required to teach cursive writing in school when it has little practical use in the modern world, particularly when it takes so much time from other, more useful, subjects.

We do many, many things simply because they have been done that way in the past. It’s not necessarily wrong to do something the same as it’s always been done, but it is important to examine what you are doing, why you are doing it, and the results generated therein. The fact that it’s been done a certain way for a hundred years or more has no bearing on whether or not you should continue to do it. True though this may be, it is not something most people are willing to accept.

If it was good enough for my father than it’s good enough for me. Wrong. If it’s good, then it’s good. If it’s not, then it’s not. Sometimes something that worked well in the past just isn’t useful today. Sometimes it was awful back then and it remains awful now. We must take the time to examine why we are doing things and the results generated from doing so.

The fact that U.S. Navy finally got around to fixing this is a good thing. The fact that it took a century to do it is a lesson for us all. Just because mom did it that way doesn’t mean you should as well.

Tom Liberman

Mike Gundy and Kids Today Nonsense

TMike Gundyhe head coach of the Oklahoma State football team, Mike Gundy, is not happy the young football players under his charge are allowed to transfer from his school to another without his permission. Gundy made his displeasure known by claiming, among other nonsense, that kids today don’t have the toughness to stick with difficult things.

Hey, I can just do what I want and I don’t have to really be tough and fight through it.’ You see that with young people because it’s an option they’re given. We weren’t given that option when we were growing up. We were told what to do, we did it the right way, or you go figure it out on your own.

This is not the first time I’ve heard an older person wax poetically about their youth. How they all paid attention to their elders, how they all knew right from wrong, how all kids today are spoiled and soft. How it was my way or the highway world. It turns my stomach every time I hear it. First off, Gundy is a liar. He knows darn well he, and lots of young people he knew, did not always do what they were told or do things the right way. That coaches often cut them slack. It’s utter crap and everyone knows it. You know it, I know it, and Gundy knows it.

Young football players work harder and longer at their craft than kids did when Gundy was at school. The National Championship team of thirty years ago would be blown off the field by a good team today. The players are stronger, faster, and most importantly, far more educated in their craft. I say this not as a knock against former players, who were great kids also, but they didn’t have access to the training resources available today.

Young players today spend countless hours studying film. When you explain to a football player why this technique in this situation is better and then show them on film, you get better players than if you just say, do it this way. Not only do the kids work harder but having an understanding of why they are doing something makes them better players and better humans. Kids today have lots of stick to it, just as much as kids from bygone years.

As for the underlying reason for Gundy’s moronic statements; the fact a football player can’t simply decide to go to another school without the permission of the first school is antithetical to all my Libertarian thoughts. Coaches can, and frequently do, transfer schools without permission in chase of higher paychecks. The young football players just want a chance to play. Most transfers occur because the player in question is not getting playing time in his or her current situation.

Can you switch jobs without getting your current employer’s permission? Answer me that and then explain what about your personal life philosophy wants to take that freedom away from others.

Kids today, they’re great. Adults with bad memories and a chip on their shoulder, not so much.

Tom Liberman

Carlsen versus Caruana and the Slow Death of Nationalism

nationalismThe death of nationalism is on display for the next few weeks at the World Chess Championship being held in London at the College in Holburn between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen from Norway and challenger Fabiano Caruana from the United States, by way of Italy. In past eras I, and most other people from the United States, would certainly be rooting for Caruana because of his nationality. In today’s world, the nation someone is from is becoming less and less important, thanks to globalization brought by the internet.

Let’s put this in perspective. The last time someone from the United States played for the World Chess Championship was in 1972 when Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky. The pride of the United States was at stake and nationalism was running rampant. Everyone I knew was rooting for Fischer, this despite the readily apparent evidence that he was a complete and total jerk. Spassky, on the other hand, was a man to be admired for many reasons.

Nationalism is a big topic these days but many young people just don’t pay attention to that sort of thing anymore. They know Carlsen because of his internet presence. They are fans of his because of this. His nation of origin is still of some importance to a number of people but that bias is slowly fading.

Certainly, many people in the United States are hoping Caruana wins just as many in Norway are rooting for Carlsen to retain his crown. However, because we’ve gotten to know the two through their internet presence, the circumstance of their birth is of diminished importance. We will continue to see this trend until there are no more nations at all, just people doing things they enjoy with others who enjoy the same thing, chess for example.

I happen to live in the fashionable Central West End of St. Louis where the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is located. I’ve actually run into Caruana on several occasions while out and about. He seems quite a decent sort. Many people are cheering him on because of his genial nature. Others prefer Carlsen for the fighting spirit he has exhibited throughout his entire chess career. He is prudent but goes for the win rather than taking the easy draw. Carlsen has set a precedent many of the upcoming chess players eagerly follow which makes chess a better sport.

Nationalism isn’t going away tomorrow or next week but it’s going away. That frightens a particular group of people who identify their self with the country in which they happen to live. That’s a shame. The good news is; more and more people don’t really care where you were born or live, just that you play a style of chess they enjoy watching.

As for me? I won’t be disappointed if Caruana wins but I’d like to see Carlsen continue on as champion for as long as possible. He’s been a tremendous standard bearer for the new era of the game. Carlsen’s time will come eventually, maybe even in the next couple of weeks.

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

Del Potro and the not so Bad Life of being Not the Best

Juan Martin del PotroI was watching the Rafael Nadal versus Juan Martin del Potro tennis match in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals when it occurred to be just how good is del Potro, this despite the fact he is not the best. I started to consider the life of the people who are exceptionally good at their chosen profession but are not the best. It’s not so bad.

Del Potro has never been ranked higher than fourth in the world of professional tennis. He won the 2009 U.S. Open but that is his only victory in what are considered the Major events of tennis. He has defeated all the best players in the world from time to time but has a losing record against the three men considered the finest of his generation: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (listed in alphabetic order to avoid anyone chastising me).

Del Potro is better at tennis than I will be at anything in my life. He is better at tennis than the vast majority of people will be at anything they attempt. He works harder at his craft than I have ever worked at anything in my life. He works harder than most people. For all his efforts he is not even a consideration when ranking the best tennis players of all-time or even of this generation.

Despite not being able to attain the pinnacle of his profession he has managed to earn over $21 million in prize money and certainly a substantial amount in endorsements.

What separates del Potro from those who are considered the greatest? It’s impossible to say. His mental toughness, not quite enough accuracy, his physical conditioning, his strength? There are no answers here. The difference between del Potro and those considered the greatest is so small as to be undetectable, but it is there nonetheless. This means he will never be spoken of in the same terms as those others. This is reality.

Throughout the history of sport people like del Potro have always existed. Players of such tremendous skill and ability that bench warmers like myself can never truly understand exactly how good they are at their chosen profession. Even if they are not the best.

This is where I delve into philosophy. Is that so bad for del Potro? Maybe not being under the same microscope the greatest must face is in some sense its own reward. He has achieved great and wonderful things for which he should be immensely proud.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. I want to be the best writer in the world. It’s virtually certain I will never be so. That’s ok, I’m of the opinion the attempt is of vital importance to happiness. Success is wonderful. Failure is painful. Happiness is the goal.

I’m willing to guess in many, if not all, ways del Potro is just as happy as the other, better, tennis players. Good for him. In the end no one keeps score. You’re dead. How much did you enjoy yourself whilst alive?

Tom Liberman