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

Of Physical and Metaphysical or an Examination of God, Love, and Tables

metaphysicalAs an Atheist I think about the nature of god as described in various religions and by those who are true believers. One of the issues that comes up is the nature of god as both physical and metaphysical or otherwise described as natural and supernatural. There are things in this world we can detect and there are things we cannot. There are things that exist in a physical way and things that are merely constructs of the human mind.

I’m going to start with the obvious, a table at my side. It is a physical reality in this world. We can see a table, we can set things upon it and see they stay where they were placed. We can measure the length of the table, we can weigh the table, we can chip off a piece and put it into a spectroscope and make many physical determinations as to its base nature. A table is made up of particles that can be detected in a variety of ways.

Now to the less obvious. Love is a word we use to describe a sensation we get from chemical and biological reactions in our body to various stimuli the world provides. We cannot detect it with scientific instruments nor measure it in any way other than description. Numbers are likewise human constructs which have only a metaphysical presence in this world. This is not to say that love and numbers are not extraordinarily useful in this world in which we live. Both allow us to communicate and understand one another. Both allow human society to function at levels it could not without them. They exist but as human constructs, not as physical entities.

If all humans were to be eradicated there would be no more love or numbers. It is the argument about the tree falling in the forest if no one is there to hear it. In the physical world the tree exists and the sound waves created from its falling and impacting on the surrounding terrain can be detected, even if there is no one there to make such measurements. If no one is there to express love or talk about numbers, they simply don’t exist. They are not available to be measured. The table still exists even if there is no one to see it. It is there in a way love and numbers are not.

The problem with a deity is that it is largely agreed we cannot detect it any way. This is a more modern attribute assigned to an all-powerful entity but is a natural outgrowth in our scientific ability to understand the nature of things. The greater our capability to see the hidden the more god must hide, simply because such an entity is a construct of human minds. It is equivalent to love and numbers. Useful, certainly, but not physically real.

A deity can no more inspire people to write a book than the number zero can inspire Stephen Hawking to write a paper on black holes. The number zero comes from humans, not the reverse and the same applies to god. Both are metaphysical.

Those things that do no physically exist are simply constructs of the human mind. Sherlock Holmes certainly has an existence but it is not physical. We can talk about Sherlock Holmes in the same way we can talk about god and people know to whom we reference. Communication is impossible without these constructs.

We cannot, or at least in my opinion should not, assign physical characteristics to things constructed by the human mind. Those things come from us, they don’t have an existence outside those we’ve assigned to them. They cannot take action upon the physical world. We cannot rest a cup of coffee on god’s shoulder nor can we put a glass of water upon love or an infinitely long list of numbers.

That which we construct in our minds as non-physical cannot interact in the physical world. This seems self-evident to me. The number zero cannot feed me physically.

God can, and most certainly does, exist in the minds of many people. People have done and continue to do many things based upon that metaphysical construct. This is unimportant.

God is not physically real and can have no influence upon this universe, this galaxy, this solar system, this planet, or me. Any such influence is undertaken by people who assign attributes to such a deity and modify their own behavior accordingly.

Tom Liberman

The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop

Red Hen Masterpiece CakeshopRecently the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant called the Red Hen because they didn’t like her political ideology as expressed in her job. Before that a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple because of their sexual orientation.

The two stories are intertwined in an interesting way for this Libertarian. The battle lines have been drawn, as they say. For me the two cases do not present any sort of ethical dilemma. As far as I’m concerned, the ownership of both The Red Hen and Masterpiece Cakeshop have every right to serve, or not serve, who they want as long as they do not run afoul protected classes. Neither homosexuals or political appointees are guarded by the Constitution, so far. From a legal standpoint, I support both businesses.

From a professional perspective and from a human level I would not have done the same if I was the owner of either the cake shop or the restaurant. I think if I am going to start a business of any sort, I should respect both myself and my customers, regardless of their sexual orientation or political philosophy. From a personal standpoint, I oppose both business owners.

It’s really that simple for me. I don’t have to think much about it. I don’t have to worry about my political ideology or my personal distastes. I have a job and I try to do it as best I can regardless of other factors.

I’m aware we can get into nuance here. What if a group of Nazis wanted to have a birthday party at my restaurant? Would I allow it? Particularly if they were going to display paraphernalia supporting hatred of Jews. I’m actually of the opinion that I’d have them although I’d probably require modest, rather than overt, displays of their beliefs.

If a person with a white supremacist or a rainbow tattoo wanted to dine at my establishment I think I’d have no issue and attempt to serve them the best meal possible. I think we’d all be better off if we treated each other fairly and with decency regardless of personal convictions.

Now, if the same person was loudly and belligerently expressing their hatred of Jews or heterosexuals while dining, I’d feel within my rights to ask them to please express their beliefs in a more subdued fashion. If they refused, I’d consider asking them to leave. As long as they were polite and treated my business with respect, I like to think I’d keep any problems I had with their philosophies to myself.

Certainly, many of the people who I helped with software development were of deeply held religious beliefs. I’m an Atheist. I didn’t let that stop me from doing the best job I could. So, I have some evidence to support my convictions as expressed here.

I do find it extraordinarily interesting that, to some degree, those who support Masterpiece Cakeshop are opposed to Red Hen and vice-versa.

I think this is where critical thinking and a consistent philosophical outlook can make the world a better place. Where everyone gets to have their food or cake and eat them too. A boy can dream.

Tom Liberman

Landon Donovan should Root for Anyone and So Should You

Landon Donovan MexicoThere’s an interesting story in the world of sports involving Landon Donovan starring in a commercial that urges United States soccer fans to root for Mexico in the 2018 World Cup. There are fairly many people angry at the former star of the United States Men’s National Team and about an equal amount supporting him. I think this story has implications for all of us beyond sport that speaks directly to my Libertarian sensibilities.

The gist of this situation is relatively simple. The soccer, I’m going use soccer throughout this article rather than futbol, team from Mexico is the traditional rival of the U.S. team. The fans of El Tri include a number of hooligans and they have engaged in disgusting and distasteful displays against the U.S. team in the past. There is a great deal of animosity between the two teams. Because of these facts those who dislike or even hate the Mexican team feel betrayed by Donovan and his support for them.

On the other side is the simple reality that the U.S. team didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year leaving fans without a team to support. Mexico is our neighbor and many people who live in the U.S. can trace their heritage back to Mexico. These are reasons enough for many to embrace Mexico and wish them well in the World Cup.

For me, it’s not a difficult question to answer. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and as such my feelings toward the Chicago Cubs is quite similar to many fan’s thoughts for the Mexican team. In the 2016 World Series I was most decidedly not rooting for the Cubs, darn it all.

Those who are lambasting Donovan might think this means I’m on their side in this debate, they’d be wrong. The most important factor in all of this are the concepts of liberty and freedom. I should root for and against the teams I want, and so should you. I have no say in your decisions. Whether or not you root for Mexico hurts me in no fashion and is none of my concern. Just as it was when my sister was rooting for the Cubs to break their long drought.

This simple understanding of freedom goes far beyond sports. If a PGA Tour player or a NASCAR driver doesn’t want to visit the White House when President Obama is there or if an NBA or NFL player likewise chooses not to go when President Trump is in residence, that’s their choice. It’s not my decision and I absolutely should do nothing to coerce anyone into adopting my position.

It is the same for whom you should cast your ballot. It is the same for how you choose to listen to the National Anthem before the game. It is the same for who you decide to marry, what gender your decide to be, which bathroom you use, or what chemicals you put in your body. Our lives would all be better if we stopped worrying so much about what other people are doing.

I respect your freedom to decide matters as you desire. I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d do me the same courtesy.

Tom Liberman

The Subtleties of Racism as Demonstrated by Yadier Molina

molina and lovulloHere in baseball land St. Louis there was an ugly incident between beloved catcher Yadier Molina and Arizona Diamondback manager Torey Lovullo. I’d like to use the reaction to the situation to examine the idea that there is nuance to racism. I’m not talking about Lovullo or Molina but those who are commenting on the story.

Many people are calling Molina a thug and worse for his reaction. It’s my opinion the vast majority of those doing so would be defending, say, Roger Clemens if he reacted to the words in the same way. They’d be calling Clemens a stand-up guy who had every right to react to the ugly words in a physical way. Many are defending Molina and it seems likely some would be less vociferous of their defense of Clemens in similar circumstances. That’s the version of racism I’d like to talk about and why it’s such a difficult word to raise in these situations. There are levels of racism and we tend to incorrectly categorize them as all the same.

If my hypothesis is correct, that the race of the player is a significant factor in the perception of events, then that is racism but a very subtle version of it. It’s not someone out in the streets chanting all people of a certain race are criminal thugs who should die. I think the people who are calling out Yadi and would not call out Clemens are not racists in the classical sense, but they are exhibiting an opinion on which race bears a factor. They are guilty of a subtle and relatively common form of racism.

There is no question we all have particular biases. I think it’s possible because I’m a Cardinals fan I’m more likely to justify Molina’s reaction in this situation than Javier Baez of the hated Cubs. I like to think that I’d support Baez should an equivalent bruhaha occur between him and the manager of some other team. Perhaps I wouldn’t. That’s my point. It’s easy to throw around the word racist in situation like this when it’s not truly applicable.

It’s not easy to come up with a word to describe those lambasting Molina who would not do so should it have been Clemens. As I said, I would not call them racists, but I absolutely think that race is a factor in their opinion. For others its not race but team based, they hate the Cardinals and are eager to find fault in the behavior of the team or its players.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I don’t think these reactions rise to the level of racism but I’m struggling to name it anything else. I don’t think it’s fair, given the current understanding of the word, to use it.

We are all guilty of racism on one level or another. Most people know it’s wrong to think this way and imagine they don’t.

I’d love for people to examine their own opinion of this incident and see if they think they are being influenced by race. Does me pointing it out make them think twice? Reconsider? What if someone was posting hate about Molina and read this, examined their heart, and said, yeah, that Tom’s got a point. I’ll have to change my mind on this one. That would be great.

Tom Liberman

There is a Last Number and also Infinity

InfinityI’ve decided while the concept of infinity exists so does a final number. Full disclosure: I’m not good at math and I’m hardly a mathematician. That being said, the subject of infinity and numbers proves to be an endlessly fascinating subject for me. I assert that infinity and a final number can coexist. Any mathematicians care to tell me the depths of my stupidity? I’ll be reading the comments.

It would seem at first glance the two concepts are incompatible. If there is a final, last number, then infinity cannot exist and vice versa. Here’s the factor that existing theory, in my opinion, fails to take into account. Neither numbers nor infinity are real. That is to say they are both incredibly useful constructs but they don’t actually exist. In the same way the words you are reading don’t really exist, that emotions like love and hate don’t have physical form.

Sure, we feel love. I’m not denying we have emotions. Nor do I pretend the words I have written and you are reading don’t have meaning. I’m just saying they only exist as constructs of the human mind that help us organize our world in convenient ways. Words are merely jots on a page approximating sounds. We give those sounds meaning in the same way we give letters and groupings of letters meaning they do not actually have.

Numbers are wholly constructed to make life easier to understand and move through. Time is likewise a human construct that simply does not actually exist in a physical way. You cannot weigh an emotion, a number, a word, or a unit of time. These things are all incredibly useful. We would not have the world we live in without these constructs but they are simply that, constructs.

If numbers don’t actually exist, which is my assertion, then the last number is simply the largest number we have so far named. Certainly, a larger number can be imagined but until that moment; it does not exist, even in a constructed fashion. Currently we can say that Graham’s Number is the largest number in the world. That being said, the concept of infinity is also a human construct and exists as such side by side with Graham’s Number.

Pi does not really exist and therefore the last digit of Pi, base 10, is the one we have most fully calculated. Thus, Pi has a last digit but is also infinite.

What are the practical implications of my hypothesis? Nothing, really. The world is the same whether or not we consider numbers to be real or simply constructs. My life does not change nor does yours. However, once I accepted this idea, that time, numbers, words, and emotions are merely names we associate with constructs in order to make our world more orderly, the less importance they have. They are tools to be used to achieve results but I need not worry about their bounds or origins.

Who created the numeric constants of the universe? Us, simply because they don’t actually exist.

Tom Liberman