Thanksgiving and the Cell Phone Basket

Cell Phone BasketShould people use a Cell Phone Basket during their Thanksgiving Celebration this year? I’m seeing a trend toward this sort of thinking on my various social media platforms. The idea is simple enough, people are talking on their cell phones rather than participating in conversation with those present at the table. The idea of collecting phones using a cell phone basket goes beyond Thanksgiving but the family friendly holiday is certainly a focal point for the concept. Is it a good idea?

I think the majority of people will think it is. I disagree. It’s a concept that strikes directly at the heart of freedom. Some people abuse freedom and in order to stop them from doing so, the do-gooders of the world punish everyone. They are essentially saying: I don’t like it when you talk on your cell phone during dinner. I don’t talk on my cell phone during dinner. I’m going to force you to behave in a way that I think is appropriate. This is not just a problem at the dinner table but among the mainstream thinking of both major political parties. We think we know what is best for you, we think we know how you should behave, and we have no compunction about passing laws and putting pressure on you to conform to our way of thinking.

This mode of thinking is largely associated with Liberalism but I find that so-called Conservatives are just as, or even more, likely to try and force others to conform to their way of thinking. More and more, people think nothing of forcing through coercion, social pressure, or even legal maneuvering to conform to what they think is an appropriate standard.

Your standard is not my standard nor is mine yours. If you want to talk on the cell phone during Thanksgiving dinner, I think you are rude but I have no business forcing you to stop. If I don’t like it, the choices available to me are to leave the table or, should I be the host, not invite you in the future. As a host I think there is nothing wrong with suggesting people keep cell phone use to a minimum but I think it’s absolutely wrong to either force or pressure people to put them in a cell phone basket.

The world we live in today is filled with things very much analogous to a cell phone basket. How I position my body during patriotic songs, who I marry, what chemicals I ingest, what firearm I am allowed to own, if I should or shouldn’t visit the White House, if I talk on my phone during Thanksgiving. It’s just not your business. You certainly don’t have to be my friend. You don’t have to invite me to your events. You can ignore me. You can dislike me. You can even hate me. Don’t try to shame me. Don’t try to coerce me. Don’t try to force me. Ask me politely if you must. Be assured, I’ll do you the same courtesy.

Tom Liberman

Are the Samburu Heroes and Horrors?

SamburuAn animal rights activist friend of mine recently shared a Facebook post about the Samburu tribe’s conservation efforts in Northern Kenya, particularly in regards to Samburu National Reserve. If you were to read just this article you might think the Samburu people as astonishing heroes. Should, however, you read the Wikipedia article about their tribal practices in regards to young girls and women you would almost certainly come to the opposite opinion. Which is true?

This question dramatically illustrates the divide facing the people of the United States and those of the western style republics around the world. I’m here to tell you that Samburu are both heroes and horrors. I need not choose, nor do you.

I’m certain if my friend knew of the practices of Female Genital Mutilation and Child Rape associated with the Samburu she would never have shared the article about their wonderful efforts in conservation. Yet both the horrific practices and the heroic conservation efforts are part of the same package. As things currently stand, you do not have one without the other.

There is nothing wrong with my friend’s lauding of Samburu and their efforts protect the animals that share their little part of the world. They have done good and wonderful things. There is also nothing wrong with the many who lambaste them for their vile practices in regards to young girls.

Likewise, we should applaud a politician who does something that works and lambaste her or him when he or she does something wrong. This is, sadly, not the world in which we live. It seems we are becoming increasingly uncaring of actual deeds and the cause and effect of hateful words. We care more about who is delivering the message than the words themselves. We make any excuse to exonerate someone we support and find any sliver of blame to eviscerate those we oppose.

The Samburu are not completely vile nor wholly exemplary. They are a bit of both. We might weigh one against the other and come up with some sort of final balance but why not laud the good and oppose the bad? At the height of election season, I see ads claiming the wonder and glory of one side and the degenerate evil of the other.

Consider voting for the most decent human in the election. That would be the one who treats their opponent with dignity and respect, for isn’t that the way they would care for the nation?

I would, you might say to me with a sad shake of your head, but there aren’t any. I’m sad to agree. Do try to remember, there are more than two political parties.

Tom Liberman

Have your Starbucks Coffee any way you Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

Bob Ross and the Value of Talent and Serenity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

Good Intentions with Johnny Bobbitt and Kate McClure

Johnny Bobbitt*EDIT*

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

*END EDIT*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

How a Decent Person Reacts when they Accidentally Share Fake News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nihil est in vita liber.

Tom Liberman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

I was Much the Same Myself

Much the sameWhile watching a clip from the classic Robert Redford film Jeremiah Johnson a bit of a throwaway line caught my attention; I was much the same myself. Johnson is trying to decide on a name for the young boy he took off the hands of a crazed woman who had seen most of her family murdered. The boy is not in a talkative mood as they ride along. Johnson gives him the name Caleb as it is one Johnson has much admired. The boy does not respond. Rather than pursuing the discussion, or chastising the lad, Johnson utters the line in question.

It’s a good line. I’m of the opinion it has a lot of relevance in today’s world. It seems people have always enjoyed being critical of one another but with advances in communication and the advent of social media such has risen to new heights. Much of the criticism involves telling other people how they should think or conduct their lives. This is what I was much the same myself addresses.

Johnson recognizes that, as a child, he wasn’t particularly talkative and when Caleb exhibits a similar attitude, Johnson accepts it without criticism. It is very easy to criticize people making what we deem as similar mistakes to those we made ourselves as children. I think the actions that tend to draw the most outrage are often those things we see in ourselves. The traits we dislike about ourselves and see in others.

Most often I see it in adults, like myself, in criticizing the way younger people are going about their business. Kids today. We were kids once but that is a fact apparently lost upon most of the critical curmudgeons of the world. Even as adults we do unwise things on a fairly frequent basis, but when someone else does something stupid, we are eager to point out their foolishness.

Perhaps it is a way to pretend that we are better than the other person. I wouldn’t do something so foolish, I wouldn’t think that, I wouldn’t act that way, I’d never take a picture like that, I’d never blah blah blah blah blah. The truth is, yes, we would and yes, we probably have at one point or another.

The next time you are considering chastising someone for their behavior or opinion, think about that line. I was much the same myself. Try it out. You might be pleased with the result.

Tom Liberman

One Star Reviews for Ayesha Curry’s International Smoke

International SmokeIf you read reviews for restaurants or just about any other product, the news that Ayesha Curry’s planned restaurant in Houston, International Smoke, is already overrun with One Star ratings might be of interest to you. The idea of false ratings either to promote or denigrate a product is well-established but it’s rarely as easy to spot as on this occasion.

Curry is the wife of Golden State Warrior basketball star Stephen Curry. Said Warriors recently defeated the Houston Rockets in a heartbreaking seven game series, at least heartbreaking for fans of the Rockets. In any case, the series and International Smoke opening in Houston have brought out a plethora of One Star reviews on Yelp. Obviously, with the restaurant not yet open, these reviews are based on personal feelings toward Stephen Curry.

As a self-published author I’m well-aware that many Five Star reviews for novels are purchased by the author. I have been solicited for such on any number of occasions. I also know that business rivals often try to sabotage one another with One Star reviews. Where does this leave us? Frankly, in a tough spot.

It’s not always easy to spot a fake review. As the industry of writing them has become more sophisticated they become increasingly difficult to discern. If International Smoke was already open and someone was a good enough writer, it would be perfectly easy to be taken in by a fake One Star review.

Fake reviews are a subgenre of fake news but one that often has a more immediate impact on our lives. If we make a purchase based on a positive review that is untrue or if we fail to make a purchase based on an equally false poor review, we have incrementally decreased our experience in this world.

I don’t have any real solutions to these problems but I do offer a condemnation to those who write fake reviews. You are potentially depriving someone of a lovely meal. You are harming yourself and others. To those in Houston writing One Star review of Curry’s new restaurant, you are doing yourself no favors. You are demeaning yourself. You are a less decent human. That is your choice but be assured, engaging in such behavior destroys, in small steps, your own sense of self-worth.

Perhaps you find it amusing and think it harmless but the reality is you are damaging yourself on a deep psychological level. You know you are untrustworthy, you are a liar. And whose respect do you need most of all?

Tom Liberman

Rage at Incel focused on Chad but not Stacy

stacy incelThe murders of ten people by Alek Minassian in Toronto has brought to light a group of self-centered jerks calling themselves Incel. These men rage against society for their inability to have successful sexual relations with women. There’s a lot of ridicule for Incel on Facebook, and rightly so, but it largely seems focused on the Incel version of the ideal man, Chad, rather than about their ideal woman, Stacy. In this era of #MeToo and gender equality I think it speaks volume as to inequalities that persist.

I’m not going to discuss the complete lack of personal responsibility espoused by Incel. What I’d like to talk about is the public’s apparent fixation on Chad at the expense of Stacy. That’s not to say the generalizations attributed to the Chads of the world are less egregious than those of the Stacys, just that we men seem utterly determined to clear our name while women seem less compelled to speak up on their behalf.

Basically, those who call themselves Incel make wild generalizations about men and women. Virtually everyone is insulted by these terms but I’m only reading articles about how horrible these simplifications are when it comes to men. When it comes to the Stacys of the world or other generalizations about women there seems to be utter silence.

What’s that about? There are probably a lot of factors involved and there is no simple explanation but I think the underlying pathology is that we still largely live in a male-centric world. For most of the history of humanity women were largely tied to the fact, should they want to have regular sex, they got pregnant and then produced food for babies. This genetic reality gave very different roles in society to men and women. Again, I don’t want to get too involved in all of this type of thing.

Men are horribly offended by Incels, well, men like me and most of men I know feel that way. We despise the fact we’re either lumped into the Chad category or some other group that hardly represents us in any way. We rather like women and all their lovely bits. We feel the need to defend our gender against these losers. Rightly so. That being said, where are the women? Why aren’t they writing about how they too have been horribly insulted.

Are women used to being lumped into unfair and unrealistic categories? Are attractive women used to being generalized? Are they not at all surprised by the ridiculous terms used by Incel? Is it perfectly normal for them to be treated as a caricature rather than a person? Is this why we don’t see more rage coming from attractive women?

We men certainly aren’t used to such attacks. I’ve been called a nerd but that isn’t gender specific. The idea of either being a Chad or some or subclass of a Chad pissed me off. I wanted to write a blog about how we men shouldn’t be so categorized but plenty of other people took up the pen and did it for me. I had nothing of interest to add to the plethora of enraged fellows, so I wrote nothing.

Wherefore art thou, Stacy?

Tom Liberman

The Story of Mike Mariana and Trials of Osiris might make you a Libertarian

mike marianaYou probably haven’t heard of a video game called Destiny, an excellent player of the game named DrLupo, or a dedicated but average skilled player named Mike Mariana who recently died. That’s too bad. One of the main concepts of Libertarianism is people of like interests gathering and doing what they enjoy without interference. The story I’m about to tell you is what I imagine the world would be if we were all Libertarians.

Mariana developed cancer a few years back and between the disease and chemotherapy his ability to physically interact with the world was greatly diminished. He started playing the computer game Destiny. As the cancer grew worse it was one of the few games he could play and he and a group of online friends spent many hours enjoying themselves in battle.

In Destiny there is a series of tasks called the Trials of Osiris. If a team is able to pass this trial they can visit a place called The Lighthouse. Mariana’s friends decided to dedicate themselves to helping him get there. Sadly, their skills just weren’t up to the task and Mariana was growing ever weaker from the spreading cancer.

They decided to ask a Twitch.tv Destiny streamer who uses the name DrLupo to help. DrLupo is a Destiny expert and agreed to help Mariana. In the game you play in teams of three so DrLupo gathered one of his friends and joined up with Mike to take on the Trials of Osiris. DrLupo did it as part of a charitable 24 hours stream hoping to raise $10,000 for the Make-a-Wish foundation. I do not think I need spell it out. Mariana got to play with one of his heroes, he won the right to visit The Lighthouse, much money was raised, Twitch.tv chipped in by putting the final run on the front page of their site, and there was much rejoicing.

Certainly, a feel-good story but I think more than that. The internet gives us an opportunity to gather with like-minded friends and do things we enjoy in a way not possible throughout human history. Our geographic location is irrelevant, our race is not a factor, our religion is of no consequence, our political affiliation makes no difference, our gender is inconsequential. All the things that divided people throughout recorded history are falling by the wayside.

Not to say that the institutions under attack are not fighting back. People use religious, racial, gender, and political difference in an attempt to lure us into their hate-filled lives. They try to pit us against each other. They try to convince us that hatred, persecution, and rage are the paths to happiness. I’m here to tell you the way to a happy life is to spend it doing things you enjoy with those of similar interests.

The way to self-loathing and unhappiness is to spend your time railing against those who do thing you don’t like, who profess political ideas with which you disagree, or who worship or do not worship the same way as you.

Do you spend your time on Social Media and in real life posting diatribes against those you think are doing something wrong? Trying to ruin the lives of those who act in ways that offend you? This is not the way to happiness. You might think it is but you are destroying yourself in such pursuits. You are wasting your life.

I’m not going to tell you to stop such behavior. If you want to spend your life trying to hurt other people, that’s your business. I’m suggesting you be more like Mariana. Spend your time doing the things you love, because you’re going to be dead soon enough.

Tom Liberman

Handbook for Mortals Scam and the Power Young Adult Readers

handbook for mortalsThere was a fascinating incident the other day involving the Young Adult Best Seller list from the New York Times which demonstrates the good that can be done through group communication. In essence, someone scammed the New York Times and had their book, Handbook for Mortals, put atop the list. Fans of such fiction launched an investigation and, by the end of the day, the listing was removed.

The events themselves are fairly remarkable but their implications confirm my opinion about the potential of the Internet and Social Media. In this day and age see we violent extremists gathering and organizing using such tools and these sorts of things frighten people. What we seem to overlook is that far more often groups of people with a like interest gather using the same tools and bring much good to the world and great joy to individuals.

I think we need look no further than Wikipedia to see the great good that can come from such gatherings, but this incident with the New York Times Young Adult Best Seller List is further proof.

What happened is a new book, Handbook for Mortals, appeared atop the list, but no one had even heard of the book. There was no advanced publicity and there weren’t even copies of it available for sale. This inexplicable listing caught the attention of a Young Adult author named Phil Stamper who noted it in a Twitter post. From there the crowd took over.

At least two book stores reported large orders of the Handbook only after the purchaser confirmed they reported sales to the New York Times. It can be inferred the scammers purchased thousands of the books from various stores in order to get it listed. But our story of sleuthing does not end here.

Other investigators found the author of the book was a former publicity agent who was noted for pulling such scams. Yet more tracked down the Publisher, GeekNation, and found they created a new book publishing division just last month. The company was founded by a woman who has ties to minor celebrities. It turns out they are planning on making a movie based on this book, which is likely the reason for the attempt to place it atop the best seller list.

The entire convoluted scheme is interesting enough in its own way, but I find the power of the crowd to be the real story. Someone saw something suspicious, reported it on Social Media, a few hour later a large part of the scheme was unraveled, and action was taken shortly thereafter. This sort of thing was certainly possible in the past with diligent investigation, commitment, and a great deal of time. Now, with thousands of people involved in the investigation, each looking at different leads, the entire scam was discovered and dealt with in mere hours.

How about that!

Good job Young Adult authors and readers. Keep up the good work.

Tom Liberman

Moral Panic and the Blue Whale Challenge

blue whale challengeTeens committing suicide playing Blue Whale Challenge scream the headlines. Tenuous and often fraudulent links to people who committed suicide while supposedly playing the game immediately follow. Moral Panic sets in.

Basically, there isn’t much evidence young people are committing suicide because they were instructed to do so as part of the Blue Whale Challenge. The game supposedly involves a series of dares that occur over fifty days with the last challenge being to self-film the player’s own suicide.

First off, I’m highly skeptical this is real. It has all the hallmarks of a hoax and the Safer Internet Centre, a European Agency, seems to think so. Secondly, I’m not sure encouraging someone to kill themselves is a crime. I wrote about this in conjunction with the Michelle Carter case so I won’t go on endlessly here. Providing material assistance to someone who is going to commit suicide is probably criminal. Knowing someone is attempting to commit suicide and not reporting it might be a crime. Encouraging someone to kill his or her self is despicable; but I think not criminal.

Then there is the idea of a Moral Panic. This is basically when society learns of some danger and begins to enact laws and regulations to prevent harm from coming to its citizens. The problem is the danger never really existed at all, or was happening to such a small percentage of people that the methods enacted to prevent it actually cause more harm than the original issue.

I argue the entire War on Drugs is a Moral Panic. Drug use causes for less damage than the interdiction methods introduced to reduce drug addiction problems. We’d be far better off today if never began the War on Drugs, thus when I see something like the Blue Whale Challenge I become concerned. In the United States people are already proposing laws similar to those enacted in Russia where the Moral Panic is already in full swing.

In Russia, there are now laws against a website that promotes suicide and laws against encouraging a minor to commit suicide. Several people have thus far been imprisoned. I know what you’re thinking, good. Those are bad things. We should have laws against them. The problem is the impact of those laws.

If I want to promote suicide why should the government prevent me from doing so? I understand telling someone to kill themselves is nasty and reprehensible. I get why people want laws to prevent shameful behavior. I get children can be vulnerable to manipulation and sometimes need special protections not in place for adults. I just don’t think it should be the government’s responsibility to monitor this sort of thing. We can’t legislate morality and the more we try, the more problems we cause.

I can’t tell you all the problems these sorts of laws might cause down the road, but I’m convinced they will create more difficulties than they actually solve. These laws won’t stop people from playing the Blue Whale Challenge or being administrators, if anyone actually is playing. They will just push the situation further underground.

Some people will commit suicide. Some people will encourage others to do so because they are failed humans. We can be better friends to those in need. We can spend our time helping people, rather than hurting them. We can see people who are in danger and act to help them. That’s our job, not the government’s.

We cannot and should not rely on the government to be our moral saviors. If we do so, we risk them dictating moral policy, and that is a dangerous path indeed.

Tom Liberman

Facebook to Remove Posts from when you were a Minor

facebook kidsThe latest nonsense from government is a proposal to force Facebook to remove all posts made prior to your eighteenth birthday. It’s making its way through the English Parliament and has the support of the Queen who announced its existence in her speech on June 21.

Fine, I think it’s a silly law, but why? Let me clarify, because that’s what people who are interested in real conversation do. We don’t just tell you you’re an idiot and move on. We explain why you’re an idiot and listen when you explain why we’re wrong.

My first objection is all about freedom and liberty. I’m free to delete any post myself. Now, I agree the current system of having to delete posts one at a time rather than in bulk by date should be updated, but there is no way we should be allowing a Facebook algorithm to delete millions of posts automatically.

Breaking news, I’m old enough that when I turned eighteen Facebook, Social Media, and the World Wide Web simply did not exist. None of my pictures are going to be deleted. It’s not a concern of mine, but if I were one of the affected parties, I’d be angry my pictures were being deleted without my permission. There’s no way the government should be in charge of that decision. And let’s not blame Facebook if this law is enacted. It’s not their fault. It is simply the government telling me any pictures I posted before I turned eighteen are potentially dangerous for me.

This leads me to my second issue with this proposed law. It is part and parcel of a mantra that makes me literally sick to my stomach: We’re doing it to protect the children. No, you’re not. You’re doing it to force your misguided sense of morality onto the rest of us. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard wannabe fascists claiming they want to take away my freedom because they are trying to protect the poor, helpless children. The children are always the excuse and my freedom is always the victim. I’m not buying it.

It also insults everyone under eighteen. Basically, the law is telling them they might do something foolish, therefore we’re going to protect you from yourself. My experience is that quite a few people under the age of eighteen are far less foolish than many adults I know. Sure, some kids post photos that might embarrass them later in life, so do many adults. The government can’t protect us from such self-inflicted damage nor should they be trying to do so. Parents should monitor their child’s Social Media posts, not the government.

My fourth objection is less philosophical and more practical. Every post that anyone makes is available to be Shared on Facebook. It is available to be posted to other Social Media platforms. It is available to be copied and stored forever. Trying to delete something that’s been out on the internet is pretty much closing the proverbial barn door after the cows are out. It is not going to work.

So, let’s recap. The legislation takes away the freedom of adults by automatically removing pictures they might well want to remain in place and which they could relatively easily remove themselves. It is an excuse for government to intrude on our lives in the name of helping children. It insults the very children it is intended to protect. In the end, the pictures will probably still be out there.

Yeah, it’ll probably pass.

Tom Liberman

Chartelle Geanette St. Laurent and the Corn Snake

Chartelle-GeanetteThere’s an interesting story dividing Social Media in regards to a woman named Chartelle Geanette St. Laurent who let her one year old child interact with a small Corn Snake. The snake bit the girl who began crying while the mother laughed. The video was then posted to Facebook. Case closed, horrible mother, right? Not so simple.

The small corn snake didn’t have fully developed fangs and was incapable of actually penetrating the skin. In addition, this type of snake is very popular as a pet because of its docile nature and ability to catch and kill rodents. Basically, it’s the kind of snake a child might encounter naturally. In addition, it was incapable of doing any harm to the baby.

I’m not saying it’s the sort of parenting behavior I’d engage in with my non-existent children, I’m just saying the baby was never in the slightest bit of danger and learning to not touch snakes is probably not the worst thing in the world.

The mother excuses her behavior as trying to teach her daughter a lesson but that strikes me as rather disingenuous. She let her other child play with the snake earlier and probably didn’t think much about it one way or the other. Only when she started to get criticized on Facebook did she come up with the excuse she was trying to teach the baby about snakes. I don’t buy that for a second but I also don’t think the woman did all that much wrong.

People let their children play with cats and dogs all the time and those creatures, while domesticated and more accustomed to children, are also far more dangerous. Children are badly bitten by dogs all the time and certainly I was scratched by cats any number of times as a lad. I grew up with both dogs and cats and I don’t remember any specific incident, but I can say I probably pulled a tail too hard and got snapped at or scratched at one point or another when I was an infant.

No one called the government to report my mother for child endangerment. Of course, back then we didn’t have Social Media to make these sorts of things public. Still, I find it hard to believe thirty years ago this would have been a problem. Nowadays we all seem to be of the opinion we know how to raise someone else’s child in the best fashion possible.

Parents should have a pretty wide latitude in the manner in which they raise their children. Certainly, if the baby misbehaved and St. Laurent smacked the baby lightly on the wrist we’d have no one calling child services. I’m totally opposed to corporal punishment but I think parents should have the right to engage in such if they feel it is warranted. It’s not the government’s job to intervene except in extreme situations.

The outcry here is a product of people thinking they know better than anyone else how to conduct their lives. We live in a world in which far too many people want to be judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to other people and their behavior. For the most part, it’s just none of your business.

If St. Laurent allowed her one year old child to play with a rattlesnake and the baby suffered serious wounds then there is a problem. This incident is so harmless that it boggles the mind when you read comments from people who think the child should be taken away by the government. The baby was never in any danger.

Again, I’ll reiterate, I don’t think I’d let such a young child play with a small snake knowing the inevitable outcome. Basically St. Laurent gave her baby something that caused a small, if any, amount of pain. It’s likely the baby was more startled than hurt. If the child learned much of anything it’s probably not to trust anything her mother gives her.

That being said, it’s none of my business and it shouldn’t be yours either.

Tom Liberman

Giada Di Laurentiis Provokes Internet Hate

Giada Di LaurentiisA celebrity chef by the name of Giada Di Laurentiis was recently quoted as saying she wishes she could tell strangers who approach her, please don’t get touchy-feely. According to the people who read this story, it means she is an elitist who thinks she is too good for regular folk. Really? Because she doesn’t like strangers coming up and grabbing, touching, and otherwise groping her?

Well, if Di Laurentiis is an elitist, I am also. I’m certainly not famous and there isn’t a line of people waiting to grab me and tell me how wonderful I am, but if there were, yuck. Di Laurentiis mentions that she wishes she could tell people not to get so forward but because of her celebrity status it is not possible.

I’m reminded of when I see a professional golfer transition from the green of one hole to the tee of the next while passing through a sea of people wanting to give her or him high-fives. Fans reaching out to pat the player. Again, yuck.

I also remember an incident at a Rams game I had a few years back where a drunk, slovenly, and rather disgusting person wanted to give me a high five. Yuck. Nope. I got called a rather vulgar name for refusing and I’m just a regular Tom. Imagine if I was a celebrity and I refused to touch the skin of the man who in all probability pissed all over his hand earlier in the day and didn’t do a good job of washing up. Am I an elitist because the thought of slapping hands with hundreds of people who have been doing who knows what all day skeeves me out?

The reality is that Di Laurentiis is correct in her assessment. If she refused to interact with her many fans she would anger some of them. I don’t get it. I don’t particularly want to touch a celebrity and I completely understand why Emily Blunt doesn’t want me to give her a hug. Darn it.

What surprises me is the rancor in the comments section. It’s a complete lack of self-awareness. I think the vast majority of people think exactly like Di Laurentiis feels. They would be completely freaked out if an endless line of strangers came up to them and insisted on hugging, patting, or otherwise touching them. They’d do it because they are celebrities but they wouldn’t like it.

The comments are also filled with people filled with self-congratulations because they claim not to like Di Laurentiis or find her unattractive. It seems to me if people who are not fans of hers and find her unattractive are commenting on a story about her, well, maybe they are fans. At least fans enough to know who she is and take the time to partially read a story about her.

To foray briefly into psychology, you might be tempted to post a hateful and angry comment on Social Media because you’re not particularly happy with your own life. You’re jealous of Di Laurentiis and by putting her down you give yourself the illusion you are better than her.
I’ll conclude with a question I ask in all honesty. Would you be freaked out if complete stranger rushed up to you and insisted on hugging

Tom Liberman

Bad Logic Memes

bad logicGood old memes. The idea verbalized by Richard Dawkins twisted into a phenomenon seen everywhere in Social Media. Generally, memes are simplistic and shallow but they are also often filled with bad logic and that’s where I get annoyed.

If you post a meme with bad logic, that tells me you have a flawed brain. This conclusion might not be completely fair. Perhaps you saw the meme and didn’t bother to think about it too much. You just saw it corresponded with your political point of view and shared it without thinking too much.

However, it’s my opinion not bothering to think about something is perhaps even worse than being stupid. A person who thinks the meme they are posting makes sense when it clearly does not, is stupid. The person who is capable of understanding the logic is bad but posts it anyway, is showing a deeper form of ignorance. Willful ignorance.

Basically, a person has intentionally turned off her or his brain so that person can say something she or he knows is untrue or illogical, simply because it is politically expedient. I think we see all too much of that these days. People are completely willing to say illogical and stupid things about opponents while defending allies with equally bad logic.

It’s rampant and it doesn’t help solve the problems we have in this country and in the world. Not only is it rampant but it’s virulent. People call each other horrible names and say vile things about one another in response to the illogical memes. The sort of words that if used face to face would result in violence. Because they are being said from a distance there is a security otherwise not available. The rage engendered from such words is real, even if it cannot be consummated with fisticuffs.

It is clear to me the way to solve large problems is to work together. Working as a team involves communication and working through disagreement in a productive and positive manner. That is the best way to come up with lasting resolutions.

That’s the serious problem with all these nonsensical and illogical memes. We think they don’t do any harm, but they encourage people to turn off their minds and blindly state things that don’t make any sense. Not that people aren’t responsible for their own actions. If someone posts such an idiotic meme, then it probably means they are an idiot. That’s reality.

And, in case you’re wondering, the meme that set off my rant was about the removal of monuments in southern states that were dedicated to confederates. It read something along the lines of: If you remove Confederate Monuments then the Civil War never happened and that means slavery never happened.

There are examples of bad logic in that meme. Can you spot them?

Tom Liberman

Josh McDermitt and Giving Power to Trolls

Josh-McDermittAn actor by the name of Josh McDermitt recently removed his Social Media accounts because of the inordinate amount of hate coming his way. McDermitt plays a character named Eugene on the television show The Walking Dead. Eugene is a complex character who has done more than a few questionable things.

The Social Media accounts of celebrities tend to attract what are called trolls. McDermitt’s various accounts were no exception and all the vile posts apparently convinced him to remove the profiles. In a final video, he spoke about death threats and various other attacks against him. I’m guessing he thinks most of these attacks were made by delusional people confusing his public persona with the actions of the character he plays.

I sympathize with McDermitt. The internet is filled with a lot of vitriol. The amount of pure hate and rage that actors and other celebrities see on their accounts is enormous. That being said, it’s largely just a bunch of nonsense. The vast majority of the people making death threats and spewing other vile comments are merely trolls looking to stir up trouble. They don’t hate McDermitt or his character on The Walking Dead.

The anonymity of the internet engenders this sort of behavior. Create twenty or more accounts and start trolling. It’s entirely possible that a great number of the messages that drove McDermitt to quit his various accounts came from a single, super-active troll. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen one person with multiple accounts engage in an argument with her or his self to make it seem there are actually two, or more, people posting.

I’ve seen a small number of trolls band together to post literally thousands of vile messages on an account in the hopes of getting under the skin of their target.

I’d be more than willing to wager the vast majority of the threats and nastier comments are coming from people just trying to get a reaction. That reaction, called a lulz, is the goal of all the effort. It’s really quite silly, I don’t deny this fact. The people who engage in such activities would be far better served to do something useful with their lives. But, in the end, it is the troll’s life to waste seeking lulz.

It’s also McDermitt’s final decision to keep the accounts going or not. That being said, I’m a believer in what is already an old adage: Don’t feed the trolls. Basically, ignore them. Don’t react in any way. Don’t fight with them, don’t call them names, don’t even acknowledge the messages. Go on about your life.

I’m of the opinion McDermitt should have kept his accounts live and tried to take the verbal assault with stoicism. I know it’s easy to make that statement from my position, where virtually no one knows me and I don’t have to put up with the craziness that’s out there.

We have this impression the world is filled with a bunch of irrational idiots but I don’t think that is true. I think most people are quite reasonable and know the difference between an actor and the character she or he portrays on a television show. The vast majority of the people commenting on his various Social Media outlets are not serious. They are trolls, and when McDermitt reacts, they win.

Tom Liberman

Facebook Murder a Reason for Censorship?

facebook-censoredA sick fellow drove around Cleveland on Easter Sunday while recording video and murdered a person walking on the sidewalk. The video was then posted on Facebook where it received a great deal of attention.

Facebook deleted it and also the entire account of the murderer not long after it was first posted, but that was basically too late. Other people downloaded the video and posted it themselves. Thus, thousands of copies were distributed faster than Facebook could delete them.
One of the results of this event was a call to more tightly control content on Facebook. Facebook and other social media platforms like

YouTube and Twitter allow users to post videos as they desire. Some people post videos that are illegal, unsavory, and sick. In this particular case, the video falls into all three categories.

The fact that videos like this are allowed to be distributed on social networks is upsetting to many. Certainly, the friends and family of the murder victim don’t want it posted. People with any sense of decency are offended.

The question becomes whether or not it is the responsibility of the social media website to control all of the content that people post. The current system allows users to post videos without any review. This means heinous things will show up on Facebook. The only way to prevent it is to have some sort of content control where people are not allowed to post a video without it first being studied.

This review would require an army of staffers to look at all of the potentially millions of videos being uploaded each day. It would, to a certain degree, be impossible to implement and still allow people to post in a timely fashion. Your post, innocuous as it might be, could take days or even weeks to clear the protocols.

Even if implemented, this solution has problems. Who is to decide what is offensive, illegal, or otherwise violates content rules? What I might find offensive is something someone else would not. We start to get into censorship at this point.

The internet has brought us many wonderful things but also those that are less savory. People post videos of horrific things; murder, suicide, rape, sexual deviancy, and others. Many of these things are crimes. Whether or not a video was taken doesn’t change that fact.

If such videos are not posted on mainstream sites like Facebook they will find an outlet somewhere else. At this point, there is really no way to stop someone from distributing a video as they please. They might be restricted to a smaller platform than Facebook, but those who are interested in watching such things will find them.

The steps required to prevent Facebook from showing these videos for even a short time burdens both the company itself and users who want to post videos of their cats being cute. And it doesn’t stop the distribution of the horrific videos. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s a mistake to even try to implement such rules.

Yes, it’s horrible. The sick individual who stalked and murdered a stranger while taking a video should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but the platform that person used to document their action is not responsible.

If the solution you are proposing to solve a problem isn’t going to work and is going to result in other issues, then you need to find another solution.

Tom Liberman