Tricks of the Wine Trade

grove mill pinot noirI like wine. I’m not an expert but I do enjoy drinking a nice glass of wine with friends over a meal or even watching a football game. I don’t drink very much, but wine is always an excellent item for a single guy to bring to a party.

I usually look at the price on the bottle and pick something in the $10 to $25 range figuring that’s probably pretty good. I look at the reviews and the rating number but I hardly know enough to make an informed decision. Why do I mention all of this? In my endless pursuit of news stories about which to blog I happened on a wine story and from there onto an excellent wine site called Snooth.

It offered something I was actually interested in trying. I purchase wine periodically, as I mentioned, but I never really knew what to get and always purchase something different. I generally like a relatively hearty red but I’m fairly flexible. Snooth offers the ability to create a personal wine list. This seemed like a good opportunity for me to start tracking what I like and hopefully get good ideas on purchases in the future. It’s not a big deal but I’m a data guy and the more information you have the better your decisions will be.

I had recently purchased a bottle for a little get together and decided I’d look it up. It was a Pinot Noir and I’ve had mixed success with that grape in the past. I enjoyed this bottle. It was labeled as a $30 bottle on sale for $19.99 which seemed like a good deal. I was certainly happy with my purchase.

So I headed over to Snooth wondering if the price I paid was reasonable for the bottle in question. It was a Grove Mill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013. I looked up the exact name and year and found nothing. Then I broadened my search to Grove Mill. There it was! The price was $29.09 which indicated that I got the deal I thought I was getting. Then I looked a little more closely. The price was for a 2009 bottle which was given 3.5 glasses as an aggregate review.

That’s when it dawned on me what happened. I don’t know if this is a common practice or not but I’m more than willing to bet it’s pretty standard. The Grove Mill Pinot Noir 2009 is a nice bottle of wine that generally sells for $29.09. The Grove Mill 2013 is not the same quality most likely. It is a newer grape and has not had time to age properly. But the name Grove Mill Pinot Noir has a good reputation. The wine stores are well aware of the difference between the two. The price on the 2013 was probably right in line with what I should have paid for it. I’m not saying I was ripped off. I’m saying that the wine store wanted to move that particular vintage and year. So they put a sale price tag on it that wasn’t really a sale at all.

If I had seen the Grove Mill 2013 as one bottle on the rack next to a hundred others of its ilk I would most likely not have purchased it. But because it was on an endcap with a big sale sign, I made the buy. The distributor paid the retailer, in this case Whole Foods, money to put the endcap out there. I’d say it’s all but certain that I’m not the only one fooled with the endcap and the signage of the sale price.

Let me reiterate that I’m not complaining. I enjoyed the wine and I think the price was reasonable.

I will tell you this. I’m going to be a lot more wary of endcaps with “sale” prices in the future. I’ll probably visit Snooth and try to pick out the wine I want before I leave the house or, if I ever get a smart phone, while I’m doing my shopping.

This should mean that when I show up on your doorstep with the look of dread at having to face an evening of socializing with real people instead of my computer friends, at least I should have a better bottle of wine with me!


Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Colorado Officials Paint Edible Marijuana as Hazard to Children

edible marijuana productsThe Centennial State of Colorado was the first in the Union to make marijuana legal to all adults and ever since those opposed have been trying to find loopholes in various regulatory laws to peel back the stated will of the people. It’s enough to make this libertarian have a sip of his wine that is sitting in his unlabeled glass looking an awful lot like grape juice.

The latest attempt to override the fair and legal vote of the people comes from the Department of Health and Environment of Colorado. They are of the opinion that marijuana infused chocolate and candy poses a threat to children because they could accidental ingest it. This is true. It’s certainly possible for a child to eat a brownie that has pot in it. It’s also possible for a child to drink any of a number of alcoholic drinks that taste like candy. It’s also possible for a child to eat a slice of rum cake or a bourbon infused chocolate. It’s possible for them to eat a pill that looks like a vitamin. Parents that have such things in the house would be wise to inform the children of their danger and keep them in safe places.

Marijuana chocolate and candy is clearly labeled. It is only when the label is peeled and a person starts to consume the item that it is no longer labeled. A lollipop in its wrapper is marked as having marijuana in it. The forces at work here hope to convince you that they are doing it on behalf of the children just as they were against the legality of marijuana to save the dogs. The reality is they are against the legalization of marijuana for other reasons but they lost fairly in a voter initiative and don’t like it. This is modern government at its worst.

If they really believe that marijuana is such a danger then they need to take their chances with the voters. I’m guessing they know this route is hopeless and therefore have decided on another avenue. I’m certainly not saying they don’t have the right to try and convince legislators to overturn the will of the people. That’s what a Representative Republic is all about. The will of the people is secondary to the legislative power of the people’s representatives. If the representatives pass laws we don’t like then we have the ability to remove them. They have the right to pass any law they want as long as it doesn’t conflict with our rights as laid down in the Constitution.

What I especially despise is the largely Republican led effort that tells us quite clearly the state needs to be in charge of our lives. That we cannot manage to keep our children safe without the government telling us what we can and cannot have in our houses. That because a few people are not careful with their marijuana infused products that the rest of the people of Colorado must give up their freedom so that the government can protect them.

Marijuana products are clearly labeled. That’s enough. The government cannot and should not protect us from every ill that might befall us. I despair for this country.

I always tell my friends that if they truly understood the core philosophy of a Libertarian they would join us. I’ve always believed that most people really want a limited government that helps where required but largely allows people to make their own way in life. I’m beginning to suspect that perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps most people really do want to tell everyone else how to live. That they want to tell me what weapons I can own, what food I can willingly and eagerly put in my body, with whom I can have sex, and what I should believe as far as religion is concerned.

People apparently want a police state that guarantees them safety while looting them of their freedom.

Not me.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Czar means Caesar … as in Julius

CzarI’ve had enough! I can’t take it any more and that means it’s time for a rant blog!

President Obama is planning on appointing an Ebola Czar. Ahhhh!!!!!

This is not a political rant. This is not a medical rant. This is a history rant! So buckle your seat belts.

The United States is a representative republic. When the Founding Fathers joined together to form a more perfect union they looked to the past. They looked to the governments of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. They did not look to dynastic and imperialist Russia. They did not look to Julius Caesar who presided over the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. That’s what Czar means. It’s a corruption of the word Caesar.

I’m a big fan of Julius Caesar. I suspect he wanted the Republic to continue but circumstances were beyond his control. The reality remains that his actions led to the end of the Roman Republic to which we owe much of our own governmental organization. The United States Senate is named directly for the governing body of Rome. The President serves a limited term as did the Roman Consuls (there were two who, in theory, provided checks and balances to one another).

I find the desire for the name Czar to be misguided love for the idea of unadulterated power. That’s what a Czar represents. Absolute power. It is strongly reminiscent of the absolute power of Imperial Russia. A state of affairs in which millions of people suffered horrendously. A state of government so awful that Communism was born from its excesses. That’s bad, my friends. Really bad.

For some reason people have a fondness for tough talking leaders who sound like they know exactly how to solve every problem. They don’t. And most likely they are actually morons. Anyone intelligent knows that the world is a tricky place and there are rarely simple and profound solutions. Beware the person who tells you he or she has all the answers and that the other person is dead wrong. They want something from you.

As I read articles about Vladimir Putin I see people admiring his autocratic rule. I see a creeping fondness for tough talk and a my way or the highway attitude rather than someone who builds coalitions and vets ideas.

The gravest danger to any Republic is its own people. I do not like the name Czar. I do not like the abject fear-mongering that has become our political system. It’s leading us down a dark and dangerous path. Our politicians act more like Czars every day (both sides so I don’t want to hear about how awful one side or the other is in this matter). I have no problem with the idea of a someone to lead a team. There is always going to be a person in charge but it’s important to keep the power of that person under wraps. The voice of dissent must be allowed to speak. A Czar brooks no argument. A Czar commands and the people do or are killed for disobeying.

If President Obama or any future president sees a particularly difficult issue and wants to appoint someone to lead the effort to overcome such a challenge, so be it. Just don’t call that person a Czar. I’m sick of it! Sick, I tell you.

Rant over, resume your normal lives.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books


Are Artificial Turf Surfaces Toxic?

crumb rubber turfThere’s a story making the rounds about the carcinogens in artificial turf and the dangers they bring for people who play on such fields. Is it hysteria? Is it a real threat?

The idea is that artificial surfaces these days are largely made up of small particles of rubber called crumb rubber. Strips of green plastic are mixed in with the rubber to give it a grassy look. If you’ve seen any game played on such a surface you know it immediately as the crumb rubber sprays up under impact. Crumb rubber is made from old tires. It generally contains things like zinc, sulfur, black carbon, and oils that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAH sounds like one of those nasty, toxic chemicals that cause cancer but the reality is that it’s quite common and found in almost anything made from carbon. It is a carcinogen but is also largely inert which means it’s very difficult to ingest enough to cause any harm. The main way people get high-levels of PAH is by ingesting things like coconut oil. It is also found in wood, coal, tobacco, incense, and other places. Your chances of ingesting PAHs largely come from burning these sources, not from crumb rubber.

The idea is that people who spend a lot of time on artificial fields will incidentally ingest some of the small rubber pellets through their mouth and nose. That such small amounts eventually add up to a toxic mix that might contribute to a kind of cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This disease tends to effect young people in their teens and early twenties. A few such cases involving young athletes sparked some concern about artificial fields.

I’ve looked over a few studies and, to date, there has been no correlation between athletes who play on artificial fields and an increased health risk. There are not that many studies and those that have been completed aren’t particularly broad in their scope. New York State is now conducting a large scale study because of the recent alarms.

One must also take into account that if the artificial fields were replaced with natural grass that this would entail the accompanying regular spraying of chemicals that contain carcinogens.

I’m not willing to dismiss the claims of those who think artificial turf is causing cancer but a perusal of the existing evidence makes me largely skeptical. It’s one of those situations where some people get sick and someone else leaps to a seemingly reasonable conclusion that turns out to be completely unrelated.

How many of you saw Erin Brockovich and came away with the belief that the town of Hinkley had major contamination problems that caused a large outbreak of rare forms of cancer? It turns out that that rates of cancer in the region are lower than would be expected.

How many of you remember the silicon breast implants that caused many women to develop cancer? Subsequent studies have shown no link between the implants and any form of cancer.

I’ll wait for the major studies to be completed before I’m completely willing to dismiss the claims as nonsense. What I’d like you to do the next time someone begins talking about this subject is interject a few of the points I’ve made here. Talk to them reasonably and suggest that it’s likely the fears are without merit. Mention that young people tend to get Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and sometimes they are athletes.

Remember that correlation does not imply causation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Phil Ivey did Cheat – According to a Judge

Phil IveyI wrote a post back in May of 2013 which questioned the action of poker player Phil Ivey. In that blog I examined what Ivey did while playing cards at a casino in London and whether it amounted to cheating. I’ll recap so you don’t have to read the entire first post.

Ivey and a friend were playing a game called Punto Banco at the Crockfords casino in London and noted a misprint on the cards. Ivey and his friend then exploited this misprint to win about $12.4 million. This sort of behavior is called edge sorting. The basic definition is using flaws within the system to win at the game. Ivey never disputed what he did to win the money. He never claimed it was simply his considerable acumen with cards that allowed him to win. During the trial he told the truth about what he and his friend did.

In my original blog I came to the conclusion that what Ivey did was certainly unethical but did not amount to cheating. I felt that if someone in a card game in which I was playing used the same technique I would think they behaved as a poor sportsman. I probably wouldn’t play cards with them again and I’d have to consider their behavior in any future encounters. Still I did not think any cheating occurred. He simply took advantage of a weakness.

The case has now run its course and the judge ruled against Ivey. The judge decided that what Ivey did was actually cheating. That the casino was right to withhold his winnings and he would not be able to collect them. The judge went out of his way to mention that Ivey was straight-forward and truthful in his testimony. Ivey reacted by saying he still doesn’t think he cheated, and I agree, but that the judge has made a decision and that is that.

I disagree with the judge on this one but I think Ivey is taking the high-road and that’s a good thing. He plead his case honestly and fairly and lost. That happens and I’m sure Ivey knows it far better than me.

I’m still of the opinion that edge sorting is unethical and not cheating.

What I find most interesting about this ruling, which occurred in England and therefore does not affect U.S. casinos, is the repercussions on other situations. A player who notes any flaw in the system might be denied his or her winnings. I think it can be fairly argued that if I notice a person has a tell, that’s gambler talk for a physical reaction that gives away the contents of the player’s hand, then I’m potentially engaged in cheating and might legally be deprived of my winnings. If I’m aware you twitch your nose when you are bluffing and win a lot of money during a poker game is it possible that you can legally not pay me?

I understand there is a difference between a misprint on a card and a physical tell but I’m not convinced the two are that different legally.

As an example let’s imagine a fairly big poker game with a table of nine players. I note that one player has a tell. I use that tell to anticipate that player’s moves which gives me an advantage over every other player in the game. It helps me not only against that player but I can influence that player, through my own betting behavior, to change the way other players bet. I can lead the telling player into a bluff when I have a poor hand to drive out players with good hands.

It’s my opinion this behavior would qualify as a skilled playing, not cheating.

Is such behavior the equivalent to noticing a misprint on a card and using it to one’s advantage?

In summary.

  1. Noting misprint and not telling anyone: Skilled playing; unethical but not cheating
  2. Causing cards to be misprinted and using that information to win: Cheating
  3. Noting a tell and using it to advantage: Skilled playing.

What do you think? Was the judge right? Did Ivey cheat?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Cardinals v. Dodgers Game 3 Strike Zone

Kemp v Dale argumentAnyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. It’s a good day to be such again but that’s not really my topic now. I want to talk about reality versus perception. On Monday night I was at Game Three of the Divisional Championship Series against the Dodgers and there was a great deal of controversy over the strike zone by umpire Dale Scott.

The Dodgers were particular upset by the variance in the strike zone and both player Matt Kemp and manager Don Mattingly made their annoyance public. The former after he struck out in the ninth and the latter after the game. There was an undercurrent that the Cardinals benefited from fewer bad calls than the Dodgers.

In the stands it was clear Scott was calling pitches high and to the right side of the plate strikes for most of the night. My perception, from the upper deck but fairly close to behind home plate, was that from the first inning on pitches in that area that were being called strikes. The other side of the plate seemed to be significantly less loose. Overall, pitches that looked like they might be balls were called as strikes and in general it was a loose strike zone. A pitcher’s strike zone.

As the game went on there wasn’t much scoring as is often the case when the umpire is calling a wide strike zone. It seemed to me, from my obviously biased perspective, that the umpire was generally consistent although there were some balls getting called as strikes on the left side of the plate that were balls other times. But that the right side of the plate was consistently a strike, particularly high in the strike zone.

I’m much further away from the plate than the players. The players obviously have a bias as well as us fans.

Reading comments on the stories it seems the general thread was that the umpire was bad but it sort of depended on if you were a Cardinals fan or a Dodgers fan if you thought the calls were lopsided for one team or the other. Most Cardinals fans seemed to think it was pretty even while Dodger fans agreed that the Cardinals were given an advantage.

That’s the bias. The perception of the viewer interfering with reality. The only way to avoid such bias is to seek out factual evidence. Happily enough, in today’s modern world, there is a tracking system which monitors every pitch and spits out statistics. Here is the analysis of Game Three.

In the chart anything red is a called strike and anything green is a called ball. The squares represent Cardinals at bats and the triangles represent Dodgers at bats.

  1. The left side of the plate was called very well and, if anything, the Cardinals got the worst of it.
  2. The right side of the plate was called very broadly but largely consistently for both teams. Again, if anything, the Cardinals got the worst of it.

These two facts lined up with what I thought I saw during the game.

On the particular call that Kemp argued about in the ninth inning he was called out on a pitch that earlier in the count was called a ball. It was in the zone that Umpire Scott had been calling a strike for most of the night. It can be argued that the first pitch, called a ball, was against the umpire’s trend on that side of the plate and when the second came and Kemp simply watched it go by he was tempting fate. Still, he has a point. The pitches were virtually identical.

What I find interesting is the ability to dispel general perception with factual evidence. No longer is perception reality. We can get the reality quickly and easily. It’s not surprising that fans and players end up thinking that they were treated unfairly when the reality is somewhat different. What I really love is this age in which we live. Where arguments like this can be settled with factual evidence instead of endless hours of arguing and no real resolution. That’s cool.

And, of course, Go Cards!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books

Justice Scalia Suggests the First Amendment does not Protect Non-Religion

Exercise ClauseThere’s an interesting legal story making the news these days and it hits home for this Atheist. Supreme Court Justice Scalia recently spoke at a gathering at Colorado Christian University and put forward the idea that the federal government and the states are not obligated to protect people who do not have a religion. That it is “absurd” to suggest Atheist are protected by the First Amendment.

The gist of his argument centers around the interpretation of what is called the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Justice Scalia seems to be saying that while it would be completely illegal to bar a Muslim from entering an establishment it would not be likewise Constitutionally illegal to bar an Atheist. Being a Muslim is a religion as is being a Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Wicca, or any other religion. The Constitution would certainly protect anyone of those religious faiths from being denied access to anything because of their beliefs.

There is something called the No Religious Test Clause in the Constitution. It reads thus: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

It seems reasonable that Justice Scalia would allow a Non-Religious Test to be administered to anyone who sought public office. That if you said you were an Atheist you could be legally barred from holding office in the United States.

I cannot tell you exactly what Justice Scalia thinks but it certainly must fall along the lines of the idea that when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they meant to protect people of any religion but not people of no religion. The strict interpretation is that barring someone from practicing their religion of choice does not apply to not practicing a religion at all.

If this is the case then it would be perfectly legal, although perhaps not reasonable, to pass a law that discriminates against Atheists. That an Atheist could be charged with a crime for not believing in any religion. That an Atheist could be imprisoned for not having a religion. This would require the legislatures of a community passing such a law but it would not be unconstitutional.

Naturally, being an Atheist, I find this interpretation disturbing.

It’s an argument that holds up when we think about physical items. We can have a dog park where all dogs are welcome but no non-dog can enter.

The problem is that the exercise of our religion is not a physical thing. It’s an idea. It’s like saying no one is allowed to prevent you from thinking but they can prevent you from not thinking. Not thinking is a separate thing from thinking.

Let’s say there is a beautiful buffet and the rule is that everyone is allowed to smell the food in any way they desire. Using a cone, from far away, from up close, but it’s completely illegal to not smell the food. Not smelling the food is exercising your right to smell in any way you desire, not to do it. You can eat the food any way you want. Off a plate, by hand, using a fork, using a spoon, having your spouse feed it to you, but not eating it is illegal. We have the freedom of speech and this, of course, means we can choose not to speak. We have the right to bear arms, and of course, we have the right to not do so. Trying to separate the two things is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.

Justice Scalia seems to be saying it would be perfectly Constitutional to pass a law saying everyone must, at all times, make political speech. That not making politically free speech is a crime.

I absolutely disagree. The freedom to not exercise our rights is an inherent and crucial part of exercising our rights.

Freedom of religion must include freedom to not be religious. They are tied together as one.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books



Egg-actly my Point – Judge Throws out Egg Lawsuit

Commerce ClauseI wrote about a lawsuit being spearheaded in my own beloved state of Missouri back in February that involved the regulation of chicken eggs in California.

The basic premise of the lawsuit is because California is such a huge economy; rules they pass for their state effect other states. I wrote at the time that while this is certainly true it in no way forced the egg production facilities in Missouri to change their coops. It simply means that if the people in Missouri, who sell approximately 1.7 billion eggs to California each year, want to enjoy the profit provided by productive people from the Golden State they need to change their practices. They are perfectly free to continue to keep chickens in conditions that can only be described as horrific but they won’t be able to sell eggs from such chickens in California.

The people of California spoke. California is the wealthiest and most populated state in the union. When voters from that state make a decision it carries more impact than when the voters of Missouri decide something. Just as laws in Texas can effect the rest of the nation. This is the nature of our Representative Republic.

I’m pleased to say that a federal judge completely agrees with my interpretation of events. The case has been tossed. U.S District Justice Kimberly Mueller writes that the states lacked legal standing to sue because they failed to show that the California law does genuine harm to their citizenry instead of just possible future damage to some egg producers.

It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state’s egg farmers,” Mueller wrote in the decision, “not on behalf of each state’s population generally.

It is quite clear, Justice Mueller. Thank you. And just in case Missouri and the other states want to keep filing and filing; she also ruled they can’t refile or amend the existing case. They can appeal but it appears they have little chance. Not that I would put it past the legislatures in my home state to keep the appeals process going for as long as possible simply to delay the expenditure necessary to improve the coops (estimated at $120 million).

It’s nice to know someone agrees with me now and again. Happy dance ensues.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
See All my Books