Time to Kill the Recess Appointment

Recess appointmentThe President of the United States is granted the power to fill vacancies that occur when the Senate is not in session. This is called a Recess Appointment. It’s clauses like this one: Article II, Section 2, Clause 3; that remind me why it’s so important that the Constitution has a mechanism by which it can be changed.

The Constitution orders the Senate to provide advice and consent for certain appointments. The reason the Recess Appointment clause exists in the first place is simply because, early in the history of our country, the Senate took recesses of anywhere from six to nine months out of each year. If a vacancy occurred in this period, a position might go unfilled for a considerable time.

The situation is quite different today. At most, the Senate takes a two-month vacation and usually not even that long. Any vacancy can now be filled fairly quickly. In addition, advances in communication and the speed of travel means the Senate can reconvene for an emergency session with less than a couple of days’ notice.

Unfortunately, what has happened in recent times is that various presidents waited until the Senate went on recess in order to make an appointment they felt might not pass successfully through that body. In the current situation, the sitting President is speculated to be considering the idea of creating a vacancy during a recess simply in order to fill it without advice and consent of the Senate. Both of these behaviors are clearly perversions of the original purpose of the power.

If this is allowed, it seems to me the Senate can then by bypassed completely. The President can appoint someone pleasing to the Senate, wait until just before the recess, fire that person, and then bring on whomever they desire without a confirmation. This can be continued on for the entirety of the term.

That’s why it’s time to remove that particular clause from the Constitution. Times have changed and the Recess Appointment is no longer necessary or needed. Amending the Constitution is a thing not to be taken lightly and it requires either a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives or a two-thirds majority of votes by the states. Yet, the power to do so is there and it is there for good reason.

The Recess Appointment clause is being abused and it must go. It’s really as simple as that.

There is one other solution. I don’t think we’ll see it, but there is some possibility the President of the United States could treat the Constitution with the respect it most certainly deserves. The President of the United States could stop looking for ways to pervert the Constitution and simply abide by its clear intent. Only use the Recess Appointment when an important vacancy comes up naturally; usually death or serious illness.

Tom Liberman

Phelps versus the Shark – Simulated that is

phelps vs sharkTo call people disappointed by the Michael Phelps versus Great White Shark race is a little bit of a misnomer. They aren’t disappointed, they feel cheated, and well they should. Phelps did not actually swim against a real shark but instead a simulation. What’s the result of all of this? Everyone loses.

I’ll start by saying I didn’t actually watch the event myself but I did see some of the promotional material. The first question I asked myself was: How’s that gonna happen? I mean, you can’t have them next to each other in the pool and getting a wild animal like a shark to toe the line and start at the right moment is going to be near impossible. There’s got to be some kind of trick, I said. It can’t be real.

Sure, many people could have figured out there were going to be some shenanigans but that doesn’t mean the event shouldn’t have been more clearly promoted. In addition, the show went on for quite a while, almost an hour, before the actual race. This means people used their valuable time waiting for something that never actually happened. To my way of thinking, this borders on and possibly crosses into the criminal realm of fraud.

What’s an hour of your time worth? Do you suppose people gathered friends to watch the event at various parties? That fans of Michael Phelps were intrigued enough to plan their Sunday around the show? I can even imagine some marine biologists were intrigued by the idea and wondered how on earth they were going to get the shark to run through a prepared course. I know I was thinking about how they might have treats, read raw and bloody flesh, at the end of the pool to entice the animal.

I was intrigued by the advertising campaign. I wouldn’t have spent as much time thinking about the race if I was not at least partially captivated. I certainly didn’t suffer damages. I’m also not advocating any lawsuits, although they might be justified.

The Discovery Channel clearly made it appear as if Phelps would be racing a live shark. He did not. I think those who expected to see Phelps race a live shark are certainly losers in all of this. The show attracted far more viewers than it would have if the event had been advertised truthfully. That seems to indicate the Discovery Channel won. They got advertisers to pay for the event based on expected watchers.

The reality is more difficult to parse. Certainly, any event the Discovery Channel promotes from here out on out is going to receive far more scrutiny. The network will not be able to point to ratings from this event as a price point for future such races. Advertisers will be wary and rightly so.

Will the public remember this fiasco when next Discovery Channel next tries to host such a race? I’m of the opinion they will. This hype was so overdone and the actual event so underwhelming that people will remain skeptical of the channel for many years to come. I think, despite the undoubtedly high ratings it garnered, the network is also going to end up losing.

If only they had managed to deliver a satisfying experience. Then we’d all be winners. Instead, just the opposite.

This brings me to my final Libertarian point. If the Discovery Channel had strived to make an excellent experience, we all would have been enriched. The network, the viewers, and the advertisers. More such events would even now be in the planning stages. Now, because they provided a cynical product, we all lose.

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

Benningfield offers to Sterilize Free for Reduced Sentence

Judge Sam BenningfieldThere’s an interesting situation going on in Tennessee where Judge Sam Benningfield is offering reduced sentences for criminals who partake of freely provided birth control. Vasectomy for men and Nexplanon for women. For men, this largely means permanent sterilization and for women the device lasts for about four years. Naturally, there is an uproar.

I think Judge Benningfield has it partially right. I don’t think we should be offering free birth control to convicted criminals, we should be offering it to everyone! What would the world be like if no woman became pregnant with an unwanted child, if no father impregnated a woman when he didn’t want to have a child? The answer is quite clear; much, much better.

I think the benefits of such procedures, performed free of charge for the asking, cut through political divides on all sides. Hey, conservatives, that’s it; no more abortions. Or at least only in quite rare circumstances. Birth rates among illegal immigrants and generally the poorer segments of society drop dramatically. Hey, liberals, child abuse reduced dramatically, orphanages emptied, crime rates plummet, the poorest segment of society has a much better chance to improve their circumstances.

When every child is a wanted child we eliminate any number of societal problems. The population of the world will stabilize at a quite sustainable level. I’m of the opinion we should temporarily sterilize everyone as soon as they reach puberty. Then, later, if anyone wants to have a baby, reverse the procedure at no cost. That’s probably too extreme for most of people out there but I think the changes it would bring to the world would be dramatic and wonderful.

Another thing I find particularly interesting are those railing against Judge Benningfield and those supporting his decision. Those who find it distasteful are generally for freely available birth control. Those who think the judge is right are almost universally against free birth control. Judge Benningfield is offering free birth control to a segment of the population. The problem is largely the carrot offered, reduced jail time. Thus, people are presumably getting sterilized who actually want children. I argue most of the people lining up for the procedure have no desire for a child and the only thing that kept them from doing it themselves is the cost of the operation.

What I’d really like people to examine is your own feelings on the ideas of freely available birth control and the situation in Tennessee. Why do you support one or the other? Why do you oppose the ideas?

Let me know!

Tom Liberman

LPGA the Dress Code versus Sex Sells

dress code lpgaThere was an interesting turn of events when the Ladies Professional Golf Association passed new dress code rules for players on the tour. The codes basically attempt to eliminate clothes that are a bit too sexy.

It largely prohibits the display of too much leg, too much bosom, or too much shoulder. Let me first say the LPGA has every right set their own dress code. If they want to ban short skirts, plunging necklines, racerback shirts, joggers, and leggings; that’s their business.

That being said, the hypocrisy is rather rank. The LPGA has long promoted attractive players going as far as extending invitations into tournaments to particularly good-looking golfers who were not eligible by their playing ability alone. The modern version of this strategy is Paige Spiranac but it dates back as far as Jan Stephenson and probably beyond.

It’s also clear that women wear far skimpier outfits while running in track meets, playing beach volleyball, and we see plenty of panty-clad bums on some of the finest women’s tennis players in the world as they race around the court.

I’ll be up front, I’m a man who admires the fit form of female athletes. I’ve always been attracted to women with athletic figures. I don’t mind seeing a fine pair of shoulders, the sinews of a pair of strong legs in motion, or the firm upper arms of a woman who has seen the inside of a weight room. The fact that tight fitting clothes go along with better athletic performance is a happy coincidence as far as this fan is concerned. Boobs, I’m in the pro column.

The point here is that the majority of people enjoy looking at a fit athlete with a strong body. Sports Illustrated devotes an entire issue to naked athletes and another to women in, or partially in, swimsuits. That’s marketing. If more people watch LPGA events that will lure in more advertisers, which in turn means larger prizes for the participants.

That’s what bothers me about this new dress code. The LPGA has long attempted to market the better-looking golfers on their tour. Now they are upset some of the players are apparently doing the marketing themselves. Hey, it’s fine if you look sexy the way we like to make you look sexy, but don’t look hot the way you want. Not on our watch.

Again, it’s the LPGA’s decision to make. Rules are rules. But at least this observer finds them to be hypocritical in the extreme.

Tom Liberman

The Solar Wall and President Trump

solar wallPresident Trump made building a wall between Mexico and the United States a big part of his campaign although actually funding it has proved difficult. He recently suggested putting solar panels on the wall. A solar wall as it were, so that it could pay for itself. That’s the thought process I’d like to examine. Yes, the thought process.

What’s the first thing you think about when using solar panels? For me, what comes immediately to mind is the idea they have to face the sun. Unfortunately, by far the greatest surface area of a wall is going to be facing away from the sun. A wall, by its nature, is up and down with a narrow top. Now, it’s certainly possible to make a wall of a greater thickness so solar panels can sit on top of it, but that’s going to dramatically increase the amount of material required for the wall, which of course, adds cost.

There is also the possibility of attaching angled panels to this solar wall but that would seem to largely defeat the purpose of a wall, to keep people from being able to cross over it. If there is a big, angled roof to the thing, it would seem that scaling it would be made significantly easier.

Anyway, let’s imagine there is some way to attach the panels to the solar wall without greatly increasing the cost of the base material of the wall while not inhibiting its stated goal of preventing people from crossing over from Mexico.

How do we get the generated power from the power source to the people who need the energy? That’s an enormous problem with all power plants. You have to be able to transfer the energy to users. This is done through infrastructure. Traditional power plants are built in a single location so all power lines can emanate from them. With a solar wall, this is not possible. Basically, your power generation is occurring over a huge area. So, in addition to the panels the entire infrastructure must be created to take that power and distribute it. The cost of this is something I’ll leave to your imagination.

And this is what I’m talking about. These are thoughts that I’m almost certain didn’t even begin to occur to President Trump. He doesn’t think things through. That’s not a quality I admire in anyone. Let alone the President of the United States.

Honestly, this is what I imagine. “You know, President Trump, we’re having a terrible time getting financing from Congress to build that wall. You know what would be cool? Solar panels on it!”

Trump, “That’s a great idea, hey, when’s lunch?”

Then at the next opportunity Trump touts the solar wall as a fully realized possibility without having given a moment’s thought to the practicality of building the thing. I’m serious here, when you heard Trump talking about the solar wall what was your first thought? Mine was, interesting idea, but how is that going to happen? Yet I watch people cheering madly an idea that it seems to me is obviously impractical if not impossible, and certainly not cost effective.

I suppose this is the world in which we find ourselves. Sigh.

Tom Liberman

Rick Perry and Supply and Demand

rick perrySecretary of Energy Rick Perry apparently incorrectly defined Supply and Demand while speaking to workers at a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia. What I’d like to talk about today is Perry’s understanding of the idea of Supply and Demand, not so much his mistaken understanding of the meaning.

What Perry said is this: Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there, and the demand will follow. The real law of Supply and Demand does not mean that, but I’m not going to get into what it really means. I’d like to discuss Perry’s actual statement, which presumably he believes.

The idea is related to something called Say’s Law. Basically, if a product is put out there, people will purchase it. It’s not exactly what Perry said but it has correlation. Say’s Law was largely meant as a way to understand how we get gluts of particular products, excess that people are not purchasing. It was generally considered correct until the Great Depression when a great supply of workers created no demand. It is now almost the opposite of current economic theories. Supply is created by demand. If people want something, others will produce it.

I don’t want to get into a complex economic dissertation here, one I am not qualified to make. It seems fairly logical to me that the very idea people will simply purchase something because it is available is nonsense. This is even more true in today’s connected world than it was around the turn of the century, primarily because people have access to far more information. They can look at competing products and decide which they want to purchase.

Now, we could talk about marketing. Certainly, that gets people to purchase products they perhaps do not need or want. Even then it is not the mere presence of the product that is driving demand. You can ask any retail store manager. If they put more of a low-selling product on the shelf, they are largely going to have extra inventory.

That’s what disturbs me about the statement. Not that Perry incorrectly defined Supply and Demand, but that he apparently thinks what he said is true. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise, unless he misspoke, which is possible. It seems to me he said what he meant to say.

Happily, it’s not a big deal, Perry is the Secretary of Energy. Wilbur Ross is the Secretary of Commerce and if he made that statement, well, then I’d be concerned. So, basically, a bit of a useless kerfuffle. Still, I learned something about economic theory, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Tom Liberman

The Election Integrity Commission Spawned by Circular Reasoning Fallacy

election integrity commissionAh, what danger we weave when first we practice to use Circular Reasoning. President Trump believes he won the popular vote but the tally indicates otherwise. This means there must be something wrong with the count. This means we now have something called the Election Integrity Commission which will suck up millions of dollars, vast resources, and most certainly violates the spirit of the Constitution of the United States if not the letter.

I, Tom Liberman, am always right.

How do you know, Tom?

Because I said so and I’m always right.

As ridiculous as that sounds, this sort of logic is the reason we have the Election Integrity Commission.

Trump absolutely believes he won the popular vote in the election, his hubris will not allow any other explanation. He said as much on any number of occasions. Each state is in charge of how they choose to assign their Electors, as is expressly declared by the Constitution of the United States. Without exception, they use popular voting as this method.

The various states don’t believe there is any significant voter fraud. There is certainly no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Therefore, they are largely refusing to turn over to the federal government any of the information they have gathered in regards to voting. They view it as an overreach. I agree.

The problem here all stems from circular reasoning. Trump believes something for which there is no evidence. This becomes a problem for a man with an apparently unshakeable belief in his every pronouncement. When we say something that is wrong, our first tendency is to attempt to support the statement when others refute it. When the person trying to support an almost certainly suspect premise is in a position of power, we get things like the Election Integrity Commission. If this doesn’t worry you, then you’re reading the wrong blog.

A person who appears ready to violate the Constitution of the United States in a vainglorious attempt to support what is almost certainly an untrue statement is a dangerous figure. I realize that I’m stepping on dangerous legal grounds when I assume the request made by the commission for information about the voters in the various states is unconstitutional. I don’t have a background in Constitutional Law. I could be wrong about a legal violation but I’m certain I’m right about a violation in spirit.

The federal government is not supposed to be meddling in how states run their elections and for good reason. How an election is conducted is under the purview of the state.

I’m not completely naïve, I know the United States has had special commissions created not to find truth, but to spread unwarranted seeds of doubt. That being said, this is the first time I recall such an investigation being a direct attempt to prove as true a presidential misstatement. This is the first time I’ve seen Circular Reasoning from the President of the United States send so many people scrambling into action.

The danger here is manifest. If the government feels obligated to force its version of the truth on the people of the country, we are living in dangerous times. Trump, or any other politician, can say as they please, it is only when their actions threaten me that I become alarmed. What concerns me about this is not so much the Election Integrity Commission, it is certainly stupid and I’m glad most states are refusing to cooperate, but the long-term implications of a head of state who not only cannot admit a mistake, but must manufacture, via dubious Constitutional actions, a truth that fits the narrative.

I hope it concerns you as well.

Tom Liberman


Sorry to say but Connie Yates and Chris Gard are Evil

yates-gardPeople who do horrible things to other people are evil. Connie Yates and Chris Gard are stealing a bunch of money from people and using it to allow a zombie baby to take up space and resources in a hospital that could be used to help someone else. That’s evil.

They are parents and they love their child, Charlie, that I don’t deny, but they have let that love become twisted into something horrible. Something that borders on, and in my opinion, crosses into a realm we call evil. Those who support them are not just enabling this situation but contributing to it.

Charlie was born with a terrible disease that left his brain destroyed. He is unable to breath or move. He is blind and deaf. Even if the cause of this tragic disease could be treated, and it can’t, his brain is dead. He is simply a lifeless zombie. I can only hope Charlie doesn’t have nerve activity and he is feeling no pain. Still, there is tremendous pain being intentionally inflicted by Yates and Gard playing to people’s heartstrings with the impossibility of the boy’s recovery. They are stealing money from people, not for themselves, but for doctors offering an experimental treatment that will do nothing to reverse the brain damage.

One of the most fundamental issues of this situation is the reversal of normal morality. In many cases it would be immoral to allow a sick child to die. If the child had a disease which can be cured, it would be despicable to place that child in the woods and allow it to die. This was done throughout history but medical care has improved to the point where children who were doomed to horrific lives until a few hundred years ago, can now live full and fulfilling lives. Thus, when we hear about a sick child whose parents are trying to get medical care, we are predisposed to think of them as heroes and those who are opposed as villains.

In this case it is the reverse. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. The professionals at Great Ormond Street Hospital are the ethical and kind players in this story. The judges who have made their rulings are moral.

What I’m saying is brutal. It’s not nice. I’m not a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll be happy to confirm I’m often times quite a jerk, quite forceful, when it comes to putting forward arguments. Be that as it may, what I’m saying is true. Keeping Charlie alive is the immoral act. That’s the bottom line. The parents are engaged in behavior that I can only describe as evil.

There are a number of people in Social Media and other places who supported and continue to support this behavior. They encouraged the parents to take money from many people for the pursuance of an immoral act. They encouraged the people to keep poor Charlie on life-support for the last ten months when they could have ended this entire ordeal, and saved a huge amount of pain and suffering. Those who support Yates and Gard are contributing to the evil.

If that’s you, I won’t apologize. Get your act together.

Tom Liberman

Clueless: A Libertarian Movie Review

cluelessYes, time again for a Libertarian Movie Review. Today I examine the timeless Jane Austin novel, Emma. That is to say, in the more modern form of Clueless. Released all the way back in 1995 it was a hit and is often considered a classic. It launched the careers of Alicia Silverstone, Stacy Dash, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, and director Amy Heckerling.

Clueless largely tells the story of Cher Horowitz, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Beverly Hills litigator, marvelously played by the always great Dan Hedaya. In one of the early and most important scenes in the movie, Cher is given a subpar grade by a grumpy teacher and rather than accept it, she goes to work to get it changed. Not through computer hacking but in improving the life of her teacher, who will then hopefully be more open to a better grade in future negotiations.

While Cher is certainly Clueless in some regards, she is clearly well educated and has goals in life. Some of them shopping, most certainly. After igniting the romantic fires of two of her teachers, and getting a bump up on her grade, she decides that doing good things makes her happy. And, by golly, she’s right. When we help others, when we improve the lives of those around us, we also improve our own lives. She is helping people using what Ayn Rand would call selfishness.

Cher wants a better grade and finds the best method to do so is to make her teachers happier. Her life improves, as do the lives of those around her. Cher then sets out to do good for everyone including the tragically, her words not mine, unhip girl at school. Things begin to go wrong when Cher tries to pair Tai, played by Murphy, with a rather shallow and socially conscious boy, when it is clear she prefers the skateboarding and fun-loving Travis.

The failing isn’t in Cher trying to help her friend, just in not seeing the best strategy to make Tai happy. These things happen, we try our best but we often fail. Cher then experiences other failures, but rather than dwell in misery, she takes an introspective walk. She examines her own failures and tries to determine where she went wrong, and gets in a little shopping while she’s at it.

Clueless offers a lot of reality and some excellent Libertarian philosophy while doing it. Sure, Cher is a spoiled and Clueless fifteen-year-old girl, as would be anyone raised in such an environment. But she has brain, she uses it to improve her life. She has cool clothes and a great car, and that helps with her popularity but Silverstone plays a girl who would be popular everywhere, in almost any circumstance. She is intelligent, funny, and easy on the eyes.

When she is helping Tai, it is not all about being fit, there are vocabulary lessons and book reading exercises. Cher understands you don’t get far in this world without being able to think clearly. Despite setbacks, she clearly demonstrates her intellect and her unwillingness to give up.

The main lesson here is that by helping yourself, you help those around you. That is one of the most important core tenants of the Libertarian Philosophy. Therefore, Clueless gets a full Five Freedoms from this reviewer. A wonderful film worth watching again, or for the first time.

Tom Liberman

Chris Soules and Venus Williams

Chris Soules Venus Williams
There were two car accidents recently in which a person died. One of the accidents was caused by a white man, Chris Soules, with a strong belief in Jesus as his savior who also happens to live in rural Iowa. The other was caused by a black woman, Venus Williams. She doesn’t speak of her religion and lives in an urban environment. I find the general tenor of the comments on the two stories to be incredibly telling. First let’s look at the accidents.

Soules purchased liquor at a store. He smashed into the back of a tractor sending it into the ditch and killing the driver. Soules then reported the accident, waited for paramedics to arrive, but then fled the scene before police arrived. He went home and when officers came to question him he refused to come out for five hours. Open liquor containers were found in his car.

Venus Williams attempted to make a right turn but traffic prevented her from moving forward. She was stuck in the middle of the intersection, which is her fault. She shouldn’t have made the turn without it being clear. Another car didn’t notice and ran into her vehicle from the side. One of the passengers was an elderly man who was taken to the hospital where he eventually died two weeks later.

Now that you know the circumstances of the two accidents can you guess the general thoughts in the comments sections? Williams is a murdering scum who deserves to be put in prison. Soules is a poor unfortunate who hit a tractor that probably didn’t have its lights on and maybe cut in front of him and possibly he was tired and it was going to take the police a long time to get to the scene so he just went home. He was asleep so when the police were yelling at him to come out and calling his phone for five hours, he just slept through it. He feels terrible about the accident and has been punished enough. What purpose does it serve sending him to prison?

If you aren’t disgusted by the stark contrast between these two reactions there is something wrong with you.

I’m not saying everyone is exonerating Soules and eviscerating Williams but I am saying that the majority of comments on both stories are exactly as I’m portraying them.

I’m not sure how much of it is a black and white thing or a belief in Jesus thing but it is most definitely a thing. And it is horrific.

I’m not saying Williams is completely innocent or Soules is totally guilty of a crime. I’m just saying the reaction to both is out of proportion and based on things other than actual facts.

I really don’t have a whole lot to add. There is something seriously wrong with the critical thinking skills of people in this country. There are many people in this nation who are filled with unjustifiable rage against people they perceive as different. I don’t get it. I never will. But I can speak out against it.

Tom Liberman

Where a Hugging Seal and Whale is Fake News

seal whaleA photo of what appears to be a Beluga Whale and a Southern Fur Seal apparently hugging one another spread across social media much like a wildfire. It’s a fake news photo. I’d like to spend a little time analyzing why so many people loved the image and viewed it as some sort of harmonious moment in an ever more tumultuous world, and how this relates to the more dangerous phenomenon of fake news.

To toot my own horn for a moment, I saw the picture myself and immediately guessed it was a fake. Believe me if you will, I have no evidence of my opinion. I’m quite sure most of the people who believed the photo to be real, or at least suspected it was authentic, are now of the opinion they knew it was a fake all along.

Anyway, a few days later when the image was definitively proved as a fake, it hit the news again. A lot of people are apparently upset. The artist herself, Elena Vizerskaya, has a webpage where she creates many fake photos. It was from the site it spread so quickly through the internet.

Why did people believe the image? Why are they so angry it turned out to be a digitally created? I think that’s a fascinating subject for discussion.

It’s a sweet image. Two animals apparently embracing. We humans like to anthropomorphize animals; that is to say, we like to think animals display the same sort of behavior patterns as we humans. When we hug another person, it is a sign of affection. When two creatures of different species do the same, we see some sort of metaphor in which the world can be a united and better place. If a seal and a whale can love each other, why can’t we?

We want the world to be like this. Where everyone gets along and there is harmony and joy. Thus, when we see an image that seems to validate this desire, we are inclined to give it more credence than is deserved. This is called a Wishful Thinking Fallacy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the picture was true gives way to the conclusion the picture is true.

We run into this way of thinking virtually every day, and it leads us to faulty conclusions. The people who truly believed the photograph then create a world for themselves in which the photograph was real. When the person so believing is given strong, or even irrefutable, evidence the original photograph was not real, we often see one of three results.

One group of people will continue to assert the photo is real. They will deny the evidence of the website finding some excuse to continue with their belief. Perhaps the photo is real but being denied because the government has a secret program going onto move Southern Fur Seals from the Antarctic to the Arctic. Certainly, President Trump or former President Obama would be the instrument of this conspiracy.

Another response is to accept the new evidence and feel betrayed, lied to. This group of people is furious at those who they perceive wronged them. They will lash out violently, with words at least, and probably blame one of the two aforementioned presidents at some point or another in their rant.

The third possibility, and the one usually in least abundance, is that people thus mistaken laugh, shake their heads, and admit they were rather silly to believe such an obviously fake photo. Sadly, there aren’t very many people in that third group left in the world.

Thus, we see the photograph as a microcosm of all the Fake News in the world today. It seems to me people have largely succumbed to the Wishful Thinking Fallacy when it comes to political decisions. I think most people do not do this when dealing with business and personal choices that have an immediate impact on their life. But when it comes to politics, we seem perfectly happy to accept any reality that matches what we want for this world.

It is only when we develop the ability to laugh at our mistakes that Fake News will lose its power. I’m not holding my breath.

Tom Liberman

Solitaire and Changing Your Mind

microsoft solitaireIt’s not a bad thing to change your mind when presented with a new argument you hadn’t considered, that happened to me when I was talking about Microsoft Solitaire. It seems like people are largely uninterested in listening to facts that might change their thoughts on a subject. They merely want to confirm their own opinions. I recently changed my mind on a subject of relatively little importance but I think it demonstrates a useful way of thinking.

I like to play Microsoft Solitaire. So do a number of people I’ve met at the Facebook page dedicated to discussion of these games. There are two sorts of situation with the games. There are daily games. These are five games; one each of Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, Pyramid, and TriPeaks. If you manage to complete every game during the course of a month you get a Perfect Badge.

They also have a tournament every other day which involves completing a series of games as quickly as possible. You are grouped with ninety-nine other players and whoever can complete the most games quickly finishes with a higher rank and has the potential to get any number of badges.

One of my favorite types of games in either format is one in which there is a time limit to finish. This requires not only playing wisely but also playing quickly. I really enjoy the countdown of the clock as I try finish the game and I’ve finished a few of these with seconds left. They leave me feeling exhilarated, or frustrated, with my heart racing. I love them. When I see a time gamed, I immediately get excited.

Anyway, not long ago I was extolling how fun these types of games are and I noticed several people on the Facebook page lambasting the games as unfair. I could have immediately told these people they were incorrect, that I enjoyed the games and they should enjoy them as well, just because they’re hard doesn’t mean they are unfair. Instead I chose to read their arguments.

Several of the people who hate these types of games have arthritis of the hands, or some other medical condition. These people cannot move the mouse quickly or click fast enough to ever possibly win a timed game. This means it is impossible for them to complete an event or get a Perfect Badge. That is actually unfair. I was wrong. It’s not unfair to me, I’m a pretty decent player, but it is unfair to people with physical handicaps.

Now, that’s not to say Microsoft should stop including games of this type. The games are also unfair to blind people. They are largely less fair to older people and those who don’t have fast reflexes. Life is filled with unfairness at every level. There is no end to the unfairness of life.

I sympathize with those who cannot finish these types of games and therefore cannot get the rewards associated with completing them. They were right, the timed games are unfair.

At issue is my willingness to change my opinion. I didn’t originally consider the games unfair at all, but as soon as a point of view I hadn’t considered was pointed out to me, I immediately changed my mind. I don’t think this is any world altering change of opinion. I didn’t go from being a Cardinals fan to being a Cubs fan. Shudder. I do think it’s a valuable lesson in life. Be willing to listen to arguments that don’t support your point of view, and if they are convincing, maybe it’s time to change your opinion.

Too often we simply lock out anything that doesn’t agree with our preconceived notion. That makes the world a worse place.

Have a great day and maybe play some solitaire, it’s fun!

Tom Liberman

Gold Trade Spike and Conspiracy Theories

goldSomething interesting happened in the gold, or bullion, market when someone traded over 18,000 lots and sent the price down by 1.6% in about a minute. This sort of volatility is unusual but had no long-lasting ramifications. When I read comments on the story I was struck by the fact almost immediately the most suggested theories were conspiracy based.

When reading about what happened, it becomes clear gold traders are completely unalarmed and know precisely the reality of the situation. Someone tried to trade 18,149 ounces of gold but accidently chose to sell the same number of lots. A trade of this nature in ounces is quite typical. Gold is currently a pretty flat commodity without much movement or trading and thus the larger trade, a lot is about equivalent to a hundred ounces, was unusual.

I find this incredibly interesting. The logical and rational explanations, well clarified in the article, fall on completely deaf ears. There are quite a few people who are invested in various financial collapse schemes. These people want your money. They want you to be convinced an imminent downfall is coming and the price of gold will spike. They want people to be scared, because frightened people are fleeced of their money all the more easily.

These sorts of doomsayers have been around for as long as we have written records. They’ve always had the same motives. I think it’s highly unlikely the people commenting on these stories are those who will reap the financial windfall cascaded on them by willing fools. The conspiracy commenters are merely unwitting agents and future victims.

There is no great financial collapse coming. Buying gold is not going to make you rich. No one is manipulating the market. The only easy way for you to make millions of dollars in the commodity market is to understand human frailty. People are easily frightened and, when so, lurch as a pack toward a single objective. I’m reminded of watching a soccer game where the competitors are all about five or six years of age. They chase the ball as a herd. If a couple of players are smarter and more skilled than the rest they can easily use this tendency to score goal after goal.

That being said, it’s your money. Do with it as you will. If you want to purchase gold, or anything else, because you believe disaster is right around the corner, far be it from me to stop you. I don’t begrudge those who understand how things work their profits. To the smart go the spoils.

Tom Liberman

I am a Strange Atheist

atheistNot that I’m a strange person, which I am, but the more I encounter other Atheists the greater struck I am by how I came to be an Atheist. I’ve rarely run into an Atheist who wasn’t religious first. Someone who found that what they were being taught didn’t correspond with their experiences of life. I wasn’t necessarily born an Atheist but I was raised in a largely non-religious household. I was never religious and I never believed in a god.

I thought today I’d talk about my experience in coming to Atheism. As I said, I was born in a non-religious family. My mother dabbled with Buddhism but there were no religious ceremonies in my house and I never went to any sort of religious service. My parents were divorced when I was very young and my father married an Orthodox Jew. So, there was a lot of religion when I was over there every other weekend, but I wasn’t asked to take part for the most part. I read the section during the Seder reserved for the young boy of the family, the Four Questions, but that was pretty much the extent of any indoctrination.

I never even really thought much about religion growing up. I suppose I called myself an Agnostic because I didn’t really want to tell anyone there was no higher power. People seemed so sure. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to learn about Critical Thinking, Ayn Rand, Libertarianism, and that sort of thing. Up until then I pretty much stuck with the Agnostic line.

One day I asked myself why I didn’t believe in Zeus at all but was willing to accept the idea that god might exist. So, then I was an Atheist and I’ve been one ever since. I didn’t come to it by studying the bible and many of the logical problems therein. I think that makes me rather unusual. I’ve learned in the ensuing years about all sorts of issues with the bible but not until after my epiphany.

My knowledge of the bible, the koran, and the torah is pretty weak. I’ve learned a fair amount simply by having to perform research in order to counter particular religious arguments and by watching more well-versed Atheist discuss the subjects.

I think one of the important things about me being an Atheist is that I simply cannot believe in god or whatever. It’s not really a matter of choosing to believe or not; I don’t, I can’t, I’d be lying if I said anything else. To my way of thinking there is clearly no higher power. The various interpretations of that higher power don’t make any sense and are largely filled with vile stories of awful atrocities committed by said deity. If your god revealed himself to me in some undeniable way, I’d tell it to bugger off, I want no part of you. Frankly, I’d assume it was some jerkoff alien with sufficient technology to be indistinguishable from magic trying to yank my chain.

Life hasn’t been tough as an Atheist. I don’t think I’ve ever faced discrimination or ostracism because of Atheism, or Agnosticism from when I was younger. I’ve never had a friend refuse to talk to me or associate with me because of my thoughts. And my thoughts were not secret. I went to college in Idaho and many of my good friends were very religious. Some of my great friends even today have quite strong faith.

I’ve definitely faced ostracism but mainly because I’m a socially awkward fellow, I don’t blame my lack of religion, just my lack of social skills.

That’s pretty much it. I’m not trying to convince anyone to be an Atheist. I’m not complaining or bragging.

Tom Liberman

Malaysia Steals, Australian Gifted, United States Steals

jho-low-malaysia-chronicleA fellow by the name of Jho Low worked as a financier in Malaysia. He is accused of taking money from a fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He then used this money to buy jewelry for Australian actress Miranda Kerr. Now the United States has taken her jewelry as stolen property.

I suppose, on some level, I understand the general idea that someone who steals something should pay back what was stolen. The reality is that is not how the justice system works. If someone murders someone there is no way to give life back. The majority of crimes cannot be dealt with in an eye for an eye fashion. We have a criminal justice system that weighs the various crimes and assigns penalties based upon them. This is our attempt to arrive at justice.

I’m all for justice, but this sordid series of events is anything except. Let’s follow the trail from beginning to end. The Malaysian government controls 1Malaysia and puts money into the fund from revenue generated by taxes. This is money that belonged to people in Malaysia and was transferred to the government.

Now, the money was siphoned off to individuals like Low to be used not for the benefit of the people of Malaysia, but for him individually. He used this money to purchase jewelry from various suppliers. These suppliers sold him the jewelry at a fair market price in good faith. They received money for the jewelry. Said jewelry was then given to Kerr while she and Low were dating.

As a gift of tremendous value, it is treated as income. Essentially Kerr had to report these gifts and their worth to the Australian government who certainly taxed her at the appropriate rate. It is largely the same as earned income from a tax perspective.

Now the United States government has forced Kerr to turn over the jewelry to them. In addition to the jewelry they’ve seized other assets worth approximately $1.7 billion. Why the United States is involved at all is not clear to me, but I’m guessing the assets in question were purchased in the United States.

So, from what I can deduce, the government of Malaysia stole a bunch of taxpayer money from its citizens and now the United States has stolen the property purchased with this money.

What would be justice? Quite simple. Return the items to the sellers in exchange for the money paid for the goods and then give that money back to the taxpayers of Malaysia. Anybody think that’s going to happen?

Now, it certainly wouldn’t be a perfect solution as the gifts have likely depreciated since their original purchase but it would be more just.

The way things stand we simply encourage foreign governments to rinse and repeat. Steal a bunch of money from taxpayers, buy lovely things, pay taxes on the purchases, pay taxes if they are gifted, use them for a while, and then give them to the U.S. government.

All we’re doing is collecting money from the stolen goods at every step of the way. That money no more belongs to the United States than it does to me. The worst part is this isn’t unusual. Local, State, and Federal government steals from thieves all the time. They call it seizures but it’s nothing more than theft.

Will the United States pay back the taxes collected on those purchases? Will Australia? Will Malaysia? Will we give the original money back to the citizens of Malaysia? They are the only victims here and they are not recompensed in any way. Everyone else makes a profit and one or two scapegoats will spend a few years in prison.

That’s government for you.

Tom Liberman