Polish Poker Players are from Poland and Play Poker

pokerI was watching one of my favorite poker streamers the other day when someone posted in chat a question about Polish Poker players. What did Tonkaaap think about them? He replied, without much thought, that he supposed they were poker players. This seems like a small thing but it struck my Objectivist ideology with an arrow shot to the heart.

The idea behind the question is that in the poker community there are those who think players from various countries have particular traits and certain tactics might be used to have better results against such people. Tonkaaaap dismissed this idea casually and with barely a moment’s thought. He was right to do so, naturally, but I wanted to spend some time discussing the nature of tendencies and why they mean nothing about an individual.

It’s absolutely true that groups of people have tendencies based on the cultural and social norms from where the originate. It’s quite possible that a certain percentage of poker players from Poland will behave in some general fashion during the course of the hand. This tendency is a natural product of spending time with a similar group of people.

I’m going to use chess as an example. I played chess as a youngster but the number of people I played against was limited by geography. We had no internet and the only way to play was staring at the person across a physical board. This meant I played the same people all the time and they, of course, did the same. This meant that we all fell into tendencies based upon the limited pool of opponents. If you were to play against someone from St. Louis you might find we play a similar game. However, you could not make such generalizations about all players from St. Louis and if you did would certainly be setting yourself up for defeat as you encountered stronger players from the region. That’s Tonkaaap’s point. He is playing for real money. He can’t afford to make assumptions about individual players simply based on their geographic location. He must play against each player as an individual, analyzing their tendencies, and making the best decision possible at that moment.

This is, in a nutshell, Objectivism. We certainly can and do judge people based on superficial things like place of birth, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, heritage, age, appearance, and any number of other things. But, when we do so we not only do them a disservice, we set ourselves up for failure. If you discount or even simply refuse to consider someone because of these things then you are hurting yourself.

Let’s imagine you are the coach of a baseball team. It’s quite clear that men are bigger and stronger than women on average. The best baseball players in the world are all men. If a woman tries out for the team and you refuse to give her a chance you might be missing out on a player who can help you succeed. This goes for all aspects of life. Groups of people have differences, but we can’t let these general tendencies guide our decision-making processes. We must judge individuals on their actual performance.

Another thing to consider is the nature of globalization. Getting back to my chess. I now play people from all over the world thanks to the internet. I am no longer constrained by geography. This has improved my game tremendously and also largely eliminated all the tendencies I learned playing a boy.

This exposure to new ideas and things means we are all losing our geographic based tendencies. It means anyone, from anywhere, can succeed or fail based solely on their merits. And that’s a good thing.

Tom Liberman

Exorcism Requests on the Rise

exorcismCases of people asking for demons to be expelled in rights of Exorcism are rising rapidly in at least Italy if not elsewhere in the world and the Catholic Church is responding by holding a conference on the subject. The church hopes to train more priests capable of properly performing the exorcism. There are apparently many young priests who find the entire process questionable and refuse to take part. Good for them.

I’ll be honest right out of the gate, I’m an Atheist. Just as there is no god there are no demons. What people consider demonic possession is generally one of two things. It is mental illness or someone who has done something horrible and is unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions. According to the church, if someone is possessed by a demon they are not responsible for their actions. It’s a good thing our legal system is absolutely not based on the Judeo/Christian religious teachings. Can you imagine if it was? Would any Christian ever be guilty of anything, ever again? It’s a free pass.

The Old Testament is pretty much devoid of anything resembling a demonic possession although there is a very questionable incident that depends on a favorable translation to fit even remotely into the idea. Exorcism is almost entirely based on scripture that references first Jesus and then his disciples casting out demons with a simple command.
If Jesus could do such a thing it must mean that demons do exist. If demons exist then they must be able to take possession of a person and force them to do things they would otherwise not do. It seems clear to me that people are capable of the most vile and disgusting acts of inhumanity without any supernatural intervention whatsoever. There is also plenty of evidence of mental illness which, until quite recently, was treated in horrific ways.

The issue that presents itself is people are increasingly of the opinion they are possessed by demons. The church and its priests must deal with this phenomenon. It is absolutely real to them and to be treated in the same way any other problem is handled. If a person has a cold, treat it. If a person is possessed by demons, treat it.
There is a list of supposed symptoms that the afflicted will sometimes display if it is a demonic possession rather than mental illness or a simple ruse, but there little or no ability to distinguish between them.

My problem with all of this is twofold. Believe what you will. That’s religious freedom. But when mentally ill or criminally irresponsible people are being treated for exorcism; it means they are not being treated for their real problems. That makes me both sad and angry.

I’m not foolish enough to think that I can change anyone’s mind on this issue. Either you believe demonic possession is possible and can be treated with an exorcism or you think it is complete nonsense. I’m just sad and angry.

Do you believe Demonic Possession is real and Exorcism a Remedy?

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Tom Liberman

Died Searching for Forrest Fenn Treasure

Forrest Fenn TreasureA fellow by the name of Jeff Murphy recently died while searching for the Forrest Fenn Treasure. The entire series of events speaks directly to this Libertarian about the place of government in society. He claims to have left the Fenn Treasure worth approximately $2 million somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and at least four people have died searching for it. What do we take from this?

Fenn is unapologetic. He says life is dangerous and if people choose to look for the Fenn Treasure that he claims to have placed, that is their business. It is not his responsibility should they die while doing so. The relatives of the people who have died, and those who have spent considerable time and effort, seem to largely agree.

The gold coins, jade figurines, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and gold nuggets that Fenn claims are buried somewhere in the Rockies are supposedly worth about two million. The people who spend many hours of lives looking for this treasure seem to have no regrets, nor does Fenn, despite the deaths.

As a Libertarian I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to choose to spend their time looking for this treasure despite the potential dangers. I also think it’s not a legal issue if he chose to place the Fenn Treasure in a hidden location. Now, that being said, I think it’s a bad idea. Fenn has largely instigated the events that led to people dying, but the deaths are entirely the responsibility of the searchers. They chose to look for the treasure. They well understand Fenn might be lying. People lie all the time, it’s not illegal to lie.

Fenn receives nothing from those who waste their time searching for the potentially non-existent treasure. He has written a book on the subject and people have purchased it, but no one is being forced to buy the book or to spend their time searching for the treasure. That is their own decision, foolish as it might be.

People do stupid things all the time. I might relate my own story involving a dark-haired vixen at the gym whom I recently pursued to no avail but I shall remain silent. There is no law against being stupid and that is a good thing. It is exactly when the government tries to save us from our own idiocy that we run into significant issues. It’s just not the government’s job to stop us from doing dumb things, that is up to us.

To my way of thinking it is situations exactly like this that lead to government overreach and with the willing help of We the People. It’s tragic that Fenn has either placed the treasure or lied about doing so because it led other people to die. He is undeniably irresponsible. On the other hand, many people have gone searching for the treasure and had fine adventures without hurting themselves physically and probably gaining some benefit from the time spent exercising outdoors.

When it comes to personal liberty there is always a tradeoff in safety. Freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Should there be laws against doing what Fenn did?

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Tom Liberman

Chinese Casino Owns Saipan

Saipan CasinoA company claiming to be a Chinese casino purveyor completely owns and largely operates the United States island of Saipan. The total corruption of government is something that happens in foreign countries, not in the United States of America, or so you thought.

Saipan is Commonwealth of the United States. This means it operates under United States law. Well, at least it did until a Chinese company called Imperial Pacific moved into town. They claim to own and operate casinos although they are really a money laundering organization. Wealthy Chinese citizens fly to Saipan, turn in enormous sums of yuan currency, play the tables for a few days winning or losing small amounts, and then collect their money in dollars, euros, or sterling. This allows them to take their money out of China, where it might be seized by the communist government at any moment, and transfer it to banks throughout the world where it less likely to be stolen. The middle people take their cut and that share has completely corrupted the government of Saipan.

The problem is they need the support of the local government in order to make this happen. Before the casino was finished, it still isn’t in full operation, it was doing about $2 billion a month in transactions. Imperial Pacific pays $15 million a year to the local government and has hired former U.S. Governors and high-level FBI and CIA officials to front its operations. These are merely bribes to ensure they can continue their operations without legal oversight. Lawmakers in Saipan have changed any number of laws in order to accommodate Imperial Pacific’s various schemes. The families of the leading politicians are all on the payroll one way or another, construction projects, zoning plans, land deals, etc.

The casino itself was built in an unsafe way by undocumented workers, all because the politicians of Saipan and their friends in the United States willfully turned, and continue to turn, a blind eye. There’s money to be made, after all.

That’s the moral of the story. Never has the world been so awash in money, enormous sums. When people try to resist this avalanche of cash they are simply ignored or punished. The only people who get ahead are those on the take. Government is swept away in the wave.

You might think the United States is immune to the malign influence of corruption, graft, and bribery. Those days are over. Wealthy democracies are slowly succumbing to this influence. Those who worship money are quickly coming into positions of power the world over.

What’s at stake? Your freedom.

Tom Liberman

Jail for Baptizing Baby Misleading Headline

The headline reads: North Carolina mother jailed for baptizing 2-year-old daughter. The reality is quite different. Kendra Stocks was jailed for violating a court order that gave the baby’s father final say in legal custody decisions including those of a religious nature.

Stocks was specifically told by the judge not to have the Baptism without the father present. The two are engaged in a custody battle over the baby. She went ahead and did it anyway. Now she’s in jail.

I would hope nobody has a problem with it.


Blue Apron or Food Stamps?

food stampsPresident Trump is apparently championing an effort to change the way food stamps are allocated to people in the United States who cannot afford to feed themselves and I wanted to examine this from a Libertarian point of view. The current program distributes food stamps which can be used to purchase a variety of products although there are limits on the type of food that is allowed to be bought. The proposal is to replace this system with ingredients which are then prepared by the recipient, in the style of Blue Apron.

I suspect the reason this proposal is being considered is the perception people who are getting food stamps use them on wasteful items like processed foods such as chips or on expensive items like steak, rather than using them for staple items. This perception is largely incorrect although not particularly relevant to my objections.

There is certainly a visceral appeal to the idea of providing simple ingredients using healthy options to the people who use food stamps. I also agree it is probably healthier for many of those who get food stamps. There are a number of problems with this plan although I’d like to focus on a single one. The plan assumes government knows better what foods people should eat than the individuals themselves.

While government might be right in some instances, it is a classic example of the arrogance of those who promote a beneficent and intrusive government. We know what is better for you than you do, just trust us to put the right things in the food and don’t worry about anything else, we’ll take care of you.

Now, there are other issues. It is certainly more expensive to contract this work out and where billions of dollars of government contracts are in play there is inevitable corruption. There is no doubt the companies who receive the bids to provide the food will end up skimping on ingredients and hurting some people. Still, with that said, my objections are purely Libertarian.

Government should not be the one to make decisions about what you eat. Even if you are poor, cannot afford to purchase your own food, and must rely on government help, that does not give a bureaucrat the right to make such decisions for you.

Personally, I think the existing restrictions on food stamps should be removed. If people want to purchase chips, candy, and steak with their government allotted stamps, that’s their choice. Certainly, it is a bad selection that has negative impact on the family in question, but it is their choice.

While this particular cause will most likely be championed by so-called conservatives, it is really extremely liberal. It is big government, just one with which conservatives happen to agree. This apparent paradox is quite consistent with what I observe about our current political divide. Principles mean nothing, it is simply a matter of what is expedient to whichever party you imagine is on your side.

When we cede power to government over the individual we slowly erode our freedom. Do you agree with government deciding on the food we eat? Even if it doesn’t affect you but simply the poor people who, for whatever reason, are dependent on government aid?

Tom Liberman

Is a Diamond a Diamond?

diamondCompanies have been able to manufacture diamonds through industrial processes since the 1950s but with advances in technology it is now possible to create a diamond that is equivalent to those found in nature in all respects except, perhaps, resale price. These grown diamonds are significantly cheaper than their naturally occurring counterparts and their share of the market is increasing, much to the chagrin of those companies who sell found diamonds.

I think it’s an interesting study in human behavior because found diamonds and their grown competition are essentially identical from a practical respect. Yet, I imagine most people are so enamored with the illusion of a real diamond they would, if they had the financial wherewithal, generally purchase the more expensive version.

Let me be honest, I find the entire diamond industry to be largely artificial. Diamonds are not particularly rare but for a long time the companies that mine them kept enormous numbers in warehouses to create scarcity. In addition, those same companies launched successful advertising campaigns which promoted the idea of their value. I have no problem with either of these tactics, no one is forcing anyone to purchase an overly expensive rock. I just don’t plan on shelling out a bunch of money for a diamond.

That being said, I’m in the minority as far as this goes. Diamonds are considered an almost necessary declaration of love between a couple. The giving of diamonds from one person to another is considered of great importance in matters of romance. This is why people pay large sums for relatively common sized stones.

It’s also no surprise established diamond companies would like to convince people the grown stones are not equivalent to those found. Those companies producing the grown diamonds are quite interested in overcoming this perception. This is business and all quite normal.

I don’t have any great insight into this issue. I don’t really know if grown diamonds will eventually completely usurp their found counterparts or if the industry will continue to distinguish one as better than the other. Possibly diamonds will simply lose most of their value as people don’t find them useful in matters of the heart anymore. I don’t know, I just find the entire situation interesting from both a marketing standpoint and that of human psychology.

For those of my readers who actually have something more than an emotionless, pea-sized, black, barely beating heart; if you had enough money would you purchase the more expensive found diamond over the grown diamond despite their being molecularly the same?

Would you pay more for a "found" diamond?

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Tom Liberman

Lady Friendly Doritos and why a Gender Trend is not Sexism

DoritosPepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi recently gave an interview in which she noted market research indicated men and women generally have different habits when eating Doritos, a snack made by the company. She said the company planned to release products that catered toward the eating habits of women. Social Justice Warriors Triggered!

How dare a company market a product designed specifically for men or for women besides, say, tampons and jockstraps. What unbridled sexism to suggest research indicates women generally don’t like to lick their fingers of the Dorito residue or pour the crumbly remnants of the bag directly into their mouth.

The problem is groups of people do perform tasks differently, eat particular foods, and otherwise differ from one another for a variety of reasons including gender. If PepsiCo has done market research indicating certain Dorito eating trends in women then promoting a product to that gender’s preferences makes sense. What it doesn’t mean is all women eat Doritos in a particular way. That’s the gist of all the tumult. An angry female says: I’m a woman and I do like to lick my fingers of the Dorito residue. I’m a woman and I enjoy pouring the crumbs from the bag into my mouth.

No one at PepsiCo is telling you how to eat your Doritos. They are simply creating and marketing a product toward particular trends their research indicates. They discovered a certain percentage of women don’t eat Doritos because their fingers get sticky and they don’t like leaving the crumbs behind but are unwilling to pour them directly into their mouths. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do these things just as I’m sure there are plenty of men who don’t like sticky fingers and crumbs.

Let’s imagine the research indicated 70% of women don’t like to eat Doritos in the way described. With there being about 300 million people in the United States and approximately 150 million of them being women that suggests 45 million women out there do not meet the trend. That’s a lot of ladies. It also means about 105 million of them behave as the marketing indicates. Now, I’m making up the 70% figure but let’s work with that for the sake of argument.

What PepsiCo has found is their product is unappealing to 105 million women because of the sticky residue and crumbly product. They want to target that large group of people, who happen to be mostly women. Is that wrong? Is that sexism? Is that terrible and awful? I say absolutely not. I say it’s finding a market and making a product that appeals to it. That’s smart business, not sexism.

No one is saying all women eat Doritos in a particular way or that all women are dainty and all men are rough. It is impossible to deny there are differences in women and men. Savvy companies use those tendencies to market their product to specific segments of society. Does anyone deny certain television shows and movies appeal more toward women than men and vice versa? Does this mean all women love Chick Flicks and hate Action Movies? Does it mean men don’t like Chick Flicks? No. I think Steel Magnolias is a great movie but I love The Right Stuff and Fight Club as well. It’s a tendency, not a sexist agenda.

Men and women are unalike in some respects and their respective preferences in eating Doritos might just be one of those differences. That’s a fact whether you like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Will Study Disproving Fish Oil Health Benefits Dissuade Believers?

fish oilA study involving 78,000 people shows taking Fish Oil supplements does nothing to prevent heart attacks or in any way reduce heart disease. No surprise there. The American Heart Association came to similar conclusions in a study last year. That being said, I’m fairly confident the study will almost certainly not change the purchasing habits of the almost 21% of United States citizens. Why?

A quick perusal of the internet shows me that a bottle of the pills can cost as little as $10 and as much as $40. Why would anyone continue to make the purchases when there is clear, empirical evidence they are completely ineffective? There are a number of reasons including something called Confirmation Bias but what I’d like to discuss today is the role pride has in all of this.

Pride seems to drive any number of poor decisions. By concluding all the money spent on fish oil supplements over the years was wasted, we are admitting a certain level of stupidity. There has long been a great deal of skepticism about supplements in general and fish oil in particular. It is quite likely most of the people taking fish oil supplements have been spoken to by friends and family expressing doubt about the efficacy of the product. The women and men taking it, and spending money on it, over the years have almost certainly defended the practice.

Many aficionados have likely read about the supposed benefits of fish oil touted by the manufacturers and decided to believe these claims despite the skeptics. There is some sense of their own self-worth tied up in taking the supplements.
This pride will be manifestly displayed in people who continue to take fish oil pills even after being confronted with incontrovertible evidence of their ineffectiveness. What does this tell us? It suggests that Pride is indeed one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

The entire thing is really just an interesting study in human nature. We don’t like to be wrong and when I say we, I include myself. That being said, it is important to attempt to engage your critical thinking skills as much as possible when presented with information of this nature. If you take fish oil supplements, take a moment to consider the implications of the test. Take a few seconds to think about alerting your like-minded friends that the benefits do not exist, that taking the pills is not helpful to your health or to your financial future.

It is only when we can take our pride out of the equation that we can hope to make better decisions.
And to finish things up, an informal poll. If twenty percent of people in the United States are at this time taking fish oil supplements then certainly a few people that read this article will be among them. Will this study, and the one’s the preceded it, dissuade you from future purchases?

What is your take on Fish Oil Supplements

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Tom Liberman