Tipping is Taxes at best Stealing at Worst

Tipping is taxes

I just read an interesting article about how little restaurant workers are paid and it reminded me that tipping is taxes. I’m not certain exactly how tipping at restaurant became ubiquitous in the United States but I suspect it was nefarious from the beginning.

The article in question details how a waitress at a restaurant got a paycheck for $9.28 after working for seventy hours. That’s quite a bit below what the government considers her lowest possible wage of $2.13 an hour but apparently taxes reduced her paycheck from $150.81 to the aforementioned amount. She posted the article to illustrate why you should tip your waitstaff when dining out. I have a different take.

Tipping is Taxes on you

When you tip, you are paying a tax. The tax is simply the restaurant’s way of charging you less for the food up front by paying their employees ridiculously low wages. The wages for restaurant employees are so low that no one would do the job if it wasn’t for tips. Working for that pathetic a wage is simply not a feasible alternative.

At some point someone got the idea we should tip restaurant workers. As I said, I suspect it was a restaurant owner who simply didn’t want to pay workers a reasonable wage. We think of tipping as a way to compliment the staff for their service but it is merely a tax, and a big one at that. One the state and community doesn’t track. Every time you pay twenty percent extra, or more, for dining out, you are paying a tax.

You Pay Taxes on the Food Too!

Not only do you pay a tax to cover the cost of employing the staff but you also pay the government a tax to eat the food. The restaurant owner forces you to pay for their staff and then the government swoops in and gets a cut as well.

I’ve written before that I’m not opposed to taxes altogether. The government collected money from citizens to build the roads leading to the restaurant and to create the infrastructure bringing utilities to the restaurant. I don’t mind this, that’s all well and good. What I mind is paying the staff. That’s the job of the restaurant. Do I tip when I shop anywhere else?

Not only is Tipping Taxes but it’s Essentially Theft

Basically, the restaurant is stealing from the employee every time the total income is less than what the market would bear if wages were based on work rather than tips. It’s the restaurant’s way of not paying their employees.

When tips exceed the normal payment of such an employee then the restaurant is stealing from you. You are essentially overpaying the staff for the food you got. That is a determination that belongs solely to the employer, not the customer.

Stop Tipping and Start Paying a Competitive Wage

People get all angry when a new tax is floated by the government but we pay a huge rate for simply sitting down to eat food.

Naturally, if restaurants pay a fair wage to keep good employees, the cost of eating at the restaurant will go up. That’s the price of doing business. You pay your employees their worth and if you still make a profit, you stay in business. That’s capitalism.

Conclusion

Tipping is not capitalism, it’s a tax. It’s not even a stealthy, hidden tax that we don’t notice. We all know about it. Many of us pay it although some people don’t tip at all. I don’t think anyone should tip. Pay your employees their worth and charge me accordingly.

Tom Liberman

Prime Time Sellout or Business as Usual

Prime Time Sellout

Is it a Prime Time Sellout for Deion Sanders to take the head coaching job at the University of Colorado or is it just business as usual in the college football world? It’s an interesting question that depends largely on how you define the word sellout.

Deion Sanders was, until recently, the head coach at Jackson State University where he compiled an excellent record and won two championships in the role. He just took the job at Colorado which as a Power Five Conference member means a big jump in salary for Prime Time.

A lot of people are angry at Deion for taking the job and consider it a Prime Time Sellout. What do I think? Let’s discuss.

What is a Prime Time Sellout?

The first question we must ask ourselves is how do we define a sellout? Is it simply someone who take a lucrative job over a lower-paying job which is perhaps a worse fit? If that’s the case then, clearly, it’s a Prime Time sellout.

If, on the other hand, a sellout is defined as someone backing away from their principles because they got offered a lot of money, then it’s a bit different. We have to figure out what it is that Sanders holds dear and whether or not he has betrayed those ideals.

What are Deion’s Principles?

The man’s nickname is Prime Time. That suggests quite a bit. It means he wants to be on the big stage and earn money for doing so. If we judge Sanders by this simple test then it’s clear he is absolutely not a sellout, in fact, he’s holding true to his principles. He has always grabbed for the spotlight with both hands and this is just another manifestation of that personality trait.

The Job at Jackson State

However, a nickname does not define a man. When Sanders left his lucrative commentary gigs to become the Head Coach at Jackson State he did so with a social agenda. Jackson State is a one of the Historically Black Colleges and University that dot the nation’s south. They exist because discriminatory policies often prevented black students from entering colleges and universities, particularly in the south.

When segregation finally came to an end and particularly when the big colleges around the country realized black athletes were the way to success, HBCUs fell on hard times athletically. The schools once proud tradition of excellence in athletic competitions began to wain as the best athletes went elsewhere.

When Sanders arrived, he pointedly addressed this problem, talking about the complete lack of funding for these schools. I’ve discussed how money makes a huge difference in athletics before and Sanders echoed my sentiments on this subject when he arrived at Jackson State.

If Sanders believed his words and his mission to elevate Jackson State along with the rest of the HCBUs, then his move to Colorado is truly a Prime Time sellout.

Conclusion

Where do I stand on the subject? I do think Deion meant what he said, or at least believed he meant it, when he took the job at Jackson State. He truly did want to elevate the school and highlight the shocking difference between athletes of wealthy Power Five Conferences and those schools with less money.

I also think the nickname Prime Time and his behavior off the field; including a reality show and a number of other appearances on television shows is indicative of a man who chases money first and foremost.

Is Deion a Prime Time Sellout? I say no. He’s just exhibiting behavior inline with what I’d expect from him. If I believed what he said when he took the Jackson State job and invested time and effort with him to elevate the school, well, then I’d be a bit pissed and I get those who feel betrayed.

What do you think?

Is Deion Sanders a Prime Time Sellout?

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Tom Liberman

The Christmas Hiking Dilemma

Christmas Hiking

I just read an interesting article about Christmas Hiking that illustrates a difficult problem. Basically, a family always goes on a Christmas Hiking trip but the son’s new girlfriend isn’t comfortable or capable of managing the trail.

The question in the article is whether mom is wrong to insist on going Christmas Hiking anyway or whether everyone should stay home. Read the article to get the entire story and the alternatives mom offered, I think she’s in the right, but that’s not really what I want to discuss today.

Group activities can be a real pain and it’s not always easy to come up with an equitable solution.

My Group Hiking Experiences

I don’t want to focus solely on Christmas Hiking or even hiking in general but it is a good example to illustrate the problem. Any group activity is going to have more and less skilled participants.

Hiking is an extremely good example of this because it’s not something you can just quit in the middle and call it a day. Once you’re two miles down the trail, it’s two miles back home. A person who is struggling can’t just sit down and say they’re done.

I’ve been on longer and more difficult hikes where one or several people simple cannot keep up with those who regularly partake in the activity. Those people start to walk slower and fall behind. The faster hikers now feel inconvenienced because they too must slow down or even take the cutoff route and shorten the hike.

However, the people who can’t keep up also feel terrible. They think they’re holding everyone else up and ruining the experience for the rest of the group. When they arrive at the cutoff, they don’t want to force everyone else to shorten the hike so they try to soldier on. The body can only take so much. I’ve been on some pretty long and strenuous hikes; I’ve seen people suffering and it’s not a great situation.

What’s the Solution?

There really is no perfect solution. What’s best is if people don’t feel so much pressure to do things or not do things. Try to find hikes with cutoffs and encourage people to take them without guilt. Bring some food and beverages to leave at the car so those who take the short route have something to do when they finish early.

For those of us who like a brisk pace and a long hike, don’t get so bent out of shape for taking it more slowly. It really doesn’t matter all that much if you finish in three hours or five. Enjoy the scenery and the company. I don’t advise hiking drunk but a sip of whiskey while sitting on a rock waiting for the others isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. Yes, sometimes I do take along a bottle, got a problem with that?

Conclusion about Christmas Hiking

The big thing is communication and compromise. Make sure there is a shorter route if you’re worried about your ability to finish the hike. Take the short trail twice and enjoy it if you’re hardcore. Life isn’t about getting your way all the time. Be it Christmas Hiking or just a general group activity, try to be flexible and don’t feel so guilty when you can’t do something. Let the others go on, enjoy what you can manage.

P.S. Buy a good pair of hiking boots, worth every penny.

Tom Liberman

Chris Pratt as Mario Incites Rage

Chris Pratt as Mario

In case you’ve been living under a rock or aren’t a complete nerd like me, I’ll let you know the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie is causing quite a controversy. Casting in movies creating drama is something I’ve spoken about in the past.

Daniel Craig as James Bond, Tom Cruise as Lestat, a plethora of culturally inappropriate casting decisions over the years, and now Chris Pratt as Mario. In this case the drama is more akin to the Cruise/Lestat controversy in that Pratt as Mario doesn’t seem to be a good fit. Let’s talk about it.

Charles Martinet

When we discuss whether a role is cast properly it’s often important to take into account how beloved is the character in question. When it comes to nerd love, Mario is near the top of the list. Many people, including myself, have fond memories of playing various Mario games over the years and the iconic voice actor Charles Martinet.

Martinet voiced Mario in the debut of the series way back in 1992 and his portrayal is, I say this not lightly, beloved. Martinet chose a light-hearted, fun-loving, and friendly interpretation for Mario. He deliberately didn’t take on a heavy Italian accent for the part. It wasn’t until the hugely successful 1996 Super Mario 64 hit the stores that he became famed for the role but he remained so for the rest of his life.

Pratt as Mario

I think it’s safe to say people were skeptical of Pratt’s ability to perform as Mario from the beginning; but it was the first trailer for the movie that really set people off. Pratt chose a more stereo-typical Italian accent and inflection and people were not happy.

It’s not only that Pratt went a different direction than Martinet but also he still largely sounds like Chris Pratt as Mario, not Mario. That’s not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with taking a character in a new direction, just that it’s clear Pratt does not sound like the Mario people are used to hearing.

There are also some dubs of the trailer in other languages where the voice actors sound not only more like the original portrayed by Martinet but also just a bit more natural and fun-loving. Pratt seems a little stilted compared to the other characters.

Video Game Fanatics

People love Mario. They love the voice of Mario. We are talking about people’s beloved childhood memories. Pratt as Mario finds himself in a difficult to succeed position. I don’t envy him and it took some courage to take the job.

That being said, video game fanatics are not going to lean back and pretend indifference here. For all the criticism on the two trailers, there are many who are willing to give Pratt a chance and wait for the release.

Bad Casting

Is Pratt as Mario simply bad casting? That’s a question not so easily answered. I do think Pratt is a stretch in the role but he is an A-list Hollywood actor and that brings in ticket sales. Was Tom Cruise a bad choice for Lestat? Many fans of the books will rail against him to their dying day but he brought in ticket sales and that’s an important consideration in casting. Will people who have no interest in Mario and the games come to the movie simply because Pratt is one of the voice actors? I think the answer to that is clearly yes.

Conclusion

Is Pratt as Mario a terrible decision? It kind of depends on the movie. If the movie is good, and the trailers do look deliciously fun and in the spirit of the games, then all will be well. If the movie is terrible, Pratt will not unreasonably be offered up as the scapegoat.

I think the criticisms are reasonable although perhaps overly impassioned. I will say this, I hope Pratt is great in the role. I hope he proves the doubters wrong. Not because I particularly like Pratt but because I like good entertainment. If Pratt is good, if the movie is good, then I get great entertainment.

Where do you stand?

Chris Pratt as Mario. Good or bad?

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Tom Liberman

Gambling is a Problem for a Libertarian

Gambling

I’ve written on the topic of gambling numerous times over the years and generally from the perspective of a Libertarian. That is to say, it’s your money and how you choose to spend it is up to you.

That being said, I’ve seen the destructive potential inherent in gambling from when I worked in the golf industry. Even then I thought the problem so wide-spread and influential on young golfers that I made a point not to gamble just to be a possible role-model.

Gambling in the United States is now easily accessible to just about everyone. Casinos are everywhere. Video games have Loot Boxes. Smart phones give access to betting games at all times of the day and night. Problem Gambling is an incredibly destructive addiction and, with greater access to gambling, more people are affected.

What’s a Libertarian to say about Gambling?

In various blogs on the subject my position is fairly clear. The government should not be in the business of enforcing gambling bans and putting people in prison for gambling. If people want to gamble, they will find a way and the prohibitions only create black markets and misery.

I also think government shouldn’t be facilitating gambling. Government should tax gambling houses in the same way it collects revenue from any other store. The rational being the government provides roads, utilities, and other things necessary for the operation of the store. The only special tax on gambling should be used to fund treatment facilities.

State run lotteries are antithetical to my understanding of how government should operate. They should not exist.

Problem Gambling

The reason I’m writing this article is the increase in problem gambling. It’s a serious problem. Gambling addiction is real and it destroys lives. The greater access we have to gambling, the more lives are destroyed.

Prior to 1979, gambling was largely in the hands of the states and quite restricted. With the advent of Native American Gaming, that all changed. Soon lotteries followed, video poker, sports gambling, and more.

As a child, I remember reading the raffle games rules on the back of cereal boxes. Not valid in Missouri was often in the footer text. Such games were illegal in my state. Not anymore, not by a long-shot.

I’m not going to try to pretend because I’m a Libertarian and support legal gambling that it’s all wine and roses. It’s not. It’s a big problem and growing fast. It’s likely you know a problem gambler, I’ve known a few over the years.

What’s a Libertarian to do?

Where does that leave me? Should I change my mind and support prohibitions on gambling? Can I just pretend the people who suffer terribly in part because I advocated for gambling don’t exist? That their problems are not my fault, not my business?

My position is not simple or easy. As I’ve mentioned before, I think Critical Thinking skills must be taught to children starting at the earliest levels of education and reinforced every year thereafter. These lessons must include the basic principles of gambling. How it affects the human mind, the methods used to entice gamblers.

Biology classes should discuss the release of Serotonin and Dopamine into the human brain and why some people are much more likely to become addicts.

Treatment

Facilities for treating gambling addiction are on the rise, as can be expected, and that’s a good thing. As I mentioned above, I don’t think it unreasonable to have added taxes on gambling to fund these places.

Conclusion

I don’t think banning gambling works and I’m strongly opposed to the government funding itself from gambling. Banning gambling means those who are capable of doing it responsibly cannot do something they enjoy.

The only real solution is not a complete solution at all. It relies on educating people to the potential dangers, giving them the information they need, and then trusting those individuals to make good decisions.

Will this solve problem gambling? No. People will still make bad decisions. Brain chemistry will still bring on addictions. People will suffer and partially because I advocate legal gambling. I bear some responsibility for this enormous problem and that’s why I say gambling is a problem for a Libertarian.

Tom Liberman

Teacher Sex with not Student

Teacher Sex at William Hulme school

I just read about an interesting teacher sex case involving a not student. It touches on a lot of issues that I find important as a Libertarian. Normally these teacher sex cases are fairly straight forward. The teacher, in a position of trust, has sexual relations with an underage student. Pretty easy to see the problem there. That’s not the case this time.

In this situation the student is not a student at all but a former student and past the age of consent. The William Hulme Grammar school teaches children all the way from the beginning of schooling to the age of eighteen.

The Teacher Sex Case

The student in question left the school at some point before the sexual relationship began. That being said, it is indicated the teacher and student had a close, but non-sexual, relationship while the student was enrolled.

After the student left the school, the two stayed in contact and went out to local pubs on occasion. Eventually they spent an evening together at a hotel although the teacher in question denies any sexual relationship. The student indicates that she or he, no name is given, spent the night in the hotel and the two had sex twice.

The administrators at the William Hulme school decided this was unprofessional behavior by the teacher, despite the other party being of legal age and not being enrolled at the school, and fired the teacher. The Teaching Regulation Agency suspended the teacher who is now barred from teaching for five years but can then appeal the decision.

What does this Libertarian Think?

I’m pretty much in total agreement with all events. I’m certain the teacher did nothing legally wrong and the fact criminal charges were never filed in this teacher sex scandal is correct. The young person was of legal age when the alleged sex occurred and not a student.

That being said, the circumstances of the case bring the teacher’s judgment into question. The idea of grooming is real and dangerous. I think the regulatory agency within their rights to suspend the teacher and I think the William Hulme school had every right to fire him.

Conclusion

That being said, I do think there are plenty of situations when a teacher can have sex with a former student without repercussions. Imagine a teacher who has a favorite student, sends that student off to higher education, ten years later the student returns and the two begin an adult, mutually consensual relationship. I don’t think the school, the regulatory body, or the law has any right to argue they know better than the two adults.

That’s one of the reasons I’m largely against zero-tolerance rules. It’s important to take in the totality of the particular situation before passing judgement.

Look at the circumstances of the situation, assess them as is best possible, come to the most equitable solution. That’s all we can ever do.

Tom Liberman

Shut up and Dribble at the World Cup

shut up and dribble

Do you think players in the 2022 World Cup should shut up and dribble? Are you of the opinion they must speak their minds about the problematic nature of Qatar in regards to human rights? It’s an interesting question for a Libertarian like myself.

Shut up and Dribble is a phrase largely associated with the idea athletes should not speak their minds about political situations. That she or he is good at sports and should stick to that particular topic. Other people think that they must use their platform to speak out against injustices.

Naturally, I disagree with both sides in this particular issue. Let me tell you why.

The Situation in Qatar

The 2022 World Cup is being held in Qatar; awarded the right to do so not because they are a futbol loving nation but simply because the leaders of the country allegedly bribed the FIFA officials. FIFA cleared themselves in the probe but other entities performed independent investigations supporting the bribery conclusion. It is likely not the first time FIFA officials took money to vote for a particular nation to host.

The leaders of Qatar did this almost certainly for the purpose of showcasing their country to the world. They took land from indigenous people in order to build the stadiums and employed foreigners in what is not unfairly described as slave labor to build them.

Qatar is an Islamic country which uses Sharia law as their legal doctrine. Drinking alcohol is a crime. Being a homosexual is a crime. Not believing in God is a crime. Men are allowed to marry multiple women. Women are largely second-class citizens. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of reasons for people to be angry about the location of the World Cup and many players are among those who do.

Shut up and Dribble or not?

Some athletes participating in the World Cup wanted to wear armbands in protest but were threatened with punishment for doing so. Other athletes in the World Cup simply want to play the game and try to win.

Those athletes who speak up get criticized while those remaining silent face equal criticism. The people on both sides of this debate tend to be fairly vociferous and certain of their opinion.

Any player who stands up and speaks, or otherwise acts to point out the problems in Qatar, is completely out of line. They play a game and get paid to do so. They have no right to criticize the way another country runs itself.

Every player who even goes to the tournament is tacitly agreeing with the policies of Qatar. They agree all but enslaving people to build the stadiums is perfectly acceptable. A nation that makes women second-class citizens is just dandy.

Do as You Will

I’m of the opinion neither one of those attitudes toward the players is accurate. I think players must decide themselves. I fully support any player who speaks or acts out against the nation of Qatar for ethical failures. If an evangelical Christian player spoke out against the polygyny, I’d support that player. Likewise, if an African player spoke out against the labor practices that resulted in the building of the stadiums, I’d support that player.

If another player is there just to play football, or even supports the Qatari regime, it is that player’s business.

Am I a Shut and Dribble Guy?

Another question that comes to mind is what I might do in a similar situation. It’s easy to sit here at the keypad and think I’d speak out or even refuse to play. I strongly condemn the taking of land from the people, the all but enslaving of laborers, and the Sharia law legal system. I’m 58 years old now and it’s hard to remember twenty-something year old Tom and what he might do.

I’m not sure what I’d do under similar circumstances. I do know I applaud those athletes who choose to speak up. It’s their future. There are possible repercussions for doing so. I also know that I don’t blame those who choose to just shut up and dribble.

Conclusion

The group of people I do get mad at are those who harshly judge the players, one way or the other. I think they are under a huge amount of pressure in both directions. It’s the world we live in now. Social Media, news, social conscience.

In the end, the player, coach, trainer or anyone else associated with the team gets to decide on their own. Speaking out is great and I applaud those who do. Those who chose not to speak out, I don’t agree with your silence but I don’t condemn you for it.

Tom Liberman

Magpie Murders is Masterful Entertainment

Magpie Murders

I spend much time writing bad reviews and not enough writing positive blogs about the shows I watch. Today is a joy because I get to discuss the magnificent Magpie Murders. Don’t call it The Magpie Murders. It’s important, so get it right.

Magpie Murders is a television mystery series on PBS Masterpiece and based on a novel of the same name by Anthony Horowitz. The mysteries are finding out who murdered the man writing the Magpie Murders murder mystery and how the book itself ends. A mystery of a mystery. Let’s get on with the review.

A Complex Story

The story of Magpie Murders is relatively simple but incredibly complex from a writing perspective. There are really two mysteries going on at the same time with two completely different sets of characters. First is the death of murder mystery writer Alan Conway and second is the missing last chapter of his latest book, Magpie Murders.

The two mysteries run side by side with fictional Atticus Pund attempting to solve the fictional case while very real literary editor Susan Ryeland tries to solve the former. I can only begin to express my admiration for this dual storytelling and the aplomb with which it is achieved. Telling one story is difficult enough but switching back and forth between two mysteries, one a fictional account from the victim of the second, is a recipe for complete confusion and disaster.

It all comes together thanks to the wonderful acting, directing, writing, set-design, camera work, and everything else involved in a production of this nature.

Who Dunnit?

The essence of a mystery is trying to figure out who committed the crime, or crimes in this case. One of the most important things in a mystery, from my perspective, is making sure the author doesn’t cheat us. The clues must be available and, although we don’t usually solve it, when revealed we should nod our heads and say, yep, that makes sense.

In both cases the solution fits the crime and clues were available to us. There is a little montage during great reveals showing us various flashbacks, which is a nice touch considering the two different stories did tend to blend together in my mind. Normally I don’t need quite as much prompting from a show but I think this story merited the review.

There’s even some anagram wordplay, which I find to be badly overused these days, but it’s important to the story and works in this case.

The Acting

Excellent acting all the way around. From the main character to the bit players. I believed everyone in the story from beginning to end and special mention to Tim McMullin as Atticus Pund who traverses both realities, the fictional mystery and the real-world crime, with amazing compassion and serenity.

Many of the actors played dual roles, being one character in the scenes depicting events from the novel and a second in the world of Susan Ryeland and Alan Conway. Despite being the same actor they all manage to differentiate their characters easily and understandably to the audience. Outstanding work.

The Sets

The sets, as is often the case in English drama, are fantastic. I’m going to make one comparison here because the second season of Miss Scarlet runs right before Magpie Murders on PBS. If you read my review of Miss Scarlet, you’ll know my thoughts on that subject so I’m not going too in depth.

Signage. The signs on the establishments in the world of Magpie Murders look real, believable, you barely even notice them. From modern signs in the world of Susan Ryeland to mid twentieth century signs in the fictional realm. The signs in Miss Scarlet look slap-dash and out of place. It’s little things like this that make a difference. The people in charge of Magpie Murders care and it shows.

Cinematography

We see lavish, modern mansion, squalid groundskeeper’s shacks, wide vistas, modern London, and more. The camera moves from disparate scenes with ease and this is no easy task. Shooting indoors and outdoors, so many sets, it’s not easy to make all that work but it does and it does so beautifully.

Conclusion

If you like a good mystery, I can’t recommend Magpie Murders enough. There’s hardly a wrong note in the entire six episodes. Bravo.

Tom Liberman

Full Movies on Twitter and Section 230

Full Movies on Twitter

There’s an interesting situation in regard to Full Movies on Twitter being posted without repercussion. I can’t pass an opportunity to discuss any situation at Twitter but, in full honesty, I absolutely find this a fascinating from a legal perspective. It’s not just a matter of me piling on.

Twitter and other Social Media websites are generally immune to being sued for the content posted on their platforms under Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code. What I find interesting is the number of people who think this section makes Twitter immune to fines in this situation.

I’m a bit of a legal buff but not a lawyer. Therefore, if any actual lawyers out there wish to correct me, please have at it!

Is Posting Full Movies on Twitter Illegal?

Absolutely. Those movies are owned by entities with copyrights. Anyone who posts something like that on Twitter is subject to prosecution. This usually ends up with users banned from the social media platform rather than fines but repeated offenses will land the offender in the courts.

Is Twitter in Legal Trouble for what Others Post?

Reading the first few stories on this developing situation there are a number of people citing Section 230 as a reason Twitter and Elon Musk as the owner are under no legal peril. I disagree. Now, Twitter is absolutely not responsible for what other people post, that’s true.

The Motion Picture Industry and others actively monitor Twitter and other social media platforms for copyright violations. These entities and their agents then make copyright strikes against the person posting the movie, song, or other copyrighted media.

Once the automated system sees a copyright strike, the content is generally removed until a full review can be managed. There are problems with this system as well; people can and do use copyright strikes as weapons against social media users they dislike rather than as legitimate complaints. Let’s not get into that today.

The problem here is the copyright strike system seems to be broken. So, the industry is fulfilling their legal obligation but Twitter is failing to remove the movies after the strike. I think this is a serious violation and could end in enormous fines. Copyright infringement has stiff penalties pushed through the legal system by the entertainment industry. Stiff. Real stiff. Large fines for each violation. Every violation. Tens of thousands of them, potentially millions. As long as the copyright strike system remains broken more and more violations are piling up every minute.

Conclusion

Posting full movies on Twitter is a violation by the user and not Twitter under Section 230. Failing to promptly act on copyright strikes is outside the scope of Section 230. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Twitter shut down at least temporarily.

Naturally, I could be wrong and invite those with actual legal expertise to correct my mistakes.

Tom Liberman

The Twitter lesson: Workers and Management

Twitter Lesson

There’s a Twitter lesson to learned and it involves both workers and management. A lot of my friends find delight in the apparent demise of Twitter and I can’t say I blame them. I find it an interesting opportunity to examine the relationship of workers and management to the success of a business endeavor.

It seems to me; most people are not learning the correct Twitter lesson. A large group of people blame Musk for the ongoing situation. A second group blames lazy workers not willing to put forth enormous effort to save the company. What’s the reality? Let this Libertarian answer all your questions.

Twitter’s Problems

In order to determine the appropriate Twitter lesson, we need to fully understand the difficulties the company faces. Twitter was never immensely profitable. It had a couple of good years where income exceeded expenses but it largely lost money. Now, add the enormous loans new owner Elon Musk must pay back and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the company is in deep trouble.

This being the case, the simplest solution in these situations is always to cut payroll. That means firing people. So many people the platform is barreling toward destruction. This solution means Musk must hope his remaining employees will do the jobs of two or more people while still earning their current salary.

I wrote about when this sort of expectation can work in an article about Reciprocity if you’d like to read that. I’m not going to discuss it further here.

What is the Twitter Lesson?

With one side calling workers lazy and the other blaming Musk for his business decision it seems like one of those two things must be the Twitter lesson, right? Wrong.

So many people want to blame lazy workers and so many people want to blame bad management. It’s the same when a business succeeds. Half the people want to give the credit to management for financing the operation, hiring the people, creating the business. A second group of people claim it is the workers who achieve the success. It is their efforts that build value.

The problem is both groups are right and wrong at the same time. The business owner who comes up with an idea, hires people, takes out loans, and builds a company should be lauded for this effort. It’s dangerous from a financial point of view and she or he should be praised. Meanwhile, the workers who buy into the vision and perform the day-to-day tasks are absolutely vital to success. Without them there is nothing.

This seems very obvious to me and I think most people, after reading this, will agree. Yet, before reading this, people eagerly and vocally assign all the credit to the owner or to the workers, ignoring the cooperation between the two groups required.

That’s the Twitter lesson. It’s workers and management that lead to success and to failure. Sure, in this case, Musk badly overvalued Twitter and took out a big enough loan that success became a near-impossible task.

Crony Capitalism

The entire situation is further complicated by the fact politicians now pass laws and extend financial aid to favor one company or attack another. This Crony Capitalism is something I’ve talked about elsewhere but it is part of the equation.

The reality is Musk’s previous ventures were largely financed by taxpayers. Government agencies gave him direct money and tax breaks. That fact plays no small part in what is happening today but is, perhaps, a topic for another day.

Conclusion

My conclusion is pretty simple. A business does not succeed or fail solely because of workers or management. Good managers and good executives value their employees’ contributions. Good employees recognize that management and executives want the business to succeed and often have to make difficult decisions.

Tom Liberman

White Boy does not know about Rap Snacks

Rap Snacks

Today I recount an interesting interaction centered around a bag of what looked to be delicious Rap Snack Salt and Vinegar Chips. I’ve written about my life of White Privilege and about the Social Divide between black and white people in the United States. Today I write about that divide in regards to snacks.

Snacks you ask? Yes, snacks. After today’s encounter, which I will detail below, I begin to wonder how many delicious snacks I’ve been missing out on.

Rap Snacks at the Hospital

I was waiting for my mother to get her blood drawn and overheard a nearby technician waxing poetic about her Salt and Vinegar chips. Now, readers, let me be clear. I love me some Salt and Vinegar chips. So, when I heard a fellow devotee of the delightful treat gushing, I interjected myself into the conversation.

We spoke for a few moments about our shared delight of Salt and Vinegar before I asked her about the brand. I did not recognize the branding on the bag as I normally get Kettle Salt and Vinegar Chips. She paused for a moment, looked at her fellow technicians, and then finally told me about Rap Snacks.

Let’s Talk about the Pause

Why did my fellow Salt and Vinegar chip enthusiast pause? I suspect it was because she was a black woman and I am a white man. She knew, or at least strongly suspected, I never heard of Rap Snacks and likely the stores I frequent won’t carry it.

What’s important to understand is she’s right, if that was indeed her thought process. Until that moment I never knew anything about Rap Snacks and I feel fairly confident they will not be on the shelves of my grocery store.

If you take a look at the image I’m using with this blog post, you’ll probably understand why I’ve never hard of Rap Snacks despite my love of all things Salt and Vinegar. I’m not exactly in the market demographic for Rap Snacks.

Expanding my Horizons

It’s a shame I’m not a targeted audience for the chips because if so, I’d almost certainly have purchased a bag. Will they be better than my normal Kettle Brand? Worse? Equal? I’m not sure one way or the other but I do know that I’m the worse for not knowing they were an option.

Now that I do know, I will go out of my way and purchase a bag. I’ll likely get them from Amazon or Target although I’m sorely tempted to drive the short distance to a store outside of my normal shopping range and purchase them there.

I wonder how much else I miss out on in life because of marketing biases. I’ll keep you informed when I manage to get my hands on a bag.

Happy Snacking!

Tom Liberman

Hard Work without Reciprocity at Twitter

Reciprocity

The fallout from the Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is all over the news and a story about Musk demanding hardcore work from his employees brought to my mind the concept of reciprocity.

The idea of reciprocity is fairly simple. If you do me a favor, I feel an obligation to return that favor. It’s sort of like a personal version of the Social Contract I wrote about a while back. In this case, Musk is asking his employees to work considerably harder, whatever that means, in order to save the company.

The Reactions

While reading comments, I found that reactions largely come in two flavors. The majority of people argue hard work is expected and if the employees don’t like it, tough. Get out. On the other hand, some argue that overworking your employees is not a recipe for a successful company.

Does Musk ask for Reciprocity without Giving it?

My thoughts are probably closer to the second group but my real problem with Musk’s ultimatum is simply the expectation of reciprocity. I’m of the opinion Musk has a long record of working his employees hard and taking more than the lion’s share of the profits for himself.

He fired nearly four thousand Twitter employees largely without bothering to even look at the work they do. He fired people without notice. He implemented policies that ended doing far more harm than good.

I see no evidence Musk will reward hard-working employees who work enormous hours of overtime. If, by some miracle, Twitter begins to turn a profit, Musk will take most of the money for himself.

Working Hard with Reciprocity

Don’t get me wrong. If you work for a struggling company and have confidence the owner will work with you, reward you for your efforts, pay you when profits return; I’m all for working extra hard. If you don’t believe your boss will do so, all you’re doing is giving the boss your money. Your time is money, your money, not the boss’s money. Yours. A boss who tells you that you must work extra hours without pay and doesn’t plan on giving you a reward at the end of the day is stealing from you.

Working Hard without Reciprocity

It’s hard for me to imagine anyone thinking Musk is the sort of person who gives reciprocity. He threatened the same work hard or go bankrupt scenario with SpaceX not long ago. He ran SolarCity into bankruptcy. The much-famed Hyperloop is now abandoned along with all the people who poured their hard work into it.

The Boring company is a mess. The Gigafactory in Germany is largely unable to start because of water issues of which he was warned, long in advance. I could go on.

Conclusion

I am not telling Twitter employees how to react to this offer. That’s their business. If they believe Musk will eventually reward them for working long hours, if they think said work can somehow save Twitter, have at it. They have families, obligations, quitting is not an easy thing to do.

I’m just saying, if you give something, the other party isn’t obligated to reciprocity. In this case, I wouldn’t expect it.

Tom Liberman

Who is your Daddy Identical Twin Child Support

Identical Twin Child Support

I just read a fascinating legal case recently adjudicated in Brazil and it brings up some interesting questions, for me at least. It involves identical twin child support payments. It seems a pair of brothers have long used their identical twin status to impersonate one another, particularly in regards to swapping sexual partners without the knowledge of the woman.

In any case, a girl was impregnated by one of them and a DNA test proves this but not which one. The judge ordered both the men to pay child support in lieu of a second, more refined test that only sometimes differentiates between identical twins.

The Legal Ramification of Identical Twin Child Support

The case is salacious and thus getting headlines in the news but what interests me is the more esoteric legal questions. If it is sometimes impossible to use DNA to differentiate between identical twins, then who is the criminal, or in this case, the father?

In the United States the standard for conviction is proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant has an identical twin and neither of them has alibis for the time of the crime, how am I to convict one or the other?

In the case of the identical twin child support, we know for a fact that a man who is not the father is now legally required to pay for the upbringing of the child. In the case of a murder or other crime, the punishment might well be years in prison.

What’s a juror to decide? What’s a judge to decide on appeal? Certainly, an appeal of any conviction is perfectly reasonable, I didn’t do it, it was my identical twin.

Wrongly Convicted

There are all sorts of expert witnesses who end up sending the wrong person to jail. I wrote years ago about how Blood Spatter Analysis is largely a bogus science and yet it still results in convictions.

In the case of DNA analysis, the chance for an unjust conviction is greatly reduced, which is a great thing. It’s not perfect and this case illustrates one of the problems.

I recognize the situation of the identical twin child support is quite rare in the annals of criminal law but I still find it fascinating.

Conclusion

If a case like this went to trial and you found yourself as a juror, what do you think is the correct resolution?

Who should go to prison if one, undetermined, identical twin commits a crime?

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Tom Liberman

The Great Microsoft Solitaire Kerfuffle

Microsoft Solitaire

Everyday Microsoft Solitaire has a competition. It can be anything from a quick five match free cell with easy and medium games to a massive thirty game adventure with Klondike, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, and Tri Peaks with multiple expert games. Hundreds of thousands of players compete each day.

There are no rewards but time spent playing each game is tracked and players are ranked in a local group of fifty and overall, against all competitors. There are little ribbons for finishing in the top three of your group and a special Red Room where the top 100 players in an event are displayed.

I belong to a Facebook Group dedicated largely to playing in these tournaments, listing performances, talking about the games, etc. We’ve had a major kerfuffle and it’s an interesting one, at least I think so.

Cheating in Microsoft Solitaire

As you might expect, there is cheating. People cheat in a variety of ways. The main way of cheating is simply to have multiple accounts so you can practice the game on one account and then play it through more quickly on your main account.

Some people take this to the extreme; recording a successful playthrough with software and then replaying all the moves in just a few seconds on their main account. As a quick example, I finished the recent Free Cell mini tournament of three easy and two medium games in 4:09 and won my group by over a minute. I’m a bit of a Free Cell fanatic.

The Red Room first place at this moment is 1:35 with over 115,000 people playing so far. This time is, naturally, impossible without computer aided play and will be bettered as the day goes on and more people use this method. I’ve seen the top finisher with a time below ten seconds for the entire event.

To get away from all the toxicity on the main Facebook Solitaire page where these cheaters are often unpleasant, the exclusive little solitaire Facebook group to which I belong was created.

Are you Going to get to the Point Soon, Tom?

Thank you for being patient as I’m finally at the crux of today’s article. There is cheating going on in my group. Horrors! The differentiating factor is the cheater is using computer software. People are up in arms. Should we banish the cheater? Should we give the cheater another chance? Biblical references are being tossed around. People are angry.

Now, to let you in on a little secret; other people in the group play with multiple accounts and practice before playing on their main account. Some simply use the secondary account to study the board for a period of time figuring out best play in their minds before starting on their main account. Some practice multiple times to ingrain the quickest way to finish.

So, who is cheating really? Are only the people using specialized software cheating? Is anyone with a second, or third and fourth account, cheating?

Who is the Cheater in Microsoft Solitaire and Why do We care?

For me, there are no rules, so no one is cheating. There isn’t an official Microsoft Solitaire rules committee that makes decisions and disqualifies people who don’t follow the non-existent rules. I’m well aware people in my group don’t play the way I play. Generally, I open up Microsoft Solitaire after I get back from the gym in the morning, start the tournament, and play through each game in order. I don’t prepare, I don’t examine, I play. Am I the Pure Player? The Good Guy? The Fairness Adjudicator?

Not really, it’s just how I play. How other people play is their own business. I recognize my time is never going to be faster than those who play differently than me. I don’t worry about comparing my time with them or anyone for that matter. I get satisfaction from playing my best. I get frustrated when I play badly.

If someone in my group wants to use computer assist to get incredibly fast times, that’s their business. Now, does it annoy me slightly when he or she post all her or his fast times and brags about it? Sure. I’m not Perfect Tommy yet, but I’m working on it.

Conclusion

I don’t want to come off as sanctimonious here. If my fellow Solitaire enthusiasts get angry at the “cheating”, then that’s cool too. If they want to banish the cheater then I won’t stand in their way. I’ve just gotten to a point in life when people do things that don’t materially affect me, I just don’t care so much.

It seems to me this caring about how other people conduct their lives is out-of-control, particularly here in the United States. It’s not just Microsoft Solitaire. It’s a lot of things. I’m not going to delve deeply into all that today, but the idea is one of the reasons I identify as a Libertarian.

As Boy in the police stations advises: Your problem is you. You ought to spend a little more time dealing with yourself and a little less time worrying about what your brother does.

Tom Liberman

Miss Scarlet almost Proper Wokeness

Wokeness

I’m not a big fan of Miss Scarlet and the Duke but the second episode of the new season almost got it right. It was tantalizingly close to Wokeness done properly but failed in the end. Such a shame.

The show is clearly a vehicle to display a strong woman as the lead character. Miss Eliza Scarlet, played by Kate Phillips, is the titular character and the self-proclaimed only female private detective in London.

Just because a show wants to display a bit of Wokeness doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad. I’ve written several times I consider myself a member of the Wokeness clan. Several of my novels involve female leads. There’s nothing wrong with wanting equality in society but I’m also a fan of good entertainment and Miss Scarlet doesn’t quite make it there.

The Wokeness Plot was Good

This episode of Miss Scarlet involved Eliza investigating the theft of a Charles Darwin sketch from a museum. The museum in question being owned and operated by a woman. Things get strange when it turns out someone placed an advertisement in the local paper offering an enormous reward for the sketch before it was even stolen and requesting applications be put to Miss Scarlet.

The Estranged Husband

Miss Scarlet investigates the estranged husband of the museum owner who is played as an over-the-top jerk. This is one of the big problems with portraying Wokeness improperly. The unwoke, for lack of a better term, are overly one-dimensional, caricatures. They are so dumb, so angry, so ridiculous that it becomes impossible to take them seriously.

Instead of making the man so simple; why not give him some nuance? He is jealous of both his mother and his wife’s successes. That’s an interesting idea. His mother was apparently an Egyptologist who didn’t get credit for her work. The problem is we don’t find out about all this until the very end of the episode.

Eliza following the moth into the hidden chamber was a ludicrous way for the audience to learn about this critical information. Why can’t mom simply mention her past in conversation during the investigation? Why not have the husband gently chide his mother, “Nobody wants to hear about that old news” or something like that. That’s an organic method of displaying the subtle way in which women and minorities are treated unfairly, to genuinely show why Wokeness is important.

Waste of Time Red Herrings

A huge amount of time was spent tracking down art thieves and forgers. Several scenes involved Miss Scarlet, standing out like a sore-thumb, under-cover and following a master forger only to be saved at the last moment by the Duke. Why? It just wasted time. The real Red Herring was the husband stealing the sketch because of feelings of inadequacy compared to his wife and mother. That’s the story! That’s the Wokeness we needed.

More Time Wasted

The young detective, son of the commissioner, took up a huge amount of time and energy. When you’ve got forty-five minutes to tell a story, you absolutely can’t waste time like this. Every scene is important. The story was the husband’s jealousy. That’s the Wokeness angle and it’s a good one. We just didn’t explore it properly. We didn’t get nuance, we didn’t get interesting characters, we didn’t learn anything useful about why he felt this way.

The Ending

I found the conclusion wholly disappointing. The mother’s plan didn’t really make a lot of sense but with a few tweaks it might have done so. The entire anagram business seemed contrived and how did the sketch get into the bust?

That being said, the basic concept of mom wanting publicity for her daughter-in-law’s museum and Miss Scarlet is a great idea. A woman who went out and challenged the world but didn’t get the credit she deserves. Now she’s trying to help other women. It’s fantastic, it’s real, it’s visceral Wokeness.

Conclusion

This episode had so much potential but in the end, it largely failed, for me at least. That’s a shame because it feeds the anti-wokeness mob. Why not focus on the husband’s jealousy? Have him come to some realization at the end about his mother, his wife. That’s an arc, that’s a story, that’s good entertainment.

So close, yet so far.

Tom Liberman

The Alienist Crafts a Stupid Investigation

The Alienist

I can’t say that I particular enjoyed the first season of The Alienist but decided to give the second season a look. The second episode of the second season really turned me off and I’d like to spend some time talking about one thing I think went wrong.

The Alienist sort of tells story Laszlo Kreizler, played with a gravelly monotone by Daniel Bruhl. The titular character studies the human psyche and uses that to solve crimes with the help of Sara Howard, played by the overly dire Dakota Fanning, and the equally dire John Schuyler Moore, portrayed by Luke Evans.

I have a lot to criticize in the show, not my first time, but I’m going to focus on the investigation and why it left me so dismayed that I’ll likely abandon the show.

The Crime

Babies are being killed. That’s certainly an emotional reason for me to want to catch the vile killers. A poor woman’s child was killed and the mother was blamed and executed in the first episode. A wealthy ambassador’s child was kidnapped in the second episode and that’s where Sara, John, and Laszlo spring into action.

I don’t list the characters randomly, I start with Sara because she is now, clearly, the lead character in The Alienist with Laszlo taking on a supporting, if that, role.

The Investigation

A doll is found at the home of the ambassador and Sara goes to a store that sells dolls where the body of the first child was found. She gets the address of a purchaser from the shopkeeper and begins the investigation.

She decides to go into a bad part of the town to look at the building late at night. It turns out to be a burned-out shell. While there with John, the two are spotted by a band of ruffians and driven into an alley but the thugs spot a drunken, passed out man nearby and decide to abandon the pursuit.

Sara and John follow the ruffians back to a tavern. Sara apparently knows the owner and he tells her the ruffians work for a fellow named Goo Goo who owns the building in question.

The next day a pair of torsos are discovered and it is stated the gruesome remains are unidentifiable with even tattoos cut off.

John, at the newspaper office, is told by a woman that two of Goo Goo’s men were found dead. John quickly travels to the crime scene still cordoned off by the police. John spots an old acquaintance sitting on a box and pays the man to be put in touch with Goo Goo.

Goo Goo then learns about John. He confronts the reporter, putting a knife to his throat. John is saved by Sara who appears from nowhere at the last minute and threatens to shoot off Goo Goo’s penis. Goo Goo wanders off with his friends.

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense

Where to start? What a mess. If the above narrative makes any sense to you, please use the comments to explain it to me.

Why investigate the building at night? How lucky is it the very villains involved in the kidnapping happen to walk by? What a lovely coincidence the tavern keeper is a friend of Sara and knows all the useful information.

The bodies were unidentifiable one moment and then suddenly known when it becomes useful. Another amazing coincidence is the dockworker who knows Goo Goo and is sitting right there. Goo Goo seeks out and attacks John.

It’s all contrived to lead us to various scenes and left me incredibly cold and disinterested.

How The Alienist Investigation Might Go

As some of you may know, I think of myself as somewhat of a writer. Twelve novels and all. I understand that shortcuts have to happen. It can’t all follow a logical narrative in order to get from Point A to Point Z. Therefore, I offer up for your perusal, how I might write the investigation I so heavily criticize.

Sara and John learn of the building. They immediately head over to city hall and find the records. They discover it burned down and is a fake address used to purchase the dolls. They find out the owner is a man named Goo Goo Knox. John talk to some fellow reporters and learns where Goo Goo makes his office, who are his associates, what are his suspected crimes.

Sara and John arrange a meeting with Goo Goo under false pretenses associated with some of his criminal activities. Perhaps they are fellow criminals or John is corrupt and learned something about a rival gang and wants a payout for the information.

Conclusion

The way it’s done in the show allows for some dramatic confrontations and I suspect that’s the point. We have the narrow escape in the alley, the gory bodies, the knife to the throat scene. If we do it the way I want, those scenes don’t happen. We don’t meet the tavern owner and his daughter who I think will show up again.

I understand the thinking, I just don’t agree with it. I do think a lot of people like the sensational, gruesome, violent scenes. Not to say I would write it boring and clinical; I’d find ways to create drama within a logical investigation. I am curious as to your opinion on the subject.

Do you prefer a logical investigation or one that has more sensational elements but doesn't make logical sense?

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Tom Liberman

Is The Undoing Crap or Gold?

The Undoing

I recently watched The Undoing on HBO and came away somewhat ambivalent. There are a number of things to like about The Undoing but, in the end, it left me slightly disappointed. I’ve written before about how an ending must be satisfying for any sort of entertainment to succeed completely. In this case it did not.

The Undoing tells the story of the Fraser family and the Alves family. Jonathan Fraser is the bridge between the two. He is a doctor treating the Alves son and Jonathan also has an affair with Mrs. Alves. It is her gruesome murder and the arrest of Fraser that drives the plot.

What I liked

Let’s start with the elements of The Undoing I enjoyed. The writers did an absolutely terrific job of keeping me guessing. Right up until the very end I wasn’t entirely positive who committed the crime. My early guess was that Grace Fraser, played ably by Nicole Kidman, bludgeoned Elena Alves to death. From there I fluctuated between Grace, Jonathan, their son Henry, and even the grandfather played by Donald Sutherland.

I found the setting entirely believable and the events around Reardon School, including the ostentatious auction, immersed me in the life of the Fraser’s completely.

Likewise, the acting proved largely excellent. Grant, Kidman, and Sutherland led the way but the supporting cast largely convinced me as well. Lily Rabe stands out for her portrayal of Grace’s friend as did young Noah Jupe as Henry.

What I didn’t Like

I found the courtroom scenes unconvincing. I regularly found myself thinking both lawyers didn’t know how to object properly, having watched real lawyers do it at the Depp and Heard civil trial. I kept emerging from immersion to think to myself, is that a question or a statement? Shouldn’t someone object here?

The final reveal also left me a bit dissatisfied. Shouldn’t the police and prosecution have discovered the information about Jonathan’s past during the investigation? They didn’t really need Grace to present it to them on a platter.

The Conclusion

As you may have guessed from my tease at the beginning of this review, the ending left me quite unhappy. I think the series should have ended with the final courtroom revelation. We know everything, boom, credits. Over and done. However, that’s not flashy. There is no running, shouting, or chasing. We don’t have helicopters and police cars. We don’t have a frantic Grace or an angry Jonathan and that’s what the audience apparently wants.

Not me. The last ten minutes of The Undoing really soured my entire opinion of an otherwise very good series. Of course, you may disagree! Tell me why.

Stick the landing!

Tom Liberman

Is Hans Cheating a Predetermined Result

Is Hans Cheating

Is Hans cheating? That question continues to roil the chess world, and beyond. Ever since Magnus Carlsen formally made an accusation that’s been speculated in the chess circles for over a year, it’s been a major news story. Is Hans Cheating? It’s not the question I will answer today. Sorry.

I’d like to discuss the notion of a predetermined result. The Is Hans Cheating question brings the problem into great clarity, for me at least. It’s a question that affects not only the chess community but our general perception of the world at large.

Do you have a strong opinion about Hans cheating? Will his future results change your opinion about that? No, they will not. Let’s discuss.

Hans can’t Win and he can’t Lose

If you, like me, tune into chess tournaments; there is vociferous debate in the chat rooms on the subject. Is Hans cheating? There are those who say he absolutely did not cheat against Carlsen and those that say Hans most certainly did cheat in that match and others as well. The debate rages during the current United States Chess Championship in which Hans is competing.

One of the interesting parts of the debate is Hans defenders frequently point out Hans can’t win. If he wins a game then his detractors assume he is continuing to cheat. If he loses then that means his past cheating is exposed because, with the new rules in place, he can’t cheat now.

The problem is these self-same defenders are guilty of the exactly the same thinking, only in reverse. If Hans loses a game, it’s because of the pressure he’s under and it doesn’t prove anything. If he wins a game then it shows he’s didn’t cheat in the past because he can still win under more stringent scrutiny.

In other words, whether you think Hans is cheating or not, you look at events through the proverbial rose-colored glasses and come to the conclusion that best suits your narrative. You will not, under almost any circumstance, change your mind.

It’s not just Chess

This is not just an issue with the Is Hans Cheating question. I see this every day in online debates. Both sides are completely unwilling to interpret any fact, any event, any argument in a way that persuades them to change their point of view. Everything feeds their predetermined decision. Nothing contradicts it. It matters not how many knots she or he must tie themselves into to achieve the desired result.

I suspect this is a human condition. Julius Caesar wrote: Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true. I’d add only one caveat to Caesar’s insightful comment. Women too.

Conclusion

The only weapon against this enemy is critical thinking. As I watch the United States and the world drift toward totalitarianism, as I see people eagerly embrace leaders who demand absolute rule, as I watch in dismay as people gleefully talk about disenfranchising, hurting, even killing those who disagree with their views, I am ever more convinced we must start a critical thinking curriculum at the earliest moments of our educational system.

Will it happen? You tell me.

Tom Liberman

Van der Valk too Clever by Far

Van der Valk

I watched the first episode of Series Two of Van der Valk last night and came away unimpressed. I didn’t really like the first season of Van der Valk all that much either but, I said to myself, why not give it a chance?

The show follows a team of detectives in Amsterdam led by Peter Van der Valk. They are an eclectic group to say the least. The show is actually a reboot from an earlier series which I have not seen so I can’t really make any comparisons. The new show is flashy, stylish, filled with dramatic music, tense scenes, and intense characters.

My Review of Van der Valk

My review of the episode can be summed up in a single line: too clever. That’s simplifying all my problems with the show but it does express my general frustration with crime dramas and mysteries that make the solution so convoluted I have no chance of figuring anything out. Of course, I actually figured out the actual killer from the beginning but the clues that led us there were beyond baffling.

Basically, our killer left notes on the corpses with cryptic clues as to the next victim. Then one member of the team eventually had some sort of epiphany of understanding that led to the next scene. The word ethics must mean Spinoza! The word fire must mean Prometheus. The word God must mean Inventor but then, also be an acronym. Each revelation made less sense than the previous.

It seemed to me someone came up with the clever idea of having the murderer use Spinoza as an inspiration but then just went about it in the laziest way possible. I get using a local philosopher as a plot point but the story had nothing to do with Spinoza and the three great disasters of Amsterdam except in the most convoluted way possible. I lost track of it and just kept shaking my head and sighing in bewilderment.

While the effort to be overly clever certainly made my experience watching the first episode of Van der Valk unpleasant, it was not my only issue. Spoilers coming.

The Fish Tank

The fish tank in which the young woman drowned was way too high for the scene to happen. The murderer could not push the victim into the tank. The elevated tank came up to the chest of the detectives. You can’t bend over that way, it needed to be at waist height.

The First Victim in the Windfarm

Our murderer is not a large man. How he managed to get his victim up on the cross in the middle of the wind farm is beyond my understand. I’m willing to give a little leeway here. Maybe he rented a truck with a crane or something.

The Publicist and the Car

It’s revealed the publicist, who drowned implausibly as described above, was murdered because she took a bribe in order to stop her campaign to help the local artists. The bribe being a fancy car. This seemed utterly improbably to me. Amsterdam is a city well-known for an excellent public transit system. I can see her taking a large sum of money, but a sports car that she needs to pay upkeep and taxes on? Made no sense to me.

The Husband

The first victim’s husband was impossibly bizarre. The story of his separation from his wife and his violent abuse didn’t tie into the story at all. It just seemed an excuse to have a dislikable character as a possible suspect. His transparent lies made it clear he couldn’t be the murderer.

The Date

I can’t even begin to tell you everything I found wrong in the date between the detective and the ink maker. First off, it’s a stretch just to imagine she agreed to go out with him. I found his bumbling stupidity beyond credibility and Van der Valk ridiculing the poor fellow incessantly as some sort attempt at comic relief came across as completely unrealistic.

The poor fellow, I can’t even remember his name, seems to be on the show simply so people can make fun of him.

The Final Scene

Wait, the other bombs were real? When did he plant them. How does he have explosive knowledge. His reasoning for the brutal murders makes almost no sense. His final dialog with our hero went on and on. And on. And on. And on.

While they were talking, you can clearly see the Ferris wheel revolving normally in the background although supposedly it is being evacuated.

The Acting

I think the actors do their best with the lines they’ve got. It’s a mess but at least they try.

Conclusion

Blah. Too clever. Trying too hard to be dramatic. The serial killer leaving cryptic clues is tired and boring writing at this point. A good crime drama doesn’t need to save the world. It can just be a good crime drama. Van der Valk isn’t that.

Tom Liberman

The Pump and Dump Suicide of Gustavo Arnal

Gustavo Arnal

An alleged Pump and Dump scheme led the Chief Financial Officer of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Gustavo Arnal, to kill himself by leaping from a New York Skyscraper. This suicide is a symptom of an untrustworthy market environment destroying lives all across this country, and not just for CFOs like Gustavo Arnal.

Heavily involved in the death of Gustavo Arnal is GameStop Corp. Chairman Ryan Cohen who allegedly convinced Gustavo Arnal to engage in the pump and dump scheme, only to sell out his shares for a massive profit.

I don’t much care about Gustavo Arnal or Ryan Cohen to be honest. If what is said about them is true, they are thieves and, frankly, murderers. What I do care about is the complete bankruptcy of ethics in the stock market that destroys the lives of many citizens of this country.

What Happened

Gustavo Arnal and Ryan Cohen reportedly created an artificial interest in purchasing Bed, Bath & Beyond shares. The did this in a number of ways but the important thing here isn’t the details, but the result. They hoped to make millions of dollars by selling their own shares of the stock at inflated prices. The stock went from $4.38 per share to over $30 per share over the course of about a month.

The Result

The result of all of this is quite predictable. Cohen, who sold his shares, made a huge amount of money. Now, I’m a big believer in capitalism so you’d think I’d say, good for him. Well done. Not in this case. In this case the price of the stock went up not because the company showed any signs of being more valuable, but simply because people were manipulated into thinking they could get rich.

The problem is not that Cohen got richer, it’s this money came largely from average investors who trusted the false information they were fed. Many people lost money they cannot afford to lose. This money was, for all practical purposes, stolen from them.

Caveat Emptor

Let the buyer beware. I agree. The people who bought into the Bed, Bath & Beyond stock manipulation should have known better. My financial advisors were not fooled. I lost no money. That being said, stupidity does not excuse fraud and theft. What Gustavo Arnal and Ryan Cohen are accused of doing was not only illegal but it was highly unethical and extremely harmful.

Pump and Dump is Rampant

This sort of stock manipulation is rampant in the market. People are losing their life savings in cryptocurrency scams, penny stock manipulations, and more. Celebrities, influencers, politicians, and more are leaping at the chance to steal from you to enrich themselves. It’s working.

Prison

Now, finally, law enforcement is catching up to those who engage in this behavior. Charges are being filed, lawsuits are pending, and people are going to jail. That doesn’t help someone who lost their child’s college fund or their retirement nest egg. That money is largely gone and will never, ever come back to anyone except a few law firms who successfully sue the thieves.

Solutions

One of the things I try to avoid here is simply laying blame without providing solutions. The solution here is multilayered. Law enforcement stepping in is a good thing but there will always be scammers when people can be scammed. There will always be drug dealers when people want drugs. The enforcement and interdiction side of the equation is the smaller part of the battle.

What must happen to stop this is people learning and applying critical thinking skills. I’ve written a number of articles touching on the topic which I’d encourage you to peruse.

We cannot stop people from stealing when millions of dollars are available for the taking. For everyone we arrest, five more will take their place. Cutting the head off the snake does no good. It is only when people learn to think critical and not let the allure of riches cloud their judgment that we will leave this scourge behind.

It is a scourge, of that there is no doubt. The suffering engendered by pump and dump schemes cuts a wide swathe across this country. From urban to rural. From farmers to fast food workers. People lose more than their money, they lose hope. They lose faith in the system.

Tom Liberman