Somehow I have Friends who Care

Friends who Care

Overview

I asked my Facebook friends a question the other day and discovered that somehow, against all odds, I actually have friends who care. That’s normal, you might say, but then again you don’t know me.

If you’re reading this, then you know I write blogs fairly frequently. In my quest for blog material, I read a lot of news stories from the internet. If you’ve been on the internet then you might have some idea of the mental anguish I suffer while trying to find stories to blog about.

I saw a clickbait headline that triggered a number of my many triggers. I considered reading it in the hopes it might provide blog material. On the other hand, it was likely to enhance my general despair at the condition of human intelligence. I posted an image of the headline, as seen on this article, and asked my friends if I should read the article or go and have a nice sandwich instead.

Much to my surprise and delight, my friends unanimously suggested the sandwich. They apparently care about me and my mental health. This comes as a bit of a surprise. You see, I’m not a likeable fellow. No, no, don’t all raise your hands and dispute the theory, we all know it’s true.

I’m Not a Likeable Fellow

My general unlikability is not really my fault, at least that’s what I like to think. I was born this way. I’m not good at social interactions, I’m not seeing anyone shaking their heads at that one. I’m do not tolerate fools well and this combined with complete lack of expression control allows people to grasp almost instantaneously that I’m thinking how incredibly stupid is the thing they just said.

My expression in these circumstances is a sort of sneer of incredulity with a pained internal dialog on whether or not I should tell you how incredibly, unbelievably, astonishingly, moronic is the thing you just said. Then, after a few moments of hesitation, I either tell you, bad, or don’t tell, worse because you know what I’m thinking anyway, but now can’t even get angry at me for calling you the equivalent of a mentally retarded sea slug.

Unfortunately, I’m self-aware enough to realize I’m a complete ass but not self-aware enough to stop being so. A dilemma to be sure. I will say it’s a step up from my younger days when I wasn’t even aware of my Level 20 Douche skill.

In any case, if you don’t believe my assessment of my likeability, or lack thereof, please, ask any of my friends. Better yet ask the people who don’t like me.

That’s why it came as a surprise that I have friends who care, who actually consider my mental well-being and suggested the sandwich over the article that surely would have triggered the earlier mentioned facial expressions.

Conclusion

I wish I knew what I’ve done to deserve friends who care, it’s certainly beyond my powers to comprehend but, that being said, I am grateful for those who put up with me.

Tom Liberman

Ken Jennings Replacing Alex Trebek

Ken Jennings

The last episode of the game show Jeopardy hosted by Alex Trebek aired this past Friday and speculation has been rampant that Ken Jennings will be his replacement. Ken Jennings is largely considered the greatest Jeopardy contestant of all time and, as such, seemed to many people, a natural replacement for the iconic Trebek.

It was clear to me from the beginning that Ken Jennings wasn’t a good fit for the position but the speculation and expectations give me an opportunity to speak on a subject I find quite interesting. Being good at one thing doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at anything else.

Sports fans like myself are well aware of the old adage that those who cannot do, teach. Generally speaking, the best managers of baseball teams are those that weren’t particularly great players. This fact translates to most athletics. Yet, there is a common, I’d almost say universal, perception of exactly the opposite. People think a great player will make a great manager and are shocked and disappointed when it fails to happen.

I’m not going to talk about Ken Jennings and his various social media statements as a reason to disqualify him from hosting Jeopardy. I want to discuss the qualities that make a person good at one thing and why people seem to think those self-same qualities will translate to something else.

Ken Jennings has a fantastically well-rounded knowledge of many subjects. We call this trivia but that is not really a fair assessment. He has knowledge and a lot of it. He is also coordinated enough to be able to click in at the right moment which is no easy task on Jeopardy. Often times you have to click quickly before your mind even truly processes that you know the answer. You have to understand the pattern of the question, match it to your general knowledge, and come to the conclusion you will likely know the answer before you click the button, as there is a penalty for incorrect answers. That Ken Jennings is elite, perhaps the best in the world, at this, is unquestionable.

Asking the questions is a completely different skill set. Hitting a baseball is completely different than understand when a starting pitcher has had enough, especially when he’s your ace and he’s damned pissed when you come out to the mound to take him out of the game.

What I’m trying to say seems obvious and I think most people agree. Being a game show contestant is a completely different skill set than being a host. Ken Jennings is a bit awkward; his body language is stilted; he doesn’t provide a comfortable personality which draws out the best of contestants. He’s just not going to be a good host, that’s reality and it’s relatively obvious.

So, why? Why do people think he’ll be the best host of Jeopardy to replace the fantastic Trebek? Why do humans seem to connect excellence in one thing with greatness in another? Why do we think a world class expert in one subject has anything useful to tell us about another topic? And, most importantly, why do we put someone in a position of power in a field for which they have no knowledge?

Dr. Ben Carson, current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is a brilliant neurosurgeon. He also believes the Great Pyramids were built as grain silos. This is the folly of believing because someone excels in one field, they must be fully qualified to do something else. It’s a dangerous way to make decisions.

Yes, Ken Jennings is a great Jeopardy contestant. Of this there is no question. However, he’s almost certainly not a great Jeopardy host and this is the lesson.

Tom Liberman

Watching People Argue in a Chess Chat

Chess Chat

Chess Chat is as filled with acrimonious debate as any political forum and, while watching the first round of the Norway Chess Tournament an instructive moment occurred which I will wax on about today. Don’t be too distressed, the topic isn’t primarily chess, or chess chat, it’s how to have a productive debate.

In this case the chess chat included a hearty exchange, including nasty insults as per usual, between two interlocuters debating as to which chess format, blitz or classical was more interesting, or more to the point whether or not classical chess is boring. Of some note but not important to the point is that one of the debaters is essentially the chief sponsor of chess in the United States. He took the side that classical chess was more interesting while an unknown but equally belligerent opponent took the opposite view.

Don’t worry, the chess talk is finished. What is important to understand is the nature of the question being debated and how to arrive at an objective answer. One side of the debate posited that a particular thing was more boring than another thing of largely the same nature.

What is the first thing to understand in order to arrive at a conclusion to this debate? What is boring, how do we define boring in this context, it must be determined. We cannot have any meaningful answer until we do so. Now, there are a number of ways to do this, but what is vitally important to understand is that neither of the two challengers made any attempt to do so.

They simply wrote facts back and forth at one another. This many people watched that tournament, so many people watched the other tournament. The quality of play in this style is better than the other style. It was endless, pointless, and much to the dismay of most of the people in chat, hideously boring. No one got anywhere except to clog up the chess chat with their ranting and most certainly, no one’s opinions were changed. Meanwhile, there was some quite interesting chess being played that the two debaters completely ignored.

The lesson is simple enough, you can’t arrive at an objective answer without defining what it is you are debating. A lesson neither of the two debaters understood or, frankly, are ever likely to understand.

Thus ends the lesson, young Ionians. Go outside to practice your Phalanx maneuvers and we shall return to the problem on the morrow.

Tom Liberman

How to Answer a Bad Question

Bad Question

How do you answer a bad question? You don’t. Well, that’s this blog all wrapped up. See you next time. All right, all right, I’ll go into details because bad and unfair questions seem to be standard operating procedure in social media and live debates. The thing we must determine is how to spot a bad question and how to not answer it properly, this is actually fairly difficult.

Let’s start with a question I see a lot in the sports world. Would the champion of yesteryear be able to compete against the best players of the game in the world today? This is a bad question but it, like many of its ilk, has the seeds of a very good and interesting question. That is the key to dealing with bad questions, figure out where the good question is hiding.

The problem with the aforementioned question is it doesn’t define the parameters in a way that lends itself to a good answer. The bad question is actually two different questions but not defined as such. What you must do in these situations is attempt to reword or clarify the parameters of the question so that it can be properly and usefully answered.

So, I say, to the person who asked the question: if you are asking me could the athlete of yesteryear compete today without the benefit of knowledge, training methods, diet, computer aids, and other advantages that today’s players enjoy; the answer is no. They’d be crushed. However, if you’re asking me if the player of old were born recently and had all the advantages of the modern athlete; my answer is yes, they might be able to compete although size, speed, and other physical differences can be a factor depending on the sport.

What we did there was clarify a bad question with two responses and turned it into two reasonable queries, both with useful answers, to create the seeds of a good discussion. This is what you must do when confronted with a bad question. You must look at the question and try to find clarification as to what is really being asked.

I fully admit, particularly in social media debates, the question was formed badly with malice and the questioner has a predetermined position that cannot be changed. Still, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Clarify the question, distill it down, and try to find an answer that is appropriate. If your fellow debater is unwilling to allow this, if they insist on answers to the badly worded or intended question without clarification, simply follow my original advice, don’t answer.

Refusing to answer a bad question is the best reply you can give.

Tom Liberman

The Sins of Others do not Absolve You

The Sins of Others

I consume a fairly large amount of news, videos, and comments on the internet and something I see often from people who are accused of misbehavior is bringing up the sins of others. The idea is if you accuse me or some famous personality I like of wrongdoing, the basic defense is to bring up the sins of others to excuse, exonerate, or muddle the conversation about the behavior.

If you claim I did something wrong I’ll mention all the things you’ve done wrong in your life as a way to discredit you without having to defend myself. If you accuse someone I like of something, then I’ll bring up the behavior of people that you like to defend that person. The argument is the sins of others absolve me of my poor behavior or at least excuse it.

I most recently witnessed a truly horrific example of this while watching a marathon session of an atheist I follow on YouTube named Jaclyn Glenn. She has a long running feud with a deranged fellow whose YouTube personality name is Onision. This fellow has come to prominence recently because Chris Hansen began an investigation involving him grooming underage girls for eventual sexual abuse.

The fellow in question has been posting many videos trying to explain his side of the story. Glenn watched eight hours of these videos and Livestreamed herself and her fiancé doing so. I certainly didn’t watch the entire thing but from the first seconds, the methodology of Onision became apparent.

Meanwhile, of course, I’ve been following various political and news events and many of my Facebook friends have strong opinions on subjects. When a commenter comes on defending against one accusation or the other their methods follow the exact same pattern: the sins of others.

I wrote a post about Lance Armstrong some time ago that sums up my opinion on this tactic. I don’t really care about what other people have done, I’m here to examine your behavior or the actions of some politician or celebrity. What mistakes the accuser has made in the past are largely irrelevant.

Let’s take the most extreme example possible. Let’s imagine the accuser lied about someone else regarding the same sort of thing they are now accusing you of doing. Even something this blatant doesn’t absolve you of guilt. The sins of the others never absolve you. Certainly, other people are guilty of misbehavior in their lives. I’m guilty, you’re guilty, everyone has acted in regrettable fashion, no one is innocent of past crimes and that is what makes the arguments of Onision and others like him such a ready option.

Such people are aware accusing others is a great way to deflect the conversation away from their own sins. If the politician I like did something heinous then I can point to something the politician you like has done as a way to excuse it.

The bottom line is quite simple, the sins of others have no bearing on your behavior or that of the celebrity or politician you choose to support. Wrong is wrong.

Tom Liberman

Helen Sharman says Aliens Definitely Exist

aliens definitely exist

There’s a clickbait headline making the rounds this morning in regards to statements made by Helen Sharman and the idea that aliens definitely exist. Sharman traveled into space back in 1991 and the fact that she is making the statement would seem to lend it credence. To some degree it’s a misleading headline in that Sharman is not saying she knows aliens definitely exist, that the government has been hiding it, and she has evidence from her trip to Mir.

What Sharman is saying is the likelihood aliens definitely exist is extremely high. That there are so many stars, so many planets, that the chemistry of the earth is so similar to those places, the odds of life not being anywhere else in the universe is exceedingly small. She even goes so far as to speculate that perhaps aliens are already on earth but we cannot detect them.

Sharman is almost completely correct in everything she says. The number of planets and the physical makeup of life which corresponds directly to the most abundant elements in the universe, make it extremely likely that life does exist elsewhere. I think it’s very likely we are less than decades away from finding such life on the various moons of the solar system and even on planets like Mars or Venus.

Where Sharman goes wrong, and where she defies the scientific method, is when she states aliens definitely exist. We have no evidence of such. Certainly, it seems very likely that aliens exist. I argue that it’s all but impossible alien life does not exist. The universe is simply far too vast for there not to be aliens. There was life, there is life, there will be life. However, I have absolutely no definitive evidence to indicate there is life, nor does anyone else.

I do not think that Sharman is trying to start or validate nonsensical alien theories. I think her statements are made with honest intent. The reason this is a story at all is because she is an astronaut, well, technically a cosmonaut as she was aboard the Russian space station Mir. This fact make it seem as if she is saying something she is not, the human mind leaps to conclusions that are not actually articulated.

What many people unfortunately think when they read the headline, and even the story itself, is that Sharman is confirming some nefarious plot in which she met aliens while a cosmonaut and is now spilling the secrets. This is not the case and it was not her intent in making the statement, or so I believe at least.

What she is saying is that, to her, it seems impossible there is not life somewhere in this vast universe. That such life might be on earth right now. I don’t disagree but I also will not say aliens definitely exist for the simple reason that I have no direct evidence of that existence. Until I do, I’ll temper my statements.

In any case, I think the story is an excellent illustration of how we often read more into a statement than is actually there. We want words to mean one thing even when they don’t and we convince ourselves otherwise. Try to avoid this trap.

Tom Liberman

Give the Gift of Peloton

Peloton Commercial

As most of you probably know, there’s a Peloton commercial roiling the world and when there’s an opportunity to tell everyone they’re wrong, well, I’ll be there. You’re all wrong! Let’s take a look at the ad from my point of view.

The thirty second commercial shows a husband giving his wife a Peloton for Christmas. She soon begins a workout regime on the bike both complaining about the early mornings and the harshness of the instructor while clearly enjoying the exercise she gets as well. At the end of the commercial she tells her husband that she didn’t know how much the bike would change her life.

The complaints are largely centered around the idea that her husband gave her the bike presumably because he thought she needed to lose weight. That the man is forcing his wife to lose weight against her will in order to conform with his unreasonable standards of beauty, that she is bowing to his abusive behavior.

We can make as many speculations about his motives and her desires as we want. Maybe she wanted to lose weight and had complained to him about her size. Perhaps she wanted to gain fitness and strength. Maybe his motivation was exactly as the detractors are suggesting, all these things are possible but largely irrelevant.

The bottom line is that she got on the bike, rode, and apparently gained something from it. Perhaps it was simply to please her husband. Maybe it was to be an example of strength and fitness to her daughter who is seen cheering her mother on several times in the advertisement. Again, we don’t really know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that she wanted to ride and is happy with the results, that she thinks her life has changed for the better because of riding.

We must take her word for it. I cannot lead her life for her nor should I try. That’s the problem with everyone criticizing this ad and also with many who support it by making unprovable claims about the good intentions of the husband. Neither of their lives are ours to lead. They are adults. They make decisions about their lives.

He chose to buy the Peloton for her, we don’t know why but we must respect his decision to do so. It’s not a crime to buy someone a Peloton. She chose to ride the Peloton and we must respect her decision to do so, it’s not illegal to want to ride a Peloton.

It’s this attitude that we know better how other people should lead their lives that infuriates me. She chose to ride and that’s good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for you?

Tom Liberman

Meghan McCain and Who is Talking

Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain recently gave an interview lamenting the fact that because she and fellow hosts on The View are women, their conversations and arguments are treated differently than if the same heated discussions were debated by men. McCain is absolutely right but the problem goes far beyond her assertion. Let me explain.

There is no doubt when McCain and Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg or other hosts get into a heated argument it is described as a cat-fight or they are being shrill with one another. There is an inherent sexism in the way she and her co-hosts are viewed. This is an enormous problem in the country and in the world. I don’t want to minimize her point but it’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Viewers of the show also dismiss one woman or the other because of their perceived political affiliation.

Many people dismiss gay men who speak in a high-pitched voice. Many people dismiss those who speak with a southern accent. Right here in my beloved home state of Missouri we dismiss people because of they way they pronounce it: Missouree or Missourah. If you say it one way, you’re just some city slicker who doesn’t understand rural issues and if the other then you’re a country bumpkin.

You can repeat a quote and attribute it to one president and get cheers but then explain it was actually a president from a different party and be showered with boos.

I don’t want to single you out but it is abundantly clear actions you consider egregious from a politician affiliated with your party would be excused if that person belonged to the other party. You can pretend the Emperor isn’t naked but the reality is completely the opposite. You know for a fact the horrors you accuse one person of committing, you would absolutely ignore if they were from the other party. Don’t even bother trying to lie to me, go ahead and lie to yourself if it makes you feel better.

There is a huge problem when the most attention is paid to who is saying something and not what is being said. McCain is a woman; this is true but irrelevant. When she gets into a debate with Goldberg or one of her co-hosts; listen to what they are both saying. Evaluate the words and concepts, not the person or the political ideology.

I’m reminded of a quote from a despicable fellow by the name of Martin Shkreli: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” he said after being grilled by Congress about a massive increase in drug prices. When a fellow is right, he’s right, no matter what I think of him personally.

Tom Liberman

The Resignation of Sir Kim Darroch does No One Any Good

Sir Kim Darroch

Recently some messages from the former British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, were leaked to the public and the resulting chain of events are an interesting study in diplomacy, secrecy, and foreign relations.

There are a number of problems with the events as they came to pass that may or may not have long term repercussions on the way the world’s powers deal with one another. As an ambassador it is important to report back honest assessments to your superiors. Then they can make informed decisions about the future. If an ambassador reports a rosy picture or a bleak picture that doesn’t match up with their understanding of the situation, bad decisions are the likely result.

Imagine for a moment you are about to make a major purchase. Someone you trust gives you all sorts of information but it turns out much of that is inaccurate. Maybe it was what they thought you wanted to hear, perhaps it was done at the behest of the manufacturer of the item in question, maybe the person so reporting just can’t be counted on to give an accurate assessment. The result is the same in all cases. You make a major purchase lacking truthful knowledge. Maybe it turns out to be a fine purchase but the chances it turns out to be a mistake are much higher.

That’s the problem with what just happened with Darroch. The information he sent back was his honest opinion of the situation but because it was leaked to the public, his position with the mercurial President Trump became untenable. He could no longer do his job satisfactorily.

This leads us to the results of what happened. Will the next ambassador be less likely to paint a negative picture if there is a chance her or his job is on the line? She or he might lose their salary which pays for the food on the table? This is not just about England and the United States but all ambassadors. What if an ambassador for the United States was removed from her or his position in a volatile region and replaced with someone who, out of fear of losing her or his job, reported nothing but good news? I think you can see how this adversely affects our nation.

We live in an age where information like that revealed in the Darroch situation is more and more likely to be released. Such situations are increasingly common which, it seems to me, have a chilling impact on the ability of nations to accurately understand each other and make proper political and strategic decisions.

What’s to be done about it? No easy answers to that one, at least not from me. Once something like that is released, it cannot be easily ignored. Even if Darroch stayed in his position it is likely those who dealt with him on a regular basis would change their behavior to account for his assessments. Certainly, President Trump is a childish and vindictive man but so too are other world leaders.

The idea the world would be a better place if we were all completely open and honest with one another is utter nonsense. Some things need to be left unsaid to the person’s face in order to get along. It is in all our best interest if nations get along well with one another. The world is a better place when men like Darroch are allowed to do their difficult jobs and make their reports in secret.

My final conclusion? It’s a bad situation and I’m sorry it happened.

Tom Liberman

What the Sausage and Whiskey Experts Taught Me

Sausage and Whiskey

I’ve recently watched a couple of videos of Epicurious experts trying to guess whether a particular food or beverage, sausage and whiskey, item is expensive or cheap and the passion and knowledge of the people trying to speculate struck me quite powerfully. What I noticed was they were extremely accepting of the lesser product even while praising what they thought was the more expensive.

The sausage expert and the whiskey expert were correct in their assessments each time but it was their passion that really stood out to me. Particularly when confronted with something that wasn’t to their taste, the sausage expert judging a meatless product for example.

In every single case, they were looking for good things in the products rather than dwelling on what they disliked. They were happy to recommend the lower quality product as a less expensive option for those without their own exacting standards. They were not offended by a lower quality product nor did they feel the need to denigrate it excessively to show off their expertise.

Certainly, they spoke about why one product appeared to them to be of a higher quality and went into detail about what made one potentially more expensive and better tasting than the other. They spoke about ways that distillery and sausage makers go about producing lower quality products without denigrating or insulting.

I think this is at great odds with what we see in the regularity of our life. Our televisions sets are filled with people telling us how awful is someone else or some other product. The comment sections on news stories are absolutely bursting with self-important people railing against perceived slights. I must admit to you that I’ve done the same although, having watched the Epicureans, I think I’m going to focus more on the positive in the future. That doesn’t mean to say I will ignore things that are bad or wrong, just that I will try to spend more time on what positives can be taken from the situations.

The question I must ask myself is; why am I so angry at things that have little or no affect on me? Why do I feel the need to hurl personal and nasty insults? Is this behavior more a reflection of my own shortcomings than of the offensive product or person?

Yes, a friend posted a rather stupid meme but can I point that out without being insulting? Can I productively mention why I think it’s wrong? I think I do this to some degree although I certainly have my lapses. If someone hurls an insult at me, can I shrug and understand that is more a reflection of their own issues than anything about me?

I like to think I can improve and the next time I feel the red haze rising, I’ll try to think of the sausage expert kindly and with great gentility, reviewing the meatless product.

As for you, that’s your business.

Tom Liberman

Let’s Not be Real

Let's Be RealA phrase I hear a lot these days is Let’s Be Real. The idea largely being that we should be perfectly honest with one another and express our feelings without reservation. At first glance, this certainly sounds like a good idea. It’s not. We are not real for even an hour of the day. We don’t tell everyone what we are thinking all the time and that’s not just a good thing, that’s the only reason society survives!

The word of the day is specious. I think it’s a good word because it tells us things that appear to have value on the surface often do not. Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it can be implemented to any useful effect. In this information age we seem to be more real than we’ve ever been in life and it’s not doing us any good.

In the old days people said things like: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s some good advice right there. Another great old quote is: It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. But no, today we’re just keeping it real and confirming the stupidity for all to see. A pox on let’s be real!

I’d be grateful for some good old-fashioned politeness and manners when reading the news. I’m certainly not suggesting we can’t disagree with one another but how about we do so without calling anyone on the opposing side a complete moron or worse?

The reality is the world is a complex place and there are largely no single, simple solutions to some of the complex and even relatively uncomplicated problems we face. There are many factors and people hold opinions for a variety of reasons.

Being real is just an excuse to be cruel. I’m not calling you nasty names, I’m being real. I’m not a jerk, I’m just being real. The reality is you are calling someone horrible names and you are a jerk. You are doing these things no matter how much you want to excuse that reality.

Let’s be real isn’t just overrated, it’s downright dangerous. Let’s not.

Tom Liberman

Bob Ross and the Value of Talent and Serenity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

How a Decent Person Reacts when they Accidentally Share Fake News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

I was Much the Same Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

Lies of the FCC and Why You Choose to Believe Them

fccIn May of 2017 the FCC claimed a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack sent their website down when in reality it was complaints from concerned citizens about the proposed ending of Net Neutrality. Gizmodo writer Dell Cameron wrote an excellent piece detailing the lies and the chain of evidence that proves them. I’m not going to try and rewrite her or his excellent article, instead I’d like to examine why the FCC felt they could get away with such an obvious lie. It’s all about you.

As some background information I’ll reiterate events. When the FCC proposed eliminating the rules of Net Neutrality, comedian and television host John Oliver gave out the complaint URL for the website and urged people to contact the FCC. This also happened in 2014. Both times the website immediately went down.

In 2014 the commissioner of the FCC decided the truth was best. He simply said increased traffic and antiquated systems overwhelmed the system. In 2017 not only did the commissioner and his agents claim it was a DDoS, they also claimed it was also a secret DDoS back in 2014 but that it wasn’t reported. These claims were, naturally, lies, to cover up the enormity of the outrage over the proposed change in Net Neutrality rules. The current commissioner doesn’t want people to think there are actually a large group of outraged citizens.

Now, this lie by the FCC was blatant and obvious. At the time any number of commentators pointed it out. The timing of the supposed DDoS at exactly the same moment as the genuine anger of many people at the proposed new rules was clearly suspicious. Anyone with even a mild amount of critical thinking skills would naturally be doubtful of the story claimed by the agents of the FCC. I dare say very few of you would be bold enough to tell make such an obvious fabrication, you have too much integrity. So, why did it happen?

To my way of thinking it’s a relatively simple answer. Those who believe the current administration and support the agenda of the FCC will largely believe anything they say. Those who oppose will assume it is a lie even if evidence supports their claim. It simply doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not anymore. Those who are in favor of your agenda will believe your lies and spread them earnestly and without question. Those who oppose will claim even your truths are simply lies.

That’s pretty much where we’ve gotten to in this country. It just doesn’t matter if you tell the truth or not, so why bother doing it? If you tell the truth you’re going to get hammered by the opposing side anyway. If you lie you’re going to be supported by your side as if you were telling the truth.

I’m of the opinion our leaders could spew forth utter gibberish and would gain the exact same amount of support and opposition as if they’d stated some sort of a policy. Well, to a certain degree it’s not an opinion, it’s a simple fact.

A young student in Georgia got up during graduation and gave a quote he claimed was one person and they all cheered. He then informed them it was actually a person from the opposite party and silence and booing ensued. His point was the same I’m making. The majority of people in this country just don’t care anymore.

Two plus two is whatever I want it to be.

Good luck to us.

Tom Liberman

Yanny and Laurel and the Nature of Reality

Yanny LaurelThere has arisen a large kerfuffle amongst people who hear either Yanny or Laurel when a particular sound is played. It seems impossible to those listening and hearing one of the two that those who claim to hear the other are being completely honest. This gives us an interesting opportunity to peer into the realm of what we think of as Reality. Of Subjectivity versus Objectivity.

There is both an objective and subjective reality in this situation. The sound being played is propagating through the air as an audible wave of pressure. Devices can measure this wave and display it visually as a wavelength. With some small variances depending on the sensitivity of such devices and also the variance of the sound projecting machine this Yanny or Laurel wave has an objective reality.

However, every human ear is of a different shape and the tiny bones that detect those audible waves are not the same from person to person. Everyone likely hears the sound slightly differently. Our brains are all configured differently and interpret the sounds with slight variances. The fact people seem to hear one of the two, Yanny or Laurel is interesting but not surprising. We have no problem accepting the fact that groups of people have various levels of color blindness. That many groups see green in one way and others in another fashion.

The reality of the sound wave is objectively true. The reality of our interpretation of that wave is subjectively true. I might hear Yanny and be perfectly correct while another person might hear Laurel and be equally without error. A third person might hear something completely different or relatively close to Yanny or Laurel, they also would be right.

This presents me no discomfort. Communication is not at all about the sound wave but, instead, the meaning behind it. Words are merely grunts to which we assign meaning in order to communicate ideas with one another. It’s difficult for me to order lunch if the waitperson doesn’t speak the same language as I do. This is the entire purpose of communication and, to a certain degree, defines our reality.

The sound wave that generates Yanny or Laurel is the same either way and yet what we hear is slightly different. As long as we can come to some mutual understanding of the sound and its meaning, then everything is perfectly fine. Now, let’s imagine I’m having a conversation with the leader of a belligerent power and I use a word meaning one thing to me but she interprets it to mean something else. Then we’ve got a problem.

When we speak different languages, we are using two completely dissimilar sounds to convey the same idea. As long as the idea is effectively communicated that is the entirety of our concern. The objective reality of the sound wave is meaningless, it is our subjective understanding of it that is of paramount importance.

Much of the life we lead follows this exact same principle. A red light means nothing without our interpretation of it to stop the car. The red light is objectively what it is. It is a truth. In our society we have learned to stop at a red light but other societies might have completely different rules in regards to traffic. Both are subjectively right for the circumstances.

This is not to discount objective reality. There is such a thing and our common understanding of it largely determines the subjective reality we experience. Most words don’t have the duality of Laurel and Yanny. Most words are understandable to everyone and have particular subjective meaning that aligns directly with the objective sound wave. When two different people hear the same word, they assign the same meaning to it. This is important.

It’s possible for someone to interpret the word, “Hello” to mean something derogatory and punch me in the face after I utter it to them. Subjectively they might be hearing the derogatory word but objectively it has meaning and law is based upon that meaning. When the ensuing court case, or my return fist, lands, the law will be on the side of the objective meaning of the word. Consequences will be meted out.

What does all this mean? You hear what you perceive but it’s not reality. It’s your interpretation of the real sound. Or, to be more succinct: It’s fine either way. Go have an ice cream.

Tom Liberman

Kimberly Guilfoyle and Unseemly Eagerness

Kimberly GuilfoyleA Fox News personality named Kimberly Guilfoyle is actively admitting she is interviewing to get the job of White House Press Secretary, currently held by Sean Spicer. I suppose I’ll get labeled a Liberal Shill or a Snowflake but this public lobbying for someone else’s job seems pretty gross to me. It’s just a lack of decency.

I mean, I get it, people get fired. Someone takes that job. That’s part of the business and political world. A business has to interview for a position they know is going to be vacant, but everywhere I’ve been it was done quietly. Other people in the office weren’t told about it, and certainly the person interviewing for the promotion didn’t go on Facebook and tell all their friends.

I’m not in the White House making decisions about who to hire for any position. I’m not hiring or firing anyone. My opinion is pretty much worthless in all of this. Still, if it was me, I’d certainly eliminate Guilfoyle as a candidate the moment I saw the interview. If she can’t be discreet enough to keep the talks quiet, then why would I want her working for me?

I suspect, as usual, thoughts about her behavior will be split along political lines, and that’s a shame. All too often we are willing to put up with bad behavior from someone who espouses the same political philosophy as us, while eagerly denouncing those who support the opposite side of the aisle.

When it comes to that sort of situation, I too feel the pressure. More than once, friends of mine who largely agree with my political point of view have spouted off inanities on their Social Media accounts. I always hesitate before saying something. On the occasions I do chastise an ally, I risk their friendship. I try to put my criticisms in a positive way. That doesn’t always work. I’m an abrasive fellow, there is no denying it. I’m not the most popular kid in school.

The problem is that the only people Guilfoyle is going to listen to are those who largely agree with her politics. She certainly won’t let my opinion influence her. It is only if someone with whom she largely agrees and respects sits her down and tells her how deplorable is her behavior, that she will mollify it.

That’s why I think it’s imperative to be critical of those with whom you largely agree when you see them doing something wrong. I think that’s what is largely missing in our current political climate. The ability to be critical of those with whom we find like cause.

And, of course, don’t lobby publicly for someone else’s job.

Tom Liberman

J.K. Rowling and Stolen Intellectual Property

intellectual propertyThere have been a number of cases involving stolen intellectual property in the news lately and a short story written by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling is the latest. In addition, episodes from Orange is the New Black were stolen and released after Netflix refused to pay a ransom.

This is an issue that touches close to home as I’m an author. I’ve written nine Sword and Sorcery fantasy books and I’m close to releasing my tenth. I’m certainly not nearly as famous as Rowling nor do I have as much to lose as Netflix, but I like to think of myself as a kindred spirit. What would I do if someone broke into my cloud account and stole the latest version of my book? Or, as in the case of Rowling, physically stole the manuscript I’m proofing? What if they released it for free on the internet? What if they attempted to extort money from me before doing so?

Rowling is imploring people not to purchase the stolen story which is, I suspect, about the only thing she can do. Anyone who wants to read the story and not pay for it, will be able to do so. In fact, anyone who wants to read any of her novels or watch any of her movies can illegally download them for free. It’s not particularly difficult. A collector can purchase they actual, physical story as a keepsake.

We live in a world in which intellectual property is all but impossible to protect. Even if television episodes, novels, movies, music, or any other information is not stolen; once it is released to the public, the ability to copy and redistribute it is all but unstoppable. People who want to purchase it from third parties who don’t own the intellectual rights will always find a way to do so.

What’s interesting about intellectual property theft, as opposed to physical theft, is the person stealing the information wants it. The exception being those who steal with the intent of extortion. Most people are not downloading music, movies, or novels because they plan to resell to a third party. They want to listen to, watch, or read the content. Thus, an appeal like Rowling’s makes an impact.

That’s reality and it’s important for those of us producing such content to understand it. Certainly, the Motion Picture and Music industries have lobbied Congress and gotten stringent and punitive piracy laws enacted. Some people have paid large fines for stealing music and other files but it hasn’t slowed down illegal downloading.

I can rely on the government to pass laws protecting intellectual property. I can rely on cyber-police to attempt to enforce those laws. I can rely on the court system to prosecute those few they catch in violation. What I can’t rely on is any of these methods to stop the theft.

The only way to stop most people from illegally purchasing or downloading such content is to ask them not to do so and to price the content in a way that is friendly. If Rowling were to put her story for sale at $20 a copy, that tempts people to steal it. However, if she places it on sale for $1.99, it is a very short story written on a single A5 postcard, I think the vast majority of her fans would simply shell out the two bucks. Why bother stealing when you know you can support the artist for a nominal price?

There will always be those who refuse to pay even a small price for such content but the various industries and artists have to balance their own profit margin with the potential for theft. As awful as it sounds to moderate our price because of thieves, there really doesn’t seem to be any other option. I currently cannot charge $20 for my novels because I’m an unknown, but if I was famous and my novels were hugely popular I might be able to do so. I wouldn’t.

That’s the only pragmatic solution to this problem. Make content cheap enough that regular people are willing to purchase it. That and use strong passwords!

What else is there to do?

Tom Liberman

Why is Stealth Marketing Illegal?

stealth marketingThe Federal Trade Commission is apparently quite concerned people are mentioning they like particular products without revealing they are paid for these remarks. It’s called Stealth Marketing. Basically, someone who has a large number of Social Media followers is paid by a business to mention a particular product.

The FTC requires that people who do so use #ad or #sponsor to indicate they are being paid for their opinion. Why does it matter? Why would government feel the need to secure us from this apparently dire threat?

Certainly, there is all sorts of Stealth Marketing going on in movies and television shows from which the government does not see fit to protect us. In addition, every time an athlete wears a jersey or shirt, swings a golf club, or hits a ball it is an advertisement for the apparel company that pays the university, league, or athlete. Every time an actor wears particular clothes to some award ceremony it is because they are paid to do so.

I could ask why there is apparently a different standard for the two but I just don’t care. Why on earth does the government care? Why is it against the law? It’s utter insanity. The government, as usual, couches their blatant interference in terms of protecting us. If we don’t force them to tell you they are paid sponsors, you won’t know! We’re doing it to save you from them!

In reality it is just another way for the government to justify its existence. There are apparently people at the FTC spending their time monitoring this situation and we pay the salaries of those people. Congress likely had to have hearings and who knows how much time went into writing these regulations. All to what end? From what are we being protected? Who does Stealth Marketing hurt?

Who cares if a celebrity says they like something on their Twitter account and they are being paid to do so? How is ensuring we know it’s an advertisement any different? I think Emily Blunt is a talented actress. If she happens to endorse Yves Saint Laurent Opium perform why do I care if she mentions it in a Twitter post as opposed to a commercial? Wait, there is a fragrance called Opium? Seriously? That’s awesome. I’m surprised the government hasn’t outlawed that.

Will I suddenly be less inclined to buy a product that a celebrity I admire uses if I know they are sponsored by the manufacturer? Gosh, I was all set to by that Opium perfume for my pretend girlfriend Emily Blunt but I found out she really doesn’t use it. She just shills for it on television. Now I won’t. Thank you, government for saving me from this terrible decision to purchase a product of my own free will.

I reiterate, who cares? Why do we care? What business is it of the government to tell a person they must reveal if they are just saying they enjoy a product or if they are being paid to say they enjoy a product? What’s the practical difference?

Who is hurt? The consumer is purchasing a product that was promoted. Whether it’s a paid promotion or a genuine promotion is irrelevant.

The people of the United States are fully capable of making their purchasing decisions without being protected by the government.

Tom Liberman

Dancing with the Stars and Democracy

dancing with the starsThere was an enormous surprise in the television show Dancing with the Stars when the competitors who turned in arguably the best performance of the evening, were eliminated. The determination of which dancers remained is combination of judge’s rating and fan voting. The events of the other evening give us insight into the workings of a true democracy, and it ain’t always pretty.

Exactly why the viewing audience was not enamored with Heather Morris and Maksim Chmerkovskiy is open to speculation. The reality is that they were not. Despite performing exceptionally well according to the judges, they received the smallest percentage of the popular vote and were eliminated.

This is democracy in action. When the people vote for something you’re generally not going to see the most qualified candidate win.

Here in my hometown of St. Louis there used to be a yearly Best Of … article in a local publication. The Best Italian Restaurant. The Best Athlete. The results were eventually so out of touch with reality that the publication turned the decision over to a panel of experts. Wise move.

If you sit any random group of people down at a table and present them with a tasting of wines, they will choose something sweet and awful. I’m not saying their vote is invalid, it’s accurate. Most people like sweet wine because they don’t have a palate accustomed to the more complex flavors of a rich wine.

If a random group of people sat down and was asked about their favorite restaurant, we’d likely see a mid-level chain get the most votes.
That’s democracy and that’s why the Founding Father’s didn’t establish one. I could say a lot about it but I’ll go with one of my favorite quotes from a fellow named John Witherspoon: “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”

One result of the vote on Dancing with the Stars was, arguably, the best dancers were eliminated. A second outcome is the dancers people really want to see, continue on. Therein lies the beauty of democracy. Fans of the show get a chance to have their input determine winners.

In a democracy, we get what we want.

There are places in this world where a democracy is certainly a reasonable method to determine things, Dancing with the Stars is one of those places.

The results are plain for all to see. So, you tell me; where else do you think we should let a large group of people make decisions by voting?

Tom Liberman