Two-hundred Thousand Dead is Victory

Two-hundred Thousand Dead

Many people are denouncing that the United States has reached two-hundred thousand dead from Covid-19 or complications from the disease. I see it differently. Victory. Two-hundred thousand dead is a milestone in the triumph of faith over science, of the ends justify the means, of confirmation bias, and of blind obedience over critical thinking. Congratulations in your victory, I say to many of my friends. I concede, you win.

This victory was hard-fought and decades in the making. Perhaps you thought the lack of critical thinking, the bashing of science, having faith in what you wanted to believe was merely going to manifest itself in political victory but two-hundred thousand dead show how short sighted were your goals. You have attained a victory that most thought impossible. Little did you believe you could turn nearly fifty percent of the nation into cheerleaders for such a thing, wanting more, begging for policies that will certainly result in more deaths, more fire, more drought, but even you, with your lack of critical thinking, didn’t imagine it could result in such a triumph.

I congratulate you and admit defeat. Enough of you believe that taking vaccines is more harmful than not taking them. Enough people believe there is a Deep State conspiracy to enslave the children of our nation in pedophile rings led by the monsters of the other party. Enough of you believe GMO food is poison. Enough of you believe climate change is entirely without human cause. Enough of you believe that steel cannot melt in a fire. Enough of you believe aliens are guiding our lives. You have won and now you will be forced to partake in the fruits of your victory.

Rejoice, throw up your arms for two-hundred thousand dead is undeniable proof of your victory. The good news is that this is only the beginning. Decades from now you will laugh at the two-hundred thousand dead as merely a drop in the bucket as to what you will achieve by completely ignoring science, medical advice, climate advice, education, critical thinking.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In the end you will lose. Science will triumph and Utopia will arrive. The Roman Empire ended and scientific advances were stymied for nearly a thousand years in the western world, but they eventually came to fruition, it just took some time. So too will your triumph fade. Nothing is forever.

Enjoy it while you can. Rejoice in the carnage, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, no matter how small your part in it, even if just a lie filled meme now and again or an alien conspiracy earnestly told to friends in private. You contributed in your own small way, take comfort in that.

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

Taking the Bing Quiz without Reading

Bing Quiz

One of my daily activities in retirement is to take the daily Bing Quiz. Essentially, the search engine Bing has a daily picture on the front page. There is a Bing Quiz associated with this picture if you click a link. It includes a small blurb about the picture and generally at least a few of the questions in the Bing Quiz are addressed in this blurb. I’ve noticed that a fairly high percentage of quiz takers answer such questions incorrectly and that intrigues me.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that people are clicking on the Bing Quiz and taking it without bothering to read the blurb. Now, there is an incentive to take the quiz whether or not you get answers correct, you get a small number of Microsoft Reward Points. It’s not much but it’s something.

Now, to the point of this blog. I want to get the answers right, there is a small feeling of pleasure I get from answering the question correctly. I also feel a sense of disappointment when I give a wrong answer. The blurb in question is usually just a couple of paragraphs and only takes a minute to read. Taking the time to read the blurb and answer the questions correctly is of value to me. It is clearly not of value to others, based on the percentage of people that get Bing Quiz answers wrong despite often being given the answer.

Is that a product of the way my brain works? I’m not a neurologist but I feel fairly confident everyone gets pleasure from answering correctly and feels some disappointment in not doing so. Some tiny chemical release generates this pleasure I’d guess. Anyway, I think it is universally human to enjoy being right and dislike being wrong.

Why do so many people trade being right for saving a minute of reading or doing a modicum of thinking? It’s not my place to judge anyone for this behavior and I’m not trying to put myself on some sort of pedestal because I choose to read the blurb and get the answer right more often than not. Whatever, take the Bing Quiz without studying first, none of my business.

I do find it interesting. Can we diagnose more important character traits based on such simple behavior? What about you? Would you take a quiz without studying first?

Would you take the Bing Quiz without reading the blurb first knowing it will result in more wrong answers?

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Tom Liberman

Thinking for Yourself in Chess and Life

Thinking for Yourself

I was on Lichess watching the Magnus Carlsen v. Hikaru Nakamura match of the Magnus Chess Tour Finals when an interesting example of thinking for yourself, and the benefits therein, presented itself. It is often suggested thinking for yourself is better; but if someone else does the thinking for you, and always gives you good answers, why not just do what she or he says? I’ll tell you why.

Many of those watching the games rely on the computer analysis to tell them who is winning at any particular moment and what is the best move to make for either player. Others of us watch without the computer engine analysis and discuss what might be the better move and which player seems to have the advantage at any given moment.

It is clear those using the engine to tell them the best move and who is winning are clearly correct far more often than those of us simply watching the game and relying on our own calculations. Therefore, they are better off, right? Wrong.

Thinking for yourself is not only a great deal more fun, it not only makes you a better chess player, but it also actually gives you greater insight into the game being played at that moment. Here is what happened twice during the match I watched yesterday. Warning, if you’re not a chess fan this might get a little dull.

Basically, during a game there are moments when you can sacrifice a piece in order to gain initiative through tactics. When you are thinking for yourself, you are looking for such tactics. When you are relying on the computer to tell you the best move you largely are not watching for such moments.

In two games there was a potential tactic available for several moves which covered perhaps ten minutes of time allowing time for analysis. Those of us in chat not using the computer mentioned the sacrifice possibility multiple times and eventually, in both cases it was made.

This leads me to the purpose of this entire blog. When the sacrifices were actually viable, the computer engine immediately suggested them as the best move and those relying on the engine began to speculate if the player might see it. These fans thought it was almost impossible to see such a move. When the player made the sacrifice, they were stunned by the astounding ability of the player.

Of course, those of us not relying on the computer had long been speculating on the move and didn’t see it as all that impossible at all.

I guess the point is, yes, if you rely on almost perfect machines and aren’t thinking for yourself, you will win every chess game but once those engines are off, you have no idea how to play at all. You get no enjoyment from predicting the move a Grand Master makes. No thrill of seeing a brilliant sacrifice on your own. Your life is both diminished in enjoyment and your ability to make good decisions without help is irreparably damaged.

Turn off the engine, stop listening to other people, think it through yourself. It’s harder, yes, but more rewarding.

Tom Liberman

Freedom with Rainbow and Confederate Flags

Rainbow and Confederate Flags

In this country there is a fairly hearty debate about the power of flags. The debate strikes this Libertarian close to home when we compare the Rainbow and Confederate flags. There is a general attitude in the population that flying one is freedom of speech but banning the other is acceptable.

Now, I am aware the “Confederate Flag” is really just the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia so it doesn’t have much heritage unless your ancestor fought for Northern Virginia during the four years of the Civil War but let’s dispense with pretext and accept the fact that all flags are merely symbolic of ideology. The Rainbow and Confederate Flags have meaning to those who choose to fly them from their homes, cars, or places of business.

Here is where my feelings are extremely ambivalent. On one hand I see a group of people who believes they have the right to display the flags as they see fit and that no one has the right to take that away from them, that’s a good thing. On the other hand; I see people perfectly willing to argue against the idea that others can choose not to fly such flags. If the owner of a business doesn’t want you to fly that particular flag at their location, that is their right, just as much as it is your right to fly the flag at your business or home.

This is where I see a breakdown in ideological thinking along the lines of freedom and autocracy. It is not surprising that people will fight desperately for their freedom while, in the same breath, argue against my freedom. Most of us are Libertarians when it comes to flying our flag on our property. Most of us are totalitarians when it comes to others telling me not to fly my flag on their property.

I’m always a Libertarian. The Rainbow and Confederate Flag are symbols, they are things, they are representations of ideology. If you choose to fly one or the other on your property then I fully support your right to do so even if I disagree with the ideology you espouse. However, I also fully support your neighbor’s right to tell you not to fly either on their property or at their place of business.

It is only when government becomes involved that it becomes a Freedom of Speech issue. If the government attempts to arrest you for flying either flag on your property then I will be there, using all the rights granted to me by the Constitution of the United States, to protect your rights, regardless of your ideology.

If the owner of a business or a property chooses to tell you not to fly either flag, that it’s against their private rules, then I support them as well.

When we believe in the freedom of those we oppose, we are truly free of dictatorial tendencies. It’s a shame most people seem to believe in their freedom but not those they dislike. The Rainbow and Confederate Flags illustrate both our Libertarian and Totalitarian nature.

Tom Liberman

Why Racists Often think they are not

Racists

I just read what many people will find to be a horrific article about a group of racists who happen to be police officers. What struck me about it was that after being caught making virulently racist comments, the three racists claimed they were not racists. It’s a refrain I’ve heard many times from racists over the years.

I wrote about my experience sitting at the table with people who made racist comments right in front of me but I’d like to spend some time today discussing why these clearly racist people think they are not racists. It’s fairly simple, in their minds if they don’t hate every single person of a particular group; black, Muslim, Evangelical Christian, Jewish, Atheist, whatever, they are not racists or bigots.

This is what leads many racists to mention how they are friends with a black person. Being a racist is quite simple. Do you hate someone because of the color of their skin, the religion they practice or don’t practice, the circumstances of their birth? If you do, you’re a racist. If you believe every person is an individual and you cannot hate or have any feelings at all about a person before you know them, then it’s likely you have Libertarian leanings.

Racism is an interesting topic for Libertarians. It is an absolute foreign concept to the ideals of the philosophy. Each person is an individual and must be judged by their words and deeds. You can never make assumptions about a person based on meaningless external factors. However, racists are entitled to their stupid opinions and, if they want to express their idiocy for all to see, that’s their business.

What’s important to understand is the world is filled with people who pat themselves on the back thinking they are not racists, like the three officers in question, when they are quite clearly racist scum who have no business in any position of authority, let alone law enforcement. I’ve known any number of people exactly like this. I had a police chief say to my face that he had never met a racist police officer. Perhaps I should have asked him how he defined racism and pointed out how he was living in a world of self-delusion. I did not, blame me for that.

You might think you aren’t a racist. You might think you’re a good person. Your friends might like you. You might behave in largely kind and decent ways to your friends and family. That doesn’t mean you’re not a racist.

If you choose to acknowledge it or not is your business. I’m not going to tell you to wake up. If you want to face the reality of your beliefs and actions, that’s up to you. However, I do think you’re a piece of garbage and if you die tomorrow, the world will be a better place.

Tom Liberman

Lori Loughlin is the Covid-19 Response from the United States

Lori Loughlin

Do you want to be Lori Loughlin and fight for a long time or Felicity Huffman and take your punishment up front and move on? Sometimes in life you have a choice between suffering today or delaying the pain until later in the hopes of avoiding it altogether. It’s an interesting decision from a Game Theory perspective and I like to examine it today.

In the case of Covid-19, the United States trod the Lori Loughlin path of delaying the pain in the hopes it would go away. It didn’t and now we’re paying the price. Meanwhile countries like Japan and South Korea went the Felicity Huffman rout and took the punishment early, avoiding more disastrous consequences later.

Is one choice better than the other? If you choose to avoid punishment today there is always the chance the pain will never come. Perhaps Lori Loughlin will have the charges against her dismissed or she will not face any prison time. Felicity Huffman, on the other hand, pled guilty and served a few weeks in a minimum-security prison. She has that on her record forever but she is basically living her best life now and has been for a while.

There are arguments both ways. It’s sort of like staying in place when a hurricane is forecast for your region. If you don’t leave and the disaster doesn’t come, you’ve saved a lot of time and effort. However, if it does come, you might well die, be horribly injured, lose family members, or otherwise suffer for a long period of time.

In this case, President Trump and many of his political allies decided Covid-19 wasn’t that big a risk. That it probably wouldn’t get bad and we shouldn’t risk economic pain today for the uncertain forecasts of its dire consequences tomorrow. Some of them maintain that position even today despite the dying going on all over the country.

To be honest, we still face that very same decision right now. We are currently avoiding public gatherings but people are still getting sick and dying. The question we cannot answer is how many might have died; how bad would the economic impact be if the disease spread more quickly and widely throughout the United States? How bad might it get if we give up on social distancing too early?

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that had people continued to congregate normally the eventual economic impact could have been far worse. If huge numbers of people got sick then everyone would isolate without prompting from the government, merely out of self-preservation. This would hurt the economy far worse than we are currently experiencing.

Of course, it might not have been that bad. That’s the risk you take when you decide to avoid pain today in hopes it won’t arrive, and be significantly worse, tomorrow. It’s the decision you face right now in regards to social distancing. Accept the suffering today? Put it off and hope it won’t be so bad tomorrow?

Perhaps Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman might give us cogent answers to these questions. As for me, I think it’s better to take the consequences today rather than suffer later, you may disagree.

Tom Liberman

The Vulnerability of the Faithful to Scams

Vulnerability of the Faithful

With Covid-19 spreading around the United States and the rest of the world I wanted to address a topic that has long been on my radar, the vulnerability of the faithful to scams. People of deep religious convictions are considered faithful. This means they believe in their deity without proof, I do not mean to ridicule, that’s the necessity of faith. If their deity were to reveal itself in absolute terms, that would eliminate the nature of faith which is crucial to many of the devoted. This belief without proof makes those so inclined, in my opinion, vulnerable.

The vulnerability of the faithful is not something new. Turkey has an entire industry devoted to giving tours to the wreckage of Noah’s Ark. Confidence tricksters have long known that attaching the words “good Christian” to their endeavors will allow them to take money far more readily from the faithful.

This vulnerability of the faithful was first demonstrated to me years ago when an acquaintance of mine got involved in a patent scam. She paid tens of thousands of dollars to get the patent approved. I happen to know a very good patent attorney and when I tried to dissuade her from the path, to speak with him, she just looked at me and told me that it was a “good Christian company.” I gave up.

We are once again seeing the vulnerability of the faithful, this time in relation to a terrible disease. Cures are being peddled across the United States and often their targets are good Christians. They appeal to the faith of these people. This appeal is the main weapon such confidence tricksters have in their arsenal. Believe me, trust me, I know better than those other people, those scientists. I know you’re afraid but give me some of your money and I’ll make it all better.

I completely accept those of faith believe in their deity with absolute conviction and there is little or nothing I can say to dissuade them. That being said, please, keep your faith to religion. Do not let it drive your thinking in more practical matters. Don’t buy a car on faith. Don’t send your child to a daycare on faith. And, absolutely, do not buy a cure for Covid-19 based on faith. It’s not only your life at stake but those around you. Not to mention the money.

Tom Liberman

Nobody Thought they were Truman Burbank before Television

Truman Burbank

There are a number of people who think they are the subject of a Reality Show much like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show. They are delusional, certainly, but what is undeniable is that no one had such a mental delusion prior to the invention of television. Even after the invention of television it was not a heard about mental problem until after the Truman Show became part of the public conscious. What does that tell us about the human mind?

It wasn’t until H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds that people began to see aliens and UFOs. No one saw a leprechaun until they read, or were told, about them first. This is reality, a concept from which the people who suffer these delusions are somewhat divorced. But then, aren’t we all? Our memories are faulty, our senses unreliable, and our confirmation bias on high alert most of the time. It’s no wonder people think they are the subject of a reality television show.

I have a friend who, despite being apparently sane, intelligent, and rational, firmly believes he is the subject of an alien experiment where he is the only “real” person on the planet and everyone else is part of the research. Is he insane? Or is his delusional normal? Is everyone delusional to some degree or another? Is he Truman Burbank?

We are, undeniably, the center of our own universe, just like Truman Burbank. When someone I know moves to a location beyond my ability to sense them, they essentially disappear. I have no idea what they are doing or how they are conducting their life until I see them again. We are, equally undeniably, not the center of the real universe. We are not the subject of alien experimentation or the star of a television show in which the rest of reality is an illusion designed to fool us.

What happens that causes people like my friend, or those with the Truman Delusion, to lose their grip on reality? If they continue to function in normal society, is it really that damaging? Do we not have functioning drug and alcohol addicts around us every day? If they can manage to keep their delusion, or addiction, from putting them in a mental hospital, what harm is there?

I’m not going to write a dissertation on these many questions. I think the problems of mental health and self-delusion are complex and not easily addressed. I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reasonable way.

I think we should all strive to do a better job of being critical thinkers. I am not Truman Burbank and neither are you. Don’t believe what you want because it boosts your ego, trust what evidence shows is the most probable truth. Be a critical thinker.

Take this attitude toward all things in life. What car to buy. What food to eat. For what politician to vote. What novel to read.

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

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

Is Art Defined by the Constraints of the Medium?

Art Defined by Tic Tac Toe

During board game night a discussion broke out about how is art defined? While we delivered in the Wasteland Express the software developer opined that his job was artistic but that of an engineer was not. This being true because the medium in which the engineer worked was more greatly constrained.

Needless to say, strong opinions were hurled. I find the question of how is Art Defined to be an interesting question but the moral of the story, and the point of this blog, is more about how to we come to a consensus on a question that, by its nature, has no easy answer.

At issue; at least for the fellow trying to define software development as art, is how to we determine if an endeavor is so constrained that it can no longer be considered art. When confronted by thorny issues of this nature I think the best strategy is to simplify the question as best as is possible. It’s always going to be difficult, if not impossible, to determine what constitutes a line in the sand as far as constraints and be able to get to the bottom of Art Defined.

I started, on the drive home after having been thoroughly thrashed in the Wasteland yet again because I have too much fun making deliveries and taking on raiders and forget about the Victory Conditions, but that’s my issue and I’ve completely lost the train of thought on this sentence, best start again. As I was driving home, I thought about how most people who play chess at a moderately high level consider a well-played combination to be artistic. Certainly, chess has more constraints than engineering. If a game of chess can be artistic then we must conclude that a particular engineering design can be as well.

That being said, I must simplify further. How about checkers, I said to myself while waiting at a red light. Darn those red lights. No, even better, Tic Tac Toe. If we are going to simplify, let’s go all the way. Can Tic Tac Toe be artistic? No, I said to myself. End of story! Wait, I argued with myself, don’t be so hasty, Tom. Really? I replied. Yep, I answered. Let me give you an example.

In Game One the O player makes three moves and wins the game because the X player doesn’t make a blocking move. In Game Two the O player makes moves so as to block player X and set up a situation where she or he has two paths to victory and cannot be blocked. Is not Game Two more artistic than Game One?

We’ll, I said aloud to myself as the couple in the car one over looked at me like I was crazy. Did I mention I was waving my arms and hands to illustrate the moves on the Tic Tac Toe board? Well, you may have a point, I said nodding to the superior knowledge of me.

No, problem, I replied in an attempt at modesty. You would have come to the same conclusion if given enough time. Thanks, I said, although I suspect I was being a little condescending to myself.

In any case, if we decide that one Tic Tac Toe game can be more artistic than another, we are admitting the game can be artistic, although perhaps less so than a chess game, but artistic nevertheless. If this is true, it seems impossible to conclude anything other than all human endeavors possess the possibility of being artistic, regardless of how constrained they might be. There is the potential for art in all things.

This being the case, which I think I’ve proved to myself beyond a reasonable doubt, I think all engineers can now rest easy knowing they are capable of artistic designs. Now that I’ve resolved Art Defined, let’s tackle a bigger problem. How can I possible win a game of Wasteland Express if I don’t pay any attention to the Victory Conditions … a mystery that may never be solved.

Tom Liberman

Sherry Tina Uwanawich and the Million Dollar Curse

Sherry Tina Uwanawich Curse

There’s an interesting story in the news about a woman named Sherry Tina Uwanawich because the courts ruled she defrauded a family of $1.6 million by claiming they were under a curse. Uwanawich was ordered by the court to repay the money and sentenced to more than three years in prison. The argument of the government is that there was no curse and the money was fraudulently obtained.

So, why am I writing about this incident? Uwanawich took advantage of a gullible family and stole their money, she deserves what she gets, right? Well, in the same way you think curses aren’t real, I think religious salvation isn’t real. How much money is given to churches for fake salvation? I’m sure many of my friends and readers are certain that religious salvation is real but so too the family Uwanawich exploited was certain curses were real.

There are many people across the globe who believe in curses. There are many people across the globe who think it’s not a globe at all and give money to Flat Earth organizations. There are many people across the globe who believe all sorts of nonsensical things. The point here is that if Uwanawich is guilty of fraud, so too are many other organizations.

Can we prove curses aren’t real? Can we prove god isn’t real? Can we prove there isn’t a teapot orbiting the sun midway between Mars and the Earth? Perhaps Uwanawich actually saved the family from a terrible curse and their $1.6 million was well spent. The amount certainly pales in comparison to the amount of money various churches collect from their devotees. People pay money to those who take advantage of their nonsensical beliefs all the time and yet, for the most part, we don’t find it criminal. What’s different about this case?

Don’t get me wrong, what Uwanawich did to that family was reprehensible, but do the family members not bear much of the responsibility? They certainly handed over the money eagerly and willingly and presumable avoided the dread consequences of the curse.

In that far distant future in which Atheists come to power should they have the ability to put your local religious leader in jail for defrauding you? It’s a question needing an answer and I’ll happily tell you what I think. No. Religious beliefs, whether curses or salvation, should be out of the purview of the courts. Believe what you want and suffer the consequences, financial or otherwise, that’s your business.

Tom Liberman

An Atheist can be an Asshole and Atheists Should Always Say So

Atheist

I just watched a YouTube video from my favorite Atheist show, The Atheist Experience, and I thought it an extremely instructive example of how we should all try to behave. In a nutshell, if you largely agree with someone on a subject but they are saying something stupid; you need to be the one to tell that person her or his behavior is idiotic.

The Atheist Experience is a show in which theist call in with arguments against Atheism although the show also takes atheist callers albeit less frequently. The hosts of the show rotate fairly regularly but for the call in question, the main host was Matt Dillahunty along with his co-host David Warnock. Dillahunty is a former Southern Baptist well trained in the arts of debate and logic with a deep understanding of theology. He is a fearsome opponent in any sort of philosophical debate and is internationally recognized as such.

The caller to the show, a woman named Rose, was clearly a well-meaning and rather sweet older woman who wanted to prove the existence of God through a particular line in the Bible. She had come to a gun fight without even the proverbial knife. Her points were logically dismissed with almost careless ease by Dillahunty but it is only after this that the important part of the call occurred.

Rose mentioned that her son asked her to call into the show. Dillahunty immediately came up with the hypothesis that her son was an Atheist and had sent his mother, if you’ll forgive me, intentionally into the Lion’s Den in order to humiliate her. Dillahunty asked Rose if her son identified as an Atheist. Rose confirmed the hypothesis and that’s when Dillahunty and Warnock got angry, not at Rose but at her son.

“Your son is a dick,” was basically the first thing Dillahunty said after he found out the reason Rose called. “He makes us all look bad,” followed shortly thereafter from Warnock. They admonished the son, told Rose that the boy should apologize to her. They refused to speak anymore about the religious aspects of the topic because they did not want to further attack Rose, although they continued to harangue the son, who happened to be on the phone and attempted to explain his reasoning. Dillahunty and Warnock were having none of it.

The son was chastened. I feel very confident in suggesting that if religious people had rightly told the son his behavior was reprehensible, he would have given their opinion less consideration than he did that of Dillahunty and Warnock. That’s a lesson for us all.

When we look into the topics of politics, religion, sports, whatever; people are not much interested in listening to or giving credence to the opinions of those who oppose them. It is only when people are called out by those on the same side that real change is likely to happen.

If I may pat myself on the back and recall an incident that happened at a St. Louis Rams game some years ago. I was a season ticket holder and had seen the decline in the years after the Greatest Show on Turf. One week we played the Denver Broncos who were coming off a season in which they reached the Super Bowl. The Rams played an outstanding game and dominated the Broncos. As the crowd was filing out one of my fellow Rams fans started yelling idiotic thing to nearby Bronco’s fans. I immediately told him to show some dignity in victory, turned to the Broncos fans and thanked them for visiting St. Louis and wished them well. I’m happy to say the Rams fan shut his fat yap.

In any case, that’s my advice to you. Don’t worry so much about yelling at people you hate, call out the ones you like when they are behaving badly. If everyone did that, we might see some progress in this world.

Tom Liberman

NPS or Net Promoter Score and What it Means

NPS

I just became aware of a tool used by many S&P 500 companies called NPS or Net Promoter Score. The basic idea is to find out how many of your customers are so-called Promoters. The thought being if your customers give a product a 9 or 10 rating on a ten-point scale, they are promoters. Those who give it a 7 or 8 are passives and those who give it a 0 through 6 are detractors. That is what I want to examine today, the idea of promoters, passives, and detractors.

The idea was created by a fellow named Fred Reichheld although he doesn’t approve of the way it is currently being used by management in many companies. There is a lot to said for the NPS system both for and against but that’s not going to be the gist of my blog today. I want to look at NPS from a different angle.

I used to work as an instructor and we often gave out those one to ten rating scales for students to evaluate their experience in the class. I’ve also filled out many of them for various products that I’ve purchased over the years. I’ve come to a completely different conclusion than Reichheld although the practical implications may be about the same.

The idea of promoters is, of itself quite interesting. There is an underrated movie called The Joneses which examines this idea in fairly great detail. I wrote a Libertarian review of the movie not long ago should you wish to read it. In any case, the idea is that promoters go out and tell other people how great is your product and influence them into purchasing it.

The NPS system lumps people who give a product a 9 or 10 rating as promoters. My experience is fairly different. People who habitually rate a product that high are almost always True Believers who either lack critical thinking skills or simply choose not to apply them. People who rate a good product as 7 or 8 generally are more inclined to be skeptical. My own thinking is that I would almost never rate anything a perfect ten as nothing is without flaws.

The bottom end of the scale is where I radically differ from ideology of the NPS. I think people who give a product a 0 through 2 rating are generally exactly the same as those who give it a 9 or 10. They are True Haters. They don’t like either the product or its manufacturer for some personal reason and no amount quality is going to change their mind. They are, in essence, exactly the same as the people who rate the product highly. It is my opinion it is these people who should be targeted by the manufacturer for they, if swayed through some small act of kindness, will become True Believers for life.

I would be interested in a study of NPS scores compared to religious and political beliefs to see if there is a correlation between individuals who give extreme scores and those who espouse extreme political ideas.

In summation, I actually agree with some of the principles of the NPS. The system might call them Promoters while I use the term True Believers. The system calls middle scorer givers Passives whereas I call them Skeptics. The end result is; however, valid. The True Believers will promote and purchase the product no matter the quality, whereas the Skeptics will purchase products from competitors if they are objectively better. It is only with the low scorers where my disagreement with the NPS conflicts with the actions of business leaders.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman

Alyssa Milano and Why a Sex Strike is Just Like Prohibition

Sex Strike

Actress Alyssa Milano is upset various states are creating prohibitions to abortion and wants her fellow women to deny men access to sex, a Sex Strike. This so-called solution is essentially the same logic people use for the war on the drugs, prohibition, and an attempt to ban Loot Boxes in video games. It’s punishing everyone for the sins of a few.

The state of Georgia, and several others, are passing what are called Heartbeat Laws in which an abortion is made illegal as soon as the fetus’s heartbeat is detected. Seeing as this detection can occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant it essentially makes abortion completely illegal. Milano is being called out for a number of problems with her Sex Strike but I’d like to focus on the one more associated with my own Libertarian beliefs.

I’ll let others spend time explaining to Milano that a Sex Strike is a negative for women who enjoy sex, which, my limited experience tells me, is damn near all of them. It suggests women should essentially extort men for legislative favors in exchange for sex. It simply ignores homosexual men, asexual men, and lesbians altogether because, I guess, they don’t count. In addition, a fairly healthy percentage of women voted for and support these laws, so I’m not sure how the plan is going to work in that regard.

My problem is simply that you are attempting to punish an entire category of people because some of them are doing something you don’t like. There are a great number of men who support a woman’s right to have an abortion. The plan to go on a Sex Strike punishes those men indiscriminately for nothing they have done or even support. Some of those men voted directly against the bans in various states and certainly, many of them support politicians who actively work against such laws.

This logic is the same as behind our failed and violently destructive War on Drugs. Some people abuse drugs and therefore we must restrict them for all. Some people abuse alcohol and therefore we need Prohibition. Some people misuse guns and therefore they must be restricted for all. This lack of critical thinking is faulty and exhibited on both the Democratic and Republican side of the political fence.

Basically, you are calling for a lot of people to lose their freedom because other people are doing something you don’t like. It’s a vicious way of thinking. I’ll pass a draconian law, Sex Strike, in the hopes people will cave to my demands in order to avoid the effects, lack of sex, of the legislation. I want to make a whole bunch of people suffer in order to get my way. That’s not cool.

How about you organize and get women and men elected who support your point of view? Or is that too much to ask?

Tom Liberman

Steve Stricker and the Dmitrii Donskoi a Tale of Two Scams

Stricker

I recently read a pair of articles one involving Steve Stricker and the other a Russian ship named the Dmitrii Donskoi I think illustrate the difference between a fool and a victim. Both stories involve scam artists taking money from people but there is a fundamental difference in my opinion of those who fell for the tricks.

Stricker is a notable golfer who is captain of this year’s Ryder Cup team. A con-artists contacted a charity hosting a golf tournament and promised them that Stricker, his cousin, would be happy to attend and support the organization. The golf course and the charity accepted the story and promoted the event. People paid $7,500 to support the charity and spend time with Stricker. Unfortunately, Stricker knew nothing of the event and the con-artist skipped town with the money.

Back in 1905 a Russian fleet was sent to the Pacific in order to support Russian activity in the region and the Dmitrii Donskoi, an armored cruiser built in the 1880s, was part of that armada. She was sunk near an island in what is now South Korea. Back in 1999 a South Korean construction company in financial trouble claimed they had found the wreck and that it had on it 200 tons of gold coins. The share price of the company went up briefly but the claim was found to be false.

Recently another South Korean company, this a treasure hunting business, made the same claim about the Dmitrii Donskoi. They collected millions of dollars from investors and their stock price rose precipitously. As like the first claim, nothing came of it and investors were out large sums of money.

What do these two scam incidents have in common? Victims. People paid money to the charity in order to play with Stricker. People paid money for stocks and invested money in the hopes of recouping their cash and more. In both cases people lost their money.

Here is the difference. The charity event and the golf course promoting Stricker’s appearance made claims that were not unreasonable. I’m certain Stricker does attend such events over the course of the year. Fans expectation of seeing Stricker were reasonable. Certainly, the charity and the golf course should have done more diligence in ensuring Stricker was going to attend but the individuals who paid to see Stricker, and were scammed, behaved reasonable. I feel bad for them.

Meanwhile the Dmitrii Donskoi was never purported to have any gold on it and there was absolutely no reason to suspect it might. It was an older ship, slow and vulnerable, being sent into a war zone. The Russian government, if they needed to transfer gold, could have done it by rail with significantly greater ease. The amount of gold claimed to be aboard the Dmitrii Donskoi was equivalent to ten percent of all the gold mined in the history of the planet. The idea that there was, or is, gold aboard the wreck is patently ridiculous and anyone who spends ten minutes researching the project can learn this fact quite easily. I have no sympathy for any fool that fell for this scam.

The sad part is both scams will most certainly be used again. I suspect unwise, gold mad, morons will be pumping money into the pockets of con-artists mentioning the Dmitrii Donskoi. I also imagine that charities and their donators will be duped.

Not that it much matters, but idiots need not apply for my sympathy. For all others, I’m sorry some asshole used your good intentions to steal your money.

Tom Liberman

Jack the Ripper and Our Love of Closure

 Jack the Ripper

I see headlines all over the news about how Jack the Ripper has finally been conclusively identified. I heard radio talk show hosts talking about how wonderful it was that we finally knew Jack the Ripper identity. I was immediately skeptical but I would guess the majority of people were not so. I just read a wonderfully written article from Ars Technica indicating my skepticism was well-founded. Exceptionally good work, Jennifer Ouellette!

In any case, I leave it to you to read the article yourself and come to a conclusion. I don’t really want to talk about the guilt or innocence of Aaron Kosminski but instead the seemingly inherent human desire for closure. People want closure and, to a large degree, don’t really seem to care if it comes at the expense of critical thinking. Judging by what I’ve heard and read in media articles most people are thrilled to know that a conclusive result has been determined in the Jack the Ripper murders. Spoiler if you didn’t read the article, the case is far from closed.

Why do people care? The murders happened a hundred and thirty years ago. Solving the murders isn’t going to help or hurt anyone in any way. The descendants of victims are not going have their lives changed in any way. The descendants of the supposed murderer, who was a prime suspect to begin with, are not going to be arrested or punished. Yet, it’s clear to me, people are absolutely giddy with the idea that Jack the Ripper has been identified. Despite such knowledge having no practical effect.

I think the underlying cause is the satisfaction we get at a job well done, whether it is solving a murder or mowing the grass just right. Humans enjoy accomplishment and the identification of Jack the Ripper is just that. Not directly for me, not directly for anyone reading the article, but indirectly, very indirectly for people as a group. The case remains in the public conscious all these years later and there is a satisfaction derived from solving it.

I understand why people are happy with the news but I warn you to be aware of this human tendency and take it into account. Yes, you would be happy to know that Jack the Ripper has been identified but take into account you want this outcome. Be skeptical of people who understand human nature, in this case the people who released this supposedly conclusive proof. They are taking advantage of your desire to see something come to completion. The evidence is terrible and result is largely unsupportable. You’ve been duped.

In conclusion, be skeptical and do your research, particularly when it comes to something you want to believe.

Tom Liberman

Timothy Morrow and Stop Insulin Advice for Diabetics

Timothy Morrow

A fellow by the name of Timothy Morrow thinks insulin is a toxic agent that doesn’t help diabetics but instead hurts them. He recommends herbal remedies. He also promotes not giving children vaccines. He suggests alternative medical treatments for brain tumors and cancer. One of his clients had a child with diabetes and, on the advice of Morrow, didn’t give the boy insulin or call medical services. The child died. The question becomes if Morrow committed a crime.

This case reminds me in some ways of the Michelle Carter case in which she cajoled a friend to commit suicide. What Morrow did and continues to do is immoral and disgusting. He is dispensing bad medical advice for financial gain. The death of the young man in question is not the first time someone has died because they followed Morrow’s advice. However, is it criminal?

The herbal remedies that Morrow sells are labeled in a way indicating they are not approved for medical treatment and they are not intended to be used as medicine. He certainly advises people not to get vaccines, not to take insulin, not to go to doctors. His mantra is that the medical community is not interested in curing people but simply getting them sick and taking their money. Ironic to be certain as that exactly describes his own practice, but criminal?

It is reasonable to suggest that any person told not to give her or his child insulin for the child’s diabetic condition has plenty of information available to explain the folly of this advice. If the parent chooses to follow the bad advice despite ample and easily accessible proof to the contrary, who is at fault? The person who gave the bad advice or the person who followed it? Both?

Morrow pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse and has to pay for the cost of the funeral and an extra $5,000 in fines. The parents are not being charged with any crime at all.

Should the state met out punishment for people whose beliefs are unsupported by evidence and result in harm to a minor? Should the state seek criminal charges against those who offer medical advice that while perhaps heartfelt, leads to the death of a minor? These are important questions in this era when people forego vaccines and other life-saving medicines for their children because of, to be frank, completely ridiculous beliefs.

If I told you to drive off a cliff to cure your myopia and you did it, am I guilty of a crime? What remedy does the state have for people who do stupid things and people who dispense bad advice?

It’s a difficult question and cases need be evaluated individually but I’m not one to shirk away from a tough answer. In this case I’m sad to say I think the wrong people were charged. Don’t get me wrong, Morrow is vile, but he didn’t commit the crime, the parents did.

As I’ve said many times before, Freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Tom Liberman

Pizzagate Chuck E. Cheese Style

Chuck E. Cheese

Chuck E. Cheese is the center of a new conspiracy hypothesis making the rounds all over the internet thanks to popular YouTube personality, Shane Dawson. The basic idea is Chuck E. Cheese employees are putting together leftover slices from various tables, reheating them, and then serving them as a new pizza.

The evidence for this is pizzas often come out with rough edges and slices that don’t appear to match up. Any number of pictures displaying this are readily available. The explanation put forward by various Chuck E. Cheese employees is pizzas are sliced and then put on a larger pan where they shift about haphazardly on their way to the customer. It is also put suggested that sometimes the slicer miscounts and makes five cuts instead of the required six, Chuck. E. Cheese insists each pizza have twelve slices, and kitchen workers then slice the two largest pieces in half to make up the difference.

I’d like to go after this conspiracy hypothesis with a line of critical thinking that I’ve had success with in the past. When discussing these ideas with believers I think it’s quite useful to point out what would have to happen in order to make it true. I’m of the opinion this forces the person advancing the hypothesis to walk it through in a rational fashion. In this case, the question is how would Chuck E. Cheese employees go about making such a pizza.

Basically, the bussers would have to collect every slice of uneaten pizza left on each table. These slices would then have to be arranged in the kitchen by pizza type until exactly twelve slices remained of a particular type. Then they would have to put those slices back in the oven and reheat them. The first problem becomes actually finding twelve slices of a particular kind of pizza. This seems to me to be a rather difficult task considering people generally eat most of their pizza leaving crusts perhaps but not entire slices.

The next problem is where you would store the uneaten slices waiting for an entire pizza to be assembled. Space restrictions in a kitchen would seem to make this not particularly easy.

A third problem would be keeping the entire thing a secret from the outside world. In order to make this work every employee at every Chuck E. Cheese would have to be part of the conspiracy. This particular hypothesis has been around for at least ten years, likely because of the various misshapen and oddly sliced pizzas as discussed earlier. I find it all but impossible to believe every employee of the franchise is loyal enough to keep this a secret.

Is it possible the slices are being collected, stored, and assembled while all the employees are keeping the secret? I don’t argue that it’s impossible, just incredibly unlikely. Therefore, I choose to accept the explanations offered by former employees and the company itself.

And you?

Is Chuck E. Cheese Making Frankenpizzas?

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Tom Liberman