The Pump and Dump Suicide of Gustavo Arnal

Gustavo Arnal

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

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

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

What Happened

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

The Result

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

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

Caveat Emptor

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

Pump and Dump is Rampant

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

Prison

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

Solutions

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

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

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

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

Tom Liberman

Ideology over Reality and the Great Depression

Ideology over Reality

A recent Facebook spat of mine involving the Great Depression reminded me of the concept of ideology over reality. It’s not a big deal but it did strike me as something to discuss in a blog.

Basically, in a reply to one of my posts, a fellow with absolute certainty posited that the Great Depression would have lasted only a few months but President Franklin Roosevelt intentionally extended it to promote a socialist ideology.

It’s also important to understand my original reply had nothing to do with Roosevelt or the Great Depression. It was merely a comment about the Federal Reserve.

The Simple Problem

The simple problem with the stated post is that Roosevelt took office some three years after the Great Depression started. This is ideology over reality.

Do I think the person who made the statement is lying? No, I don’t. I think that person absolutely believes what they are saying. That person likely heard it from some factually unsound individual and believed it because it fit his world view. I didn’t even bother replying because there is just no point. When ideology over reality takes over a mind, for many people it seems almost impossible to go back.

The Original Thread

The original post I commented on involved a historical article about Andrew Jackson and his veto of the Second Bank of the United States. Someone else commented that between then and the establishment of the Federal Reserve, there were a series of economic panics and that, perhaps, Jackson’s veto, had drawbacks.

Ideology over Reality

In any case, that’s not really the point of my blog today. I understand Confirmation Bias and I’ve written about it before. Ideology over reality is becoming disturbing. The reply about the Great Depression was one of several I received on the issue. Not a single reply addressed my point in any way. They all spoke about nebulously related concepts, topics that met with the ideology of the person writing.

Conclusion

A growing number of people seem to just not care about reality. Ideology is first, last, and only. Facts simply don’t matter. Reality is irrelevant. What’s important is simple ideology. My ideology is right. Everything about it is right. There is no room for debate. There are no complex topics. It’s all simple, straightforward, easy. I’m smart, you’re stupid. Your way will lead to my destruction and I must stop you by any means possible.

Anyone who agrees with my ideology is always right. Anyone who disagrees with my ideology is always wrong. When a threshold percent of the population succumbs to this way of thinking, we can no longer coexist with one another in a peaceful way. We haven’t reached that threshold yet. Hopefully, we never will.

Think logically, not ideologically.

Tom Liberman

Sarah Michelle Gellar and McDonalds Misleading Headline

Sarah Michelle Gellar

It’s been a while since I’ve added to my Misleading Headline category but a story regarding Sarah Michelle Gellar and a lifetime ban at McDonalds rises to the occasion.

Matthew Thomas of the TheThings must be proud of sheer stupidity of this misleading headline and article. I read a lot of stories and I rarely encounter anything this incredibly illogical and stupid. I urge you to read the entire article, not just the incredibly misleading headline.

I’ll go ahead and give you quick summary of the abject stupidity presented here.

Burger King Commercial

As a child actress, Sarah Michell Gellar featured in a Burger King commercial. One of her lines included a claim that McDonalds hamburgers contained twenty-percent less beef than Burger King burgers. Following along so far?

McDonalds Sues

McDonalds then filed a lawsuit over this commercial and apparently Sarah Michell Gellar was named somewhere in the suit. She confirmed as much when asked about being sued by McDonalds when walking down the street one day. Proof positive, obviously.

Let’s Ignore the Fact Checker without any Facts

Thomas then goes on to link an article from the Huffington Post that debunks the claim Sarah Michelle Gellar was banned from McDonalds. Ok, seems reasonable so far. Then Thomas goes on to write “Despite the aforementioned fact check …” and what follows is utter gibberish.

Thomas posits because McDonalds apparently did file a lawsuit in the case, it stands to reason that maybe they also banned five-year-old Sarah Michell Gellar for life. I mean, just follow the logic, right? If they are willing to file the lawsuit then why wouldn’t they ban her for life? That’s it. That’s the entire train of logic from beginning to end.

Birds can fly so it’s perfectly logical there are birds on the moon being hidden by NASA because the earth is flat or something.

Anything is Possible

The stupidity of Thomas is based on the idea anything is possible. I wrote a lengthy blog on how the Egyptian Pyramids were built which discusses this concept in depth. Just because anything is possible doesn’t mean that the highly unlikely things are just as possible as the obviously possible things.

First off, how would McDonalds go about enforcing such a ban? I haven’t been to McDonalds in a long time but as I remember, no on checks identification before you order. Suffice it to say that such a ban is clearly impossible to enforce.

Conclusion

This headline is ridiculous and clearly false. The story that supports the headline is such an illogical mess of writing that it boggles the mind.

Tom Liberman

Is Monetization in Diablo Immortal Fixable?

Diablo Immortal

There’s a new mobile game on the market called Diablo Immortal and it’s generating a huge amount of hate in the gaming world. Diablo Immortal uses something called monetization as a method to generate revenue.

The game is free to play. Anyone can download it and start playing immediately. The makers of Diablo Immortal, Blizzard Entertainment, use in game purchases, or monetization, to make money. Nearly every gamer agrees the level of monetization in Diablo Immortal is unprecedented and a terrible direction for the industry.

My discussion today involves the idea something can being bad for one group or individual and good for another. Leading to difficult problems which are not easily solved.

What this blog is not about

One of the big arguments for monetization in Diablo Immortal is it’s really just pay-to-play rather than play-to-win. This is not my focus here today.

An argument for the pay-to-win model is that people can simply not pay. Again, not my focus here.
Another group argues that legislation against such predatory games will solve the problem. Again, not my focus.

However, I must cut through all the nonsense before I get to my actual point.

Addictions and Laws

People have addictions. Drugs including alcohol, food, gambling, love, whatever. Addictions exist and Diablo Immortal uses the underlying cause of these addictions to harm people. The game uses a tried and tested method based on dopamine. It works. People will be harmed.

Laws can’t stop it, although they can slow it certainly. If you make something illegal then a black-market arises which is worse than a legal, if predatory, market. Violent criminals gain huge sums of money.

Finally, my point

Diablo Immortal is bad for addictive personalities. It is bad for people who don’t have the time, money, or personal stability to play the game safely.

It is good for players who enjoy the underlying game and have the money, time, and personal stability to play it without trouble. It is obviously good for Blizzard Entertainment if it generates considerable revenue.

Where does that leave us? It’s not as simple as enlightened self-interest. I acknowledge this game will hurt people. I accept that addictions are real and the game taps into them and causes real harm. I fully get the manufacturers know it will cause harm and don’t care. The game won’t hurt me but I am not without empathy. I know it will hurt many people.

How to Fix the Problem

I’m against laws that outlaw such games for a number of reasons. The black-market as discussed above. The fact that many people can and will enjoy Diablo Immortal without negative consequences to their lives. Banning the game punishes those people.

The solution is elusive and difficult, as is often the case.

People who feel empathy for the harm Diablo Immortal will cause to others should not play. People who are against monetization of such games should not play. Friends and family must pay attention to those they love for signs of danger. Financial Institutions can implement notification policies when certain thresholds are met in regards to money issues.

Banning the game is a simple solution but it won’t work in the long run. Harassing the company might work in the short term but someone else will always take their place.

Easy? No. Simple problems have easy solutions. Difficult problems are not easily solved, no matter what an influencer might say. Don’t like my answers? I’m not surprised. Difficult solutions are never popular.

If enough people have critical thinking skills, empathy for the suffering of others, and understand the principles of enlightened self-interest; Diablo Immortal and its ilk will die. Good riddance.

Tom Liberman

The Great Quartz Rush in KwaZulu-Natal

KwaZulu

Diamonds and Quartz Look Similar

The harm a lack of education and poverty can cause was on display in South Africa when a cattle herder found a mineral that looked like it might be a diamond. This set off a diamond rush to the KwaZulu-Natal region of that country.

The problem is that another mineral, quartz, looks an awful lot like a diamond to the naked eye. In fact, it generally takes a laboratory examination to tell the difference between the two minerals.

Diamond Rush Ensues

Many people rushed to the KwaZulu-Natal region in order to start digging for diamonds. These treasure hunters then proceeded to destroy over fifty hectares of land, that’s over a hundred and twenty acres to those of us in the United States.

This happened despite overwhelming geologic evidence the region is extremely unlikely to contain diamonds. It is a region composed dolerite, a predominately volcanic rock. We find Diamonds universally in rocks called kimberlites and lamproites.

Quartz is extremely common in dolerite regions.

Why did this Happen?

I finally get to the point of this blog. The incredible damage that often results from the terrible combination of poverty and lack of education. It is fairly clearly established that greater wealth goes hand-in-hand with higher education. This in itself is useful but I want to look at the dangers uneducated and poor populations present to the rest of society and the world.

People who do not have money have less to lose. I can understand why someone from the poverty-stricken region of KwaZulu-Natal gave into the temptation of this diamond rush. What do they have to lose? Their lives are already miserable and the futures for their children are just as bleak.

Throw into this mix a lack of education. The people in the KwaZulu-Natal region might not even know the mineral composition of the soil and the impossibility of the discovered minerals being diamonds. They just don’t know any better.

The Terrible Results

In this case, the result is the destruction of a large chunk of land, that happily enough was not of great value. The potential damage is far, far greater. It seems to me the negative results of anti-education policies right here in the United States and around the world are manifesting themselves every day.

People who are desperately poor and without a solid educational foundation are significantly more likely to make poor, desperate decisions. Those decisions lead to negative outcomes not only for the people in question but for everyone around them. That’s the problem.

As a Libertarian, I strongly think people should make their own decisions in life. That being said, it’s undeniable poor people, desperate people, and uneducated people tend to make worse decisions than their counterparts.

I know some people will laugh at this situation and think of South Africa as a poor nation. Such people will think to themselves this could never happen here. I beg to differ. I put no stupidity beyond people, even here in the United States.

If a supposed diamond was found in my backyard, I’d immediately fear for my life from the hordes of people immediately descending upon my property with violence in their eyes, greed in their hearts, and nothing at all in their minds.

The United States is not as far removed from South Africa as you might imagine. People are the same everywhere.

Tom Liberman

SciManDan Trolls for Flat Earth and Finds Great Kids

Great Kids

What’s Going on?

I just watched a great YouTube video from SciManDan in which he chatted with random people via Omegle in the hopes of finding Flat Earth proponents. What he found instead was a bunch of great kids from all over the world and it was glorious.

SciManDan is a popular YouTube content creator who largely, but not solely, debunks Flat Earth videos. He was trying to disprove the general hypothesis among proponents that their numbers were growing exponentially. While this was successful, the lesson I took from it was something I’ve talked about before, the world is filled with an ever-growing number of great kids.

The Experiment

Omegle is a chat site in which you are randomly paired with strangers in order to partake in presumably interesting conversations. SciManDan went onto the site with a sign indicating he believed the earth is a sphere and wanted people to convince him otherwise.

He spent about fours trying to find anyone who espoused a position against a spherical earth and failed. That’s good news in itself but not really the point of my blog. What I’d like to discuss is the reaction of many of the predominantly young people he encountered on his mission.

The Great Kids of the World

For the most part the young people he encountered all pretty much immediately said the world was, in fact, a globe and they didn’t disagree with his position.

Several of them thought for a moment, declared the Earth is a sphere, but then tried to come up with arguments to convince SciManDan. I found this quite impressive. The willingness to take up a position with which you disagree is a sign of an agile and inquiring mind. The age of many of the young people who proved ready and able to take on this challenge was quite a bit younger than most of the Flat Earth proponents I’ve seen on SciManDan’s channel.

The ethnicities and accents of the various young people he spoke with indicated a fairly broad cross-section of the world.

Many of the youngsters asked pertinent questions about what he was doing. Sure, some were pretty goofy and at least one was stoned off his gourd, but they wanted to know what he was doing. They took the time to look him up on YouTube. One of them even had a sibling fan of SciManDan resulting in a bit of shock and awe that I enjoyed watching.

By and large they wished him well and told him to keep fighting the good fight.

By golly, by George, by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the great kids of the internet with inquisitive minds who are happy to talk with or type to people of all nationalities really gives me tremendous expectations for the future.

Conclusion

Today’s great kids grew up with the internet and largely seem to understand we are not separated by gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality, and all the other false divisions foisted on us by those in power who wish to stay there.

Kids get it and this boomer is confident the world will soon be in better hands. Frankly, it can’t come soon enough.

Tom Liberman

The Death of Satire because People be Dumb

Death of Satire

Is Satire Really Dead or Am I Making a Point

I hereby declare the Death of Satire on this day of March 26, 2021. Satire is great and it’s not really going away, it hasn’t died, but it’s becoming all but impossible to differentiate between satire and something truly idiotic that a group of people, sometimes a large group, believes.

I’ve written a number of blogs on the lack of critical thinking ability but the problem seems to have reached a point where it’s impossible to tell if someone is just really stupid or trying to use satire. If there is no substantive difference between reality and satire, then, to some degree it is the death of satire.

The point came home to me when I saw video produced by The Onion some eleven years ago that was biting and hilarious. One of the people commenting noted the current content isn’t as good. Someone else replied the competition with Fake News was so steep it became impossible to write good satire.

Um, yeah, valid.

How did We Get Here?

Our erstwhile leaders; be they local, state or national in stature, seem to want to lay the blame at the feet of social media and various extremely unreliable news sources. I am not so inclined to blame the death of satire on such organizations. I think the problem lies in the mirror. People be dumb.

The confidence trickster relies on the fact people believe what they want to believe, rather than what the facts tell them, in order to take money from their victims.

My opinion is the underlying problem is our personal identity has become too closely aligned with a variety of issues. If I’m of one particular religion, political party, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, or whatever, I’m unwilling to examine a situation with critical thinking.

It’s not that people haven’t always lacked critical thinking skills, it’s that a certain percentage of our society now lacks them, and I’m convinced that number is reaching a critically dangerous point. If enough people simply refuse to look at facts and come to rational conclusions, decisions are going to be flawed; which leads to enormous difficulties.

We need look no further than the current pandemic to see people on both sides of the issue completely abdicating reason in order to push an agenda.

How do We Fix it?

I love satire and I want a world filled with it. The fact of the death of satire makes me sad and I’d like to get about fixing it. The problem is there is no easy solution. If people refuse to think critically then satire must continue to slowly lose out to its unyielding competition: stupidity.

I say there is no easy solution and that is accurate, but the concept is quite simple. Teach critical thinking skills starting from early childhood. Create a generation of people who look at facts and make decisions not on what they want to be true, but what is true.

Yeah, good luck with that, Tommy Boy. I hear you.

Tom Liberman

Lying About the Texas Power Crisis

Texas Power Crisis

The Question

The Texas Power Crisis of 2021 has engendered a lot of media attention in the last weeks but what I’d like to address is the lying associated with the crisis. Why are people failing to be honest about the causes of the Texas Power Crisis and what are the long-term impacts of such lies?

The Facts

The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, attributed the Texas Power Crisis to the freezing of wind turbines and he was followed largely by Republicans on both a state and national level.

Texas is a big wind power state for the simple reason there is a lot of open space but even at that, wind power only accounts for about 23% of the state’s total power output. When the cold weather swept down into the south many of the wind turbines froze but the primary cause of the power crisis was the loss of natural gas production.

Those in charge of energy production in Texas ignored warnings after a similar crisis called the Groundhog Day Blizzard back in 2011. They chose to hope that such a cold weather crisis would not happen again and are now reaping the consequences of that choice.

Why did Governor Abbot and his fellow Republicans lie about the main cause of the problem? The answer is quite simple, for political gain. Green Energy is largely considered a talking point of the Democratic Party and by blaming the wind turbines for the crisis, Abbot hopes to convince people that Democrats are to blame and, obviously, to vote for Republicans.

Not long ago, I wrote about how the Covid-19 crisis engendered similar lies along an anti-science line. I’ve also written about how green energy will supplant fossil fuels and why that is a good thing for all of us. I’ve also delved into the false belief of a Flat Earth and I think these subjects dovetail nicely with the Texas Power Crisis.

The point is anti-science rhetoric causes people not to trust science. It’s certainly true many people don’t subscribe to the lies Governor Abbot peddled about the Texas Power Crisis and most people believe that we live on a sphere. That being said, every time someone in authority lies to us, there are going to be people who believe those lies and make decisions about their life based on those falsehoods.

That’s the danger of lying in this manner and we have to gauge the benefits against those risks. Is the perceived benefit of political gain for one political party worth the potential losses that will certainly be sustained by a country that refuses to follow science and begins to fall behind the rest of the world in many ways?

I don’t doubt for a moment Governor Abbott and those like him think the risk is well-worth it. They believe if they come completely into power, they’ll be able to make the world a better place. They believe the ends justify the means and they are not alone. There are opportunists in every party and my own Libertarians fall into the same trap. You should read some of the crypto-currency nonsense floating around out there. And I’m a believer in the eventual rise of said monetary system.

In any case, that’s the question each one of us has to face. Are the lies worth it? Will enough people believe the lies to elect my politicians and few enough to avoid catastrophe for the United States?

Conclusion

My answer is, of course, tell the truth no matter where it leads. If I make a mistake, if my actions are responsible for the negative outcome; then I must show personal responsibility. I understand the consequences to an entire nation that devalues truth and science. I see the writing on the wall. I’m not willing to sacrifice my integrity for a few votes. Your opinion may differ.

Tom Liberman

Haim Eshed says Aliens waiting for Sane and Understanding

Sane and Understanding

There’s a story making the rounds about a fellow named Haim Eshed who says aliens are waiting to disclose themselves to the people of earth until we are sane and understanding. He makes a number of other claims and his credentials are being touted as the former head of the Israeli Space Security program although I’m not sure what that means.

Some research indicates he was the first director of the Challenge Program, a division of the Department of Defense’s Office of Weapons Research, Development, and Technology Infrastructure, although again, I’m not really certain how that makes him knowledgeable in this field.

In any case, the qualifications of Eshed are not what I’m here to debate today. He makes quite a few outlandish claims but even that is not the focus of today’s talk. I want to discuss one claim in particular, the aliens are waiting for the people of this planet to be “sane and understanding.”

Eshed claims there is a Galactic Federation and they contacted the United States some time ago but don’t want their presence revealed until we reach the sane and understanding phase of our civilization. That if we are not sane and understanding, panic and chaos might result. As many problems as I can find with all of his claims, that’s the one that I couldn’t manage to swallow.

I mean, really, sane and understanding? This is the old science fiction trope dating back all the way to H. G. Wells, that people aren’t ready to know about aliens and therefore they must be kept a secret. Was there ever a time when people would descend into chaos because aliens appeared?

It’s my opinion people are not any saner or more understanding today than they were in ancient Egypt. That being said, we are quite capable of dealing with the idea of alien races, as were the ancients. What are people doing to do? Run out in the streets and riot? My guess is a pretty healthy majority of people would jump for joy at the news.

We are not going to have an epiphany of sane and understanding sweep over the world. The claim we can’t handle the news is just a feeble excuse for why Eshed offers no proof, as is often the case with people pushing nonsensical claims with no evidence. I could show you but you just aren’t ready to hear it. Ha!

If the aliens are waiting for sane and understanding they’ve already waited too long. Our level of sane and understanding hasn’t changed at all and isn’t likely to change in the future. We are what we are.

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

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

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

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