Jose Canseco, Steroids, and Logical Paradox

In case you weren’t aware, Jose Canseco has been attempting a baseball comeback with the Mexican League. Last night, the president of the Mexican League confirmed to ESPN that Canseco had been banned for taking testosterone, a prohibited substance. Canseco then tweeted:

How can I test positive when I never took any test don’t believe everything the media tells you.the truth always comes out I am not using any illegal substanced

It’s easy to make fun of Canseco, the man who singlehandedly touched off the steroid scandal in baseball and wrote two books, Juiced and Vindicated, about his own personal steroid use and the steroid use of other players in baseball. He is simultaneously the most famous steroid user and the most famous steroid truth-teller in baseball. So, logically, does it make sense to believe him when he says he did nothing wrong?

The logical principle at work here is known as the “Liar paradox.” It was a key plot point in the original Star Trek episode “I, Mudd,” but it dates back to the ancient Greeks. As I first learned in Aha! Gotcha by Martin Gardner (an amazing book that every nerdy kid should read), the simplest form of the paradox can be written as follows: “This sentence is false.” No matter how we parse it, we cannot resolve the truth content of the sentence: if the sentence is false, then the statement in it must be true, which is logically impossible. But if the sentence is true, then the statement in it must be false, which is logically impossible.

The liar paradox is related to other logical paradoxes, some of which are more easily resolved than others. The famous Epimenides paradox, named after a Greek poet of the 7th century BCE who hailed from Crete, is commonly rendered as, “All Cretans are liars.” But it can be resolved with semantics: if you define the word “liar” as someone who sometimes lies but is capable of telling the truth, rather than someone who always lies and is incapable of telling the truth, then Epimenides might have been telling the truth in that moment despite his natural habit of lying.

On a similar, technical level, “This statement is false” might be resolved by deciding that a sentence — a series of symbol-groupings arranged in an arbitrary syntactic order, which might be automatically reproduced via packets of data to the pixels on your screen, which you then reinterpret as having a semantic meaning — cannot be said to contain fundamental truth. The 13th-centrury Persian philosopher Athir al-Din al-Abhari resolved the paradox another way, by questioning the necessary binary duality of truth and falsity, concluding that it is not necessarily the case that a thing must be entirely true or else it must be entirely false. (This is known as the principle of bivalence. And no, I didn’t know about bivalence or al-Abhari until I read the Wikipedia articles.)

In this case, though it appears that Jose Canseco is ironically denying the use of a potentially performance-enhancing drug, the facts appear less contradictory. According to ESPN, Jose Canseco has been banned from the Mexican League for using testosterone. In a series of tweets and in a video interview with ESPN Deportes, Canseco said that he was taking testosterone per a doctor’s prescription, due to low testosterone levels in his own body.

If anything, it appears that Canseco is confirming the Mexican League president’s claim, not disputing it. The paradox arises not because of the seemingly unconflicting statements, but because of Canseco’s credibility. After hearing this news, Fox News Latino’s Victor Garcia wrote bluntly: “Jose Canseco sold his career, his friends and his legacy out for money which he couldn’t even hold on to. He is probably responsible for the most shameful era of professional sports and has lost all credibility with baseball fans and the media.” But the novelist Michael Chabon put it more lyrically in a 2005 op-ed in the New York Times, after Canseco first spoke out about steroids:

By his own admission, Canseco has slacked off and hurt people and lied and broken a lot of promises, large and small. And used steroids. And therefore, many people seem to feel, he is not to be admired – neither in the past, during his brief heyday, so that we must retroactively rescind our delight in his style and our amazement at his prowess, put an asterisk beside our memory of the pleasure of his company over the course of a few long summers; nor in the present, not even when he steps forward to tell the truth, a big, meaningful, dolorous truth that most of us, measured by our own standards of heroism, would have a hard time bringing ourselves to tell.

Journalists are trained to be a naturally skeptical bunch, as in the old joke, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” So when Jose Canseco says that he did nothing wrong, it’s hard to take him at his word. On the other hand, Canseco has a pretty good recent track record of admitting his drug use — after all, we all believed him when he said he used steroids — so when he says he took testosterone, it seems reasonable to believe him. In other words, like Epimenides, it seems likely that in this case, he’s telling at least a partial truth.

Seen in this light, the Canseco story becomes a minor irony, like Julian Assange’s vehement objections whenever journalists attempted to probe into his private life, rather than a logical paradox. But in this column I don’t mean to just make an idle investigation into a single PED claim about a little-loved juicer. When it comes to steroids, far too many fans and writers appear to take a bivalent approach: either a player was entirely innocent or entirely guilty. Either Ryan Braun is entirely a cheater, or entirely a victim. Such strict dualism is not particularly useful. In talking about performance enhancing drugs and those who have been accused of using them, it would be helpful to move past a Manichean view of absolute good and absolute evil with regard to steroids and their users.

Or even absolute good and absolute evil with regard to Jose Canseco, the man who let a fly ball bounce off his head for a home run, the man who forced us to confront the reality of the steroid era and forever change our memory of the past two decades in baseball, the man who hasn’t played a full major league season since 1998, when he was 33, but a decade and a half later is still fruitlessly trying to make a comeback. “I just want to play baseball,” he told ESPN yesterday. “It’s real simple.”

Fundamentally, that’s the only reason any steroid user would ever take steroids in the first place. Even if I don’t much like Canseco personally — and I hope I never have to watch Season 5 of The Surreal Life or one of his MMA fights — I can’t begrudge his love of baseball, because I love it too. He’s a flawed human being but a human nonetheless, and likely no more of a liar than Epimenides. Despite his protestations, the Mexican League may well have been justified in banning him. Nonetheless, logically, I have to give him at least a little benefit of the doubt.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

66 Responses to “Jose Canseco, Steroids, and Logical Paradox”

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  1. It might be helpful to make the distinction between “morally wrong” and “morally blameworthy.”

    That is, even if we believe that it is morally wrong for a baseball player to use steroids (a claim I deny, but let’s assume it for now), we can still say that they are not morally blameworthy. There may have been mitigating circumstances that stopped them from seeing the immorality. There may have also been circumstantial pressures that made their decision to use steroids less blameworthy than if a perfectly situated person had decided to use. Intent may also matter in this instance (when it comes to blameworthiness). Did he use steroids to keep playing a game he loves? Did he use steroids because he got a thrill from cheating?

    Non-baseball example. Even if we believe it is always wrong to steal (again, a questionable claim), we may find someone less worthy of blame if she steals to feed her starving friend than if she steals for the thrill of it.

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  2. ngrimson says:

    This was a great article and it cleared the cobwebs after a long, mindless day at work. Thank you.

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    • Al says:

      This article didn’t clear any cobwebs, it was more like your day at work… long and mindless.

      Remington, get off your pseudo-intellectual high horse. There is no need to delve into one of your patented philosophical inquiries on ethics and human nature so that we may be as enlightened as you are. Most of us are fine taking the simple facts and reaching the simplest conclusion: The guy took steroids for a long time. Now his body can’t produce enough natural testosterone. So he has to take synthetic t to get to normal levels. Synthetic testosterone, be it prescribed by a doctor or not, is a banned substance in the Mexican league, so he refused to take the test. That’s it. That could be your whole article. And it would be more substantive than the conclusion you lead us to: “he might be telling the truth, maybe, unless he isn’t” (plus you wouldn’t even have to reference any ancient Greeks or Persians!)

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  3. Joe says:

    Solid TOS reference.

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    “He is probably responsible for the most shameful era of professional sports.”

    This quote made me laugh out loud. If anything, Canseco was responsible for shedding light on and helping bring an end to the steroid era. And has he never heard of segregation?

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  5. As a youngster that read everything baseball I could find, I had difficulty reconciling famous baseball people saying things like “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’” with the outrage and punishments for players that did.

    As. Got older I saw the same thing with NFL defenders who were expected to be savages on the field and model citizens off of it.

    NHL fighting presents an equally confusing quagmire.

    I have no idea what to think about Canseco’s recent situation. As one that’s very interested in PEDs I recall most hand-waving Canseco’s comments away as bitterness and greed … but then when well-liked Caminiti admitted use, then it was time to take it seriously. The difference with Canseco is that he was claiming firsthand use and helping other players use.

    The medical use of test has been iffy because of the “integrity” of some of the doctors involved.

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  6. colin says:

    Personally, I heavily believe in the concept of bivalence and feel that it is a concept that more baseball analysts should embrace. Even in the saber world things are too often put to us as right or wrong.

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    • Either you aren’t quite understanding bivalence correctly, or I’m not. Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “In logic, the semantic principle (or law) of bivalence states that every declarative sentence expressing a proposition (of a theory under inspection) has exactly one truth value, either true or false.”

      In other words, under bivalence, everything is binary: true or false, right or wrong, full or empty. No room for nuance or grey area in the middle. I agree with you that there’s far too much of that, and far too little nuance.

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      • colin says:

        No you are right, I was confused. I meant what I said, just sub in the antonym of bivalence.

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      • philosofool says:

        Bivalence means that every statement is either true or false.

        This is not the same as “full or empty” or “right or wrong”. There are many acts that are neither right nor wrong, but instead, are optional. Likewise, there many glasses that are neither full nor empty.

        Bivalance says “The glass is full” is either true or false. If it is false, “the glass is not full” is true, but that doesn’t imply that it is empty.

        Bivalence says “Using PED is wrong” is either true or false. If it is false, “Using PED is not wrong” is true, but that doesn’t imply that it is right either. Mowing your lawn every week is neither wrong nor right, it is optional.

        Logics that deny bivalence are very difficult to develop formally. People attempt to do this for vague statements, and the result is an extremely technical bit of mathematics. The basic approach is to take vague statements as interpretable into precise statements, and then develop logical operations that say “this statement is interpretable only such that it is true” for non-vague statements and “this statement has both true and false interpretations” for vague statements.

        Note that logics for vaugueness typically deny that statements are bivalent but still endorse the law of excluded middle, which says that every statement of the form “either p or not p” is true. This works because while, if p is vague, there are interpretations of p according to which it is true and some according to which it is false, for any interpretation you pick, it is either true or false, so “either p or not p” comes out true.

        Okay, logic geek is done now.

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    • It is worth noting that bivalence is compatible with us offering various degrees of confidence to our beliefs. So, we can accept that there is an objective truth, one way or another, on some issue, yet not feel fully certain in our belief concerning it. (In fact, we should be uncertain of most of our beliefs).

      In Sabermetrics, even if things are presented as right or wrong, we still should understand that we should have varying degrees of confidence in our beliefs (established by amount of data available, scope of claim, etc).

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      • LTG says:

        On the liar’s paradox and bivalence:

        Denying bivalence does not solve the paradox. If “This sentence is false” is neither true nor false (the new third truth-value), then the proposition is false. But if it is false, then it is true. The paradox returns.

        What al-Abhari probably means is that nothing can simply be without being distinct from something else. In other words, everything that is must not be with respect to something. Black must not be white; I must not be you; etc. (I imagine he then goes on to discuss the mysteriousness of God, but I don’t have any expertise on him.) If “absolute truth” (a phrase I despise, not because I’m an enemy of truth but because the adjective adds nothing to the notion) is “absolute being” (being without distinction), then what al-Abhari says makes some sense. But truth as a property of propositions is not the same as being. The liar’s paradox, as we understand it today, is about propositions, and is an on-going problem that some philosophers lose their lives trying to solve.

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      • “The liar’s paradox, as we understand it today, is about propositions, and is an on-going problem that some philosophers lose their lives trying to solve.”

        Ha, yes, AND one of the main reasons I avoid Philosophy of Language whenever I can.

        Do you study/work in philosophy, LTG? I enjoy the reasonableness of your posts.

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      • Cozar says:

        LTG: Unless you consider the fourth truth-value, that the sentence is both true and false.

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      • Let’s not consider impossibilities.

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      • Here is a sentence that is both true and false.

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      • LTG says:

        Yes, I work on hermeneutics and philosophy of law and used to work in philosophy of language.

        Cozar, can’t tell if you are being facetious. In case not, as RSF points out, if a proposition is both true and false (as opposed to a sentence expressing multiple propositions some of which are true and some of which are false), then it is a contradiction. Contradictions are non-sense; they entail every other proposition. Unlike meals, there is no fourth truth-value.

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      • Unfortunately, I think calls by Jerry Meals occasionally do have a fourth truth-value.

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      • philosofool says:

        The simplest version of the liar is technically “This sentence is not true.” Even if you have multiple truth values besides true, “not p” should resolve as true for every truth value of p besides TRUE. So denying bivalence won’t eliminate the paradox.

        I don’t think that the paradox is about propositions. If it’s about propositions, you can resolve the paradox by saying that there’s not proposition corresponding to the english sentence “this statement is false” and the paradox does go away, sort of. On this resolution, you assert bivalence of propositions, which are the meanings of meaningful statements, but deny that every english sentence corresponds to a proposition.

        The reason that the paradox is related to Russell’s is that in certain (demonstrably bad) higher order logics, you can construct liar sentences. In standard predicate and propositional logics, such statements are impossible to construct.

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  7. colin says:

    Also re: Jose Conseco, it seems possible that maybe his admission to taking steroids might be used against him. First sentence says he was banned for taking testosterone, not that he failed a drug test. Then it is mentioned he admitted to taking testosterone because it was prescribed by a doctor to treat his low testosterone levels. Seems to me the Mexican league does believe him.

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  8. Richard says:

    this statement is hilarious:

    “Journalists are trained to be a naturally skeptical bunch”

    Ever see a White House press conference in the last 40 years? Or, more generally, watch or read the news?

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    • I read the news, yes. I’ve worked at a newspaper, and I’m in grad school studying journalism and public policy. Sure, there’s a lot of bad, non-skeptical journalism out there, and it’s easy to find it. But journalists are trained to be skeptical. Ever worked as a journalist? Or, more generally, talked to one?

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      • jj says:

        Where were the skeptics in the late 90s and early 2000s as far as MLB writes go? I think that it is hard for these writers (and White House press too) to get any answers if they are too skeptical. They are like a PR extension of the team (presidency) seems like this is one of the reasons that sports and political blogs keep growing in numbers and hits.

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      • Well, one answer would be Tom Boswell, who first wrote about steroids in baseball in the late 1980s and is generally credited with being the first baseball writer to cover the issue.

        Baseball beat writers have a lot to answer for, including their inability to write about steroids. But they also have a difficult job, trying to keep their access to a monopoly corporation that has the proprietary right to all its internal information and no legal obligation to tell them the truth — or tell them anything.

        That’s a point I made last year: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/on-the-media/

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      • Richard says:

        I know the official line is journalists are trained to be skeptical, but it’s more what they’re skeptical about. I’d say the norm is “passing on what experts or officials tell you”; i.e., bad journalism.

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      • LTG says:

        Richard,

        The claim you are making and the claim Alex is making are not in conflict. The following two propositions are compatible:
        1) Journalists are trained to be skeptical.
        2) Journalists are sometimes insufficiently skeptical.

        And a third proposition is also compatible:
        3) Journalists are often skeptical.

        Due to 2) we might conclude that the training isn’t taking well enough or that something else is corrupting the training in some way. Your examples are not a large subset of journalists nor journalism; so stronger conclusions aren’t warranted.

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      • novaether says:

        LTG – can I hire you to settle all of my arguments?

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      • LTG says:

        How much does that job pay?

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    • bill says:

      There’s a lot of selection when you look at White House press conferences. Reporters don’t get to that level by making unpopular waves. There are many very good reporters out there.

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  9. jim says:

    canseco has become an almost tragic character. like judas is illogically hated by christians, canseco is illogically hated by baseball fans for what he did, when it obviously has helped do more good than harm.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Canseco claimed to be the one that introduced baseball to steroids and taught players how to use them, terming himself “The Chemist”.

      That he, later once he was out of baseball, started talking about it doesn’t inherently make him a good guy in the bunch.

      Canseco can be hated for bringing steroids into baseball, but hated slightly less for talking about it. IMO, he didn;t write his book for the “good of the game”. He wrote about it, so that we’d all know who was the “brains” behind the Steroid Era.

      Jim Bouton pissed off a lot of people when he wrote about baseball players as cheating on their wives, using greenies in large amounts, and things of that nature. Today, many view him as a “good guy” that told everyone about the “other side” of baseball. At the time, his peers and others didn’t necessarily view him as such.

      Now, imagine that Jim Bouton was the guy that brought greenies into the game and arranged for players to have affairs with their wives … and then wrote a tell-all book about it, and maybe he’s universally hated.

      It was just a matter of time before steroids were in MLB. I think some basically think that baseball would have remained “pure” had Canseco not done what he did. I don;t feel that way.

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      • colin says:

        I think it is a bit of a stretch to give credit to Canseco for bringing steroids into the game. I think he would love people to believe that if only because he is narcissistic enough to want all the credit for anything, no matter how good or bad.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        Canseco is clearly not the brightest light in the room. No way he alone introduced steroids to baseball. That is all ego! Canseco never played for Seattle, St. louis, Baltimore, Yankees, etc who are clubs known to have had several juicing players.

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      • Raf says:

        If Tom House is to be believed, steroids have been around at least since the 70′s.

        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/05/03/SPGSTCJ0SK1.DTL

        I would wager they’ve been around even longer

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Dianabol only became really popular with the muscle crowd in the mid 60s.

        Weight-lifting until the late 70, early 80s was thought to make baseball players “musclebound” and was avoided at all costs.

        Steroids may have been “around” in one form or another with a few guys but the levels of becoming a major problem originated (at least) in the mid/late 80s.

        Tom House? Where to begin? The best thing about listening to him is that if you listen long enough he’ll say everything or anything.

        He’s claiming that steroids, growth hormone, stimulants, etc were rampant in the 70s. Watch ESPN classic sometime. Either the steroids of the 1970s were essentially tylenol or House is exagerrating. Based on my experiences in baseball, including one that is fanatic about pitching mechanics, I’m going to lean toward House being full of shit … of course getting him to admit such a thing is impossible.

        House was listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and he ballooned to 215 or 220 while on steroids. He blamed the increased weight for putting additional wear and tear on his knees; he had five surgeries on his right knee and two on his left.

        This cracks me up. He gained 30 pounds at an advanced age, but steroids “didn’t work” because his knees ached and he didn;t throw harder.

        1. Steroids worked.
        2. I don;t exactly want to hear that the world’s “greatest” pitching coach couldn;t throw harder despite taking steroids and gaining 30 pounds. Not exactly the guy I’m spending my money on.

        ———————————-

        KMITGN,

        Seriously dude. You can;t make comments like that and then insult Canseco’s intelligence.

        Canseco teaches 2 guys how to use steroids. They each teach 2 more guys. Then each of those guys teach 2 more guys. Guys get traded, guys sign elsewhere as free agents, etc.

        It would be rather easy for one guy to be the “start” of the steroid problem and with player turnover and guys getting together to work together in the off-season, for steroids to become an epidemic in short order.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        By House being “FOS” I am referring to the statement of 6 or 7 pitchers on every staff “fiddling” with steroids.

        1. He doesn’t define fiddling. It could mean taking a couple of tabs or using for a couple of weeks, taking bull glandulars. Who knows what he means?

        2. He’s guessing at the number. If there was a survey among MLBPA pitchers that showed this, and I don;t know about it, then I’ll happily retract my comment.

        —————————————

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  10. I did say he “claimed” to. Any attribution after that is based on his claim.

    Still, until we have better evidence it’s not a bad starting point.

    Is there any other evidence prior to 1986+?

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Yes, I recall some coaches who had been pitchers in the 60s claimed to use of steroids. I do not remember their names but that came out during the scandal.

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  11. jeff_bonds says:

    I liked Fangraphs better when it was just baseball articles instead of these educational features about paradoxes and biases.

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  12. adohaj says:

    Jose Fucking Canseco is fucking in

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  13. Keith says:

    Fantastic post! Begs the question: Can you find the threee errors in this sentunce?

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    • I count four actually…which automatically makes it 5 (since the sentence says there are 3…). Have I missed (m)any?

      (I am starting to get the feeling that I should have only counted 2…thus making the 3 claim true (therein bringing the errors to 2)…PARADOX!)

      Sorry…

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    • Keystone Heavy says:

      Maybe if you said, “There are threee errors in this sentunce” then you would have created the desired effect.

      But by making it a question, you leave open the possibility of someone who can read but has a really bad grasp of spelling to answer “No”. Then the alledged paradox is destroyed.

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  14. Keystone Heavy says:

    Isn’t the statement “this statement is false” assuming that the statement is true, with no other evidence than the statement itself? Wouldn’t that be the common “begging the question” fallacy? And if the statement is a fallacy, then is it not illogical, and therefore cannot be a paradox?

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    • The statement “This statement is false” is not making the assumption that the statement is true. Rather, asserting any claim is equivalent to saying that that claim is true. In other words, saying “This statement is false” is equivalent to saying “It is true that ‘This statement is false’”.

      So, we are not assuming our conclusion. Rather, we are elucidating the problem, as is. Adding the “It is true that…” prefix just reveals the paradox in another way.

      (In short, to address your point…..asserting a claim is not the same as assuming it.)

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  15. Jon L. says:

    I am canceling my subscription to The New Yorker and only reading Fangraphs from now on.

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  16. Wobatus says:

    It isn’t necessarily the case that steroid users just want to play baseball, much less that they necessarily love baseball. That might be the case. More likely they want to be paid to play baseball. I don’t begrudge them that either. We aren’t talking about Ray Liotta in the cornfields. I love baseball and can play it if I want, just not for a living. No one seems to want to pay to watch me play it.

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  17. Paul says:

    Great article, Alex. You are really on a roll.

    One minor quibble: You characterize as a minor irony Assange’s resistance to probes into his personal life. In fact, isn’t his entire position re: leaking unlawfully obtained information is that it is information that is information that is fundamentally public, or has such a great public impact that it should be essentially deemed public. Not trying to defend him, but I am not aware that he has ever advocated leaking information about private people merely to smear them. To the extent that private individuals use their position to suppress information or otherwise engage in corrupt activities, they reap what they sow.

    Next article suggestion: Zen practice and philosophy. Dead serious. I know you can do it!

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    • wobatus says:

      He may not be attempting to smear private individuals but presumably people can die based on infomation he may deem fit to release.

      Diplomatic privacy may sometimes allow information to be passed that the public should know, but it may also be used to allow trustful communications between allies for the greater public good. Who is Assange to decide unilaterally one way or the other? He might have decided that U.S./British diplomats represented evil and the nazis or soviets or anyone else deserved to know what the evil U.S. and English were up to during WWII (and maybe he’d argue as far as firebombing Dresden they deserved to know, but that’s besides the point).

      Internal governmental communications is often protected from discovery in litigation because it can have a chilling effect on free discourse and exchanges of ideas. The invocation of that privilege can be abused, and courts often order the information disclosed. That system isn’t perfect but works.

      While I can understand the distinction Assange makes in his own mind about invasion of his privacy and releasing information he feels the world should know, I also think he is a dangerous egomaniac.

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      • Paul says:

        I don’t necessarily disagree. On the other hand, I am one of many people who feel that our government is completely for sale, and that Nixon-era reforms are just completely ignored. Bernie Sanders, who I probably disagree with on 99.5% of policy positions, has proven pretty convincingly that the SEC and others are essentially divisions of Goldman Sachs. In that context, I have just as hard a time accepting with blind faith the government’s rationale for keeping certain information private as I do with Assange’s unilateral decisions to produce information.

        None of that change the point about the irony objection.

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      • wobatus says:

        Paul, of course your right, it doesn’t change the irony comment.

        On the S.E.C. comment, just as an aside, it has a difficult time proving Goldman commited fraud, for example, in the case it tried to settle with Goldman recently. The whole “without denying or adnmitting guilt” language. Judge Rakoff, in declining to approve the settlement, said without knowing if Goldman violated the law, how can he impose the “draconian” remedy of an injunction? Of course, he is being a little disingenuous, since he also asserts that the fine imposed is little more than a slap on the wrist, a price of doing buisness bulge bracket firms willingly pay.

        So now the SEC has to prove fraud. This is notoriously difficult to do. For example, despite smoking gun e-mails in the case against the Bear Stearns sub-prime hedge fund managers (Cioffi and another), the Feds couldn’t prove criminal fraud. That acse is forgotten but the collapse of that fund was one of the early signs of the impending financial crisis.

        There’s obvious regulator capture and GS is very influential. But I think the way GS is portrayed is way overblown. To force the SEC to now try to prove civil fraud against it in the cases where it was short the subprime market and letting John Paulson pick the pools that went into the CDO’s it was selling to one group of investors while he shorted the other side ignores a fundamental reality. GS is a broker-dealer and market maker. There’s always a buyer and a seller which they match. That’s their job. In fact here, a synthetic CDO, it wouldn’t exist without having a seller and buyer of the risk.

        Financial institutions wanted the yield and exposure and Paulson et al wewanted the other side. Those institutions going long had to know someone was on the other side. And the sub-prime game had gone on for so long, Paulson could have kept on losing and they’d have made their yield. Both took risks. The institutions long have to do their own due diligence. As broker in that transaction, GS isn’t their advisor. GS admitted disclosure shortfalls, but I really blame the european banks buying that paper much more than Goldman.

        Goldman was much more prudent and risked less than Bank of America (Merrill in particular), Lehman, Bear Stearns. JPM was also more prudent. Once Lehman failed and the rest got bailed out, the idea became to bail them all out at once and make them all take it so no one would suspect which ones were really the worse off. People knew anyway.

        Certainly Goldman particularly was helped by the AIG deal. But Goldman wasn’t on death’s door, except for the fact the entire system was, especially with money market funds in danger of collapse. But I’d say Lehman, Bear Stearns, Citi and Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, along with Fannie and Freddie, bear a lot more responsibility for the collapse than Goldman. And Fannie and Freddie had a lot more political influence, I’d say. They were the government, after all. Quasi. Right.

        Sorry for the tangent, and not to deny Goldman has, or rather, had, outsized influence. Given the general public attitude these days, not as much anymore. Maybe a bit nuanced, but Matt Taibbi paints it as mostly Goldman and its influence as the giant monster squid on civilization. Not many folks will say much extenuating in the court of public opinion, and they get paid enough they can take the abuse. I can think of worse actors in this whole mess.

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      • Paul says:

        I actually wasn’t alluding to anything Goldman has been accused of, or even saying there was something wrong with them. The entire impetus of my comment was on the government. If I was Goldman or any other business and I could make a lot of money by influencing government officials in myriad ways that are not illegal, I’d do it too. Especially since all their competitors are doing it. They have and always will try. The problem is the government is so corrupt that to even object to this paradigm is considered passe. People are more interested in shouting about the 1%, which completely misses the point and won’t change a damn thing.

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      • wobatus says:

        Point taken,Paul. Apologies for hijacking the thread. :)

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      • LTG says:

        No apologies! Sometimes very interesting conversations occur through “hijacking.”

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  18. LeeTro says:

    One of my favorite Family Guy lines:

    Everything I say is a lie, except for that…. and that, and that, and that…….

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  19. Paul Thomas says:

    The Cretan version of the liar “paradox” isn’t a paradox even if you interpret “liar” to mean “someone who lies 100% of the time.”

    As long as any Cretan has ever made a true statement about anything (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m confident that that’s the case), it’s just plain old false.

    It’s very hard for “all x are y” (or “no x are y”) type statements to result in truth paradoxes, because all you have to do is show a single counterexample. Even in a “knight/knave” world where there are only truth-telling knights and lying knaves, and nothing in between, the statement “all Cretans are knaves” need not be paradoxical; all that would be required to avoid paradox is that the speaker is a knave and at least one Cretan is a knight.

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  20. Mick O says:

    Very intriguing post, but you made one very quick logical jump that might need some thought: Jose Canseco as Liar. You operate as if this is axiomatic and launch into the fancy of can the Liar tell a truth, a partial truth, etc.

    But isn’t Canseco’s primary characterization that of a cheater? You even mention that he is a steroid truth-teller. If he is a steroid truth-teller, what is the basis for placing him in the role of liar in your parables? Were there non-steroid lies that he is famous for?

    I suppose you could just simply equate “cheating” with “lying” and you’re in the clear, but given the nature of the piece, that seems a little hasty.

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    • I may not have made it perfectly clear, but I’m not equating steroids with lying — I’m simply drawing an analogy. Jose Canseco, the most famous PED user in baseball, claiming not to use PEDs, is a bit like a liar claiming that he is not a liar. And the logical analysis for why we instinctively don’t believe him, and why we may be wrong, is similar.

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  21. getAclue says:

    Stick to baseball, this is retarded. All you pseudo intellectuals, go read the new yorker or something. This articles blows more hot air than a jet turbine. When i click an article about Jose canseco and the Mexican league, I expect to read about that. Not one sentence concerning it and then 10 pointless paragraphs about persian paradoxes and ancient greek philosophers. Not that they don’t have their place, but it’s not here on a baseball site. I don’t go to CNN for sports news, nor ESPN for politics. Stick to the point (it’s broad and there are plenty of places to go with it that don’t involve pre-modern mediteranean civilizations), or get a job somewhere where your meandering, off topic writing style isn’t so atypical of the site and so mind numbingly inane.

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