Tag Archives: competence

Confirmation Bias And The Taiwan Phone Call

old-lady-poker

I have told the story here before, I think, of the poker hand I once witnessed in Las Vegas that forever serves as a warning about the dangers of confirmation bias. I was considering joining a seven card stud table at a casino, and as is my practice, decided to watch a few hands to see what the competition was like. One player stood out: an elderly, grandmotherly woman who played hesitantly and was prone to say things like “Oh, dear!” and talk to herself. She obviously irritated the  other players, who were all male and the human equivalents of the Dogs Playing Poker.

As it happened the  third hands I watched was a big one, with most of the players showing pairs and flushes. The grandmother dithered and sighed as usual, and when it she was faced, after the last card, with the decision of whether to call a huge bet, she delayed, pushed all her chips into the center to raise, and then pulled them back, saying that she would fold instead. The players protested, and the dealer informed her that once her chips had crossed the line on the table, her bet was complete. She looked horrified, and explained piteously that she had never played by those rules before. It was to no avail, however, and the remaining players eagerly called her wager, happy to take advantage of her gaffe.

The old woman had four jacks! It wasn’t a gaffe, it was an act, all of it. She had been taking advantage of the other players’ eagerness to stereotype her. Once the betting was over, she dropped the mask. “Four of a kind, gentlemen!’ she said authoritatively, revealing her hand. She raked in the gigantic pile of chips, and got up from her chair. “Thanks for the competition. I think I’ll try another table now.” She was heading to a table where they would think she was a clueless old lady, having blown her cover at this one.

I thought about that poker player when I was reading the comments on social media and from various pundits after it was reported that Donald Trump had engaged in a telephone conversation with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Ever since the U.S. officially recognized Red China, Taiwan, formerly Formosa, has been treated diplomatically as if it doesn’t exist. Taiwan, the Chinese island territory where Chinese Nationalists fled after Communists  took over the country, still claims to be the real government of the Chinese mainland.  Under President Jimmy Carter’s “One China” policy, the U.S. officially refuses to recognize it as independent. It is, however, a convenient fiction.  As Slate explained in 2000:

While the U.S. officially adheres to the one-China policy, it practices a de facto two-China policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. sells Taiwan military weapons, and the language of the act warns the People’s Republic that any coercive unification efforts would be “of grave concern to the United States.”Beginning in the late 1980s, the two Chinas flouted their one-China policies by establishing economic and cultural but not political ties….Taiwan… has continued to pay lip service to independence–two Chinas–but, out of fear of provoking China, has refrained from explicitly repudiating the one-China policy.

An incoming President publicly treating Taiwan’s leader as a head of state is bound to make China nervous. Sine everyone has already concluded that Donald Trump is an impulsive, reckless idiot, the phone conversation was immediately interpreted by his critics in that context. Similarly on social media: every Angry Left poster who mentioned the incident was contemptuous, as if any of them had superior diplomatic expertise to Trump, who is not exactly unfamiliar with the Chinese, with whom he has had many business dealings. Many were also fearful. This is the apparently agreed-upon strategy of  de-legitimizing Trump: he’s scary. He’s not a real American President ( just as many Republicans claimed Obama was an alien), with American virtues and values. He’s a bull in a china shop! (China, get it?) A beast, not a statesman! He’s Hitler, a criminal, a dictator, the boogeyman. See? See? This is going to start World War III!

This interpretation of Trump’s actions is pure confirmation bias. If a President-Elect with respected foreign policy credentials (not that we’ve had one since in 50 years) had done exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, it would be debated, but many more would see it as wily diplomacy. Again, confirmation bias: nobody really knows what the idea behind the call was, or if there was an idea. The Democratic National Committee responded by saying, “Donald Trump is either too incompetent to understand that his foolish phone call threatens our national security, or he’s doing it deliberately because he reportedly wants to build hotels in Taiwan to pad his own pockets.” Wow…THAT’s fair! Stay classy, Democrats! I’m sure this is the way to win back the trust and support of the electorate. Talk about a parody of partisan rhetoric;  tell us again about how the mean old Republicans wouldn’t give Barack Obama a chance.

Continue reading

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Meltdown At Gate 43

american

As you probably have discerned, I am not having a good week on the road.

Today I am in Tucson, Arizona for less that 24 hours at a lovely resort that I will get to enjoy essentially not at all. Getting here, however, was the ethics adventure, or perhaps ethics breakdown is the better term.

My flight was supposed to start boarding at 4:30, but for some reason unclear to the assembled, did not. It was a real mob, a full flight, and as always at Reagan National , people were jockeying for position. They were also confused; a neighboring American gate was also boarding, and the announcements sounded like they were coming from our gate. Suddenly a gate attendant—is that what they are called?—came running up, and pushed through the crowd, sporting a big grin, why, I have no idea.

He grabbed the microphone and said, “All right, everybody, we’re ready to board American flight 2766 to Phoenix!” and nothing else.  “I guess they’re boarding everyone!” someone said, and there was a mad rush for the lane. “No no no!” the new arrival said. “First class only!” ” Did he say ‘first class only’ before?” I asked the young women standing next to me. “No,” she said, confirming my belief, “but then I can’t tell what he’s saying anyway.” True enough: the guy mumbled and didn’t seem to know how to use a mic. Then the VERY CLEAR announcement from the adjoining gate boomed out: “Now boarding Group 2!”

Again a mob of my flight’s passengers rushed the gate, and the young man with the grin shouted “NO! Get back! Now we are boarding the Platinum, Gold, Silver, American Plus, Bronze Bonus, Flying Potato passengers only!” Or something like that. He was barely heard, and the announcement from the nearby gate washed over it. “Now boarding groups 1,2 and 3!” More confusion. Another American employee at the our gate took the mic, a young woman. “AH!” I thought. “She obviously knows how to do this.”

No, she didn’t. You know that woman in “Jaws” who sees the shark in the lagoon and shouts “Shark! A shark!” so weakly that I have never been able to figure out why Spielberg cast her? The American lady made THAT woman seem like Ethel Merman by comparison. Her mouth moved, but nothing came out. “What did she say?” “What was that?” Everybody was asking everyone else if they could figure out who was supposed to go next. Then the guy who arrived late started shouting at us!

“We have not called the priority levels or group 1 yet! You are blocking passengers from accessing the gate! Move out of the lane.” From next door: “NOW BOARDING ALL GROUPS!!”

More chaos and confusion. Eventually I moved through to the jetway; I have no idea if they called my group or not. There were four attendants at the gate, an older man checking the boarding passes, the mute, the jerk who shouted at us (Rule: if crowd gets out of control, it’s the crowd controllers who usually are at fault), and a women in a uniform who was standing to the side looking like this was funny to her and otherwise doing nothing. I assumed she was a supervisor…a bad one. So I went up to her, and said, not entirely pleasantly, “This is the most incompetent boarding process I have ever seen. It’s inexcusable.”

She looked at me indignantly and said, in some kind of Hispanic accent, “This is America, sir! If you want to make a complaint, contact management. I’m just an employee,”

Wait..WHAT? Now I have to deal with an arrogant Hispanic American with a chip on her shoulder? Is she going to lecture me on white privilege? “This is America”? What the hell does that have to do with anything? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, U.S. Society, Workplace

Hillary Clinton: A Pre-Election Ethics Alarms Character and Trustworthiness Review: 2009-2016

hillary-testifies

The first Ethics Alarms post about Hillary Clinton ironically enough, in 2009, awarded her an Ethics Hero. (She has two.) “I know, I know. Truth and the Clintons have never been friends,” it began. And, looking back, it was a pretty generous award: all she did was describe how an ethical decision is made, and claimed that was how she decided to accept Obama’s invitation to be Secretary of State.  It didn’t prove she actually made the decision the way she said she did, and now, with the benefit of seven years’ hindsight, I think it’s likely that she was lying about it, as usual. Still, it proves that Hillary may know how to act ethically. This distinguishes her from Donald Trump.

Before heading to the voting booth, I decided to review all of the Ethics Alarms posts about Clinton. It is, I think it’s fair to say, horrifying. You can find them all here. 

There are unethical quotes of the week and month, Ethics Dunce designations, Jumbos, where Clinton denied what was in clear view to all, and KABOOMS, where the sheer audacity of her dishonesty (or that of her corrupted allies and supporters) made my skull explode skyward. If you have a recalcitrant Hillary enabler and rationalizer in your life, you should dare him or her to read this mass indictment—not that it will change a mind already warped, of course, but because the means of denying and spinning what they read will be instructive, confirming the symptoms of incurable Clinton Corruption.In July of 2015, I responded to complaints—including one from an ethics professor— that I was not objective regarding Mrs. Clinton, that I was picking on her. The response was a manifesto, stating my standards and objectives: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Jumbo, Kaboom!, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

The Ethical Dilemma Of The Successful, Failing, Local Small Business

Now THIS is a gyros sandwich!

Now THIS is a gyros sandwich!

The little restaurant opened the same year my wife and I moved into the neighborhood. It specialized in yummy Greek fare like gyros, souvlaki, and Greek salads, but also made terrific hamburgers, subs and pizzas, and quickly became our reflex fall-back when we were too tired to make dinner or wanted a treat for lunch. The place was a family operation: the tiny, spunky middle aged woman who seemed to run the place—taking the orders, filling bags, taking the payment—had a Greek accent that reminded me of my grandmother and all of my relatives from her generation; her husband, silent, imposing, who was the chef; and over time, the two children, both of whom worked there when they weren’t in school.

The food was consistently delicious, fresh and authentic, but it was also satisfying to see an old-fashioned family business growing and thriving. A restaurant consultant would probably have said it was too old-fashioned, for the menu never changed, the faded prints of the Parthenon and the Aegean coast were the only decorations in the place, and it dealt only in cash. Still, the little Greek lady greeted you with a knowing smile when you walked in the door, and you knew you were going to be treated like a neighbor.

Then suddenly, the family was gone. The couple decided to sell the place and retire, and a long-time employee who had worked in various jobs over the years took the restaurant over. I knew him, of course, and we talked often. He’s a nice guy, determined, ambitious, hard working. He threw himself into the job of making the business boom. Now the restaurant accepts credit cards and delivers, is open on Sundays, has daily specials, and sports a newly-painted and (somewhat) less austere decor. He also jacked up the price on everything.

The new owner’s formula for success worked almost immediately. The restaurant, he told me, has almost doubled its business. The problem is, as my family gradually discovered, is that the entirely non-Greek staff, including the owner,  has no idea what their food is supposed to taste like. You know you’re in trouble when the entire staff mispronounces everything on the menu, (It’s GIR -Os, hard G, not, ugh, “JY-row,” like the name of the goose inventor in Donald Duck comics), but it’s worse than that. The feta cheese in the Greek salads, which are suddenly mostly iceberg lettuce, is scant and low quality. The once-marvelous cheese steak subs are bland; the onion rings are charred, and every now and then a carry-out order includes something inedible, like the freezer-burned veal parmigiana I had a few months ago. The owner was apologetic, but his candid “I thought that meat looked funny when I microwaved it” didn’t inspire confidence. Continue reading

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The Quest For A Positive Argument For A Donald Trump Presidency Continues: The Pathetic Professor Kesler

Searching

I am not a “Never Trump” advocate. I can conceive of a Presidential race that would force me to vote for Donald Trump, over, say, a Gorn, frightful Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, “Simple Jack” or Darth Vader. None of those, fortunately, are likely to be running in 2016, however, so the issue is moot. I have stated that there is no rational reason to vote for a candidate as undeniably unfit as Trump when the alternative is a candidate as undeniably as unfit as Hillary Clinton. Unlike Trump, Clinton does have positive features in her resume. As a Senator and former Secretary of State, she presumably has a passing comprehension of how the government works, and she comprehends the importance  of  public decorum and civility for a national leader, meaning that she knows that boasting about her penis or doing this…

Trump-Mocks-Disabled-Reporter-CNN-USA-Today

…is not remotely Presidential. Hillary’s positive features are, we all know, buried beneath the avalanche of her dishonesty, venality, incompetence and corruption,  but still, she has something. +1 beats – 1,606…even zero beats – 1,606.

Months ago, I challenged Trump supporters, Trump fans, Trump defenders and even Trump “oh come on, nobody is that bad”-ers to present a single, substantive, positive feature of Donald Trump that could justify voting for him as President. I have searched for and read alleged posts by professional pundits and others; I have listened to (until overcome with depression and nausea) Trump’s uniformly idiotic surrogates, and I have invited submissions. The results? Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.

“Hillary is evil!” is not a positive argument for Trump. Other submissions— “He’ll destroy the Republican Party, those collaborating traitors!”“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!,” “He says what he thinks!,” “I hate political correctness!,” “He’ll stick it to the elites!” and the ever-popular incoherent grunt—are similarly non-responsive. I don’t think it is too much to ask, and the lack of any entry remotely meeting the modest requirements (the best so far is, “At least the news media might do their job with someone like him as President”) makes me more certain by the day that 1) I am correct to reject him and 2) that Gorn may not be so bad.

Clearly I am not the only one engaging in this quest. The Washington Post obviously searched under every rock to come up with an academic who would put his name on an op-ed last week titled “Why ‘Never Trump’ conservatives are wrong about Trump.”

He is Charles R. Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and the editor of the Claremont Review of Books. My heart soared like a hawk when I saw the column:  Claremont McKenna is an excellent institution, and finally someone who does not communicate in howls, hocks and memes had written down a substantive argument to vote for Donald Trump!

But no.

Here, alas,  are his “substantive” points: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Revisiting The “Ten Ethics Questions For Unshakable Hillary Voters”

Hillary Rally

Less than a year ago, I responded to a series of what I regarded then (and now) as irresponsible expressions of support, bias and denial by Hillary Clinton supporters with ten questions designed to rescue them from corruption. At the time, the possibility that an even worse candidate would (or could) be nominated by the Republican Party never crossed my mind.

Although it was largely buried over the last week in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Clinton’s e-mail fiasco was further exposed as the deep evidence of  long-term Clinton corruption that it is.  One of the most damaging e-mails handled on her private server, for example, was not turned over to the State Department (Hillary has sworn repeatedly a that ALL State Department business-related e-mails were turned over, raising the rebuttable presumption that she had other State communications among the 30,000 or so that her personal lawyers had destroyed.) We also learned that State Department staffers struggled in December 2010 over a serious technical problem that affected emails from the improper server, causing State staffers  to temporarily disable security features on the government’s own systems, thus making them more vulnerable to attack.

In a deposition under oath, Clinton’s IT specialist Bryan Pagliano, a central figure in the set-up and management of Clinton’s personal server, invoked the Fifth more than 125 times.  Meanwhile, the shadowy Clinton Foundation machinations came to the fore once again. An Associated Press review of the official calendar Hillary Clinton kept as Secretary of State identified at least 75 meetings with longtime political donors, Clinton Foundation contributors, corporate and other outside interests that were not recorded.  The calendar omissions naturally reinforce suspicions that she sought to hide possibly improper or even illegal uses of her influence and position to raise funds for the foundation. While the news media tried to spin Donald Trump’s statement in his attack on Hillary last week that “Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation,” his statement was accurate. For a change.

What was striking about the ten questions, looking at them again, is how little I would alter them today. The major change is that the arguments of those who claimed that evidence of Hillary’s unethical conduct was partisan or inconclusive look even more desperate and dishonest than they did last August. For the same reasons, the passage of time makes Clinton’s shameless and insulting lies seem even more shameless and insulting. The Democratic Party also looks worse and more corrupt: it rigged the nomination for this woman of demonstrably untrustworthy and venal character, as well as of dubious skills. Nothing can surpass the complete abdication of its duty to the United States by the Republican Party and its voters, but this was a betrayal by the Democrats.

Here is the list. I’ll have a few observations along the way, in bold.

“Ten Ethics Questions For Unshakable Hillary Voters” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote Of The Day, Or “Now THIS Is Spinning!”: Hillary Clinton Spokesperson Brian Fallon

Clinton spin

“While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the Inspector General documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other Secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email. The report shows that problems with the State Department’s electronic record keeping systems were longstanding and that there was no precedent of someone in her position having a State Department email account until after the arrival of her successor. Contrary to the false theories advanced for some time now, the report notes that her use of personal email was known to officials within the Department during her tenure, and that there is no evidence of any successful breach of the Secretary’s server. We agree that steps ought to be taken to ensure the government can better maintain official records, and if she were still at the State Department, Secretary Clinton would embrace and implement any recommendations, including those in this report, to help do that. But as this report makes clear, Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email was not unique, and she took steps that went much further than others to appropriately preserve and release her records.”

—-Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon, spinning the IG report with revelations which prompted that right-wing rag the Washington Post this morning to call his boss’s conduct, in an editorial, “inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.”

Wow.

Whatever Hillary Clinton’s campaign is paying Brian Fallon to lie for her, it’s not nearly enough.

Imagine: the State Department IG issues a devastating condemnation of Clinton’s conduct, one that proves (as stated here since March, 2015, because it was obvious that early) Clinton has been lying about her conduct, her motives and the consequences of her actions regarding her personal e-mail server installed precisely to avoid the legal reach of the Freedom of Information Act at the risk of compromising national security, and the Clinton camp response is  to say, “See? She was telling the truth all along!”

This response is..

Cynical.

Audacious.

Insulting.

Also designed for use by the completely corrupt, like Nancy Pelosi,  typical of Clinton responses to all scandals, and ridiculously easy to expose.

And before I start exposing, let me address the comments of the liberal end of Woodward and Bernstein (that would be Carl), who while agreeing on CNN this morning that the IG’s report is “devastating” in its near complete demonstration of how much Clinton has misrepresented the facts and her conduct to the news media and the American people, summed it all up be saying that Hillary has had “an uncomfortable relationship with the truth.”

To evoke the late Fred Rogers: Can you say “habitual liar”? Sure you can! A woman who has had “an uncomfortable relationship with the truth,” Carl, is a liar. Don’t sugar-coat it and obfuscate. That’s what the Clintons do. You sound like a Clinton! She’s lying. She lied about the server. She lies all the time. You’re a journalist. Just say it, loud and clear. That’s your damn job.

But I digress.

Let’s just go over how poor Brian Fallon’s statement of desperate mega-spin is dishonest, misleading, and, to be blunt, a pack of lies: Continue reading

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