Tag Archives: fairness

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.

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, Leadership

More Lone Juror Ethics: The Slager Trial, Juries, And Justice

lone-juror

This was what I was afraid of. It is also why Michael Slager, who is guilty as hell, didn’t plead guilty despite slam-dunk, irrefutable evidence that he executed  African-American Walter Scott as he was fleeing arrest last year. It is why I argued that if Slager ethically cared more about the law, his profession, his community and his country than he did about literally getting away with murder, he was ethically obligated to plead guilty so this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen.

A single juror told the judge in the Slager trial last week that he can’t find the ex-cop guilty. In a letter to the court, the would-be Henry Fonda said, “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict…I cannot and will not change my mind.”

The jury foreperson confirmed  in a separate note  that it was only one juror who was “having issues” convicting Slager, who pulled over Scott’s car in North Charleston, South Carolina last year, and ended up shooting him in the back while a bystander recorded the killing on video. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman sent the jury back for more deliberation, and they are expected to report on their progress at 9 a.m. Monday.

The lone juror holding out for innocence against eleven wanting to convict is celebrated as a courageous and system-defining stand in “Twelve Angry Men,” but it strains our faith in the system when the facts are like they are in this case. Nonetheless, the possibility of a not guilty verdict in the supposedly open-and-shut case is essential to the integrity of our system’s principle that even the most obviously guilty deserve a competent defense and a trial before a jury of their peers. Either we believe, as it has been said by many, that it is better for 100 guilty defendants to go free than for a single innocent citizen to be convicted, then we have to respect and accept the result when a lone juror seems to violate common sense and law.

Is Slager “more guilty” than O.J.? I could argue that they both deserve punishment, but if one deserves it more than they other, I’d pick Simpson, who killed two people, and wasn’t attempting a lawful arrest. (I could also argue that this kind of shooting by a police officer deserves a harsher punishment, because of his profession and his duties to society.) However we feel, we cannot condemn the lone juror without endorsing summary justice and show trials. If we believe in fair trials, we must believe in not guilty verdicts when a defendant seem obviously guilty, and lone jurors who cannot be convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Taking the other approach—emotion, anger and irrational hate—will be the likes of Elie Mystal, who, I think it is fair to say, needs a vacation. In an embarrassing post on the legal gossip site “Above the Law,” the African-American pundit intentionally misleads his readers by leaving out the key fact that it is only one juror who isn’t convinced by the overwhelming case against Slager, in order to indulge in an anti-white hate-fest: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Rights

The CNN “Joke About Donald Trump’s Plane Crashing”: Now THAT’S A “Nothingburger”

But it’s nice to know that some people at CNN now know how Billy Bush felt.

A website called FTVLive  obtained video of CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux talking to her crew and her producer before going live on CNN, as they waited for Trump’s  press conference. His plane to yet land.

On the video, a producer can be heard saying “When I do this, it means his plane’s landed’ and later, she seems to be saying, dead-pan”That means his plane’s crashed….just kidding” There is some incomprehensible chatter briefly after that.

Thanks to some websites like Mediaite on a slow news day, this gourmet “nothingburger” was widely and critically circulated. “The crew decided to joke around about a pretty grisly topic,” intoned Mediaite’s  Justin Baragona.

This, believe it or not, prompted CNN to issue an apology! This…

“An unfortunate and inappropriate remark was made by one of our producers off camera yesterday. We have apologized to the Trump transition team, and the Producer has been disciplined.”

Oh, balderdash. There was nothing “unfortunate and inappropriate” about that comment, which was not an expression of hostility to Trump, or anything else but on the job self-mockery. I would make that joke. I have made essentially that joke in various settings. At a surprise party for my mother, for example: “OK, I’ll make this sign when she’s coming up the walk, this sign when she’s at the door, this sign if she trips at the door and falls down the stairs, and this sign if she’s attacked by the neighbor’s dog.”  So what? (It got a big laugh by the way. Would Justin have laughed? I don’t care.) Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire

Workplace Dilemma: Do You Really Want To Know What Everyone Else Is Being Paid?

Miles Teller, who really showed THEM...

Non-La La Land star Miles Teller, who really showed THEM…

The male star of the buzzy movie musical “La La Land,” which opens next week, is Ryan Gosling. The role was originally offered to Miles Teller, who was a rising hot property and star on the threshold for acing the role of the abused drummer in “Whiplash,” like “La La Land” directed by Damien Chazelle.

But according to the people familiar wit negotiations, Teller was insulted by money he was offered,  a paltry $1 million, primarily because his putative co-star, Emma Stone,was being offered almost $3 million. After some back and forth, Chazelle replaced Teller with Gosling. Thus did Teller lose out on an a rare opportunity to make himself a major star in a film that is widely believed to be an Oscar magnet, and, of course, he won’t have that million dollars, either.

This a particularly vivid example of the ethics dilemma created by comparative salaries. I have not seen or heard of a satisfactory solution to it, from the management side or the labor side. Management would prefer that employees not know what other employees are making, and with good reason. The information can cause envy, bitterness, anger and lawsuits. Every employee has a tendency to believe they are more valuable, and indispensable, than they really are. Of course, some employers want to keep salaries secret because there are disparities that they cannot defend, or that may be illegal. While transparency is desirable to prevent unfair salary differences, however, it can make legitimate disparities untenable. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, Workplace

My Happy Birthday Ethics Quiz: The National Review’s Theory

flaming-cake

Today is my annual struggle (since 2009) to try to think of my birthday as something better than “Finding Dad Dead In His Chair Day,” and I must say, Facebook Friends have been especially helpful by sending along happy birthday wishes. Since none of them de-friended me for political differences during and after the campaign, I was intrigued by this essay in the National Review, titled “Ten Reasons Left-Wingers Cut Trump Voters from Their Lives.”

Now as I have made painfully clear, I was no Trump voter, having determined early on that I would sooner undergo a head-transplant from a warthog, even a Bernie-boosting warthog, but I was no Hillary Clinton supporter either, and was especially eager to shoot down particularly stupid memes from OccupyDemocrats, MOVE-ON, and the National Federation of the Brain Debilitated when my friends posted them, which was depressingly often. (Come to think of it, most of those FBFs who are addicted to progressive memes haven’t sent me birthday wishes, the bastards, but then the National Review piece wasn’t called “Ten Reasons Left-Wingers Won’t Say Happy Birthday To Facebook Friends Who Point Out That The Memes They Post Have Been Proven To Cause Retardation In Chimps.

The article is biased, of course: it’s the National Review. Obviously its assertion is over-generalized. But how fair is its general proposition, which is that the 2016 phenomenon of people cutting off friends and family is “one-sided”? Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Facebook, Family, Government & Politics, Love, Quizzes, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

No Charges In The Keith Scott Shooting, And An Ethics Test For Black Lives Matter

stephanie-clemons-thompson-fb-post

Yesterday,  Mecklenburg, North Carolina District Attorney Andrew Murray announced that the investigation into September’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott had found no legal wrongdoing. This meant, in addition to the fact that officer Brently Jackson, who is black, would not face trial, that the two-days of riots inflicted on Charlotte after the Scott’s death were even more inexcusable than riots generally are. People who claimed on social media that they had seen the shooting and that Scott was unarmed admitted to investigators that they hadn’t seen what they said they saw. Evidence in the case showed that Scott stepped out of his SUV  holding a gun—his DNA was retrieved from the weapon found at the scene—and ignored at least ten commands from the five officers on the scene to drop it. Individuals who behave like that are likely to get shot, and deserve to be. No case, no outrage, no systemic racism.

Following the shooting, however, this was a Mike Brown encore, complete with angry, loud, false accounts and social media rumors focused on making Scott’s death another rallying point for race-hucksters, politicians who felt they could benefit from dividing the country by color, and irresponsible pundits.

From the Ethics Alarms post on September 21: Continue reading

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The Jerk On The Plane: Boy, I Hate It When My Hypotheticals Come To Life…

It would have been OK, if he was black and his rant was scripted by a genius...

It would have been OK, if he was black and his rant was scripted by a genius…

On a recent Delta flight from Atlanta, a young man stood up before take-off and started harassing his fellow-passengers with a pro-Trump rant,  yelling “Donald Trump baby!” and “We got some Hillary bitches on here?” while pointing at individual travelers. He also said, “Donald Trump is your President. Every god damn one of you. If you don’t like it, too bad.” Delta initially removed him, but returned him to the cabin. According to one witness, upon returning the man said, “This is what you get for being a patriot.”

He’s an idiot, of course, and there’s no excuse for his conduct. And yet…

How different is what he did, and what the “Hamilton” actors did? Not much. Neither the “Hamilton” audience members nor the passengers bought tickets to be subjected to this. Both were captive audiences. The conduct in both cases constituted harassment. The clearest distinction was that the jerk on the plane wasn’t an employee; if he had been a flight attendant, the incidents would have been even more similar. The jerk on the plane didn’t single out a particular passenger by name, making his conduct better, not worse, than what the “Hamilton” cast did.  On the plane, passengers hadn’t previously jeered the Hillary Clinton voters among them, so the intimidation factor Pence experienced was absent, and it was only one passenger, not a passenger with an imposing  line of others backing him up, like the wall of actors behind Brandon Victor Dixon. Continue reading

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