Six Ethics Lessons As Bill James Falls Into His Own Research Trap

Baseball philosopher, iconoclast and analyst Bill James is one of my heroes for his amazing ability to look past conventional wisdom with an open mind. Beginning as essentially a self-published pamphleteer writing out of his basement, James’ counter-traditional explorations of baseball statistics eventually changed how baseball was watched, assessed, scouted and played, simply on the strength of Bill’s  ideas and his facility in explaining them.

His talents could be used in many other fields–James has recently branched out into examining famous unsolved murders—but it is also true that many of the ideas he has developed in relation to baseball have wider applications. For example, James was the source of the concept of “signature significance,” which is a staple here at Ethics Alarms.

His writing also taught me that bias makes us stupid, and about the insidious power of rationalizations.  Many of James’s observations seemed intrinsically obvious once he made and explained them, and the fact that  baseball executives, writers and players could have been so wrong about their own game for so long seemed incomprehensible. But the reasons were what they always are, in all fields. People are biased toward what they have always believed —confirmation bias–and the “It’s always been this way” variation on the most powerful rationalization of them all, “Everybody does it”  breeds blindness and  intellectual laziness. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/7/2020 [Item #2, Climate Change Hype]”

Just to prove that an Ethics Alarms Comment of the Day need not be a magnum opus, here is Humble Talent’s concise, trenchant, tough COTD on the climate change segment of the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/7/2020: Oh, Great, A Red Sox Ethics Scandal”:

It’s not just climate change. Progressives are really bad at defining their terms and holding their own to a reasonable, consistent interpretation. So labels that describe a thing in reality, and might to an extent have a point (see: climate change or corporatism), are almost immediately gobbled up by a population interested in pidgeonholing those theories into personal narratives, no matter how different their narrative is from the actual intent of the label. And then, out of the myriad of misunderstandings of their own damn terms, these labels grow into monolithic, all encompassing, god of the gaps theories that end up being unfalsifiable because you can’t even pin down what it is you’re trying to falsify.

Worse, they have a healthy tradition of labeling things in the most bombastic way possible, almost designed to foster those misunderstandings (see: toxic masculinity, privilege theory). The answer to questions about patriarchy is the patriarchy, the answer to questions about communism is communism, the answers to questions about racial issues is racism, and anyone who disagrees with the current iteration of their catechisms is a heretical racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc. etc. etc.

The very worst part about this, in my opinion, is that these adherents will claim that the people who disagree with them are somehow rejecting science, having wrapped themselves in the armor of disbelief, armed with terms they only tenuously understand, not terribly wanting to be confused by facts.

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Comment Of The Day: “’Side hustle?’ SIDE HUSTLE?”

Let’s begin the new year with a Comment of the Day.

It’s appropriate.

One of the important things I have learned since beginning this blog in 2009—in addition to the apparent fact that trying to elaborate on the topic of blackface and dark make-up in the arts will get one’s blog banned on Facebook and there is literally nothing one can do about it—is that the commenters enrich, define, and advance the mission of the blog beyond anything I could have anticipated.

Pennagain’s comment on the topic of the so-called “gig economy” and California’s efforts to smother it is an excellent example. (One of the joys of any Pennagain COTD is that I know I won’t have to check for typos, since Pennagain regularly checks MY posts for typos…). Behold the Comment of Day on the post, “Side hustle?” SIDE HUSTLE?”:

I hardly know where to start. It’s the so called “gigs” that people learn most from. It’s those with the widest experience who can not only make the most of their job (main gig), whatever it turns out to be, but who will accommodate to change, go with the flow and roll with the punches, get a kick out of learning new things from different people, be comfortable experimenting with ideas and opinions.

Retirement – grandpa M. was 54 when he found, as the British put it so accurately, to be “redundant” to his own business when one of his sons took it over. He’d been good at his job, learning the trade from his father and practicing it in one form or another since he was a child, bringing his expertise (and, necessarily, a wife) to the New World at the turn of the century. He had never done anything else in his life. Building and running his business was his whole world, full of customers, many of whom had become close friends. The job kept him active, on his feet, reaching, stooping, sorting, lifting, dealing with salesmen and stock deliveries. He appraised and bargained, bought and sold. He had fierce competition that excited him, and he enjoyed every minute of it.

On the day he (was) retired, he sat down in a red plush chair in his living room and spent nearly every day for the rest of his life sitting there, having nothing else to do. No interests, no radio—no hobbies, no friends, not even any acquaintances. He’d never bothered to get to know his neighbors or attend any social functions at his house of worship. He had nothing in common with his family (the son who inherited the business never came to visit; too busy at work). The second-generation Americans who came religiously to visit, at least one group each weekend, didn’t speak either his original or his business language, nor he theirs.

He died just after his 55th birthday. In the red chair. Continue reading

“Side hustle?” SIDE HUSTLE? 

Apparently Democrats think this is me

 “The Side Hustle is Increasingly a Fact of American Life” says the New York Times,  and progressives want to restrict them.  Of course, being a versatile guy who can do a lot of things people will pay to have done, I resent the “hustle” term, which makes me sound like “Seinfeld'”s Kramer with a law degree….and that, making what people like me do sound cheesy and even a little bit shady, is the idea. Legislators and Presidential candidates—guess which party!– have expressed great concerns about the so-called “gig economy,’ arguing that it is proof of  unhealthy capitalism.  (Amusingly, this is exactly what Elizabeth Warren did when she was litigating appeals while serving as a Harvard law professor, but that’s different.) The data does not support the latest argument for controlling your life and mine, however.

A recent poll of those who have more than one way of making money shows that 33% of them take on more than one paying job because they have to, while 48% so it because they want to.

Naturally, those who want to must be stifled for the greater good, and need to get with the program. California’s recently passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), set to take effect on January 1, 2020,  will make it illegal for contractors who reside in California to create more than 35 pieces of content in a year for a single company, unless the business hires them as an employee. Continue reading

From “The Ethicist”: Revealing The Real Bigots Among Us

, aka “The Ethicist,” apparently received two inquiries last week from what I fear are typical New York Times readers: self-righteous, progressive, and totalitarian at heart. As usually is the case, “The Ethicist’s” answers were competent. I’m not really concerned with his answers, though they were too timid and pandered to people who needed to be metaphorically slapped in the face. It’s the questions that are really ominous.

Inquirer #1 wanted to know what to “do” about her landlady, whom she and her partner “have come to believe that she harbors significant racial and gender biases.” She continued,

When units in our building come up for rent, she often asks  [us] to recommend friends, and over the years a number of our friends have lived here. I value being able to extend what really is an extremely good financial deal to friends who would really benefit from it, but am deeply uncomfortable about the fact that, in doing so, I am enabling her racism and sexism. Is there an ethical solution here? I wish I could report her to some sort of city housing authority (we are in Los Angeles), but I doubt I have any legal recourse as I’m not an aggrieved party and my belief in her biases is based on casual observations and overheard comments. I can’t point to a particular incident. I feel guilty for not wanting to recommend the place, as I know so many friends who could use the financial break, but I also feel like it’s harder and harder to justify “helping” her in any way.

The woman has not observed any incidents of racism or sexism, but she wants to “report” the landlady, who has apparently always treated her well. Inquirer #1 has decided that it’s unethical to “help” such a person because that would be “enabling” her evil ways, whatever they are. Basically, she feels that she is justified in punishing her landlady for not embracing her views, the “right” ones. Continue reading

Dear Progressives: The Failure Of Reality To Conform To Your Biases And Desires Does Not Make It Unethical

Let us stipulate: the failure of Kamala Harris to thrive in the race for the Democratic nomination for President was not because Democratic voters are racist or sexist.  It is because she was a lousy candidate from the beginning. Checking off boxes is never enough, thank heaven. She is a woman, “of color,” a lawyer and a Senator from a large and powerful state. To top it all off, Harris is relatively young, and attractive. Perfect!

Except it was easy to see that she was an empty suit with a penchant for saying stupid things, often things she couldn’t possibly believe and that contracdicted her record as a prosecutor. She said that it was “outrageous” that the Trump administration wanted to deport illegal immigrants who had committed crimes. [Me: “It is not and cannot be “outrageous” to say that any illegal immigrant, criminal or not, qualifies for deportation. To maintain otherwise is to say that the United States cannot enforce its immigration laws, and not only that, it is “outrageous” to enforce the laws. Is that the position of the Democratic Party? “] She said that she supported legalizing pot because it brought people “joy.” You know, like heroin, rape, and child molesting. She said, when Joe Biden correctly pointed out that a President could not ban “assault weapons” by executive order, she responded, “Well, I mean, I would just say, hey, Joe, instead of saying, no, we can’t, let’s say yes, we can.”  Horrified when she saw the exchange,, law prof Ann Althouse wrote, “The transcript cannot convey the feeling and expression in Kamala Harris’s  [ response]. It is so awful, so lightweight and dismissive of constitutional law (and without any of the dignity of constitutional critique.”

There are plenty more catalogued here, and it is hardly exhaustive. Harris flopped because she proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was unqualified to be a Senator, much less a President. As if that wasn’t enough, she couldn’t manage her campaign, which had disintegrated into finger-pointing and defections. When Barack Obama was challenged in 2008 over his lack of leadership experience, he cited the success of his campaign. Slim indeed, but  Harris couldn’t even say that.

As the writing on the wall began to be undeniable, Harris stooped to race- and gender baiting, expressing doubts as to whether a “woman of color” could be elected President (in such a racist, sexist nation, she implied.) No, Senator it’s just that you can’t be elected.

Her polling in free-fall, Harris dropped out today. What was the reaction of the Left’s pundits? Why, outrage over that racism and sexism of the public, of course: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/6/19: Goose Shit!

Good morning!

My best friend of long standing’s  favorite singer is Nat King Cole. He really doesn’t sound like anyone else, does he? I wonder how many millennials have heard his amazing voice, or would have the perspective to appreciate it.

Speaking of listening, I was prompted this morning to reflect on what a vital life-competence skill listening is. It is really an acquired skill: various Facebook discussions make it clear that most of the Facebook Borg warriors are no longer listening (or otherwise paying attention) to any information that doesn’t bolster their confirmation bias.

What made me think about this today was happening upon an early morning showing of “Casablanca” on Turner Movie Classics. I must have seen the classic a hundred or more times since  first watched the whole movie in college, and yet today was the first time I heard what “Rick” Blaine’s real first name was. All the other times I watched the movie, this passed by my consciousness without leaving a trace, but his real name is used three times. (Hint: it’s not Richard, though that’s what Ingrid Bergman calls him…)

1. A great President in many ways, but also a terrible human being. Watch the culture and the news media bury this. “The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the Holocaust,” a new book (published in September) reveals new archival evidence that shows FDR’s callous and bigoted treatment of European Jews prior to and during the Holocaust. I know the author, Dr. Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, as a result of his assisting The American Century Theater with several productions that involved the Jews and Israel.

The book’s revelations are not shocking to anyone who had looked at the evidence objectively even before this new material, but Roosevelt is a hallowed Democrat Party icon, and it has been, and I assume will continue to be, resistant to any effort to inform the public of this horrific moral and ethical failing, one of  many FDR was guilty of inflicting.  From a review: Continue reading