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Questions with Only One Answer

Why is it: When grown men report sexual assaults (by priests or athletic coaches) 30 years later, there is public outrage (in favor of the reporting men), but when women report sexual assaults 30 years later, there is public doubt (against the reporting women)? The public might not doubt the actual sexual “encounter,” but there are always other shadows of doubt following these women, such as their memory accuracy, their conduct (like, they asked for it!), their “timing” of the reporting, or the actual identity of the perpetrator.

If the “failing” New York Times only publishes “fake news,” why was the article on Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s proposal to wire tap and to evoke the 25th Amendment on Mr. Trump taken so seriously by the White House?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly vowed to make President Obama a one-term president, right after the election of 2008, and stole a Supreme Court seat in 2015; he now promised the conservatives that the senate will “plow right through” Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But House Minority Leader, Ms. Pelosi, is the devil incarnate?

What happened to the deficit scolds who were so vocal all through Obama’s eight years of presidency? Now, we are facing $1.5 trillion deficits, thanks to the tax cut that was plowed through without one hearing, and the GOP wants more tax cuts (for the 1%). The same scolds are silent; why?

There was a lot of anti-establishment/anti-elite sentiment in the 2016 election, especially among the Trump supporters … a sentiment to which I am not unsympathetic. But in what universe is Mr. Trump not one of the elites? His world is one of the mainstream establishments and his whole life has been defined by nothing but privilege. How does he sell himself as, and how do his supporters view him as, one of the “everyday” crowd? Much of the anti-Hilary sentiment was based on her “entitled” attitude. Again, I am not unsympathetic to anti-entitlement sentiment, but in the current Judge Kavanaugh carnival, how is he not the poster boy for “entitlement?”

The answer to these questions is: HYPOCRACY! Or, as the Chinese saying goes, 不要臉, bu yao liang, “Don’t want face.” A subordinate answer: White men are allowed to enjoy entitlement privileges but not women or minorities.

And the world is truly laughing at us now, at Trump’s latest UN speech … as he was reading from the teleprompter.   Speaking of teleprompter, didn’t the GOP (Trump included) criticize President Obama mercilessly for using teleprompter too often? Seriously, though, Trump should only read from teleprompter, at least he sounds more coherent (but not necessarily wiser).   At his post UN press conference, absent his teleprompter, he was borderline incoherent for 80+ minutes. The President of the United States of America!

If Trump supporters still think his words are pearls of wisdom and long-suppressed truths, I have but one question to ask: Would you feel the same if the identical words had come from President Obama?

I am an agnostic, but god help us.

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What Happened To That Easily Winnable Trade War? – Ignorance, hypocrisy, incompetence and incoherence do not make “policy”

If you have some issues with your closest and oldest business partners, do you try to discretely discuss the issues with them? Or, do you publically insult them, slap them with unilaterally determined fines, and say, “Now, negotiate with me on my terms”? Further, if you have a track record of multiple bankruptcies, including failing a casino (think on that), stiffing your partners, having difficulties securing bank loans, retaining competent lawyers, etc., then, by definition, you are not a successful businessman. Can someone with such a background make deals on the international stage, without any considerations of, nor desire to learn about, the usual geopolitical morass? Would you trust buying/selling a house with such a person as your realtor? Would you hire such an individual as your CEO? Why would some people believe that Mr. Trump, representing USA, has some kind of master plan of using tariffs to motivate other countries to sell their products here? – or to stop selling their products here?

If anyone thinks that in 21st century we can build a successful closed economic system, just look at Cuba and North Korea. Sheer madness.

 

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The nature of any multiple-partners trade treaty is that no one will be totally satisfied, and every player will have some features to complain about. Creating and maintaining these treaties is a balancing act. By upsetting the balance, there are predictable chain effects. Throwing a temper tantrum in a china shop is bound to break things. We may not predict which pieces will be broken, but breaks there will be. We may think we’re invulnerable to the consequences of breakage, but history teaches otherwise.

Do Trump supporters recall his justification for making some of his products in China, such as the MGMA hats and Trump ties, that he was responsible to his investors and family? So why is Harley-Davidson, using the same justification to move some of its manufacturing operations overseas to fend off the tariffs from the “shoot-your-own-foot” trade war, accused of betrayal?

Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, a Harvard professor no less, seems to have caught the “making no sense” virus. Navarro claims that China’s bad-faith trade practice is responsible for “stealing” millions of jobs from US. When our unemployment rate is at all time low, a trend started by the Obama administration’s efforts in rescuing us from the 2008 economic Recession, where did these stolen jobs go? Further, the illegal immigrants are also have “stolen” millions of jobs from us. You’d think our unemployment rate would approach 8% owing to a lack of jobs, with so many millions having been stolen. Nonsense is ok now that ideology trumps everything.

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New York Times columnist Bret Stephens sums it up well: “It’s fair to say that the U.S. could use its leverage to negotiate more advantageous trade deals. It isn’t fair to insist on politically untenable trade concessions he [Trump] knows other countries won’t make — a sunset clause for NAFTA, for example — in order to destroy these agreements permanently while blaming the other side… America First is America Feared. But it is also America hated, and hated with justification. Where’s the upside in that?” But Trump supporters confuse “being hated/feared” with “being respected.” Nuances are lost on Trump, and nuances are lost on his supporters.

Just look at the TPP, Trans Pacific Partner Agreement; it is about opening markets as it is about intellectual property. It is a way by which to contain some of China’s egregious “intellectual theft” acts. It shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone that the treaty is not perfect, but it’s a mechanism that carries some weight. However, Mr. Trump and his lieutenants simply pulled the US out of the agreement, for what? Spite? Ignorance? Campaign promises? Which are probably the same in Trump’s case. The resulting hole made by American’s departure has given China a golden opportunity to step in and assume the leading position, which means that they now can ignore international intellectual property laws (i.e. treaties) with impunity. And if that was not bad enough, Trump then started adding tariffs willy nilly. Tariffs are about goods, and so will not themselves resolve issues of intellectual property theft. By all historical and economic perspectives, tariffs generally hurt the economy more than boosting it.

People least able to afford the extra costs resulting from tariffs will be affected the most. Since most of these affected are farmers overwhelmingly voted for Trump, he offers them $12 billion in aid. But this is only the latest. As the toll from other tariffs grows into additional sectors, are we going to keep bailing them out as well? So, in addition to paying higher prices for imported goods due to the trade war, we will now incur additional taxpayers’ money to compensate for the lost revenue for our exported goods. Wouldn’t buying votes be cheaper? Illegal? Since when would that bother Mr. Trump and his supporters?

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I share two readers’ poignant observations: “Remember when we had a President interested in solving problems he didn’t make, instead of making problems he is incompetent to solve?”

And to tie back to my opening critique on (the lack of) business acumen in negotiation, I thought the following list is very revealing, don’t you?

Bankruptcy = 6 times
Trump University = Failed
Trump Fragrance = Failed
Trump Coffee = Failed
Trump Shoes = Failed
Trump Home Mattresses = Failed
Trump Urine Test = Failed
Trump Airways = Failed
Trump Steaks = Failed
GoTrump.com = Failed
Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel = Failed
Trump Vodka = Failed
Trump Mortgage = Failed
Trump Marina Hotel Casino = Failed
Trump the Game = Laughably Failed
Trump Magazine = Failed
Trump Taj Mahal = Failed
Trump Ice = Failed
New Jersey Generals Football team = Failed
Tour de Trump = Failed
Trump on the Oceans Resorts = Failed
The Trump Network = Failed
Trump! Radio Network = Failed
Trump Pillows = Failed
Trump New Media = Failed
Trump Ice spring water = Failed
Trump International Hotel and Tower (Dubai) = Failed
Trump tower Baku = Could be the worst failure

Given such a background, why does Mr. Trump still have so many faithful followers? Once again, that “cult personality” comes to mind. So, is it America first? Or Trump first?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead

(Part II) Immigration: compassion and logic are not mutually exclusive

Political dialog often goes hyperbolic, either using blatantly made-up scenarios or blowing things out of proportion. For example, there is no crime wave perpetrated by immigrants; neither is it sensible to abolish the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agency. The former is a trumped up fear-mongering tactic that doesn’t jibe with facts, and the latter is a reactionary posture to the current brutal treatment (not always, but often) of the asylum seekers at the border.

Border

As I mentioned in the last post, Mr. Trump stokes the fears of some Americans against South American immigrants, legal and otherwise. During the 2016 campaign, his proposal to build a wall across the southern border was wildly popular among his supporters who seem to have a very short-term memory. Trump famously bragged that he was going to build a “beautiful” wall, and “Mexican will pay for it.” But nowadays, he essentially holds children, separated from their parents who came to our country seeking asylum, as bargaining chips to bring the Democrats in the Congress into the negotiation of a bill that would give him the money to build this wall. Really?! Seriously?! And his supporters cheer on.

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Is building a wall across our southern border a wise way of spending money? It bears repeating what I once wrote: Rome tried that on its northern border in Britain, China tried that on its northern border in Asia, Russia tried it on its western border in Berlin, France on its eastern border with Germany. Admittedly, nobody seems to have tried it on its southern border, so maybe that will work better. (Addendum: The wall built by Israel on, and often beyond, its western border, has brought lasting peace and prosperity to the region and generations’ worth of security for Israel. Yeah.)   Strangely, these days, it seems the comedians have a better grasp of the nuances of public policy. For another perspective on building this wall, please take some time to view John Oliver’s delivery on the topic; he provides comprehensive estimates, logistics, and pragmatic considerations.

National Security

However, objection to building this wall is not equivalent to “open border”…yet another hyperbole/lie. How we want to secure our border is a topic worthy of intelligent conversation, which seems to be in severe shortage in today’s political environment. More importantly, though, is the fact that while we are obsessed with spending money on this useless symbol, China is building its 21st Century empire by not focusing on border walls (perhaps they learned from their own history?) but instead investing in technological domination on several fronts. One of the major reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed was that they were weighted down by the arms race. Money that could help build the country and feed the people largely went into building military armaments that went unused. The Soviet leaders also discovered, belatedly, that holding onto Afghanistan was futile, money and lives poured down the drain without desired effect. So we took over pouring money into Afghanistan, 17 years later with no end in sight.

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The argument for building this wall is to stem the tide of immigrant flow; also, by implication, it would reduce the crimes committed by the immigrants. Elevating the influx immigrant to “national security” threat is simply laughable. It’s very doubtful that immigration would make it to the list of top 10 threats to our national security, not by DOD, DHS, CIA, or NSA. And here are some more hard and cold facts, curtsey of a New York Times reader:

Number of convicted terrorists (number of deaths) by country, since 1975 (from The Atlantic):

Saudi Arabia: 19 (2,369)
UAE: 2 (314)
Egypt: 11 (162)
Lebanon: 4 (159)
Cuba: 11 (3)
Pakistan 14 (3)
Trinidad & Tobago: 2 (1)
UK: 3 (0)

Iran: 6 (0)
Iraq: 2 (0)
Libya: 0 (0)
Somalia: 2 (0)
Sudan: 6 (0)
Syria: 0 (0)
Yemen: 1 (0)
North Korea: 0 (0) – No Data
Venezuela: 0 (0) – No Data
Chad: 0 (0) – No Data

Please note that none of the countries on Mr. Trump’s ban has caused any deaths. Here is an interesting read from a conservative columnist, Bret Stephen.  And for comparison:

Gun Deaths in the US 2005-2015 (Politico): 301,797.

School Shooting Victims Post-Sandy Hook 2012-Feb 18 (NYTimes): 438 (138 killed).

Right-Wing Terrorist Attacks 1993-2017 (ADL): 150 attacks, 255 killed.

Finally, just for perspective, lynchings in the US 1882-1968 (Tuskeegee Institute): 4,743.

Crime

Several of our southern border towns have seen an increase in border patrols and national guard members; their presence has created more tension and fear in these towns than what the desperate immigrants and their families have brought. For one Texas border town, even a study from the CATO Institute, a conservative think tank, ranks the town way down on crime statistics: “The Cato Institute’s research consistently shows that immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are markedly less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

Not only has Mr. Trump used imaginary numbers and contrived narratives to paint immigrants as “rapists and murders,” he has also sensationalized some of the crimes in Germany. What’s more, Germany’s crime problems are not brought about by immigrants or refugees; if anything, Germany is currently experiencing one of their lowest crime rates. This doesn’t excuse the reported 8,000 or so sexual assault in Germany, but that has nothing to do with immigrants. I learned from one reader: In US, we had almost 432,000 sexual assaults in 2015 according to the 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey. Should we not allow any American male past US borders? Of course that is ridiculous. The majority of sex tourism involves men from wealthy nations, preying on children and vulnerable women and using them as amusement. Should men from wealthy nations be banned from travel? We can sensationalize anything to promote fear and hatred.

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Humanity

For those who regularly use the Bible as guidance, does Jesus’ teaching stop at national borders? Are “the least of my bretheren” only US citizens?

What can be done about the undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers? For those who complain that it’d be unfair for them to jump the queue ahead of those who have been patiently, and legally, waiting their turn, we can speed up the process for those already waiting, and we certainly can also process the asylum seekers’ requests with more humane treatment. (And it would cost less than a wall.) When the desperate need help, kindness would go a long way to win their hearts and souls. Most refugees and asylum seekers are desperate women, children, and families. This is the demographic that is most likely to succeed and put down strong roots. The US travesty at the Mexico border is doing just the opposite; it is victimizing the most vulnerable. It is a fascistic response by a deliberately cruel and ignorant administration. Of course, rejecting asylum seekers is within our national prerogative, but dehumanizing them is sowing the seeds of resentment, building yet another reason for future generations of foreigners to wish – and do – us harm. How is that a winning strategy?

And oh, by the way, a few thoughtful politicians from John McCain to former President Obama had proposed and supported guest work permits, biometric ID, and other saner and safer initiatives. It was ALL Republicans blocking these publically approved measures every step of the way.

We need to be reminded of George Washington’s words on “tolerance:”

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…”

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

 

Immigration: compassion and logic are not mutually exclusive

Americans like to say: This country was founded on immigrants; immigration is the bedrock of American democracy. Yet, throughout our history, we’ve repeatedly, without seemingly learning a lesson, used various immigrant groups as scapegoats for whatever collective insecurity we feel at the time. Italians, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, and now Mexicans. And of course there are the equally suspicious people from certain Islamic countries.

What was said about the Jews fleeing Europe in the late 1930s are the same complaints we lay against the current influx of South Americans: “We can’t afford them.” “They bring problems here.” “They won’t assimilate.” During WWII, without some of those Jews, we’d not have made the atomic bombs (whether that’s good or bad is a different topic). So now we demand “high skill” for the latest immigrants. Is practicing humanity based on hierarchy of skills? When we finally allowed the fleeing Jews to immigrate into this country, we didn’t know that some of their backgrounds and skills could have become important assets. Many of the descendants of the Chinese coolies are now scientists, doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. Desperate people don’t usually dress properly, speak our language fluently, or score high on SAT.

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Mr. Trump won the presidency largely by stoking some Americans’ fears of immigrants and then amplifying these fears to encompass all refugees. Mr. Trump is not one for nuances, intelligent analysis, or facts; nor is he known for compassion. His policy – and yes, the separation of the asylum seekers’ families is ALL his – of taking children away from parents at the border is the apogee of 21st Century ugly Americanism. Compounding this was his lie that Democrats started this “policy.” During the short period of separating families at the border, the officials defending this policy changed positions/stories 14 times!

“We are not taking children from their families.”

“We are doing it, but the Democrats made us do it.”

“We don’t want to do this, but the law makes us do it, we cannot stop it.”

“We are doing it, and it’s ok because of what the Bible says.”

“When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away,” (Trump).

“I want to stop this but the Democrats aren’t letting me, it’s their fault.” (Trump).

Remember when Trump said that he knows the best and he “alone can fix the problem?” For those who support him and like his “telling like it is,” accept his words at the face value. Now, explain why he can’t fix this problem…

In the end, magically, Trump found power to sign an executive order to stop the separation. But because of the lack of forethought, or any thoughts, the families that are scattered all over the country are not likely to be reunited anytime soon, despite a judge’s order. This chaos stems from the lack of coordination and procedures among agencies involved in this operation. Staff members or advocates have been severely strained to trace and connect these broken souls. Read Jonathan Blitzer’s first-encounter reporting in the New Yorker, or, listen to the interview on Fresh Air.

indian painting brush 1According to the latest survey commissioned by CNN, two-thirds of the Americans overall object to the policy of family separation while the majority of Republicans supports it. Let. That. Sink. In. Even the outgoing Republican senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker said, “This is cultlike.” Once again, New York Times’ Charles Blow’s eloquence speaks to me: “Not even the sight of devastated families could move the party that once called itself the party of family values. Not even the idea of ‘tender age’ internment camps for babies could move the party built on the protection of ‘unborn babies.’”

Why do immigration issues feel so raw for so many people? It’s scapegoating combined with fear-based assertions; it appeals to people’s emotions rather than reasons. I would like to unpack some of the tangled web using facts and logic.

First and foremost are the issues of jobs and economy.

The jobs typically filled by “unskilled” immigrants include farm labor (formerly called “stoop labor”), cleaning, or odd jobs for construction. So far, some of the farms that have relied on low wage labor have experienced damaged produce owing to lack of laborers.  Have we seen a rush of Americans filling these jobs?

There is a severe shortage of truck drivers, and companies even offer higher wages, often with sign-up bonus, and/or other perks, yet cannot fill the openings. Of course, no illegal immigrants can apply without a valid driver’s license, so where are the Americans crying for better-paying jobs?

Some tech industries are looking for skilled workers, but most Americans don’t seem to possess the required skills. Whose fault is that? (Related question: “How is Trump’s Department of Education driving improvements in the skill set of our future workforce?” Answer: “Gutting our public school system.”)

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In a “true” market, to attract Americans to their jobs, companies would adjust their wages – i.e. raise them high enough to be attractive. To use either “illegal” or “e-verify” is a strategy to suppress wages. From another perspective, why do we allow companies to cross the border to seek low-cost production means but cry foul if people try to cross border to seek better economic opportunities? This is simply “corporate welfare” to which we’ve been blind.

Once again, it’s much easier to scapegoat “others/outsiders” than to confront the big corporations who happen to have much more control over our social narratives through their political beneficiaries, i.e. local and national politicians, and media. The illegals just want to work, and they have to remain silent.

As for how immigration affects the greater economy: An internal government report, commissioned by the Trump administration, states that refuges brought $63 billion more tax revenue over the past decade than they cost the government. I wonder why that report hasn’t been tweeted about? or, widely circulated? Previous economic studies all point out that immigrants may cost more during their first year in the States, but they contribute significantly to the economic growth during the subsequent years.

In the next post, I will touch upon issues of: Border (including walls), National Security, Crimes, and Moral Standards/Humanity. Till then,

May the 4th of July bring you peace and joy.

“Fake It Till Make It” – Part II

In “Part I” I focused on “Adopting Power Posture to Feel Powerful”, and never thought I’d revisit the issue again. My previous post was largely based on Amy Cuddy’s research and TED talk in which she posits that a two-minute Wonder Woman’s power posture, hands on hips, would cause a spike in one’s adrenaline to accompany the assertion of confidence, which in turn leads to greater willingness to take risks in subsequent behavior. Many followers of her TED presentation have commented that the power posture really works and has helped them build their confidence. Her paper was published in 2010; her TED talk was in 2012, and her career subsequently soared in the areas of public speaking and consulting all over the world.

Since then, the field of social psychology – Cuddy’s professional base – has gone through a paradigm shift urging new guidelines for methodology that are much more rigorous. The champions of this shift, one of whom went to Princeton with Cuddy, challenged the field’s decades-long research practices for relying too much on convenience and tolerance of personal biases (thinking they are immaterial and wouldn’t affect research outcomes), and profoundly lacking in replication of studies. (Reinforcing this last point, journals have not been welcoming of “replication” articles.) These reformers suspected that most studies confirmed researchers’ hypotheses – false positive — and were insufficiently subjected to follow-up studies that would support or refute these confirmations.

This was a huge warning to the field of social psychology (and likely other branches of social sciences). The initial hostile reactions to the reformers’ challenge became louder and messy dynamics ensued. Dr. Cuddy’s work got ensnared in the back-and-forth. While there have been a few other prominent scholars whose studies have been questioned, none seemed to have suffered the same degree of browbeating and crashing of a promising career as Dr. Cuddy has. She has since withdrawn her tenure submission from the Harvard Business School.

The crux of the criticism of Dr. Cuddy’s initial work, the research on power pose, was: (1) the sample size of 42, 21 pairs of power pose and non-power pose, was too small, (2) the measurement of testosterone and cortisol levels was imprecise and/or inaccurate, (3) the danger of false positive results was not adequately addressed, and (4) at least one replication study done by a different researcher demonstrated that Dr. Cuddy’s power pose conclusion was weak at best.

My initial reaction to Dr. Cuddy’s power pose study was a sense of disquiet – for instance, can such a surge in confidence be sustained long enough to be beneficial? It was largely based on some philosophical considerations (see my previous post on the topic). The methodological issue is much more consequential; yet, the ensuing quarrels in the field have largely taken on philosophical, attitudinal, or social dimensions, and even touched on professional etiquette, far-removed from what a “simple” technical forum would entail. Personally, I think this reflects the messy nature of most social topics (consider the current storm regarding sexual assaults and harassments…or more mundane stuff like “performance evaluation”). I still think there is a lot of validity in the semi-jest term “physics envy” for describing social sciences.

A good portion of the ugliness in the criticism of Cuddy’s work came in the form of blogs and other social media. The three reformer-researcher-authors have their own blog, http://www.datacolada.org, that focuses on methodological and statistical issues, of which Cuddy’s work was one entry that has attracted readers across different disciplines. I understand and appreciate anyone who, in today’s internet-centric world, desiring more direct feedback and generating more discussion, takes it to blog format; however, there is a tendency for relaxed decorum in such a format. As one professor points out, “Because of social media and how it travels – you get pile-ons when the critique comes out, and 50 people share it in the view of thousands. That’s horrifying for anyone who’s critiqued, even if it’s legitimate.” (from New York Times Magazine article) Even one of the three authors for data colada, Joseph Simmons, who attended Princeton with Amy Cuddy, thought the treatment and criticism of Dr. Cuddy’s power-pose research has been unfair; after all, “the original study wasn’t particularly egregious. It was published in 2010 before anyone was thinking about this [the subsequent methodological revolution].”

It is difficult to objectively assess why Cuddy’s work was made to be the “poster child” for the criticism, especially without a rigorous study to survey professional reactions to Dr. Cuddy’s work and to compare the treatments of other top researchers’ pre-revolution studies. Even if we could do such a study, can we replicate it?! Sarcasm aside, I personally find the pile-on treatment particularly troubling. It is understandable that we all would defend our data, our methods, and our findings, for as long as possible; however, if enough subsequent evidence ultimately leads to a contradictory conclusion, no matter how uncomfortable for us personally, we learn to yield and move on. (This is the core of the scientific method and indeed the entire Scientific Revolution: We learn to accept the conclusions demanded by evidence.) Dr. Cuddy has grudgingly acknowledged her initial study’s flaws and tried to move on, so, why the personal attacks? Perhaps for social scientists themselves, it is not so easy to separate the work from personality, and for critics of social science, it’s much more fun to not even try?

While I was not a big fan of the power-pose study, it was intriguing. Now that I understand how weak the results are, I am fine with using the study as a springboard for further discussions. I simply do not understand why there is, and I emphatically deny any need for, adolescent rudeness and an infantile lack of decorum on social media in critiquing/attacking others’ work. Academics who would otherwise observe professional courtesy and standards in writing for journal publications become brutal, arrogant, and almost bullying on Facebook, Twitter, blog (personal or professional), or whatever form du jour.

It’s understandable that Cuddy’s research got the lion’s share of scrutiny – the bigger the reputation, the bigger the target – yet, it’s ironic that the very movement that tries to steer away personal bias seems driven by personal bias (why did they choose Cuddy’s work to focus on? Was it purely based on the hyperbolic reception of the work rather than the offending execution of the work?). It’s easier to target the most noticeable mistake, rather than the most egregious. So, these critics just threw their darts at an obvious target (TED talk has that effect, especially when it’s the second most popular one) rather than first making systematic assessment, say of other previous well-known studies. Isn’t that the very definition of selecting data based on convenience?

After finishing reading New York Times’ expose of this whole saga, all I can think of is: We sure like to scapegoat others for the very attribute for which we can be just as flawed. Shakespeare’s Hamlet scolds his mother for this: “Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my madness speaks.”

I used to feel apologetic for ending an article in a negative tone, and especially so close to our end-of-year holiday seasons. Times have changed…

 

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

White Lie, Black Lie, Blue Lie: So…lies are not all equal

I knew if I waited long enough, I’d come across more articles informing me about our lying behavior. Ahem…right. I kind of just lied…well, it’s more of a justification for my procrastination, or stretching the truth, or telling a white lie. I could have come up with more elaborate “reasons” for why I waited till now to post an article based on what I read about “blue lies” in mid March, two months ago. Indeed, I might have done so, without thinking, had I not been primed by my reading on lying. It turns out, we lie easily, quite often, and not always with remorse.

Blue lies—a psychologist’s term for falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group.”

As a student of intergroup dynamics, I admit that I have not encountered the term, blue lie, until recently. And it seems that most of the popular press that has picked up the term all cite the same source, a blog article in Scientific American published 3/24/2017.

The author of the article further stresses that the person who tells the blue lies has only his self-interest in mind, but knows that his lies will benefit his “group members.” I would add that a perpetrator having only has his own interests in mind may not always know, or care, what is/are the group(s) that will benefit from his lie. So, I guess one can further differentiate among liars: the truly self-absorbed narcissist, and the “well-intentioned” loyalist who wants to help her particular group in addition to her own benefit. Actually, I would put the narcissist’s lies squarely in the camp of black lies, the outright lie for self interest only. Not very comforting either way.

In this light, politicians do not monopolize the use of blue lies; I can imagine members of sports teams (or their coaches: When two opposing teams’ coaches exhort “We’re going to win” at least one of them is lying), or among different professional groups within an organization (say, between researchers and marketing reps, school administrators and teachers, etc.) all employ this tactic…all done without necessarily being conscious of lying. So while not very comforting in concept, we accept it as a matter of course in reality.

In fact, we humans lie easily, readily, more often than we are aware of doing, and often without apology. According to the latest issue of National Geographic –with the title “Why We Lie” that inspired me to finish this article – “We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal: ‘We lie if honest won’t work.’” The most common reason for our lies is “personal transgression,” to hide our mistakes or misbehaviors, and the second most common is to gain “economic advantage,” followed closely by “personal advantage” separate from financial concerns.

And we learn to lie at an early age. For instance, children learn early that white lies are sometimes necessary, for whatever purposes — not wanting to hurt others’ feelings, needing to break a bad news at a better time, or covering someone’s embarrassing mistake that didn’t hurt anyone, etc. They also learn to accept blue lies in various team sports and projects. Older children are more willing to go along with blue lies than younger ones. It doesn’t have to be monumental lies; just glossing over some small rule-breaking behaviors or covering for members’ short absence, etc.

Adults’ lies are often more elaborate and consequences are more weighty, with the intent hidden beneath the consciousness and therefore making the exposing of it that much harder. I now wonder if the cyclist, Lance Armstrong, internalized his repeated lies at the Tour de France tournament as in the nature of “blue lies” serving his own self-interest while benefiting the team?

As adults we have come to recognize, and accept albeit grudgingly for some, that intelligence agencies lie in order to protect the greater good of the country’s geopolitical position. But regarding top management’s lies for the “greater good” of the organization of which we are a part: We tend to be less accepting of these lies. One possible explanation for such different reactions to different entities perhaps resides in our sense of “membership.” Most of us feel a stronger affinity toward our country, culture, or tribe than toward corporate entities that would show no qualms about kicking us out in a heartbeat “if they had to.” Actually, organizations may not always be, and may not always have been, heartless and soulless. But it appears that as they get bigger, face fiercer competition, take on greater environmental and regulatory challenges concomitant with larger territory served and organizational growth, they lose compassion for their employees – and, paradoxically, their customers. United Airlines, anyone?

So, why do we take in the lies as if they are facts and truths? Because as it is natural for humans to lie, it’s also part of our makeup to need to trust…trusting those who inform us throughout our lives. Without such trust, we would have to negotiate every step we take every waking moment in our daily life. We’d collapse from exhaustion in no time. The challenge is why we often hold onto our beliefs in the face of evidence disproving our worldview? (Some items are easier to toss out, like, admitting the movie we just saw wasn’t quite as good as we espoused it to be, or the suit I bought for $1,000 really made me look lumpy…only if I could wear the “Armani” label outside.)

Further, why are some people, some groups, more prone to taking in lies despite knowing that they might be duped? (Among other examples, Harold Camping’s predictions of the Rapture for 1994 then May 2011 then October 2011 come to mind.) After all, when was the last time you changed your mind immediately upon being presented evidence that is 180 degrees different from what you had believed in? We rarely, if at all, change our minds in the fashion of flash of a bang. (Camping’s radio ministry apparently still has subscribers.) For the most part, by the time we realize that we have changed our minds, it’s been in the works for quite some time and the seeds of change are no longer easily identified.

Still, this doesn’t address my disquiet sense that some people are more stubborn than others. Perhaps we are born and wired differently, transcending decades of quality education? And perhaps there are no ready-made answers? In fact, research has demonstrated that in the face of being shown how wrong we have been, we hold onto the wrong notions even stronger. So, how do we change our own minds? Let alone others’ minds? The typical teaching points of how to persuade others to change their beliefs, feel pedestrian. “Listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately” is much harder done than said. And we always know that “the other side” doesn’t listen well.

At the end of the NG article, its answer to how to counter the onslaught of untruths and downright lies in the 21st century, hastened and magnified by the social media and technologies, is unnerving. “Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

For the moment, I can only make myself much more aware of the need to verify the information I receive. As for convincing others to change their views? I am at an infant stage in that arena.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

Fact, Truth, Reality…which one is debatable?

  • Author’s note: Since our move to the northwest, I have been busy setting up the new household. Our lives have been full yet relaxing. We haven’t quite completely immersed in the local community, but that’s just a matter of time. Neither have I resumed my painting, but that too, will be part of my daily routine in due course. In the meantime, I have had the urge to comment on some aspects of the development of our society, which intertwines closely with organizational life.

 


 

A child asks mom, “what is that man doing?” Mom says, “He’s entertaining.” Child, “No, what is he doing?” Mom, “He’s performing.” Child gasped, “But what is he doing?” Mom tries again, “He’s making people smile.” Child continues, “But what is he doing?” Mom finally adopts the conventional definition, “He’s juggling.” Child responds, “But what is juggling?” and on we go.

Which version of the mother’s responses is real is beyond debate. All versions are real, depending on where you are, how you see things, and what occupies your mind at the moment. If Mom happens to be fresh out of work, she might answer, “He’s making a living.” Of course, there is also the issue of the “audience.” So, the child’s curiosity may finally be addressed by another different response, “He’s having fun!”

The above example is an illustration of socially constructed reality. The fact is: A man is tossing balls, or juggling pins, or cones, in the air, catching a few before tossing them up again, while catching the other few. There are also the facts that a child is asking a question, and the mother is trying to ascertain how to answer the child satisfactorily. The truth is that an engaging parent would utilize interactions with his child to offer answers, lessons, ideas, etc. But at no point will the parent ever engage in offering “alternative fact,” which is a lie. No parents, with sane minds, would deliberately tell their child that the juggler is fishing or farming, nor that a dog is a “pig,” the sun a “lollipop” or a stone is “bread.”

When I first heard the term “alternative fact,” I gasped. Granted all politicians prevaricate and “spin,” but to engage in downright lies, to espouse random accusations without a shred of fact, or to formulate policy based on an opinion pulled out of thin air, it makes me wonder, “Might this be what living in the days of [one of the most seditious Roman emperors] Caligula felt like?” Good God. I heard of one apologist’s defense of “alternative fact,” that it is used as a means to stay defiant. Defiant against what? Establishment? Do facts now only exist in the “establishment”? Or, using facts is now considered “elite”?

Back in NM

Back in NM

Then, I began to question myself about one of the fundamental pillars of my being a social scientist: socially constructed reality. I asked myself: How do I make it clear to others who aren’t familiar with this term, the difference between socially constructed reality and lies? We recognize there are multiple realities, which could be called alternative realities, per the opening example and explored further below, but by definition there can be no “alternative facts,” not even as euphemism.

We go through our daily lives, taking “reality” for granted. We don’t even think about our mutually agreed norms, rituals, salutations…etc. We drive on the right side of the road in this country; we apologize when we accidentally bump into each other; we discuss topics using tacitly agreed rules and norms. (Well, we used to.) The socially constructed reality is a perspective for social scientists in their pursuit of generating knowledge. As a social scientist, it is my professional interest as well as responsibility to observe the different realities that people bring into their work, organizational life, and various social situations. And I try to ascertain the core from which different perspectives emanate.

Nuclear physicists and engineers rely on detailed facts to build nuclear facilities. How nuclear energy should be used would be in the realm of socially constructed reality. It may be to the chagrin of the scientists and engineers, having spent lifetimes figuring out how nuclear energy can be used, but that’s our social reality, partly because scientists are also human beings with all human foibles and emotions in making judgment, with which utilization of scientific discoveries happens – or doesn’t. Architects and contractors build hospitals, but when, where and for how much, and how the space is designed and used, often get politicized, i.e. socially constructed reality. Issues such as, who gets the corner office, which wings should house the patients (but somehow admin always gets the nicest wing), or where the bathrooms be located (read “Fix the woman” for the quarrels about access to bathroom; here & here) get decided and resolved through social interactions.

A manager’s view of an employee’s “being late” is different from the said employee’s own reality. The employee arriving late at work might be due to a car accident on the way to work. Or, her child woke up with a fever and she had to make a last-minute arrangement. It is within the manager’s right to say, “She still has to perform work professionally and diligently.” However, a little understanding can go a long way toward building trust, understanding, and workforce morale. Yes, the quality of the employee’s work could become delinquent and shoddy, but is one day’s work performance determinant of the employee’s worth?

If we normalize the use of “alternative fact,” it will eventually trickle down into the fabric of society, including corporations and organizations. I can imagine scenarios where a manager can easily tell a direct report, “Sorry, Joan, I cannot give you any promotion or raise this year because your recent work for project Y was sloppy. I have an alternative fact; I’m declaring that Mary actually saved the project.” Even though Joan had been working overdrive to push for project Y to be done on time. (Perhaps Mary and the manager have been besties for months?) If Joan complains to senior managers, she’s unlikely to be heard objectively since Joan’s manager couldn’t have carried out such “alternative fact” approach without the collusion of higher management. Chances are the higher the managerial ladder reaches, the more often the managers are tempted to use the “alternative facts.” It’s a perfect tool to seize and abuse power.

Now in OR

Now in OR

I used to think “true fact” is a silly redundant expression…well, it still is.

One of my favorite quotes is from the Robert Bolt play “A Man for All Seasons,” about the life of Thomas More under Henry VIII, in which Thomas More said, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”[*] In today’s world, sadly, people in power and their minions are declaring alternative facts and millions of supporters cannot make the distinction. Those of us who can need to keep the lights on.

Who knew? My signature mantra seems to be even more pertinent these days,

 

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

 

[*] Taken from the text of the play, available via Amazon. Even more poignant is this quote from Bolt’s Preface to the text of the play (Bolt, 1960):

“A man takes an oath only when he wants to commit himself quite exceptionally to the statement, and when he wants to make an identity between the truth of it and his own virtue; he offers himself as a guarantee… Of course, it is much less effective now … we would prefer most men to guarantee their statements with, say, cash rather than themselves. We feel – we know – the self to be an equivocal commodity…”

 

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com