Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 401

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It’s been a tough week. My boss at the golf course had a back operation, so I took on extra hours. This week is a club event, which means extra hours. Next week is a major club event, which means more hours, plus two of my coworkers won’t be there – which means more hours. Tough – but hey – they suck it up when I vacation.

Working has cut into my blog writing and visiting; plus delaying the next Weekend Concert. Maybe the dominoes of life will align so I can announce the next concert in the next OITS.

James Holzhauer’s run on Jeopardy was interesting. Sorry to see him lose, but hey – it was bound to happen.

I’ve enjoyed watching the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals. Go Blues!

No celebration – but the next post is a milestone – # 2,200.

Marina (a blogger from Greece) and I have interacted for many years here. Although her blog has focused on her art, he’s also a very talented musician (piano is her primary instrument). She has been on a long blog break because of a work project, an art show, and more. Her recent post features a video of her art to her music. It’s wonderful. I encourage readers to visit … tell Marina I sent you.

The last post about bias sparked interesting thoughts. The Media Bias Chart I used is the version 4.0 (August 2018). The first was done in December 2016.

Earlier this week marked the anniversary of three contrasting events: 75th anniversary of D-Day, the 100th anniversary of women voting rights in the US, and the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Those three events tell quite a story.

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Really? I never knew this: “We are celebrating the anniversary, 75 years of D-Day. This is the time where we should be celebrating our president, the great achievements of America, and I don’t think the American people like the constant negativity.” (Ronna McDaniel, Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee)

I was disappointed earlier this week by President Trump closing the door to US citizens desiring to visit Cuba.

I continue to be astonished by the difference between what Attorney General Bill Barr says that counters the statement and report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Congress actually tried to do something good this week when several Republicans actually supported a Democratic initiative challenge President Trumps authority. However, the majority of Republican senators remained loyal to the party and spineless in their oversight responsibility.

While many complain about the way various media attack President Trump, I must do my due diligence and state the following: 1) President Trump brings his problems on himself, 2) Just because the news media is bashing on him does not mean the media is as biased as it may appear. He brings it upon himself and they are calling him out (as they should).

To lead you into this week’s satirical headlines, The Onion provides information about the most significant US trade wars.

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Weekly Headlines from The Onion (combos welcome)

Mood of sex dungeon undercut by sight of plug-in air freshener
Depressed monkey throwing shit at himself
Bee practically blows its load after seeing purple coneflower in full bloom
Man who has been in a bunch of buildings figures he would be a good architect
Apple CEO torn limb by limb by mob of mothers demanding to know whether iTunes gift cards still active

Interesting Reads

Eid: An Islamic festival
About the euro
Bees using plastic
Thoughts about America’s global role
Linking Irish, Catholicism, and Vaudeville
(Interactive) Take a good 11-question science quiz, and then analyze the results to demographics
(Photos) Women’s Suffrage
Photos A few D-Day landmarks 75 years later
(Video) The Pompeii of Mexico (4+ minutes)

To send you into the weekend, here’s a summer song (actually when we enjoy hearing by our favorite duo at the Flora Bama in the winter). In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

On Biases

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Over the past few years in the USA, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear cries and screams of “fake news” in a variety of ways. Although that phrase is primary associated to a shameful bloviator, it’s merely a substitute for another term that has been around not only my entire life of 66+ years, but long before. After all, it’s entomological roots are in the 16th century – and that word is bias.

During today’s tribalism, hyper-partisanship, and strong outward expressions of opinions, the biased person watching a biased news broadcast, reading a biased article/book, or listening to a biased radio pundit does not negate bias – but rather enhances it.

Often grounded in assumptions based on one’s culture, parents, peers, education, religion, geography, and personal experiences, biases are that filter leading one to predetermined outcomes. Biases are the neme, slant, lean, and tendency leading one to change what one observes into what they want. That is, the biased person makes the information fit for themselves. Biases unquestionably lead to misinformation and misconceptions; plus stronger biases enhance prejudice and bigotry.

Misconceptions are incorrect ideas grounded in a personal belief system serving as the foundation of incorrect knowledge. Misconceptions get in the way of learning by blocking new information. In order to justify their position, the learner will do whatever is necessary to fight against accepting the new information.

Here’s a simple example. All human blood is red, but the shade varies depending on the amount of oxygen present. Blood rich in oxygen is bright red, but blood low in oxygen is very dark red. In short, there is no blue blood.

A person believing the existence of blue blood will do whatever necessary to keep their belief. They point to the blue veins below the skin – drawings in textbooks showing showing red and blue blood vessels. They explain the skin turns blue after one dies because blood is not moving and getting oxygen. They believe in the immediacy (faster than eyes can detect) of blood changing from blue to red when bleeding from a cut vein. Years ago, an eighth grade classmate of mine even brought paper tissues (with blue food coloring) to class showing she had a nosebleed the night before. She went out of her way to argue her bias with the teacher.

Now expand this simple idea into more complex topics as evolution, vaccines, climate change – let alone complicated issues as health care, foreign policy, and the economy. The more complex the topic, a basic understanding requires more information than obtained from the first click on a single Google search. Now cloud the issue/topic with politically-driven partisan ideas that people blindly accept through a party-driven mantra.

Fighting bias challenges what one believes, so overcoming biases requires a conscious effort and can be personally humbling – even for those thinking they are unbiased. No matter how simple or complex the topic or issue, and no matter the age of the person involved, not only does everyone have misconceptions, only that person (the one holding the misconception) can remove that misconception and replace it with new information. In order to replace the misinformation, that person must either accept the new information from a person they recognize as knowledgeable or they must experience a learning event that alters their view.

Besides preventing learning and becoming knowledgeable and informed, misconceptions can humiliate a person. After all, nobody likes being wrong. Some bring it upon themselves by boasting incorrectly about a topic as if they know. After all, it’s the speed and conviction of the statement that validates the statement. Speak with confidence so others think you know.

On the other hand, misconceptions about a person can humiliate them – but in a different way because they are fightly personal misconceptions about their character, knowledge, and/or abilities. I keep thinking about a manager who told me that what others think of me is more important than who I actually am.

I’ve stated this before and here it comes again – The news media is biased by its very nature.

1) Media people are human, therefore have a filter (whether personal, corporate, or both).

2) Secondly, reports reduce the news event to an abstract. For instance, the media may reduce a one-hour speech into a 90-second report. This condensation is a natural bias; plus, generalizations are naturally less accurate and are not the complete story. Generalizations lead one away from the truth and generalizing generalizations can lead to falsehoods – therefore, misconceptions.

3) Thirdly, the selection of the soundbyte is an natural bias, as are the follow-up questions – but the media must do these actions. That’s part of reporting.

The listener’s bias also plays into the situation. Whether informed or not, the one holding deep convictions about a topic is not only biased against those with an opposing view, they are also vulnerable to getting sucked into generalizations based on misinformation and overgeneralizations that lacks details.

However, if the listener does not agree with the selected edits, abstract report, or the question asked does not mean the reporter or news organization was blatantly biased to favor a point of view – but it could.

On the listener’s side is the fact that if they work traditional morning-afternoon hours, they have limited opportunity to view national evening news by a major network. After that point in time, the 24/7 news channels offer shows featuring and promoting a particular point of view – for instance, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and others. However, television isn’t the only news source.

Technology has made more information is available to everyone than ever before. Unfortunately, that also means more misinformation is available today more than any other time in history.

Social media complicates and exacerbates personal bias by increasing misinformation, justifying false claims/conclusion, and promoting conspiracy theories. Social media, biased reporting, and talk show echo chambers disengage citizens from the truth while promoting a political agenda.

There is no question that bias plays an important role in the news – and there is plenty of blame to go around. People also carry their share of the blame – actually, in my opinion, people may be the greater problem. People must take responsibility for themselves to challenge and verify the information they receive. However, instead of being proactive citizens, too many people favor reinforcing their bias over being accurately informed.

Valuing factual information is an important aspect of being human – as is the ability to learn – as is the ability to communicate. Too bad there isn’t an anti-bias vaccine. Then again, self-imposed biases would prevent someone from taking that vaccine.

 

PS: This classic scene fits.

On Respect

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Aretha spells it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Merriam-Webster defines it:

  • a relation or reference to a particular thing or situation
  • remarks having respect to an earlier plan
  • an act of giving particular attention
  • the quality or state of being

A thesaurus provides substitute words: appreciates, considerate, dignity, honor, recognize, regard, courtesy, and more

The Cincinnati Enquirer Editorial Board writes it.

Respect, it would seem, is in incredibly short supply in America these days. Inappropriate actions, offensive and rude language and a general lack of manners are, unfortunately, becoming the norm. And increasingly, there seems to be little patience or respect for the diverse ideas or experiences of others.

America has become a nation of absolutists in love with their own perspectives and intolerant of differing ones. But what has always made this country great is its diversity of people and their opinions, ideas and culture. …

Respect for each other’s differing opinions and backgrounds opens the door for healthy dialogue as opposed to the often angry, back-and-forth that masquerades as conversation on social media.”

United States Air Force Lt. General John Silveria says it.

On Context

Context, the events setting; the circumstances in which an event occurs; the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage that determines its meaning (The Free Dictionary)

Context is an interesting word as it conveys the situation in which the text/statement occurred. I think of context as the setting where the content interacts with the observer.

I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I realize that many use its text out of context, thus aiding to a misinterpretation by many. Whether it’s the verses preceding and following, or the understanding of the writers intent and the situation at the time, all of this is part of context. I also imagine this is also true across texts of other religions besides Christianity.

In the image to the right, do you initially see the old lady or the young lady? Whichever, can you see the other? Would you have even considered the other if I didn’t mention it? Besides context, the observer’s perception influences their context of an event. A person sometimes is so influenced by what they initial observe, they fail to open their mind for other observations. Besides the surrounding context, the initial perception and subsequent interpretation influences a personal point of view.

The observer also brings their own experiences and biases to the interpretation table. The news media is simply one example. With all the talk about media bias, how many of us have a preferred media source based on their delivery of the information we want to hear? In other words, we tend to assemble information into a favorable and similar explanation (and presumably agreeable) over the complex, unfamiliar, and disagreeable.

All this brings me to the current election season. Politicians make statements, and each has a particular context. Good reporters will also set the context of that statement, yet with the proliferation in electronic media, I wonder how many fail to set the context or rely on their own perceptions and biases to set a context favoring their position?

So that leaves the observers – the ones who need to judge the statement based on the context – but can the observer make a judgment without (or at least limiting) their bias?

In the recent Florida primary, reports indicate that over 90% of the political ads were negative. Given the current political climate and role of Super PAC money, in the days ahead the parties, the candidates, and the supportive minions will inundate Americans with statements taken out of context and planted in the incorrect context, thus deliver false information in order to gain votes.

While the majority of voters will judge the information on their individual perceptions and biases, including their own sense of right and wrong, who will do the research to sort through the piles of crap? Better yet, if found, who will listen?

PS: Associated past posts applicable to this topic”

On Political Hyperboles

Hyperbole: an obvious and intentional exaggeration; an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally (Dictionary.com)

Everyone uses hyperboles as a figure of speech to create a strong impression, to get the point across as in It’s raining cats and dogs, Bob is older than the hills, and the everlasting classic He’s full of shit.

Everyone realizes politicians use hyperboles. To determine if a statement is a hyperbole, one must consider the user’s context, tone, intent, and audience as well as the listener’s perspective. After all, what we hear is influence by our own bias of preferred party.

Let’s start with Governor Bev Perdue (D-NC) who not long ago said ,“I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover.”

While one side says she is making a recommendation that is against the Constitution, the other says it was a hyperbole to make the point that our representatives in Congress are bypassing tough, important decisions because they are always in re-election mode (every two years).

Recently Mike Huckabee (R-AK) made this statement in a speech to an Ohio group in the Cincinnati area about our state’s contentious Issue 2 vote; “Make a list…  Call them and ask them, ‘Are you going to vote on Issue 2 and are you going to vote for it?’ If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date. That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”

Since I was curious about his tone, context, the audience reaction, and what he said next, I listened to a recording of his speech. Although I obviously could not see his facial expressions, his tone was light and the audience laughed. I admit that I was concerned when seeing the quote, but I think Mr. Huckabee hyperbolized. However, following the statement, he could have added (which he did not) something like, “I’m kidding” or “Seriously folks” to clarify his point.

Republican Herman Cain’s recent statement about building a barbed-wire, electrified fence along the border “with a sign that says it can kill you.” Insensitive or hyperbole?

Mr. Cain says it was humor. After watching the statement’s reply more than once, he obviously got the reaction he wanted from the Tennessee audience – but humor? I do not buy it because neither the tone in his voice, the look on his face, nor the words that followed suggested anything humorous.

Although our tendency to be thick-skinned or thin-skinned depends on our bias and perspective, we have to realize politicians use hyperboles all the time. We must be careful not only against overreaction, but to also giving them a free pass – and that is where judgment comes into play. But the need for good judgment is not limited to the listener, it is also important to the one delivering the message.