Behavioral Economics: Why it is so Hard to Take a Hit on a 16

Everyone who plays blackjack knows you take a hit on a 16 if the dealer has a 7 or better showing. If  the dealer has a 6 or lower, you do not take a hit. It's strictly a matter of probabilities. With a 16 you are very likely going to lose and taking the hit lowers the probability only slightly. I think it is 3% less likely you will lose.

When you are at the table and the dealer shows a 7 and you have a 16 it is very hard emotionally to take the hit. Why? Probably because you are likely to lose no matter what but, if you take the hit, you have a sense of taking an active role in participating in your loss. If you do not take the hit, then you feel more passive. After all, you might think, I did not cause the loss.

Rationally you know that you should take the hit but what behavioral economics tells us is that people feel a greater sense of regret when they take an active step that turns out to be a mistake than when doing nothing turns out to be a mistake.  An example, is that someone feels worse if he or she buys a stock that goes down in value than if she or she declines to buy a stock that appreciates in value.

Casinos make a great deal of money on the irrationality of not taking the hit.

Aberystwyth University president rejects 'dictatorship' claim by union

Allegations that one of Wales' leading universities is being run "like a dictatorship" have been dismissed by its president, Sir Emyr Jones Parry. The University and College Union (UCU) claims Aberystwyth University managers are behaving like school ground bullies and staff are fearful for their jobs. Sir Emyr said: "I don't believe the views set out are representative and I don't recognise the picture." The union also claims university staff were suspended over trivial matters. The university said it was "perplexed" by the accusations, which it said had not been brought to its attention.

Since new vice chancellor April McMahon took over the role in August 2011, 11 members of staff have been suspended and 13 have had their employment terminated, it has been reported. Martin Wilding, president of UCU at Aberystwyth, said staff were "literally looking over their shoulder," adding there was a sense they were under "constant surveillance".

He claimed there was also no sense of "due process" and "justice" over the suspensions, adding there was a conflict between management and staff that was "a sort of repressive relationship". "If people speak out they feel that they are going to be punished," he said. "There are rumours of people disappearing, and it sounds like a South American state when you say that, but people have sort of disappeared off the radar screen, as it were." He added: "Invariably people are brought into a meeting on a one-to-one basis and suspended and dragged off campus".

BBC Wales spoke to other current and former members of staff who declined to speak publically about their experiences of working at Aberystwyth University for fear of reprisals. But they claimed they were bullied, intimidated and harassed by senior managers.

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, university president Sir Emyr Jones Parry said the union, one of four representing staff on the campus, had not formally raised any issue, even as recently as a scheduled meeting with management last week.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry said due process was 'rigorously applied' at Aberystwyth University. He said: "I don't believe the views set out are representative and I don't recognise the picture. "If there was any suggestion this was rampant in the university, believe me, I would have been on the case." "I'm not saying I haven't heard of the problems. They were not raised officially in any meeting." He rebutted the union's claim over a lack of due process in management actions. He said: "No-one has not been subject to due process. I can assure you. "Due process is rigorously applied in Aberystwyth."

The most high profile of the alleged suspensions involved two officers from the Aberystwyth arts centre - director Alan Hewson and operations manager Auriel Martin. Mr Hewson has retired and Ms Martin is the subject of an internal disciplinary investigation. Last month a protest stopped traffic on the campus in support of the pair but the university said it could not comment on matters involving individual members of staff. Councillor Sue Jones Davies claimed the relationship between the university and the town was strained.

More info at:

Class on the Queen Mary 2

Yes, I did just cross the Atlantic on the QM2. It was my first boat ride. I am told it is called a crossing and not a cruise. A cruise is when you leave Miami, eat and drink yourself silly for a week or so on a very slow boat and then come back to Miami. On a crossing, I am told, you are on the boat for the purpose of going somewhere. I guess all international flights are crossings.

There is a definite class system on the boat. The more you pay the more square feet in your room, the higher your deck (all other things equal), the more private your dining and the larger your balcony. At the lowest prices you have no balcony or window and eat mostly buffet style. But, frankly there are no poor or working class people in any of the cabins unless they are like me -- did not know enough not to do well on standardized exams and through luck (good or bad, I do not know) ended up in a profession in which he would hate to be anything but a misfit.

The people who work on the boat are a different story. For whatever reason the waitstaff  tended to be Filipino. The workers in the gambling areas were generally Eastern European. I am not sure their contracts are all the same but for the restaurant workers you sign on for 9 months -- no days off. They start breakfast at about 6 AM and finish dinner about 10:30 PM.  The one I got to talk about it seriously said that there is really just time for sleep and you have a choice -- sleep or have some kind of life for an hour or two. After 9 months you take 2 to 3 months off without pay. He has being doing it for 10 years -- ten years of missing birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc. Some workers contact their families daily. He does not because it makes him sadder.

I would think the entertainers have a better deal at least as far is leisure time.

So, why aren't there days off when the boat is in port? I am not sure but it appears the goal for the QM2 is to rarely stop. The boat dropped us off in Southampton on a Saturday morning. Later that day it was off to Norway only to return the following Saturday. On the same day it was back to New York.

I asked why someone would choose this life, The answer was that it was better than anything else in terms of the future of his children. Plus, it was addictive. It allowed him to have a house and a car -- and, of course, payments due forever.

Update on Denis Rancourt academic freedom case

Dear colleagues,

As you probably know, the legal case of my 2009 dismissal from my tenured Full Professorship at the University of Ottawa has been on-going for many years:

Well, the binding labour arbitration hearings are finally over! The last day of hearings was June 26, 2013. We expect the arbitrator Claude Foisy's decision within 4 to 6 months.

In my opinion, the hearing was a modern Socratic trial, with the University's arguments explicitly alternating between "corrupting the youth" and "insulting important people". The media reports thankfully saw this as a tactic.

Link to mainstream media reports about the final days of the hearings are given in this blog post:

For example, this video about anarchists was played during the hearings in the lengthy cross-examination of me, because it was in one of my many YouTube playlists:

The Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) attended virtually all the hearings:

Denis Rancourt

White House Down: For the Spare Room in Your Brain

To see a movie is to invite the writers, directors, and actors, into your most intimate place -- your brain. While there they may trash it or enrich it by leaving you with lasting insights, memories, and a better understanding of the world. "White House Down" falls into the second category. Mr. Jamie Foxx and Sir Channing Tatum, along with all those involved are perfect brain guests. You want to o...pen the refrigerator of your brain and say "there is some good cheese in the cheese compartment, just under the baloney" or "have some of that cold water that comes right out of the door." You want them in your brain's guest room for ever and ever. You may whimper but do not be ashamed. They are family.

White House Down is a civics lesson as well as a lesson about the power of Mr. Tatum's forearms, beady little eyes, and enormous eyebrows. Kudos to the makers of this masterwork for not bowing to the pressure to bring those mammoth caterpillars under control. Mr. Foxx's turn as someone acting like they are acting like the President is so real you think you are in the Oval office with him except that you know you aren't because you are sitting in the theater hoping the teeny tiny battery in your watch that makes it light up does not run out because you are checking the time every 30 seconds or so.

When the film ended my wife said "I think that is the worse movie I have ever seen." I've tried to tell her that sophisticated movie-goers say "film" or "cinema." I attempted to explain all the stuff about brains, and house guests and cheese but she is not ready for the gifts that White House Down so graciously gave to us.

Workplace Bullying in Higher Education

I know the old saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' but somehow I could not help doing just that with this book. An image of a sticking plaster over a bruised apple left me somewhat bemused. I was left wondering, what did this have to do with workplace bullying in higher education (HE).

I did consider the possibility of it referring to knowledge and the damage that is, potentially, being done by bullying in HE  institutions to future generations. That the developers, repositories and distributors of knowledge in society have issues with workplace bullying is not something that is a recent discovery; stories abound of high value, academics bullying doctoral researchers, junior faculty members and support staff in HE establishments. These academics are seen as untouchables because of the income that they generate and the impact that words from an esteemed professor could have on a future career.

HE is not really that different from other sectors and, like other sectors, this perception is being challenged quite strongly through the development of robust policies and procedures, training and management changes aimed at driving out what have been generationally embedded negative behaviours in some areas.

This book is written to help human resource (HR) professionals working in the HE sector understand what the current issues are surrounding workplace bullying. Although set in a USA context this does not limit the appeal or usefulness of the book; topics range from the current, limited, empirical research literature through to the different sub-cultures and biases that exist within financially restrained, historically bound, institutions.

It also provides well-researched observations on the legal and ethical implications of bullying. Of particular interest to me was the development of a model which links the social ecology of bullying with social reproduction theory. In brief, it suggests that bullying does not exist in a vacuum, it reflects the messages that seem to be prevalent in society (for example, the dominance of a subjective capitalism, the primacy of the victim, the demand for tolerance or intolerance) and suggests that HE institutions can fall into the trap of reproducing these inequalities by merely reporting the statistics on bullying rather than actually engendering change.

The authors set out a challenge to the institutions, almost in the form of an ethical demand, to move away from the current emphasis on statistics, characteristics and psychological profiling to a more systemic-based challenge to the societal embedded causes of, and supports for, bullying. The authors are clear that the book should not be read as an answer to the phenomenon of bullying rat herthat it is the beginning of a conversation; a conversation that needs more empirical evidence for it to progress in a meaningful direction. Maybe this was the point of the image on the cover of the book. The contributors seem to recognise that whatever they are offering is a sticking plaster to cover up a bruise as a temporary solution whilst they begin to explore the reasons as to why the bruise occurred in the first place. If this is their aim then, for me at least, the book is a success.

Damian Stoupe
Counsellor and workplace bullying doctoral researcher