Sunday, August 10, 2008

Questions to Ask to Get to Know Someone

When I was younger, I thought I could gain useful personal information by asking general questions. I realize now that my inquiries were not helpful in producing any profound insights. I've written some questions that do provide insight into a person's value system and beliefs.

1. Obesity is a major problem in America. Fast food chains, such as McDonald's and Jack in the Box, provide cheap food high in calories and fat. Anecdotal evidence indicates that poor persons and single parents disproportionately rely on fast food restaurants because of a lack of money and/or preparation time. Should we add a new tax on fast food chains to make them more expensive, thereby driving traffic to healthier venues?

2. Should we raise taxes on oil/gasoline, causing the retail price of gasoline to go up? Let's assume this tax increase would result in a better environment as fewer people drove cars or switched to smaller cars with better mileage. If your answer is different than your response to question number one, explain the reason you answered differently.

3. Should we tax oil companies' profits at a higher rate than other companies' profits? If so, why? Also, how should the government spend the money received from the new taxes?

4. A employee of a minority group gets a different supervisor of a racial majority group at work. His previous supervisor left voluntarily to another company. The employee's new supervisor is a racist; however, the employee's performance is declining, and if another month passes, he would get fired because of his own incompetence. His supervisor fires him one week later because he dislikes members of the employee's ethnic/racial group. The employee is making 8 dollars an hour. How much, if anything, would you recommend he receive if he sued the company, and you were a juror?

5. You are sitting alone in a restaurant minding your own business and eating a hamburger. You are sitting at a mid-sized table with four chairs. It is a busy day, but there are other open tables available. Someone sits down next to you at your table. What do you say or do, if anything?

6. Every year, the American government takes about 13% of each employee's salary and puts it into a general fund for everyone's retirement/pension (i.e., the Social Security program). Should you have the ability to invest your contributions the way you see fit? Or should the government manage and direct everyone's contributions?  Government officials contend that many people do not know how to invest or may invest recklessly, and they want to prevent a situation where people lose their money through bad investments, which defeats the purpose of having a nationwide retirement program (i.e., to prevent poverty in old age).

7. A vegan on the city council wants to pass a local law/ordinance requiring all local restaurants to use a certain kind of cheese, made without animal products (i.e., rennet). She complains it is unfair for restaurants, especially pizza places, to effectively exclude her from their establishments. You are also on the city council. How do you vote?

8. A vegan on the city council wants to pass a local law/ordinance requiring all local restaurants to affirmatively disclose whether their ingredients are vegan, i.e. made without animal products. This would require local restaurants to change their menus and spend money replacing existing menus. He wants a penalty of 500 dollars per violation and wants the city to have random inspections of restaurants to ensure they are in compliance. You are also on the city council. How do you vote?

9. Do you believe in a God that is omnipotent but does not interfere in our daily lives?

10. [Added August 20, 2008] Your law firm's copy machine breaks down, so you are able to serve the other side with a motion, but you miss the filing deadline by one day. The other side is not affected--they were served properly, but the statute says the court must deny the motion unless it is also filed on time, or unless good cause exists for filing it late.

The legal process has strict timelines to ensure efficiency and predictability. Most deadlines require a litigant to file documents with the court and serve the other side by a certain date and time. Failure to enforce deadlines consistently results in a situation where judges seem to favor one side over another or appear inconsistent.

In this case, the court/judge would not have looked at the documents until several days later. The court itself is unaffected, as well as the other side, who was served timely. You are the judge. The law requires you to strike the documents unless you find good cause exists for a late filing. You are wary of accepting an excuse of a copy machine breakdown, and worry it might lead to others filing their motions late. The statute clearly requires you to either find good cause, or deny the motion. What do you do, and what is your rationale?

Bonus: does it make a difference if the law firm that was late represented an average employee? What if the law firm represented a corporation making $50,000 net annually? 1 million net annually? Should the judge consider these external factors, even though the statute does not mention them?

11. [Added 9/18/08] Imagine you are the president of a country. Your country has lots of natural resources, but only in the last few years has it managed to begin spreading the wealth and have a world-class stock market. In addition to the money flowing into your country's companies from other countries, your own citizens have invested a lot of their money. Due to unforeseen events and bad news, your stock market goes down 5%, then 10%, then 20% on three consecutive days. People are complaining about losing their life savings and street protests are being organized. You have the power to temporarily shut down the stock market, thereby preventing any trades from occurring, which would prevent investors from withdrawing their money from stocks and new investors from coming in. You expect to open the stock market again in a few days, when you believe things will be calmer. Do you shut down the stock market after the three consecutive down days, or do let the market stay open, thereby risking another large drop? If so, how many days do you shut down the market?

12. [Add 7/28/09] Click here for questions relating to the Cambridge PD's arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

13. I am borrowing the following hypothetical from Slawek W.:

John invents a cure for cancer. It is a pill, very easily made, in fact, one could make it with ingredients found in every household. He successfully demonstrates the effectiveness of this cure on several volunteers, after which he announces to the world that he has no intention of ever releasing any information about this cure. He further announces that the instructions to produce this cure have been implanted somewhere in his body in a soluble capsule which will completely dissolve in a week along with the instructions.

Let's suppose that a surgical search for this implant would end John's life.

Let's further suppose that there is absolutely no way that you can reason with John to change his mind, and you cannot reverse engineer the cure by studying the cured patients.

Now, the general population is asked what the best course of action is in this situation. John has the knowledge to eradicate cancer forever but he has no intention of sharing this information for whatever reason. Also, there is no way to forcefully retrieve this information without causing John's death in the process.

What would you propose to do? Would it matter if John was your 16 years old son?

14. [Added on 8/27/11] A police department participates in various community outreach programs. The department initially asks officers to visit an event at a local mosque, but when no one volunteers, mandates an officer's and his four subordinates' attendance. (We may assume at some point during the event, the mosque may hold prayers, but the officers would not be compelled to participate.) The officer refuses on the grounds that 1) he believes the mosque has ties to violent fundamentalist organizations; and 2) as a devout Christian, it is against his religious beliefs to go to a non-Christian house of worship. The officer also says that to the extent that his subordinates sincerely believe that their religion forbids them from attending and participating in Islamic religious ceremonies or that the mosque is funded by anti-American elements, he may not compel them to attend, either. What should the police department do?

15. [Added on 8/27/11] A mentally and physically disabled teenager is given an honorary spot on the high school football team. He suits up and participates in practices as an assistant and spends most of his time helping players by bringing them water and equipment. In some cases, at the end of an official game, the coaches of both teams agree to sub him in for a play or two. During these plays, the team gives the teenager the ball, and he sometimes scores a touchdown. This situation goes unnoticed for four years, until the teenager becomes 19 years old. The state athletic commission sends a letter to the team informing them that no one may join or participate in a team's practices or games after turning 19 years old. The commission says it understands the unique situation but it must enforce its rules equally. You are elected as the head of the state high school athletic commission the next day. What would you do?

8 comments:

Global Imperialists said...

1. No.
2. Yes. It should encourage people and municipalities to explore other modes of transportation: bikes, bike lanes, trains, and walking.
3. No. We should, however, eliminate oil-specific tax credits.
4. He should receive one year's wages at $8/hour.
5. I would say nothing, but would eat some of their fries.
6. The government should handle this investment.
7. I vote against the ordinance.
8. I vote against the ordinance.
9. An omnipotent god interferes by not interfering.

Marjan said...

1. No. Poor people eat there b/c they can't afford anything else. Making them spend more money is not the solution. The government should help them get enough $/food stamps for healthier food.

2. No. The American people should not be punished b/c there are no other options.

3. Not sure. I think a better thing for the gov to do is to give incentives to companies that make cleaner/greener products available to the market. Gov should use the tax $ to fund more research on new energy sol'ns

4. Probably nothing. He should have been fired anyway, and it'll be hard to prove exactly why he was fired (i.e. if it was really only b/c he disliked members of his race). If he wasn't incompetent, it'd be different.

5. Probably nothing. If it seems suspicious, I may move, but it's not a big deal.

6. I would like to be able to use my $ how I see fit, but I think it's important to invest in everyone's future.

7. No. Being vegan is her choice, and she can't force anyone else to be the same.

8. No.

9. As a Deist, pretty much yes.

Alison said...

1. Who said that cheap food has to be unhealthy food? There's an underlying assumption, thus a loaded question. There's several regions of the world (including Wales) where McDs has not penetrated every corner yet poor people exist, and survive.

An example of how culture does influence core beliefs (serves as your reference point for understanding the world) and cannot
necessarily be separated? On the rest of the question, I've already e mailed.

2. Who's "we"? America? Global population? Assuming the US, you're petrol (gas) is literally half the price of what is in Europe. American cars are also bigger, etc ... your "small" car is probably an estate / SUV
type car in Europe. Thus American frames of reference are different. Do Americans really need to be driving around the planet in cars the size of football pitches, in the name of freedom to do anything they like? Call me intolerant of your lifestyle, but its my planet too ... and the ice is melting, the weather system is already screwed.

Any taxation in this area, the monies need to be ring fenced and spent on public transport infrastructure. Clearly, this cannot currently be happening because where's the evidence of public transport development?

P.S. When is the US going to sign the Kyoto Treaty? :)

3. Oil = world's natural resources, which are ultimately scarce. Oil isn't the only scarce natural product, but perhaps the one that has the widest implications.

A question exists before this one, does man have an unlimited or automatic right to own everything in the world, and with that right (money no object), to consume without restriction *now*? Lets kill the last dodo standing scenario, because really who cares? Who gave man this right, to consume in limitless greed for the sake of keeping shareholders happy?

Native American Proverb. "Only when the last tree is cut, only when the last river is polluted, only when the last fish is caught, will they realise that you can't eat money".

Is the concept of ownership perhaps ultimately artificial in construction? Where do rights begin and end, could it not be said that ecosystems have rights?

Peak oil. Doesn't just mean transport, we're talking plastics, your computer, agriculture (impact on food production), housing, etc. Huge implications, but root issue here: demand, way exceeding supply. This blog talks a lot about government being spending more than they have in an economic sense. A parallel could be drawn here, spending more natural resources than we actually have. Its not infinite.

If economics drives innovation, encouragement for alternatives (taxation by itself / curbing demand, has its limits), and Obama sticking to his guns, etc as a baseline.

4. Why is the employee's performance declining? Did this decline in performance happen because a new boss arrived? What have we gleaned from supervision notes, etc. Racism, you've not told us what form this is taking. Perhaps no supervision, unrealistic or differential treatment, bullying with an adverse impact on the person's mental health, thus established chain of causation.

If a decline in performance is totally incidental, then one could treat this as stand alone (what's the spirit of legislation pertaining to racism / parliamentary or legislator's intention).

If you were to look at the bigger picture (i.e. plaintiff at fault) where we are arriving at (employee not being in that job anyway), one could treat the issue in the same way as you would treat contributory negligence (foreseeability, reduction in damages awarded accordingly).

For the amount of damages (any loss of wages, injury to feelings, etc) would depend on the answers to the above (incidentally a jury would not decide damages here).

I don't know the full facts, until then you're not getting a full answer from me.

5. This one has happened to me a few times. Normally, just ignore. From experience, the person just wants to talk, and I will humour them. If I was waiting for friends to arrive, etc I would let them know. If they were being really annoying, I would find another table (but continue to be polite, even smile ... look I'm British!)

6. UK values is going to influence me here. I think the government should take care of a *basic* pension for everyone
(minimum standard of living here), however if people want more in old age, retire before the statutory retirement age, then its up to individuals to invest.

This model pulls in the best of both worlds, but economically / state burden it becomes problematic (cf. issues the UK faces re retirement). Other cons: your retirement age is in the hands of the State. 10 years ago I thought I would receive a state pension at 60, now the State has pushed this up to 67 (although my payments are the same / on course). This autonomy is lost, within the private sector it would depend on your investments.

7. "Requiring all .... to use a certain kind of cheese". Is this an *exclusive* use of such cheese, or as an *option*?

Basic answer from me is no, economics will figure this one out. No point in being authoritarian, demand will coax the supply. But can't help thinking about vegan / minority argument here.

Since I answered no there, how is my answer different: establishments must provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people. Without such adjustments, they could not eat there. What is a disabling argument? If disabled yes, vegan no. Why?

8. Remind me re food labelling in the States? Within the EU, food produce needs to be labelled,
and this is ranked by proportion of ingredients. So this proposal is totally not a big deal, rides on the back of what's there already. Policing such measures would be another box on trading standards forms. EU has a strong culture towards safety / buyer beware legislation, and perhaps assumes unequal bargaining power (legislation built on the back of this).

Who said culture doesn't influence core beliefs, or can't I run away from legal training? :)

9. Depends what you mean via interference (there's many forms this could be).

Anonymous said...

Alison, your responses are the best.

Matt said...

1. Let's see. They're poor. So let's tax them MORE! Um...no.

2. I do not concede the premises of your "let's assume", and even if I did, it would be irrelevant. The government already gets to waste more of our gas-pump dollar than all the people doing all the work to get it to us combined. The tax bite should be SMALLER, not BIGGER.

3. By this point in the chat/interrogation, you probably wouldn't actually feel the need to ask that. No, we should not tax oil companies' profits any differently than other companies' profits. Even if I wanted to play along with the "oil is EEEVILL!!!" lunacy (which I don't), the purpose of taxes is to fund the operation of the government, not to pick winners and losers in the economy.

4. I'm a juror, not a psychic, so it's highly implausible that I would _know_ that he was fired precisely three weeks "early" specifically because of racial prejudice. But let's pretend. My default position would be that the employee is entitled to $0 (incompetent workers aren't entitled to jobs, regardless of what color their skin is). I might fall back to $960 ($8 * 40 hours * 3 weeks, assuming his typical paid work-week was 40 hours), but that's the only non-zero number I would consider morally defensible on any basis.

5. Depends on the situation, I guess. I'd start with "hi", and proceed from there. I'd keep a close eye on my fries. I'd ask if they were a Douglas Adams fan. :)

6. Well, since you're talking about Social Security, I'd have to say that it's unlikely I'd do a worse job with that money than the government does. After all, if anyone else tried to run the same system, they'd go to prison. Ask Bernie Madoff.

7. Not just "no" but "HELL NO!".

8. You had me at "new law/ordinance". Well, actually, you had me at "vegan", but leave that aside. No. No. Absolutely not.

9. Define "omnipotent". Define "interfere". Define "daily lives". Specify "does not" with greater precision. When we're sure that you're using those words and phrases the same way I am, we can have a conversation about my religion. Until then, giving you a straightforward and truthful answer would be more likely to mislead than to inform you.

Matt said...

9. Define "omnipotent". Define "interfere". Define "daily lives". Specify "does not" with greater precision. When we're sure that you're using those words and phrases the same way I am, we can have a conversation about my religion. Until then, giving you a straightforward and truthful answer would be more likely to mislead than to inform you.

10. Hm. This is the first question that I actually had to really think about. Is a broken copy machine "good cause" for filing late? I can see reasonable arguments on both sides of the question. My natural inclination is to say that, at least in the case of a small firm, a broken copier would be good cause. Even for a larger firm, I would be disinclined to be TOO strict about it, since neither the functioning of the court nor the opposing counsel were adversely affected by the delay. But if another person said that the law must be applied strictly, I concede that I have no good basis to argue that such a position is wrong.

Bonus: It makes no difference whatsoever. The size of the firm might affect my beliefs about whether the breakdown of one copier really did completely prevent them from timely filing through no fault of their own, but the size of the _client_ is completely irrelevant. Factoring in the client to this decision is the worst kind of bias.

11. If I close the market, I destroy whatever confidence the public has in the impartiality of the government, and confirm the worst fears of the panic-mongers. No. The market stays open.

12. I'm not clicking away from this list in the middle of writing a reply.

13. Knowing for an absolute fact that a universal cancer cure is _possible_, and can be formulated from reasonably common ingredients, makes it a functional certainty that his work will soon be replicated by another scientist who isn't as much of a jackass. I would refuse to associate with John any further, as he is clearly not only an incurable misanthrope but an utter fool to pass up all the money he could make. My parting words would probably be advice to him to hire armed bodyguards, because there are way too many moral relativists out there, who could tranq him, tie him down, cut him open, and leave him bleeding to death on the table without losing a moment's sleep. It would be grossly immoral to do such a thing, and whoever did it should be punished as a murderer. But the smart money would be betting that someone was going to.

Matt said...

9. When we're sure that you're using those words and phrases the same way I am, we can have a conversation about my religion. Until then, giving you a straightforward and truthful answer would be more likely to mislead than to inform you.

10. Hm. This is the first question that I actually had to really think about. Is a broken copy machine "good cause" for filing late? I can see reasonable arguments on both sides of the question. My natural inclination is to say that, at least in the case of a small firm, a broken copier would be good cause. Even for a larger firm, I would be disinclined to be TOO strict about it, since neither the functioning of the court nor the opposing counsel were adversely affected by the delay. But if another person said that the law must be applied strictly, I concede that I have no good basis to argue that such a position is wrong.

Bonus: It makes no difference whatsoever. The size of the firm might affect my beliefs about whether the breakdown of one copier really did completely prevent them from timely filing through no fault of their own, but the size of the _client_ is completely irrelevant. Factoring in the client to this decision is the worst kind of bias.

11. If I close the market, I destroy whatever confidence the public has in the impartiality of the government, and confirm the worst fears of the panic-mongers. No. The market stays open.

12. I'm not clicking away from this list in the middle of writing a reply.

13. Knowing for an absolute fact that a universal cancer cure is _possible_, and can be formulated from reasonably common ingredients, makes it a functional certainty that his work will soon be replicated by another scientist who isn't as much of a jackass. I would refuse to associate with John any further, as he is clearly not only an incurable misanthrope but an utter fool to pass up all the money he could make. My parting words would probably be advice to him to hire armed bodyguards, because there are way too many moral relativists out there, who could tranq him, tie him down, cut him open, and leave him bleeding to death on the table without losing a moment's sleep. It would be grossly immoral to do such a thing, and whoever did it should be punished as a murderer. But the smart money would be betting that someone was going to.

Matt said...

11. If I close the market, I destroy whatever confidence the public has in the impartiality of the government, and confirm the worst fears of the panic-mongers. No. The market stays open.

12. I'm not clicking away from this list in the middle of writing a reply.

13. Knowing for an absolute fact that a universal cancer cure is _possible_, and can be formulated from reasonably common ingredients, makes it a functional certainty that his work will soon be replicated by another scientist who isn't as much of a jackass. I would refuse to associate with John any further, as he is clearly not only an incurable misanthrope but an utter fool to pass up all the money he could make. My parting words would probably be advice to him to hire armed bodyguards, because there are way too many moral relativists out there, who could tranq him, tie him down, cut him open, and leave him bleeding to death on the table without losing a moment's sleep. It would be grossly immoral to do such a thing, and whoever did it should be punished as a murderer. But the smart money would be betting that someone was going to.