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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bad Boy Banks Enabling Inversion: Can a Firm Be Patriotic?

The “corporate citizenship” literature has it that companies in the private sector can indeed be “good citizens.” Even though a company cannot vote or be drafted, citizenship is said to fit as an apt description of what is organizationally speaking a profit-seeking machine. To say that a company is a good or bad citizen is, moreover, to anthropomorphise (i.e., apply human characteristics to a non-human). Furthermore, in their managerial capacities, the people who run companies are duty-bound to act in the financial interest of the stockholders, and only then in the broader societal interest. Even so, an ethical basis does exist on which some of the banks can be viewed as culpable.


The full essay is at “Enabling Inversion” 

Humanity Getting Ahead of Itself: A Mass-Extinction Event Already Underway

Around 252 million years ago, the “Great Dying” took out 90% of the world’s species. About 66 million years ago, a meteor caused the extinction of three out of four species, including those known to us as dinosaurs.[1] After 1.8 million years of existence, our own species is triggering yet another mass extinction event, according to a study in the journal Science by Stuart Pimm and Clinton Jenkins. According to Pimm, species are now going extinct at about ten times faster than scientists had thought. Prior to the arrival of homo sapiens (i.e., our species), the extinction rate was about 0.1 out of a million species per year; as of 2014, the rate had climbed to 100 to 1000 species per 1 million.[2] Behind this evolutionarily abrupt bump is not only the complicity of our species, but also unforeseen consequences that could easily take homo sapiens out of the equation.

The full essay is at “Humanity Getting Ahead of Itself



[1] Seth Borenstein, “World on Brink of Sixth Great Extinction, Species Disappearing Faster than Ever Before,” The Huffington Post, May 29, 2014.
[2] Ibid.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Timothy Geithner: A Regulator Beholden to a Bank?

In her article in The New York Times, Gretchen Morgenson raises the possibility that Tim Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003 to early 2009 and U.S. Treasury Secretary during Obama’s first term, was a captured regulator, “a man locked into the mind-set of the very bankers he was supposed to oversee.”[1] I contend that while a shared mindset was part of the mix, he was actively doing the bidding of Wall Street, and one bank in particular, which he owed big time. That is to say, it is not just that he worked with Republicans such as Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed, and Henry Paulson, Bush’s Treasury Secretary. There is more to it in him being portrayed throughout his confirmation hearing for Treasury as “a tool of Wall Street.”[2]




[1] Gretchen Morgenson, “Geithner, Staying on Script,The New York Times, May 17, 2014.
[2] Timothy Geithner, Stress Test (Random House: New York, 2014), p. 2.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Single Man: Multi-layered Meaning in Film Narrative

Tom Ford’s approach in screenwriting and directing his first feature film, A Single Man (2009), which is based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same title, can be characterized as thoroughness oriented to the use of film as art not merely for visual storytelling, but also to probe the depths of human meaning and present the audience with a thesis and thus something to ponder. As Ford reveals in his oral commentary to the film, that thesis is that we should live in the present, attending to it more closely, because today might be our last day of life. George, the film’s protagonist, supposes that in intending to commit suicide at the end of the day—the film being confined temporally to it—he chooses the final day. Yet though an exquisite use of prefigurements—foreshadowings that subtly anticipate. Just as a film with a depth of meaning operates at different levels in the human psyche, the prefigurements in such a film should also be hung at different levels with care—and varying distance’s from the tree’s center. For such meaning is nuanced, or multivalent, rather than entirely opaque and transparent. In this essay, I take a look at Ford’s use of prefigurements to anticipate George’s death as an event that is finally unanticipated, at least from the standpoint of George’s plan to kill himself at the day’s end.


The full essay is at “A Single Man.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are Today's Horror Movies Hollywood's 'Canary in the Coal Mine?'

Screenwriters who want to distinguish their work as riveting in terms of meaning and being thought-provoking can look to myths (living or dead), literature, and even dreams to gain depth and uniqueness. The lesson here may be that drawing on even well-known fables or myths need not deprive us of crafting unique stories that audiences will not view as formulaic. Put another way, a screenwriter is perhaps most fecund when he or she draws both deep within and on stories that have stood through oceans of time and thus are etched into our collective unconscious.


Monday, July 21, 2014

GM’s CEO: Ridding GM of Its Dysfunctional Culture or Enabling It?

Has GM's CEO, Mary Barra, been behind a "new GM," or has she actually been protecting the old guard?

The essay is at “GM’s CEO

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Philomena

In the film, Philomena (2013), the audience is confronted with the spectacle of unjustifiable cruelty committed under religious auspices. Philomena is this victim, and she must struggle to come to terms with her past ordeal as a young mother at an Abbey as she goes on a search for her son in America. Her traveling companion, Martin, is a journalist writing the story from his perspective as an ex-Catholic. Philomena defends her faith against Martin’s sarcasm even as she comes to terms with just how cruel the nuns had been to her. In the end, she and Martin confront the nuns. The question is how, by which I mean, from what direction? The answer has value in demonstrating how outwardly religious hypocrites can be put in their place.  

The entire essay is at "Philomena"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wall Street’s Maker-Taker Rebate: An Inherent Conflict of Interest

On June 14, 2014, the U.S. Senate Investigations Committee held a hearing on “High-Speed Stock Transactions and Insider Trading.” The issue at hand concerned the payments that wholesale brokers and exchanges make to brokers for going through the brokers and exchanges, respectively. An academic study had found that the broker or exchange that pays the most is not typically the most efficient, and thus in the best interest of the investor. Essentially, the payments give rise to a conflict of interest for the retail broker, who is supposed to put the client’s financial interest first, before his or her own. Is greater disclosure, such as Sen. Levin suggested, sufficient? I contend that a conflict of interest that is inherently unethical warrants complete removal, rather than merely countervailing measures.


The entire essay is at “Maker-Taker Rebate

Monday, July 14, 2014

Israel vs. Gaza: Why Does the World Tolerate Unfair Fights within Countries?

In the very nature of occupation and in particular its attribute of a near-monopoly on military force within a given territory, the superior power is essentially inert to any normative constraints, whether from within or abroad. Such power can be drunk with anger, blatantly ignoring what even allies recognize as blatantly unfair actions. That such power may actually perceive the unfairness as fair to the innocent victims demonstrates just how much cognitive dissonance a human brain consumed with its will to power can muster, let alone tolerate, as a mental shield hiding the naked aggression. To be sure, it takes two to get tangled in a fight, so rarely is either party "the bad guy." Yet major dimensions of a conflict can be sliced and put under the proverbial microscope for close examination. Tolerance for an unfair fight, whether involving a rapist, a school-yard bully, or an occupying state, is problematic in not only the predominant aggressor but also any bystanders. In the case of Israel and Gaza in July 2014, the lopsidedness of the death-tolls stands out, as does the tacit refusal of the international community to step in and stop the fight as a result. 


The full essay is at “Israel vs. Gaza

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Expanding Business Encounters a Hometown's Dysfunctional Culture: A Case for Cross-Cultural Management

If distinctive enough, a dysfunctional culture in a geographical region or city can present a company expanding into the area with the need to engage in cross-cultural management. Rather unique challenges in human resource management, for example, can present themselves once the expansion has taken hold locally. That is to say, the local culture is likely to become infused in the new store(s). The initial managers of the store are likely to be implanted rather than from the locality, and thus not infected. While this is in the new store’s favor, such managers are unlikely to be aware of something as subtle as a mentality even if it is ubiquitous. It will be seen in customers before any recognition occurs that several of the local employees are infected. By that time, the attitude has likely gained enough traction among the employees that the “foreign” managers’ use of training, or tactic, to improve customer service likely won’t go far and deep enough, especially as the store is immured in the locality saturated with the dysfunctional culture.  I suppose the best a manager could do is anticipate by assuming that quirks shared by many customers are likely also shared by several employees. On one occasion while visiting my hometown in Illinois, I witnessed a case in which a manager of a Woodman’s grocery store—part of a Wisconsin-based chain—had clearly detected the imprint of a dysfunctional culture on many customers yet was still unaware that it had infiltrated the store through his local employees too.


The full essay is at "An Expanding Business Encounters a Hometown's Dysfunctional Culture"

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Labor and Stockholders: Applying Locke’s Notion of Property

John Locke’s view on how something becomes a person’s property could fundamentally alter labor-management negotiations in companies. Moreover, our assumption that management participates in the discussions may be upended. The key, I contend, lies in how we classify labor. I submit that the paradigm that has been handed down to us is deeply flawed in its fundamentals, and yet strangely we do not even question its contours.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Subscribing to RSS or via Email to Receive the Essays: Here or at the Sections

I am in the process of switching over to the sections I recently added (to improve the writing, I am editing the essays as I transfer them from the home page, so it is a slow process). As I post essays in the sections, I also post the first paragraph with a link on the home page. So if you are not interested in one or more sections, you can subscribe at the section(s) you like rather than here. Each section has its own subscription/email. You will only get the essays posted on the section(s) to which you have subscribed. Of course, if you want the essays from all of the sections, you can still subscribe here on the homepage (presumably you would get the first paragraph and link, which you could click for the entire essay), rather than or in addition to subscribing to any of the sections. I also post summaries with links at Google Plus (look for the Worden Report), linkedin, and a few other social media outlets, and you might prefer any of those means (a back-and-forth being possible). To those of you who have been and remain regular readers, you have my thanks and profound gratitude. Merci et Vielen Dank!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Can the Euroskeptic States Topple the E.U.?

Can we say that an E.U. state is Euroskeptic? If so, Britain would be a consistent candidate for the label. Yet what about when Tony Blair was the prime minister? Poland and the Czech Republic have also swung back and forth in line with the electoral winds within those states. If states are less fixed than typically thought with respect to being Euroskeptic, then what looks like intractable skepticism may in fact be more easily overcome at the state level. It follows that the E.U. itself has more chance than typically presumed to obviate its own decline and dissolution.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Distrust of the E.U.: Prompting European Integration?

A Eurobarameter poll conducted by the European Commission between 10 May and 26 May, 2013 found that the number of Europeans who distrust the E.U. had doubled over the preceding six years to a record high of sixty percent from thirty-two percent.[1] The trust was lowest in the “bailed out” states of Greece and Cyprus. The people polled cited the five bailouts, record unemployment, and low economic growth as significant factors. In the state of Britain, 68% of the residents said they have little faith in the Union. Yet there is reason to be cautious in predicting the E.U.'s demise. In fact, closer European integration may actually result. 

The full essay is at "Distrust of the E.U."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hobby Lobby: On the Significance of the Case

For all the controversy stirred up by the case of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius on whether an employer must comply with the mandate for contraceptives coverage in the Affordable Care Act, the significance of the decision handed down in a 5-4 majority opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court may be less than some commentators were predicting.

The full essay is at “HobbyLobby.”