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Monday, August 29, 2016

California Passes Stricter Pollution Targets: Bringing Business Around

California’s legislature approved a bill (SB 32) in August, 2016 that extends the climate targets from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 (the former target) to just 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.[1] A second law, which includes increased legislative oversight of California regulators and targets refineries in poor areas, passed as well. Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund pointed to California’s climate leadership. “As major economies work under the Paris Agreement to strengthen their plans to cut pollution and boost clean energy, California, once again, is setting a new standard for climate leadership worldwide.”[2] At first glance, it would seem that the legislature had freed itself from big business to pass the bills, but the sector itself was split. I submit the anticipation of a refreshed “cap and trade” program as an alternative (or mitigating factor) to stricter regulations played a role. Simply put, using the market mechanism in government regulation makes the stricter targets more palatable to market-based enterprises.

The full essay is at "California on Greenhouse Gases."

1. Chris Megerian, “’A Real Commitment Backed Up by Real Power’: Gov. Jerry Brown to Sign Sweeping New Climate legislation,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2016.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Global Markets and London Overreact to the British Vote to Secede from the E.U.: Missing the Bright Spots

The world’s financial sector may be excessively sensitive to increasing uncertainty associated with major changes—that is, changes that impact how large institutions, including governments, relate to each other. In such cases, so much is at stake that forces (i.e., the major powers) tend to manage the large-scale change with a minimum of disturbance. In short, the status quo has too much at stake for the market’s feared uncertainty to actualize. The British referendum on whether the E.U. state should secede is a case in point.

The full essay is at "Global Markets and London."

Big Soda Campaigning against a Proposed Tax in San Francisco: A Vested Interest Thwarting Democracy?

With a proposed 1-cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages such as soda-pop on the 2016 ballot in Oakland and San Francisco, the effected industry reserved about $9.5 million in television-ad time.[1] As of August 10th, the American Beverage Association had already spent $747,267 on campaign consultants and advertisements against the proposed tax in Oakland, whereas supporters of the proposal had spent only $23,297.[2] The imbalance itself could mean that business was subverting democracy by overwhelming voters. If big-soda’s ads were unethical as the pro-tax camp contended, the subversion would be especially harmful.

The full essay is at "Big Soda Campaigning."

1. Michael McLaughlin, “Big Soda Spends Millions on ‘Unethical’ San Francisco Area Ads Fighting Drink Taxes,” The Huffington Post, August 24, 2016.
2. Darwin Graham, “Big Soda Is Spending Big Money Against Oakland Surary Beverage Tax Proposal,” East Bay Express, August 10, 2016.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Apollo Global Flew Too Close to the Sun: Personal and Institutional Conflicts of Interest

I submit that people tend to get more upset over the exploitation of personal conflicts of interest than the institutional sort. That is to say, our blood boils when we learn of another person contravening a duty in order to gain financially, yet we don’t mind when a CPA firm falsely gives a qualified opinion on an audit so the company being audited will continue with that audit firm the following year. Logically, as the money involved is more in the case of the CPA firm and individuals within the firm stand to benefit personally as the firm is enriched by the continued business, yet even so, we cannot stand direct personal enrichment resulting from a conflict of interest. In August, 2016, Apollo Global, a large private equity firm, settled with the SEC. Both personal and institutional conflicts of interest brought on the $53 million fine. Hence, this case is useful in comparing the two sorts of conflicts of interest.

The full essay is at "Apollo Global Too Close to the Sun"

Monday, August 22, 2016

Homeless “Campers” Starting Wildfires: Outside the Social Contract

Nederland, Colorado. A town in Boulder County that had embraced marijuana dispensaries for profit, found itself just outside a wildfire that burned 600 acres in July, 2016. Two homeless men were charged with fourth-degree arson for failing to put out their camp fire. The townsfolk reacted in anger, pointing to the increasing number of homeless people in the nearby national forest. Officials had been forced to deal with “more emergency calls, drug overdoses, illegal fires and trash piles deep in the woods.”[1] Some residents urged the U.S. Forest Service to crack down on the homeless by imposing tighter rules on camping, or banning it altogether in certain parts of the woods most popular with the homeless. An analysis drawing on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, a seventeenth-century English philosopher can be employed to reveal a broader perspective on the problem.
The full essay is at "Homeless Campers."

1. Jack Healy, “As Homeless Find Refuge in Forests, ‘Anger is Palpable’ in Nearby Towns,” The New York Times, August 21, 2016.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Extreme Reckless with National Security: A Rigged Justrice Department or Falling Short of Gross Negligence?

In July, 2016, the FBI came to the conclusion that while Hillary Clinton was serving as U.S. Secretary of State, she risked classified information by using private computer servers for email and other purposes. The FBI’s director explicitly stated that she had been extremely reckless. In legal terms, that means gross negligence. At the time, a 99-year-old statute whereby gross negligence is sufficient for a fine or imprisonment of up to ten years was still on the books. Whether or not the person knew the actions were wrong is not relevant to the statute, and thus the enforcement.  So it was perplexing to a significant number of Americans—including prosecutors and other lawyers—that the FBI director did not recommend prosecution. Crucially, extremely reckless is the same as gross negligence in legal terms.

The full essay is at "Extreme Recklessness."

On the Business Ethics and Technology of Self-Driving Cars at Tesla

During the summer of 2016, Tesla was under fire with charges regarding the technology and ethics. Both of these issues can be put into a wider perspective in the company’s favor. Put another way, both technological and ethical analyses can be enhanced by putting the specific problems within a larger perspective—even in terms of time.

The full essay is at "Self-Driving Cars."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christianity as Distinctly Religious: A New Species?

The human mind naturally tends to make (and remake) religion into familiar terms, while resisting the wholly other as such. As David Hume explains, the human mind is naturally drawn to what is familiar to itself; considerably more effort is required to hold onto the notion of pure divine simplicity without adding ornaments. Sociological phenomena such as father-son relationships and the role of a son are more familiar than the Son as Logos and agape.[1] The resurrection is typically thought of in supernatural physiological and historical terms, rather than as whose meaning is distinctly religious and, furthermore, is part of a religious narrative. The Trinity as existing in reality metaphysically is easier to understand than the Trinity as transcending reality, as it’s source rather than its substance. God as the first cause of the Big Bang is easier to grasp than God as the source or condition of Creation. These all-too-easy category mistakes are particularly problematic in that they obscure religion as distinctly religious.

The full essay is at "Christianity as Distinctly Religious."

1. For more on this point and that of David Hume, see ch. 12 of God’s Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-Seeking and Wealth.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

From Being “Real” to Mythic: Do Religions have Lifespans?

Thousands of years ago, Greeks acted out narratives from what we now refer to as myths. The word myth connotes a religious narrative that has long-ago expired from being believed to be actual. Of course, no Christian in modern times would refer to the Passion as a myth; to refer to the crucifixion and resurrection as mythic would be insulting. Yet as a society increasingly secularizes, the events in the religious story gradually give up their all-embracing signature. As Good Friday or Easter becomes “just another day” for more and more people in the increasingly secular West in particular, the respective events lose their hegemony in defining for people in their daily lives what the Friday and Sunday are about. That is, the events "deflate" from being perceived as all-embracing in the sense of defining the significance of the days. If sufficiently relegated, the story itself can more easily be viewed as myth, rather than real. Notice religion’s appeal here to history or at least empiricism as a validator. Without such a basis intact, religious events are somehow less real in a religious sense of meaning.[1]

In fact, a religion’s situs in a society can go from default-status to ultimately being replaced. Nietzsche’s “God is dead” in the late nineteenth-century prefigured the rise of secularization—the discrediting of the reigning concept of the deity by ascribing the vice of vengeance to it inexorably deflating the Abrahamic religions. Particularly astonishing is not the fact that religions have lifespans, but, rather, that any given religion in decline can endure an incredible amount of time at that stage. This phenomenon can prompt a person to wonder whether the religions are not human, all too human.
The full essay is at "Religion and Myth."

1. Here I’m relying on ch. 12 of my book, “God’s Gold.” In that chapter, I contend that religion overreaches in claiming history for itself. For a religion to use history as a sort of anchor is to make a category mistake.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

SEC Investigating Hedge-Fund Priest: Christianity’s Pro-Wealth Paradigm Lapsing into Greed?

It is against U.S. securities law to knowingly make false statements or publish false information about a company you are shorting (selling stock now and buying the shares later, hence betting the stock price will go down). In other words, you can’t try to drive the company’s stock price down you are shorting so you can profit from the trade. Besides being illegal, the practice is unethical. Just go to Kant for that! The guy was fanatical against lying.

You wouldn’t expect to read, therefore, that the SEC is investigating a Greek Orthodox priest who sidelines as a hedge-fund manager for trashing commercial reputations in order to make money off shorting stock.  BloombergBusiness reported on March 18, 2016 that the SEC was “examining whether the Reverend Emmanuel Lemelson of Massachusetts made false statements about companies he was shorting.”[1] He reportedly referred to his trading skills as a “gift from God.”[2] Such a claim is on a slippery slope, theologically speaking.

The full essay is at "SEC Investigating Pro-Wealth Christianity."

1. Matt Robinson, “Hedge Fund Priest’s Trades Probed by Wall Street Cop,” BloombergBusiness, March 18, 2016.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Picking a U.S. President: Excessive and Insufficient Democracy

Even as the Electoral College has never performed as intended, that the delegates at the U.S. federal constitutional convention devised it can help us to flesh out some of the hidden, or overlooked, deficiencies in how a U.S. president is selected in the twenty-first century. In short, societal blind-spots pertaining to the electoral process can be made transparent by considering the rationales that went into the Electoral College as it was intended.

The rest of the essay is at "Picking a U.S. President."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Adolf Eichmann: Justice or Retribution by the Victims?

In February, 2016, 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former guard at Auschwitz, went on trial in Detmold, Germany for being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people. Back in 1961, Adolf Eichmann had been tried in Jerusalem for crimes against the Jewish people. I submit that the situs for the Hanning trial is proper ethically and legally, which is to say that Eichmann too should have been tried in Germany rather than in Israel.

Reinhold Hanning, center, on trial for 170,000 counts of accessory to murder in Germany. Proving that he himself facilitated the murders may be more difficult than one might assume; hence the importance of a fair hearing by neutral judges. Associated Press.

The full essay is at "Adolf Eichmann."

Monday, January 4, 2016

Increasing Complexity and More Energy in the Context of Evolutionary Biology

In “the story of increasing complexity and then decreasing complexity,” we find complexity in “privileged localities” where “intense local flows of energy that are dissipated elsewhere, where things are less complex. . . . So increasing entropy in one region seems to allow decreasing entropy—that is to say, increasing complexity—in some very special regions, such as the surface of our Earth.”[1] Differentials in the universe began in the random, unpredictable differences at the sub-atomic level at the very beginning of the Big Bang.  It took 380,000 years for tiny differentials in temperatures and mass-densities to show up in the cosmic radiation background. Since then, much steeper energy-gradients have developed, and these have enabled greater complexity to arise and subsist.
Contemplating the enigma, wherein increased complexity and the associated additional energy required occurs amid a more general entropic process of a flattening out or dispersion of energy in the universe as a whole, can lead to the question of whether the level of complexity now extant in human civilization is a work in progress or a pinnacle. That is to say, will hitherto undiscovered sources of energy boost human arrangements and infrastructure—artifices of human intentionality—to higher levels of complexity? At a much longer temporal scale, will the Milky Way gain in energy and complexity as a result of incorporating a passing galaxy? In both cases, I marvel at the enigma wherein steeper energy gradients serve as more efficient energy conduits on the way to an entropic final destination. 

This history of life on Earth is a tale of increasing biological complexity. A single cell is more complex than is the Sun and our planet. From the Cambrian period, the diversity of plant and animal organisms has expanded so much from the common one-celled ancestor that we can say with Plotinus, "(I)t is a wonder how the multiplicity of life derives from what is not multiplicity, and the multiplicity would not have existed unless what was not multiplicity had not existed before the multiplicity."[2] What we typically forget is that with each increase in biological complexity, more free energy is necessary to sustain it.  
In human history, the capture of energy from the Sun for our species’ use has increased dramatically from the hunter-gatherer days to today. The leap afforded by the Neolithic Revolution, when nomads—taking advantage of “Garden of Eden” conditions—began sedentary, agricultural lives, is dwarfed by the tremendous jump in energy-usage from fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution. The change in technological and organizational complexity due to the Industrial Revolution far exceeds the increase in complexity that came as a result of the Neolithic Revolution.
Because 95% of our species’ time on Earth was spent in the hunter-gatherer, small clan, social arrangement, the incredible leap in energy usage (now 100 times what is needed for survival, per capita) from fossil fuels whose stored energy far exceeds the potential energy of animals and human labor, and the related leap in complexity in spheres such as business, government, and society (e.g., large cities) during and after the Industrial Revolution makes us fish out of water, evolutionarily speaking. That is to say, natural selection—the mechanism discovered by Darwin whereby a changed environment “selects” mutations that are more favorable to it—has not had enough time to adjust our species to the world that we have created.
For instance, we are “hard-wired” for having contact with up to 150 people because that’s how big clans got during 95% of the time that natural selection has had to fashion our species via incremental alterations or adjustments. We are fish out of water in the cities we ourselves have built. Similarly, natural selection is too long-paced to alter our innate short-sightedness such that we can apply collective learning to obviate the threats to our species’ survival from our energy use, such as in climate change. In short, the increasingly large leaps in the steepness of the energy gradients enabled by our successively rich energy-sources have by now outstripped the energy of our evolutionary biology being able to “catch up.” Put another way, our amazingly complex biology—far from the Cambrian Revolution that led to the diversification of life—is not in sync with the complexity that we have constructed to make our lives easier and even happier.

[1] David Christian, “Big History” Lecture (2015).
[2] Plotinus, The Enneads, III.8[3]10.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

On the Key Role of Energy in the Industrial Revolution

Reading from Peter Stearns' "The Industrial Revolution in World History," I'm intrigued with the twin elements of fossil fuels to power the machinery and organizational management to organize the production process, including the continued use of human energy/labor. I suppose Descartes' "mind-body" dualism is getting in the way of my understanding of the industrial revolution from the standpoint of the leap of energy and the related increase in complexity. 

The full essay is at "Key Role of Energy."

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Want a glimpse of the "powers that be," American-style? Three films--"The Big Short," "Concussion," and "Spotlight"--together form a perfect storm that in theory could trigger resistance. More practically speaking, the films are likely to result in more departmentalization, psychologically speaking. 

The full essay is at "The Big Short and Concussion."