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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Subtle Anticipations in Film Narrative: Foreshadowing A Single Man

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.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On a Hometown’s Pathological Fear of Change

Perhaps it is simply a fact of nature that some people are intrinsically oriented to motion, whereas human beings find stasis as more natural. As organizations and societies are populated by people, we can generalize to postulate that some collectives are less averse to change than are others. Both the leadership and culture are decisive in this respect. Whereas a change agent is celebrated in a goal-directed organization or city, the very same person is said in half-jest to be a trouble-maker from the perspective of people instinctually defending themselves and their organization and/or locality from the threat of change. That is to say, a pathological fear of change subtly warps perception such that any actual or even potential reformer is instantly transformed into a problem rather than part of a solution.

The entire essay is at “On a Hometown’s Pathological Fear of Change 

National Leaders Lag Global Crises: A Systemic Explanation

Surveying the world on August 19, 2014, the UN’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, claimed that the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the United Nations were outstripping any solutions coming from the organization’s members. World leaders, he said, “have to sit down together with an open heart to negotiate in the interests of their people,” Ban said.[1] Yet there’s the rub, for even though the Secretary-General avoided the point (perhaps because it implies structural reform at the UN), national officials acting in the interest of their respective citizens do not necessarily have an interest in coming together with other such officials to take care of the mammoth human external costs of countries at war with themselves.

The full essay is at “National Leaders Lag Global Crises

[1]Oren Dorell, “U.N. Chief: Crises at New High,” USA Today, August 20, 2014.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Religion in Ethical Leadership in the Secular Context of Business

In Peter Berger's terms, the sacred and the profane are like oil and water. In Augustine's terms, the heavenly and earthly kingdoms are two distinct realms, a Christian being only a pilgrim passing through the latter, hence not to be "of it" while in it. I contend that such "white and black" dichotomies are artificial, and thus ill-fitting as paradigms in which to situate religion and ethical business leadership. Perhaps a devoutly religious CEO can unabashedly apply ethical elements of his or her religion without severing them from their theological underpinnings, and therefore without the need for subterfuge. I suspect that the legions of the CEO's subordinates would feel more, rather than less, respected. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mergers and Acquisitions: What about the Stockholders?

Why do companies merge and acquire other companies? Synergy is the textbook answer. Typically, the stockholders of the target company see an appreciation in the value of their stock, while stockholders in the initiating firm see a downtick. The reason why is simple: corporations typically overpay. The value-added of the anticipated synergy must be greater than not only any overpayment, but also the intangible costs in aligning the corporate cultures. Yet another factor—an opportunity cost, really—is frequently overlooked: that of whether the extra cash on hand should be returned to the stockholders as dividends.

The complete essay is at “Mergers and Acquisitions” 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Managing a Hometown's Library Without Comprehension

A city’s public library stands as the font of knowledge for the citizenry. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams held that an educated and virtuous citizenry is vital for a republic to endure. Being socialized in the rarified culture of university environs, I gradually lost touch with the general public’s grasp of knowledge as well as logical reasoning. On the visits back to my hometown in which I made use of the public library, I had a sense of the patrons’ general level.  I had overlooked the librarians, however, until one summer day. What I found was yet one of several accumulating evidences of just how decadent my hometown had become. The profound ignorance—as startling as it was to me—just scratched the surface of the dysfunctional mentality pervading the city.

The entire essay is at “Comprehension Issues

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Global Geopolitical Risks: Is Wall Street Hypersensitive and Reductionistic?

The Dow dropped 140 points in August 5, 2014 on a rumor that the Russian military is about to invade eastern Ukraine. Three days later, amid hints of de-escalation and the end of troop “exercises” on the Ukraine border, the Dow gained 186 points. Three days later, as Russia’s president approves a deal wherein the Russian OAO Rosneft and the American ExxonMobil can begin drilling a $700 million well in the Arctic Ocean, the Dow gains 16 points.[1] Are stock analysts and Wall Street investors really so hypersensitive to day-to-day changes in geopolitical risk? It may be simply that such news sells.

The entire essay is at “Global Geopolitical Risks

[1] All quotes are from Adam Shell, “If Russia Sneezes, Wall St. Gets a Cold,” USA Today, August 12, 2014.

Robin Williams: Comedic Creativity and Dramatic Depth from Severe Depression?

Can creativity and emotional depth and sensitivity in writing and acting emanate out of severe depression? If so, have many of the best writers and actors been plagued by the disease? How might this silver lining be explained? The implications may be odd. Would a cure for the disease result in less creative and intense performance art? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pedestrian Authorities in a Hometown Mall: A Microcosm of a Dysfunctional City

On visits to my hometown, I have enjoyed stopping into the Barnes and Noble bookstore at the local indoor mall—that is, until one rather weird day, when I discovered that pedestrian authorities were running the asylum ensconced in, and no doubt nourished and sustained by, the dysfunctional local culture. That is to say, that culture had crept into the mall and infected the store's managers in the form of passive aggression enabling the local dysfunctional culture.

The entire essay is at "Pedestrian Authorities

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unfairness and the Brain: Behind CNN's Biased Coverage of the Israel v. Gaza Conflict

Watching CNN on August 4, 2014, I tuned in just before Wolf Blitzer began by briefly mentioning the number of Palestinians killed that day only to quickly pivot to a focus on Israel's successful interception of two rockets. He went on to interview an Israeli official on the defense system to the extent of near obsession. The implication is that an Israeli life is worth more than a dozen Palestinian lives. At the very least, the editorial judgment is questionable, if not suspect. Beyond what lies behind the judgment are important questions concerning the viewers, and indeed the species itself, ethically speaking.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wall Street Subsidies Silently Magnifying Systemic Risk

At a U.S. Senate hearing on a GAO report on the costs of expectations of government support for banks should they go under, “discussion went far beyond the report and delved into the current state of banking, the limits of the Dodd-Frank Act and what should be done about banks that are simply too big to manage,” according to The New York Times.[1] Six years after the massive credit freeze, a major question hinged on whether some financial institutions were still too large, complex, and interconnected to be liquidated in an orderly and containable manner should they head under water. 

[1] This and all quotes in this essay are from Gretchen Morgenson, “Big Banks Still a Risk,” The New York Times, August 3, 2014.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Local Culture as a Silent Enabler of Aggressive Organizational Cultures: The Case of a Hometown’s Bus Company

It can be expected that a city’s culture penetrates into organizational cultures. Unfortunately, this means that a local dysfunctional culture can give rise to, or intensify, the dysfunctional culture of a company. Where the company operates the local buses, the dysfunction can be seen on a daily basis among those drivers who have been infected. Because of the extent to which those drivers have contact with the public, the pathology can spread as a result. At the very least, the inappropriate conduct (and its underlying attitude and emotions) can make life much less enjoyable for a sizable number of local residents, thus rendering them more susceptible to the pathogen itself.

On the Duty of Public Service: The Case of Rep. Eric Cantor

Public service, such as holding public office and defending the homeland under attack, is rooted historically in a duty rather than being intended to further personal ambitions. Hence, public advancement is a reward for having gone beyond the call of duty in one’s public service. To be sure, it is not unheard of that an elected official views his or her post as a launching pad for personal enrichment, whether in terms of wealth or power. When this aim becomes primary, the duty aspect of the public service can easily fall away like a tadpole’s tail off a bumpy toad. U.S. House representative (and majority leader) Eric Cantor is a case in point, both in why he lost his seat and his decision to resign it early rather than finish his term.

The complete essay is at “On the Duty of Public Service” 

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 “HumanityGetting 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.