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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Extreme Reckless with National Security: The Case of Hillary Clinton

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."

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On the Financial Crisis of 2008: Why Business Ethics Failed

I submit that the academic field of business ethics failed in not being able to anticipate the fraud and exploited conflicts of interest that precipitated the financial crisis of 2008. That is to say, business-ethics scholars, including myself, failed utterly. To the extent that the general public relies on us to shoot off flairs in advance of a high likelihood of icebergs in the water ahead, we failed in our social responsibility, ironically as many of us were admonishing corporate managers to be socially responsible. Many who did so used could use their programs as advertisements or even window-dressing. In this essay, I point to some of the academic reasons why business-ethics scholars failed so miserably.


The full essay is at "On the Financial Crisis of 2008: Why Business Ethics Failed."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pope Francis Addresses the U.N.: A Religious Rationale for Reducing Carbon Emissions

Pope Francis declared to more than 100 world leaders and diplomats at the United Nations in late September 2015 that a "right of the environment" exists and that our species has no authority to abuse it or render it unfit for human habitation.[1]  In stressing that urgent action is needed to halt the destruction of God's creation, he made explicit reference to a religious basis for his moral claim. He said the universe is the result of a "loving decision by the creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the creator: He is not authorized to abuse it, much less destroy it."[2] This statement may overplay both the religious nature of the basis and the destruction. I turn now to parsing the statement in three parts, after which I will supply the basis of the pope’s religious rationale, which is narrower than he suggested in his speech.

The complete essay is at “Pope Francis at the U.N. on Climate Change.”

Pope Francis addressing the United Nations' General Assembly. (Bryan Thomas/Getty)



[1] Nicole Winfield and Jennifer Peltz, “Pope Beseeches World Leaders to Protect the Environment,” Associated Press, September 25, 2015.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Business Implications of Power in Mergers: The Case of the New United Airlines

Ideally, a merger combines the best features of one company with those of another company such that the whole is of greater value than the sum of the two parts. Optimal combination as such may imply or at least depend on a rough power-balance between the two adjoining companies, for otherwise distended dominance could translate into the worst of one company (i.e., the dominate one) being foisted onto the merged entity. The opportunity cost, or benefit lost in going with the worst of the dominant company, could be measured by the extent to which the same function in the other company is better than that of the dominant company. Put another way, it would make no sense to go into a merger planning to let each company continue to do what it does worse than the other. Sadly, power can eclipse economic criteria even in a company. The merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines provides a case in point.



United's "Love in the Air" promotion highlighting couples who met in the air. The case of the winning couple pictured here just happens to involve an "upgrade." The love in the air does not refer here to the employees on board or at the gate, even though the impression intended may be that flying United is a loving experience. (United Airlines)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Great Lakes Water in the U.S.: Treating a Union as a State

Squabbling amongst states in a federal system may be an inherent feature of federalism. How much the jealousies and petty interests manifest in terms of policies may depend on the balance of power between the federation itself and its member-states. In the case of the E.U., the spat at the state level over how to allocate the tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa effectively stymied federal action that could have assuaged the angst. It is no accident that the state governments hold most of the governmental sovereignty in the E.U. federal system. By contrast, the case of the U.S. demonstrates that nearly consolidated power at a federal level can obviate, or stifle, strife between state governments. This alternative is not optimal either, for interstate differences tend to be ignored, resulting in increasing pressure on the federal system itself. How to handle municipal requests for drinking water from Lake Michigan is a case in point.


The full essay is at “Great Lakes Water: American Federalism.” 


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Subtle Conflict of Interest in Obama’s Nominee for FDA Commissioner

Robert Califf, U.S. President Barak Obama’s nominee in 2015 to head the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), had received consulting fees of roughly $205,000 between 2009 and early 2015 from drug companies and a medical-device maker.[1] He donated the money he had made since around 2005 to nonprofit groups, and he had ceased all such work before he became the FDA deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco. The question is whether he would have a conflict of interest in taking the helm at the regulatory agency that puts the public’s interest above those of the regulated companies. I contend that such a conflict is indeed entailed, though not on account of the money he received or any relationships he had developed with people at the companies.

 The complete essay is at “FDA Nominee Conflict-of-Interest.”



[1] Drug companies spent an additional $21,000 reimbursing the cardiologist for travel, meals, and other expenses. Joseph Walker, “FDA Nominee Received Industry Fees,” The Wall Street Journal, September 19-20, 2015.