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Monday, October 21, 2019

Do You Believe in Global Warming?

On September 16, 2012, “Arctic ice covered just 1.32 million square miles—the lowest extent ever recorded. ‘The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding,’ NSIDC scientist Dr. Julienne Stroeve noted in a press release. ‘There's a huge gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the public,’ NASA scientist James Hansen said, adding that he believed, ‘unfortunately, that gap is not being closed.’ What the scientific community understands is that Arctic ice is melting at an accelerated rate -- and that humans play a role in these changes. According to the panel, humans are ‘really running out of time’ to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from reaching levels that would precipitate runaway climate change. Hansen warned that even maintaining current concentrations of approximately 390 parts per million for several centuries ‘guarantees disaster.’”[1] Nevertheless, record amounts of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere in 2016 to at least 2018, and 2016 was the hottest year on the planet as of 2019.[2] What makes an intelligent species, homo sapiens, go in the wrong direction even from the outself of an announced guaranteed disaster? Timing and mentality have a lot to do with it. 

The full essay is at "Believing in Climate Change."

1. Joanna Zelman and James Gerken, “Arctic Sea IceLevels Hit Record Low, Scientists Say We’re ‘Running Out Of Time,” The Huffington Post, September 19, 2012. 
2. Kelly Levin, "New Global CO2 Emissions Numbers Are In. They're Not Good," World Resources Institute, December 5, 2018 (accessed October 21, 2019).

Members of Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed

As of late September 2012, more than one hundred members of Congress had lobbied the Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies on the Volcker Rule, the part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 that prohibits banks from operating like casinos (e.g., trading with proprietary funds, rather than those of customers).[1] The rule stems from the importance of banks in our financial system. In September 2008, the world nearly witnessed the collapse of that system when banks stopped trusting each other (e.g., via commercial paper market) because of the risks that some of the big ones had been taking with mortgage-backed derivative securities and the related insurance swap securities. Awash in healthy-seeming fees, the banks purchased risky subprime mortgages and bundled them into bond-like securities that could be sold to investors.

The full essay is at "Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed."

1. Ben Protess, “Behind the Scenes, a Lawmaker Pushes to Curb the Volcker Rule,” The New York Times, September 21, 2012.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cancelling Classes for Minor Holidays: A Matter of Academic Standards

Higher education is not valued equally in the various American states. Where academia is not particularly valued, other things can intercede as priorities even at the universities themselves at the expense of academics. In such places, even the universities themselves may value academia insufficiently. That is, the value hierarchy in a locality or even state can infect universities whose academic administrators are not strong or academically-minded enough to thwart the interlarded non-academic values.

The full essay is at "Cancelling Classes for Minor Holidays."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Airing Ideas at Universities: Beyond the Book-Burning Hype

In May 1933, some Germans in Nazi Germany burnt books authored by Jews so as to sever Jewish influence. So when some students at Georgia Southern University gathered around a grill to burn copies of a novel by a Cuban, the obvious comparison was made by some. I submit that the comparison being made is not so obvious or straightforward. Moreover, the comparison sullies the ideal of universities being impartial to the ideas aired even as opinions.

The full essay is at "Book Burning at a Georgian University."

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The U.S. Enabled Turkey to Invade Syria: Absent the U.N.

Turkey invaded Syria on October 9, 2019 “to flush Kurds allied with the US out of northeastern Syria.”[1] Strategically, Turkey wanted to distance the Kurds from Turkey so they could not aid Kurdish separatists in Turkey should the latter rise up in attempting to establish Kurdistan. U.S. President Don Trump, who had just cleared American troops from northeastern Syria, had advanced knowledge from Turkish President Recep Erdogan that he planned to invade the area once the American troops were out. A rare bipartisan unity in Congress criticized the removal of American troops and the president’s acquiescence on Turkey’s plan to attach the Kurds, an American ally—a plan that could possibly give ISIS a toehold in the region. Both the Congress and the president had their respective rationales, yet neither side looked past the apparent dichotomy to arrive at a solution consistent with the points made by both sides.

1. Nicole Gaouette, “Republican Anger at Trump Grows as Turkey Launches ‘Sickening’ Attack on US Allies,” CNN.com, October 9, 2019 (accessed same day).

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Is the U.S. Congress Too Beholden to the Financial Industry?

That financial deregulation had any traction at all following the financial crisis of 2008 in the U.S. is stunning, for the implication is that Wall Street money has tremendous influence in the U.S. Governent even after Wall Street banks have screwed up (even in triggering a financial crisis!). 

CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler staring down the big banks  

The full essay is at "Is Congress Owned by the Banks?"

On the Role of Socialism in American Political Polarization

In a stunning upset in the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary in Indiana, Indiana's Treasurer, Richard Mourdock, beat incumbant veteran Richard Lugar by 22 percent (61-39%). Even though Lugar's 36 years of experience in the Senate had seasoned him into a statesman in foreign policy, the Tea-Party-backed Mourdock was able to portray the aged senator as out of touch and too willing to compromise with Democrats. Mourdock had no intention of extending any hand across the aisle. Is such polarization worth the loss of experience in international relations? Moreover, what role ave worries of socialism perpetuated the polarization?

See: "On the Role of Socialism on Polarization."

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Religious Violence as Hypocritical

In the movie, Boy Erased (2018), the director of a church’s conversion therapy program invites the immediate family members of one gay boy to hit him with a bible to drive out the underlying demon. The boy subsequently commits suicide. Lest this notion of using violence to remove a sin in the twenty-first century is assumed to lie in the realm of fiction, John Smyth, an Anglican, was accused in 2017 “of subjecting at least 22 teenage boys to savage beatings in his garden shed” at “an elite Christian camp for boys. His intent was “purging them of perceived sins such as masturbation and pride”[1] A Christian charity group oversaw the camp, yet I contend that the camp was not Christian.

The full essay is at "The Anti-Christian."

[1] Ceylon Yoginsu, “Doubt Cast on When the Archbishop Knew of Abuse,” The New York Times, October 15, 2017.

Goodwill Dismisses a Solid Societal Norm: A Mentality beyond Unethical Conduct

When managers of a business or non-profit interact with a societal norm by openly rejecting any obligation to act in accord with the norm, the reaction from stakeholders can be utter disbelief. The refusal to act in accordance with the norm as it impacts the organization can be beyond bad management and even unethical conduct. The refusal to acknowledge a societal norm even as its impact on the business and stakeholders has been arranged by the business is beyond, though it can include, unethical conduct. Norms are not in themselves ethical, for as David Hume wrote, you can’t get an ought from an is; rational justification by ethical principles must be added before we can get to, “You ought to do X” from “X is the practice.” Yet ethical principles can be in norms, in which case we can say, “You ought to act in accordance with the norm because it is ethical.” In some cases, the norm-business relationship (i.e., Business and Society) can be more salient than an ethical principle in the norm itself. A managerial practice at Goodwill, a non-profit retailer based on donations for the poor, serves as a case in point.

When Retail Marketing Goes Too Far

Marketing by retailers can go too far; this claim should be no surprise. That this has been so even when the marketing comes at the expense of existing customers may be less well-known and thus be in need of some elaboration. The underlying culprit, I submit, is psychological: difficulty with keeping within even societal and even self-imposed constraints. Put simply, the difficulty is with limits. The mentality is thus at the child-stage of development.

The full essay is at "When Retail Overreaches."

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Boy Erased

The film, Boy Erased (2018), is a drama that deals in a serious  way with the question of whether homosexuality is a choice, and thus whether conversion therapy is effective or an ideological ruse under the subterfuge of psychology and religion. Directed and adapted to the screen by Joel Edgerton, he could have dived deeper in writing the screenplay by making explicit the contending assumptions and ideas. Surprisingly, nowhere in the film do any of the biblically-oriented religionists quote the applicable verses in the Old Testament or in Paul's letters, or engage in a theological debate. The film could have gone further intellectually than the relatively superficial emphasis on the dramatic narrative.

The full essay is at "Boy Erased."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The European Commission as Political

The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, has been known for being a technocratic institution. Yet in drafting regulations, imposing fines, and negotiating trade deals, the Commission is much like the U.S.’s executive branch. In fact, high-level appointments must secure the approval of the legislature through confirmation hearings. Yet the top of the U.S. executive branch, the White House, has been known for being ideological and definitely political. That that executive branch also promulgates and enforces regulations can be easily missed. That the E.U.’s executive branch is also political has definitely been missed or dismissed in the ideological illusion that the E.U. is merely a technocratic international organization rather than a federal system of governments. This illusion could finally be seen as such after the election of Ursula van der Leyen as President of the European Commission in 2019.

The full essay is at "The European Commission as Political."

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) centers most of the dramatic tension on the hotel’s manager, Sonny Kapoor. In the first film, the tension is more evened out among the hotel customers and Sonny’s bid to make the run-down hotel a viable operation. The hurdles faced by the retirees in the first film are more gritty, or realistic, than are the challenges in the sequel. Indeed, the second film can come across to the viewer as excessively glitzy, especially at the end when the customers, Sonny, and his family and friends are on a dance floor positioned as if performing for an audience sitting out in front. It is unlikely, for instance, that Sonny could dance so well, particularly as he delayed practice to the disappointment of his fiancé, Sunaina. That film becomes a performance, and this can stretch a viewer’s suspension of disbelief because the screenwriter of both films, Ol Parker, stretches the characters too far beyond themselves. That they, along with Sunny and his wife and their families and friends go into a performance mode can remind the viewer that he or she is watching a performance—that the movie itself is a performance. So much for the suspension of disbelief, a psychological wonder that allows the human mind to forget that it is watching a movie and thus be able to “enter” the story-world.

The full essay is at "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

Saturday, September 28, 2019

E.U. and U.S. Counterparts Met: A Basis for Comparison

President Barak Obama of the U.S., and Herman Van Rompuy and José Barroso of the E.U. held a news conference following the EU-US Summit at Lisbon in 2010. Even though the E.U. and U.S. are both empire-scale federal unions of states, and thus are equivalent in terms of political type or genre, they differ in terms of how their respective federal offices are arranged and constituted. This does not, however, nullify the basis of comparison.

The full essay is "The EU and US."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Police/Security Over-Reaches: A Mentality Unfit for the Job

Absolute authority corrupts absolutely, according to Lord Ashton. On an organization or even local scale, people with authority can play considerably on ignorance (their own and that of others) to over-reach such that their actions are excessive. Seeing an off-duty police employee wearing a bullet-proof vest and standing next to a store security guard in a grocery store, for instance, can give at least new-comers an immediate sense of the excessive use of authority to intimidate even the innocent shoppers. In one grocery chain in Phoenix, Arizona, I was astonished to see such a policeman going aisle to aisle as a matter of routine. I saw a young mother, who was with her young daughter in one of the aisles, “freeze up” at the sight of policeman staring at them from the back end of the aisle. I myself could not believe my eyes. How does such ill-fitting excessiveness shift from inappropriateness to become the default—the status quo? Typically the underlying mentality is one of stubborn ignorance that cannot be wrong, backed up by an excessive and microscopic grip on real or invented authority. How is it that the more educated and broad-minded perspective in upper-echelon management comes to doubt even its common sense by being hoodwinked by the lower mentality? Excessive delegation to middle-and-lower levels of management, where the wider perspective can easily be lacking, may be part of the answer. Playing a supporting role, the value-system in the local culture may actually support the excess or look the other way in blind obedience to an ideology. Finally, if a practice beyond the pale gets its toehold in the status quo, then people can become blind to the excessiveness and treat it instead as normal. Excessiveness as the new normal. Dislodging an invasive or encroaching unquestioned trend can be very difficult given the nature of the status-quo default to act like cement. Two case studies demonstrate that an absurd over-reach by someone in the security field can occur. The first took place in Orlando, Florida. Accountability did occur, so the absurd was not allowed to become ensconced. The second was in Phoenix, Arizona. Such accountability is much more difficult there, so the aggressive over-reach of authority would likely become further ensconced in the conducive or enabling local culture.