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Monday, January 16, 2017

The Wealth of 8 People and 3.6 Billion People: Utilitarianism Applied

As of the end of 2016, eight people held as much wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the world’s poorest half. Just a year earlier, a similar study had “found that the world’s richest 62 people had as much wealth as the bottom half of the population.”[1] Part of the difference in these findings is due to new data gathered by Credit Suisse. Put another way, the richest of the rich were richer than had been thought. In this essay, I want to call attention to the sheer magnitude of the wealth involved, as it pertains to the richest.





[1] Gerry Mullany, “World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half of Global Population,” The New York Times, January 16, 2017.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Behind Brexit: State Sovereignty, Not Markets

Lest it be thought that trade—indeed, economics—was the foremost consideration in the British decision to secede from the E.U., the state’s prime minister tasked with implementing the secession made it clear that the political union had been the prime antagonist from the British standpoint. In American terms, such a position has been labeled as anti-federalist and even “states’ rights.” Economic considerations are not primary; rather, federalism is front and center—in particular, where power should be lodged. This ought not to strike fear into British business practitioners.


The full essay is at "Behind Brexit."

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Age of the Imperial CEO: The Case of Fred R. Johnson at RJR Nabisco

Frederick Ross Johnson, as CEO of RJR Nabisco, was known “for the fleet of corporate jets that ferried him to celebrity golf events and other luxurious perks he awarded himself.”[1] The key words here being awarded himself, for Johnson epitomized the sort of imperial CEO that made an oxymoron out of the notion that the corporate board is to serve as an overseer of corporate management in corporate governance. Awarded himself should be the oxymoron, for such a conflict of interest runs against the logic of any viable business calculus.

The full essay is at "The Imperial CEO."




1. James R. Hagerty, “F. Ross Johnson,” The Wall Street Journal, January 7-8, 2017.


Monday, January 9, 2017

A Pro-Wealth Buddhist Temple in Thailand and Pro-Wealth Christianity: Is Religion Inherently Weak?


In Thailand, Phra Dhammachayo, the head of the Wat Dhammakaya Buddhist Temple—Thailand’s largest—could be heard, as of 2016 at least, exhorting non-monk meditators, “Be rich, be rich, be rich!”[1] This pro-wealth message, with its “endorsement of worldly comforts,” has attracted worshippers even as it has “unsettled the government and the Buddhist hierarchy.”[2] Indeed, the top body of Buddhism accused him of heresy—a charge you don’t typically hear in that religion—and stripped him of his religious title. Yet his popularity at Wat Dhammakaya was undiminished. It is no wonder the Temple’s popularity continued to grow, with cash machines placed near a meditation room—the machines’ screens declaring, “Shortcut to making merit.” By giving money, and even credit-card points, to the temple, a Buddhist’s merit can be enhanced. Other things equal, the additional good karma results in a better reincarnation in the next life. The worshippers, or more strictly speaking, meditators, at the temple could presumably be rich in this life and be born into a better life next time around simply by practicing Buddhism.

The full essay is at "A Pro-Wealth Buddhist Temple."



1. Seth Mydans, “Parsing Buddhism in a Shrine to Abundance,” The New York Times, December 21, 2016.
2. Ibid.

Passengers

Augustine wrote that Christians are ideally in the world but not of it. The fallen world is not the Christian’s true home. For the 5000 (plus crew) prospective colonists hibernating aboard a mammoth spaceship in the film, Passengers (2016), the planet Earth was presumably not their true home—or maybe that home was becoming climatically rather untenable and the 5000 were lucky souls heading for a new, unspoiled home. In any event, the film’s central paradigm can be characterized as “travel to” and “end-point.” That is to say, means and end characterize this picture at a basic level. The film is particularly interesting at this level in that so much value is found to reside in the means even as the end is still held out as being of great value.




The entire essay is at "Passengers."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Is the E.U. an Unimportant Tower of Babel?

With 24 official languages, the E.U. spent about 1 billion euros on translation and interpretation in 2016. The defense that diversity and language-learning were promoted is based on the specious reductionism of cultural diversity to language and the faulty assumption that E.U. business being conducted in a myriad of languages prompts E.U. citizens to pick up an additional language. After all, such an undertaking is not like changing clothes or knitting a sweater. Meanwhile, the true cost of using the E.U. to make ideological claims using language as a symbol goes beyond euros to include the foregone ability of the E.U. to integrate even enough to adequately conduct its existing competencies, or domains of authority.

The full essay is at "A Linguistic Tower of Babel."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Electoral College Hampered: The Case of Nixon’s 1968 Campaign Treason

While he was running for the U.S. presidency in 1968, Richard Nixon told H.R. Haldeman “that they should find a way to secretly ‘monkey wrench’ peace talks in Vietnam” by trying to get the South Vietnamese government to refuse to attend peace talks in Paris until after the U.S. election.[1] Specifically, Nixon gave instructions that Anna Chennault, a Republican fundraiser, should keep “working on” South Vietnamese officials so they would not agree to a peace agreement before the U.S. election.[2] “Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate,” said John Farrell, who discovered evidence of Nixon’s involvement from Haldeman’s notes on a conversation with the candidate. That Nixon committed a crime to win the election is itself an indication that the way Americans elect the federal president was flawed. That he went on to cover up the Watergate crime committed during the 1972 campaign only to win by a landslide should give pause to anyone having faith in an unchecked popular election.  I contend that the American Founders had designed the Electoral College in part to catch such a candidate from becoming president, even if the College had never operated as such. Yet it could.

The full essay is at "The Case of Nixon's Treason."




1. Peter Baker, “Nixon Sought ‘Monkey Wrench’ in Vietnam Talks,” The New York Times, January 3, 2017.
2. Ibid.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Self-Governing Chinese Catholic Church: Conflating Statecraft and Religious Authority

In late December, 2016, as the Chinese government was negotiating a deal to improve relations with the Vatican, Yu Zhengsheng, a senior Communist Party leader, “endorsed the notion of a self-governed Chinese Catholic church.”[1] The key point, I submit, hinges on governance. In what sense does governance apply rightfully (or fittingly) to a religious organization? This is a question to be put both to the Chinese government and the Vatican.

Yu Zhengsheng meeting Chinese Catholic religious authorities (Source: Yao Dawei/Xinhua)

The complete essay is at "A Self-Governing Chinese Catholic Church."



1. Javier C. Hernandez, “Catholic Churches in China Should Be Independent of Vatican, Official Says,” The New York Times, December 30, 2016.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Secular Films with Religious Meaning: Film as a Potentially Deep Medium

A film need not be explicitly religious to proffer spiritual meaning. In fact, gritty stories that wrestle with thorny problems that people have faced or may face in everyday life can be more gripping even theologically than stories based on religious idealism, such as The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Ten Commandments.  

Hidden Figures, for example, “has no obvious religious message. Rather, it is a feel-good drama about unsung black heroines in the NASA space race of the 1960s.”[1] Yet this didn’t stop Fox from hiring Wit PR to market the film to churches. Wit PR invited several “opinion-leader” pastors to watch filming, one cleric remarking, “I came away really interested in using film to explore faith.”[2] The “aspirational story about women who have faith in themselves” could be used as fodder in a sermon on the Christian theological virtues of faith and hope—the key being to keep having faith in spite of insufferable obstacles.

Yet just as secular films such as Hidden Figures need not have an explicit religious leitmotif or thesis in order to be conveyers of deep meaning, so too such meaning in such films need not be evoked in a religious context. That is to say, even secular films can bypass the religious organizations altogether to bring principles with religious import to people directly.

The Matrix, for example, prompted much discussion not only about philosophical solipsism, but also Neo as the One. Although non-Christian Plotinus utilized this term to mean God in the second century, the Christological reference would not be lost on many Christians. In the film, Morpheus is convinced that Neo is the One who would go on to save humanity from the clutches of the machines. Morpheus’s faith, even in spite of the apparent impossibility in Neo’s death, never wavers. Christian viewers would hardly need a sermon to drive the point home. For non-Christians, the critical question of whether the assumption that one person should save humanity isn’t artificial was debated far outside of explicit religious circles. 

Film is indeed an incredible medium in being able to render even ubiquitous assumptions transparent and thus able to be critiqued and discussed. That even a secular film can put religious assumptions in a new, and thus transparent, light—whether the implications are critical or affirming for a particular religion or religion itself!—brings cinema into the business of engaging deep meaning. In fact, with such meaning at the subterranean level in a secular film, assumptions can all the more readily come to light. It is a paradox that religious meaning from the pulpit is typically readily apparent and thus the undergirding assumptions are rarely exposed to the open air.

To be sure, assumptional analysis of religious beliefs can be explicit on-screen. In The Da Vinci Code, for example, Robert Langdon and his former colleague debate the theological import of whether Jesus had a child—unknowingly right in front of the last descendant of Jesus Christ. The debate is actually about whether the historical Jesus is the Son of God: the One (not in Plotinus’s sense of the word). Such an on-screen exercise is of great value too—to Christians and even non-Christians. Again, the value lies in rendering religious assumptions transparent so they may be realized and even thought over. Film is indeed a valuable medium in that it can flush out truth (and untruth) hidden in clear view.



[1] Brooks Barnes, “Secular Hollywood Quietly Courts the Faithful,” The New York Times, December 24, 2016.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Snowden

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how many words are moving pictures worth? Add in a script and you have actual words—potentially quite substantive words—grounding all that pictorial worth. Moving pictures, or movies for short, are capable of conveying substantial meaning to audiences. In the case of the film, Snowden (2016), the meaning is heavy in political theory. In particular, democratic theory. The film’s value lies in depicting how far short the U.S. Government has slipped from the theory, and, indeed, the People to which that government is in theory accountable.

The full essay is at "Snowden."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Squandering a Tradition of Ethical Leadership instead of Protecting the Accrued Reputational Capital: The Case of Ratan Tata in India

In India, Ratan Tata was a revered figure, dubbed Mr. Clean, until the end of 2016, by which time serious allegations of financial improprieties had cut into the stellar reputations of both the man and the famous company founded by J.N. Tata, who had intentionally applied his Parsee ethic to the founding of India’s first steel company with a zero tolerance for corruption. Generally speaking, strategic ethical-leadership and even the resulting reputational capital depend on the persona of whoever is in charge of a company, and not even family linage can be counted on to perpetuate a culture of ethical leadership and protect a company’s accrued reputational capital.


The full essay is at "Tata in India."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aleppo, Syria: A Complete Meltdown of Humanity

War is hell; everybody knows that. A ruling power of a government intent on depriving civilians of life during a civil-war battle in a major city can go beyond the typical battle casualties to cause what the U.N. has called a “complete meltdown of humanity.”[1] One question on the minds of civilians in rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo in Syria in December, 2016 was whether even eventual charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity were enough. From this standpoint, the world was shirking a basic human responsibility in not intervening to stop the intentional killing of civilians. Had the facts on the ground made going after war criminals after the fact a meager excuse for not having acted in real time? Does the world, in other words, have a duty to step in when a government has turned on its own people—not counting soldiers and their suppliers, or does internal affairs encompass even such governmental conduct?


The full essay is at "A Complete Meltdown of Humanity"




1. Reuters, “Battle For Aleppo Ends as Rebels Agree to Ceasefire,” The World Post, December 13, 2016.


Monday, December 12, 2016

How American Presidents Are Selected: Beyond Russian Interference

Most delegates in the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 recognized the value of constitutional safeguards against excess democracy, or mob rule. The U.S. House of Representatives was to be the only democratically elected federal institution—the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court, and even the U.S. Presidency were to be filled by the state legislatures, the U.S. President and U.S. Senate, and electors elected by citizens, respectively. The people were to be represented in the U.S. House and the State governments in the U.S. Senate. The Constitutional Amendment in the early twentieth century that made U.S. senators selected by the people rather than the governments of the States materially unbalanced the original design. In terms of the selection of the U.S. president by electors, the political parties captured them such that whichever party’s candidate wins a State, the electors there are those of the winning party. Even if the electors could vote contrary to the popular vote in a State, such voting could only be a rare exception given the party-control. Hence the electors have not been able to function as intended—as a check against excess democracy. The case of Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016 presents an additional use for the Electoral College, were it to function as designed and intended. Of course, this is a huge assumption to make, even just in taking into account the American mentality regarding self-governance.

The full essay is at "How American Presidents Are Selected."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Aimee & Jaguar

Aimee & Jaguar (1999) is a film based on a true story centering on Felice, a Jewish woman who lived in Berlin until 1944 and belonged to an underground lesbian, anti-Nazi (spying) organization. To be a Jewish lesbian in Nazi Germany cannot have been an easy life, with possible catastrophe just around the corner on any given day.  In the film, Felice becomes romantically involved with Lilly, a mother of four and wife to a Nazi solder who is fighting at the eastern front. The film is essentially a love story between the two women. I want to draw out some of the ethical issues raised in the film—with the love story serving as my critique of two ethical theories—utilitarianism and duty-based ethics—that are implied in the film.  

The full essay is at "Aimee & Jaguar."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Inferno: A Sequel that Goes Up in Flames

With the allure of additional profits to be had, Hollywood has been all too willing to torch high-quality brands as if with perfect impunity. A case in point is the film, Inferno, which followed The De Vinci Code and Angels & Demons in the Robert Langdon film series spanning ten years (2006-2016) based on novels by Dan Brown.

The full essay is at "Inferno."