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Saturday, June 14, 2014

On the Theology of the Eucharist: Beyond the Historical Divisions

According to a survey led by a sociologist at Catholic University and published in The National Catholic Reporter, forty percent of 1,442 American Catholic adults said "you can be a good Catholic without believing that in Mass, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Christ—a core doctrine of Catholicism.” A reporter opines that this “could reflect the decline in Mass attendance. The survey finds it’s fallen from 44% attending at least once a week in 1987 to 31% in 2011, while those who attend less than monthly rose from 26% to 47%. When asked why they don’t go to Mass more often, 40% say they are simply not very religious.” What does it mean to say that someone is or is not religious? Looking back at the history of religion, a neutral party might half-joke that the adjective refers to the proclivity to spar over puerile theological distinctions as if Creation itself hung in the balance. In this essay, I illustrate how such a distinction bearing on the Eucharist (i.e., Holy Communion) can be diffused of its alleged historical significance as warranting Christian division under the taskmaster of (cognitive) uniformity as a placeholder for unity.

From: "On the Theology of Eucharist: Beyond Historical Divisions"

The Eucharist as Transcendent Experience

Taking a swipe at a core tenet of Catholicism, Bill Keller of the New York Times writes, “Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.” I contend that the editor’s characterization of consecration represents a misunderstanding of the Eucharist. Such misunderstandings have been worse; in the early years of the Church, some pagans were under the impression that the Christians were meeting on Sundays to eat babies. Indeed, phrases such as “eat my body” may in fact be inherently prone to being misunderstood. In this essay, I endeavor to clear up some of the confusion and put the ritual in a more efficacious light.

From: "The Eucharist as Transcendent Experience"

Pope Francis Lashes Out Against the Military Industrial Complex: On the Idolatry of Money

It is not often that the global economy’s military-industrial complex is tied to youth unemployment and, moreover, to the idolatry of money. Yet this is precisely the thread woven by the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. While the pope’s comments risk a certain overreach from the theological to the terrain of international political economy, which proffers its own body of knowledge, it can also be said that having a transcendent referent as one’s focus enables a person to make subtle taken-for-granted assumptions in our economic, social, and political systems transparent. In articulating an economic (and related political) center and giving it a distinctly theological interpretation stemming from the Biblical passage, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” the Roman pope provides the world with a way to do political economy from a distinctly religious vantage-point.




Friday, June 13, 2014

Legislating Civilization Chinese-Style: The Tale of Two Cities

In June, 2014, the “Capital Civilization Office” in the Chinese Government began a half-year campaign to “encourage Beijing’s 20 million residents to behave better.”[1] Targets include “people who are noisy, smoke in public, curse at sports events, fail to line up for buses, run red lights, drink while they drive, and drive aggressively.” It seems to me this list could equally apply to Miami, and, at least in terms of driving, to the entire Northeast coastline of the United States. Perhaps urban modernity is to blame, or maybe it is simply the old truism pertaining to the rise and fall of great empires, and thus to cities as well. Chinese history is no stranger to this cycle in the form of a succession of dynasties. Perhaps we would be wise to view the modern city in such terms too.





[1] For this quote and all others in this essay: Calum MacLeod, “Be More Polite, Beijing Residents Told,” USA Today, June 11, 2014. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

JetBlue Risks Reputational Capital: First-Class Over Egalitarianism

It may sound trite, but managers really do compromise or expunge their company’s reputational capital altogether in order to chase down the additional revenue obtainable from a market segment that had been extraneous to the reputation. If the new advertisements have a Janus-like duplicitousness air, the source is not likely even to admit to the previously long-held principles. Indeed, the contrivance can be discerned from the way in which artful managers use words themselves—stretching them for an intended effect well past their respective meanings and customary usages. Unfortunately, the made-up diction can be contagious in a society that esteems organizational position. I have in mind Jet Blue’s switch from its egalitarian single-class cabins to the first/coach bifurcated model. Left in the jet-wash is the company’s long-standing principle of egalitarianism, lost in the anticipation of more revenue from business travelers.


U.S. House Majority Leader Cantor’s Election Loss: An Analysis

It is not every day that the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives loses—and badly at that—to a primary challenger in an intra-party contest. In the wake of Jim Cantor’s defeat in June, 2014, journalists wasted no time in reducing the defeat to one issue: immigration. Such a reductionist ex-post facto divination of voter intent—as if an electorate were one monolithic mind writ large—is fraught with difficulties. Beyond the sheer artifice, such an interpretation offers an easy cover for less convenient, subterranean political shifts underway and expressed in the vote.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club: Erasing Prejudice

The maturation of a story’s protagonist—as “growth” eventuated through the progression of the narrative—provides a source of dynamism that can keep a film from being static, or falling flat for lack of character development. At the same time, a good screenwriter is careful not to overdo it, lest a character’s internal transition occur too quickly in terms of the story to be believable. In Dallas Buyers Club, Ron Woodroof—played by Matthew McConaughey—“turns on a dime” in his attitude toward gays. The flip is hardly believable. The question is why.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Has Starbucks Weened Itself Off the Growth Drug? On an Alternative Strategy of Intensification over Diversification and Expansion

At one time, Starbucks was golden. “Everything Starbucks did in the past, more or less, had worked,” Howard. Schultz, the CEO, said in an interview in January, 2011 at the company’s headquarters. “Every store we opened was successful, every city, every country.” This led--not inevitably though seemingly so--to a phenomenal intoxicating growth in the number of stores. In 1987, Schultz bought Starbucks, which at the time had just six stores. By 1995, it had 677 shops, and by 2000, when he stepped down as CEO, it had 3,501. According to Schultz, “Growth had a life of its own — and that’s O.K., when you’re hitting the cover off the ball every time, but at some point, nothing lasts forever."  The New York Times reports that after decades of "breakneck expansion . . . tight-fisted consumers abandoned" the megachain's stores during the recession. Starbucks' overreaching under Schultz was thus exposed. Ironically, it was then, in 2008, that Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO to keep it from becoming the target of a take-over or going bankrupt. Starbucks "ultimately closed 900 locations worldwide and cut $580 million in costs." Fortuantely, by April 2009, "same-store sales, though still down from a year earlier, were finally rising. By the holidays, they had turned positive." In spite of this turnaround, lest history repeats itself, is should be asked whether Schultz had been cured of his taste for the growth drug.

From: "Starbucks"

Godzilla: Special Effects Distorting Narrative

The allure of the technological advances in film-making is particularly pressing in the action genre. Three challenges come to mind—that of how to have the film stand as a metaphor for something that is both good and bad in “real life,” develop a relationship storyline amid the digital effects that enable such tremendous scale of action, and restrain the visual effects lest they manifest as a sort of visual diarrhea. Godzilla (2014) is illustrative of what can happen when a film-maker is not up to these challenges.


From: “Godzilla

Monday, June 9, 2014

Walmart on Drugs

On June 6, 2014, Walmart conducted its annual stockholder meeting under “scrutiny on all fronts.”[1] Revenue at the company’s stores in the U.S. had declined for five consecutive quarters. Walmart was also facing ethical questions over how the company’s executives handled bribery allegations at the Mexican division, as well as on the low wages going to non-supervisory workers (esp. part-timers). In short, the question facing the management was whether the company was being managed by cutting corners, as manifest both in terms on incompetence and unethical conduct. That the shareholder proposal to split off the chair of the board from the CEO did not meet even a preliminary tally of votes suggests that the company would sooner go under than that its management would be held to account.





[1] Anne D’Innocenzio, “Walmart Faces Shareholder Scrutiny at Annual Meeting,” The Associated Press, June 6, 2014.

Margin Call: Survival over Ethics

An unnamed investment bank holding enough of its own subprime-mortgage-based securities on its books to more than erase the firm’s entire market value should those derivatives lose only 25% of their value. What to do? In Margin Call (2011), the CEO, played by Jeremy Irons, makes the call—the firm’s traders are to unload the entire asset class the next morning. Kevin Spacey’s character has two major objections—one normative and the other operational. The marginal place of ethics on Wall Street is well illustrated by how these objections pan out in the film.

From: "Margin Call"