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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 "Essays on the Financial Crisis."

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 complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.



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.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bank of America Board Ignores a Binding Resolution: Fiduciaries Seizing Power from Shareholders

Corporate board directors have a fiduciary duty to act in the shareholders’ financial interest. What if a board’s directors think they know better that the stockholders as to their interest? In such a case, the directors would be acting like elected representatives who vote contrary to the wishes of their constituents for their own good. While valid from the standpoint of representative democracy, I’m not sure the principle has legitimacy in the corporate context, wherein property-rights are being represented. Simply put, an owner gets to decide how his or her wealth is used, within legal parameters of course. The case of Bank of America’s board may suggest that directors essentially work for their managements while being shamelessly dismissive of even binding directives from the stockholders as a group.


The complete essay is at “Corporate Governance at Bank of America.” 



The man of the hour. Brian Moynihan, Chair and CEO of Bank of America as of 2015. His power exceeded even that of the stockholders, whose concentrated wealth he managed. Lest it be maintained that a CEO with such power optimizes corporate earnings, consider that his predecessor, Ken Lewis, had the bank purchase Countrywide, whose fraudulent mortgages played a vital role in bringing about the financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps CEO/chair duality is of value simply in reducing a corporation's systemic risk. Hence, Congress may legitimately intervene.(Simon Dawson/Getty Images)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Pope Francis Puts Up A Syrian Refugee Family: An Opportunity to Clean House

During wars, houses of worship have become temporary hospitals meeting very practical needs. Caring for the suffering is particularly close to the message and example that Jesus provided. In response to Pope Francis’s call for each parish in Europe to take in at least one refugee family amid the tremendous influx of mostly Syrian refugees in 2015, the pope himself arranged to take in a family. Leading by example is certainly fitting for a follower of Jesus. I submit that the pope could have gone even further to drive home the message of what it means to be a Christian.


The complete essay is at “Pope Francis Puts Up Syrian Refugee Family.” 

Pope Francis washing the feet of men and women in a juvenile detention center on Holy Thursday in 2013. That he washed women's feet flustered some people in the Vatican who missed the main point of the ritual. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Gay Marriage: God’s Law, Legal Reasoning, and Ideology

Mixing religion, jurisprudence, and ideology together is one potent drink. Ingestion can cause palpable heart-burn as well as migraine headaches. In the case of gay marriage in the U.S., sorting out and evaluating the three elements can be rife with controversy and thus confusion. In this essay, I discuss the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples because doing so would violate God’s law and thus betray Jesus. Her religious rationale makes for interesting legal reasoning. I then look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision. I contend that a natural-right (and thus human right) basis clashes with ideological anger. Human nature itself is on display throughout, particularly as it wades into religion, legal reasoning, and ideology.




Monday, September 14, 2015

Why the E.U. is Compromised in Handling the Refugee Crisis

At least four E.U. states, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, rejected a federal plan on September 11, 2015 that would have imposed refugee quotas on the states. The failure to come up with a fair allocation of migrants by state threatened to undo the borderless travel within the E.U. The tremendous influx of mostly Syrian refugees exacerbated differences between the states; given their power even at the federal level of the E.U., the infighting was a risk to the viability of the E.U. itself. I contend that structural flaws in the E.U. itself unnecessarily compromised the Union from quashing the risk to itself by solving the refugee problem. The state governments were clearly not in unison in dealing with the problem themselves.


The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.


Refugees held up in Hungary because the state's government was overwhelmed. Why didn't the E.U. step in to help? (Mauricio Limo/NYT).

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Corbyn as Labour Party Leader in Britain: Are Increased Deficits Implied or Avoidable?

The notion that a political party oriented to redressing the widening economic inequality during the years following the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent debt-crisis in the E.U. necessarily must increase government deficits to do so is, I submit, faulty. That is to say, being especially oriented to the plight of the poor, with the goal being the elimination of extreme poverty, can be consistent with fiscal responsibility. The election of a socialist as leader of Britain’s Labour party presents us with an interesting case of assumed fiscal irresponsibility.

The complete essay is at "Anti-Poverty and Budget Deficits."

Jeremy Corbyn upon being elected as leader of the British Labour Party (Jeff Mitchell/Getty)


Friday, September 11, 2015

Moral Grounds Found Sufficient to Deny Employees Contraception Coverage: Is Morality Distinct from Religion?

In addition to religious organizations and their respective affiliates being excluded from having to include contraceptives in employee health-insurance, non-religious groups with a salient moral stance against the use of the devices are also exempt—this according to a federal judge in the United State. The moral stance need not be associated with any religion. By implication, moral principles are distinct from religious doctrines. Even though religions incorporate moral principles, the latter are based in another domain. I contend that the interlarding of the non-native fauna can dilute and even compromise a given religion, thus undercutting its viability.


The complete essay is at “Moral Principles and Religion.” 

The Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas capitol. Do the Ten Commandments serve only a religious purpose? Were they intended to serve only a religious purpose? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fewer Blue-Collar Lawmakers in Maine’s Legislature: Public Financing Cut by the U.S. Supreme Court on Free Speech Grounds

In 1996, Maine became the first American state to enact a public financing system for statewide elections. Voters passed a referendum by which the government provides money to candidates who meet a threshold of fundraising in $5 increments from voters in their districts. Before 2011, candidates got matching funds from the government if an opponent was funding his or her campaign with their own money, or if an outside group was spending money on the race over a certain amount.[i] The reason for the discontinuance of the matching funds and the subsequent impact on the number of blue-collar people running for office and being in the legislature demonstrate that the public financing of political campaigns can have a huge impact on both political campaigns and representation in a legislative chamber.

The complete essay is at "Blue-Collar Lawmakers in Maine."




1. Paul Blumenthal, “Maine Voters Hope to Restore Their Revolutionary Election System,” The Huffington Post, September 4, 2015.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pope Francis On Taking In Refugees In Europe: A Basis For An Alternative Approach To Christianity

As tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East were seeking refuge in the E.U., Pope Francis “called on every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary in Europe to shelter refugees.”[1] It was not enough, he said, to tell them, “have courage, hang in there.”[2] Providing the Christian basis, he said that “the Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned.”[3] Jesus went to those who had been abandoned by the hegemonic Temple-centric Judaism of his day, and healed them. In the Gospel of Mark, it is the strangers rather than the disciples who understand his message. I submit that this approach to Christianity could serve as an alternative to the dominant one that applies Christianity to every issue.


Pope Francis making the appeal. (Riccardo De Luca/AP)


The complete essay is at "Pope Francis on the Refugees."

1. Alison Smale, “Pope Calls on All of Europe’s Catholics to Shelter Refugees,” The New York Times, September 6, 2015.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Capitalism in Vietnam: War as Overrated

Going to war might seem like the most expedited course to achieving geopolitical aims, even when they in actuality predominately economic in nature. To the extent that the Cold War was from the American standpoint a means of keeping capitalism from succumbing to socialism (i.e., the state rather than private industry owning the means of production), the American involvement in the civil war in Vietnam was a waste of effort, not to mention lives lost. For the feared “loss” of Vietnam to communism turned out only to be temporary.


The complete essay is at “Capitalism in Vietnam.”  

In retrospect, was the Vietnam War worth it for anyone? (source: CNN)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mass Shootings in the U.S.: Why Are Americans So Angry?

Even though the United States account for less than 5% of the world’s population, 31% of the total number of mass killings worldwide between 1966 and 2012 occurred there.[1] I contend that a rise in passive aggression and the related intolerance accounts for much of the difference. In other words, it could be that Americans generally are getting nastier and more angry at each other.

The full essay is at “Mass Shootings in the U.S.



[1] Stan Ziv, “Study: Mass Shootings ‘Exceptionally American Problem’,” Newsweek, August 23, 2015.

Is God the Father Marginalized in Christianity?

The name of Jesus (or Christ) is common on Christian lips. “Jesus saves” is a typical expression, whereas expressions highlighting the Father or the kingdom of God are much less frequent, and explicit references to the Holy Spirit (or Ghost) are essentially missing. As the three manifestations, or “persons,” of the Trinity are consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance), the hypertrophy (i.e., maximizing one part of a system) is worthy of investigation. This is not to say that equal attention to all three is optimal; Jesus himself says in the Gospels that he came to preach the mysteries of his Father’s kingdom. This statement implies that followers of Christ should focus most on the Father and his kingdom. That this is not the case suggests that historical and contemporary Christianity has missed the point. This should hardly be surprising, for throughout the Gospel of Mark, strangers get Jesus’ point whereas the disciples tend to miss it.


The full essay is at “Is God the Father Marginalized?

Jesus is clearly the focus at this church. (Maliz Ong)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Migrants Overwhelming Europe: Unfairness Impeding the E.U.

More than 100,000 migrants, many of them refugees from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, entered Hungary from January to August 2015, the vast majority en route to the more affluent northwestern E.U. states. A record 50,000, many of them Syrians, reached Greece by boat from Turkey in July alone. Meanwhile, Hungary was building a fence along the state’s border with Serbia, where 8,000 migrants were staying in parks, to keep more migrants from entering.[1] I contend that the disproportionate power of the state governments relative to that of the federal government accounts in part for the difficulty that the E.U. has faced in coming to grips with the tremendous influx. This case suggests why redressing the imbalance in the federal system has been plagued with difficulty.

The complete essay is at “Migrants Overwhelming Europe.” 


Police disperse migrants at a registration place in Kos, Greece. Should the E.U. leave it to the state governments to handle the crisis? (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

American Consumers Using Gas-Savings to Reduce Debt: Frugality or Responsibility?

The steep drop in the price of oil in July 2015 was a concern for traders. Drillers and other energy companies comprise a significant portion of the S&P 500 index. “The upside to falling oil is that all the money that drivers are saving at the gas pump should mean more spending by them at stores — and a faster-growing U.S. economy. But Americans are choosing to pay off debt instead of going shopping.”[1] Is this a bad thing? In reckoning it as such, Wall Street analysts are missing the big picture, even financially.

The full essay is at “Wall Street Defining American Society.”

Gas at a station in January 2015 (ABC News)




[1] Bernard Condon and Ken Sweet, “Why Stocks Are Tumbling 6 Years into the Bull Market,” The Associated Press, August 23, 2015.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Humans As the Intense Predator: Unbalancing the Food-Chain Unsustainably

By 2015, humans—the homo sapiens species in particular—had become “the dominant predator across many systems”; that is to say, the species had become an unsustainable "super predator."[1] We have had a huge impact on food webs and ecosystems around the globe.[2] Moreover, we have been using more of the planet's resources than we should. By August 2015, for example, humans had already consumed the year's worth of the world's resources.[3] In terms of fossil fuels, the consumption has had an impact on the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Behind human consumption are human beings, so the astonishing increase in human population is a major factor. As a virus-like species incredibly successful genetically over the previous five-hundred years, the self-maximizing feature both in terms of population ecology and profit-maximization may be the seed of the species destruction, and thus long-term genetic failure.

The full essay is at “The Intense Predator.”
We are fishing fish out of existence. (James Watt: Getty Images)


1 Chris Darimont et al, “The Unique Ecology of Human Predators,” Science, Vol. 349, no. 6250, pp. 858-860.
2 Ibid.
3 Jonathan Amos, “Humans Are ‘Unique Super-Predator’,” BBC News, August 20, 2005.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On the Pretentiousness of Senior Water Rights in California

California water regulators proposed a record $1.5 million fine on July 21, 2015 against the Byron Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The agency claimed that the district had defied cutbacks that the California Water Resources Control Board had ordered by diverting water from June 13 through June 25. The complaint said that Byron Bethany had consumed an estimated 2,056 acre-feet of water[1] in spite of the fact that the agency had imposed a 25 percent mandatory cutback in urban water use and cuts to major agricultural interests.[2] I contend not only that the district’s board put the interest of a part ahead of the good of the whole (i.e., the common good), but also that the board did so out of a sense of entitlement based on the sheer longevity of the water rights in the district.

The full essay is at “Pretentiousness of Water Rights.” 




[1] An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover a square acre up to a foot high.
[2] Adam Nagourney, “California Farm District Accused of Diverting Water,” The New York Times, July 21, 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Koko the Gorilla Meets Mr. Rogers

Koko, a western lowland gorilla held in captivity, learned over 1,000 signs from American Sign Language, and achieved a "sophisticated understanding" of spoken English by the age of 44.[1] Research has uncovered, moreover, that "gorillas may be capable of complex vocal behavior that defies previous beliefs about their communicative abilities."[2] In other words, the species is able to have a spoken language. Even though humans branched off from chimpanzees rather than gorillas 7 million years ago (our own species, homo sapiens, began 1.8 million years ago), the findings are hardly surprising; after all, whales and dolphins communicate by making distinct sounds. Even so, the prospect of being able to carry on a "conversation" with a member of another species is astounding. Gorillas like Koko might one day be able to tell us what it is like to be a gorilla. Ironically, we might learn more about our own species in the process. 

Koko teaching Mr. Rogers the sign for love.

The full essay is at "Koko the Gorilla."



1. Carolyn Gregoire, "Apes May Be Much Closer to Human Speech Than We Realized," The Huffington Post, August 15, 2015.
2. Ibid.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Educating Kids in American Schools: Early-Morning Zombies Subject to the Status Quo

It is natural to assume that the people in the business of educating children are highly committed to the dissemination of knowledge. That many school-administrators would stand by, and even enable the continuance of practices that compromise learning is difficult to believe; that fallacious reasoning would be used could only be reckoned as highly bizarre, and oxymoronic. Yet all this applies to dragging kids to school before their bodies have woken up.


The complete essay is at “Educating Kids in American Schools.”

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Analysis of Inferences and Assumptions: A Homework Assignment for “We the People”

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both strongly believed that the continued viability of a republic depends on an educated and virtuous citizenry. Public education and even the practice of some of the professional schools (e.g., medicine and law) since at least the early twentieth century to require a degree in another school (e.g. Liberal Arts and Sciences) before being admitted to the undergraduate program (i.e., the M.D. and J.D. or LLB, respectively). This lateral move is unique to the U.S.; entering medical and law students in the E.U. need not already have a college degree. I submit that the Founding Fathers’ firm political belief in the importance of an educated electorate concerns the value of not only having a broad array of knowledge, but also reason being able to assess its own inferences, or assumptions; for inferences, or leaps of reason, go into political judgments. Ultimately, voters make judgements, whether concerning the worthiness of candidates on a ballot, their policies, or proposals on a referendum. To the extent that subjecting assumptions to the “stress test” of reasoning is not a salient part of secondary education, an electorate is likely to make sub-optimal judgements, resulting in suboptimal elected officials, public policies, and laws.


The full essay is at “A Homework Assignment for ‘We the People’.” 

Friday, August 7, 2015

An Ex-CEO on U.S. Presidential Leadership: Dissecting Ted Turner’s Pessimistic Stance

The founder of CNN and TNT, two American television networks, Ted Turner maintains that presidential leadership at the federal level is elusive. More particularly, the American electorate’s task is very, very difficult because the federal president must be an expert in so many areas. Ironically, Turner may be overlooking how upper-echelons leadership differs from leadership within organizations, including the U.S. Government.


The full essay is at “Presidential Leadership.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Natural Wealth Model of the Modern Corporation: A Basis for Sustainable Organization

Going to the Humanities to construct a sustainable organization based on ecological theory, this essay presents a theory of the firm that is at odds with the profit-maximization premise. I draw on the notion of the natural wealth of the Golden Age as depicted by such ancient Western poets as Ovid and Hesiod—who assumed such wealth to be devoid of greed—as a basis for sustainable organization from ecological theory to produce an alternative theory of the firm.



Coal Industry Challenges Lower Carbon-Emission Targets: Human Nature on Full Display

With heat-waves underway and glaciers melting, climate-change was undeniable in the summer of 2015. Human nature itself was on full display. It was almost as if the human race could not summon itself into action even as the hardships of a warming world were a foregone conclusion. 

                               Penguins face receding ice and rising waters. (Natacha Pisarenko of AP)

The full essay is at "Coal Industry Challenges Lower Carbon-Emission Targets."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Political Contributions in the U.S.: Political Bribery Beyond Access

What exactly does a large political contribution do for a contributor? The standard line is that access is “bought.” Being far removed from the Washington “belt-way,” the American people have swallowed the line, admittedly naively. As of 2015, we can look at the proverbial “man behind the curtain” for a much more realistic grasp of the extent to which the American political system is corrupt.

The full essay is at "Political Bribery"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Apple’s CEO Manufactures a Human Right

People with disabilities represented 19% of the U.S. population in 2015—exactly 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became a federal law.[1] With computer technology being by then integral to daily life, the matter of accessibility came to the fore under the normative principle of equal, or universal, access. With major tech companies getting behind this banner, one question is whether they did so simply to sell more computers and software—better access translating into more customers. I contend that the stronger the normative claim being made, the greater the exploitation of the underlying conflict of interest.

The full essay is at “Apple’s CEO.”



[1]IOD Report Finds Significant Health Disparities for People with Disabilities,” Institute on Disability/UCED, August 25, 2011.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Management: Helping vs. Controlling

I submit that subordinates typically view managers as having control issues—by which I mean that managers tend to be obsessed with maintaining control. The pathology because really bad when the manager would rather have a project fail than give up control. Lest it be thought that management as control is intrinsic to managerial capitalism, an alternative approach proffers a way out.


The full essay is at “Management: Helping vs. Controlling.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager

The functional managerial role in modern business is weak by Nietzsche’s standard. That is to say, a manager is of the vulgar rather than of noble strength. After highlighting Nietzsche's project more generally, I discuss his notions of strength and weakness. I then delineate Nietzsche’s attitudes toward wealth, trade and modern industrial culture—the immediate context for his concept of the modern business manager. I argue that Nietzsche views this context as decadent. Within this framework, Nietzsche’s rendering of the primordial commercial relationship can be taken as his genealogy of the modern business manager. Finally, I describe the modern business manager as akin to the ascetic priest in being a herd animal desperately seeking to dominate the herd and, presumptuously, even the strong.   

The full essay is at "A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager."

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Planned Chinese Supercity Hinging on Technology

A Kansas-sized supercity of 82,000 square miles and 130 million people, with Beijing at the center, is in the vanguard of economic reform, Liu Gang said from Nankai University in mid-2015.[1] Six times the size of New York City’s metropolitan area, the planned regional economy would require nothing short of a feat of urban planning. The economic synergy anticipated from the planned integration is the main benefit. The sheer scale alone presents its own challenges, however, and the complexity in coordinating the various shifts of people and services suggests that unintended excesses and shortages will demand immediate action. Even so, I contend that the application of technology will make or break the viability of the anticipated supercity.

The full essay is at "A Planned Chinese Supercity."




[1] Ian Johnson, “Pain and Hope as China Molds Its Capital into New Supercity,” The New York Times, July 20, 2015.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Boys from Brazil


Josef Mengele, an SS physician infamous for his inhumane medical experimentation on prisoners at Auschwitz, is in this film a character intent on furnishing the 95 Hitlers he has cloned with Hitler’s own background. Crucially, Hitler’s father died at 65. So too, Mengele, reasons, must the adoptive fathers of the boy Hitlers. Otherwise, they might not turn out like Hitler. The ethics of Mengele’s task—killing 95 innocent 65 year-olds—is clear. When Ezra Lieberman stops Mengele in his tracks, the question turns to the ethics of killing the 95 boys so none of them will grow up to be another Hitler. This is a much more interesting ethical question, and the narrative—and film as a medium, moreover—would be fuller had the script been deepened to make the question, and thus the ethical and ontological dimensions, transparent for the viewers.


The full essay is at "The Boys from Brazil."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Prey Hunted by and Helping a Predator




Above: A human prey in water barely fends off a shark attack during a surfing competition.

Below: Human prey have the upper hand, and upper ground, in helping this Great White shark beached in Cape Cod.




Is it as simple as the shark having the upper fin in the water and the human having the upper hand on land? The symmetry does not extend, however, to going beyond killing, for only the human feels and can act on compassion. To save an animal that could quite literally turn around and bite the person in the ass is either extremely foolish or incredibly selfless, or perhaps a little of both. If foolish only, the shark comes off looking superior, but if a value beyond mere survival is invoked, such as in the notion of agape, or self-emptying love, then the human being can rightly claim superiority. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The American-Iranian Agreement: Moving Mankind Past War

In an epoch of technological development, the relative dearth of political development as concerns international relations has been evident. In June 2015, Pope Francis advocated the establishment of a global institution having governmental sovereignty with which to combat the human contribution to climate change. Such a political development would be significant, given the long-standing default of sovereign nation-states and unions thereof. In July 2015, U.S. President Barak Obama announced an agreement with Iran that would keep that nation-state from develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. Just three years earlier, war had seemed unavoidable. I submit that Obama’s accomplishment can be thought of as a step toward rendering war itself as obsolete, or at least perceiving it as a primitive means of resolving disputes internationally. More subtly, the feat makes the sheer distance between the premises of war and those of diplomacy transparent. Paradoxically, this insight implies just how difficult a shift from a war-default to one that takes war as obsolete must be.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pope Francis on the World’s Economy Idolizing Profit

During his trip to South America in July 2015, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders to seek a new economic model to help the poor, and to shun policies that "sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit."[1] This line reminds me of the ancient Greco-Roman religious practice of sacrificing animals on altars just outside temples dedicated to particular deities. Doubtless no thought went into the animals’ suffering. In the Jewish Bible, God spares Isaac just before Abraham implements Yahweh’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, Abraham constructs an altar for the purpose. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is sacrificed on an altar, which typically doubles as a table given the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper. This sacrificed lamb personifies God as agape, or selfless divine love, which manifests as benevolentia universalis, or neighbor-love. Sacrificing the needs of others is antipodal to serving them; hence the Roman Catholic pope’s preachment. Missing, however, was the subtle bias within Christian theology ironically in favor of money.   





[1] Philip Pullella and Daniela Desantis, “Pope Francis Condemns Corruption and ‘Unbridled Capitalism,’ in South America,” Reuters, July 12, 2015.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Greek Proposal on the Heels of the Referendum on Austerity: A Case of Avoidable Betrayal

Only days after appealing to the will of the people, Greece’s prime minister put forward a proposal to the state’s creditors that contradicts the people’s rejection of further austerity. To be sure, the referendum was nonbinding, and the need for compromise was well justified by the seizing up of the state’s banking system and economy after the “No” vote. Furthermore, one of the virtues of representative as distinct from direct democracy is that officeholders can pursue policies contrary to the immediate will of the people but in line with their best interest. Alexis Tsipras faced immanent economic catastrophe, and so he can reasonably be credited with acting in his constituents’ best interest. Nevertheless, the sting of betrayal (and the larger theoretical point of governmental sovereignty being subordinate to popular sovereignty) warrants attention in this case.


The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Property Rights in China: On the Separation of Ownership and Control in the Stock Market

It is too simplistic to say that economies around the world converged as capitalistic after the collapse of the Soviet command-and-control economy. Even the notion that China’s communist party has embraced capitalism does not do justice to the ways in which China’s capitalist system is unique. This became particularly apparent in early July 2015, when the bubble burst in the Chinese stock market.

The full essay is at “Property Rights in China.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Greek Referendum on Creditor Demands: Orchestrated Impediments to Reaching the People

On June 27, 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum on whether Greece should accept additional austerity in the form of tax increases and pension cuts as demanded by the state’s creditors. Putting the ultimatum from lenders to a popular vote translates into political theory as governmental sovereignty—the portion retained by the E.U. state—voluntarily submitting to the popular sovereign, which is the more fundamental sovereignty in any democracy. “Our responsibility is for the future of our country. This responsibility obliges us to respond to the ultimatum through the sovereign will of the Greek people,” Tsipras said in a televised address.[1] More abstractly, deferring to the people on a major policy question is the responsibility, or duty, of any democratically-elected government. Sadly, few heads of government and legislatures even acknowledge this duty, let alone act on it. In this essay, I address the Greek case as a way of illustrating a few of the drawbacks of appealing to popular sovereignty through a referendum, while still holding that the duty itself is valid. I contend in particular that Tsipras’s Greek opponents, E.U. officials, and the state’s lenders (through government officials in other E.U. states) intentionally sought quite disrespectfully to manipulate Greece’s popular sovereign by distorting the question on the referendum to get a “yes,” or “oxi” result. That is, federal and state officials in the E.U. sought to scare and confuse the popular sovereign of one state—bullying, in effect, the basis of democracy itself for power and money.

Greece's PM Tsipras looking rather fatigued after meetings on the bailout. (John Thys AFP/Getty)

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.



1. Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou, “Greece’s PM Tsipras Calls Referendum on Bailout Deal,” The Huffington Post, June 26, 2015.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pope Francis on Climate Change: The Mutually-Reinforcing Impacts of Power, Wealth, and Culture

Writing in 2015, Pope Francis addressed the problem of climate change and suggested what he, or the Vatican more broadly, considered to be necessary systemic changes on the road to recovery. In the encyclical, the patient may be human nature itself—specifically, its self-destructive propensity and trait of power-aggrandizement. In other words, we had lost control of our built-up (i.e., artificial) societal systems and structures, which could wind up strangling us in their protection of the status quo. In this essay, I discuss the Pope’s portrayal of the problem of climate change from the standpoints of culture, power, and wealth. I then address the feasibility of the Pope’s prescription.


The full essay is at “Pope Francis on Climate Change.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On Reaching Water Sufficiency: Can California Learn from Israel?

As California faced its fourth year of an extreme drought in 2015, Californians could have done worse than look at Israel’s ten-year completed effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and recycle wastewater.  The sustained investments provided Israel “with enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts.”[1] If only California’s officials could say the same. Rather than deprive the Israelis of the opportunity to instruct the Californians, I want to point to the subtle role of basis-of-comparison as undermining the California end.


The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.





1. Isabel Kershner, “Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought,” The New York Times, May 29, 2015.

Ethnic Groupings in the European Parliament: A Function of Rhetoric

L’extreme droit a formé un autre parti fédéral. The anti-E.U. party officially announced on June 16, 2015, is named “Europe of Nations and Freedoms.” A label can say a lot about a party’s principles. In this case, the overriding point is that the E.U. is supranational. That is to say, the Union is an international organization. Closely behind is the secondary point that freedom resides at the national level, otherwise known as the level of the states. Even though the supporting state parties were at the time typically labeled as extreme—the extreme right—the main-stream media in the E.U. reporting on the new party used rhetoric subtly undergirding the principles.

Le Pen and Wilders toasting their new ethnic group in the European Parliament (Source: G. Wilders)


Monday, June 15, 2015

Dish Network and the U.S. Government Dominating Colorado: A Court Ruling on Marijuana

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on June 15, 2015 that Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who had been fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using the drug while at home and off-duty, was not protected under the state's "lawful activities statute." According to the Court, “Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to 14 those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees 15 who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law 16 but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”[1] This reasoning seems pretty solid, though if we unpack use and consult with the company’s own rationale, the case is considerably messier. In fact, the problem may reside with the American federal system itself, in which case an erroneous judicial decision could be expected.

The complete essay is at “Dish Network and the U.S. Government.”



[i] No. 13SC394, Coats v. Dish Network, June 15, 2015.

The Sound of Music: Marital Roles and Inner Transformations

Fifty years after the film’s initial release in 1965, viewers of The Sound of Music could measure the imprint of the women’s movement of the 1970s by how very different—antiquated actually—the film is in terms of marital roles. Whether Liesl in the first half of the film or Maria in the second, their acceptance of the dominance of husbands over wives stood out like a blade of grass needing to be cut in 2015 for all but a minority of viewers. Yet the internal changes that Maria and the Captain have the courage to undergo resonate in any age, being so much a part of human nature, as distinct from sociological artifacts.



The full essay is at “The Sound of Music.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Zuckerberg Syndrome; San Francisco as the Epicenter

It is difficult enough diagnosing a dysfunctional culture in a large corporation—imaging having a large American city as a de facto patient. Not that I had any idea what treatment could possibly cure a social-psychological disease when I was in San Francisco. I, like so many other new-comers there, temporary or permanent, got the sense after only a few weeks that something was very wrong in the way people were interacting there. As a corporate man in his late twenties from L.A. remarked after just ten days in the city, “The people here are very rude.” As he described the particular behavior pattern, I was stunned; it matched what had taken a month for me to discern. This began my curiosity as to the dysfunctional culture undergirding the wholesale lack of manners, and, more particularly, how it is that a distinct mentality or value-set and behavioral trait can show up in so many individuals.

What lies beneath the clouds is not necessarily visible from above. (Jeff Chiu of AP)

The full essay is at “San Francisco.”