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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Improving the World Cup: A Matter of Thinking Outside the Goal

Two things stood out for me in the wake of the World Cup of 2010: the sheer number of low-scoring games and the number of bad calls. The latter was the easier to fix. FIFA could have relaxed its opposition to instant replay even though it was not feasible technologically or financially for every game in the world.  The organization could have simply stated that every game in the World Cup would be subject to instant replay. The problem of low-scoring games, which has plagued other World Cup tournaments, is seemingly more intractable, but actually quite easy to solve if practicality is allowed some wiggle room in an otherwise fixed notion that the game not only should not be reformed, but also can not be changed.  

The full essay is at "Reforming the World Cup."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Regulating Smoking in China: A Socialist Conflict of Interest

Government ownership and control of a means of production is the standard definition of socialism even if some linguistic revisionists want to redefine the term as merely the control of a business or industry. In short, a government must own the economic enterprises to meet the definition of Socialism rather than merely government regulation of private businesses. Socialism, I contend, involves a structural conflict of interest that a government that both owns an controls an enterprise, industry or even an entire economy may be tempted to exploit for its own ends rather than the public good. The key here is the regulating of that which is owned. Specifically, where a government as owner enjoys the benefit of profit or surplus, that government has a financial interest that can be against the restriction of the produced product. Such a monopolistic restriction could admittedly be warranted by public health or safety, but the gain could also be private in the sense that it is limited to the government and even the personal financial interests of government officials. In other words, the public good can be distinct from a government’s own financial (and related political) interest even as that government is charged with acting in the public interest in part by owning and regulating state enterprises. It is the pivot between the public and private interest that sets up the conflict of interest because the human urge is to go with a narrower, private interest at the expense of the public good. In other words, the very possibility, even likelihood given human nature, that a government would exploit the wider distribution of benefits for the narrower one (i.e., to the government itself) is the basis of a conflict of interest. I argue elsewhere that even the mere possibility renders even an as-yet unexploited conflict of interest inherently unethical. Here, I examine the matter of public health in China as a case of a socialist (in part) government that has had a conflict of interest. 

The full essay is at "A Socialist Conflict of Interest."



The Urge to Dominate Dominates at a University

Visiting the main campus of Arizona State University (ASU) one day, I was struck by the sight of a ASU Police jeep parked on a campus sidewalk. Was the jeep itself presumptuous in its assumption that sidewalks are for cars? The misplacement itself can be read as an attempt, even if unconscious, to intimidate, or at least to say, “I’m here! Beware me, I'm in charge here.” In academic terms, police are low on the totem pole on an academic campus, for they are neither faculty nor even students. For non-academics to have the urge to foist themselves to such visibility on an academic campus rings not only of disrespect and not knowing their place, but also the excessive urge of the weak to dominate even the strong in the strong's own turf disregarding the distinct customs therein. The university itself was complicit in subordinating an academic atmosphere to a hyperactive perspective of "security issues" as a default rather than an incident-specific phenomenon. 


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Transcending the United Methodist Vote to Retain Prohibitions on Gay Clergy and Weddings

Delegates meeting at a special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted on February 26, 2019 to retain the denomination’s ban on gay clergy and same-sex weddings. The alternative plan would have permitted individual congregations to decide for themselves. Clearly, Methodism is not Congregationalism.  The debate was heated on both sides.[1] Transcending them, we may ask whether the heat was overblown. Pope Francis had urged his fellow Roman Catholic bishops and other clergy not to focus so much on that issue and abortion. That urging was itself controversial, which in itself can be read as confirmation that the two issues were getting too much attention and energy. Unlike the case of the Pope’s urging, the vote at the Methodists’ General Conference threatened to split that Church. Can this too be taken as an indication that the emphasis on the issue was disproportionate to its religious importance?

Monday, February 25, 2019

Public Access to the Public Domain Increasingly Privatized for Profit

To Aaron Swartz, the subject of the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy (2014), the major concern in his day regarding the internet was not the ability of a person to create a blog or use social media; rather, the problem was in the trend of the power of the gate-keepers, who tell you were on the internet you want to go, concentrating. In other words, the issue concerned what commands our attention. More specifically, who gets access to the ways people find things on the internet. “Now everyone has a license to speak; it’s a question of who gets heard,” he said.  Although he was a computer wiz, he also had political aspirations; both of which were on display as he lobbied against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was introduced in Congress in October of 2011. Unfortunately, the combination of his computer and political skills got the attention of the FBI, which engaged in a relentless pursuit of him until, under the pressure, he committed suicide at the age of 26. His short life was one of idealism that should not have been squashed by an unstoppable criminal-justice system, especially when influenced by political pressure from corporations and politicians. Lest the overzealousness of law enforcement obscure a vision of Aaron’s idealism, it can be viewed as public access being restored to the public domain in terms of the internet.


The full essay is at "The Internet's Own Boy."

In Pursuit of Money as God Incarnate

The film L’Argent (1983) is about how far people will go to get money (l’argent en francais). One major problem with greed is that people who are enthralled by it will go to virtually any length to get money. Even a religion can unconsciously warped to separate greed from earning and having wealth. Historically, Christian thought on greed and wealth has shifted from anti- to pro-wealth. Whether enabled by their religion or not, greedy people will think nothing of other people being hurt in the process. Hence, greed can be reckoned as selfishness incarnate. To claim that money is God not only puts a lower good above a higher one, but also manifests self-idolatry.


The full essay is at "L'Argent."