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Friday, September 25, 2020

On the Arrogance of Self-Entitlement during a Pandemic

In the midst of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, libertarians in San Francisco, California objected to wearing face masks. Other people there were simply fed up with wearing masks by late 1918. The libertarians, who objected on the basis of rights, actually prevented the Board of Health from renewing a mandate to wear masks.[1] In early 1919, another spike in influenza cases there led the board to put a mandate in place. So in March of 2020, the failure of mass transits and retail stores to enforce physical distancing and the failures a few months later to enforce mandates on wearing face masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus can be seen as recklessness (and fecklessness) that could have been prevented by looking back a hundred years. But could the willful disregard of store policies and local law both by customers and store managers have been prevented had business had heeded history? I contend that human nature, which had not changed in such a short time by evolutionary standards, played the heavy, or anchor.

The full essay is at "On the Depth of Selfishness."

1. Kristen Rogers, “What the 1918 Flu Pandemic Can Teach Us about Coronavirus,” CNN.com, September 25, 2020.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Societal Change as the Mission of the U.S. Supreme Court

By chance, I watched RBG (2018), a documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, on the day she died in 2020. Being just a month and a half before the U.S. presidential election, the sudden opening immediately became political. This is of course to be expected, given that the sitting U.S. president nominates candidates and the U.S. Senate confirms them. The role of political ideology on the bench and thus in court decisions, however, is considerably more controversial because the justices are tasked with interpreting the law rather than stitching their own ideologies into law as a means of changing society. The documentary demonstrates that changing society through law was precisely Ginsberg’s objective.

The full essay is at "RBG."

Saturday, September 12, 2020

On the American Military-Industrial Complex

A democratic republic affords many avenues for organized private interests to influence public policy. The fact that such interests are organized is enough to outweigh the influenced of an organized constituency. Add in the money available to organized interests and the imbalance is exaggerated. The military industrial complex—the “informal” alliance between a military and private defense-contractors is a case in point in the United States. 

The full essay is at "Military Industrial Complex."

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Britain's Obsession with Sovereignty Threatens Trade Treaty with the E.U.

Months after Britain seceded from the E.U., the government of the former state went rogue in intending to pass a law that would unilaterally change, and thus violate, the terms of the post-secession trading agreement between the UK and its former union. The bill proposed no new checks on goods going from the Northern Ireland region to the other regions of the UK. Whereas the British prime minister was claiming that the full sovereignty of the former state meant that Parliament could unilaterally change the terms of a treaty, the European Commission was saying, in effect, that an agreement is an agreement. I contend that the Commission was correct. Moreover, even before the UK seceded from the European Union, an obsession on sovereignty (then, states' rights) rendered Britain vulnerable to failing to grasp the costs.  

The full essay is at "Trade Treaties and Governmental Sovereignty."

Monday, August 3, 2020

Miracles as a Literary Device

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is known for being the first Hollywood movie in which the face of Jesus is shown. From the standpoint of the next century, the scandal in showing Jesus could only seem antiquated, if not outright silly. Rarely can such perspective on a scandal exist as it is occurring. In its own time, a scandal seems all-important and critically in need of being addressed lest life as we know it would otherwise come to an end. Ten years earlier, Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, had also been controversial, as was the 1988 film of the same name (and based on the novel) because Jesus imagines himself in the sexual act and he may struggle with mental illness. This scandal was more serious than was that which greeted The Greatest Story Ever Told even though the Jesus of Last Temptation ends up rejecting the temptation to avoid the cross and is thus faithful to his Father in the end. The viewer is left, however, without a decisive answer as to whether the film's Jesus suffers from mental fits because the film ends with Jesus dying on the cross. The theological validation of Jesus is made in Greatest Story, though curiously not chiefly in the usual way this is done in narratives about him. I submit that this deviation makes the film highly significant in that it emphasizes religious experience as a reaction.  

The full essay is at "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Satan in Film: In Light or Darkness?

Released in the last year of the twentieth century, The Ninth Gate is a film about the use of a book to conjure up Satan. The book's title is The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Between three copies exist nine engravings appropriated from a book written by Lucifer. The person who gets all of those engravings can conjure up the devil. The Kingdom of Shadows presumably refers to Satan's kingdom. At the end of the film, Dean Corvo, a dishonest book dealer, rather than his client, Boris Balkan, is welcomed into a castle in which Satan is located. As the castle's main doors open, a blinding light shines outward into the night. Although Thomas Hobbes castigates the Roman Catholic Church as the kingdom of darkness in his text, Leviathan, Satan's realm has typically been depicted as dark in Christian art. Indeed, the film's own reference to Lucifer's kingdom as that of shadows follows this motif. Yet how can we account for the white light inside the castle? 

The full essay is at "Satan in Film."

Saturday, July 25, 2020

False Christians as the Power-Elite of a Church: A Case of Human Arrogance

In what begins as a story about Bess, a mentally-ill (or cognitively challenged) woman who marries Jan, an oilman, Breaking the Waves (1996) is a film that ends on a distinctively religious note that is nothing short of miraculous. The viewer is meant to be skeptical concerning the authenticity of Bess's spirituality, especially as seems delusional in having two-way conversations with God. Even as one of her prayerful petitions seems perhaps of having been granted when Jan returns from the oil rig to Bess, albeit with Jan paralyzed from an accident, the overwhelming view of the characters in the story, including Jan, is that, as Bess's physician asks Bess, "Do you really think you have so much power?" Bess is blaming herself for Jan's serious medical condition. She could reply, "It's God's power, not mine," but she is slow. Yet she can love, unconditionally. When Jan urges Bess to sleep with other men then tell him about the experiences so he will have the will to live, Bess complies and is summarily kicked out of her church. Even Bess's mother, with whom Bess lives, locks the door. The church elders and the minister are judgmental hypocrites who presume that they can consign a person to hell. Even so, Bess's trust in God as a matter of faith continues, and she sacrifices her life by willingly submitting herself to a sadistic sailor so that God might then heal Jan. Meanwhile, the unbelievers are trying to get Bess to a mental hospital, given her "delusion." On the morning after Jan and his friends on the rig drop Bess's body into the sea, one of the friends wakes Jan to come outside and hear bells ringing even as radar shows nothing out there. The viewer now knows not only that God performed a miracle on Jan, for he is walking around and even back on the rig, but also that Bess's faith is vindicated as heaven's bells miraculously are chiming. The burial followed by bells ringing at sunrise reflects the story of Jesus' passion. The overall message seems to be that we mortals don't know as much as we think we do about God's ways, even if we do happen to have power in the governance of a church. 

The full essay is at "Breaking the Waves."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Deforestation in Brazil: Exacerbating Climate Change

On July 17, 2020, satellite data from Brazil's space agency showed that deforestation in Brazil's Amazon was accelerating. "Nearly 3,000 square miles of tree coverage were lost in the 11 months that ended June 30 .That is a 64% increase from the year-earlier period, when 1,772 square miles of forest were destroyed."[1] The deforestation in 2020 was "likely to exceed 2019's total of 3,900 square miles by a 'wide margin," according to a senior scientist at the space agency.[2] Under normal circumstances, which the Wall Street assumed, we would consider the government's claim that not enough troops were available to patrol enough of Brazil's massive Amazon jungle to even slow the acceleration. According to Ricardo Salles, the environment minister, the government wanted to "attract foreign investors to fund sustainable economic development in the jungle."[3] That is to say, the matter boils down to (international) political economy. However, the circumstances were not normal.

1. Paulo Thevisani, "Brazil's Forest Losses Quicken," The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2020.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Corona Crisis: Arizona in a “Free Fall” and “Out of Control”

On July 7, 2020, NBC News reported that Arizona had a record number of cases (105,094) and of deaths (1,927), with a four percent daily increase in reported cases. Also, coronavirus hospitalizations and related ventilators being used were also at record highs. A reporter with MSNBC stated, “Arizona is in crisis.” On the previous day, on MSNBC television, that same reporter had said, “Arizona is in free fall,” in that the number of cases was rising so fast. It had taken three months for the first 50,000 cases and only 23 days for the next 50,000. Observing that people were not wearing masks in downtown Scottsdale, he reported that “Arizona is out of control.” People there were not taking precautions, and the local and state authorities were not on top of the crisis. On June 22, 2020, a physician with the University of Arizona-Phoenix interviewed on The 11th Hour show on MSNBC asserted that the Arizonans who were saying, “No one is going to order me to wear a mask,” were being selfish because refusing to wear a mask, say on a bus or in a store or restaurant/bar puts other lives at risk. Also a salient ingredient of the crisis in Arizona was the anti-science contingent of the population. In an interview at the time, Alan Alda (of the TV show, MASH) pointed to “pockets of people who still think science is just another opinion” as having a mindset that “puts us all in danger.”[1] The rigors of scientific experiment, such as the use of control groups and random selection, render science closer to knowledge than are mere opinions based on ideology and a person’s own experience. Privileging one’s own ideology and experiences counts as self-embellishing, and perhaps even self-idolatry. Such people are not likely to accept knowledge that contradicts their respective opinions and experience. Living in Phoenix at the time, I had encountered a lot of anti-intellectualism and incompetence along with refusals to enforce virus-deterring policies and even laws. Just one year earlier, Arizona’s education system through High School (K-12) had been rated as 49 out of the 50 States, but this does not explain the sordid attitude that is pervasive there.

The full essay is at "Arizona Out of Control."

1. David Hochman, “Alan Alda Is Obsessed with the Power of Science,” AARP: The Magazine, June/July, 2020.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Tale of Two Republics: Arizona and California during the Coronavirus Pandemic

An educated and virtuous citizenry is essential for a republic to endure, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two former U.S. presidents and rivals, agreed in an exchange of letters. Interestingly, both men died on July 4, 1826. Of course, the vote on independence had occurred on July 3, 1776 and the Declaration was signed over weeks rather than dramatically on July 4, 1776. Unfortunately, false narratives can take on a life of their own. Another example involves the U.S.'s "sun-belt" states, whose surging popularity from the 1980s at least through 2020 has masked the true conditions of the underlying cultures. Maricopa county, in which Phoenix, Arizona is located, was in the top 10 nationally for numeric increases in population from 2010 to 2020. Lest it be supposed that that county improved, a survey in July, 2019 listed Arizona as 49th out of the 50 States on elementary education (K-12th grade). 
Relatedly, Arizona's Medicaid system had a sordid reputation in terms of how well the subcontracting companies and non-profits managed themselves and were held accountable. As of 2020, Arizona still had a significant number of ideological voters who believed that Medicaid was a form of sordid socialism, which unjustly had taken the place of horrid communism. Because Medicaid had become the unwanted step-child in that political culture that still boasted that "taxes are theft," tight budgets and the State's bad education system resulted in subcontracting organizations, including medical clinics, conveniently embellishing their low-wage employees. Reports emerged of nurse-practitioners claiming to have the same training as physicians and even specialists such as psychiatrists and dermatologists, and of counselors misrepresenting themselves as being synonymous with therapists. In fact, Arizona's Medicaid tumor even reduced mental health to behavioral health so the cheaper behavior-trained counselors rather than therapists could be hired and relied upon. 
Furthermore, the organizations in Arizona receiving most or all of their funding from public-aid agencies like Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Medicaid were reputed to suffer from administrative incompetence without much accountability from either of those two government agencies. It was quite strange to read of the non-profit organizations and companies, including medical clinics, refer to themselves as agencies. Such lying with impunity also served to dissimulate any criticism of administrative incompetence. That low-class sub-culture of dependent organizations could count on the low education level in the state and its notable anti-science (and anti-intellectualism) ideology not to know better. In fact, no one would be likely to push-back on the Medicaid employees in the state who mispronounce the technocratic acronym for the state's Medicaid program, AHCCCS, as access rather than ah-kehs. In Arizona, the letter C is not hard (like a K) if an S follows, rather than just an E or I. You're wrong, ignorance that can't be wrong has the gall to say. You're wrong, I don't need to keep six-feet away from people. You're wrong, my people don't need enforceable government orders. Relative to California, we could rightly expect that Arizona would botch its management of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Integrity in Ethical Leadership

In the late twentieth century, many leadership scholars explored the link between ethics and leadership. The ethical component was portrayed not only as adherence to particular principles, but also as character giving rise to virtue ethics and integrity. Unfortunately, neither character nor integrity are leadership skills; hence our topic goes beyond the apparently easy fix of training. This puts the emphasis on the hiring process, which can be dominated by positional experience and a candidate’s vision for the organization. Upper-echelon leadership, such as of a business, government, religious organization, or university, involves the articulation of a broad vision that can include even societal norms and values.  Steve Jobs’ vision, for instance, was of a society in which communications would be done entirely differently. Although ethical principles and virtues were not salient in his vision, any head of an organization can highlight ethical principles in his or her vision.[1] Having such an emphasis and a societal-transformational vision can both resonate with people whose interests go beyond organizational effectiveness. Such visions are fun. My focus here is on integrity in ethical leadership, whether virtues or ethical principles are salient in the vision. Of particular difficulty is determining whether integrity has ethical content or is merely consistency between word and action. I contend that if integrity is interpreted as only the consistency, the ethical leadership may not really be ethical.

The full essay is at "Integrity in Ethical Leadership."

1. P. Madsen, “Managing Ethics,” Executive Excellence 7, no. 12 (1990): 11-12.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Reverse Racism: A Stealth Weapon

I take the expression, reverse racism, to mean at its core: racism against racists. Normatively, I contend that it is wrong to generalize to an entire group based on the mentality or behavior of a subset, and to make individuals outside of that subset suffer. Lest reverse racism be reduced to racism, the reverse version has its own dynamic, and thus its own toxicity, wherein fallacious attributions of racism are aggressively turned into a weapons, whether from oversensitivity or fabrication. In short, the statement, “You are a racist,” can be lobbed like a hand grenade with impunity. The statement is a foregone conclusion that skips over the need to first make an accusation. The person is declared guilty and consequences are demanded. As a response to racism, reverse racism stokes the fire of rage that racism originally sparked. The dynamics of reverse racism can be seen from an example at UCLA (University of California—Los Angeles).

The full essay is at "Reverse Racism on Campus."

Ancient Judaism on Wealth: It Depends

The early Hebrews considered wealth to be an integral part of human perfection and, moreover, what ought to be.[1] The ideal man was wealthy and leisured, and yet occupied with honorable work.[2] In the Torah, as long as the Hebrews as a people obey God, including dutifully acting as stewards rather than as selfish exploiters of the land that God has provided, poverty should be nonexistent in Israel. “There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God.”[3] Blessed wealth is a reward for fidelity to Yahweh, whereas poverty here is indicative of, or even punishment for, disobedience, which will evidently always be the case in Israel, for, “There will always be poor people in the land.”[4] The conditionality leaps off the page, as does the notion of collective justice, and yet wealthy individuals, including business practitioners, are held to account. The ethic of work is upheld even though labor in Genesis is due to original sin, and poverty is eschewed as sin. 

The full essay is at "Ancient Judaism on Wealth."

[1]. Charles R. Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Wealth and Work (London: Epworth Press, 1924), 21.
[2]. Smith, The Bible Doctrine, 22, 33-34.
[3]. Deut. 15:4-5.
[4]. Deut. 15:11.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Pope Francis: Religious and Secular Arguments for Governments Subordinating Markets to Social Norms

The documentary, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018) chiefly lays out the pope’s critique of economic Man. The film begins with references to climate change too loosely linked to the global population figure of 8 million humans, 1 billion of whom are unnecessarily living in poverty. The viewer is left to fill in the gaps, such as that because as biological organisms we must consume and use energy, the hyperextended overpopulation of the species is the root cause of climate- and ecosystem-changing CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans. Arguably, the salvific Son of God or the means into the Kingdom of God enjoy pride of place in the gospels, but compassion for the poor as well as outcasts and the sick is indeed a message that Jesus stresses in the faith narratives. Rather than being a sign of sin, poverty, especially if voluntary,  can permit the sort of humility that is much superior to the pride of the Pharisees. In the documentary, Jorge Bergoglio, who took the name Francis in becoming pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, is a practical man who points to the sickness or temptation of greed that keeps humanity from riding itself of poverty, unnecessarily. Moreover, the hegemony of the market, with its culture of consumerism and commoditization, comes at the cost of the common good, which to Francis has a spiritual basis. Abstractly speaking, harmony, which inherently respects its own limitations, should have priority over greed and markets. Both of these can go to excess without enough built-in constraints as occurred before and during the financial crisis of 2008, with poverty plaguing humanity more rather than less as a result.

The full essay is at "Pope Francis."

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Strategic Leadership

Strategic planning is oriented to enhancing the bottom-line.  Leadership affects organizational performance as well.[1] Therefore, strategic leadership, which can be defined as the formulation and articulation of a vision depicting a social reality and incorporating strategic aims, can enhance a firm’s sustainable competitive advantage.[2] Strategic leadership is an intangible core competency that can give rise to a core capability differential involving reputation.[3] That strategic leadership is difficult to understand and therefore to imitate contributes to its value in no small measure. But a straightforward application of strategic leadership may be thwarted if a tension develops in its exercise.  In particular, the principles behind an enduring leadership vision can be at odds with pressing strategic interests, especially as these profit-interests change while the abstract vision still holds.

The full essay is at "Strategic Leadership."

[1]. J. A. Petrick and J. F. Quinn, “The Challenge of Leadership Accountability for Integrity Capacity as a Strategic Asset,” Journal of Business Ethics 24 (2001): 331; S. Finkelstein and D. Hambrick, Strategic Leadership: Top Executives and Their Effects on Organizations (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1996); J. Ciulla, “Leadership Ethics: Mapping the Territory,” Business Ethics Quarterly, 5, no. 1(1995): 5-28; K. B. Lowe, K.G. Kroeck, and N. Sivasubramaniam: “Effectiveness Coorelates of Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-analytic Review of the MLQ Literature,” Leadership Quarterly 7, no. 3 (1996), 385-425.
[2]. R. D. Ireland and M.A. Hitt, “Achieving and Maintaining Strategic Competitiveness in the 21st Century: The Role of Strategic Leadership,” Academy of Management Executive 13, no. 1 (1999): 43.
[3]. Petrick and Quinn, “The Challenge of Leadership”; J. A. Petrick et al, “Global Leadership Skills and Reputational Capital: Intangible Resources For Sustainable Competitive Advantage,”  Academy of Management Executive 13, no. 1(1999): 58, f.n. 2.