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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.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Police Brutality: A Symptom of a Brain Sickness Stimulated by Large Doses of Power

Behind the ornate rooms and regalia of a head of state, the stately appearance of legislative chambers, and even revered democratic constitutions, the basis of a government is its power—even if beyond authorized limits—to use lethal force against even its electorate peacefully protesting. As the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 show, human beings who have police power—even beyond the authorized—have at the very least a proclivity to abuse people without countervailing power. The students who were assigned as prison guards in the experiment because so abusive toward the students assigned as prisoners that the experiment had to be terminated after only 6 days in a two-week period. Even the experimenter, who took on the role of prison superintendent during the experiment, “had become indifferent to the suffering” of the students who were in the role of prisoners.[1] Lest it be concluded that college students are simply too immature to assume even what seems to be absolute power over other students, such behavior is arguably common among actual police employees. Lest it be further concluded that such behavior is part of an autocratic regime, even the known instances in republics suggest that human nature itself cannot handle such discretion as police departments and their employees have. Incredibly, even with the result of the Stanford study, no one seems to go to this conclusion; rather, primitive human nature may be poised to jump from incident to incident as if doing so enough would end the abuse of such power.
The presumptuousness that police departments and individual employees have in abusing their powers to harm even nonviolent protesters was on display to the world on June 4, 2020 as police in Buffalo, New York, pushed down a 75 year-old man who ironically had stood for peace and justice for decades. The violent act itself by two police employees was telling. Video shows Martin Gugino approaching an oncoming police employee in a nonviolent manner to talk—perhaps to ask a question. Another police employee immediately speeds up his pace—the first indication of possible aggression. Then he and another employee pushed Martin backwards. Incredibly, one of the employees who pushed Martin then shock his head back and forth as if the incident had been Martin’s fault, when the fault lied with the employee. Such shirking of responsibility is a convenient mental tactic by which the abusive mind seeks to justify/protect itself—the delusion being hidden to such a mind by the mind itself.

2.Buffalo Police Riot Squad Quit to Back Officers Who Shoved Man,” BBC.com, June 5, 2020 (accessed June 6, 2020).
3. Julia Mahncke, “Why Police in the US Are So Powerful,” DW.com, June 6, 2020 (accessed same day).
4. Ibid.

Friday, June 5, 2020

E.U. Trade Negotiations with a Former State: The Paradigm of Britain

The paradigm used by a former state can undermine any negotiations between it and a federal government. Even the reference to a federal government, if contrary to such a paradigm, can subtly undercut relations. The typical focus on the matters to be negotiated, such as new trade relations, easily miss the negative impact of a biased paradigm that is more based in Euroskeptic states’ rights (i.e., anti-federalism) that on the actual relation being between a former state and the European Union.

   Is a former State equivalent with the Union of States?

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Case for Christ: On the Problem of Extracting History from Faith Narratives

A film narrative oriented to an investigation of Christianity is tailor-made to illustrate the potential of film as a medium to convey abstract ideas and theories. In The Case for Christ (2017), a skeptical journalist—Lee Strobel—takes on the contention that Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels was also a historical event (i.e., happened historically). Lee states the proposition that he will investigate as follows: “The entire Christian faith hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. If it didn’t happen, it’s a house of cards. He’s reduced to a misunderstood rabbi at best; at worst, he was a lunatic who was martyred.” The journalist’s initial position is that the resurrection didn’t happen historically; it is just part of a faith narrative (i.e., the Gospels). Lee wants to test the proposition by interviewing experts. The dialogues between the journalist unschooled in theology and the scholars of religion provide a way in which complex ideas and arguments can be broken down for the viewer and digested. The journalist stands as a translator of sorts similar to a teacher’s function in breaking down knowledge new to students so they can grasp and digest it.

The full essay is at "Case for Christ."

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Religious Themes Secularized Through Film

One approach to infusing religion in a film is to utilize a secular lens to keep overt religious content hidden such that only its messages that can be stated in a secular way come through. The basic values of a religion can be transmitted without specific religious belief-claims possibly turning off some viewers. Given the mass audience that a typical film can reach, the medium is a good means for presenting people with values that come out of religion but have their own intrinsic worth apart from the related religious belief-claims. Film can play a role, therefore, in enabling the values of a religion to survive the religion’s downfall. From watching the film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), a viewer would not know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His wife says at one point in the film that Fred reads scripture and prays daily, but that is the only clue in the film that his religious faith is the source of his motivation for and messages on his show, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

The full essay is at "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

Monday, May 25, 2020

Religion and Ethics: A Christian Interpretation Transcending a Film

Although dramatic tension is a crucial element of a narrative, the main point is not necessarily in the resolution of the tension. Dramatic tension may be used as a means by retaining viewer-interest through a film whose main points are made along the way. Such points can transcend plot and be even more important than the resolution of the narrative. Man from Earth (2007) is a case in point. In the film, John, an anthropology professor, has just resigned from his teaching position. The entire film takes place during the send-off party at his house just before he is to move away. As the discussion ensues, John admits to his university guests that he is actually a 14,000 year-old caveman. Because he looks about 35 or 40, he explains that once he reached a certain age, he stopped aging due to a biological abnormality (i.e., a genetic mutation). That his anthropological and biological lenses cover even religious matters makes his religious interpretations interesting and even useful to the viewer. I am assuming here that coming in contact with a different perspective can enrich a person’s understanding of a phenomenon. It is in this sense that the film provides valuable information to the viewer and is entertaining even beyond viewing the film. Indeed, a method for interpreting the faith narratives of Christianity, and religion in general, can be extracted and applied outside of the film.

The full essay is at "Man from Earth."

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Film in Biblical Storytelling

For anyone interested in filmmaking, a film that features the internal operations of a film studio—especially one during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood—is likely to be captivating. After all, as Eddie Mannix, the studio executive in Hail, Caesar! (2016), says, the “vast masses of humanity look to pictures for information and uplift and, yes, entertainment.” This film provides all three for its audience on what film-making was like in the studio system. With regards to the Christian theology, however, the result is mixed.  The film makes the point that theological information best comes out indirectly from dramatic dialogue rather than discussion on theology itself. In other words, inserting a theological lecture into a film’s narrative is less effective than an impassioned speech by which entertainment and uplift can carry the information.

The full essay is at "Hail, Caesar!"

Friday, May 22, 2020

The E.U. Court Says No to Hungarian Asylum Detention Camps: A Test for E.U. Federalism

On May 11, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the E.U.’s highest court, ruled against the state of Hungary on its detention camp near the Serbian border. The state had denied the asylum requests because the immigrants had come through Serbia, and the latter refused to allow them to reverse course. The immigrants were thus stuck, essentially detained in “prison-like conditions.”[1] The high court ruled that the “conditions prevailing in the Roszke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty.”[2] ECJ Advocate General Priit Pikamae had argued that the “unlawful detention” was due to the “high degree of restriction of the freedom of movement.”[3] The state of Hungary had argued that the immigrants could have stayed in Servia, as it was a safe-country of transit, and thus were not eligible for asylum in Hungary. Unlike Hungary, Serbia was not an E.U. state, which may be why the asylum-seekers did not want to remain in Serbia. Hence being a border state added to Hungary’s woes. Therefore, the E.U. had some responsibility to alleviate the pressure on Hungary. Yet the Union did not do so, showing its weakness, and yet the state government bowed to the ECJ’s ruling. To the extent that the E.U. relies on such self-subordination in the want of federal help, the E.U. could be said to be on borrowed time during which basic adjustments to the federal system could be made.

1. Deutsche Welle, “Hungary Illegally Held Asylum-Seekers, ECJ Rules,” DW.com, May 14, 2020 (accessed May 22, 2020).
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

An E.U. Economic Recovery Fund: A Federal Problem

On May 18, 2020, with the E.U. Commission having been no match for the states’ own interests in their own health and economic crises, the governors of France and Germany announced that they would support a recovery fund to help the states most in need. The €500 billion fund of grants (not loans) would be raised on the capital markets and guaranteed by the state governments. It would be part of the federal budget.[1] I submit that the imbalance in that federal system is evident; here again, the power of the state governments relative to the federal Commission shows the weakness of the latter.

The full essay is at "E.U. Recovery: Federalism."

[1] Katya Adler, “Politics and PR: Behind the Scenes of Franco-German Recovery Fund,” BBC.com, May 18, 2020.