“Well written and an interesting perspective.” Clan Rossi --- “Your article is too good about Japanese business pushing nuclear power.” Consulting Group --- “Thank you for the article. It was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively.” Taylor Johnson, Credit Union Lobby Management --- “Great information! I love your blog! You always post interesting things!” Jonathan N.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Incentives at EBay to Exploit Its Golden Goose

When is it ok not to worry about a corporate board or management exploiting an institutional conflict-of-interest? I contend in another essay that the very structure of an institutional (i.e., based on the relationships of positions and/or organizations) is inherently unethical, hence even if not actively exploited. Here, I delve into factors that may reduce the likelihood of such a conflict being exploited. I suspect that most folks assume that the presence of such mitigating factors means that a particular conflict-of-interest is not, therefore, inherently unethical. This convenient assumption may be all too easy to make, given that it removes any need ethically-speaking to reorganize positions and roles in an organization and the relationships between organizations.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Japanese Dolphin Hunt: Fishing or Killing?

Is a dolphin like a cow? Both are mammals. Both breathe air. So did Japanese government officials have a point when they rebuffed Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador, for tweeting the U.S. Government’s stinging response to the annual dolphin round-up and slaughter at a cove in Taiji during the third week of January in 2014? If so, can we extract a cultural difference?  In assessing this question, the roles of the two very different cultures come into play. Are we then to be left in the void of cultural relativism, barred from coming to a verdict?

Dolphins in a family group. (examiner.com)

In the hunt in question, the fishermen trapped 250 dolphins, killing about 40 for food, retaining 50 more to sell to aquariums, and letting the rest go.[1]  After confining the dolphins in a netted area for three days, the fishermen led the forty into the shallow water near the cove’s beach. As shown on CNN, the fishermen utilized a dining-type tent structure to hid the actual killing from external view. The fishermen stabbed the dolphins’ heads, which is said to cause great pain.[2]

After coordinating with other embassy officials, Kennedy tweeted that the hunt had been inhumane. Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary, pointed out that dolphins are “very important water resources,” just as cows are very important land resources in North America.[3] In fact, the Japanese government explicitly labeled the American critics as hypocrites for not including the killing of cows and chickens in the West. Yet it is fair to ask whether cows and chickens come close to the dolphin in terms of social development (e.g., living in families), intelligence/language, and self-awareness. For this reason, cows and chickens are not said to be “killed” in the U.S., whereas Americans refer to the dolphins hunted in Japan as being killed.

To be sure, differences in words used can come out of cultural differences; after all, the Japanese government officials refer to cows used for food in the U.S. as being killed. The East Asian culture is doubtless very much present in the response made by Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen. “We have fishermen in our community, and they are exercising their fishing rights. We feel that we need to protect our residents against the criticisms.[4] The notion that government officials have a responsibility to keep their constituents from being publicly criticized must strike Westerns as quite alien.

As difficult as it is to evaluate cultural differences by a presumed “universal standard,” the legalistic defense hinging on rights can indeed be called into question. In response to Kennedy tweeting that the Japanese should not kill dolphins, Yoshihide Suga stressed that dolphin “fishing” (i.e., not killing) is “carried out appropriately in accordance with the law. Dolphin is not covered by the International Whaling Commission control,” he explained, “and it’s controlled under the responsibility of each country.”[5] In responding to the legality of the practice, Suga unwittingly commits Hume’s naturalistic fallacy—the erroneous assumption that ought comes from is. That is, he assumes that the morality of dolphin “fishing” (dolphins are not fish) is a matter of what the law is. It is as though ethics reduces to law. Kennedy could simply have noted that Sangen and Suga were not answering her normative, or ethical. Indeed, she had not tweeted anything suggesting that the “fishing” was at the time illegal.

In conclusion, biological differences between cows and dolphins may come into play in allowing the world to come down one way or another on the Japanese cultural custom. It may not be inhumane solely from the standpoint of another culture. Furthermore, spotting logical errors can also contribute to moving beyond cultural relativism to an answer.

[1] Kirk Spitzer, “Japan Criticizes Dolphin Tweet from Kennedy,” USA Today, January 22, 2014.
[2] Elizabeth Shogren, “Ambassador Kennedy Criticizes Japan’s Dolphin Hunt,” NPR.org, January 22, 2104.
[3] Spitzer, “Japan Criticizes.”
[4] Ibid., emphasis added to the culturally relevant sentence.
[5] Ibid.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

European Parliament 2014 Election: A Gray Cloud with a Silver Lining

Whereas the European Parliament election in 2009 suffered from state-level issues and low voter-turnout, the legislative election in 2014 promises to be a super-charged one in the “super-nation.” Most notably, the electoral contests are “shaping up as no less than a referendum on the merits of continuing on with the European Union itself.”[2] With popular distrust of the E.U. at an all-time high, this bit of news seems rather bad for pro-E.U. Europeans. Any pessimism in anticipation of the election that exists is mitigated by “the bigger picture.”

From: "The 2014 E.U. Parliament Election"