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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.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

1917: The Film

Roughly a century before 2019, when the film, 1917, was made, the Great War, or what would subsequently be renamed, World War I, was raging in Europe. Incredibly, soldiers had to live in dug-out trenches for years. It is no wonder that the war would bring the Spanish Flu to both Europe and America. In 2020, roughly a century after that flu, the coronavirus pandemic was occurring globally, yet without any war to have incubated that virus. By 2020, Europeans and Americans alike could not have imagined what life must have been like in the trenches. The film’s finest contribution, I submit, is in capturing that context, which in effect does a great deal of the story-telling. The film is thus a good illustration of the role that context can play in story-telling in an audio-visual medium such as film.

The full essay is at "1917."

The European Union at Risk: The German High Court Undercuts the European Court of Justice on the Role of the European Central Bank

If a dispute between an E.U. state and the European Central Bank (ECB) on one of its programmes could come to challenge the European Court of Justice (ECJ) itself and the very sustainability of the E.U.’s federal system, then that system itself could be said to be severely impaired, and thus facing a high risk of being destroyed.  Yet in the Judgment of the Second Senate of May 5, 2020, the constitutional court of Germany did exactly that in throwing out an earlier ruling of the E.U.’s supreme court (ECJ) on the legality under E.U. law of an ECB programme.[1]

(Source: Politico)

1. BVerfG, Judgment of the Second Senate of 05 May 2020 – 2 BvR 859/15-, paras. (1-237).

Saturday, May 2, 2020

An Aggressive Culture Applied to a Pandemic

If a local culture does not value education, such that the public education system is weak, and furthermore engages in and enables aggressive behavior, even self-protective statements and efforts can provoke aggressive responses based on ignorance. In such a culture, authorities may be particularly unlikely to stem such aggression, and they may even be inclined to engage in active or passive aggression against victims rather than enforce laws and rules. For existence, police called on a noise complaint at an apartment complex may willfully or unwittingly turn on the complainer not due to lack of noise, but, rather, out of ignorance as to what constitutes a residential disturbance, fear of confronting people who are disturbing others, a desire to inhibit future calls or simply due the aggressor’s bidding by blaming the victim for complaining. Besides indicating a corrupt, sordid police culture, that of the locality itself would likely be compromised. During a pandemic, such pathology might be especially transparent because it is clear when people and authorities are not only not enforcing laws and organizational policies geared to protecting both employees and customers, but also acting against public health by turning on the victims. The case of Arizona and, more particularly, the Phoenix police department, is particularly revealing.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Do Police Departments Unwittingly Attract an Aggressive Mentality?

Might the personality type most excited by inflicting pain on others be drawn to “serve” on a police force?  Might force itself be an allurement to such a personality? Moreover, might organizations populated by the personality be inclined to set up defenses against being held accountable either internally or by other organizations? At the very least, deference ought to go to the victims rather than the “officers.”

The full essay is at "Does Lawful Power Attract Criminals." 

Putin’s Pals: Billionaire Junkies

Arkady Rotenberg, a former judo coach, became a billionaire industrialist by selling pipe to the state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom. Meanwhile, owning a minority state in a small bank in St. Petersburg that won control of another of Gazprom subsidiaries, Yuri Kovalchuk gained a net worth of $1.5 billion. Gennady Timchenko, “once the little-known sales manager of a local oil refinery,” went on to become one of the richest men in the world by co-owning “a commodity trading company that moves about $70 billion of crude oil a year, much of it through major contracts with Rosneft, the Russian national oil company.” What these billionaires shared besides getting rich was a certain connection—namely to Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin arrives for a campaign rally in Moscow.  Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The full essay is at "Putin's Pals."

Monday, April 20, 2020

Major Cracks in Human Resources and Management in the American Grocery Industry Exposed during the Coronavirus Pandemic

For a certain personality-type, character, or mentality, it is easy to blame other people while remaining silent on one’s own mistakes (and mentality). This approach can be particularly harmful during a pandemic, for one’s own mistakes could be passing on the infectious illness. Such mistakes include refusing to maintain a physical distance from other people in public places and retail stores. As noxious as the blaming is, a more significant anthropological point may be that as a social and habitual animal, the human being may not be mentally advanced enough to keep a distance from other such animals even for self-preservation. I don’t think the instinctual urge for socializing exhausts the explanation, for the failure (and even refusal) to respect others enough to keep at a distance even when they ask surely involves weakness that manifests psychologically beyond merely having a bad attitude. Not even the artificial organizational-management systems our species has established are a match for the toxicity of a weakness that is even just passively aggressive toward other people. I contend that American management is susceptable to an even more severe weakness; one that foists organizational power as a club even on customers. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Plague, the Spanish Flu, and the Coronavirus: Equivalence and Progress in Infectious Diseases

History forgotten is history to be repeated, for evolution occurs over such vast oceans of time that for our purposes, human biological nature is fixed. Yet history kept fresh can permit progress such that the species is better equipped to combat problems such as pandemics. At the time of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, serious comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the Black Death of the fourteenth century were lacking in the American media, including by public health officials and government officials even as claims of vague equivalence were made. Such claims, I submit, were erroneous. In fact, they did more harm than good by instilling excessive fear in the population.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Comparing Religions

The subfield of comparative religions can be exciting because the beliefs, values, symbols, myths, and rituals can introduce a person to such different ideas that the rush of making a discovery can even be felt. Jaroslav Pelikan, a twentieth-century historian of Christianity, once said that he had learned so many languages just so he could have access to ideas that were not as of yet available in English. Such ideas could be very different than the historian’s extant knowledge. It is perhaps like the early European explorers in America finding plants and cultures that were so unlike those of Europe because the distance had not allowed for cross-pollination and the influence of cultural exchanges. I contend that one reason why religions can be very difficult to compare is that elements of them in a given topic can be so different in kind as to not be comparable. Religions may even be based on variables that cannot be directly compared because they are so different in kind. The related paradigms also may not be comparable. Therefore, it may be that religious comparison is more fitting to comparing sects (e.g., denominations) within a given religion. Even when continuity exists between an established religion and a new one in the same context, the foundational variables may be so different in kind that they are not comparable. I will look at cosmology (e.g., Creation), ritual (e.g., sacrifices) and divine attributes (e.g., truth and love) below to support my claim.

The full essay is at "Comparing Religions."

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Post-Pandemic Plans in the U.S. through the Lenses of Federalism

I take it as a basic maxim of federalism that problems infecting the entire federal geography uniformly are best tackled by the federal government, with the involvement of the polities (governments) within the federation being in sync with the federal mandates. Problems that plague some polities while barely leaving a scratch on other polities within the federation are best solved by the individual polities because their situations differ appreciably. The federal government’s role would be more about coordination than setting one size that fits all. Federalism is especially beneficial at the empire-scale, which the U.S.S.R., Russia, India, China, the United States andthe European Union have, because the large geographical size tends to be diverse, or heterogeneous, within, whereas the smaller republics, provinces, or states within tend not to be so large as to have such striking differences. Hence, the cultural differences between Bavaria and Bremen are dwarfed by the differences between Germany and Greece, and the differences between Northern and Southern Illinois are dwarfed by the differences between Illinois and Texas. So it is only natural, I submit, that U.S. and E.U. state governments took the lead in combating the coronavirus pandemic because it was a much more serious problem in some states than others.[1]

1. I don’t feel the need to look smart by using the particular scientific name, covid-19, especially when coronavirus is sufficient for readers to understand which virus to which I am referring. As this is not a scientific writing, but is instead a piece oriented to the general educated reader, using a scientific term not only does not fit the genre, but also is less widely known and thus understood.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

On Believing in Jesus Christ as the Preeminent Focus of Christianity

Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is salient in the four canonical gospels, as well as in Paul’s letters. Hence, christology has been an important field of theology. While the benefits to the Christian have been touted so much in historical and contemporary theological writings, the costs and vulnerabilities of the nearly monopolistic focus have largely gone unnoticed. The realization of them would allow Christians (including extant theologians) to gain a fuller (i.e., holistic) perception and understanding of the religion, and even a better practice thereof.  I will begin with the theology then provide a practical example of the problems involved in having a willowed-down focus at the expense of the drawbacks.

The full essay is at "Jesus' Identity and Teachings."

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Church Services during the Coronavirus Pandemic: Defying the State as Anti-Christian

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic during the Christian Holy Week in 2020 brought up the contentious relationship between church and state in at least the United States. Some of the American governments banned any in-person worship services even on the festival of Easter, while other governments merely discouraged such gatherings. Most churches had already stopped their weekly services, but a few outliers insisted even on having large gatherings on Easter Sunday. Those clerics tended to view themselves as defending their faith as if in an epic battle against a tyrannical state. I contend that such clerics were over-reacting—acting as if they were fighting a battle in which martyrdom might be required. The sheer entrenchment was excessive. Next, I provide some background on the Christian position on government authority, after which I will look at two cases.

The full essay is at "Defying the State as Anti-Christian."

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Grocery Store Company Lobbies for Special Status during the Coronavirus Pandemic While Falling Short

In early April, 2020, Albertsons Companies, which at the time owned Safeway, ACME Markets, Jewel-Osco, Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons grocery stores, joined with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) to get American governments to designate the workers as first responders. The joint statement reads in part, “The temporary designation of first responder or emergency personnel status would help ensure these incredible grocery workers access to priority testing, have access to personal protection equipment, like masks and gloves, as well as other workplace protections necessary to keep themselves and the customers they serve safe and healthy.”[1] Although keeping grocery workers healthy was important, the focus on testing and equipment can be viewed as problematic in that the company’s management was falling short on more crucial safety measures to protect the employees (and customers) from becoming infected.

1. Aine Cain and Hayley Peterson, “A Major Grocer Is Pushing to Classify Its Employees as First Responders, Giving Them Priority for Testing and Protective Gear,” Business Insider, April 7, 2020 (accessed April 8, 2020).

Business & Society and Business Ethics: Two Distinct Fields of Business

As a field of business, business and society (which includes the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR)) can be viewed as falling within the rubric of the environment of business. Business and government can as well. Indeed, the environment goes beyond stakeholders. Although sometimes deemed as falling within this rubric, business ethics actually does not, as it is internal to a business even as unethical policies and decisions can impact stakeholders. In fact, business ethics and business and society are two distinct fields, even though they share a common border and are often fused as if they were one seamless country.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Undermining Progress: Power as Ignorance that Cannot Be Wrong

Bleeding to heal. The Earth is flat. Earth is at the center of the solar system. Zeus lives on Mount Olympus. The divine right of kings to act even as tyrants (e.g., Henry VIII of England). Hitler died in his bunker. Turning the heater on in a local bus kills coronavirus. These are things that were thought in their respective times to be uncontrovertibly true. In some of these cases, the power of the establishment was not subtle in enforcing them even when they should have been questioned. How presumptuous this finite, mortal species is! If ignorance on stilts is bliss, then why is it such in need of power? Subconsciously, the human mind must realize that its assumption of not being able to be wrong is flawed. We are subjective beings with instinctual urges—one of which manifests in the unquestioned assumption that what we know cannot be wrong, and furthermore that we are entitled to impose our “facts” on others. As the homo sapiens (i.e., wise) species, we are too sure, and too proud, concerning our knowledge and especially beliefs. We would like to have the certainty and objectivity that computers have, but we are subjective biological animals, not inert machines.

The full essay is at "Undermining Progress."

Sunday, April 5, 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 retirement. Otherwise, a republic is susceptible to demagoguery and other flaws whereby the electorate fail to put good people in office and hold bad representatives accountable—indeed, hold the government itself accountable. To self-govern (i.e., having the people over their government), a people must be willing and able, through representatives,  to enact enough measures in its own best interests so it will not unwittingly destroy itself. In addition to restraining their own passions sufficiently, people self-govern themselves (i.e., on a personal level) by willingly taking on constraints for their best interests. I submit that people who are in the habit of doing so (and thus value doing so) are more likely to vote against candidates who advocate expediency and elected representatives who have voted for expedient legislation (e.g., not making tough choices for the best interest of the republic and its people). The escalation of government debt, putting off climate-change legislation, and not doing enough to protect a people against a pandemic are examples in which self-constraint writ large is shirked or missing altogether. Whether through ignorance, attitude, or sheer weakness of character, some people are unwilling or able to apply constraints in their lives (e.g., dieting—the gaining of weight can be thought of as increasing a deficit of constraint in the face of indulgence). At the societal level, this unwillingness or inability in enough of an electorate can translate into a legislature having the same unwillingness or inability to make difficult choices that involve immediate costs, or “pain,” and benefits only in the long term or for in the republic’s or people’s best interests. Making needed amendments to the constitutional basic framework, for example, may be difficult even though making needed repairs in the governance system is in a viable republic’s best interests. In short, in order to be self-governing in the long-haul, at least a certain proportion of a people who vote and their likeminded representatives must value the application of constraints on immediate self-gratification. How people and American governments reacted to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic during March, 2020 can give us a snapshot of just how capable the American people are of self-governing themselves, and thus as serving as the masters of their governments.  I will look at Arizona and California in particular.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Strong and Weak Management: The Case of American Bus Companies and Regional Transit Authorities

By the end of the 2010’s, city officials in several American cities were rethinking bus service in a fundamental way; the passenger-fare revenue model was being questioned, and in some cases replaced with a model that fit better with serving poor people and changed local business environments. Yet the downside effects on the bus companies of trends, especially regarding ridership, may have been the result of internal organizational factors immune to a change in the revenue model. I contend that city officials and the managers of bus companies should resist the temptation to view a new model as a cure precisely because some problems, internal to the companies, could go on and silently undermine analysis of the new model such that it could erroneously be discontinued. To be sure, being willing to question a longstanding model is a mark of managerial strength. Indeed, it is precisely the managers of bus companies and regional authorities who are mired in longstanding assumptions who would tend to have the most difficulty in dealing with troublesome internal problems. 

Pope Benedict and Pope Francis: Power and Papacy

Power is seductive, even within religious organizations. It is like a drug in that denial can accompany an instinctual urge for immediate power even at the expense of the person’s own credibility. Put another way, self-discipline can easily succumb to the urge for power, even if the person has previously foreswore acting on that urge. Warped discernment between minor and major issues can also occur from the gravity of the instinctual urge. For example, a cleric may choose to break his or her decision to disavow acting on the urge in part because he or she incorrectly views the issue at hand to be a major one, when in fact it is not, at least as far as the religion is concerned. As in the case of a drug, perception, judgment and cognition may be impaired, or warped, by the urge itself. The Roman Catholic ex-Pope Joe Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is a case in point.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cases of Coronavirus: Comparing China, the U.S.A. and Italy

On March 26, 2020, “the US overtook Italy and China as the country with the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.”[1] At first glance, this statement can gain sufficient traction to become definitive. The implication that the U.S. is mismanaging the pandemic can even be regarded as valid even though the comparison itself is invalid.

1. Jeffrey Sachs, “Why America Has the World’s Most Confirmed Covid-19 Cases,” CNN.com, March 27, 2020 (accessed March 28, 2020).

Monday, March 23, 2020

Authentic Corporate Social Responsibility during a Pandemic

"We’re doing a lot of social distancing,” U.S. President Trump claimed during his press conference on Coronavirus on March 23, 2020. The day before, he had said he is proud of the American people for voluntarily taking precautions. March 21st, I had been in a Target store to buy some necessary items. No one was "social distancing," including employees. A more accurate, and better understood term would be physical distancing, as it is more broadly applicable than socializing and the latter can be done at a distance, especially via telephone and the internet.[1] A day before, I had been in two grocery stores—two because one—a Safeway [Albertsons]—was missing so many hoarded items. I found no physical distancing at Safeway and Sprouts. The former was not that safe after all, and the latter's healthy-food was not being sold in a healthy way. It was as if the employees, customers, and managements were oblivious to the obvious risks, but the explanation may be more complex. I contend that it applies to corporate social responsibility too. For I also found that none of the store managers was making announcements or had signage to remind people to keep a distance from other people in the respective stores. On March 26, 2020, I again saw no physical distancing being done by employees and customers at a Safeway store; the store manager told me he would have a store meeting on the issue. In the meantime, not even periodic announcements would be made. This is known as erroneously applying status-quo management procedures in a state of emergency. Also, Safeway's store management had not acted proactively to ration products such as toilet paper and cleaning products that had been voraciously grabbed off the shelves by herd-exuberant customers in a panic mode. In short, I submit that the unique business conditions of the Coronavirus pandemic can be used to assess whether corporate social responsibility is real or merely a marketing tool.
How actually safe was Safeway during the pandemic?

1. "It is important for us all to realize that when they recommend 'social distancing' . . . what health experts are really promoting are practices that temporarily increase our physical distance from one another in order to slow the spread of the virus." Cecilia Menjivar, Jacob Foster, and Jennie Brand, "Don't call it 'social distancing'," CNN.com, March 21, 2020 (accessed April 4, 2020). 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

American Federalism: The Case of Coronavirus

On March 22, 2020, during a press conference on the coronavirus, U.S. Vice President Pence claimed that the United States is unique in that it has a federal system of public governance. He overlooked the equivalent case of the European Union even as he stressed an idea that is the European federal principle of subsidiarity, which means that decisions and actions that can be taken locally are to be done locally. The state level is next, followed by the federal level. The theory behind this principle is that cultural, political, economic, and social diversity that exists from state to state, especially in an empire-scale federal system such as the E.U. and U.S., means that one-size-fits-all federal-level decisions may not be effective everywhere. Pence’s point was that the federal government would be playing a supportive role so the States get what they need, rather than playing a pivotal role with the States and localities as instruments of implementation. I contend that relative to the European Union, the United States was at the time much less equipped to apply the principle of subsidiarity to the coronavirus pandemic.

The full essay is at "Federalism and the Coronavirus."

Monday, February 17, 2020

Universities Misconceived as Cities (and Corporations)

Classroom management at colleges and universities falls under the academic prerogative of professors. In other words, the lecture hall or classroom is his or her turf. At least this held when I was an undergraduate student. “This is not a democracy,” one professor pointed out as he faced a general reaction against a surprise quiz in a class I took. I remember scholars older than 40 in particular being rude to disruptive students. This was part of academic culture, or the imparting thereof especially in freshman and sophomore classes; the students were, after all, generally still teenagers. By the time seminars kicked in, we had been socialized into academia sufficiently enough to know how to behave in an academic context according to its norms. Even though I was not a troublesome student, I still feared the rudeness and even harshness with which some of the professors addressed “non-conforming” students. I had the feeling that the professorial conduct was something that was permitted in uniquely academic culture. I would never have thought possible that a professor would call the police to enforce his or her classroom prerogative. I would have been shocked had a professor called campus police even on a university policy, such as no food or drink in the classrooms. Of course, cell-phones hadn’t been invented yet. Even so, had a student refused, for example, to move seats during a lecture even under considerable shaming pressure from the professor, he or she would not even have considered bringing in the university’s police. Instead, the professor would have continued the lecture and reported the student to the dean.  This was, however, before the American political-correct movement, which, I submit, places its presumed hegemony above any culture, including that of academia, and before the appropriation or imposition of business culture at large American universities. The result can be expected to render academia less distinctive, and in this way, more “secular”—more like Main Street (and Wall Street).

The full essay is at "Universities as Cities."

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Basis of Christian Faith: Beyond Idolatry

I think perhaps the title of the film, Silence (2016) ought to have been “The last Priest” because the main character, Rodrigues, is the last remaining Roman Catholic priest in Japan. His inner struggle is the core of the narrative, and of the theological/ethical dilemma to be resolved. The movie is set in Japan in 1640-1641. A Buddhist inquisitor, Mokichi, is torturing and killing Christians, who must step on a stove carving of Jesus as proof of committing apostasy (i.e., renouncing their faith). Taking it as proof, Father Rodrigues torments over whether to apostasy in order to save the Japanese Christians whom Mokichi is having killed serially until the priest renounces his faith. I submit that the assumption of proof rests on dubious grounds, so Rodrigues is actually faced with a false dichotomy.

The full essay is at "Silence."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ideological Word Games: The Modern Weapon of Choice?

When I was young, my dad would sometimes criticize me for engaging in “word games.” Perhaps I was already parsing words; my parents and maternal grandfather were all lawyers. My last name is Worden, after all. I was raised to pronounce the name, war-den, and only after decades did it occur to me that people might spell the name as Worden rather than Warden if I pronounced it as word-n. I was the first even in the extended family to use the alternative; as Nietzsche wrote, no philosopher is a man of his time. We tend to think outside the proverbial constrained “box” because we critique assumptions and arguments (i.e., critical thinking), including those of the “boxes” that society leaves unquestionably standing as part of the status quo—the tyranny of which has repelled philosophers wetted to the idea that no stone should be left unturned, even if a society deems some stones as sacrosanct. It can be dangerous even to question the solidity of those stones, especially if they formed out of ideological controversies wherein tussling instinctual urges contesting for societal dominance. In this too, I am drawing on Nietzsche, who even viewed the content of ideas as being instinctual urges. In being willing to subject societally cherished ideas to fundamentally unique and deep scrutiny, Friedrich Nietzsche is the last, at least as of my time living in an American desert, both academically and geographically, where plenty of Nietzsche’s “herd animals” freely roamed. They were particularly vulnerable to ideological word-games in unquestioningly accepting the words from the insurgent ideologies as valid.

The full essay is at "Ideological Word Games."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

On the Social Psychology of Rising Credit-Card Debt: A Reflection of American Society?

It is perhaps too easy to point to economic reasons for an increase in debt within a society. The Wall Street Journal reported during the first quarter of 2020 that credit-card debt in the U.S. “rose to a record in the final quarter of 2019 as Americans spent aggressively amid a strong economy and job market, and the proportion of people seriously behind on their payments increased.”[1] The record $930 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was “well above the previous peak seen before the 2008 financial crisis.”[2] After critiquing the economic explanation, I will suggest that a social-psychological mentality or attitude may be behind not only the rising debt, but also other disappointing manifestations in the contemporaneous American society more broadly speaking.

1. Yuka Hayashi, “Credit-Card Debt in U.S. Rises to Record $930 Billion,” The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2020.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Politics and Religion: President Trump at a National Prayer Breakfast

Politics and religion intermeshed can be a nasty business. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, witnessed every venue of his planned tour in Europe cancel because Franklin had “called Islam ‘evil,’ attacked laws increasing rights for transgender people, and told his followers that the legalization of same-sex marriage was orchestrated by Satan.”[1] Although criticizing another religion is religious in nature, turning to laws renders the attack political too. Although Franklin Graham may have assumed that many of his co-religionists would agree with him both in religious and political terms, wading into controversial political matters risks alienating people who are or would otherwise be religious followers. Even the willingness to traverse into the political realm may not be liked by some religionists, whether followers or not, especially if the incursion is into a controversy. Some co-religionists may agree with the distinctly religious belief, yet hold dissimilar political views. Such distance created between religionists can weaken a religious leader’s credibility and even following in the religious domain. Politicians dragging their respective religious faiths into the political domain can also be problematic, though authentic applications can pay off even if there is a cost politically. The incursion of Christianity at the end of U.S. President Trump’s trial in the Senate and as he took a victory lap can demonstrate the complexities of religion distended into another domain.

[1] Rob Picheta, “Evangelist Preacher Franklin Graham Planned a Seven-City UK Tour. All Seven Venues Have Dropped Him,” CNN.com, February 6, 2020(accessed same day).

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Tension between Wall Street and Main Street: A Case beyond the Reach of Corporate Social Responsibility

In October 2011, Gerald Seib wrote that political and economic pressures in the wake of the financial crisis were “pushing business leaders into the public cross hairs.”[1] I submit that the very existence of the largest American banks was becoming an issue. In such a case in which a gulf between business and society is so fundamental or deep, corporate social responsibility programs do not suffice and may even backfire. While it is normal for the norms and values of a business sector to differ from those of the wider whole (i.e., society), it is uncommon for a rupture to be so deep that corporate marketing and CSR are not sufficient business responses. I submit that in such cases and where corporations have a lot of power over government officials, CEOs extend their toolset to government to fill in the trench. The "Occupy Wall Street" protests is a case in point. 

The full essay is at "Wall Street and Society Diverge at the 'Occupy Wall Street' Protests." 

1. Gerald F. Seib, “Populist Anger Over Economy Carries Risks for Big Business,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2011. More generally, see Skip Worden, Essays on the Financial Crisis.

Bank Bonuses and Dividends After the Financial Crisis: On the Power of Banks in European and American Government and Society

Dividends are typically based on how much a bank (or company, moreover) has profited, less whatever capital is needed from the profit. Similarly, bonuses are based, at least theoretically, on how the managers and the nonsupervisory employees alike perform as well as how the bank performs. In their respective ways of shoring up banks amid the financial crisis of 2008, the E.U. and U.S. differed on how easy it would be for banks to pay dividends and bonuses, as well as to have access to governmental funding. These differences reflect both the relative power of the financial sector in the governmental sector and the cultural attitudes toward business.

The full essay is at "Bank Bonuses and Dividends After the Financial Crisis." 

Monday, February 3, 2020

CSR and Corporate Governance Reform: An Opporunity for BlackRock as an Activist Shareholder

In 2019, BlackRock’s management and board publically fired two executives in the Hong Kong office for breaching company rules on dating subordinates. The firings demonstrated to employees that the company would enforce its employee policies and sent the message that employees would be “free to point out problems in the workplace.”[1] This would not be so extraordinarily significant but for the fact that BlackRock is the “world’s largest money manager with $7.4 trillion under management,” which enables the company, through the funds it runs, to be “one of the five largest shareholders in nearly every corporation in the S&P 500.”[2] So BlackRock “can cast votes and pressure boardrooms to effect change.”[3] The company would be hypocritical in using its power as a major stockholder to get managements to have and enforce good workplace policies if the company were not doing so itself. From the standpoint of self-regulatory capitalism in society, BlackRock could make a significant contribution far beyond improving workplace policies.

The full essay is at "CSR and Corporate Governance Reform."

[1] Dawn Lim, Steven Russolillo, and Jing Yang, “At BlackRock, Public Firings, Overseas Probe Send Message About Office Misbehavior,” The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2020.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Judaism and Christianity on Climate Change

First Reformed (2017) contains fundamental ideas concerning the human condition and wrestles with the relationship between religion and politics.  Ideas play a significant role in the film, hence it can be used in support of the thesis that film is a viable medium in which to make philosophical (and theological) ideas transparent and derive dramatic tension from clashing ideas. In this film, the ideas that clash concern the role of religion in the political issue of climate change—or is that issue primarily religious?

The full essay is at "First Reformed."

Brexit as a Contribution to Political Development

Britain’s secession from the E.U. was, I submit, based on a reaction within the state against it having given up some of its sovereignty to the European Union. The American states too were originally (i.e., from 1776) fully sovereign until they gave up some limited (i.e., enumerated) sovereignty to the federal level in 1789. In 1861, South Carolina, like Britain, also sought to secede based on the view that too much sovereignty had been transferred. Unlike the UK, however, SC (and then the other seceding states) resorted to force. Although the process of Britain’s secession was arduous, I submit that South Carolina and federal officials had been excessively rigid. Even though the “dual sovereignty” of the European and American federal systems is perpetual, only the E.U. allows for peaceful secession. This evinces a step forward in the political development of federalism. Both a federal union and a strongly anti-federalist state are better off with secession being possible, especially if the process is peaceful. Europe deserves to be congratulated, and America would do well in taking a lesson in order to benefit from the advance. Peaceful secession can be done in a federal system of dual (i.e., federal and state) sovereignty.

The full essay is at "Congratulations to Europe!"

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Senate Trial of President Trump: Riddled with Conflicts of Interest

At the beginning of a U.S. Senate trial on whether to remove an impeached U.S. president from office, the senators take an oath to be impartial jurists. The impartiality is important because the senators are theoretically to listen to the partial U.S. House prosecuting managers and the president’s defense lawyers. Were the senators themselves partial, they would simply reflect the two sides that make their respective cases. In the trial of Donald Trump, I submit that few if any senators had any intention of being impartial and thus as serving as a jurist rather than as an extension of the prosecutors or defense. In effect, the verdict is left to whichever political party controls the Senate. I contend that having the Senate try presidents is problematic due to conflicts of interest.

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

Sunday, January 26, 2020

National Absurditas

Words can be stretched, or even abused, in the service of a self-serving ideology that is utterly unfair to other people as well as stubborn facts. Nietzsche theorized that ideas are the stuff of instinctual urges tussling for supremacy in the human mind. Against Kant’s love of the fixed laws of reason for their own sake, I submit that Nietzsche’s tussle of ideas can bend even the laws of reason, like the gravity of large masses can bend space (and thus light) and time. The basic framework of the universe is not static. Neither, I believe, are the rules of reason, and reasoning itself. Intense power, such as that of an ideology, can warp both the basic framework and process of reason. This can explain why ideologues can be seen by others to suffer from cognitive dissidence: holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time. A defense mechanism of ideology can block awareness of one of the two. Self-serving applications of the word, national, is a case in point.

The full essay is at "National Absurdity."