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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Apple’s CEO Manufactures a Human Right

People with disabilities represented 19% of the U.S. population in 2015—exactly 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became a federal law.[1] With computer technology being by then integral to daily life, the matter of accessibility came to the fore under the normative principle of equal, or universal, access. With major tech companies getting behind this banner, one question is whether they did so simply to sell more computers and software—better access translating into more customers. I contend that the stronger the normative claim being made, the greater the exploitation of the underlying conflict of interest.

The full essay is at “Apple’s CEO.”

[1]IOD Report Finds Significant Health Disparities for People with Disabilities,” Institute on Disability/UCED, August 25, 2011.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Management: Helping vs. Controlling

I submit that subordinates typically view managers as having control issues—by which I mean that managers tend to be obsessed with maintaining control. The pathology because really bad when the manager would rather have a project fail than give up control. Lest it be thought that management as control is intrinsic to managerial capitalism, an alternative approach proffers a way out.

The full essay is at “Management: Helping vs. Controlling.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager

The functional managerial role in modern business is weak by Nietzsche’s standard. That is to say, a manager is of the vulgar rather than of noble strength. After highlighting Nietzsche's project more generally, I discuss his notions of strength and weakness. I then delineate Nietzsche’s attitudes toward wealth, trade and modern industrial culture—the immediate context for his concept of the modern business manager. I argue that Nietzsche views this context as decadent. Within this framework, Nietzsche’s rendering of the primordial commercial relationship can be taken as his genealogy of the modern business manager. Finally, I describe the modern business manager as akin to the ascetic priest in being a herd animal desperately seeking to dominate the herd and, presumptuously, even the strong.   

The full essay is at "A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager."

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Planned Chinese Supercity Hinging on Technology

A Kansas-sized supercity of 82,000 square miles and 130 million people, with Beijing at the center, is in the vanguard of economic reform, Liu Gang said from Nankai University in mid-2015.[1] Six times the size of New York City’s metropolitan area, the planned regional economy would require nothing short of a feat of urban planning. The economic synergy anticipated from the planned integration is the main benefit. The sheer scale alone presents its own challenges, however, and the complexity in coordinating the various shifts of people and services suggests that unintended excesses and shortages will demand immediate action. Even so, I contend that the application of technology will make or break the viability of the anticipated supercity.

The full essay is at "A Planned Chinese Supercity."

[1] Ian Johnson, “Pain and Hope as China Molds Its Capital into New Supercity,” The New York Times, July 20, 2015.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Boys from Brazil

Josef Mengele, an SS physician infamous for his inhumane medical experimentation on prisoners at Auschwitz, is in this film a character intent on furnishing the 95 Hitlers he has cloned with Hitler’s own background. Crucially, Hitler’s father died at 65. So too, Mengele, reasons, must the adoptive fathers of the boy Hitlers. Otherwise, they might not turn out like Hitler. The ethics of Mengele’s task—killing 95 innocent 65 year-olds—is clear. When Ezra Lieberman stops Mengele in his tracks, the question turns to the ethics of killing the 95 boys so none of them will grow up to be another Hitler. This is a much more interesting ethical question, and the narrative—and film as a medium, moreover—would be fuller had the script been deepened to make the question, and thus the ethical and ontological dimensions, transparent for the viewers.

The full essay is at "The Boys from Brazil."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Prey Hunted by and Helping a Predator

Above: A human prey in water barely fends off a shark attack during a surfing competition.

Below: Human prey have the upper hand, and upper ground, in helping this Great White shark beached in Cape Cod.

Is it as simple as the shark having the upper fin in the water and the human having the upper hand on land? The symmetry does not extend, however, to going beyond killing, for only the human feels and can act on compassion. To save an animal that could quite literally turn around and bite the person in the ass is either extremely foolish or incredibly selfless, or perhaps a little of both. If foolish only, the shark comes off looking superior, but if a value beyond mere survival is invoked, such as in the notion of agape, or self-emptying love, then the human being can rightly claim superiority. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The American-Iranian Agreement: Moving Mankind Past War

In an epoch of technological development, the relative dearth of political development as concerns international relations has been evident. In June 2015, Pope Francis advocated the establishment of a global institution having governmental sovereignty with which to combat the human contribution to climate change. Such a political development would be significant, given the long-standing default of sovereign nation-states and unions thereof. In July 2015, U.S. President Barak Obama announced an agreement with Iran that would keep that nation-state from develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. Just three years earlier, war had seemed unavoidable. I submit that Obama’s accomplishment can be thought of as a step toward rendering war itself as obsolete, or at least perceiving it as a primitive means of resolving disputes internationally. More subtly, the feat makes the sheer distance between the premises of war and those of diplomacy transparent. Paradoxically, this insight implies just how difficult a shift from a war-default to one that takes war as obsolete must be.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pope Francis on the World’s Economy Idolizing Profit

During his trip to South America in July 2015, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders to seek a new economic model to help the poor, and to shun policies that "sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit."[1] This line reminds me of the ancient Greco-Roman religious practice of sacrificing animals on altars just outside temples dedicated to particular deities. Doubtless no thought went into the animals’ suffering. In the Jewish Bible, God spares Isaac just before Abraham implements Yahweh’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, Abraham constructs an altar for the purpose. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is sacrificed on an altar, which typically doubles as a table given the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper. This sacrificed lamb personifies God as agape, or selfless divine love, which manifests as benevolentia universalis, or neighbor-love. Sacrificing the needs of others is antipodal to serving them; hence the Roman Catholic pope’s preachment. Missing, however, was the subtle bias within Christian theology ironically in favor of money.   

[1] Philip Pullella and Daniela Desantis, “Pope Francis Condemns Corruption and ‘Unbridled Capitalism,’ in South America,” Reuters, July 12, 2015.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Greek Proposal on the Heels of the Referendum on Austerity: A Case of Avoidable Betrayal

Only days after appealing to the will of the people, Greece’s prime minister put forward a proposal to the state’s creditors that contradicts the people’s rejection of further austerity. To be sure, the referendum was nonbinding, and the need for compromise was well justified by the seizing up of the state’s banking system and economy after the “No” vote. Furthermore, one of the virtues of representative as distinct from direct democracy is that officeholders can pursue policies contrary to the immediate will of the people but in line with their best interest. Alexis Tsipras faced immanent economic catastrophe, and so he can reasonably be credited with acting in his constituents’ best interest. Nevertheless, the sting of betrayal (and the larger theoretical point of governmental sovereignty being subordinate to popular sovereignty) warrants attention in this case.

The full essay is at “The Greek Proposal.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Property Rights in China: On the Separation of Ownership and Control in the Stock Market

It is too simplistic to say that economies around the world converged as capitalistic after the collapse of the Soviet command-and-control economy. Even the notion that China’s communist party has embraced capitalism does not do justice to the ways in which China’s capitalist system is unique. This became particularly apparent in early July 2015, when the bubble burst in the Chinese stock market.

The full essay is at “Property Rights in China.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

On the Arrogance of Incompetence: The President of Pride, San Francisco

Beginning the evening of day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states—which is equivalent to the European Court of Justice making gay marriage legal in all of the E.U. states—San Francisco’s 2015 gay-pride festival showcased a rally on Castro Street wherein local civic leaders touted the decision, followed by a Saturday “Pink Party” in the Castro area and the weekend festival in downtown San Francisco, which included a seven-hour parade on the Sunday. Along with the gay film festival and the ticket-only (up to $120) parties in clubs and warehouses, the festivities brought a lot of money into the city. As a bystander for all but the parties, and a marcher in a charitable organization at the parade, I could not help but conclude that even by non-business standards the organizers could have done much better. Meeting the president of Pride by accident a few days later, I was stunned by his assumption that feedback, and by implication, improvements, were not needed. It was a case of arrogance that can’t be wrong in a position of organizational authority. In this essay, I point to some rather obvious ways the organizers fell short or went too far, and I relate these to my brief exchange with the head of San Francisco Pride.

During the Pride festival in San Francisco, a pink triangle, used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals, is displayed overlooking the Castro district of the city. (Source: Gaelen G. at foursquare.com)

The full essay is at “San Francisco Pride.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court on Gay Marriage: A Natural Right Deemed Fundamental over Opposing Ideology

On the day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lamented that "the United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist. In so doing, the court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live."[1] Is it not self-evident, however, that deniers of a right newly recognized would view it as manufactured in the sense of being artificial? Presumably the right of free speech is not artificial, even though it is laid out on parchment rather than a natural right sans governmental recognition. In recognizing same-sex marriage as a right under the U.S. Constitution, the high court followed in the tradition wherein rights presuppose government. Even so, the Court’s justification arguably implies that the right is natural in the fullest sense—that is, being valid even in the state of nature even if political, moral, or religious ideology objects under juridical garb.

The full essay is at “Gay Marriage Decision.”

1. Ken Paxton, Opinion No. KP-0025, June 28, 2015.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Greek Referendum on Creditor Demands: Orchestrated Impediments to Reaching the People

On June 27, 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum on whether Greece should accept additional austerity in the form of tax increases and pension cuts as demanded by the state’s creditors. Putting the ultimatum from lenders to a popular vote translates into political theory as governmental sovereignty—the portion retained by the E.U. state—voluntarily submitting to the popular sovereign, which is the more fundamental sovereignty in any democracy. “Our responsibility is for the future of our country. This responsibility obliges us to respond to the ultimatum through the sovereign will of the Greek people,” Tsipras said in a televised address.[1] More abstractly, deferring to the people on a major policy question is the responsibility, or duty, of any democratically-elected government. Sadly, few heads of government and legislatures even acknowledge this duty, let alone act on it. In this essay, I address the Greek case as a way of illustrating a few of the drawbacks of appealing to popular sovereignty through a referendum, while still holding that the duty itself is valid. I contend in particular that Tsipras’s Greek opponents, E.U. officials, and the state’s lenders (through government officials in other E.U. states) intentionally sought quite disrespectfully to manipulate Greece’s popular sovereign by distorting the question on the referendum to get a “yes,” or “oxi” result. That is, federal and state officials in the E.U. sought to scare and confuse the popular sovereign of one state—bullying, in effect, the basis of democracy itself for power and money.

Greece's PM Tsipras looking rather fatigued after meetings on the bailout. (John Thys AFP/Getty)

The full essay is at "A Greek Referendum."

1. Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou, “Greece’s PM Tsipras Calls Referendum on Bailout Deal,” The Huffington Post, June 26, 2015.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pope Francis on Climate Change: The Mutually-Reinforcing Impacts of Power, Wealth, and Culture

Writing in 2015, Pope Francis addressed the problem of climate change and suggested what he, or the Vatican more broadly, considered to be necessary systemic changes on the road to recovery. In the encyclical, the patient may be human nature itself—specifically, its self-destructive propensity and trait of power-aggrandizement. In other words, we had lost control of our built-up (i.e., artificial) societal systems and structures, which could wind up strangling us in their protection of the status quo. In this essay, I discuss the Pope’s portrayal of the problem of climate change from the standpoints of culture, power, and wealth. I then address the feasibility of the Pope’s prescription.

The full essay is at “Pope Francis on Climate Change.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On Reaching Water Sufficiency: Can California Learn from Israel?

As California faced its fourth year of an extreme drought in 2015, Californians could have done worse than look at Israel’s ten-year completed effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and recycle wastewater.  The sustained investments provided Israel “with enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts.”[1] If only California’s officials could say the same. Rather than deprive the Israelis of the opportunity to instruct the Californians, I want to point to the subtle role of basis-of-comparison as undermining the California end.

The full essay is at "On the Comparability of the E.U. & U.S."

1. Isabel Kershner, “Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought,” The New York Times, May 29, 2015.