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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.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

San Francisco’s Gay Film Festival: Infected with a Dysfunctional Organizational Culture

Attitude can make or break a film festival from within. I'm referring to organizational culture here, and the impact it can have on volunteering. Being in San Francisco and having seen few gay films, I volunteered at Frameline39, San Francisco’s LGBT’s annual film festival in June 2015. What I found was abject selfishness manifesting as rigid arrogance and utter disrespect. 

The full essay is at “San Francisco’s Gay Film Festival.”

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.

Ethnic Groupings in the European Parliament: A Function of Rhetoric

L’extreme droit a formé un autre parti fédéral. The anti-E.U. party officially announced on June 16, 2015, is named “Europe of Nations and Freedoms.” A label can say a lot about a party’s principles. In this case, the overriding point is that the E.U. is supranational. That is to say, the Union is an international organization. Closely behind is the secondary point that freedom resides at the national level, otherwise known as the level of the states. Even though the supporting state parties were at the time typically labeled as extreme—the extreme right—the main-stream media in the E.U. reporting on the new party used rhetoric subtly undergirding the principles.

Le Pen and Wilders toasting their new ethnic group in the European Parliament (Source: G. Wilders)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dish Network and the U.S. Government Dominating Colorado: A Court Ruling on Marijuana

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on June 15, 2015 that Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who had been fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using the drug while at home and off-duty, was not protected under the state's "lawful activities statute." According to the Court, “Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to 14 those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees 15 who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law 16 but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”[1] This reasoning seems pretty solid, though if we unpack use and consult with the company’s own rationale, the case is considerably messier. In fact, the problem may reside with the American federal system itself, in which case an erroneous judicial decision could be expected.

The complete essay is at “Dish Network and the U.S. Government.”

[i] No. 13SC394, Coats v. Dish Network, June 15, 2015.

The Sound of Music: Marital Roles and Inner Transformations

Fifty years after the film’s initial release in 1965, viewers of The Sound of Music could measure the imprint of the women’s movement of the 1970s by how very different—antiquated actually—the film is in terms of marital roles. Whether Liesl in the first half of the film or Maria in the second, their acceptance of the dominance of husbands over wives stood out like a blade of grass needing to be cut in 2015 for all but a minority of viewers. Yet the internal changes that Maria and the Captain have the courage to undergo resonate in any age, being so much a part of human nature, as distinct from sociological artifacts.

The full essay is at “The Sound of Music.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Zuckerberg Syndrome; San Francisco as the Epicenter

It is difficult enough diagnosing a dysfunctional culture in a large corporation—imaging having a large American city as a de facto patient. Not that I had any idea what treatment could possibly cure a social-psychological disease when I was in San Francisco. I, like so many other new-comers there, temporary or permanent, got the sense after only a few weeks that something was very wrong in the way people were interacting there. As a corporate man in his late twenties from L.A. remarked after just ten days in the city, “The people here are very rude.” As he described the particular behavior pattern, I was stunned; it matched what had taken a month for me to discern. This began my curiosity as to the dysfunctional culture undergirding the wholesale lack of manners, and, more particularly, how it is that a distinct mentality or value-set and behavioral trait can show up in so many individuals.

What lies beneath the clouds is not necessarily visible from above. (Jeff Chiu of AP)

The full essay is at “San Francisco.” 

Friday, June 5, 2015

American and European Federalism: A Critique of Rick Perry’s Book, "Fed Up!"

In his book, Fed Up! Governor Rick Perry of Texas provides a basis for viewing the states of the U.S. as equivalent to the E.U.’s member-states. All of these states are semi-sovereign, as they have all transferred some governmental sovereignty to federal institutions. This implies that the E.U. and U.S. are commensurate. I contend that both are instances of empire-level and scale federal systems in which the federal level is both international and national in nature. This distinguishes both unions from international organizations on the one hand, and the state governments on the other.

The full essay is at "American and European Federalism."

The Age of Adaline: Death as No Longer Inevitable

In The Age of Adaline (2015), the age-old “fountain of youth” leitmotif springs forth yet again. In this incarnation, Adaline is forced to come to grips with the fact that everyone around her, including her daughter, is aging even as Adaline herself does not. A strong electromagnetic has altered her genes such that her cells do not divide at slower rates as they age. As she becomes aware of the repercussions, we in turn can marvel at what may be just decades away scientifically concerning the expected human life-span. In short, when the film came out, scientists were already openly discussing whether death itself may no longer be inevitable for human beings.

The full essay is at “The Age of Adaline.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Americans on How Political Campaigns Are Funded: A Black Hole in the Center of the Political System

Considering the widening cultural and political divides in American society that were on full display in Congress during the first half of the 2010s, uncovering a general will stretching across partisan lines as well as across a the continent and beyond would proffer a rare opportunity for significant legislative output. Furthermore, such a case would enable us to assess whether the elected representatives of the People were indeed representing, and, if so, whom. That is to say, the political distance between the People and their political class could be measured. I contend as respecting the stance of the People on money in politics and public governance, much unity and, unfortunately, much distance can be discerned, at least as of the end of May 2015 when a New York Times/CBS News telephone-poll was taken.

A Rockefeller Republican turned populist? (Getty Images)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

FIFA’s Corporate Sponsors: Reliable Ethical Change-Agents?

In the wake of the U.S. Justice Department’s initial arrests of FIFA officials in May 2015 on corruption charges, could the public reasonably expect FIFA’s corporate sponsors to pressure the international governing body of footfall (soccer in the U.S., where “football” is reserved for “subconcussions being inherent to a sport”)? If so, would the pressure be sufficient to rid the powerful international organization of its squalid officials and practices? I contend that these questions come down to how the power was divided at the time between the sponsors and the organization, rather than to the sponsors’ respective ethical positions or even how strongly the executives feel about ethics in business, including FIFA. 

The full essay is at "FIFA's Corporate Sponsors."

Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Nature of Entrenched Power: FIFA’s President Ensconced in Corruption

In May 2015, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was “shocking FIFA like an earthquake,” according to the European newspaper, Das Bild.[1] She was leading “an American-led takedown of corruption in FIFA,” the Federation Internationale de Football Association, which oversees the sport of football, or soccer as it is known in the U.S., globally.[2] With great power comes resounding responsibility. When the head of an organization goes after the corruption-fighters rather than admitting to error at the very least in having presided over allegedly corrupt officials near the top—and in fact repeatedly dismisses calls to resign and not stand for re-election—the question becomes one of the intractability of squalid power, as if it were defying gravity—at least that of the ethical variety.
Sepp Blatter of FIFA, as if holding in all the bad news.
The full essay is at “Entrenched Power: FIFA

[1] Josh Gerstein, “For Loretta Lynch, A Stunning Debut on the World Stage,” Politico, May 28, 2015.
[2] Ibid.