Category : Corporations/Corporate Life

(FT) How business is capitalising on the millennial Instagram obsession

The tables at the Tsubaki Salon are slightly wobbly. No more than a couple of millimetres off kilter, but enough to be noticeable.

This is puzzling because, in all other respects, this highest of high-end pancake houses, nestling among the haute-couture flagships of Tokyo’s Ginza district and fitted out in bracingly minimalist decor, is perfection. The plates and cups are the definition of Japanese ceramic elegance. The spindly handled spoons and forks have been created by one of the country’s most famous designers to fit the pinnacle of pancake Epicureanism. When it comes to the edible stars of the show — made using a complex technique — they too, in the view of the pancake cognoscenti, are flawless.

But what about that wobble? “It’s deliberate,” says Yukari Mori, nudging the table a little to demonstrate that even this imperfection is perfection. “They were designed this way to show off what makes these pancakes so good.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Japan, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology, Young Adults

(NA) Adam White–Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The U.S. Government

AS Haley on the Ongoing South Carolina Episcopal Church litigation mess–“O, What a Tangled Web We Weave . . .”

Thus two of the Justices viewed this case as one in which the civil courts should “defer” to the “ecclesiastical authorities” — even though South Carolina is a “neutral principles” State, in which “deference” has no role! — while the third reaches his result based “strictly applying neutral principles of law.” Two of them simply “reverse” the decision below (and one only in part), while only Justice Hearn declares the whole kit and caboodle to belong to her own denomination.

The first two Justices would thus have overruled the leading South Carolina neutral principles case, All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, but two votes do not suffice for that. They would have required a third vote to overrule that decision, and they never obtained that third vote. So the neutral principles doctrine of All Saints Waccamaw stands unchanged.

Nor did Justice Hearn get any other Justice to buy into her “constructive trust” rationale (unless Justice Pleicones may be said to have done so by “joining” in her opinion). But that was not a ground urged on appeal by ECUSA or its rump diocese — so Justice Hearn gratuitously inserted her views on an issue that was not properly before the Court.

Finally, only two of the Justices (Hearn and Beatty) mentioned Camp Christopher — the retreat property that belongs not to any one parish, but to the Diocese itself. The Dennis Canon does not apply to the property of a diocese, and so it cannot be used to transfer ownership. For Justice Hearn, “deference” requires that result, while for Chief Justice Beatty, the result follows from the fact that he cannot see how Bishop Lawrence’s Diocese is the “successor” to the diocese that owned the property before the lawsuit began. (But the Diocese did not go anywhere — it is still the same South Carolina religious corporation it always was. So how can there be any question of whether a Diocese can “succeed” itself? The Chief Justice went out on a limb, and no one joined him.)

An even bigger problem for Judge Goodstein on remand, however, is how she should regard the opinion of Justice Hearn, who belatedly recused herself due to a (presumed) perception of a conflict of interest. (You think?) Which is to say, she never should have participated in the case to begin with.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Church History, Corporations/Corporate Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, State Government

(Marketplace) The CEO of Reddit: “We are not the thought police … but we do care about how you behave”

Steve Huffman: So Reddit is a network of communities. We have communities that cover pretty much any topic imaginable. Stuff you would recognize, you know, news, sports, politics, internet culture, memes, you know, what’s going on and things you might not find elsewhere online. And we also have a pretty deep network and support community, so places you might go when you’re having difficult times in life — whether you’re going through a divorce or maybe struggling with addiction. Reddit, globally, is a place where you can find community and belonging.

David Brancaccio: So some profound things, a lot of profound things, a lot of sort of silly little things.

Huffman: Yes. And people come to Reddit for a variety of different reasons, right? You might come to get your daily dose and see what’s going on today. You might come because you have five minutes and you need a few laughs, or you might come because, hey, you need support and help and camaraderie, and we deal in that, too.

Brancaccio: It is actually how some of my own offspring get their news. They get it from Reddit. You know, “I saw on Reddit,” and it’s actual news — a link to a news story, and there it is.

Huffman: Quite a bit of people get their news from Reddit.

Brancaccio: All right, but there’s a lot of speech because of all these topics, and some of it is stuff that none of us wants to see. Sometimes it’s racist. You have a sense that people should say pretty much what they want on Reddit, just they can’t do anything. It’s the behavior that you’re focused on.

Huffman: Exactly. So Reddit is a very broad place and we see pretty much — we think of ourselves in many respects as a reflection of humanity. But just like in humanity, there is a darker side in this, people who say things that might be offensive or fringe. And the way we think about that is trying to draw a line between behavior and beliefs. We are not the thought police. We don’t want to control what you believe, but we do care about how you behave. So for example: Our content policies prohibit spam inciting violence, harassing and bullying. Those things are, I think, objective behaviors that we don’t want to see on the site.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

(Bloomberg) Google Is Training Machines to Predict When a Patient Will Die

A woman with late-stage breast cancer came to a city hospital, fluids already flooding her lungs. She saw two doctors and got a radiology scan. The hospital’s computers read her vital signs and estimated a 9.3 percent chance she would die during her stay.

Then came Google’s turn. An new type of algorithm created by the company read up on the woman — 175,639 data points — and rendered its assessment of her death risk: 19.9 percent. She passed away in a matter of days.

The harrowing account of the unidentified woman’s death was published by Google in May in research highlighting the health-care potential of neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence software that’s particularly good at using data to automatically learn and improve. Google had created a tool that could forecast a host of patient outcomes, including how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of re-admission and chances they will soon die.

What impressed medical experts most was Google’s ability to sift through data previously out of reach: notes buried in PDFs or scribbled on old charts. The neural net gobbled up all this unruly information then spat out predictions. And it did it far faster and more accurately than existing techniques. Google’s system even showed which records led it to conclusions.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Recode) Designer babies are just one example of the ethical dilemmas faced by the genomics industry

We could live in a future world where people pick and choose the traits their babies have, but it may not be the right thing to do.

It’s just one of the many ethical dilemmas that Francis deSouza, CEO of genomics testing company Illumina, who was interviewed by CNBC’s Christina Farr Wednesday at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. llumina sells DNA sequencing technology to companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com.

“There was a wealthy industrialist mogul from Silicon Valley who was curious about designer babies for him and his partner,” said deSouza. “With that much power, there are lots of questions that we will have to address about what it means to be human.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Theology

([London) Times) Google dreams up future of manipulating everyone

Google has imagined a future where it uses enormous quantities of data it collects on individuals to manipulate their behaviour and achieve “desired results” for the whole species.

In a leaked video from the company’s secretive X research division, the narrator cites Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene and depicts Google’s data as a “selfish ledger” which treats users as “transient carriers” or “survival mechanisms” for valuable data.

He says that the ledger could move beyond a passive record to actively influence people’s actions, in line with Google’s “values”. If Google didn’t have enough data on a particular user its algorithms would identify a suitable “smart” product to sell him or her to gather that data.

Google dismissed the video as a “thought experiment” unrelated to any present or future plans. However, analysts said that the dystopian future it painted was plausible. Similar ideas can be found in some of the firm’s patent applications, including one for “detecting and correcting potential errors in user behaviour”.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Psychology, Science & Technology

FT: Executives who ignore their own health are in no position to lead

I recently asked a trio of entrepreneurs what they wished they had known before they set out on the path to leadership.

Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, who now heads Thrive Global, which aims to end the “stress and burnout epidemic”, told me: “I wish I knew what I discovered the hard way in 2007 when I collapsed from exhaustion . . . That [it is a] delusion that in order to succeed we have to be always on.”

“I wish somebody would have told me how hard it is,” said Anna Skaya, chief executive of Basepaws, which is building a database of feline DNA.

“There are obstacles all the time. All the time,” added designer Diane von Furstenberg, who heads the eponymous fashion group. “Listen, I have a lot of energy . . . That doesn’t mean that I don’t wake up thinking like I’m a total loser, [even] now.”

It probably takes a successful entrepreneur-founder to admit such truths. Even in a world where there is increasing acknowledgment of the dangers of workplace stress, this kind of leadership lesson is only rarely taught in business schools, still less by leadership manuals of the “five ways to be awesome” variety.

Yet this understanding of the many hurdles facing any leader is embedded in the 3,000-year-old Judeo-Christian culture of teaching about how to lead, according to Steven Croft, the Anglican Bishop of Oxford….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology

Fuller Seminary President Dr. Mark Labberton’s recent Address at the Wheaton Gathering–The Crisis of Evangelicalism

Only the Spirit “who is in the world to convict us of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) can bring us to clarity about the crisis we face.  As I have sought that conviction, here is what I have come to believe: The central crisis facing us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been betrayed and shamed by an evangelicalism that has violated its own moral and spiritual integrity.

This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within.  The core of the crisis is not specifically about Trump, or Hillary, or Obama, or the electoral college, or Comey, or Mueller, or abortion, or LGBTQIA+ debates, or Supreme Court appointees. Instead the crisis is caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake. Now on public display is an indisputable collusion between prominent evangelicalism and many forms of insidious racist, misogynistic, materialistic, and political power. The wind and the rain and the floods have come, and, as Jesus said, they will reveal our foundation.  In this moment for evangelicalism, what the storms have exposed is a foundation not of solid rock but of sand.

This is not a crisis taking place at the level of language. This is not about who owns or defines the term “evangelical,” and whether one does—or does not—choose to identify as such.  It is legitimate and important to debate if and how the term “evangelical” can currently be used in the United States to mean anything more than white, theologically and politically conservative. But that is not itself the crisis. The crisis is not at the level of our lexicon, but of our lives and a failure to embody the gospel we preach.  We may debate whether the word “evangelical” can or should be redeemed. But what we must deal with is the current bankruptcy many associate with evangelical life.

This is not a crisis unfolding at the level of group allegiance, denomination, or affiliation.  The varied reality that is American evangelicalism is evidenced in this room.  We have no formal hierarchy, leadership, or structure and form no single organization, but are sorted and divided today as we have been—for better and worse—for much of our history.  Some might wish for a clearer distinction between those who call themselves fundamentalist and those who call themselves evangelical. We might look to varying traditions or geographies to explain our division. These distinctions matter but can easily devolve into scapegoating or blaming, diverting us from our vocation as witness to God’s love for a multifaceted world.

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one.  We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.  We are not naïve in our doctrine of sin that prefers self over all, but we have failed to recognize our own guilt in it.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Church History, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Theology

NYMag talks to VR pioneer Jaron Lanier on Silicon Valley–‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong’

In November, you told Maureen Dowd that it’s scary and awful how out of touch Silicon Valley people have become. It’s a pretty forward remark. I’m kind of curious what you mean by that.

To me, one of the patterns we see that makes the world go wrong is when somebody acts as if they aren’t powerful when they actually are powerful. So if you’re still reacting against whatever you used to struggle for, but actually you’re in control, then you end up creating great damage in the world. Like, oh, I don’t know, I could give you many examples. But let’s say like Russia’s still acting as if it’s being destroyed when it isn’t, and it’s creating great damage in the world. And Silicon Valley’s kind of like that.

We used to be kind of rebels, like, if you go back to the origins of Silicon Valley culture, there were these big traditional companies like IBM that seemed to be impenetrable fortresses. And we had to create our own world. To us, we were the underdogs and we had to struggle. And we’ve won. I mean, we have just totally won. We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. We’ve disrupted absolutely everything. Politics, finance, education, media, relationships — family relationships, romantic relationships — we’ve put ourselves in the middle of everything, we’ve absolutely won. But we don’t act like it.

We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness having won. We’re still acting as if we’re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know?

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT) Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match

As Facebook pushes into developing countries, it tends to be initially received as a force for good.

In Sri Lanka, it keeps families in touch even as many work abroad. It provides for unprecedented open expression and access to information. Government officials say it was essential for the democratic transition that swept them into office in 2015.

But where institutions are weak or undeveloped, Facebook’s newsfeed can inadvertently amplify dangerous tendencies. Designed to maximize user time on site, it promotes whatever wins the most attention. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, produce the highest engagement, and so proliferate.

In the Western countries for which Facebook was designed, this leads to online arguments, angry identity politics and polarization. But in developing countries, Facebook is often perceived as synonymous with the internet and reputable sources are scarce, allowing emotionally charged rumors to run rampant. Shared among trusted friends and family members, they can become conventional wisdom.

And where people do not feel they can rely on the police or courts to keep them safe, research shows, panic over a perceived threat can lead some to take matters into their own hands — to lynch.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Buddhism, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture, Sri Lanka

(NYT) Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit

“It has taken a long, long time to get anyone to pay attention to this issue and take it seriously,” said Luke Montagu, a media entrepreneur and co-founder of the London-based Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry, which pushed for Britain’s review of prescription drug addiction and dependence.

“You’ve got this huge parallel community that’s emerged, largely online, in which people are supporting each other though withdrawal and developing best practices largely without the help of doctors,” he said.

Dr. Stockmann, the psychiatrist in East London, wasn’t entirely convinced withdrawal was a serious issue before he went through it himself. His microtapering strategy finally worked.

“There was a really significant moment,” he recalled. “I was walking down near my house, past a forest, and I suddenly realized I could feel the full range of emotions again. The birds were louder, the colors more vivid — I was happy.”

“I have seen lots of people — patients — not being believed, not taken seriously when they complained about this,” he added. “That has to stop.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Theology

Rod Dreher–Is Christianity Too Violent For Facebook?

Let’s give Facebook’s nameless content editor credit: he or she may well understand the Crucifixion more truly than do Christians for whom the murder of the incarnate God on a cross has gone from being a scandal to a banality. Facebook is right: the image is shocking, sensational, and excessively violent, because that’s what a crucifixion is! Yesterday in his Palm Sunday sermon (we Orthodox Christians observe Easter a week later this year), my priest said, “We don’t spend this week saying, ‘Those Jews did that to Our Lord.’ We spend it accusing ourselves. We did it to Christ. Every time we sin, we crucify Him. This is on us.” He’s right about that. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded how much He suffered in His body to liberate us from death. What the San Damiano Cross depicts is a murder. But for Christians, it also depicts the defeat of all murder and death, and the necessary prelude to eternal life for all. As we Orthodox sing on Pascha (Easter): “Christ is risen from the dead/Trampling down death by death/And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

A Christian culture would know that for the people who revere this symbol, they are looking at an image of death’s defeat, and of eternal life.

But we are no longer a Christian culture, and are becoming less so by the day.

This incident is alarming because of what it reveals about the kind of world that Christians are going to live in. Facebook is one of the most powerful media companies on the planet. If it decides that it will not approve Christian content because it finds that content violent, bigoted, or what have you, then that will have a tremendous potential effect, not only on the ability of Christians to communicate, but (more importantly) on shaping the way the Christian faith is regarded widely in this post-Christian culture.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Media, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Boston Globe) Niall Ferguson–George Orwell would be awed by Facebook’s Surveillance Tools

As with Google, it was advertising that made Facebook money. The crucial difference was that Google simply helped people find the things they had already decided to buy, whereas Facebook enabled advertisers to deliver targeted messages to users, tailored to meet the preferences they had already revealed through their Facebook activity. Once ads were seamlessly inserted into users’ News Feeds on the Facebook mobile phone app, the company was on the path to vast profits, propelled forward by the explosion of smartphone usage.

The smartphone is our telescreen. And, thanks to it, Big Zucker is watching you — night and day, wherever you go. Unlike the telescreen, your phone is always with you. Unlike the telescreen, it can read your thoughts, predicting your actions before you even carry them out. It’s just that Big Zucker’s 24/7 surveillance isn’t designed to maintain a repressive regime. It’s just designed to make money.

The only law of history is the law of unintended consequences. Is anyone — apart from Zuckerberg, that is — really surprised that, during the seven-year period when app developers had free access to Facebook users’ data, unscrupulous people downloaded as much as they could? Do we seriously believe that Cambridge Analytica are the only people who did this? Can you give me one good reason why, after Barack Obama and his minions smugly boasted about their use of Facebook in his 2012 reelection campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign was not entitled to try similar methods four years later?

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(FT) Shell faces push from shareholders, among whom is the Church of England, on climate change goals

…climate activists are disputing Shell’s claim that its goal is in line with the Paris agreement — the 2015 international pact aimed at limiting global temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

“The ambitions announced by Shell are inconsistent with the Paris agreement, in particular when taking into account expected global energy demand growth,” said Mark van Baal of Follow This, the shareholder group that has submitted a resolution calling for more aggressive targets.

Activists point to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, which advise governments on climate change and energy policy, that an absolute reduction in carbon emissions of 60-65 per cent would be required by 2050 to fulfil the Paris agreement.

Moreover, they say that Shell’s goal for a 50 per cent reduction would be only 25 per cent in absolute terms if the group maintains its share of a global energy market that is forecast to grow by 50 per cent by 2050.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stock Market