Sunday, June 19, 2011

People are, at root, good?

You're probably familiar with the argument between conservative or traditional Christian theologians--who claim that, since the sin of Adam and Eve, human beings are and have been, at root, wicked or evil (the doctrine of Total Depravity; see, for example, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Isaiah 64:6, etc.)--and modernists ("post-Christians"?) who say the Christians have it all wrong: human beings are fundamentally good, our desires are, at root, for the kinds of things the French Revolution stood for--"liberty, equality, fraternity."

Evidence for the latter position may be found in documented cases of selfless concern for others shown in large outpourings of help to victims of floods, famines, earthquakes and tsunamis. Not to mention the voluntary cooperation one finds in the crowd funding and free software movements, for example.

But then the Christians respond with evidence from wars, the history of abuses in race relations and slavery, and so forth: "Is it not our natural bent to abuse others?"

One response to the Christian examples might involve an appeal to what is often suggested as a potential solution to so many problems: Obviously, these are social problems and the behavior is that of social conditioning. We need to change our methods and content of nurture. It's human nurture, not human nature, that has produced all these problems.


This morning I read an article about "the rule of law"--or lack thereof (or, from my perspective, really, about the mentality of too many people)--in Russia.

Coming from a country and culture in which equality before the law is highly valued, I am astonished at what I read . . . and what "just one" video proved to my sight.

Notes related to this video say it was shot by a camera in the center of Irkutsk, Russia, on Lenin street, on 2 December 2009. One of the pedestrians died, the other is paralysed. But what is most shocking to the sensibilities of this American: "Until this video appeared on the web, the Russian police had not questioned the driver - she is the daughter of prominent local politicians. The police tested the pedestrians for alcohol, but not the driver!"

Sometime last August, apparently, the driver was actually found guilty and sentenced for her crime: "Driving license suspended for 3 years." The judge also gave her 3 years in a correctional facility, "but she will only have to start serving her sentence in 2024 due to her being a mother now." (She was pregnant at the time of the accident and has a small son.)

But the real reason for such a verdict? The offender is "connected."

While you're watching the video, notice that--as one commenter pointed out--"the [driver] is more concerned about checking the damage to her car [than caring for the women she injured]." Moreover, pay attention to the behavior of the pedestrians and the person who opens the door of the building that this woman ran into.

Here in the United States, one would think or expect, people would rush to the aid of the victims. But, no . . .

"Is this normal behavior in Russia?" asks the commenter.

The article I read that, through a respondent's comment, led me to the video makes very clear: Yes, this is normal behavior in Russia. At least among a large number of wealthy or "important" people.

I urge you to read the article. I found it rather scary.

Warning--or . . . maybe I ought not to warn you.

Question: Nature . . . or nurture? Culture . . . or fundamental human character?

If this kind of mentality is fundamental human nature, then why do (most) Americans find it appalling? Is human nature somehow different here in the United States? If it is nurture, then why does it seem so common, when someone rises to wealth or power--no matter what his or her cultural or social background (i.e., nurture!) . . . --Why is it that the newly wealthy or newly powerful tend, almost unerringly, to enter into the kind of abusive mentality we read about and see here?


ETA 7:10AM 6/19/11: I just noticed that Non Sequitur this morning seems to carry this theme. Check it out.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Hilarious video with serious message

Pandora has featured this video in the past. I just saw it again yesterday for the first time in months.

I don't use Norton. I use McAfee and other firewall and security software. But the message is worth thinking about, even though the video makes it sound ridiculous: "Cybercriminals often steal small sums of money to avoid detection."

You can find "Heist" and more on the Norton Internet Security website. Keep clicking on "Allow" to see all four videos that take a humorous look at the very real problems of cyber crime (Bank of Nikolai, Shopping On Line, and Cyber Hunting). But there is a lot of very much more serious information available as well. Not to mention a sales message.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Homeowners foreclose on bank that wrongfully foreclosed on them

Their attorney called it "sweet justice." I think I would agree. (Where I would tend to disagree: The bank's foreclosure caused a whole lot more pain to the wrongfully foreclosed homeowners than did the homeowners' [legally correct] foreclosure upon the bank.)

Warren and Maureen Nyerges bought a home with cash, but a year later, Bank of America tried to foreclose on them. The Nyerges had to take the bank to court to get them to stop the foreclosure, and in December 2010, the judge agreed: the bank had wrongfully tried to foreclose on the Nyerges' home. He ordered the bank to pay the couple $2,500 to cover their attorney's fees.

Months later, however, the bank had still not paid, despite repeated requests from the Nyerges. So, eventually, the Nyerges hired a lawyer who pursued a levy, and on Friday, June 3, the lawyer, Todd Allen, went to the local Bank of America branch with the sheriff, the media and a moving truck.

"I'm either leaving the building with a whole bunch of furniture, or a check or cash or something," said Allen.

Hat tip to Mike Adams and Neev M. Arnell of Natural News and Eyder Peralta of NPR News.

Most complete report is at Naples (FL) News.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Walking on the thoughtful side

An acquaintance of mine, Robin Phillips, has written a more than intriguing article about a phenomenon that seems to be circling the globe: the so-called "Slutwalk."

The first Slutwalk, Phillips says, was held in Toronto on April 3 of this year.
The event began as a protest against comments made by Police constable, Michael Sanguinetti, back in January this year when he addressed a group of students at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He said, “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”
Oh, boy! Time for protest!
[F]eminists throughout the world have expressed concern that his comments were symptomatic of the pervasive assumption that men are not responsible for crimes of sexual violence against women. The organizers of Slutwalk have argued that sexual exploitation is never ok even when women dress immodestly.
Phillips notes that of course the victimizer or exploiter is responsible for his own actions.
PC Sanguinetti never suggested that the men who commit sexual crimes are not responsible for their actions. Nor has anyone claimed that when a man commits acts of violence against a woman that he is not responsible as long as the woman in question was dressed like a slut.
--Sorry, Phillips, I can "buy" your first comment about Sanguinetti; I am not at all convinced you are correct about the second point. Indeed, though (happily!) I have never been present for a rape case, from what I have read and heard, I understand the "she was asking for it by her dress" argument has often been used by defendants and defendants' counsel in such cases. It is my understanding that this type of "defense" is losing its appeal and so may be dying. But I am quite sure you are wrong about the idea that no one has "claimed that when a man commits acts of violence against a woman that he is not responsible as long as the woman in question was dressed like a slut."

Still. I found Phillips' next point rather thought-provoking, at least, and, possibly, bracing.
In any other area of criminal justice, it is generally accepted that people can do things to try to avoid being victimized. To say that shop keepers should lock their doors at night to decrease the chances of theft is not degrading to shop keepers, nor does it absolve burglars from responsibility. Or again, to say that it is sometimes prudent for those organizing youth events to insist that participants have a background check is not to degrade children nor does it absolve paedophiles from responsibility. In the same way, to say that women can decrease the chances of being victimized by dressing appropriately is neither to degrade women nor to absolve rapists from guilt.
Phillips goes on from there to discuss issues related to s*xual objectification on the one hand and the freedom to "celebrate" one's s*xuality on the other. And the more than intriguing, but, rather, disturbing thought--a thought that I'm not sure he develops adequately nor, therefore, completely believably--that the behavior of Slutwalk participants ("[In] the Toronto and Boston events, . . . scores of women dressed in bikinis, miniskirts and other minimalist outfits (some [went] completely topless)") presupposes a "narrative about the body" very much in line with "that which animates Muslim women who wear burqas."

Sadly, Phillips makes a number of typographical errors and mixes up his words here and there, thus obscuring his intended meaning. That may have something to do with why I found his proposed correlation between nakedness and burqas less than compelling.

Still, he raises several points worthy not only of thought, but of potential action. (Parents: Should you be talking with your children about these things? Young adults, do your own attitudes and/or behaviors need to change?)

Concerning parading down the street naked or nearly so, Phillips writes,
[A] woman’s sexual identity is negated by the attempt to disconnect how she appears from who . . . she is. . . . To pretend that walking down the street in hardly any clothes does not give off a message about sexual availability, is to functionally deny the fact that our bodies are sexually charged. It is to take something – namely, uncovered flesh – which is actually latent with erotic suggestion [-] and treat it instead as something merely common, without the respect and honor due to it. This implicitly denies a woman’s inherent sexuality. . . .

In the end, the path of the slut is less sexy than the modest alternatives. Those things which ought to be signifiers of sexuality, and therefore kept private, have been emptied of their meaning, having been turned into something tame, trivialized and humdrum. “Profane” best describes the resulting situation, given that the term originally meant “to treat as common.”

Thus, the Slutwalks are . . . encouraging the repression of female sexual identity in a way not dissimilar to the burqa. Both are attempting to say – albeit in opposite ways – that the body can be de-sexualized. Here again, Suzanne Moore’s article in the Guardian defending the Slutwalks is very instructive, since she testified to the process she went through as a slut of self-consciously denying the sexualized association of skimpy clothing.
Clothes are a vocabulary, and one that we hammered the meaning out of. We took the signs of “sex” and tore them up. …. sluttiness is always in the eye of the beholder.
There's more. Lots more.

Let me "merely" comment on that last quote by Suzanne Moore. If clothing is a vocabulary, then how can sluttiness be "always in the eye of the beholder"? The purpose of vocabulary is to convey meaning. And, yes, the "beholder" must interpret the meaning. But the communicator, clearly, intends to convey meaning as well.

Actually, let me pass on one more thought. Since we're on the subject.

I encourage you to consider what Phillips notes about the "normal" dress of prostitutes throughout the ages and why they dress that way:
A prostitute will dress skimpily in order purposely to incite men to sex, recognizing the connection between clothes and sexual availability. The whole point of the recent walks, however, is that a woman can dress like a slut without it having anything to do with sex, and without it signalling her sexual availability. While the prostitute dresses revealingly because she recognizes that she is an inherently sexual being whose body is charged with erotic suggestion, the participants of Slutwalk have embraced a narrative which denies that the revealed body is necessarily charged with erotic suggestion. In so doing, these walks are negating the very sexuality they claim to be celebrating.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Bonfire of the Gravities: What emergency personnel go through for the sake of people who aren't always acting wisely

Randy Cassingham of This is True fame is a volunteer medic in rural Ouray County, Colorado. He wrote a blog post summary of an emergency call he received last Saturday morning at 12:51. (Yeah. Just past midnight.)

Pretty hair-raising. But insightful, too.

Check out Bonfire of the Gravities. And I urge you to read the comments--and Randy's responses to the comments--by the two Anonymouses from Ouray County--one here and one here.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Geologists Walk On Moving Landslide

Amazing video of Wyoming geologists walking on a moving landslide.

This was posted three weeks ago:
Geologists from the Wyoming Department of Transportation are on site assessing a landslide that closed US 26-89 in the Snake River Canyon on Saturday and continues to move downhill, dumping debris into the river.
Besides the story of the landslide itself, the webpage also features an amazing time-lapse/low-speed video of the landslide in motion--probably about four or five times normal speed--and geologists walking over the landslide as it proceeds downhill. (First geologist appears at about 20 seconds.)

Pretty amazing!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Terrifying ad . . .

"You will NEVER guess what this ad is about" said the person who sent me a link to the video below.

I thought I would take him up on his challenge. And 10 or 20 seconds into it, I was sure: "Of course I know what this ad is about."

But I didn't.

And nor will you, I'm sure.

Please know, despite its absolutely terrifying demeanor, when it's all over (1:32 later), I expect you will laugh.

But why the advertiser would go to all that trouble . . . And make that kind of spend for a 1:32 ad?