Mar 052008

Secretary Paulson played the morality card two days ago when speaking about home owners that were in over their heads:

Homeowners who can afford their payments and don’t have to move, can choose to stay in their house. And let me emphasize, any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator – and one who is not honoring his obligations.

You have a situation where:
1) People lied on applications, or looked the other way
2) Banks and agencies made loans they knew people couldn’t pay, or lied about terms
3) Appraisers inflated values to match loan documents
4) Banks and others bought loans they knew were high risk and repackaged them as AAA rated debt
5) Rating companies rubber stamped and looked the other way
6) The Fed encouraged the unsustainable growth (bubble)

It seems to me there is plenty of blame to go around. A mortgage is a business transaction. If it is in someone’s best interest to take the hit and walk away from it all, they are within their rights to do it. Companies (including banks) do this all the time – close an office here, layoff some people there. No hard feelings, it’s business.

Jun 032007

The WP has a great story on researching human’s altruistic nature called If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural. When we give, it activates a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex.

Their 2006 finding that unselfishness can feel good lends scientific support to the admonitions of spiritual leaders such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” But it is also a dramatic example of the way neuroscience has begun to elbow its way into discussions about morality and has opened up a new window on what it means to be good.

Grafman and others are using brain imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass. The results — many of them published just in recent months — are showing, unexpectedly, that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species.

No one can say whether giraffes and lions experience moral qualms in the same way people do because no one has been inside a giraffe’s head, but it is known that animals can sacrifice their own interests: One experiment found that if each time a rat is given food, its neighbor receives an electric shock, the first rat will eventually forgo eating.

What the new research is showing is that morality has biological roots — such as the reward center in the brain that lit up in Grafman’s experiment — that have been around for a very long time.

The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy. Being able to recognize — even experience vicariously — what another creature is going through was an important leap in the evolution of social behavior.

They also have some interesting bits on how damaged brains react to tests, and how different parts of our brains clash with each other over difficult moral questions. Well worth the read.

Mar 072007

I’m just going to rip the text of this WP story:

Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and other conservative Christian leaders are calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to silence or fire an official who has urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously.

In a letter this week to the board of the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Dobson and his two dozen co-signers said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE’s vice president for government relations, has waged a “relentless campaign” that is “dividing and demoralizing” evangelicals.

Cizik has been a leader in efforts to broaden evangelicals’ political agenda beyond abortion and same-sex marriage. He says Christians have a biblical imperative to protect the environment, which he calls “creation care.”

“I speak with a voice that is authentically evangelical on all the issues, from religious freedom around the world, to compassion for the poor, ending oppression in Darfur — and yes, creation care is one of those issues,” Cizik said yesterday.

The NAE’s board is scheduled to meet next week in Minnesota. Its former president, the Rev. Ted Haggard, resigned in November after a scandal involving sex and drugs.

His successor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, defended Cizik as “a great asset.” He also said that the Dobson letter was released to the news media before it was received by the board. “I guess that says it all,” he said.

Oct 042006

Kurt Andersen has written a great piece over at NY Magazine. Titled “The End of the World As They Know It”, it dives into culture and attitudes obsessed with apocalypse.

Five years after Islamic apocalyptists turned the World Trade Center to fire and dust, we chatter more than ever about the clash of civilizations, fight a war prompted by our panic over (nonexistent) nuclear and biological weapons, hear it coolly asserted this past summer that World War III has begun, and wonder if an avian-flu pandemic poses more of a personal risk than climate change. In other words, apocalypse is on our minds. Apocalypse is … hot.

Millions of people—Christian millenarians, jihadists, psychedelicized Burning Men—are straight-out wishful about The End. Of course, we have the loons with us always; their sulfurous scent if not the scale of the present fanaticism is familiar from the last third of the last century—the Weathermen and Jim Jones and the Branch Davidians. But there seem to be more of them now by orders of magnitude (60-odd million “Left Behind” novels have been sold), and they’re out of the closet, networked, reaffirming their fantasies, proselytizing. Some thousands of Muslims are working seriously to provoke the blessed Armageddon. And the Christian Rapturists’ support of a militant Israel isn’t driven mainly by principled devotion to an outpost of Western democracy but by their fervent wish to see crazy biblical fantasies realized ASAP—that is, the persecution of the Jews by the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon.

When apocalypse preoccupations leach into less-fantastical thought and conversation, it becomes still more disconcerting. Even among people sincerely fearful of climate change or a nuclearized Iran enacting a “second Holocaust” by attacking Israel, one sometimes detects a frisson of smug or hysterical pleasure.

He doesn’t have much trouble finding examples these days. I must admit, to a certain extent, I have also slipped into the mindset that the future will get worse, before it gets better. Why? I don’t think any one thing can be singled out. It is probably equal parts climate change and dangerous energy dependence, a sprinkle of looming brinkmanship, and a dash of perpetual war. Top with consumer and government spending and savings habits, and bake for 10-20 years.

But after thinking about it some more, I have to add in another ingredient to my pessimistic future pie. It is the increase in apocalypticism – the very subject of the article. Growing up on the evangelical side of the christian spectrum, the view point was not uncommon. The rapture was going to happen any day now. In that environment, it didn’t seem like such a strange thought. Now of course I fear what that does to one’s mindset and motivations. I mean, why fix this world, when doing so will delay your god’s coming?

Enough of my ramblings, the article is definitely worth a read.