The “Ownership Society” downside

More than four years ago, President Obama assumed office promising dramatic reform to the housing market.imgres

After all, it was the housing market that triggered the financial crisis, and the vast proliferation of low-quality loans that had fueled the housing bubble, state a piece in today’s The Atlantic.

“But politics delayed those reforms, and now the president is reopening the issue with a call to wind down the two main federal mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “For too long, these companies were allowed to make big profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag,” the president said this week. “It was ‘heads we win, tails you lose.'”

“Well, not entirely. The U.S. government and taxpayers did rescue these agencies in 2009 (to the tune of nearly $200 billion), and, after injecting them with capital and essentially nationalizing them, these companies started to turn a profit as the housing market slowly recovered. This month, they contributed more than $15 billion to the U.S. Treasury, and have been one factor in sharply reducing government deficits.

“Even more, Obama’s targeting of Fannie and Freddie is part of a larger narrative — on both the left and the right — that banks and government colluded to produce the financial crisis and the continuing drag on the United States. To be fair, Obama in the same speech this week acknowledged that much of the housing crisis was the product of “banks and the government…[making] everyone feel like they had to own a home, even if they weren’t ready and didn’t have the payment.” But that chord is a decidedly minor one in a general atmosphere of blame. Continue reading “The “Ownership Society” downside”

War is not innate

Primitive society was not driven by war, scientists believe.images

Researchers from Abo Academy University in Finland say that violence in early human communities was driven by personal conflicts rather than large-scale battles, reports an article today posted by the BBC from a recent study.  “Findings suggest that war is not an innate part of human nature, but rather a behaviour that we have adopted more recently.

“Patrik Soderberg, an author of the study, said: “This research questions the idea that war was ever-present in our ancestral past. It paints another picture where the quarrels and aggression were primarily about interpersonal motives instead of groups fighting against each other.” The research team based their findings on isolated tribes from around the world that had been studied over the last century Cut off from modern life and surviving off wild plants and animals, these groups live like the hunter gatherers of thousands of years ago.

“They are the kind of societies that don’t really rely on agriculture or domestic animals – they are primitive societies,” explained Mr Soderberg.”About 12,000 years ago, we assume all humans were living in this kind of society, and that these kind of societies made up about for about 90% of our evolutionary path.”Using the modern tribes as an analogy for earlier society, the researchers looked at cases where violent deaths had been documented. They found 148 such deaths but very few were caused by war. “Most of these incidents of lethal aggression were what we call homicides, a few were feuds and only the minority could be labelled as war,” Mr Soderberg said. Continue reading “War is not innate”

Violence as disease

The idea that violence is contagious doesn’t appear in the Obama administration’s gun control plan, nor in the National Rifle Association’s arguments. But some scientists believe that understanding the literally infectious nature of violence

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is essential to preventing it. Today’s Wired Science carries a piece that says

“To say violence is a sickness that threatens public health isn’t just a figure of speech, they argue. It spreads from person to person, a germ of an idea that causes changes in the brain, thriving in certain social conditions.

“A century from now, people might look back on violence prevention in the early 21st century as we now regard the primitive cholera prevention efforts in the early 19th century, when the disease was considered a product of filth and immorality rather than a microbe.

“It’s extremely important to understand this differently than the way we’ve been understanding it,” said Gary Slutkin, Continue reading “Violence as disease”

Addiction and identity

“A leading expert on addictions says there still remains a ‘tremendous misunderstanding’ about the problem in our society,” reports the Chatham Daily News in a story about psychiatrist Gabor Mate.

“People see addictions as some lifestyle choice that somebody makes,” but  “Nobody wakes up and says, ‘My ambition is to become an addict,'” say Mate. A keynote speaker this week at the Chatham-Kent Addictions Awareness Conference, Mate said “addiction is a response to suffering and most people who are severely addicted were traumatized as children. As a result, he said, people in this situation have pain they try to soothe with drugs.”

Continue reading “Addiction and identity”

Quandary named “most meaningful” new game

The free online game Quandary yesterday received high honors at the biannual “Meaningful Play” conference, devoted to socially responsible gaming. As Meaningful Play describes it’s mission:  “Whether designed to entertain or to achieve more “serious” purposes, games have the potential to impact players’ beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, emotions, cognitive abilities, physical and mental health, and behavior.” A transdisciplinary event, Meaningful Play 2012 brought scholars and industry professionals together to understand and improve upon games to entertain, inform, educate, and persuade in meaningful ways.

Quandry was among games cited for honors, winning the top award in “Most Meaningful” category. Continue reading “Quandary named “most meaningful” new game”

The bully society

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As a topic, bullying has received considerable media attention in recent years in its linkages to online harassment, school shootings, suicide, and even a notable candidate for political office. While bullying can be overt or subtle, it nearly always involves a power imbalance based on some kind of difference in behavior, appearance, culture, or belief.  Perceived standards of the “normal” or “natural” get used to rationalize verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. In The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools  (New York University Press, 2012), Jessie Klein argues that these notions of normality are far more significant in bullying than individual pathology.Bullies may the active agents in causing harm, but larger groups or an entire “bully society” may be the real problem, especially when we consider that this is not just about kids. Writ large, bullying can be seen to inhabit the workplace, the political arena, and the mediascape.
Continue reading “The bully society”