Listening to what people say: no victim “deserves it”

Recently I’ve noticed, in reports of crimes against persons, an abhorrent phrase that seems to be commonly accepted: people being quoted as saying that the victim “didn’t deserve this”. Who does deserve being beaten, raped, or murdered? Ah, but maybe this person did deserve a beating––but was murdered instead. No, too subtle.

Was I imagining it? I googled “didn’t deserve to die”, the strongest usage, and quickly came up with half a dozen different instances.

Then, on the front page of the Oregonian a week or so ago, I saw this one: a driver with a blood alcohol level “approaching .30” ran his car up onto a sidewalk in broad daylight and pinned a pedestrian against a utility pole. As the drunk tried to drive away he hit the pedestrian two more times. Oh yes, and the pedestrian was blind and carrying a white cane. The driver was chased and boxed in by other drivers. Since his arrest, he had been trying to make a good impression: visiting the badly injured man, publicizing his own past volunteer work (performed while he was a bank exec), all that sort of thing. The article reported on his appearance in court for sentencing, definitely an occasion to choose one’s words carefully. What did he say, in his attempt at an apology?

“He didn’t deserve it. It was all my fault.”

Good to know that the blind man didn’t actually deserve being run over three times, we were all wondering about that.

What’s going on here?

According to my unscientific survey the phrase is used at least as often by the relatives of victims, as by those accused of the crime in question. So I conclude that this represents a general societal attitude, which tacitly regards some people as deserving to be harmed or attacked by others.

The connexion that came up in my mind was with a shift in moral education over the past three decades or so, which changed the focus from the person acting, to the person being acted upon, and from general principles of interpersonal behavior, to principles regarding certain groups. In an effort to end harassment of minorities and those perceived as different, we started teaching children and adults to avoid ridiculing this or that sort of person––overweight or gay, for example. Something needed to be done, to end these long-winked-at instances of bullying and cruelty, but how much better to emphasize a universal (and positive, rather than negative) approach of being polite and compassionate. Singling out groups creates assumptions that groups not named may be fair game. “Nobody told me not to call him names, he’s an Italian/left-handed/too skinny/a nerd!”

The general approach is better all around.

Some pragmatic reasons: It’s far easier, no need to remember who you’re supposed to be kind to this week. Like deciding that you are going to stop your car whenever a pedestrian is trying to cross, instead of having to make a judgment call on the fly each time. No type of person is accidentally omitted (though of course people who are dangerous, manipulative, etc., can and often must be treated differently). Those are points of persuasion for people not so much moved by moral considerations alone (to me it’s surprising how often there are practical reasons which could be used to bolster the “should/ought” arguments).

Moral arguments include: putting responsibility where it belongs, on the act-or instead of the act-ee; promoting human community rather than division; generally strengthening the moral rule which is one that makes human interchange run much more smoothly and harmoniously.

Then, from a different angle, there’s Shakespeare’s take what the just deserts of a human being, “poor bare, forked animal”, may be


More about credit cards, debt, pyramids, and eschatology

My recent post “Why I’m canceling my Bank of America credit card” brought a comment pointing out that cancelling credit cards can adversely affect one’s credit score, perhaps making it difficult to borrow for cars and houses. That may well be true, but it seems to spring from a view of credit and debt quite different from mine. Rather than dump this on the hapless commenter as a reply, I’ll say it here.

First, the companies have no incentive to restrict credit, and I expect they’ll soon be back to sending out credit apps to dogs and kindergartners. When the banks lose money through extending credit unwisely, they raise rates on the rest of us to recoup. Worst case, as now, the taxpayers bail them out, they buy each other up, write off debt, get tax breaks for losses. So I think people can safely cancel all but one or two cards, and still be able to use credit to make major purchases.

Second, I’m hoping that ordinary people, who DO have an incentive to learn from the present debacle, may start restricting their debt to large necessary items. Cars and houses usually do require going into debt. But I’m old enough to remember life without credit cards; my mom had a metal “charge-a-plate” for Macy’s, and there was layaway at some stores, but no credit cards. If you wanted something you saved up for it. If you couldn’t afford to go out to dinner, you didn’t go. To those accustomed to incurring chronic credit-card debt for indulgences, such a life may seem a bleak prospect. But actually I recall very few people growing despondent for want of cruises, concert tickets, and designer handbags.

Back in the 1980’s when I saw items at an Oregon department-type store bearing tags that said “Want me? Buy me!” and a credit card logo, I viewed it as a dangerous & selfish attitude to cultivate. Along with it came the re-definition of human beings as “consumers”.

The present economic system is a pyramid scheme because it is predicated on continual growth. We do not live in a world of infinite resources and space, therefore neither population nor consumption/production can continue to increase forever. Business interests, and even the administration, expect increased consumption to get us out of this depression. If it does, it can be only a temporary fix.

I know there are a lot of optimists out there who say not to worry about dismal stuff like the economy, climate change, and all that, because the world is going to end in 2012 (Mayan Calendar theory) or “soon” (some Christian fundamentalist theories). But I just can’t be that optimistic. Call me crazy, but what if we’ve got those Mayan numbers just a little bit wrong? Or some translator introduced an inaccuracy into the Book of Revelations? What if God has changed His mind, and now thinks it might be amusing to see how His little creatures manage with these challenges? We just can’t know. Better to keep our eyes on the ball, as it were (in this case the planet & its inhabitants) and not count on the Umpire calling the game on account of End of Time.

Helping National Guard and Reservists “re-enter” after deployment

Sometimes local news should have a wider audience across the country.

Our US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has earned great respect in this state for his humane principles and competence at building coalitions to get things done in DC. Here’s an example from the Oregonian newspaper on an issue that, typically for him, is not at all parochial but affects all of us deeply.

Sen. Wyden proposes extending Guard pay

The Oregon lawmaker wants to give soldiers returning from war 90 extra pay days

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

JULIE SULLIVAN, The Oregonian Staff

When Oregon Army National Guard soldiers returned from Iraq four years ago, fewer than half had a job waiting.

Employers wanted to help. Within a week, the Guard organized a reintegration fair that offered an estimated 500 jobs. But not a single soldier took one.

It was too soon.

“They are not ready to leave a combat zone and seven days later, go back to work,” Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell said.

State and federal officials say they’ve learned how to do it right. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wants to extend federal pay for National Guard and reservists for 90 days to ensure a “softer landing” when they return.

Oregon has posted some of the highest percentages of Guard members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another 2,700 are training to deploy Iraq in July.

Unlike the regular Army, where soldiers return to their stateside military jobs and bases, the Oregon Guard and reservists scatter to hometowns. They lose their military salary, and more than $600 a month in other hazardous duty and separation pay.

When Oregon soldiers returned from Afghanistan two years ago, fewer than half of them younger than 35 had a job waiting. The younger the vet, the worse the outlook, with nearly 65 percent younger than 25 unemployed.

“About 79 percent returned to poverty,” said Sgt. First Class (Ret.) J.D. Baucom, a career assistance liaison for the Oregon Guard. He’s concerned in today’s economy those numbers are bound to get worse.

Wyden said paying the Guard for up to 90 days after they return would give them time to rebuild their lives before hitting a financial wall.

“We not willing to sit around and watch soldiers go from the front lines to unemployment lines,” he said.

Oregon has led in veterans’ advocacy. The Guard’s re-integration program — launched by wounded Alsea and Albany infantrymen in 2004 — is a national model. In 2007, the Legislature created a new veterans hiring preference for public employees. Now it is considering extending that preference from 15 years to a lifetime and granting 15 days unpaid leave to spouses of deploying soldiers.

Wyden’s bill covers returning soldiers so it would help only a fraction of the 350,000 Oregon veterans. He met former service members at the IBEW Local 48 in Northeast Portland on Tuesday morning in part to highlight job opportunities in the building trades. One federal program, Helmets to Hardhats, has put more than 1,757 veterans nationally into union apprentice programs. Across the hall, three young military veterans had found union jobs a good match on their own. They said that learning discipline, attention to detail and the ability to work in a team in the service has helped them apprentice as commercial electricians.

“I tried college, but I was working full time and going to school full time and that didn’t work,” said Craig Enneberg, 28, of Sherwood. “This works.”

Still, veterans advocates — and veterans themselves — told Wyden that a far more targeted approach is needed. Among the suggestions:

Reduce paperwork. “If we can’t get through the process, how we can we ask a 20-year-old from eastern Oregon who doesn’t know where to call?” said Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Maas, who manages career assistance for the reintegration team.

Connect veterans. Ret. Master Sgt. Mike Eschete, who recently graduated from Portland State University, proposed a mentoring program using military retirees. “They speak a different language and understand a dimension that is invisible to others,” he said.

Educate gatekeepers at agencies. “Put someone in that position who gives a damn,” said Erik Burris, a 12-year veteran of the Navy. Burris said one state employment specialist, Rene Garcia, helped him.

But little else has helped Burris in this economy.

The 41-year-old aviation structural mechanic and flight deck troubleshooter in the Navy has been laid off from four jobs in Portland since 2002. Wyden invited him to the Tuesday meeting. He arrived in a stylish blue shirt and tie, his carefully clipped hair and leather organizer in hand. He handed a reporter his resume.

After being laid off from jobs in quality control, sales, tech support and as a contractor at Intel he hasn’t worked since January 2008. He keeps applying, whittling his three-page resume into a one page “cram ad” and checking 12 job boards online a day. He does all the family cooking for his wife, Jeanmarie, and their daughter and keeps the kitchen immaculate in their “inexpensive” 900-square-foot Tigard apartment.

“Home is what you make it,” Jeanmarie says.

“You lose your pride and a little bit of yourself every time you get laid off,” he says. “And we have so much to give.”

2009 Oregonian

Why not let your senators and representatives know that you support this? The following pages help you get contact information and send emails:

for US representatives; need to know your ZIP code + the four digit addition to it

this one works for both representatives and senators (also yields info for state legislators); use the search box at the left to get names, click on name, click on “Contact” tab above the person’s photo.

Or should it be classified as “fantasy”?

I was searching the Quality Paperback Book site for “science fiction’, and the last of 8 matches was


by Wallace D. Wattles, edited by Ruth Miller

Book- Softcover / October, 2007 / QPB Price: $10.99

I thought this was an amusing computer error, but after I read the club’s description of the book, I see that it is just honesty in advertising…


Are you obeying the Law of Attraction?

If you’re not, you should. You see, there’s more to getting rich than your talent or your environment. There’s a natural law, the Law of Attraction, which stipulates that specific actions always produce the same results—and money, property and success are among them. Learn the simple equation behind acquiring the riches you’ve dreamed of, and your dreams will become reality.

That’s the message of The New Science of Getting Rich. Originally written by Wallace D. Wattles over a century ago, this hugely influential text inspired Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and has been fully updated for the 21st century by Ruth Miller. Don’t be a Law-breaker—follow this clear-cut guide and strike it rich!


With all the excellent science fiction being written today, why has QPB got only 7 titles? And among those 7 are a Steven King, a DVD of X-Files, and a collection of century-old horror and fantasy by Rudyard Kipling.

But QPB has become rather flaky in recent years, flogging fluff and worse. There are 5 hits on a search for “astrology”, and only 4 for “astronomy”; 35 matches for “healing” (a word that I would like banned for a decade or so) including books on the healing powers of olive oil, and vinegar, and water. And Angel Healing, in which you can “Learn to direct angelic color rays through your hands and thoughts to transmit energy and the healing power of angels.”

Another “healing” title offered by QPB is The Miracles of Archangel Michael, wherein author Doreen Virtue, Ph.D. will show you “how to contact Archangel Michael, the powerful protector, and work with him for physical and emotional healing”. The publisher of this last one is Hay House, whose site shows that they specialize in this variety of self-delusion, with other titles (on its site) including
28 Days to a More Magnetic Life
Fractal Time: The Secret of 2012 and a New World Age
and Psychic Healing: Using the Tools of a Medium to Cure Whatever Ails You.

O tempora, O mores! (And what else is new, eh?)