Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Snow

What time is it? It’s a dose of positive booster time! And who does not need one every now and then? To survive in the contemporary world of constant bombardment with a variety of social, economical, political, and cultural issues, one needs to find a refuge in the little things that make life worth it.

One such event for me has always been the first snow of the winter. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t matter how old I get, the first snow always brings back memories of happiness and excitement that lift my spirits. The best moment is when the snow falls during the night and before people start moving in the morning, the scene outside looks as if it came out of a fairytale. Regardless of what the area resembles under normal circumstances, covered in a thick layer of snow, it just looks amazing.

Then, of course, students start moving about and the snow fights begin. The winter wonderland has now turned into a snow war zone! 

For those of you who do not have the luxury of experiencing such a profound moment, here are some pictures to make you feel jealous... or happy:). I am sure there will be more coming up soon. I have to post at least one of a snowman: the ideal product of team work, creative minds, and frozen hands...

         - Krasi

Friday, October 28, 2011

No Apple A Day For Me

Oops! It has been a while hasn't it? Sorry folks. Moving to another state and starting school will do that to you. Obviously Krasi has been adjusting better than I as she has posted. (Thanks for making me look bad Krasi, booooo).

Don't worry friends, I may have been absent from the blog but I didn't give up on my fair trade, ethical consumerism, making people feel bad if they buy Apple products self ;). In fact, my Apple dislike has grown. Every time I hear someone waxing philosophical about Apple my eyes glaze over and I think 'real original'. I think my dislike of Apple is 70% their lack of ethics and 30% I hate to participate in mass trends. Maybe that can translate into a Halloween costume. I can see it now: a wolf in Apple clothing.

Anyhow, exciting news: there is an Amnesty International group in Raleigh! Wahoo! It took me a while to find them (no online presence...why is that?!) but I'm so glad I won't have to start one. I already have too much going on.

I'll also be attending the AI Southern regional conference in Charlotte Nov. 4-6.

Can't wait to meet fellow activists in NC! I'm sure they're super nice, ethical, and Apple unenthusiasts as well. I'll forgive 'em even if they aren't...there's always time to bring them over to my side ;)
Anyone have exciting plans this weekend? For Halloween?

Have a great weekend everyone!

- A

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


What would you do if you see a person struggling to lift a big suitcase off the luggage belt at an airport? The answer to this question depends on many variables including, but definitely not limited to, your level of distraction (Are you focused on spotting your own suitcase and worried about lifting it?) or your physical ability (Maybe you have a really bad back and should not lift heavy items.). One element, however, that invariably determines whether one will help the struggling individual or not is the capacity to feel empathy. 

Empathy has been defined as the ability to feel another person’s frustrations, experiences, and emotions.  In addition, if individuals are able to grasp the frustration of the person in front of them, they will be more likely to assist him/her as they can understand the suffering (or, to use the above example, they can understand the frustration of trying to lift a heavy suitcase off a moving belt). The idea is that you will not analyze the situation strictly from your point of view, but rather, you are able to consider the feelings of the person in front of you. 

In his book The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen discusses the idea of empathy and proposes that all humans are on a continuum and fall anywhere between having no empathy and having a lot of it. What I find even more fascinating is the idea that where a person places along the continuum depends on a host of environmental, social, and cultural contexts. As such, only very few people have zero empathy or too much empathy. Most people fall in the middle and their behavior is not necessarily consistent across situations. A good example, of course, is the one of the doctors in Nazi Germany who, despite the commitment to caring for others, performed experiments on a certain fraction of the population which hurt, tortured and, in many cases, killed them.  Baron-Cohen further examines the idea of empathy erosion or the process by which a person could lose his or her empathy. 

Personally, I believe that a person’s ability to observe the world from different perspectives is increased as the person becomes culturally educated, i.e. she or he becomes familiar with and understands diverse cultures and a spate of points of views. For the record, becoming familiar with an idea does not imply acceptance of that idea, but it does lead to better understanding of the person with that idea. The importance of culture learning (not sure if this is a term but I am using it!) will be discussed in an upcoming post so look forward to it. 

What is your opinion on empathy or do you even care?:)

-          Krasi

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are Evil People Really Evil?

 As promised in my last post, and I try to always keep my promises, one of the topics I am interested in writing about is the nature of evil. There are several intriguing sub-topics under the quite capacious umbrella of evil, and I have decided to begin with the one about the reasons behind massive evil acts and those who become members of groups whose goal is to commit an evil act. 

I was more than intrigued by this issue in a class on Genocide that I have the privilege of taking this quarter at the University of Denver. Despite the fact that the volume of reading assignments is larger than any person can physically cover, the topic is so fascinating that I have no choice but to forsake the goal of eight hours of sleep per night. Temporarily that is. 

Who, then, are the people engaging in evil acts on a large scale and why do they do it? Some have argued that the majority of people are followers who simply conform to the order of a select few elites with strong murderous instincts. This theory suggests that a small cohort of men (no women here and on that I shall have a post in the future) with hate agendas manage to convince a whole nation to comply with their ambition to annihilate an established enemy.  Others emphasize that evilness or the desire and willingness to commit a mass murder is embedded in certain cultures. As such, mass killing can only be the result of a specific culture that for one reason or another has the desire for evil. The proponents of that theory persist that the Holocaust could have only happened in Germany because this is what German culture was at that time. 

The theory that I find the most shocking and thought-provoking, however, is the one that claims that it is not a special kind of person that becomes a mass murderer and commits genocide. Rather, most who did, and still do by the way, are ordinary people who under normal circumstances will live quite ordinary and mundane lives. Now how is that for an inspiration? Under the ideal conditions, each one of us can participate in genocide. I am sure that many people will be outraged by such a claim and I can understand the reason. It is quite comforting to believe that those we see as monsters are separate and different from us and by all means, they cannot be referred to as humans. It is easier to hate them and banish them that way. Much evidence suggests, however, that even if some of the ones who committed a genocidal act enjoyed it very much, most despised the action and thought it wrong, but participated anyway. 

Here it is important to note that labeling those who commit evil acts “ordinary people” and finding possible explanations for their behavior do not excuse the nature of what took place. Whether they hated it or not, the fact is, they did it and should be prosecuted for their actions. The answer to their believed inherent evilness, however, is certainly not a simple or a warmth-inducing one. 

-          Krasi

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Denver

Wow! It’s been almost two months since I made an appearance on this blog. Contrary to popular belief, I did not spend a really long vacation in an exotic location, away from civilization, and forget about the woes of the world:) As you might remember, I was set to move to Denver and begin a program in International Human Rights at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Well, I have arrived and I have been nothing but productive since I first set foot in Denver. The drive itself from Houston to Denver was quite the adventure: it took me fourteen hours just to leave Texas! The move into the apartment was relatively uneventful (if you do not count the neighbor from above trying to flood me as I was moving in!). And then the quarter began and I have not had a dull minute since. Activities, both academic and fun, abound and my goal has been to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Hey, I did not drive fourteen hours through Texas just to come here and sit around!

Most of my time is spent reading about and watching films on Genocide and Human Trafficking. The classes are intense and the subject even more so, but knowledge is power, right, so I do not have any intention to terminate this quest now.  I am also set to solidify my Spanish, German, and Russian-speaking abilities and with the help of RosettaStone and the DU language center, I might just do that. Not to mention that I actually have fellow-students to practice these languages with. This has been by far the most amazing aspect of the university and the program. The other students are from or have been all over the world, countries I didn’t even know were countries! Even without classes, just listening to their experiences I feel that I am gaining a whole new perspective of the world and the many troubles people of various backgrounds are placing it in. It is true, then. There is no better way to learn about the world and disparate cultures than actually traveling and exploring. 

As expected, I will have an interesting segment on the importance of culture-learning coming up. Also, there will be a couple, or maybe more, posts on the nature of evil, those committing evil acts, and empathy. Before we begin with the somber topics, I decided to lighten up the mood a little and include some photos of the magnificent areas around Denver where one can relax, breathe in fresh, crisp air, and be one with nature. Rocky Mountains, here I come!

     - Krasi