Category Archives: Community

How Trump could cause a 21st Century witch hunt


Way back when esnl was an undergrad majoring in anthropology, one of our professors relentlessly hammered in one point: People are territorial group animals just like chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins [the bonobo hadn’t be recognized yet as a separate species even closer to us than chimps].

We also know that violence breaks out among chimps when resources are scarce and groups come into conflict.

We’ve also learned that humans who see themselves and their groups under threat can respond in those same primal ways.

And history teaches us that demagogues with dark agendas can exploit those same instincts to enhance their own positions of power by targeting popular anger towards the weak and those readily distinguishable from our own groups.

Some of our first television memories, after we got one of the first sets in town when we were six years old, was of the Army/McCarthy hearings, when a right wing demagogue in the Senate who had built a career out of whipping up fear of communists finally past the point of no return.

And now, with Donald Trump in the Whoite House the stage may be set for another witch hunt, writes Peter Neal Peregrine, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at Lawrence University in this essay for The Conversation, an open-source academic journal written in everyday English:

As an anthropologist, I know that all groups of people use informal practices of social control in day-to-day interactions. Controlling disruptive behavior is necessary for maintaining social order, but the forms of control vary.

How will President Donald Trump control behavior he finds disruptive?

The question came to me when Trump called the investigation of Russian interference in the election “a total witch hunt.” More on that later.

Ridicule and shunning

A common form of social control is ridicule. The disruptive person is ridiculed for his or her behavior, and ridicule is often enough to make the disruptive behavior stop.

Another common form of social control is shunning, or segregating a disruptive individual from society. With the individual pushed out of social interactions – by sitting in a timeout, for example – his or her behavior can no longer cause trouble.

Ridicule, shunning and other informal practices of social control usually work well to control disruptive behavior, and we see examples every day in the office, on the playground and even in the White House.

Controlling the critics

Donald Trump routinely uses ridicule and shunning to control what he sees as disruptive behavior. The most obvious examples are aimed at the press. For example, he refers to The New York Times as “failing” as a way of demeaning its employees. He infamously mocked a disabled reporter who critiqued him.

On the other side, the press has also used ridicule, calling the president incompetent, mentally ill and even making fun of the size of his hands.

Trump has shunned the press as well, pulling press credentials from news agencies that critique him. Press Secretary Sean Spicer used shunning against a group of reporters critical of the administration by blocking them from attending his daily briefing. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shook off the State Department press corps and headed off to Asia with just one reporter invited along.

Again, the practice cuts both ways. The media has also started asking themselves if they should shun Trump’s surrogates – such as Kellyanne Connway – in interviews or refuse to send staff reporters to the White House briefing room.

Accusations of witchcraft

Witches persecuted in Colonial era. Library of Congress.

But what happens when informal means of control don’t work?

Societies with weak or nonexistent judicial systems may control persistent disruptive behavior by accusing the disruptive person of being a witch.

In an anthropological sense, witches are people who cannot control their evil behavior – it is a part of their being. A witch’s very thoughts compel supernatural powers to cause social disruption. If a witch gets angry, jealous or envious, the supernatural may take action, whether the witch wants it to or not. In other words: Witches are disruptive by their very presence.

When people are threatened with an accusation of witchcraft, they will generally heed the warning to curb their behavior. Those who don’t are often those who are already marginalized. Their behavior – perhaps caused by mental disease or injury – is something they cannot easily control. By failing to prove they aren’t a “witch” – something that’s not easy to do – they give society a legitimate reason to get rid of them.

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Map of the day: Western Hemisphere happiness


From Views of the World, the always informative blog of British geographer Benjamin Henning, a look at how the nations of the Western Hemisphere fare on the Happy Planet Index [click on the image to enlarge]:

From the blog post, where you can find the full map, which is based on a remapping of the world to show the nations resized to match their relative populations:

March, 20th is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, recognising ‘the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world’. Bhutan is credited as the first country to have implemented the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an official measure for the state of a nation, introduced in 1972. After the global financial crash in 2008, ideas about giving the ‘spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of [people] and natural environment’ more prominence over mere economic development are reflected more and more in international efforts towards a sustainable future.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI), developed by the New Economics Foundation, takes a rather radical approach on this issue. It aims to measure well-being and happiness by taking a universal and long-term approach to understanding, how efficiently people in a country are using their environmental resources to live long and happy lives.

This cartogram maps the results of the 2016 Happy Planet Index from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram shows the world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score:

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, ‘GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.’ This explains why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly – it does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth lived the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Among the positive stories is Costa Rica, which is also highlighted on the map. The country has persistently scored highest in all HPI releases (the 2016 edition is the third, after 2009 and 2012). More of a surprise might be the high score for Mexico (second), which is credited to massive efforts at improving health and environmental sustainability. Despite challenges with tackling inequality, well-being is perceived higher than in the wealthier northern neighbour, the United States. Quite a few Central and South American nations, as well as some Asian and Pacific countries do better than many wealthy nations. However, the African continent shows that at the bottom end extreme poverty can be a limiting factor in achieving sustainable well-being.

Charting the American rural/urban divides


Donald Trump’s populism starkly revealed the growing rural/urban divide in the United States, a divide exploited by Pussygrabber’s peculiar brand of populism.

As a look at this cartographic breakdown of county-by-county presidential vote results by Penn State physicist Mark Newman reveals, Democrats won majorities largely in coastal and urban counties, plus those less populated areas where non-anglos are in the majority:

Why are the two polities so different in their responses to a populist promising a political panacea?

The Conversation, an open source, lay language academic journal, asked a group of academics to describe some key differences between city and countryside, and their explanations are both in words and graphics:

Editor’s note: We’ve all heard of the great divide between life in rural and urban America. But what are the factors that contribute to these differences? We asked sociologists, economists, geographers and historians to describe the divide from different angles. The data paint a richer and sometimes surprising picture of the U.S. today.

1. Poverty is higher in rural areas

Discussions of poverty in the United States often mistakenly focus on urban areas. While urban poverty is a unique challenge, rates of poverty have historically been higher in rural than urban areas. In fact, levels of rural poverty were often double those in urban areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

While these rural-urban gaps have diminished markedly, substantial differences persist. In 2015, 16.7 percent of the rural population was poor, compared with 13.0 percent of the urban population overall – and 10.8 percent among those living in suburban areas outside of principal cities.

Contrary to common assumptions, substantial shares of the poor are employed. Approximately 45 percent of poor, prime-age (25-54) householders worked at least part of 2015 in rural and urban areas alike.

The link between work and poverty was different in the past. In the early 1980s, the share of the rural poor that was employed exceeded that in urban areas by more than 15 percent. Since then, more and more poor people in rural areas are also unemployed – a trend consistent with other patterns documented below.

That said, rural workers continue to benefit less from work than their urban counterparts. In 2015, 9.8 percent of rural, prime-age working householders were poor, compared with 6.8 percent of their urban counterparts. Nearly a third of the rural working poor faced extreme levels of deprivation, with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line, or approximately US$12,000 for a family of four.

Large shares of the rural workforce also live in economically precarious circumstances just above the poverty line. Nearly one in five rural working householders lived in families with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That’s nearly five percentage points more than among urban workers (13.5 percent).

According to recent research, rural-urban gaps in working poverty cannot be explained by rural workers’ levels of education, industry of employment or other similar factors that might affect earnings. Rural poverty – at least among workers – cannot be fully explained by the characteristics of the rural population. That means reducing rural poverty will require attention to the structure of rural economies and communities.

Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University


2. Most new jobs aren’t in rural areas

It’s easy to see why many rural Americans believe the recession never ended: For them, it hasn’t.

Rural communities still haven’t recovered the jobs they lost in the recession. Census data show that the rural job market is smaller now – 4.26 percent smaller, to be exact – than it was in 2008. In these data are shuttered coal mines on the edges of rural towns and boarded-up gas stations on rural main streets. In these data are the angers, fears and frustrations of much of rural America.

This isn’t a new trend. Mechanization, environmental regulations and increased global competition have been slowly whittling away at resource extraction economies and driving jobs from rural communities for most of the 20th century. But the fact that what they’re experiencing now is simply the cold consequences of history likely brings little comfort to rural people. If anything, it only adds to their fear that what they once had is gone and it’s never coming back.

Nor is it likely that the slight increase in rural jobs since 2013 brings much comfort. As the resource extraction economy continues to shrink, most of the new jobs in rural areas are being created in the service sector. So Appalachian coal miners and Northwest loggers are now stocking shelves at the local Walmart.

The identity of rural communities used to be rooted in work. The signs at the entrances of their towns welcomed visitors to coal country or timber country. Towns named their high school mascots after the work that sustained them, like the Jordan Beetpickers in Utah or the Camas Papermakers in Washington. It used to be that, when someone first arrived at these towns, they knew what people did and that they were proud to do it.

That’s not so clear anymore. How do you communicate your communal identity when the work once at the center of that identity is gone, and calling the local high school football team the “Walmart Greeters” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it?

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A much-needed welcoming sign of the times


While Trump and his alt-Right partisans are busily whipping up resentment and fear of folks with darker skins than theirs, a Mennonite church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has launched a quite movement bearing fruit in signs popping up in yards and in store windows across the country.

For folks unfamiliar with the Mennonites, it’s a Christian sect sometimes described as Amish Lite.

The Amish and Mennonites are both anabaptists, folks who reject infant baptism and insist the rite be carried out only when the believer is able to make an informed decision, a belief that led to the religion’s relentless persecution in Europe, driving many Anabaptists to the British colonies in the New World, our own paternal ancestors among them.

Mennonites and the Amish share a renunciation of armed force, another factor contributing to their persecution in the Old World.

Unlike the Amish, not all Mennonites reject modern technology, though the conservative branches do.

But what unites the Mennonites is a powerful tradition of service to folks in need, most visibly in the actions of the Mennonite Disaster Service, which provides immediate and long-term assistance for disaster victims in the U.S. and Mexico, and the Mennonite Central Committee, which funds and staffs development projects in the Third World.

But with the resurgence fueled by the Trumpsters starting in 2015, Pastor Matthew Bucher wanted to do something, so he had a simple sign posted in front of his church.

And this a movement was born, Welcome Your Neighbors:

In August 2015, pastor Matthew Bucher wanted to share a simple message with the neighborhood around his church in Harrisonburg, VA. In the midst of a national dialogue that was strikingly negative about immigrants, Bucher joined with his church to put a hand-painted sign saying, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” in the building’s front yard, in the three main languages spoken in the neighborhood.

Over the following months, Bucher shared the message with other local Mennonite pastors, and together they created the first design for the tri-color yard sign. The sign, designed to be brightly visible during campaign-sign season, spread locally around Harrisonburg as more people decided to share the message of welcome. Bucher and other members of Immanuel Mennonite Church printed up 200 signs to sell at the Virginia Mennonite Relief sale and started a Facebook page to help get signs to those in other locations. They also posted the PDF free on their website.

Since that time, interest has continued to grow. The original idea sparked many people in many places to print signs and become local points of connection for those willing to make this simple statement of welcome. From its beginning in a conversation on a Sunday morning, to its global reach today, the movement serves as a tangible signpost encouraging us to reach out to our neighbors, build bridges of connection, and practice hospitality through the open doors of our communities.

You can also order pre-printed waterproof yard signs with metal stakes here.

And with that, a sign of the times we can heartily endorse:

TrumpTales™: Stories from South of the Border


Since Mexico never had an Orange Crush, it comes at no surprise that White House xenophobia is generating some response.

What follows are three examples, via teleSUR English. . .

A Tijuana border rally for immigrant solidarity

While Donald Trump holds carefully regular stage-managed rallies in the grand old tradition of European fascists, another kind of rally celebrating those Trump despises:

Metropolitan Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barron led a Catholic mass Sunday next to the border wall between the United States and Mexico in the border city of Tijuana before 30,000 joined in a march in solidarity with migrants worldwide.

The march for “Life, Peace and Migrants” has been organized by the Catholic Church in Tijuana for 17 consecutive years with the goal of uniting the society of Tijuana. However, this year’s march has the added goal of solidarity and prayers for migrants worldwide.

“Every year we proclaim peace and life. Now this year, we add to these values, solidarity with migrants,” stated the Archbishop, adding that “we begin with this simple gesture on the wall that makes us aware of so many brothers who need us through these lands of the Californians and Tijuana.”

This year’s march comes amid the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe as migrants continue to embark on perilous journeys to flee countries in Africa and the Middle East, while migrants living in the United States in general, but especially from Latin America and Muslim-majority nations, face a heightened security crackdown under U.S. President Donald Trump.

And Trumpsters behaving badly. . .

Yep, another reason some folks dread the Turistus americanus:

As the Trump administration continues to peddle its vision of expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall, U.S. citizens spending spring break in Cancun took to chanting “Build that wall!” while on vacation there.

As reported in an editorial in the Yucatan Times, a local Mexican outlet, a young couple on their honeymoon witnessed the chant while aboard the cruise ship “Pirate Ship,” which sailed out from Puerto Juarez last week.

“Today I was with Suly, my wife (who is a native of Mexico), watching an entertainment show off the coast of Cancun aboard a boat, and at the end of the show, a flock of Americans (maybe under the influence of alcohol, or maybe not), began to sing the infamous ‘Build that wall’ chant louder and louder,” Anaximandro Amable, a Peruvian native, wrote on Facebook.

The chant was often shouted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters backing him on his campaign trail whenever he mentioned the border wall expansion. It is still chanted now by these supporters.

“This situation is far from being an isolated incident, and it adds to the growing number of complaints from tourism sector workers, who point out that in recent days many Spring Breakers have been offensive, rude and haughty towards Mexican people,” wrote the Yucatan Times in its editorial.

And the Zapitistas fire off a hearty ‘Fuck Trump’

And they have grounds for it:

Mexico’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN, announced Saturday that it will begin selling organic coffee from Chiapas in order to help migrants persecuted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Working alongside allied international distributors, the EZLN will use coffee sale funds to provide financial assistance to U.S. deportees in Mexico. They will also use funds to support pro-immigrant resistance groups around the world protesting anti-immigrant governments.

The project is part of the group’s “Global Campaign Against the Walls of Capital,” which calls for worldwide immigrant solidarity against detentions and deportations.

“It’s 100 percent Zapatista coffee, cultivated in Zapatista lands by Zapatista hands,” EZLN insurgent subcommanders Moises and Galeano wrote in a statement.

“We hope that with this support they will be able to initiate work of support for all persecutions and discriminations of the world.”

The EZLN insurgent subcommanders signed their statement with the words “fuck Trump.”

Map of the day: Europe’s low fertility rates


Europe is undergoing a population implosion.

While some countries have higher birth rates than others, no country produces enough babies to maintain a constant population.

One has to wonder if the phenomenon contributes to Europe’s rising tide of xenophobia.

From Eurostat:

More from Eurostat:

In 2015, 5.103 million babies were born in the European Union (EU), compared with 5.063 million in 2001 (the first year comparable statistics are available). Among Member States, France continued to record the highest number of births (799,700in 2015), ahead of the United Kingdom (776,700), Germany (737,600), Italy (485,800), Spain (418,400) and Poland (369,300).

On average in the EU, women who gave birth to their first child in 2015 were aged nearly 29 (28.9 years). Across Member States, first time mothers were the youngest in Bulgaria and the oldest in Italy.

Overall, the total fertility rate in the EU increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015. It varied between Member States from 1.31 in Portugal to 1.96 in France in 2015. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant without migration.

Total fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 in all Member States

In 2015, France (1.96) and Ireland (1.92) were the two Member State with total fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1. They were followed by Sweden (1.85) and the United Kingdom (1.80). Conversely, the lowest fertility rates were observed in Portugal (1.31), Cyprus and Poland (both 1.32), Greece and Spain (both 1.33) as well as Italy (1.35).

In most Member States, the total fertility rate rose in 2015 compared with 2001. The largest increases were observed in Latvia (from 1.22 in 2001 to 1.70 in 2015, or +0.48), the Czech Republic (+0.42), Lithuania (+0.41), Slovenia (+0.36), Bulgaria (+0.32), Romania (+0.31), Sweden (+0.28) and Estonia (+0.26). In contrast, the highest decreases were registered in Cyprus (-0.25), Luxembourg (-0.19) and Portugal (-0.14). For the EU as a whole, the total fertility rate increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015 (+0.12).

Headline of the day: Tempestuous TrumpLandia™


From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a tale of life in TrumpAmerica™:

YMCA won’t let members watch cable news while working out anymore for ‘safety’ reasons

  • In the Greater Scranton, Pennsylvania, YMCA, there’s now one less way to elevate your blood pressure
  • That’s because the gym’s board of directors has voted to ban cable news from its building after several locker room and gym disputes over politics and news turned so heated that some members feared for their safety, according to multiple media reports
  • In a letter sent out to members, the board wrote that 24-hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have given rise to intense confrontations, which have “raised concerns about the safety, both physically and emotionally, of our members”