Category Archives: History

Quote of the day: Charlie Chaplin v. Trump


Charlie Chaplin,  arguably one of the two greatest comedians of the silent film era [we rate Buster Keaton as #1], reached his apotheosis in a 1940 film, The Great Dictator, the first of his films shot entirely as a talkie.

Charles Silver, Curator of the Department of Film of the Museum of Modern Art, sums up the film’s importance:

The Great Dictator is the product of extraordinary synchronicity and an unprecedented convergence of historical and artistic forces. By this happy accident, we find the century’s most emblematic popular artist testing his gifts against the man who embodied the greatest threat to civilization, human freedom, and, in fact, art in recorded time. It is not an overstatement to refer to The Great Dictator, as David Robinson does, as “an epic incident in the history of mankind.” In its confrontation with the cosmos—and its deeply felt intent to alter the state of human affairs with a mere piece of art—the film stands alone on its very special pedestal of aspiration.

Chaplin plays two roles, one as Dictator of Tomania Adenoid Hynkel [note the initials], and the second as a nameless mustachioed Jewish barber rounded up for ethnic cleansing by the dictator.

The film pits the barber, his inamorata Hannah, and a renegade Tomanian pilot against Hynkel, his sidekicks Garbitsch [Goebbels] and Herring [Hermann Goering], and fellow tyrant Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria.

Captured in a roundup of Jews, the barber is dispatched to a concentration camp, while simultaneously Hynkel suffers amnesia from a boating accident and the barber dons Hynkel’s distinctive garb [replete with the insignia of  Double Cross, a comedic substitute for the swastika] to make good his escape, only to be mistaken for the Hynkel, who’s back in the camp and identified as the barber.

In the end, the barber, as Hynkel, finds himself taking to the microphone for the film’s concluding scene in which he delivers a passionate speech, an excerpt of which is our Quote of the Day:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

Here’s a video of the full speech:

And if you’ve not seen Chaplin’s classic, here’s the film in its entirety in HD:

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Generations divide over U.S.foreign policy


America’s youngest adults think it’s high time for the United States to step back from its imperial role on the world stage, while the oldest American’s are beginning to lose their love to the Big Stick.

Perhaps it’s because they grew up, unlike earlier generations, living fully with the blowback from generations of aggressive interventions into the affairs of others, and the mountains of debt this country has incurred from belligerence and bullying.

Perhaps at no previous time in the nation’s history has it become so startlingly apparent that all those bloody adventures have done nothing beyond profiting plutocrats who have no intention of sharing the wealth harvested from oceans of blood.

From Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, writing in The Conversation, an open access journal:

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations.

For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs.

This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.

The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.

There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obama administration as well.

Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.

Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintaining superior military power is a very important goal, much less than the other generations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.

And when asked whether they support the use of force, millennials are generally disinclined, especially so on policies like conducting airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, using troops if North Korea invades South Korea, and conducting airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups.

American ‘exceptionalism’: Millennials also were much less inclined to embrace the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world.” Only half of millennials felt that way, compared to much higher percentages of the other three generations. In a related response, only one-quarter of millenials saw the need for the U.S. to be “the dominant world leader.”

These findings track with the 2014 American National Election Study, which found that while 78 percent of silent, 70 percent of boomer and 60 percent of Gen X respondents consider their American identity as extremely important, only 45 percent of millennials do.

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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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Quote of the day: The secret of his success


From Corey Robin, professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, writing in Jacobin about real parallel between Adolf Hitler and President Pussygrabber:

I’ve been reading David Cay Johnston’s excellent book The Making of Donald Trump. And without mentioning or even alluding to Hitler or fascism, the book raises an interesting — if unexpected — parallel about Trump’s and Hitler’s rise to power.

One of the themes in a lot of the historical scholarship about Germany in the 1920s and 1930s is how Hitler and the Nazis were able to take advantage of the systemic weaknesses of Weimar: the cracks in the political structure, the division among elites, the fissures in the parties, the holes in the Constitution, and so on. What Johnston narrates, in almost nauseating detail, is how Trump’s ascension to wealth and fame and power — long before he makes his 2016 run for the presidency — is dependent not on the weaknesses of the political system but on the systemic corruption of a rentier economy.

At every step, Trump benefits, almost haplessly (it seems to require very little art), from the built-in advantages to wealth and the wealthy in our society: whether those advantages are in the tax system, the regulatory system, or the courts. (Trump actually spoke of this quite often during his campaign.) And in the same way that Hitler preyed upon his opponents’ cluelessness in the face of his political rise, so does Trump profit from his opponents’ cluelessness in the face of his economic rise.

At every moment when Trump might have been stopped, when he might have been forced into bankruptcy, had his credit denied, had his loans called in, his licenses revoked, at every juncture where he might have been convicted of a crime or sent to jail — and, again, this is well before he makes his successful bid for the White House — some unplanned and unintended conspiracy of economic reason and political lowlifery mobilizes to protect him. (And it really is unplanned and unintended. The genius of the American system is how the Invisible Hand works to produce systemic vice rather than incidental virtue.)

Whether it’s gaming regulators who don’t want to take him on because hotel values in Atlantic City might suffer, or an investigation-happy attorney general who suddenly gets a well-timed campaign contribution, or judges upon judges who preside over settlements where records are permanently sealed and vital public information concealed, or bank officials and industry magnates who decide he’s too big to fail — and Johnston makes a fascinating comparison between the way the banks were treated in 2008 and the way that Trump has been treated for decades — this man’s rise to power has been predicated on all the most basic institutions and features of our economy.

Mr. Fish: Put it Together, People!


From Clowncrack, his blog of artistic abscission [and click on the images to embiggen]:

His composition is an imaginative reworking of one of the most powerful artworks of the 20th Century, also depicting devastation inflicted upon Spanish-speaking people.

Mr. Fish has creatively disassembled Guernica, the massive oil painting created by Pablo Picasso to 26 April 1937 bombing by the German military’s Condor Legion of a the Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War, the dress rehearsal for World War II, when German and Italian forces joined with Spanish fascists to overthrow the short-lived Spanish Republic:

More on the painting here.

And yes, we also note that most of residents of Guernica were and are are Basque, folks who often regard Spanish as their second language.

If Trump’s a fascist, he’s a different sort


Mike Davis is one of our favorite authors, a self-described environmental Marxist, an activist, a MacArthur fellow, and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

We’ve read many if not most of his books, valuing them for his perceptive analysis of the modern condition.

In The Great God Trump and the White Working Class, an essay posted at Jacobin, he raises the question on many minds these days: Is Donald Trump a fascist?

In it he evokes a comparison with another American demagogue, the late Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long, The Kingfish, a populist of a very different sort than Agent Orange:

“Huey Long, had he lived,” wrote John Gunther in Inside U.S.A. in 1947, “might very well have brought Fascism to America.” Is Trump giving good ole’boy fascism a second chance?

Like Gunther’s Long, he’s also “an engaging monster,” as well as “a lying demagogue, a prodigious self-seeker, vulgar, loose a master of political abuse.” Likewise he has

made every promise to the underpossessed,” appearing “a savior, a disinterested messiah.

But the great Kingfish actually made good on most of his pledges to the plain folk of Louisiana. He did bring them “cargo” in the form of public services and entitlements. He built hospitals and public housing, abolished the poll tax, and made textbooks free. Trump and his billionaire cabinet, on the other hand, are more likely to reduce access to health care, increase voter suppression, and privatize public education. “Fascism,” if that’s our future lot, will not “come in disguised as socialism,” as Gunther predicted (and Sinclair Lewis before him), but as a neo-Roman orgy of greed.

Americans having less sex under austerity


Only singles are having the same number of couplings, while folks living together, with or without a marriage certificate, are marking the sign of the two-back beast a lot less than they did back in 1989.

And the rate of sex for married couples has dropped to below that of folks who are living together without the paperwork, a novel trend in demographic history.

Just why remains unclear, but there are suspicions.

There’s one interesting finding: Folks who watch pron do it more often than those who practice X-rated abstention.

The story, from Florida Atlantic University:

Across the board, Americans are less sexually active than ever with the sharpest decline among people in their 50s, people with a college degree, people with school-aged children, people in the South, and those who do not watch pornography.

Using data from the General Social Survey with a representative sample of 26,620 American adults from 1989-2014, researchers from Florida Atlantic University, San Diego State University and Widener University, published their results today in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior [$39.95 to read the article for non-subscribers]. Results showed a drop across gender, race, region, work status and education level. A surprising result from the study revealed that the “marriage advantage” no longer holds true as the steady fall in the rate of sexual activity was in those who are married or living with partners. This group went from having sex 73 times a year in 1990 to about 55 times in 2014 – even below the frequency of sexual activity for never-married people who have sex an average of 59 times a year.

Unsurprisingly, the study found a steady decline in frequency of sexual activity as people age, from more than 80 times a year for people in their 20s, to about 60 times a year by 45 and 20 times a year by 65. But controlling for age and time period, the group having sex most often were those born in the 1930s (Silent Generation), while those having sex the least often were born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen).

“Overall, all American adults are having sex about nine times fewer per year since 1989-1994 and this is particularly driven by an increase in the percentage of unpartnered adults who have sex less often on average,” said Ryne Sherman, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “However, while the sexual frequency of unpartnered individuals remained unchanged albeit relatively low, the sexual frequency of partnered individuals has dropped the most, about 10 times less per year.”

The researchers also found that this decline was not associated with hours worked or pornography use. If anything, those working more and reported watching X-rated movies had higher sexual frequency.

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