Another disaster in Magdeburg

AfD-Demonstration in Magdeburg

2016: Local Leader of the AfD, André Poggenburg

1631: Sack of Magdeburg

1631: Sack of Magdeburg by Imperial troops

For anyone who has studied German history, mention of the capital city of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt brings to mind its significant history. Founded by Charlemagne in 805 as Magadoburg, it was one of the largest cities in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, a member of the Hanseatic League, and the city where young Martin Luther went to school. Under Luther’s influence, the city sided with the Protestants in the 30 Years War, leading to the event known as the the sack of Magdeburg, the massacre in which Imperial troops ravaged the city; out of 30,000, only 5,000 survived. By the time of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the city’s population stood at 450. In the 20th century, the city suffered another disaster, being almost totally destroyed in the course of World War II. Adding insult to injury, the city found itself on the wrong side of the dividing line after the war, becoming part of the Soviet occupation zone, then incorporated into communist East Germany.

The latest disaster? This past Sunday, when the extremist Alternative for Germany party (AfD – “Alternative für Deutschland”) won 24% of the vote in the election for the Landtag, the regional parliament for Saxony-Anhalt, which meets in Magdeburg. It came in second to the Christian Democratic Union (29%). While that fact has been widely reported (and lamented), what is less well known is that if one were to add in the votes for smaller, right-wing parties such as the NPD (the neonazi party which is currently under threat to be outlawed) winning 2%, the “Free Voters” (a highly nationalistic party) at 2%, the “Alliance for Progress and Renewal” (a splinter group of the AfD) at 1%, and other smaller parties such as the scary “Die Rechte”, the percentage of far-right leaning groups is likely higher than for any other party. Unfortunately, the rise of the AfD is not limited to this state, they did well in other state elections on Sunday as well. This is the party that is strongly anti-immigrant, anti-EU, and generally anti-establishment. While the general consensus (see the Economist’s analysis) seems to be that the election results are not disastrous for Chancellor Merkel or for Germany generally, it’s worrisome for anyone familiar with the history of the Weimar Republic to see such movements gain significant popular support. Of course, Germany is not the only country seeing xenophobic, populist politics on the rise. The primary elections today in several large states in the US might help determine if the US sees a similar trend prevail in one of its major political parties.

Binge Eating Stars

Rachel Ahn, a Korean binge eater [NPR]

Rachel Ahn, a Korean binge eater [NPR]

I have written before about “slow TV”, exemplified by Norwegian television, with shows on stacking firewood and watching slow-moving ships. Another country with interesting video productions is South Korea. Well-known are the video productions of contests of online gaming, which have a substantial viewership outside the country. Recently NPR had a story on the popularity of eating shows, or mukbang. It profiles one of the better known binge eaters, Rachel Ahn, who goes by “Aebong-ee”. Every weeknight, she gathers a huge amount of food — noodles, dumplings, seafood — in front of her and starts to eat and broadcast. Her fans expect not just a large volume of food to be devoured at a sitting, but also to have it done in a particular way:

The demands on Ahn and other mukbang stars like her are high — she can’t just eat, she must eat ferociously. As she devours noodles, loud slurping is a must. Audiences offer feedback on a live stream, asking how spicy the noodles are, suggesting she move dumplings closer to the camera or do a dance in excitement. The stream continues for three hours every night.

The most successful binge eaters can make a lot of money and become quite famous. It may be that such shows offer a way for Koreans living alone to have a kind of companionship, even if it’s virtual. According to Ahn, most of her fans are women, many of whom are on a diet; she speculates that the eating shows are popular as a way for those women to eat vicariously. A professor of Asian Studies at UC-Irvine, Kyung Kim, has a different explanation:

Eating is something one activity that is strongly identified as being natural, and spontaneous…You think about K-pop or K-drama [and] they’re very artificial, they’re all about makeup and plastic surgeries. And a lot of people find this — mukbang — to be the exact opposite of all the things right now Korean popular culture really stands for.

Of course, describing the huge volumes of food consumed in the eating shows as “natural” might seem a stretch. I’d be curious if the binge eaters ever include a strangely popular food in Korea, Spam, the U.S. processed pork product from the 1930’s, which is particularly used to make a spicy soup known as budae jjigae, or army stew.

3 miles apart and worlds away

hallwayThe current story in the radio show This American Life illustrates through an individual experience the reality of the gap between rich and poor in the United States as played out in education. It tells the story of New York city high school students participating in an exchange in which they visited each other’s schools. Both schools were in the Bronx and just 3 miles apart, but as put in the story, it took the equivalent of a foreign exchange program to bring them together. One school, University Heights High School, is a public school and is 97% black and Hispanic. The other, Fieldston, is one of New York City’s elite private schools, 70% white with an annual tuition rate of $43,000. The story follows several students who participated in the exchange visits and in particular one girl, Melanie, from University Heights, who reacted to the visit to Fieldston with shock and dismay. She was a bright student who seemed sure to go on to college and be successful in whatever career she would take up. But after managing to track Melanie down 10 years after the exchange between the schools, Chana Joffe-Walt, the producer of the episode, discovered that she had in fact not followed that path. In conversations with Melanie, we learn of the dream she had to attend a prestigious university and her struggles to get by working in a grocery store and her profound shame over her situation. Melanie had been close to winning a scholarship to attend an elite college (Middlebury) but was not selected. A student who did win a scholarship through that same program is also followed in the episode. The young man, Jonathan, attended Wheaton College, but dropped out. Although he had a full scholarship, he had no money to buy his textbooks, and felt out of place among the other students. Their stories demonstrate in poignant ways how difficult is to cross socio-economic boundaries, even with the support both students received from teacher-mentors.

In interviewing Melanie, Joffe-Walt went back to that initial visit to Fieldston and her shock at seeing the radically different environment:

It was just like, OK, this is private. So everything kind of is a fucking lie that you see your whole life growing up on TV shows or movies. It’s like, OK, this is not free. This is not available for kids of color. This is something that only privileged or the elite can have. I know I looked at it and I said, well, I know that we’re only being taught to flip burgers in Burger King or McDonald’s or to hold doors for students like them that will probably live in those buildings on Madison Avenue, and we’ll be wearing the uniform, servicing these people.

Joffe-Walt comments:

So that’s what she found so upsetting. It seemed that the people around her must believe that this was the natural order of things. Melanie knew there was no innate difference between her and a kid born into wealth. She could see that this division we’re all so inured to was not a reflection of her inferior worth or ability, she just didn’t know what to do with the idea that she might be alone in seeing that.

Homophobia & Colonialism

uganda-anti-gayAmong the legacies of colonialism are habits and attitudes brought by the colonizing powers and which persist beyond the colonial period. That may be in some cases a taste for particular foods or styles of preparation – for example, the Portuguese treats I remember enjoying in Macau (at a casino food court, no less). The French influence on Vietnamese cuisine is another example (although pho may or may not be related to pot-au-feu). Even more evident is of course language, with India, Pakistan, the Philippines or Hong Kong taking advantage of the historical role of English to foster wide use of that language in business and education. But the few instances of positive colonial legacies pale in comparison to the pernicious cultural, economic, and political legacies of the colonial powers.  That includes suppression of native languages along with countless other acts of cultural imperialism.

What we are witnessing now in Uganda is just such a sad legacy. As discussed in a piece in the Think Africa Press, one of the sources of homophobic attitudes in that and other African countries is a holdover from imported and imposed Victorian concepts of sexuality.  There are of course other factors involved as well, one being the anti-Western backlash against what can be seen as neo-colonial pressure for Ugandans not to pass anti-gay legislation.  Another being the possible influence of American evangelicals. Uganda is by no means alone, According to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are at least 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal. Many have colonial histories as well but by no means all, and not all former colonies have Victorian attitudes to blame.  Russia’s anti-gay legislation and its wide-spread popular support seem sadly to be home-grown.

Uganda’s President indicated recently that he will not sign the anti-gay bill passed by the legislature.  His explanation – homosexuals are “abnormal” and “sick” and need to be rehabilitated. His views join a long list of world leaders making unfortunate remarks about gays in their countries, from Putin to former Iranian President Ahmadinejad who famously stated that there were no gays in Iran.

Beer and democracy

singhabeerIf you see beer being poured over someone’s feet, what would be your reaction?  In Thailand, this is disparaging action and part of a protest against a prominent beer brand, Singha.  It’s not a protest concerning the quality of the product – Singha is a well-known brand.  It concerns comments from Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, 28, the Singha beer heiress who was quoted last month in a widely circulated article saying that many Thais lack a “true understanding” of democracy, “especially in the rural areas.” This comes from a NY Times article published this week-end.  She was reacting to the continued support for the current government, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, brother of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, from Thais in the poor, rural areas of the country. The Singha heiress is part of the group trying to oust the Prime Minister.  In contrast to what one normally expects from protests – namely a call for more democracy, the rich and powerful in Thailand are calling for less democracy, “The demonstrators want a hiatus from democracy, replacing it with rule by a ‘people’s council’ selected from various professions in the country. Many say they yearn for a return to the absolute monarchy because Thailand is not ready for democracy.”

The Thai protest against the government is reminiscent of last year’s action in Egypt, ousting a legally and democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Morsi.  Of course, the situation in Thailand and Egypt are quite different, but they do point to a worrisome trend, away from changing leaders through elections, and instead forcing them out through a military coup or other actions.

Pasta not rice

Melanie Vanderlipe Ramil  & her parents

Melanie Vanderlipe Ramil & her parents

“I ate pasta, family ate rice,” says Melanie Vanderlipe Ramil, who comes from a Filipino-American family and wrote that phrase as a contribution to the Race Card Project and as a way of characterizing one aspect of her cultural identity. As a girl Melanie was embarrassed that she couldn’t offer visiting school friends main-stream American snacks like hot dogs or Tater Tots – such things weren’t to be found in her family kitchen.  Melanie’s friends were mystified (and she was mortified) by the huge rice dispenser which was the centerpiece of her family kitchen. Her family ate Filipino food, and rice was served with every meal.  In middle school Melanie told her family she wasn’t going to eat rice any more and her accommodating mother made her pasta instead.  Her story is not unusual for immigrant families.  Fortunately, Melanie’s subsequent story is common these days as well.  In her 20’s she came to discover that her Filipino heritage made her special, and she has since embraced Filipino cooking. Ironically, as she told NPR, she is now making sure Filipino traditions are kept alive in her extended family, making sure the young people in her family know how to make the traditional dish of lumpia, (similar to an eggroll):

“I would prepare my grandmother’s lumpia recipe and kind of set up a lumpia sweatshop, if you will,” Ramil says. “For each of my cousins’ children … there are about 25 or 30 of them — I would put a place mat in front of them, lumpia wrappers … a little bowl of raw meat.”

Melanie is making sure such traditions have some permanence and extend beyond her family, writing a blog, Lola’s Journal, based on her grandmother’s life (and cooking).

For many of us food is an important part of our cultural identity, which may or may not be tied to ethnic backgrounds. Melanie’s story shows us that sometimes that connection is complicated and changes over time.  I’m writing this on Thanksgiving and I’m looking forward to a new tradition my family started last year:  the 10-minute instant Thanksgiving dinner, consisting of a purchased roasted chicken (how great that our main grocery store is open on Thanksgiving), boxed stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, canned vegetables and gravy, heated-up rolls. No gourmet feast, but it does allow more time for socializing, games, and emptying my growler, not to mention eliminating the 5 a.m. turkey preparation – a tradition I’m willing to pass up.

Women: Incorruptible

copsInteresting story recently from Mexico about women being used exclusively as traffic cops.  The reason?  To fight corruption in the police force, a chronic problem in Mexico.  The assumption is that women are less likely to take bribes to forgo issuing traffic citations or to strong-arm motorists into forking over cash instead of being arrested.  Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, cited in a story on NPR, says women are much better suited for traffic duty: “When a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her…women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don’t ask for or take bribes.” So far the women traffic cops in the Mexico State don’t have full police authority – they can only issue warnings.

Are women really less corruptible.  Tania Lombrozo points out in her blog that the results are mixed.  In a recent study from Rice University, researchers found that corruptibility of men versus women depends on the kind of government in place: “We find strong evidence that a gender gap in corruption attitudes and behaviors is present in democracies, but weaker or non-existent in autocracies.” According to the article, this correlates as well with the role of women in politics – in democratic countries having a larger number of women participating in government lessens corruption, but not in autocratic regimes.  They provide an interesting explanation of why women are different from men in terms of corruptibility:

Women are more powerfully subject to social norms because systematic discrimination against them makes their position more tenuous. Insomuch that sex discrimination means holding women to a different (higher) standard than men for the same reward, it is riskier for them to flout the formal and informal rules of political culture because transgressions are more likely to invite retaliation. Thus, if a political culture discourages corruption, women will avoid corrupt activities more and profess greater aversion to it (compared to men) because they anticipate suffering more severe consequences than their male counterparts.

Whether the new approach will work for Mexico remains to be seen.  Mexico ranks high in the corruption index of Transparency International (105 out of 174 most corrupt).  It’s interesting to note that the countries that are listed as the least corrupt are also among those that in the recent World Happiness Report rank as the “happiest”, namely the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.

I’m allowed to wear a hoodie

istock_000008235676largeIn an interview yesterday, a member of the George Zimmerman trial jury stated that race did not enter into their deliberations and that she did not think the situation would have been different had it been a white young man walking down the street of Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Given that perspective, it’s not surprising that Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trevon Martin. We all tend to categorize unknown individuals based on appearance, including dress, skin color, gender, age, demeanor, walking style. This is normal human behavior in dealing with the unknown – we put things and people into groups based on previous encounters, learned values, and media messaging. This kind of processing does not normally have deadly consequences, but it becomes problematic and potentially dangerous if we assume our initial categorizing corresponds to reality in every case and in every context, without trying to ascertain the nature of an individual beyond outward appearances. This is profiling – associating the stereotyped individual with assumed negative behavior.

It’s clear that Zimmerman’s actions were based on profiling, following Treyvon Martin because he was black, male, young, and wearing a hoodie. On NPR this morning as part of the “race card project” (creating 6-word statements about race) there was discussion about what message is sent by someone wearing a hoodie:

A woman named Bethany Banner of Kalamazoo had this ah-ha moment when she was out shopping one day. It starts raining. She pulls her hoodie, and her six words were: ‘I’m allowed to wear a hoodie’. Because she realized in that moment that no one would ever look at her, as a petite white woman, and assume that she was someone dangerous because she had this hood up over her head.

Treyvon Martin made the mistake of thinking he too would not be looked at askance when wearing a hoodie.

Another jolting quote came yesterday from George Zimmerman’s brother, who was complaining that his brother was afraid of retribution : “There are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it, or be vigilantes in some sense”. I think he missed the irony of George Zimmerman fearing someone acting outside official channels and taking matters into his own hands.

Gaelic unites

gaelicsignsAPRecent story in the Atlantic about the interest in the Irish language, a Celtic language, also called Irish Gaelic (as distinct from Scottish Gaelic) in Northern Ireland, the majority Protestant region of Ireland that is part of the UK, separate from the majority Catholic Republic of Ireland.  The Irish language has long played an important cultural role in the Republic, but not so traditionally in the North, where it has often been associated with the Catholic South. Now efforts are underway to try to use the Irish language as a way to bring Protestant Republicans and Catholic Unionists in Northern Ireland together.  There are still smoldering feelings of resentment and injustice there, going back to the “Troubles”, the 40-year violent confrontation between the two sides over the political future of Northern Ireland.

One of the surprising facts about Irish is the role that Protestants played in keeping the language alive at a time when its continued existence was threatened. This is a fact that Linda Ervine, a Protestant helping to organize Irish language classes in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, uses to recruit fellow Protestants:

 “The language was almost lost by the end of the 19th century because Irish became associated with poverty and Catholicism (particularly during the potato famine, which hit the poor the hardest). During the famine, about 3 million Irish emigrated. But what few Protestants in the neighborhood know, Ervine says, is that Irish, or Gaelic, was saved by a small group of Presbyterians, many of whom were steadfast loyalists.”

 The interest in Irish in the North corresponds to an initiative there called Líofa 2015, or “fluent” 2015, which seeks to promote Irish as a means of reconciliation through interest in a common cultural heritage. It’s not only in Ireland that languages which seemed destined to die out as living languages have been revived and used as a way to bring groups together.  The role that Hebrew has played in shaping modern Israel is perhaps the best-known example.  In the U.S. Native Indian tribes such as the Navajo are emphasizing the importance of learning their language as a way of cementing cultural identity.

Wrong Handshake

bill_gates_south_korean_hand_shake_thg_130423_vblogBill Gates visited South Korea last week and not surprisingly met with a number of high-ranking members of the government, including new South Korean President Park Geun-hye.  But all that was reported out of Gates’ visit in the media in Korea and the USA was Gates’ faux-pas in shaking hands with the President.  He kept his left hand in his coat pocket, which was perceived as rude.  He should have (as did Larry Page from Google later in the week) clasped the President’s hand with both of his as a sign of respect.  According to the Korea Herald, “The topic [of the handshake] was so frequently discussed online that as of Tuesday morning, Bill Gates became one of the most searched keywords on Naver, the most visited web portal in South Korea.” Greeting gestures and etiquette can be tricky in unfamiliar cultures.  The White House and the State Department have experts in that area who provide guidance, but apparently Bill Gates did not have access to that information.

It probably would come as little surprise to Americans that it would be Bill Gates involved in this social gaffe.  After all, he is likely perceived as a member of a particular group:  geeks.  This is a group seen as socially inept, politically ignorant, and, on occasion, inappropriately arrogant.  The latter characteristic, in fact, is what many perceived Gates as exhibiting when he appeared before Congress when Microsoft was being investigated for its monopoly stronghold on computer operating systems; Gates was dismissive of the Congressmen’s concerns and lectured them as if they were schoolchildren.  Of course, these days, the geeks have their gotten their revenge and are laughing all the way to the bank.

“Yellow Fever”: Seeking Asians

asianToday the fifth and the last episode of the great Web series, “They’re all so beautiful“, was launched.  The Web site features a forum on race and dating, dealing principally with the obsession some American men have with finding an Asian bride.  The episode today (see below) deals in general with interracial marriages and features snippets of interviews with partners from different races. The first episode explores the general topic of “yellow fever”.  The Web series is leading up to the showing of the wonderful documentary, “Seeking Asian Female” from Debbie Lum (who is also responsible for the Web site), on PBS on May 6.  The film does a good job in portraying the culture shock of the young Chinese bride who is suddenly thrust into married life in the U.S. While Lum’s videos give a good sense of the degree of obsession with Asian women for some men, the Web site “Creepy White Guys” gives the sometimes disturbing (and disturbed) side.

One of the things many of the white males interviewed mention that they like about Asian women is their eyes, exotic and mysterious. In fact, appearance plays a major role in the fetish, with likely the perceived submissiveness of Asian women playing a role as well. Ironically, Asian women sometimes wish they had Western-style eyes. There has been a big increase in plastic surgery by Chinese women to get “double eyelid” surgery.  This is a sign of the increasing wealth of the Chinese middle class, as well as its internationalization.  Some Chinese women also get treatments to whiten their skin. When I spent the summer in Beijing a few years ago, I was in constant danger in walking down the street of having an eye poked out by women holding umbrellas, so as not to allow the summer sun to darken their complexions.

Boston bombers: Not Czechs

chechnyaWe don’t as yet know much about the motivation of the accused Boston bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, but it does seem certain that they had no connection to the Czech Republic, the EU member country in central Europe, formed from the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, along with Slovakia. Chechens are an ethnic group from the North Caucasus region in Russia. Given Americans’ notorious ignorance of geography, it may come as no surprise that the Chechen brothers were quickly identified as “Czechs”. There is a long list of tweets, Facebook messages and even news reports that attack the “Czech” terrorists and call for a reprisal attack against “Czechoslovakia”. The Czech ambassador had to issue a clarification about who Czechs were. There’s speculation that the Brothers were Muslim extremists, with some evidence that the older brother’s views had in fact recently been moving in that direction.  Ironically, the Czechs are one of the least religious peoples in the world, with the largest faith, Roman Catholicism, followed by just 10% of the population.

There are many U.S, Americans with Czech roots and festivals celebrating Czech-American heritage. There are far fewer Chechens in the US., partly because of immigration quotas but also due to concerns since 9/11 about immigrants from Muslim countries where there are active extremist elements. Is it really a problem that Americans misidentified the cultural origins of the bombers?  Many of those posting the misinformation didn’t think so, responding, when the error was pointed out, that it was all the same, after all, weren’t they all Slavs (another mistake).  This is an indication of the lack of knowledge about the world outside the US, but it’s also an indicator of a more serious issue, the tendency to avoid nuanced views or to make fine distinctions.  Blanket condemnations, a disregard for facts, and a refusal to think critically have led many Americans to be uniformed citizens, with sometimes disastrous consequences when they cast votes or help decide what should be taught in schools. Maybe we shouldn’t place all the blame on the willfully ignorant and conspiracy theorists (the “Czech” bombers must be connected to the explosion in the Texas fertilizer factory, as there are is a sizable Czech-American community there), our politicians have become adept at, as Paul Krugman puts it, “how to lie with statistics”, purposely distorting reality to fit their political aims.

Cowboy up!

John-Wayne-Cowboy-PosterA recent story on NPR talked about the high rate of suicide in Wyoming (highest in the US), with most of those committed with guns – Wyoming also has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the US.  The story deals with a woman whose two sons killed themselves with guns.  She said that talking about suicide isn’t easy and in Wyoming its connection to guns makes it even tougher:  “I think we have a cultural norm here in Wyoming where, for lack of a better word, you know, cowboy up, you know, be tough, you know, don’t – it’s not OK to get help.”  Guns are of course a core part of cowboy culture, as is rugged, self-sufficient individualism. But it’s not just Wyoming.  In the US cowboy culture is still idealized (note the popularity of Toy Story cowboy) and a large part of the cultural history of the United States.  It’s bucking up against that culture that makes gun control such a difficult step.

It’s not just the USA.  One of the other countries with a very high ownership of guns is Switzerland, yes that neutral, peaceful Alpine republic.  Depending on how it’s measured, Swiss gun ownership is number 3 or 4 in the world.  Switzerland has a strong tradition of a militia-style army, with compulsory military service for men (or longer alternative civilian service) who stay in the reserves till the age of 30.  Those serving in the army keep their Army-issued rifles at home, ready in case the French invade across Lake Geneva, or, the Teutonic cousins pour in from the north.  The substantial part that weapons play in Swiss life (Schützenfeste – shooting festivals continue to be popular) is in marked contrast to other European countries, where it is quite difficult to obtain a firearm.  As in the US, gun ownership is embedded in Swiss cultural history.  The Swiss are proud of the independence they fought to achieve from the Habsburgers in the 13th century, which in fact led to the founding of the federal Swiss state.  The weapons used, especially the halberd, were mostly fashioned by farmers, yet they defeated the mighty Habsburg knights.  Since then, of course, the Swiss have had many occasions when it was important that they be able to guard their borders against intruders.

In both US and Swiss cultures, weapons and armed citizen farmers were an important part of the founding of the nation and have become national myths, William Tell’s heroic fight against Austrian tyranny or George Washington’s ragtag army defeating the mighty British redcoats.  Weapons are part of the DNA of both cultures – the attachment is visceral and deep.  We can talk all we want about safety and security or the traditions of hunting and fishing, but attitudes in the US towards gun ownership go much deeper than that. For many Americans restricting gun ownership tears at the fabric of their cultural identity.

One of the indicators of how deeply guns are embedded in the American cultural DNA is the large number of gun metaphors we use, as discussed in a recent NPR story:

In January, when Vice President Biden concluded a week of meetings at the White House over how to curb gun violence, listen to the words he chose to describe the complexity.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: We know that it is – there is no silver bullet.

BLOCK: And as for when he’d make his proposal?

BIDEN: I’m shooting for Tuesday. I hope I get it done by then.

BLOCK: No silver bullet. Shooting for Tuesday. Just two examples of how pervasive gun language is in our everyday speech. Think about it: We bite the bullet, sweat bullets, ride shotgun, stick to our guns, jump the gun, go ballistic, and shoot from the hip. If she’s a straight-shooter, he’s a real pistol. Oh, he’s a little gun shy. What a hot shot. Son of a gun.

It would be an interesting socio-lingusitc study to see if in fact American English tends to use more such expressions than is the case in Britain or Australia.

Who belongs?

TRIBES-articleInline

Nikah Dondero, ejected from her California tribe (NY Times)

Group membership is sometimes voluntary, sometimes not.  Sometimes there are such advantages attached to group membership that there are disputes over who can belong.  One wouldn’t normally expect such disputes to involve ethnic backgrounds.  And not long ago, fighting to claim membership in an American Indian tribe would have seemed highly unlikely.  After all, few groups have lost more than indigenous peoples of the Americas or have worse prospects for healthy and fulfilling lives.  But in the US some Indian tribes which operate casinos have acquired enough wealth that disputes have arisen over who can claim to be part of the tribe.

A story in this week’s This American Life discusses the process of “disenrollment” which has roiled a number of Native American tribes in recent years, The story focuses on the Chukchansi tribe in California, where the Tribal Council has been expelling members on grounds of insufficient proof of tribal bloodlines or lack of ownership in tribal lands.  Those findings are hotly disputed by those “disenrolled”, which number in the hundreds in a tribe of only some 1000 members.  The ex-members include 87-year old Ruby Cordero, who, according to an article in the New York Times is “a cultural pillar of the tribe because she is expert at basket weaving and among the last native speakers of the Chukchansi language”.  Why the recent emphasis by the Tribal Council on weeding out members perceived to be not legitimate?  According to them, they are just making sure their tribal constitution is being followed.  Others, however, point to the fact that reducing the number of tribal members increases the monthly stipend remaining members receive from the tribe’s gambling operation.  It seems ironic that now people are fighting to be recognized as Native Americans, a group mired in poverty for generations.  It’s hard to assign blame to those Native Americans who finally are getting some small share of the “American dream” and want to make sure it goes to the just recipients.