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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2017
November
24
Friday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Are you Black Fridayed out yet?

It’s possible to feel that way without having swiped or typed into a single transaction today.

Part of it is the definition creep. We’ve been deleting “buy now” Black Friday email for weeks. Then there’s the question: How real are the deals? By one account more than 10 percent of items either cost the same or were more expensive on Black Friday than they were at Amazon.com.

The shopping frenzy around “stuff” has been linked to some nasty human behavior. The bigger issue with lower and lower costs, of course, is that we sometimes dissociate them from their effect on the supply chain and the workers who populate it.

In its darkest form that means human trafficking. NGOs are working on helping slavery survivors redirect into work opportunities that don’t exploit them. Small firms that marry industry with dignity keep sprouting. This year, one ethical fashion firm is even using its Black Friday sales to help fund the shipping of hydroponic container farms to its workers in Vietnam. 

Can compassion and consumer restraint override a compulsion for the new and a distaste for the second-hand? 

~

We're watching developments today in Egypt, where a north Sinai mosque has been attacked; go to CSMonitor.com for the latest.

Here are our five stories for your Friday, chosen to highlight protection, equality, and the value of understanding our past.

1. In plight of Rohingya, rising danger for the most vulnerable

Myanmar and Bangladesh have laid the groundwork for the repatriation of border-crossing refugees, Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Some observers call the move premature. Women and girls, in particular, face danger back home, while fleeing, and in resettlement camps. And their needs are largely going unmet. 

Rohingya Muslim girls carry water pots in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Since late August, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh, seeking safety from what the United Nations has called a campaign of "ethnic cleansing."
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Wong Maye-E/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadAs bad as conditions are for the Rohingya generally, they are worse for their women and girls. The United Nations recently concluded that nearly all of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim females fleeing what it has called “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar have either survived or witnessed sexual assault, including rape and gang rape. Thousands of the displaced women, most of whom have fled to sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh, are pregnant and face the prospect of giving birth in life-threatening conditions. Some human rights experts say the horrendous conditions are being exacerbated by US cuts in funding for UN programs that provide women-specific services to displaced populations. “We’re barred from getting any money from the US government, and that is having a significant impact,” says Ugochi Daniels, chief of humanitarian response at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The withdrawal of what before this year was UNFPA’s No. 1 funding source “means that women and girls are not getting the services they require,” she says.

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1. In plight of Rohingya, rising danger for the most vulnerable

The massive flight of Myanmar’s long-oppressed Rohingya ethnic group is following a sickening pattern of other recent displacements of populations – the Yazidis in Iraq, Syrians by the millions fleeing civil war, schoolchildren targeted by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist group – where the horrendous human rights violations suffered by those targeted are only magnified for that population’s women and girls.

The United Nations has deemed the systematic repression and displacement of more than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya – Muslims living without even basic rights in a majority-Buddhist country – a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed on to that designation, with senior State Department officials saying that the determination by the US of “ethnic cleansing” is meant to “express our sense of urgency about the situation.”

The designation aims to “put pressure on the military in Burma,” another name for Myanmar, “to act quickly” to secure conditions in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya live, and to make their repatriation possible, the officials said.

The vast majority of the displaced Rohingya have fled to sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh. On Thursday, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh announced reaching an “arrangement” to begin a repatriation process within two months. But no details were given, and human rights advocates – noting that Rohingya continue to arrive in large numbers each day at the camps – cautioned that no returns could begin until security conditions are verifiably established in Rakhine.

The US is also warning that it could still move to impose “targeted sanctions” against perpetrators of what it says was the “organized, planned, and systematic” violence against Rohingya villages last August that set off the mass displacement.

Myanmar’s security forces undertook what they called “clearance operations” after a Rohingya extremist group launched coordinated attacks against dozens of police and military posts.

A Rohingya girl with her face covered in "thanaka," a paste made from ground bark, stands in her family's tent in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.
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Wong Maye-E/AP

But as bad as conditions are for the Rohingya generally, the population’s women and girls face the additional terror of widespread sexual assault – with the UN recently concluding that nearly every one of the hundreds of thousands of females fleeing Myanmar, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh, has survived or witnessed some form of sexual assault, including rape and gang rape.

In addition, thousands of the displaced women are pregnant and face the prospect of giving birth in life-threatening conditions, while many have had to endure seeing their husbands and older sons killed.

Now some UN officials and human rights experts are asserting that the horrendous conditions Rohingya women and girls face are being exacerbated by cuts in US funding for UN programs that provide women-specific services to displaced populations.

“We’re barred from getting any money from the US government, and that is having a significant impact,” says Ugochi Daniels, chief of humanitarian response at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The withdrawal of what before this year was UNFPA’s number-one funding source “means that women and girls are not getting the services they require” in the high-risk environment they face fleeing Myanmar, she says.

Moreover, the absence of the US as a dogged advocate and provider for women and girls in a humanitarian crisis like that of the Rohingya means that the specific abuses women and girls face, like gender-based violence, do not get the same global attention they do when the US exercises its moral authority as leader of the international community, Ms. Daniels says.

Women and girls are “falling further in prioritization when the political voice of the United States is no longer there,” she says.

US officials reject the notion of waning US leadership on issues like the Rohingya. Secretary Tillerson underscored the urgency of addressing the Rohingya situation by adding a stop in Myanmar last week to an already long Asia trip, officials note. Tillerson deemed the violence the Rohingya have been subjected to “horrific,” and announced a boost in US humanitarian aid for the displaced population to $87 million.

But none of the State Department’s recent statements on the Rohingya crisis or its explanation of the designation of “ethnic cleansing” included any special mention of the extremely high incidence of sexual violence, including the systematic use of gang rape – which Human Rights Watch recently cited as a tool being used to commit ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

UN officials and some human rights activists cite the Trump administration’s withdrawal this year of $32 million in funding for UNFPA, the UN’s family planning agency, as evidence of the US turning away from issues facing women and girls in humanitarian crises.

The State Department says the cut in funding was based on a directive signed by President Trump in January banning funding for international organizations or nongovernmental groups that provide abortion services or advice that includes abortion as an option. UNFPA said at the time that it does not provide abortion services, but the State Department said that UNFPA provides family-planning services in China, a country that does resort to coercive abortions.

UNFPA officials say the US aid cut is trickling down to affect Rohingya women and girls because the agency is a lead provider of services to displaced populations.

“We estimate there are more than 190,000 women and girls [in the camps] who increasingly are encountering a lack of access to gender-based services,” says Bernard Coquelin, UNFPA’s humanitarian lead in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where he was reached in a call arranged by the UN Foundation in Washington.

The agency has so far deployed 42 midwives who have delivered more than 400 babies, says Mr. Coquelin. And it has set up “safe places” for women and girls in the teeming camps and distributed more than 6,000 “dignity kits” for women that include soap, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, and a flashlight.

But Coquelin says the staggering number of victims of sexual violence has overwhelmed the agency’s ability to provide medical and counseling services. The agency estimates there are 87,000 pregnant and lactating women in the displaced population, requiring services ranging from prenatal obstetrics to post-birth care and counseling.

“It’s a process that takes a lot of time, for women who have experienced and seen what they’ve seen to regain their confidence” and eventually think about going back to their homes, he says. “But right now it’s taking a lot of time to get access to these services.”

Some human rights experts who have visited the camps of displaced Rohingya say that clearly the rapid displacement of so many women and girls is a key reason they are not getting the services they need.

“No, I would not say their specific needs are being met, and part of that is the sheer scale of this displacement,” says Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International in Washington. “This is the most rapid scale we’ve seen since perhaps Kosovo” in 1998, he says.

But the other key factor in the unmet needs of women and girls “is certainly the staggering extent of the sexual violence they experienced and witnessed,” he says.

Mr. Sullivan, who visited the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in May (when the numbers were much smaller) and then again in September, says he would not be able to tie the dearth of services for Rohingya women and girls to cuts in US funding, “although it makes sense to me,” he adds.

But on the other hand, he does say that a retreat by the US on human-rights issues has had a noticeable impact on the ground in crises like that of the Rohingya.

“The US voice has been missing under this administration, and humanitarian experts on the ground are very much aware – and the people affected by these crises are very much aware – of a vacuum left by the loss of this voice,” he says. “This missing strong leadership is having a broad impact, including on an issue like women and girls.”

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2. Online, or in-store? Increasingly, the answer is both at once.

Call it clicks and mortar. It’s not news that e-commerce has made deepening inroads into physical, in-store retail shopping. Now smartphones are blurring the line between those experiences. 

 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe struggles of the retail industry are no secret, as many US malls have been losing anchor stores like Macy’s. Yet consumers aren’t really going all-digital. Even as they do more shopping online, they still value physical stores for the ability to touch and test the products. And sometimes to walk out of the store with a product in hand, bargain or not. Smartphones have become a pivot point, bridging the digital and physical realms. Retailers increasingly need to reach consumers in both realms – via apps, social-media promotions, and websites that are user-friendly whether you’re in the store or on a couch at home. A lot is changing. Michael Miller-Ernest, of Brooklyn, N.Y., says he plans to do only half his holiday shopping in physical stores. But, he acknowledges, “the most fun gifts are the ones that come from passing a shop window or a stand at a holiday fair and seeing something that immediately makes you think of someone. That’s a pretty difficult thing to replicate online.”

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2. Online, or in-store? Increasingly, the answer is both at once.

Daniel Lamplugh remembers going shopping with his dad on Black Friday. “Waking up at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving is what I grew up doing,” says the University of New Orleans film student.

A lot has changed since those childhood days. Online retailers have forced many chains out of business. Consumers are increasingly shopping with their smartphones. Some have said the days of Black Friday – and the physical store itself – are numbered.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the future: Most shoppers are not going all-digital. Surveys show they’re eager for good experiences at retail stores. And all those Millennials doing their shopping on their phones? It turns out that they’re skipping shopping on their desktops and taking their smartphones to the mall.

This November and December, for the first time ever, retailer websites will get more traffic from mobile users than desktop users, predicts Adobe Digital Insights.

Far from undermining physical stores, smartphones are blurring the line between bricks-and-mortar and digital shopping.

“We live our lives with a hybrid of the physical and the digital,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and author of the 2014 book “Decoding the New Consumer Mind.” Retailers have to reach consumers in both realms, too. “They have to understand it’s not a question of either/or. It’s a question of combining the two.”

Take Heather Howe, an MBA student at Boston University, who used to go to Kohls at midnight with her grandmother for the Black Friday sales. “Millennials like shopping on their phones and online because it’s more convenient and because there are more options and more customization,” she says. “I went to the Vans store to try on shoes and then I actually purchased them online while I was in the store.”

That’s a growing trend. Last year, Target saw its mobile sales soar 200 percent during the Thanksgiving weekend compared with 2015. So far this year, counting Thanksgiving and sales for the morning of Black Friday, mobile phones were accounting for right around half of all online retailer visits and, surprisingly, nearly a third of all revenue.

While mobile sales are growing, the most prevalent use of smartphones in stores is researching products or looking up product information (58 percent), closely followed by checking or comparing prices (54 percent), according to a June survey of 603 consumers by Retail Dive, an online news source.

“My phone plays a huge role in online shopping, because I am on the email list for all of my favorite brands, so I get many emails daily informing me of sales,” says Rachel Lynch, who works in digital design at a Boston public-relations agency. “Also ... Sephora has an app that allows me to save items to lists, view weekly deals, chat with other users about the products, and read reviews. Online reviews are one of the first things I look at when I am about to buy a new product.”

Shopping in a physical store remains important to consumers. According to Deloitte, 92 percent of mobile phone owners use their smartphone while going shopping. 

“Electronics and kitchen equipment are definitely online purchases for me, since they’re bulky to get home on the subway and often cheaper online,” says Michael Miller-Ernest, a manager at Whole Foods in Brooklyn, N.Y., who plans to do half his holiday shopping in physical stores. “The most fun gifts are the ones that come from passing a shop window or a stand at a holiday fair and seeing something that immediately makes you think of someone. That’s a pretty difficult thing to replicate online.”

Some 86 percent of consumers say they like “experience stores,” places they can test products but buy on mobile or online, a GPShopper study of 1,200 consumers found.

It’s not just Millennials who are pulling out their phones to shop. Over the past two years, smartphone sales to consumers 55 and older have been growing at more than three times the rate for 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the Deloitte survey. And these older consumers are using their phones as often than their younger counterparts.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” says Ms. Yarrow, the author. “Everyone is shopping like a Millennial.”

For retailers, the surge in smartphone shopping is requiring big shifts in how they approach these hybrid consumers. The idea is that they first have to touch consumers at multiple points in both their physical and digital world. Online retailers such as Warby Parker (eyeglasses) and Bonobos (men’s clothing) are opening physical stores to boost their online sales. Amazon earlier this year bought Whole Foods in a blockbuster move to expand its reach into the grocery industry, currently led by Wal-Mart.  

Physical chains, such as Target and Wal-Mart, have made their websites more mobile-friendly. This summer, Wal-Mart agreed to buy Bonobos, its third acquisition of an online retailer since 2016, which with ModCloth (women’s fashion), should allow it to begin to compete with Amazon, which this year is expected to pass Macy’s as the nation’s largest clothing retailer.

Tottering in the face of Amazon’s onslaught five years ago, electronics retailer Best Buy reinvented itself, embraced the merging of physical and digital shopping, and this Black Friday offered deals on laptops that Amazon could not – or would not – match. The retailer also offered early access to its deals for customers who downloaded its mobile phone app – a trick Wal-Mart used to great effect last year.

Wal-Mart and Target have begun shifting business away from Amazon’s web service, which gave both retail chains access to a huge digital marketplace.

Small stores are more nimble than the big chains, so they have the opportunity to adapt more quickly to their customers’ online preferences, retail experts point out. But if they don’t adapt, they are most at risk from consumers using them to try out items but purchasing them online from a cheaper, and usually bigger, retailer.

The new era is also testing the boundaries between cutting-edge marketing and consumer privacy. Retailers have sometimes gotten into trouble, for example, by tracking customers’ location as they move through a store or as they approach it.

Retailers’ next steps are still evolving as they move to reach consumers through social media – another mobile-friendly technology – and by offering experiences that shoppers can’t get online.

On Wednesday, for example, Nike and Foot Locker jointly opened a temporary pop-up shop on Fifth Avenue in New York, called Sneakeasy. Customers will each be paired with a “guide,” a staff member who will help them choose among 20 soon-to-be-released and limited-edition classic shoes.

Retail experts say stores are still struggling to accommodate the new mobile shoppers, especially since the technology keeps changing.

This fall, Wal-Mart began offering customers the option of buying goods through Google’s voice-ordering service, a partnership that could make mobile phones even more central to the shopping process.

“The mobile universe we have all grown to love – and think we understand – is shifting,” Deloitte concluded. “For all we know, we may just be on the eve of the next generation of mobile and a new growth spurt.”

– Joseph Dussault in New York and Bailey Bischoff in Boston contributed to this report.

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3. What Texas’s high-school football history can remind us

It’s often remarked that the camaraderie on American football teams tends to plow through color lines. This story looks back at an era that’s a touchstone for the early spirit of collaborative integration. 

Described only as 'a high school football team' from 1909, the team pictured most likely represented the 'Colored High School' located at Hall and Cochran Streets, the only high school in Dallas at the time for African-American students. The sport was desegregated here 50 years ago.
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Courtesy of the J. L. Patton Collection, Dallas Historical Society.
 

The 30 Sec. ReadNovember in Texas means the start of high school football playoffs, but this year it means something else as well: the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of high school football in the state. Though the all-black leagues had celebrated traditions, with integration came the opportunity for black and white athletes to get to know each other in a setting that demanded teamwork and mutual understanding. Today the sport often still reaps those benefits. But it arguably took a hit in the furor over the recent national anthem protests in the National Football League and other sports. Now, some observers are wondering whether a key purpose of integration has been lost, and needs to be rediscovered. “College and high school sports, when they integrated, it was the first opportunity to sit down and talk to somebody you didn’t normally associate with and find out things beyond the stereotypes,” says Michael Hurd, director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University. “That’s one of the avenues sports facilitates,” he adds. “It always has, and it probably will continue to do so, because there’s still some misunderstanding between races [even decades after Jim Crow.]”

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3. What Texas’s high-school football history can remind us

When Thurman Robins thinks of Thanksgiving he thinks of 1954, his ninth-grade year at the all-black Jack Yates High School in Houston, and their annual football game against Phillis Wheatley High School. As was often the case in Texas’s blacks-only high school football league, he saw something that took his breath away.

This time it was Ivory Jones winning the game for Yates with a last-minute field goal – an incident almost unheard of back then, when kickers kicked straight-on with their toes and often missed. 

Decades later, November in Texas means the start of high school football playoffs. And this year it means something else as well: the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of high school football in the state.

Though the all-black leagues had celebrated traditions, with integration came the opportunity for black and white athletes to get to know each other in a setting that demanded teamwork and mutual understanding. Today the sport often still reaps those benefits. But it arguably took a hit in the furor over the national anthem protests this season in the National Football League and other sports – at all levels – around the country. Now, some observers are wondering whether a key purpose of integration has been lost, and needs to be rediscovered.

“College and high school sports, when they integrated, it was the first opportunity to sit down and talk to somebody you didn’t normally associate with and find out things beyond the stereotypes,” says Michael Hurd, director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas.

“That’s one of the avenues sports facilitates,” he continues. “It always has, and it probably will continue to do so, because [even decades after Jim Crow laws] there’s still some misunderstanding between races.”

A league of their own

At its peak the all-black Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) included 500 schools across Texas. First named the Texas Interscholastic League of Colored Schools, it mirrored the white-schools-only University Interscholastic League (UIL) in almost every way.

The leagues had two schedules, two All-State teams, two state championships. Most black teams used hand-me-down equipment from local white teams, including jockstraps in some cases. Most districts typically only had one stadium as well, so black teams would play on Wednesday and Thursday nights, while white schools would play on the now famous Friday nights.

 

In Waco, Texas, Les Ritcherson Jr. quarterbacked Moore High's 1964 championship team – the school's last – as integration led to the school's closure.
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Courtesy of UW Madison Archives

Over the course of its roughly 40-year history, the PVIL produced a stream of high-quality players, including Eldridge Dickey – the first black quarterback ever drafted in the first round by a professional football team – and Pro Football Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and “Mean” Joe Greene.

The league also became a cornerstone of African-American culture in Texas, and nothing demonstrates that better than the annual Thanksgiving “Turkey Day Game” between Yates and Wheatley.

“It was a glorious time. All the black Houston community turned out,” says Dr. Robins, author of “Requiem for a Classic,” a 2011 book about the game.

Dressed in suits, ties, and furs – clothes many had saved up all year to buy – people poured out of their homes in the morning for parades. Wheatley fans in purple and white in the Fifth Ward neighborhood, and Yates fans in crimson and gold in the Third Ward neighborhood.

Tens of thousands of people then descended on Jeppesen Stadium in the Third Ward for the game. When the stadium seated just over 20,000, the game sold out. When stadium expanded to almost 40,000 to host the Houston Oilers pro team in 1960, the game still sold out. The game was, according to newspaper reports from the time, the most popular high school football game in the country.

Half-time would the feature cheerleaders and pep squads, as well as the presentation of the “school queens” from Yates and Wheatley. In line with the friendly rivalry on the field, this contest also escalated over the years. One year, a queen arrived in a Cadillac. Then a queen arrived in an antique car. Then a horse and buggy. 

Then came the 1958 game, and an act that couldn't be topped: a helicopter buzzed over the field, depositing Yates’s Carolyn Wilkins on the 50-yard line. 

“I will have to confess,” Willie Jordan, a Wheatley graduate, told the University of Houston last year, “we threw in the white flag [after that]. Because we were done.”

The football was exciting too. With more laterals, end-runs, and forward passing than the UIL, the PVIL was dynamic and tactically innovative, drawing white coaches and scouts from colleges and high schools across the country.

“Everything was fast, because we had tons of speed,” recalls Robert Brown, who played PVIL football at Lincoln High School in La Marque, Texas, and is now director of the PVIL Coaches Association.

Integration's benefits

Months after the 1954 US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in US schools, the UIL changed the terms of its membership from “any public white school” to include any school that integrated. But public and legal opposition to the court decision meant Texas schools didn’t fully desegregate until 1967. Yates and Wheatley played their last Turkey Day game in 1966, and the PVIL shut down in 1970. 

While no one questions that integration needed to happen, those who remember the PVIL often remember it wistfully. Mr. Brown, who coached at M.C. Williams High School in Houston, through the 1960s, certainly does. But he also saw some of the benefits of integration first hand, and sports were pivotal.

 

From the 1940s to 1960s, the annual Turkey Day Classic featured Jack Yates and Phillis Wheatley High Schools in Houston. During that span, the bitter crosstown rivals competed in the most popular high school football game in the country, drawing standing room only crowds of 40,000 fans, many of them encircling the field.
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Courtesy of the PVIL Coaches Assn.

“It’s a magic thing that happens to you. All of your focus, all of your ideas are on winning, winning a district, winning a championship,” he says. “You forget about what color you are when you’re put together on a team.” 

Which brings us back to this year’s protests, sparked by NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem before pre-season games in August. High school players in Texas have copied the protest, including two players in Crosby, Texas, who were kicked off their team literally moments afterwards as a result.

Mr. Kaepernick began the protest last year to draw attention to “oppressed black people and people of color,” and he has yet to be signed by an NFL team this season. Meanwhile, the fact the protest involved not standing for the national anthem has led many more people to misinterpret the act as a protest against the American flag and the American military.

For Professor Hurd, who recently published “Thursday Night Lights: the Story of Black High School Football in Texas,” that misinterpretation is evidence that despite five decades of integration, black and white Americans still have trouble walking in each other's shoes. 

“I think a lot of whites don’t want to stop and give some thought to the real reason these guys are taking a knee, the injustices that still exist, the racism that still exists against people of color,” he says.

Hurd’s father served in World War II as a member of the Red Ball Express, a predominantly African-American truck convoy that served as a key supply route for US troops in Europe. That generation of black veterans returned to a segregated America and were often targeted for lynchings.

“There’s a huge disparity when it comes to patriotism and how it’s applied to black men and the black community in general,” says Hurd, himself a Vietnam veteran. “We’re still seeing the differences in how this country is viewed [by black and white Americans], certainly in terms of patriotism.”

The military helped bridge those two worldviews for Hurd. He went to all-black Worthing High School in Houston, and by the time he joined the US Air Force in 1978 he’d met “probably half-a-dozen” white people. His first roommate in the Air Force was a white guy from Topeka, Kan.

“After lights out we’d just sit and talk for half the night,” he says.

Now, those types of interactions happen among student athletes. 

“Getting to know someone who’s not like you,” he adds, “a lot of that happens in team sports.”

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4. Plumbing the role of ancient culture in conservation

“Put a fence around it.” That‘s one view of conservation. But the natural world includes an interactive role for humans, as many indigenous cultures showed – and as some scientists today are exploring in an approach they call “biocultural.”

 

The 30 Sec. ReadIt may be time to rethink humanity’s relationship with nature, some environmental researchers say. Conservationists have long relied on public education to influence legislation and to encourage individuals to make more sustainable lifestyle choices. That approach hinges on the hope that properly informing people will prompt them to change their personal behaviors. But research suggests that environmental knowledge, though important, may play a smaller role than previously thought in promoting sustainable behavior. So if knowledge alone won’t make people live more sustainably, how can society find a way to reduce destruction of the natural world? Perhaps we should take a page from indigenous communities who view people as integral components of an ecosystem, rather than simply an external force, say some conservationists. The Western notion that humans are separate from their natural environment can make environmental action seem futile, says one ethnobotanist. “The good news is that there are cultures [that] have coexisted with forests for thousands of years and thrived,” he says. Perhaps it's time to listen to and learn from those communities.

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4. Plumbing the role of ancient culture in conservation

When you hear the word “ecosystem,” what do you imagine? Maybe you picture a grizzly bear pawing at salmon breaching a frigid stream, or a kaleidoscopic seascape of fish and coral. But you may have missed one critical element of the natural world: humans.

But not everyone draws such a clear line between humans and the natural world. Many indigenous peoples, for instance, view humans as vital components of thriving ecosystems. Drawing from that approach, some researchers suggest that a “biocultural” strategy – one that bridges science, community, and culture – might produce better long-term conservation and sustainability outcomes. But first, some experts say, we may need to rethink humanity’s relationship with nature.

Conservationists have long relied on public education to influence legislation and to encourage individuals to make more sustainable lifestyle choices. That approach hinges on the hope that properly informing people will prompt them to change their personal behaviors. But a recent study in the journal Biological Conservation suggests that environmental knowledge, though important, may play a smaller role than previously thought in promoting sustainable behavior.

The researchers began by identifying behaviors that have a significant environmental impact. Installing solar panels or going meatless, for example, might reduce one’s carbon footprint, but flying or having children would increase it. They collected data on those behaviors by surveying 734 participants from three groups: economists, medical professionals, and conservation scientists.

It wasn’t the landslide you might expect. Researchers found that conservationists lived only slightly “greener” lives than the other two groups: although they did eat less meat and recycle more than economists or medics, they still flew about nine times per year and owned more pets.

“These behaviors that we measured are not collinear,” says co-author Brendan Fisher, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. “Just because I eat less meat doesn’t mean I fly less. What that shows is that people make decisions based on ... a whole bunch of heuristics, cost-benefit analyses, and rationalizations. In some cases, those decisions align with our eco-mentality, and in other cases, they don’t.”

In other words, researchers say, knowledge alone won’t make people live more sustainably. Dr. Fisher and colleagues say their findings present an opportunity for conservationists to consider new approaches, such as “nudging” – offering subtle positive reinforcements for environmentally sustainable choices – or expanding affordable public transportation. But others say an even deeper retrofit is in order, one that challenges the prevailing narrative of American conservation.

Does humanity stop at the forest’s edge?

Though humans have always interacted with the natural world, not all cultures have viewed that relationship the same way. The ancient Hawaiians, for example, believed in a spiritual connectedness between nature and humanity. They applied that paradigm to a model for sustainable resource management, the ahupua'a system, designed more than 500 years ago to prevent overfishing and deforestation. Many Native American communities arrived at a similar concept of connectedness, and used it to develop careful hunting and land-use practices.

Western philosophy tends to depict nature and humanity as separate and conflicting forces, says Kawika Winter, director of the Limahuli Garden and Preserve in Kauaʻi. As a result, many Americans automatically associate healthy ecosystems with human absence and environmental destruction with human activity.

“The preconceived notion is that humans are separate from nature,” says Dr. Winter. “So whenever you’re talking about ecosystems, people [assume] that it means places without humans.”

That kind of adversarial thinking favors “put-a-fence-around-it” conservation projects over sustainable use, says Winter, and often makes individual environmental action seem futile.

“I think there’s a cultural foundation that talks about humanity as a problem, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with that,” he says. “What I’m disagreeing with is the presentation. When you raise kids to think that their existence on the planet is inevitably going to be bad, then why should they even do anything? You don’t see yourself as the solution.”

New approaches to conservation, however, could help combat environmental defeatism. Winter’s research focus is social-ecological system resilience, an interdisciplinary framework that considers human well-being – physical, social, and emotional – within the greater context of ecosystem health.

“These problems don’t exist in vacuums,” he says. “They’re interconnected to other parts of the system. It’s mind-bogglingly complex, but you’re never going to get to the solution by pretending that it’s an isolated problem.”

Thinking in terms of social-ecological systems applies old philosophies to current conservation issues, Winter says. By validating the presence of people and prioritizing co-existence, he says, conservationists could empower individual action.

“In our botanical gardens, we use a different narrative,” says Winter. “We talk about people as the solution. It’s kind of a way of interpreting a Hawaiian worldview in a way that’s a little bit more palatable to the American diet, so to speak. And if we can make that shift culturally from a very young age – and this is not a silver bullet, this is an intergenerational approach – then I think we have a better chance of getting to where we need to be.”

But Fisher warns that there’s more to the issue than culture. Humans make decisions based on “a slew of cognitive idiosyncrasies,” he says, and many people change or reprioritize their values throughout the day. Put simply, human behavior is weird. It’s also difficult to predict, Fisher says, which is why it’s important for conservationists to appeal to our more selfish instincts.

“Lots of Western foundations, government divisions, and academic institutions are starting to focus on the health benefits of nature, such as reducing vector-borne diseases, improving cognition, or relieving stress,” says Fisher. “And maybe, just maybe, that becomes a cultural norm in those typically antagonistic cultures.”

Empowerment through conservation

None of this is to say that “scholarly” conservation work is unimportant, Winter reassures. But some researchers believe that a cooperative effort – one that combines the explicit, “that” knowledge of professional conservationists with the tacit, “how” knowledge of indigenous peoples – could produce healthier social-ecological systems in the long run.

“The good news is that there are cultures [that] have coexisted with forests for thousands of years and thrived,” Winter says. “So what can we learn from that? How can we translate those philosophies and worldviews into something that would be acceptable by Americans and other cultures who are engaging with nature in this way?”

In many cases, says Winter, sweeping protective measures fail to consider the customary fishing, hunting, and horticultural practices of local communities. As a result, those communities are less likely to cooperate or support future efforts. Alaka Wali, curator of North American anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, observed the same tensions among rural populations in the Peruvian Amazon, where intact forests and high biodiversity attract conservation initiatives.

“If you’re not going to engage the local people, what happens? You put up fences around the protected area, you displace people, and it becomes a very tense and hostile situation between the conservation protection efforts and the local people,” says Dr. Wali. “What we’ve tried to do is show that it doesn’t [have to] be that way – that the local people can be allies for conservation.”

In a study published October in the journal Ecology and Society, Wali and colleagues found that Amazonian communities already had a deep knowledge of natural resources and sophisticated management practices. To maintain healthy river ecosystems, they fish only for particular species in certain oxbow lakes at determined times of year. They also avoid certain parts of the rainforest altogether, ensuring that wildlife have refuge areas where they can reproduce.

Ancient, tried-and-true systems such as these could have a prominent place in modern conservation, researchers say. A recent study, co-authored by Winter and published in the journal Pacific Science, concluded that foresting elements of ahupua'a could be integrated into Kauaʻi’s bureaucratic land use system.

Both studies were exercises in what’s called biocultural conservation, says Ashwin Ravikumar, an environmental social scientist at the Field Museum and co-author of the Ecology and Society study. Biocultural conservation is a relatively new term which “recognizes the central importance of cultural traditions, practices, and knowledge in maintaining biodiversity and carrying out conservation initiatives more broadly.”

After mapping various ecological and social assets, Dr. Ravikumar and colleagues worked with Amazonian community members to develop quality-of-life plans. Researchers found that those who had the opportunity to engage with local conservation efforts were more willing to support future initiatives and participate in the management of existing protected areas. Environmental stewardship could also mean political empowerment for indigenous communities who have been historically taken advantage of by governments and commercial interests.

“By taking stock of the ways that people have historically lived in sustainable ways, we can elevate and validate those approaches,” says Ravikumar. “We can give communities pathways to insist, to government actors and folks who are trying to work in their landscape, that they are good stewards of natural resources.”

Staff reporter Eva Botkin-Kowacki contributed reporting to this story from Kauaʻi, Hawaii.

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5. Tour de femme: A Parisian guide leans into ‘herstory’

Sometimes compensating for generations of downplaying calls for a period of overt “playing up.” That’s the thinking behind this particular tour of the City of Light.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadMen. French history – like world history – is full of them. But to judge by most organized tours of Paris, nary a woman of note ever lived in the city. Except perhaps Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France deposed by the French Revolution, who is said to have suggested that if citizens were starving for lack of bread, “let them eat cake.” Paris tour guide Heidi Evans decided it was time for a little “herstory” to redress the imbalance. So she leads groups of (mainly women) visitors around notable sites linked to women who deserve to be better known. And as she shows people where George Sand lived (that’s a pseudonym – Amantine Dupin had to cross-dress to enter the man’s world of 19th century literature), or where Simone de Beauvoir drank coffee between writing chapters of “The Second Sex,” she chats about the sort of issues that concern contemporary French women just as much as historical figures. Because sometimes, she says, it seems that not much has changed.

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5. Tour de femme: A Parisian guide leans into ‘herstory’

From Charlemagne to Charles de Gaulle, the formidable men whose minds and military exploits have shaped La France are well chronicled and commemorated.

But a question kept troubling Heidi Evans, a young Brit who moved to Paris in 2014 to be a tour guide, as she herded tourists from the Pantheon to the banks of the Seine: “What about the women?”

“We talked about a lot of great men – Napoleon, and Louis the XIV, and other kings of France mostly called Louis,” she says. “And we talked a little bit about ‘bad women,’ like Marie Antoinette. I didn’t think it was fair, this ‘great man’ ‘bad woman’ imbalance.”

So she sought to correct it by creating a “Women of Paris” tour. Running now for a little more than a year, it takes visitors – not exclusively, but predominantly, women – on a journey through feminist texts, scientific experiments, and rebellious disregard for social mores. The women who had to fight for recognition in their day, Ms. Evans points out, are still less recognized than their male counterparts.

On this day, we are on a newer tour which the English-lit major crafted exclusively around female writers in the chic Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the heart of French intellectual life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"Out of the home and onto the page"

We meet outside Les Deux Magots, the iconic café that served as a second home for the Parisian intellectual elite in the middle of the 20th century, including Simone de Beauvoir, most famous for her feminist treatise “The Second Sex.”

But it is the less familiar addresses that are the most illuminating.

First stop is the Editions des Femmes, a publishing house for women authors opened in 1973 by Antoinette Fouque, co-founder of the French Women’s Liberation Movement. She said her goal was to get women “out of the home and onto the page,” Evans tells our group of three.

Ms. Fouque also founded France’s first collection of audiobooks, well before the podcast, so that busy housewives could still experience great literature.

And we pass the house of Colette, the French novelist best known for “Gigi,” who was forced to write her first four books in her husband’s name.

“Thank God we were born when we were,” says Tracy Cooper, one of my companions on the tour, who is on an annual man-free trip to Paris with her old college friend Caryn Jerrett. Ms. Jerrett, though, thinks her friend is over-optimistic. “Think of the enormity of it, that no woman has ever been as famous as a man,” she points out.

As we walk along the cobbled streets of the Left Bank quartier, Evans doesn’t just share biographical notes but the theories expounded by the “Women of Paris.” We talk about the issues facing women that are as current as they are historical, such as abortion and domestic violence.

Curiously, the topic of disgraced Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein doesn’t come up until I raise it. For now, Evans says, the question has not sparked much conversation, but she suspects that might change with her “Women on the Stage” tour, set to start next month. The idea that female stars must have slept their way to the top existed in ancient times, she explains, and persists to the present day.

8 out of 726: could do better...

When we pass the domed French Institute that houses the Académie Française the notoriously conservative body tasked with safeguarding the French language, Evans asks us to guess how many of the 726 members elected since 1635 have been female.

Both British women shoot low, at three and five. I go with a more optimistic 30. Wrong. Eight. “It’s pretty much an old man’s club,” says Evans. “Like many places,” adds Ms. Cooper.

Outside the former residence of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, better known by her pseudonym George Sand, Evans tells us about the novelist who cross-dressed to access a man’s world. “She wanted to live like a man, and today she is so loved and respected for that, even more than for her writing,” she says.

But old stereotypes endure. Evans recalls that when she was telling her grandfather about this tour, he referred to the 19th century novelist as “Chopin’s mistress.”  

“Women of Paris,” Evans explains, aims to shift thinking about gender roles that have so often confined women’s identity to that of “wife of” or “mistress of.”

“I wanted to look at what women have done,” she says, “how they lived and helped shape the city of Paris.”

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The Monitor's View

The global spread of a culture of integrity

 

The 30 Sec. ReadSince 2010, the G-20 – a club of the world’s wealthiest nations – has had a “working group” of anti-corruption experts advising members on how to detect bribery and improve government transparency. For its part, Saudi Arabia has proposed a number of anti-corruption laws. Members of the kingdom’s elite have been targeted by an anti-corruption commission. The mass arrests there Nov. 4, in other words, reflect a decades-long global trend to cultivate a culture of integrity. It began in the 1970s in the US, with the far-reaching Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Global advocates for reform include the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This drive to curb corruption has reached a level of importance in world affairs similar to that of human rights, sparking mass protests for honest governance from India to Romania. It is a spreading norm that embraces the highest principles of governance.

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The global spread of a culture of integrity

One of the surprising news events of 2017 was the arrest of more than 200 prominent people in Saudi Arabia for corruption. The roundup on Nov. 4 even included powerful princes within the ruling royal family. Now the leader of the campaign, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has revealed a prime reason for this dramatic crackdown in the Middle East kingdom.

“My father [the king] saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption,” he said in a New York Times interview. Prince Salman estimates that 10 percent of government spending is siphoned off by corruption each year.

The Group of 20 is a club of the world’s wealthiest nations. It has also become the major forum for global governance. Its member states, including Saudi Arabia, not only set standards of reform among themselves, they also rely on peer pressure to hold each other to account.

Since 2010, the G20 has had a “working group” of anti-corruption experts advising members on how to detect bribery and improve government transparency. For its part, Saudi Arabia has proposed a number of anti-corruption laws. It has set up university clubs to promote integrity and begun to measure public perceptions of corruption. And ever since the crown prince consolidated power this year – with a nod from King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud – the country’s elite has been targeted by an anti-corruption commission.

The mass arrests, in other words, reflect a decades-long global trend to cultivate a culture of integrity in many countries. This drive to curb corruption has now reached a level of importance in world affairs similar to that of human rights.

The trend has also sparked mass protests for honest governance from India to Romania. And recently, the presidents of two G20 members, Brazil and South Korea, have been impeached while a former president of Argentina faces charges for corruption.

The United States began this global trend in the 1970s with its far-reaching Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But the movement has been widened to include the World Bank, European Union, and other bodies. Corruption is now seen as a driver of financial crises, terrorism, the drug trade, and slow economic development.

The main advocate for reform is a Paris-based group of 35 developed countries called the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD provides advice to the G20. In 1999, it approved the Anti-Bribery Convention, the first binding international instrument to focus exclusively on bribery in business transactions. The pact now includes 44 countries and encompasses much of the worldwide commerce.

This effort to instill a culture of openness and accountability, says Angel Gurría, the OECD’s secretary general, has made economies more productive, governments more efficient, institutions more trusted, and societies more inclusive.

“In short,” he adds, “integrity delivers better lives.”

Saudi Arabia has now fully jumped on this global bandwagon. Perhaps its mass arrests should not be seen as a surprise. Rather they are merely another example of a spreading norm that embraces the highest principles of governance.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

‘Thoughts and prayers’: beyond cliché to effective response

 

 “Thoughts and prayers.” This sentiment often permeates social media following tragic events. In such circumstances, it can be tempting to see them as nothing more than cliché and meaningless words. But many, including today’s contributor, have found that prayer can indeed play a role in ending the cycle of hostility and fear. This may seem like an overwhelming task. But we can begin right now, today, by striving to overcome hate in our own thoughts, words, and actions. Recognizing ourselves as the spiritual image of God, infinite Love, equips us to see and express more of the love that disarms hate. Each time we choose to let divine Love impel us instead of fear or anger, we’re taking an active part in promoting peace in our communities and beyond.

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‘Thoughts and prayers’: beyond cliché to effective response

“Thoughts and prayers.” This sentiment often permeates social media following tragic events. But recently, I’ve also noticed statements denouncing these words, calling them insufficient and ineffective, and calling for “real action” – or even, at times, retaliation – instead.

In the wake of violent acts and blatant displays of hate – such as the recent bombing at a mosque in Nigeria – responding with despair, fear, or hate is certainly understandable and might even seem more justifiable than responding with prayer. I, too, have at times shaken my head and scrolled past those messages of “thoughts and prayers,” feeling they had become nothing more than cliché.

Still, I have seen the effectiveness of prayer in my own life and heard of countless examples that have spanned centuries and continents. So, recently, I’ve been considering how I can actively respond to the call for thoughts and prayers, and how this actually can help break cycles of hate and irrational thinking that cause individuals to commit horrendous acts.

Perhaps no one ever dealt with hate more effectively and courageously than Christ Jesus. He challenged traditional laws that promoted a cycle of hostility and revenge and instead taught his followers to respond with love and prayer. He said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).

This has helped me see that we should strive not only to meet hate with love, but that knowing our ability to love originates in God can overpower hate to such an extent that the innocent, as well as those who have committed (or might be thinking of committing) horrendous acts, are freed from hate.

This may seem like an overwhelming task. But we can begin right now, today, by striving to overcome hate in our own lives. And we all have the ability to do this because we are the actual image of God who is infinite Love.

At the middle school I attended, fistfights were a common occurrence. This bothered me, and I often reacted with feelings of despair. But I had been learning in my Christian Science Sunday School that I could pray – talk with God and feel God’s presence – no matter where I was or what situation I was in.

So one day, when the familiar scene began – two angry boys approaching each other and a crowd of students gathering – I decided to pray. I knew that because God was there for me, God was there for everyone, so everyone could feel and respond to divine Love. I also knew acknowledging Love’s power and presence could dissolve any hate and fear I might feel toward these people.

Within minutes, the scene changed. The boys became calm, their shouting stopped, they walked away, and the crowd dispersed. No fight occurred that day. I can’t say fighting stopped altogether at that school, and I know I wasn’t the only one trying to improve the situation. But I did see how a change of thought from fear and anger to spiritual peace and love calmed my thought; and it didn’t feel like a coincidence when peace prevailed in that situation. While this is just one small example, every victory over hate that we experience, starting with ourselves, is a victory for love in the world.

The Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 571).

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Viewfinder

Canine comforter

A student in a special-needs class at Public School 76 in the New York City borough of Queens gets a warm greeting from a visiting dog named Juno. Juno, a 10-month-old puppy, was chosen to be in the New York City Education Department's Comfort Dog program. (For a full gallery of images and more about the program, click the blue button below.)
Caption
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 27th, 2017 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Thanks for joining us again today. Enjoy your weekend. For Monday’s Daily, our graphics team is working on a comprehensive look at the current shift away from coal, in the United States and around the world. 

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