May survives confidence vote


Staff & Wire Reports

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, right, gestures to British Prime Minister Theresa May after she spoke with the media at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

UK leader seeks EU lifeline after surviving confidence vote


Associated Press

Thursday, December 13

BRUSSELS (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May was seeking a lifeline from European Union leaders Thursday after winning a no-confidence vote among her own Conservative lawmakers — but only after putting a time limit on her leadership.

May won the vote after promising lawmakers at a private meeting that she would quit before Britain’s next national election, scheduled for 2022.

Arriving in Brussels for an EU summit, May said that “in my heart I would love to be able to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election.”

“But I think it is right that the party feels that it would prefer to go into that election with a new leader,” May said. She didn’t specify a date for her departure.

May was meeting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Council President Donald Tusk Thursday before the summit, where she will seek reassurances about the deal that she can use to win over a skeptical British Parliament, particularly pro-Brexit lawmakers whose loathing of the deal triggered Wednesday’s challenge to her leadership.

May caused an uproar in Parliament this week when she scrapped a planned vote on the deal at the last minute to avoid a heavy defeat. Two days later she won a leadership vote among 317 Conservative lawmakers by 200 votes to 117.

The victory gives May a reprieve — the party can’t challenge her again for a year. But the size of the rebellion underscores the unpopularity of her Brexit plan.

The EU is adamant there can be no substantive changes to the legally-binding withdrawal agreement but have suggested that there could be some “clarifications.”

“The deal itself is non-negotiable,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said as he arrived in Brussels. “So today is about clarification.”

Rutte said EU leaders were willing to listen to May, who will address them before a summit dinner on Thursday.

May said her focus “is on ensuring that I can get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line.”

“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary,” she said.

U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the BBC that there were signs of “positive” movement from the EU on the most intractable issue — a legal guarantee designed to prevent the re-implementation of physical border controls between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU.

The provision, known as the backstop, would keep the U.K. part of the EU customs union if the two sides couldn’t agree on another way to avoid a hard border.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers strongly oppose the backstop, because it keeps Britain bound to EU trade rules, and unable to leave without the bloc’s consent. Pro-EU politicians consider it an unwieldy and inferior alternative to staying in the bloc.

“There is movement, but the question is how do we ensure that that movement is sufficient for colleagues?” Barclay said. “But colleagues also need to focus on the fact that alternative deals also need a backstop.”

Re-opening the negotiations to address the border problem also raises the risk that May could lose concessions on other parts of the deal, Barclay said.

Among EU leaders there is sympathy for May’s predicament — but also exasperation at Britain’s political mess and little appetite to reopen the negotiations. On Thursday, the German parliament has approved a motion stating that the Brexit deal can’t be renegotiated, underlining the stance of the government and EU allies.

The largely symbolic motion states that “there will not be an agreement that is better and fairer for both sides. Any hope that a rejection of the agreement could lead to its renegotiation must prove to be illusory.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to Britain’s departure from the bloc, which is due to take place on March 29 — deal or no deal. A parliamentary schedule published Thursday shows the Brexit deal won’t be debated or voted on before the House of Commons adjourns for a two-week Christmas break on Dec. 20.

The no-confidence vote has left lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party at loggerheads over the way ahead.

Prominent pro-Brexit legislator Jacob Rees-Mogg said that May should resign even though she won the vote.

He said Britain needed “somebody who can unite the country and the Conservative Party, and she has to ask herself is she realistically that person?”

Foreign Minister Alistair Burt said in a tweet that Conservative Brexiteers would never be satisfied.

“They never, ever stop. … After the apocalypse, all that will be left will be ants and Tory MPs complaining about Europe and their leader,” he wrote.

Danica Kirka reported from London. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.

Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at:

The Conversation

Brexit rooted more in elite politics than mass resentment

December 13, 2018

Author: Craig Parsons, Professor of Political Science, University of Oregon

Disclosure statement: Craig Parsons does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Thirty months after the British voted to exit the European Union, or the EU, nobody knows where Brexit will end up.

Champions of the exit hoped to free themselves from the EU’s constraints – especially requirements for open migration from Europe – while maintaining access to its vast market. This proved impossible to negotiate with the EU.

So far, Britain’s government has only obtained a hodgepodge of half measures, negotiated by an increasingly weak Prime Minister Theresa May, that it appears unable to pass through its own parliament.

May survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday. Commentators everywhere will continue to parse out where the drama goes from here. As an expert on EU history, however, I propose to step back for a moment.

How did we get here? What is Brexit’s significance for today’s politics?

A global wave of nationalism?

The driving idea behind the EU, which was called the European Economic Community when it was created in the 1950s, was to pacify Europe by integrating its economies. After two bloody world wars, Europeans hoped that eliminating barriers between countries and encouraging cooperation in common institutions would bring both economic vitality and lasting peace.

The EU has been working ever since to promote trade and mobility across Europe. Along the way it has developed remarkably powerful international institutions, not unlike a federal government. Today it can be seen as the avant-garde of globalization: the world’s most advanced experiment in open borders and international governance.

It is tempting, then, to read Brexit as the leading edge of a rising anti-globalization wave that seeks to restore national borders and sovereignty. That interpretation is especially enticing given the many parallels between the campaign for Brexit and the other earth-shaking, populism-fueled vote of 2016: the election of Donald Trump.

But if Brexit certainly manifests some widespread tensions about globalization, it is not clearly the result of a deep, broad, bottom-up wave of nationalist resentment.

In fact, not too long ago there were reasons to think Britain was becoming more comfortable with the EU, not less. Back in the 1990s, it looked like Britain might consolidate its European role and seek to magnify its global influence through the EU.

At that point English was rapidly becoming Europe’s dominant language. London had made itself Europe’s financial center. The long-standing dominance of France and Germany in the EU was waning. The club was expanding to new members like Poland and Sweden who viewed the British as more natural allies.

The road to Brexit is arguably more a top-down tale of leaders and elite ideology than of an inexorable bottom-up wave of resentment. Certainly some latent resentment was there, with British public approval of ties to Europe waxing and waning over the decades. But it took years of top-down encouragement and complex maneuvers among political elites to coalesce anti-European sentiment into the Brexit vote.

Whither the Conservatives?

Here is a quick version of that tale, drawing on my research with political scientist Cary Fontana.

The key process that shunted Britain toward Brexit was a battle over the direction of the Conservative Party that began in the late 1980s.

The party’s competing views should be familiar to American Republicans today: Was conservatism primarily about opening up Britain to the world and fostering business opportunities? Or was it more about defending British sovereignty and a distinctive nationalist (and racial) identity?

For those who wanted to open up Britain to the world, it was a clear positive to belong to the European Community (EC, later renamed the EU). Indeed, Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath had led the U.K. into the EC. The British liked to think that they invented free trade and modern diplomacy, and the EC followed their lead – aiming to open up markets across the continent and encourage cooperation.

What’s more, the Conservatives became especially enthusiastic about free markets in the 1980s, and so did the EC. In 1986 it adopted a profound “Single Market” plan to eliminate all remaining barriers to intra-European trade.

But for those more interested in defending sovereignty and nationalist identity, the Community was a menace.

EU Council meeting, June 2018. For some Conservative Party members in the U.K., EU institutions appeared to threaten British sovereignty. European Union

The EC could plausibly aspire to eliminate national-level trade barriers because it featured unusually strong international institutions, whose powers conflicted with the traditional British principle that nothing could supersede the authority of Parliament. It didn’t help that Britain’s old rivals, the French, tended to dominate EC politics. Some Conservatives saw the EC as a French plot to subjugate the continent.

The key mechanism that drove the Conservatives from free trade to nationalism has a name: Margaret Thatcher.

A leader of contradictions

An outspoken free-marketeer when she became the party’s leader in 1975, Thatcher nonetheless harbored strongly nationalist instincts.

Into the mid-1980s, Thatcher mostly supported the move to increase connections to Europe and break down barriers to trade.

But as the Single Market plan proceeded – which meant both eliminating trade barriers and boosting the EC’s authority over the European economy – she changed her mind. Open markets were not worth the loss of British sovereignty, Thatcher came to believe.

In 1990, just as British public support for EC membership hit its zenith, Thatcher’s emerging skepticism culminated in a famous anti-European diatribe in Parliament.

Thatcher’s (“No! No! No!”) – in reaction to EC calls for further increasing its own scope and authority – convinced the party leadership to oust her. More cosmopolitan Conservatives saw her as a liability.

Margaret Thatcher rejects greater control by Europe.

But striking down the Iron Lady made her more powerful than anyone imagined.

Thatcher’s long period of charismatic leadership had inspired a new generation of Conservatives in her mold. Her ouster over European debates led them to define skepticism about the EU (or “Euroscepticism”) as the litmus test of a true Thatcherite.

During the 1990s the Conservatives known as “Thatcher’s children,” mounted a rising rebellion. When their party was wiped out by Tony Blair’s Labour Party landslide in 1997 – limiting it to seats in Britain’s most conservative pockets – they took over.

Careful what you wish for

Thatcher’s children were never very successful. Several ham-fisted Eurosceptics led the party in electoral losses into the late 2000s.

Eventually the Conservatives recovered as Labor leader Blair’s popularity waned. Their moderate new leader, David Cameron, helped their return to power by working to convince his colleagues to stop “banging on about Europe.”

Once in power after 2010, though, Cameron faced both an internal nest of arch-Eurosceptics and the rabidly anti-EU U.K. Independence Party under Nigel Farage.

To quiet them, Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership after the 2015 election. He took a conscious risk: Like everyone else, Cameron expected that economic interests would ensure a win for “Remain,” (a vote to stay in the EU) over “Leave” (voting to leave the EU – known now as “Brexit”).

But referendums are notoriously unpredictable.

Twenty-five years of Thatcherite disdain for Europe had cultivated considerable support. Certain elements in the British press also stoked anti-European and anti-immigrant sentiments. The wild card was a brilliant political prodigy, Dominic Cummings, who shepherded the “Leave” campaign to a narrow victory that he himself thought highly improbable.

Given that Eurosceptics themselves expected to lose – and had no coherent plan to implement a withdrawal from the EU’s complex rules — the failing negotiations for Britain’s formal exit of the EU since then are no surprise.

Glimmers of hope?

This top-down story doesn’t make the Brexit story less worrisome.

Even if it showcases less bottom-up nationalism than most people assume, the British voted in favor of Brexit. Some sort of departure from the EU is still likely. Like most experts, I think that will be bad news for Britain, Europe and the world.

British people will have less favorable external economic relationships and less political influence. The U.K. itself may break into pieces. Scottish voters largely opposed Brexit, and it may nudge them to vote for their own independence.

More broadly, nationalist choices can be self-fulfilling prophecies: They close borders, weaken cooperation, provoke nationalism elsewhere. They may thus produce the threatening world that they feared.

Still, I think this story hints at longer-term optimism.

Much of what many take today as historic shifts are not as deep and inexorable as they may seem. The politics of Brexit, like the similar politics of Donald Trump, do reflect major tensions in our world today – but not their unavoidable consequences. If aggressive minorities and odd contingencies do not lead us too far down costly paths, reasonable responses and better leadership can hopefully put things right.

The powerful impact of real-world learning experiences for kids

Wed 12/5


A zoo summer camp boosted key component of learning in just days

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Real-world learning experiences, like summer camps, can significantly improve children’s knowledge in a matter of just days, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that 4- to 9-year-old kids knew more about how animals are classified after a four-day camp at a zoo.

It wasn’t that children who attended just knew more facts about animals, the researchers noted. The camp actually improved how they organized what they knew – a key component of learning.

“This suggests organization of knowledge doesn’t require years to happen. It can occur with a short, naturalistic learning experience,” said Layla Unger, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at The Ohio State University.

“It highlights the enriching potential of real-world programs like summer camps. They aren’t just recreation.”

Unger conducted the study with Anna Fisher, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Their study appears online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and will be published in the March 2019 edition.

This study is one of the first to show how quickly knowledge organization changes can occur in children.

“We didn’t know if it would take months or years for children to accomplish this. Now we have evidence that it can happen in days,” Unger said.

The study involved 28 children who took part in a four-day summer zoo camp in Pittsburgh. They were compared to 32 children who participated in a different summer camp in a nearby neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which was not at the zoo and didn’t involve animals.

At the beginning and end of each camp, all children completed two different tests that measured how well they understood the differences between mammals, birds and reptiles.

The zoo camp consisted of lessons, interactions with preserved and live animals, tours of the zoo, games and craft sessions.

“Most of the themes at the zoo camp were not oriented toward explicitly teaching children biological taxonomic groups,” Unger said. “So the children were not spending every day talking about the differences between mammals, birds and reptiles.”

At the beginning of the camps, children in both groups had equivalent knowledge about the relationships between the three types of animals. But the children in the zoo camp knew significantly more by the end of their four-day camp, while the others did not.

Kids who had been at the zoo had a 64 percent increase in test scores on one assessment from the beginning to the end of camp, and a 35 percent increase in the other. Not surprisingly, there was no change in test scores for children in the other camp.

This study was not designed to test whether a four-day classroom lesson about animals could produce the same results as the four-day zoo experience, Unger said.

But other research suggests a class may not have the same positive effect, partly because it might not engage students as much as the real-world experience.

Unger said it was significant that the zoo camp improved knowledge organization, and not just facts about animals.

“Children didn’t just learn piecemeal facts like ‘ostriches are birds.’ They learned how different birds such as ostriches and ducks are related to each other even when they may look very different or live in different habitats, and how birds are different from mammals and reptiles,” she said.

“This kind of knowledge organization helps children retrieve what they have learned from memory, it helps them reason on the basis of what they learned and helps them integrate new information. It is a key part of learning.”

Unger noted that both camps in the study charged parents for their children to attend and attracted mostly kids from middle-class families and above. That could be an issue for families who can’t afford to send their children to camps.

“Our study showed that the zoo camp really did enrich the children who attended. It may help explain at least a part of the learning opportunity gap between children who have access to camps like this and those who don’t.”

The study was supported by grants from the Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences and by the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition – Scholar Award.



By J.P. Linstroth

As the holidays approach, we often remind ourselves of family time and moments of good cheer, whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another sacral rite. It is a time to focus on much needed empathy.

We cherish our holidays and traditions though they continually evolve. We think of Santa Claus wearing all-red—first from Coca-Cola ads; modern Christmas tree lighting originating from pagan tree worship, Roman Saturnalia rituals, and arboreal decorations in 17th-century Germany; or the curious coincidence of the celebrated date of the birth of Jesus so close to winter solstice. And Christmas gift exchange from the offerings of the three Magi—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—now a major commercial enterprise.

Hanukkah is based upon the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC), when the Second Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated. As the Rabbis waited for more holy oil, they were able to light the Temple with one lamp lasting eight days—a full week more than available lamp oil allowed. Now, Hanukkah is celebrated with presents on each commemorative day, eating latkes, and playing dreidel.

These are origins of some of our most wonderful celebrations, some ancient and some “invented traditions,” as British scholars Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger explained, ever evolving.

We are social animals defining ourselves through rituals and relations to others. As an anthropologist, I try raising questions like: What makes us uniquely human? Or follow-up ones, such as how may we become more empathic to others?

Who we are has as much to do with what we inherit as it does with our social environments.

From analyzing the origins of our monotheistic religions, we know they arose in desert environments where other animals are scarce. Polytheistic religions are common where life is abundant. Our Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions developed in isolation from other non-human primates and thus also influenced our views about nature and it in relation to us.

Significant here is this interplay between the biological and the social—the exclusion of either in our analysis being a significant omission.

As the eminent cognitive anthropologist Maurice Bloch elucidates, we may think of interactive exchanges between people as the “transactional social,” in contrast to conscious and overt social symbols perpetuated by rituals and ritualistic behavior, which is the “transcendental social.” Our social life is so complex that the prefrontal cortex, the brain part responsible for controlling our sociality, most likely developed last in our evolution.

Enormous strides have been made in the neurosciences since the 1970s. Only in the last few years have we begun to understand the many and varied nuances of cognition and neurology associated with human conduct.

Some of the more interesting questions about human behavior in recent years have been raised by primatologists like Frans de Waal and Robert Sapolsky. While we are told we diverged on the evolutionary tree from other primates perhaps five million years ago, we are much like non-human primates, especially in our tendency to bond and share.

According to de Waal in his book, Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, monkeys raised in isolation of other monkeys will develop severe mental and social impairments. Likewise, humans have the same needs. This was proven by the results of Romanian orphanages under the communist Ceauşescu regime. Under Ceauşescu abortion was illegal, resulting in thousands of children being abandoned at state orphanages. By the early 1980s, the conditions in Romanian orphanages were deplorable with rampant abuse and child neglect. As de Waal describes, Romanian “…orphans were incapable of laughing or crying, spent the day rocking and clutching themselves in a fetal position…and did not even know how to play.”

Our sociality is an important part of who we are and how we develop into adulthood and how we socialize with others. On the whole, humans have an enormous capacity for empathy as well—that is, imagining others’ pain and feelings as our own.

Our empathy is so attuned as to be sometimes expressed with social altruism and not unique among animals as the late great Oxford evolutionary biologist, William Hamilton, proved quite well. Altruism here means that the benefit of the recipient of deeds outweighing the benefits of someone doing the deeds. Think about NYC firemen on 9/11 entering the World Trade Center Towers after the airplanes had collided with both buildings in order to save those who were stranded there.

Indeed, the empathy involved in feeling another’s pain is quite ingrained in human cognition, even empathy for the pain of non-human animals. Yet, being altruistic and being empathic do not necessarily have to be interrelated as altruistic impulses may be carried out for group survival and not necessarily as feeling another’s pain or preventing another’s pain.

In the animal kingdom, according to Sapolsky, consoling a victim from aggression may elicit sympathy from other group members as happens among chimpanzees, crows, dogs, elephants, ravens, and wolves.

In our neural wiring, the brain region known as the “anterior cingulate cortex,” aside from activating from real pain, according to Sapolsky, is also triggered from abstract social and emotional suffering by anxieties, revulsion, social rejection, and shame. This is also where our empathic feelings emerge for others, elaborated in Sapolsky’s recent book, Behave: the Biology of Humans at Our Best and Our Worst.

Feeling empathy is much easier among those we consider to be “in-group” people, those most familiar to us and who we identify with, and much less so for strangers. Because it is the anterior cingulate cortex which elicits empathy, its anatomical position also indicates its long evolutionary history. Empathic brain pathways also pass through the insula and amygdala, resonating with emotions from others’ facial and bodily expressions and familiar voices.

Surprisingly, as Sapolsky argues, empathy is most often also tied to “self-interest” as dopamine is released in the brain and we feel good about giving to others. Therefore, our chemical reward systems are activated when we are voluntarily giving to others and are not asked to do so.

Charles Dickens’s novella, A Christmas Carol (1843), plays upon our empathic sensibilities for the less fortunate, a morality tale of not only inherent inequalities in capitalism but also the psychological underpinnings about the unease in allowing others’ suffering.

And so, just as the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, found redemption and was transformed into a more sympathetic person, we too might learn to become more empathic toward others, especially the less fortunate, in this holiday season but also, if we are to evolve, year-round.

As empathy is more of a natural proclivity for helping family and friends, we may try moving beyond our centers of comfort by embracing strangers in need and making the world a better place. ‘Tis the season.

J. P. Linstroth has a PhD from the University of Oxford in Social and Cultural Anthropology and is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He is author of Marching Against Gender Practice: Political Imaginings in the Basqueland (2015).

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Britain’s Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, right, gestures to British Prime Minister Theresa May after she spoke with the media at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)’s Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, right, gestures to British Prime Minister Theresa May after she spoke with the media at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. EU leaders gather for a two-day summit, beginning Thursday, which will center on the Brexit negotiations. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Staff & Wire Reports