Inuit of northern Greenland and global warming


This video says about itself:

Living with the Inugguit

In 2010, Dr Stephen Leonard embarked on a year-long trip to live with the Inugguit of north-west Greenland, the northernmost settled people on Earth. His aim was to record the language, stories and songs of these communities. The traditional life of the community and its future is potentially threatened by a number of factors, one of which is climate change. Dr Leonard lived as a member of those communities, travelled on hunts, and recorded and filmed as he went. Here he talks about some of his experiences and reflects on a year spent in the midst of a fading culture.

By Gwyn Griffiths in Britain:

Book review: The Polar North

Monday 17th November 2014

A new book on the Inugguit people, who are struggling to survive in the face of environmental catastrophe, is a warning to us all, says GWYN GRIFFITHS

The Polar North
by Stephen Pax Leonard
(Francis Boutle Publishers, £20)

THE POLAR North is a remarkable story of tiny Inugguit communities with a culture and a language spoken by less than 1,000 people struggling to survive in the hostile environment of west Greenland and in a world that is changing culturally and environmentally.

The book’s two main concerns are the effects of global warming and globalisation on a precarious way of life and it is no small feat of endurance that Stephen Pax Leonard was able to survive the harsh environment and be accepted by a close-knit, often claustrophobic, society for a whole year during his research.

The immediacy of the writing makes for a gripping narrative and although Leonard at times hints at depression in the dark period of the year as well as discomfort during that of 24-hour daylight, he does not dwell on it. What he has produced is a scrupulously honest but hugely sympathetic view of these communities.

The book has stark warnings, primarily of climate change. Since the early 1990s it has not been possible to travel by dog sledge to Canada because the Smith Sound is now partly open all year round.

In January 2011, the sun rose two days earlier than normal over Ilulissat and the best explanation for this is a shocking one. The ice cap is melting, lowering the horizon.

As the sea ice, fundamental to the Inugguit way of life, contracts so does the culture. The transmission of stories, through which vital survival information was transferred, is dying out and the young people of north-west Greenland have only a fraction of the knowledge of the old hunters.

Empty minds become glued to Danish children’s television and violent video games. Alcohol abuse and suicide are major social problems.

The passing of a language and culture of fewer than 1,000 speakers may be irrelevant to many but if the polar Inugguit are the canary in our cultural coal mine, then such a loss may have more relevance than we realise.

There is never any opposition to biodiversity but language activists, linguists and anthropologists are constantly being asked to defend linguistic and cultural diversity.

Fifty per cent of the world’s languages will not exist by the end of this century and we are on the road to the fastest rate of linguistic and cultural destruction in history, driven by the forces of globalisation and consumerism.

The book examines with fascinating detail the links between language and the environment, along with the subtleties and nuance of Inugguit communication.

An excellent introduction to the subject and, in providing a wider context of concern, an essential read.

British government spied on historians Hobsbawm and Hill


This video from Britain says about itself:

2 October 2012

Historian Prof Eric Hobsbawm is interviewed by Simon Schama about his work and his extraordinary life. With archive clips from Eric’s previous TV and radio appearances.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

MI5 spied on Hobsbawm

Saturday 25th October 2014

MI5 spent years keeping Marxist historians Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill under surveillance, according to newly released government documents.

Files released by the National Archives at Kew in west London yesterday reveal that MI5 closely monitored both academics for years, opening their mail, tapping their phones and scrutinising their contacts.

The files on Hobsbawm show how he fell foul of the authorities during his time as a sergeant in the Army Education Corps during the second world war, when his tendency to leave left-wing literature lying around saw him marked out as a “bad influence.

“We know that Hobsbawm has been continually in touch with prominent communists and with party headquarters and there is no doubt that he is a keen and very active party member,” one report from 1942 noted.

Rare medieval bookmark discovery in Leiden, the Netherlands


This video is called Rare medieval bookmark.

About this video, from Leiden university in the Netherlands:

Rare medieval bookmark found in Leiden University Library

A rare medieval bookmark emerged in Leiden University Library. Book historian Erik Kwakkel found the disk in an archive of manuscript descriptions called the Bibliotheca Neerlandica Manuscripta. It was likely put their [sic; there] in the early twentieth century by Willem de Vreese, who made the descriptions. The presence of the bookmark was not known to the library. Only thirty-five bookmarks of this type have been identified worldwide.

The bookmark concerns a disk with the numbers 1-4 written on it. Originally, it would have been fitted in a sleeve, which could be pulled up and down along a cord. The reader would turn the disk to indicate in what text column certain information was found, after which he pulled the sleeve to the relevant line. Page, column and line were thus marked. The specimen in Leiden is incomplete, as only the disk itself survived. However, this manuscript in Harvard’s Houghton Library illustrates how the bookmark works.

Although it is hard to determine the precise date of the bookmark, it was likely made in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. It appears to have been popular in learned books and it reflects how scholars from the thirteenth century began to use their books. No longer were the objects merely used to read from cover to cover, but an interest emerged to read particular sections. To facilitate such use, various aids became widely used, including the index, running titles, and detailed chapter titles. The rotating bookmark can be understood as yet another means to quickly and efficiently find your way to a particular passage. The thumbprints on the Leiden specimen suggests it was frequently used.

The bookmark has been moved to the manuscript collection and has been given the shelfmark BPL 3327. The find was first reported on Erik Kwakkel’s blog medievalbooks.nl and in De Volkskrant of 2 October, 2014.

Last Modified: 02-10-2014.

British feminist sociologist Ann Oakley interviewed


This video, recorded in Scotland, says about itself:

Prof. Ann Oakley – The Invention of Gender: Social Facts and Imagined Worlds

Professor Ann Oakley, distinguished sociologist, feminist and writer, delivers the annual Chrystal Macmillan lecture.

Prof Oakley is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Institute of Education, University of London. In 2011 the British Sociological Association gave her one of their first Lifetime Achievement Awards for her extraordinary contribution to the history of the development of sociology in Britain.

Recorded on Thursday 29 November 2012 at the University of Edinburgh’s George Square lecture theatre.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

The changing role of the ‘housewife’

Tuesday 5th August 2014

Forty years on from the publication of her landmark book Housewife, ANN OAKLEY talks to the Morning Star [about] modern feminism and gender roles today

THIS year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Ann Oakley’s Housewife.

Based on Oakley’s PhD research, the pioneering feminist book looks at the role of the housewife in modern industrialised society.

“The study of domestic labour was not taken seriously at all — it wasn’t understood to be a topic, in fact,” Oakley tells me as we sit in her office at the Institute for Education in London where she is professor of sociology and social policy.

During her research, Oakley, now 70, interviewed 40 women living in suburban London. She found they tended to be dissatisfied because of the monotony, fragmentation and social isolation inherent in the role of housewife.

Therefore, as “housework is directly opposed to the possibility of human self-actualisation,” she concluded with a call to abolish the housewife role.

“I was being deliberately provocative,” she explains about the book’s final chapter which also called for the abolition of the traditional family and the abolition of traditional gender roles.

Four decades later, what’s changed?

“I think the whole notion of women being housewives has changed,” she replies.

“If you asked women now to talk about themselves as housewives they wouldn’t know what you were talking about really.”

But while she concedes men do more housework today, she explains it’s still not equal.

“I don’t think there is any study in the world which shows it’s equal.”

Sure enough, in the newly published 2014 Global Trends survey, 70 per cent of British women said they are mostly responsible for cooking, food shopping and household cleaning.

These findings are supported by research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2013) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (2012), both of which show British women still do the lion’s share of domestic labour.

“Most of the change that has happened since the ’70s has been, in my view, fairly superficial,” Oakley says.

“The change in behaviour is probably less than the professed attitude — what people say is more egalitarian than what they do.”

In particular, Oakley’s 1970s research was interested in the inequality of responsibility.

“In so far as men did housework it was construed by the men and women as him helping her with the housework — not the other way round.

“In terms of the issue of responsibility, what happened in the 1970s is still happening now.”

When men do pitch in, studies show they generally end up doing the tasks that are arguably more enjoyable and leisurely — gardening and DIY, for example.

Oakley agrees. “In the area of childcare, it’s still the case that men are more likely to be doing the more enjoyable side of childcare, rather than changing the dirty nappies.”

So why does this grossly unfair status quo continue?

“Patriarchy is the simple explanation,” Oakley argues.

“Men are a privileged group and there is no reason they should give up their privilege unless they are forced to do so.” This is where feminism comes in. “Most of the change in men’s behaviour, I suspect, has come about because the women they are involved with have put pressure on them to change. Men haven’t, en masse, decided that housework is a good thing to do.”

Oakley sees increasing men’s involvement in housework and childcare as an important step in addressing the social problem of masculinity — a topic she explored in a 2011 Guardian article co-written with fellow feminist academic Cynthia Cockburn.

Quoting government statistics, they noted: “Men were perpetrators in 91 per cent of all violent incidents in England and Wales … 81 per cent for domestic violence, 86 per cent for assault, 94 per cent for wounding, 96 per cent for mugging, 98 per cent for robbery.”

In addition, Ministry of Justice figures show men to be responsible for 98 per cent of sexual offences, 92 per cent of drug offences and 89 per cent of criminal damage.

“The evidence is that being involved in basic care work, being involved in very close relationships with dependent people including children, is something that brings out qualities which are traditionally associated with being a woman — caring, altruism and all that,” Oakley says.

“That happens with men too, but they have to first of all be willing to put themselves in the position so those changes can occur.”

According to 2011 research by Churchill Home Insurers, one in seven of the population pay for outside hired help to do housework. Oakley doesn’t buy this as a solution to the problem.

“That’s not a solution because very often the people who are hired are women and they are underpaid, their job conditions and security are not good,” she says.

“And usually it is the woman in the household who is responsible for looking after the hired help. So you’ve simply passed the oppression on in some sense.”

Oakley’s politics and research interests were energised by the second-wave feminism of the early 1970s.

Forty years later, many commentators argue we are currently in the midst of fourth-wave feminism, with groups and campaigns such as UK Feminista, Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3 evidence of renewed feminist activism.

“I don’t know enough about it really,” Oakley admits when I ask her about the resurgent movement.

However, she feels that some of the media discussions around contemporary feminism she is aware of have little in common with the women’s liberation movement of the ’70s.

She points to the current focus on the representation of women in positions of power. “We were not arguing for women’s share of the top jobs. We were talking about basic issues, we were arguing on the level of basic reproductive rights and access to childcare — state-provided childcare. It was all about doing something about the domestic oppression and not about undoing the privilege at the top.”

Rather than getting a bigger portion of the pie, she argues, “it was about changing the pie. We wanted a different kind of pie.”

She is philosophical when I suggest that her work, and the work of many other feminists from her generation, is rarely cited in the popular feminist polemics being published today.

“Time moves on — it’s one of the sad things that so much has to be rediscovered time and again,” she says.

In fact she says she found one book that referred to her as dead — “The late Ann Oakley.”

“I’m not late in the sense I’m dead and also I’m quite a punctual person,” she quips.

Having read Housewife and Oakley’s stupendously good Gender and Planet Earth — a book that moves from men and meat-eating to critiquing post-modernism — I can safely say contemporary feminism is missing a lot by ignoring Oakley’s groundbreaking work.

As the recent surveys mentioned above show, housework continues to be a source of inequality between men and women.

Housewife could therefore be the key text in the revival of feminist concern over housework that must take place if women are to gain any semblance of equality in the future.

Portuguese-Jewish-Dutch philosopher Spinoza


This video says about itself:

Spinoza

4 February 2009

Roundtable discussion with Akeel Bilgrami, Jonathan Israel, Steven Nadler, Joel Whitebook, and Catherine Wilson.

By Derek Wall in Britain:

Critical thinking: On the importance of reading Spinoza

Thursday 26th June 2014

The foundations of free-thinking and modern secular societies were laid down by a fearless Dutch philosopher who used logic to dismantle prejudice, writes DEREK WALL

I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by my favourite philosopher. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a Dutchman and member of the Jewish community excommunicated for unknown transgressions, is increasingly in fashion. However, he is far from readable and easily misunderstood.

I think that for a whole number of reasons his ideas are hugely inspiring especially for those of us on the left and in particular to members of the Green Party like me.

He is notoriously difficult to read and many recent authors who have looked at his work, in my opinion, obscure rather than enlighten.

Today he is seen as a prophet of radical green politics and as the most important philosopher to challenge religion and superstition.

Steven Nadler’s recently published A Book Forged In Hell is a clear and fascinating guide to Spinoza’s most controversial work — the Theological-Political Treatise. The very title of the treatise shouts out dullness and obscurity but as Nadler recounts its effect when it was first published in 1670 was explosive.

It is a materialist guide to religion that shocked the Dutch authorities.

Nadler’s book is a biography of the treatise and very much a page turner, a philosophical and political thriller, which demands to be bought, read and shared.

Spinoza was a political thinker inspired by the Dutch republic and the need to create a real democracy, which put the people — described by him as “the multitude” — in charge.

While he feared that the multitude might be manipulated by an elite, he has been seen as a radical democrat or even an early communist because of his opposition to hierarchy.

In 21st century terms he would have supported the 99 per cent and challenged the elite. He argued that God and nature, in Latin “Deus sive Natura,” were the same.

He was a materialist and felt that it was wrong to see humanity as separate from the rest of nature, or to see reality divided into “spirit” and “matter.”

So his connection to green politics is obvious. If we are part of nature, we should respect nature. Animal welfare has a strong foundation in his thinking because, while we are different from other species, we and they are part of a common substance.

Georgi Plekhanov described Spinoza as “Marx without the beard.” While I think this is a massive over simplification, Engels famously noted that Spinoza’s materialist outlook was consistent with a Marxist philosophy noting: “Old Spinoza was quite right.”

Marx read the Theological-Political Treatise and made detailed notes on it as part of his preparation for his PhD on philosophy.

Warren Montag has produced a very readable Marxist perspective of Spinoza’s ideas in his book Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza And His Contemporaries.

Nadler’s book focuses more on Spinoza’s views of religion which I find fascinating.

It’s fair to say that I am so taken with Spinoza’s views on religion that whenever I see a group of Jehovah Witnesses I can hardly contain my urge to proclaim the good news to them.

Whether you class him as an atheist, pantheist or believer in the god of the Bible, there is no doubt that he shook things up quite dramatically.

Spinoza was alarmed that religion in the Dutch republic was used to suppress free thought, with various churches and sects denouncing nonconformists.

Religion for Spinoza was intrinsically political, often used as a means of social control, but it could instead be used to promote mutual love and the common good.

Free thinking was only possible if the social control element of religion — based on empty rituals and irrelevant dogmatism — was exposed and rejected.

The treatise is an examination of the Bible that rejects all elements of superstition because superstition is a means of social control.

It is almost as if he went through the Old Testament with a black marker pen, crossing out anything that he saw as false.

Spinoza rejected Genesis — God was timeless and identical with nature, so the idea of a creation story, where God creates the universe is obviously theologically untenable.

Spinoza rejected the concept of miracles — why would God suspend rules of nature and perform tricks. This was undignified and profoundly irreligious.

Moses could not have written about his own death, so the belief that he wrote the first books of the Old Testament was false argued Spinoza. And on, and on — any suggestion that prophets had special insights or God acted, or appeared like a human being, was also crossed out from Spinoza’s Bible.

He seemed to have run out of energy, or at least marker pens, by the New Testament where considerably less is crossed out, although the various miracles performed by Jesus were of course binned.

Spinoza’s materialist and critical reading of the Bible has been seen as paving the way for a secular society.

He argued that the Bible was not the direct word of God but the work of human authors in a given historical context. If they distorted the true religion in their confusion, it was sacrilege not to throw their words away or reread them in the light of reason.

Nadler’s book shows how Spinoza’s critical reading of the Bible contributed to the creation of free-thinking, secular societies.

He argues that in creating the modern world, which values science and reason, Spinoza’s treatise was a vital text.

From religious tolerance to sexual freedom, Spinoza paved the way by criticising superstition and irrationality founded on the Bible.

Nadler also shows that Spinoza’s book created panic and provoked hatred, even in the relatively tolerant Dutch republic.

The treatise was condemned in the words of Nadler’s book title as A book Forged In Hell.

Spinoza was condemned, in contradictory fashion, as both a Jew and an atheist.

The book was banned and became subject to a trans-European hate campaign. Nonetheless in the longer term, Nadler argues, the treatise changed everything.

Spinoza rejected the label atheist, arguing that religion, politics and science, could be brought together, although personal belief and personal freedom to pursue philosophical enquiry were vital.

For him, once the constructed historical nature of the Bible was understood, the true religion could be pursued.

So what did Spinoza recognise as the true religion, once everything else has been stripped from the Bible? He argued simply that true religion was based on obedience to a simple moral principle of mutual love.

While there are always likely to be intense theological debates, the truth of religion is simple for Spinoza — if it promotes mutual love it is true, if it promotes hatred and repression it is false.

I think this formulation has implications for politics too.

Whatever its origin, politics that promotes human cooperation and trust is right, if it promotes inequality, elite rule and intolerance is wrong.

Spinoza can be criticised in various ways but he is a key inspiration for both socialist and ecological politics and should not be forgotten.

In his day — as Nadler reminds us — he upset people. The Calvinist Synod condemned the treatise as “spawned in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil.”

While his writing, inspired by Descartes’s geometric method, is tough and often uninspiring, the effects of his words make Spinoza continually worth re-reading.

Derek Wall is international coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales.