American author Jonathan Franzen about Mediterranean bird conservation

This video from the USA says about itself:

Bird migration, a perilous journey – Alyssa Klavans

Nearly 200 species of songbirds migrate south for winter, some traveling up to 7,000 miles. No easy task, the annual journey is dangerous to birds due to landscape change — so much so, that only half the birds that migrate south will return home for spring. Alyssa Klavans details why bird migration is so taxing and how we can assist our chirping friends.

Lesson by Alyssa Klavans, animation by Igor Coric.

From BirdLife:

‘Birding and conservation go together… You can’t do one and not care about the other’

By Luca Bonaccorsi, Wed, 09/09/2015 – 06:00

“We are sincerely grateful for this interview; I know this is a very busy time for you”.

“Not a problem, I always make time for birds.”

Jonathan Franzen, one of the best writers of our era, is right in the middle of the launch of his new, much anticipated novel Purity. Avid birder, BirdLife supporter and member of the Rare Bird Club, he comments on BirdLife’s latest scientific study on a very sensitive issue: the ongoing illegal slaughter of birds in the Mediterranean.

The report suggests that the illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean still has horrifying dimensions. You are a passionate birder and a writer who explores human motivations, cultures and thinking processes in great depth; what are your thoughts on the phenomenon?

I’ ve spent a lot of time studying and reporting on the illegal killing of birds, and I’d like to begin by saying that I find Birdlife’s estimate of 25 million birds killed illegally every year—shocking though it may sound to most people—very conservative.

I’m not sure there’s a “general” motivation for the killing—the cultural contexts, and therefore the motivations, vary from country to country—but what every Mediterranean culture has in common is that there used to be a lot of birds and not that many people. For millennia, the enormous flow of biomass during the spring and fall bird migrations was a source of protein for genuinely hungry people, especially in the spring, when they were running low on cereals.

So, throughout the Mediterranean, you find a deep cultural memory of “birds to eat” being a nice thing that nature does for people. Clearly, now the situation is very different: the killing is no longer sustainable, and nobody is starving.

Obviously we do not question starving people hunting for food. But rather, the caging and illegal killing done for “sport” or traditional “delicacies”..

The situation is different on the African side of the Mediterranean. Egypt is the worst case, especially in the use of mist nets with playback, but also in the use of firearms at desert oases. Hunger is not an issue in Egypt, but the killing of birds provides income for many poor people.

What makes it tragic is that hunting with modern technologies is wildly unsustainable.  And unfortunately there’s not a good legal framework to stop it.  Even if Egypt had good police—in fact, they have bad police—in many cases people aren’t even breaking the law.

But this is not the case in Europe: In countries such as Italy, France or Cyprus, laws do exist.

The law is still widely flouted in European Union member states. The most unforgivable violations are those of hunters with guns in Europe.  But even the legal hunting is too much.  It’s not that I don’t understand the tradition. I grew up in a family where hunting was part of life. But the various European hunting organizations don’t want to admit that there are simply too many hunters and too few birds to make the tradition sustainable.

And yet the big numbers of victims are caused by limesticks and mist nets on songbirds.

That’s certainly the case in Cyprus, where, despite heroic efforts by CABS [Committee Against Bird Slaughter] and BirdLife Cyprus, the situation is really bad. The Cypriots have a culinary tradition of Ambelopouliablackcap warblers grilled, stewed or pickled. This appears to be a legitimate tradition. But nowadays, the trapping of songbirds is pursued on an industrial scale, by criminal gangs. And precisely because it’s illegal to capture or serve ambelopoulia, and because they’re expensive, the practice now has connotations of “luxury” and “forbidden delicacy”. Restaurant people in Cyprus have told me it’s mostly tourists, especially Russian tourists, who are eager to taste the birds.

It’s like with oysters: people eat these little blobs of protoplasm, which are repellent-looking and expensive, as a kind of cultural display. Golden Orioles are a similar kind of delicacy in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf States.  According to local myths, eating an oriole is like taking two Viagras.

How do you deal with the typical criticism of birders and nature lovers: ‘With all the problems affecting human beings, why should we care’?

We should be free to care about whatever we want to. There will always be human problems, and if we can only save nature “after” we’ve solved these, it means we never will. There are also strong scientific arguments for preserving biodiversity. We know, for example, that birds are great indicators of the health of an ecosystem. A planet with 12 species of birds in it is a planet that’s dying. It means that all of your ecosystems are in trouble.

Let’s take a real example. In a place like Syria, where hundreds of thousands are dying and have died, and millions must leave their homes to find refuge, why should we care about the fate of the last Northern Bald Ibis [Geronticus Eremita]?

My instinctive reply would be beauty. Beauty matters. And the world would be poorer if the Ibis went extinct. But there are more rational responses. In Syria, there are reports linking the outbreak of war to overgrazing in certain areas, to the point where agriculture and the local economy collapsed. This resulted in massive unemployment, hence the social unrest.

Are you suggesting there is a link between the violence against nature and the violence between human beings?

I wouldn’t go that far. It’s like the old argument that pornography causes rape. I grew up in a Swedish-American family where hunting was normal, and where everyone was also a pacifist. There’s no automatic link between hunting and murder. But I do know that, in Campania [a region of southern Italy] the Camorra prepares young killers for their job by getting them to kill animals first.

Can we change people’s mind and culture?

Of course, there are plenty of examples. The first one that comes to mind is Anna Giordano [ornithologist and LIPU/BirdLife Italy activist, currently employed by WWF in Sicily] and her fight in the ’90s against the shooting of raptors in Sicily. Through the efforts of one courageous young woman, the problem was almost entirely solved.  It’s a good example of how traditions can change. I’m generally unimpressed with arguments based on “tradition.”  In the American South, it used to be traditional to own human slaves.

In Italy today, maybe 80% of the population is on our side, and poaching is declining in most of the country. For that, we should thank, among others, the work of CABS in Brescia and Ischia and the policing work done by WWF and LIPU in Campania. Unfortunately there is still a terrible 20% that seems to enjoy the killing despite the naming and shaming. If you go to the Adriatic in the spring or fall, the wetlands are teeming with Italian hunters.

In France, I think it’s different. The French have the longest list of huntable bird species, in part because French culinary traditions are intimately connected with French nationalism: if you attack their tradition of eating for example, the Ortolan, it can be perceived as an attack against their national identity and culture.

How would you run a campaign to stop it?

I favour the use of shocking images. I think that a one-minute video showing shocking images, like those that showed baby seals clubbed to death to make furs, would get public opinion on the side of nature. Combined with sound scientific reporting, it could make a real difference.

On the Adriatic Flyway, there’s an urgent need to support the small groups and individuals who are fighting bird poaching. It doesn’t take many people to guard a large wetland, but those people need to be paid. And I’ve seen firsthand that having one guard can make a huge difference.

In Egypt, where technology allows the mass slaughter of birds and the political situation is impossible, the only real long-term hope is to invest in an education program in primary and secondary schools. Eating songbirds used to be normal in Northern Europe, but that tradition has gone extinct. It’s not inconceivable that this could happen in Egypt, too.

Some would disagree about the use of images. Many found our cover [of the review of illegal killing in the Mediterranean] disturbing.

I understand that. At first I myself found those type of images repellent. I compared them to the ones that anti-abortionists use, showing foetuses (although I am immune to those and remain pro-choice). I think it’s a failure of imagination of the French not to consider what is happening to the population of the species of birds being eaten, but the truth is that many birders don’t want to imagine it.

We need to get the message across: Birding and conservation go hand in hand. You can’t do one and not care about the other. If you care enough about birds to go out and spend your time watching them, you can’t stay silent about the massacre that’s happening in the Mediterranean.

William Shakespeare and the English language

This video says about itself:

Shakespeare – The History of English (3/10)

1 July 2011

Frpm daily The Independent in Britain:

These are all the words that William Shakespeare is credited with inventing

by Evan Bartlett

24 August 2015

Despite passing away nearly four centuries ago, William Shakespeare has left an indelible mark on the English language.

The likes of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth have seen Shakespeare regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

While those plays are still widely read and celebrated, the Bard has arguably left a far greater legacy in all the words and phrases that he is credited with inventing, or at least first popularising through his work.

Here is a list of 117 words credited to Shakespeare (just try and having a conservation without using any of them):

  • academe
  • accused
  • addiction
  • advertising
  • amazement
  • arouse
  • assassination
  • arch-villain
  • backing
  • bandit
  • barefaced
  • beached
  • bedazzle
  • bedroom
  • besmirch
  • bet
  • birthplace
  • blanket
  • bloodstained
  • blushing
  • bump
  • buzzer
  • caked
  • cater
  • champion
  • cheap
  • circumstantial
  • cold-blooded
  • compromise
  • countless
  • courtship
  • critic
  • dauntless
  • dawn
  • deafening
  • discontent
  • dishearten
  • drugged
  • dwindle
  • elbow
  • embrace
  • epileptic
  • equivocal
  • excitement
  • exposure
  • eyeball
  • fashionable
  • fixture
  • flawed
  • frugal
  • generous
  • gloomy
  • gnarled
  • go-between
  • gossip
  • green-eyed
  • grovel
  • gust
  • hint
  • hobnob
  • honey-tongued
  • hurried
  • impartial
  • impede
  • inauspicious
  • invulnerable
  • jaded
  • label
  • lacklustre
  • laughable
  • lonely
  • lower
  • luggage
  • lustrous
  • madcap
  • majestic
  • marketable
  • metamorphise
  • mimic
  • monumental
  • moonbeam
  • mountaineer
  • negotiate
  • nimble-footed
  • noiseless
  • obscene
  • obsequiously
  • ode
  • olympian
  • outbreak
  • panders
  • pedant
  • premeditated
  • puking
  • radiance
  • rant
  • remorseless
  • sanctimonious
  • savagery
  • scuffle
  • secure
  • skim milk
  • submerge
  • summit
  • swagger
  • time-honoured
  • torture
  • tranquil
  • undress
  • unearthly
  • unreal
  • varied
  • vaulting
  • vulnerable
  • well-bred
  • worthless
  • zany

Citations for where the majority of these words can be found in Shakespeare’s plays can be seen here.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s satire of Conservative prime minister censored

This video from Canada says about itself:

Protesters impersonate Mike Duffy, Stephen Harper outside Duffy trial

12 August 2015

Two protesters dressed as Mike Duffy and Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood outside the courthouse Wednesday holding a cheque for $90,000 dollars, a reference to the money Harper‘s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright paid Duffy – allegedly without the PM’s knowledge.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Hair today, gone tomorrow: Margaret Atwood in Canada censorship row

Author’s satirical piece on prime minister Stephen Harper’s hair is removed within hours of publication on National Post website: ‘Did I just get censored?’

Oliver Laughland

Sunday 23 August 2015 15.26 BST

She is a prize-winning author who has conjured vivid dystopian futures, but on Friday Margaret Atwood found herself at the centre of a somewhat mundane censorship debate in the present.

The acclaimed author penned a satirical column lambasting Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s hair, which has become an unusual talking point in the lead up to the general election in October.

Hours after publication on the National Post website, the piece was removed. Senior newspaper staff later said “the necessary fact checking had not been completed”.

“Um, did I just get censored? For my flighty little caper on Hair?” Atwood tweeted after #Hairgate began trending on Twitter.

Throughout the election campaign, the Canadian Conservative party has attacked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as inexperienced and lacking in policy focus. It has also mocked him simply for having “nice hair”. Trudeau has hit back through advertising, arguing Harper is struggling to talk about anything else.

Atwood’s piece argued the entire debate had trivialised the election. “Hair, an election issue? Really?” she wrote, before going on to poke fun at Harper.

“Of the three national male leaders, which one travels with a personal grooming assistant – lavishly paid for in whole or in part by you, gentle taxpayer – so that none of his hairs will ever be out of place … Hint: Initials are SH.”

The column was eventually republished by the National Post, with three sentences, which made reference to Harper’s political donations and a recent travel expenses scandal, removed.

The edits appeared to outrage the author even more – Atwood said the piece had been submitted nine days before it was published.

“Which of my facts were Wrong? What are the alternate facts, presumably Right? Cite sources please,” she tweeted at the National Post on Saturday, after thanking readers for the flurry of puns mocking the episode, which had erupted on Twitter throughout the day.

Canada’s Conservatives boast mighty war chest but corruption scandal looms. Stephen Harper’s ruling party has maintained campaign spending advantage before October vote, but a senator’s expenses trial could yet derail Conservatives: here.

Canada’s prime minister wants to make it harder for people to vote against him, by Caroline Konrad. Stephen Harper, who won by an uncomfortably small margin in the last election, has passed laws that may keep voters who oppose him from the polls: here.

Ashley Burnham mrs universe 9-2-2015 8-22-46 AMAshley Burnham, the first ever Indigenous or Canadian crowned Mrs Universe, encouraged the country’s First Nations people to vote out Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the upcoming elections in October: here.

British author Doris Lessing spied on by secret police

This video is called Re-Reading Doris Lessing‘s ‘The Golden Notebook’: Ten Years Later.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

MI5 spied on Doris Lessing for 20 years, declassified documents reveal

Newly released and redacted British intelligence files refer to author from early 1940s to long after her break from communist party in 1956

Richard Norton-Taylor

Friday 21 August 2015 00.01 BST

MI5 targeted the Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing for 20 years, listening to her phone conversations, opening her mail and closely monitoring her movements, previously top secret files reveal. The files show the extent to which MI5, helped by the Met police special branch, spied on the writer, her friends and associates, long after she abandoned communism, disgusted by the crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

MI5 was concerned about her continuing fierce opposition to colonialism, the files, released at the National Archives on Friday, make clear.

Lessing first came to MI5’s notice in the early 1940s in Southern Rhodesia when, as Doris Tayler, she married Gottfried Lessing, a communist activist and leading figure in the Left Book Club. …

From British daily The Independent, quoting MI5:

One memo to London said: “The general tone of the club is reported to be very left, and it is stated that most topics of discussion there usually end up in anti-British, anti-capital and anti-imperialist vapourings.”

The BBC quotes MI5 that it was ‘a club “patronised by persons with foreign accents”‘ Gottfried Lessing, Doris’ husband, was a refugee from nazi Germany of Jewish ancestry, so probably spoke English with a German accent.

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

She kept his surname when the marriage ended and she left Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she was brought up, and moved to Britain in 1949.

MI5 stepped up its spying on her when, in the course of its permanent bugging of the British Communist party’s headquarters in King Street, Covent Garden, her name (initially misheard as Lacey) came up in a conversation.

From British daily The Independent, quoting MI5:

One 1951 report in her Security Service personal file said: “Doris Lessing has been described as certainly pro-Communist although it is doubtful if she is a party member. Her Rhodesian background has brought out in her a deep hatred of the colour bar which has now reached the point of fanaticism. In this way her Communist sympathies have been increased.”

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

In 1952, MI6 passed to MI5 what it called “character sketches” of members of a visit to Moscow by a number of British authors, the files released on Friday reveal. Under the name Miss Doris Lessing, it wrote: “Her communist sympathies have been fanned almost to the point of fanaticism owing to her upbringing in Rhodesia, which has brought out in her a deep hatred of the colour bar.”

MI6 added: “Colonial exploitation is her pet theme and she has now nearly become as irresponsible in her statements as … saying that everything black is wonderful and that all men and all things white are vicious.”

… In 1956, Special Branch informed MI5 that Lessing, whom it described as “of plump build”, had moved into a flat in Warwick Road, London SW5. “Her flat is frequently visited by persons of various nationality,” it reported, “including Americans, Indians, Chinese and Negroes.” The report added: “It is possible that the flat is being used for immoral purposes.”

But 1956 proved tumultuous for Lessing. She was banned from South Africa and Rhodesia.

From British daily The Independent:

Lessing, who was expelled from South Africa during the trip after an alert to the apartheid country’s police force from London, was also followed onto a flight back to Britain and observed to be writing in a large black notebook which her tail considered suspicious because the author covered what she had written each time someone came past.

An attempt to find the notebook in her luggage upon her return to London airport was abandoned because of fears it would alert Lessing to MI5’s scrutiny.

While the author, who died in 2013 aged 94, maintained her radical politics throughout her life, her MI5 file reveals nothing to suggest she was an active threat to national security.

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

Then came Moscow’s violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising. MI5 reported a fraught meeting at the communist party headquarters where Lessing agreed to sign a letter exposing “the grave crimes and abuses of the USSR and the recent revolt of workers and intellectuals against the pseudo Communist bureaucracies and police systems”. …

Lessing, an MI5 file notes, resigned from the Communist party and rejected an appeal from party officials to change her mind.

Early the following year, 1957, an MI5 source described Lessing as “disgusted with the Russian action in Hungary”, and attacking the attitude of the British communist party as “hopeless and gutless”. The same source described her as “an attractive, forceful, dangerous, woman, ruthless if need be”. …

MI5 continued to monitor Lessing’s movements, speeches and writing, and eagerly passed titbits on to the South African police. MI5 officers make clear they chose not to believe that she had “broken completely” with the Communist party, as one file puts it. In 1960, a Special Branch officer told MI5 she attended an “inaugural discussion” of the anti-war group, the Committee of 100, at Friends’ House on the Euston Road, London.

In November 1962, six years after she left the Communist party, an MI5 officer wrote, in a file stamped “secret and personal”: “She is known to have retained extreme leftwing views and she takes an interest in African affairs as an avowed opponent of racial discrimination. In more recent years, she has associated herself with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

This is the last entry in the intelligence files on her released on Friday, two years after her death. Official weeders have taken out some pages and passages, partly to protect the name of informants. They may be released at a later date.

In 2007, aged 88, Lessing, who made no secret of her political views, became the oldest winner of the Nobel prize for literature. She died in November 2013, aged 94.

The files released on Friday reveal that MI5 also kept a close watch on prominent figures of the left who were never members of the Communist party. They include the brothers David and Martin Ennals: the former became social services secretary in Callaghan’s 1976 Labour government and was later ennobled, the latter became general secretary of the National Council of Civil Liberties, a founder member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and secretary general of Amnesty International.

An anxious Foreign Office diplomat wrote shortly after the end of the second world war to Roger Hollis, who later became head of MI5, asking about the pair. MI5 replied that its files on the Ennals brothers had been “in great demand recently”. MI5 was concerned that UN groups, in which it said both brothers were involved, might be infiltrated by the Communist party. MI5 noted that Martin was “well known to Special Branch for his activities in the Anti-Apartheid Movement”.

The MI5 files contain extracts of Harold Laski’s private correspondence that were intercepted because it was worried about his alleged communist connections. His private communications were intercepted, though MI5 reported to the Home Office in 1933 that he was “not a Communist”. Laski was chairman of the Labour party at the time of its landslide victory in the 1945 general election.

British poetry against government policies

This video from England says about itself:

Coleridge Lectures 2015: Andrew Kelly

17 April 2015

Andrew Kelly: Animals ‘in the Fraternity of universal Nature’

In his utopian community Pantisocracy, Coleridge believed that animals were to be brothers and sisters ‘in the Fraternity of universal Nature’. Animal rights and animal welfare were debated widely amongst the Romantics and remain controversial issues today. Andrew Kelly looks at the views of the Romantics and current campaigns for animals.

Part of Coleridge Lectures 2015: Radical Green. In association with Bristol 2015 European Green Capital and Cabot Institute.

By Jody Porter in Britain:

New Boots and Pantisocracies

Thursday 13th August 2015

Jody Porter talks to ANDY JACKSON and W N HERBERT about the success of their post-election poetry project

THE next few weeks will see a radical web-based poetry project reach its conclusion, with the posting of the final poems out of a planned 100 on the New Boots and Pantisocracies website.

The project is curated by poets W N Herbert and Andy Jackson and takes the theme of “the first 100 days,” which has become something of a post-election meme in recent years.

The website has published poems initially reflecting on the post-election political landscape before moving on to document the state of British society in the last few months since the tumultuous general election. Poets involved include George Szirtes, Helen Mort, Ian McMillan, Roddy Lumsden, Sheenagh Pugh and Sean O’Brien, each one responding to what the curators describe as ”the new unrealpolitik.”

The name of the project brings together the concept of the pantisocracy (where all govern equally) as proposed by 18th-century poets Coleridge and Southey, with the 1977 Ian Dury LP New Boots and Panties, a quintessentially British record, rich in blue collar poetry and musical variation.

This music video from Ireland is called Ian Dury & The Blockheads / Blockheads “Live” in Belfast 03/02/79.

W N Herbert says: “The idea for the blog sprang from an online exchange between myself and my publisher Andy Ching.

The phrase just arose, and the way it bounced Dury’s ripe knowingness off Southey and Coleridge’s early idealism suddenly seemed to make sense of our current bewilderment. It was, we realised, one of those rare spontaneous puns you look again at and think, ‘What can I do with that?’”

Jackson says of the project: “There was a sense of disbelief after the election result came in. A Tory majority without the limited restraints placed on it by its former coalition partners spelt bad news for the arts, education, health, welfare and many other areas traditionally sacrificed to austerity. Poets associated with the project have responded in various ways, looking at the benefits system, human rights legislation, TTIP, Scottish independence and many other topics.”

Co-curator Herbert added: “there’s plenty of anger and bewilderment, but these are lines of poetry rather than unwavering expressions of a party line, and their energy comes from a collision of the verbal with the visceral, a recharging of language even as it is being emptied by our political masters and their envious opposites.”

The initial aim — 100 poems in 100 days — has been a success, and the curators are considering the next steps. Herbert explains: “The plan is to take New Boots into the live arena, organising readings of contributors as we’ve done with previous projects. The other part of the plan is, we can now reveal, to continue past the 100 days as long as the contributors’ political and poetical will is there and until everyone interested in writing something has done so.” Readers can therefore expect an incendiary mix of heads-up poetry in a town near them in the near future.

Jackson concludes: “Poetry has taken a stand in a way that it is rarely afforded the chance to — not just via a few isolated voices on lonely hillsides and street corners, but collectively and loudly. We hope that this project demonstrates that the radical art of the polemic in poetic form still thrives, and that poetry has a place in both reflecting society and politics, and rejecting it where it cannot accept the way things are.”

New Boots and Pantisocracies can be viewed here.