Mary Wollstonecraft, my hero, Corbyn says

This 2017 video is called Mary Wollstonecraft – World History.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Mary Wollstonecraft is my historical hero, says Corbyn

Thursday 9th November 2017

JEREMY CORBYN has revealed his biggest historical hero: 18th-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

The Labour leader expressed his admiration for Wollstonecraft in an interview with BBC History magazine published today.

An early advocate of women’s rights in the 18th century, she founded a school with her sister in Newington Green, which is now in Mr Corbyn’s north London constituency.

Last March, Mr Corbyn backed the campaign for a statue to the “outstanding writer and women’s rights campaigner” on the green.

He told the magazine that the “opening of a school that aimed to give girls an education every bit as good as that enjoyed by boys — a novel idea at the time” was the first reason he picked her as his historical hero.

“Then there’s the fact that (unlike a lot of people this side of the Channel) she was excited by the radical opportunities the French Revolution could bring,” he said. Having first learned about the writer and philosopher through the women’s rights movement in the 1970s and ’80s, he described her finest hour as the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

The 1792 text, which advocated equality of the sexes, made her famous and was a blueprint for the future women’s movement.

Mr Corbyn said: “It was Mary who had the vision of women leading lives every bit as full as any man.”

He also said he shared her beliefs in the way she treated people with respect, regardless of their sex, race or religion.

Wollstonecraft died 12 days after the birth of her second daughter, who went on to write the novel Frankenstein as Mary Shelley.


Trump’s General Kelly whitewashes 1860s slave owners’ rebellion

General John Kelly

By Tom Mackaman in the USA:

White House chief of staff blames Civil War on failure to “compromise”

2 November 2017

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, speaking on Fox News Monday night with Laura Ingraham, declared that the Civil War resulted from a failure to “compromise.” This is a reactionary and discredited interpretation that denies the historical necessity of the struggle that preserved the union, destroyed slavery and, in launching the industrial revolution, gave birth to the American working class.

Kelly rehashed several components of what historians have come to call “The Lost Cause myth”, which centers on the false premise that in 1861 the plantation oligarchy—owners of some 4.5 million slaves—led the southern states out of the Union and into the Civil War over “states’ rights,” and that this fight was conducted by noble figures, epitomized by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Kelly said: “Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state. One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country—it was always loyalty to state back in those days. Now it’s different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

The retired Marine general’s praise for the leading Confederate general is a provocative reiteration of Trump’s defense of the August 11-12 fascist riot in Charlottesville, which took place in opposition to the removal of a statue of Lee from a city park and resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old anti-racist protester run over by a white supremacist.

Kelly’s comments also reprise a comment made by Trump in a May 1 interview with Sirius satellite radio. “Why was there the Civil War?” Trump asked. “Why could that one not have been worked out? I mean, had [slave owner] Andrew Jackson been [president] a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War.”

The repetition of the same claim by Trump and his chief of staff shows that it is not an innocuous mistake. Trump, and even more Kelly, who has been promoted by the media as a “moderating influence” in the White House and “the adult in the room”, know full well what they are doing. Their aim, inspired by Trump’s former chief advisor Steven Bannon, is to cultivate a far-right, fascistic movement in the United States. The Civil War’s revolutionary and egalitarian essence, which belongs to the whole working class, cuts across this. Its significance must therefore be distorted.

Since this attack is waged in the arena of history, it is first of all necessary to set straight the historical record.

The Civil War was itself the outcome of decades of compromise. The pattern of what Senator William Seward would in 1858 call the “irrepressible conflict” was already perceptible to some as early as 1820, including the elderly Thomas Jefferson, who famously wrote that that year’s Missouri Compromise “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror.” He continued: “I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

William Seward, New York Senator and secretary of state under Lincoln

These were prophetic words. Beginning with that compromise, by which the entry of Missouri as a slave state was offset by the entry of Maine as a free state, each new territorial acquisition, and every new state that entered the union—including all of the lands taken from the American Indians and Mexico—only raised again, and on a more intense level, the sectional dispute over slavery.

By 1861, this had reached an end point. Now, only one “compromise” was possible that would have appeased the Southern ruling class and averted the Civil War: a legal guarantee, or “Slave Code,” forever ensuring the inviolability of slavery in all of the United States. In late December 1860, with the Secession Crisis already underway, Mississippi Senator (and future Confederate President) Jefferson Davis, in his “Compromise Proposal” to the Committee of Thirteen to avert war, proposed precisely this:

‘Resolved, That it shall be declared, by amendment of the Constitution, that property in slaves, recognized as such by the local law of any of the States of the Union, shall stand on the same footing in all constitutional and federal relations as any other species of property so recognized; and, like other property, shall not be subject to be divested or impaired by the local law of any other State, either in escape thereto or of transit or sojourn of the owner therein; and in no case whatever shall such property be subject to be divested or impaired by any legislative act of the United States, or of any of the Territories thereof.’

The Slave Code would be the law of the land in all federal territories and all future acquisitions, wherever they may be—including Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua, each of which were targeted for annexation in the 1850s by southern politicians, including Sen. Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippi, who in an 1858 speech fulminated against Republicans frustrating the expansion of slavery:

I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it for a fair equivalent, well—if not, we must take it. I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery. And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other states. It will render them less valuable to the other powers of the earth, and thereby diminish competition with us. Yes, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and rebellious and wicked as the Yankees have been, I would even extend it to them.’

Secession was not, then, an issue of “states’ rights”—but rather the inability, after Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election, of the Slave Power to dominate the levers of federal power, as it had done, in alliance with northern Democrats and so-called “Cotton Whigs”, uninterruptedly since the 1820s.

Jefferson Davis

But why did the Southern slaveocracy risk everything by instigating war? Why not accept the Republican Party’s promise from its 1860 platform to uphold “the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions”, a promise reiterated by Lincoln in his First Inaugural: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

In his The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery Politics and the Coming of the Civil War, Lincoln Prize Winner James Oakes argues that there was a widespread belief, in both the North and the South, that the restriction of slavery would lead to its ultimate extinction—a position originally upheld by the Founding Fathers, whose efforts along these lines, including the Northwest Ordinance and the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, were upended by the emergence of southern cotton as the staple crop of Britain’s industrial revolution.

To stop slavery’s further expansion, with an eye toward its end—this expressed Lincoln’s politics as well as the dominant anti-slavery current within the Republican Party. In his famous House Divided Speech, delivered in 1858 in the wake of the notorious Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court, Lincoln said:

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South.

Abraham Lincoln

This “ultimate extinction” was not thought to be imminent, at least not in the North. According to Oakes, abolitionist congressmen such as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Owen Lovejoy of Illinois thought that full emancipation might take 25 or 50 years. Lincoln thought as many as 100. In 1858, the Chicago Tribune could still predict that “no man living” would see the end of slavery.

Far more than these northerners, the southern oligarchy sensed the imminence of revolution—a word its leaders flung freely at the hated “Black Republican” Party. They perceived Lincoln’s victory as a deadly ominous political expression of the North’s more rapidly growing population and economy, as well as its increasing cultural influence. They were convinced that further compromise would only hasten demise. It was time to strike out against the progress of history.

Noting this, historian James McPherson in his Battle Cry of Freedom has aptly dubbed southern secession the “Counter-Revolution of 1861.” But, as he adds, “seldom in history has a counterrevolution so quickly provoked the very revolution it sought to pre-empt.”

By the summer of 1862, Lincoln recognized it was no longer possible to return to the union of 1860. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass advised, “war for the destruction of liberty must be met with war for the destruction of slavery.” Lincoln’s promise in 1861 to not touch slavery where it already existed gave way, on January 1, 1863, to the Emancipation Proclamation, which turned the Civil War into a revolutionary war.

Whether the immediate question was union or emancipation, no one living in those years thought that the war was about anything other than slavery. When Lincoln said, looking back on the war’s onset in his Second Inaugural, that “all knew” that slavery was “somehow the cause of the war”, it provoked no controversy.

It was so obvious as to be a truism. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, ratified in the spring of 1861, copied much of the American Constitution. But whereas the latter maintained a shamefaced silence over slavery—the word itself did not appear—the Confederate version took care to name it no less than ten times, guaranteeing its sanctity in any future territories acquired.

Frederick Douglass

In their various declarations of independence, whatever the precise wording, each of the southern secession conventions joined Louisiana in asserting that “the people of the slave-holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.” Karl Marx, writing in 1865, observed that this marked the first time in world history that “an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe… ‘slavery’ on the banner of Armed Revolt.”

Indeed, in claiming that the Civil War was a mistake, Trump and Kelly are harkening back to a school of historical falsification created well after the Civil War. First put forward by former Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and General Jubal Early, the Lost Cause became, in all but name, the official narrative of American history in the 1890s, promoted by a wave of elite historians following William Dunning of Columbia University, among them the future American president and liberal icon Woodrow Wilson.

Its basic tenets were these: the antebellum plantation system was a pastoral world of contented slaves and chivalrous owners; secession was not about slavery, but “states’ rights;” the entire South was united against “the War of the Northern Aggression;” Lee, the greatest of all American generals, succumbed to the ruthless Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant only in the face of vastly superior numbers; and the brief period of African-American political equality after the war, the period known as Reconstruction during the Grant administration, was the darkest hour of American history.

It is no coincidence that this historical revisionism emerged in the 1890s, simultaneous with the consolidation and legal entrenchment of Jim Crow segregation, which became the law of the land in the 1896 Pless y vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case. It is also not coincidental that it emerged simultaneously with the eruption of American imperialism in the predatory Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines was ideologically justified, in part, by the concept of “the White Man’s Burden.”

Eugene Debs, seated at the right, and other American Railway Union leaders imprisoned for their role in the Pullman Strike. Debs became a socialist after the experience

Finally, it is not coincidental that this reactionary revisionism of the Civil War was promoted at the same time as the eruption of major and violent working class struggles against the new capitalist order, including, in 1894 alone, the Pullman Strike, the Great Northern Railway Strike and the nationwide Bituminous Coal Strike—events that accelerated the emergence of socialism in the American working class from the late 1890s on.

It was under these conditions that the American ruling class, now unified North and South around the imperialist project, found it convenient, even necessary, to hide the revolutionary and egalitarian essence of the Civil War. Kelly, Trump, Bannon, et al., hope that the Lost Cause myth can play a similar role in 2017.

Porpoise’s grave in medieval Guernsey monastery

This video says about itself:

See the Mysterious Medieval Porpoise Bones Found by Archaeologists | National Geographic

25 September 2017

Medieval monks on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, appear to have interred a porpoise skull on the grounds of their retreat.

‘Male’ Viking warrior turns out to be woman

This is how the grave on Birka might have looked like where the female warrior was buried. Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of grave Bj 581 from Hjalmar Stolpe's excavations at Birka in the late 19th century. (Stolpe 1889)

From Stockholm University in Sweden:

An officer and a gentlewoman from the Viking army in Birka

War was not an activity exclusive to males in the Viking world. A new study conducted by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities shows that women could be found in the higher ranks at the battlefield.

September 8, 2017

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, explains: “What we have studied was not a Valkyrie [war goddess] from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman”.

The study was conducted on one of the most iconic graves from the Viking Age. It holds the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, including a sword, armour-piercing arrows, and two horses. There were also a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board. “The gaming set indicates that she was an officer”, says Charlotte, “someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle”. The warrior was buried in the Viking town of Birka during the mid-10th century. Isotope analyses confirm an itinerant life style, well in tune with the martial society that dominated 8th to 10th century northern Europe.

Anna Kjellström, who also participated in the study, has taken an interest in the burial previously. “The morphology of some skeletal traits strongly suggests that she was a woman, but this has been the type specimen for a Viking warrior for over a century why we needed to confirm the sex in any way we could.”

And this is why the archaeologists turned to genetics, to retrieve a molecular sex identification based on X and Y chromosomes. Such analyses can be quite useful according to Maja Krezwinska: “Using ancient DNA for sex identification is useful when working with children for example, but can also help to resolve controversial cases such as this one”. Maja was thus able to confirm the morphological sex identification with the presence of X chromosomes but the lack of a Y chromosome.

Jan Storå, who holds the senior position on this study, reflects over the history of the material: “This burial was excavated in the 1880s and has served as a model of a professional Viking warrior ever since. Especially, the grave-goods cemented an interpretation for over a century”. It was just assumed she was a man through all these years. “The utilization of new techniques, methods, but also renewed critical perspectives, again, shows the research potential and scientific value of our museum collections”.

The study is a part of the ongoing ATLAS project, which is a joint effort by Stockholm University and Uppsala University, supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences) and Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council), to investigate the genetic history of Scandinavia.

See also here.

Babylonians, world’s oldest trigonometrists discovery

This video says about itself:

Ancient Babylonian tablet – world’s first trig table

24 August 2017

UNSW Sydney scientists have discovered the purpose of a famous 3700-year old Babylonian clay tablet, revealing it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, most likely used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces, temples and stepped pyramids.

Read more here.

Plimpton 322, the most famous of Old Babylonian tablets (1900-1600 BC), is the world’s oldest trigonometric table, possibly used by Babylonian scholars to calculate how to construct stepped pyramids, palaces and temples, according to a duo of researchers from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia: here.

Dutch children learning nationalism, forgetting about slavery?

This music video is called “O la folle entreprise du Prince de Condé“, a song from 1568. It is the original version of the Dutch national anthem (the Wilhelmus), by Spanish soldiers mocking their Protestant enemies. Its original lyrics were in French. In 1568, these Roman Catholic Spanish soldiers fought Protestant enemies in the Netherlands as well, as the Dutch revolt against the king of Spain started.

Before the Dutch general election in March this year, the conservative Christian CDA party proposed that Dutch children should start their school days standing at attention to sing the Wilhelmus. People widely saw that CDA proposal as a concession to the nationalism of Geert Wilders‘ xenophobic PVV party. It was also similar to Shinzo Abe’s right-wing nationalist and World War II revanchist government in Japan’s policy on schoolchildren; even on 3-year-old nursery school toddlers.

Ever since the Dutch general election in March this year, political parties are trying to form a new coalition government. To have a majority in parliament, at least four parties are needed.

At present, four parties are negotiating, the CDA; the VVD (pro-big business, the party of Mark Rutte, prime minister in the outgoing government); the Christian Union (even more conservative than the CDA on women’s and LGBTQ issues, but not so pro-big business on the environment); and D66 (secular, pro-big business, but critical of xenophobic tendencies in CDA and VVD). A coalition of these four parties would have a majority of just one seat in parliament.

Today, Dutch NOS TV reports that the four parties have agreed on mandatory lessons at schools on the national anthem. That in itself may not be wrong, IF these lessons are critical and historically accurate. However, there is the danger of nationalist indoctrination; if one reads further in the NOS report:

According to the Algemeen Dagblad daily, the parties also want young people to get a booklet about the history of the Netherlands on their eighteenth birthday. A D66 plan for lessons about colonialism and slavery is said to not have made it [into the coalition government plans].

D66 is not really a left-wing party. Still, they are the most leftist in the proposed right-wing coalition government. Apparently, they acquiesced in the nationalist history lessons plans omitting slavery and colonialism of the three other parties. When Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, Dutch schoolchildren used to learn a lot about colonialism. They were taught that it was supposedly something to have national pride about. After Indonesia stopped being a Dutch colony, declaring independence, Dutch children stopped learning about colonialism. The cruel reality of slavery has never been part of the Dutch education curriculum.