Monthly Archives: July 2009

HELEN CODERE – a real anthropologist

The Boston Globe
Helen Codere, 91; anthropologist studied Rwanda, Pacific Northwest
By Gloria Negri Globe Staff / July 5, 2009


Helen Frances Codere showed her independent spirit and interest in how others live while growing up in St. Paul. A teenager who had read Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,’’ she told her father she would like to live alone in a cabin in their woods, as Thoreau had done at Walden Pond.

Charles Codere knew his daughter was strong-willed and acquiesced, though the cabin was without plumbing, her nephew, Richard H. Fleming of Chicago, recalled. “There was no question that Aunt Helen had already fallen in love with anthropology,’’ he said.

She, Fleming said, became a cultural anthropologist at a time “when there were not too many women in the field. Aunt Helen was a trailblazer.’’

Dr. Codere, a professor of anthropology at Brandeis University and then dean of Brandeis’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, died of congestive heart failure June 5 at Emerson Hospital in Concord.

She was 91 and lived in Concord.

Dr. Codere’s books and notes of her pioneering field trips in the 1950s and 1960s, first among the Kwakiutl societies of the Pacific Northwest, in British Columbia, and then among the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa societies in Rwanda, remain gems among anthropological literature and will soon be preserved in several anthropological libraries and museums.

Her academic years spanned five decades and included professorships at Vassar College, the University of British Columbia, Northwestern University, Bennington College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Her many awards and fellowships included those from the Social Science Research Council and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Outstanding among her achievements, said Peter Macnair, retired curator of the Royal British Columbia Museum, was her 1966 editing of “Kwakiutl Ethnography,’’ by the late Franz Boas, her mentor whose work among the Kwakiutl she continued. Boas, who died in 1942, had chosen her as his literary executor for his Kwakiutl manuscripts.

“She put together his intended manuscript. That was her huge contribution,’’ Macnair said.

In 1950, Dr. Codere’s book, “Fighting with Property: A study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930,’’ was published. In it, she explained the intricacies of the tribe’s potlatching, a system of the redistribution of material possessions. “The party able to give away most of their wealth was clearly the richest of the tribe.’’ Fleming said.

Dr. Codere’s field trips with the Kwakiutl were in 1951 and in 1954-1955, when she lived most the time with a Kwakiutl family.

Dr. Codere did groundbreaking research, said Benson Saler of Concord, a retired Brandeis anthropology professor. “She became a person of some note, particularly for her scholarly field work among the Kwakiutl.’’

Saler recalled her telling him how she lugged a huge amount of oatmeal with her for fear it would be unavailable during her field trips with the tribe. “Field trips in those days were much rougher than they are today,’’ he said. “No four-wheel drives. But one of Helen’s hallmarks was to experience a culture firsthand. You go there and you live with them.’’
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Dr. Codere wrote of her Rwanda field study in 1959-1960 in the book “Women in the Field,’’ edited by Peggy Golde. “Most of the year’s field work revolved around the opportunities and problems of the Rwanda political situation,’’ Dr. Codere wrote.

Dr. Codere, who never married, pointed out that in the field, “Single women lack some of the freedom and mobility of single men; they are objects of even greater curiosity and scrutiny in a world in which going two by two is projected.’’

“The general purpose of the Rwanda field research,’’ she wrote, “was to study change.’’ She was challenged to communicate in two languages, Kinyarwanda and French. “I had come to study social and cultural change,’’ she wrote, “and there was too damned much of it. It was too vast, too widespread, too fast, too violent, too much of a mass phenomenon for me or any other anthropologist to deal with.’’

It was a troubling time for Rwanda. “Before 1959,’’ Dr. Codere wrote, “there had been virtually no foreshadowing of the trouble that began in July following the unexpected death of the [King] Mwami Mutara III,’’ and the resulting conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu.

Her nephew recalled that while in Rwanda she was invited to meet a tribal chief who gave her a gift. “She didn’t know how to reciprocate, so she gave him the five silver dollars her father had given her.’’

Even in her academic life, after retirement in 1982, and her 20 years as a volunteer in the Concord Free Public Library, Dr. Codere never lost the look of a pioneer, friends said.

She favored khaki-type trousers and casual shirts. Her white hair was short. She was 5-foot-4 and wore glasses. “Helen was a renaissance woman,’’ said Patty Bareford, a friend from Concord. “She was extremely accurate with words, had a great sense of humor, a compelling laugh, and was still fiercely independent. She was adamant about reading the paper every day.’’

In her L.L. Bean shoes and Pendleton slacks and jacket, Fleming said, “Helen was always ready to go on a hike.’’

She was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba,and came to the United States with her family in 1919. Her father was a businessman.

She graduated summa cum laude in 1939 from the University of Minnesota and received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1950.

After teaching at Bennington College in Vermont in 1963 and 1964, Dr. Codere moved to Massachusetts and taught at Brandeis, where she later served as dean from 1975 until she left the university in 1977.

She continued her interest in living close to and cultivating nature in her vacation place in Vermont, Saler said.

Saler and his family visited her there and found that her girlhood interest in living like Thoreau had not waned. “I remember,’’ he said, “there was no running water but an interesting system of rain barrels with gutters along the two cabins.’’

“A lifelong conservationist,’’ according to her nephew, Dr. Codere donated her 260 acres in Andover, Vt., and Chester, Vt., to the Vermont Land Trust.

Dr. Codere never lost her sense of humor, Bareford said. When she asked Bareford to pick out a plot for her at Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Bareford called her with two options, one less expensive than the other.

“Buy the expensive one,’’ she told her. “You only get buried once.’’

In addition to her nephew, Dr. Codere leaves another nephew, a niece, five great-nieces and one great-nephew.

Memorial services will take place in Concord at an as yet undesignated location on Sept. 10, which would have been Dr. Codere’s 92d birthday.
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

I taught a seminar with Helen for several years at Brandeis – and we were close
and she exhibited a generosity I have rarely experienced in this world. Her book on Rwanda and its interviews with Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa: The biography of an African society: Rwanda 1900-1960 —
based on forty-eight Rwandan autobiographies
(Annalen : Reeks in-8o : Menselijke Wetenschappen … voor Midden-Afrika, Tervuren ; no. 79 by Helen Codere 1973)
and her article “Power in Rwanda” pointed to the harsh conflicts in Rwandan society – in contrast to the ‘harmonious’ picture of functional hierarchy prevalent in the anthropological literature — should have been an indicator of the explosion to come
a generation later. As she put it – the main problems of Rwanda could be summed up in the word “Contempt” – that of the Tutsi for the Hutu. That many non powerful Tutsi were killed in the explosion of Hutu resentment when their first President was shot from the air by the Tutsi army, is one of the sad events of the world. But she made it clear that the Tutsi had planted the seeds of that explosion — and it was their armies rebelling against the very idea of a Hutu president who had the arrogance to shoot down his plane.
Karl Reisman


7-17-09 Guns! Guns! Guns!

The following exchange took place on Facebook
Barbara Roberts at 3:13pm July 15
Tell Karl I hope he never has a rattle snake attack any of his animals or family. He’d wish he had a gun.

Dear Barbara,
I have lived in the bush in Nigeria for a couple of years, in the West Indies in villages in tiny houses, etc etc with snakes, scorpions (hard to shoot).
Many pestiferous animals avoid highly settled areas such as small villages.

If I was camping alone in New Mexico at archeological sites, like my friend Dave Snow used to do, then a gun might be useful. I was once walking in Olympic Park where a mountain lion had been prowling – and got pretty scared. The week before the daughter of a friend of mine had been confronted in the same area by a cat that wouldn’t respond properly to any of the correct proceedures (she was experienced and well trained). Suddenly a car came driving down the trail and got between her and the cat and she got in and got away.
Later I asked a guy in a cafe what he did when he went walking, and he pulled his coat and showed me his 45. But then he started talking -at length – about how Bill Clinton was going to take away his gun. Paranoid.

Guns are tools, not a religion.
They are not for kids on the streets, or for drunks on boats shooting up other boats they don’t know – as happens here –
That’s control, not a total ban.

Most countries in the world survive with gun laws – even where there is much wilderness. It is not a cure – but it starts in the right place.

The Dark Side of Climate Change

From Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet. Posted July 7, 2009.
The Dark Side of Climate Change

As the fight over cap-and-trade intensifies, human-driven climate
change denialists like Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe will draw the
lion’s share of the media spotlight reserved for the bill’s critics.
This is unfortunate. The real debate is not between the bill’s
supporters and the dead-ender climate clown club. It is between cap-and-trade’s supporters and its critics within the scientific and
environmental activist communities. Groups like Greenpeace and
Friends of the Earth have science if not politics on their side when
they decry Waxman-Markey as an industry diluted half-measure with
soft gums that falls far short of what is necessary to avoid
cataclysmic climate change later this century.

“The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new
generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions,” said Greenpeace in a statement the day before the House vote. “To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history. We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak.”

This view is shared by leading climate scientists like James Hansen
and his peers around the world at leading research centers such as
the UK’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research, which
urge more significant and immediate cuts than the finance-sector
friendly cap-and-trade system can deliver.

There is another, fourth voice in the debate over cap-and-trade, one ringing out from shadows rarely approached by the media. In these shadows dwell scientists who believe the time has passed for any sort of legislation at all, no matter how radical. The best known of these frightening climate gnomes is the legendary British scientist James Lovelock, father of Gaia Theory and inventor of the instrument allowing for the atmospheric measurements of CFC’s. In recent years, Lovelock has emerged as the world’s leading climate pessimist, raining scorn on the new fashionable environmentalism and arguing that the time is nigh to accept that a massive culling of the human race is around the corner.

“Most of the ‘green’ stuff is verging on a gigantic scam,” Lovelock
told the New Scientist shortly before the release of his latest book,
The Vanishing Face of Gaia. “Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It’s not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it’ll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning.”

Those who read Lovelock’s controversial 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, know that hope junkies should keep a safe distance from the 90-year-old scientist. Lovelock, who has been compared to Copernicus and Darwin, years ago arrived at a disturbingly stark conclusion about Earth’s climate future. His prognosis is now starker than ever. The small window of short-term hope he left open in Revenge is closed in this year’s Vanishing. In its place is a long-term hope that humanity in some form will survive the present century, though barely. The result is a dark and contrarian work that seeks to demolish the terms of the climate debate while mocking our response to the crisis at the personal, national, and species level.

Lovelock has not arrived at his views lightly. They are the product
of years spent carefully considering the known science through the
revolutionary and frequently misunderstood lens he began developing 40 years ago while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena. Gaia Theory holds that Earth possesses a sophisticated planetary intelligence that responds to levels of heat from the sun in such a way as to maintain a climate homeostasis supportive of life. In four decades of research and experiment, the most famous being the “Daisyworld” model, Lovelock has overcome the once-widespread skepticism of his peers to officially move Gaia from a Hypothesis to a Theory. He has established that the various
components of the biosphere — plants, animals, minerals, gases, the sun’s heat — interact in such a way as to create and maintain a climate amenable to life. Far from a passive collection of independent actors responding to conditions, the biosphere’s contents, including humans, form a living web which actively creates and maintains those conditions. Gaia prefers these conditions and will do her best to maintain them. But there is a limit to how much Gaia can do if we keep running over the safety mechanisms — negative feedback loops — she puts in our path. Lovelock believes that we have pushed Gaia beyond the point of return. The cold seas, for example, can only pump down so much of our carbon before they cry mercy and turn to acid.

7-11-09 trying to steal our Nation – from Bill Moyers’ forum by anonymous

The following was posted by someone on Bill Moyer’s forum.
Truly succinct.
In 2009 I think it is quite apparent that We the People, as the collective– America.., have mortal enemies in the World. I also think that what is becoming apparent, is that Gigantic, often GLOBAL Corporations are trying to steal our Nation away from us in the name of some illusion of a Right and a perceived Freedom to seek dominion over us and to take ‘profit’ from each and every one of us in any way, shape and form they can manage to reshape and recast American Government, Our Laws and Regulations, and through the use of Media which they own and control in Monopoly form to Manipulate Perceptions of Reality… Corporate Power runs amok and has caused our Nation and Way of Life greater harm than any other real or perceived threat to our Nation in all my 57 year life span and they continue to do so unabated… AND THAT’S A FACT JACK..!!!

Noam Chomsky – retrospect at 80
For those who want a deeper and more thought out view of where we are and what is going on take a listen or a look at Chomsky’s
speech a couple of weeks ago – Crisis and Hope, Theirs and Ours
It’s on YouTube, and the text is on the Democracy Now website.

7-10-09 Evolution be Damned! Let’s argue about Nuclear Clocks.

A couple of nights ago Keith Olberman did a number on a state legislator in Arizone who casually mentioned the age of the earth as 6000 years. She was arguing for Uranium mining and Keith pushed the point that physics now measures the age of the earth.
I realized then that the Christian Fundamentalists arguing about evolution have been distracting us with details. The evidence for the fact of evolution is just difficult enough to proove – geology is not self-evident to most people – to allow them to confuse people with arguments about fact and theory and details of stratification.
But Fundamentalists also believe the age of the earth is more or less 6000 years. But if they are going to deny the physics of nuclear clocks then they are also going to have to deny the physics by which we make Nuclear bombs and run Nuclear power plants.
If that physics contains no factual truth, then EACH TIME humans make a NUclear BOMB that works then that would have to be a miracle of God – a separate miracle – because we obviously don’t know what we are doing when we make a bomb.
And the evidence of bombs and power plants is not hard to see or believe. So let’s arglue with them about TIME and let evolution take care of itself.
What will we call a fundamentalist science of Time. Surely not ‘creationism’.

7-10-09 Obama likes limbo – the country is waiting for relief

Obama likes to leave things in limbo and maneuver in that space. But many people don’t understand it and its beginning to get on their nerves. They want resolution.
If by some fluke the congress should pass some real healthcare with a real public option, then I think the whole country will let out a deep sigh of relief, and the atmosphere may improve.
It’s like being married to the guy – you can feel some of what Michelle must know about him.

7-09-09 Healthcare — to all in our govt.

The money must not be the issue.
Other countries do it. It can be done.
A real public option.
What we need is COMMITMENT to the goal –
and to figure out the other matters, finances etc AFTERWORDS.
First commit.!!!!

We Cannot have another set of many years to save our country from this disgrace.