Taissumani? Maannaruluk!

. I'm looking forward to the next installment in Kenn Harper's essay on Explorers and Inuit - The Nature of Testimony. I've long been fascinated with reports of broken treaties with aboriginal peoples and wonder if his musings on cross-cultural testimony might shed some light on that history as well. There was a time when professional interpreters avoid translating away from their mother tongue. The theory was that, while people become fluent hearers of a second language and can render unique thoughts from it into their first, they seldom acquire sufficient idiomatic subtlety in the second to do the reverse. Related to this is the phenomenon of Commonwealth Literature. Hundreds of writers from nearly as many backgrounds have grown up speaking English as well as their mother tongue. While still understanding the subtler thoughts of their ancestors, each of these authors manages to find adequate metaphoric access into English for concepts that have never occurred to unilingual English speakers before. The result makes Commonwealth Literature a universal gene pool of concepts from several continents, all rendered into the planet's emerging lingua franca. However, among aboriginal languages in the Americas, Inuktitut included, authors have yet to add much to this repository. Instead, middle-aged speakers of aboriginal languages all over the world are heart broken at the loss of their most precious, expressive, tender, hilarious and healing turns of mind and phrase, all of which had been reliably passed on orally until recently. Few of those who still understand the deepest insights of Inuktitut are rendering those concepts into English. Our media certainly aren't. Even assuming their good will, few urban Inuit speak about their great-grand parents in terms that allow youngsters to grasp the subtleties of Inummariktitut. Reminds me of meeting Father Van de Welde in Hall Beach years ago and hearing him say, "L'Inuktitut, c'est un bijou pour le Canada!" Even on a practical level, far from the realms of sacred wisdom and lore, mistaken interpretation and translation play havoc in our day-to-day. Nunavut's new senator, Dennis Patterson, got caught in such a situation during a rape trial years ago as a young legal aid lawyer in Iqaluit. The unilingual English-speaking judge, jury, prosecutor and Dennis himself at the time, struggled in a courtroom where only the victim, the accused and the interpreter were Inuit. "So he didn't have to force you into the bedroom, is that not right?" asked Dennis. "No" replied the victim. The interpreter dutifully rendered this as "So, is it incorrect to say he shouldn't have forced you into the bedroom?" The victim's monosyllabic, but complex reply meant, "No, that is not correct; it is correct to say that he should not have forced me into the bedroom." The anglos in that courtroom, including judge and jury, understood her to say "No, he did force me into the bedroom!" Two entirely different narratives based on that single utterance. By the most fortunate coincidence, the outcome was the same that day. Which brings us back to Kenn Harper's thought provoking essay and my longstanding ruminations about First Nations treaties. If many early contact reports of Inuit behaviour were euro-centric, absurd or plain wrong, what about the many claims by First Nations that their treaties did not mean what colonial administrators made of them? . Anyone want to revisit the etymology of the common 1950s North American expression 'indian giver'? .


Frontier Journalism

. Once upon a time the 'rush' was for fur, gold or oil, in communities called Hochelaga, the Klondike and Calgary. Each suffered decades of transient, rabble-rousing fortune seekers overwhelming the local population. A second invasion consisted of insufferably condescending do-gooders purporting to rescue that local population from further exploitation, outside influence and vested interest. Eventually, some of the newcomers settled among the oldtimers, adding new narratives and allegiances, until a new 'local' population emerged that behaved with an eye towards longer term community and well being. Nunavik and Nunavut are in their frontier phase right now and they are reacting pretty much the same as Prince George, Whitehorse, or Anchorage did before them. The excesses in resentment, nepotism, plutocracy and paternalism are only typical of peoples trying to shrug off a colonial past. Which is why today's residents of northern Québec and Nunavut are fed up with media stereotypes that harp on nothing but substance abuse and political shenanigans. The latest round in that battle has Makivik president Pita Atami and Nunatsiaq News editor-in-chief Jim Bell squaring off over the role of the press in all this. Atami feels that reporters are so obsessed with their watchdog role that it distorts most press coverage. Bell responds by accusing Atami of denying journalists sufficient access to information to report properly on northern leaders and their management of public affairs. Unfortunately for the communities they serve, there is a troubling element of truth in both points of view. Northern governments and businesses are not yet as transparent as they should be, while the press, both national and local, consistently fail to offer narratives of adaptation and innovation that suggest an alternative way forward. While Jim Bell rightly asserts that 'rapportage' involves more than the unfiltered transmission of raw news, he fails to address Mr. Atami's broader critique regarding Nunavik's and Nunavut's need for a better narrative. If 'one' means we are stuck and 'two' means dilemma, then choice begins at 'three' and Nunavut's intellectual, academic and media communities are failing dismally to provide a more choice-filled narrative of our history and our present. Historians and reporters have an obligation to accurately document the past, but as a community's intellectuals, they are also responsible and accountable for crafting a self-depicting narrative that helps more than it hinders If Mr. Atami's expression of frustration with the current play-by-play on polar affairs was not altogether up to Mr. Bell's standards for style and principle, that won't surprise the rest of us who continue to mourn the loss from our public commons of voices like those of the Experimental Eskimos and other thoughtful contemporaries. .


Hockey night in Jerusalem

Back in the days before cable television, Ottawa was an unusual place on a Saturday night.

Just far enough from each of Canada's intensely rival non-capitals, sport fans had a choice between watching the Montréal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs on CBC's Hockey Night in Laurentia because neither game was blacked out in the Ottawa area.

An even more remarkable opportunity arose on those rare Saturday nights when the two giants played each other.

Riveting and highly partisan play-by-play was available from announcers René Lecavalier in French for Montreal or Foster Hewitt in English for Toronto, delivered over separate broadcast feeds. They were nonetheless based on a single on-ice reality, emanating from a single venue.

That profound lesson in unified field theory lies at the root of much Canadian impatience with unilingual North America's failure to fathom 'Other'. Multilinguals can generally pound each other to a pulp during a debate, or a debacle, yet sincerely share a joke afterwards. As I have discussed in previous posts, however, can you imagine holding a genuine world championship in health-care, or baseball, based on alternate narratives coming from Washington and Havana?

Then there is Jerusalem.

Talk about two communities who cannot abide each other's narrative.

What is the proper role of the intellectual in society if not to constantly observe the playing field, analyse our varying narratives and either trace our roots back to the common source, or provide a third way... preferably forward?

Isn't that the philosophical basis of freedom? One, you are stuck. Two, is a dilemma. Choice, begins at three.

For the moment, intellectual debate in Washington has stopped at one, while Tel Aviv is in a state of perpetual oscillation.

That leaves new, innovative, choiceful options on so many global issues more likely to come from Mumbai, Shanghai, Rio ... or Iqaluit.



Muslims - Missing the Point

The western democracies are finally beginning to discuss whether they can tolerate the more controversial characteristics of certain immigrant cultures.

In France, the debate has centered on whether Muslim kids can wear a scarf in school. In Switzerland, on whether the sets for Heidi and the Sound of Music should be contaminated with minarets. In Holland, on whether cartoonists may caricature religious leaders. In Canada, the province of Québéc has launched a wrenching series of public debates over what constitutes ‘reasonable accommodation’. Nearly every other receiving jurisdiction is at least confused over whether complete face coverings (niqab, burqa) should be tolerated in public.

Concurrently, but seemingly not in response, thoughtful elements of the so-called ‘Muslim world’ are immersed in debate over the Theory of Evolution. They are avoiding, remarkably, the most significant issue facing them this century. Idolatry. The very root of thought itself.

This much deeper question precedes any debate over freedom of expression.

Almost as troubling, the West and the Muslim diaspora within it offer precious little encouragement or alternative. Enthralled with the Greco-Roman hairsplittings of secular and constitutional law, Ayan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch press, Irshad Manji, countless American pundits, Jewish academics, and even the Roman Catholic Church have been fooled into framing the debate as a concern over free speech. The United States refer to it self-referentially as First Amendment rights.

They are all missing the point.

Free speech might indeed appear in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but among Abraham’s children, limits on free speech are not addressed until the second Commandment. The First Commandment deals with an a priori and much more fundamental fallacy: the inherent trap in symbolic thought itself!

Contemporary fundamentalists stand in breach of that First Commandment. They think it forbids drawing cartoons of Muhammad or Jesus. It actually only advises against deifying such images after they have been drawn. The outrageous idolatry at the root of Islamists threatening to assassinate Dutch cartoonists isn’t in their believing the Dutch cartoons insulted the Prophet, it is in allowing that a cartoon, or any other any image, could depict the divine in the first place!

The sin of idolatry is being repeated in the minds of those fundamentalists as surely as among the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai / Jabal Musa. Moses smashed the tablets in frustration at this truly original sin. Jesus mocked and derided the pretentions of Pharisaic posturing rooted in this same confusion of symbol with what it represents. It is time for Twenty-First Century Muslims to do the same homework.

Until representatives of the three traditions claiming roots in the Middle East renew their common understanding of the First Commandment, they will remain incapable of reasonably accommodating their differing descriptions of the approach to that common, sacred, and primordial presence they respectively call Christ, Allah, or JWH.

Free speech does play a role in this. It's just not the main issue. As one brave managing editor of Al Jazeera put it recently, "how can any community aspire to the democratic principle of free speech so long as we are forbidden to argue with our fathers?"

Meanwhile, personally, despite the most Canadian of reasonable accomodations, there are two aspects of immigrant practices that I can’t bring myself to consider as human, religious, cultural, or civil ... rights.

They are female genital mutilation and the refusal to show one’s face during legal, 21st century civil transactions that inherently require facial display as the appropriate level of biometric authentication of identity.

Soeur Marie-Hélène de l'Assomption CND wore a veil every day of her life and it didn't interfere one iota with her teaching us to conjugate the verb accommoder in the imperfect subjunctive just minutes before we donned our balaclavas to play outdoor hockey at 24 below.



My bedside viewing and reading table


What a mess!

Oliver Stone's Comandante; Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History; Rainer Maria Rilke's short story The Encounter; David Sanborn Scott's Smelling Land; Jocelyn Létourneau's Que veulent vraiment les Québécois?; Ayan Hirsi Ali's Infidel; Fareed Zakaria's Post-American World; Michael Ignatieff's The Lesser Evil; Chomsky's original essays on Deep Structure and Transformational Grammar; Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson's Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It; Katie Kay and Claire Shipman's Womenomics; and James Workman's Heart of Dryness.

None are published as blogs. Just 'old media' hanging on for dear life. Mixed together, they illustrate how a deeper theme can emerge from jumbled thoughts, unrelated topics and an eclectic collection of authors.

That is the hope and potential of this blog ... that readers might eventually notice an emergent property of the whole that is less obvious from any single post.

Let me know once there are 25 or 30 rants to evaluate.



Obama's First Pitch

American baseball has begun another pampered journey towards its self-styled world series this fall. It will be hard enough doing so against the fanfare of a genuine world event like this summer's 2010 World Cup of Football (soccer), but it must gall honest American sportsmen even more that the real championship of baseball finished in the wee hours a week ago Monday, in Cuba!

In the tenth inning of the seventh game, Havana beat Santa Clara in a nail-biter. It was a terrific series, played against the backdrop of fundamental cowardice in sponsored American media who dared not cover it for fear their fans might learn the truth: that the best Cuban teams would clean the clocks of what American and Canadian fans pay through the nose for: a second class product.

That's the real secret behind the spiteful Helms-Burton embargo. The best teams in Cuba would win North America's so-called 'World Series' hands down. A Cuban second string already thumped the Baltimore Orioles 12 - 6 at Camden Yahds in 1999 and MLB hasn't had the guts to risk another such comeuppance since.

The latest evidence came in a March 31st article on the eve of this year's magnificent Cuban final, when McClatchy-Tribune News reporter Kevin Baxter, drawing on files from the Associated Press (AP), didn't even mention the series! All he could blather about was how many Cuban players 'defect' during international tournaments.

He was quick to vaunt the $30.25 million Cincinnati paid for pitcher Aroldis Chapman this January even though Chapman was no star in Cuba and had posted losing averages in two of his four seasons in the Cuban league. Same thing goes for most of the other so-called defectors.

And therein lies the lie.

North-American sport media only ever mention the defectors. Where is the coverage of the 95% of first string players that remain in Cuba and, more importantly by far, where is the coverage of Cuba's teams, not just a few individuals?

The truth is that stories about individual players leaving Cuba for the US are spun to look like migrations towards a superior brand of baseball. They are not. They are the understandable attempts of a few journeymen players in the Cuban league trying to escape dead end careers and poverty. No mention is made of the fact that superior players remain in Cuba, that the defectors would far prefer to live and play in Cuba themselves given a reasonable economy, and that the only reason for their poverty is the vindictive and hateful spite of Helms-Burton.

President Obama, you have a tough decision to make. Lift the embargo and the elite of Cuban baseball will opt to stay at home, play at home, and repeatedly win any genuine world series in which you dare let them play.