Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Nanuq of the North II: Animal Rights vs Human Rights.” Speechless. Uploaded January 3, 2007.

Finally in December 2006 Bush blinks, but why now? The Bush administration took advantage of the way in which all eyes turn towards Santa’s North Pole, where big-eyed talking polar bears, reindeer and seals live in harmony, to announce that they would save these creatures from Nanook of the North. Is this for the environment or for votes? See story.

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Nanook (nanuq Inuktitut for polar bear) was the name of the Eskimo hunter captured on film in the first documentary ever produced, Robert Flaherty’s (1922?) Nanook of the North, — still shown in film studies survey courses. Nanook the Stone Age-20the century hunter became an international legend as a lively, humourous and skillful hunter of polar bears, seals and white fox who tried to bite into the vinyl record Flaherty had brought with him. (The real “Nanook” died of tuberculosis as did countless Inuit from small communities ravaged by one of the worst epidemic’s of tuberculosis on the planet.)

On August 13, 1942 in Walt Disney studios’ canonical animated film Bambi it was revealed that many animals with cute eyes could actually talk and therefore shared human values. Nanook and his kind became the arch enemy of three generations of urban North Americans and Europeans. Hunters were bad. Cute-eyed animals that could talk were good. Today many animals’ lives have been saved from these allegedly cruel hunters by the billion dollar cute-eyed-talking-animals-industry.

The White House has once again come to the rescue of these vulnerable at-risk animals. (There was an entire West Wing episode in which a gift of moose meat was rejected by all staff since it came from a big-eyed-talking-animal. See Ejesiak and Flynn-Burhoe (2005) for more on how the urban debates pitting animal rights against human rights impacted on the Inuit.) Who would ever have suspected that the Bush administration cared so much about the environment that they would urge an end to the polar bear hunt, already a rare phenomenon to many Inuit since their own quotas protected them?

When I lived in the north the danger for polar bears did not reside in the hearts of hunters. Nanuq the polar bear who could not talk was starving. He hung out around hamlets like Churchill, Baker Lake or Iqaluit, looking for garbage since this natural habitat was unpredicatable as the climate changed. Some people even insisted that there was no danger from the polar bear who had wandered into town since he was ’skinny.’ That did not reassure me! I would have preferred to know that he was fat, fluffly and well-fed. Polar bears die from exhaustion trying to swim along their regular hunting routes as ice floes they used to be able to depend on melted into thin air literally. They die, not because there are not enough seals but because they need platform ice in the right seasons. That platform ice is disappearing. They die with ugly massive tumours in them developed from eating char, seals and other Arctic prey whose bodies are riddled with southern toxins that have invaded the pristine, vulnerable northern ecosystem. Nanuq is dying a slow painful death. Nanuq is drowning. Although he doesn’t sing he is a canary for us all.

Climate change and southern industrial toxins affect the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic first. The Inuit claimed in 2003,“Global warming is killing us too, say Inuit .”This is why Sheila Watt-Cloutier laid a law suit against the administration of the United States of America. Now the handful of Job-like Inuit who managed to survive the seal hunt fiasco of the 1980s and are still able hunt polar bear, will have yet another barrier put between them and the ecosystem they managed and protected for millennia. When I see Baroque art and read of the Enlightenment, I think Hudson’s Bay and the whalers in the north. It wasn’t the Inuit who caused the mighty leviathan to become endangered. Just how enlightened are we, the great grandchildren of the settlers today? Who is taking care of our Other grandparents?

Since the first wave of Inuit activists flooded the Canadian research landscape fueled by their frustrations with academic Fawlty Towers they morphed intergenerational keen observation of details, habits of memory, oral traditions and determination with astute use of artefacts and archives to produce focused and forceful research. When Sheila Watt-Cloutier representing the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was acknowledged with two awards in one year for work done to protect the environment, I wondered how many cheered her on.

I don’t cheer so much anymore. I am too overwhelmed, too hopeless to speak. I myself feel toxic, perhaps another pollutant from the south — my name is despair. I don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of those activists who still have courage to continue. For myself, I feel like the last light of the whale-oil-lit kudlik is Flicktering and there is a blizzard outside.

Footnotes:

From wikipedia entry Sheila Watt-Cloutier

In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected[1][4] International Chair of ICC, a position she would hold until 2006[1]. Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. On December 7, 2005, based on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which projects that Inuit hunting culture may not survive the loss of sea ice and other changes projected over the coming decades, she filed a petition, along with 62 Inuit Hunters and Elders from communities across Canada and Alaska, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.[5]

Digitage elements:

Caspar David Friedrich’s (1824) The Sea of Ice
Tujjaat Resolution Island, abandoned, DEW line station DINA Northern Contaminated Sites Program (CSP) web site
My photo of ice floes in Charlottetown harbour, March 2000
A section of my acrylic painting entitled Nukara (2000)

Selected Bibliography

Eilperin, Juliet. (2006). ““U.S. Wants Polar Bears Listed as Threatened.” Washington Post Staff Writer. Wednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A01

Gertz, Emily. 2005. The Snow Must Go On. Inuit fight climate change with human-rights claim against U.S. Grist: Environmental News and Commentary. 26 Jul 2005.

The Guardian. 2003. ““Inuit to launch human rights case against the Bush Administration.”

DEW line contaminated sites in Nunavut.

www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1104241,00….

www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/07/26/gertz-inuit/index….

This will be updated from EndNote. If you require a specific reference please leave a comment on this page.

Creative Commons Canadian Copyright 2.5 BY-NC-SA.

Poincare, Perelman, Hamilton, Yau

“It’s just the way it is,” isn’t anymore. As I read the Nasar and Grubermanifold New Yorker article (2006) I was deeply moved by the life story of Gregory Perelman who can live on a $100 a month and who managed to wipe out an entire branch of pure mathematics in a few years by working alone, even isolated in the slow world. He is described as an idealist, an ascetic, a Russian Jew who lives with his mother in a gray neighbourhood of gray apartment buildings. But in this article he shines brilliantly. He may be part of the answer to my own puzzle, the ethical dilemma of being an academic in the 21st century.

Henri Poincaré created a True Knowledge Gap in mathematics, giving rise to an entire branch in his discipline when he slipped in an offhand question that became the legendary problem of the 20th century (Nasar and Grubermanifold 2006).

By the nineteen-sixties, topology had become one of the most productive areas of mathematics, and young topologists were launching regular attacks on the Poincaré. To the astonishment of most mathematicians, it turned out that manifolds of the fourth, fifth, and higher dimensions were more tractable than those of the third dimension. By 1982, Poincaré’s conjecture had been proved in all dimensions except the third. In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, a private foundation that promotes mathematical research, named the Poincaré one of the seven most important outstanding problems in mathematics and offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove it.

In 1992 when Gregory Perelman (b. 1968) posted his solution to the problem on the Internet on a site used by mathematicians working with advanced concepts, he supplied enough information for the handful of minds capable of understanding to know that he had cracked it.

It took me a few days to feel I had understood enough of their article to appreciate it. I used my new Firefox add-on Gnosis.[1]

Why then did this story continue to unfold on some very messy battle Fields? Politics, power and control. To understand more fully, I worked out some of the ideas at Tim’s and in an easy chair playing with pictures. I also had to map out a brief timeline and the biographies of the main characters: Perelman, Hamilton, Yau, Tian, Zhu, Cao, Ball and Thurston. I played with the concepts of Knowledge Collisions in the Battle Fields of Mathematics but this was not about knowledge collisions on a level playing field.

Poincaré’s bagel, coffee mug handle, soccer ball and noose knot were great for starters. The table itself was easily transformed into a topology of Battle Fields. Cigars and necks protruded on the topological landscape like stalagmites. I laid a silk cloth over it all so it could drape over the edge of the table. I left a space on the table edge for a dented fender. The True Gap gaped like a crevice in an otherwise relatively level playing field. The coffee mug with its insignia of Stephen Hawkings casts a long shadow and the handle represented the branch of mathematics called topology. Since we are looking at a cross section of topological field the branch that has disappeared over the edge represents a small sorrow [2]

I didn’t know where to put Gregory Perelman my new hero, so I put a spoon in the coffee mug which he of course had stirred up. Then I balanced a swing at the top of it giving him a higher vantage point from which he can quietly survey the field. He swings slowly back and forth without those below noticing. All they can see is the spoon and the bottom of his swing. I turned him into a pearl and remembered a quote, “Not every sea has pearls . . .”

My early experiences in academia were entirely positive. It was only when I was in my fifth year of graduate studies, my second in my PhD that I began to realize the hidden power and politics behind the scenes in the ivory towers as one professor after another sought to gain control over academic and/or grant capital at any cost. I caught myself transforming campus towers into Freudian phallic symbols as I watched with dismay my PhD slipping away from me. I was disgusted mainly with my own naïvity, my lack of campus street-smarts but by then it was too late. It seems my university students in their twenties had figured it out long before I did. No wonder we all make fun of Ph.D.s!

So here I am typing away in my living room office with my old PC perched on this great glass-topped Business Depot computer desk, reflecting Mount Tzuhalem with the fire crackling off to my left and our family sound asleep. I’m emptying my PC into a dozen or more free Web 2.0 sites.

I’m not a Perelman but he is my hero. If you can only learn to live on $100 a month, keep access to the Internet, connect one’s PC’s memory to the free Web 2.0 you can sit back in the slow world and quietly watch a lifetime of experience upload to this strange virtual space we call the Internet.

Perelman’s copyright took the risk of losing his intellectual capital. For some Yau and his students really did deserve the Fields Award he received from Ball.

But for me I would rather face the perils of a Perelman Risk, tie my intellectual capital to my Creative Commons stake and at least let people share some of the amazing experiences I was privileged to have before the Fawlty Towers crumbled around me.

Footnotes


[1] See the article on ClearForest. I had to select a chunk of the article at a time for Gnosis to do its magic but undeniable it makes digesting lengthy, complex articles less cumbersome. At the most elemental level it is similar to the Google generated highlighted key words in .pdf files found in response to a user’s Google search inquiry. Gnosis uses a number of colour codes to highlight a number of themes which I am just trying to work out now.

[2] Its a bit like the death of a meteorite in a fiery explosion would be to the person who had named and followed the passage of the meteorite for decades.
[I have even heard on academic hearsay which is as reliable as Frank I suppose, so I should not repeat this but . . . this is not a journal it is a blog . . . an archaeologist explained to his First Nations guide (who later whispered this to me) that he would not reveal their findings in the field since it would be so hotly contested by his colleagues in his branch it would consume his entire career to defend it. Academic hearsay. Fireworks, not a meteor. Take away 5 credibility, legitimacy points from this author immediately!]

For more reading on science on Web 2.0 see yanfeng.org

Selected webliography

Swaminathan, Nikhil. 2006. peer_review_is_sooooo_old_school
Scientific American Blog. December 22, 2006.

Nasar, Sylvia , Grubermanifold, David. 2006.”Manifest Destiny.” The New Yorker: Fact. Annals of Mathematics. A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it. Issue of 2006-08-28; Posted 2006-08-21; accessed December 22, 2006.