Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Coming of the Maasai, Ah…

“It’s the equivalent of the North Slope Oil Deposits for lawyers,” said Jeremy Schatz, chief counsel for the Washington, D.C. law firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, “it's a new field of unlimited scope.”

He’s talking about a new case being tested in Britain of the "Maasai versus the World." The Maasai have decide they’re a brand and that they want full rights of protection of their brand under the law. Let’s say you had an African import shop in London called, Maasai Safari. They want A) a cut of the action; and B) veto rights over how anything with their name associated with it is used or represented. They want image control. There’s only a million of them, but they’re a feisty bunch. Tall, too. And they can jump. 

Talk about a can of worms. Saying yes to the Maasai would be saying yes to every indigenous group in the world; that’s a hell of a lot of groups: the Arapaho, the San, the Sami, the Aborigines, the Ojibway, the Montagnards, the Yoruk… This could take all night. Think of how many Indian reservations there are in this country, alone? And how many of those reservations represent multiple tribes? Next, how about the tribes of the Amazon? Papua New Guinea? Tribal peoples of the Himalayas?

There has been a fight going on between Jared Diamond and others versus the tribal peoples of the world over just how they can and should be presented to the rest of us. In all cases, it’s a question of who’s telling the story. The tribal people want to whitewash their story (maybe that’s a poor choice of terms). Think of how the American Indians want to control their image. Take the fight over school mascots. For no good reason, they put enough pressure on enough people with guilt complexes to get the nation to abandon such names as Braves or Warriors (if accompanied by an Indian profile). The Indians would have you believe they, before the arrival of the Europeans, were living an idyllic, peaceful life in harmony with nature; whereas nothing could be further from the truth.

But the lawyers have made a killing fighting that naming issue through the courts and legislatures. It’s been a bonanza for them. Now, every tribal group in the world wants the rights to how they’re depicted. They want to scrub the record clean. The slavery, the torture, the extermination of enemies, the cannibalism, they’d rather they not get mentioned. And they’re successful; those aspects of native cultures are ignored, buried, or denied.

Spread that fight out to every self-identifying group of people in the world, and you have a quagmire on your hands of epic proportions. What the fight is really about, in the long run, is the rights of identification. For every group, not just ethnic groups. Every religious faction, every club, every regional identity, every historical background will be open to litigation. Eventually, all identities, under this proposal, will become brands; and mentioning any identity opens one to libel suits. In fact, this protection would have to be extended to all brands. If the Maasai can control how their brand is presented, it brings into question all reporting on any brand. Under this proposal, if one were to write an article about BP, say, one would have to clear the piece with BC before publication. And if you’d happen to have mentioned Dutch Shell in that same article, they, too, would have to vet the piece. One can see that this would be the end of journalism. It would be the end of truth.

Which, frankly, is how these people would just as soon things went. If there’s one thing indigenous peoples and multinational corporations have in common, it’s an aversion to the light of day.

What a field day for the heat.

I can sympathize. I’m tired of us Vikings being depicted as ruthless, brutal warriors. Who says? No, we are gentle farming and trading folk who gave our names to innumerable tiny spots in England. What could be more peaceful? We have plenty of ruth.

Take down the Viking mascots, I say; take them down. Stop besmirching our good name. At least pay us some money, okay?

Look at it this way: how much money should Duluth Trading Company pay the City of Duluth for using its name? And should Duluth have final say on any copy the company produces? How about product line?

Who get to say when and how a cross should be displayed? Or a country’s flag?

Silly people.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sins of the Parents

Did you know that your ancestors were slaves? Did you know that everyone in your ancestor’s village was wiped out except for the babies who were stolen by neighboring villagers? Did you know your ancestors were raped? Chopped into little pieces? Burned alive? Froze to death? Got lost? Were married off to someone they hated?

You know that your ancestors were executioners? Tribal leaders? Shamans? Merchants wealthy beyond dreams?

Innkeepers? Tin smiths? Acrobats? Farmers? Sailors? Night watchmen? Midwives? Professors of philosophy? Hookers and card sharks?

It’s lucky you made it. The most amazing thing is that, every single one of your ancestors, going back in an unbroken line, had children who, they themselves, had at least one living child. Isn’t that amazing? I mean, what are the odds? You mean, none of them was childless? Thousands of generations, every one having children?

Doesn’t seem likely, does it?

What’s worse, your ancestors were enslaved, robbed, raped, pillaged, and dismembered by ancestors of the person who lives next door to you. Right now. I’m not kidding.

Or, looking at it the other way around, your ancestors enslaved, robbed, pillaged, and dismembered your neighbor’s ancestors. It works either way.

Are the sins of the parents visited upon the children? Forever? How many generations have to pass before you’re not to blame for what your ancestors did? My immediate ancestors came here around the turn of the 20th century; am I responsible for slavery and mistreatment of the Indians just because I share a skin color with some of the people who perpetrated those atrocities? And, if not those atrocities, surely some other unnamed atrocity?

Must I do penance for all of them?

So, who’s to blame? Who should pay reparations to whom? How about if we all pass around a ten-dollar bill and call it square?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oh God

Oh God, tell me it isn’t so. This from the Christian Science Monitor:

“The broken, disrupted terrain offered benefits for hominins in terms of security and food, but it also proved a motivation to improve their locomotor skills by climbing, balancing, scrambling and moving swiftly over broken ground - types of movement encouraging a more upright gait," said University of York archaeologist and study co-author Isabelle Winder, in a press release.

This development would have conferred benefits that extend far beyond locomotion. Walking on two legs frees up the hands, allowing for the use of tools and, eventually, bigger brains. And the complex landscape could have made our ancestors smarter, says Dr. Winder.

The varied terrain may also have contributed to improved cognitive skills such as navigation and communication abilities, accounting for the continued evolution of our brains and social functions such as co-operation and team work.

That we stood upright because the terrain was rough. Oh sure. Oh double sure. Can’t think of a better reason. It’s for damn sure that two-legged creatures are much better at “climbing, balancing, scrambling, and moving swiftly over broken ground” than any four-legged stumblebum. Yes, a wolf is no match for us. We can run down mountain goats with ease. Is it any wonder that so many two-legged creatures evolved in rough, tumble-down terrain? You know, those other two-legged creatures like… like… like…
Oh well, you know who you are.

What Ms Winder ignores is her other statement: “Walking on two legs frees up the hands, allowing for the use of tools.” But, hey, Ms Winder, one doesn’t have to walk upright to use tools, only to carry them. And it makes no difference what kind of ground you’re carrying things over; you have to stand up. Carrying tools is like being in the water all the time; you have no choice but to stand up. We never had prehensile tails.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fishing Expedition

If I’ve been quite, it’s for lack of desire to keep beating around the bush, but the coincidence of these two articles from were too good to pass up for a littoralist such as myself. Bolstering the argument that humans evolved on the shoreline, this from “Neanderthal Greek Paradise Found” (May 22, 2013) by Jennifer Viegas:

“The Neanderthals seemed to have a particular fondness for tortoise meat. The shells -- from shellfish too -- mostly were all recycled into tools, such as implements for scraping.…

“Dental wear suggests that the Neanderthals enjoyed a varied diet consisting of seafood, meat, and plants.”

and this from "Prehistoric Dog Lovers Liked Seafood, Jewelry, Spirituality" by the same author (May 22, 2013):"

“‘Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,’ lead author Robert Losey, a University of Alberta anthropologist, told Discovery News.

“‘If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals,’ Losey continued. ‘Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.’”