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title Up Front

September 23, 2002 Issue Full Text

by Colby Cosh

Now maybe we'll learn who Kenny really was

THERE are some places on this continent, it seems, where the magical invocation of aboriginal "oral history" does not cause law and common sense to shrink in fear. On August 30, U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks delivered a ruling in the case of "Kennewick Man," a skeleton about 9,300 years old unearthed in July 1996 on the Columbia riverbank near Kennewick, Washington. Indian tribes along the Columbia had insisted that Kennewick Man was one of their own, despite his age, and ought to be buried immediately with obsequies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, legal owners of the discovery site, seized the skeleton from the coroner's office that September, intending to give it back to the tribes at once.

Eight American scientists, desperate not to let an anthropological treasure be interred without study, sued to stop the Corps from transferring the skeleton. The Department of the Interior investigated and ruled in 2000 that Kenny was a "native American" and thus, under federal law, the property of the tribes living near where he was found. The scientific community was horrified, not least because Kennewick Man shows clear evidence of Caucasoid features. Racially, he hardly resembles an Indian, and anthropologists were already speculating, based on images of his skull, that he belonged to a pre-aboriginal human grouping in the Americas.

At any rate, Kennewick Man could not be tied to any existing tribe without the sort of study the existing tribes had no intention of permitting. This did not bother the Interior Department. In the bureaucratese of (then) Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, "The collected oral tradition evidence suggests a continuity between the cultural group represented by the Kennewick human remains and the modern-day claimant Indian tribes."

Anthropologists were nonplussed at the idea that an "oral tradition" purportedly dating back nine thousand years could, would or should be considered scientific--at least to the permanent exclusion of any other test or evidence. In the end, Judge Jelderks could not help but take their side. The government, he wrote, "had failed to consider all the relevant factors, had acted before it had all of the evidence, had failed to fully consider legal questions, had assumed facts that proved to be erroneous, had failed to articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action, had followed a 'flawed' procedure and had prematurely decided the issue." Sounds like a government, all right.

Box soldiers

INDIANS who object to the anthropological study of their ancestors (or someone else's) often claim that the inviolability of the dead is a cross-cultural norm. They are not just engaging in knee-jerk white-guiltery, they say: they are doing only what any reasonable person would. The Umatilla tribes fighting to confiscate Kennewick Man (see above), for example, stated in a June press release that "we are fighting for the same rights as any other people--the right to protect the graves of those that have come before us."

Touching, no? In unrelated news, the Scotsman reported September 3 that the bodies of 2,000 Napoleonic soldiers unearthed from a mass grave in Lithuania are currently being studied--bagged, prodded, catalogued, the works. "Arunas Barkus pokes at a leg bone in a pile of remains, tagged Number 151 and sprawled on an autopsy table at Vilnius University," reports Michael Tarm. "At the touch of his fingers, marrow...crumbles into the dust of history." The remains will be reinterred in Lithuania after their injuries, physiognomies and genetic materials are studied.

Are the French angry? Au contraire. "Suddenly, history was more vivid," said a wonder-struck French diplomat who watched the grave robbers at work. "You could see it with your eyes. It's a history that is so much a part of the collective French memory." Not very Umatilla of you, old bean.

Will work 20 minutes for spare change

THE Canadian Medical Association Journal, an endless fount of knowledge about human quirks, has taken up the subject of panhandling. In the September 3 edition, Toronto doctors Rohit Bose and Stephen Hwang reveal the results of an econometric and medical survey of Toronto panhandlers, taken to ascertain how much money they earn and how they spend it. Panhandlers were offered certain sums to spend 20 minutes answering questions: the doctors note that "The amount of payment that panhandlers were willing to accept [for being interviewed]...was generally consistent with their self-estimated earnings from panhandling for the same length of time."

So how well off are bums? Pretty badly off, is the short answer. The 54 who chose to answer the survey (which may, the authors warn, have been biased against particularly high earners) reported a median monthly income of $638. Fully 93% were smokers, making cigarettes a particularly expensive item on their income statement. Roughly equal numbers said they never drank, drank about once a week, drank 1 to 6 times a week, and drank every day. Thirty-seven percent used cocaine in the last year, but only 5% had shot heroin. Only 65% of panhandlers in the survey were actually homeless, but 70% reported chronic health problems.

The authors did not find that panhandlers, on the whole, were raking in tons of money and spending most of it on addictions. The average daily take of panhandlers, $30, would seem to support a sustainable lifestyle for those who can tolerate the unique rigours and pleasures of homelessness. If it seems callous to talk of "pleasures," be aware that 43% of the respondents said they enjoyed panhandling ("commonly because of the opportunity to 'meet people'"). And a word to the wise parent: of the 54 skidders interviewed, exactly zero had college degrees.

Cannons on the loose

THE Pacific Coast League's (PCL's) Calgary Cannons played their last-ever home game September 3 before 8,000 sorrowful fans. Baseball is a troubled game in Canada, with the Cannons following the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians in a general exodus southward. The Cannons' new home is Albuquerque, where the team will be renamed the "Isotopes" after the club in the cartoon universe of The Simpsons. The Ottawa Lynx of the International League are expected to follow suit soon, after a year of disastrously low attendance, and everyone is aware of the plight of the big-league Montreal Expos. Even lower-level clubs like the rookie-league Medicine Hat Blue Jays are having trouble. The only two Canadian pro ball teams on anything like a stable footing are arguably the Toronto Blue Jays and the PCL's Edmonton Trappers, and the departure of the Cannons is a serious financial blow to the latter.

But then why shouldn't we have just one big ball club? We apparently only have room for one big airline, one big bookseller, one big newspaper chain...In an entirely unrelated story, Adnews reports (August 28) that the Royal Bank of Canada is "close to signing a US$80-million deal to secure the naming rights for the arena used by the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team. According to media reports, during the 20-year deal the Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena would be renamed the RBC Centre or the RBC Arena." The Royal Bank, it must be noted, has been an ardent supporter of sports in Canada, so perhaps this news should not stir too much patriotic indignation. Sadly, money to support sports teams flows in the same direction as any other money--that is to say, ever southward, away from Liberal-governed Canada.

The worst king we never had

IF the Duke of Cumberland (1771-1851) could see it, how he would laugh. His revenge on the British takes the unlikely form of novelist and journalist A.N. Wilson, who, in the September 1 Times of London, advanced an amazing idea: that Queen Victoria may have been illegitimate. If so, our current sovereign is the wrong one. But let us begin at the beginning.

Victoria is generally supposed to have been the daughter of the Duke of Kent, the Whiggish, permanently indebted fourth son of George III, and his wife, Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg. When young Victoria was born, neither the future George IV nor his next two brothers seemed likely to bring forth issue, and in line behind Kent was fifth son Cumberland, the most hated man in England. A swollen, one-eyed adventurer, Cumberland entertained bloody-minded anti-democratic opinions. He had killed his own valet: self-defence was the official story, but it was whispered that Cumberland was covering up an affair with the man's sister. Worse still, Cumberland was suspected of having impregnated one of his own sisters. When Kent died before his father, little Victoria was left as the only bulwark between crusty old William IV and a Cumberland succession as Ernest I.

Mr. Wilson finds it strange that no current royals inherited porphyria through Victoria, though the disease was common among her putative ancestors; he is also puzzled at her apparent introduction of hemophilia into a bloodline that had been free of it. His mischievous eye has alighted on another favourite subject of whispers--Sir John Conroy, major-domo to Queen Victoria's mother. Lytton Strachey, the indispensably gossipy historian, called Conroy "an Irishman with no judgment and a great deal of self-importance." In his 1921 biography of Victoria, he claims the Duke of Wellington knew of "unquestionable...familiarities" between Queen Victoria's mother and Conroy. Could our current Queen be the descendant of an Irish manservant with ideas above his station?

The royal family will not comment, but DNA testing is already being discussed. In 1837, Victoria took the British throne while Cumberland went to Hanover, whose monarchy was male-only. Once there, he tore a liberal constitution to bits, but was forced to reimpose it after the revolutions of 1848; he died in 1851. His direct male descendant and namesake is the 48-year-old Prince Ernst August of Hanover. Perhaps it is a name with which we should become familiar.

The sawbones' gallows humour

LET'S hope Dr. Adam Fox doesn't get sick anytime soon: he may be in some trouble with his peers. A Scotland on Sunday article (September 1) revealed a secret and hilarious language of British doctors, as catalogued over a six-year period by the Scottish pediatrician. The language takes the form of acronyms entered on a patient's chart to warn fellow physicians and nurses about those who are difficult or unusual.

Some of the terms are relatively straightforward: you could find yourself labelled as an Oap (over-anxious patient) or a Tatt (talks all the time). Some are quite complicated: Grolies, for example, are Guardian Readers Of Limited Intelligence (the Guardian being the leftist newspaper formerly headquartered in Manchester). And some are simply brutal, as might be expected in such a high-stress occupation. If you're ever described as "T.F. Bundy," it means you're Totally F---ed, But Unfortunately Not Dead Yet.

The profession, sadly, is cracking down on the naughty acronyms (although Dr. Fox admits they are surviving in whispers on accident and emergency wards). One doctor interviewed by Scotland on Sunday described an incident a few years ago in which doctors on the witness stand in court had to explain the notation "Fodttfo" on a chart. No doubt there was some sniggering when its meaning--"Fell over drunk, told to f--- off"--was explained. But no one wants to see "FLK" (funny-looking kid) on their daughter's chart, or, for that matter, "GOK" (God only knows) on their own.

Duly Noted

Sigh--there's just something about Canada, it seems: it's the country where even a card game isn't safe from drug scandals. On September 3, American Disa Eythorsdottir was sent home without the silver medal she had earned at the World Bridge Championships in Montreal. The reason? She had been taking a diet pill and found out only partway through the tournament that it was on the "banned" list. Yes, competitive bridge has mandatory urine tests, as does grandmaster chess now. The cash-hungry ruling bodies of these games are trying to qualify for the Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in its wisdom, finds it convenient to woo these "mind sports" without waiving drug-testing requirements which are meaningless to them. Result: injustice and stupidity. Since the IOC's involved, we suppose that is not actually news.

As Canada's independently owned newsmagazine, we like to keep readers abreast of media concentration. On September 3, Quebecor purchased an interest in Montreal's highest-rated AM radio station, CKAC. As columnist Mike Boone noted in the next day's Montreal Gazette, that gives one company control of the city's highest-circulation newspaper (the Journal de Montreal), its most popular TV network, its monopoly cable provider, its most popular TV station and its main source of high-speed Internet access. Endearingly, Mr. Boone noted the beam in his own eye as an employee of TV-newspaper giant CanWest Global Communications. (He called himself "a proud winner of the Academy of Hypocrisy's Lifetime Achievement Award.") In the same spirit of disclosure, Up Front should reiterate that The Report is proudly and fully independent, but is printed, like most things on paper in Canada, by Quebecor. And a fine job they do, too. Mad props to our omnipotent Quebecor homies!

There is no more reliable source of humour than a newspaper's corrections column. From page A2 of the September 4 Ottawa Citizen: "Death camps in Poland during the Second World War were operated by Nazi Germany. An article on page D8 of yesterday's Citizen suggested otherwise." Whoa, fellas, was there some confusion on this point? Not really: the offending story merely made an ambiguous reference to "Polish death camps," which presumably (and understandably) brought a flood of e-mails from Poles. We sympathize, and remind our readers, Polish or not, to keep us on our toes.

A press release on Up Front's desk cries out to be heard, and we spring into action! "CALLING ALL B.C. LOISES!" The international Lois Club, 6,000-plus members strong, is holding a dinner in Richmond, B.C., on September 18. The club has a simple mandate, we learn: "The Lois Club, which began some 22 years ago, welcomes anyone named Lois." The guest speaker at the dinner will be the mayor of Delta, Lois Jackson, whose championship of fiscal accountability has made her an inspiration to Loises everywhere (local chapters exist in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia). Membership in the society is absolutely free, and those interested should dial 1-800-267-8526 and ask for Lois (Harper).

It's enough to make you whinny: the owner and the meat manager of Jay's Food Market in Calgary have been found guilty of labelling and selling horsemeat as beef. Provincial Court Judge Brian Stevenson is currently considering an appropriate sentence for Jane Jay and her employee, Tran Quyen Luu. Health inspectors took 11 samples from the two Jay's supermarkets in Calgary and reported that 10 were actually our dear (not deer) friend Equus caballus. Punchline from the Herald's story (August 30) on the trial: "Jay's Food Market has lost considerable business recently, according to defence lawyers." You don't say. On the plus side, the new rash of French customers may make the stores eligible for bilingualism subsidies.

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