Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pan Am Games

The Toronto Star supports the Pan Am Games. My unpublished letter of March 5, 2009.

Where are Toronto's priorities? We are about to shut down 39 public swimming pools due to lack of funds. Yet, the city is today spending millions of dollars in a bid to win the 2015 Pan Am Games. Some politicians and their hangers-on want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stage another bloated extravaganza.

The fact that this waste of money will be shared by other levels of government, and spread over a number of years, masks the fact that it still increases the burden on taxpayers who may have other priorities.

Update: January 16, 2011. The cost of these games is now estimated to be $96.5 million, almost double the original of $49.5 million. Construction has not even started.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Translating Tapestries

"Translation from one language to another is like looking at a tapestry on the wrong side." When Miguel de Cervantes put these words into the mouth of his protagonist, Don Quixote, he was speaking for millions of us forced to read great books in translation.

I first read Death in Venice by Thomas Mann decades ago. As is my practice, I made margin notes. These I later transcribed to the book’s inside back cover. About ten years after the first reading, I read a later translation of this German masterpiece.

During this second reading, I awaited in vain the appearance of turns of phrase I had earlier noted. The1925 translation: His steps followed the promptings of the demon who delights in treading human reason and dignity underfoot.  In 1954, this became: His footsteps guided by the demoniac power whose pastime it is to trample on human reason and dignity. Fine, possibly truer to the original, but I prefer the earlier rendering.

We are doomed merely to prefer one translation over another.

We may only hope for a translation that conveys the essential thought of the author. Witness The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Salient among other translations, we have that of Edward Fitzgerald -- a magical blending of the poet's thought and the translator's command of our language. A 1979 translation of the Persian astronomer's work conveys his ideas, but not in the glorious language of Victorian Fitzgerald.

My English professor criticized a translation of the French gem The Little Prince by lamented Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Much meaning has been missed, he said, and urged us to read the original. I noted powerful differences. For example, one English dedication has the author claiming the dedicatee needs "cheering up." The French states that the author's friend "a bien besoin d'être consolée." Not the same, especially if one is aware of the context. The book was written during the dark days of the Second World War. The author's friend was hungry and cold in Nazi-occupied France, while he is warm and well fed and in New York. More than cheering up was needed.

All of this came to mind as I attempted to reconcile two translations of The Book of The Courtier, the Italian Renaissance work of genius by Baldesare Castiglione. In later editions, "a salutary craft," becomes "a healthy deception", "a grossness of dull wits" reads "obtuse insensitivity," and for "subtleties" we read "sophistries".   Unless we look at the front of the tapestry -- reading the original Italian, we will never know which translation approaches closest to the author's intent.

Even within our beautiful language, we face problems. The various editions of the works of William Shakespeare (who died on the same date as Cervantes) present problems. We may understand "tainted" becoming "diseased." But what of "the all-binding law" modernized into "the all-building law"? In Measure for Measure, Angelo has been transformed from "precise" to "prenzie," whatever that means. What is the difference between "headstrong jades" and "headstrong weeds" when they both mean spoiled horses?

Given all this, perhaps Cervantes did not write the opening observation of this essay. I may have merely quoted what one of this many translators wanted me to read.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Human Rights Commissions for Fun and Profit

A copy of the blog post has been sent to Jeff Poirier, Senior Policy Analyst Designated, Policy, Education, & Monitory; Outreach, Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The first thing you need to know is that human rights tribunals are theatre. The better your performance, the greater your chance of financial success. Be honest. If it weren't for the money, you wouldn't be there. Your complaint is a time investment.

Unlike as in a real court, you need not be the "injured" party. You may claim on behalf of people who do not bother to complain themselves, or of people who may not even exist. There is no need to prove anyone was hurt, just maybe, perhaps, might have been, tended to have been hurt or offended. In a real court, the complainant must prove actual damage.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission/Tribunal states that you need only be "bothered" (their word) by someone because of race, colour or ancestry to establish racism. In Saskatchewan, you need only claim that the behaviour exposed you to hatred, ridicule, be belittled, or it was an affront to your dignity. These are terms so vague they would be thrown out of a real court, but are the meat of tribunals. If you cannot prove a specific instance, allege a pattern of whatever it is you abject to. Again, no proof required.

Harassment, for example, may be conduct with the effect of violating your dignity or creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive. It's all about feelings. Feel-good commissions thrive on vagueness.

The weepier your grievance, the better. Truth is irrelevant. You cannot be charged with perjury no matter how outrageously false your statements may be. Describe in great detail hurt feelings, even if you are simply imagining them on behalf of someone else. Claim injury to dignity, feelings, self-respect and anything else you find in a thesaurus.

By law, the accused must appear before the commission, perhaps with legal counsel at his own expense. You have already hurt him financially. Even if he is declared innocent after days of testimony, he cannot claim legal expenses against you. Some accused persons have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then found innocent. There is no chance of reimbursement, even though someone's reputation may have been damaged in the process.

Start a cult, no matter how outrageous. Then add religious discrimination to your complaint.

The commission may order a police raid on the accused's home, office, cottage, houseboat, whatever. So, imply evidence may be anywhere, even in their gym locker. Spread the embarrassment as much as possible. The police may take what they want: files, computers, cameras, books. The tribunals may keep them for however long they wish. The case could drag on for weeks, perhaps months, thereby putting the accused out of business. So, even if you don't win, it's better than breaking even, because you will have harmed someone you don't like. Feel good about it. It's legal. And it did not cost you a cent.

When you appear before a commissioner, claim the victim high ground. Keep it vague. Commissions love to fill in the blanks. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Hire an acting coach. Here's how best to play the victimization card:

1. Depending on the situation, and as often as possible, work into your deliberately stumbling speech those buzz words that set Utopian adjudicators' hearts all aflutter: racism (rampant racism is better), homophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, hateful, bigoted, intolerant, discriminatory, abusive, exclusionary, profiling, harassment and negative differential treatment (code for discrimination), colour, ancestry, disability, and family status. Adjudicators love that wonder word "systemic." It means everything; it means nothing. It lets you condemn an entire workplace, the owner of which may be innocent of any wrong-doing, but will still have to pay.

Much is good. Too much is better. Overload is best. It all helps the commission to write a favourable judgement.

2. Claim that since the time of the offence which occurred months, years earlier, your human dignity still feels hurt, that you suffer loss of  -- sleep, weight, sex drive, work opportunities, friends, family, waking hours, feelings and self-respect. Claim you also have medical issues such as fear of leaving home, fear that people look at you and talk funny about you, and that you have become moody and isolated. The word "stress" sounds good, as in "post-traumatic stress disorder," although few know what it means. Even vaguer, and therefore better, is "severe separation anxiety." You need not prove any of this, just claim it. The accused cannot possibly disprove it. How does one disprove something that did not occur? The odds are always in your favour.

It's a low burden of proof on your part, while the accused, already presumed guilty, must prove innocence "on the preponderance of evidence." This is the common failing of such tribunals that are sprouting up all over the world.

3. A tear of two would not be out of order. If the case in any way involves physical action, claim the defendant acted in a "threatening manner by creating a hostile environment." You may even suppose he acted in this manner. No one can question how you claim you felt. It might boost the cash prize by a few thousand.

4. Constantly refer to feelings. Tribunals like feelings. They also like tendencies and likelihood. Boldly state that the accused's real or imagined behaviour likely might have tended to expose you or some fictitious person to hurt feelings. Don't let it bother you that this strips away any semblance of objective legal reasonableness. It's all to your benefit.

5. Try to get bleeding-heart media coverage. It could only be a plus. They like the word "devastated." So work that one in somewhere.

6. Adjudicators and commissioners, all political appointees, are empire builders, and always in the market for expanded authority, for new "human rights", for new crimes. One of them recently dreamed up "unconscious racism." Any ideas for new offences you might dangle before them would be gratefully received. Try "structural racism." These people constitute a bureaucracy of solutions looking for problems.

There is a current movement seeking to equate human and animal rights. So, if you have a pet whose dignity you feel was likely tended to be hurt by the accused, even unconsciously, work that into your tale. If your dog is a Dalmatian or Mexican hairless, claim canine racism.

7. End your speech with an emotional plea for diversity, tolerance, understanding, affirmative action. No matter what your complaint, this will just about guarantee success.

8. Claim that no amount of money could possibly restore your lost human dignity etc., but thousands of dollars would go a long way to easing the pain, attracting friends, attracting family, improving sexual performance, restoring weight, getting a good job, blah, blah, blah. Whatever the problem, money will solve it. These days, commissioners favour awards of around $25,000.

The really good news is that Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Barbara Hall wants authority to impose unlimited penalties. You might get enough to retire before she does.

Follow these instructions, and claim the pot of gold at the end of the human rights rainbow.