September 7th, 2010

[LINK] "N.B. Grits propose First Nations language classes"

Notwithstanding the likely problems of finding instructors and creating a curriculum, it makes sense that this sort of initiative would come from New Brunswick, Canada's only official bilingual province and a jurisdiction already quite accustomed to multilingualism. Likewise, it makes sense that the Liberals would do this, since the Liberal Party instituted bilingualism in the first place back in the 1960s.

Leading up to the Sept. 27 provincial election, Liberal Leader Shawn Graham made the announcement on Tuesday at the Chief Harold Sappier Memorial Elementary School on the St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton.

Graham said the goal is to develop a curriculum that will have First Nations language training as a part of the school system at every grade in the public system.

"The Mi'kmaq and Maliseet culture and language are an important part of what defines New Brunswick," Graham said in a statement.

"This will enable First Nations students to more easily retain their language and allow other non-aboriginal students to learn more about the tremendous cultural and historical richness that our Mi'kmaq and Maliseet First Nations contribute to New Brunswick."

Graham said he saw many First Nations people in his community lose their language when he was growing up.

"We have a responsibility, any time one of our cultures, whether it is francophone, anglophone or First Nations, is in jeopardy of losing its language then we have a responsibility because the promotion and advancement of language is a key identity of one's self," Graham told reporters.

[LINK] "The March of Twitter: Analysis of How and Where Twitter Spread"

My RSS news aggregator pointed me last week to an interesting post at the Hubspot Blog, Pete Warden's analysis of the details--geography, speed--of Twitter's growth. It turns out to be pretty spiky, with a steep growth curve.

The first public mention of the service I can find is on Evan William's blog late on July 13th, but you can see that even on the 12th there was a mini-boom in registrations. Then Om Malik's post on the 15th really pushed it over the top, with more than 250 people signing up the next day. What I find fascinating is that there were less than 600 people on the service at that point, so it was a very prescient plug. Encouraging for those of us with our own startups is the flattening of the growth curve after the initial spike from the publicity - it's always painful to go through the come-down after the adrenaline boost of a rush of visitors.

Early 2007 saw significant growth, after Twitter's successful launch at South-by-Southwest. Warden's conclusion?

What surprised me most was how little geography mattered for adoption. Even in today's world of ubiquitous internet access, I expected that real-life clusters of friends would be the main vectors by which the service would spread. I don't see the sort of city-specific growth spurts I'd expect if that were true, instead the network took root wherever there were people. That has some interesting implications for anyone starting their own service, it looks like focusing on virtual communities instead of physical ones can be very effective.

I'd also never thought of Twitter as an aspirational service, but Neha nailed the atmosphere of the early days. There was an air of exclusivity, of access to an interesting group of Valley rockstars, that gave people a reason to check it out. This feels a lot like the way that Facebook started at Ivy League colleges and then opened up progressively to lower-status groups with the promise of mixing with a 'better class' of people. That might explain why companies like Google have such a hard time launching similar services, catering to the masses they can't pretend they're exclusive, but it bodes well for Quora's approach.

The reality of its rapid adoption all over the country is hard to square with its image as an exclusive Valley club, but maybe that contradiction is the sign of exquisite marketing. Apple gives their users that same sensation of belonging to an elite, even as they sell products in malls across the country. Twitter tapped into people whose dreams were in Silicon Valley, wherever they were in the world.

As commenters note, it's a minor shame that Warden didn't analyze Twitter's international growth. I'd love to see how Canada fared--I bet Québec lags behind English Canada in Twitter adoption, just as it did in Facebook adoption, but that both solitudes are well ahead most of the rest of the world.

[BRIEF NOTE] Geocurrents on the Enclaves of the Straits of Gibraltar

In another series of excellent posts, Geocurrents' Martin Lewis has examined the various disputes enclaves scattered along the European and African coasts of the Straits of Gibraltar, in Spain and Morocco, legacies of centuries of religious and dynastic war. He's right to highlight the peculiar symmetry surrounding the enclaves on the Strait of Gibraltar: Spain claims British Gibraltar, directly connecting to the Spanish mainland as it does and claimed after the War of the Spanish Succession, but Morocco claims Spanish Ceuta and Melilla, acquired as a result of the religious wars of the early modern era and remaining Moroccan notwithstanding Spain's decolonization. In the case of Gibraltar, the centuries of political separation have certainly forged a distinctly Gibraltarian identity.

Isolation from Britain, proximity to other lands, historical openness to migration, and geopolitical distinctiveness have all helped nurture cultural particularities in the UK’s Overseas Territories [. . .], and Gibraltar is no exception. Gibraltarians are called “Llanitos,” a term of uncertain provenance that also refers to the peninsula’s dialect — if indeed the local language merits that designation. From the limited number of sources that I could find, Llanito appears to be a variety of the Spanish dialect of Andalusian that employs a number of English and other foreign expressions. Llanito-speakers often alternate rapidly between English and Spanish, a practice known as “code-switching.” Llanito is seldom written, but it does have its own dictionary, and several BBC programs have been aired in it. Llanito is influenced by Haketia (or Western Ladino), a Hebrew- and Moroccan-Arabic-influenced form of archaic Spanish spoken by Jews whose ancestors fled across the Strait of Gibraltar after being expelled by Spain in 1492. After Britain gained Gibraltar in the early 1700s, a Jewish community reestablished itself, bringing its language and other cultural practices. The Treaty of Utrecht, by which Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain, expressly forbade the immigration of Jews; the fact that Britain ignored this stipulation forms one of grounds that Spain historically used for demanding the return of the Rock.

The 30,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar have mixed ethnic origins as well as linguistic practices. Judging from surnames, roughly a quarter of Gibraltar’s population is of British derivation, another quarter Spanish, and about a fifth Italian; others sources include Morocco, Portugal, and India. Such diversity is notable for a territory that encompasses a mere 2.7 square miles (6.8 square kilometers), forty percent of which is a nature reserve focused on the uninhabited Rock of Gibraltar. Over the centuries, the various peoples of the peninsula have largely melded into their own ethnic group. They have found communal cohesion in their desire to maintain the status quo and resist incorporation into Spain. According to the Wikipedia, Gibraltar’s voters rejected joint sovereignty with Spain in 2002 by a margin of 99 percent, an unprecedented figure, to my knowledge, in a free election.

Meanwhile, on the African continent, notwithstanding Morocco's claims to the Spanish enclaves, the inhabitants of Ceuta and Melilla likewise seem happy with their own, decidedly Spanish-influenced and non-Moroccan, political identities. Generally speaking.

A recent Time Magazine article suggests that the Moroccan government views Spain as severely weakened by its economic crisis, and hence vulnerable to intimidation. Spain stakes a great deal on its role as mediator between Europe and North Africa—a position threatened by any struggle with Morocco. According to another recent article, “Morocco wants to ensure continued Spanish support for its efforts to hold onto the disputed Western Sahara; Morocco's government has internal problems and raised this fuss as a diversionary tactic; or maybe it wants more European aid money and is badgering Spain as a way to get it.”

What is clear is that relations between the people of Melilla and their Moroccan neighbors are both intimate and troubled. An estimated 30,000 Moroccan citizens cross the border everyday. Many come to sell their labor, as Melilla is vastly more prosperous than Morocco. Others come to shop and smuggle, returning to Morocco with “everything from booze to toilet paper.” Such day-trippers are apparently much abused by Melillans, a people anxious about illegal immigration and concerned about the security of their vulnerable community.

Tensions in Melilla cannot be reduced to a simple struggle between the Spanish inhabitants of the enclave and their North African neighbors. Some thirty to forty-five percent of the city’s 73,000 residents are Muslims of Moroccan origin, mostly of Berber rather than Arabic stock. According to the Wikipedia, Melilla remains deeply divided: “The culture in this little city is thus virtually divided into two halves, one being European and the other Amazigh [i.e., Berber].” Other sources depict greater communal cohesion. According to one recent article, “the vast majority [of Melilla’s Muslims] say they have no interest in joining their poor neighbor. ‘We feel Spanish and we are Spanish,’ said merchant Yusef Kaddur, as he stood under a date palm tree outside the main mosque in Melilla's bustling Muslim quarter.” The fact that Berbers have little power in Morocco, even though they constitute almost half of the country’s population, no doubt contributes to the lack of pro-Moroccan sentiments among Melilla’s Muslim inhabitants.

The Spanish-Gibraltar border wasn't studied by Lewis, likely because it isn't such a major issue as all that: Spain and the United Kingdom are both members in good standing of the European Union, prosperous democracies recession notwithstanding, and the two countries can work. Not so the frontiers between Spain and Morocco, which incidentally include what may be the world's shortest border: "'Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera' is a long name for small place. This slender peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean was an island until 1934, when a massive storm deposited a sandy isthmus connecting it to the African mainland. Upon Morocco’s independence in 1956, that thin neck of sand became an international border." The gap between Spain and Morocco is a gap between the First World and the Third World, with Moroccans being so much less desperate to cross into the enclaves and thence to mainland Europe than the sub-Saharan Africans behind them.

As recently as the 1990s, Melilla and Morocco were separated by little more than rolls of barbed wire along an undeveloped ribbon of land. Residents of Morocco and neighboring countries learned that crossing this lightly defended frontier was an easy way to gain entry into the EU. In 1999, with European resistance to immigration mounting, the boundary was strengthened with additional fencing.

The new barrier did not prove adequate to the job. Desperate migrants from sub-Saharan Africa increasingly tried to storm the fence in human waves. Attempts peaked on September 27, 2005, when, as reported by the Associated Press, “some 1,000 men tried to clamber over the fences in twin assaults on Melilla's crescent-shaped perimeter. About 300 made it in.” (In the previous two weeks, crowds had rushed the frontier five times; some 700 had succeeded in climbing over.) Two days later, a similar action occurred at Ceuta’s border. Spanish troops fired on the would-be immigrants with rubber bullets; Moroccan forces evidently used live ammunition. As many as eighteen people were killed, and more than fifty were injured.

Great stuff, this. Go to Geocurrents and read the posts in full; read the blog in full.

[LINK] "P.E.I. bootlegger Gordie Dunn dies"

Sometimes, I think that people don't believe the stories that I tell about Prince Edward Island, that they describe a place too fantastical, too at-odds with mainstream North American society. They're true, though. Take the story of the Island's bootleggers, forced to close down in 2004--notwithstanding the end of Prohibition nearly six decades earlier and speakeasies were always illegal, people liked going to them anyway--after the provincial government passed legislation that would actually see the laws against bootleggers enforced. The death of one of the more prominent ex-bootleggers made the evening news.

Gordie Dunn, a well-known P.E.I. bootlegger, has died at the age of 69.

Dunn ran a bootlegging bar on Chestnut Street in Charlottetown called The Red House, until he closed it in 2004.

In recent years, Dunn battled cancer. He died Friday at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Wes Edwards, a frequent customer, said he has fond memories of Dunn and The Red House.

"People came and went, and … over the years just everybody enjoyed being there," he said. "It was a fun place to go to. Gordie was very popular with everybody."

Bootlegging — selling alcohol without a liquor license — is illegal in the province but was tolerated for decades.

In an interview with CBC News in 1987, Dunn said his family bootlegged in the province for 75 years.

Gordie Dunn speaks with a CBC reporter in a 1987 interview. (CBC)"My grandmother, my grandfather and it moved on to my mother, my father and then it moved on to myself," he said. "It's a way of life."

In 2004, then-premier Pat Binns's government gave police new powers to seize the assets of illegal bars and raised the penalties for bootleggers.

Dunn — who had operated The Red House for 25 years — closed his doors the day the legislation passed, saying he couldn't afford to pay the prohibitive fines.

The reactions at CBC Prince Edward Island's Facebook page are more positive than anything else. Tradition lived on in him, it seems.