March 20th, 2012

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Daniel Drezner highlights a problem with collaboration between authoritarian state capitalist economies: there's no recourse when corruption comes. See China in Venezuela.

  • Geocurrents discusses the ongoing flight of Hindus from Pakistan.
  • Language Log reflects 1, 2) on Rick Santorum's statement that Puerto Rican statehood would require the adoption of English as an official language. Briefly, English is already an official language, and language requirements have never been involved in statehood anyway.

  • Laura Agustín at The Naked Anthropologist describes the pressures which encourage Chinese prostitutes to move to Malaysia.

  • Palun at Itching for Eestima notes the phenomenon of Estonian migration--often permanent--to Finland. Despite post-Soviet progress there are still severe gaps.

  • Otto Pohl notes interesting similarities between Soviet and South African nationality policies.

  • Registan considers the import of a Taliban killing of a Chinese student in Pakistan. Will this bring China into the border region?

  • Torontoist's Hamutal Dotan takes issue with the inclination of even pro-light rail folks in Toronto for subways, pointing out that light rail is better-suited to the financial requirements and transport needs of subways. True, but subways are cool.

[LINK] “Quebec francophones rediscover their Irish roots”

The Globe and Mail’s Les Perreaux wrote last week about the very substantial, if often forgotten, Irish presence in Québec. Self-identified Quebecers of Irish background amount to barely more than five percent of the province’s population, but the proportion of the Québec population with some Irish ancestry--especially the Francophone population of Québec--is substantial indeed.

The historical fact of a substantial Irish presence in Québec--in French Canada, I suppose, when the immigration occurred in the 19th century--contradicts any number of historical myths, for instance that of the purely French homogeneity of French Canadians and the very close identification of the Irish diaspora with the English language and English-speaking country.

On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is Irish, or so the saying goes, but in huge swaths of French-speaking Quebec, the expression is at least half true.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Montrealers will take to the streets with their garish “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirts for one of the biggest and longest-running parades in North America. Behind the ostentatious displays of green love and messy drunk festivities will be thousands of people with names like Bélanger and Lemieux who are just as Irish as some of the O’Gradys and O’Briens.

By some scholarly examinations, more than 40 per cent of francophone Quebeckers have some Irish roots. Irish names still dot the phonebook in towns that have become almost entirely francophone. There is the Myles clan of Trois-Rivières, the O’Neills of Quebec City, the Leonards of Sherbrooke, and they mostly speak French. But names are only the most visible part of francophone Irishness.

French-speaking Quebeckers seem to be reconnecting to Irish roots all over the province. In Quebec City, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was relaunched in 2010 after an 84-year hiatus and is now run by a team of volunteers who are 80 per cent French-speaking. Concordia’s fledgling School of Canadian Irish Studies is a hit with francophone students. Bernadette Short recently opened a school of Irish dance in Quebec City after more than 30 years teaching step dances in Montreal.

[. . .]

As in Ontario and many parts of eastern North America, the Irish streamed into Quebec in the 19th century as the island was racked by famine, strife and unrest. At one point, Irish immigrants composed nearly 90 per cent of the new arrivals to Quebec City.

For much of the 1800s, Montreal and Quebec City were the two largest urban centres in what would become Canada, and their populations were anywhere from one-quarter to one-third Irish.

While Irish Catholics were often shunned in Protestant areas of Canada, they found a ready home in French Quebec City and Montreal. Up until the 1960s, faith was a much bigger hurdle than language to integration in Quebec, so intermarriage was common between Catholic Irish and Catholic French Canadians.

“We would fight with the Irish boys in French during the day, and snuggle up with their Irish sisters in English at night,” said Louis-Guy Lemieux, a writer who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in a Quebec City neighbourhood that he says was “almost half Irish.”

Denis O’Neill, a son of one of Quebec City’s oldest families, recalls watching his unilingual English-speaking Irish grandfather and unilingual francophone grandmother muddle along in “Franglais.”

Three generations later, English is but a vestige in Mr. O’Neill’s family, as it is in the rest of Quebec City, where around 2 per cent of the population speaks it as a primary tongue.

The affinity went beyond church and marriage. Irish Catholic immigrants in Quebec were less likely than their counterparts in Toronto or Hamilton to be excluded from local positions of power, according to Robert J. Grace, a specialist in Irish-Canadian history at Laval University in Quebec City.

French-speaking Irish Quebeckers named Johnson, Ryan and Mulroney became central figures in Quebec politics around the time the Quiet Revolution also lifted francophones into positions of greater power. (Quebec Premier Jean Charest – his mother was a Leonard – met the Irish Deputy Prime Minister in Montreal on Friday to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day.)

Irish and French-Canadian Catholics also shared a distrust for the Anglo-Protestant elite who ran business and government in the colony.

“You had two people whose ancestors were colonized by the English. They despised the Englishman, or at least their ancestors did, and they were raised with that awareness. They were lower and middle class, they valued family, hard work, the same God, and they liked to have a drink. They recognized each other, and they recognized their common foe,” said Brian Myles, a francophone journalist at Le Devoir.

[LINK] “Chinese discover backdoor into Canada — through Quebec”

This widely syndicated Associated Press artiicle highlights a key problem with immigration and immigration policy in Québec. Although immigration policies are actually fairly liberal, with fluency in French being key, getting immigrants to stay in the province--a place with incomes somewhat below and unemployment somewhat higher than the Canadian average, Montréal in particular hosting a Chinese community proportionally much smaller than Toronto’s or Vancouver’s--is another thing altogether.

If there is increased pressure in China to emigrate, it’s not that surprising to me. Contra popular stereotypes it’s rarely the poorest people who immigrate but rather the more ambitious and resourceful who try to leave their country to find a better life elsewhere. China’s strong growth the past generation has created a lot of ambitious and resourceful people.

Thousands of people in China are trying to write their own ticket out of the country — in French.

Chinese desperate to emigrate have discovered a backdoor into Canada that involves applying for entry into the country’s francophone province of Quebec — as long as they have a good working knowledge of the local lingo.

So, while learning French as an additional language is losing ground in many parts of the world — even as Mandarin classes proliferate because of China’s rise on the international stage — many Chinese are busy learning how to say, “Bonjour, je m’appelle Zhang.”

Yin Shanshan said the French class she takes in the port city of Tianjin near Beijing even includes primers on Quebec’s history and its geography, including the names of suburbs around its biggest city, Montreal.

“My French class is a lot of fun,” the 25-year-old said. “So far, I can say ‘My name is ... I come from ... I live at’ “ and, getting straight to the business of settling down in the province: “I would like to rent a medium-sized, one-bedroom flat.’ “

[. . . M]any governments are making it harder to emigrate by imposing new quotas, cutting the professions sought under skilled-worker programs and raising the amount of financial commitment needed for the exemptions granted to big-time investors.

That’s where Quebec comes in.

The province selects its own immigrants and doesn’t have any cap or backlog of applicants like Canada’s national program does. But it requires most immigrants to demonstrate their knowledge of French.

Immigration agencies in Beijing started pushing this program over the past year, telling people, “this is the only way out, there’s no other way,” said Quebec-based immigration consultant Joyce Li.

These transplants must commit to living in Quebec in their application, but, later on, they can take advantage of Canadian rights to move to Toronto or Vancouver, which most investor-emigrants do, she said.

“At the interview they make you sign the paper, but once in Canada the Charter of Rights lets you live anywhere,” she said. “Only about 10 per cent of Chinese using the Quebec (investor) program come here or even less. You don’t see any of them. It’s too cold for many Chinese people. There’s no direct flights.”

Many Chinese have in the past sought to leverage their way into Canada with job skills, as family members of Chinese already there or with the country’s emigrant-investor program. But a backlog of cases has prompted the federal government to halt some kinds of family sponsorship applications for two years, and cap investor applicants at 700 per year.

So, Chinese are increasingly focusing on Quebec, said Zhao Yangyang, who works at immigration agency Beijing Royal Way Ahead Exit & Entry Service Co.

“That’s why many people, whether they are rich or skilled professionals, are trying hard to learn French,” she said.

[LINK] "Batman, Broken Windows, and the Uncanny Valley"

Over at his blog love and fiction, Clifford has just posted the second part of an intruiging essay in two parts, "Batman, Broken Windows, and the Uncanny Valley" (1, 2). Tim Burton brought the Batman franchise memorably to film in two films which borrowed heavily from the aesthetics of the 1930s and a cartoonish sense of reality; Christopher Nolen is famed for its gritty realism. Why do they differ? It comes down, in Clifford's contention, to the very different environments of crime in the late 1980s when Burton began filming and now.

Let’s look at New York City, the real-life Gotham. In 1977, Howard Cosell could casually remark at a baseball game: “There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning.” Violent crime increased dramatically after the 60s, peaking in the late 80s and early 90s. New York City was a very unsafe place; its crime rate was 70% higher than the country’s average. The people that lived there were afraid to go outside and felt helpless about it. Oh, so someone put a knife in your face and took your wallet? So what? It happens all the time. People around would put their heads down and walk past. The police would tell you to fill out a form, get in line.

In 1984, Bernard Goetz blasted a bunch of would-be muggers on the subway who had asked him for $5. He was largely acquitted of wrongdoing at trial. Although it was portrayed by some as a racial issue (Goetz was white, the muggers were black), the year before the Goetz trial, a New York City grand jury refused to indict a black man who shot and killed a white youth who accosted him on the subway. Professor James Wilson noted: “It may simply indicate that there are no more liberals on the crime and law-and-order issue in New York, because they've all been mugged.”

However, the crime rate has since plummeted. Central Park is safe, the subways are clean and well-maintained, and they drove the hookers out of Time Square. There are as few muggers and panhandlers in Manhattan as Disneyworld. Visitors from Toronto could be forgiven for wondering: where are all the hobos? Did they get sent to labour camps in Alaska? Eaten by C.H.U.D.s? It’s creepy.

Of course, this means that we can now afford to feel much sorrier for muggers than we could back then. We no longer desperately feel that somebody needs to do something about street crime. So who wants to see Batman absolutely kick the shit out of some poor drug addict? If you’ve been mugged a couple of times it might be cathartic, but if not, it just seems regressive.

This has led to a change in comics. Instead of grim vigilantes, who beat up common criminals with their fists, comic book heroes have become elite strike forces, who spend are too busy duking it out with other costumed villains to wait around for and break up petty crimes. And that’s why, in Batman Begins, Batman targets the crime lord Carmine Falcone, instead of lurking around on rooftops waiting for someone to scream for help.

Nolen's Bruce Wayne, Clifford argues, is more interested in changing the culture of his Gotham City than in fighting individual criminals, and sees the symbol of Batman is more powerful than Bruce Wayne the man could be. The strategy of Nolen's Batman is not necessarily a realistic way of doing things, full of potential unexpected consequences (encouraging the growth of supercriminals in place of regular crime). More to the point, our identification of Nolen’s Batman as realistic rests on our own prejudices.

[I]n some ways, Nolan’s Batman feels less plausible than Burton’s. It’s similar to the concept of the "uncanny valley" in robotics and computer animations. As a robot (or a cartoon) has a more human appearance, we feel more empathy towards them. But when they look almost (but not quite) human, our empathy drops significantly. We start focusing on the differences between the human and the simulacrum, and not the similarities. I think movies have the same issue. We enjoy realism, to a point. But when we get too close, but not quite close enough, some of the enjoyment can be lost. We all appreciate Batman swinging from rooftops and punching the Joker. And we appreciate it when he does so in a more “realistic” fashion. But eventually you’ll butt up against the fundamental implausibility of the character. In the end, you have to let Batman be Batman. I’m not sure if Nolan really does that.

Burton made Batman in a time where it was acceptable to have Batman beating up muggers. Nolan had to make his films connect with audiences in a time where we didn’t want to see a vigilante brutalize petty criminals. Why does a man dress up like a bat and act as a vigilante if he isn’t acting out our fantasy? Nolan looked to the “broken windows” theory to provide an answer. But that decision (along with the others; it is safe to say that Burton is more content to simply be weird that Nolan) means that Nolan’s films have to fundamentally move away from the basic nature of the character.

Go, read.