Friday, 9 October 2015

The Prime Minister of Fragile Things

Keeping track of reprobates with money and power, or (affectionately) neoconservatives like Stephen Harper, in the media is utterly fascinating all the time. But I must admit that I've always thought that Canada needed Harper as one needs a hole in the head. Call it morbid fascination, I just cannot help it though lately even as a political junkie I find him especially jarring.

To wit: that his PMO would have the gall to appropriate the SYRIAN refugee files (ie, and no other) from Immigration Canada and stop every single file while they do an "audit" totally, completely goes beyond the pale. It should certainly make one wonder if Harper's PMO has done other "audits" on Canadians, which is totally and completely reasonable to assume given that the Harper Government has seen it fit to label certain sectors of the Canadian society as "enemies", and especially given that the CRA has been used not once now to delay certain things (exacting justice upon tax havens and tax cheats, for example) but worse to label and harass charities problematic to the cause as political in nature (I mean, we're talking about 'civil society' function of these charities here).

What is Harper really saying when he harps on about "the fragile this" and "the fragile that"?

He has abused and misused and generally squandered his "hard-won" majority the ten years he has been in power; these "fragile things" have not seem to change one iota under his watch, and, in fact, he seems more interested in the "problem" of the Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Beware the demagogue on the pulpit: Only existential chaos that way comes.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

A rediscovered country

I've mentioned Richard Kearney in this blog before and, especially, his conception of anatheism—loosely-translatable as "a seeking a rebirth of faith after the loss of faith". This notion is not unlike the Jewish teshuva ( (Hebrew: תשובה‎, or "return") which is often translated as "repentance" but I think the emphasis should be on the "returning" to life better informed—ie, as opposed to "rejecting life" out of frustration and cynicism.

It is a notion that I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. And, for reasons not immediately obvious. Like the rest of my colleagues, this being the time of year for planning and organizing our classes, I've been thinking about how to approach each project in the classroom and not lose sight of the bigger picture. Like with most things in life, it is easy to get caught up in each particular instance—both in the positive and negative sense. So, I've been thinking about how I learn and retain knowledge and skills.

Recently, I took up playing guitar again. The first few days were painful on my finger tips, but even after years of benign negligence I was surprised how quickly everything started coming together again. I even found that I could remember every note in a song I wrote with a friend many, many years ago—even the riffs (flourishes and embellishments) I wrote into the song. It took me a few runs to get it back but it did come back.

I think the element of "love of the subject" is rarely recognized as key to academic and vocational success. The course description, in many cases, becomes a "decalogue" (ten commandments) of sorts—so much so that the interests and needs of the students are ultimately swept aside, so compelling are the imperatives and directives.

But course descriptions are what they are (and they aren't very much at that in the first place). It is an outline (ie, not the real thing). It is a detailed contract between the college and the students to transfer credits that are earned or demerits exacted as per how marks are divvied up in relation to some set of standards. The administrative duties are important to be sure, but the classroom is a community.

As a community, each member of it has something to offer to the whole and its members. Their life experiences and levels of academic readiness run a wonderful and remarkable range and depth. The classroom is a resource; it emerges naturally but requires cultivation and direction to become useful to the students and the teacher.

I usually try and conduct my classes as bilingually as possible. I find that some students may not be able to articulate what they're thinking about in the English language but they're perfectly capable of expressing themselves in the Inuit language, and vice versa. Also, peppering a presentation or lecture with Inuktitut invariably works wonders because the students have an opportunity to see and hear their mother tongue being used in a technical and/or intellectual context they've not seriously considered before.

Broken English/Inuktitut is acceptable in this case; it is, in fact, what makes the whole system work. It makes the subject less daunting and allows the students to "own" the subject and revel in its discovery. This approach is welcoming and allows the students to play in a safe and non-threatening environment, to ask questions, to offer their thoughts and insights from a familiar and trust-worthy ground (their mother tongue).

I've always maintained that our individual knowledge and memories are laid out in a landscape, a rediscovered country. When I have experienced discovering something new and contexted it in that rediscovered country, I can then "talk" myself through a subject as if I was hiking and trekking familiar trails. I don't need to memorize anything, really; a few runs normally suffice because first principles, once learned, are difficult to forget.

Now, if I could only find a way to remember names and faces...


Sunday, 30 August 2015

'Plain language' = 'no language'

I'm currently working on some demonstration pieces for a language-based approach to learning scientific terminology that I've been patching together (over the years) from sources I know to be credible and my own gotten insights as a linguist/writer. I've always been fascinated (as a thinker, of course) by what is called, 'aboriginal education', and, especially, the complex of seemingly intractable problems that seem to be part and parcel of its existential lot. So, it was from this perspective that a thought suddenly struck me (accident-like):

There is a maw, an insatiable maw (ie, absence), where thoughts and ideas should be.

It is achieved by way of sole reliance on 'plain language' explanation of not only ideas but for all of life. It may not be deliberate, but a suggestion is implanted nonetheless: knowledge is law, the meanings of words are (arbitrarily) 'legislated'; we really have no role to play.

For those of us involved in language and education issues the insidious results are apparent (though we've always assumed this-is-the-best-we-can-hope-for). The set-up of the aboriginal school system is institutional and not community-based as it should be (as it is with the rest of main-stream Canada, no?). Aboriginal schools—the best thing since the invention of family—are really political 're-education' centres.

When I say 'community-based' I don't mean one that is designed by a bureaucrat but a school whose purpose and benefits are apparent to the community because its very presence has enhanced the lives of its average members, rather than just the few who seem to succeed despite of it—'succeed', not only in the conventional sense but also in the social/cultural/linguist/intellectual sense (or, inuliurniq, as our parents fully and reasonably once expected of our schools).

So, back to dumping on 'plain language'...

As I've been doing my literary review and mulling over the central ideas of medical terminology ravenously, I've come across some real gems (which I will not share here out of respect for errant (misled, really) translators). I've come to realize that the translator (reader, listener, learner) is rarely at fault (if ever). The fault lies in well-intended but ultimately misguided source material that has somehow ended up being a poorly-executed explanation rather than the actual source material.

Rendering important ideas (such as scientific notions/principles, climate change, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, etc.) into plain language is a tricky proposition at the best of times. It is not recommended (especially in a bilingual context) if the essential logical and technical linkages to the real world end up on the way-side in the interest of simplification and false sense of clarity.

What I've been doing (or, attempting anyway) is looking at medical terminology (or, for that matter, scientific terminology in general) in its elemental forms and trying to account for not only the semantic content but also the semiological frame in rendering the ideas into the Inuit language. Being a highly-visual person, I try and incorporate as much illustrative material as I think necessary. Most of these illustrations are structural but some also refer to important processes and functions.

I think about how I learn, and try and apply it to my thinking on education. This is how I teach myself maths: I get very little from pure equations; where I begin to see and recognize their importance in mathematical discourse is when I see the geometric/graphic results of using them and what would happen without them. In a sense, the symbolism is less important than the operations that can be done on the available symbols logically and semantically.

In the course of playing, new things are created.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Imaginary numbers

When I first came across the notion of the, so-called, 'imaginary' number it was within the context of physics so it seemed totally natural to me—ie, the imaginary unit, in particular, not as a value needed to solve certain equations, but as part of a dynamic geometric point needed besides the x and the y specifications to complete the description. It was until much later that I realized what unreasonable gauntlet it had had to take (as a 'number', per se) in order for it to be accepted as having the proper bona fides of a number.

Number, in fact, as a primitive concept, is always more than what we bargain for. The hapless Pythagoreans and the unruly diagonal of the unit square (an irrational number written as, √2)*; the negative numbers that just lingered on like persistent haze after every, innocent commercial transaction (post-dark ages); the number zero (an assault on commonsense, surely) that was needed to complete a new 'orthography' of numbers (the Hindu-Arabic numerals: 0-9). The internecine wars, the highly-personal gouge-out-eye brawls, intrigue and betrayal—not to mention the seemingly intractable cultural, and, even, sectarian strife—the history of mathematics is brutal (to say the least!).

*double irony: the number is derived by applying their famous theorem.

The imaginary unit (the one that satisfies the equation: x2 = −1) is no different than the other numbers that have preceded it down through human history. It, like the other numbers, is more than is obvious and it, like the other numbers, serves many functions. It is utterly invaluable to the two great pillars of our current understanding of the universe: classical and quantum physics. It is in this respect that I admire the imaginary number the most—ie, as a geometric construct.

The two famous numbers of the Cartesian coordinate system (x,y) may be interpreted as extending not only east and west (x) but also up and down (y) which together make up a two-dimensional plane that is sagittally-oriented (ie, facing us directly and flatly); the less-famous number (often written as: √-1) is required to describe the electromagnetic field more completely, say—which, as it happens, occurs in more than just a two dimensional plane (x,y) but needs the north/south extension to fully 'account' for its allowable and observed orbits.

The graph itself is rather unremarkable at first sight:


where z denotes the north-south coordinate that results from a strange-looking (what is called) 'complex number':

x + iy.

As a number x + iy, the concept is a bit more complex (excuse the pun) than casual conversation can ever hope to disclose justly, but as a geometric concept there is no 'addition' involved. The entirety of the number acts exactly like a point described by (x,y)—only the imaginary plane extends the x axis north-south and not up-down, thus opening up a 3D landscape (x,y,z) that is more intuitive than what we'd expected.

It does more than just sit there: the imaginary unit (i) is also known as the rotational operator—meaning that it has the capacity to describe periodicity of a trigonometric function!


and how it does this 'rotating' is by applying 'multiplication' on i like this:
The powers of i
return cyclic values:
... (repeats the pattern
from blue area)
i−3 = i
i−2 = −1
i−1 = −i
i0 = 1
i1 = i
i2 = −1
i3 = −i
i4 = 1
i5 = i
i6 = −1
... (repeats the pattern
from the blue area)

The number 1 (the right side of x) is the starting point in the cycle above where y = 0—as in: 1 + iy; and the next result, x = 0—as in: x − i1, which is 90 degrees from the starting point; and, continuing down the return cyclic values, the same process (with opposite signs) is repeated for the negative values.

Once I learned the general forms of the complex number, I linked the arithmetic operations to their geometries and learned to visualize these wonderful numbers like one would learn to read music and hear the sounds.

I'm no calculator but a highly visual person. I know it's primitive way of regarding such beauty but it has its certain charms: the insights (or, perhaps they are delusions) that come up come like a picture show. Mesmerizing.


Friday, 14 August 2015

Recasting Inuit Knowledge: Honouring Our Elders

I was recently asked at work to look into some climate change stuff. I didn't really get a chance to look into the work itself but it got me thinking about the whole academic research into Inuit knowledge on climate change discourse. There seems to be two commonly-employed stratagems for dealing with this type of research: sociology and as a component of 'native studies'.

Of the two, I'd say that sociology is the kinder discipline - for the simple fact that it is something that feels more familiar to me as having done academic research myself. Also, I'm a huge fan of Max Weber and the social criticism of obscurantist philosophers like Wittgenstein, Camus, etc. (ie, those thinkers who see real world linkages between language and social justice).

The native studies variety (no moral judgement, I assure you), on the other hand, is a bit further behind (by virtue of still needing a common ground, a common framework, and quite possibly nothing else).

This thing, this common framework, is a very important detail that decides the fate of all formal forms of discourse - from the religious to the cultural (and I mean here, say, a hunting culture (like Inuit) and its intellectual/epistemological justifications for its modes of being). These 'justifications', I think I can show, need not be pedantic and/or academic, but practical and highly intuitive (ie, comprehensible to 'outsiders' without much need for explanation).

I was recently shown a video interview of the father of one of my oldest and dearest friends. I was paying particular attention to Jaypiti Palluq's responses to questions what he was doing just now right before the interview (and what he'd be doing were it the past this time of the year). He said he had been checking daily the passage for whales that opens this time of the year (describing in great and wonderfully-useful detail how the conditions and ways of the broken sea ice behaved as he knew it in the past and how it seems to act now).

The description is all-encompassing. He links the changes he sees in his daily wanderings with changes in animal behaviour, with shifts and forced-adaptations in our own behaviours, in turn. But it requires a refocus in how we listen and watch out for certain data. My name-sake is describing the life activities of the socio-economic structures of his culture - the trick is to understand that its embedded in the ecology and seasonal conditions that he is already intimately familiar with, and it is up to us (as researchers) to figure it all out.

The past is the baseline; Jaypiti's invaluable and totally trust-worthy insights into and descriptions of his contemporaneous observations are right there (he is talking to us). There are many different ways of laying out his irreplaceable data and thus obtain an overview and perspective that may honour his gift to us: Inuit science.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

wanna see something freaky I did?

I think I've just made a great discovery.

I was able to generate two circles (step 1 - as you may discern the 1 and the label 'circle(s)' in the picture); step 2, I made the small square (labelled 'square 2'); step 3, i made the triangle by describing two angles equal using the base of the square to the center of the first circle; step 4, i did the parallel lines; step 5, the hexagon; and, finally, step 6, the ratio of the golden mean by surpassing the hexagon's inferior to include a small hat to cap the structure above.

What do you think that final step also generated?

I kid you not. I can demonstrate it again in person (or, I'll make a powerpoint presentation and post it here where you can watch the steps). I really did make this beautiful geometric structure. And all in one sitting in the crapper. It was G*d's glory I saw and now I'm frightened.



I was quite possibility wrong about generating the pentagon in the above construct. but the other geometric shapes are really there. i've been attempting to derive it but how it would arise naturally is kind of putting up a fight. my apologies.

I just realized the impossibility of generating the right intersections for a regular pentagon using only one compass. One needs at least two compasses (compii?) because the initial point of the pentagon starts outside the center of the circle and finding it requires adjusting to at least one other radius to generate the starting point.

Monday, 10 August 2015

He causes the sun to rise on the wicked and the good

Matthew 5: 45 is not just an admonition from our Lord Savior, Jesus Christ; He is prophesying the coming of His Kingdom, where the oppressive sky of G*d's glory (blessed be the Ancient One) that radiates down on evil as it does on the undeserving turns to life-giving rain that falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.

I ask: who is 'righteous'? certainly not I: I'm a convicted sinner. It be G*d, the Father; G*d, the Son; and, G*d, the Holy Ghost, Whose בינה and חכמה (Sword and Shield) swoop me up from the depths whence I cry out to Him.