Tuesday, 31 May 2011

"bad faith" in Inuit-government relations

I was listening to the CBC morning show called, Qulliq, this morning where a person from Arctic Bay was talking about the Inuit hunters' frustration with Inuit-scientific research relations. The problem is not so much with the researchers (who become known as persons by Inuit through their long interactions with them) or even the scientific methods but government bureaucratic "agendas" that are perceived, with good cause, to predetermine the outcomes of these "negotiations" that decide on total allowable harvest rates.

The problems arise from using old data of population counts (sometimes more than a decade old) or the use of bureaucratese and other weasle words to speak from a script without saying anything actionable. There is also the shifting policies and regulations.

I was listening at a public meeting regarding polar bears where a hunter said that, after catching two bears in the late 1960s, he was visited by an RCMP Officer and told that he wasn't allowed to catch more than one per season. Through a slight of hand, and perhaps because it was a good day for him, the RCMP decided he wouldn't charge the hunter if his father would claim the other bear. Though being charged would have been bad for the hunter, he was reluctant to "lie" at first and felt forced to lie to appease an arbitrary rule.

The point the hunter was making is: disingenuity and double-heartedness always results from arbitrary government "agendas" where the scientist and the hunter are hamstrung by bad faith though often they know better because one is there everday and the other (if he or she is half-way decent) knows there is always an element of uncertainty and trust is not a dirty word.

I know of no Inuit hunter who would abuse their privilege to hunt because hunting and prey animals are his/her practical religion and way of life; hunting is sacred. Being mean and abusive towards animals is taboo not to be violated.

The element of darkness and evil is possibly introduced by the commodification of prey animals, and something I've always been cognisant of and totally uncomfortable with. But I am not a hunter, and feel I have no right to speak out against my fellow Inuit. They have to make a living. And more power to them. I'm most sincere here. I know that sport hunts bring in much-needed revenue not only for the outfitters but their families, the community and the local Hunters&Trappers' Associations. So, the money is very important.

But the insidious nature of commodification and economic interests is that reasonable alternatives become almost impossible to countenance (as big oil and drug- trade/war has proven time and again). I know that alternatives to sports hunts surely exist but sports hunts bring in more money than eco-tourism. Once tasted, big money becomes difficult, damned near impossible, to wean off from.

We, as Inuit, have not had the opportunity to discourse on these issues amongst ourselves without interference and influence peddling from the outside. Becoming beholden to economic interests is already a fact. I don't see how a reasonable discourse would be possible now.

There is something of a disjointed- and contradicted-ness not only with prey animals but also with traditionally-made clothing: it is now rare to see Inuit wearing kamiks and parkas. They've become too expensive and lucrative for Inuit themselves to wear and only the wealthy Inuit and non-Inuit seem to be able to afford to wear them.

For my Inuit audience, I've not said anything against my fellow-Inuit but rather expressing my concerns about inadvertent degradation of our culture by stepping onto the slippery slope of economic interests. I love my culture and want naturally to protect it as much as is possible.

For my non-Inuit audience, I leave this blog with an excerpt, a dialogue from a movie called, Fair Game, to illustrate the inescapable logic of sophism that often do away with critical thought through intimidation and appeal to loyalties:

- (Scooter listens patiently to PAUL, the chief analyst.)

PAUL: And so apart from all the scepticism surrounding the specification, the analysis from the IAEA which I believe is numbered in the report…

- (Stops. Changes tack)

Mr Libby. Energy department nuclear scientists are among the most boring people on the planet. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years someone comes along and says "so, tell me about gas centrifuges". That's literally the only time you should listen to these guys. If they say an aluminium tube is not for a gas centrifuge it's like a fish talking about water. We've been over this data with you now five, six times. And... We don't really know how you want us to play this…

- (Libby listens. He nods. Waits.)

LIBBY: Let me level with you here, Paul. I don't know what these tubes are for. From everything you're saying, there could be something to this, but very likely not, right?

PAUL: Exactly.

LIBBY: May I ask a question? When you say we don't really know how to play this, what do you mean?

PAUL: -(Stops. Turns white)

I'm just saying I don't know how to say it any other way than that…

LIBBY: Except you didn't say `I' you said `we'. So you and the others have discussed how to "play" these briefings. Why does the CIA feel the need to play these briefings?

PAUL: No. I mean that.. Ok. I didn't mean what I just said.

LIBBY: Which part? The last part, or other things too?

PAUL: I'm a getting a little confused…

LIBBY: You want me to come back?

PAUL: No. GOD, no.

-(The temperature drops five degrees.)

LIBBY: You don't know why I'm here, do you? In 1991, the United States invaded Iraq, and afterwards weapons inspectors discovered Saddam was six months off enriching uranium to sufficiently high specification to make a nuclear bomb. He had fissile material. And not a single person at the CIA, from the DCI down to the janitor had the slightest clue that such a program even existed. So now, one decade on, are you telling me that you're 100% sure these tubes are not intended to create nuclear weapons?

PAUL: I… Sir… OK. With intelligence, nothing's 100 percent.

LIBBY: So. What? -Are you… Ninety nine percent sure? Ninety eight?

PAUL: You can't put an exact figure. You can't be that precise.

LIBBY: But if you had to say, could you say you're ninety seven percent sure? Is there a three percent chance you've got this wrong? Or four? Or five? Still pretty good odds. You like those odds Paul? You willing to put your name to that. Are you ready to make that call?

PAUL: I don't make the call, Sir-.

LIBBY: -(Fixing him)

Yes. You do, Paul. Each time you interpret a piece of data. Each time you choose a "maybe" over a "perhaps" you make a call. A decision. And right now you're making lots of little decisions adding up to a big decision and out there's a real world where millions of people depend upon you being right. But what if there's a one percent chance you're wrong. Can you say for sure you'll take that chance and state, as a fact, that this equipment is not intended for a nuclear weapons programme?

-(The analyst sits frozen.)

LIBBY: Do you know what one percent of the population of this country is? It's three million, two hundred and forty thousand souls.

PAUL: Sir. We're not machines. We… It… We look at the evidence, we game it out. Not everyone agrees all the time. It's a process.

LIBBY: It's a process.

PAUL: Yes.

LIBBY: And not everyone agrees.

PAUL: Exactly.

LIBBY: Who doesn't agree?


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Qablunait nutaqqatut isumaqaritauvaktut (from Taissumani)

One column in Nunatsiaq News that I really enjoy and look forward to reading every week is Kenn Harper's Taissumani. As a gentleman historian, former teacher and a fellow linguist, I find not only his subject matter and topics interesting (usually about Inuit and non-Inuit histories in the Arctic) but I also try and learn from his writing style.

In the May 27, 2011 edition of Nunatsiaq News entitled, The Minds of White Men, he talks about Knud Rasmussen in the early 1920s when he travelled through the Nattilingmiut nunaat interviewing and documenting the stories and perspectives of the Inuit then and there. Harper writes that Rasmussen once asked questions of Inuit impressions of the white men they've encountered so far - encountered so far, I say, because there is this IQ reluctance of Inuit to talk about things and subjects that they themselves haven't seen personally or cannot vouch came from authority.

After skirting around the sensitive subject and praising and qualifying what is to come, Kuvdluitsoq finally says:

"Qablunait nutaqqatut isumaqaritauvaktut: It is generally believed that white men have quite the same minds as small children - therefore one should always give way to them. They are easily angered, and when they cannot get their will they are moody and, like children, have the strangest ideas and fancies."

Lest people of non-Inuit persuasion take exception to this rashly, I think I should point out that what was before a balance between Aristotle's sophia and phronesis in Western epistemology became lop-sided by modern and post-modern exceptionalism which further justifications were "confirmed" by the scientific revolution as never before: Knowledge without wisdom.

This exceptionalism is still very strong in American ideology where politicians who have ambitions to the White House must proclaim that protestant America is exceptional before they can be taken seriously - rather like the infallibility of the pope. What with the state of our world with its theological and ideological divides, I say that Kuvdluitsoq's assessment was more right and reasonable than wrong. I say this deadpan because it is without prejudice and with respectful familiarity.

I am no racist. I admire the spirit of the Western Mind; its complexity and breadth. At its best, there is no other. I especially admire its humanism. But there is a lop-sidedness about its epistemology; it's ready use of knowledge without considering its consequences. There is something of a blunt-force in its approach: that "winners" leave no captives.

As a policy analyst for many years, I've seen the worst of this willfulness and impetiousity especially in Inuit-government relations where the sense of superiority trumps any semblance of decency and humanity that it's so capable of and yet chooses to ignore; this belief that its casualties die and become non-figures to further consider and bother with. But we are still here, and every demonstration of exceptionalism drives the wedge further.

For people who've not the intellectual inclination to try and understand the language of scientistic/rational-speak, the West is represented by the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Harper, Jacques Parizeau, Hitler, Stalin, Thatcher, etc. who so easily revert to dehumanizing and destroying their "enemies" rather than diplomacy and tact that wisdom demands of their office. Their arrogance is not founded on personal capabilities but the will of the corporate culture; not on personal humanity and reason but greatness they mistake for personal power.

The idea of Rome is beyond their comprehension and obsession with personal legacy makes them "constitutionally incapable" of growth and transcendence (as AA so succinctly states). Psychopaths are like that.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Is liberalism really dead?

I watch and try and keep up with political commentary like sports fans do their favourite sports, and have been hearing a lot of people from Tom Flanagan to Ian Capstick delivering eulogies on the recent "deceased" that is the Liberal Party of Canada, nay, the very death of centrist views and affiliations around the world as Flanagan in a recent Globe and Mail opinion piece would have it.

But that is to say that Harper, all by himself, killed a sleeping giant which is blatantly absurd. The Liberal Party of Canada has had its struggles but to write centrist politics off in one fell swoop as right-wing and left-wing ideologues have is merely wishful thinking, to mistake a fluke for their strategic acumen, serendipity for their own design and making. Remember it was split votes not votes-for that got the conservative government its majority.

Without a ready and visible enemy to bash unashamedly I doubt Harper even has the political skill and imagination necessary to survive a majority government as most of his tenure has relied so heavily on contrast and demonization of an august party like the Liberals.

The moderate, sane, and tolerant segment who make up the majority of liberal membership and sympathy is not dead. This is who Canadians are (of various stripes) and how they like to portray themselves, and one defeat (though, admittedly spectacular) in one election will not kill this cherished identity. The giant yet slumbers far from dying no matter how hard the partisan wishes of Harper would have it.

The wilderness seems boundless just now for individuals like me but the centrist spirit is mature, is about maturity, and will survive set-backs without succumbing to despair. Nor does it see experimentations and flirtations as threats, really. Just as conservative sympathies never died, just hijacked at the moment by impetuous juveniles, liberal sympathies likewise find the prospect of death unpalatable.

Mark Twain said, "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way". One thing about being impetuous is how easily political enemies accumulate even amongst one's own ranks.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Mistranslated concepts in usage in Inuktitut

I was asked if I could help with a discussion in Inuktitut on "uranium" (in Inuktitut: nungusuittuq = never-ending) but I never got a follow-up. I was more than happy to.

I know that the problem of translating technical/scientific terms like "uranium" arise from poorly done explanations in plain language English and not from any fault of Inuktitut itself. The Inuktitut term for uranium seems to have stemmed from an explanation that it is the source of "endless" supply of energy, hence: "never-ending" in Inuktitut got stuck.

But it is a non-productive term because it doesn't naturally link the concepts of "radiation" and "radioactivity" which is the actual problem with radioactive decay (or ending or transformation) of uranium into something more stable. The radiation and heat from the sun is radioactivity par excellence, for example, because the source of its power comes from nuclear fusion.

But one would be hard-pressed to link this phenomenon with radioactivity though it causes cancer in the form of melanoma. The problem is shrouded by the poorly chosen translated Inuktitut term which makes the phenomena nothing more than black-magic (again, not the fault of Inuktitut but the explanation that was given and passed along by Inuit to other Inuit).

Physics (both classical and quantum) is one of my obsessions and has been for many years. I actually love contemplating the equations and the mathematical concepts that describe what are thought to govern physical reality and chemistry. The concepts and principles are simple enough for most people to understand, actually. And Inuktitut may actually be a better vehicle for describing its first principles than English which has much baggage and anti-maths/anti-intellectual history to carry.

I say this with some knowledge of Inuktitut phrase structure (which has the structural ability to synthesize rather than merely compound morphemes) and the arbitrary nature of naming things. We can name things in a highly principled way with some prior knowledge that English wasn't afforded as it evolved along with the scientific revolution in fits and starts and inconsistencies. The mathematics is sound and cannot be improved upon and we should keep to the international symbolic conventions. But there is no compelling technical reason for not creating and constructing Inuktitut terminology for these concepts at a deep level making the concepts grammatically and conceptually productive and consistent in form.

This is not just a naming exercise (as with coming up with "nungusiuttuq") but a program of developing generative taxonomic frameworks for mathematics and scientific discourse that is physics and chemistry in Inuktitut. I know this can be done.

For far too long we've thought of Inuktitut (and aboriginal languages) only in terms of tradition and preserving traditions as dominating culture subconsciously and passively encouraged us to do; why not think of modernizing and keeping our languages relevent and productive for future generations. We must make room for tradition and modernity if our languages are to survive.


The Inuktitut phrase structure

There are many things that I find beautiful and aesthetically pleasing about linguistics, and the Inuktitut phrase structure is one of the most beautiful among them.

Inuktitut grammar is very elegant mathematically because structural exceptions and provisos are rare if practically nonexistent. I came up with my own (unconventional) notational system to capture this structure simply because I wanted to contemplate its beauty and for no other reason. The structure looks like this:

(for noun phrases):

N + (kMn) + PN + (k)

which is explained as:

-those in parentheses are optional;

N = noun base; or V = verb base

superscript k = the quality of modifyer morpheme, of which there are four types: noun stays a noun stem; noun becomes a verb stem; verb stays a verb stem; and, verb becomes a noun stem

M = modifyer morpheme

subscript n = the sequential number (for accounting purposes only, because, in theory, one can connect any number of M's to say one long, long, long phrase and still make grammatical sense)*

PN = pronominal ending (such as I, you, it, I to you, you to me, you to it, I to it, etc.)

(k) = case/mood ending (when a case/mood ending is present, the basic phrase structure (usually a verb adjunct for a noun main phrase, and vice-versa) has to be repeated to balance the grammar of the main and adjunct phrases - ie, when it's a transitive construct) as in

illurjuarmut isilauqtunga

into the house + I entered

*a popular Inuktitut word game is played to see how long a phrase can be constructed without losing its meaning. For eg, siisitusiutiiralaaraaluulauqsimagaluarmijungalittauq = I, as a young dimunitive one, was quite fond of eating cheese

A built-in Douglas Adams quality of such structures makes the game so much fun and funny to play.

The other strength of such a structure is that it may be very amenable to scientific nomenclature and taxonomy because of its inherently descriptive nature and because its PN endings are so regular. I tried the structure out on my own Inuktitutized table of elements for the first and second periods, and it seems much more elegant and regular than the English version (works beautifully for simple compounds too). Another strength is that Inuktitut has no gender marker so "he, she and it" are all denoted by the same basic third person pronominal ending.

I know the plain language description looks messy and confusing but that is in comparison to the mathematical notation, which is information rich and very structurally productive.


Monday, 23 May 2011

Nunavut = Nunavut-Canada Gov'ts = Nunavummiut?

Perhaps I was a bit defensive over Jim Bell's editorial on the federal election results, which I commented on in my last two entries. I don't know.

What gets to me is when Nunavut (as an idea) gets picked on by Nunatsiaq News or the Globe and Mail or the National Post or other media as if it were one amorphous blob. I'd call this type of commentary "covert Gonzo journalism" because the writer often gives the impression that he or she is part of the story and community of Nunavut and therefore has unique insights into what Nunavut means and is about. They tend to write in such certain and earnest terms that is totally absent in the great Hunter S Thompson on which their type of commentary is based (ie, without irony if not sarcasm of gonzo journalism).

Scholastic derivative with a hint of gonzo is perhaps a more accurate description of these types.

Perhaps it is beneath the high and mighty Bells and Simpsons of this world but there is an alternative to this: Nunavut News/North. This paper actually takes pains to distinguish Nunavut that is Nunavut-Canada relations from Nunavummiut that is the community with all its members' faults, struggles, triumphs and aspirations (ie, Nunavut as a lived experience) whose editorial (in response to a series of articles in the Globe and Mail) recently said that:

"Dubbing the entire territory 'a culture of silence' based on a few local politicians' reluctance to talk to a southern reporter is not a fair assessment. Nunavummiut talk about their concerns often and at length when provided with a forum and among their peers. The reluctance to talk to southern media often stems from a fear of being misunderstood that [the southern media], with its broad assumptions, has done nothing to alleviate. Nunavut is a work in progress." (Finding our way, May 16, 2011)

This paper is actually interested in its community and dedicates much of itself to surveying what is happening/has happened in the Nunavut communities every week. In a word: it is unpretentious and written for the communities it's sold in. It presents Nunavut as a community not as a basket case.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

The aboriginal services industry (part ii)

The other thing about politics and why I don't think the editorial on Aglukkaq's win (see previous blog entry) is really a fair assessment, is the very short term memory partisan politics requires to exist and thrive.

I don't know if people remember but when Harper came into power about seven years ago he made immediate cuts to funding for women's groups, aboriginal organizations and charities making it more difficult to carry out community-based activities and advocacy work in the corridors of power. He also tried to cut funding for the arts and cultural programs but it didn't go well with Quebec - although the Minister responsible for arts funding was rumbling recently about Canada Council's decision to fund the production of a punk-rock album for its title: Holy Shit: the poo testament. Harper reeks of censorship and political interference where it don't belong.

The more insidious aspects of Harper's right-wing agenda have to do with degrading the data collection apparatus (which sections on homelessness, unpaid housework and volunteering, numbers of people accessing charities like food banks and such were eliminated) before ceding on the short form but making it non-mandatory. Without proper information and hard data it becomes more difficult to build a case for funding requests for social programs and community development; most importantly, Harper eliminated the court challenges program that allows the relatively disenfranchised and vulnerable groups to challenge government policies and legislation at the supreme court and constitutional levels.

Believe me, these initial cuts and questionable forays were just trial balloons for longer-term action. Remember his warnings against the "socialist" and "evil" coalition; these aren't just words but insights into his psychology.

Do Nunavummiut love "winners"? Not the kinds that look like social Darwinism.


Friday, 20 May 2011

The aboriginal services industry

In Jim Bell's recent editorial, Nunavut likes a winner, http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/98789_nunavut_likes_a_winner/, he wrote that:

"When political leaders and senior bureaucrats across Nunavut woke up May 3 to contemplate the previous night’s election result, it’s a fair bet that most were smiling from ear to ear.

Given Nunavut’s utter dependence on the federal government, stability and predictability are crucial. The Conservative party’s majority in the House of Commons means Nunavut leaders now know whom they will deal with for the next four and a half years.

And if you’re a Nunavut leader, Leona Aglukkaq’s convincing re-election as Nunavut MP is even better news. That’s because the territory will continue to enjoy representation on the federal cabinet and at least some access to federal decision-making.

Nunavut likes a winner. When you’re weak and dependent, it’s the winner who offers the greatest degree of security and the greatest opportunity to gain what you need."

Like most non-Inuit who "live" in Inuit Nunaat and who have become "experts" on Inuit, he has an assumption that there are functional/psychological correspondences and similarities between non-Inuit and Inuit - that the differences in history, language, culture and socio-economics are merely incidental - though these apparent similarities are, at a deeper level, merely genotypes and not expressed in phenotypes.

Elections are almost always a crap-shoot especially when fairness prevails, even more so in Nunavut. But I digress.

The Nunatsiaq News rag is rarely kind to Inuit of Nunavut and has become increasingly blatantly cynical since the creation of Nunavut. It is as if Bell blames his shame and disappointment with government fiascos and blunders on Inuit who have little or no real presence in the upper echelons of power that is the GN and Aboriginal Affairs bureaucracies.

The problems are not of politics but more to do with the technical side of governments where real power resides. Nunavut suffers from the aboriginal services industry as all aboriginal groups under dominions of hegemony across the world. Nunavut, like most aboriginal groups of Canada, rarely achieves full eligibility requirements of federal and territorial funding that are ostensibly geared towards us.

Though I don't know the exact numbers, I know that untold millions of funding dollars lapse every year in Nunavut - monies that populate the budgets of governments - slated for small patchworks of aboriginals, which seem unjustifiably generous on paper though rarely reflected in the sorry realities in which our communities find themselves.

We must keep this unjustifiable "generosity" in perspective: bureaucracies are self-justifying systems. Most of the monies go to administration and O&M, and all the while social breakdown accelerates and participation rates in health, the criminal justice system, and welfare rolls keep rising. In this numbers game, there is no progress, only regression and degeneration. The rules and eligibility criteria ensures it.

In a jurisdiction where a large segment of our population speaks little or no English, government services are autistic and unresponsive. But, given the unjustifiable generosity, we should be grateful to the English-only bureaucrats and journalists who've graciously accepted an outpost at cost. But is our history of "weakness and dependency" our own fault or a self-fulfilling prophesy?

I, for one, am not holding my breath and hoping for political solutions to our social ills.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Am I capable of change?

As a great majority of people who've ever lived, I've had my own share of troubles and struggles. I'm pretty sure that is the nature of things, seeming especially hard during our puberty. In fact, sometimes it seems as if things are always getting worse.

But is it really the case?

I don't think so. Ancient wisdom says that all is change; Inuit have a saying that everything passes. Henry David Thoreau wrote that "Things do not change; we do". I think the strand that ties all these perspectives together is that the human mind is capable of finding its peace with ourselves.

I saw a movie once - whose title escapes me - where there is an on-going exchange between a brother and his older sister. The boy has ambitions of becoming a rap artist and his whole worldview is about revolution and about getting ready for it, whatever it is. He is totally zealous and earnest and evangelical about this impending revolution and always taking pains to make distinctions between himself (who is ready) and his sister (who doesn't seem to care). Having had enough, she finally challenges him to tell her what exactly this revolution is he is incessantly talking about. And he has no answer.

There comes a realization sometimes that somewhere along the line that we got caught up in a storm of propaganda or uncritical thinking or unrealistic ego wishes or someone else's unflattering views of us. This whirlwind is almost impossible to resist and some people do not make it out. Some die for an impersonal cause; some commit suicide; some overcompensate and start acting in bizzare ways (wearing pompadours and polyester suits of silk, or punishing and "loving" ourselves overly harsh); some wear false bravado and become sensitive to all and any slights. In any case, we have unwittingly, as an anthropologist said of hopeless situations, "socialized ourselves and our offspring that this is the way the world is".

I myself have acted in all these ways and then some. I've done things and not done things that I'm not proud of. But when I reflect upon this seriously I find that everything that I've gone through and will go through contributes to my sense of identity. It is perspective and self-reflection, and nothing else, that makes positive change possible.

As Thoreau said, it is us who change. We cannot do otherwise. The pons asinorum (bridge of asses) of life is the admission of fallibilty and personal responsibility.


Monday, 16 May 2011

First principles and Creativity

In talking about literature, more precisely "formulaic" writing, Frye wrote that a such thing is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, he likened it to the rules of a game, such as chess or tennis, where the rules themselves provide form and stability where great players may be judged and deemed great precisely because of those rules and standards.

This is the power of first principles. The notion of first principles is not just about literature per se but also that first principles form the basis of music, science, philosophy, politics, mathematics - in fact, the whole notion of the Great Conversation par excellence - because connoisseurship and genius at its best is not possible without it. In fact, human creativity and actualization of potential is not possible without it; education (reading, writing, excellence in critical thought, making and use of tools and skills) is not possible without the foundation of first principles, whether it be conscious or not.

I know of great many people who failed in or have no formal education who are still what I'd call "successful in life", as I know of many people who have credentials but who can't seem to make much of their education. Frank Pierce's letter to the editor (http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/98789_why_do_high_school_grads_lack_numeracy_and_literacy_skills/) generated a lot of feedback, much of it thoughtful, some of it not so thoughtful. But there is an spoken assumption that "education" is a product or a ticket to life given to a chosen few, not a way of being right now, right here.

This is natural given that our education system here in the Western world sells it as a product. But if we think back to ancestoral times, education as such is a very recent perspective. The cave man (or woman), our parents (especially those who were not part of a formal economic system until only very recently) who never went through an education system were still successful even without the blessing of a bureacratic recognition. So, "education" is not a piece of paper.

It is a rite of passage, an education in first principles whether it be hunting, gathering, farming, making tools or honing useful skills, maths, arts etc. This is because the notion of first principles is based on autonomous thinking and being capable of thriving using contraints that are infinitely creative like musical scales or grammars of language.

The greatest achievements, such as eco-friendly cultures and technologies, Galois' group theory, Einstein's theories of relativity, chemistry, did not just come out of the blue fully formed and complete, nor did they magically appear as manna from heaven. They came about because their inspiration is based on and built up from prior knowledge and wisdom which proved what works, what is possible. In order to "break" the rules one has to first know the rules.

Now, going back to Pierce's question why Nunavut students lack numeracy and literacy skills: because counting/calculation and reading/writing are just means to greater ends and not ends in and of themselves. Without knowledge of first principles education is just a form of propaganda and domestication based on "anxiety of continuity" as in Frye's analysis:

"The anxiety of continuity is really an anxiety of hoping never to meet a situation in which there is a dialectical conflict... [for] Dialectical conflict implies, among other things, a group of individuals who have grown out of a social body, not to the point of breaking with it, but to the point of seeing it in proportion. We belong to something first; we are something afterwards, and the individual grows out of the group and not the other way round".

Frye also says something about the revolutionary ideals of the West - liberty, equality and fraternity - as motives for humanistic education; that the first two have become mass movements in our day "but the third one, fraternity, the sense of personal relationships, is one that has been largely ignored".

In fact, formal "secular" education has become the art of active ignorance of "fraternity" where, here in Nunavut, it has always been more expedient for students to memorize the prescribed benchmarks of an Alberta curriculum than to learn how to think in and of their own culture and language to center a curiousity of the larger world outside. It doesn't have to be.

Inuit culture/language and the immense learning opportunities offered and provided by our indigenous environment need not be a bogeyman in the closet. The "anxiety of continuity" is a misplaced existential anxiety based on fear of irrelevancy. First principles, said Buckminster Fuller, should be able to be grasped by a six-year-old. From this, the rest of the career in schools can and should be based on cultivating personal creativity based on discipline.

Arithmetic need not be boring and mechanical; the use the basic skills therein opens up the world of mathematics where arithmetic becomes a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Literacy is more than just a book report but a means to understanding and discoursing on what it is, and what is possible, to be human in the social realm. As Frye also said, the point is not indoctrinating morality but ensuring the morale of society.

To distinguish the vulgar mythology of individualism and appeasement of base wishes that is corporatist propaganda from the Great Conversation, "Beyond this layer of phony mythology, prejudice and cliché comes the serious mythology, or genuine social vision; the vision that makes us believe in things like democracy and liberty" and fraternity and human dignity that celebrates the creativity of humanity instead of the destructive selfish apathy that results from unbridled, uncritical consumerism.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

I need a job

I need a job.

I'm an excellent translator with some formal training in linguistics; I'm also a natural analyst with a keen mind. I'm fully bilingual in written and spoken Inuktitut and English with a deep understanding of and empathy for both cultural sensibilities and can act as a bridge.

I'm a quick study and willing and able to learn almost anything I set my mind to. I'm mostly self-educated and insightful and very well-read (both technical and literary). I can also organize and present complex ideas with a certain degree of succinctness and lucidity.

I have some experience in instructing adult students and advising academics. With some training I know I can be an excellent teacher has I have the basics of a wide range of subjects.

I don't drink or take drugs and I want to keep it that way. I can be a great contributor to any organization and work within deadlines and budgets, and take pride in my work and am conscientious.

-curriculum vitae available upon request.


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Weber's Bastards vs Natural Disasters

In his book called, Voltaire's Bastards, John Ralston Saul talks about Robert McNamara - the US Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson (1961-1968) - who, having come to the conclusion that an all-out nuclear war was unsurvivable, thus making conventional warheads effectively useless, thought up the idea of making "tactical" nuclear weapons - in effect, dirty bombs - I guess to make a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR a bit more palatable, at least "limited".

I can't help but think of McNamara (and his ilk) when I see on the news broadcasts about the "controlled" flooding in the US and here in Manitoba. It's not only because of the unbelievable sacrifice people are being asked to make, but mainly because of the whole notion of ignorant bureaucrats far, far away making decisions for people who actually live on the ground without having actually lived in the environment and conditions themselves - hey, this is "just a job".

Aboriginal communities know this all too well where we were plopped down in areas that make no economic or ecological sense, only that we were not seen and not hear.

I don't know of anyone who actually makes a living (engineers and geologists in this case) making such bad decisions as what has come to past without having protested some that to build in an area without some real planning was asking for disaster. I say this for a couple of reasons: 1) economics with political buy-in usually has the final say in "civil" planning; 2) thoughts of mitigation (from the political realm) have only come out in the last couple of weeks though scientists and engineers seem to have known of these possibilities for years and years.

Granted, this flooding is somewhat regular and predictable even though it is still a natural phenomenon. But to say that it is a "natural disaster" is somewhat stretching it. The Egyptians, for eg, seem to have licked the regular flooding of the Nile since time immemorial through intelligent planning actually. Also, I think the responsible Egyptian engineers and planners do actually live in the areas at risk and know how to plan for it.

This is the difference between the old world and the new. Bureaucrats in ivory towers deciding our fates. I bet you that it was also bureaucrats in multinational corporations who decided to place the nuclear power plants in Japan, some, no doubt, who came from Canada. Wormtongues.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

Language, Language Arts as the "Good"

As an Inuk in these times, I'm acutely aware of my "minority" status if not in actual numbers in Nunavut than in existential terms, in linguistic and philosophical terms in the modern Western civilization.

Now, I find terms such as "colonialism" dated and rather empty as I find the distinctions and dichotomies of "phenomenology" of Marxism rather dated and empty as any right-wing ideologies which lay at the end of the corporatist line. The dialectics and analyses do not really lead anywhere because their motives assume an "us and Them" then proceed to make those fine distinctions however contrived and artificial: there is no "us and Them" to begin from. The "new" man is an illusion because it has only invented and mechanically constructed traditions to found it (ie, not organically derived). It, in my mind, was a huge misunderstanding of what "Humanism" is.

Northrop Frye, on the other hand, makes a distinction between "societal" and "cultural" realities which, if I understand it correctly, is the natural tension between our espoused values as a society and how we actually behave as a society. The tension between the two "realities" is the dialectic, a personal struggle for synthesis, a personal and subjective experience, an education. And, as such, an active engagement that requires guidance and mentoring for the interior enlightenment and actualization to take place so it may be reflected in the evolution of a society and the freed individual:

"Thus the university, so far from assuming the transferability of mental skills, assumes the exact opposite. The discipline of the subject studied becomes an end in itself in proportion as the student matures. He advances from "taking" a subject to be taken up in it..."

and that, "The professional man is not qualified until he has gone through some ritual acknowledging the priority of the standards of his profession over his needs and desires. Poets, from Homer to Eliot and Joyce, have consistently spoken in the same terms about poetry. It is impossible to teach the humanities properly if we think of them as ornaments or graces of ordinary social life. They have their laws and disciplines like the sciences, and must be taught as impersonally as the sciences, despite their emotional and aesthetic connections."

Frye here is talking about the use of language as not only a means of communication, not only in utilitarian terms, but language and mastery of language (ie, learning and teaching) as the measure of our humanity and what we can actualize of it.

Much has been talked about and mulled over what makes an aboriginal child unable to succeed academically and socially. I'd say the problem is largely one of perspective: in pseudo-marxist, bureaucratese a child in the public education system is nothing more, nothing less than a "client"; in humanist tradition, a child is a "charge" to be guided and treated as a human in development. His/her education, then, is not a product but a means to a higher end, to master a language, the techniques of articulation so she/he be able to be "taken up" by his/her chosen profession, what he dreams of becoming.

We all know what it's like to be "taken up" in our moments of freedom, of being in that space and time of transcendence, to participate in something greater than any of us. To comprehend and participate in the great conversation, even if only to appreciate the aesthetics of a well-formed thought or idea, even if to only appreciate the music. This is a personal achievement no less of "learning" or perceiving the laws and disciplines of a way of being, of a way of thinking however permanent or fleeting.

I've said time and again that our schools and teachers should acquire a better appreciation of the popular culture (indigenous, for that matter) that is the child's; to engage in the discourse of lyrical subjects and topics to make the technical structures and forms alive and pulsing blood for them. When I was learning how to play the guitar I didn't just want to learn how to play songs, I wanted to learn how music is structured and how notes and chords can be combined and related and contrasted within a given piece or mode.

Though I've mastered some of the forms of poetry and prose (in technical structural terms as well as aesthetically) as I have of musical keys and scales, my biggest challenge has been to write lyrics in a way that I'd find satisfying. But that hasn't taken away my appreciation of the lyrical form; I have much respect for song writers and rap artists especially those who have something to say. Though the pros make it look easy, talent is no accident - even raw talent has to be developed consciously (even sub-consciously).

What makes us human: our language, our mastery of it.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Public opinion = Democracy?

One of the differences that strike me in comparing American media and Canadian media, and I hope Canadian media keeps this difference, is the attention given to "public opinion" and the instantenous feedback now possible with the internet. Canadian media, so far, seems less reliant upon this illusion of interactivity and "democracy" than American media.

The thing that kind of concerns me about this "interactivity" is, at the risk of being accused of elitism, the blurring of the notion of difference between "informed opinion" vs "visceral reaction" in decision-making. In specialized discourse, say in politics or science, there is what is called "conventional wisdom" (esp. in politics) and "peer review" (esp. in science) that acts as a filter and counter-balance to keep the discourse sane and rational (ie, provides continuity and stability), to filter out dilettantes and - at least in theory - demogoguery out of serious discourse. These safe-guards also tend to keep out or ameliorate ego wishes as long as they're respected.

Conventional wisdom is the enemy of ring-wing ideology because, despite all appearances and accusations of elitism, it is a very democratic way of policy-making because at its core conventional wisdom really is a set of principles and codes of behaviour outside and transcendent of any single point of view and/or agenda.

With the rise and domination of ring-wing ideology in Canadian politics conventional wisdom was the first casualty with attack ads being the nuclear bomb. Attack ads appeal to our basic prejudices, and without proper information and perspective to direct our hearts and minds, utterly devastating to the noble ideals of human rights and just society which are founded upon uncoerced, implicit agreement between "free persons", not demogoguery, not deceit by selective presentation of facts.

Public opinion without conventional wisdom to inform and cut its edge is really a breakdown of politics. Canadian political commentators and pundits just aren't willing to admit it yet but the fragility of the Westminster model has already been breached, and its useful fictions of propriety and polite imaging lay waste dead or dying.

What is the end-game here? Open regionalism? Prelude to separation? Indulgence of pretensions to republicanist dictatorship? Rule by corporation through block voting? Fascism? Perhaps it's the rise of techno-social Darwinism...

Whatever it is, real, and often messy, sometimes unsatistfying democratic discourse apparently seems  to have no place in it. If contemporary American discourse is any intimation, we've just regressed and devolved as a society by way of purchase through raw, visceral public opinion.


Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Great Conversation

I read the other day a piece in Nunatsiaq News about a new made-in-Nunavut social studies curriculum where my name was mentioned in one of the modules called, The Great Conversation. As a believer in liberal arts curriculum and education based on the "classical education" approach I was flattered to have had an influence (however small that may be) in some of the material being a basis for high school education in Nunavut.

But sometimes I wonder how much of what I say is actually understood by people (both Inuit and non-Inuit). Now, don't get me wrong: I have every confidence in the people who developed the material, and have actually been greatly influenced and inspired by my conversations with those thoughtful people and greatly appreciate the "new" writers and thinkers that were introduced to me in the curriculum development office. But what I mean here is that much of my thinking has so much back-story to it that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to follow. It's a hodge-podge, a synthesis, to say the least.

One of my heroes is the great Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye, who makes numerous references and often to the liberal arts (and the notion of the Great Conversation, if not directly):

"I am preoccupied at the moment with a very large and complicated book on the Bible and the way in which the Bible set up the mythological framework within which Western culture operated for many centuries",

Frye wrote in an essay entitled, "The Emphasis is on the Individual, the Handful of Shepherds, the Pairs of Lovers..." in writing about the role and importance of myths and legends in social development and discourse:

"It's a matter of social function. Myth and fable are the same structurally; they can tell the same kind of story. However, in social function and in authority, myth is higher in social acceptance, as a rule. Thus, myth is what defines culture; it takes root in a specific culture. It's the Bible that makes Hebrew culture; it's Homer that makes Greek culture; and so on. Then, as culture develops, the folk tales and fables that have been circulating around the world nomadically also begin to take root and contribute to the heritage of allusion, so that you get Dante and Milton writing in the Biblical area and Shakespeare and Chaucer in the romantic area."

I would say that the American popular culture (at least, the blues and jazz and literary tradition, Steinbeck et al.) is likewise structured, and, therefore, seem more, is more, substantive than its Canadian counterpart - which is but a play of pale shadows thereof, being lost in the wilderness of "polite" and "politically corrected" orientation (cultural fascism, I'd say, that feigns to represent everyone and everything while rotting culture to the core). As Frye later writes in another essay, "if we hitch a political development on a cultural one, as in separatism, we get a kind of neo-fascism; if we hitch a cultural development to a political one, we get a pompous bureaucratic pseudo-culture" as Marxist phenomenology (and Canadian "literature" sans Timothy Findley) has proved time and again.

The role of literature (or collective myth-making), then, is a fine balance that straddles spirit, politics and cultural/individual aspirations without leaning overly much to any single one aspect of society; being, at once, beholden to and free from any of the shackles of religion, ideology and hegemony. The sense of the ridiculous, irony and telling stories in parable form are the tools of the trade; not religion, not ideology, not the will to hegemony. Inuit myths, like all great myths of the world, have those three qualities and sensibilities of seriousness and humour, that space of magic and wonder that allows one to see self outside of self.

In the blues mythology, Robert Johnson's story of meeting the Devil at the crossroads is really a kernel onto which to build a new structure while claiming faithfulness to tradition. It isn't revisionism but a re-visioning of the story of humanity and its relationship with the cosmos. Those five notes of the pentatonic scale become, then, more than just musical notes, but a multifarious story of great power and infinite creativity (a culture) around a tragic figure spared from slavery if not prejudice by sheer dint of history; a transcendence of the first order.

This is how the Great Conversation unfolds.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

I want to congratulate my hometown of Clyde River for the grand opening of the Inuit Cultural School.

God, I hope I'm spectacularly, royally, in-every-way wrong but I was against this development since the project was first proposed. I still think that it is a grave moral mistake to not say anything, to caution my compatriots that work has just begun. All Inuit (Nunavummiut and its org.s) will have to fight hard to keep this prize afloat and in orbit of what is essentially a black-hole.

We must never forget that the Nunavut government is in deficit financing and has promised to make cuts to reduce our public debt. But not only that: our federal government is also in deficit and is promising to eliminate programs to reduce spending.

In these dark days of "benign dictatorship" the trend will be an acceleration towards hegemony - meaning that ideologically "prudent fiscal restraint" will focus, at first blush, on the vulnerable and the relatively disenfranchised: women's groups, aboriginal programs, charities (both domestic and international), public financing of (lesser) political parties, etc. etc.

The idea of an Inuit cultural school is a noble and good one. I have no problem with that at all. I want it myself. But I've always been bothered to the core by, and leery of, Greeks bearing ready gifts. There are much cheaper and more encompassing, inclusive, wiser ways of spending public funds than on a (largely) one-shot deal as the cultural school idea.

For instance, the tens of millions of dollars that were spent to develop and construct the cultural school could have been spent on core-funding (not provisional funding as I understand the current arrangement to be) for community-based cultural programs that most if not all schools in Nunavut have. We could have enhanced these with at most a few million dollars for the whole territory.

Once the cat got out of the bag nobody was willing to listen to any voice of dissension. That was always the outcome sought. Nunavut, with a largely docile population and an unsaavy, weak and underdeveloped Inuit leadership, is easily controlled by a "foreign" and anonymous bureaucracy that has never proven good faith to look after the interests of Inuit as the huge debacles of mismanagement of Public Housing funds and corruption of business development corporations (to name only two) have suggested. This, without a peep of public outcry. The more this is proven, the more blatant and self-assured the GN bureaucracy has and will become.

Given this environment, I fear (and I hope more than anything that I'm wrong) that the main campus of the Inuit Cultural School in Clyde River will be shut down in a few years (five at the least) and a smaller, leaner one proposed in one of the smaller affiliates in the next centralizing cycle.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Woe, woe is us

And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 22: 12-13)

I came to the wedding party in the wrong regalia which left me red and without powers of speech. Now I am bound and cast out in the outer darkness where I weep and gnash my teeth muchly. I cannot help but feel violated by the cold reptilian hands of Harper.

Wow! I wonder how many split- and protest- votes got Harper into the PMO with a majority? With 167 to 141, Harper will never need to dirty his hands with the "evil" socialists ever again.

I think with all the cuts coming, our public health system will be bled to death in favour of US-style military and criminal justice system. If this is the case (and there is little doubt), and the "good and faithful" federal Minister of Health thinks she will remain the Minister of Health then she is a greater fool than I thought. Harper will make her a junior Secretary of something-harmless-and-not-really-significant and appoint someone more media saavy to sell the death knell of our old and venerable federal program.

I mean, COME ON! Her staying on as Min of Health is as laughable as the notion of Aboriginal "self-determination" - which realistically should be called, the department of federal land claims agreements.

I wasn't intending to be cynical and small, and wished more than anything for, at most, a minority Harper government the same way I will never make mention of bin Laden's death (except, good riddance). But (to quote Harper) we woke up and found a government we didn't want nor ever asked for. Woe, woe is us.