Sunday, 27 May 2012

Harper seen through Thomas Paine

As a self-made creature and proponent of liberal arts education I often find insightful points to ponder in classics literature. I have found that history does not, cannot, repeat itself (it is impossible) but that human beings tend to inherit certain characteristics and ideologies that, if left unexamined and unchallenged, will not allow society to advance and learn from its mistakes.

I've been quoting Thomas Paine quite a bit recently. It is because I see many parallels between what is happening today in Canada under Harper's regime and what Paine witnessed and wrote about in The Rights of Man (1791). Mr Burke, like Harper and the CPC, was an extreme right-wing conservative and an apologist for the despotic establishment. Paine's The Rights of Man (1791) is a response to Mr Burke:

When a man in a long cause attempts to steer his course by any thing else than some polar truth or principle, he is sure to be lost. It is beyond the compass of his capacity to keep all the parts of an argument together, and make them unite in one issue, by any other means than having this guide always in view. Neither memory nor invention will supply the want of it. The former fails him, and the latter betrays him.

Notwithstanding the nonsense, for it deserves no better name, Mr Burke has asserted about hereditary rights, and hereditary succession, and that a Nation has not a right to form a Government for itself; it happened to fall in his way to give some account of what Government is. 'Government, says he, is a contrivance of human wisdom.'

Admitting that Government is a contrivance of human wisdom, it must necessarily follow, that hereditary succession, and hereditary rights, (as they are called), can make no part of it, because it is impossible to make wisdom hereditary; and on the other hand, that cannot be a wise contrivance, which in its operation may commit the government of a nation to the wisdom of an ideot...

...He puts the nation as fools on one side, and places his government of wisdom, all wise men of Gotham, on the other side; and he then proclaims, and says, that 'Men have a RIGHT that their WANTS should be provided for by this wisdom.' [...] 'The Rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; and in times between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle; adding-subtracting-multiplying-and dividing morally, and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral demonstrations.'

As a wondering audience, whom Mr Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter. The meaning then, good people, of all this, is, That government is governed by no principle whatever; that it can make evil good, or good evil, just as it pleases. In short, that government is arbitrary power. (pp. 166-168)

Mr Burke and Mr Harper are of two different ages but their ideologies are so similar as to be one and the same. Power then, to both men, is not derived from the nation and its consent (which is 'chaos' itself) but from differences in socio-economic classes (the nation must be protected from itself): Father knows best so Big Brother (ie, the CPC) will implement His policies.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Religious freedom vs religiosity established by law

I just read an article on the Globe&Mail website:

where Baird's speech to promote Office of Religious Freedom to an American audience is quoted:

Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Now, I don't have any issue with the notion of "religious freedom" and, in fact, consider it as part and parcel of other human rights and freedoms. But "moral call" and "clear position" in world affairs coming from the mouth of Mr. Baird of the Conservative Party of Canada, I think we should be leery and weary because it is a very selective interpretation of "the age of darkness" that is Canada's great and noble legacy of peace-making and peace-brokering before Harper got into power.

Lester B Pearson, a minority Liberal 14th Prime Minister of Canada, who had overseas experience in WWI as a medical orderly, saw for himself the horrors of armed conflict brought about that decision "to paint Canada as an honest broker". It is most likely because he is a "wrong kind" of Canadian and world historic figure that Baird and CPC choose a "stiffer spine" rather than recognizing the legacy of peace and diplomacy that made a heavy-weight of such a small player as Canada in the world stage (much like the Wolverine of the X-men fame).

Pearson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. A Wikipedia entry says of him:

During Pearson's time as Prime Minister, his minority government introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the current Canadian flag. During his tenure, Prime Minister Pearson also convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. With these accomplishments, together with his ground-breaking work at the United Nations and in international diplomacy, Pearson is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.

Going back to the title of this blog entry, and why I'm so worried about Baird's comments, is that I read in Thomas Paine's Rights of Man recently that religion in its prestine state is a beneficent force. But it is when it becomes established by law that sectarian violence, bigotry, fundamentalism, etc. arise. The notions of religiosity and orthodoxy have always been used historically to crush dissension within the community itself. And it doesn't even have to be religion, any system of faith will do: Communism, American patriotism, revolutionary movements, fascism...

CPC's simplistic black and white worldview is a regression. The Office of Religious Freedom sounds like double-speak for a hawkish foreign policy. Perhaps like the budget omnibus bill intended to destroy environmental and labour protections that annoy oil lobby interests, the Office of Religious Freedom is an atom bomb to swat a fly. Harper and his minions truly are blunt little tools.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Voting according to conscience vs being whipped to vote (in the Canadian Parliament)

I saw yesterday an very interesting video shown on Youtube of this BC conservative MP talking to his constituents about the conservative budget implementation omnibus bill, about how his hands are pretty much tied by party ideology to vote a certain way though his conscience would tell him otherwise.

I'm reading Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791) - his response to a Mr. Burke's pamphlet criticising France's newly minted National Assembly (contrasting it to Britian's then-government system):

They have not to hold out a language which they do not themselves believe, for the fraudulent purpose of making others believe it. Their station requires no artifice to support it, and can only be maintained by enlightened mankind. It is not their interest to cherish ignorance, but to dispel it. They are not in the case of a ministrial or an opposition party in England, who, though they are opposed, are still united to keep up the common mystery. The National Assembly must throw open a magazine of light. It must shew man proper character of man; and the nearer it can bring him to that standard, the stronger the National Assembly becomes.

In comtemplating the French constitution, we see in it a rational order of things. The principles harmonise with the forms, and both with their origin. It may perhaps be said as an excuse for bad forms, that they are nothing more than forms; but this is a mistake. Forms grow out of principles, and operate to continue the principles they grow from. It is impossible to practice bad form on anything but a bad principle. It cannot be ingrafted on a good one; and wherever the forms in any government are bad, it is a certain indication that the principles are bad also. (Rights of Man; Common Sense and other political writings, Oxford World's Classics, pp. 143-144)

The concentration of power into ministrial hands (ie, Harper's) and their ability to effectively bypass parliamentary oversight by having the power to change regulations is most definitely "bad form". No amount of couching and massaging "language which they do not themselves believe" will ever change that.

Pray for mercy, hope for something less.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Governance by absence and regulation

I'm not just a political junkie, I'm also a policy wonk. I like thinking about technical issues of policy development as much as I enjoy the spectator sport of political discourse - ie, not the attention-grabbers, publicity stunts, outragous trail balloons, etc. but the subtler policy stance of political parties and their potential impact on us as a country.

I watch and observe and try and interpret what I see. I was watching a PBS documentary yesterday called, Civilization: the west & rest, where the narrator made a compelling case how and why the West has been so successful in dominating world history for so long.

In the dark ages, fundamental religious thought and scholasticism predominated all of life in Europe for centuries. The basic impetus of fundamentalism and scholasticism is the articulation and defense of orthodoxy, whether it be theology or philosophy (ideology). It was cultural stagnation at a massive scale (temporal, intellectual and geographical) after the fall of the Roman empire. During this time period, it was the Muslim culture that was the light of the world, preserving, advancing scientific, philosophical and mathematical knowledge of the ancients. As the Muslim world has withdrawn inwards, it has been the West that has looked beyond and forwards, picking up the baton and running forward from where the Muslim collapsed inwards.

The thing that I find disconcerting and dismaying about Harper's and American right-wing brand of ideology is that self-same kind of political, sectarian, scientific and fiscal introversion and fundamentalist reaction that brings about the dark ages. I've often heard it said that Harper is a "history buff" but it seems to me a rather selective kind of history he studies, the neo-scholastic type. Like scholasticism of old, his brand distinctly lacks intellectual, historical and factual honesty: we've heard him say in all innocence that Canada "fortunately" has no history of imperial colonialism, this right after "apologizing" for the residential school experience; he has also said that the NDP opposed military action against Hitler when the NDP didn't even exist then; when this was pointed out to him, his response was: "same difference".

Now, I just read this very insighful article written by Brian Topp in the Globe&Mail website whose suggestions and points I think are very much worth serious national reflection. Disregrading his political stripes for the moment, his piece is very informative and educational.

I once brought up the absence of a National Energy Policy to my best friend whose well-founded fears of divisiveness are based on Canada's experience with such a discourse. I've always thought that (perhaps rather simplistically) that this unfortunate exercise played out in part the way it did because of emotional, visceral resistence from the gas and oil lobby rather than honest political and policy discussion. I still think that this fact had a huge impact on the absence of a national energy policy. Reading through Topp's insightful piece I have a better appreciation now of the need for sensitivity and decorum for the complexities of the issues, and the resulting regional strife when corporate - not Canada's - interests are brought to bear.

I dispair for our great country: Harper's style of governance does not bode well for an equitible and fair shot for such an exercise to ever take place. His interests seem to lie in never bringing up the "spectre" of "dead" possibilities. I strongly suspect honest examination on his part and ideological interpretation of historical facts are very much against his interests. His hubris will never countenance such a possibility. It is not in his national vision for Canada. Shame also on Mulcair for his cheap, self-serving political shots on the issue.

Canada's long-term interests are not being served by either side of the Parliamentary divide just now.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Literacy in pre- and post- textual societies

I love stories; I love reading; I love thinking about things. One of the things I love thinking about is literacy. What is literacy? Are only those societies that have access to the written word literate?

Regarding the first question, I think literacy isn't so much about being able to read and write per se than being able to process and construct narrative around experience, about being able to derive insight and life lessons from experience. In this respect, the answer to the second question would be a negative. Stories aren't script and letters; the narrative is more than the words that express it: it is about being human.

All human cultures are literate. And it is only prejudice and bigotry that would suggest otherwise. Stupidity (ie, "illiteracy" as ignorance) is a symptom of gross negligence or an active policy of a ruling class. There are no "stupid" human cultures/civilizations in the prestine other than decadent, jaded ones on their way down.

Thinking about the Star Trek series and its various spin-offs, it seems that only the Picard character is ever seen with a book; there are also no textual symbols on the keyboards, walls or anywhere in the ships, just buttons or multi-coloured layouts. Even supposedly deep mathematical concepts are usually displayed as geometric shapes. If there is any semblance of text in a Star Trek episode it usually serves a decorative role - much like Chinese or Arabic calligraphy - usually connoting an ancient, dead alien culture. Whether this absence is an accidental oversight or by design...

I know many highly intelligent Inuit who do not read or write at all. Many of the characters in the classics (which I strongly suspect are based on actual social experiences of the authors) aren't able to read and write but are highly literate and eloquent, and very human. Even little children are capable of such insight, though in a haphazard, inconsistent way. They are still finding their voice, and if not unduly disrupted in their natural development will grow up capable of literate expression as second nature, capable of original thought and insightful observation, capable of highly abstract and beautiful symbolism, capable of subtle irony, metaphor and simile all.

I don't think I'm intelligent because I can read and write. My intelligence, like any human intelligence, is not language specific but have to do with a deeper native sensitivity to the spirit of humanity. A deliberately cultivated aesthetic sensitivity of the natural pattern-recognition machine that is human being is the very definition of genius. We all see the same things, speak the same words, work the same symbols, but in the hands of a Da Vinci, Picasso, Goethe, Newton, Einstein, the first creator/perfector of the qajaq, iglu, amauti...

The narrative is key to inspiration, creativity, and great conversation. There is no consumer product call "literacy" or "education" that one may purchase for these can only arise as organically cultivated characteristics of our being.

My best friend is a real gabber and highly literate, and I tremendously enjoy our conversations; I usually come away seeing or thinking about things in a new way. Else I come away infuriated enough to see or think things anew.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Some features of Inuktitut (part vii)

As an advocate for narrative-based pedagogy (ie, one that teaches comprehension through discussion of ideas behind the text rather than rote memorization of spelling words) I'm often struck by the translated signs I see around Iqaluit.

There is one that shows "catering services" as "they are making finger food". Most public signs are transliterations into syllabics that while appearing Inuktitut are completely meaningless. In most written languages there are writing conventions that denote foreign words or phrases, or commercial trademarked brandnames and businesses are often just rendered as is in the language in which they were created.

In published works foreign names and/or phrases are usually denoted by italicized script, for eg. Through consistent and repeated use, some foreign words and phrases are naturalized into a language or by way of specialist use (English has a lots of these). International conventional notations are also used extensively for maths and science (symbolic notations for the periodic table of elements, units of measure, etc.)*; neologisms are usually defined right in the text where they first occur and grammaticalized for ease and consistency of expression.

*for a syllabic writing system (which is phonetic-based) not only abbreviations are impossible to render but so are acronyms problematic - like, how should one write CO2 in syllabics?; QIA rendered in syllabics (as is) sounds uncannily like "crying"... so I tend to translate short-form as only "Qikiqtani" rather than the complete full name every single instance.

When I first heard of the Inuit Language Authority, I thought it'd start doing the work of creating style guides like the Associated Press Stylebook, and putting out conventional principles of nomenclature and neologisms along with technical glossaries of terms. These are ways and means of setting up industrial and educational standards (writing styles for essay writing, for eg). Specialist fields, like legal, political, administrative and scientific translations are inconsistent but there are no "authoritative" resources to refer to. When I first heard of the Inuit Cultural School I envisioned it setting up academic documentation systems (writing, documentary and videographical styles and formats - like what does an academic description/paper on IQ done in video format look like?).

These are important foundational considerations not only for preservation of IQ but for modernizing Inuktitut discourse into areas not indigenous to Inuit culture but important for keeping the language alive and relevant as the language of society (literature and social commentary that makes sense), and science and technology. Without consistency and agreed upon authoritative standards of excellence in all fields and governance systems Inuit are expected to participate in, no equal footing will be possible.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Some features of Inuktitut (part vi)

In the Scientific American April 2012 issue there is a piece talking about the notions of information density vs number of syllables per second as according to Peter Roach's observation:

Speakers of some languages seem to rattle away at high speed like machine-guns, while others sound rather slow and plodding. (1998)

The Scientific American piece itself is quite interesting if a bit light and uninformative for those conversant in linguistics.

As a person who grew up in a territory that ostensibly has two writing systems (syllabics and "roman orthography") and as a thinker interested in the technical issues of language instruction, I've spent some time thinking about the pros and cons of either writing system for pedagogical purposes.

The syllabic writing system is a phonetic system (ie, one syllable, one symbol) as opposed to the "roman orthography" (which is phonemic, like English or French, and denotes segments rather than syllables). The strength of the syllabic system is that it is compact and easy to master (even for non-Inuktitut speakers) because it relies upon orientation to denote the attendant vowel (upright for 'i'; right for 'u'; left for 'a'); but it is realtively difficult to impart sight-reading skills, and to discern recurrent patterns (therefore, difficult to standardize spelling conventions) which is important for grammar learning rather than script learning.

The "roman orthography" which is based on latin script like English is easier to discern recurrent patterns, and, in fact, very analytic-friendly (ie, most linguists use the latin script to analyse grammatical features of Inuktitut). The problem with latin script rendering of Inuktitut is that words or phrases can get pretty long. This is not a problem in itself because the important patterns are easier to see in latin script than in syllabics and sight-reading becomes possible, but the problem here has more to do with aesthetics.

Just for fun, I started one day sitting in a plane waiting to take off to count how many symbols are used in English and French signs on average. No more than seven or eight letters on average are used in both English and French signs; Inuktitut phrases in latin script average around ten letters. Some phrases can go up to 15 or more letters.

But this is not as problematic is first assumed. Most Inuktitut phrases contain recurrent morphemes, and most morphemes tend to occur in regular patterns (ie, morphemes occur in clusters and in an ordered way - like, [-nngit-] the negative morpheme tends to occur after verbs (am, are, is) and tenses (past, present and future) and right before pronominal endings.

The Scientific American piece says:

In the 1950s linguist Noam Chomsky proposed the idea of universal grammar, which suggests that all languages, their apparent differences notwithstanding, possess a common set of of abstract structures. This hypothesis galvanized the field of linguistics, but truly common structures proved tough to find. (p. 18, Scientific American April 2012)

The last sentence above is not strictly truthful. The abstract "structures" common to all languages are the lexical classes: verbs, nouns, their modifiers (adjectives and adverbials). Every natural language structure possess these different classes that along with specific, and highly rigid and rigorous, grammatical rules (ie, cases and moods) make up all human languages.

At the -emic level, even mathematics may be embraced as a natural language though granted instead of nouns and verbs numeral values (variables and constants) act as its elements. Mathematics, in this regard, is less about arithmetic operations than syntactical rules that denote relations and orders in which things occur.

The Dirac equations on the electron, for eg, is said to be an equation that just keeps on giving. Its informational density is immense and rich beyond its austere appearance. Like poetry it goes deeper than its "words"; unlike poetry, nothing is frivolously interpreted and created by the interpreter. The logical structure of the Dirac equation is deep and profound and subtle.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Cathartes aura

Cathartes aura is the latinized nomenclature (according to the Linnaeus classification scheme) of the turkey vulture. According to a Wikipedia entry:

The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gasses produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. In flight, it uses thermals to move through the air, flapping its wings infrequently. It roosts in large community groups. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses.

Now, it would be mean and insulting to call Rex Murphy a turkey vulture - mean and insulting to such a useful bird as the turkey vulture. But here I am defending the bird.

If you looked up "ingratiating" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Rex Murphy because like the meaning of the word: intended to gain approval or favour, much of what Rex Murphy says oozes shamelessly out of his mouth that while calculated to impress rather gives the impression that he's condescending without actually stooping down to our level of intelligence.

Lacking a syrinx, the Murph relies almost solely on his piercing glaze to intimidate - there is something resembling intelligence behind them eyes but it is more cunning and vigilance for opportunities to snatch up morsels of what does not belong to him. Nothing that he vocalizes is ever really original if mean and vindictive clumsily designed and calculated to cozy up to his political betters.

CBC's The National keeps him like a cruel curiosity because it is just so compelling to watch him work himself to an orgasmic state like a pig in poop. For shame, CBC. Shame on me as well for my morbid curiosity.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The UN's envoy on food security: report on Canada

I make no secret of it: I don't much like Harper's government. I don't like the way they cherry-pick and simplify complex issues and portray the political discourse and dissenting voices as if they were evils only they have had to deal with in all of Canada's history - as if the democratic marketplace of ideas is an inconvenience.

I'm not surprised but disappointed by Harper government's reaction to the UN Envoy on food security; how they've chosen to present aboriginal food security issues as if they are caused in large part by environmental and animal rights groups. Aboriginal poverty is a government policy issue.

The proposed changes to EI in the huge budget imlementation bill is exemplary of Harper's way of doing things. Rather than presenting proposals and alternatives like re-training and setting up vocational and trades training programs to re-tool the Canadian workforce for its precious tar sands and resource extraction, they've chosen to belittle and spurn Canadians who access EI whose rules Harper regards as  "disincentives" to work. EI contributions does not a welfare make; the money does not belong to the federal government but to those hard-working Canadians who contribute to the system. All else is money usurped by federales, something criminal if not just plain wrong.

Food security and poverty are national issues; to bring them into light and into the national consciousness is not a bad thing. The UN Envoy was not criticizing Harper and his minions, he brought up an important issue for discussion. Nothing else.

I'm pretty sure that the Envoy also spoke of the good things that normal Canadians and philanthropic organizations have created, like breakfast and lunch programs in Canadian schools, like food banks in the larger population centres, etc. These types of initiatives can and must be supported and given policy justification by the federal government. In fact, there've always been calls to create a federal food security strategy.

Will this happen? -I doubt it. Harper would rather cut his nose to spite his face, and he and his minions will no doubt choose to fixate on the preceived criticism from the UN's Envoy to Food Security rather than address it responsibly. Crazy. What passive-aggression!


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A diagnostic screening for Harper's vision of Canada

I got this from

Fourteen Defining
Characteristics Of Fascism
By Dr. Lawrence Britt
Source Free

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread
domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
From Liberty Forum

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mental health strategies and policy development

After hearing about the release of a national-wide mental health strategy I must say I was kind of disappointed by the lack of commitment (real and fiscal) by the conservative party of Canada. But in more general terms, these types of affairs (strategies for this and that and the other thing) tend to lack solid scientific and philosophical basis that would generate actionable and measurable outcomes in a more natural and intuitive way.

And no wonder: panel members are chosen because they're highly respected by society and are on the main well-meaning individuals (I, for one, am very grateful for their efforts). But they seem to work under very tight deadlines and are often under-resourced and -supported (no dedicated technical/research staff, for eg) enough to not be equal to the task. I'm not saying anything against these people whoever they are.

As a policy analyst for many years I'm intimately familiar with the technical, political and capacity issues and factors these thoughtful individuals have to deal with in the course of their work. Much of my work dealt with education and language rights. In much of my work I tried to educate myself (as much as I could) on the technical, biological and social aspects of education and language instruction.

I've been away too long, but one of the great resources I came across was the Isuma Journal for policy development. There were a series of academic papers published there on longitudinal studies on children who grew up in relative poverty in terms of academic success and in relation to participation rates in the social welfare and criminal justice systems as adults. But the thing I went away with was the absolute importance of uninterrupted neuro-biological development of these children and their resultant life prospects.

I recently read a piece in Scientific American (April 2012) talking about how stress affects the brian which got me looking back on my largely-unsuccessful advocacy work and about the chances of success for the national-wide mental health strategy (disregarding for the moment the ideological hurdles inherent with Harper's government).

The thesis of the paper, This is your brian in meltdown (p. 48), talks about how the prefrontal cortical areas of the human brian which act as the brain's executive command center that holds emotional impulsivity in check are effectively shut down by stress allowing the amygdala (locus of emotional activity regulation) to take over (inducing reflexive and fight-or-flight responses).

The highly convoluted paragraph above (excuse please) is actually describing what a great majority of Inuit (and aboriginal groups and those who live in poverty) live through everyday of their lives. Impulse control problems destroys lives because the system is not designed to deal with these moments of breakdown as mental health/food security/addictions issues but as purely criminal behaviour resulting in purely punitive measures.

Imagine how this affects youth and families at risk: something non-judgemental and compassionate could have prevented a life of crime and social maladjustment is an opportunity lost. The ramifications and ripple effects are extremely far-reaching. So the question of whether mental health per se is a clinical issue or a criminal justice issue (something interventional) is not enough; the deeper social wellness/societal values aspects of mental health need to be examined and considered more seriously.

In IQ, social peace and peacable relations are extremely important; these are affected through calls for reconciliation and peace-making. These societal values need to be re-introduced along the lines of critical mass-media awareness because most of our children are reared on a steady diet of glorification of violence and social dysfunction they see and hear everyday in the mass media. Schools have a role, police have a role, parent support programs as well. The question is how to do it in the most intelligent and forward-looking way as possible.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Am not a "radical" or anti-development

Lest my last blog gave the impression that I'm somehow an environmental radical, pro foreign money laundering anti-development aboriginal dupe, I am an anishinabe Canadian (love the term "anishinabe"), been accused of political radicalism in my Inuit rights advocacy work, but not anti-development per se. I just have this incorrigible belief in humanism and sustainable development.

I think human intelligence is capable of great and wonderful things - just not have had much chance to be allowed to germinate and flower in our sad history. In this current discourse and the subsequent climate thereof on the development of Canada's tar sands (yes, b, "tar sands"), there is an undeniable element of desparation on part of the Conservative Party of Canada and the big oil lobby that I think warrants further examination.

Oil is a depleting resource - there is no denying that it is a vanishing commodity. This alone is proving too tempting for venal men who currently hold power in Ottawa and the Western Canada oil patch. Though I find Premier Redford's notions of "social license" overtures to "change the dynamics" of the relationships between Alberta's needs in terms of resource development and environmental groups encouraging, there is much work to be done before we can make judgements whether her ideas are good and honest. She, it seems, is the only adult in a room full of immature, overwrought short-sighted old men; a sincere good luck to her.

M. King Hubbert, an engineer for Shell Oil in the 1950s, made a seemingly crazy prediction that the US oil reserves were being depleted so fast that 50% of it would be taken out of the ground by 1965 and 1971. Michio Kaku, a popularizer of science, wrote a section in his book, Physics of the Future, about Hubbert's predictions:

His prediction seemed so rash, even outlandish and irresponsible, since the United States was still pumping an enormous amount of oil from Texas and elsewhere in [the] country. But oil engineers are not laughing anymore. Hubbert's prediction was right on the button. By 1970, US oil production peaked at 10.2 million barrels a day and then fell. It has never recovered. Today, the United States imports 59 percent of its oil. In fact, if you compare a graph of Hubbert's estimates made decades ago with the graph of actual U.S. oil production through 2005, the two curves are almost identical.

Now the fundamental question facing oil engineers is: Are we at the top of Hubbert's peak in world oil reserves? Back in 1956, Hubbert also predicted that global oil production would peak in about fifty years [around 2006]. He could be right again. (pp. 244-245)

Kaku goes on to write that the oil industry and oil ministers like talking about "proven oil reserves", but behind this rhetoric one cannot deny the implications of Hubbert's predictions: "Proven oil reserves" sounds soothingly authoritative and definitive, until you realize that the reserves are often the creation of a local oil minister's wishful thinking and political pressure (ibid, p. 245) - I'd also add "capital markets and corporate interests" to the political pressure. Kaku writes that Canada's tar sands deposits may be enough to supply the world markets for decades to come; what is a few decades, really, but a blink of an eye?

I ask this question because Canada's current political masters seem intent on capitalizing on the extraction of the tar sands come hell or high water without much thought given to developing alternative energy sources. Mulcair's recent bid for cheap political gains by invoking the spectre of the "Dutch Disease" is really pathetic, but so are Ministers Kent's and Oliver's vitriolic desparations to paint dissenters to Harper's one-trick pony as neighbours of Satan.

Let's give Premier Redford the benefit of the doubt and support her bid to change the dynamics of the discourse around oil and gas development; she is at least seem willing to consider green energy as part of her agenda for Alberta.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dooms day scenarios and Big Oil

I was watching Aftermath on the History Channel, an episode that examines what would happen if there was a catastrophic disruption of oil production in the world. I think such shows are mental pablum normally. But it said somethings that got me thinking.

The US has oil reserves and would be able to deal with the shortages for emergency and essential services for a few months, but Canada has no such reserves. Brazil's auto industry is decades ahead of North America in terms of diversification of fuel/energy alternatives; a large percentage of cars and trucks down there can run on ethanol which they produce from sugar cane.

I highly doubt the oil industry here would countenance such "threats" to its revenue source: green energy is artificially kept in the stone-age through government policies and incentives which the oil lobby ensures its status quo through questionable funding arrangements for those willing to work for them. In fact, I'd find it dubious if the the public interests of Canadians was foremost on its mind. R&D for green energy is almost illegal here.

The recent moves by the Harper government to disassemble the environmetal safeguards through amendments and repeal of significant legislation/regulations into the budget implementation bill puts all of Canada into an even more precarious position and more dependent on the petro-dollar. The world economic situation is not only an economic threat but will have affects in almost all aspects of our lives; that much dependent we've become with nary a peep from Canadians. In fact, environmental groups are demonized by the federal government and most often portrayed as wishy-washy socialist hippy movements. This is totally asinine.

Where is Canada's sense of self-sufficiency? Even a developing country like Brazil knows it cannot, must not rely on one single source of energy/income, so its policies and infrastructure in many respects are further ahead of an "energy superpower" such as Canada - as Stephan Poutine (oops) Harper likes to say. Real sovereignty and long-term national vision for Canada seems not to matter much to Mr Poutine (oops) Harper. Excuse; I seem to be developing Tourettes.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The new approach in Nunavut to suicide among Inuit (youth)

In Nunavut there is a new approach to suicide prevention by allowing people to talk openly about suicide among Inuit youth and its impacts on those left behind. I've been listening to CBC North radio, especially the talk-back portions, and hearing some heart-wrenching stories from Inuit parents and grandparents who've lost children and grandchildren to suicide.

Like most people in Inuit Nunaat I too (and my family) have been devastated by suicide: my younger brother committed suicide quite a few years old now, and I've also lost friends and people I knew growing up to suicide. But it is those left behind who suffer the most.

I remember clearly when my brother committed suicide; my parents came to our house to get away from their own home where my brother died. I remember waking up in the morning right before my dad did. He was in the next room. I heard him stir, and the first words out of his mouth were "Aittaa!" (oh woe). I never saw him in so much pain before. I think his christain belief system made the suicide all that much more unbearable because he'd been taught that suicides go to hell. He never lost his faith but his pain was beyond my comprehension.

Suicide was rare in the 1970s when I was growing up. Then in late 1980s things just kind of deteriorated as the social displacement in the 1950-60s began to sink in. I've always maintained that the culture in which Inuit children grew up is very much similar to William Golding's The Lord of the Flies. The lawless, cruel Darwinian social construct that arose from the ashes of social displacement as Inuit children spent more and more time away from their parents has carried over to our adulthood.

The education system which is ostensibly universalist was intended to save us from the primitive paganism of Inuit culture. In the hands of counter-culture generation which viewed "tradition" with great suspicion this existential vacuum was never replaced with any semblence of a workable value system so the end result was The Lord of the Flies in the flesh.

I've heard some Inuit talk about "life skills" but there is the rub: "life skills" as per Qallunaat understanding of the term is about being able to make plans and budgets and have less to do with the process of socialization and prevention of existential alienation, let alone being able to make realistic plans and budgets because without money and workable life prospects "life skills" is yet another cruel joke.

As a largely self-taught individual, I've had to acquire my own value system through reading of masters of human thought: Plato, Aristotle, Lao Tsu, Northrop Frye, anything I can get my hands on really. Reading far and wide has organically led to me to a certain awareness and discernment of excellence.

"Life skills" as Inuit understand the term to be (socialization, existential adjustment, etc.) is based on the IQ notion of inuliurniq (personal growth), which today may be best affected through education based upon literary criticism where personal values and political/philosophical ideals may be explored, reflected upon, and chosen with care by the person who is engaged in the process of critical examination.

For a long time I was lost. I'm still uncertain of my own resolve for a sober and reasoned life, but through my education and engagement with humanity and exploration of what it is to be human I've started to make some conscious choices. I love getting high and achieving oblivion, but I love quality of life much, much more. And am willing to forego self-indulgence and choose to test the limits of my human potential.

Like the character in Star Trek series, Mr. Data, I often find life and humanity perplexing. But being a life-long outsider wanting in, I'm beginning to see my own uniqueness as a strength rather than as something to diminish and rub away. Like Mr. Data, I'm starting to find humanity fascinating if sometimes infuriating because it really is a garden with good things as well as poisonous things to offer.

We, the Inuit and aboriginal peoples in general, must come to realize that life without any semblence of being able to make our own choices is hellish; we must regain our sense of being, our rightful humanity to make positive, educated, deliberate choices in everything that we do. Childhood trauma of one kind or another took it away; we can take it back. We must take it back. The more we exercise this right the better we become. It takes hard work and deliberation, but this is to fight the good fight. Seek guidance and discernment; seek your own way.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

In support of Allan Harding MacKay

I was just watching CBC's Power&Politics show where I witnessed something that impacted me profoundly. During an interview with the show's host, Evan Solomon, a war artist, Allan Harding MacKay who has been on two assignments with Department of National Defence - Somalia and Afghanistan - to document the work of the Canadian Armed Forces in the war zones just destroyed one of his works in protest of the abuse of power by the Harper government (he said he'd destroy four in all).

He mentioned three specific examples for this act of protest: the way the Canadian war veterans are being treated by the Harper regime; pitting Aboriginal rights and environmental integrity against economic interests of the oil companies and big business; and the peeling away of the Parliamentary process (limiting HofC debates and increasing in-camera sessions of parliamentary committees). But he also spoke of the way labour has been demonized in favour of big business.

I think that what this world famous artist did was extreme, and I wept silent tears as he mercifully rent the canvas but I totally admire him for his courage to make such a public statement as a proud and thoughtful Canadian. He was visibly shaking and shaken for destroying his work. What he showed in the raw is what has been happening with Harper and his minions dismantling and destroying our liberal democratic traditions and structures since gaining a majority government.

I salute you, Allan Harding MacKay.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Grothendieck Syndrome

Alexandre Grothendieck, a brilliant French mathematician of the Bourbaki fame, is said to have invented a new kind of language for geometry and algebra that allowed mathematicians to articulate ideas which were previously inexpressible. (Marcus du Sautoy, The Music of the Primes, p. 300) But brilliance in dense, abtruse abstractions is not without its hazards.

Grothendieck bought into the idea that his revolutionary mathematics was messianic in nature. After an unfortunate series of challenges to his world-view (that the Institut was getting funding from military sources, the deteriorating geopolitical situation of the cold-war era, his inability to complete his vision of mathematics, etc.) he lost his mind. He also couldn't accept the fact that his disciples eventually became new leaders in his revolution, making their own contributions to the subject, right before his jealous eyes.

He became obsessed with the Devil whom he held responsible for "destroying the divine harmony.'

He held the Devil responsible for, among other things, changing the speed of light from a nice round value of 300,000km/s to the 'ugly' 299,887km/s. All mathematicians [claims du Sautoy] need to have a little bit of madness if they are to feel at home in the mathematical world. The sheer number of hours Grothendieck had spent exploring at the edges of the world of mathematics left him unable to chart his way home. (ibid, p. 304)

This, to me, sounds a bit like what right-wing extremists (from Harper's government to the Tea partyers, to Islamic fundamentalists) go through in that their preconceived notions of what the world should be takes over any semblance of a balanced world-view.

Listening to Harper's big 'C' Conservatives as they make pronouncements from on high is like listening to the almost autistic Jehovah's Witnesses - it is not so much to communicate with potential converts as their drivel is to reaffirm their fragile faith in their own sanity. Besides this quality, there is an unchecked willingness to usurp conventional notions of political, scientific and economics' discourse to suit their own needs which is not unlike infomercial-speak.

Radicals, money-laundering, foreign political influence, nazi-sympathizers, left-leaning media... Harper's government goes so far as to attach minders (thought police, really) to government scientists in scientific conferences and media scrums to ensure that "science" does not go contrary to Harper's agenda!

I'm saddened and disappointed by the lack of public reaction and outcry to the now obligatory baby-sitters for Canadian scientists. This is muzzling of free-speech and destruction of credibility not just for Canadian scientists but all of Canada in the world stage. Nazis, Soviets, Macarthyism and revolutionary France all branded (poisoned) public and academic discourse by insisting on "x-way of doing things". The Harper imperative is no different.

In scientific and other public knowledge-based forums, the discourse is not supposed to be determined by preconceptions but guided by non-partisan findings which adjust the theoretical frameworks and paradigms when the findings contradict them, where the marketplace of ideas rigorously determine the veracity or falsity of the ideas and ideals of the day. The circle can be squared, but impossible by using a compass and straight edge alone (ie, by conventional measure of rigour and "good form"); the world is much too complex to describe by rational numbers alone.

du Sautoy, again:

The old guard, those mathematicians active before the Second World War, began to complain that they no longer recognised the subject that they had worked in for many years. Siegel had this to say about an account of his own work that was casted in the new language:

I was disgusted with the way in which my own contributions to the subject had been disfigured and made unintelligible. The whole style...contradicts the sense of simplicity and honesty which we admire in the works of the masters in number theory - Lagrange, Gauss, or on a smaller scale, Hardy, Landau. I see a pig broken into a beautiful garden and rooting up all flowers and trees... I am afraid that mathematics will perish before the end of this century if the present trend for senseless abstraction - as I call it: the theory of empty set - cannot be blocked up. (ibid, p. 301)

The problem is not the speed of light itself as suggested by Grothendieck; the roundness of its measure depends on what standard is used. With meter-gram-second (ie, ISU) measuring standards it is that 'ugly' 299,887km/s but only because ISU has increments not 'amenable' to its roundness. The choice of unit of measure has less reality than the actual speed of light; to suggest, to insist, otherwise is sheer insanity and unreasonableness.

Democracy (and its regulatory safe-guards), in like fashion, often appears messy and unweldy as compared to totalitarian systems but history often proves it was the best, long-lasting, meaningful way of doing things while totalitarian systems last only as long as their cult figure-heads. Macarthyism, Stalinism, Reagan economics, Harperism, are artificial ideologies not founded on any semblence of reality; insisting that they last beyond their due date is at best anachronistic, at worse mindless, pathetic cults of personality.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

What's up with that!

Given that billigerent, right-wing militancy is invoking the spectre of Nazism and Hitler on its critics, including Stephan Harper, I thought it'd be a good idea to put this in my blog:

Taxing Ontario’s rich and the menace of creeping Nazism
Globe and Mail Update

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The irrepressible decency of John McKay

As a political junkie, I enjoy tremendously watching the debates between party members on CBC's Power&Politics, especially when John McKay - the Liberal MP from Scarborough-Guildwood - comes on. He has the type of laugh and good humour that provides a much-needed reality check to the often billigerent, glib partisanship on both the NDP and Con sides.

John Mckay reminds me of the decency and humanity I saw and experienced in one of my uncles when I was growing up - someone not easily taken in by baiting and cruelty of lesser men he often had to deal with because he was so decent and unassuming. Far from being "slow" - which his easy-going demeanor was often mistaken for - he was an old soul and totally comfortable with who he was. He'd giggle with those making fun of him which, to me, showed his understated greatness (salt of the Earth) and the thoughtless windbags his tormentors really were. He never had an unkind word to say, nor did I ever see him stressed out about being put down. He was his father's son: serious and completely trust-worthy with stuff that really count for something.

Genuine laughter is the only way to deal with the siege-mentality that Harper and his ilk have brought into the political discourse of Canada. War? Revolution? What war? What revolution? Someone like McKay, like my uncle, has no enemies to stress out over, only the family that is Canada matters; at the end of the day, he has only himself to answer to and the man in the mirror is someone he has no issues with.

Always keep it real, McKay. You are a rare bird.