Friday, 27 July 2012

Some comments on the relationship between [-junga] and [-vunga]

After long and seemingly fruitless analysis of how /j/;/t/ variants (such as [-junga]/[-tunga]) relate to /v/;/p/ variants ([-vunga]/[-punga]), I think I've finally made headway. I always thought the /v/ variants were some kind of formality markers and/or interrogative/reporting progressive-indicative mood. But it occurred to me just now that one uses these /j/ and /v/ variants in actual relation to each other:

angirrannut isilauqtunga anigamali tavva takuvagit

"I first entered my home then, when I came out, I saw you"

-the grammatical sequencing of /j/ (isilauqtunga) with /v/ (takuvagit) in the above construct shows an interdependence between /j/ and /v/: it is used in a telling of a story, but the indicative /j/ is adjoined with a /v/ adjunct phrase (which functions as a past-progressive mood).

From a morphosyntactic perspective, /v/ grammatically completes the /j/ by adding to the past tense,[-lauq-], its "progressive" quality.

The /v/ variant is also used in formal address to the second-person:

uqautilaaqpagit tukisittialaurlunga

"I will tell you once I've found something out"

-but here it is also completed with a sort of a /j/ variant ([-lunga]), which technically may be regarded as a /j/ variant for the sake of the dichotomic argument: /j/ vs /v/.

Methinks this /v/ variation is a progressive marker that is always complementary to /j/ indicative. /j/ is the main verb while the /v/ a secondary verb tense thereof.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part vi)

One of the unavoidable, natural aspects of human languages is evolution. There are different types of evolution: natural evolution - which usually happens with children-parent interactions -; systemic changes (still natural) - like the Great Vowel Shift that happened to the English between 1300s and 1700s, but systemic changes also happen everyday though not as dramatically as GVS but happen through dialectal variations -; and through introduction of foreign words and phrases.

It is the last one that I want to speak of here.

Since contact, Inuit languages have been slowly changing with the introduction of words (here in North America (Canada and Alaska) it has been mainly English words and phrases, but in Greenland one may assume introduced words in Kalaallusut are of Danish origin; in the Chukchi region, one would also assume Russian words and phrases introduced to that language. One interesting tidbit is that Nunatsiavut adopted German words for the days of the week from Moravian missionaries.

There are older words, such as luuktaaq for "doctor" (which sounds uncannily like the British pronunciation of the word heard through Inuit ears), and I would suggest that the word qallunaaq for "European" or "non-Inuit" in Inuktitut is not the compound word: "eyebrow+belly" in folk etymology, but comes from sailor pidgen for "boss" cahuna.

There are many examples of these adopted words, but the interesting thing is that they are "inuktitutized" in phonology and grammar: the plural form of luuktaaq is luuktaat; for qallunaaq it's qallunaat, and since these have "inuktitutized" naturally into root nouns one may construct Inuktitut phrases:

qallunaatitut "the English language"
qallunaaliaqtunga "I'm going down south"
qallunajjaktuq "he is going to the trading post";

similar constructs are possible for luuktaaq because it is has become a bonafide Inuktitut root noun rather than a phrase.

There are newer terms that Inuktitut is slowly but surely adopting: minutes, seconds, percentages, numbers, units of measure and the months of the year. The only problem I see because I see it as a degradation of Inuktitut is that some people do not bother to grammaticalize these adopted words: instead of saying minatiit (or some variation thereof) some people just say: minutes and so on... though with months of the year and numbers/units of measure, one may naturally add case and verb endings: 7-nik (of seven things); viivuarimit maajjimut (from February to March); 10 kilaamitamik/nik ungasingnilik (it is 10 km away); 10 taalait (10 dollars) and so on.

Any foreign word that is either a noun or a verb that can act as a root may be adopted without any problems with grammaticalization into an Inuit Language. In this fashion, one shouldn't consider these adopted terms as a degradation but as enhancements or evolution of the Inuit Language. The trick is to phonologize/grammaticize them into Inuktitut grammar and phonology so they become productive terms in the Inuktitut lexicology.


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part v)

One of the problems with terminology development exercises is that Inuit Language specialists (such as translators, interpreters and teachers/instructors) very often have to rely upon "plain" language explanations of specialized terms (whether scientific, medical or legal, etc.) done up by well-meaning practitioners but who often forget that these terms aren't just words but have a logic or theoretic system behind them. That is, an accepted word in a specialist field is a logically productive construct that is part of a larger framework that keeps the discourse consistent and conceptually sound.

A specialised word has an etymological basis usually different from superficially similiar words in common usage so that its declension (its variation in form) retains grammatical, conceptual and technical sense, or that which makes the word productive and useful to a given field.

The term "gravity" before Newton meant something somber or serious (weighty or heavy indeed), but the use of the word "weight" he foresaw wisely would create a kind of a circular argument in relation to gravity (because weight depends on gravity) so in order to forego presupposing gravity he coined the term mass (as in the sense of a coherent "body") as the source of gravity: Newton's "laws" are kinds of sequential arguments that are some of the most beautiful in my estimation, much of whose terms he coined himself.

But the word mass comes not from English itself but from old French masse meaning "lump, heap, pile; crowd, large amount; ingot, bar" which in turn comes from Latin massa for "kneaded dough" or "that which sticks together like kneaded dough"; through Newton the technical term acquired a very specific sense: that which creates gravity or quantity of weight.

Making use of the rich diversity of Inuit dialects would make such processes of coining "standardized" scientific terms truly possible using indigenous root morphemes alone. Archiac Inuktitut terms that are no longer in use are likewise a rich source of terminology.

Using this conceptual strategem, we might suggest such terms as:

ittaq for the concept of mass rather than a word like uqumainniq;

tatituk for the concept of inertia from the root Inuktitut word for stubbornness...

The point here is that we'd want to avoid explanatory phrases like uqumainninga (its weight) or aulajjagunnannginninga (its resistence to being moved - ie, inertia) as much as we can for such technical terms, because these types of phrase-level constructs easily become unweldy and cumbersome even in normal discourse. Starting from root morphemes this way allows declensions naturally as we begin to use them in normal speech without losing grammaticality or elegance (usually the final test of survival for newly minted terms in a language).


Great Googly Moogly

What is it about extreme neo-conservatism - Harper's "Cabinet" and the social conservative faction therein; Rush Limbaugh; Rob Ford; Michelle Bachman; etc. - that make them seem to naturally go hand-in-hand with mental retardation?

With the Harper mythology, his actions seem to suggest that he is slightly neuroatypical - ie, intellectually "special" - that afford/entitle him exceptions from social norms and decorum that normally go with such offices as the one he holds. There is that weirdness: shaking hands with his children as he saw them off to school rather than hugging them; locking himself in the bathroom during a state function in Brazil when he tiffed with the President over issues of protocol; speaking English to the Forum mondial de la langue franรงaise (rather than expose his deficient French, one may suppose).

The thing about neuroatypicals (ie, those who have Asperger's syndrome) is that a high percentage of them are of above-average intelligence, are usually artistically/musically/mechanically inclined (probably to hide their need for stereo-typical behaviours which often include verbal tics and pedantry), have enhanced aesthetic sensitivity, and tend to have a hightened sense of fairness and social justice along with social ackwardness, and strong avoidance mechanicisms of direct eye contact. They are forever acutely aware of their social ackwardness and ever trying to make amends and atonement for that perceived short-coming.

From Harper's campaign footage one sees the man play piano and think: Tony Orlando and Dawn rather than Bach. But it's everything else about his supposed "specialness" that is also obviously fake. There is something kind of off about his government to be sure: spoiled brats, idiots and socio-paths who clearly care very little for responsibility, and whose tenures are marked with ineptitude, meanness and constant grudging back-tracking for outragous, irresponsible comments and actions (which ironically is supposedly "no apologies, no explanations" - yeah, right - they can't even get that right).

Rush Limbaugh is the skinner version of Rob Ford (though not by much). Feminazis, hug-a-thug, or some strange compounding of words are obvious attempts at "putting lipstick on the pig" but their moronic demeanors and contempt for normalcy is indelible. They'd rather double down on social darwinism when things go awry rather than admit that their perversed vision of society may be the cause or at least a huge part of the problem.

Michelle Bachman must have taken one too many HPV vaccines because she clearly is mentally retarded. She is so personally hateful of Obama and Clinton that she recently co-signed a public missive with three other tea-party wingnuts calling for a congressional investigation of one of Clinton's aides, accusing her of links to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt though many highly visible and respected Americans had to come to her defence (and rightly so).

But it's not just the political realm that is infected by this deficiency in humanity; the world financial stewardship is also peopled with these apparently new but degenerate sub-species of human beings.

To paraphrase the great Frank Zappa:

Great Googly Moogly, stop rubbing that yellow snow into your beady little eyes.


Friday, 20 July 2012

The Earth is my (super) heroine

The title of this entry may sound a bit strange and whacky for some readers, but I can assure you that it is based on what I've learned, read and heard of in the scientific discourse on our exceptional planet.

Since I was a child, I've always had what I call "mystical" experiences, starting with my first naive inklings of the infinite; in the Springtime we always went out on the land (which I always resented because I wasn't allowed to come along on hunting trips and I had no reading material other than cereal boxes and other labels, well, for forever) but while we were in transit, we'd have to cross leads in the ice and I'd wonder how far the crack in the ice went for; and what's beyond that? While we were travelling in a fog it came to me suddenly that the infinite and nothingness are conceptually connected because we cannot honestly grasp either one: the void and infinity are of equal quality!

I've always sat in wonder the real love and familiarity that my parents and other adults had for the land, and never once did I ever question their claim that our land is the most beautiful. I've come to realize that they weren't talking about somewhere specific but the whole of the planet Earth and its biosphere; this living, breathing, organic wonder.

There is an old ethnic joke that goes something like: how do you get 12 eskimos into a qajaq? tell them it's a charter. But a more revealing one would go something like: how do you get 200 eskimos into a one-bedroom hut? tell them a nature show is on. Every Inuk that I've ever known, including me, especially me, are fascinated by nature shows: whether it be about animals we've never seen before, or about land formations our rapt attention becomes unbreakable. Inuit are forever the real hunters - curious, observant, and total silent falls when something catches our eyes. Our predator algorithm sets in, and it becomes as if we were really there.

This algorithm is different from savage, mindless imperative to kill and destroy that we see in "civilize" men from the eighteenth century or that rare instance of a nawhal hunt (which bothers not only me but some hunters are really disturbed by that madness). Of the few times I've tagged along for hunts, and the countless stories I've heard, Inuit hunters usually just sit quietly and observe for long periods of time before acting on the hunting "instinct". One can tell just by looking and feel, that these hunters have a deep respect and civility for the prey; they never act rashly or with impudence.

At its very best, Inuit hunting style can be likened to the art of bonsai; at its worse, the "civilized" eighteenth century behaviour of wanton madness.

This behaviour has increasingly become the norm, especially after true poverty was invented by the church and state (and, especially, the corporation). The commodification of prey animals is a sad conclusion to the process of alienation from nature that has been going on for many years in the Arctic. Going by what I've heard from Inuit elders, we can still reverse the trend of commodification, or at the very least mitigate some of the setting madness through IQ education: this type of madness is not so much a sickness as it is the losing of one's sense of integration with the environment and ecology. Many Inuit still resist development and exploration, and want to keep nature at its very best and optimal condition if these evils are unavoidable: IQ and science must not lose in favour economic needs alone.

I've been doing some transcription work, as I wrote earlier in this blog, where I hear elders and younger Inuit hunters talk about the land as if it were part of the family, and I can feel their appeals for balance and sanity. Disrupt one aspect of the environment, they suggest, and the ripple effects are unpredictable. They lament the emergent fact that where animals used to be in abundance, and that the true riches of the land are increasingly becoming "dead" and inert stories; when was the last time they saw this and that animal here or there? This loss they liken to the loss of innocence and civility and true humanity.

The etymology of "inuk" (or, Inuit (plural)) not only denotes a "human being" but a deeper interpretation has a connotation: "of somewhere"; an inuk is nothing if not from a place or historical context. The different dialects used to identify and indicate where from the inuk stemmed. The Inuit Language is one mutually intelligible continuum, but its many dialects may be placed to specific areas.

I'm talking here before Inuit were corralled into artificial settlements; the way one speaks is like a physical map: the Home and Isabella Bays of my maternal grandfather with my Attau (as I called my maternal grandmother) who came from North Baffin/Foxe Basin blended and evolved my Inuktitut along with my father's who came from South Baffin. These different dialects would have blended and stablized, changed within a lifetime but recognized as from being Isabella Bay Inuktitut (in our case) had no intrusion taken place. This is how Inuktitut evolved; bits and pieces of both "conservative" and "innovative" phonology and syntax, self-replicating, evolving: child and mother, child and grandparents, family, men, women, community - each with its own idiosyncracies but forming an integrated whole. Our Language; our identity - there are deeper truths, much richer than we can imagine, in this GN slogan.

As a contemporary Natural Philosopher (in the sense of the tradition to which Newton belonged), my knowledge is a hodge-podge of IQ and scientific knowledge; mystical and rational - I've always sought a balance here. In my surveys into as wide a range as is possible for me, I have seen many wondrous things. But I'm always struck by the imperative for detached, clinical regard of natural sciences that this great human endeavour has assumed (much like self-flagellation, self-abuse of religious zealotry in my estimation).

Scientists, more than anyone else, have almost unlimited access to ever-growing body of awareness and knowledge, yet many scientists seem totally oblivious to the magical, mystical paradise all around them. Life is a miracle, the universe is a miracle! yet more seem intent on egotistical, vain-glorious pursuit of fame and reputation. - they know not that "greatness" and appreciation cannot be bought and sold with such currency. Our appreciation, our sense of privilege, is (again) to be cultivated like a bonsai; else we'll always be looking somewhere else, never seeing where we truly are.

Now, back to the title of this entry: I've always had "mystical" experiences, epiphanies - these drive me on always. Yesterday - well, for a long time - I (have seen) saw the planet Earth - its biosphere, its natural history, its diverse animal and human cultures - in that ever-new light only mystics seem willing to concede unconditionally.

I was watching a Discovery Channel documentary called, The Last Day of the Dinosuars. We've all seen graphic representations of the Earth's magnetosphere protecting us from the sun's deadly radiation - the superheroic bracing against the unimaginable power of our local star - the fictional superheroes have nothing on what we're on, what sustains us but don't seem to appreciate much because we're in it all our lives. Exceptional Planet Earth; thou truly art remarkable.

In the documentary, an astroid hits the planet and a horrific nuclear winter ensues, enveloping the gorgeous globe in a dirty brownish physical manifestation of entropy. Though much biological life dies in the process, the planet survives, life survives. What unimaginable wonder! The fungi and microbial life responds almost instantly to mass death and decay; the regenerative powers of the planet... like phoenix rising from the ashes, literally.

In our small lives, there are the mindless market forces that seem intent on killing and destroying our living space; for those of us who think beyond ourselves, beyond humanity - those of us who believe in non-interference with nature - we must not sit idly by while humanity commits suicide. Only when we decommodify knowledge and education will our eyes be truly opened. Greed is everywhere, some religions suggest that we are in hell actually: our redemption, our salvation, is in our capacity to imagine a better world.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Right-wing fruitcakes(?)

There is a promo for a CBC Newsworld daily show that goes (paraphrasing):

"I'm a one-share one-vote guy"

"Except in China"

"I love communism if it can make a buck for me"

"You love communism, except when you don't..."

-This, to me, is indicative of the culture of right-wing nuttery. The inauthentic, disingenuous, uneducated drivel that comes out of their mouths... it says to me: I'm vulgar, parasitic, bitchy ignoramus, and completely egotistical.

The one-share, one-vote guy is fond of saying that he's already put in his fifteen seconds of boo-hooing for Greece, for Italy, Spain... (choose your country currently suffering financially). He likes wearing his ignorance on the outside. Whether it's the tea-party people, Bush jr., Romney, the CPC in Canada, del Mastro, Kenney, etc. they practically invite derision with their mean-spirited belligerence but cannot seem to take their own medicine.

del Mastro was crying like a little girl that his family's name was being dragged in the mud with his questionable spending in 2008 federal elections and wanted stop to the probe by Elections Canada; that whacked-out Kenney posted his own petition to thank him for doing a "great job" as a minister of immigration in his website - still seeking undeserved assurance like the coddled little man that he is. Sheesh!

Today I read something by Tom Flanagan on the Globe&Mail website: that reminded me of that one-share, one-vote guy. Classic right-wing whining. Need anyone reminding, it was Harper who tried to sue Elections Canada to allow third-party advertising (disregarding for the moment the questionable financing arrangements with big corporations on the sly), but here we have that American right-wing mouth-piece boo-hooing about his suspicions that the unions might be spending money to advertise the wacky policy platforms of extreme right parties. If he were genuinely hawkish (except when he's not) and proud of it, he should be happy that his brand of politics is getting free air-time.

Romney is being creamed by Obama's negative attack ads; since his don't seem to be working out the way he wanted and expected them to, he has the gall to ask Obama to apologize. Mitty don't..? wsmta? - wassamata? What's-the-matter?


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Plato is my friend but truth my greater friend

The title of this entry comes from a latinized quote attributed to Aristotle: amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas. There are different versions and phraseologies attributed to other sources to be sure but the fact remains that the sentiment is a noble one and should rightly be a timeless ideal character building exercises strive for (whether religious or secular).

I'm here not talking about petty "truths" about this or that person nor about dogmatic "truths" of organized religions and corporate propaganda, but of the notions of integrity and honour in our systems of governance, economics and education.

I was watching Power&Politics the other day where Rob Russo and John Iveson were part of the panel with Solomon and they were discussing the financial stresses that universities are increasingly under and whether they should be accepting corporate donations that invariably carry obligations to the particular interests and partisanship of corporate "beneficence". Of course, the panel didn't have much time to talk about these issues in-depth but their discomfort with such arrangements was rightly palpable - though unavoidable, they surmised.

Suppression of knowledge and technological innovation (especially what are called green technologies) are notoriously part of these deals with the devil when suppression of them serves their immediate and dogmatic interests. But so are climate change science, human health (big tobacco, asbestos, etc.), and environmental/ecological integrity equally vulnerable.

The thing that struck me as almost entirely absent in the discussion is the "too big to fail" mentality that corporations in trouble now seem to really like to fall back on, including large universities. Commercialized technologies, like automobiles, communications and computers, do not really change in their basic platforms after they're invented - the putting on of lipstick to the pig becomes then the "next big thing" - if one goes beyond the propaganda wars between corporations that ensue after the thing is perfected.

Substantive innovation and revolutionary change, in fact, become the "enemies" of large corporations when they've invested so much treasure and R&D into their own products. One of the reasons for such price escalation of 50 cent widgets has to do with R&D itself where public interests are entirely non-existent (because public or non-partisan accounting of the true costs have been made illegal in most westernized, free market countries), especially in pharmaceuticals and medical technologies where one may be charged up to $800US for a long piece of plastic tubing (for sterilization one supposes), or "medicines" are developed and fast-tracked into market though the side-effects are often just plain disturbing.

I was watching Blood Diamonds starring Leonardo deCaprio and the gorgeous Djimon Housou last night with my aippakuluk, and in the special features part of the dvd some interviewee mentioned that in the US, especially, journalism has become more interested in corporate partisanship and commercial "possibilities" than the truth so gross atrocities financed by unchecked consumerism go unreported if not outright suppressed and denied.

Canada is not immune, nor is it entirely innocent and unsullied.

Lucre is our friend but we should never lose sight of the fact that rocks, oil and money have no nutritional/spiritual value, nor social value where the public's trust is long abused in the interest of greed. Plato is my friend but trust/integrity my more valued friend.


Friday, 13 July 2012


I'm doing some very interesting transcription work right now on IQ (Inuit Knowledge) of a certain part of Baffin Island where the elders are talking about traditional land use before and since exploration (apparently, on and off since the fifties in that particular area) and the abundance and scarcity of prey animals, especially caribou.

I was having a light meal yesterday with my best friend when he started talking about his regard for (his love of) the land. Since he's of non-Inuit extraction, he said that he couldn't imagine the depths of IQ re the land, how the subtleties and vagaries of the land accumulated generation after generation must give an entirely different cast for Inuit, especially those who go out day after day, year after year. And I thought about the work I'm doing right now and thought how very true his words were: not only is there attachment to the land and the animals but there is a familiarity and regard for the land as one has for family and friends.

Since climate change and the acceleration of exploration and development in the Arctic, the elders have seen and witnessed drastic changes; some liken it to watching helpless as a venerated old friend slowly ages and deteriorates - much like the process that one see's in alzheimer patients as they slowly become strangers to those who love them.

One of the interviewees said that we are foolish to think only of ourselves, that we should be thinking about our descendents who will most likely only hear stories of how things used to be and not believe. I tell you, this brought tears to my eyes.

One other thing that I just learned about is the hidden code of inuksuit (stone cairns and likenesses of human form that dot our lands). I know that inuksuit serve different purposes: to act as a corral in hunting caribou; to mark fish lakes and rivers; to guide Inuit as they travel in-land. But what I didn't know - and am totally blown away by, the intelligence and creativity I mean -  is that the terminus points (at each end) of navigational inuksuit which are a series of them going for miles on end, must be made of white stone or at least partially. Inuit call these inuksuit, pigiarviit (beginning points).

The land doesn't seem marked by humans at all because the markings are part of the land in its prestine condition - just the way Inuit want it and always intended it to be. Inuit civilization's monumentalism is extremely subtle and refined and practical (ie, beyond egoism). The markings and monuments are designed that way because Inuit do not want the prey animals they rely on to be spooked where none is intended. Then there are also fishing weirs that are centuries old, maintained and amended when used, that one would miss entirely if one didn't know where and what to look for.

The great subtlety and refinement of IQ, which always impresses me greatly, makes me wonder then about whether there really are "savage" societies in the world. Simply because we're ignorant doesn't make the people we don't understand savages. Our ignorant state of them makes us ourselves the "savages" and barbarians, especially when our contemporary society seems hell-bent on outright destruction and garish modifications of what is beautiful in the first place.

IQ shows us that our modifications and "improvements" must be done intelligently (isumaqaratta - we have a rational mind, after all) and with a long-term view that is geologic in nature. The seemingly infinite patience of those raised in real IQ for us ignorant folk makes me realize - at least in part - where that profound philosophy comes from. The Hopi say that all is beautiful, all is beautiful - how very true.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dorks in wolf's clothing

There are a couple of commercials that make me go: really?

One is a beer commercial that likes talking about its undeniably constructed "past"; the other is a mayonnaise commercial that "will not tone it down". They leave me completely incredulous. I'm the same way with Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay.

This is Stephen Harper (on the right) and Dino Zincone (who won against Harper's Richview Collegiate) in the Reach for the Top in 1978:

I found it in the Toronto Sun (April 16, 2011) in a piece by Steve Buffery ( He wrote:

Against the future PM and his team, Dino managed 28 correct answers, for 270 points, as Massey won the game, 445-160. Dino scored 110 more points than the entire Richview foursome.
Harper got nine questions right, for 80 points.

The very next line makes me think that Harper's family connections bought for him his education and all the advantages (then and since) that spoiled, entitled brats are given purchase:

Indeed, the future PM was no slouch in the brains department, graduating in 1978 with an impressive 94.7% mark.

Dino, however, graduated from Vincent Massey with the highest score ever recorded in Ontario up until that time -- an amazing 99.7%

That's 5 percentage points from the very best after performing so mediocre in Reach for the Top! Apparently, some of the answers Harper gave in that show caused the audience to laugh and snicker the way some do now when he speaks French. Money can only go so far. It hasn't bought him manners and empathy for normal people.

I remember in the last federal election in the heat of the moment he accepted a challenge from Iggy for a one-on-one debate then a couple of days later back-tracked from. I guess his handlers were aghast by the prospect of another Reach for the Top performance.

And, he likes being portrayed as somewhat of a history buff: yeah, right! Remember after his official "apology" for the residential school experience for aboriginal children going back a hundred years - he (innocently perhaps) thanked God that Canada has never been a imperialist colonial power (most likely a personal stab at Obama and the US); then there was his vitriolic contempt for the NDP's reluctance during the allies' build-up against Hitler when the NDP didn't even exist during WWII.

The official records and ivy league degrees may look impressive but real talent and capability cannot be bought and sold like indulgences. Propaganda and historical revisionism do not stand up to scrutiny either. In commercials, geeks and dorks may be sold as something other than what they are but in the real world history is never kind to disingenuous authors of questionable politics.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Some notes on the IQ concept of Pilimmaksarniq

I asked him where he had made it, he siad he made it himself, & when I asked him where he got his tools said he made them himself & laughing added if I had staid for other people to make my tools & things for me, I had never made anything...
John Conduitt (Newton's niece's husband)

I have read many authors write that Isaac Newton was an asshole. I tend to believe them. But I like to think about the quote above and see a man undomesticated by conventional "education" for I recognize that aspect of him in many Inuit I know and have known. The creative genius of Newton, to be sure, is unsurpassed in my estimation. But this is more a difference of degree than kind.

The IQ (Inuit Knowledge) concept of Pilimmaksarniq - learning by doing and practice - is not just a pedagogical device by tradition but proven time and again to be a teaching/learning technique far superior to rote memorization and micmickery. It has in it experimentation and familiarization of first principles rather than going by what people think and opine about.

When one looks at hunting equipment, even modern ones, of Inuit one is likely to see modifications (snowmobile, rifles, etc.) and/or some uniqueness and improvement to a basic design. Some of these variations are exactly like the reflecting telescope that Newton designed and made spoken of in the above quote. He understood the first principles of optics (he create the calculus after all): what is the thing in and of itself?

Where Inuit children are nudged and challenged by their betters to think how and why things fail or succeed, Newton did largely for himself. Like Newton, Inuit children are challenged to think for themselves rather than fed pat answers: they are taught to see for themselves how things work and fit into the overall design; the tools themselves are just logical consequences of first principles. In that knowledge, there is a wide field of variation. Teleology and entelechy: these are the true tools of the human intellect.

This conceptual device works in almost any field of human endeavour. I'm sure that had we not wasted time in mindless arithmetical exercises but apply them concepts in play and experimentation, we'd have started creating our own. Ditto for creative and productive writing; rather than mindless copying and memorization of spelling had we focussed on comprehension...

I don't rightly remember when I first started reading, but once I acquired the ability I went off on my own. I slowly acquired a taste for rhetoric and structure but it was through doing not memorization nor being told what good form is. What is at first a chore becomes love if left to wander with a purpose. The ability to read is not just a skill but a tool for further learning. One has to learn the rules before one can break free from them and transcend the skill itself.

Truly, the developmental axiom of Northrop Frye that one takes a subject before one is taken up by the subject is a sound and proven path to learning.


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Why I hate corporatism

Having been a policy analyst for "both" sides (government and Inuit org.s) I've seen the best and worse of the daily "struggles". But corporate "partisanship" sucks on both sides.

I read many years ago a "biography" of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The milieu he was ostensibly raised in is "me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; all of us against the world". Perhaps it's like that in that tribal world, but it is also like that in Canada. East against west; Quebec against Canada; Harper against sane and reasonable political discourse; Governments against aboriginals; us against them (whomever "us" and "them" are, doesn't matter).

Personal values and ideals aside; it is all about corporate interests. It seems to hardly matter, our humanity and souls (our personal integrity and honour). The articles of faith and dogma of corporate this and that are assumed without question; it is a culture of "winners" and "losers", see. People, it seems, are willing to do the ugliest things to other people in the name of the corporation. Perhaps its in our genes. But I don't buy that.

In the corporate world of divide and conquer I've had to admit defeat. It takes too long to explain personal reasons for making a political stand, the ethical/moral thing to do is hard, as compared to the ready-made propaganda and the certainty about questions of right and wrong. To challenge orthodoxy and the corporate line (which is often thinly-veiled racism and parochialism in silk shirts) is to invite isolation and suspicion even from your own who are often given incentives and concessions that look good initially but carry a heavy price because it often means kicking the issue down the line for others to deal with (finite resources, unlimited needs; short-term gains over long-term interests).

I'm not against the idea of an Inuit cultural school, I just saw all that money (tax-payers' money) proposed to be spent on a one-shot deal against the wise use of limited resources to enhance community-based cultural curriculum so all communities could see long-term benefits at a fraction of the cost for a stand-alone.

I doubt I'll ever be allowed to participate in the social and political development of aboriginal communities, especially in Nunavut. I'm a difficult man to get along with; some would say I'm impossible to get along with. I once told a friend of mine that we are all responsible for the demise of Inuktitut and Inuit cultural values because we failed as policy people and frontline deliverers of government and Inuit org. programs, and he threw his drink at me. I was thinking bad faith negotiations that creates these things...

I have since learned to tone down and be more diplomatic and sensitive to others' worldviews. Not drinking helps. But I sometimes dispair knowing my isolation is largely my own fault.


Saturday, 7 July 2012

Flowers for Algernon

I recently read this interesting commentary on the Globe&Mail website: that got me thinking about a short story I once read years ago written by Daniel Keyes called, Flowers for Algernon, that may be best known as the movie adaptation, Lawnmower Man.

It is not so much the superficial treatment of the commentary in and of itself that got me thinking about the short story but the zeitgeist of corporatism and the psychological bureaucracy that arbitrarily classifies us all into this and that and the other thing. Upon reading Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1792) where he talks about chartered towns and villages of England in contrast to the constitutionally protected freedoms of movement and association in revolutionary America and France, things fell into place.

Paine's criticism that charters (and town corporations) perverse human rights and freedoms by converting the direction in which rights and freedoms are formalized in them is, I think, right on. Rather than giving rights and freedoms charters take away the inherent rights of the majority in favour of the few:

If charters were constructed so as to express in direct terms, 'that every inhabitant, who is not a member of a corporation, shall not exercise the right of voting,' such charters would, in the face, be charters, not of rights, but of exclusion. (Rights of Man (1792), p. 274)

In the face of it it may not sound so bad, even reasonable and normal. But when things become such that societies are grouped into two classes: share-holders and consumers, things become a bit more scary with world-shaking consequences. Votes are taken in the House of Parliament to do away with regulations and legislations intended to protect public interests and environmental integrity without much debate. I know of no one who would gladly give away any of these protections, except for share-holders.

Charlie, the main character of the short story, is an intellectually challenged individual who consents to a surgery to enhance his intelligence after a "successful" operation has been done on Algernon, a mouse in the title of the tale. But something goes wrong and Algernon reverts back into average then madness before dying. Charlie, seeing his own fate in Algernon's demise, tries hard to avert such a thing for himself. (spoiler alert) he does not succeed.

In the course of the story, what Charlie thought and what actually is are slowly brought into focus as he becomes more aware and cognizant: people who thought were his friends only liked him to make fun of him and intellectual challenges; people who he thought were smart have intelligence only in a limited way and he realizes that they just put on airs because of social expectations and mores. What he ultimately fails to realize is that knowledge without functional ethical and moral compass creates monsters like himself.

It is said that Keyes wrote the short story based on his own teaching experience working with students with special needs. One of his students asked Keyes if it were possible for him to get into regular classes if he worked hard enough and became smart. Corporate charters, like aptitude tests, create artificial boundaries and classes that are just as insurmountable as if they were really real. Reasonable intelligence and creativity are often not enough to get one in; one has to meet the "objective" measures put up by people who are, for all intents and purposes, born fully-formed.

Most of us do not own voting shares. In a country like Canada today this means that our interests will never make it onto the floor. Our love of the country, our desire to protect the environment and hope for sound monetary regulations to protect all (not just some), our desire for a peacable and fair society are very much like the kid's desire for progress beyond his label through hard-work and heart which now seem just as pathetic and lamentable.

In the story, the flowers for Algernon are not so much for the dead mouse but the sad end we see for ourselves  we who must pay when the hens come home to roost.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part iv)

One of the most misunderstood and, therefore, one of the most contentious issues of discourse on Inuktitut is the notion of "standardization". Let me make it clear from the outset that I'm not talking about making Inuktitut dialects and their unique features (usually community-specific phraseologies and terms) into one homogenous language; I'm talking about how to denote units of measure (ie, Canada uses the metric system so we have to figure out how to convert imperial units like inches, pounds, etc. into km, grams and seconds in published works), monetary notations, conventional scientific symbolism, etc. into consistently usage of these concepts in Inuktitut.

I have seen in various translations the use of transliteration for (eg) such terms as $1miliantaalas for $1,000,000 and these are usually done without context or explanations of how these magnitudes are set up in the source language. One million dollars is a lot of money to be sure, but how does that compare to $100; $1,000; etc. -In the decimal system, the addition of a zero to a dollar figure raises the amount by a factor of ten: ie, 1,000 is ten times 100; one million is a thousand times a thousand.

Going about it this way may not sound so important but when one starts dealing with such things as percentages, fractions, decimal fractions, scientific notation such as 4 x 106 (ie, 4 followed by 6 zeros or 4 million) the context becomes key to comprehension of these magnitudes, especially to be able to denote or convert them into something more understandable or managable.

I have not suggested any notational devices/techniques here because I think the best way to deal with these issues belong to such bodies as the Inuit Language Authority, Nunavut Teachers' Association, Nunavut Union of Employees, etc.

In terms of coining new Inuktitut terms in fields as biology, geography, chemistry, etc. there are conventional scientific principles of nomenclature and symbolism (like gold is denoted as Au in internationally accepted symbolic terms, in scientific literature for biology the vulgate terms are used in the normal language but the latinized names are usually included as well for the sake of clarity and specificity) that Inuktitut may pattern itself after.

There are usually deep, deep connections in scientific concepts that are not immediately obvious. For example, the radiation from the sun especially is connected to the notion of radioactivity because the sun is run by quantum physical processes of fusion (hydrogen converted to helium and so on) but so is radioactive uranium, which is in no way connected in the Inuktitut term, nungusuittuq (ever-lasting (source of energy)) to the process of atomic decay and conversion into more stable elements.

The example of using plain-language explanations without explaining the logic system behind the term (ie, how the term is generated) where lives are at stake is the Inuktitut term for "cancer" which is often rendered as "that which cannot be cured" when oncology or histology of cell structures is more descriptive than the vulgate "cancer": neoplasia - new (unmitigated cell) growth.

There is much to be done; much can be done for Inuktitut. Inuktitut's ability to adapt to new concepts is infinite; knowing how to do that is the major hurdle. The polysynthetic struture of Inuktitut grammar is much more flexible than English which uses latin and greek-bases to impress sophistication it neither deserves nor has real claim to. Brachiopodia sounds impressive but its etymology is just "hand-foot".


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part iii)

One of the features of a literate society (including pre-textual societies whose mythologies and common sayings are strong) is that ability to coin new words and concepts using cultural references. English and other European cultures tend to use a lot of ancient Greek and Roman references.

A "Sisyphean effort" is used to refer to a difficult but pointless activity (from the mythological Sisyphus, a Greek king who is sentenced to eternity to roll a huge boulder up a hill only to have the stone roll back down the hill where he has to go back and roll it up again); something similar is "Herculean task", which means something that requires tremendous effort or strength; "heads of Hydra" refer to something that persists even when tried to be eliminated.

Another rich source of literary references in the West is the use of biblical characters: "raising Cain" - to cause disruptive trouble for someone, or to create disturbance; "old as Methuselah" - refers to something or someone who is or looks unbelievably old; etc. etc.

One of the movies that I totally think is cool is "Brother, where art thou?" by the Cohen Brothers which is replete not only with references to Homer's Odyssey (on which the movie is based) but also the bible. The movie is a great example of classical education American style. Life and the world casted in epical light like a renaissance painting, where life - any life, no matter how small and impoverished - is given and imbued with meaning, authenticity and dignity not afforded by the sterile and saniticised politically-correct "education" that is Canada. South American authors have retained and persisted in that quality of epic light in telling their tales.

I tried to demonstrate that we can also use Inuit legends and mythological characters to coin new words and phrases for the modernization of Inuktitut. I did the first and second periods of the periodic table of elements starting with the mother of the sun and the moon, Lumaajuq (for hydrogen) and the setting of the sun (nipijuq = fluorine) for the last reactive element before neon (the inert gas) which I haven't named yet as I had an ecstatic experience when I looked out and saw what beauty is possible with such a scheme. All these elements end with [-juq] by the way, which means that it exists right here, now.

A systematic naming scheme (principles of nomenclature) is used by science (or it tries as best as it can). But using terms and grammatical structures that are not indigenous to English (or any other European languages) breaks the scheme and gives the impression of intimidating complexity for such simple, elemental notions that comprise the whole field of scientific discourse. Science as a new priesthood is rather counter-productive for the advancement of human knowledge.

I don't know from where I got this image (I'm sure it's from a great book I read once) of an alien intelligence who sees the regular hexagonal shapes of foamy bubbles and "discovers" Euclidean geometry. Perhaps the hexagonal shapes of snowflakes is a more apt descriptor here. But the image bespeaks of learning and/or discovery of new things never before thought of by the learner. Personal discovery followed by translation of that primary image onto other things that are linked at the deeper level...


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Frontline's "Money, Power and Wall Street"

You've heard financial pundits talk about the Greek crisis as if it were a socialist failure. I'd strongly encourage you to watch the investigative PBS show, Frontline's, "Money, Power and Wall Street". Greece, Italy, mainstreet America, were scammed and ripped off by big banks.

It was Wall Street greed not social safety nets that broke these countries and towns and cities who were conned into financing public works and infrastructure with overly complex derivatives and swaps then bet against by the same people who sold them the financial "products". It was the same with pension funds and bonds which were squandered away for short-term gain.

The CPC Corporation likes telling Canadians that "socialism" of Greece is a cautionary tale, that pensions and other safety nets for employees so hard-won by hundred years of union work will break the country. It is not so simple as that. These pension funds are being used to pay for the mistakes of unmitigated capitalist greed 'til there was nothing left for the working class. The notion of nest-egging itself is sound and solid (fiscal conservatism for real) and forms the bedrock of the country's economy: socialism - that's rich coming from unabashed apologists for capitalist greed and avarice that bought the majority for CPC.


Gated communities of the mind

It is said of Breivik (that Amish-looking mass murderer from Norway) that when the investigators looked into his internet habits found that he frequented mostly extreme right wing sites and listservs - a community deliberately closed off from the rest of the world lest it be tainted by the sanity and reasonable arguments. In that world where counter-arguments and counter-demonstrations to ideological dogma are seen as "evil" machinations of the devil himself, he fed himself on mental pablum of racism, bigotry and 18-19th century parochialism (that age at the start of the industrial age where the last time "civilized" man truly felt optimistic and deservedly fluffed with hot air).

The internet world that Breivik discovered had the certainty and selfishness that he, in his life of disappointment and social ineptitude, craved so because it indulges those juvenile traits - no questions asked. That world not only indulges but reinforces and affirms 18-19th century insanity of manifest destiny right here in our contemporary world.

This is the world that Harper and his fascism occupies. That manifest destiny is a debunked justification for a mass extinction event and global genocide is beside the point, its sanction for masterbatory self-fawning is the only thing: Canada is an energy superpower; conservative values are Canadian values; we have a majority mandate to reform Canada in our own image, etc.

It makes one wonder what the hell is Harper compensating for?

In that gated community of the mind, it makes perfect sense to personalize perceived hurts and slights; damn, we can flaunt our willful, carefully cultivated ignorance and meanness: Who appointed that kidnapped diplomat? - let him rot in hell; Khadr? - let him rot in hell; Attawapiskat? - put them under third-party management; Quebec and Newfoundland? - what use are they to Canada anyhow - let them eat cake; lets put a firewall around Alberta...

These flawed and selfish ideas and thoughts aren't even their own. They're in the by-laws of the gated community of the mind. But when were these mental midgets ever even their own persons?

Contrast the anonymity of the CPC with the likes of John Crosby and that manly Deb Gray. Crosby manned-up and leapt into the fray when he had to shut down the fisheries in Newfoundland (he knew that the cod had to survive as a species; he felt it in his heart); I don't think there was anything inauthentic about Gray (truly, she was the man of the house). I do not agree with their politics but I have a lot of respect for them, those old war horses. The last of their kind, really.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The lopsided media war on climate change

My aippakuluk bought me a subscription to Popular Science magazine a few months ago. The July edition is a very interesting issue that features articles on the current (and future) state of the environment. In these series of articles focussing on the various aspects of climate change (political, ideological, technological and scientific).

The first article written by Tom Clynes titled, The Battle, is an informative if sad and familiar recounting of intellectual and moral devastation wrought by big business when it reacts to what it perceives as a threat to its economic interests. Now, after having watched a slew of documentaries and interviews on PBS and CBC and other printed media on unchecked corporate greed, I wasn't surprised by the intensity of vitriol and intellectual poison unleashed by big corporations but I'm always dismayed by the lengths big money is willing to go to get what it wants.

After reading the articles in Popular Science (and knowing a bit of the history), I have come to realize that corporate canada is succeeding and reaping the unjust and usurped rewards of a favourable regulatory environment (the gutting of environment protections) unlike any before it anywhere in the world. We've effectively been corralled and cordoned off like a gated community from the rest of the world. I'm pretty sure we've been politically hijacked as a society of consumers whose worth is not measured by the contributions (real and potential) we can make to the advancement of humanity (remember our lofty, noble ideals as a rational country) but by the worth of rights to natural resources.

The vicious attack ads that a Heartland Institute came up with, though were too much to continue, suggest that thoughtful people and honourable scientists are akin to the likes of Ted Kaczynski (whose mugshot figures prominently in the giant billboard that was actually shown), Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden and other mass murders, whose text reads: I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You? In tactics reminiscent of the Conservative Party in last few federal elections in Canada ugly things are done by the corporate interests in a language that is at once clinical and mean. The fact that crazy people can be unleashed to threaten and intimidate its "enemies" is in tandem with their labelling campaigns:

"The people who believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants and madmen." (a Heartland Institute press release)

-as if global warming is an article of faith rather than a demonstrable scientific reality; the tactics by Heartland itself manufactured the reality that mass murderers and monsters "believe in global warming" and this messaging is reinforced by the kamakazi billboards is classic extreme right-wing.

I'm just wondering now if the dark money that funds the likes of Heartland Institute is also funding the Fraser Institute and Ethical Oil, or for that matter the Harper government. How many anonymous donors and whole rosters of shift workers who all decided enmass to support the conservatives are there?