Sunday, 26 October 2014

Living ironically

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

In all the years of being a reader and thinker I have come to realize that old Navajo adage: All is beautiful. Now, I don't have any clue whether the Book of Genesis is older than the Navajo conclusion that 'all is beautiful', only that when G*d had created the universe He beheld His creation and thought that "it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).

Over the past few weeks I've been thinking quite a lot about ugliness and beauty of the universe, or, more precisely, whether I am myself beautiful or ugly. According to the vehement advocacy of one (the doctrine of eternal punishment) I am utterly without hope (unless I'm somehow capable of attaining the impossible—ie, live a life without sin); according to another view, I'm "created in the image of G*d" (Gen. 1:27) and that my purpose in life is to try and awake and actualize that dignity.

Without denying either conclusion, I philosophically, psychologically and spiritually lean to the latter as the more realistic doctrine (what an ugly word: doctrine). I do not mean that I have a "get out of jail free" card, only that I'm a living, breathing, reflecting, learning entity and, therefore, necessarily incomplete 'til the end of my days, if even then.

I'm re-reading the great David Berlinski's book, The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. Ever the master of irony, his "wise but twinkling eyes" (to quote Roger Waters) dictate to his considerable talent for well-crafted phrases:

If science stands opposed to religion, it is not because of anything contained in either the premises or the conclusions of the great scientific theories. They do not mention a word about God. They do not treat of any faith beyond the one that they themselves demand. They compel no ritual beyond the usual rituals of academic life, and these involve nothing more than the worship of what is widely worshipped. Confident assertions by scientists that in the privacy of their chambers they have demonstrated that God does not exist have nothing to do with science, and even less to do with God's existence. (Preface, p. xiv)

A bit further down (the very next page) he continues:

These splendid artifacts of the human imagination have made the world more mysterious than it ever was. We know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped. We do not know how the universe began. We do not know why it is there. Charles Darwin talked speculatively of life emerging from a "warm little pond." The pond is gone. We have little idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did. We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the human brain functions. Beyond the trivial, we have no other theories. We can say nothing of interest about the human soul. We do not know what impels us to right conduct or where the form of the good is found. (ibid, p. xv)

Living life ironically is a willingness to admit that we are capable of knowing only little and that what we know little of is not only open to interpretation and contradiction but that there is also a world of difference between knowing and being.

Berlinski makes it abundantly clear—as Socrates, Lao Tsu, the Hebrew prophets, and Christ Himself did before him—that merely knowing something is not enough and what is demanded of us is:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Contrast this fundamentally insightful meditation, again, with what Berlinski writes about these men of action and certainty of destiny:

Richard Dawkins accepts Stalin as a frank atheist, and so a liability of the sort that every family admits, but he is at least sympathetic to the thesis that Hitler's religious sentiments as a Catholic were sincere. Why stop at Hitler? No doubt some members of the SS took communion after an especially arduous day in the field murdering elderly Jewish women, and with vengeful Russian armies approaching Berlin, Heinrich Himmler, who had presided over the Third Reich's machinery of extermination and had supervised the desecration of churches and synagogues from one end of Europe to the other, confessed to an associate that he was persuaded of the existence of the Higher Power. The death of Franklin Roosevelt inspired Joseph Goebbels to similarly pious sentiments. The deathbed conversion is generally regarded as the mark of desperate insincerity. Throughout their careers, these scum acted as if no power was higher than their own. Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it. They might have well been Christian Scientists. (ibid, p. 25-26)

Mind, he is similarly unflattering to the outrages of religious history. In what seems his central premise in the book he asks and answers:

What makes men good?

Nothing. This is the answer of historical experience and a troubled common sense. It is the answer of Christian theology, and finds its expression in the doctrine of original sin.

When Christopher Hitchens asks how much self-respect "must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one's own sin," the only honest answer is that for most of us, self-respect is possible only if the squirming is considerable.

Men are not by nature good. Quite often, quite the contrary. And for this reason they must be restrained, by threats if possible, by force if necessary. "Perhaps," Richard Dawkins speculates, " a Pollyanna to believe that people would remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God."

I am under most circumstances the last person on earth to think Richard Dawkins a Pollyanna, but in this case I defer to his description. Why should people remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God? Do people remain good unpoliced by police? If Dawkins believe they do, he must explain the existence of criminal law, and if he believes they do not, then he must [Berlinski's emphases] explain why moral enforcement is not needed at the place where law enforcement ends. (ibid, p.33-34)

Now, I do not buy into the notion of homo homini lupus—man is wolf to man—(mentioned further down page 34 by Berlinski) but neither am I as pessimistic as Berlinski apparently is in the last couple of passages quoted. I cannot honestly deny nor contest his view of the necessity of law—moral, ethical, legal, physical—but I would only say that "education" (in its broadest sense) is the best insurance against nihilism and anarchy.

Religion, then, is as necessary as any other resource available to humanity. The moral insights in all Holy Scriptures (the family resemblance of all faiths) make up an aspect of the apparatus that allow human beings to derive meaning from the answers of "historical experience" and "troubled common sense" and "Christian theology".

Being of the mind that spiritual "purity" and obsessive need/imperative for ritual "cleanliness" as nothing more than manifestations of clinical OCD, I'm not averse to the notion that secular literary masterpieces (including oral traditions) and documentation of history in good faith—as much as art—are undeniable components of the meaning-making apparatus of the human soul.

Striving for balance and well-roundedness, as much as active efforts of cultivation of spiritual, technical and aesthetic sensitivities, comprise of the comprehensive maturing process of human beings. Are these needs "by nature"? Nope. They seem to arise and emerge from our experience spontaneously peri- and post- self-reflection, thus inexorably leading to Micah 6:8. What seems before judgmental and harsh becomes slowly full of divine wisdom.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Napier's Bones

"Napier's bones" sounds like a religious relic. "Rabdology" (or, the art of casting them bones, if you will) doesn't sound any better.

But Napier's Bones is actually a cool and fascinating calculating device that turns multiplication into addition and division into subtraction. It usually consists of 10 sticks (or columns) each divided into rows which comprise of multiples of the number on the top row, like this:

The 7th bone is highlighted in the image. It starts: 7 x 1 = 7; 7 x 2 = 14; 7 x 3 = 21; etc. The multiples are rendered as single digits divided by a diagonal line.

The use of this calculating device can be a bit tricky in the beginning but figuring it out is 99% of the fun (ie, 'fun' because it actually encourages mathematical thinking and offers up a possibility for some bright mind to explain why it works). In the book, The Joy of Mathematics, by Theoni Pappas, the author herself says that 298 x 7 turns into 165 + 436 but no matter how hard you try and add 165 + 436 to result in 2086 it can only sum up to 601.

It is only by inserting a place-holder zero at the end of the top number: 1650 + 436 does the sum finally equal 2086.

Here is a link that explains in more detail how Napier's Bones work ('s_bones)

I'd also recommend checking this link out: (

Though electronic calculators and computers made devices like Napier's Bones and the slide rule 'obsolete' they are still (and will always be) tremendously valuable as teaching tools. One cannot open up an electronic calculator and see its inner workings. The electronic circuits just don't sweep one up in wonder and delight at the fundamental principles, patterns and properties of numbers that are inherent and immediate in these analog computing devices.

I would encourage Nunavut's elementary and secondary teachers to recruit Napier's Bones and the use of slide rules into their math courses. Who knows, perhaps one or two of their students just might amaze and inspire them; who knows, one of them might actually run the whole gamut themselves and uniquely re-create deeper connections in mathematics, even re-create calculus or engineering principles themselves.


Sunday, 19 October 2014


I love teaching. I love watching people learn and I enjoy the classroom interaction (between student and student, and between teacher and student).

My regular readers will know that I'm an admirer of Lev Vygotsky. I try and apply his psychological insights into my classroom, and try and mix covering the subject matter, exegeses of text, input from the students, and providing couching.

These are adult students so I don't have to pretend anything. When I make a mistake the whole class including me laugh about it. Being open and honest as a matter of course provides the students to not only share with the group without having to feel self-conscious but also provides room to apply their own knowledge in a safe environment. I'm naturally a lover of ideas but I try and make the basic principles of discourse alive while cognizant of the fact that learning is not based on a schedule but is a currency of social interaction.

When one approach is losing the students I try another approach. My analogue of knowledge is not a castle with many rooms but rather a landscape with land marks. These land marks are based on geology (principles and theoretical frameworks) and built up on ideas (the biomass that has the capacity to evolve and even generate original insights).

In this particular case of teaching medical terminology/interpreting, the anatomy and physiology are the geological foundations that scaffold the basic coordinate system which in turn holds the key to latin- and greek- taxonomic principles of medical terms and concepts. The major land marks comprise the skeletal mountain over there, the circulatory hills between muscles and organs, etc.

Granted, the analogy is a bit stretched but it's the organizing principles that act as a mnemonic device where one concept supports another which in turn supports another concept. One memory links up to another memory and the overview informs the learner. Ever the linguist, I try and take every opportunity to point out certain recurring patterns in medical terminology and what the prefixes, roots and suffixes refer to. When the linkages are made by the students themselves with terms in common usage a whole new world is opened up.

Though I try and not underplay the Inuit Language terminology (which, to me, is utterly important), I know that acquiring the skills to unlock and decipher the source scientific concepts reinforces the Inuit Language skills and the students' ability to describe and explain them to themselves and others. The English language is on equal footing with the Inuit Language.

In my line of work I have that fortunate but rare luxury of being able to discourse in one language and when that doesn't seem to be working to revert to another language 'til the students find their bearings again. This approach actually works, and it works beautifully.

The whole point of learning to me is to demystify knowledge and re-enchant the world with informed creativity and wonder. The power to surprise and delight is unlocked. Human dignity is reclaimed.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Theology: an abomination

I recently had an experience—a negative spiritual experience if you will—that shook me to the very foundations of my yet-naive faith. I've been regularly attending a weekly Bible study group since I moved to Rankin Inlet, and I considered it a sign-from-heaven of sorts that I would meet people who have similar perspective and desire for sanity in our lives. That is, until someone in the group chose to speak about the doctrine of eternal damnation.

His session went relatively well. I mean, as believers in the Gospel of Christ, I do not think any one of us in the group would deny the discourse of our Lord on the serious realities of evil and hell, and the Lord's admonishments against the subtle wiles of fleshly passions and selfish regard: "your sins are forgiven...go and sin no more".

It was the week after that, when someone chose to speak about the doctrine of eternal salvation, that things took a turn to something akin to seeing Yoda's dark side. That the proponent of eternal damnation would emphasize particular words in his selected passages with much gusto (let's say) and that at no point does the Holy Scriptures say that should one ever go back to "boozing, whoring and back-biting!" kind of floored me. I was stunned. And I don't think I was the only one.

Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3a:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.

I'm still in that state of spiritual infancy (am practically a zygote, as it turns out). I must admit that I'm not even averse to the notion that I'm a fool when it comes to the Bible and prone to sin without much effort. But I strive for growth and awareness.

This is why I would not be surprised if someone could tell me and convince me that I am wrong to think that theology is evil (and even satanic). I seem to recall a passage in the bible that basically says that to think we can measure the width, breadth and height of G*d is a grave sin indeed (hubris). But I haven't been able to locate exactly where that is.

AW Tozer, in his sermon titled, Facing the Infinite G*d, writes:

God dwells in a mode of being totally beyond us and wholly above us and infinately removed from us yet when we think about God we are trying to think about someone unlike anything we know. God says, Who am I like? or to whom will you compare me? The answer being, nobody; nobody's like God, nothing's like God. God is like Himself.
You see, friends, theology is what we can learn about God but knowing God is quite something else altogether. Now, anything that I'll say this morning, any intelligent sinner can understand and then go to hell. But eternal life is knowing God and not knowing about God. The difference between a theologian and a saint is that the saint knows God and the theologian knows about God. (

and he continues:

But if you're studying doctrine, you can teach doctrine, and study doctrine and not be a Christian. And I have no doubt that many Bible teachers aren't truly Christians; they only know about God, they are specialists in the Book of Romains [sic] and Ephesians and Hebrews but they don't know the God of Romains nor Ephesians nor Hebrews. And you can go to Bible conferences and you can hear theology--or doctrine as we like to call it--you can hear doctrine, and you can understand the doctrine, and yet not know God at all.

"This is eternal life that they might know (God) Thee", and "know" there means experience. There is a difference between knowing and experiencing. I know about Eisenhower but I have never experienced Eisenhower. I have never see him, I have never shaken hands with him. I have never heard his voice, except over the radio; I have never experienced Eisenhower, and yet I know about Eisenhower. Anything that I can or shall say about God this morning any sinner can get it, if he's intelligent, and yet go to hell in the end. So don't get puffed up if you happen to feel, well, you understand about God's infinitude. That doesn't mean anything to you, unless you have been born of the Spirit and washed in the blood, because over here in the book of First Corinthians we read this: "It is written, Eye hath not seen, nor eye heard, neither has it enter into the heart of man the thing which God hath prepared for him that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his spirit, for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so, the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God."

My recent experience of Yoda's dark side frightened me. My view of these experts in G*d's Word has changed. Has my faith in the Gospel of Christ changed? I don't think so. If anything, it seems to have been renewed and that I have grown from the experience: though the Way, the Truth and the Life is constant and eternal, we (human beings) are all fallible, even fragile. We have our off days and we have our good days.

I have compassion for all of the guys in the Bible study group. But the leadership in these types of fellowships must always consider the possibility of an off day lest the souls in their charge lose faith.


Monday, 13 October 2014


"We are lucky to have a PM who is an expert in so many makes you wonder why we are paying so many people to do jobs Stephen Harper could easily do himself."
-Melvin Argue, in a posted comment in a Post Media article (

One of my favourite authors on mathematics is Charles Seife. He wrote Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. He also wrote another book called, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception.

In the intro section of Proofiness he writes:

Our world is now awash in proofiness. Using a few powerful techniques, thousands of people are crafting mathematical falsehoods to get you to swallow untruths. Advertisers forge numbers to get you to buy their products. Politicians fiddle with data to try and get you to reelect them. Pundits and prophets use phony math to get you to believe predictions that never seem to pan out. Businessmen use bogus numerical arguments to steal your money. Pollsters, pretending to listen to what you have to say, use proofiness to tell you what they want you to believe.

Sometimes people use these techniques to try and convince you of frivolous and absurd things. Scientists and others have used proofiness to show that Olympic sprinters will one day break the sound barrier and that there's a mathematical formula that determines who has a perfect butt. There's no limit how absurd proofiness can be. (Proofiness, p.4)

In a word, these people, including Stephan Harper, are willing to "commit sociology" to advance their own interests. They're relying on (counting on) our basic ignorance and fear of anything mathematical to make us behave in ways they'd like us to behave—whether we behave exactly as they want us to or achieve inaction out of frustration or confusion...the house always wins.

That is, the house wins—in this case—if we let it. For the anti-intellectual it is utterly hopeless. The reason, though, all is not hopeless is that we're still capable of thought and honest, critical examination of our basic principles and values of life and then decide what we will do or will not do with a piece of information or fact.

The piece where Melvin Argue is quoted above provides an example of a seemingly relatively harmless politic play (I mean, who really cares which fat-cat gets the contract?). But to regard it as harmless misses a whole complex of public accounting principles, the checks and balances of good governance and even the history of our democratic society where principles of good and responsible government have been used to shed blood and offer up Canadian souls as the ultimate sacrifice. Any one of these reason should suffice to warrant serious investigation or debate in the House of Commons.

But Harper has been able to make a sad mockery of our society and hard-won democratic institutions with (apparently) nary a peep from Canadians and much to the glee of his base, his financiers and the now-bloated media monitoring system he has bought for partisan purposes with Canadian tax dollars.

The oft-used phrase that the Canadian media is biased against Harper's conservative 'values' is a much useful propaganda tool not because the 'leftist media elites' are really against Harper but because the journalistic tradition in Canada has yet a strong bent towards the notion of its civil duties and the belief that an informed citizenry is essential to the vitality of our society as a whole, and Harper does not really make the cut under that system of values.

If there was any authenticity to Harper he wouldn't, shouldn't be mewling every time the system of checks and balances demands solid workmanship to pass his and the PMO's half-baked, anti-democratic ideas that would serve his short-term interests but have long-term detrimental consequences to the Canadian society.

Now, is that the type of character in leadership our 150 years of existence should accept even implicitly?

Our system works and works beautifully. Non-violent, non-coercive and democratic means and institutions are at our disposal. On July 14, 1776 the colonies of the New World issued a declaration against an instituted oligarchy that Harper seems intent on imposing upon the regular citizenry. The Post Media piece should be, must be interpreted as a serious breach and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, which in part says:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  (


Sunday, 12 October 2014

"Accurate without being true"

As a language scientist, I'd say that my approach to the craft is more in the tradition of 'natural philosophy' (ie, as in Newton defined himself as a 'natural philosopher') than in our modern day notions of what a scientist is. That is to say that I'm less interested in accumulating data-sets, though I appreciate them and am an ironically good analyst, than I am interested in stretching and expanding and reverse-engineering the structures of my craft.

I'm as interested in the science of linguistics as I am in the applied language arts (rhetoric; oratory; poetics; philosophy; politics; etc.). I'm actually an able poet (when inspiration hits me) as I am an analyst; the rhyme and meter fascinate me as much as metaphor and a clever turn of phrase. My belief in the equality of all human languages is a tested and consciously aware conclusion. I've experimented in translation of Western classics, have written poetry in the sonnet form and have created an Inuktitut limerick.

Why am I saying all this?

I have a certain passion for politics.

Harper flummoxes me, irritates me, annoys me, challenges me, fascinates me. His disingenuous, though amateurishly clumsy, treatment of facts in his rhetoric works precisely because his whole milieu is a constructed bubble of demagogic mise-en-scene. He is a blunt little tool and rarely engages in situations where his sole talent would be utterly useless. His fawning audience, his hand-selected cadre of journalists (what we would generously call "publicists"), his immature and unquestioning, spoon-fed cushion of advisers and courtiers give a certain impression of daunting impassiveness.

Any rap star, boy band or Milli Vanelli what-have-yous know these tricks inside out. But we talking about a democracy: our democracy.

One cannot decimate legislation, implement public policy on personal feelings, mix good and sound ideas with bad ones in an omnibus bill for the sole purpose of cheap gotcha politics, and expect sustainability of vision and long-lasting legacy pieces that would attest to your time in the highest office of the land.

When people like Calandra, Del Mastro, Poilieve, etc. stand up in the House and make spectacularly outrageous offenses against our notions of good governance, when costly pieces of legislation are thrown out because they do not meet constitutional standards, when one is seen to favour one region over another, when public announcements do not pan out, when trusted and respected public figure are viciously attacked for speaking out, etc. etc. all of these things add up to not a "master strategist" at work but incompetent indifference the best of which is illustrated by a fictitious character like Joffery from the Game of Thrones and at worse a diva-like third world dictator.

The title of this entry comes from a quote by David McLaughlin (former head of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy) who was commenting on Harper's performance and public statements contrasted against Commissioner Julie Gelfand's recently released report on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions:

He says Harper's statements to the House of Commons are factually accurate in that Canada's overall emissions are currently lower than they were when the Conservatives came to office in 2006 and the economy has grown since then.

A multitude of factors are involved in those lower emissions, notably the global financial crisis that began to bite in 2008 and created a major recession in 2009.

"The economy went off a cliff," said McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney. "The emissions upward path dropped in conjunction with the drop in economic growth. Same thing happened in the U.S."

Harper's response in the Commons, said McLaughlin, "is a classic example of accuracy versus veracity."

"It's accurate without being true — in the sense that it's accurate the numbers show that, but it's not true in showing we're on a path to reducing overall emissions and to meet targets."

Harper is on shakier ground, however, when he claims emissions decreased "thanks to our plan."

Industries are more energy efficient, they've moved away from energy-intensive manufacturing to service industry work, and provincial measures — notably Ontario's move away from coal-fired electricity generation — have also played a major role.

"It's not true that it's on the basis of a series of distinct government actions, at the federal level anyway," McLaughlin said. (

Actually, everything that Harper does and says has always been on "shaky ground"—in an amateurish kind of way. The above quote illustrates this perfectly: he tends to take credit for a certain aspect of a given situation he's had nothing to do with while placing blame upon others for the less flattering aspects of the self-same thing.

What makes it amateurish is that his claims to credit and attribution are provable 'objective' facts rather than attributable to anything he has done or chosen to have not done based on his oft-claimed but rarely demonstrated "set of principles". He is rather like a kid who says he fixed the car because his father let him hold the flashlight while changing the oil.

What really irks me about the demagoguery of Harper is that he's made no effort to actually learn the craft of sophistry, to let us be seduced with his wares if only for a moment. It irks me because it's a glaring statement about the failure of our education system on him and his generation. He has no personality, is not a character, and what is left is a love letter from a creepy Peter Griffin who only nibbled your ear and now your ear feels filthy.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Ephesians 6:12

When I was a kid I used to have terrifying night terrors about the end of the world. I hated going to church, and my leeriness of attending church persists today. I doubt I'll willingly ever set foot in a church again. As a believer in Christ I really do not see a contradiction: I'm a Christian, psychological anatheist ('anatheism' is defined by Richard Kearney as 'seeking a rebirth of faith after the loss of faith' and it is this and this alone on which I base my self label as anatheist).

After many, many years away from church and *simplistic folk religion I think I finally heard the 'still, small voice'. I think my many years of Asperger's-like obsession with the mathematico-physical sciences played a role in my anatheism. When I read the first few verses of Psalm 19 during the period of dark fear that recently dominated my life my decision to 'seek the rebirth of faith' was set.

*'simplistic' here does not mean the saintly people of simple faith that have always been drawn to Christ but the black-and-white, militantly antagonistic, demonic corporatism of right-wing ideology.

The vulcanization of corporatism in the so-called "christian right" and "islamic fundamentalism" (ie, using G*d's name in vain) is part of the culmination of sectarian violence that currently threatens world peace.

St Paul is clear and could not be clearer: this religiously -driven and -defined unrest is utter evil not because it is a fight of 'good against evil' (all parties to this culmination all seem willing to justify the means to their nefarious ends), but because of unsustainable, historic developments of institutionalized evil (violence, greed, hubris, envy, ignorance, willfulness, etc.): For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

This evil does not start in far-off lands, away from the geographical and ideological divides that delineate 'us from them'. It is a reactionary bomb whose fire is currently consuming all of us. One side is reacting against what they perceive to be historic wrongs; the other side is reacting against what they perceive as threats to long-standing but crumbling power structures.

The rise of people like Harper, Rove and the Koch brothers is mirrored by the rise of a decidedly millennial Islamic fundamentalism. This being the case, the devil we know is not very assuring.

The apocalypse is often portrayed as ultimate fight of good against evil, but that is rather wrong-headed in my view: it is G*d and the Messiah judging human society as violent and evil and intervening to protect the 'remnant'in every instance of G*d intervening in Jewish (and human) history since the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt has always been to protect a remnant, seemingly irrespective of whether the individuals are morally and religiously worthy of salvation, at least to worldly expectations. In the book of Nehemiah, the remnant, after many years of exile, has become ignorant of the Jewish religion and need to be retaught the Book of the Law of Moses during the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

In fact, the remnant in St John's Book of Revelation seems to have little or no active role in the ultimate war. War is already happening when the Christ comes down with His heavenly army to protect His remnant. This makes sense because the Christ and the prophets before Him have always claimed that G*d is not interested in religiosity (and neither in our status within a religious community) but how we treat each other as human beings.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Plain and simple wins the race

It has always been humanity's experience that plain and simple ideas are the most beautiful. Elegance is beautiful while convoluted agglomerations are ugly.

Not all things of complexity are ugly. Most of the natural phenomena and specialized fields of activity/study tend to achieve a level of complexity but what makes them elegant is that their reality are based on first principles linked by internally consistent logical systems (ie, can be explained and/or described as simple systems or in rationally logical terms).

Some require specific intermediate steps and the right combinations and conditions to achieve full development; some require only specific shapes and geometries. Life processes and chemical compounds are of the former type; the material implements of the Inuit culture are of the latter. I've often been struck by the inherent elegance of Inuit cultural artifacts.

The other day I attended an opening ceremony of a college course where an Inuk woman was talking about and explaining the mechanical and material principles of optimizing the use of a qulliq (Inuit ovoid-shaped lamp) while she prepared the qulliq for lighting. She described the geometry, orientation, and physical properties of the different materials used to make a qulliq, the chemical make up and uses of different types of oil and wick material, and, at the end of her demonstration, she pointed out the calmness that had descended upon the room (even on those who didn't understand her spoken words).

The first principles she described made no appeal to latin or complicated scientific terminologies and yet she was able to achieve something only few and rare species of teachers and mentors can achieve: insight and comprehension. Her style of teaching reminded me of the fable "stone soup":

Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers persuade local people of a town to give them food. It is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity. In varying traditions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as button soupwood soupnail soup, and axe soup. It is Aarne-Thompson tale type 1548. (

This is Inuit style of teaching par excellence. It involves the student's natural intelligence, linguistic and motor competence and curiosity/imagination; it watches for and celebrates the internal happenings in the student as things (first principles) become clear and lucid enough for the student to gain confidence to try things out and/or innovate.

I try and not give in to the temptations of  romanticizing Inuit culture. My belief and knowledge with respect to Inuit culture and language is that these can more than stand on their own. Its practitioners may not have the language and/or conscious awareness to fully bring out the beauty but it is there nonetheless underlying everything the person utters and does. You may have seen its ineffable reality.

I know someone I care about deeply has seen it, felt it. In her stories of her first experiences of Inuit culture (she was involved with an Inummarik) I can see that spark of imagination. She's also asked questions or made observations that have helped me become more consciously aware of things I had took for granted. Her errors and spot-on observations help me perceive that ineffable beauty more clearly.