Wednesday, 30 December 2015

cedant arma togae

I'm a huge fan of the American Declaration of Independence. To wit:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. (July 4, 1776)

We live in an age of the Military Industrial Complex gone awry. In a word: we have lost control seemingly without ever having to put up a fight. And I don't mean "fight" in the normal sense but in the sense of putting up a defensive buffer between ideals we value as (democratic) human societies and those interests that dominate and tyrannize the whole political discourse by default.

I was channel-surfing the other day and caught bits and pieces of a Will Ferrell movie called, Get Hard (2015), that got me thinking about how far we've been willing go to allow others to determine the fate of our societies. Kevin Hart's character (Darnell Lewis) is trying to save Will (James King) from a group of White Supremacists, and he calls them out:

You know what? I got something to say to you all since I'm guessing this is the first time you've been forced to listen to a black man. You know maybe you guys should just calm the fuck down. Black people ain't tryin' to hurt you [my emphasis]. I mean technically I am right now but that's only because of what you were trying to do to the white guy. Think about that. Google "I Have A Dream" assholes.

Somewhere in all the shit that is currently flying all around us are the notions of human decency and human rationality:

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. (July 4, 1776)

In Canada, we've just come out of a ten-year flirtation with, what did he call it again?, "the Harper Government". Throughout the whole tenure of Stephan Harper he gave us false choices between environment and the economy, between security and our long-held and beloved rights and freedoms. But the disdain for our society was always come by honestly (social programs are too expensive for us to afford). But thankfully, we were able to institute a new government "laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (ibid)

The "bravery of being out of range" (to quote Roger Waters), Canadians decided, is not only unsustainable but ultimately destructive to our ends of promoting good government and peace within and outside our borders. As human constructs trying to implement these two notions may be less-than-ideal, but they are a start.

They are our only defense against becoming victims of "Affluenza" and the Donald.


Monday, 14 December 2015

not even a five year old orphan

I doubt that there is a person alive over the age of puberty who does not feel in some way tainted by something "shameful" or "unflattering" in their lives for which they'd feel a certain moral responsibility. In my core, I know intimately these crippling feelings. I also know intimately the loneliness (and the desire to reach out as a result). But, apparently, there are people who seem incapable of perceiving such registers.

Kierkegaard the existentialist, I would contend, also felt this bile in his mouth. In White and Arp's Batman and Philosophy (2008), Christopher M Drohan, in contrasting the notions of Batman and Alfred on justice, writes:

In this chapter, the great Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) will help us understand Alfred's loyalty to Batman. In particular, we will focus on Kierkegaard's work Fear and Trembling, in which he compares two fundamentally different ethical orders. On the one hand, there are those like Batman who champion infinite justice as their ethical ideal, while on the other, there are those like Alfred, who champion personal love, devotion, and faithfulness as the moral high ground. Although both ethics are noble in their own ways, in the end we'll see that Alfred's justice is superior, for, as Kierkegaard points out, "Faith is a miracle, and yet no man is excluded from it; for that in which all human life is unified is passion, and faith is passion." Whereas humanity may never realize infinite justice, we are all capable of being faithful to each other. Accordingly, Alfred, like Kierkegaard before him, understands that peace begins on an individual basis and that justice is served only when we treat each other with respect. (Drohan, Alfred The Dark Knight of Faith, p. 185)

The so-called Right, in Harper, in that ultra-nationalist party that was routed out in the regional elections in France recently, in their precious Trump and Christy, if fault may rightfully be found in them it is that infinite justice is the only thing they can afford to give us.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

I love this song

These mist-coloured mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be

Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms

Through these fields of destruction
Baptism of fire
I've witnessed all your suffering
As the battles raged higher

And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die

But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Mark Knopfler

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Sagittarius A*

Here I found five ravens dancing in the sky

I call the picture, Sagittarius A*

I've also seen the sea breathe in, at one with Sila

I call this, matins.


In the voice of...

Whenever I read or write anything I do it in a voice that seems fitting the sentiment and "zeitgeist" of the moment. For instance, an expired Twinkie (in the voice of Cleveland Brown, Jr):

Is it just me, or, is it dry in here?

But most my writing and reading preference tends to the real—fiction has proved yet, time and again, an elusive prey. -One day I hope to master the art of understanding the social "conventions" but I have yet to achieve such blessedness so as to sustain credible dialogue. But I digress.

My favourite voice is Anthony Hopkins. It is not just the 'dramaticality' of his voice  but the substance and cadence of his delivery. These words are not so much articulation as are appeals for mercy in the judgement from on high. In reading up to where

 = "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended."

real life is breathed upon the sacred words, for eg. those that begin Psalm 130 (in Hopkins' voice):

 "De profundis clamo ad te domine" (Psalm 130, The Sixth Sense)

or in the closing remarks of his aged Ptolemy in the movie, Alexander The Great:

His tragedy was one of increasing loneliness and impatience with those who could not understand. And if his desire to unite Greek and barbarian ended in failure... what failure! His failure towered over other men's successes. I've lived... I've lived a long life, Cadmos. But the glory and the memory of man will always belong to the ones who follow their great visions. And the greatest of these is the one they now... call "Megas Alexandros" - the greatest Alexander of them all.

as much as his portrayal of the psychopath, Lecter, whose interiority and impulse are casually betrayed during his lecture on Dante, or in the writing of the scented letter to Starling where his admiration for her is not so much her acumen (as he would say) as her tenacity (ever the one to dismiss that-which-is-not-him, not even in compliments). The drama belies the beauty of these words put together so thoughtfully and with careful deliberation.


Friday, 20 November 2015


In my long examination of the properties and structures of language, I have come to realize that a better analogy for the human brain might be that of a resonance chamber that registers electro-chemical activity along neural networks rather than molecular vibrations in the air.

Much like McLuhan's "medium is the message", this resonance chamber determines what it registers and conveys as meaningful. This McLuhanian feature, though, is of a higher dimension in that its adaptive qualities and general plasticity makes it dynamic and interactive more like an equation than a linguistic expression. In other words, this resonance chamber analogy allows such possibilities as music, poetry, political ideas, philosophy, etc. to be generated as meaningful patterns by the simple virtue that a self-same neuron (or, junction) has the capacity to serve a certain function for one dendrite and another, entirely different function for another dendrite that are attached to it.

There are notions of 'providence' and 'regulation' and 'intent' built into the system—ie, our sense of self goes hand-in-hand with the notion of self-preservation. These are necessary features because the resonance chamber is a two-way; external and internal stimuli interact to give us impressions that in turn emit a response of some kind. Purely internal stimulation would generate meaningful patterns by the very act of reflection: music, poetry, philosophy, or "self-narratives" (umwelts?)—these are emotional and/or psychological states that give further "evidence" of our agency and self.

My love of music (and I say "my love of") is that not only do I appreciate music created by others but I even attempt my own hand in music and derive great satisfaction from both. This process trains the "ear" to be able to mentally and intellectually cohere and/or deconstruct sounds rather like an ability to draw or appreciate visual art.

There is a mathematical idea or process called, "zero-knowledge proof" that allows all this creative process to take place seemingly without conscious effort. Ivars Peterson explains it like this:

The idea, a product of several excitedly interacting groups of computer scientists and mathematicians in the United States, Canada, and Israel, developed quickly. Initially, Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Mical, and Charles Rackoff, motivated by theoretical questions concerning the efficiency and reliability of computer algorithms , worked out that it is possible to convey that a theorem is proved without having to provide details of the proof itself.
Manuel Blum extended the scheme to cover any mathematical theorem.
Blum's scheme is interactive. It features a dialog between the prover, who has found a proof for a theorem, and a skeptical verifier. The verifier can ask a special type of question that requires an equivalent of a yes-or-no answer.
An example from graph theory shows how the scheme works. Any network of points, or nodes, connected by lines, or edges, is called a graph...The prover has found a continuous path along the connecting links that passes only once through each of the 11 points on a graph and returns to where it started. This special type of path is called a Hamiltonian cycle.
Significantly, any mathematical theorem can be converted into a graph in such a way that if the theorem has a proof, then the graph has a Hamiltonian cycle. (Ivars Peterson, The Mathematical Tourist: snapshots of modern mathematics, 1988, p. 214-216)

Could consciousness (ie, us!) be a series/sequences of Hamiltonian cycles in a resonance chamber? The "prover-verifier" could be a particular, idiosyncratic constellation unique to each individual, each emotional/psychological state/impression, each individual instance of a completed cycle.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

What if G*d was..

I have no idea why we exist. I certainly have sought answers, and all I've found is beauty.

The mathematics of physics is all-encompassing. There is no way out. The shell is immaculate. Ie, "without blemish or breach (in the continuum)".

Our emotions are real. But these "emotions" are not what we think they are: the Juggernaut is above reproach but it can also point out where we are.

We exist on a planet in the outer edges of a spiral galaxy. We are no wispy dust: we are but an inkling of a value in an equation, a possibility along the Real Line.


We exist.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is used to express desires, doubts, the unknown, the abstract, and emotions, the opposite of the indicative mood which is used to express actions, events, and states that are believed to be true and concrete. (

I love the subjunctive mood (in all languages). Rather than being a state of "unreality" (as some 'experts' suggest), it is properly known as irrealis in linguistics. It is the basis of the language of the great classics.

In the introduction to Common Sense, Thomas Paine begins:

Perhaps ['were it so', so to speak] the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour;... [emphasis and note mine]

This is an example of the subjunctive introducing (or, more precisely, framing) something important that follows by posing a 'possibility' adverb, perhaps. -In the case of Paine's introduction:

...a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. (ibid)

The subjunctive mood is a proven rhetorical device because, basically, the Paine pattern above is general rather than particular to this historical document. It may, for instance, serve as a conclusion:

Your Honors, I derive much consolation from the fact that my colleague, Mr. Baldwin, here, has argued the case in so able and so complete a manner as to leave me scarcely anything to say. However, why are we here? How is it that a simple, plain property issue should now find itself so enobled as to be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America? I mean, do we fear the lower courts, which found for us easily, somehow missed the truth? Is that it? Or is it, rather, our great and consuming fear of civil war that has allowed us to heap symbolism upon a simple case that never asked for it and now would have us disregard truth, even as it stands before us, tall and proud as a mountain? The truth, in truth, has been driven from this case like a slave, flogged from court to court, wretched and destitute. And not by any great legal acumen on the part of the opposition, I might add, but through the long, powerful arm of the Executive Office. Yea, this is no mere property case, gentlemen*. I put it to you thus: This is the most important case ever to come before this court. Because what it, in fact, concerns is the very nature of man…(

-ie, 'were it so' this case wouldn't be before the esteemed audience

The subjunctive mood (in English, at least) is subtle and is handled with subtlety in the most effective oration and argumentation. It is not overtly marked (as it is in other languages) but entwines itself into the syntax and grammar of the language, wispy like smoke.


Friday, 9 October 2015

The Prime Minister of Fragile Things

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 6 September 2015

A rediscovered country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 30 August 2015

'Plain language' = 'no language'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the course of playing, new things are created.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Imaginary numbers

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

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

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

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

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

The graph itself is rather unremarkable at first sight:


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

x + iy.

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

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


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

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

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

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


Friday, 14 August 2015

Recasting Inuit Knowledge: Honouring Our Elders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

wanna see something freaky I did?

I think I've just made a great discovery.

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

What do you think that final step also generated?

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



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

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

Monday, 10 August 2015

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 July 2015

"by virtue of the absurd"

When I first read Kierkegaard I just didn't get him at all - snippets of brilliant insights and disturbing truths, to be sure, but the 'found' quality of the book kind of jarred me. I needed its roots and foundations if I ever hoped to gain purchase.

Soren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 - 11 November 1855) was a Danish philosopher, poet and theologian, and is considered to be the first 'existentialist' writer/commentator of some renown. His Christianity, his philosophy, the way his thoughts and ideas express themselves, is all surprisingly simple and even rustic. Rustic, in the sense that he took the Christ's Gospel at face value (who and what he must be, personally, to attain discipleship - his 'knight-hood of faith') and even in the way his central philosophical program is impelled:

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. (Søren Kierkegaard's Journals & Papers IA Gilleleie, 1 August 1835)

In his commentary on who our neighbour is (to us personally) he clearly seeks to find "a truth which is truth for me". There is nothing to suggest he didn't take his words and ideas seriously. He was critical of the very idea of a state religion, especially one that recognized his precious Christian faith as such, not because it was in vogue to hold such 'enlightened' views but because what exists 'by virtue of the absurd' (faith) cannot be objectified without consequences (more precisely: faith cannot be objectified, period):

Not until a man has inwardly understood himself and then sees the course he is to take does his life gain peace and meaning; only then is he free of that irksome, sinister traveling companion — that irony of life, which manifests itself in the sphere of knowledge and invites true knowing to begin with a not-knowing (Socrates) just as God created the world from nothing. But in the waters of morality it is especially at home to those who still have not entered the tradewinds of virtue. (ibid)

Kierkegaard (and his faith) is only seen in true light when we consider that he truly believed that he had 'earned' G*d's wrath:

He is said to have believed that his personal sins, perhaps indiscretions such as cursing the name of God in his youth or impregnating Ane out of wedlock, necessitated [...] punishment. (

To him, faith is not some whimsy, it is an idea for which he is willing to live and die for (having suffered profound angst by the apparent meaninglessness of an unexamined, unclaimed life):

Frequently a person feels his very best when the illness is the worst, as in tuberculosis. In vain he tries to resist it but he has not sufficient strength, and it is no help to him that he has gone through the same thing many times; the kind of practice acquired in this way does not apply here. (Kierkegaard, 1 August 1835)

In the book, Batman and Philosophy, one of the contributors, Christopher M Drohan, writes of this 'owning up' to life:

While the knights of infinite resignation [ie, Batman] are always waiting for some future ideal state, the knights of faith [ie, Alfred the butler] have found it, and are living it presently. Their eternity is not to come, but is found in the moment, as they realize that in loving and serving others they exercise a kind of fellowship that will infinitely sustain humanity. For them, peace on earth must be made with every gesture and every action. And is starts by committing ourselves to another person and by helping that person in every way that we can.

Alfred knows that if we treated others in this way there would be no need for Batman, or for any type of coercive justice for that matter. (Batman and Philosophy, Christopher M Drohan, 2008, p. 194)

We've all suffered (or, been blessed by) moments of crises in our lives that cannot be characterized as anything but 'spiritual'. I've had my share. I think what has saved my rationality from the experience of seeing pure ignorance and want assert themselves in this life and realizing that they are me unchecked, unhindered selfishness that births and sustain's humanity's ignorance and want:

"'Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,' said
Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe,' but I see
something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding
from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw.' 

'It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,' was
the Spirit's sorrowful reply. 'Look here.'

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children;
wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt
down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

'Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,
wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where
graceful youth should have filled their features out, and
touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled
hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and
pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat
enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No
change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any
grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has
monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him
in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but
the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie
of such enormous magnitude.

'Spirit. are they yours.' Scrooge could say no more.

'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And abide the end.' 

'Have they no refuge or resource.' cried Scrooge.

'Are there no prisons.' said the Spirit, turning on him
for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses.'" (A Christmas Carol, Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits)

Becoming Scrooge is a terrifying proposition (the pre- and post-visitation Scrooge, warts and all). I think what Kierkegaard is saying is that becoming Scrooge is G*d's will, the wicket gate.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

I nail ducks to the wall

I think most people who know me would agree that I am a loner. Surrounded by love and affection as much as lack of amity (from both or either side at some points in time) I never really realized loneliness, per se. I've never really been alone and isolated. I think this type of isolation is deadly; what I thought was 'lonerhood' was actually 'heavy into solitude'. And, after every bout of solitude, I've always had the luxury to share things I think about with others.

Everyday, I wake up around 4:30am-ish. I watch the world outside and inside unfold. I have a lot of space and time to draw in, what I call, 'strength'. Regardless of the weather and season outside, each morning is a time for me to appreciate the universe as evidence of divine power and majesty. In the darkness of winter this divine presence is most real. The frozen expanse abides: there, creative potentiality still pulses, awaiting the inevitable coordination of celestial mechanics to bring forth new life.

I read somewhere that the British, after the horrors of the second world war, took up a tradition of nailing painted duck figures onto their walls to symbolize their resolve to reclaim the idyllic life. I took the title of this blog entry from a line in Roger Waters', Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.

I've always thought the Waters' album was one long, rambling rant of a lunatic. But, as with all remarkable works of art, it is a bit more complex than that: the darkness is superficial. It is merely a shadow rolling across the landscape (lived, individual life against the backdrop of history).

There is something of Max Weber in Roger Waters' writing. He gives a diagnosis but we don't know what to make of it. We feel it in our bones. We assume it is external—the source of this feeling—, but perhaps these dark prophets are adumbrating that all 'feelings' are internal. If, then, it is an issue of interiority (as I think it is) the challenge is personal.

In the Islamic tradition, it is said that the archangel Gabriel's first word to Muhammad was: "Read". Then, after the third admonition to read, Gabriel spoke:

Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:
Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
Who taught (the use of) the pen,-
Taught man that which he knew not. (Quran 96: 1-5)

Clearly, G*d knew that Muhammad was illiterate so the '(use of) the pen' and 'learning' cannot possibly mean our conventional notions of 'learnedness' (where ego figures large) but a state of being that is receptive and devoted to the 'greater' something that is everywhere around us: necessity (that which he knew not, or, the real) and coordination (the use of the pen, or, divine guidance).

Submission to this necessity and coordination is "the peeling away of feeling" (ie, ego) and the realization of the truth: we are submerged in an ocean of love and life. Life seems dramatic, unpredictable and chaotic but that is an illusion: it is an outcome of our ego-striving (ego—itself dramatic, unpredictable and chaotic) rather than these negative features being inherent to the realities of our existence.

Recently, I've brought about factors in my life that made me realize how much I love and am loved. This insight was rather accidentally-obtained because it was an onset of a deep sense of loneliness and its obligatory depression that realized it in my mind. I somehow looked outside of myself and realized the evidence everywhere of how much I'm loved, and have loved.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Moral exemplarhood

I'm reading a very interesting article written by Ryan Indy Rhodes and David Kyle Johnson in the Batman and Philosophy book called, What Would Batman Do? Bruce Wayne as an Exemplar (2008, pp. 114-125), where the authors argue that the fictional Batman character has as much right to 'belong' to a list of moral exemplars that have actually existed in history (Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc.):

Although most readers probably don't need reminding, let's consider some examples of how Batman exemplifies moral virtues. Justice is a constant aim of his activities, not only in the general sense of fighting crime and protecting the innocent, but in more particular endeavors...(p. 115)

-the authors list an impressive demonstration of Batman's commitment to a 'moral code' in dealing with 'real', individual people as well as the villains (symbols) he is sworn to struggle against. But...

Since Batman is a fictional character, it would seem that he cannot be referenced by language. That is, because Batman is not real, sentences about him do not operate in the same way as they do about things that really exist. (p. 117)

The finer points of the authors' argument are compelling and interesting; I would tend to root for their argument whole-heartedly. The two lines of reasoning above are similar to the ones I proposed in Socrates the Man somewhere in this blog.

But there is a sweet irony in this particular paper: if we should deny Batman membership to this 'elite' list of real historical exemplars for the simple fact that Batman is fictional, perhaps we should re-examine historical figures in light of the inevitable embellishments of tradition and demand the same standards of them.

An 'exemplar', you see, is best interpreted semiotically rather than lexically: it is more an embodiment of a set of idealized characteristics than it is in reference to a person. After all, "What is a pond"? -depending on who and what you are (a dragonfly, a person, a frog, a bird, etc.), what makes a pond a 'pond' changes because your needs and emphases change (even from season to season).

Yeshua ben Yosef is my Lord and Savior, and no historical treatment of His figure can change that: He is an embodiment; He is an inevitability; He is expressed in the Nazarene (John 14:6). Period. Full stop.

But I also admire the Batman character. And, for different reasons. The Batman is not only psychologically-real, but psychologically-real that instantly makes him more than a fancy, a whimsy but a well-developed and highly adaptable (ie, stable) characterization of moral exceptionalism.

He has a certain integrity that is preserved across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and re-tellings. Miller's Batman (though the most original telling, to be sure) is inherent and adumbrated in the earlier iterations by other writers. There is an ineffable pedigree linking everything. Even Adam West's Batman has his place in this substantive mythos.

In the Inuit tradition, the Batman figure is very familiar, more so than the Christ figure (though Christ is readily accepted by Inuit): Kiviuq, for eg, is a 'normal' human being cast into exceptional circumstances. He is flawed but ultimately perseveres. And the story continues...

However, Inuit do not somehow mistake the Kiviuq character as someone real: he is an exemplar of human curiosity and ingenuity. Where he goes and what he does is restrained by the seasons and geography. These features are not obvious but may be justifiably extrapolated in each 'episode': it is autumn when the story begins because Kiviuq becomes lost in a sea storm and lands to a place where the bumble-bee woman ultimately 'invents' ice that traps him before he can qajaq safely away; in one episode, Kiviuq has to traipse across a gigantic cooking pot (ie, hunting area) where in one end  he jumps onto seal blubber (ie, Marble Island) and hops over to a series of ribs (ie, Belcher Islands on the other side of the Hudson Bay).

Each telling is different but, throughout, Kiviuq exhibits exquisite sensitivity and sensibility towards animals that he encounters (another hint to times of year) that justify Inuit hunting culture as much as are expressed by a realistic 'person' in Kiviuq that we may try and emulate and strive to be.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

A note on continuing translating The Little Prince

Someone left me a note on my Inuktitut translation of The Little Prince which got me thinking about resuming the translation—actually, I've been thinking about it before. What kind of stumped me a while there was looking for an Inuktitut name for the planet Jupiter. I think there are names for some planets but I'm beginning to doubt there is a name for Jupiter in Inuktitut.

The Little Prince—by the French writer and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944)—makes reference to Jupiter near the beginning of the story. Though hardly important to the overall telling of the story, a seamless reference in the translation is what I prefer; I think italicizing Jupiter will work just as well...

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Batman and Philosophy: the dark knight of the soul


I couldn't help but open my birthday present early this year. In it was a book called, Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, ed. Mark D White and Robert Arp. It makes an immediate disclaimer: "This book has not been approved, licensed, or sponsored by any entity or person involved in creating or producing Batman, the comic, the film, or the TV series."

What an excellent read.

Well, the form is a bit fomulaic in the beginning. Compare this entry in a Standford search engine for published papers in philosophy: entry: but once the authors of the Batman book get into contrasting 'deontology' and 'consequentialism' with 'virtue ethics' things get interesting quickly (virtue ethics, says the author, "emphasize character traits, called virtues or excellences, rather than judging specific acts (as deontology and utilitarianism do)." (James Digiovanna, Is It Right To Make a Robin?, p. 21)

This 'virtue ethics' approach looks very familiar to IQ and its notions of 'education'. In discussions where I listened in on and contributed to, the Inuit elders who participated said that IQ education aims to "make a (whole) person" (ie, inuliurniq - lit. 'making of a person') who is able to think and problem-solve even in the middle of nowhere with only what he's brought himself.

Digiovanna continues:

Virtue ethics also takes into account differences, such as differences of character, the different roles people play, and the different cultures in which they live. While he strives to uphold abstract moral principles that he thinks are always right, Batman seems to understand that different sorts of characters demand different sorts of actions. Not everyone should be a Batman or a Robin. The specific character type needed to be a superhero is not suited to everyone, and society demands different roles from each of us. (ibid)

Not only are we all unique as beings but that every event in time is itself uniquely unfolding; it has a beginning and an end (Inuit elders everywhere always says this). How we respond as ethical beings has some influence in the outcome. The Inuit elders spoke at length about the issue of suicide by Inuit youth...the contrast is poignant:

...Plato and Aristotle (384-322 BCE), emphasized building character, noting the importance of training someone to be ethical, rather than simply explaining how to be ethical. (ibid, p. 23)

Trying to be an ethical person is hard. It certainly does not come naturally: it accompanies grief and heart break.


Monday, 25 May 2015

Socrates the man

I've been working (somewhat peripherally to a group at work) to come up with a series of statements to try and develop a philosophical foundation for the use of Inuktitut at work (or, more precisely, use bilingualism at work). I call them 'axioms' and their 'corollaries' not so much because they're self-evident as Euclid's axioms on geometry supposedly are but because I think Spinoza's framework is cool.

These aren't all necessarily original but they provide me with some clarity of thought:

Axiom: "all human languages are equal"

Corollary 1: "grammar defines that equality"

Axiom: "concepts and ideas are not words"

etc. etc.

As a linguist, I've always been fascinated by such gems as "little, green ideas dream furiously" (actually it is: "colourless, green ideas..."), and I think I've got it why such constructs may be generated but are meaningless nonetheless. It has to do with how and what kinds of adjectives and adverbs are allowed in language: there are abstract nouns that require abstract adjectives and concrete nouns that require concrete adjectives...and so on.

But what has been mulling in my mind is how the syllogistic about Socrates the man works. I think I know why and how it works. But first here is the syllogism:

all men are mortal;
Socrates is a man;
therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Again, the abstract vs concrete notion applies here. Socrates the man is clearly different from 'man' per se in that Socrates the man may take on adjectives in ways that the notion of 'man' cannot and vice versa. There are 'old men' to be sure, but Socrates the man wasn't always old (despite all my mental images of him he was once a young boy, he grew up and died) whereas once I've inserted 'old' before 'men' I've collapsed the idea into that one grammatical specificity.

I've been doing a running joke with my students here in Baker Lake by mangling the calque 'good morning' in Inuktitut. Though I swear I use proper Inuktitut versions of adjectives the ones I use aren't of my dialect (nor anyone's for that matter in how I use them) and I get amused looks because they understand what I'm saying but what I'm saying doesn't make much sense.

This notion of specificity is an important concept in what I'm trying to achieve in what I opened with in this entry here. In mathematical terms it'd be a group (or, a set but I prefer group). We all know that literal translation rarely works and why it doesn't work happens at many different levels but that doesn't negate the possibility of translation. A translation that works well does so because of what is called the Karenina Principle. It's kind of hard to explain so I'll just quote a text I recently drafted for the course we just completed:

Some Persistent Issues Surrounding Translation
Besides the structural issues that arise when we try and do translation—which are, as we saw, technical in nature and, therefore, can be solved given the proper means and research—there are also deeper issues that seem rather insurmountable in comparison to the structural ones. The reason for this is that these deeper issues are not only technical but also philosophical and/or even ideological in nature.

One of these that have long been known to be problematic to Inuktitut translator/interpreters is the legal interpreting field. The reasons for the difficulties that confront Inuktitut translators are rather too complex for this course to address but there are broad and general cultural and sociological insights that may shed some light into the problem itself. Using the legal system per se as representative of this type of problem, let us see if anything can be done to alleviate the issue somewhat.

Form or Function
The notions of morality, as we know, are culture-specific—ie, are embedded into the structure and psychology of the language itself. This fact alone makes the issue a seemingly insoluble labyrinth of dead ends and false starts with no end in sight. We are swimmers in our own languages after all, and like the fish that may not even realize it is in water, we find ourselves pretty much in the same bind.

It has been said that “Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by fighting back” (attributed to the famous Hungarian mathematician, Paul Erdös). It is in this spirit (perhaps overly-naïve) that we should approach the problem of legal interpreting. There are two basic strategies open to us as translators: describing form and/or function.

Form and function are referenced here not in the sense of linguistic terms but rather in the sense of being descriptors of concepts and the processes in which these concepts are used. The reason for this stratagem is that the Inuit language is structured to describe novelty which then can become lexicalized into a root word in its own right.

If we but imagine the notions of “guilt” or “innocence” as two possible outcomes in the formalized ritual of arraignment, we can see immediately that the words themselves can be transcended with surprising efficacy. Having transcended a word trap of the most vicious kind we can now look into the purpose of ‘arraignment’ itself:

“In legal terms, a plea is simply an answer to a claim made by someone [else] in a criminal case under common law using the adversarial system.” (

The question then becomes a matter of phrasing an interrogative in such a way that a plea can be made without getting mired in the philosophical/ideological load of the words in the source language.

The quote above is an example of a 'group theory of translation'. Instead of getting trapped by "guilt" and "innocence" we treat it in binary terms (ie, yes or no; or, agree or disagree). The Karenina Principle also applies because there is really only one way of getting it right.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Person of Interest

I'm a huge fan of the TV show, Person of Interest, which was created by Jonathan Nolan of The Batman Trilogy. There are parallels, to be sure, between Person of Interest and The Batman Trilogy that are hard to deny. But these similarities go deeper than the obsidian aesthetics into the fracturing of the Batman symbol into the multiple principals of the TV show. And it works; it works beautifully.

The fiction genre called American Gothic has always been evolving into something of the psychologically real and the metaphorically plausible that, I think, is best captured not by description but by 'ephemera' of its kind, such as Cat Power's The Greatest:

Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stall me
And then came the rush of the flood
Stars at night turned deep to dust

Melt me down
Into big black armor
Leave no trace of grace
Just in your honor...

In its latest iteration a la Person of Interest superstitious angst gives way to moral angst of fallible, psychologically-real people who find themselves having to deal with the fallout of unmitigated, unhindered development of technology. But technology has always been a character of Gothic fiction, you say?

No doubt. But here we see it forming and evolving organically rather than presented fully-formed and one-dimensional. In Person of Interest there is The Machine (the good guy—Root calls it a her) and Samaritan (the bad guy—whom we know to be neither 'good' nor 'bad' but for its 'father'). There is nothing cursory about Nolan's treatment of his characters.

It is the difference between vintage comic book whose Superman is Nietzschean in nature and Frank Miller's The Batman whom Jonathan Nolan pays homage to in his Batman movies. The 'villains' also are more complex and organically-derived in that they're relatable at some level. The television series format allows that space and time for its characters to develop organically, but under Nolan's genius the characters' can do it even within the two-hours normally afforded in big screen format.

There are rumours going around that CBS has bought only 13 more episodes of Person of Interest after this season's powerful finale. Man, I hope not. If so, Ed The Sock will be proven right:

"...that's enough proof, says Ed The Sock, that in order to stay alive on television for a long time, all you have to do is suck.

According to our sock-puppet commentator, the fact 'Person of Interest'—a show that actually predicted the Edward Snowden NSA whistle-blowing scandal—might not stay on the air is proof that on network television mediocrity rules." (


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nunavut University?

I held off as long as I could...

I love the idea of developing an accredited university in Nunavut—I'm a lover of education and knowledge in general. But I have found—much to my dismay—that I often have notions that seem somewhat at odds with those of others. This didn't use to bother me much when I had that indignant hunger for 'social justice' (ie, my ideas of it anyhow). But it was a hunger and thirst of equal opportunity—shall I say?

I must admit that I didn't read the articles about the idea of 'Nunavut university' that I have been seeing recently in the media outlets that focus on Arctic issues and current affairs. The taglines kind of put me off (I thought: here we go again), and I do not enjoy getting worked up like I used to anymore. But I bit the bullet and gave in to actually read the news piece on the CBC website.

I've been a longtime supporter of Terry Audla. I think he's one of a handful of Inuit leaders who take his work seriously and actually has the savvy to advocate for our concerns and interests convincingly from inside the system on out. His words make a whole lot of sense:

"It's based on Inuit becoming more aware of where they stand in society in general. When it comes to the decision-makers, academia has a lot of influence. When you have that, the more credence you're given." (

This is in sharp contrast with what the other quoted comments say about the idea of a Nunavut university some of whom are already saying what Inuit think:

An initial course list was proposed: Inuit studies, fine arts, linguistics, political science and indigenous governance, education, health, natural science and law.

Research would be limited to what Inuit care about.

"One participant noted that the European tradition of 'knowledge for knowledge's sake' does not align with Inuit beliefs and values, and as such should not be promoted or supported by a university in Inuit Nunangat," says the report. (ibid)

wow. you don't say...

I was watching a The Simpsons episode where Lisa actually convinces Principal Skinner and the Superintendent to implement a Humboldt school. Though it made tongue-in-cheek fun of this education theory and practice the theory and practice itself is a very interesting concept.

Wilhelm von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) was a Prussian polymath who was appointed by Friedrich Wilhelm III to reform the education system of the empire. I first came across a reference to this great man in a book on the Riemann Hypothesis and was immediately intrigued by him in that his work produced one of the most productive era of advancements in human knowledge in the German tongue.

A cursory glance at the Wikipedia entry on his name says of him:

Humboldt installed a standardized system of public instruction, from basic schools till secondary education, and founded Berlin University. He imposed a standardization of state examinations and inspections and created a special department within the ministry to oversee and design curricula, textbooks and learning aids.

Humboldt's plans for reforming the Prussian school system were not published until long after his death, together with his fragment of a treatise on the 'Theory of Human Education', which he had written in about 1793. Here, Humboldt states that 'the ultimate task of our existence is to give the fullest possible content to the concept of humanity in our own person […] through the impact of actions in our own lives.' This task 'can only be implemented through the links established between ourselves as individuals and the world around us' (GS, I, p. 283).

Humboldt's concept of education does not lend itself solely to individualistic interpretation. It is true that he always recognized the importance of the organization of individual life and the 'development of a wealth of individual forms' (GS, III, p. 358), but he stressed the fact that 'self-education can only be continued […] in the wider context of development of the world' (GS, VII, p. 33). In other words, the individual is not only entitled, but also obliged, to play his part in shaping the world around him.

Humboldt's educational ideal was entirely coloured by social considerations. He never believed that the 'human race could culminate in the attainment of a general perfection conceived in abstract terms'. In 1789, he wrote in his diary that 'the education of the individual requires his incorporation into society and involves his links with society at large' (GS, XIV, p. 155). In his essay on the 'Theory of Human Education', he answered the question as to the 'demands which must be made of a nation, of an age and of the human race'. 'Education, truth and virtue' must be disseminated to such an extent that the 'concept of mankind' takes on a great and dignified form in each individual (GS, I, p. 284). However, this shall be achieved personally by each individual, who must 'absorb the great mass of material offered to him by the world around him and by his inner existence, using all the possibilities of his receptiveness; he must then reshape that material with all the energies of his own activity and appropriate it to himself so as to create an interaction between his own personality and nature in a most general, active and harmonious form' (GS, II, p. 117).

In the original text from which this section has been lifted without attribution, "GS" refers to Humboldt, Wilhelm von. 1903–36. Gesammelte Schriften: Ausgabe Der Preussischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften. Bd. I—XVII, Berlin. (Cited as GS in the text, the Roman numeral indicates the volume and the Arabic figure the page; the original German spelling has been modernized.) "Gesammelte Schriften" means "Collected Writings". (

This pretty well encapsulates the Humboldtian model of higher education  (German: Humboldtisches Bildungsideal, literally: Humboldtian education ideal) that—I would contend—is more in line and spirit of what Terry Audla (and, by extension, IQ notions of knowledge) envisions as to what form the Nunavut university should take.

The Humboldtian model of higher education [...] is a concept of academic education that emerged in the early 19th century and whose core idea is a holistic combination of research and studies. Sometimes called simply the Humboldtian Model, it integrates the arts and sciences with research to achieve both comprehensive general learning and cultural knowledge, and it is still followed today. (

The thing that concerns me greatly about the GN outline of the proposed Nunavut university is that embedded in it is the taking away of the notion of 'academic freedom' that founds not only our conventional institutions of higher learning but in particular the Humboldt model that has enriched the human experience in subtle but meaningful ways.

We should also distinguish bureaucratic notions of Inuit (traditional) Knowledge and the Inuit ideal of inuliurniq which is motivated by giving the individual intellectual and practical tools to be able to problem-solve even in the case of complete isolation out in the wilderness.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts...


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Does universality equal fairness?

Recently in the House of Commons during Question Period Prime Minister Harper thought he was handed a gift from Justine Trudeau when Trudeau apparently made a "gaffe" by premising his question to the Prime Minister: "Benefiting every single family is not what is fair..."

Harper could hardly contain his glee—actually for someone with a reputation for being a cold calculator he doesn't have much of a poker-face—as he pounced on Trudeau with a comeback: "This is what happens when you get off-script". Truly, it was his Count Olaf moment.

But it got me thinking about fairness and universality (ie, 'universal' in the sense of being a flat rate for all instances of application regardless of circumstances or situation).

A qualification of individualized "consequentialism" that seems to define Harper's political understanding of governance, I think, can and should justifiably be made here.

-Individual consequentialism is a vicious variant of the Utilitarian philosophy in that it takes on some of the coloration of Machiavelli's political philosophy which holds that a state's actions are justified (ie, should not be questioned) if the ends serve the purpose of preserving and maintaining order and constancy of its political structures (ie, serve the interests of the 'benign' ruling class).

It is in this light I think that the true context of Harper's "politics of meanness" must be understood. After all, small governments are 'good' and 'lean' not so much in terms of their 'distributive capacity' to the greatest good but if, and only if their policies and means to exact taxes and levies on big business and the rich remain checked and emaciated. Forget "trickle down economics"; this is unabashed Darwinian corporatism.

Universal child care allowance that the Harper gov't is proposing is simple and seemingly 'fair' in that it treats everyone 'equally' regardless of income and socioeconomic standing. But it is really a 'regressive' benefits scheme by any other name (ie, it is tied to the notion of further decreasing the tax burden on the rich in relative terms whose take-home pay increases significantly at the expense of those who need the assistance the most simply because it adds to the tax avoidance toolkit that the poor do not have access to).

The means-tested scheme that Trudeau is proposing seems to be a complexification of the tax and benefits system in comparison to Harper's proposal because it would make these benefits to Canadian families dependent upon their ability to draw household income in absolute terms (ie, the proportional distance between benefits and entitlements as in relation to real income and wealth: the wealthier one is the smaller the gap between needs and means).

In theory, under the Trudeau scheme, the burden on tax payers is more evenly and fairly distributed because it is tied to that hypothetical zero gap between need and means.


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Stoicism and old Inuit Christians

Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person's own life.
-Epictetus, Discourses 1.15.2, Robin Hard revised translation

When asked if I believe in G*d I tell people that I'm a believer in the Gospel of Christ. I get all kinds of interesting reactions, but they always confirm to me the basic human nature of courtesy and civility. Normal people usually just want to leave it at that; I want to leave it at that.

Like Epictetus, I believe that the subject matter of faith and "the art of living is each person's own life". I think that this is the central message of the Gospel, after all.

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the philosophy of the Stoics in trying to find a level of equanimity in my life. I have a reputation of being a "hot-head" but whether it is well-founded or not (I think it is) this searching for equanimity is a lifelong project.

I sometimes fail to live up to the standards I admire and feel a deep desire to subscribe to but I'm slowly coming to realize that these "shortfalls" in ethics and morals are and can become rarer if acknowledged when they happen and a re-commitment to try again is made in that acknowledgement. This "art of living" is the definition of teshuva (Hebrew: תשובה‎, literally "return"). Aharon E Wexler gives us a good and serviceable primer on the idea of teshuva in this link:

I, in fact, believe the personification of teshuva (as spoken of by Wexler) is the key to interpreting the wondrous opening lines of the Gospel of John.

I was, for the longest time, a completely natural defeatist. Every perceived and real disappointment in life was cause for great woe-woe-is-me and for gnashing of teeth and ripping up of shirt. So much drama it is embarrassing. And disastrously costly to my personhood and those around me, especially those whom I love and who love me.

As a believer in Christ I have very little if any empathy for mainstream Christianity. I grew up in the faith and have known true "salt of the earth" Christians who were also stoics in inclination that I'm trying to follow in the footsteps of (ie, the older generation of Inuit who truly believed in the Stoic principle of "living in accordance with the divine order of the universe"). But I have as my goal to become less and less like the so-called "evangelists" and more and more like my father's generation of Christianity who seemed more concerned about living the life than mindless moralizing. There are a few of them left still (at home and elsewhere).

I live my life mostly in solitude and I have no interest in attending church so I listen to Charles Stanley and Charles Price. These two Charles, I have found, regard their faith as "...not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, [but as] a way of life involving constant practice and training" (Cf:

The more I learn about Marcus Aurelius and the personal and historical context of his Meditations the more I'm interested in the Stoic Philosophy. He is said to be the last of the five good Roman emperors. His writings, as anthologized in Meditations, have a lot of self-encouragement and constant reminding of his commitment to Stoicism:

"See that you do not turn into a Caesar; do not be dipped into the purple dye—for that can happen" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.30)

This certain fastidiousness (or, more precisely, assiduousness) is not surprising given that he held absolute power over one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen. How he did this—how the Christ Himself and the Apostle Paul did, for that matter—is by recasting familiar and seemingly tired spiritual/philosophical principles into personal commitments to live up to them:

Either the gods have no power or they have power. If they have no power why pray to them? But if they have power, why not rather pray that they should give thee freedom from fear of any of these things and from lust for any of these things and from grief at any of these things [rather] than that they should grant this or refuse that. For obviously if they can assist men at all, they can assist them in this. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.40, trans. CR Haines, Loeb Classical Library)

That he came to this conclusion is to be taken in the context of him having lost three children who died early in their lives because the quote immediately above begins: "One man prays: 'How I may not lose my little child', but you must pray: 'How I may not be afraid to lose him'." (trans. Anthony Birley)



Saturday, 9 May 2015

True North Strong and Free

I'm watching the VE Day celebrations on CBC right now as our war vets are being feted by the Dutch.

As an Inuk I have almost no linkages to those brave and inspiring Canadians, whom the Dutch clearly love and appreciate, save my citizenship to this great country of ours; as a first Canadian I realize that we have a collective, awesome responsibility to not waste, to "never forget" their sacrifice and their commitment to help their fellow human beings. Remember these Canadian soldiers so long ago were not conscripted servicemen but were in fact volunteers.

There was an observation offered by one of the talking heads a couple days ago that caught my attention when he mentioned that these Canadians really were of a different breed: stoic, humble and rather self-deprecating when asked to describe what it was like in the Second World War. They weren't fighting for noble ideals nor even against an enemy; they had seen the atrocities in Europe in news reels and wanted to help end that. Simple as that.

I'm certainly ambivalent about state-sanctioned violence but I have no problem understanding where our boys were coming from and I great admire their humanity. We know of a handful of Inuit who fought in WWII. They were of the same cloth: unfettered by any psychological BS they simply answered the call to help their fellow human beings.

Our current state of affairs would be alien and disappointing to them, I'd surmise.

I see Stephen Harper as a symbol for a great many things that I find "wrong" with our society but most of all he epitomizes, to me, the deliberate arrested development that resulted from the disastrous and long social experiment starting from the 1960s. Shamefully, I count myself among the children of these decades of frivolity, willful ignorance and uncritical (unmitigated) selfishness.

Randy Janzen is just one in the long, long line of this perversion, this hubris, this uncomprehending staring out into the maw of ethical and moral emptiness ( as much as the unhindered (perhaps unintended) bigotry, pettiness, and all negative characteristics that unfortunately marks the tenure of our current Prime Minister. He is after all a product of his times.

I've stared into this darkness (uncomprehendingly at first) but I consider it a great blessing this existential alienation from my parents, my grandparents and my culture in that it allowed me the opportunity to reflect upon how great the chasm was and had become through no fault of their own devising. I'm usually a bit too dense and self-absorbed to profit from my many mistakes in life but realizing how different I was and am (in all possible ways) from my parents stirred something deep within the darkness of my soul and I realized that there was something profoundly wrong with me.

The character of the liberating soldiers now celebrated in the Netherlands is the exact same character of my dad's generation. The twin fires of hardship and suffering seem to have a way of annealing the soul of the frivolous, the superficial but if and when we allow ourselves honest reflection and guard against embitterment from our personal experiences. The Book of Job talks of this at length, culminating in the 23rd chapter:

...if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
My feet have closely followed his steps;
    I have kept to his way without turning aside.
I have not departed from the commands of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread. (Job 23: 8-12)

I am no saint and if I seem that I'm trying to give that impression I profusely and sincerely apologize. If anything has taken hold it is despite myself, and only and truly because of love—of those who have loved me, all of them contributing individually to the person I have become and am still becoming.

The words of my dying father to me were: be kind and compassionate. He knew who I was and how cruel, selfish and thoughtless I can be without guidance. I am not and never have been a demonstrative person of human affections, and I have largely reserved them only for my children (though I definitely feel it for my siblings, my mom and those who love/have loved me). My dad's last gift to me was a new perspective: people deserve respect (agape) because no human is an island.

This is the message I take away from the VE celebrations from Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

What is "literacy", and why do we need it?

What draws me to ideas is often much enhanced by the historical developments of the ideas themselves and life stories of the people who have helped developed those ideas. It is never enough for me to be presented with an idea already fully-developed and impervious to further input. There is no satisfaction in that. I have to seek out the subject further if it interests me.

For the longest time I thought mathematics was arithmetic and mindless algorithms (BORING!), and after I learned in first grade how to add and subtract I completely lost interest in it (or, more precisely, what I thought was "it"). I know I'm not alone in this indictment on the (public) education system. There is even a word for lack of interest in maths and the sciences in general: Meh.

When I came across what is called "pebble notation"—a method of arranging numbers (pebbles) into geometric shapes invented (or, adopted) by the ancient Greeks—I realized how much is robbed of us starting from day 1 by inadvertently unimaginative elementary school teachers.

For eg, square numbers are not just N2, nor is the definition even really:

"...a square number or perfect square is an integer that is the square of an integer; in other words, it is the product of some integer with itself. For example, 9 is a square number, since it can be written as 3 × 3" (

A square number can literally be arranged into a real square! For eg, nine dots (or pebbles) can be arranged like so:

For other numbers there are other shapes in which they can be arranged: squares, triangles, rectangles, and simple lines (or, numbers that cannot be arranged into perfect rectangles—ie, prime numbers!).

There is much more to this seemingly simple pebble notation, much much more. In fact, this is the very beginning of "number theory"—what Gauss called "queen of mathematics".

In Mathematical Mysteries: the beauty and magic of numbers, Calvin C Clawson writes of one of the greatest of number theorists from England:

...[Godfrey Harold] Hardy believed a mathematical idea is good because it is beautiful, beautiful because it is serious, and serious because it is connected [in a deep way] to many other mathematical ideas...Hardy's claim that beauty is central to the enjoyment of mathematics is fervently believed by the majority of all who are enthralled by mathematics. In this he seems to have captured the essence of our love for this subject matter. Jerry King, in The Art of Mathematics, points out, "Mathematicians know beauty when they see it for that is what motivates them to do mathematics in the first place. (Clawson, Mathematical Mysteries, Perseus Books, 1996, p. 213)

But it is what Clawson says in the continuation of the passage above that I'm interested in:

Hardy's idea that pure (good) mathematics should be devoid of meaningful applications has been adopted by many mathematicians at our universities. Unfortunately, this idea has caused some mathematicians to become elitists, casting disdain on all other branches of knowledge. This, in turn, has tended to alienate mathematicians from the rest of the academic community. Most elementary and secondary teachers we send out of our universities are not professional mathematicians, and they feel this alienation between themselves and what they see as snobbish old men barricaded in the ivory towers of academia.These same teachers, who feel alienated from higher mathematics, are asked by us to teach our children the foundations of mathematics. Do you imagine they embrace the task with enthusiasm? (ibid, pp. 213-214)

Given this state of affairs in teaching mathematics it is hardly surprising that our children suffer the drudgery of what is passed for mathematics as we ourselves suffered before them. Yet, this laying down of "foundations of mathematics" is absolutely essential to what I call "mathematical literacy".

It gets even worse. It is not just this basic subject that suffers thusly. The language arts (at least, in the aboriginal experience) is likewise an utterly alienating experience where the mechanics of reading and writing (becoming a copyist of mindless word lists seems to be the goal here) is heavily emphasized, full stop. This, in lieu of regarding and treating the field of language arts as a means to enhance the humanity of our students.

In my efforts to learn in the style of "the liberal arts", I've had a happy accident in discovering an appreciation for good writing. Under this broad rubric of "good writing" I would include not only literary classics, great historical documents such as the "Declaration of Independence" but also movies, tv and radio.

It is the ideas that get me. These ideas, in turn, further enhance my appreciation of what and how the subject matter is expressed/articulated. It is a snowball effect. Some experiences are so exquisite it is very much like a spiritual euphoria.

I know of someone who is likewise affected by well-crafted linguistic expression, and, whom I would consider rightfully belongs to a master class of French letters. My attraction to and admiration for this person has transcended the physical, into the deeply spiritual, if I may unabashedly betray my true affections.

Literacy, thus defined above (ie, as mathematical literacy, as linguistic literacy, as any kind of literacy that inspires self-improvement), is less a skill than a state of being, and it truly goes beyond the act of reading into a realm of becoming. Northrop Frye said that up to the secondary grades one takes a subject, and at the college level the subject takes you. I have always found this to be a truism.

Literacy as such may not save our lives (that is not its point after all), it may not promote us to the status of a rock star (who but the very banal would regard art as such anyhow), but it truly has the capacity to raise us above ourselves and provides us space to imagine the possible.