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Understanding Time . . . and the River

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Mayflies When I was a kid, every spring there would be a massive invasion that looked like a snowstorm of big floppy-winged snowflakes.  We euphemistically called them "Mayflies."  When I was told that these flocks of shadflies only lived for 24 hours, I remember thinking "why bother?"  If you are only going to live for 24 hours, why bother living at all? Other "Creatures of a day" Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm reading Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound .  Prometheus is being tortured for giving fire to mankind (bound to a mountainside, an eagle comes to eat his liver every day).  The gods ask him, "Why did you give this property of the gods to creatures of a day?" Wait a minute!  "Creatures of a day"--that's us; we human mortals. Cosmos Another couple of decades later, I'm watching the television series Cosmos:  A Spacetime Oddessy and Neil deGrasse Tyson is explaining that the history of our

Who Needs English Grammar? Part II

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English Grammar and Social Class The unspoken subtext of English grammar is its connection with social class.  Traditionally, "proper English" meant whatever was used in the golden triangle formed by London, Cambridge and Oxford. As Tiger Webb explains, " in socially-stratified and newly literate Georgian England, any guide to 'proper language' would have sold like hotcakes "--which is exactly what happened with Robert Lowth's  Short Introduction to English Grammar.   With the democratization of the language, a number of dialects, sociolects, idiolects and sublects emerged (there are a lot of lects out there--each with its own slight adjustments to the grammar).   David Crystal suggests that every Anglophone needs to know at least two Englishs:  one that is spoken locally and a second that is understood and accepted globally (or, at least, more widely).  (The local, more colourful version of English is the one more likely to be used in poetry a

Who Needs English Grammar?

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The Irony of English grammar The irony of English grammar is that we impose it most on the people who need it the least:  second- or foreign-language learners.  (See The "Ball of String" Theory .) Anyone who teaches English will, at some point, feel compelled to tell the fib that you need grammar to communicate and be understood in English.  This claim is pretty easy to disprove. Consider the following sentence: "Me eats restaurant Italian yesterday." An astute English teacher will point out that this five-word sentence contains at least six errors of grammar:  1) wrong case of pronoun, 2) wrong verb tense, 3) error of subject-verb agreement, 4) missing preposition for the indirect object, 5) faulty syntax, 6) missing indefinite article/determiner.  All this to say that the sentence should be: "I ate in an Italian restaurant yesterday." However, most native speakers of English would have little doubt about the intended meaning of the garbled sen

The "Ball of String" Theory for Learning English as a Second or Foreign Language

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The "Ball of string" theory I believe in the “ball of string” theory of learning English. Imagine that the English language is an infinitely long piece of string. You begin rolling the string into a ball. The English that you have mastered, can repeat and understand almost perfectly, is your ball of string. Daily English is redundant and repetitive Your ball of string begins with the English words and expressions that you might hear every day: “Hello,” “How are you?” “How much is it?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “Coffee and a cheese sandwich please.” “Nice weather today.” “Tomorrow.” “Next Monday.” “That’s nice!” All the simple words and expressions that you hear constantly repeated. Assuming you are somewhere where people around you speak English, you don’t need to learn any grammar or how to conjugate verbs or have a vocabulary of unusual words or expressions. If you are surrounded by people who speak English and you pay attention, you will discover that in daily

When It Comes to China, Do Canadians Believe the Media?

The Media blitz Since I first published a post ( 10 Dec 2018) on Canada's arrest of the Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, I have been baffled, awestruck and frustrated by the refusal of Canadian media to question the legitimacy of her arrest and extradition.  Since I began the process of my own modest online inquiries, I have noticed that the National Post , the newspaper founded by Conrad Black before he went to prison (he has since been pardoned by President Trump ), has published some of the most strident anti-China editorials.  Although, Black sold the paper to one-time Liberal Izzy Asper, in recent years " the Post has retained a conservative editorial stance ." What does "freedom of the press" mean? Obviously every newspaper in the "free" world is owned by somebody. Does it matter who owns a newspaper or a media company?  I don't know.  I've never worked for a newspaper.  I'm not particularly courageous or selfless, so I imagine that

The Panda and the Beaver

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The Difference between pandas and beavers The panda and the beaver are very different animals.  The panda is big and black and white, eats bamboo and likes to sleep in the top of trees.  The beaver is small and brown, eats maple trees and lives inside a beaver damn.  Beavers and pandas don't have much to do with each other, except that eating maple trees is good for bamboo, and eating bamboo helps the growth of maple trees, so they got along.  Then one day the eagle told the beaver, those pandas have been helping the leopards, so you should grab that panda cub when she comes near your pond.  Beavers always do what the eagle tells them to, so they did.  They grabbed the panda cub and brought her underwater to their lodge.  The beavers treated the panda cub very nicely because beavers are nice.  When the pandas saw what the beavers had done they were very upset and they grabbed two beavers and brought them to the top of the trees.  Beavers don't like being high in the air--pan

Central Banks and the Bitcoin Experiment

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Money has gone digital Money has gone digital.  Less than 3% of currency these days is in the form of cash (coins or paper bills).  I still struggle to understand bitcoin, but I have slowly come to realize that what I don't fully understand are the technological aspects of bitcoin.  To understand bitcoin, you must first understand blockchain. To understand blockchain, you need to know about open-source coding, algorithms and cryptography, then you need to know about hashing and CPUs in order to understand what "mining for bitcoins" means (although I get that "mining" means solving a math puzzle and allowing transactions to use your computer).  However, these lacunae in our technological knowledge notwithstanding, bitcoin is just like any other digital currency (keeping in mind that the US dollar, for example, is already 97% digital) with only one truly significant difference.  Every example of money that we accept without much thought is managed and manipulat