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Arithmetic divinity

When I was in England decades ago, researching the history of the British scientific elite, I loved visiting Trinity College, Cambridge, although I was green with envy of its students. It was, and is, a matchless centre of mathematical and scientific achievement. It has also produced half a dozen prime ministers, and many great writers and poets. But it was above all the college of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford (and 31 other Nobel prize winners), and the mathematician-philosophers, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead. Trinity was also attended by trio of gifted mathematicians in the early 1900s: two Englishmen, G. H. Hardy, J.E. Littlewood, and the even more talented, physically frail Indian, Srinivasa Ramanujan. Their friendship and close collaboration in the years 1913-1920, especially that between Hardy and Ramanujan, is a remarkable story familiar to mathematicians for many years, and Ramanujan is a national hero in India, but their tale was little known to the general public before the appearance of a good 1991 biography of Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity. Now Matthew Brown has made a film based on the book. I went to see it as soon as it opened at the Forum multiplex, not sure it will be around for long. Despite a good script, fine performances by the three leading actors, and an important story, I doubt if this film will compete in grapevine buzz with the more melodramatic portrayals of brilliant mathematicians in A Beautiful Mind and The Imitation Game. Both of these used a reliable mythic formula, the tale of suffering and misunderstood genius on the borderland of saintly madness, set against the backgrounds of World War II and Cold War cryptography. Brown's film is set in the years of World War I, but that war has only occasional relevance… Read More

Constraining personal identity is not the government’s job

      Tom Kott is CEO of the Prince Arthur Herald, having previously served as Editor-in-Chief from 2012-2014. He studied political science and history at McGill, and now works in public relations with HATLEY Strategy in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @TomKott.   Last week, Québec Solidaire Member of the National Assembly Manon Massé presented a private member’s bill that would allow minors as young as 14 to alter the sex marked on their birth certificates. This reform would bring Quebec laws in line with those in Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, where such changes are already allowed. Transgender youth in Quebec already have the right to legally change their names to reflect the sex with which they identify. The new bill seeks to remove the burden that transgender teens feel when forced to choose between their legal identity and how they truly feel. In an op-ed that appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Kimberly Manning gave the example of a young student losing 20 minutes on a high school entrance exam to decide whether to check the M box or F box. This type of hardship is one that most people will never be able to comprehend, myself included. The world is changing, and the notion of identity is much more fluid that it used to be – which is arguably a good thing. The days where people are discriminated against based on their identity is waning away. But this evolution puts into question the government’s role in our lives. If we agree as a society that people have a right to freely determine their own identity, which is so far the trend, then what authority does the government have to stop it? And in that case, why should the law affect some people differently than others? It seems archaic then that couples in Quebec… Read More

The Liberal big brother Is watching & the Usual Suspects

The never-ending quest to fulminate outrage in the United States of Bernie Sanders has many iterations. The most baffling, to Canadians at least, is the concept that showing photo ID before voting is all just a racist plot to suppress the black vote. In an Esquire piece by Charles P. Pierce entitled “North Carolina's Voting Laws Are Conspicuously Suppressing the Vote”, Pierce blames a George W. Bush-appointed judge for upholding a law that, he says, represses the black vote in the“consistently insane state of North Carolina”. All to solve “a virtually non-existent` problem”, claims Pierce. How was this insanity cultivated? By making citizens wear a yellow star? By holding elections in secret locations? By having militias beat up anyone voting the wrong way? Of course not. Pierce’s monumental grievance is the insistence that citizens produce an approved form of photo ID to vote in state elections. He cites tales of bureaucratic incompetence in recent elections to buttress his case. Pierce then applies the progressive conceit that it’s somehow harder for blacks to obtain a driver’s license or passport— the same IDs required to legally purchase liquor, beer or tobacco in the state. While Pierce alleges voting numbers from blacks don’t seem proportionate to their population in North Carolina, similar declines are not reported in the purchase of these products requiring photo ID. For Canadians who have used photo ID in elections, this outrage may come as a surprise. But the patrician attitudes of white Northeast U.S. liberals like Pierce in “protecting” rights of blacks or women or transgendered are essential to maintain their positions as the well-funded advance troops of enlightenment in the media. Pierce is particularly virulent about the judge saying that perhaps North Carolina has made progress in race relations the past quarter century. “The conservative movement has… Read More

#WeBelieveWomen: Hostages of Modern Feminism

“Being female in this world means having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us.” – Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (1987) “The normal fuck by a normal man is taken to be an act of invasion and ownership undertaken in a mode of predation: colonizing, forceful (manly) or nearly violent; the sexual act that by its nature makes her his.” – Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (1987) “I feel that man-hating is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.” – Robin Morgan, Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (1978)   The above are not little known and long forgotten passages from disturbing fictional stories; they illustrate what our daughters and sons learn at universities in North America as part of their curriculum in various disciplines – particularly in gender studies, but also in history, philosophy, sociology, and others. As part of feminism classes, students are taught that white men by definition and by birth are privileged in society, that they systematically oppress and rape women, and that women as perpetual victims should restructure the entire socio-economic and political system in order to end their domination by men. This cynical and subversive outlook is found in the writings of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, D. A. Clarke, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer, and others, which are very popular readings in schools and universities  and which dominate today’s feminist discourse. Having already made significant progress in the 20th century, the promotion of women’s rights and the struggle for equal opportunity for women and men remain very important issues in the modern world. Domestic violence, grave institutional discrimination, violent and brutal cultural practices, and social and economic repressions are currently an everyday reality for… Read More

Technology has a place in classrooms, but it shouldn’t be a crutch used by lazy professors

My article “Pass, Fail” in The Walrus seems to have triggered a massive response from readers, most of it approbative but some of it highly critical, in several instances verging on being ad hominem. Happily, this not the case with Darryl Whetter’s “The Kids Are Alright.” He does not agree with my argument, but nor does he condemn it. Rather, he attempts to think about it critically. I offer the following brief remarks in response to his concerns. Darryl Whetter’s criticism of my article consists of two substantial assertions and two corollaries. First the assertions: (1) Technology has not had the deleterious effect on education I claim it has; (2) neither student ability nor university education per se has declined over the past several decades in the way I suggest. As to the corollaries: (1) Professors who endorse either or both of these assertions may be nostalgic, narcissistic, and perhaps even ill-inclined toward contemporary students; (2) my article indicates that I am such a professor. I’ll address Whetter’s substantial assertions directly; I’ll leave the matter of the corollaries to the readers’ judgement. First, nowhere in the article do I offer a wholesale critique of technology or of its role in university education, as Whetter suggests. Nor am I against technology in the manner in which the comparison of me with Bernard of Clairvaux implies (the prostitutes aren’t “student e-distraction.” The students are the mill workers. The prostitutes are those who profit from their misfortune—the lower ranks of the administrative cast, the student services cabal and the e-cheerleaders.) Insofar as I have a critique of technology, I’d be inclined to agree with Jaron Lanier—technology is merely a tool, and should be thought of and used as such. To think of it as being more than this—as salvation, as the most important… Read More

Ministers of Education in the credentialist era

Quebec's new Minister of Education, Pierre Moreau, has held many previous senior offices for the provincial Liberals. Anglos may be pleased that he has had much greater contact with anglo constituents than his predecessor. Whether he will have any real effect, positive or negative, on public education is more open to question. Compared to other cabinet positions, Education has been something of a revolving door. In the last half century, it has had about two dozen Liberal or PQ appointees to the post. It is recognized as a difficult position, but while it has usually been occupied by senior party figures or fast rising stars, they have mostly been professional politicians, largely in the hands of the two groups that really control all the matters of substance, the permanent bureaucrats, and the leaders of teachers' and support staff unions. There have only been three Ministers who, for good or ill, put a marked personal stamp on the office. Paul Gérin-Lajoie, a Rhodes Scholar with an Oxford law doctorate, was a major founding architect of the MEQ, part of the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s Lesage Liberals. Jacques-Yvan Morin, another legal scholar, was René Lévesque's choice for the first four years of his government. And Claude Ryan, former editor of Le Devoir, former Leader of the Liberal Party, an austere and learned workoholic, was an unusually effective Minister from 1985 to 1990. I served on the Legislature Education Committee throughout the first half of the 1990s, observing Ryan's capacity in the first year I was there. He probably would have happily remained there another five years, but Bourassa switched him to a triple portfolio of Public Security, Municipal Affairs, and Native Affairs, to deal with the 1990 native insurrection at Oka. The three Liberals who followed Ryan over the next four… Read More
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