Friday, April 28, 2006

Which math book am I?

It's Friday, and odds are readers know what it means for this blog. By the way, I am posting my notes on TLA 2006 over at my main blog Find the first post for that here. If that is of interest, feel free to hop over. Now, back to this. I never thought there could be a quiz for something like this. I will confess that I am not a mathematically inclined person. Sure, I got a basic math literacy, but it is not my forte. To this day, it amuses me at times that I wanted to be an engineer when I started my undergraduate days. In this case, the test is spookily accurate in terms of what I do, which is teach in a way to make things accessible for others. At any rate, here is what I learned.

If I were a Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics, I would be Joe Harris's Algebraic Geometry: A First Course.

I am intended to introduce students to algebraic geometry; to give them a sense of the basic objects considered, the questions asked about them, and the sort of answers one can expect to obtain. I thus emphasize the classical roots of the subject. For readers interested in simply seeing what the subject is about, I avoid the more technical details better treated with the most recent methods. For readers interested in pursuing the subject further, I will provide a basis for understanding the developments of the last half century, which have put the subject on a radically new footing. Based on lectures given at Brown and Harvard Universities, I retain the informal style of the lectures and stresses examples throughout; the theory is developed as needed. My first part is concerned with introducing basic varieties and constructions; I describe, for example, affine and projective varieties, regular and rational maps, and particular classes of varieties such as determinantal varieties and algebraic groups. My second part discusses attributes of varieties, including dimension, smoothness, tangent spaces and cones, degree, and parameter and moduli spaces.

Which Springer GTM would you be?
The Springer GTM

A hat tip to Mark Lindner who posted his result here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Article Note: On Torture and Disregarding It

Citation for the article:

Henderson, Schuyler W. "Disregarding the Suffering of Others: Narrative, Comedy, and Torture." Literature and Medicine 24.2 (Fall 2005): 181-208.

I read the article via Project Muse.

Henderson explains how torture can be disregarded by people in the United States. The discussion is based on the now infamous photos of torture at Abu Ghraib. Starting from the memo between Alberto Gonzalez, now U.S. Attorney General, and Jay S. Bybee where torture was redefined, Henderson discusses how narratives are created that make torture seem, well, less like torture and more like funny pranks. Henderson's purpose for this paper:

". . . is to examine how torture can be placed into a narrative context where it can become justified and thus rendered less controversial as the context facilitates as the context facilities disregarding the suffering of the victims" (183).

The idea here is that the stories created around and about the torture incidents are really mechanisms to allow people to disregard torture and the suffering of its victims. Comedy comes in as another tool to facilitate the desensitizing process.

Henderson suggests that questions about the stories need to be asked. Questions such as:
  • "How is the story about torture being told?"
  • "What details are highlighted as important?"
  • "How do these narratives shield us from seeing the suffering of the victims?" (184).
The article goes a good way towards answering these questions. Henderson goes on to look at the narratives. First there is a narrative of "us" versus "them." Then there is the story of the "war on terror." These narratives make every member of (Western) society into a victim of the terrorists. What does this do?

"By arguing that we are all potential victims (which, with the threat of Islamist violence, may well be true), any cruelty can become reasonable in the name of self-defense. It is comprehensible that one might disregard another's suffering if that suffering can prevent one's own" (187).

As I read that passage, I recalled a certain passage in Orwell's novel 1984 where the protagonist breaks down and allows for someone else to suffer in order to spare himself. The mechanism Henderson discusses is not that much different. Additionally, the terrorist, depicted as indistinguishable. is also part of the story. Into this narrative mix, the element of comedy is added. After all, it can't be suffering if it is funny. The article's author argues that comedy serves to further dehumanize the victims, and by making torture into a prank, it makes it justifiable and even acceptable. To prove this, Henderson discusses some of the Abu Ghraib photographs as well as other press coverage, even quoting conservative talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh is one of the people who saw the torturers at Abu Ghraib as "people having a good time" who were blowing off steam (qtd. in 193).

The article provides an excellent scholarly analysis of how narratives shaped by the government and media serve to lessen torture. For readers who see the abuse in that prison for what it is, cruel torture, this gives a good explanation as to why it seems most of society is willing to dismiss events that the United Nations and other civilized nations see as torture.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Staying sharp as time goes on

USA Today featured an article online for April 16, entitled "Healthy Habits Can Help You Stay Sharp." It discusses ways to help keep your mind sharp as time goes on. According to the article, once we get to 50, the brain starts slowing down in terms of memory. However, doing some basic things to keep your brain challenged and stimulated will help keep your mind a bit more sharp over time. I had read of things like this before: how doing things like crosswords, reading, and other activities to stimulate your mind and help it continue making connections will help it stay healthy. However, this one is new to me:

"'Research on animals and humans suggests mentally challenging activities such as playing bridge, learning a new language or even blogging might help build new connections in the brain,' says Molly Wagster at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health."

Who knew that blogging could help the mind stay healthy? Well, I am doing my part to keep my little brain active, and I hope in some small measure I am helping others out there keep their minds a bit healthy by giving them something to read. By the way, some other tips from the article of things that could help:
  • Stay in touch with other people. Correspond, be involved. Join a book club, socialize.
  • Have a hobby.
  • Volunteering.
A hat tip to the social software weblog.

P.S. Yes, I know, I don't always have the most substantial reading material in this blog, but this one is the fun one, well, now and then. You want the serious stuff, go to the other one.

Now I Know My Bloginality, do you know yours?

It's Friday, so odds are good readers know what it means. This little personality test for bloggers seemed a bit simple at four questions, but interesting nonetheless. By the way, it matches my Myers-Brigg (MPOW paid for the library staff to actually have this done. An interesting experience, even if I don't think anyone has revisited it since. I try to give it thought now and then, but I digress. I find it useful because it makes me more aware of how I operate). At any rate, here is what I learned this time:

My Bloginality is INFP!!!

From the website information for the result:

As an INFP, you are Intraverted, iNtuative, Feeling , Perceiving.
This makes your primary focus on Introverted Feeling with Extraverted Intuition.

This is defined as a NF personality, which is part of Carl Jung's Idealist (Identity Seeking) type, and more specifically the Healers or Idealist

As a weblogger, you have wonderful words to express your feelings because of your idealism. Because you don't like conflict, you may be likely to make one list of links and leave it for a long time without updating for fear of offending.
The dislike for conflict is fairly accurate for me. I dislike it with a passion, and in my blogging, it shows in the fact I stay away from a lot of things that seem divisive. It does not mean I am a pansy. Piss me off or show me something is actually worth fighting for, and hell will break lose. But that happens very rarely since I very easy going. Anyways, food for thought. The extravert part is fairly easy for someone who teaches and is comfortable in front of students. But like many introverts, I do like my quiet time.

Readers can learn a bit more about my type here. Learn about other types here.

A hat tip to Mark Linder, his post and result here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Booknote: The Truth (with jokes)

Title: The Truth (with jokes)
Author: Al Franken
Publication Information: New York: Dutton, 2005
ISBN: 0525949062
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Politics, current events, essay

What I like about reading Franken's books is that they are fairly well researched. I know he has a team of fact checkers, and apparently they do a good job given how well informed the books are. I previously read his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. I did read it before I was blogging, so no note here. Readers of Franken's books will definitely like this one as well. I did find the tone a bit more serious than the last one, but overall, the book is still a very good read. Unlike other pundits, Franken does not seem to yell at the readers. To contrast (I try when I can to read the other side), I have read one of Michael Savage's books (Savage Nation), and I tried to get through Sean Hannity's book. In the case of Hannity's book, I went for the audiobook version, which he reads. Unless you are fan, you may be better off reading the book. Listening to it is pretty much like listening to him on Fox News Channel. And I am not saying he is the only loud pundit, which is part of the reason I rarely listen to any of them.

Back to the book, among the entertaining pieces are the one about President Bush landing on the aircraft carrier for the famous photo-op declaring that the mission was accomplished. The segment is of Bush and the pilot who had to ferry him in. There are some moving moments as well in the book, and moments that may cause some readers to be angry. I was not too happy looking back at the Schiavo case, a serious meddling of the government on what should be a private affair if there ever was one.

Overall, I do recommend the book. While I think it may serve as reaffirmation for certain readers, I also think it is worth a look at. For anyone not satisfied with the current turn of events, regardless of political affiliation, this may be a good book too, and it will add some humor too. It does make for a pretty accessible look at some current events. And you may learn a thing or two. For me, the learning came with the chapter about a little island in the Pacific that is part of the United States, and yet has a horrible set of working conditions for garment workers. Read the book to find out where.

My animal personality, now leave me alone (yes, it's a quiz)

Yes, I know, it is not Friday, and this is a quiz. What can I say? Slow day for blogging here? At any rate, just some more amusement. Hmm, what are the odds I would match someone else on this. I got this from Mark Lindner's blog. By the way Mark, it was not planned. I actually took it twice to "doublecheck," and I still got the same result. I guess I can be a bit grumpy. I do know the part about enjoying the down time is pretty accurate. When the little brain goes into overdrive, I often have a hard time turning it off. Anyhow, it was fun. Feel free to go try it out.

What Is Your Animal Personality?

Friday, April 14, 2006

If I were a beer. . .(yes, it's a quiz)

It's Friday, so odds are this is a quiz post. I got curious about this after I saw Mark Lindner's result. I will say upfront that, while I enjoy the occassional beer, I am more of a wine drinker. Sure, I am savvy enough to know a thing or two about beer, but I am not the one to discuss the great ponderables of brewing or drinking a beer. For wine, I know a bit more, but it was also what I was raised on. I owe that to my godfather who strived to make a wine connossieur out of me; I think he got close to succeeding. Anyhow, that is a story for another time. In the meantime, here are my results. If you want to amuse yourself, give it a try. Actually, as far as these little playful quizzes go, this one is pretty short and easy.


(66% dark & bitter, 100% working class, 100% genuine)

Okay, we all know Guinness is the best possible score on any "What Kind
Of Beer Are You" test, so you can just go on and pat yourself on the
back now. Like the world's most famous brew, you're genuine, you've got
good taste, and you're sophisticated. What else can I say, except

If your friends didn't score the same way, get ready for them to say: Guinness is too heavy; it's an acquired taste; it's too serious--and they probably think those things about you at times. But just brush 'em off. Everybody knows Guinness is the best. Cheers.

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 40% on dark
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 85% on workingclass
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 67% on genuine
Link: The If You Were A Beer Test written by gwendolynbooks on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Monday, April 10, 2006

Booknote: Common Sense

Title: Common Sense
Author: Thomas Paine
Publication Information: New York: Penguin Books, 2005
ISBN: 0-14-303625-4
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Political science, essay.

I found it interesting to read this very small work which gave reasons to the American colonists to pursue their independence. While the vocabulary now and then has a word that may make readers wonder, overall, Paine's words are very clear and accessible. Paine takes the approach of speaking to the people with common sense to demonstrate the grievances against the king and to show why independence was in the best interest of the colonies. For those students of history, seeing some of his advice in the context of events today may seem to be foreshadowing to put it nicely. This, and some of the other writings of the Founding Fathers, may be some items more people should be reading these days.

A brief note on the edition: This book is part of Penguin's Great Ideas series, which are very slim volumes covering various thinkers and writers ranging from Marcus Aurelius to Charles Darwin. The book just had the text; it is not a scholarly edition with footnotes or such. However, it was very easy to read. The edition also includes another work by Paine entitled Agrarian Justice. For readers out there, this would make a good edition to read. However, like many writings of that period of American history, there are many editions available, so find one you like at your library and go read it.

Evil, huh?

I don't usually see myself as evil, ok, maybe a bit mean and ruthless at times, but evil? Well, ok, I guess I do have my dark moments. Seems like I have some work to do in building my evil, hehe. Maybe someday I can even take over. In the meantime, here are my results:

You Are 54% Evil

You are evil, but you haven't yet mastered the dark side.
Fear not though - you are on your way to world domination.

A hat tip to Michael Lorenzen's blog.

And by the way, if you want to read more on evil and libraries, LISNews recently picked up on this little piece about an author who sees libraries as evil ("eeviill I tell ya!!!!"). Apparently the fact that libraries lend books to people is problematic to the author. Maybe he needs a little perspective. Anyhow, the guy is not anyone I read, and now I am less inclined to add him to my reading list. Because I am evil that way, hehe.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Booknote: Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror

Title: Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror
Author: Mia Bloom
Publication Information: New York: Columbia University Press, 2005
ISBN: 0231133200
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Current Affairs, Political Science
280 pages.

I found this book interesting and engaging. It provides a great explanation as to why suicide bombing is an alluring option. However, it does more than just give an explanation. The book looks at the root causes of this phenomena and strives to make it all accessible to the general reader. The book has chapters looking at specific groups including the Palestinians and the Tamil Tigers. It also has chapters of analysis. For example, the chapter on women and suicide bombing is very good in describing what it is that drives women to suicide bombing. One thing to understand is that suicide bombing is usually a weapon of last resort, something that is used when other avenues of combat have been exhausted or just not as effective. Also, suicide bombing is very dependent on community support. If a community sees it as an acceptable method to counter humiliation and oppression, then suicide bombers will thrive no matter what counter terror measures are in place. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrates this idea very well, and Bloom does a good job of describing how this works. In addition, Bloom provides examples of places where suicide bombers lose popular support and the tactic has to be abandoned. While striking terror is part of a suicide bomber's goal, there is a larger message, and it is this message that needs to be understood. The roots that lead to suicide bombing need to be understood as well, and this book provides a good, well-written start to achieve that.