August 27, 2009

Radical Equations, Robert P. Moses and Charles E. Cobb,, Jr.

The introduction argues that mathematical illiteracy is the current equivalent of the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. The next several chapters are a narrative of the Civil Rights struggle, by one who was there and remembers people who were murdered for it, just to make clear how serious an analogy he's making. The end and heart of the book are a thick, much-quoting description of the development and principles of the Algebra Project. This last not only teaches more kids more math faster than most schools, certainly poor schools with minority students, manage; but it does so by getting them to love math, to play with it, to demand more algebra classes -- sometimes to demand that the uninterested teachers just get out of their way. The students have to care, and then the teachers, and then the administrators (some of whom clearly saw this as yet another insurrection).

It sounds enviable, and raises test scores, and may be teachable (more by Each one teach one than by professional seminars). It sounds exhausting and exhilarating. It also doesn't seem to be growing very quickly, if I understand their website correctly; I hope that's only places they are currently teaching new people, not all schools using the system. The NSF and a fair cut of professional mathematicians support them.

And it rises out of formal philosophy as well as lived philosophy -- Moses wrote his doctoral thesis on "the history and insights of W. V. O. Quine's philosophy and math, and one of Quine's insights turned out to be of direct relevance and importance to the teaching of school mathematics." That would be the 'regimentation of ordinary discourse', or, getting from the idea of quantity to the idea of vector (on the T; truly, the importance of public transportation is hard to exaggerate) to algebra.

Find in a Library: Radical Equations

Posted by clew at 05:47 PM

August 26, 2009

The Ladies' Paradise, Émile Zola, trans. Brian Nelson

Properly Au Bonheur des Dames; one of Zola's net of novels about the development of modernity in France. I alternated surprise at how modern it was with surprise at how French.

Modernity in this is the development of the department store; which depended on the expansion of credit, on zoning deals, on the aggravation of consumerism, and on quantites of clerking to make any of us grateful to the nearest DBA:

Some opened the letters, others read them, sitting at both sides of the same table; still others sorted them, giving each one a serial number which was repeated on a pigeon-hole; then, when the letters had been distributed to the different deprtments and the departments had sent up the articles, the articles were put into the pigeon-holes according to the serial number.

This careful accounting allows new pay-scale incentives:

Then came yet another office, the clearing-house: there six young men, bent over black desks, with piles of registers behing them, drew up accounts of the salemen's commissions by collating the sales bills. This section, which was quite new, was not running well. [...] Mouret, without reprimanding them, explained the system of the small bonus he had thought of paying them for every eror they discovered in the sales bills; and when had left the clerks, no longer laughing, and with a cowed air, set to work with a vengeance, hunting for mistakes.

and error-tracking:

'why were six pairs of sheets which a lady bought yesterday at two o'clock not delivered in the evening?' [...] Finally, Campion discovered the error: the cash-desk had given a wrong number, and the parcel had come back.

I was also astonished at the explicit connections Zola makes between consumerism, and the objectification of women, and shoplifting -- the department store advertises more and more effectively and to poorer people than old shops had, and makes every scrap of female beauty a commodity; it is selling women back to themselves. It's hard to believe female beauty could be more for sale than it was in eighteenth century France, but maybe the sale here is applying to all classes? And Zola cites someone else for evidence that shoplifting, even by women with money, is partly the attempt to steal back the taken body. This is practically Barbara Kruger.

The Frenchness of it all is partly in the materials -- lengths of silk, velvets of so many kinds, details of soap and lace... but mostly in the relations between the sexes. It really doesn't strike me as a commonplace that two men will make better business deals if they share a mistress. And the young woman who is triumphantly Good is so for reasons of bourgeois prudence, not religious or social obedience, let alone any shyness of the flesh. (That's modern now, but I'm counting it as particularly French then.)

Find in a Library: The Ladies' Paradise

Posted by clew at 06:42 PM

August 10, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith

The action-movie parts don't reach Jane Austen's prose style, but get stiff trying. The interpolations do patch something that makes Austen's novels hard to read as realistic novels now; 'zombie-fighting skill' is used to replace 'good birth' as a social essential. It's not as good a replacement as 'high school cool' is, because it doesn't have the network effects or the effects of charisma, but at least the sense of importance is right.

Nor was I convinced by Japan as a contemporaneous source of mysterious fighting skills. Of course, if one is imagining ninjas, they would have existed then, but I don't think England of the day would have been thinking of ninjas. Studying with the Old Man of the Mountain would seem more likely to me, or learning from a mysterious temple in India; something inherited from the Gothics or Wilkie Collins.

I didn't finish the book, so; not a fair review.

Find in a Library: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Posted by clew at 09:58 AM

August 03, 2009

The Night Horseman, Max Brand

Heathcliff! Heathcliff! and his even prettier horse!

Odd Western; the perfect Western man is so wild he can't live among men, but follows the wild geese; dangerously attractive to man and woman (and horse and wolf-dog). Oddly, one symptom is his whistling like Keat's lark; endless ornate flights of unformed seductive music.

Starts slowly, ends sadly.

Project Gutenberg file 12436 , The Night Horseman.

Posted by clew at 02:22 PM
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