Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ice Cream Fueled Musings

Back from my ice cream. Since I don't seem to be directing my energies at math today, I thought I'd keeping rambling here. So, I can't decide what to do about charitable donations. I'm sure I should, basically because I can. But how do I know who to give my money to? Is there a poset of charities I can consult, ordered somehow that lets me pick a 'best' (perhaps from some small several of maximal elements) choice? Who set up this poset, and how did they decide? Is there some global cause bank, where all the charity agencies (what qualifies?) can just turn and submit proposals for money? So I could just submit my money to this central hub, and let them decide what to do with it? What's the (is there a?) world bank? What does the UN actually do, and do they have a role in this? If I actually cared, wouldn't I start looking things up? Or am I just a (stereotypically?) self-centered ass hole American? By making this blog, haven't I exhibited my self-centered-ness?

And why do we still have nations? Are they really necessary? Aren't we all members of a global community? Where's Einstein's (didn't he say something about this?) passport as a citizen of the world? Where's mine? Doesn't segregating people based on birth place lead to stereotyping and pride and prejudice (not the book, certainly not the movie)? Or is stereotyping an (necessary?) evolutionary trait that helps us survive our monkeysphere? Even if nations really are that important, instead of just geographic identifiers for somebody's current location, why can't we have a global currency? Or a global language? I'm perfectly happy preserving local flair by making everybody learn their nation's language(s). I'm not asking people to become all the same, that's stupid. But couldn't we also teach our children, while they grow up, some global language, like esperanto or something? [Update 12/21: I'm not against the idea of dividing regions up into nations, states, provinces. I can see that this makes local government, and preservation of culture and such, easier. What I'm against is... raging, unreasoned patriotism I guess. I don't know. I don't think about it that much, honestly.]

Back to charities, in typically stream of thought rambling. Aren't I living on a charity? What are you doing with your life that's so deserving of pay? I mean, why should I get paid to learn about the calculus of functors? More generally, why should mathematicians get paid at all to do "pure math"? What should I be doing to actually earn my living? Maybe I'm getting paid to be a teacher, and need to do research so that I can present my topic better to my students. But if my students follow in my footsteps toward pure math, or never use the math I teach them again, then why should I get paid to teach? If I want to make some difference (if such a thing can actually be made, or we even have time to make it - when's that apocalypse people have been calling for?) shouldn't I give up all my personal interests, and basically give up myself? To who? For what? Why bother?

While I'm talking about teaching, here at the end of the semester, how do I best determine a student's final grade? Take my calculus class for example. I had weekly written homework, daily online homework (using webwork), weakly quizzes, two midterms and a final. There were 250-300ish points for each type of homework, 100ish points for quizzes, 100 for each midterm, and 150 for the final. If quizzes were 5%, written homework 12%, webwork 13%, each midterm 20%, and the final 30% of the final grade, how many decimal places of their final grade is actually meaningful?

Wow. I feel like a philosopher or somebody else I might not respect. All these questions without answers. Probably most of them entirely unanswerable. Maybe I should just pick a cause and move on. Throw a bunch into a hat. I mean look, I just wasted at least the last hour or two or three thinking about and writing these things. Not to mention the 12 hours of sleep I got last night. Shouldn't I have been learning math to get my phd so I can go teach kids who will promptly forget all of the ivory-towerish things I say? Or at the grocery store buying food to donate to some homeless person living under a bridge here in cold and rainy cville? Setting up, or finding, a global fund for charities? Finding somewhere isolated and living as part of nature? Answering some of these damn questions?

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