ACM ICPC 2014 solution to problem A – baggage

Some of you already know I was on-site coach for the UCT team at the ACM Inter Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals in Ekaterinburg, held from 22 to 26 June, 2014. The problems were unusually hard this year, and solving 4 out of the 10 problems already got teams into the bronze medal range [results]. The technical coach of the UCT team, Bruce Merry, has written an analysis of 6 problems on his blog (D, K, C, E, B, and F–update: now also I and G, J, L, and H), and over at TopCoder, SnapDragon discusses 4 of the 10 problems (A, E, F, G), except that SnapDragon does not provide a solution to A (and I don’t like his hint of brute-force code-and-try) [update 3-7: there's description of his solution here now]. Googling, I couldn’t find someone else discussing the solution to problem A, so here’s mine, which I solved on the plane from Moscow to Frankfurt (among other activities, and one among the four flights we had to take to arrive back in Cape Town).

The problem

Stripping the “baggage problem” to its essentials: you have a sequence of alternating Bs and As, which has to be reordered to first all the As then all the Bs, and the reordering has to occur moving two letters at the same time, and remain adjacent. For instance, with an n = 4, we have 2n characters, BABABABA, and in the end after sorting, it then will be AAAABBBB, and this has to occur in the minimum amount of moves. N is randomly chosen, and is an integer between 3 and 100. The cells on your tape are numbered from 0 to -2n+1, so with our n = 4, from -7 to 8, and the first B is on position 1.

Update (3-7): This problem appears to be “Tait’s counter puzzle”, which Peter Guthrie Tait, a Scottish mathematical physicist, described in 1884 [see description] (thanks to Davi Duarte who mentioned it in the topcoder thread).


Informally, there are two parts to the algorithm: move around the As and Bs to pair them as AA and BB, which cost you n/2 moves if n is even and n/2-rounded up moves if n is odd, and then sort those pairs in the remainder to a total of n moves. The first part occurs alternating moving AB from the right to the left, starting at the last AB (position 2n-2) and then every other 4 to its left, and BA from left to right, starting from position 3 and every other 4 positions to the right (i.e., 7, 11, etc.), and then the BBs are ferried to the right from left to right, and the AAs from the right to the left, also alternating. N=3 is an exception.

One can do this with a neat mathematical proof, but I found out with pattern creation and recognition, visualizing the provided sample input and moves for n = 5 and n = 8, which can be done in 5 resp. 8 steps (given in the problem statement as sample output). Here’s a description of that approach.

First, devising one for 3 is trivial, using the following moves (the only option), using the position indicated with the position of the first letter, and highlighting the ones that will be moved next:

Start: . . . . . . BABABA
Move 2 to -1, which gives . . . . ABB . . ABA
Move 5 to 2, which gives . . . . ABBBAA . .
Move 3 to -3, which gives . . AAABBB . . . .

This already suggests that the minimum amount of moves will always be n, because it is n moves also for n = 5 and n = 8. Next, devising one for n = 4, and knowing the moves for n = 3 and n = 5, I tried to work it out for BABABABA, i.e., the first AB, like with n = 3, BABABABA, and BABABABA like with the n = 5 case. The last one is the only one that worked in 4 moves, starting with moving 6 to -1, again. Again, because for all ns so far, the first move is to -1.

Let’s put this to the test with n = 7, with the ones to be moved in bold and the empty cells indicated with dots:


i.e., move the last AB (thus, position 12) as this worked for n=4 and n=5, then


i.e., move the first BA after position 1 (thus, position 3)


i.e., move the last AB before a pair (thus, position 8)


i.e., move the first BA after position 1 (thus, position 5). Then sorting the BBs and AAs:


This was enough for me to have discovered the pattern of alternating for the matching and alternating for the sorting.

What is ‘nasty’ in the problem description, retrospectively and for the pattern-based approach vs. a neat maths-y proof at least, is that the pattern deviates for n = 3, and the provided sample output for n = 8, although in 8 steps, is an alternative solution, not one that one obtains with the algorithm. With the approach as mentioned above, we have for n = 8 the following (I did that one to double-check):


This confirmed it works. It may look a bit craft-y, but the patterns show beautifully with larger n, which are shown below for the even and odd case (made just for the blog post, not in solving it); squint your eyes if it’s not immediately clear.

N = 16


N = 17


Neat. Writing the code is left as an exercise to the reader.

I’m looking forward to the other problems (except the crane balancing problem C, whose description I did not like, at all), the upcoming regionals and next year’s ICPC World Finals in Morocco (if not winning, then to have at least a great time like we had this time)!

First steps for isiZulu natural language generation

Yes, Google Translate English-isiZulu does exist, but it has many errors (some very funny) and there’s a lot more to Natural Language Generation (NLG) than machine translation, such as natural language-based query interfaces that has some AI behind it, and they are needed, too [1]. Why should one bother with isiZulu? Muendane has his lucid opinions about that [2], and in addition to that, it is the first language of about 23% of the population of South Africa (amounting to some 10 million people), about half can speak it, and it is a Bantu language, which is spoken by nearly 300 million people—what works for isiZulu grammar may well be transferrable to its related languages. Moreover, it being in a different language family than the more well-resourced languages, it can uncover some new problems to solve for NLG, and facilitate access to online information without the hurdle of having to learn English or French first, as is the case now in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The three principal approaches for NLG are canned text, templates, and grammars. While I knew from previous efforts [3] that the template-based approach is very well doable but has its limitations, and knowing some basic isiZulu, I guessed it might not work with the template-based approach but appealing if it would (for a range of reasons), that no single template could be identified so far was the other end of the spectrum. Put differently: we had to make a start with something resembling the foundations of a grammar engine.

Langa Khumalo, with the Linguistics program and director of the University Language Planning and Development Office at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and I have been trying to come up with isiZulu NLG. We have patterns and algorithms for (‘simple’) universal and existential quantification, subsumption, negation (class disjointness), and conjunction; or: roughly OWL 2 EL and a restricted version of ALC. OWL 2 EL fist neatly with SNOMED CT, and therewith has the potential for interactive healthcare applications with the isiZulu healthcare terminologies that are being developed at UKZN.

The first results on isiZulu NLG are described in [4,5], which was not an act of salami-slicing, but we had more results than that fitted in a single paper. The first paper [4] will appear in the proceedings ofthe 4th workshop on Controlled Natural language (CNL’14), and is about finding those patterns and, for the options available, an attempt at figuring out which one would be best. The second paper [5], which will appear in the 8th International Web Rule Symposium (RuleML’14) conference proceedings, is more about devising the algorithms to make it work and how to actually generate those sentences. Langa and I plan to attend both events, so you can ask us about the details either in Prague (18-20 Aug) or Galway (20-22 Aug) in person. In the meantime, the CRCs of the papers are online (here and here).

Regarding the technical aspects, the main reasons why we cannot get away with devising templates to generate isiZulu controlled natural language is that isiZulu is non-trivial:

  • There is a whole system of noun classes: nouns are grouped in one of the 17 noun classes, each with their own peculiarities, which is illustrated in Figure 1, below;
  • Agglutination, informally: putting lots of bits and pieces together to make a word. A selection of those so-called ‘concords’ is included in Figure 2, below;
  • Phonological conditioned copulatives, meaning that the ‘is a’ depends on the term that comes after it (ng or y); and
  • Complex verb conjugation.
isiZulu noun classes with an example (source: [5]).

isiZulu noun classes with an example (source: [5]).

A selection of isiZulu concords (source: [5])

A selection of isiZulu concords (source: [5])

What does this mean for the verbalization? In English, we use ‘Each…’ or ‘For all…’ for the universal quantifier and it doesn’t matter over which noun it is quantified. In isiZulu, it does. Each noun class has its own ‘each’ and ‘for all’, and it is not acceptable (understandable) to use one for the wrong noun class. For disjointness, like “Cup is not a Glass” ({\sf Cup \sqsubseteq \neg Glass} in DL), in English we have the ‘is not a’ regardless what comes before or after the subsumption+negation, but in isiZulu, the copulative is omitted, the first noun (OWL class, if you will) brings in a so-called negative subject concord, the second noun brings in a pronominal, and they are glued together (e.g., Indebe akuyona Ingilazi, where the second word is composed of aku + yona), and to top it off, each noun class has its own concord and pronomial. A seemingly simple conjunction—just an ‘and’ in English—has to be divided into an and-when-it-is-used-in-an-enumeration and an and-when-it-is-a-connective, and when it is used in an enumeration, it depends on the first letter of the noun that comes after the ‘and’. Existential quantification is even more of a hassle. The table below shows a very brief summary comparing typical patterns in English with those for isiZulu.

A few DL symbols, their typical verbalization options in English, and an indication of possible patterns (source: [4])

A few DL symbols, their typical verbalization options in English, and an indication of possible patterns (source: [4])

We did ask isiZulu speakers which of the possible options they preferred (in a survey, with Limesurvey localized to isiZulu), but there wasn’t an overwhelming consistent agreement among them except for one of the options for existential quantification (the –dwa option), although there was more agreement among the linguists than among the non-linguists, possibly due to dialect influences (results can be found in [4]).

If you don’t feel like reading the two papers, but still would like to have some general overview and examples, you also can check out the slides of the CS colloquium I gave last week. I managed to ‘lure in’ also ICT4D people—and then smack them with a bit of logic and algorithms—but the other option, being talking about the other paper accepted at RuleML, probably would have had to be a ‘cookie colloquium’ to get anyone to attend (more about that paper in another post—it is fascinating, but possibly of less interest to a broader audience). If you want to skip the tedious bits and just get a feel of how one of the algorithms works out: check out the example starting on slide 63, which shows the steps to go from {\sf \forall x (uSolwazi(x) \rightarrow \exists y (ufundisa(x, y) \land Isifundo(y)))} in FOL, or {\sf uSolwazi \sqsubseteq \exists ufundisa.Isifundo} in DL (“Each professor teaches at least one course”, if the vocabulary were in English), to “Bonke oSolwazi bafundisa isifundo esisodwa”.

Clearly, a lot remains to be done.


[1] Alberts, R., Fogwill, T., Keet, C.M. Several Required OWL Features for Indigenous Knowledge Management Systems. 7th Workshop on OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED’12). 27-28 May, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. CEUR-WS Vol-849. 12p

[2] Muendane, N.M. I am an African. 2006, Soultalk CC.

[3] Jarrar, M., Keet, C.M., Dongilli, P. Multilingual verbalization of ORM conceptual models and axiomatized ontologies. STARLab Technical Report, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium. February 2006.

[4] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Toward verbalizing logical theories in isiZulu. 4th Workshop on Controlled Natural Language (CNL’14), 20-22 August 2014, Galway, Ireland. Springer LNAI. (in press)

[5] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Basics for a grammar engine to verbalize logical theories in isiZulu. 8th International Web Rule Symposium (RuleML’14), August 18-20, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic. Springer LNCS (in press).


Here’s a bit of unvarnished promotion for the 1tth OWL: Experience and Directions Workshop (I’m the co-program chair, with Valentina Tamma, and Bijan Parsia is general chair)


CALL FOR PAPERS: 11th OWL: Experiences and Directions Workshop (OWLED)
Riva del Garda, October 17th – 18th, 2014 co-located with ISWC 2014

Important Dates (All deadlines are Hawaii time)
• Paper submission due: July 30, 2014 EXTENDED TO AUGUST 4, 2014!!!
• Acceptance notifications: September 5, 2014
• Final papers due: September 18, 2014
• OWLED workshop: 17-18 October, 2014

OWLED is now also a Community Group at the W3C. Everyone is invited to participate:


The aim of the OWL: Experiences and Directions Workshop (OWLED) is to establish an
international forum for the OWL community, where practitioners in industry and
academia, tool developers and others interested in OWL can describe real and
potential applications, share experience and discuss requirements for language
extensions/modifications. OWL has become the representational model of choice for
supporting interoperability in many industries. This has been made possible thanks
also to the development of numerous OWL reasoning systems that efficiently deal with
both intensional (ontologies) and extensional (data) query answering. In this
edition we aim to bridge the gap with the reasoner evaluation community and welcome
the submission of papers describing challenging ontologies and/or tasks to be
represented in OWL and processed by OWL reasoners. It also welcomes proposals for
improving the OWL 2 standard.

This year, we would like to invite submissions of the following types of papers:

Technical papers:  All submissions must be in English and be no longer than 12 pages
(including references). Papers that exceed this limit will be rejected without
review.  These papers should present research, implementation experience, and
reports on the above and related topics. Space will be reserved for authors to
present their work at the workshop.

Short papers (4-6 pages, including references): These papers should present work
that is in an early stage and/or include publishable (novel) implemented systems
that are of interest to the OWLED community; and (in case of an implemented system),
can be demonstrated at the workshop.

All submissions must be must be in PDF, and must adhere to the Springer LNCS style.
For more details, see Springer’s Author Instructions:

Papers can be submitted online using the Easychair Conference system:

Papers related to any aspects of OWL and extensions, applications, theory, methods
and tools, are welcome.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Application driven requirements for OWL
  • Applications of OWL, particularly: from industry, or for data integration, for service interoperability, for sophisticated/non-obvious inference, for knowledge discovery
  • and within specific domains such as: law, bio and biomed, eLearning
  • Experience of using OWL: notably, highly expressive ontologies or the OWL 2 Profiles
  • Evaluation of OWL tools e.g. reasoners
  • Benchmarks for OWL tools
  • Performance and scalability issues and improvements
  • Extensions to OWL
  • OWL and Rules
  • Implementation techniques and experience reports
  • Non-standard reasoning service (implementation and requirements for)
  • Explanation
  • Ontology comprehension and verbalisation
  • Multilingual OWL
  • Modelling issues
  • Tools, including editors, visualisation, parsers and syntax checkers
  • Collaborative editing of ontologies
  • Versioning of OWL ontologies
  • Alignment of OWL ontologies
  • Modularity
  • Query answering with OWL
  • SPARQL and OWL
  • Linked Data and OWL

Dabbling into evaluating reasoners with the DMOP ontology

The Data Mining OPtimization ontology (DMOP) is a highly axiomatised ontology that uses almost all features of OWL 2 DL and the domain entities are linked to DOLCE, using all four main ‘branches’ of DOLCE. Some details are described in last year’s OWLED’13 paper [1] and a blog post. We did observe ‘slow’ reasoner performance to classify the ontology, however, like, between 10 and 20 minutes, varying across versions and machines. The Ontology Reasoner Evaluation (ORE’14) workshop (part of the Vienna Summer of Logic) was a nice motivation to have a look at trying to figure out what’s going on, and some initial results are described briefly in the 6 pages-short paper [2], which is co-authored with Claudia d’Amato, Agnieszka Lawrynowicz, and Zubeida Khan.

Those results are definitely what can be called interesting, even though we’re still at the level of dabbling into it from a reasoner user-centric viewpoint, and notably, from a modeller-centric viewpoint. The latter is what made us pose questions like “what effect does using feature x have on performance of the reasoner?”. No one knew, except for the informal feedback back I received at DL 2010 on [3] that reasoning with data types slows down things, and likewise when the cardinalities are high. That’s not an issue with DMOP, though.

So, the first thing we did was determining a baseline on a good laptop—your average modeller doesn’t have a HPC cluster readily at hand—and in an Ontology Development Environment, where the reasoner is typically accessed from. Some 9 minutes to classify the ontology (machine specs and further details in the paper).

The second steps were the analysis of one specific modeling construct (inverses), and what effect DOLCE has on the overall performance.

The reason why we chose representation of inverses is because in OWL 2 DL (cf. OLW DL), one can use the objectInverseOf(OP) to use the inverse of an object property instead of extending the ontology’s vocabulary and using InverseObjectProperties(OPE1 OPE2) to relate the property and its inverse. For instance, to use the inverse the property addresses in an axiom, one used to have to introduce a new property, addressed by, declare it inverse to addresses, and then use that in the axiom, whereas in OWL 2 DL, one can use ObjectInverseOf(addresses) in the axiom (in Protégé, the syntax is inverse(addresses)). That slashed computing the class hierarchy by at least over a third (and about half for the baseline). Why? We don’t know. Other features used in DMOP, such as punning and property chains, were harder to remove and are heavily used, so we didn’t test those.

The other one, removing DOLCE, is a bit tricky. But to give away the end results upfront: that made it 10 times faster! The ‘tricky’ part has to do with the notion of ‘linking to a foundational ontology’ (deserving of its own blog post). For DMOP, we had not imported but merged, and we did not merge everything from DOLCE and its ExtendedDnS, but only what was deemed relevant, being, in numbers, 43 classes, 78 object properties and 593 axioms. To make matters worse—from an evaluation viewpoint, that is—is that we reused heavily three DOLCE object properties, so we kept those three DOLCE properties in the evaluation file, as we suspected it otherwise would have affected the deductions too much and interfere with the DOLCE-or-not question (one also could argue that those three properties can be considered an integral part of DMOP). So, it was not a simple case of ‘remove the import statement and run the reasoner again’, but a ‘remove almost everything with a DOLCE URI manually and then run the reasoner again’.

Because computation was so ‘slow’, we wondered whether maybe cleverly modularizing DMOP could be the way to go, in case someone wants to use only a part of DMOP. We got as far as trying to modularize the ontology, which already was not trivial because DMOP and DOCLE are both highly axiomatised and with few, if any, relatively isolated sections amenable to modularization. Moreover, what it did show, is that such automated modularization (when it was possible) only affects the number of class and number of axioms, not the properties and individuals. So, the generated modules are stuck with properties and individuals that are not used in, or not relevant for, that module. We did not fix that manually. Also, putting back together the modules did not return it to the original version we started out with, missing 225 axioms out of the 4584.

If this wasn’t enough already, the DMOP with/without DOLCE test was performed with several reasoners, out of curiosity, and they gave different output. FaCT++ and MORe had a “Reasoner Died” message. My ontology engineering students know that, according to DOLCE, death is an achievement, but I guess that its reasoners’ developers would deem otherwise. Pellet and TrOWL inferred inconsistent classes; HermiT did not. Pellet’s hiccup had to do with datatypes and should not have occurred (see paper for details). TrOWL fished out a modeling issue from all of those 4584 axioms (see p5 of the paper), of the flavour as described in [4] (thank you), but with the standard semantics of OWL—i.e., not caring at all about the real semantics of object property hierarchies—it should not have derived an inconsistent class.

Overall, it feels like having opened up a can of worms, which is exciting.


[1] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A., d’Amato, C., Hilario, M. Modeling issues and choices in the Data Mining OPtimisation Ontology. 8th Workshop on OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED’13), 26-27 May 2013, Montpellier, France. CEUR-WS vol 1080.

[2] Keet, C.M., d’Amato, C., Khan, Z.C., Lawrynowicz, A. Exploring Reasoning with the DMOP Ontology. 3rd Workshop on Ontology Reasoner Evaluation (ORE’14). July 13, 2014, Vienna, Austria. CEUR-WS vol (accepted).

[3] Keet, C.M. On the feasibility of Description Logic knowledge bases with rough concepts and vague instances. 23rd International Workshop on Description Logics (DL’10), 4-7 May 2010, Waterloo, Canada.

[4] Keet, C. M. (2012). Detecting and revising flaws in OWL object property expressions. In Proc. of EKAW’12, volume 7603 of LNAI, pages 252–266. Springer.

8 years of keetblog

The 8-year anniversary swooshed by a few days ago, but, actually it’s really only completing today, as the first blog post with real content was published on April 18, 2006, about solving sudokus with constraint programming.

The top-post among the 186 posts (>9000 visits to that page alone) is still the introduction for two lectures on top-down and bottom-up ontology development that I wrote in November 2009 as part of the Semantic Web technologies MSc course at the Free University of Bolzano; anyone wishing to read an updated version: have a look at the 2014 lecture notes (its ‘Block II’). The post most commented on is about, and then on my wish for a semantic search of insects.

The more ‘trivia’/fun ones—still having to do with science—are, I think, about the complexity of coffee and culinary evolution, but I may be biased (my first degree up to MSc was in food science). For some reason, there were more visitors reading about failing to recognize your own incompetence and some sneakiness of than about food (and many other topics). Ah, well. A full list sorted by year is available on the list of blog posts page.

The frequency of posting is somewhat less than a few years ago and, consequently, the visits went down from about 1500/month during its heydays [well, years] to about 1000/month now, but that’s still not bad at all for a ‘dull’ blog, and I would like to thank you again, and even more so the fans (subscribers) and those of you who have taken the effort to like a post or to leave comments both online and offline! I hope it’s been an interesting read, or else enjoyable procrastination.

Ontology Engineering lecture notes for 2014 online

The lecture notes for the Ontology Engineering BSc honours in CS course are available online now. The file is updated compared to the COMP720 module (and those notes have been removed). The main changes consist of reordering the chapters in Block II and Block III, adding better or more explanations and examples in several sections, fixing typos, and updates to reflect advances made in the field. It again includes the DL primer written by Markus Kroetzsch, Ian Horrocks and Frantisek Simancik (saving me the time writing about that; thanks!).

As with the last three installments, the target audience is computer science students in their 4th year (honours), so the notes are of an introductory nature. It has three blocks after the introduction: logic foundations, ontology engineering, and advanced topics (the latter we will skip, as this is a shorter course). The logic foundations contain a recap of FOL and the notion of reasoning, the DL primer and the basics of automated reasoning with the Description Logics with ALC, the DL-based OWL species, and some practical automated reasoning. The ontology engineering block starts with methods and methodologies that give guidance how to commence actually developing an ontology, and how to avoid and fix issues. Subsequently, there are two chapters going into some detail of two ‘paths’ in the methodology, being top-down ontology development using foundational ontologies, and bottom-up ontology development to extract knowledge from other material, such as relational databases, thesauri, and natural language documents.

The advanced topics are optional this year, but I left them in the lecture notes, as they may pique your interest. Chapter 8 on Ontology-Based Data Access is a particular application scenario of ontologies that ‘spice up’ database applications. Chapter 9 touches upon a few sub-areas within ontologies: representing and reasoning with vagueness and uncertainty, extending the language to include also temporal knowledge, the use of ontologies to enhance conceptual data models, and a note on social aspects.

It is still an evolving document, and relative completeness of sections varies slightly, so it has to be seen in conjunction with the slides, lectures, and some additional documentation that will be made available on the course’s Vula site.

Suggestions and corrections are welcome! If you want to use a part of it in your own lectures and/or use the accompanying slides with it, please contact me.

More book suggestions (2013)

Given that I’ve written post the past two years about books I’ve read during the previous year and that I think are worthwhile to read (here and here), I’m adding a new list for 2013, divided into fiction and non-fiction, and again a selection only. They are not always the newest releases but worthwhile the read anyway.


The book of the dead by Kgebetli Moele (2009), which has won the South African Literary Award. The cover does not say anything about the story, and maybe I should not either. Moele’s book is a gripping read, and with a twist in the second part of the book (so: spoiler alert!). The first part is about Khutso, a boy growing up in a town in South Africa; it is “the book of the living”. Then he gets infected with HIV, and “the book of the dead” starts. Writing shifts from third-person to first person, and from the vantage point of the virus that wants to replicate and spread to sustain its existence, as if it has a mind of its own (read an excerpt from the second part). All does not end well.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirsig is a ‘modern classic’ that this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. It is semi-autobiographical and the story exposes some philosophical ideas and the tensions between the sciences and the arts, partially explained through drawing parallels with motorcycles and motorcycle maintenance. A minor storyline is about a road trip of father and son, and there is an unspoken undercurrent about inhumane psychiatric treatments (electroshocks in particular) of people deemed mentally ill. It is an interesting read for the complexity of the narrative and the multiple layers of the overall story, i.e. literary it is impressive, but I guess it is called ‘a classic’ more for the right timing of the release of the book and the zeitgeist of that era and therefore may resonate less with younger people these days. There are many websites discussing the contents, and it has its own wikipedia entry.

The girl with the dragon tattoo by Stieg Larssen (2008). I know, the movie is there for those who do not want to read the tome. I have not seen it, but the book is great; I recently got the second installment and can’t wait to start reading it. It is beautiful in the way it portrays Swedish society and the interactions between people. The tired male journalist, the troubled female hacker, and a whole cast of characters for the ‘whodunnit’.

Other books I read and would recommend: The songs of distant earth by Arthur C Clarke and De dolende prins [the lost prince] by Bridget Wood.


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (2008). I bought this book because I liked the tipping point (mentioned last year). It is just as easily readable, and this time Gladwell takes a closer look at the data behind “outliers”, those very successful people, and comes to the conclusion there are rather mundane reasons for it. From top sports people who typically happen to have their date of birth close to the yearly cut-off point, which makes a big difference among small children, giving them a physical advantage, and then it’s just more time spent training in the advanced training programmes. To being at the right time in the right place, and a lot (‘10000 hours’) of practice and that “no one, not even a genius, ever makes it alone” (regardless of what the self-made-man stories from the USA are trying to convince you of).

The Abu Ghraib Effect by Stephen F. Eisenman (2007). I had a half-baked draft blog post about this book, trying to have it coincide with the 10 year ‘anniversary’ of the invasion by the USA into Iraq, but ran short of time to complete it. This is a condensed version of that draft. Eisenman critically examines the horrific photos taken of the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 by US Military officers, by analyzing their composition, content, and message and comparing it to a selection of (what is deemed) art over the past 2500 years originating in, mainly, Europe. He finds that the ‘central theme’ depicted in those photos can be traced back from all the way to Hellenic times to this day, with just a brief shimmer of hope in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and a few individuals deviating from the central theme. The ‘central theme’ is the Pathosformel being an entente between torturer and victim, of passionate suffering, and representing “the body as something willingly alienated by the victim (even to the point of death) for the sake of the pleasure and aggrandizement of the oppressor” (p16). Or, in plain terms: the artworks depicting subjects (gleefully and at time with sexual undertone) undergoing and accepting their suffering and even the need for torture, the necessity of suffering for the betterment of the ruling classes, for the victors of war, imperial culture, for (the) god(s), including fascist and racist depictions, and the perpetrators somehow being in their ‘right’. In contrast to the very Christian accept-your-suffering, there are artworks that deviate from this by showing the unhappy suffering, conveying that it is not the natural order of things, and are, as such, political statements against torture. Examples Eisenman uses to illustrate the difference between the two are Picasso’s Guernica, Goya’s Third of May 1808, the custody of a criminal does not call for torture, and the captivity is as barbarous as the crime (links to the pictures). Compare this to Laokoon and his sons (depicting him being tortured to death by being ripped apart by snakes, according to the story), Michelangelo’s The dying slave (if it weren’t for the title, one would think he’s about to start his own foreplay), Sodoma’s St. Sebastien (who seems to be delightedly looking upwards to heaven whilst having spears rammed in his body), and the many more artworks analysed in the book on the pathos formula. While Eisenman repeats that the Abu Ghraib photos are surely not art, his thesis is that the widespread internalization of the pathos formula made it acceptable to the victimizers in Iraq to perpetrate the acts of torture and take the pictures (upon instigation and sanctioning by higher command in the US Military), and that there was not really an outcry over it. Sure, the pictures have gone around the globe, people expressed their disgust, but, so far as Eisenman could document (the book was written in 2007), the only ones convicted for the crimes are a few military officers to a few year in prison. The rest goes on with apparent impunity, with people in ‘the West’ going about their business, and probably most of you reading this perhaps had even forgotten about it, as if they were mere stills of a Hollywood movie. Eisenman draws parallels with the TV series 24 and the James Bond Movie Goldfinger, the latter based on his reading of Umberto Eco’s analysis of Fleming, where love is transformed in hatred and tenderness in ferocity (Eisenman quoting Eco, p94). From a theoretical standpoint, the “afterword” is equally, if not more, important, to read. Overall, the thin book is full of information to ponder about.

Others books include Nice girls don’t get the corner office by Lois Frankel, but if you’d have to choose, then I’d rather recommend the Delusions of gender I mentioned last year, and the non-fiction books in the 2012 list would be a better choice, in my opinion, than Critical mass by Philip Ball as well (the mundane physics information at the start was too long and therefore I made it only partially through the book and put it back on the shelf before I would have gotten to the actual thesis of the book.)

And yes, like last year, I’ve read some ‘pulp’, and re-read the hunger games trilogy (in one weekend!), but I’ll leave that for what it is (or maybe another time). If you have any suggestions for ‘must read’, feel free to leave a note. There are some access limitations here, though, because it is not always the most recent books that are in the bookshops. I live near a library now, and will visit it soon, hoping I can finally follow up on a reader’s previous suggestion to read the books by Nadine Gordimer.


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