Thursday, May 29, 2008

The only justifiable reason to encourage more Americans to do software development

There are not enough English-language room escape games, and I am reduced to this:
This game is the practice of Chinese and Japanese, with keywords.
It is difficult not being able to speak Japanese.
Still, if you play with us, here to help you please.
However, I will not speak to non-Japanese, English, the translator. English is not perfect, but please be relentless.
I tried to be relentless, but it is in fact difficult not being able to speak Japanese.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Putting your conspiracy theories to rest

Being much saddened by the ongoing feud between Straussians and Arendtians, who I am convinced could be largely (though not wholly) reconciled if they just thought harder about it, I was pleased to discover this exchange in Arendt's correspondence with Karl Jaspers from 1954 as a sign of at least civility:

Jaspers: "Do you know anything about Leo Strauss, who has written about Spinoza, an orthodox Jew of strong rational powers? Is he still alive?"

Arendt: "Leo Strauss is a professor of political philosophy in Chicago, highly respected. Wrote a good book about Hobbes (as well as the one about Spinoza). Now another about natural law. He is a convinced orthodox atheist. Very odd. A truly gifted intellect. I don't like him."

Jaspers: "What you say about Leo Strauss interests me. An atheist now? In his earlier books he appears as an orthodox Jew who is providing justification for authority. The style and tone of his books puts me off, but what he writes is very informative."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My highly refined sense of humor

I have been having an ongoing debate with many people about whether these comics (click "view slideshow") are brilliant or stupid. I am squarely on the side of brilliant. Are you?

Also, let us all take a moment to reflect on the profound truth expressed in this brilliant lolcat. (Via Alex)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An open letter to the U of C Alumni Association

Dear U of C Alumni Association,

First, I just want to thank you for all the postcards and emails you've sent me in the last year reminding me that, once, long ago, I attended the U of C. Without this constant prodding, I'm certain I would've forgotten.

And you know, now that you point it out, I do recall those "great times" I had writing my BA and studying for finals, and I recall specifically how much those times made me wish I could just give back, you know? Like, there was this one time when I was in the library at 3 AM memorizing Greek verbs for a final I was doomed to fail when it occurred to me, "I really wish I could sign over this month's paychecks to The College Fund, the Study Abroad Fund, the Renovate the Third Windowframe From the Right Near The Entrance to Cobb Hall Fund, and all the rest right now." Alumni Association, I failed you that morning by not acting on the desire, and I've had to live with the heavy burden of my guilt ever since. I repent, and thanks to your convenient weekly gifts of self-addressed, stamped envelopes, and your bi-weekly email links to the website, I can now absolve myself easily and frequently.

Finally, regarding your continuous stream of invitations to my "one-year reunion," I am like so super excited! OMG, I can't wait to reconnect with all my really close friends that I haven't spoken to in a year and tell them about all the exciting things that have happened to me since then. Like, how I dropped a giant plank on my foot and killed my toe. Man, life just flies by, you know? One day, you're tossing your mortarboard at graduation, and the next, you've hit the toe-killing milestone that we all dread. I mean, what's next--grandkids?

Be assured, Alumni Association, the checks will be in the mail, just as soon as I finish going through these fascinating Core Magazines that now come appended to the Alumni magazine, because just one nostalgia trip a month is never enough.

Big hearts,
Miss Self-Important

PS: Alumni Association, you should totally consider this for your magazine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

#1 reason not to run for President

Sure, it will cost you money and time, privacy and intimacy, and also probably several years of your life, all told. Your financial situation will be laid bare for all the world, your youthful experimentation with drugs, even your traffic violations from high school. But the worst eventuality is that the NY Times will publish your teenage poetry. And then how will you ever hold your head up in public again?

Via Athens and Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When the aliens abduct the U of C

It will look like the new library extension at night. Imagine walking up Ellis Ave. on a dark, winter evening and finding a glowing orb ahead. As you come closer, you'll see through the glass dozens of people sitting in identical positions, heads bent over laptops in concentration, like so many robots toiling for the mothership.

I could be for it, except I oppose automated shelving.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The end of Facebook?

Isn't that a really melodramatic title? Not really the end of Facebook, but it does strike at its heart: the possibility of knowing who searches you. (If you're having trouble getting it to work for you, type a period into the search box and then hit the down arrow.) Drew brought this to my attention, and, in an effort to figure out what this list of five people indicates (the most recent five people who searched you? the most frequent five people who search you? five random people?), we tried repeatedly searching each other to see if we would show up one each other's lists. No dice. Possibly the thing is not updated frequently? I even checked Nigel the cat's profile and learned that one of his most recent/frequent/random stalkers was my boss. So, really, what can this list mean? Any answers to this great mystery would be much appreciated. Otherwise, as Drew sagely points out, "This thing is going to cripple the economy when it completely takes out the recent postgrad labor force."

UPDATE: The fun is over.

Monday, May 12, 2008

In defense of eros on campus

The problem with discussing the subject of professor-student relationships in any kind of public context is that if you are a professor or student or have any proximity to either, it's hard to keep yourself out of it. Just as blogging about fashion is really blogging about the size of your butt, blogging about student-professor relationships can easily be misconstrued as blogging about your student-professor relationships. This is the kind of ambiguously referential talk that might cause one's professors or students to say, "Hmmm..." in a somewhat different tone than the detached scholarly interest one might be hoping to elicit. One way to dismiss such insinuations is to come straight out against professor-student relationships, indicating that at least you would not personally consider involving yourself in one with anyone who might take your purely academic musings on this question too much to heart. But if you're not against it, whatcha gonna do? You're almost asking to be sucked into your own hypotheticals. So allow me now to disclaim any history of personal involvement in any kind of teacher-student relationship. Never have, never wanted to, probably never will. Nonetheless.

Phoebe thinks that the crux of the "prof-crush" is that, like the puppy love for much older men that young girls might develop, its object is basically unattainable. I disagree. Yes, when you're 10 and you have a crush on your 22-year-old camp counselor, that's not going anywhere, and if it did go somewhere, it would be deeply creepy and also possibly a felony.

But when you're 22, though the age gap between parties may be the same, you have nonetheless passed beyond the realm of statutory rape. And although in most cases, the object of your prof-crushes will probably still be unattainable because he is otherwise committed--to a spouse, or to the opposite gender, or to avoiding relationships with students in general or you in particular--sometimes that won't be the case. And in those instances where it's not, it's important to see the distinction between the schoolgirl and the woman in college or graduate school. Margaret Soltan, who reports attaining the supposedly unattainable not once, but three times, also believes that although such affairs clearly can end badly, there is nothing inherently evil about them (scroll down to 10/02/07; the permalink doesn't work).

Nor is Phoebe right to suggest that the primary impulse of women who pursue their professors is to be taught about sex. When you think of the kind of woman who is forward enough to get from the fourth row of a lecture hall into her professor's bed, the image of the timid virgin is not exactly what comes to mind (though I suppose she could play-act that role en route). I recall discussing a classmate/TA affair once with one of my roommates and wondering how the classmate ever got from deriving functions with the TA to not wearing any pants. What exactly were the steps involved there? This does not seem like something likely to be undertaken by the wide-eyed girl off the farm. (Indeed, the girl in question--not wide-eyed in the least.) And why should we cynically assume that there is no wisdom aside from an enhanced familiarity with sexual mechanics to be derived from such relationships?

My favorite essay of last summer, Deresiewicz's Eros on Campus, argues that the dynamic of these desires is informed by a Greek sort of eros. In fact, this was how one of my professors analogized Platonic eros when I studied the Phaedrus: think of the lover as a middle-aged professor who has wisdom but lacks the experience of the beautiful, and the beloved is the grad student who possesses the beautiful but seeks wisdom. The union of lover and beloved is then the most natural and perfect kind of love. (Don't worry; I'm pretty sure no one took my professor's analogy as a personal invitation.)

Deresiewicz goes on to deny that this eros, when properly understood, has a sexual component, but Plato is pretty clear that it does, and I agree with Phoebe that attempts to disentangle mind and body here are doomed. There is no sense in denying that such desires are not exactly chaste, even if they're not primarily sexual. Of course, Phaedrus doesn't exactly articulate the concern that professors of the future might actually be seedy old lechers rather than beacons of virtue and founts of wisdom, so we're left to rely on our own judgment in deciding that question. But the main thing is that a graduate or even a college student can have the capacity for such judgment.

And if Plato is right and all philosophy is imbued with some degree of eros, then academic life is likely to be formed out of intense relationships all around, and they won't be limited to this particular "prof-crush" or that one, but also to classmates and peers and others passing through. Very few of these relationships can or should be consummated sexually, but the eros surrounding them injects them with an ambiguity and intensity that makes life interesting and urgent. Studying is exciting; eros is part of that excitement. What better or more innocuous way to discover these pleasures than through an unrequitted prof-crush? Even if there's a lot of meat available in the frat house next door, I don't see the advantage of settling for it just because it's there and its pants are already off when you walk in.

Mail Call

Part of my workday each day is dedicated to fending off the insane. This is not an employment function I originally envisioned as being particularly relevant in journalism, but I now realize the important role played by the insane in our society. The insane have a lot of time, or a lot of energy, or both, and this allows them to write a good deal. It's perhaps unfortunate that, given the bazillions of media channels available to us, much of what gets published gets there on the sole merit of being something that was written down (how else could I sell my writing?). But if that upsets you, you should consider how much of what is merely written doesn't even get published. Instead, it gets sent to me, and I have to read it.

Today, for example, I received a letter from this man offering to make "a very detailed case that the USA is a failed society." The letter was only a synopsis of the promised case, focusing largely on the problem of how we have forgotten our past. Case in point: "No one in the USA answers a letter anymore. They write back BUT no one responds to what I wrote to them about. It is as if each letter started the world anew."

Really, no one writes back? I am shocked.

So next time you're wallowing in self-pity over the poor quality of American journalism, pity me instead for having to read what doesn't even come close.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nostalgias of the past, part 1

Several times over the past several years, I have concluded that this blog was dying (in a going out with a whimper way). I'd decided some time ago that keeping it around is, on balance, a bad idea. No doubt I've met many cool people through it and crafted a persona superior to my actual self, but the whole thing is basically an unadmirable exercise in vanity for which I'll probably be held liable eventually. Still, here we are, skipping forward gaily on the path to self-destruction.

I reassure myself of the acceptability of this folly in several ways. There is, for one thing, Google's short memory. You can remove a day or a week or four years of posts in an instant, and it'll take them a couple months to be wiped from Google's cache. Gaffes of the past can be rendered unsearchable. The Internet Archive has of course put up barriers to this guarantee of eventual oblivion, but at least it graciously began tracking my blog after 2005, so all my horrifying high school and early college commentary is safe from use as future blackmail. (Actually, this is not true. As of this posting, much of this content is available through convoluted channels which I have no intention of revealing.)

Moreover, though you can't read my archives (unless you're David and you've been granted special nostalgia access), I still can. And in times like these, when I begin to wonder what to do with this blog, it is instructive to go back through my archives and cringe at myself. My favorite posts are from my first year of college, in which I seem to have attempted to maintain an even, ironic tone while completely freaking out. It's possible that I enjoy them so much because I still remember just how much I was freaking out, so my inept efforts to conceal that are even more comic in context. The whole year's worth of blog posts, despite being regrettably shrill and pathetic, are also probably the most revealing of all my sad bloggy efforts. After that, I started to realize that people might actually be reading, and I became slightly more circumspect. So, since I haven't posted anything here in weeks and probably will continue to avoid blogging for a while, here is an 80-page summary of my first year of college to tide you over:

Summer: Ok, guys. I graduated from high school and am getting ready to go to the U of C, which is a prestigious college, meaning that I am a secret genius! I am SOOOO excited! I tell everyone I know that I am going to the U of C, but most of them think it is the same as UIC. These people are clearly beneath me. Whatever, I am still excited! WOOOO!! Did I mention that I was excited, by the way? Because I am!

In fact, I am so anxious about college that, not only will I spend every waking (and sleeping) moment imagining how AMAZING it's going to be, but I will spend half of each day reading my class message boards to learn about my classmates' sex lives, and to argue with them about political issues that none of us know anything about. I am going to say ridiculous things on these message boards that will haunt me throughout college because I am SO CONSERVATIVE!! Woo! I have opinions! Don't mess with me!

In our arguments, we will try to reference as many long books as we can, and we will try to scare our classmates with our immense intellects before we even meet them. We are well on our way to making friends! But oh no, I am reading these message boards, and I am scared of my classmates. They quote someone named Neet-zeche. I do not know who that is! They use terms like "ontological." I do not know what that means! I will make fun of them on my blog while secretly FREAKING OUT that I am not smart enough for college! I must read more books! Fortunately, I am working at the public library, so I can do this. But not fast enough! Oh no, school is approaching, and I have not read everything ever written yet! I have not even opened a book by Neet-zeche! I am beginning to resent my high school for being so crappy as to neglect to even introduce me to these people. I am so worried! What if I am too stupid and fail out of college? DOOM!

Ok, now I am reading The Closing of the American Mind. It is so exciting! I actually have to write notes in the book (which is, like, illegal) in order to keep track of this argument. He is saying that democracies need certain kinds of citizens, which totally never occurred to me while I was spending all of high school scheming to torture my teachers, and he is quoting all these Greek people I have never heard of, because I thought Greek people were just another clannish ethnic group who went to school with me, and whose parents owned all the grocery stores in the area.

I have a housing assignment and a roommate! I am so thrilled! I will drive down to the campus just to walk around my dorm and admire my exciting future. But what if my roommate is a hippie, whom I, having just read Dinesh D'Souza, will be obliged to hate? I will send her a really mean email, establishing that I am a self-righteous, haughty bitch. This will really help us hit it off! Wow, I am such a social genius!

I am reading the course catalog they sent me like it was the Bible, and planning what classes I will take every quarter for the next four years because I am already that neurotic! School has not even started yet, but my insanity has! I even have ideas for my BA. I have no idea what I'm doing since I've never actually been to college, so none of my plans will transpire, which is good, because I planned to take only history classes for the entire four years. But, I think I need to learn something about these Greek people who don't own grocery stores, so I will take the humanities class about that. Look at me--going out on a limb! I can't wait to learn about all the things I totally didn't understand in The Closing of the American Mind. Woo, I am so ready for college!

Autumn: Ok, I am at college. It is a little bit overwhelming. I don't know anyone here, and it is hard to make friends immediately. I am lonely and homesick. I didn't get the classes I wanted and I don't understand this "pink slip" thing. I am also outraged at how much people drink. And have sex, or say they do. I did not do these things with my high school friends. I cannot decide if this is because I am a loser, or because these people are losers, but because I am such a superior human being, the former is more likely. So I am outraged! I am going home this weekend, and also next weekend, and the weekend after that. I do not like college.

Now I am starting my classes. I really like them! But everyone here is like a genius, and they all went to really amazing high schools where they read Neet-zeche, which is apparently pronounced Nee-che, so I am glad I never had to say it out loud until I heard someone say it correctly. They all sound so smart when they talk, and they talk for so long in class. I do not even have this many thoughts! I also really like how grown up I feel managing my own schedule and being able to skip classes whenever I want, and eat whenever I feel like it, and generally run my life.

Except I never skip classes because I am also COMPLETELY TERRIFIED THAT I AM GOING TO FAIL OUT OF COLLEGE. I have failed my first college paper! What should I do? Try again? Oh no, I have failed my second college paper too! I guess I can't write papers the night before in college, or I will keep failing. In college, people seem to study at the library. I have never done this before since only the cliquey Asian kids studied in libraries in my life, but now I will try it, and I will study all day long because of the aforementioned TERROR OF FAILING. Finally, I meet grade inflation! I get an A on my civ midterm! There is hope! But also terror!

I am still lonely and sad and I still do not like college (although I tell all my high school friends that I do, because they tell me how much they LOVE their schools, and besides, it is a prestigious school, so how can I not like it?). I have decided that this is because it is full of hippies, so I will join College Republicans. College Republicans are intense! They have all these ambitions and connections and they all want to be investment bankers, which is a job I have never heard of but from what I understand, entails making a million dollars a year. Whoa! I do not think we have anything in common, but maybe I should reconsider my plans to move back to Skokie forever after graduation... I get in many arguments with people about politics, and offend them, but I feel ok about this because I have opinions! Yay for opinions, boo for friends!

The guy across the hall from me writes all his papers the night before they're due and gets A's. It takes me days to write papers, and I get B's. He went to Andover. I went to Niles West. Therefore, I renounce public schools! Then I have all these other ridiculous political opinions that I blog about incessantly because I think that six weeks of college have made me profound. They are so badly thought out that they will be painful for my future self to read! I take walks through Hyde Park all day, trying to process the vastness of the future. My roommate takes walks through Hyde Park at night. My suitemate won't get out of bed. College is isolating. Dorm life is not as fun as I'd imagined it would be. I spend more time at the library. I may not be developing friendships, but I am at least developing a work ethic.

I go home for Thanksgiving and hang out with my high school friends. I have missed them SO MUCH! I never imagined that I could have such intense feelings about them! They are so familiar! They are not pretentious or intimidating or incomprehensibly worldly! Why didn't I appreciate them earlier? But now Thanksgiving is over and I have to go back to school. Boo. Maybe I can transfer next year? To Harvard? At least people will recognize its name when I brag about it.

I love Herodotus! I was thinking about him one night, and then I had this epiphany in which I realized the point of the book! This has never happened before! I was so excited that I nearly fell out of bed! Then I went to talk to the TA about my epiphany and we talked for like two hours! She probably thinks I am insane, but who cares? I had a thought! My hum class is so awesome! I love college! But then it is time for finals. Finals are hard. It is cold outside. I am not a genius anymore. In summary: "This autumn has been all 'boo-hoo-hoo, college sucks so much and I hate everyone wah, wah, wah why are people such assholes?'"

Winter: I am wiser and more worldly now. I know the ropes. I have a schedule. I start papers early. I am even going to skip some meetings of my physci class because it is SO EASY. See how confident I am? I have grown so much since last quarter. Also, I understand what is going on in my calculus class! Obviously, I am secretly a genius again!

Listen to me blather endlessly about campus politics. But look! Now I am tempering my tirades with socially acceptable doubt words like "maybe" and "it seems possible that." Maybe it seems possible that now maybe I'll make some friends? I am spending a lot of time still perpetuating an unwise relationship with my ex-boyfriend from high school because he is the only person who understands how miserable I am, and who appreciates my secret genius. I am a pretty terrible person, but I also do not believe in being a good person, so this is not a problem!

I love Tocqueville! This book is the greatest thing I have ever read! I will write every single paper for my civ class this quarter about him, even when that is not the assignment! Unfortunately, I think Allan Bloom ripped off all his ideas. Now I am less impressed with Allan Bloom.

I am really angry that my physci class is so stupid and easy. I have stopped attending. But I am paying money for this nonsense. At least my hum class is still awesome. And I am still secretly a genius. But oh no, I have received a bad grade on my hum paper! The terror has returned! I will never be overconfident again! And I hate Greek drama forever! Also, my blog has been discovered by my classmates. DOOM! But they turn out to be harmless, so I will continue being embarrassingly candid. Error! This will be the first of probably a million subsequent times that this will happen, and it will cause intense embarrassment on my part each time, and I will freak out repeatedly but remarkably never learn from my mistakes. So much for secretly being a genius.

It is the end of the quarter, and I am freaking out! What should I take next quarter? What should I do with my life? Everyone tells me to stop blogging about politics because I am a moron, but this is just because they are not at my advanced intellectual level! Why do I keep alienating everyone? I have no idea! I miss high school.

Spring: I am going on a field trip with my winter quarter civ professor, whom I loved! Woo! But oh no! No one else is going but me! This is so AWKWARD! It will take me weeks to get over how awkward this was! Now I am going to a Passover seder at my high school bio teacher's house. Also, SO AWKWARD! Then I went to one of my professor's office hours, and he talked about how he was going to die soon, and that was EXTREMELY AWKWARD. Why does this keep happening? I think maybe I am a social disaster... I will have my roommate, who is much more proficient in these things than me, draft all my emails to my professors so that I do not accidentally piss them off.

Now I am doing well in school, but I can't find a summer job! NEW SOURCE OF DOOM! But I have an idea--I will apply for an internship with my congresswoman! Brilliant! I go to the U of C, so she will have to take me! But alas, she is a Democrat, and she sees that I am in College Republicans, and so she does not give me the job! I hate Jan Schakowsky, and vow to oust her from her House seat myself someday!

I am reading Plato, and I do not understand him! I also do not understand Aristotle! What is the point? Philosophy is so stupid! I will go around telling people who study it this from now on! Oh boy, will that go over well with them. I am just a charm machine, aren't I? I am reading again. Life has clearly hit new lows.

It's warm outside now, so I am happy about life. I am hanging out with my roommates and housemates, and they seem not to be bad people after all. We will have to agree to disagree about politics, and agree to agree about how awesome Mean Girls is. The year is coming to an end, and I have decided to reconcile myself to the U of C. I still have no job because I FAILED my interviews at such illustrious places as the Gap and Old Navy! What is the point of being a sometimes secret genius and getting good grades if even menial labor is out of my grasp? The future spells DOOM. I hatch a new, excellent, completely unethical plan for summer employment whereby I will enter as many essay and scholarship contests as I can, including those I'm not qualified for because of such unchangeable things as race and gender, and I will win thousands of dollars! (Or, not.) I am moving to Shoreland next year mostly against my will but everyone else is going, so what can I do? At least I will enjoy the long walk to class (except when there are four feet of snow, but I have no foresight, so I neglect to consider this possibility).

I have a long final paper due for Hum. I spend many days slaving in the Reg to complete it, and begin to lose my mind and compose poems about Thucydides. I am so proud of this paper! I am done with school for the year, and I come back on the last day of finals to pick up my graded papers and hang out with my roommates. This turns out to be the best day of the year, even the part where it rains torrentially while I'm driving my roommates home from Evanston and I am so terrified that I go 10 mph on Lake Shore Drive. I get excellent grades, we go up north and eat Tapas, get soaked at Northwestern, and then the rain lets up on my drive back from Hyde Park and I am so giddy and love Chicago, and school, and everyone! But man is this unemployed unending summer going to suck.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Back to reality

500 unread emails, 40 missed phone messages, and 200 unclicked Google Reader posts later, I'm back in DC. I imagine I'll be working late tonight to trim this heap of work, and without even a chocolate croissant or gelato to tide me over.

The trip was generally excellent, largely because Alex lives in Madrid and speaks Spanish, which took care of the two main sources of travel stress that I would encounter. In Spain and Italy, I discovered that, contrary to the opinion I formed in Greece, not every Mediterranean country is a disaster of bad food, dysfunctional infrastructure, the smoggy urban sprawl of identical concrete bunkers, and incomprehensibly angry, constantly screaming residents. Greece is apparently unique in that regard. However, the questionable fashion is indeed ubiquitous.

Dinner on the Ponte Vecchio: