Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Friday, May 30, 2003
I was fipping through our beloved school newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, when I noticed an article proposing that Chicago reinstate Division I athletics. Now, I grew up near Knoxville, TN, home of the Tennessee Volunteers. I have had my fill of football-mad crowds, drunken guys wearing face paint--and that's just from television. So no, I'm not very keen on the idea of my university becoming another jock school. But the opening sentence of the article made me take another look:

"The University of Chicago... is that a state school?"

I've had this experience before, of course... even from people who live in the Chicago suburbs. Anyways, the author contends that if we re-enter the Big Ten (we left in 1939 to do more important things with our football stadium, like the world's first nuclear self-sustained reaction*), people will actually recognize our school's name and we won't have random people think we go to UIC** He also mentions the extra benefit of alumni coming for the big Chicago-Northwestern game who will be more likely to donate to the University.

At first this argument looks tempting. Even I have wished on occasion that we could play Northwestern and Notre Dame. But then I realised something. Our fellow universities in the University Athletic Association (aka the "Nerd Nine") have better street cred than we do--I don't see anyone looking askance at Emory, NYU, or Carnegie Mellon. So there's got to be another factor.

But how do you build name recognition anyway? Wash U.'s certainly done a pretty good job of it by sending every high-scoring PSAT taker enough brochures, postcards, and viewbooks for the name to sink into everyone's conciousnesses. Maybe Chicago needs a marketing blitzkreig--send stuff to students you know won't be coming but will actually look at the brochure. I think the University's appearance in "The Core" will help, as will frequent mentions by the news media on Ahmed Chalabi's math Ph.D. from here--and maybe also note that Paul Wolfowitz got his PoliSci Ph.D. (1972) around the same time as Chalabi (1969)***. A television special: "Chicago: Crucible of the War in Iraq" would be possible, with interviews from John Mearsheimer, Paul Sally, and the like. (Dr. Sally's eye patch will interest channel-surfers: "Hey! Pirate movie! Oh, wait, it's just some guy with an eye patch.")

*Okay, so it wasn't the intended reason, but merely a side effect of sorts.
**Before I get protests from UIC students and alumni: My mother went to UIC.
***For some reason foreign news sources call us "Chicago University". Look, the rules that you use for Oxbridge name usage (either "X University" or "University of X" are acceptable) don't apply to American universities, all right? Oh, and never put "state" somewhere even if the university's a state school... Tennessee State University is not the University of Tennessee.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Salon has an article on the business of gay weddings. This reminds me of a question I've been pondering for a while: why doesn't the marriage industry court gay clientele? Open gays are a small, yet relatively wealthy, segment of the population, concentrated in urban areas, and fairly trend-setting as a whole. Lesbian weddings would require two bridal outfits (and we all know that's where the money is); gay men are less embarrassed than straight men about interests in fashion and therefore would be more open to buying and wearing expensive tuxedos. And then there's the wedding industry itself. It's an artistic metier, many similar professions have offered a "haven" for gay men; hence, based upon extrapolation, one would expect a higher-than-average number of gays among the men who work in the wedding industry.

Of course, Big Wedding (TM) is scared of alienating conservative customers. That's fine. You don't have to let them know that you have a stack of brochures tailored to the same-sex crowd or that "Unconventional Ceremonies" doesn't just mean dual-officicant weddings. And if someone starts screaming that they saw an ad in the local gay community newspaper--well, why were they reading it in the first place?

Thursday, May 15, 2003
Movie Recommendation: The Unicorn. A claymation short that shouldn't be seen by anyone under 18. Watch it at

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Time for some frivolity: U.S. currency that looks like it came from Lileks' "Curious Lucre" collection. Hint: Click on "Front of New Bill" at the Tribune and keep that window open as you click through the foreign money.

Lileks on The Handmaid's Tale:

Oh, it’s ripped from the headlines, all right. But they’re headlines in the Arab News. There are theocracies that oppress women, and it’s odd how they look like nothing Atwood describes.

Funny, I always thought that The Handmaid's Tale was the blueprint for the Taliban regime--just substitute "Wahabbism" for "fundamentalist Christianity" and... wait, both were post-devestating-war-with-the-Soviets. Atwood had visited Afghanistan before writing the novel, and claims to have based the outfits in the book partially on the burqa. Most of the author's notes make references to Iran and the Islamic Revolution, as well as fundamentalist Christianity. Really, if Margaret Atwood had sued Mullah Omar over copyright violations back in '96, the world would be a whole lot safer now.

Besides, Brave New World looked nothing like Hitlerism. Except for the eugenics part. And the worldwide government. And the mentions of Nazi-sympathizer Henry Ford. And the weird half-tribal, half-orgastic religion. And maybe a few other details that were floating around in the early thirties.

Shit. Al-Qaeda's back. Yeah, Bush's strategy for fighting the war on terrorism is working real well.

Monday, May 12, 2003
"Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act."

I'm assuming that you, if "you" are a political/activist group, have at least ten members, a message, and have committed yourselves to non-violent social change. If this doesn't describe your group, then you may want to start again.

All right. First entry: The Importance of Intelligent Spokespersons

Last summer P.J. O'Rourke wrote a column in The Atlantic on "Postmodern Protest in the Age of the Neo-Demo". Here are some embarrasing quotes from the piece, which was apparently a demonstration about everything. I'll be using this piece as an example of Demonstrations Gone Wrong in the future:

Max found campus feminists to interview. One admitted that the Taliban's treatment of women was terrible and said the United States should have done something earlier, "in the name of women."
"Wouldn't that involve war?" Max asked.
"Yeah, it's a tricky one," the feminist said. "There might be some nonviolent approach such as micro-lending."

Please roll that around in your mind for a minute. Then ask yourself: Would a government that didn't allow mothers to teach their daughters how to read permit, say, the Grameen Bank going in and giving the women of Kabul start-up loans for tea shops and cell phone rental businesses?

Sunday, May 11, 2003
"There--my blessing with thee,
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged courage. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposèd may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure ,but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.
This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
That thou cannot then be false to any man"
--Hamlet, I.3.56-79

For the past few years I've been irritated at the way that some liberal activists act. Most of them, as well as almost all liberals, are courteous, polite, and wish to engage in discourse with their opponents instead of completely alienating them. Then there are the ones who get all the press. I am not talking about those who stopped traffic on Lake Shore Drive (I feel it was a creative act of civil disobedience, but then again I didn't have to get anywhere using Lake Shore Drive that day), but rather our good friends ANSWER and their fore--"foreparents" would imply a nuclear family, hence "foreguardians"--foreguardians ACT UP, SDS, and others. These organizations--at least not ACT UP and SDS--didn't start out as ultra-radical. But their alienating tactics eventually caused them to become that favorite insult of the sixties, irrelevant.

It's debatable whether or not radical groups are ultimately helpful or harmful to their causes. Of course, what one generation defines as "radical" the generation ten years younger will dismiss as "conciliatory". But I have a feeling that most liberal activists want to be perceived right now by their peers as sane, rational people instead of that weird guy who hasn't bathed for weeks and shows up at every anti-war march stoned out of his mind.

Therefore, at the grand age of 18 years and ten months and full of youthful arrogance*, I shall attempt to create a guide to activism using Polonious's advice to Laertes in Hamlet. Yes, I realize that Polonious was an idiot. But it makes a nice framework.

*At least I'm being honest about it. Everyone at age 18 thinks they can save the world. Please poke holes in my arguments.

Six out of nine: That, my friends, is Team Bara: The Universal Truth's ranking in the final reckoning of ScavHunt. This is actually pretty good, inasmuch as we're a fairly small team. At least we kicked the commuter team's ass.*

*The Commuter team is usually the most pitiable Scav Hunt team, but since this year they joined forces with a dorm, they actually scored eighth. Ninth place was filled by... oh, the irony... Fire Escape, the student film club that was co-producer of The Hunt, the movie about ScavHunt. You'd think that collecting eighty hours of footage of different teams would aid in strategy.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Thursday, May 08, 2003

John Poindexter: (301) 424-6613
John Ashcroft: (816) 471-7141
(573) 334-7044 (Vacation Home)
Tom Ridge: (610) 274-3276

These are, or were, the home phone numbers of three of the most loathed men in the United States government. The Poindexter number was changed last year after a San Francisco journalist published the number and people just kept calling.

These are provided as a public service for the American public, and as fulfillment of the University of Chicago 211 (2003 according to the French Revolutionary Calender) Scavenger Hunt item 97 for the Hoover House team: Team Bara: The Universal Truth.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
We all know that you want to here the latest about the twelve-year-old med student. Here it is.

Sunday, May 04, 2003
Man, even the UN can't resist the prospect of free food:

Hunger pains can apparently turn even the most upstanding diplomat into a looter. At noon on Friday, food workers at the U.N. headquarters walked off their jobs, calling a wildcat strike. The result: none of the U.N.'s five restaurants and bars was staffed. The walkout left thousands of U.N. employees scrounging for lunch — eventually, the masses stripped the cafeterias of everything, including the silverware.

Note to the UN: You're really undermining your authority by doing this. I mean, one would have expected something like this from a world legislative body:

An unidentified UN official called for the formation of a food preparation committee immediately. Delegates from the United States, China, the Netherlands, and Brazil, among others, volunteered. Lunch at the UN consisted of broiled chicken, vegan couscous, green salad, and red bean ice cream for dessert. Afterwords, the delegates carried their own used table settings to the kitchen, where several high-ranking members of the Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods figured out how to turn on the dishwashing machine.

Committees fended for themselves in terms of lunch, most of them electing to order pizza, Chinese, Thai, or other takeout from one of the many delivery services near UN headquarters. A few ventured out into the kitchens, where they prepared sandwiches and fruit.

I mean, really.

In other news, the UN will now have ARAmark as its food service provider. I warn the delegates to be wary of wasabi mashed potatoes.

Saturday, May 03, 2003
Would the psychiatrists please stop diagnosing every great scientist/world leader as (pick one: autistic, having Aspberger's Syndrome, ADD, manic-depressive, clinically depressed)

"The fact that you try to assign mental health disorders to great men is a sign of your underlying feelings of intellectual inadequacy"--hypothetical Freudian response.

There's a reason why very intelligent people sometimes act strangely in front of other people: Personal history. We grew up smarter than most people in our class and so never really fit in, therefore causing social awkwardness and a general retreat into ourselves. During class, we were bored, hence our stimulation-craving minds began to wander around. Maybe the reason for the multiple diagnoses of Einstein as having this/that disease isn't motivated by feelings of inadequacy--maybe it's a way to try to excuse society from almost losing a brilliant mind due to neglect. That way the psychiatrists can make money over-medicating gifted kids while our public school systems go down the drain.

One of my cousins was misdiagnosed with ADD when he was nine. At age fourteen, it became clear after an IQ testing that the real problem was he was borderline-genius. Now, at age sixteen, he spends most of his time with his heavy-metal band and isn't planning on going to college. I was lucky, I went to a school system that recognized gifted kids early and gave them tons of individualize attention. He goes to a school that doesn't have a gifted program. (Apparently, Illinois does not grant gifted children 'disability' status, therefore entitling them to individualized education programs (IEPs))

A trick of geography. That's what launched my cousin and me onto different paths. That and the stupid, antiquated system referred to as "local control", e.g. "Let's shaft the poor some more by depriving their kids of much of a shot at a better life."

So I say to you, all those psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts who may be reading this blog--stop trying to pin mental disorders on the gifted. Give us the proper care and attention our minds need, and we'll be just fine.

So, skeptical about chiropractic now?

(For those of you who start shouting "Hey, it doesn't say anything about chiropractic here", scroll down to where they start talking about who practices "manual therapy".)

Friday, May 02, 2003
I feel old:

Some said that at 9 years old, Sho Yano was too young for college. Then he graduated in three years. Summa cum laude. This June, the shy 12-year-old, who speaks barely above a whisper, will defy the skeptics once again when he becomes perhaps the youngest student to enroll in a medical school. He has been awarded a full scholarship to the University of Chicago.

Wow. Wowie wow wow wow.

I have no doubt that the kid can handle the work; he was evaluated twice as much as any of the other applicants. I'm just not sure about how he'll do with the social scene. I mean, he'll probably be the first graduate student in University of Chicago history who can't* go into Jimmy's during his stint.

Oh, well. At least he'll be able to go to the Lab Schools' middle school dances.

*I speak, of course, regarding the period when Jimmy's has been open, and purely on a legalistic basis; there have been countless U of C grad students who have not entered Jimmy's for religious or other reasons.