Archive for July, 2007

The Taiyuan Uprising of 2007 (太原起义)

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Where in the world is Professor Mullaney
When the balding Chinese man in his sixties began to pound the information counter repeatedly, his voice growing hoarse from berating the stunned airline attendant, I knew that the situation had truly taken a turn for the worse. It was the early morning hours of July thirty-first, nearing one a.m., and the Taiyuan airport had become a temporary base camp for about five hundred displaced passengers. By slamming his half-empty bottle of Wahaha against the table, the man was engaging in what in Chinese is known as yifen (义愤), or “righteous anger.” In layman’s terms, this translates into (a) a crowd of justifiably perturbed people led by (b) at least one vociferous spokesperson who the larger group openly resents yet quietly endorses (c) surrounding a much smaller number of official personages who (d) endure unceasing emotional abuse from the crowd’s advocate for as long as it takes – but rarely with any outcome that (e) is beneficial to the onlookers.
The official, in this case, was the Deputy Director of Taiyuan Airport, who was flanked by a silently weeping flight attendant, paralyzed with fear, and four completely ineffectual security guards. My traveling companion Emily and I were on our way back to Beijing after a brief, five-day visit to Urumqi, in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, and Dunhuang, site of the famous Buddhist caves in the neighboring province of Gansu. Although scheduled to touch down around eight o’clock in the evening, a smooth return was not in the cards. Come nightfall, Beijing was trapped in the heavy embrace of an unrelenting thunderstorm which, when viewed from the window of our Airbus A320-214, invoked memories of the debut episode of the new Battlestar Galactica: one massive nuclear burst here, another there, an even larger one over there. The flight path went something like this: Dunhuang to Lanzhou to Beijing* to Hohhot to Beijing* to Hohhot* to Taiyuan (where * indicates cities which we enjoyed from the air, but where weather did not permit us to land).
But let me rewind a bit, and explain what I’ve been up to in China over the past few weeks. Stay tuned…
Thomas S. Mullaney
Assistant Professor
Modern Chinese History
Website here

What inspires YOU? A tour through the Lively Arts 07-08 Catalog

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

I just received the new Lively Arts 07-08 season catalog in the mail the other day. I took it carefully out of it’s envelope, and upon feeling the quality of the paper, I knew something was different.
“What does art tell us about ourselves?
When does collaboration lead to innovation?
What fuels creativity?
Can art inspire change?”

These are just some of the questions listed on the outside cover of the catalog.
In an exciting, bold new way, Lively Arts has completely transformed into not only a “presenter,” but an “engager” in the performing arts, and their materials reflect a celebration of the radical questioning and challenging nature inherent in their 07-08 lineup.
After being blown away by the radical cover design (which is also reflected on their website), I slowly opened the catalog to page one.
The first thing that struck me was their vision for the season, captured in the signature phrase, “What inspires you?” used throughout their materials. In their own words:

“Stanford Lively Arts is engaging in the performing arts in bold and exciting ways. Join us and share the powerful experience of live performance as we explore new ideas, pose questions, and contemplate answers.”

Themes of innovation and engagement run through all the performances scheduled for the next year, and are reflected in the marketing strategy. Outlining a new way of thinking about performances, Lively Arts divides their shows into four thought-provoking categories:

If you are captivated by any one topic, they’ve made it easy for you to find shows that will help you to explore and engage with the performaces.
Personally, after reading the short descriptions of all the performances scheduled, there are only maybe one or two out of ALL 36 shows that I’m not that interested in. Suffice to say, I am COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY by this year’s season, and I am going to try to get to as many shows as possible, because this is a revolution in the performing arts hitting campus in the fall.
Please take the time to read through the upcoming season and support the arts at Stanford!


another way to waste time during writers’ block

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

in yet another, extremely nerdy way (at least I’m not cleaning the stove this time), I waste time by creating a graph entitled:
my view of the internet
disclaimer: this graph does not represent any real numbers and definitely falls under the category “snark.” also, I am not available to make up numbers for corporations.

The Simpsons Movie

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I have a hunch that I have a greater affinity towards The Simpsons than most readers of this blog. (My blog bio says one of my ambitions is to write an episode. Seriously, it does say that.) The knowledgeable Simpsonophile will note that I have at least one reference to The Simpsons in every conversation. I’ve noticed, however, even the most obvious references are missed more often when I’m conversing with undergrads as opposed to my grad school friends.
Maybe its because I’m a bit older than the average reader. I’m old enough to remember many of the Tracy Ullman shorts and got to see most of the first few seasons in their original versions, unedited for syndication. I always felt a bond with Lisa in many ways even as I was often no more mature than Bart or Homer. Maybe it’s because I’m just nerdier or dorkier. I remember fondly the “Simpsons drinking games” while watching back to back episodes (sometimes even a third). Whatever the case, I’m a likely to be a bit more obsessed with The Simpsons than the average person in general. That’s how I went into The Simpsons Movie: an obsessive, nostalgic, factoid-full fan. I wasn’t really disappointed (More after the jump. No spoilers, don’t worry)


The Decline and Fall of the “Stanford Party Crew of 2011”

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Breaking news! The Facebook group “The Stanford Party Crew of 2011” has wizened up under scrutiny, and not only is the message board down, but one has to request to join. Because your correspondent is fearful of getting rejected from such an elite group, that just might be the end of mocking that particular group.
But do not fear! Your correspondent is sure, certain, confident–that there will be many drunken freshmen at the first parties of the year, and many pleased Sigma Chis. Watch out, Class of 2010 girls. Your position is about to be usurped in the eyes of that red-faced “really nice guy” in the pink polo holding the red cup. Class of 2010 boys, however, should take heart. You might actually have a chance with a girl that doesn’t live in your freshman dorm.
Second item on the menu today is an ongoing feature over at Gawker: a vote for “America’s Most Annoying Liberal Arts College.” Stanford isn’t on the list, of course, as it isn’t a liberal arts college. Duh. We’re a research institution, a place where humanities majors feel oppressed, and to make themselves feel better, buy as many Moleskines as they can find.
Your correspondent is personally surprised that Reed only received 4.4% of the vote. At a University of Chicago (that notoriously free-market institution) information session, the speaker made a crack about Reed burning SUV’s in the main quad. It’s still unclear whether it actually happened or not.
This correspondent is left wishing that the contest was instead “Most Annoying University.” This would be most interesting. Who would make the list? Who would win? The self-righteous pricks from Harvard? The preppy douches from Princeton? They’ve managed to establish their own colony at Stanford–Sigma Nu. The angsty trendsters at Yale? Or should we look lower down in the rankings–the people who chose a good football team, and as a result, live in Indiana? That would be Notre Dame.
Third, and finally, your correspondent is pleased to report that the ASSU party on Saturday WAS NOT A DISASTER. Surprising, isn’t it, considering the ASSU’s track record of Mausoleum, FMOTQ, and this year’s Senate?
But how on earth did the party actually go off successfully? There are a few reasons:
(1) One needed a “college ID” to get in, meaning that most high school students here for a summer program could have gotten in. Strike one for sketchy.
(2) Everyone pregamed so extensively that most people walked in completely sloshed.
(3) There honestly wasn’t anything else to do.
(4) Everyone had already inhaled the last HP book in one go.
That’s all for this period of time’s installment. Your summer-at-Stanford correspondent, over-and-out.

Holy Crap

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Kevin Drum points to an article in the LA Times on housing forclosures. Wow!
I’m not sure who else cares about the housing market, but as someone who’s generally interested in fiscal policy this is a bit alarming. Wow.

President Obama = Another 4 years of President Bush?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

I know a lot of Stanford liberals support Barack, but I’m afraid a President Obama would be just another President Bush. This is based on reading Barack’s recent article in Foreign Affairs: I urge you, read the **whole** critique of Obama’s Foreign Affairs article by Pierre Tristam– and read the foreign affairs article itself. See if you want another President who believes in American exceptionalism, the need for a larger military, and a continued presence in Iraq at our “facilities” (aka permanent military bases).
I do appreciate his stance on nuclear weapons (ratify the CTBT and ban new weapons technology) but he “leaves the option on the table” to use military force against Iran to prevent a nuclear Iran. This threatening rhetoric does nothing to solve the problems between the US and Iran, and if the US actually destroyed an Iranian nuclear reactor, it would set back the Iranian program for a couple of years at most. More significatly, it would make the United States and our embassies around the world a viable target for the strongest terrorist network in the world: Iranian funded Hezbollah. Attacking Iraq was clearly a mistake, given the quagmire we’re in today, but Iran would be much much worse; we would very likely face immediate retaliation on the scale of another 9/11.
Obama’s reference to global warming and the need for renewable energy is heartening, if not substantive. First, he talks about using Biofuels, which are not a solution at all. He mentions renewable energy, but will there be tax incentives for people to install solar panels on their houses? Or incentives for coal-burning energy plants to shut down to make way for wind farms? Despite the considerable length of the Foreign Affairs article, it is very slim on details, making Barack seem all talk and no direction.
All in all, Obama does not have my vote for the Primary.

Timothy Ferriss, Author of The 4-Hour Work Week

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Tim Ferriss is the author of “The Four Hour Work Week”

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Timothy Ferriss recommends you check email only once per week, don’t read the newspaper and don’t save for retirement. These are only a few of the taboo recommendations found in Tim’s book, “The 4-Hour Work Week.”

It would be easy to dismiss Tim’s advice as lunacy if it weren’t for his impressive list of achievements. Tim used his time-saving technique to learn six languages, become a National Chinese kickboxing champion, and a Guinness World Record holder in tango, all at 29. Tim now adds author of the #1 business book in America according to the Wall Street Journal to his long list of accomplishments.
Tim candidly discusses the contents of his book, his life philosophy and how he propelled his book to #1 using blog marketing. Tim’s ability to use technology to do more with less time and money is impressive and fresh.
– Nir

First Draft: Procrastination, or the Importance of College Today

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

(Because I couldn’t resist a Perlstein response! Even a rough one.)
Nonscientifically gathered top three answers to the question “How’s it going?” or “What’d you do today?” at Stanford:
1) “Procrastinated.”
2) “Nothing.”
3) “Chilled.”
These types of answers aren’t just a Stanford phenomenon either; nearly every student at college that I’ve talked to answers similarly. And, nearly always, these answers are accompanied with an apology and guilt. There’s a certainty, on the part of the answerer, that others are working much harder and more productively, and yet, the answerer does not want to distinguish him- or herself too much from the crowd. And so a retreat into a sort of comfortable average: one that perceives itself as having the ability to work harder and wastes a ton of time.
One of the last things I can remember my mom saying to me, before she left me at Stanford was this: “You’re going to have so much fun at college. The time will just fly by.” And she paused after she said this; I could tell she wanted to go back.
She was right, of course. I bet most current college students would agree. College is fun, and we’ve expected college to be really really fun since at least high school. All of us have seen Old School, okay?; we’ve seen Animal House, we’ve seen Billy Madison; and we expected it to be more than parties: we’ve seen the inspirational stuff too, we’ve seen Good Will Hunting and that all that sappy stuff.
So college has been pumped up for all of us. It’s that gateway between being a kid and being an adult; we start getting to have adult fun with kid responsibility. We were all expecting college.
Those expectations come with a weight, and that weight is why “Procrastination” is the most popular answer to the question “What’d you do today?”
This attitude ultimately shows exactly why college is just as important as in the Sixties, just in a different way and with different attitudes for different times.


loopt launches with Sprint

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

A couple months ago, iinnovate, a Stanford-based podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship, had the opportunity to interview Sam Altman ’07, co-founder and CEO of loopt. loopt is a mobile “social mapping”, or friend-finding, service which allows you to connect to your friends in real time over your cell phone.
This week, loopt launched its service with Sprint, its first major US carrier. This gives loopt a 56-million user base, and equally important, the ability to change the way individuals interact with their phones. It certainly isn’t about talking anymore! The loopt team understands that there is a lot be done in the social and mobile space and is working hard to get its service onto other tier-1 carriers.
“The most common mobile question in the world is ‘Where are you?’ and we’re excited that loopt will be able to answer that question for Sprint customers who choose to participate,” said Sam. “The way we communicate on the mobile phone is about to change forever, as loopt on Sprint puts an end to missed connections and facilitates real-world interactions.”
Sam and the other three co-founders started loopt after spending three months in 2005 at the Summer Founders Program by Y Combinator, a startup incubator.
For more, see loopt’s blog and the press release.

Revolutionaries, Reformers, and Free Thinkers

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Since I’m ineligible to enter the NYT contest I won’t necessarily try to be coherent or, to appease Perlstein, attempt to be all that creative. Creativity, with Perlstein’s blessing, is no longer something that I possess. Nor will I feign pretense and write in overly grammatical, awe inspiring prose–I’m now allowed that right? So it goes.
The first thing I want to take issue with is perhaps Perlstein’s subtle intimation that students these days don’t “[enhance] their social life with special celebrity guest speakers”. Is he serious? Today’s corporate climate makes it pretty unlikely that a simple phone call will get some big shot writer to show up at your dorm. But you know what? I’ve seen some great speakers myself. I’m interested in politics and have had the opportunity to see all the current Democratic presidential candidates speak in person (excluding Gravel), having finagled my way into the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I even got to chat and shake hands with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Wes Clark (who I still consider a candidate).
Student groups have brought Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry to campus. Does Perlstein find nothing special about having the first African American female Senator come to our campus? Her pioneering spirit has made her a personal hero. Bart Ehrman, a writer of early Christianity, whom I enjoy reading and learning from was on campus recently. Does that count as anything to Perlstein? I sure found it exciting. I’m sure all readers here have at one point attended a talk with some public intellectual or artist they find exciting. (I realize the repeated use of such a banal word as “exciting” is very uncreative. I’m allowed as much, right?)


What’s the Matter with Colleges? Another response to the NYT

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Jason has challenged us here at the SU blog to respond to the NYT College Essay Contest “Why College Matters.” I’m actually not eligible to enter the contest as I’m not an undergraduate, but as someone who became a freshman one year after Rick Perlstein graduated from the University of Chicago (yes now you can start calculating my age), I would like to throw in my two-cents
I disagree with Jason a bit, and agree with Perlstein a bit, but then again, I find the Perlstein doesn’t even seem to be able to articulate his exact grievances. Instead he relies on comparing/contrasting a couple of anecdotes and over generalizes the extent of the problem today while comparing it to a happy yesterday that never existed (so I also agree with Jason a bit too).
The main complaint of Perlstein’s meandering essay is that the culture the students bring with them into college (a culture of overscheduled commitment to resume builders which, in a way, homogenizes students and stifles their creativity) combined with a college culture which infantilizes students (think of all the complaints about drinking and party policies in the Daily) has led to the slow demise of a once great cultural innovator.


What’s the Matter with Colleges? Answer: It’s You, not Us.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Rick Perlstein of the New York Times asks “What’s the Matter with Colleges?”. He wants to know why colleges no longer lead our society in culture like they did in the 60’s and 70’s and even 80’s. The main reason is that there are a lot more people IN college today.
I’ll be honest, I did not like this essay and my response is not going to be politically correct. Rick Perlstein seemed to me to be a stuck up rich literary nerd who is longing for the good old days back when he was in school, oh so long ago (1988-1992). He talks about reading forbidden books, going to see jazz masters play, inviting and engaging with intellectual and cultural luminaries, spending countless hours debating issues in the dorms.
But in contrast, today’s colleges lack this cultural and intellectual vigor. One college student complains that “people here are so insanely uncreative, and they’re proud of it.” The main problem in his eyes was that his classmates “had to spend their entire high school experience studying for the SATs or something and didn’t really get a chance to live life or experience things.”
To me that sounds exactly like something a rich white kid would say.


Goings-On About the Farm

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Your summer-at-Stanford correspondent does not have much to report, as campus has been pretty much dead.
But not quite dead. or maybe undead. Several (!) parties occurred on campus, both at SRC (Manzanita) and Mirrelees. I know, I am amazed too. How these engineers and physicists have time to party, between their lab assignments going late, the three classes they’re taking, and the MCAT’s to study for, is beyond me. But party they do. The proliferation of cheap beer is alarming, and somewhere, somewhere, someone has to be drinking Charles Shaw. Please, people. For me.
Also, in case you didn’t know, grad students play that “angles dangles” drinking game, much like undergraduates do. Your correspondent was terrified of finding a former TA playing a game that seems to be suited for the ages of 5 to 7. Fortunately, none where to be found.
The best part of the weekend, however, was the Chelsea FC versus Club America football game. Despite the determined efforts of a drum-playing, dancing, banner-waving, feet-stomping America-supporting section in the upper row, Chelsea was able to overcome an early goal to win 2-1. Stanford Stadium was maybe 80% full, much to this correspondent’s surprise. ESPN claims that 47k came (stadium capacity is 50k) but that’s not true. The article goes on to contend that “The Club America supporters were out in full force. Huge blue and yellow streamers were strung through the rafters, a constant stream of ticker tape rained down, and the fans barely stopped singing and chanting for a second.” Here‘s also the SF Chronicle’s article.
Your correspondent was rooting for Chelsea FC, of course, and taunted friends supporting the other side with insults like “God Save the Queen!” and “The sun never sets on the British Empire!” Strike a blow for maturity.
This upcoming weekend’s highlight will most likely be the “Summer Jam 2007!!!” It’s an ASSU party, and judging by the rampant successes we all know the Mausoleum Party and Full Moon on the Quad to be, it’s going to be rollicking, good, clean fun. It also clearly merits the three exclamation points. We elected these people, remember.
It appears to be planned by Vice President Mondaire Jones and Senate Chair Priyanka Sharma. So far, 68 confirmed guests, who are all obviously coming because “having fun at Stanford is mandatory!” as the event’s description contends. The Facebook link is here.
I’ll put the over-under on event guests at 100, and their average length of stay to be just 15 minutes, enough to pillage the food table and leave. Those physicists need to eat.
But the real highlight of this upcoming weekend will be the release of HP7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Stanford Bookstore is hosting a Harry Potter-themed breakfast on Saturday at 8AM (this may be the only time the entire summer I will willingly get up at 8AM). There’s a Quidditch broom-decorating contest, a costume contest, and more. In other words, it will be a million times better than the ASSU party. Borders in Palo Alto is also having an event, which is described as “An evening of wizardly activities, fantastical games, and stupendous giveaways!” Borders’ events starts at 9:30 on Friday night, with book proliferation (it’s much more dramatic to say that instead of something banal like “distribution”) occurring at midnight.
The Stanford Bookstore’s event description is here (it’s PDF).

Supergirl Liu Liyang spotted with BBQ-scented foreigner

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

刘力扬, aka, Supergirl
[The harrowing conclusion of Look for me in the Chinese tabloids. For those who missed Episode One, you can find it here.]
When we arrived at Agnes B, I felt about as sexy as a compost bin. Here I was, in a room full of professional models wearing a BBQ-infused “Brooklyn” t-shirt and slightly baggy brown pants. Applying my analytical prowess to the situation, I very calmy and dispassionately concluded:
There is no way in hell anyone is going to talk to me.
Looking around, I could not help but think, “how did I get roped into this one?” Down the street, my Korean BBQ chums were dancing up a storm, and here I was desperately trying to remain invisible. But it was my fault. Upon receiving my old classmate’s text, I immediately replied in the affirmative. What else can you expect from a single, 28-year-old man when he receives a one-line text message which reads:
“Who wants to party with some models on Friday?”