Author Archive - George

About George:

I'm a senior majoring in International Relations, and I oversee the blog's finances. This complex task currently employs over half of the Business School, which oversees our derivatives trading operations in 38 countries. When I'm not browsing the Internets, you may spot me at Ike's talking politics, on the next flight to Latin America, at a Grateful Dead concert, or on one of Stanford's many rooftops.

“An Affirmation of Life’s Beauty:” A Letter to President Hennessy on Chi Theta Chi

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The friendly residents of Chi Theta Chi.

The following letter is from Dana Edwards ’14.

Dear President Hennessy,

I lived in Chi Theta Chi this past fall quarter, and I am saddened and taken aback by the university’s move to assume control over the co-op. Dr. Hennessy, I respectfully ask for you to exercise your executive power and prevent Residential and Dining Enterprises from terminating our lease. In order to illustrate why Chi Theta Chi means so much to me, to my 35 brothers and sisters who currently live in the house, and to hundreds of Chi Theta Chi alumni–and in order to illustrate why stripping us of our autonomy is tantamount to stripping away the very soul of this place–I will tell you my story. It’s a little long-winded, and riddled with generalities, but it’s extremely honest. I cried when I wrote this. For this reason, I ask that you read on.

Like many Chi Theta Chi residents of past and present, I hated my freshman dormitory, but found a loving home in this historic building. As a wide-eyed freshman on the first day of New Student Orientation, I arrived at a certain freshman dorm in Wilbur Hall to hear my name screamed by dorm staff who were somehow already familiar with my face.  It was a demonstration of the RAs’ dedication, to be sure, but also a taste of the sort of giddy artifice that has come to define the freshman residential experience, annually laying the plumage for the newest flush of Stanford Ducks.

As 21st century Stanford matriculates, we were a remarkable group of young adults–sensitive, hard-working, intelligent–and yet the culture in our dormitory did not encourage intellectual cross-pollination or creative vision, or provide an open environment to discuss our very real fears and frustrations; instead it reveled in intolerable fakeness. It was Camp Stanford, and I was not a happy camper. I was depressed. (Given, I had just returned from Burning Man, perhaps the most open and expressive of counterculture environments, so the transition to artifice was made all the more abrupt.)

The building itself made me feel like a pampered inmate: white cinderblock walls and frameless hydraulic doors, a prison of fluorescent sterility attended by an anonymous custodian. Awkwardness abounded, disingenuous dorm pride supplanted everyone’s secret feeling of not belonging, and the cheering of our oddly offensive cheer forever rang in the air and turned my stomach. (more…)

Chi Theta Chi Starts Online Petition, Rapidly Gains Signatures

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Chi Theta Chi residents demonstrate their responsibility on work days that occur periodically throughout the year. These days, such as the one shown above, focus on maintenance and long-term projects.

Residents, alumni, and members of the Chi Theta Chi community just created an online petition to Stanford administrators, and it already has over 300 signatures. You can sign the petition here. As the authors write, “In response to the termination of the house’s lease with the university, we express the benefits derived from Chi Theta Chi’s independence and ask that the university be open to identifying a solution that preserves that independence.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

February 14, 2012

Dear President Hennessy, Vice Provost Boardman, Ms. Everett, and members of the Board of Trustees:

In light of the recent decision to by Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprise (R&DE) to terminate the lease signed with Chi Theta Chi, we the alumni, current students, and supporters of the house have come together to express why Chi Theta Chi’s independence is integral to its identity and what the Stanford community stands to lose if that independence is revoked.

Chi Theta Chi fills an important and necessary role at Stanford. As the only independently operated cooperative house on campus, Chi Theta Chi has been operating and providing a home for students through the efforts of its residents and alumni board. Students choose to draw into Chi Theta Chi because they want to take ownership over their space and shape their community. In its current state as an independent house, Chi Theta Chi:

*Teaches practical life skills. From caulking bathroom tiles to planning and executing a complex renovation, Chi Theta Chi’s residents have the opportunity to learn practical skills that they would fail to experience if they only lived in university-operated housing – even other co-ops.

*Instills accountability and respect for space. The condition of the house is entirely dependent on the actions of its residents and alumni; plans for large-scale improvements as well as daily tasks such as cleaning and cooking are internally managed, and thus residents learn to regard the house with the same level of respect that a homeowner feels towards his or her property.

*Fosters sense of community and pride. The residents of Chi Theta Chi join a community of hundreds of alumni that have maintained the house over decades. As stewards of the house, residents gain a sense of pride in their contribution to Chi Theta Chi’s continued existence. (more…)

Happy Stanford V-Day!

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

For all of those in the middle of recruiting season, or surrounded by people who are being recruited:

Special thanks to Roger Tran ’13 for the drawing.

Chi Theta Chi Releases Official Statement

Friday, February 10th, 2012

The residents of Chi Theta Chi, 2010-2011.

The following message is attributed to the Chi Theta Chi residents, student staff, and alumni board:

Early Wednesday evening, Stanford Residential Dining and Enterprises (RD&E) and Stanford Student Affairs informed Chi Theta Chi staff of their plans to revoke the house’s lease, beginning today, February 9, 2012.   By doing so, the University would evict from campus one of the last remaining independent student houses and transfer ownership of Chi Theta Chi to RD&E.

We are confused and saddened by the University’s attempt to remove ownership of the property from the house’s alumni board, which has controlled the property for decades.  This transfer of ownership would directly undermine the diversity of the living options available to to undergraduates – counter to the university’s stated goal.  In his message on diversity, President Hennessy wrote, “We realize that a variety of approaches are necessary to foster diversity throughout the university, and we will continue to give careful attention to these important efforts.”  Chi Theta Chi, in its current state of private ownership, is one of those necessary approaches.  The removal of Chi Theta Chi’s independence would be a detriment not only to its residents, but also to the entire student body, which benefits from the diversity the house had supported for over thirty years.

Chi Theta Chi’s unique independence has made it a home for all of us as students, and in the past the university has respected our rich diversity of interests and living preferences.  We are disheartened by the university’s announcement, which came with minimal forewarning and which we believe disregards the exceptional efforts and improvements the staff of Chi Theta Chi have made to keep the house a safe and supportive environment for all of its residents.  We call upon the university to uphold their agreement in the terms of the lease to meet with the house to discuss less drastic alternatives.  We trust that the University will not allow short-sighted technicalities destroy our house’s independence.

Fire and Brimstone Descend Upon White Plaza

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Stanford's latest expert in binary decision-making.

While White Plaza has a knack for attracting some colorful characters, a recent invasion by Bible-touting fanatics has now turned the space into an ideological battleground. With contradictory slogans like “You’re all going to Hell!” and “Jesus loves you!”, these fervent proselytizers have lately become a fixture amongst the 12 noon lunch crowd.

When I asked one of the demonstrators why he was presenting his particular message–”STUDY AND OBEY THE BIBLE JUDGMENT IS COMING”–he responded, “I want people to look at the words on this sign. Can you see this sign? It might not be big enough.” Aside from the missing periods, the letters did not appear to exhibit any size issues, at least to my untrained eye.

The demonstrators are by no means a uniform group, but they appear to be mainly white males in their late twenties and thirties. They are often quite muscular, and though they have not threatened any students, they have often shaken their fists at passing bikers in the midst of a jeremiad on the secular state of modern society. For instance, as I approached one of them, he bellowed, ”You only die once. You don’t die twice. What does that mean?? You have little things in your ears…can you even hear me?!?”

A real American patriot.

For the moment, it appears that these screaming saviors have no intention of leaving. The administration has not made any moves to restrict their freedom of speech. Although they do bring back unflattering comparisons to the Westboro Baptist Church nutcases who visited campus two years ago, they at least have not succeeded in seriously offending anyone. However, for all of the non-believers, homosexuals, minorities, and supporters of tolerance who pass through White Plaza at mid-day, I would advise that you not only turn up the volume on your headphones, but also hold your nose. Some of these holy rollers could really use a shower.

Are the French Better Parents Than Americans?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

According to a 2009 study by economists at Princeton, American moms considered it more than twice as unpleasant to deal with their kids as French moms.

Few things about the French are more irksome than their national superiority complex. Although I met a number of amicable Frenchmen and women while studying in Spain, their favorite topic was unfailingly how much they missed their native land, and they made no bones about telling me so.

However, in an essay published in the WSJ on Saturday, an American mom shows that the French may have some bragging rights when it comes to effective parenting, complete with an ex-Stanford professor to back up her claims.

The author, Pamela Druckerman, claims that French parents have figured out some parenting tricks that make their children much more peaceful and obedient than Americans, specifically by teaching their kids how to wait. One of her sources is Walter Mischel, who as a professor at Stanford in 1972 devised the famous “marshmallow test” to examine a child’s capacity for deferred gratification. According to Mischel, in the U.S., “certainly the impression one has is that self-control has gotten increasingly difficult for kids.”

Mischel would know. His marshmallow test offered 4- and 5-year-olds a marshmallow and said that they could have another if they waited for the experimenter to come back before eating the first. Only one in three resisted for the full 15 minutes that the experimenter was gone. The key, the researchers found, was that the good delayers were able to distract themselves. What is more, Mischel found in a follow-up study that these good delayers as adolescents were better at concentrating and reasoning, and they did not “tend to go to pieces under stress.”

So how do French parents make their kids more patient? One method is enforcing a tight eating schedule, instead of providing snacks all day. Another is teaching children to play by themselves so that they require less supervision and maintenance. These observations sound like cultural generalizations, but they are backed up by data. For example, as part of her supporting evidence, Druckerman cites a 2004 study on the parenting beliefs of college-educated mothers in the U.S. and France. The American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance, whereas the French moms said it was very important.

As a Stanford student, parenting is not the first thing on my mind (or the second, or the third!). However, this article inevitably invited me to compare how I was raised with the French parenting model. I found that I was unwittingly raised in a rather French style, with a bit of American disciplining. Even though my brother and I fought almost non-stop as kids, my mom has told me that she loved being with us and valued raising us herself very highly. My brother and I also ate on a consistent schedule, and we spent a lot of time playing outside by ourselves. However, if I misbehaved, privileges or prized possessions were taken away. The worst part about being punished was that it was often in front of other people, which made it humiliating and more memorable. As a result, the fear of being disciplined became as powerful a motivator to behave well as the forces of habit.

Granted, French society provides some big advantages to which this article only pays lip service, including significantly better social services and child care than in the U.S. Also, Druckerman probably did not get a very big sample size for her observations on France, meaning that her conclusions would only apply to a set of well-educated, well-to-do families that do not explain the behavior of the entire French population. She may want to look into a movie called The 400 Blows, which is about a French boy who becomes a juvenile delinquent thanks to bad parenting, before calling it a day.

That said, rightly or wrongly, American children are notorious amongst foreigners for being spoiled and lazy. With big budget cuts going into effect in areas like education, the U.S. government is unlikely to improve the situation in the short term. That leaves the bulk of the job with American parents.

Perhaps they could take a few cues from the French, even if the advice comes with a big dose of hauteur.

When Europe Hits a Windmill: The Euro Crisis from Spain (Part II)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The victory rally of Spain's opposition party, Partido Popular (PP), on November 20 in Madrid. Spaniards gave the PP an absolute parliamentary majority in a referendum on the dire state of the country's economy. (Photo credit: Jonathan York.)

“Es la crisis.”

Amongst young Spaniards, these three words have become a refrain almost as common as “¿Qué tal estás?”. They often use them jokingly, such as an excuse not to do a homework assignment or complete a household chore. However, when deciding not to shop, go out to a restaurant or club, or travel, the phrase comes up again, and the reason is darker: they simply do not have the money.

As these young people graduate, almost half of them have no way to earn that money, thanks to the lack of jobs available. If they are particularly smart and/or well-connected, they often leave and work in other countries, participating in the largest emigration wave to hit Spain since the 1960s. The others have little choice but to scrape together what they can, live with their parents, and wait for the economy to improve. They will need to wait a while. Spain’s rigid, service-based economy cannot shift to a new growth model overnight, or even in a few years.

It is one thing to examine a financial crisis as troubling as Europe’s using the news, the pundits, the data, and the precedents. It is another to be in Spain and observe its consequences. Although Spain remains an enchanting place in which to study and travel, the past two years have profoundly shaken the country’s psyche and identity. The new Spain that has emerged is the one that I will attempt to convey in this post.

What does a country with a 22.6% unemployment rate look like?

Spain hardly looks like a country experiencing hard times. Parts of it are run-down, to be sure, but Spanish cities are generally well kept and full of green spaces. The main thoroughfares of Madrid are even cleaned off with hoses every night; I found out about this when I nearly got sprayed by one walking home from the bars. Madrid’s metro and bus system are easy to use and efficient, with none of the filth and rudeness you might encounter on the NYC subway. (more…)

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Check out this epic Christmas-themed flash mob:

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Safe travels, and have a wonderful break!

When Europe Hits a Windmill: The Euro Crisis from Spain (Part I)

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Spain's flag together with the flags of Andalucía and the European Union. The family of European nations is facing the biggest challenge to its existence since World War II.

Recently I went to get some churros con chocolate with a friend studying at Universidad Complutense. He is an educated guy, very sharp, a real “pícaro” who does not hesitate to poke fun at something he finds ridiculous. We began to talk politics, specifically Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, and at one point I noted with amazement and some sympathy that the Germans would be inevitably responsible for bailing out the rest of Europe. My friend looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “They tried to conquer Europe twice in less than a century, without mercy, and left us with Franco. Que se jodan.

You do not have to agree with my friend to see his point. Europe is in serious trouble, and though the Spaniards continue to party until the sun rises, they are increasingly angry and disillusioned. After having experienced one of the great economic miracles of the twentieth century, Spain’s future looks decidedly grim. The Spanish youth will likely suffer a lower quality of life than that of their parents, and so far there appears to be little they can do about it.

In this post, I will attempt to explain Europe’s economic situation, tying in Spain where relevant. A follow-up post will elaborate on Spain’s current circumstances, focusing on what I have been able to observe in person.

The Debt Contagion – Too Little, Too Late

Why is Europe’s economic crisis so scary? The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest economy, with approximately 308 million people. If it goes bust and the 17-nation euro zone dissolves, an economic tsunami would hit the U.S. and the rest of the world. Stocks markets would tank, people’s savings would disappear, banks would stop lending and likely suffer a run on their accounts, and political chaos would follow.

This sounds like a drastic, impossible scenario, until you look at the numbers. Europe’s biggest debtors are facing unprecedented yields on their sovereign debt, with both Italy and Spain above 6% on ten-year bonds. Such levels necessitated European-sponsored bailouts in Ireland and Portugal over the past year. But Italy is the world’s eighth largest economy and third largest bond market. It is too big to be “bailed out.” Without investors buying its bonds, Italy’s government will simply run out of money and default on its debts. The EU’s situation is so tenuous that any number of events, from the failure of a big bank (read: France, whose banks are heavily exposed to Greek debt) to the collapse of a government to more unsuccessful bond auctions could cause its demise. Then there are the political pressures, which are already reaching a boiling point. Both Greece’s and Italy’s governments succumbed to the crisis this fall, and Spanish voters just gave Spain’s conservative opposition party, Partido Popular, an enormous victory on November 20. (more…)

Duckburgers in Madrid’s Swanky Mercado de San Antón

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

It’s a real pain to watch football at 3am, but Oregon has never been tastier.

Stanford Proposes $2.5 Billion NYC Campus

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

A model of Stanford's proposed NYC campus on Roosevelt Island.

With Big Apple-sized ambition, Stanford submitted today its proposal to build a $2.5 billion, 1.9-million-square-foot tech campus called StanfordNYC, responding to Mayor Bloomberg’s request for proposals to turn New York City into the world’s next great high-tech hub. Stanford is proposing a “world-class applied science and engineering campus” on Roosevelt Island, with an emphasis on turning research in engineering, technology, and entrepreneurship into viable businesses. The campus would be at the graduate level only.

So how would all of this come to pass? Here’s how Stanford breaks it down in its 600-page proposal:

If all of this did happen according to plan, Stanford expects some wild results, including the creation of 7,000 construction jobs for New York and over a 100,000 new jobs created within the first 20 to 30 years of the campus. Stanford’s chief competitor is Cornell, which has also submitted a proposal for a Roosevelt Island campus. The deadline for submissions is October 28, and while Stanford expects to hear an answer from the city by the end of the year, the mayor’s office has stated that a decision will likely come in 2012.

This proposal is unquestionably bold, and the job numbers are preliminary at best. But is it quixotic? Stanford’s administration certainly does not think so, and it is ramping up the heat against Cornell to compete for the city’s attention. Cornell cited its already-strong connection to New York through its medical campus as one its big cards, whereas President Hennessy, a native New Yorker, told the New York Times, “We know how to get young people involved in start-ups. Cornell’s disadvantage is all its start-ups put together are smaller than Google.”

Stanford is already a global research institution, and as a student studying abroad in Madrid, I can confirm that its brand has already reached some very far corners of the world. How much more of a presence do we need? StanfordNYC is an intriguing concept, but I would like to see and hear more from Stanford’s administration about why it would be the best use of a major chunk of Stanford’s resources in the upcoming decades. The proposed campus may be far, but the money and manpower will hit pretty close to home.

Crônicas do Brasil: A Vida Brasileira

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro. When Jobim and Moraes wrote "Garota de Ipanema," this is probably what they had in mind.

I have now been in Spain for close to a month with BOSP Madrid. Posts on the Iberian Peninsula are in the pipeline. For the moment, though, I would like to present a cultural wrap-up on Brazil that I never had time to do while I was working in São Paulo this summer. If you are not yet excited for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, maybe this will get you started.

First, let it be known that São Paulo is not a conventionally beautiful city. Miles of concrete with few trees, vistas dominated by powerlines and graffiti, and a certain lack of cleanliness make it appear pretty bleak and inhospitable on cloudy days, of which there are a fair amount. Large parts of the city center are completely abandoned at night; there is one neighborhood called Cracolândia because its streets are literally full of crack addicts, who reside right next to the city’s most beautiful railway station. If you live any further than ten minutes by car from work, your daily commute is usually a pitched battle against jammed six-lane avenues, irregular U-turns, and the caprices of aggressive paulista drivers.

Yet São Paulo is unlike any other place I have seen, and I already miss it. The city has a cultural richness rivaling New York’s and plenty of charm if you know where to look. Its size is awe-inspiring. And to put it another way, São Paulo is the best answer to the question of what you would get if you stuck together 18 million Brazilians with a New York work schedule, an LA transit system, and the sensuality of Miami (which, coincidentally, has a large Brazilian population).

What’s more, São Paulo bears little resemblance to the rest of Brazil. The country is almost the size of the U.S. but far more regionalized, so that each state has its own traditions, holidays, food, dialects, and climate. Other Brazilian cities are magnificent in their own ways, and then beyond them is an ecological paradise with few parallels in the rest of the world. (more…)

Crônicas do Brasil: Falando Português

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Estação da Luz, São Paulo's most beautiful train station and home to the Museu da Língua Portuguesa, a museum dedicated to celebrating the Portuguese Language.

What is it like to speak Portuguese in Brazil? In a word: enchanting. I have found few things in life more satisfying than being able to navigate the dips and curves of this laid-back yet precise, subtle yet charmingly vulgar, and bizarre yet hypnotically musical language.

However, it may not be like that when you start. Especially in São Paulo, Brazilians use so much slang that the language you learn in school bears little resemblance to the one you actually hear. Brazilians insist that their language is very hard to learn, and they are proud of it.

That being said, the language is not inaccessible. In this post, I will portray Portuguese as I have come to know it, clarifying some common misconceptions and providing some tips on how to make it your own.

Portuguese v. Spanish

One of the most common words you will hear in São Paulo is "trânsito," which means traffic, as exhibited by the gridlock outside my apartment window. Be careful not to use "tráfico" from Spanish, which sounds logical but refers to drug trafficking!

Brazilians like to say that they can understand their neighbors but their neighbors have no clue what Brazilians are saying. This is somewhat true. Well-spoken Spanish has clear, well-enunciated pronunciations with sharp consonants and a partial resemblance to English, particularly closer to the United States. Portuguese has enough unique sounds to make it utterly indecipherable to those who have not studied it or grown up speaking it.

I started learning Portuguese after having taken six years of Spanish. As a gringo, I have found Portuguese to be “harder,” since many of its sounds are more unfamiliar and many of its rules less logical and well-regulated. Spanish helps a lot with grammar, but it also produces many traps. Portuguese is a minefield of false cognates and words imported from other languages with highly palletized pronunciations. An example? Take the word “saco,” which in Spanish means “sack” or “jacket.” It technically has the same meanings in Portuguese, but it is more often used to signify something really bothersome or to refer to male genitalia (what a coincidence!).

Nonetheless, because Portuguese and Spanish have similar roots, learning one will likely wreak havoc on the other, particularly for non-native speakers. Alternating between the languages helps, but even Brazilians who have studied Spanish find the two languages tricky to keep separate. (more…)

Crônicas do Brasil: The “Real” Deal

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Downtown São Paulo.

Tudo bem, Stanford? I write to you from Brazil, where I have spent the past seven weeks working for a commercial real estate company in São Paulo.

Before the Brazilian winter ends, I intend to write a couple posts about my observations and experiences here. The first will give some timely updates on the state of Brazil’s economy, with a focus on what I have noticed in person. In a later post or multiple posts, I shall address Brazilian culture, the Portuguese language, and some overall takeaways from my time in Sampa. All questions and comments are welcome.

Robust Economy

São Paulo (SP) is unquestionably booming. Lots of construction–particularly of high-rises and large shopping malls–and a flourishing nightlife indicate the city’s increasing wealth. SP is a car-centric city; even the poorest households in the C segment favelas will have a car. Every gas station provides ethanol. As in the U.S., credit cards are accepted at almost every place where you could conceivably spend money, except at some cheaper restaurants. Unlike the U.S., nearly every card transaction is conducted with a portable point-of-sale, separate from a computer or centralized system, which frequently makes the transactions faster.

Furthermore, Brazil’s unemployment rate just went from 6.4% to 6.2%. Residents of SP work as hard and long as New Yorkers, and they have a strong sense of national pride and Brazil’s increasing importance in the world.  (more…)

A Festive Day for the Burghers of Calais

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Somebody decided that Rodin’s brooding Burghers needed a little bit of springtime cheer.