Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)

Because who wants to go to sleep at 3 am when the bus returns home, when one can blog instead?

You will hereby ignore my spelling errors. I am tired, and you are about to appreciate a first-hand account of an historic event, however sloppy that account may be.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was amazing. If nothing else, it refreshed my faith in humanity. Every single human being crammed into the National Mall that day stood together to represent, not ideology, but humanity. People were there to smile, talk, and cheer, not frown, yell, and jeer. It was politics at, I would contend, its best: a gathering of the people, not in protest, but in celebration of life in this great nation.

The rally at 7:00 AM, when we arrived. People already are getting spots. We decided to get coffee instead. Technically, I got apple cider.
I'm not sure how it's going to be portrayed in the media; knowing the networks, it'll either be "a modern Woodstock for peace-lovers of the 21st century" or "a socialist left-wing hippie march that was much to do about nothing." Either way there are hippies involved.

Here's basically what went down: People gathered on the Mall. They brought signs that urged America to either relax, laugh, or get along. We're talking things like "I love cheese" to "I'm not afraid of Muslim people," and "This sign is spelled correctly" to "I don't think anyone likes taxes but I understand their importance to society." It was satire meets - well - sanity. And that was the point.

The point was to stop yelling at people and start talking to people.

Satire and sanity, the messages of the rally.
Two men from LA we met while getting our drinks. They made signs urging people to get their facts straight.
Perhaps the most amusing of the group is the "No Sings" sign. Three cheers for irony.
That's the spirit: let's chill.
A sane sign if I ever saw one: the perfect rallying call. Instead of yelling, how about listening.
The rally wasn't an anti-Tea Party rally, though there were people there who might have thought it was. It wasn't an anti-conservative rally, or an anti-discontent rally. It wasn't for Obama supporters and it wasn't for liberals: it was for people who wanted to stop yelling. It was a rally to be civil and sane, a march to say no to, to borrow the phrase, the politics of hate.

As John Steward noted in his strikingly moving closing remarks, "This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear; they are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times.  And we can have animus and not be enemies."

"The press," he said, "can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything we hear nothing."

Our view, more or less. Jumbo-Trons and the Capitol. You can make out the stage past the white thing on the left.
That, perhaps, most truly stuck at the message of the event: we can't look at everything and be scared. During the comedic proceedings of the rally, Steven Colbert, the "supporter of fear" (for the purposes of the show, of course), demonstrated the horrible state of the country though media montage, mocking, incidentally, the insanity with which our television networks operate, constantly crying that the end is near, that the "other side" is evil, that we are unsafe. And when they do that, when they tell us how bad everything is and could be, we get scared, and we listen. But it's not right.

The duality theme "sanity vs. fear" which served as the driving force of the rally's message.
Stewart detracted from Colbert's examples. He brought onto the stage examples of good people, and good actions. He exemplified Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga for remaining calm and civil in the face of one of the worst calls in baseball history; he awarded Velma Hart for facing the President with tough questions in a town hall meeting but for remaining civil, and speaking to him, even though the two disagreed; he applauded Mick Foley, a professional wrestler who stands up Make-a-Wish and RAINN, a man who appears violent on television but in the real world is actually saner, a comment, I think, that Stewart was trying to make on the reality of America; and he brought Jacob Isom to the stage, a YouTube sensation famous for having simply ripped the Quran out of the hands of book-burners, shouting simply, "Dude, you have no Quran."

The last example may have been the most important, for two reasons. First, a note on the media. Do we hear about book burnings? You bet. Do we hear about failed book burnings that fail because noble people intervene? Of course not. That's not news. That's not controversy. That's civility. No one said it at the rally, but I think this example really highlights something: we heard about this event on YouTube. Real Americans, doing real, honest, everyday things, on YouTube. Why? Because the news is extreme. The "news" tells us the wost of things, not the truest of things. Everyday heroes are found in the real world, not the news world. It takes a local news station or a self-broadcast YouTube video to remind Americans that 90% of us are real, good, reasonable people. 10% are extreme, 5% on each end. They get the news coverage, that's for sure. But Saturday, some of that 90% turned out to voice their lack of frustration. That's what the rally was, I would say. A demonstration of the masses (over 200,000) of Americans willing to stand up and say: "I'm not with crazy. I'm with sanity."

200,000 Americans. Well, you can't see them all.
More Americans (behind us) that couldn't get quite as close as we did before barricades were put in place.
It's not a picture of escalators. Look behind: those are masses of people leaving DC.
But I have strayed. The second reason for awarding Isom is the obvious: because, as the rally did make the political effort to stress, time and time again, Muslims are not evil. There was no dancing around the issue: Colbert literally said they are evil, that they attacked us on 9/11, and Stewart literally said no. He replied that non-Americans attacked us on 9/11, and they happened to be Muslim. Just as thousands of Americans happen to be Muslim, and they aren't evil. To drive the point home, he brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball star and, sure enough, Muslim. Colbert admitted that, perhaps, his generalization had been mistaken.

And that's where they let it be, until Stewart's remarks at the end. "The inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more," Stewart contended, to resounding applause, "The press is our immune system.  If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema."

But the tone of the rally was not negative, ultimately:

"And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good.  Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false...We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do.  We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.  But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.  Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.  Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives.  Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make."

The free rally-towels, essential because one should always carry a towel.
We were really there. See?
My wall souvenir. That totally makes the 9-hour-each-way drive(s) worth it.
The message to take away was this: Americans, all Americans, are real people who work together. We already do it. We don't see it in partisan politics, we don't see it in the media, and we don't see it from extremist rallies. But that's not really America, that's a distortion. Real Americans, real people, have the capacity to come together, to rebuild cities, to ensure a brighter future, to not merely coexist peacefully and sanely but to truly thrive in the "greatest, strongest country in the world."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Study with Facebook

You are in for a treat. Presenting: Psychology through Facebook.

Partial Reinforcement: Interval Schedules
Partial Reinforcement: Ratio Schedules
Negative Reinforcement vs. Positive Reinforcement
Availability vs. Representativeness Heuristic
Situational vs. Dispositional Attributions
Self-Serving Bias
Framing Effect
Informal (Private) vs. Normative (Public) Influence/Conformity
Well, there you have it. Who ever said Facebook wasn't educational?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tufflepuffs Take the Field

"In 1419 the Wizards' Council issued the famously worded decree that Quidditch should not be played 'anywhere near any place where there is the slightest chance that a Muggle might be watching or we'll see how well you play whilst chained to a dungeon wall'" - QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES

Well, that certainly is no longer the case. Tufts has a Quidditch team, and we played our first home game, against Boston University, this past Sunday afternoon. It was raining, lightly, but the match was held nonetheless, and a sizable fan base appeared to cheer on the "Tufflepuffs."

Tufflepuff fans brave the rain to cheer on the home team. The group includes the strangely clad bag-headed man.

Excited Tufts supporters showcase a hand-drawn emblem.

Three bludgers, one quaffle, and one human snitch. 10 points a quaffle, 30 points a snitch.

The balls set at the start of the game. From left to right, bludger (green), snitch, bludger (green), quaffle (white), and bludger (red).

The Tufflepuffs line up at their end of the field, ready to begin.

Best of 3 rounds wins. The snitch, a neutral player, dresses in yellow and runs around the campus while the seekers try and steal a tennis ball from within a pouch on his or her waist, ending the round.

A proud Tufflepuff seeker (center) brings home the captured snitch, winning the round for Tufts.

Teammates cheer as Tufts scores a hard-fought goal at the opposite end of the field.

Tufts won the first round, 50 to 0. BU claimed the second, and, after some questionable tactics (accidentally knocking down their own goal hoop as we were trying to score, or using what some may criticize as excessive force against one girl as her back was turned), the opposing school managed to clinch the final round, earning them the match. Nonetheless, we did not go a round without scoring at least once.

A Boston University chaser works his way down the field with the quaffle (left) while a fellow beater (right) blocks for him, bludger in hand.

Tufts beaters converge on a BU student, futilely attempting to score on our hoops.

Overall, the spectacle was, well, just that. Definitely worth the rain, and worth eating up enough of the day to force me into finishing my homework at whatever time it is now. Speaking of which, I have to get back to that. Catch you later.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Friday night, just as Parents' Weekend was beginning, so was the 2nd Floor of South Hall game of "assassins." How to play: each player is assigned a "target" player by the RAs. You must tag the target with a pair of socks to kill him. You then assume his target as your next. And so on, until someone wins. At around 8:00 pm on Friday, I received the email announcing that the game would begin at midnight.

By 1:30 am, I was matching a movie in a different dormitory building when my phone rang. I missed the call, didn't recognize the number, and thought nothing of it. A few minutes later, it rang again; another number I couldn't recognize. This time, I picked up in time.

It was someone from my hall; Ben had locked himself out of the room, didn't have his phone, and had been searching for people with my number. I had to come back and open the door for him.

A careful reader will not discard the juxtaposition of "assassins" and the phone call; he will assume that this was a trick to get me into the building, unarmed. I can assure you, it was not.

Nonetheless, upon arriving at South Hall, I was stopped by Ben at the door. "Hay personas," he said, "Afuera de nuestra puerta que quieren matarte." It was early. I wasn't thinking all that hard. "Hey man," was my reply, "You locked out?"

He was. We walked upstairs; all the while he spewed Spanish in my direction. About half way up the stairwell, I understood: there were assassins waiting for me at our door! I gave Ben my keys, asking him to run ahead, without me, unlock the door, and return them.

The minutes passed slowly. What was taking him so long? I paced nervously, keeping out of sight of anyone who walked by. I ducked behind a corner, then back the other way. Was he in on this? What was happening?

Voices grew louder. Ben was back, with my keys - but he wasn't alone. I could tell from the look on his face that he had tried to get away without others following, but, sure enough, I could barely react before a boy from a few doors down ran over to me and tagged me with a pair of socks. Less than two hours into the game, I was slain.

The "Brian" cutout on my door has since been borrowed indefinitely by still-living players as a method of confusing their residencies. Best of luck to them.

Nothing left to do now but watch and wait. I'm dying to know how it ends.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SciFi Epiphany

Short story idea!

Okay, I was reading "Apocalipsis" by Marco Denevi (Sounds impressive, right? The whole thing is manybe a paragraph), and I was struck by an idea. According to Denevi, we are going to be wiped out my machines, eventually. That got me thinking about all those science fiction stories in which humanity creates that which destroys it.

It's almost a similar concept to Deep Thought from "A Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - one machine is built, capable of creating something better, which is in turn capable of creating something better still, each time rendering the last obsolete. Now apply it to humans; we create machines that render us obsolite.

From: "I, Robot," the movie. Based on the (superior) collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov.

This idea is not new. But this idea may be: What if it already happened?

What if, regardless of whether or not we will build machines that replace ourselves, we have replaced the last entity? What if the "G-d" or "gods" that our civilizations have spoken so fondly of represent the fleeting memories of the being(s) which used to exist, before our ancestors wiped it/them out? If we fear destruction by our creations, is it possible this stems from the fact that we, as creations, destroyed our creators?

This will make for an excellent short story, when either I, or you, get around to writing it. If you beat me to it, I expect a dedication. Or at least a footnote.

Props, by the way, to "Major: Undecided," for their awesome comedy show last week entitled: "The Robot Revolution will be Televised."

Cognitive Dissonance

It's healthy, methinks, from time to time to blog about that which I learn in Intro to Psychology. Thus, today's lecture (erm, post) relates to cognitive dissonance.

Fraternities have crazy pledge requirements. The army has boot camp. Even theater has an audition process. True, there are benefits to some of these processes, but, on some level, these obstacles cause eventual members (brothers, soldiers, actors) to value their membership in the group (fraternity, army, play), because they had to go through something to get there. They think to themselves, "Why did I go through all that trouble?" and the answer they create is, "Because I must truly have wanted to been accepted into the group." In other words, the ends not only literally justifies the means, but the means reinforces the ends.

In a study by Festinger and Carlsmith, participants had to do really boring tasks for payment, and were then asked to call in the next test subject, and to tell that person that the study was "fun". Those who were paid a substantial sum reported, afterward, that they lied to the next subject in saying the activity was "fun;" in reality, it was boring. Interestingly, those paid little to no money actually believed they were telling the next subjects the truth; they believed they were having fun. How can this be?

Cognitive dissonance explains both phenomena. It says, essentially, that people look at what they did, and if it doesn't make sense, they force it to make sense. If jumping naked into a pool of Jell-O during pledging doesn't make much sense, the inductee reasons, "I did it because I wanted to be in the frat. I must really want to be here." Then, it makes more sense to have acted that way. Similarly, the participants in the experiment who were paid well could reason, "It was boring, but I did it to get paid." The participants who were not paid well could not use this justification, so they had to invent a new one, "I did this because it was fun." Either way, it's justification.

The following comic does a great job driving this point home:

Dilbert comic. Click to enlarge.
So, what does this all mean? It struck me that this means that we are constantly making excuses for our actions in order to believe that we are doing the right thing. If I make a decision, say, to come to Tufts University, and it requires that I move out of my home, spend tens of thousands of dollars, and go to classes each day, I will instantly begin to justify my actions. "I'm here because I love it here!" "I'm here because I need this to succeed in the world!" Are those ideas true? Or are they mere dissonance? I have no way of objectively knowing.

This can be applied to any decision; you chose to say something, or not; wear something, or not; study, or not; you will always justify the action, you will always give yourself a reasonable explanation for your behaviors, so as to maintain your sanity.

Knowing this, do we all live lies? Do we tell ourselves we are doing what's "best," when it's sometimes not? Do we justify wrong choices, and never even realize it? Perhaps.

Of course, knowing all of this doesn't scare me. My cognitive dissonance from learning this concept goes like this: "I am now aware of the possibility that my actions and beliefs are based on exaggerations and distorted rationalizations. Does this idea scare me into insanity? No. Why not? I must like this idea! Yes, that's quite it; I like learning about psychology, in fact, I'm happy that I learned this. I feel better, and smarter, knowing it. And now that I feel smart, I'm going to be more confident in my decisions. And, as I become confident that my decisions are the right ones, I will feel smarter, for having made such correct decisions in life. And this self-feeding cycle will make me feel great, all the time!"

I leave with this note: You just spent a good amount of time reading this post. You could have been doing something else. How will you justify having wasted your time? Simple. You'll say you liked the post. You found it interesting. You enjoy knowing what I think about. But really, do you?  Is that just a justification for the actions you already took?

Another note: Eppie will justify having read this by anonymously posting spelling corrections, thus validating his time spent in improving the work and demonstrating to myself and himself his English abilities.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Massachusetts in Fall

Jumbo, the elephant statue. Nothing about this picture is particularly "fall." Sorry.

Leaf! currently being pressed between books for preservation.

Small pumpkin! This will get decorated with Sharpie...

Photo Credit: Abby

College: A Learning Experience

On the weekends, one can lose track of time. Such was the case this past Saturday evening, when a bunch of us, who had been hanging out all afternoon, started to get hungry as the sun was setting.

We took our time, watching one more YouTube video and telling one more anecdote from our high-school years, and eventually we located our shoes and sweatshirts and made our way outside, headed for the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center.

No sooner had we reached the main entrance (here, the main exit) of South Hall when, as though the thought had stuck each of us as suddenly as the temperature drop in the vestibule, we simultaneously paused. Checking my phone, I wondered aloud, "What time does Dewick close on Saturdays?" It was 7:39 PM.

A voice from behind, belonging to a student who has just passed us on his way back into the dormitory, answered. "Dewick's closed," he said, "They close at 7:30 on weekends." The fact that I had begun to suspect as much made the news no less shocking: We had missed dinner.

Fortunately, we were in college, not summer camp. Missing the meal at the cafeteria was not the end of the world; there were a variety of places to eat both on and off campus that were open late, especially on Saturday nights. I ended up with cheese enchiladas, and all was well.

In retrospect, it turns out that Carmichael Dining Center is open until 9:00 PM on Saturdays.

Nonetheless, the experience was an reminder of two of the most basic rules of living at Tufts. Firstly, it is wise to be cognizant of the window of opportunity for free food on any given day. One must not let such a chance escape so easily. The more elusive, but perhaps more valuable moral of the story is that, no matter what happens, one can always find an alternative to eating at Carmichael. Because let's face it, downhill is way better than uphill.

If you're a downhill jumbo, feel free to post your unyielding love and support below. If you're from uphill, you can try and comment, but I may have to remove your posts so as to perpetuate my ideal image of proper campus loyalties.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mommy Monster

Usually, during my weekly LOST class, we discuss things.

We talk about good vs. evil, and how Jacob and Man-In-Black (MIB) aren't necessarily so black and white. We talk about how Linus and Widmore are similarly gray; they're each cast in half-shadow during the wonderful scene where Ben vows to murder Charles' daughter in retribution. Sayid kills people, but is it for a good reason? Does that matter? Is there free will? Is Locke's faith more valid that Jack's skepticism, or vice versa? Locke dies; was he wrong? Jack ends up sacrificing himself, but for what?

Which is more valid, Jacob's view that man is good, but that it is okay to crash an entire plane to bring in "candidates," or MIB's view that man is corrupt, but that their fake "mother" was wrong, and that leaving the island would be a good idea? Is the "source light" worth dying for? Is it okay, the way Jacob manipulates people, like the way he agrees to save Dogen's son in exchange for Dogen's eternal servitude? Doesn't that sound like a pact with the devil?

The list goes on. Our classes are thematic, involve required episodes, readings, and writings, and include 2.5 hours of discussion and analysis.

I bring you, now, not answers, nor all of the interesting things we have examined, but one simple revelation from tonight. I support the following theory, which we deduced in passing, in a brief moment of tonight's discussion:

Jacob and MIB's foster mother is a protector, but also a smoke monster.

Foster mom with newborns Jacob and the Man in Black

Say what? Let's examine some supporting evidence:

1. When the woman first appears (behind the real mother), she is seen in the reflection of the river, much in the same way that we are often introduced to smoke-incarnations through reflections.
I think that's completely coincidental. But let's continue.

2. She doesn't age, indicating that her body is less so a body and more so an image.
Very interesting. Her boys grow up; she doesn't seem to, much the same way that Jacob stops growing once he becomes the protector, and MIB once he becomes the smoke monster.

3. She kills the entire human village and sets it aflame, getting MIB mad.
Thoughts: Good point; how can she kill all those people? She's just an old woman.

4. She buries an entire well with dirt and rocks, keeping MIB from leaving.
That's even harder than the slaughter; how could a single person do that?

5. She tells her boys never to go down to the light, because that would be "much worse" than death.
She knows this, how? Because she has experienced it? If so, we know that going down there turns MIB into smokey; if foster mom went down there, and knows what it's like to be worse than dead, then she must be smoke, too.

6. Upon being killed, foster mother says, "thank you."
Of course she does. She's living a fate worse than death, as smoke. She wants it to end. And now that she had Jacob being a protector, it can end.

Foster mom making Jacob the new protector

 My challenge(s) to you:
  1. Agree or disagree.
    • Support your argument, either with more evidence in favor, or new evidence against.
  2. Fuzzy memory? Go watch (or read) Season 6, Episode 15 "Across the Sea"
    • If you have not seen LOST, go watch all of it.
  3. Feel free to pose other LOST questions, thoughts, or answers.

Mock Trial Flashback

So now that Mock Trial has started up here, I can help but think back to last year: our best season ever at Lower Moreland.

Our arguments were epic (especially Tamar's closing statement in our final trial, where she tore apart the defendant for having tripped up during the trial and admitted to saying one thing and doing another), our cross examinations devastating (see: Fisher's incredibly tricky move to get the defendant to admit to a DUI without ever asking about it, since that's objectionable), and our witnesses were airtight. We not only made it farther than we ever had before, but we had way more fun.

The cake the underclassmen made for the seniors after our 2009-2010 season (Left to Right: Ricky, Tamar, Lauren, Me, Josh, Ani)
 Oh, yeah. And we got a cake. Which was freaking awesome.

Best of luck to LoMo this year!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top 'o the Mornin'

How to start your day at Tufts in 3 easy steps.

1. Wake up and shower. Showering in the morning keeps you fresher throughout the day, and it wakes you up. Plus, everyone else is too lazy to do it, so you actually get the showers.

2. Read the newspaper. The Tufts Daily is, well, daily. It's the only one in the northeast that is. Or Boston. Or America. I don't know. But read it! It's actually good; they've got local, political, sports, and entertainment news, plus the typical puzzles (Jumble, crosswords). Plus, reading gets you thinking. This is important.

The Tufts Daily issue that inspired by previous post on voting.

3. Go eat breakfast. Sure, you're not hungry. But it's free. And it looks like this:

3/4 waffle and 1/4 hash browns, topped with strawberries and ketchup , respectively

That's all folks. Have a nice day.

Ben's Birthday Surprise

It was Ben's birthday Sunday.

Guess which 2 letters are mine and you'll win.

Yes, those are illegal ceiling hangings.

Benjamin smiles as he sits down to study, enjoying the festive decor.

He's 19. Presumably.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Event Notification

Brian is attending: Rally to Restore Sanity

"Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Careers on Campus

Oops! I completely forgot to tell everyone I spoke to recently: I got a job on campus!

Now, I'm (somewhat selfishly) considering myself an "adjusting freshman," and, as such, giving myself as much free time and freedom from responsibilities as possible. That being said, I do have some spare time on Thursdays, so I couldn't resists when the drama department emailed everyone, mentioning that their office needed a part-time staffer for 2 hours a week on Thursdays.

I shouldn't lose sleep Thursday nights over 2 hours being taken out of my day, so I think it's a pretty good deal. It's like getting a $16/week allowance, which will help cover my regular printing, laundry, and weekend travel fees.

So, if you're bored Thursdays from 2-4pm, stop by the drama office in Cohen and say "hi". And bring me food. Dewick/Hodgedon chocolate cookies would be great.

Stream of Flowy Things

College Rankings
Props to Tufts for beating out Brown and Dartmouth in a recent worldwide college ranking.

Alien Carnage
In completely unrelated news, I miss playing Starcraft, and haven't since I got here.

If you go to Tufts and play, or want to play, please let me know so we can start a causal SC2 gaming group, or a tournament, or some excuse to dominate the universe.

Spell to Learn
Words I'm working on spelling correctly in the future include:
  • available
  • necessary
  • hence
  • concentrate
  • definitely
  • neighbor
The last one's on there because I always want to write neighbour, which is correct in the UK, but not here. I must have read a bit of British literature during a key developmental stage of my childhood.

OneNote and Technology on Campus

Long time, no Blog! Recent new includes a busy weekend in Boston, developments in Mock Trial, and survival of my first college exam(s) and essay(s). But today's focus is centered around something even more me-ish: Technology.

I actually started college using paper notebooks. I know, me, the computer guy, choosing paper. But I figured my computer was too heavy to carry around, to valuable to misplace or damage, and too distracting to keep me focused on lecture. And so, for about a month, I hand-wrote everything.