strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

Month: April, 2011

So you think calling your kid fat is bad enough?

I was watching TV once, when I was perhaps twelve. The narrator was
gushing about his beautiful daughter. A young brunette stepped onto
the screen. I didn’t think she was that pretty, so as I always do when
I’m confused, I ask my dad for his opinion.

J: Dad, why did he say she was pretty? I don’t think she’s pretty.
Dad: She’s not, Jane. I agree. It’s just because most fathers think
their children are beautiful.
J: Oh. Do you think I’m pretty?
Dad: You’re average. But that’s good. An ugly woman is a treasure.
Much less domestic strife.

And, as always when I don’t like what my dad has to say, I consulted
my mother for a second opinion.

J: Mom, am I pretty?
Mom: Not really, but you would make a very handsome boy!

How Chinese Children Calculate Their BMIs

Many people do not know what a healthy weight for their height is. The
Body Mass Index (BMI) was designed to solve that problem and aid
dieters by providing a reasonable, healthy goal. You can calculate
your BMI by going online and finding a BMI calculator, but if you’re
Chinese, finding your BMI is much simpler. A Chinese BMI is not a
number, but a boolean: fat, or non-fat. The proper calculation merely
entails asking your parents if you’re still fat. As often happens in
experimental science, two instruments used to measure the same metric
may disagree. Here is an example from tonight:

J: Mom, am I fat?
Mom: No, Jane. You used to be fat, but now you are not fat.

J: Dad, am I fat?
Dad: Your face is fat.

In such cases, where one parent disagrees with the other, you must err
on the side of caution and record yourself as being fat.

To encourage other Chinese American children who are also seeking to
reduce their weight with the aid of such rigorous scientific
measurements as the BMI, I offer a 5 year sample of my BMI:

2006: FAT
2007: FAT
2008: FAT
2009: FAT
2010: FAT

As you can see, I still have much further to go, but I hope that with the power
of a Confucian attitude, I may someday achieve a healthy weight. ^_^

How to make Stanford do what you want

A great college like Stanford has two reasons for admitting the best
students: the first, of course, is that it is so competitive, that
they have to admit only the best.

Still, the top-tier colleges tend to admit only students who would
have done well for themselves anyway. Take a look at this study:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/weekinreview/19steinberg.html?_r=1

Let me give you the tl;dr: Students who were accepted to so-called
“first-tier” and “second-tier” schools, but chose the second-tier
schools anyway, earned as much as as the students who stuck with their
first-tier schools.

If you can get into Stanford, you don’t need Stanford. It’s a useless
middleman between you and your future success.

Which brings me to the second reason why Stanford needs to admit only
the best students: because it’s an investment. If they can pick the
future movers and shakers well enough, Stanford gets a share of their
glory, however undeserved its share is. Here are some shiny Stanford
names: Sally Ride, first female astronaut; John Steinbeck, author of
_The Grapes of Wrath_, Vint Cerf, inventor of TCP/IP; Supreme Court
Chief Justice William Rehnquist; and by now, everyone has heard of
Larry and Sergey. Even the little fish like me and my fellow alums
working at Twitter add a bit of a gleam–it’s a happy thing for
Stanford that many of us work there, adding Twitter’s fame to
Stanford’s, and Stanford’s fame to Twitter’s, in a virtuous cycle.

Which brings me to a potential way to force your university to do what
you want, even after you’ve graduated. It’s been a perpetual
frustration to me that the student body can’t get jack shit done.
There’s too many distractions on a good campus, but the real killer is
that the turnover makes it hard to do anything but send angry petitions. I suspect the
administration counts on this–let one generation kick up a fuss, let
it graduate, and let the incoming freshmen simply accept that the
terrible state of affairs is the immutable status quo.

Now, if the university does something you don’t like, you have little
recourse unless you have scads of money. Or do you? What if you and
your compatriots all swore to forever disown any association with
Stanford and claimed that you went to Cal instead? With a sufficiently
large conspiracy to keep Stanford’s name out of the press, and out of
the history books, you could ruin its reputation. The academics in
their ivory towers would still recognize it as a great research
institution, but what really counts is prestige among the general
citizenry, and the power and connections that bestows. The average
upper-middle class yuppie couldn’t care less about Vint Cerf, truly,
but once you stop the flow of future Supreme Court justices, the
luster of the name fades, and the yuppie spawn would stop applying.
Then Stanford would fade into irrelevance.

Some fantasy settings have a clever conceit where gods derive their
power from mortal memory and belief. If mortals forget that a god
exists, that god dies. You, dear fellow Stanford student or alum, have
the fantastic power to kill a god. Make it tremble.