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Date:2008-03-11 18:59
Subject:Another Zippergate
Security:Public

Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that yet another leader has become tarnished with scandal. Particularly, I’m referring to Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York. In the tradition of having a “wide stance” on morality that separates public and private life, his actions have nonetheless caught up with gaining public attention.

Having been a recent transplant to New York, and one who doesn’t closely follow politics – especially when I’m still feeling like something of a transient, he has earned the reputation of somebody who’s seemingly championed the cause of weeding out corruption.

Amongst his pet projects, he’s sought to investigate Wall Street tycoons and banks who’re largely responsible for the subprime meltdown and financial chaos crippling the economy. Reading up a little about him, he has a good record of being a consumer advocate, going after the corporate doublespeak where “taking it seriously” has devolved into a snarkfest amongst many.

There are two layers of irony. A person who claims tackle crime and corruption, even with respect to prostitution, falls into the very trap his platform desires to eradicate. (Maybe it’s a case of Freudian projection, but at the time, there’s yet no evidence suggesting his extramarital liaisons were a habit.) This category is what makes it difficult for constituents to trust his judgement in holding office. In this sense, I’m less forgiving than I’ve been with President Clinton’s scandal, since the latter's affair was consensual, legal, and none of the public’s business.

The other irony, somewhat more disturbing, is examining who gains from Spitzer’s scandal. Instead of feeling a general sense of victory, it’s going to be Wall Street who serves most to gain by Spitzer’s departure. Thankfully, while the FBI has been scrutinising several investment banks for possible fraud, it never hurts to have State pressure applied as well. While they may not be clear, they stand to be relieved of a menacing adversary.

So while people debate over the prostitution issue, it masks a much broader picture. There’s no guarantee that any possible successor to Spitzer will be any less corrupt – as corruption can take many forms as well as degrees. However, the chances that a person who will replace Spitzer with the knowledge and determination to address urgent problems that affect millions of people is much less likely.

It’s hard to see who wins if Spitzer resigns, and whether the vast majority of us would be better off.

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Date:2008-01-09 22:51
Subject:Book Review: Never Let Me Go
Security:Public

Imagine growing up in a boarding school. You’re completely cut off from the entire world, and while you have every available chance to learn and play with your classmates, you’re always kept at arm’s length by your teachers. Add in the fact that somehow you’re told you’re “very special” and have to be very careful throughout life when it comes to common-sense things like not smoking or having unprotected sex, but somehow it’s more important for you than others. While you’re treated as a privilege class, there’s an eerie suspicion that eclipses your idyllic lifestyle foreshadowing a grim truth in the distant future.

If this sounds intriguing, then checking out a copy of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is well worth your time. In its presentation of a reality that’s close to ours, but still mysteriously and ominously different, it reminds me of the probing innocence and discovery that one finds in The Giver by Lois Lowry. In some regards, it’s a little closer to home.

While the narrator chooses to play her cards close for a while, being intentionally vague with descriptions, such as herself being a “carer,” it doesn’t take very long to catch onto the general scheme, and therefore I don’t feel incredibly guilty about spoiling much. A group of children are followed throughout their life from childhood as they become aware that their raison d'être is solely for organ harvesting. The chosen “students” are prescribed a complete cradle-to-grave programme to provide a leisurely life, only to sacrifice themselves before even reaching middle age. All this happens without having any meaningful interaction with the outside world.

While the rationale about the elaborate lengths that a handful of dedicated people went through to execute the programme “humanely,” it isn’t quite clear what their connection with the outside world is. Everyone simply begins donating their internal organs when they’re called upon, particularly very young. Never once does is an actual organ recipient mentioned, and it’s only briefly alluded to that people from the lowest socioeconomic classes and/or the morally depraved were chosen to be “clone models.” Additionally, each clone child is sterile.

For this reason, it’s uncertain why the lower classes would be chosen to benefit from organ harvesting, although if moral depravity was part of their inclusion criteria, it may be fitting to have your carbon copy waiting to be beckoned to save you from yourself. However, it doesn’t quite seem that clear. None of the students are known to be excused from donations, therefore it’s not certain who the children are and for whom they serve, adding to the isolation.

The children definitely wonder about one lies ahead, but they’re also quite perceptive and begin to catch on fairly young at what fate lies for them. Oddly enough, the students don’t tend to react strongly against the news. There’s not one hint of protest, or even an inkling of questioning. As young adults becoming aware of the entire process, they’re more curious to discover their “possibles” (clone models) and eager to begin the next stage of their lives.

By most standards, the children appear to be remarkably normal. They appear to be rather athletic, creative, smart, and intelligent. They seem to know much about the world that lies beyond their isolation. However, they are never that curious to engage it. Simply knowing about the world rather than first-hand experience seems enough. They move on, take on a job that’s assigned to them, and appear to want to do the best they can. Like before, they give everything its due, and then willingly advance to the next stage.

It’s disturbing how little resistance there is to the idea of self-sacrifice. They may even believe, as they’ve been told, that it’s an honour and a privilege in spite of its obvious pitfalls. Instead of draconic measures, control seems to be far more passive and decentralised, relying exclusively on peer pressure and weak recommendations. Nobody appears to suffer any punishment, and especially once the children leave their boarding school, there’s no reason to believe they could simply wander away and disappear amongst the rest of civilisation without any consequences… and yet, nobody does.

The group are brainwashed into loving who they are, and embracing their life purpose. Perhaps it lends credence to the power of isolation, and how fragile and arbitrary any societal structure can be. It becomes clear how a child may be reared as a part of a cult, only to be released from its control, but reject his/her newfound freedom. Less dramatically, the process slowly reveals how easily people submit to absurd and harmful things, from an outsider’s perspective, solely based on a diffuse expectation and not necessity. People toil over jobs they hate, stay married to people they have trouble getting along with, raise families, buy big-ticket items like fancy homes and cars, obtain advanced degrees, associate with one group of people while distancing oneself from another, all predicated on expectation that it’s “simply the way it’s done.” Making choices that don’t sit well with our fulfillment, however, is like digging a little grave each day, much like these characters who march on.

Also evident are how people can convince themselves that they’re acting on the best interest of others from their perspective, but take the wrong measures, or simply don’t go far enough. It becomes apparent later that many other “donors” grew up in conditions far worse than the main characters. The exaltation that the protagonists experience among the other donors is simply due to fact that their formative years were spent in better conditions than the rest. While the boarding school staff may feel justified in their commitment to provide a lifestyle approaching normal for some youngsters, crusading on behalf of the clone children that they indeed have souls and ought to be treated compassionately, they uphold their "ultimate fate" comforting themselves that other people have it much worse.

This is all without touching the larger issue over medical ethics resulting from cloning human beings for treating disease. While the novel may be considered a strong endorsement to ban cloning and perhaps some practices involving embryonic stem cell research and genetic engineering, it would be a loss to simply distill it down to that alone. It’s a wonderfully rich and engaging novel in spite of its macabre nature. Maybe it’ll even be one of those things which you may never let it go.

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Date:2008-01-08 19:16
Subject:Manhattan Apartment Rent Trends for 2007
Security:Public

Hrmm,

Suddenly I don't feel quite so ripped off on the housing situation... or do I? Who actually has this much money lying around to afford paying rent in Manhattan?

http://www.tregny.com/year_end_report_2007.jsp

Perhaps it'll be a while before considering a doorman building... Housing crisis, can you make rental property values plummet, too? kthx.

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Date:2007-10-04 12:14
Subject:Cheap Wine Reviews Published
Security:Public

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine held a wine-tasting event for bottles on a budget. The thirteen bottles of wine up for scrutiny amounted to almost $33. Several of the people there are involved in journalism, including a few people from The New York Times and Radar Magazine.

Radar funded the research, and the results are published online.
Wine on a Dime

(P.S. The author was my apartment broker.)

Not bad! My name was even mentioned as a part of the tasting panel! Research is fun :)

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Date:2007-08-15 10:27
Subject:Berkeley Squirrels: Rattlesnake Defense
Security:Public

Well, apparently squirrels have a newly discovered function that's useful for humans. If you keep an army of squirrels around you at all times while in the middle of the desert, you may be protected from rattlesnakes:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070814/ap_on_sc/hot_tail;_ylt=AhJ2pRS5J75RlQGVfQsjwbsDW7oF

The reason? Adult squirrels have evolved a defense mechanism to ward off snakes by shaking their warm, bushy tails which indicate that a predatory snake has been detected. Snakes sense infrared heat. Furthermore, adult squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom. As an aside, could there be a new treatment for snake venom that would come from the secrets of the squirrel?

Perhaps not a big deal around climates that receive a lot of water, snakes are pretty common in California. Therefore, I feel one more reason to feel delighted when I see a pack of bushy-tailed creatures.

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Date:2007-03-01 22:40
Subject:Daily Dose of Rudeness
Security:Public

Some people either have a serious chip on their shoulder, or clearly are unconcerned about how they come off to other people. Even though I think most people are generally pretty good-natured, even if they’re not going out of their way to love their neighbours, there are occasionally a few instances that make one shake their head and ask, “What the fuck?”

Example 1: At the Coffee Shop
This evening in Tully’s, a man had just purchased tea from the counter. My friend Jessica, the barista (not Jessica, the bartender), was cleaning up tables and noticed the man pouring the tea out into the trash can. Jessica asked him, “Oh, did we put too much water in there? I can pour a little out in the sink behind the counter if you’d like.” The man didn’t acknowledge her, and continued pouring into the trash can. Jessica spoke again, “That trash can leaks, and it will make a big mess. Please don't do that.” He was not deterred. Nonetheless, he understood enough to glare at her as he was finished with his business. If this man appeared to be homeless, deaf, or otherwise mentally ill, that wouldn’t be an issue. However, he was a well-groomed, somewhat young professional.

Example 2: The annoying kid in class
Maybe if the first person can receive some sympathy because maybe he had a bad day, the second guy exhibits his rude, obnoxious behaviour on a daily basis. My classes are usually in large lecture halls, seating several hundred students. I’ve also been known to sit in one of the first few rows, near the centre, consistently in every class.

Enter the rude kid.

A few weeks ago, out of the clear blue, he sits directly in the seat next to me (leaving no buffer zone, despite having about half a dozen chairs on either side of him), and makes an off-handed comment to his “buddies” behind him about how awkward it is to sit next to someone he doesn’t know. Then he turns to me and says, “You’re sitting in my seat.” I nodded nonchalantly, and proceeded to ignore him.

Two classes ago, I’m sitting in pretty much the same chair, and he sits next two seats to my right. Just before the lecture, he’s chatting with different people in the row behind us (who don’t really seem that fond of him), and he leans in my direction and says, “Thank you for not sitting in my seat.”

I couldn’t think of anything more obnoxious. I looked at him and replied, “Well, thanks, but I didn’t do anything. It’s not like we have assigned seats or anything.” Undeterred, he responded, “I know, but it’s still where I sit.”

This interlude called for one thing. Take his seat. That’s precisely what I did yesterday.

How did it go, you may ask? Well, he was passive-aggressive about it. He sat in the chair right next to me, leaned back to talk to two people in the row behind him, on average a distance of 4 chairs to his left or right, to say how weird it is, again, to sit next to someone he doesn’t know. This time, I said, “Well, why don’t you join your friends behind you? It must be very inconvenient to have to look behind you and strain yourself to talk with them.” He responded, ‘Well, I remembered thanking you for not sitting in my seat the other day. But that’s okay, you can sit by me even if I don’t know you. Lots of people want to sit by me.” The nerve of him!

Or maybe he’s gay and trying to hit on me.

I think the guy just lost his seat for the rest of the course. He must not be accustomed to not having his way. It might be time that he learns a valuable life lesson. Had he not made such a fuss, I wouldn’t have ever noticed.

Either way, he’s going to be quite disappointed, and I really don’t care.

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Date:2006-12-23 20:26
Subject:More Meme Nutsiness
Security:Public

Your Extroversion Profile:
Sociability: High
Activity Level: Medium
Assertiveness: Low
Cheerfulness: Very Low
Excitement Seeking: Very Low
Friendliness: Very Low

How Extroverted Are You?


You Are a Husky Puppy

Sweet, affectionate, and docile.
But when you see a cat or chicken, it's kill kill kill!!!
What Breed of Puppy Are You?


Your Dominant Intelligence is Interpersonal Intelligence

You shine in your ability to realate to and understand others.
Good at seeing others' points of view, you get how people think and feel.
You have an uncanny ability to sense true feelings, intentions, and motivations.
A natural born leader, you are great at teaching and mediating conflict.

You would make a good counselor, salesperson, politician, or business person.
What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?


You are 100% Sagittarius
How Sagittarius Are You?


Your Personality Is Like Acid

A bit wacky, you're very difficult to predict.
One moment you're in your own little happy universe...
And the next, you're on a bad trip to your own personal hell!
What Drug Is Your Personality Like?

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Date:2006-12-23 19:50
Subject:Holiday Travels - Part I
Security:Public

I’m back in Long Beach, and whatever heinous flu I was battling before departing decided to give me a break before heading down to Southern California. Wednesday evening, I arrived greeted by my parents at the airport, and checked into La Casa de Smith for my brief stay. Even though it hasn’t been too long since I’ve been in town for Thanksgiving, many things have changed significantly.

Apparently, my brother’s going through some major life changes. If there were ever a period in a person’s life when they’ve completely changed their course overnight, my brother epitomises that example. Almost overnight, he decided to quit his job, move back in with my parents, and break up with his girlfriend, while saving expenses and attending school. For those who are aware of my brother’s battles with higher education, this change divests him completely from the “I’ll earn my degree after I’ve built up my career” approach. It’s going to be quite an adjustment in shifting to a lifestyle to where he will be forced to live on an extremely limited income, although nothing could delight my family more than to see him return to college.

The evening I arrived consisted little more than having dinner and talking with my parents, followed by bedtime. At least in coming this direction, that first day always seems to be null and void, in terms of planning anything special on the agenda. Contributing to the inactivity is that I still rely on Benadryl to keep from coughing and sneezing the entire time home, and having major problems with asthma. Even though I’ve been partially reacclaimated to felines in my apartment in the Bay Area, there’s something about this household that causes problems every time (even though last Thanksgiving and this trip have been far less severe).

My birthday was very quiet, as well. Actually, until dinner rolled around, the only notable thing that I did was to make out my first batch of holiday cards. I was trying to be good this year by making sure I had bought everything and sent them all out in time to arrive before Christmas, but last week’s flu put that idea out of commission. Nonetheless, they’re on their way. Dinner was my favourite dish: macaroni and cheese, and my parents made a chocolate cake, which is always delicious. My parents chipped in to buy me a 4GB USB flash drive, which is quite useful, but never something I bought for myself. It’s large enough to be a considerable amount of storage on the go – unlike the memory stick my father has (only 512MB – which can’t even hold a feature-length movie.)

The coffee shop across the street has finally hired a new group of females. For those who live around me, my brother nad I used to dub the place the “Lesbian Coffee Shop” since the owners and managers are outspoken lesbians, and hired an almost-exclusively gay/lesbian staff. Nonetheless, they have the best coffee of anywhere I’ve tasted so far, so returning home is almost worth it for their coffee alone. In the last year or so, their lesbian staff had been declining, instead replacing them with a bunch of gay guys. While sexual orientation has never been an issue, I always liked the women they hired, so it was a shame to see them slowly move onto other things. This trip home, they’ve apparently hired a few more women, and as par with the course, they’re rather amazing. It’s nice to see they finally qualify for the “Lesbian Coffee Shop” title again, as I was only moments away from abandoning the nickname.

Yesterday revolved around meeting an old friend from high school for coffee, whom I haven’t seen in many years, and then attending a potluck with another group of high school/college friends. The guy I had coffee with ironically lives in San Francisco at the moment, although he’s a part of the Job Corps under some rather restrictive regulations which only permit him to be out until certain hours, even though he’s fully an adult. He’s had a difficult time finding work and pursuing education, so he enlisted in a program which gave him an academic background and work experience, so upon graduation he’ll be a competitive part of the workforce. He’s studying Information Technology and hopes to enter into grame programming in the future. He’s doing well, even if finances are a bit difficult, but he’s starting his first paying job in January, about which he’s stoked. The potluck gathering was with another group of people with whom I went to high school and Long Beach City College. Every year, they seem to gather at his house to celebrate another year since graduating LBCC. We’ve split off, with most of us either attending UCLA, Berkeley, or Cal State Long Beach, and most of us are doing something in either biology or chemistry. A few of my friends have already graduated, although most of them are still earning their Bachelors for one reason or another. One of the guests was also hosting a party back at his condo on Ocean Blvd, and invited the rest of us to tailgate over there. His condo overlooks the ocean, and takes up a good portion of the third floor of his complex. Next door, there was another Christmas party that his neighbours were celebrating, apparently most of the guestlist including local doctors and lawyers. I cannot help but feel extremely jealous of these people, including the friend who owns the condo by the ocean. As far as I know, this person hasn’t done much productive in his life, nor really struck upon a career that’s brought him into wealth. He’s gone back to school three times for radically different, and unrelated, disciplines. Compared to the difficulties that most everyone I know experiences getting by, it hurts to see how much I cannot afford. I’m hardly a materialistic person, but there’s a part of me that believes that one’s wealth should be determined by their contribution to society. Too often, that’s not the case, and even it can be said that I’ve been rather spoiled when it comes to educational opportunities of which I’ve neglected to take full advantage. Still, seeing a bunch of wealthy happy people did little to instill the Christmas cheer. Instead, I walked away feeling as though my tail were between my legs. Bah humbug.

I had planned on seeing a few more people before I headed off to New York, but those efforts have fallen through. Oh well, just a few more days before I leave. I might as well just relax and have a good time while I’m here, and not rely on it being filled with estranged friends. Besides, I feel proud that in my entire trip home, I’ve spent less than $20, with yesterday incurring the most expense, for a potluck contribution. Maybe there I’ll find a little more Christmas Cheer.

I look forward to helping my brother become situated with school in the Spring. He’s already reading a Psychology textbook on the chair to my left (from his last attempt a few years ago), so things are looking good.

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Date:2006-12-21 23:58
Subject:Pro-Ana? Gag me!
Security:Public

I’ve been meaning to address this issue for the last several days, but previous obligations kept me from addressing the topic of “Pro-Ana.” A friend of mine wrote in her journal after she came across a list of web sites that advocate anorexia and other eating disorders as a “positive life choice.” Oddly enough, while this friend happens to be one of the most liberally-minded people I know, even this she found appalling. I thought I might as well weigh in on the issue, too, since it’s something that’s been a sensitive issue with me for a while.

Beware that the following commentary is one of the relatively rare cases in which I may come off as blatantly harsh and judgmental of a group of people’s beliefs. I realise that anorexia and bulimia are issues that permeate the lives of many people, and chances are each of us know a person who has gone through these issues at one point. Therefore, if you feel such criticism will unduly anger you, please do not continue to read. However, if you have thoughtful criticism, and invite me to look at the situation in a new way, I am open to receive it.
Read on...Collapse )

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Date:2006-12-18 22:18
Subject:Silly Blog Fighting Game
Security:Public

Apparently, you can battle your LiveJournal and MySpace friends. Not sure how this works, but hey, create your cards and let's see what happens.

COMBAT CARDS 2.1
to fight lbchewie
enter your username below
CREATE YOUR CARD

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Date:2006-12-17 23:13
Subject:Still Infirmed
Security:Public

Few things are more annoying than staying at home and not even having the energy to blog. Perhaps my days of limitless supplies of energy to use a computer are over, but there are a number of things I've sought to accomplish this weekend and simply felt too drained.

On Saturday, I felt considerably better than Friday, so I made it out to my birthday celebration that my friends in Northern California put together. Despite some people's advice, I felt it was important to make it out since it's the first time anyone's ever put forth the effort to do that for me, and secondly, by this time next year - I'll be on the other coast. I'd hate to let a nasty flu virus stand in the way of a milestone.

Today was spent mostly around the apartment, with a lot of napping. Hopefully I'll get around to finally filling out and sending holiday cards to several people tomorrow, as well as making it into Berkeley to run a few last-minute errands.

Until then, goodnight readers. Hope you've all been well.

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Date:2006-12-15 05:15
Subject:Sick in Bed
Security:Public
Mood: sick

The night after my Immunology final, I suddenly come down with the flu.

The ironing is delicious. :)

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Date:2006-12-12 17:32
Subject:Final Reactions
Security:Public

Well, the gruesome test is over with. I just feel though I’ve been through a war. Over the last weekend, I’ve definitely been conscientious in making sure that I tried to absorb as much as the material as humanly possible. What bothers me is the fact of how so many of my classmates have feigned ignorance and pretended they were clueless and lost in the course. I suppose the reason I’m irked is that upon leaving the exam, I was able to sneak a peak at everyone’s homework grades. From the scores, it looks like everyone was doing pretty well, much different than my situation in which I found it nearly impossible to know how to proceed with even a “basic” problem. Even my friend, who has an aura of being eternally pissed off and on clueless on everything, found all the help she needed to appear as though she was keeping up with the work. Is everyone playing dumb, or are people cheating? Why does it feel like I’m the only one in this course who speaks up honestly about what he knows, and what he doesn’t know.

Afterall, it wasn’t as though everyone did well on the midterm, and I miserably failed it. No, I was slightly below the mean, which means my case should have been very typical. There were no “star” students, nor am I particularly gifted test taker compared to the average Berkeley student. We were all clueless, and yet somehow everyone else managed to turn in near-perfect homework scores including the gal who called me often the night before, claimed she didn’t study, and that she begun the day it was due. Either people are cheating, or they’re being really fucking good liars. If they could complete their homework independently in less than two hours, then they shouldn’t have done so poorly on their midterm.

I’m at a loss for words of hour pissed I am. This class was handled extremely cryptically and and dishonestly. I hate to be the one who sounds like a conspiracy theorist just because I didn’t do well, but I can’t believe that my experiences with interacting with everyone in this class are what they are. No wonder I generally dislike Berkeley science majors. If there were a way these people could get a few extra points for twisting the knife into the backside the person next to them, they’d find a way.

This type of education doesn’t stick. These are not people who walk around the world letting on that they have even the roughest idea of what their class is about. If there were really learning going on, then people wouldn’t be so dependent upon the professors. If you asked them a direct question, they could give you an authoritative answer. I’ve tried, and I haven’t encountered a single person in my class who’s ever been able to demonstrate even the slightest clue of a single problem in this course.

When I do my homework independently, I can easily teach people the steps I took off the top of my head. If I really put the time and struggled through difficult material (assuming it was within my ability), I master it very quickly. It’s fair to assume that this is at least partially true of many of my classmates. I don’t twiddle my thumbs, and have to think much at all during an exam, because I know the material if I put my own work into something.

I hate this class. Give me my C so that I’m one step further away from ever having to deal with this type of crap again. I fully understand medical school can be brutal as well, but at least nothing is very esoteric, or it’s where I have a specific interest and particular talent.

In all fairness, the thing that stings the most: if I had been able to do the homework, I would have probably gotten an A. The final exam was fairly accessible, mostly variations on problems that I’ve seen before. Quite frankly, I think I scored above the mean on this one, though I’m still in shell-shock, and not in a very good mood. I’ll need a few days.

On the bright side, one down, one more to go… and the immunology final should tell a far different story.

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Date:2006-12-11 23:56
Subject:Final Exams: aka Academic Bulimia
Security:Public

After my fifth semestre at Cal, you’d think I would have gotten the hang of how things worked here. Truly, I am insane – the gold standard being that I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again believing that I’ll get different results. Too much information, too little confidence, and a growing sleep deficit all make this season’s “binge and purge” of information quite the rage.

I know better, I really do. Actually, I’ve been doing better. It’s just this nuclear physics course is really kicking everyone’s posterior. The professor and the GSI have been giving the students a good kick in the gluteus maximus by diffusing responsibility for keeping up with students’ concerns and fostering a conducive learning environment.

While I certainly shouldn’t be awarded an A for effort in this class, I’d give myself a B- at least. Considering the difficulty and constant reminder that we (the entire class) suck in the form of grades that would make even the worst slacker in high school be a little more than concerned, this is a considerable achievement. I’ve gone out of my way to at least attend about half of the GSI’s office hours. Still, this only helped with understanding the homework ex post facto.

To make matters worse, today’s review session with the professor was rather interesting. Even though the professor was moderately helpful, aided by the fact it was a Q&A session, one of the students asked the professor if the answers to the homework problem sets and the midterm would be posted anywhere. Professor Cerny laughed, saying “Oh! I wasn’t even aware! Somebody should be made a comment about that a long time ago.” We did…. Trust me. According to our GSI, they weren’t even going to be posted unless Professor Cerny said otherwise. Professor blames GSI. GSI blames professor. This is a sinking ship, and we’re all going down with it. The only consolation is that everyone else barely understands a thing, so in the end, everything works itself out. This is hardly the model of quality education, because there really is no assistance beyond the textbooks themselves. The likelihood of finding my own personal Nuclear Physics tutor is slim to none.

Judgement Day is tomorrow afternoon. After that, there’s another final and a creative project for meditation due on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively, I’m in much better shape for the those. The difference? Quality instructors!!! Oh, and maybe that I actually care about immunology. Comparatively speaking, the Immunology finals should be far more challenging than the other since they’re both upper-division courses, but Immunology is worth twice the units. Not doing so well on my final tomorrow, however painful it may be, isn’t going to be the end of the world, yet I desperately want to pass this course and just get it out of the way.

To everyone who’s found it rather difficult to get ahold of me, I hope this is a sufficient explanation why. I haven’t really been talking with anyone except the usual suspects, and even a few of my closest friends believe I’ve gone AWOL. My parents haven’t heard from me in over a week, which for some odd reason this term is an eternity for them, and there are a lot of errands I must attend to before packing up for the holidays.

Oddly enough, I haven’t been a complete hermit, thanks to the Power of Procrastination. My weekend was actually very interesting. Feeling that I haven’t done much socially for a while, I went out to a “Happy Hour” event at the Bamboo Hut in San Francisco, which went on until people finally wore themselves out at about 1:00. It was one of the few Happy Hour events that I’ve gone to that were mildly entertaining, much like the week before’s at another San Francisco bar down the street. Having a different mix of people has really helped, even though the Tiki Goddess and her faithful servants all went in tow. At one table, there were the drunks. When I arrived, my roommate had consumed an entire bottle of Bailey’s on her own before even making it to the bar, henceforth ordering three or four more drinks. Needless to say, it was a “special evening.” A surprise came in the form of a mob of people dressed up as Santa Claus flooded in the bar, who were a part of some charity raising awareness for cancer, or some degenerative disease. The single women in the bar couldn’t be happier, as they snuggled up to their favourite Santa to see if Christmas might come a little early. My roommate shouted, “This is a VERY Happy Hour.” It was enough of a scene to entice a few people who were on their way out the door to stay an hour or two longer.
Saturday evening, my roommate and I invited a group of people over to help us “Pimp Our Tree.” About six or seven people showered up, where we broke out enough lights to make PG&E very happy. If there’s a blackout in Fremont, Eileen’s tree will be the cause of it. We stuffed ourselves with pizza, made Irish Coffee, and ended up playing another interesting round of Pick-Up Lines. It’s becoming quite a “dangerous” game to play, since we’re beginning to know a little too much about each other, and have plenty of experience playing together. It corrupts the otherwise timid, innocent person with enough perversion that would might even make de Sade blush. One of these days, I’m probably going to stop playing it, as much laughter and enjoyment everyone seems to get out of it.

I’m also thankful for having a really great Italian dinner at Maggiano’s in San Jose on Sunday. I haven’t made it down there much, largely because it’s not accessible by BART, but San Jose has a nice little strip of interesting shops and good restaurants. The last time I was in the area, some friends and I were supposed to visit the Winchester Mansion for their flashlight tour right before Halloween. When that fell through, we stumbled upon this place (even though it was a tradition for some of my friends), only to encounter two-hour waits. Well, this time around, we still had to wait about an hour (they quoted us two), but it everyone went home happy. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten at an Italian restaurant that served “family-style” catering. The eight of us selected a few appetizers, entrees, pastas, salads, and desserts, and the waiters would bring out a never-ending supply of anything we chose. Even the desserts were never-ending (and boy, was their cheesecake and chocolate mousse cake heavenly). Most of us took home leftovers, which I will faithfully devour over the next few days to remind myself that life doesn’t revolve around finals all the time.

I feel stressed and overworked, as typical with a case of the finals. Nonetheless, these last few weeks have been difficult in that in needing to be somewhat scarce, I also long for human contact a bit more than usual. My asthma’s also been being difficult the last several days. I almost never have a problem with it, but beginning Saturday evening, I’ve been using my inhalers regularly, and actually needed to take prednisone yesterday. Thank goodness I had that prescription, or it may have necessitated another lovely trip to urgent care (standard treatment is a ton of nebulised albuterol, and oral doses of prednisone and antibiotics, if there’s an infection.) I hope whatever’s lingering will resolve itself quickly. Just another sign I need to be careful in not overworking myself. Maybe I’m gathering first-hand review of relevant material in immunology? I even drew a ridiculously dorky cartoon that’ll make my professors chuckle. If I can find a scanner, I’ll upload it somewhere. The creative spark just hit me, for I never draw … especially cartoons.

I had more to write, but I’m heading off to bed, so that I have a chance to regurgitate everything I have crammed into my head over the last few days. I feel nauseated already.

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Date:2006-12-07 22:19
Subject:Preparation for Finals
Security:Public

The last day of official instruction was over for me today. This leaves a final creative project for meditation, and final exams for Nuclear Chemistry and Molecular Immunology on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. At this point, while I’ll definitely be committing my energy towards review and trying to glean some value out of the CHEM 143 course over the next few days, I’m rather blasé about their approach. Most people are panicking, I’m almost in a moment of Zen.

Lately, I’ve picked up a tea addiction in contrast to the usual coffee. Honestly, there’s no way to blow tea with additional calories and other unhealthy things. (I’m not a fan of adding sugar, milk, and other things to my beverages.) Even the caffeine content is considerably less, and it’s full of polyphenols that coffee doesn’t have. Plus, it’s probably more hydrating. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have really expected to pick up the habit. My love affair with coffee is still going strong, but its cousin is quite attractive as well. Plus, there are so many flavours! When I became ill with the flu that lingered for two weeks and started going to Panera Bread, I believe that’s when I began to convert. It continued throughout this last week with coming home at ridiculously late hours after night classes and tutoring. There’s also an element of sophistication to it, and it’s cheaper than most anything Starbucks has to offer. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

As par with finals, I will not be a complete hermit. In fact, finals seems to be one of the few times during the year when I really “have it together.” Sadly, I do operate best while under stress in most any sphere. I imagine I’ll be spending the bulk of the next few days in the chemistry library in Hildebrand Hall, although I’ve managed to organise two fun social events for MEETin in the San Francisco and Berkeley area before I leave town for the holidays.

Also, if you’re around Berkeley on Saturday, December 16th, my friends are hosting my “official” birthday party at Dave and Busters in Milpitas. If you’re interested in attending, leave me a note, and I’ll give you the details. It’ll probably be best to meet up at the Fremont BART station, and carpool together. As long as I know you in person, just because I haven’t personally reached out to you doesn’t mean you’re not invited. The more the merrier! Although, I will try to get in touch with as many people as possible.

Also on the to-do list is to arrange next semestre’s schedule. I’ll definitely be taking CHEM 105 to graduate, but the other options are widely open. Perhaps another MCB course, psychology class, and then meditation, again. A thought’s occurred to me about re-taking my Neurobiology course, in which I earned a C last Fall. I really failed to apply myself in that class, and I thought the subject was very interesting, but battling depression made it difficult to focus on anything that term. I still have the textbook, but I’m not sure if it’s allowed to repeat a class you’ve already passed. I’d like a chance at an A, just to show that it was a fluke.

Other things to do in the relatively-short term:

1) Contact Fremont Kaiser Permanente and find out about volunteering or internship positions
2) Repeat with Washington Hospital, in Fremont (located down the street.)
3) E-mail or initiate some sort of dialogue with Professors Barton and Beatty (Immunology) about research opportunities
4) Pick up a copy of Contemplative Science by Adam Wallis and e-mail the professor who spoke for the Meditation course.
5) Buy holiday cards, fill in personalised messages, and mail them out.
6) Christmas-shop for a few selected friends. You know who you are, so start dropping hints.

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Date:2006-12-07 14:13
Subject:Holiday Wishlist Online
Security:Public

My Holiday Wishlist has been posted to the Holiday Wishes community. If there are any secret Santas, take a peek, although certainly talk with me, too, if you're a bit closer to me. If you haven't done so already, join the community and post your own wishlist.

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Date:2006-12-07 00:07
Subject:General Relativity and Negativity
Security:Public

I suppose I’ll start with the complaining first, and get that out of the way. Today’s just been one of those mediocre experiences which is life’s little reminder how insignificant a person really is. Also on par with series of unfortunate events, they always occur in threes. None are particularly life-altering, but merely little annoyances. It’s nice to know they never occur in isolation.

General Negativity...Collapse )

General 'Relativity'Collapse )

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Date:2006-12-04 13:43
Subject:The Giving Spirit
Security:Public

A wonderful community on LiveJournal called Holiday Wishes is designed to bridge the gap between a digital and real community to grant real holiday wishes. Create a list of ten items that you really want, no matter how large or small they may be, and then follow the instructions to join and post to the community.

Other people will then browse the posts and see whether they have it within their ability and hearts to grant random holiday wishes. Likewise, if you are able to spread the cheer to someone else, the community is there for that.

Once my list is approved, I’ll post a direct link to it. I must say, a few of my friends have submitted their lists and received responses – meaning there are a lot of thoughtful and unselfish people out there.

Post your own, and spread the word!

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Date:2006-12-03 00:43
Subject:Onslaught of Likely Introspective Blogging
Security:Public

In the spirit of winding down yet another year, I imagine there’s going to be a myriad of blogging aimed at trying to make sense of who we were a year ago, and where we’ve headed since then. Nonetheless, any reader of this journal has certainly noticed no lack of such energy throughout the whole period. Any sort of “Year In Review” type posts may be diffused in bits and pieces, and I may produce no such formal, self-contained post.

(And now I’m just listening to myself talk in pure stream-of-consciousness style)

As silly and absolutely pathologically ridiculously as it seems, I still have not managed to do whatever mental block I have to making tangible, and fairly simple, lifestyle changes that improve my life. At this point, I’m exceedingly frustrated with myself, even though in a lot of ways, things are going well. The problem lies in the internal realm, in the sphere of things which are solely my duty to control. The basics, like doing homework on time, learning to budget, and generally being an organised person. It seems I prefer more to gripe about things than actually solve my own problems.

Case in point: Over the last several weeks, a few friends have suggested some very good strategies for trying to save money by cooking at home. Apparently, Trader Joe’s makes it insultingly easy by preparing pre-cooked meals at a bargain that just need to be stuck in the microwave. They are supposedly good-tasting and healthy at a fraction of the price of what I would pay to dine out. Simple enough, eh? Yeah, so why can’t I get off my keister and walk the mile down there and pick up several of these meals, and walk back? It’s not like I’m gaining anything by eating out these days, since I’m usually by myself. I’d much rather stay indoors in the comfort of my apartment, especially with the cold weather that’s hit us lately, than stay out all hours of the evening somewhere in Berkeley or Fremont, simply because I can’t be bothered to cook my own meals.

Even more trivial – My cell phone’s been having a lot of issues. First it was the keypad that temporarily malfunctioned, but the issue resolved itself on its own. Now, the battery doesn’t seem to be holding a charge. I logged onto eBay to order a replacement, (after procrastinating for no less than two weeks) only to find dozens of Alerts saying that the person I’m sharing my eBay account with has been past-due on sellers’ fees, and the account’s been suspended. I really don’t want to go through the hassle of creating a new account and rebuilding the “online reputation” it has. Even so, with the amount of personal information it asks to verify identity, it could be quite hard. I forget whose credit cards the account’s linked to. At least I paid the fees, but now it’s going to be at least several more days before I can buy stuff again. Still, it seems like a wasted effort because I’m not much further along the process of helping myself than before.

Efforts to pay attention to dieting and exercise have been equally unsuccessful due to lack of willpower. I’m becoming fussier with soliciting new tutoring clients, and even my attendance and enthusiasm towards meditation is sloughing off. Perhaps it’s because my schedule’s already very chaotic, but it feels like I’m fighting this long uphill battle that I could lose at any moment. It’s made more tangible since there’re also dollars and cents attached to the worries. I really hate money these days, but hey – if I had to rely on my reputation and value to the community alone, I’d probably be in a worse state right now. I haven’t produced much lately, academic, professionally, or creatively. I’m just a few levels below “pissed” about that.

Nonetheless, “pissed” and “frustrated” is better off than feeling numb inside, as previously had happened. There’s definitely energy in those emotions, and in a way, the emotions are comforting because they’re a reminder that something’s alive inside.

I’m plagued with that my life seems so unstructured lately, and little has really been done to whittle down the possibilities. The unknown always worries me, and despite some efforts to create synergy between different efforts to advance multiple interests (usually, at least in part professional), the more I investigate, the more it seems I wish to dive into.

For instance, it appears that entering into medical school is going to be a challenge if I were to simply rely on grades and MCAT scores. I still haven’t taken the MCAT, and I haven’t even begun preparing, so that’s an outstanding variable that can very literally make or break me. Tutoring, in some ways, assists me towards that direction, but it’s become clear that my mastery of general physics has deteriorated pretty far after taking a really long break from it. Everything suffers from entropy. There’s that research idea, but after speaking with somebody last night, it’s become clear that even that might not be the best options to take. Medical school’s almost as bad as finding the right lover – you’re out there desperately trying to prove your worth, while they sit back with the upper-hand with a collage of requirements, it’s amazing that anyone actually can live up to them. They love the intellectual, outgoing, hard-working, well-rounded person who’s willing to sacrifice his life, his family, his friends, his sanity, and every creative aspiration to dedicate entirely on medicine. They’re looking for introverts (seriously, bank loan officers believe that an “extraverted” personality poses a default risk), yet the admissions and interviewing process is best suited for an extravert. There are so many mixed messages in the process. Perhaps I should apply the experience in trying to find a relationship with medical school – the more one fights and allows one to pander to any particular ideal, at the expense of being true to oneself, will inevitably lead to disaster.

I just don’t have the time. I’d like more research experience, but it has to be taken into consideration that it needs to pay well enough to at least support having a roommate in the NYC metro area, with enough funds left over to pay bills and go out every once in a while. Volunteering at a hospital or some other health-related venue looks outstanding, but I’m not sure how to accommodate it. It’s not from any lack of desire to give of myself. There’s just no way to skate around the issue, I’m not making enough money. I hate piling into debt, and the further I go, the harder it becomes to stay afloat. I’d like some time to set aside so that I at least perform for friends on the piano, instead of having a few dozen hackneyed pieces that are rustier than battleship that hasn’t seen the ocean in decades. Even today, a close friend and I were speaking when the topic of writing a novel came up. Something about that intrigues me. If I could force myself to sit down and put some of my ridiculous ideas down on paper, and then develop them, I’d probably have something quite interesting. One the creative juices start to flow, it comes off far more polished than this tiresome banter. My psychology essays in high school were quite interesting, and had a great time writing very daring responses to the AP exam. The readers must have been grateful, too, but psychology courses have an inherently “liberating” essence to them, so I can’t say mine were particularly special. I’d never choose it for as a career, but I wouldn’t mind getting at least one thing published. Then again, who doesn’t claim that they’d love to write a novel? I’d love to fragment myself and have each of its pieces develop in a different direction to pursue its fullest potential. Life doesn’t lack choices, it has too many of them, but they all compete with each other and it’s very difficult to figure out which directions are best.

To top it all off, and despite knowing that it’s not true, I feel absolutely alone in this battle. Many people whom I know personally are going through similar struggles, and yet I’m selfishly stuck in my own affairs feeling isolated. This is where communication is helpful. Help and support are out there, and it takes knowing where to turn and the courage of doing so.

Stage directions:
[Gives up writing for now, lets out a dramatic sigh, and exits stage left.]

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Date:2006-11-30 17:07
Subject:Calm Before the Storm
Security:Public

Now that it’s the second to last week of instruction, before finals begin, it’s that little tiny instant of time where there doesn’t seem like much is happening, before everything occurs all at once. While I’m in good position with one of my courses, and thus not terribly worried about its final exam, nuclear chemistry will be interesting. In fact, the nuclear chemistry course just returned its midterm yesterday, while the GSIs took just a few days shy of a month to grade less than 40 tests. As expected, scores were pathetic. The class average was 38%, and I scored just below that, so I’ll definitely have to atone for it somehow. In the meantime, we’ve had a substitute professor for a few class meetings. This guy’s actually understandable – and wonder of all wonders – he actually teaches the material. However, I’ve come to discover the importance of Socratic teaching methods. Encourage participation, and hold students accountable for course material. That way, we’re all on the same page, and the professor knows exactly what material to cover! Then again, it doesn’t take a Berkeley grad to figure that out…

Despite the anticipated, but still depressing grades, things have been going well. Our midterm papers for meditation were returned in class last night. I wasn’t quite sure what my instructor’s reaction would be. While I believe she’s an amazing person, she has no science background at all, and most of my paper was spent trying to relate meditation from a scientific point of view. In doing so, I honestly voiced my concerns and criticism of my progress so far (even though it was part of the assignment), thus I didn’t know how it would be received. Nonetheless, I was amazed that Emily had written a page and a half of very thoughtful comments, and encouragement. Parts of her response even reflected her Hippie-upbringing, encouraging me to take solace with the Trees during rough times, and take time to feel grounded to the Earth. At the same time, she appreciated the alternative perspective, and had a lot of other wonderful things to say. Damn, I had to find these people right before I graduated? My life would have sucked a lot less had I encountered them sooner!

The other book I was expecting, Accidental Recklessness, arrived Monday afternoon, so I spent much of that evening, and the next day immersed with it. I’ll write a review of it in another entry, but what was particularly special is that it’s an intensely personal story and that I have a direct line of communication with its author. I wrote her a very long response yesterday afternoon, which she enjoyed and promises to write back soon. That’s a remarkably special experience, to say the least.

I’ve also been trying to brush up some piano skills, restoring rusty pieces and learning a few new ones. I’ve taken some of the suggestions in my call for new pieces to learn. Also, a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a singer-songwriter who routinely publishes trios online – usually of his own creation, but lately of influential songs in his life. It reminds me that even though I’m occupied with many other things, that people are still capable of accomplishing a lot of amazing artistic feats. Arranging Tori Amos’s music can be a royal pain, since she’s an extremely talented musician, and her songs reflect that. There’s much by her I haven’t heard, but “Spark” gained a lot of airtime on the radio, and thus it was great to hear someone else attempt it – as well as to try my own hands at it. Faithful renditions are made more complicated by her unusual use of time-signature. Its flow is frequently interrupted by introducing extra beats into various movements, adding to the overall instability of the song. Given another few sessions with a piano, I’ll have it down, taking advantage of some artistic license to make it an instrumental version.

That being said, further recommendations are continually accepted!

I’m definitely looking forward to being finished with this semestre, and then it’s on to birthday and Christmas celebrations with friends and family, and then off to New York for a week around New Years with Sami. Lots of traveling and festivities, and friendly faces. It’s great to have a Christmas vacation that doesn’t consist of just sitting around for a month!

Yay, exciting… so much so, I’m going to hop on BART to return home.

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