What Do Algebra and Castro Have in Common?


What do algebra and Castro have in common? What are Columbia’s Contemporary Civilization class discussions really like? And what’s the secret weapon of white male Republicans? Here’s some more hilarious quotes I dug up.

Patrick Zimmerli was a lecturer for my beginning music theory course. In addition to being upbeat and nice, he was eccentric and hilarious. He encouraged students to dress up on Wednesdays, which he declared “snazzy-Wednesday.” He playfully embarrassed by making us sing chords, which he said helped him relax after a long day. And he told us to call him “PZ.”

  • PZ to female student Susan who’s wearing a wimple, on a Wednesday at that: Wow, you’re really hot and on. [The class laughs nervously.] Oh, was that not appropriate for me to say?
  • The New York Philharmonic used to be the New York Philharmonic Society – lovers of music. Now they just get paid to be yuppies.
  • I am inclined to let this discussion go on, but I’m just going to end it. We will discuss this at 2AM while ingesting hallucinogenics. – PZ interrupting a pre-class discussion on whether glasses makes one’s vision worse.
  • Is that “merch”? – PZ asking about the shirt of a female student who’s a member of Columbia’s Bhangra student group
  • The brain is not for thinking. Remember that. – PZ
  • For those of you who find this unbelievably boring just sit there eand think about whether we should countinue the human species in its current condition. – PZ after some students have trouble with 4-part reduction.

Columbia’s philosophy classes are the paragon of intellectual discourse.

  • What do you have against happiness! - an indignant student on Kant’s Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals during Columbia’s Contemporary Civilization course
  • I don’t think it’s fair to assume they were women. – Contemporary Civilization Professor DEL after Nick makes a comment about Adam Smith’s pin factory and refers to the factory workers as “pin ladies”
  • Sorry, I was totally channelling Rosie the Riveter that whole time. – Nick
  • Okay, Chris. You are not allowed to bring up eunuchs for the rest of the section. – teaching assistant Buyun during a Chinese history class discussion section

Chinese language class cracked me up.

  • Big girl have big dream. Tell me your dreams and aspirations. You can say whatever. This is Chinese class so just say them even though they probably won’t come true. – first-year Chinese language class lecturer Jia Liu
  • Although she’s very beautiful, no one likes her. - Chinese language class exercise
    Why is that? – Jia Liu asks class
    Because she’s bitch. – female student Ruoxi out of left-field

Who else brought a pillow to Columbia’s Frontiers of Science lectures?

  • I think if you’re teaching climate change it’s counter-productive to give everyone a copy of the worksheets. – Sharmila Kamat on saving the Earth one handout at a time

Sometimes I wish I were still M.K.’s roommate.

  • I’m not wearing a diaper because I don’t want gay people to rape me. – M.K. on why he’s not dressing up as a baby to the Village Halloween parade
  • I can’t wait to see James and Rachel hook up. – M.K. on James’ newfound intensity
  • I’m gonna fuck your mom in the ear. – M.K.’s retort to Eric’s “yo mama” jokes
  • I know that shit is real because they film it in my stomach. – M.K. about Pinky and the Brain
  • The things I do for my mom…she really appreciates me. – M.K. about his mother
  • I read somewhere that the chances of your vote counting is one out of five billion. – M.K. on the futility of voting

Keep some people in your life for their entertainment value.

  • Obama has won the election. Attn: all white people report to the cotton fields tomorrow morning. – Phillip H. text message to Joseph Y.
  • If you’re interested in someone as more than a friend, even if it’s somewhere down the line, you should want to bone them. – Mishi C.
  • Have you gone off every exit in New Hampshire? – Margaret W. I have actually explored the surrounding countryside, motherfuckers! – Seth D.

Do you realize you’re speaking to reporters on tape?

  • Misfortune is a spectator sport nowadays…Even white male republicans are using it. – former Barnard College President Judith Shapiro
    It’s the only way they can get elected. – former Barnard Dean Dorothy Denburg

Funniest Quotes From Serious Thinkers


Who said philosophy was boring?

  • Unfettered by that, they proceeded to indulge themselves in sensual pleasures like sheep. – Al-Ghazali, The Rescuer From Error
  • More confusion – more nonsense, – and the nonsense, as usual, dangerous nonsense. – Jeremy Bentham in Anarchical Fallacies about the French Declaration of Rights
  • Marriage is the grave of confidence and love. – Olympe de Gouges in The Rights of Woman on the contemporary sad state of marriage
  • Christian troops, we are told, are excellent. I deny this. Is someone going to show me some? – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract (Book IV, Ch VIII)
  • Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. – Margaret Thatcher

Best Quotes From That Baller Weird College Kid


J.O. was an eccentric and benign person to all who knew him during their time as undergraduates at Columbia University. He would drop by your dormitory room at the most inopportune times without calling, clean out your refrigerator, and ignore basic social cues, but without him the world wouldn’t have the quotations recorded here for posterity.

Here’s an audio clip of J.O. ranting about an unconsummated college crush:

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“Multivariable, that really brings me back.”

“J.O. is done for the weekend. Back to the problem sets that are his life.”

Weird Chinese Language Teacher


While enrolled at Columbia, I took several semesters of Chinese language classes. My teacher was man whose name literally meant Dragon King of the Sea. How badass is that? King Sea Dragon has been teaching at Columbia University since 1996. This post is a tribute to his eccentric class commentary because even I can’t be this funny.

  • [while drawing a map of China on blackboard] “Oh, I won’t forget Taiwan.”
  • [talking about the time “Little Bush” visited Columbia University] “也许有恐怖分子每天想杀他。 如果他被杀死了,那美国人就 (Terrorists may want to kill him everyday. If he gets killed, then Americans) get in big trouble. 我们要保护他, 就像我们要保护 (We have to protect him, just like we have to protect) panda.”
  • “Some people have six fingers. They want to trim it off. But some people might want to keep it. They say ‘Look when you scratch an itch you only use four fingers. I use five.’”
  • [while looking for volunteers to a question] “I’m going to ask some freshmen or freshgirl. How about you? She’s very fresh…not even one month.” “I still need a freshgirl, very fresh…”
  • [speaking about how Confucius was so studious and read the same book over and over again that the leather strap binding broke three times] ”特别是如果你能把词典读烂 (Especially if you can read the dictionary so much that it becomes mush), you’re coolest guy on this Earth.“ [sic]

Sea Dragon has authored many textbooks used to teach “advanced beginners” of Chinese. Students who can speak at a high level but whose writing sucks. He even published some of his books in mainland China, but not before China’s Central Propaganda Department censored the chapter on topics like Tiananmen Square.

Citibank’s Advice to Women: Part 3


This is an ongoing story. For part 1, go here. For part 2, here.

Nearly a week after Dealbreaker published the laminated card of “top 10 things” “women do to sabotage their careers,” the blogosphere is still chatting about it, and traffic to my blog is still surprisingly strong. Being linked by the below sites probably helped a tad bit.

How to Manipulate Statistics and Create Organizational Dysfunction


Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” This is wonderfully exemplified in last week’s radio program from This American Life. The show described how the New York Police Department’s 81st Precinct distorted crime statistics. So what did police officer Adrian Schoolcraft do when his supervisors told him to downgrade real crimes into lesser ones? He began secretly recording his commanding and fellow officers on the job – for 17 months. Ever since Schoolcraft blew the whistle on these abuses (helped by this five-part series in the Village Voice), the NYPD’s 81st has been hit with four investigations and numerous class action lawsuits.

But this is more than just a story of unscrupulous police and careerist commanding officers. It’s a story of how workplace statistics and performance metrics can create pervasive organizational dysfunction. CompStat is the name of the NYPD’s accountability process. According to the Police Chief Magazine, CompStat’s purpose is to

Can My Website Let Others Stalk Me?


The answer to the above is a resounding YES. If you own a website, your personal information such as address, cell phone number, e-mail address (pretty much everything short of your first-born child’s worst fears) may be publicly available to the web’s unsavory characters.

“So where’s all this info!?” you ask. “And how do I check if I’m exposed?”

Smarter Ways to Produce Food


After attempting to read some pretty simplistic and unsophisticated books like What Would Google Do and The World is Flat, I finally got around to reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Yes. Thank you, Michael Pollan for being nuanced and thorough and writing like a real investigative journalist. You’ve established trust as an author.

So well written, and detailed. Pollan’s book made me sad, indignant, hopeful. I seriously came almost to tears at some points.

If you want to know where your dinner comes from, please pick up this book. If you don’t care enough about yourself to even try to understand the stuff you’re putting into your own stomach, then you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

Food was always very important in my family. Coming from a Chinese background - back in China, most people put a very high premium on freshness and quality of food. The food industry in China is no where as developed as the one in the US, so there are still many local open-air markets that sell fresh produce and live chickens and fish that local farmers bring to town. Compare this to the ridiculous extent to which Americans have industrialized their food. Microwaveable TV dinners, Easy Mac that cooks in 1 minute, the countless combinations of processed foods all made essentially from corn and soy.

Pollan explains how the US’ way of growing, processing, and distributing food is unsustainable, contributes to obesity, and uproots humans from nature.

Externalities makes capitalism faulty The Problems of Externalities in Capitalism

OD 243 Joel Salatin: “Whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water - of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.”

It would be a great rule, that in order to eat meat, people should remind themselves of what it means to the animal. To eat a chicken, you must first experience the act of killing a chicken. We’ve gotten too disconnected from the domestic animals we depend on. We’ve lost touch with other life forms. We need to get reacquainted with Mother Nature.

Make slaughterhouses glass for transparency.

Why look at animals? by John Berger

OD 318: “A tension has always existed between the capitalist imperative to maximize efficiency at any cost and the moral imperatives of culture, which historically have served as a counterweight to the moral blindness of the market. This is another example of the cultural contradictions of capitalism - the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society. Mercy toward the animals in our care is one such casualty.”

Killing Animals

In the second section of Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan writes about his experience on Polyface Farms, an organic, local farm. He includes this quote by farm-owner Joel Salatin:

Me and the folks who buy my food are like the Indians - we just want to opt out. That’s all the Indians every wanted - to keep their teepees, to give their kids herbs instead of patent medicines and leeches. They didn’t care if there was a Washington, D.C., or a Custer or a USDA; just leave us alone. But the Western mind can’t bear an opt-out option. We’re going to have to refight the Battle of the Little Big Horn to preserve the right to opt out, or your grandchildren and mine will have no choice but to eat amalgamated, irradiated, genetically prostituted, bar-coded, adulterated fecal spam from the centralized processing conglomerate.

Them is fightin’ words.

A better way to farm would be to emulate Mother Nature’s closed-loop biological systems. On Salatin’s farm, the cows are allowed to graze on pastures but rotated to prevent overgrazing. Grazing stimulates grass’ root growth. The cows provide natural manure. Then a mobile henhouse is brought in. The hens pick the cowpats for insects and thus spread out the manure to fertilize the grass and eliminate parasites. Chickens also provide nitrogen for the greass. Their eggs taste better and they’re raised more humanely.

But Whole Foods does not buy from this type of farm. To have a business this large, you are forced to buy from big suppliers because of the high transaction costs of dealing with hundreds of small ones. page 161 OD: “As soon as your business involves stocking the frozen food case or produce section at a national chain, whether it be Wal-Mart or Whole Foods, the sheer quantities of organic produce you need makes it imperative to buy from farms operating on the same industrial scale you are. Everything’s connected. The industrial values of specialization, economies of scale, and mechanization wind up crowding out ecological values such as diversity, complexity, and symbiosis.”

One of my friends doubted wether small-scale farms would be able to save us energy or feed everyone. But we’re not feeding everyone. We’re feeding the majority of Americans well. Some too well as witnessed by rising obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses. But many people in the world suffer from starvation and malnutrition. And according to Pollan (page 161, Omnivore’s Dilemma) small farms are more productive on a per acre basis than large farms.

OD 200: “So feeding ruminants corn came to make a certain economic sense - I say “certain” because that statement depends on the particular method of accounting our economy applies to such questions, one that tends to hide the high cost of cheap food produced from corn. The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost - to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs of which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves. If not for this sort of blind-man’s accounting, grass would make a lot more sense than it now does.”

OD 214: “‘Efficiency’ is the term usually invoked to defend large-scale industrial farms, and it usually refers to the economies of scale that can be achieved by the application of technology and standardization. Yet Joel Salatin’s farm makes the case for a very different sort of efficiency - the one found in natural systems, with the coevolutionary relationships and reciprocal loops. For example, in nature there is no such thing as a waste problem, since one creature’s waste becomes another creature’s lunch.”

mimic relationships found in nature instead of working against her. Both animals and humans gain by letting them do what they naturally are disposed to do. It’s not natural to cram hens in cages, snipping their beaks, tail docking pigs, etc.

Organic Food Myths Debunked


A follow-up to my post on the great salmonella-tainted-egg recall.

I’ve always been skeptical of organic foods. “What does ‘organic’ really mean?” I asked my friends who went ga-ga for thistle milk at farmers’ markets and bought labels like Kashi Go Lean. “No chemicals or synthetics,” they said. But was that really true?

Here’s the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition of “organic” as of 2007. But many companies who want to tap into the lucrative organic market no doubt hire lobbyists and creatively interpret their way around standards to get that “organic” sticker slapped onto their packages.

This Apple Fell Far From the Tree B/c I Was Eaten and Shat Out


We’ve all heard the proverb “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” as a way of expressing how a child is similar to his parents. This is a good thing if your parent is Bill Gates, a bad thing if he’s K-fed, and a mixed blessing if he’s Stephen Hawking. For those of you who think you’re nothing like your parents and would be offended at the mere suggestion that we share the same driveway much less the same genetic material, I bring you a suitable response to the above saying. It’s assertive yet tactful.

“If my parent was an apple tree and I an apple, I would be the most delicious-looking fruit on the tree. A hungry mammal, enticed by my colorful and fleshy appearance promising sugars and calories, would immediately eat me. The animal would then travel away from my parental tree while I commuted through its gut landing finally in a faraway place after being excreted into a pile of fresh poop. So this apple fell very far away from the tree.”