January 7

Tip: Don’t ask if there’s anyone who doesn’t know what X is. No one is going to suffer the embarrassment of being the only one to raise their hand. If it’s simple enough that you have time to explain it, just go ahead and do it. It will help those who’re too afraid to raise their hands and provide a refresher to everyone else.

Bonus: Don’t make it worse by throwing in adjectives that hint at how stupid you must be not to know it. Are you trying to keep people from raising their hands?

I can’t believe I have to explain this to a psychology professor.

There’s a knock at the door. I crawl out of bed (I was taking a nap) and open the door. It’s my peer academic advisor (PAA), a young, slightly overexcited kid with glasses and blond hair. He leads me down the hallway into the dorm’s lobby as I rub my eyes. The lobby is dark. At the far end is a table with a light on it and a man sitting in a chair entirely in shadow. I take the side opposite the wall, the man-in-shadow on my left and the PAA takes the seat on my right.

The man-in-shadow leans towards me, but at the same time towards the table, so he’s looking at me sideways. “Hey there,” he says. He talks with a bit of a cowboy accent. He’s my academic advisor (AA) and he asks what grades I got last term and writes that down. Then he asks what classes I’m taking this term and writes them down too.

He repeatedly drifts off to odd tangents. For reasons not entirely clear to me, he thinks I spend my free time writing software to manage pornographic websites, but he’s too polite or prudish to discuss this explicitly and instead only hints at it. Let me be clear: I’ve never said anything even remotely close to this concept; indeed, I hardly say anything at all. Still, he presses on.

‘The smartest people I’ve ever met don’t study the hard sciences or math or stuff like that. You know what they take? They take theology. They look at the big picture. Now it’s not that taking theology makes you smart — there are dumb people who take theology too — but I know some theology people who are smart. I don’t know why I’m discussing this.’

The PAA acts as his geeky sidekick throughout, laughing at the jokes, throwing in murmurs of agreement, answering to the AA’s questions (‘what was that guy’s name?’), and so on.

The AA goes on to lay out his philosophy of life: least-necessary-effort. Get an A, but get the lowest A in the class. Do the bare minimum you need. Get 89.91%. That’s how you’ll get ahead and make lots of money. The PAA agrees; it’s worked for him.

He also highly recommends Michael Crichton’s State of Fear; I’m too polite to mention that it’s a dishonest piece of right-wing propaganda.

Eventually our session is up. But he’s inviting us all to his house for a barbecue.

As I finish getting my drink for dinner I turn around to face a large guy. “Hello Aaron,” he says. Uh, hi? “I have an offer I think you might be interested in. Can we get dinner?” Uh, sure… “Go ahead and sit down, I’ll be with you in a moment.”

I know I’m bad with faces, but usually I can remember if I’ve seen someone before, even if I can’t place them. But I don’t recognize this guy at all. I’ve probably never met him. He must have just recognized me from a photo. But why didn’t he introduce himself? I ponder these questions as I sit and wait.

When he finally arrives he asks me what I thought of the party. Uh, what party? “The Creative Commons party.” Duh, the one last night. It suddenly clicks into place; I met him at the party last night where we chatted for a while. His face looks totally different when it’s not half in shadow.

He tells me about an exciting opportunity to sell out. I’ll get money, power, connections to powerful people, the chance to control Stanford’s rivals, and it requires very little work. Naturally, I say I’m interested.

In the hallway, two girls stand with their arms around each other. “Maybe they’re dating,” I think. A boy with them says “you don’t need to defend your social life to me” and as I pass them the two girls turn towards each other and kiss. And I could feel in that moment how, despite all the progress, despite all the gay characters on TV, despite the politics, despite all that, how much courage that simple act takes, even here. Bravo.

Kat and Vicky invite me down to watch The Big Lebowski with them, which I’ve never seen before.

posted February 14, 2005 12:01 AM (Education) (2 comments) #


New York City: Winter Vacation
Stanford: Back to School
Stanford: I Miss Zooko
Stanford: Fuzzier Heads Prevail
Stanford: Artists and Aliens
Stanford: Meeting the Man in Shadow
Stanford: You May Have Already Won
Stanford: Mind Control in Theory and Practice
Malcolm Gladwell on Snap Judgments
Stanford: Stand Up, Sell Out
Stanford: Voyeurism


What did you think of the Big Lewowski?

posted by peter at February 14, 2005 08:31 AM #

I saw it with someone, later we got married. Which was nice.

posted by Robert Brook at February 15, 2005 07:50 AM #

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