The Blog


Photo courtesy of James Xue (SEAS ’17)

This past week, my younger sister created a blog documenting her trek through Christianity. Being that I greatly appreciate stark contrasts, my first column of 2017 is just straight up about sex.

In short, I have come to believe that international agreements and sex are basically the same thing: the more complicated, the kinkier.

Alright, to begin, I’m sure you’re all wondering, “what the hell does she mean by international agreements?” Instead of dumping a long, wordy, and quite frankly boring definition (that is likely to be contested anyway) on you all, I am just going to use a type of “realist logic” to provide a basic glimpse of the subject.

From what I have gathered so far in my Rising Great Powers class, state-on-state interactions are mainly concerned with balancing power. When a state begins to enter into dialogue with another state, they are mainly concerned about their own survival and survival of their interests. Therefore, in order to not be threatened by another state, states must explicitly lay out what they want and what they are willing to do in order to achieve this. As more and more states begin doing this, compromises, treaties, laws, etc., begin flowing readily with a wide range of complexity. All in all, at a very basic level, these agreements are just simple declarations of trust and limitations.

I am going to use that last statement to gracefully segue into talking about sex, the real reason you’re probably reading this piece. If you have seen the new trailer for the Fifty Shades of Gray movie, or even watched desperate sophomores at 1020 hit on women, you know exactly what I am talking about. Sex, at its very basic level is a power play. Each player establishes what he or she wants through initial dialogue and subtle actions. A hair flip here, a risky statement there, and BAM you have begun your journey down the path that ultimately culminates in copulation. Be it a quick, drunk, hookup twenty minutes after meeting or a more meaningful act of “making love” after the pre-established three dates rule, sex is dependent on trust. Trust that the other player will adhere to what you want, and even more importantly respect what you don’t want.

This is pretty doable in what millennials are nowadays calling “vanilla sex”, or a relatively uncomplicated sex session. Vanilla sex is representative of Canada-U.S. agreements (pre-Trump…) on the international spectrum, if you will; simple, rather uncomplicated, but still dependent on a basic trust between the two. More is put at stake when more uh, “goods”, if you will, get involved. Like the JCPOA (or the Iran Deal), with BDSM or just good ol’ kinky sex, more is at stake, becoming a more serious game of trust.

Like sex, sometimes international agreements can be bad, culminating in war and breakups, but are still necessity in this wild world of ours. No matter the type, both agreements and sex, teach us about coexisting, and when done correctly, make life just more enjoyable.

Photo Courtesy of CNN Money

I was born to love film.

I was raised by a family who lived and breathed entertainment. My uncle is a movie producer, my cousin a stage manager on Broadway. My grandfather, a seventy-five year old man, has overflowing DVD piles of every Disney film, Oscar-winning movie, musical, and Olympic-record-setting video that ever aired on TV. My mother stays up until 2am every night watching her TV shows (she can compete with any binge-driven college student). The entertainment industry is an unspoken staple of my family.

So, naturally, television has always been a huge part of my life. As much as my father tried to enforce TV limits, I knew from a young age that “one hour of teletubbies” meant at least two when Mom was home. Some people blast me for watching so much television, but I know I always have my family on my side, and nothing is as stimulating nor as intellectually thrilling to me.

As I grew up, I slowly became the Roger Ebert of my friend group. I (whether asked or not) would tell my friends which movies to see, which actors deserved the Oscar, which television show was an overly dramatic waste of time. My past and current boyfriends have all gone through a “movie-education,” and I have never missed an awards ceremony (even when I was on the other side of the world and had to wake up at 2am and surf the web for hours before I found a live stream). I’m pretty darn serious about this stuff.

But enough about me. All of this was an introduction of sorts, a drawn out way for me to prove to you that I am indeed qualified to write this column. Sure, I’m a religion major who has yet to write that breakthrough screenplay that earns me a seat at the Golden Globes, but I’m opinionated, nonetheless, and born to movie-educate the masses. So, on that note, let’s dive right in.

It would be amiss not to begin this bi-weekly column with a post that addresses the insanity currently sweeping over Hollywood. This week’s SAG awards were filled with emotions– from numerous actors speaking out against President Trump’s executive order on immigration to Denzel Washington upsetting Casey Affleck and Ryan Gosling for best actor. (Who saw THAT one coming??) The Oscar nominees have been announced, snubbing Taraji P. Henson for her role in Hidden Figures and controversially allowing disgraced anti-semite Mel Gibson in the running. Questions surround the fate of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian nominated director who may not be able to attend the February 26th ceremony due to Trump’s ban, and NBC’s Dick Wolf is trying to squeeze out more money by making yet another Chicago show.

You’ll notice that most of these have to do with politics. 2016 (and so far 2017) has been a banner year for the Hollywood-Washington crossover, with celebrities becoming more involved in a presidential election than perhaps ever before. Aside from the usual backing of presidential nominees, Hollywood stars have not missed an opportunity to share their feelings about the new president. John Oliver made it his life’s mission this season to convince viewers to vote for Clinton. Meryl Streep (who’s NOT overrated, Mr. President) called Trump out during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of perhaps the most overtly political show on Broadway– though also the most amazing) has been incredibly vocal about his hatred for the new president, and Lorne Michaels was awarded one of President Obama’s medals of freedom, arguably because of the recent politically-driven season of Saturday Night Live. On the flip side, celebrities like Kanye West and John Voight have come out in support of President Trump, though they are in the minority of Hollywood stars. In fact, political opinion in Hollywood has become such an expectancy this past year that celebrities who didn’t pipe in about the election (like my main gal, TSwift) have been getting a lot of flack.

Now, this column isn’t about politics. This column isn’t about the 2016 election, the current president or his policies, and this column definitely isn’t about my own political views. This is a column about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but the two have become so mixed recently that I find myself wondering– is there a separation?

I truly believe that artists have a valuable and irreplaceable role in society. At times, I’ve found answers in film and television to questions so deep and personal that I didn’t even know I struggled with them until an actor or a writer put them in front of me– and the film industry could not do this without delving into the thick of things, attacking the personal and the relevant when no one else dares to. But, as I watched the nastiness of this past year’s election grow, I wondered if recognizing limitations was something Hollywood has yet to learn.

As much as intellectuals might deny it, celebrities have an enormous amount of influence in modern society. We may not realize it, but we look toward Hollywood as an escape. We see celebrities through our rose-colored glasses; when we hear about their lives and opinions, we hear them the way we hear lines on a screen or words on a page. We don’t know it, but we instinctively give them a reverence we don’t give the guy who lives next door, or even the news anchor who brings in an expert we’ve don’t recognize to talk about the election. And when we give them this level of reverence, we give them power. So much power that, when they tell us their opinions, we cloak them in veils of absolute truth. And, so, the question is: Is Hollywood sticking its nose into the political arena making the political climate better or worse? When do they step up and use their public platform for good, and when is it just a bully pulpit? Are actors’ opinions something we need to hear just because they have a mike and a camera beaming out to millions of people?

It doesn’t matter whether I (or anyone else) agree with the stand certain celebrities took and continue to take about the current President and his policies. The point is this: there are people who voted a certain way because John Oliver or Kanye West told them to, and that is freakin’ terrifying.

And so, Hollywood, as one of your most devoted fans, I make a plea: I ask that you recognize your influence, but also acknowledge your limitations. See where you can inspire, but also understand where you can hurt. Trust your audience to engage, but also trust them to be individuals. Remind us of the magic of the movies, but never try to rob us of our own thoughts. I think it’s time Hollywood began anew, forgot about politics for a little bit and focused on creating art on a more personal and nuanced level. And maybe then, the political climate (and also the comedy late shows) will begin to improve.

Keep on watching,

Yael
P.S. Stay tuned for my first pick on your Must See Binge list!

A year is long enough for surprises to happen, especially this past year. People suddenly found out that the world they live in has gone through a course that no one could ever have predicted. One year ago, hardly anyone foresaw the European Union losing its most important player and perhaps in the future losing a second one; hardly anyone could say affirmatively that a billionaire without any political experience could become the president of US. People are shocked, fearful, and puzzled by these facts. We call this series of events a wave of anti-establishment—not only anti-establishing the social system that we have relied on so much, but, more importantly, challenging the ways we look at and interpret the world.

While people are asking, “What is wrong with our world?” it is equally important to be introspective and ask what is “Wrong with my own thinking that causes so much disillusionment with what really happened?” It is not an easy question, and people can have diverse answers for it, but besides the debates of ideology, social norms and political correctness, maybe we can focus on something that is less paid attention to, something that seems to be irrelevant to politics: math.

Throughout human civilization, people have used reason to understand the world, and after thousands of years of development, almost every field of study has become dependent on the use of rationality. Usually, we tend to call such rational tool “model.” People use models to capture the factors of the issue being studied and use logical representations to depict the fundamental laws that govern the behavior of these factors. The most widely used model among people is the mathematical model, where the logical representations are necessarily mathematical expressions. Such a use of math has been adapted in economics, political science, sociology, and even psychology. Investors use math to make investment strategy, economists use math to understand the behavior of economics, politicians use math to predict the patterns of voters, and policymakers use math to structure the best policy for the country.

For a long time, math has successfully captured the behavior of the world and did a pretty good job in assisting people with their applications in the real world, and people have been more and more dependent on math to solve the complex situations they face. But because of these successes, people also ignore the shortcomings of mathematical models in social sciences, and such ignorance could cause problems.

One weakness of math models is that in order to achieve more accurate depiction of the scenario, comprehensiveness is sacrificed. The first thing to do when constructing a math model is to make assumptions and simplify the situation to a bunch of factors that are representable by math expressions. But in this simplification some important factors are tossed away because they cannot be clearly quantitated. One clear example is people’s sentiment, which in some cases dictates the situation, but because it is too hard to be modeled, it is usually left out or excessively simplified. With an absence of sentimental factors, the model can sometimes interpret facts incorrectly.

Another shortcoming of math is not a shortcoming in nature, but could hurt people when they are too dependent on a math model. The nature of math assumes a deterministic model. That is to say, with given conditions and given principles, the outcome can be well defined. Usually the models taught in economic classes and political science classes don’t assume any stochastic scenarios, and they don’t talk about things that are not solvable (otherwise what is the point of studying it?) But neither of the preconditions are always true. Sometimes we cannot grasp the condition correctly due to our limited ability to observe the complete picture, and sometimes we just simply don’t have the correct principles on which this world functions. In either case, model thinking could fail.

The use of math modeling in our daily life is not essentially problematic. It is the overdependence on it that causes some misleading in perceiving the world and interpreting it. If we don’t fully grasp the pros and cons of using mathematical reasoning in social science fields, we will constantly encounter conflicts between our assumptive beliefs and real facts.

 

Recently, a group of Chinese students reported that their room name tags were ripped off during the time of the Chinese New Year. Some students found that their door tags with their names written in Chinese spelling were removed, and such incidents were reported in different residence halls, including East Campus, Furnald, Shapiro and Hartley. The Lion is currently investigating if this is an intentional action of discrimination towards Chinese community.

This has raised concern among Chinese students. A student living in East Campus reported that she lives in a suite where all members are students from China, and their name tags have been ripped off three times since the beginning of this semester.

A number of students affected by such incidents have reported them to Public Safety and Residential Life, who we have also contacted for comment. We’ll update this story as we get more information.

 

Update 2/18/17, 3:48pm: The Deans of CC, SEAS, and GS have responded to the incident. The full email is below:

Dear Undergraduate Students,

It is an unfortunate reality that neither Columbia nor any other university is able to exist untouched by incidents that contradict our institution’s most precious values. The removal of the name tags of Chinese students living in undergraduate residence halls earlier this semester is one of those times, and all of us feel the harm done. Even more troubling is that the vandalism occurred around the celebration of Chinese New Year.

We continue to monitor the ongoing investigation of this incident and to provide support for students directly affected. As always, the investigation will remain confidential while it is being conducted. What we can tell you at this point is that we will continue to apply our rules and act in a manner that aims to deter this type of offensive behavior in the future. If you have any information that could shed light on what happened or those responsible, we urge you to please share it with a staff member in Residential Life or Multicultural Affairs, or to reach out to Cristen Kromm, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life for Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, or to Tom Harford, Dean of Students for the School of General Studies.

It is perhaps commonplace for people to point out after incidents like this that the measure of an institution is found in its response; nonetheless, the observation feels particularly apt in this case, given the two videos produced by Columbia students in recent days, as well as the solidarity event held by the Global Ambassadors Program. These and other poignant expressions serve as a powerful rejection of targeting of any group on our campus, whether identifiable by race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We applaud those messages; they are a testament to the strong spirit of activism, courage, support, and inclusion that defines our student body.

The collective commitment across our community to learning, expanding knowledge, and public service depends on an equal commitment to welcoming students, faculty, and staff from across the nation and around the world. It is impossible for us to pursue our schools’ missions without the contributions of people with a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. We will continue to frequently reassert this point during a time when the importance of celebrating difference bears reminding. We want to thank all of those who already have made themselves heard.

Sincerely,

Peter J. Awn
Dean
School of General Studies

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of The Fu Foundation School of
Engineering and Applied Science

James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education