Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Should old flame wars be forgot: 2008 in 'Prince' comments

It's New Year's Eve, and instead of writing my Dean's Date papers or battling the latest New England snowstorm to drink awkwardly with people from middle school whom I don't remember, I'm bringing you the 'Prince' year in review*, based on our most-commented stories**. After the jump, the eight that mattered in '08.

#8: Tenure road rough for professors (54 comments)
It might surprise you to learn that tenure is kind of like Bicker, except that, in the case of tenure, being in a sorority doesn't help you that much.

#7: NOM was the top donor to fund Proposition 8 (59 comments)
My main reaction to this was to say "nom nom nom" aloud several times and visit the LOLcats website. But $1.8 million is nothing to mess around with.

#6: Freshman hit at BlackBox event, fight ensues (61 comments)
Oh and by the way, the guys who beat a girl up were Bloods.

#5: University grants Chabad chaplaincy (64 comments)
This was a really big deal ... I think? As a Gentile, I am confused by the whole Chabad saga ...

#4: Students rally for ironic 'Princeton Proposition 8' (81 comments)
The other response out of Princeton, N.J. to Proposition 8.

#3: Weinstein ’09 endorses Weinberg '11 for USG VP (106 comments)
Cripes, I just don't have the energy for this one. It happened so recently and it took up so much time that I cannot summon the will to care.

#2: Investigation into alleged admissions bias expands (296 comments)
I suspect that many of our most commented stories are kept alive by two or three commenters, but no one so far has approached the heroicism of Yale College Dad. The comments thread is basically YCD vs. all comers, and many of his posts are the length of entire 'Prince' columns. If you were wondering what happens to the kid in your precept who writes Russian novels on BlackBoard, here is your answer. By the time the commenting died down two months later, Yale College Dad was referring to himself in the third person using an acronym. Internet trolls, this is your role model for 2009.

#1: University band harassed by cadets at Citadel (582 comments)
This one wasn't even close. After our band went to the Citadel, did some really rude things (or didn't, depending on whom you believe), got beat up (or didn't, depending on whom you believe,) everyone retired to the intertubes to flame each other and thereby win the true moral victory. This story also set a record for the number of comments we had to delete as in-a-pro-pro — seriously, the deleted comments alone (135) would beat out all but the top two most commented stories on this list.

So there you have it: 2008 in 'Prince' comments. Notice any themes? I see gays, Judaism and people getting beat up. Happy 2009, everyone.

*This is only since the advent of our new website in early February-ish, so before that, I don't know. But we don't publish that much in January, anyway. Or get that many web hits. (Well, sometimes we get a lot of web hits in January. But I digress...)

**I was going to do it based on web hits, but the problem is that whenever something gets linked to by a blog, our web hits go nuts and it's not really a good barometer of what got the most discussion on our campus.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So, you're still not over Twilight...

I admit: I am that girl. You know, the girl who read all four Twilight books and went to see the movie and (don’t laugh) thought Edward’s crooked smile was adorable. It sounds bad, but I’m here to confess my latest sin against intelligent thought. Even after I realized that the books were ridiculous and the movie was a low-budget, ridiculously cheesy farce that may have violated the Geneva Conventions by tormenting its audience with heaps of sloppy, angsty dialogue, I went back for more: I read the partial draft of “Midnight Sun.”

For those in the know (or anyone who’s remotely interested in the Twilight series), “Midnight Sun” is the first book of the quartet rewritten from Edward’s perspective. Unlike “Wicked” and other spin-off novels, “Midnight Sun” was written (or, to be more accurate, is in the process of being written), by Stephenie Meyer, the imaginative woman who penned the first four Twilight books. When someone in Meyer’s camp first leaked the draft of “Midnight Sun” she was furious over the apparent violation of her rights as an author and swore never to finish the novel. According to her website, she doesn’t want anyone to read the viral version of “Midnight Sun” but she also doesn’t want to spur readers to seek out the illegal version. As a compromise, she posted to the draft on her website but urged her fans not to read it. Luckily, I’m not a fan.

First, I need to add a little disclaimer. “Midnight Sun” only makes sense if you’ve read all of the other Twilight books. Many of the details of vampirism or the Cullen family history (for example, Jasper’s story) to which Edward alludes during his narration appear only in the last couple of books in the series. Wading through Edward’s tangled psyche is trying enough without having to figure out what you’ve missed from the other books. If you attempt “Midnight Sun” without the background provided by the rest of the “Twilight” books you might assume that you didn’t enjoy the draft because you missed some of the details when, in fact, you probably didn’t enjoy it because of the awful writing and tedious pace.

Question: Why read “Midnight Sun” at all?

Answer: You probably shouldn’t but sometimes you’re just THAT bored. Maybe you liked the books. Maybe you saw the movie. Maybe you thought the combination of the first two left something to be desired, so you kept digging.

For what it’s worth, “Midnight Sun” compares nicely with the original version of “Twilight.” In some ways, the vampire version is better, but in other ways, much worse. During pre-production for the film, Meyer and Robert Pattinson, who played Edward in the movie, worked together to develop a believable personality for the blood-sucking protagonist. The two disagreed on certain aspects because Pattison took the character to a tortured extreme. In several interviews, he said that he drew most of his inspiration for Edward from the “Midnight Sun” version. Well, that would explain why the character was such a huge creeper.

Essentially, “Midnight Sun” is not so much a different version of Twilight as it is a creepier version of Twilight (and I mean much, much creepier.) For what it’s worth, the creepiness does make the narration more interesting. My biggest gripe about Twilight was Bella’s lack of depth as a character. Her motivations seemed so ridiculous. She was just acting out a teenage daydream and projecting unrealistic fantasies on the people around her. How boring. In contrast, Edward is seriously sick in the head. Every sleazy voyeur dreams of Edward’s powers. Not only can he scale walls and silently climb into the bedrooms of unsuspecting girls and not only can he remain completely still while observing his subject for hours, he can read minds. In other words, he can spy on people through their own eyes. He experiences the fantasies of all the high school girls around him from the first person point of view. Talk about freaky—Freud would have loved to get his hands on some of that crazy.

As disturbing as that sounds, it makes for much more compelling reading than Bella’s whiny oh-my-gosh-did-he-just-look-at-me-wow internal monologue. That’s the best thing about crazy people: they are so much fun. Edward’s narration has some of the same attraction that Heath Ledger’s Joker commanded in “The Dark Knight.” You caught hints of Edward’s mental instability in the Twilight books. For example, even the oblivious Bella was a little freaked out by Edward’s penchant for watching her sleep in the original novel. In the “Midnight Sun” version, his psychological issues are a little more apparent. For example, the first time he climbs in her window he realizes he should bring oil to grease up the hinges on the window for future visits. Creep much?

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Just like Meyer’s other books, the narration quickly becomes tedious and plot development slows to a crawl. No amount of crazy can make up for the fact that nothing is really happening in the story. And Edward’s crazy isn’t a dynamic, fluid, fascinating crazy like the Joker. He’s a one-trick pony. His emotional agony, which should have been a symphony of crazy with rolling highs and bitter lows from a century’s worth of experience, had just one note: angst. In the hands of a better author, “Midnight Sun” could have been very cool. Beautiful, bloodthirsty, mind-reading immortal struggles with his conscience for control of his superhuman body, agile mind, and frail emotions—what’s not to love? Unfortunately, Stephenie Meyer is not a better author and “Midnight Sun” has many of the failings of the first version.

So, if you’re like me, no review is going to deter you from satisfying your curiosity, but you’ve been warned. When you’re done reading, you’ll realize that all 264 pages of the draft could be summed up by, “Hi. My name is Edward the Vampire. I like to kill people, but let’s keep that on the down-low while I stalk this high school girl. P.S. I’m in your head.”


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire is a must see

Looking for a way relieve your boredom during winter break? Street writer Zack Newick gives his take on the Golden Globe nominated Slumdog Millionaire:

I come out of the theater feeling slightly dazed and all together happy. It’s freezing and my breath is realized as white smoke in front of my face. I’ve just seen Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a film that manages to make life beautiful. There, I said it. I had forgotten that the words could go together, but there is such a joy in the film, despite impossible hardship and cruelty that it is hard not to feel reassured that love always finds its way.

Danny Boyle, previously the director of Trainspotting, constructs and makes real an India that festers beneath trash and violence yet still shines gloriously through. With scenes of stray dogs and lost children wandering the bustling streets of Mumbai and images that seem to melt through the screen, so noxious are the smells and corrosive the colors, the setting seems something like a dystopian paradise. The story is a simple one: of love struck Jamal Malik, an orphan from Mumbai, and his quest to win the heart of the beautiful Latika, whom he met while at an orphan camp when he was seven. At the age of nineteen, he is a tea server at an Indian telemarketing company and an unlikely contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in the hopes that Latika will be watching, somewhere.

Jamal doesn’t really expect to get very far on the program however, but it turns out that the tragedies he has endured and the small victories he has claimed have given him every answer to the questions on this fateful day. Seeing his mother bludgeoned to death by anti-Muslim marauders, stealing shoes at the Taj Mahal and diving into human excrement for the sake of an autograph end up giving Jamal the exact knowledge he needs for one magical night on television.

The film opens however with his torture and interrogation, as the show's host doubts that an orphan up from poverty could ever win such a prize. But in this fairytale of a story , the worst of India is still gorgeous, and the best of man is accentuated. With a breathless soundtrack and stunning cinematography, Slumdog Millionaire is must-see entertainment.


Friday, December 12, 2008

In case you were still interested in Twilight...

I can’t decide which cliché I should start off with: a sagacious, “Less is more,” or a slightly more frustrated, “Enough is enough already!” Both apply equally well to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series, comprised of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. Like so many other eager readers, I was sucked into the vortex of Twilight movie promotion hype, and I found myself thinking, “Hey, it could be interesting, right?”

So, over Fall Break, I found myself at my local Borders bookstore, mocha latte at my side, plumbing the murky depths of vampire romance through the befuddled eyes of Bella, the series’ masochistic little heroine with a hidden talent for mysterious accidents, in Book One of the quartet. I cannot tell a lie: I was amused. I was engaged. I was—in retrospect, I cringe to say it—invested.

Granted, I was mostly “invested” in the dramatic, exquisitely detailed bits about Bella’s vampire beau, Edward, and his gradual deification (by both the smitten Bella and the equally smitten author). The whole book seemed to revolve around Edward. It was essentially a series of snippets of Edward’s slightly deranged personality, with some fluffy filler in between which existed simply to generate greater anticipation for the parts of the book Edward was in. Even the author seemed to be waiting for her next chance to add another glimpse of Edward’s Adonis-like body, his keen intellect, his chiseled face, his superb skills on the piano, and—God have mercy on all the tweens of the world—his perfect, bronze-highlighted hair.

To be perfectly honest, that didn’t bother me in the slightest. I went into Twilight expecting an over-the-top, sickeningly cheesy romance about a crazy girl and a hot-as-hell vampire, and that is exactly what I got. I can respect that, even appreciate it. After studying organic chemistry for most of my Fall Break, I needed that kind of fun, accessible prose to keep me sane.

The problem was the second book…and then the third book…and—the horror, the horror—the fourth book. Don’t get me wrong: I am not a snotty, highfalutin, scholarly-merit-first literature Nazi. I like my beach reads as much as the next girl. I’m the first person to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Twilight, but I think you have to respect the fact that Meyer is not a great author. In fact, she’s not even a particularly good author. She’s a teen romance author who knows how to give her readers a few cute thrills. She’s smart. She knows how to jazz up an otherwise ordinary romance with a few supernatural elements to keep things interesting.

Unfortunately, none of that can hide the fact that the series had no plot to speak of. She took a decent idea for one book, and tried to drag the poor thing out into four, five-hundred-page, back-breaking novels. Deceptively, the books were thick, but the tension was thin and uninspiring—and non-existent in the case of the fourth book. The obvious lack of plot was forgivable in the first book: I was too distracted by the swooning, lengthy descriptions of Edward and his tormented past to realize (or care, if I had realized) that nothing was actually happening in the book.

But, as you may have heard, there is virtually no Edward in the second book, New Moon, and that’s where things start to fall apart. You start to realize that, hell, this book is all about some self-indulgent, prissy, ridiculously sexually frustrated, needy teenage girl who spends half her time bemoaning her fate and the other half messing up other people’s lives. And you start to wonder why you’re wasting your time when you should be taking the 1996 practice exam for CHM 303.

Regrettably, I assumed that Meyer was working up to some big thrill, a real shocker that was going to turn the series around and make up for hundreds of pages of sloppy angst. I assumed, kept assuming, and kept waiting, right until the end of the fourth book, which ended in the most ridiculously anticlimactic battle scene I have ever had the misfortune of reading.

Since I finished the series, a few of my friends have also picked up Twilight and I have given them all the same piece of advice: Stop there! You might be curious how things pan out in the rest of the series. You might think you need to read at least the second book since there is going to be a second movie. You might want to know if Edward and Bella really do find their happy-ever-after, but, frankly, it’s just not worth it. The first book was good. It leaves you interested, excited, and engaged. It leaves you with a little itch, that hankering to know more about your new favorite coven of compassionate vampires. Don’t scratch that itch. It’s simply not worth the disappointment.


Photo of the Day | Dec. 12, 2008

Have a nice winter break!
Woongcheol Yang, Princetonian Associate Editor for Photography


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rapid Fire - Holiday Edition

Meet the Freshman has now become Rapid Fire...because the Prox wants you to get to know people of all class years! Hooray! This week, meet...

Beverly Nwanna, '09

Prox: What's your favorite holiday movie?
BN: Ummm, I do get into that one with the kid with the BB Gun. A Christmas Story, I think?
Prox: What's your favorite thing about winter?
BN: Snowfall, but only the first few times, when it's not annoying or inconvenient or dirty yet
Prox: What's your best Princeton memory?
BN: It's a tie between storming Yale's field, quite inappropriately, and the Terrace tap room the night Obama won

Schuyler Softy, '11

Prox: What's your favorite holiday movie?
SS: Home Alone
Prox: What's your favorite thing about winter?
SS: The smell of snow
Prox: What's your best Princeton memory?
SS: Being surprised on my 19th birthday and spending it with all of my friends :)

Konrad Karczewski, '09

Prox: What's your favorite holiday movie?
KK: Love Actually
Prox: What's your favorite thing about winter?
KK: Skiing
Prox: What's your best Princeton memory?
KK: Every night at Terrace


Photo of the Day | Dec. 9, 2008

A Ballon Arch (from the Commencement Fair)
Anna Irwin, Princetonian Senior Photographer


Diggin' in Mudd: Bragging Rights

As December drags on, "Diggin' in Mudd" continues to explore the contents of the Admission Office Records found in the University Archives in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. This time we move forward to 1958.

Princeton University likes to brag about how smart and talented its students are. I could go on listing the other excellent qualities we and the world are told we have, but unfortunately, modesty precludes such bragging. It wouldn't really be nice and dignified if I went on and on about how in 2008, Dean Malkiel bursts with pride mentioning that the new class is composed of more Academic 1s than ever before.

But, since I wasn't here in 1958, it wouldn't really be immodest to brag about how smart Princeton students where in 1958. In fact, I don't even have to brag. I can let the Alumni Council do it for me (they already did). Feast your eyes on this pamphlet which seeks to inform alumni how hard it is to get into Princeton because of the excellent academic program and rigorous expectations reassure alumni that their sons can get into Princeton, no matter how dumb they are.



Pamphlet after the cut.


That's right kiddies, in 1958 Princeton was actually bragging about how dumb its students were. Or, at least, how dumb certain of its students were. To be fair, Princeton was also bragging about how smart and awesome its students were... at the same time. Talk about your mixed messages.

All images are courtesy of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Any other use of these images requires written permission from the archive.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Figures of Speech: Three for Three [UPDATED]

This Week’s Don’t Miss:
On Thursday at 4:30 in Dodds Auditorium, former US Senator, NBA Hall-of-Famer and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley ’65 will be speaking on Russia. Bradley is one of the few three-term senators ever to shoot threes in the NBA (I have limited sports joke-making ability). Sen. Bradley ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. But he did win a gold medal in the Olympics.

Second of three events this week, a three-part (notice a theme?) series Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 4:30 in Dodds Auditorium (notice a theme?), Harvard Professor Stanley Hoffmann will be speaking on international relations (notice a theme?). Specifically, the lecture titles are, respectively, “Understanding the Global System,” “Ethics and Global Policy,” and “US Foreign Policy, Past and Future.”
Please note that I picked these lectures because they were interesting, not so I could keep writing “notice a theme?” Things like this just happen.

Finally (lecture number three!), at 7:30 on Wednesday in Dodds, former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross will be asking “Whither the Middle East?” Ross was an important player in Middle East policy during those years, and continues in that role now as a key adviser to President-Elect Barack Obama.

Enjoy your break, and see you in 2009. (9…that’s 3 squared, isn’t it?...)

UPDATE: The sports joke seems to have fallen flat, and not just because it wasn't particularly funny. It turns out that the NBA didn't adopt the three-point line until 1979, but Bradley retired a few years earlier. Obviously, he never had the possibility of shooting a three-pointer in the NBA. Thanks to David Baumgarten '06 for the tip.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Diggin' in Mudd: Life before the SAT

It’s December, which means that the college admission season is winding down. To “celebrate,” Diggin’ in Mudd will be bringing you admissions-related posts throughout the month of December.

Standardized tests have unfortunately become a major part of academic life and no American test is more emblematic of these than the SAT. But there wasn’t always an SAT, which was born in the 1920s out of the WWI US Army intelligence tests, which were themselves the first intelligence tests administered en masse.

But even before the SAT, before the Army tests, there was the College Board (fun bit of trivia: the College Board is a Harvard Brainchild, but before you go and tease your Harvard friends over this, know that the SAT itself is a Princeton invention.) And before the College Board?

Universities administered their own tests.

Note that Princeton was still called the College of New Jersey at the time.

That means that if you wanted to apply to Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, you had to sit for three different tests. (I applied to ten schools, can you imagine sitting for ten different tests?) Oh, and the tests were only offered in certain places, so if you lived far away from where they were administered, well, you either traveled to where they were being held, or you were out of luck.

Extracts from the tests and commentary, after the jump.

A student seeking admission to the freshman class in 1884 had to pass exams in English: grammar, geography and US history; Latin; Greek; and mathematics: arithmetic, the metric system, algebra, and Euclidean geometry. Don't ask me how US history is part of English.

What were these tests like? Take a look from yourself: here’s the first page of the math section from the 1884 test.

My favorite question is the first one.

Note that it's completely mechanical. Being a history major, I kind of lost patience with it after 3d — but as far as math goes, it's not very complex, no trig, no calculus. This is the kind of stuff I learned my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

For the English Majors: the topic for the English Essay in 1884 was "Fenimore Cooper: his life and any one of his novels" I don't have the test, but the topic was announced beforehand in a precursor to the admission pamphlets.

So why was getting into Princeton hard in the 19th century for people who weren’t rich WASPs who went to New England prep schools? The Classics Requirement.

I don't know a word of Greek ("Eureka" hardly counts), but note that again, we see there's a mechanistic quality to the exam. To be fair, this is just the first page; it gets harder, or at least more involved.

Now, the good news: There were prizes.

And a hundred bucks was a lot back then. Especially when you take into account that a year’s tuition in 1884, not counting room and board and other expenses, amounted to $120.

All images are courtesy of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Any other use of these images requires written permission from the archive.


Just Friends?

Disclaimer: This post is more or less directed towards the ladies.

Sometimes it seems like all of our interactions with the opposite sex are governed by one age old question: is there such a thing as a purely platonic relationship?
The responses are mixed. Those of us who say yes are shocked when our “just friends” make a move on us. Those of us who say no are disappointed when our prospective life partners find significant others of their own.
So what gives? Is there not a simple answer?
Of course not.
Granted, we all can agree that platonic relationships have to exist. How else can you explain your male neighbors and classmates? The simple platonic relationships are those that aren’t too close. Past a certain point of familiarity, the boundaries become less defined.
Here’s when it becomes difficult. Is your guy just super-duper nice or does he want to be more than just friends?
Sometimes we over-analyze. We think the pats on the back, the invitation to “do something,” and the nice gifts on our birthdays are signs of something more. And maybe they are. Usually, guys tend to lavish attention in similar manners as girls. Girls love to focus on and flirt with their crushes and guys like to do the same. But if the answer was just that simple, then there wouldn’t be hordes of girls confused about the state of their relationships.
It really depends on the guy. As much as we’d like to think that guys are all just simple-minded creatures who all think in the same, uncomplicated manner, that’s simply not true. Guys, as hard as it is to admit, are each unique in their own ways.
Some guys just seem to pay equal attention to all girls they meet. They are gregarious. They flirt shamelessly with everything female that moves and everyone loves or claims to love them.
Look around you. Is everyone flirting with this guy? Do you have something special that sets you apart from the crowd? Do you guys have inside jokes? Cute nicknames? Secret handshakes, maybe? Are you going to be cool with it if you guys become a couple and he continues his behavior?
If not, grab another pole, it’s time to head back out to sea. This time, try to pull out one who is legitimately interested.
Sometimes, though, you might pull out one who is legitimately interested, only to find that he is absolutely cryptic about his intentions. He is attentive and sweet, but never takes the initiative in advancing the relationship.
If this sounds like your guy, drop a slight hint. Not so much that you scare him away. But realize that the guy might just be a bit dense. He might have no idea of your feelings unless you show them. He might also be too worried about rejection to dive in head first and admit he likes you. Sometimes, you need to prod him along just a bit.
This is not to say that you should take the initiative and start the relationship. NEVER be the one to start the relationship. That would be the easy way out, and the route will usually take you off a cliff.
As sexist as this may sound, guys and girls respond differently to taking risks. There’s scientific evidence that guys are more ready to take risks, due to innate differences in the male and female brains. Since starting a relationship is a huge risk (it’s like diving off a cliff, not knowing where or on what you’ll land), if the man who can more easily take risks doesn’t want to take the chance, then don’t even try to get him.
And then there are those other guys you might pick up who have no problems taking that giant leap. Even if you don’t want him to. These guys seem desperate. They call all the time, want to hang out all the time, and never seem to take a hint. You avoid them at all cost for weeks on end, and they still manage to find you and pretend nothing is wrong. Sound familiar?
If you’ve got a guy you can’t shake, drop hints you only want to be friends. But chances are you’ve already tried this and he just can’t wrap his mind around the fact you don’t think of him in that way. So introduce him to someone else who might be perfect for him. Or you can simply dodge him for the rest of your life.
The best solution is to find a boyfriend of your own.
But if that was so easy, why are you reading this?


Friday, December 5, 2008

The Zimmerman Telegram

A round-up of the week's news with Zach Zimmerman '10.

Weinstein ’09 endorses Weinberg '11 for USG VP

In an e-mail early Friday morning, current USG President Josh Weinstein ’09 endorsed VP candidate Mike Weinberg ’11, saying he has the experience and leadership to serve. Weinstein also endorsed Weinman for Academics Chair, Weintractor for Social Chair, and for Freshman Class Senator he endorsed Weinhippopotomus.

Weinstein’s e-mail marks a severe break in precedent as current USG Presidents normally do not endorse candidates in the upcoming race. He also recently broke with precedent by running naked down the halls of Fine rubbing vegetable oil on his stomach screaming “Don’t spank me, Mommy. I’ve been a good boy!”

Nassons collaborate with Ben Folds

The Nassoons teamed up this week with singer-songwriter-piano-player-god-on-earth Ben Folds. They recorded Fold's song 'Time' for his new album of college a cappella covers. The CDs are expected to fly off the shelves since why listen to Ben Folds sing his own songs when you can hear fifteen skinny college boys sing it without instruments? Too Nassoon?

University mourns Mumbai loss
A memorial service was held outside Murray-Dodge Hall on Wednesday in remembrance on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. In attendance were around seventy students and faculty members, who reflected on the attacks through a candlelight vigil. Two grad students, however, only came because they mistakenly thought there was going to be a candlelight dinner.

Deepika Govind ’10, of the South Asian Students Association, encouraged the audience to fully understand the conflict, saying it “cannot be reduced to a political tug-of-war between two countries.” She did, however, believe the conflict could be well understood as a political potato sack race.

Diemand-Yauman '10 unopposed for USG president

Connor Diemand-Yauman ’10, the third-year incumbent for 2010 Class President, will be the next USG president. In light of having only one candidate running for the office, an election will still be held pitting Connor Diemand against Connor Yauman.

Swastika graffiti found in Rocky

A swastika was found drawn on a student’s whiteboard in Witherspoon earlier this morning. Public Safety believes the likely culprits were two males unaffiliated with the University. However, other suspects include the member of the Prince staff who needed to fill the below-the-fold Campus Life section of today’s paper.

D’Souza and Singer debate God, morality

Peter Singer and Dinesh D’Souza debated in Richardson on Wednesday over the question, “Can there be Morality without God?”
In summary: Singer: Yes. D’Souza: No.

At the conclusion of the event, moderator and Princeton Professor Eric Gregory declared the winner of the debate to be the very attractive programs. They were printed on really pretty glossy paper.

To Do:

The arts community has essentially blown its load this weekend on campus, so here’s a brief run-down of what’s going on:

Check out an original student work, We Like to Cross Dress, in the Matthews Acting Studio. Or you can head over to Theatre Intime to catch Sex on a Saturday Night 2. Or if you want to sit through three hours of sort-of knowing what people say, Merchant of Venice is in Whitman. And, of course, if you want to have the best time of your life ever, like EVER, like you will tell your babies about it when you have babies, Quipfire! has shows in Intime at 11 all weekend. Reservations at

Worst Week Ever:

It was a bad week for the guy who is supposed to make jokes about Prince articles when the Prince decides to run three front-page stories about the Mumbai terrorist attacks

....Mumbai next week!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Photo of the Day | Dec. 4, 2008

Jessica Hsu, Princetonian Senior Photographer


best way to wake up if you are Wilsonite.

There are few good things about living in Wilson. Well, that's not true; there are a lot of good things about living in Wilson, but the reason why we complain is that there are probably an equal amount of bad things about living in Wilson. I mean, sure, it's pretty much impossible to stick things to the wall, unless you live in Clapp Hall; the outside of the buildings look... Well, I mean, you've seen how they look. And for a while, we ate inside a tent.

But you know, the Paw Points did make the walls of the tent look a lot nicer. And it felt very festive while we ate in the tent. Though the brick exterior of Wilson is unappealing, we've learned for years now that you can't judge by appearances. And you know, if you think about it, our rooms are kind of cozy. Maybe even modern! The cell blocks decorating the walls gives it almost a "loft" feel...

And you know, one of the best thing about Wilson — especially if you are one of those kids who sleep through three alarms, etc, etc. — is that there's a surefire way to ensure that you wake up. So, this is where the title comes in; the best way to wake up if you are a Wilsonite? Or maybe even the best part of being a Wilsonite? The squirrels — every Princetonian's best friend — can open your screen door to wake you up. It's really like a scene outside of Cinderella, or even like having your own personal alarm service.

I mean, sure, there is a chance that you might contract rabies ... But on the bright side, when you wake up, your heart rate is up, which will prepare you to talk during precept. And you have to actively either chase the squirrel out or keep it from coming in by closing the screen door. Maybe a scream or two will scare it from coming in as well?

And you know, for the unlucky students who probably don't know and will never know what this is like, the alarm clock on the left can probably provide a pretty accurate simulation.

The clock might be more systematic ... But really, nothing beats the real thing. So next time, when the squirrels begin to come out of hibernation and you have some work that needs to be done, just expose your screen door. And maybe to entice them, put some acorns, peanuts, maybe even a Cheeto on your window sill. They're sure to bite.


Something else Robbie George can do that you can't

...besides get into Harvard Law School.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Photo of the Day | Dec. 3, 2008

Francesca Furchtgott, Princetonian Staff Photographer


Computers in Class

Today I'm trying an experiment. I've noticed that in my large lecture classes, the number of laptops present has been rising as the term goes on. I've never brought a computer to class before, so here's a play-by-play of my first class digitally "taking notes." This is for all the students out there who are considering hauling a computer around but never have. So pay attention.

9:52- I show up early. I already feel more productive.

10:03- The professor's not here yet. Maybe this computer thing really is worth looking into.

10:04- I'm becoming paranoid that people sitting behind me (yeah, you, girl in the black jacket) and in the balcony are staring at my computer screen and my awesome OIT-supplied background picture of Nassau Hall. Maybe I shouldn't have sat in the front and center of the (enormous) classroom. I dim the computer screen to deter prying eyes.

10:05- The professor's here, looking and sounding slightly flustered. Maybe it's the vast multitude of computers staring back at the stage, and the corresponding eyes glued to the screens. "Printer trouble" sounds like an excuse, anyway.

10:12- I've determined that taking notes is more fun this way. But, contrary to what I expected, I feel even more compelled to pay attention, perhaps guilty for having my computer with me in the first place.

10:19- I notice that in the first three rows of the classroom, there are 11 students, and six laptops (my own included). Do 54.5% of students use a computer in class? (Really, this is a commentary on how cool it is that I can pull up the calculator application with such convenience, even in a very-non-QR class. How cool? Completely cool.)

10:26- I send an email. But I totally had to.

10:41- I'm still surprised. I haven't had the urge to go to, or even Facebook. More than I can say for the girl in front of me.

10:43- Class isn't over yet, but the verdict is in. Laptops in class are great. One can focus on their notes (typing makes the notes look more official, I decided), but also check email or other (purely academic, of course) sources during class when necessary. What a discovery.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Photo of the Day | Dec. 2, 2008

A Festive Holiday Tiger
Ashley Dunning, Princetonian Staff Photographer


Monday, December 1, 2008

Photo of the Day | Dec. 1, 2008

Three views of a lamppost
Maria Cury, Princetonian Staff Photographer


Dinner Revisited

After two months at Princeton, eating every meal out of the Rocky-Mathey dining hall, I’d forgotten how amazing a home-cooked meal could be. On Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, I went to Rocky College Master Jeff Nunokawa’s house to cook a pre-Thanksgiving feast with some other students spending Thanksgiving on campus and couple of food-loving grad students (whose conversations sounded like a well-scripted Britcom, but more on that later). We spent three hours cooking squash soups of varying degrees of spiciness, roast chickens, stuffing, enough roast potatoes and parsnips to feed a small village, and snazzy little canapés with toasted French bread, sliced apples, goat cheese, and cranberry sauce. We spent the next couple of hours dining (or feasting, depending on your idea of dinner), assembled around Jeff’s spacious, if infrequently used, dining room table, listening to the two grad students’ exquisitely British repartee (almost reminiscent of Fawlty Towers). One of the other undergrad dinner guests summed it up when she said, “They’re almost like grownups.” Because that is what it was: a grownup dinner with real food and real conversation. How strangely novel.


Who needs classes when you have the Street?

It wasn’t until a sub-freezing Thursday night huddling outside Ivy with a group of strangers did the real purpose of the Street finally become apparent. It’s a question every freshman asks themselves. What makes the Street so special that we feel so compelled to go?

It can’t just be because we want to get completely smashed twice (or more) each week. No matter how stressed out we get, drinking excessively several times a week can become a bit old.

Plus, we have to admit, the Street is unique to Princeton. No other school has anything remotely similar to structure of our Eating Club system.

So the Street is special, and it’s not just a place to drink, what is it then?
It is, you see, a lesson in life.

You can scoff all you like, but in the end, you know I’m right.

The Street teaches us valuable lessons over a wide range of topics each night, lessons we can usually apply to our lives away from Princeton when we so choose to leave.

On making connections:

If you make great connections, you get passes into Ivy thrown at you! If you don’t, you get left out in the cold (literally).

On taking risks:

The choice is yours. Take off all your clothes in twenty degree weather, streak down Prospect Ave and get into Ivy or keep your clothes on and shiver outside waiting for a pass.

On dealing with other people:

If the drunken version of your crush tell you that he’s liked you since the first moment he saw you, don’t believe him.

On friendship:

Friends don’t let friends dance with each other. Especially not on the dance floor at Quad.

On avoiding dangerous places:

Asian girls should never hit up the bar at Quad after a few drinks. Certain male bartenders prey on the helplessly tipsy Asians.

On avoiding dangerous situations:

Never flirt with the bartenders for alcohol, no matter how desperate your party becomes.

On handling stressful situations:

If your friend’s best friend has just been McCoshed, comfort him by patting him on the arm and then wrestling his phone away so you can figure out exactly what’s going on.

On the day after:
If something truly horrendous and embarrassing happens, use all your might to repress the memory, blame it on the alcohol, and avoid the other person(s) involved.

On forming relationships:

There’s nothing like free-flowing alcohol and a steamy grinding dance floor to jump start a new relationship.

And last, but certainly not the least.

On the need to unwind:

Everyone needs to unwind, especially after a particularly stressful week. And your employers will totally understand if you come to work completely hung over on a Friday morning.

With all these lessons in tow, every Princetonian can be prepared for a life in society. Who cares about classes? Don’t you know that, in the end, it is the Street where you learn all your truly important lessons?


Figures of Speech: Great Titles Edition

But first, the can’t miss of the week: the Singer-D’Souza debate (“Can There Be Morality without God?”) on Wednesday at 8:30 in Richardson Auditorium. Tickets are free with a Tigercard and $15 without. Professor Peter Singer, of course, hails from Princeton’s Center for Human Values. Dinesh D’Souza is a noted conservative author and commentator. He previously debated Christopher Hitchens in St. Louis.
I don’t feel the need to say more, since this event has not only a Facebook group but also Facebook ads – the first time that Figures of Speech has encountered this.

Also this week, on Wednesday at 4:30 in Robertson 002, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal will speak on “The Future of the US-Saudi Relationship”. He is the former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US as well as the former head of the Saudi intelligence service (GID). The prince is a graduate of the Lawrenceville School. His career in Saudi government has involved policy on Islamic extremist terrorism, and he has been the target of some criticism for policies towards Osama Bin Laden and others.

Finally, two noteworthy titles:
From the “interesting question, now that you ask” file: “Does College Really Matter?” (The rest of the title is: The History of Undergraduate Education, Why It’s in Trouble and What to Do About It.”) The speaker is Andrew Delbanco, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia. It’s actually a series of three lectures on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 5:30 each day in McCosh 10. Delbanco was named “America’s Best Social Critic” in 2001 by Time Magazine.

And on Tuesday at 4:30 in 100 Jones: “Not Your Daddy's Oil Market”. (The rest of this title is somewhat less catchy: Recent Trends in the Financialization of Energy Markets & Why it Matters for Price”). Regardless, this lecture (and any lecture on this page) should be timely. The speaker is Katherine Spector, formerly of JP Morgan.


Thanksgiving Photos

Photos by Habin Chung, Princetonian Staff Photographer

Photo by Faaez Ul Haq, Princetonian Staff Photographer


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beyond the Gate: Law school

This is the second in a new guest post series, Beyond the Gate, featuring first-person perspectives from recent alums in a variety of fields. This week, it's Will Scharf '08, who's currently working his way through 1L at Harvard Law School.

Watch Legally Blonde
by Will Scharf '08

Last year, on hearing that I had been admitted to Harvard Law School, a friend presented me with a copy of the movie Legally Blonde. Although I took to calling the movie my law school pre-orientation, there was no doubt in my mind that the events portrayed in Elle Woods’ little cinematic adventure in Cambridge had no bearing on the “real” law school experience. Then I started law school.

Guys, if you are interested in what law school is like, watch Legally Blonde. Don’t go out and rent The Paper Chase, don’t even think about Turow’s 1L — watch Legally Blonde.

Now, I am not suggesting that by the end of your first semester you will be in court defending a client from a murder rap, nor am I suggesting that the actual law discussed in the movie is at all relevant or important (however, mens rea is a really big deal). But, in terms of the broad arc of the law school experience, Legally Blonde is right on.

The movie begins with Elle Woods getting dumped by her boyfriend and deciding to pursue a legal education at Harvard as a part of a vaguely-defined scheme to win him back. I would guess that a majority of people at law school had an even less well-articulated reason for applying than Elle did. That’s not to say that the people I’ve met here are in any way wishy-washy or poorly motivated, but I think it is fair to say that most people who end up at law school really did not understand ahead of time what they were getting themselves into.

Elle next has to score high enough on her LSAT to make her a credible candidate for Harvard. She studies through nights when her friends are out partying and grapples with seemingly absurd logic games. Studying for the LSAT is every bit at horrible as the movie makes it out to be. The logic game sections will steadily drive you insane until they finally, and rather scarily, begin to make sense. Bringing your test scores up is a grueling process of internalizing over the course of as many practice tests as you can possible stomach the timing and tendencies of the test as a whole and its various sections. You will miss nights out, and you will envy your non-legally inclined friends.

After banking her 179, Elle then applies to Harvard with a “video essay” that details her extracurriculars and “relevant” experience. It is supposed to be a comic element of the movie that she is admitted. In reality, a 179/4.0 candidate with leadership experience and assumedly solid recommendations like Elle would be a shoo-in at just about any law school. The ironic thing to me about her admission to Harvard is precisely that it is meant to seem unrealistic, when in reality it is extremely realistic. Law school admissions are determined primarily by numbers. Your numbers get your foot in the door, and then things like your recommendations and resume keep it in. If you have the numbers and you have the recs, it would take a very serious black mark somewhere else in your application to keep you out. As a caveat, some schools including Harvard do conduct interviews, and I’ve definitely heard “landmine” stories about kids destroying their chances with a particularly terrible interview. Generally, though, I think these cases are remarkable precisely because they are rare. There is far less of a secret to law school admissions than there is to undergraduate admissions — get your grades in shape, get your LSAT score banked, and get professors to write good letters of recommendation for you.

On arriving mistakenly in costume at her first Harvard party, Elle finds that law students don’t really know how to have fun. This isn’t an entirely true characterization, and I like to think that I’ve made some pretty good friends up here and had a pretty good time overall, but it is fair to say that law school is a good bit more business-like than college, and that parties tend to look more like something you’d see at Colonial than at TI.

On her first day of class, Elle is unceremoniously booted from a classroom after being unprepared to answer a “cold call”. Personally, I haven’t seen this sort of thing done, but I have heard that some professors – even in this gentler, kinder era of law school – are equally harsh with unprepared students. The expectation of preparedness is much greater in law school classes than in undergrad classes, and a great majority of professors do use the Socratic method – some more brutally than others. While as an undergrad it never bothered me to fall a day or two behind on readings so long as I caught up eventually, so far this year terror of not being able to recite the facts of a case on being cold called has kept me on my toes to say the least.

As the semester goes on, Elle eventually competes with other students to get an internship at a prestigious Boston law firm. Although the fact that she starts work seemingly in the middle of 1L year doesn’t seem plausible, I have found that searching for summer employment has been a topic of conversation amongst 1Ls almost since day 1 – the only restraining factor being NALP rules prohibiting 1L summer job applications before Dec. 1.

Speaking of which, Dec. 1 is tomorrow, and I kind of need to get down to writing some cover letters. I hope this has been at least marginally helpful.

-Will Scharf '08

Previously in this series: PiAf (Nahal
Zebarjadi '07)
Check back next week for another Beyond the Gate.


Twilight... We are definitely in an age of decline.

I never read the “Twilight” books by Stephanie Meyers. For all I know, they might be good enough to appease the burgeoning sexual desires of a pubescent girl, but the film version by Catherine Hardwicke (of “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown” fame) is anything but. Instead of an “erotic delight” as promised by a “Twilight” movie poster outside the cinema, I spent most of my time stifling my “delight” (laughter) with my coat, sniggering as painfully awkward lines were thrown around and the film effects attempting to showcase a vampire’s speed looked like the cursor trail I had on my Windows 95 computer. Teen cult sensation film? Yeah, right.

The synopsis of the movie is so dreadfully simple it should deter any individual with a real-brain on their shoulders from watching it (my excuse was that I wanted to see how horrendous this production can be). A seventeen year old Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) moves to Forks, a town in the middle of nowhere, where the sun don’t shine and the rain don’t stop, to live with her father (Billy Burke). She encounters Edward (prep yourselves for the clichéd character construction), who is problematic and something of a mysterious James Dean, and also (wait for it… wait for it…) a vampire! Against all odds, they fall in love (or lust?), him because of the irresistibility of her blood and her because she is just plain-old daft. They come together only to be faced with a milieu of problems brought upon by their differences. Oh, the drama!

Obviously, “Twilight” is no episode of “Gossip Girl” when it comes to the theme of teenage sexual attraction. Yet, in comparison to the suave Chuck Bass, who is a mere 17 year old mortal with the innate power to make women bend in his favor, the indestructible Edward the Vampire (Robert Pattinson) is as bland and repulsive as the weird kid who sat behind you in 10th grade Biology and mouth-breathed salaciously whenever the word “reproduction” was mentioned. You would think that a 100 year-old, “teenage” vampire endowed with the powers of strength and hypnosis and glistened like diamonds in the sunlight would be interesting enough as a character. In this movie, not really.

Was it the script? All the lines in the film were corny regurgitations attempting to capture real passion as found in “Romeo and Juliet” or “Gone with the Wind”. But when lines like “and so the lion falls in love with a lamb” and “you are like my own personal brand of heroin” are being served, the saccharine nature of this, oh-so-romantic! film has the ability of turning even Takeru Kobayashi bulimic. Its cloyingly romantic ingredients surprisingly enough does nothing to inspire anything physical, and by the end of the movie, its extremely PG-nature (Bella and the Vampire kissed a grand total of three times), had a few members of the audience in the cinema I was in shouting “JUST GET IT ON ALREADY”.

The acting too, is a disappointing, below par performance for such a big production, and I think the casting should have raised more eyebrows than it did. I remember seeing Kristin Stewart alongside Jodie Foster in “Panic Room” and was under the impression that she was a boy until Foster started screaming that she needed to medicate her daughter. Though Stewart did grow into a decent-looking individual, I am surprised that the production company allowed the weight of this movie to be carried on this girl’s shoulders. She has no physically enamoring quality or charisma about her to warrant such devotion from such a powerful figure.

In spite of that, Stewart did an adequate (but not great) job of portraying a girl yearning for sexual gratification. However, the same thing cannot be said of Robert Pattinson as Edward the Vampire, who was a miscast in every reason possible. Firstly, this guy is not hot. Him as Cedric Diggory before never did convince me. He has a concaved face that looked like he was involved in a childhood freak accident where a horse trampled on his face. Twice. And instead of leaping with excitement every time he came onscreen (an onscreen presence Orlando Bloom has in Lord of the Rings), my heart felt like it was on heavy horse tranquilizers. Secondly, his acting was utterly despicable and unconvincing, as he delivered his lines with no enthusiasm and a wide-eyed look that made him seem like he was constantly on crack. If you were Cory Kennedy you would totally dig him, but I think he is a complete weirdo.

The effects too were appalling. Dream sequences where Bella imagines the Vampire sucking her blood and the passage of time depicting the very, VERY innocent escapades of Bella and the Vampire, where all they did was sit around and talk (how erotic), were very amateur. Throughout the entire production, I felt like I was watching a B-grade film I could easily have seen while surfing TV stations.

I am overwhelmingly disappointed that the director, who chilled me to the bone with her award-winning “Thirteen”, could produce such an awful movie that lacked soul and creativity. This film, in one single stroke, has managed to make the perennially seductive vampire unsexy.

Wait, and what is this I heard that they are making a sequel? A WHOLE SERIES???



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Zimmerman Telegram

A round-up of the week's news with Zach Zimmerman '10.

Malkiel and USG talk grading policies
Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel asserted this week that grade deflation has not hurt students’ employment or graduate school opportunities. She mentioned that, this year, the University boasts three Rhodes scholarship winners and that Michael Solis ’07 just won the Mitchell scholarship. She further added that every year since grade deflation began, Princeton has had both a valedictorian and a salutatorian, proving that grade deflation has not hurt students.

What’s in a name?
The Prince’s Editorial Board recommended this week that the Center for African-American Studies change its name to the Center for Race and Ethnicity Studies to better reflect what it actually does. The Board also recommended that The Daily Princetonian change its names to the The Every Weekday Except for Holidays and When We Have Lots of Papers Due Princetonian.

Wu Hall celebrates 25th year with gala
The building’s namesake Gordon Wu ’58 attended a gala held in Wu Hall earlier this week to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Luckily, leftover desserts from the very first Wu Hall dinner 25 years ago were available to be served. Also in attendance was the building's architect Robert Venturi. Ironically, the main course was duck.

Students volunteer at Down syndrome conference
Princeton students performed for and were partnered with children with Down syndrome this weekend at the annual disability awareness event. After the day’s activities, 8-year old Billy said, “The Down Syndrome conference is really just a great opportunity to give back. These poor Princeton students don’t live very full lives, so it’s really nice to come and help them feel like they’re making a difference.”

Orszag ’91 selected to direct Obama’s budget office
President-elect Barack Obama selected the next director of the Office of Management and Budget today, Princeton alumnus Orszag ’91. Disappointed alumni who were considered, but ultimately looked over, included Zdrsikk ’88, Ixsfgra ‘8Q, and Sgwnernfuaepfi ^K3asdas.

Words of Wisdom
Professor Cornel West GS ’80 ended his book tour at Prospect House on Monday by signing copies of his latest book “Hope on a Tightrope.” Due out later this year, his beard is set to publish its memoir entitled “Brother Beard: Growing Down from Greatness.”

Administrators outline projects delayed by downturn
The construction of a satellite art museum near the new arts complex will be delayed as other projects are pushed back and renegotiated because of declining funds. This comes as a major blow to many students who were looking forward to seeing sculptures and drawings of Sputnik.

Global economic crisis puts Aspire, Annual Giving at risk
Aspire and Annual Giving may be facing setbacks due to the global economic climate, although effects may not be visible immediately. In response, the University released a statement this week to alumni saying that the school will persevere and that they just want to wish everyone a h
appy Thanks (annual) giving!

To Do:
Try going out the Tuesday night before you need to get on a 7:51 a.m. Dinky to catch a flight and then missing it completely leaving you stranded on campus during Thanksgiving for who knows how long. Now Playing in 135 Gauss.

Worst Week Ever:
It was a bad week for kids in AAS 393, ENG 396, and FRS 109.

…Maybe next week!


Photo of the Day | Nov. 26

Yanran Chen, Princetonian Staff Photographer


Diggin' in Mudd : Beer Jackets of Years Past

Starting today, the Prox will be running a weekly segment featuring some of the awesome things to be found in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, where the University Archives are housed. You'd be surprised what you can find there — but all things in good time.

Right now seniors are done voting on beer jacket designs, and I thought it might be nice to look at designs from years past. The Mudd actually has the metal stencils used to create these beer jackets and they're all comfortably housed in a single archival box; I should add that it's a heavy box.

1973 metal stencil

Images and commentary after the jump.

The beer jacket tradition dates to the early 20th century, although originally they were apparently full beer suits. You can find a more complete history of the Princeton beer jacket here.

The first logo design that really caught my attention was from 1945. In 1945, the Second World War finally ended. It was probably clear to most Princeton students by the spring of 1945 that the War would soon be over, but that also means that the War had had ample time to destroy that generation’s innocence. You’ll notice that the “45” is shattered. In the foreground is a decorated Tiger, riffle in hand, whose expression is either determined or terrified. His shadow is clearly a student, not a soldier, and like the year, it’s broken.

On the other hand, it seems 1948 was finally a good year. The numbers are as they should be, and the Tiger is dressed elegantly for a celebratory night out—there’s an unmistakable look of hope on his face and the weapons of war lie discarded in the background, a receding memory.

And then of course, there’s the 1960s. Look at the logo from 1960—the Tiger looks contented and well fed, you could almost call his expression one of beatitude. And of course, there’s the case, reminiscent not only of the music which defined that decade, but also of the female form. Of course, not as reminiscent of the female form as some of the other logos from that decade, like the one from ’62, which is definitely erotic.

1963 brings us a happy echo of the Cold War and the Space Race. Even in space, apparently, Tigers need their booze. Well, I guess there aren’t any girls made out of numbers in space… Incidentally, there have been Princetonian astronauts—the Princeton flag has been to the Moon and back, but that’s a story for another time.

That’s it for this issue. I leave you with a photograph of the 1956 jacket, so that you can get an idea of what these looked like in COLOR. The Princetoniana site has a few more designs. Of course, if you’re really interested, you can always head up to the Mudd—and don’t forget: the Blue Line and Green Line stop right around there.

All images are courtesy of the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Any other use of these images requires written permission from the archive.


Monday, November 24, 2008


This post is the first in a new series on the Prox called CrisisWatch. In it, economics professor and 'Prince' columnist Uwe Reinhardt will summarize the latest news on the ongoing financial malaise. What just happened and how worried should you be? Read on to find out.

Click here to open to the balance sheet of Citigroup, which has been rescued over the weekend by – you guessed it -- the U.S. taxpayers, through the good offices of the taxpayers’ agents: the U.S. Treasury (UST), the Federal Reserve (FR) and the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

You will learn from Citigroup’s balance sheet that the highly paid geniuses who ran Citigroup until about a year ago had loaded up that balance sheet with so much debt as to reach a debt-to-asset ratio of 95 percent by December 31 of 2007. The numbers as of Sept. 30, 2008 look barely different. I doubt that, even after imbibing cases of Rolling Rock the infamous Tiger-Inmates™ of Prospect Street would come up with anything as foolish as that, certainly not after taking my ECO 100 course, in which we cover finance.

And who were the highly paid geniuses who earned (correction: were paid) hundreds of millions of dollars during their tenure for their great ideas? They include former Citigroup’s legendary CEO Sanford Weill, who cobbled the company together and his successor Charles O. (“We Must Dance [With The Market] As Long As The Music Plays”) Prince, ably advised by Clinton-era Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, who received north of $10 million a year for his advice. This is what is meant by “reward for risk” on Wall Street: You get rewarded for imposing risk on others.

Among the assets Citigroup purchased with all that debt were dodgy mortgage backed bonds otherwise known by the elegant name “structured securities.” Structured securities are debt obligations whose promised cash flows are “secured” (using the term loosely) by the cash flows from other financial securities or activities which would then be said to have been “securitized.” (Recently I read a spoof, for example, according to which the pirates off the Somali coast are trying to securitize in this way the ransom money they expect to earn from their piracy. Is there any doubt that, for handsome fees, Wall Street bankers vintage 2006-07 would eagerly have helped the pirates in this effort and invested in the resulting “structured securities” themselves?. One can image the British comedy team Bird and Fortune having fun with it – see this for example).

The synthetic securities held by Citigroup had been concocted by so-called financial engineers, many of them disgruntled physicists and engineers who did not like the major they had chosen, and perhaps also Princeton grads endowed with our hallowed “certificate in finance”. They were cool securities, based on complex mathematical models, but now the financial engineers have no clue what these synthetic securities might be worth, most of them apparently having no clue either what actually goes on in the real economy – for example, that mortgages must be repaid.
Not even included in the $2.187 trillion assets shown on Citigroup’s balance sheet as of Dec. 07 reportedly are some $1.23 trillion assets stashed away in off-balance sheet entities known as “structured investment vehicles” (SIVs). The latter had been structured by clever lawyers and accountants to allow them to be off balance sheet. They probably are domiciled somewhere in the Caribbean, where U.S. regulators do not roam. The assets owned by these SIVs, many of which are feared to be toxic as well, most likely have been financed with a similarly reckless debt-to-asset ratio. Were they to be put on Citigroup’s balance sheet, the firm’s financial position probably would look worse, which is one factor reportedly causing last week’s panic that trashed Citigroup’s stock price.

You can learn the particulars that our agents at the UST, FR and FDIC negotiated with Citigroup at the link here. From the Term Sheet presented there you will learn that U.S. taxpayers will guarantee some artificially high value of $306 billion of dodgy, synthetic securities on Citigroup’s balance sheet, for which guarantee the taxpayers will get non-voting preferred stock with a stated value of $7 billion, on which 8 percent dividend will be paid, plus the right to buy about 254 million of Citigroup Common stock at a specified price of $10.61. The stock traded last Friday at around $4 per share. The $10.61 is a 20-day trailing average for the period ending Nov. 21, 2008.

In addition to absorbing the bulk of the potential, eventual losses on the $306 billion of Citigroup’s dodgy assets, the U.S. taxpayer injected another $20 billion of cash into Citigroup, on top of a $25 billion cash infusion earlier. In return, the UST will receive non-voting preferred stock paying an 8 percent dividend as well. Heaven forbid that U.S. taxpayers should ever get voting stock in Citigroup and have representatives sit on Citigroup’s Board. That right is reserved only for folks such as the potentates of the Middle East or Chinese and Japanese investors. After all, can you trust the agents of U.S. taxpayers at Citigroup’s Board table?
Oh, yes, lest I forget. We are told on the UST’s Term Sheet that “An executive compensation plan, including bonuses, that rewards longterm performance and profitability, with appropriate limitations, must be submitted to, and approved by, the USG.” Go figure what this might mean.

Uwe E. Reinhardt is the James Madison Professor of Political Economy and a professor in the Wilson School.


Figures of Speech: Give Thanks with Some Lectures Edition

This week’s don’t miss (unless you already did):
At 4:30 on Monday, Prof. Cornel West will be holding a reading and book signing for his latest work, “Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom.” It’s in Prospect House, but tickets are required – don’t grouse. If right now you cry and wonder why, it may help to remember that Prof. West is an activist, critic, and rapper in addition to his work in academia.
Plus his rhymes are suitable for book titles.

Don’t despair, o readers fair. Also at 4:30 on Monday is a lecture by US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Clint Williamson. Ambassador Williamson will be delivering a lecture in 016 Robertson on “An Overview of U.S. War Crimes Policy at the Change of Administration.” Ambassador Williamson has previously served in Baghdad and at the Hague.

On Tuesday, once more at 4:30, Francois Burgat will lecture on “Islamism in the Shadow of al-Qaeda.” His book of the same title was recently released. The lecture is in 100 Jones.
Nothing rhymes with “Islamism” or “al-Qaeda.”