Am I newly elite?

Charles Murray thinks there’s a new elite, out of touch with “ordinary Americans”. Claire Berlinski makes it a quiz. Other elitists say it’s worth spreading. I concur. So – how much of a new elitist am I?

  1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?” At length (Elitist)
  2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?” Not even kinda (Regular)
  3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” Yeah, apparently (I checked if I was right.) (Regular)
  4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? No. (Elitist)
  5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Not really, but I can get really into how it’s co-opting a spiritual tradition that it has completely divorced itself from in the U.S. (We’ll call that “Elitist”)
  6. How about pilates? No idea. (Regular)
  7. How about skiing? I’ve been, once, but no. (Regular)
  8. Mountain biking? I’ve never actually biked on a mountain (Regular)
  9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? No. (Elitist)
  10. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? I know what MMA is. (Regular)
  11. Can you talk about books endlessly? Yes, but not necessarily informedly (Elitist)
  12. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel? No, but I’m not an evangelical Christian, so it doesn’t really appeal. Seems like an unfair metric (Elitist)
  13. How about a Harlequin romance? Does more male-targeted smut count? I think it should (Regular)
  14. Do you take interesting vacations? Yes. (Elitist)
  15. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? I don’t even know a great backpacking spot locally. (Regular)
  16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? I don’t know any great B&Bs. I know great places for brunch, though. (Regular)
  17. Would you be caught dead in an RV? I loved RV trips. It’s getting harder to rent them, though. (Elitist)
  18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Im going on a cruise and have been on a cruise, and haven’t paid for either (Regular)
  19. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? I know of it – is there particular significance? (Regular)
  20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No (Elitist)
  21. How about the Rotary Club? No, though my scout troop was sponsored by a chapter. (Elitist)
  22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town (not counting college)? I lived for a couple years as a pseudo-townie-cum-grad student in my college town. I think it counts. (Regular)
  23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? Doubt it. (Elitist)
  24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (not including grad school)? No. (Elitist)
  25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Yes. Why do Christians get a pass on elitism – “Left Behind” and now this. (Regular)
  26. Have you ever visited a factory floor? I feel like I have, but the fact that I can’t tell you which means “no”. (Elitist)
  27. Have you worked on one? No. (Elitist)

By this metric, my elitist yin and my regular joe yang are carefully balanced, leaning a bare minimum towards elite.

In seriousness, it’s fun to poke fun and banal and vacuous social analysis (for instance, Murray’s article ignores the definitional question of “mainstream America”) but seriously, the description the above quiz is based on is like a parody. I know many people who should in theory be members of this reviled “elite”, but I’m guessing I don’t know more than one person who would break a 75% on the above quiz, and they would all break different ways. We’re all connected some way. Creating the elitist strawman and then pointing at him screaming “AHH! It exists!” doesn’t actually tell us the truth about anything.


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Bad Beats

Because I needed an image, I decided to put up some completely unnecessary bragging.

Warning: This post is just thinly attempt to casually drop the fact that I lucked into winning a tournament this weekend.

In Rounders, Matt Damon’s character quotes Confessions of a Winning Poker Player: “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.” This weekend, I had an interesting object lesson on this very point. Because the wife was in Vegas for Blogworld 2010, I joined her for a weekend in Vegas, but likewise because she was at the conference and I wasn’t, I got to spend a lot of time entertaining myself. For me, in Vegas, that means poker. Really quick, the bragging: I managed to finagle first place in a 38-person $50 buy-in tournament Saturday, which allowed me to increase my meager bankroll. On the other hand, though I ended the weekend up, I also put down $300 just on my own this weekend that I never saw again.

The funny thing is, on Sunday, I couldn’t remember any of the hands that I thought I played well, or that I even lucked out and got. I still remembered two major hands, though. In one, though I don’t remember the details, I managed to get bested on pocket aces by somebody hitting their straight on the river. The other one I remember much more clearly – maybe it was so ridiculous that I was in it at all. I was sitting at a 1-2 No-limit Hold’em table, and started the hand with K-2 (unsuited). Because I was trying to make something happen, and I was still feeling a bit flush from the tournament the day before, I raised pre-flop, figuring that if I made my hand, I didn’t want anybody else hanging out and hitting an even more marginal hand to beat me. I had two callers. The flop comes: 7-2-2. Somehow, I had stayed in with nonsense and flopped a set. I check to the next player, he bets, the next guy folds, and I call. The turn is a rag — 10, I think. Now, if you’ve never played me in poker, you should know that at the table, I sometime cultivate a certain reputation for making… odd bluffs. This was the time to make that pay off. I went all-in. It was a paltry $50 or so, compared to the mass of chips ($300+) the other guy had, but in a cash game, you can’t help feeling each of those dollars as money you’re losing. Of course, this time, I was pretty sure I had it — to beat me, the other guy had to have stayed in with an incredibly weak hand pre-flop, or be sitting on a pair of 7s, or less likely, 10s. Still, my heart was beating pretty fast when he called me quickly and flipped open his cards. With a sigh of relief, I saw that he had hit his 7 on the flop and his face-card kicker wasn’t even worth worrying about. Of course, you all know what happened next. As he sat, surprised I had played that nonsense, and worse, beaten him with it, the dealer turned up the fifth card. Goddamn 7.

I can’t remember a single hand I won in a weekend of, on the whole, winning poker, but that hand is going to stick with me for the next couple months.

Holy Game of Poker

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Dangerous Advice

I’m not usually one to post about sex-related topics in this space, not least because my parents know where this blog is. (Hi Mom! If you’re reading this, please close your eyes and go on to the next post.) I would additionally like to preface this with the statement that you may find some of the following text pretty profoundly disturbing. That said…

As I was reading Google Reader’s recommended (i.e. popular) items, I came across’s Top 10 Female Sex Fantasies. I don’t know wy it’s popular, but I can say I found part of it shockingly irresponsible. In a magazine aimed at giving (straight) men sex advice:

“you may be surprised to know that many women want to do more than just fantasize. Some women spend just as much time hoping their men will help put their female sex fantasies into practice.”

“rape is a massively popular fantasy among women. Most psychologists believe this top 10 female sex fantasy allows a woman to have the wild, dirty sex she craves, without having to suffer the guilt that often follows. These female sex fantasies usually involve a gorgeous man carrying her off to his bedroom and quickly getting down to business. She’ll protest as he tears her clothing off and expertly arouses her body, but on the inside, she’ll love every minute of it.”

Really? Really? It’s now okay to publish stories that overtly encourage men to have their way with “their” woman, even over her vocal protests? “Don’t worry,” they say, “she’ll enjoy every minute of it.” Seriously, what. the. fuck.

Look, I don’t know anything about the prevalence of rape fantasies among women — honestly, I don’t see any evidence that the author does, either – she seems to be a sex columnist, but I’m not really sure what her sampling methodology or sources are for this supposed “top 10” ranking are — but whatever the prevalence, I can pretty much guess that if they were made real, no matter how “gorgeous” the man, it would not be an amazing turn on for her. It would be a profound violation that would leave a lasting and damaging effect. I’m not a woman, but I know a few, and I’m pretty sure they’d agree with me; if I’m wrong, please put me in my place – I’ll have learned something new. I fully believe that there is consumption of erotica and a healthy fantasy life around the subject of this kind “guilt-free” freak-nastiness, but this article practically instructs men that this is what women secretly want.

Listen, if this is something that you’ve discussed with your partner in the vein of a safe role-play or similar, vaya con dios. But for the love of everything good and right, don’t assume that this is any woman’s third favorite fantasy that she would like put into practice.


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I’ve been discussing and re-reading my previous post, and realize that I may have left people with the wrong impression of my opinion. So here, in a more reasoned, and calm voice, let me clarify:

  1. I did not mean to imply that I believed that all white Arizonans are racists. I know many white Arizonans reviled the law and spoke out loudly against it. What I did mean to say was that the supporters of the law are inordinately going to be those who do not feel the burden that it introduces, those who look, nominally, “American”, and therefore while I don’t believe that almost all white Arizonans supported the law, I do assume that almost every Arizonan who supported the law was white.
  2. I did not mean to presume that I could ascribe motivations to everybody who supports the law – I don’t know them, they don’t know me. However, I do believe that regardless of motivations, support for that law is a prejudiced act. N.B. I am not saying that, a priori, all immigration reform law is prejudiced, just that supporting a law that places on people of dark skin the burden of proving their right to be where they are in a way that no segment of a free society should  be is prejudiced.
  3. Despite not claiming to know all their motivations, based on the public statements of supporters of the law, I feel confident making these claims about their motivations as a group: a.) some percentage of them are openly racist (probably a small number), b.) some percentage of them are implicitly racist (people who think “looking American”, means looking white – probably a larger number), c.) some percentage of them are so removed from being a minority that they don’t realize the burden this puts on people not like them (probably a larger number), and d.) some percentage of them are other. It’s possible there is some “other” category for whom it will make no difference, but for those other lines of reasoning, I believe exposure to the minorities they are hurting can help them get past their wrong-headedness. Unfortunately, AZ Senate 1070 will have the opposite effect (which will delight people people in groups (a) and (b)) because the natural inclination of anybody exposed to this level of hostility will be to avoid it. There is a reason I included the quote from Kris Kobach at the beginning of my post – the important words he didn’t mention are “guilty” or “illegal”. The reality is that if you ratchet up the enforcement on anybody, including the innocent, they will leave. The fact that this law increases enforcement against those who are here legally but who look different doesn’t seem to bother him or other proponents of the law, and so they clearly have no problem with the result that they are driving away law-abiding brown people. I think anybody who thinks that’s okay should be inundated with law abiding brown people. I think that people so far removed from seeing that brown Americans get no worse treatment than any other Americans should maybe meet a few brown Americans.

So in conclusion – brown people, flock to Arizona – don’t flock away. The people there who have no prejudice against you won’t mind. We can only hope that the people there who do will have a little less.


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On Giving the People What They Want vs. What They Deserve

“It’s not rocket science, you ratchet up the level of enforcement so people leave on their own.” – Kris Kobach co-author of AZ Senate Bill 1070 (source)

While we’re on the subject of institutional racism, a quick little note about Arizona and what I’ll call their “papers, please” law.

A lot of people have been talking about boycotting Arizona, and I’m all for that, monetarily, but I think that those of us of the swarthier complexions should perhaps stop short of what might be our natural inclination to avoid the state altogether. I know when I first heard that Arizona was making themselves poster children for discrimination, my first thought was “well, guess I won’t be going to Arizona any time soon”. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this may actually be more of a reason to vacation in Arizona. The reasoning goes like this: the good (read: white) people of Arizona have voted for and supported a law that makes life more difficult for us fer’ners because clearly they want fewer of us around – they don’t mind making life more difficult for brown people because in the end, the fewer of us they have to deal with, the better. I’d rather not give them the satisfaction – I’m a legal immigrant (citizen, even) and I’m not going to be bullied out of your state because you don’t like people with my complexion. Brown people – any of you always wanted to see the Grand Canyon? Now’s the time. Let’s pack Arizona so full of mocha skin that anybody despairs who hoped that making the law more hostile to us would help keep the riff-raff out.

Poly Ticks
The Substance of Things

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Tim James is a Xenophobe

I may have linked to this before, but then, I realize that even on the internet, where there are archives of what I’ve said, I’m prone to repeating myself a lot. Anyway, watch this campaign ad for Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James:

This ad makes me feel physically uneasy, especially in light of the recent immigration law in Arizona. There will always be “love it or leave it”/”learn English” assholes, and there will always be politicians who give a wink and a nod to those voters, but this is pretty brazenly xenophobic.

If you see nothing wrong with the proposition outlined by this ad, consider: People need to take time to learn English. Even people who have put in the prior effort to learn English before they move here are probably not conversant enough to deal with the relatively technical language of a driver’s test. In order to learn English, one needs a class – it turns out that there are far more immigrants who want to learn English than there are adult ESL slots. Even ignoring that, in order to learn English, you need the means to pay for ongoing education. In many places, order to make a living you need to be independently mobile, which means a car. So now we have a problem – people need to get around in order to learn English, but there’s no way to do legally it without learning English.

So – will this lead to more people learning English and assimilating? Of course it won’t. It will lead to more people driving unlicensed. This means more people driving uninsured. This means more people driving cars they cannot get inspected because they aren’t legally allowed own them. This means fewer people aware of the rules of the road as they drive, which means more danger for all of us. It also means more foreign-looking (read: not white) people are criminals, which as the State government of Arizona has shown us, some people don’t mind too much. Now, this English-only DMV proposal falls short of making brown skin probable cause the way Arizona has, but it’s certainly in the same ballpark. The sad thing is that even while large swathes of the country are reviling Arizona’s new law, there are segments of the country, and clearly Tim James has pegged them as his people, who are driving pedal-to-floor into the bright, shiny racist future. I just hope they’re wearing their seat belts – there are a lot of unlicensed drivers down that road.

Poly Ticks

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Gmail, and Dealing With Notifications

Google Wave recently added email notifications, which I’m not sure is the best notification solution, but it’s a common one, and it works for the time being. However, it reminded me that I should take a look at how I handle notifications in my email. Having done so, I’d like to take a moment to share, in the hope that some people will be able to use this to their advantage.

I should start by saying that there are only really three sites I visit every day outside of work – my Gmail, Google Reader, and Twitter (through whatever client – lately it’s Seesmic). When I feel bored I’ll hit my Buzz tab, occasionally I’ll check the Livejournal ghost town, and I almost never visit Facebook. I still participate in some form or another on these an other forums, but in many cases because I have asked all relevant things to go to my email.

Of course, this grates on the ears of anybody trying the Inbox Zero philosophy, or really anybody who just has to deal with information overload. Indeed, my inbox used to get relatively cluttered with emails like “so-and-so is following you on twitter/has sent you a message/is growing a virtual tomato the size of your head” until my periodic cull-and-archive. But now, I have a way to make this information useful but ephemeral, and it’s thanks to some heavy filtering, and a couple Gmail labs.

To start, for each type of notification, I set up a filter and add a label. As an example, I have all email from the domain go to the label “Facebook” and skip my inbox. (I’ve exported most of my notifier filters to this file, which you can import by enabling the “Filter import/export” lab in Gmail Labs and then clicking “Import filters” on the Filters Settings page.) This ensures that those notifications do not add to my unread count, don’t beep my phone, and generally stay out of my way. Of course, if I leave it at that, it also means that I never see them, which defeats the purpose of receiving them at all. To remedy this, I have enabled the “Multiple Inboxes” lab in Gmail, and then added a pane in the Multiple Inboxes settings called “notification” that searches for all unread messages in those labels, e.g.: “in:(buzznotify OR wavenotify OR voicmail OR latitudenotify OR facebook OR twitter OR livejournal OR events OR linkedin) is:unread”. Of course, if I didn’t care about differentiating the kinds of notifications, I could have just made all my filters set the label “notify” and set the pane search to: “in:notify is:unread”.

Once I’ve done this, my inbox has two panes – my “traditional” inbox, and a pane containing only my unread notifications. This notification pane usually doesn’t interfere, since it remains empty if I have no unread notifications. I personally keep my notifications pane at the top, but you can choose to put multiple inboxes below or next to your inbox – whatever works for you. Mine looks a little like this:

Try it out, let me know if you like it. Remember, reading a notification will remove it from your multiple inbox view, so if you want to keep it around a bit longer, either move it to your inbox, or mark it as unread.


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Mac Software

I just wrote a nice long email to a new Mac owner listing software that I think would be of interest. I’ve done this a couple times, and figured it’d probably be a good time to put it up some place public, where I can link to it and edit it. So, I am posting this now, I’ll hopefully add to and edit it and amend it later, although honestly, I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be a Mac user. Apple has been pissing me off a lot lately, and though most of it hasn’t been driving me away from OS X per se, I see a significant non-zero probability that one day they will.

It’s worth noting (and completely coincidental) that all but one of the programs listed below are open source in some way or another. As far as I know, all of these are Snow Leopard compatible. Without further ado…

I could not use my mac without Quicksilver. It’s a launcher (type ctrl+space to bring up a QS window, type in the name of an application, and you can launch it), but it’s also much more. You can drag and drop to and from it, so you don’t have to open up a new finder window, or you can have it look in your address book to look people up without having to open the app. After you install, edit the preferences to enable plugins and edit the catalog (which chooses which items it searches when you start typing).
A browser by some company in Mountain View, CA. The mac version doesn’t support extensions, yet, but it will. It’s awesome and fast, but have occasionally run into problems with its interactions with flash on the Mac. These seem to have been alleviated after I deleted all my flash cookies.
The sole non-open member of this list. This is the same Mountain View company’s desktop client for managing photos. It does sweet things like face recognition, and some sweet basic editing (try the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on photos that aren’t quite right – sometimes it doesn’t do much, but sometimes it is awesome). You can link it to a Picasa Web Albums account, or not. There are also plugins to post to Facebook, etc.
Multi-protocol IM – I like it a lot better than iChat, although the video chat capabilities are worse (so I open up iChat when I need to do that). You can log into AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo messenger, Facebook chat, and others all in one buddy list. Also has Growl notifications, which is nice.
Growl should be included when you download Adium, but if not, you can download it separately. Growl is a notification system that will show you alerts when applications send them. You can, e.g. configure it to show you IMs in a translucent window when they come in (I do this so I know when I do/don’t have to go to my IM window), or along with a nifty Quicksilver module, show you track info from iTunes as a nifty music video-style overlay. A bunch of other apps use Growl, and you can control all their notifications easily from the Growl preference pane in System Preferences.
Utility for burning discs. Simple, easy to use, does what I need.
This is “the swiss army knife of video codecs”. It adds avi, divx, xvid, and a bunch of other video support to OS X.
Handbrake makes ripping DVDs to local video files easy.
VLC is a great open source video player. If VLC can’t play it, it’s probably a broken file.
Basic, open source audio editor for the Mac. People who know how to use Pro Tools will probably want Pro Tools. For the rest of us, this is a decent recording/editing app.
This is kind of a cool utility – when you install it, it creates fake audio-out and audio-in devices. If you set an application (or your whole system) to output to a Soundflower device, you can choose the same device as the input of any other app so that you can easily feed sound from one app to another.
Fugu is a client for SCP and SFTP file transfer. You may not need this, but if you do need to do secure file transfer using those protocols, it’s pretty good.
This is a useful little gadget – it lets you set a global keyboard shortcut (I use Ctrl+Apple+L) to lock the computer. I am in the habit of always pressing this when I get up from my work computer.
This is a handy utility for keeping windows on top and changing their transparency. It doesn’t work with all apps, but I use it with Chrome to keep popped-out Hulu windows on top. Sometimes, I also make them transparent so I can still see what’s going on behind them.
Not that you would use this to download anything illicitly, but in case you want to download an ubuntu install disk or one of the many albums legitmately distributed via bittorrent (like Harvey Danger’s or Nine Inch Nails’), Transmission is a great bittorrent client.
Xiph Quicktime Components:
This installs Quicktime codecs to support Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theorea. Adds support for these formats to iTunes, iMovie, Quicktime player, etc.

Bits and Bytes

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Marginalized Media

I just realized that I had this draft of an almost-complete entry saved for more than a year now. (Looks like I started writing it in February ’08.)  Seeing nothing particularly objectionable in it, I’ve filled in blanks (and only one with an anachronistic reference) and am hitting submit now:

Long time no post – my life’s been kind of deadline-to-deadline for a little while now, so I’m only just getting back to the world online, or at least only just getting back to contributing to the world online.  Anyway, excuses, excuses…

Today’s NYT has an article about a new graphic novel, The Search, being used in schools in Germany to prompt discussion about the Holocaust, the Third Reich, and the lives it touched.  It’s fascinating, and you should read it, but the reason it sparked a post from me is because of one quote:

“It would not have been possible as a history text 10 years ago, when people here assumed comics were only for those who couldn’t read properly,” Ms. Harms, from Reprodukt, the comics publisher, said.

I applaud Fraulein Harms’ sentiment, and I suppose it’s best in her line to state what should be true about comics as already being so, but the truth I’ve found is that comics are still, in many people’s minds, the bastard children of literature.  Over Christmas 2006, as I was avidly tearing through the entire Sandman collection (for the first time ever, sadly), my father joked that he figured that after a certain point he assumed I’d be old enough to no longer need to read books with pictures.  I didn’t know how to express to him that I couldn’t have read those particular books when I was younger, and that even had I read them five or ten years ago, I could not have gotten as much out of them as I do now.  Yes it’s words and pictures, but there’s more there than a picture book.  (There I go, marginalizing picture books – as if Dr. Seuss isn’t art.)  I couldn’t really blame his misapprehension – most of his (and most people’s) exposure to comics is only as daily newspaper strips or pulp hero fiction with illustrations geared towards a younger audience.  But like all media, comics are more than just entertainment – they are a forum for exploration, for edification, and for artistry.  Of course I’m preaching to the choir here – I suspect almost everyone who reads this agrees that comics can be works of art and works of literature which are only enriched, not cheapened by the crossing of media.

But the popular marginalization of comics as an art form still exists, and it exists for other media forms.  As my friend Darius observed earlier this month, musicals and video games have it hard, too – both are perceived to be “light” media, suitable for entertainment, not enlightenment or catharsis.  In my personal experience, I’ve found that in America, Bollywood musicals definitely carry this stigma – intensified by the fact that many people who enjoy Bollywood movies (here and in India) enjoy then for the silliness and shun the deeper, heavier entries into the genre.  People forget that for every Spiderman, there’s a Maus.  For every South Pacific, there’s a Les Mis.  For every Quake 3 there’s a Braid.  More to the point, for every Godfather, there are a dozen mindless, explosion-filled popcorn movies, and for each To Kill a Mockingbird there are Harlequin romances and John Grisham novels, but this doesn’t make anybody think that movies and books are incapable of moving us in a way that is greater than the superficial.

Picture and word can both exalt the soul – why can’t they together?  Music, speech and dance can each rend our hearts – why not all three?  Story, sport, gameplay, and cinema can show us the very nature and rhythms of life, why shouldn’t their fusion?


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Things I Wish I Had Known: Grad School (Part 1 – What is Grad School?)

If you get a Ph.D., you get to dress up as a wizard even when it's not Halloween! I find more and more that I know things that seem obvious now, but were less so when they could have been more useful to me.  I’ve come to realize that these things are probably likewise confusing to still-uninitiated. So, as a public service to people who are as confused as I was, (or an excuse to talk about myself for a while,) I’m inaugurating a series about various things I learned too late, or whose importance I didn’t realize soon enough. I call it, imaginatively, “Things I wish I had known”, and this particular entry will hopefully shed some light on the mystery that is graduate studies.

I want to lead with a caveat – I’m going to say “grad school” a lot here.  I will try to keep what I say as broadly applicable as possible, but you should know that I started in a Ph.D. program in Computer Science, and left after my Master’s.  My experience is almost definitely not applicable to professional degrees (Law, Medicine, MBAs).  It only kind of applies to people in Master’s-only programs.  People in the humanities or softer sciences should recognize at least a glimmer of their experience.

It is also worth mentioning that though I left early, I actually love grad school in that way that only the abused can love their abuser, and I fully intend to go back to school for my Ph.D.

What are you getting yourself into?

Before I got into grad school, I thought I knew what it was, but like many things, no matter how much you know intellectually, you can’t really understand grad school until you’ve experienced it. As such, a lot of the things I have to say will at best soften the surprise.

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