Thursday, August 4, 2011

On the Road - 11: Viva Las Vegas

On a sweltering July 27, I set off for a mini-vacation to Las Vegas. With me in the car were two friends, M. and R., both of whom I have known for more than fifteen years. We packed our car wisely: a half-eaten box of Pappa John's finest, two mountainous crates of bottled water ("buy one get one free" at Rite-Aid), a dazzling array of beverages thoughtfully buried in chips of ice in a giant cooler, and two ipods filled with road trip-appropriate music.

This was R's first time to Vegas so he was very excited. He kept asking all sorts of questions, most pertinent, others not so much. Pretty soon we were out on the Interstate 15, going a leisurely 80 miles and admiring the scenery. The land out there is so bleak and so vast that it naturally inspires awe and a deep sense of isolation. The mountains that crop up alarmingly close to the roadside are stark and stern, studded with harsh rocks and nothing else.

While I was busy driving, M. snapped pictures from the passenger seat.
3.5 hours and multiple iterations of "Hotel California" later, the Vegas skyline emerged triumphantly from the desert. I have been to Vegas before, but each time I go I feel the same feeling of contentment at the first sight of the skyline. Vegas has a rejuvenating quality to it. The city itself is nothing short of a miracle, prospering (although not so much in the recent years) in the middle of the desert and being an evergreen hope-refueling station for millions for decades. During day it looks surprisingly ordinary. At night, with all the lights turned on in their full glory, it transforms into an astonishing world, one that is self-contained and endless at the same time. It is earnest without being too ironic. Which is why it is able to pull off showy gimmicks without seeming kitschy. Where else would you be able to visit a replica of the Eiffel Tower or see a miniature Statue of Liberty or a giant-ass Sphinx without lapsing into peals of derisive laughter? Vegas takes itself seriously, and that compels you to do the same. True, its unabashedly consumerist and capitalist nature turns many away, but the beauty of the strip is it offers something for everybody. You can manage to have a terrific time without once having to gamble. Or drink. Just walking around and seeing the charged crowds gliding on the hot concrete is enough to get the adrenaline going. I have walked many many miles on UCLA's campus over the last four years, but none of them can beat the walks I have taken on the illuminated strip at midnight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reader's Log Part II: The Man and the Premise

Welcome back everyone! Today I’m going to give a brief (Brief!) introduction to Rousseau and the central premise his 1762 piece, “The Social Contract.”

Rousseau was a philosopher, political theorist, and writer who graced the European arena from 1712 to 1778. He was a Calvinist-turned-Catholic generally regarded as something of a heretic. Rousseau lived a tumultuous and messy law, a portion of it on the run from censors. His achievements include founding the autobiographical genre, shaping the development of the modern novel, and inspiring almost every detail of the French Revolution.

Rousseau believes in the Republic. He envisions a system in which the people are the state. Each individual citizen gives himself and all his resources over to the state, and is henceforth both a member and a trustee of the collective good. The state itself is governed by the “general will,” which is the net sum of its citizens’ individual wills.

Why this particular system? What would a Republic of this nature give Rousseau that a constitutional monarchy, perhaps with a Bill of Rights, would not?

Rousseau believes that nothing can resist brute force. John Locke had, in the late 17th century, proposed a system of rights and limits that would intervene between the government and the people. Rousseau apparently does not think these safeguards are strong enough. Rousseau believes that the only way to protect people from the government is if the people are the government. Because the resources of the state are the resources of the people, the majority will would be backed up by the majority of force in the state. It is an elegant solution, but notoriously difficult to implement in practice.

In the coming weeks, I’ll attempt to tackle key elements of Rousseau’s theory. Please note that these are the musings of a mere student, one without much formal training and who is working outside the scope of his own department. I earnestly invite anyone interested or educated in these matters to please, please chime in and comment on these logs!

Next time: Was Rousseau a Socialist?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy first birthday UG!!!

We here at UG are very proud and happy to announce that today is this little guy's very first birthday! In a year, we published more than 150 posts and got more than 14000 visits. Now these are obviously not blogger of the year numbers, but they are fairly heartening for us since we didn't do much other than write our idle thoughts and opinions.

This auspicious day calls for a celebration so will you please put your hands together for the lovely Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday":

In addition, I have dug up four posts from our archives for you to enjoy.

  • The "On the Road" series has been the most popular reading material on this blog, with over ten installments. Initially, I conceived it as a travelogue of sorts as I traveled around the country for medical school interviews. Next week, I am leaving for St. Louis to start medical school at the Washington University. Here are my thoughts about my interview day visit to the city: On the Road-8
  • Our third blogger, Your Faithful Servant, has been largely silent over the past year but she was very vital in redecorating our site (all that fancy artwork that adorns the banner was designed by her). She seems to have preferred quality over quantity because her post about cooking a spectacular meal was, how do I say it, very filling: An America Saturday
Hope you keep coming back to our little corner of the vast internet!

Strange encounters - 2: The story of Jean-Paul Sartre and the free swipe to Late Night

Ten days ago, I wrote about how I was rudely interrupted at lunch by a girl (a complete stranger) who foisted her phone number - unsolicited - on my sudoku-deprived soul.

Writing about that encounter inspired me to write about a few more. Whereas the lunch incident was just plain bizarre, the one described in this post was pleasantly out of the norm. Coincidentally, this one happened in De Neve dining hall as well.

For years one of the major attractions of De Neve has been the availability of delicious fast food after hours i.e. from 9-midnight. This service, called late night, is enormously popular among starving (and not-so starving) UCLA students who flock there like moths to a light source, especially during finals week. Even apartment dwellers congregate here owing to the general cheapness of food.

One fine night my roommate and good friend JP and I walked up the hill from our apartment to avail ourselves of some burgers and curly fries with parmesan and a giant container of sprite. As we waited in line, I ignited a complicated philosophical debate. Around that time I was suffering through my "Sartre phase". Jean-Paul Sartre was a French post-WWII philosopher, public intellectual, litterateur, and an all-around badass who is arguably France's greatest gift to the thinking world. He provided a major boost to the philosophical movement of existentialism through his now seminal lecture "Existentialism is a humanism", and later through his numerous plays and novels and a largely unreadable opus "Being and nothingness."

In those days, I was valiantly wading through his book of collected essays and was naturally itching to discuss some of the stuff with someone. My closest target being JP (BTW I just realized my roommate and Sartre share initials, sort of), I took my aim.