Play Chess!

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Chess.com, a site where users can register and immediately play with chess players of a similar skill level for free.

Instead of the RAM-crunching multi-dimensional, high tech video games that used to consume my weekends, I often have spent them honing my skill as a chess player. Chess looks boring and annoying, and to most, it is. It is outdated, oversimplified, and completely devoid of color. But within the 64 black and white tiles, there is an element of freedom that has never been present in any other game devised by man.  From the first move, there are literally hundreds of options, thousands of openings and an infinite amount of games. When stripped of colors, details, and technology, the game becomes the closest thing to a battle of minds on earth.

Each player, through the way that they navigate the board in the effort of achieving the mate, forms their own personality. Though the greats are best known for their personalities, each developed chess player has their own flairs and tendencies. Blackburne was like Picasso with mating sequences, Carlsen is notorious for his calm positioning and patience of a man at least three times his age.

Past a certain threshold of understanding the rules and working to understand the rules and subtleties of the game, the game begins to show off your style. Are you passive or are you aggressive? Are you strong positionally, or tactically? The game will not only teach you the methodology and thinking patterns that world champions follow, but also will teach you quite a bit about yourself. 

Review: West End London’s Hamilton

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I have been one of those irritating Hamilton fanboys for over two years now, despite not having seen the play (up until now). 

In 2015, I independently read Ron Chernow’s biography of The Hamilton and I instantly thought to make it into a play (or a musical). I had it thoroughly pictured too– Hamilton as the gifted politician matching wits with Jefferson on the constitutional convention floor, Hamilton resigning himself to private life for the first time after Phillip’s death. Like many people at their Eureka moment, I went straight to google and typed in “HAMILTON PLAY”. I was greeted with a silhouette of Hamilton thrusting his hand into the air with a black star behind me. Naturally, I was upset that someone had stolen my idea, but I was excited to see how the idea thief had put the story into musical form. By the time I made it out to Broadway, the ticket prices had made me less excited to see it. 

I told (and still tell) this story to everyone who mentions the show. I talk of Lin-Manuel Miranda and me as if we were equals, as if I — given three or so more years — could have produced an equally good (if not better) product. 

Today, after been given the tickets as a generous gift, I realized that even if I had Miranda’s connections and dedication, I could not have possibly dreamt of bringing Hamilton! to the stage as well as he has. Though at times somewhat historically misrepresentative of certain characters, these misrepresentations perhaps aid the story and bring out the most accurate story of the most inspirational true American story ever told. Horatio Alger is not needed to show young Americans and Englishmen alike how far hard work and pure dedication (combined with a bit of brilliance) can take a man in life. 

The music and the songs themselves are of course brilliant. Even the titles themselves subtly reappear throughout the musical, and subtly appeal to the audience. Eliza briefly reprises a lyric from one of the songs towards the beginning of the show, ask-singing, “Why are you writing like you’re running out of time?” the morning Hamilton furiously scribbles his will and testament before leaving for his duel with Aaron Burr. He is running out of time.”The Story of Tonight” is not only Hamilton and company meeting for the first time in a New York tavern, but also Hamilton! itself! 

The story is also pure perfection, most likely the best narrative I have ever seen in a live performance. The characters and actors are charismatic and (for the most part) instantly likable, even the “antagonist” Thomas Jefferson is lovable in the midst of his flamboyant and arrogant persona. Aaron Burr, the notoriously unbelieving politician, serves as a perfect foil to Hamilton to brilliantly expose both the strengths and flaws in both characters. Hamilton himself is somewhat oversimplified- but this is a necessary sacrifice in order to create fully coherent 2.5-3 hour playtime. He is young and brilliant, an orphan who carries with him a desperate need to prove himself to everyone he sees. These characters masterly needle through the script’s outrageously funny moments, and its chokingly tear-jerking moments, to weave together a thoroughly moving performance. A fascinating and capturing performance based off a man who could very well be described with the same words. 

10/10

 

How Trump Uses Social Media as a Means of Directness

Whether or not you think Donald Trump is a good or bad president, it cannot be denied that he has pulled out victories out of what seemed like unattainable depths: the New York Times famously reported that Trump only had a 15% chance of winning the 2016 Presidential Election. However, thanks in part to multiple social media movements and campaigns,  Mr. Trump was able to snag the victory from the favorite yet somewhat electronically silent Hillary Clinton. That’s not saying that Hillary Clinton wasn’t at all active on Twitter; in fact, she averaged twice as many daily tweets as Trump, releasing a whopping 27 tweets per day. Relatively, Trump’s 11 daily tweets seem quite puny. However, it is the infectiously mean and somewhat entertaining quotes that Trump produced that seemed to gain far more traction with Twitter users than anything Hillary tweeted. Though Hillary has the more popular tweet of the two, simply asking The Donald to “delete [his] account” with over 700 thousand likes, Trump immediately pushed back, asking Hillary how many working hours her massive social media force put in to create the tweet, also his most popular tweet of the year with 277 thousand likes. These tweets are so overwhelmingly popular for a reason: they are breaking down formalities in politics. Through twitter, Donald Trump has spearheaded the movement for politics brewing down to a simple shouting match between candidates, a perfect combination of entertainment and brutal discreditation of opponents. Though it is certainly not nice of Trump, and may merit the uproar that his enemies have brought up against Trump’s twitter rampages, it has certainly worked in his favor.

Review: Kids See Ghosts, by Kanye West and Kid Cudi

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Kid Cudi and Kanye West are back together yet again, and their friendship proves to re-enforce their reputation as one of the best collaborations that have ever occurred in rap music. 

“Feel the Love” starts off the album on a fantastic note, with Cudi singing the simple yet epic chorus, his trademark. The beat seems to be made for Cudi’s voice, and together even the ultra-repetitive chorus sticks in a listener’s ears. Kanye drops the best onomatopoeic verse of his career in this song, firing vocal guns into the microphone. 

“Fire” continues with a strong, marching beat. While being more instrumentally focused with steady tambourine (and occasional flutes?), Cudi and Kanye both drop angry and somewhat psychedelic choruses and verses. It manages to be internally questioning and externally powerful and sassy. Perhaps this song serves to symbolize the personas of both Cudi and Kanye (neither have been seen as shy in their careers despite both suffering from severe mental issues and depression).

“4th Dimension” serves the best beat of the album and perhaps of the three albums Kanye has produced, sampling a Christmas song by Louis Prima. The song finds Cudi and Kanye at their collective sharpest wits as well. 

“Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” truly is a sequel in every way to the original “Ghost Town” from Kanye’s “ye” album, a victorious anthem dedicated to psychological liberation. Anyone who has ever accomplished something difficult would quickly come to know and love this song. 

“Reborn” is a song straight out of Cudi’s debut album “Man on the Moon” all the way back in 2008. From the light pianos to Cudi’s repetitive hooks and (somewhat annoying moaning), everything about this song is a time capsule to a decade ago. Appropriately, this song is about moving forward and finding peace in acknowledging the past and issues and rolling with them. Again, both Kanye and Cudi achieve every goal they set out on this song, acknowledging each of their personal struggles but putting forward a tone of firm acceptance and picking oneself up and moving on, no matter where. The song is somewhat therapeutic. 

“Kids See Ghosts” is an extraterrestrial song. The entire song is completely unorthodox. Cudi mumbles quietly in his verse, but his lyrics come across completely clearly, and so does his even quieter chorus. Kanye’s verse comes in as a saving return to form, and his verse talks about the confidence depletion that ironically comes with being successful. Perhaps this song is about seeing spirits and ghosts, things that shouldn’t exist but still do. Mos Def (or Yasiin Bey) continues on this theme, coldly describing a world with “stability but no stasis”, a confused world where synonyms may not exist at the same time. 

“Cudi Montage” is the last song finally is the external song on the album. Cudi speaks of the difficulty of bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, and wonders what light he could possibly shed on the world. But Kanye already knows what light he has to shine. After enough introspection, Kanye West talks about what bothers him in the world. What bothers him in 2018? The worldwide desire for peace growing as a trend, yet the quintessential unending cycle of violence and revenge, a positive loop of death, continuing to exist. The chorus matches the spiritual moments of “Ultralight Beam” from 2016, a hymn-like refrain sung by Mr. Hudson, Kanye, and Cudi, taking turns singing different parts each time the chorus comes around. It is ingenious and amazing, and without a doubt the best song on the album. 

Overall I could not recommend the album enough. It is a brisk and well-selected psychedelic rock/rap masterpiece that’s brilliance cannot be denied. 

9/10.

“And What’s the Deal With Airplane Food?”

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Gorgeous “Pasta” Option Courtesy Du United Airlines

 

There is nothing like sitting down in a cramped seat between two people who have no intention of talking to each other for eleven hours. A lot of people say, “Life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.” If vacations are like that, perhaps it would be a better idea for me to stay home. 

But a winning bliss of the international airline experience is the food. This food is terrible by almost every means. It is disgusting and processed, drenched with oil, making it greasy in all the wrong places and dry in all the places where even grease would be appreciated. 

Still, there is something mystical about the food, because for me, it cements the idea of being a voyager. Simply sitting for eleven hours may not be the most heroic of actions, but eating hot food that was prepared and wrapped in plastic days in advance for travelers is an experience unique to flying, one that makes me feel like an astronaut. 

In the modern American world, it is rare and uncommon for people to physically struggle (especially in the food sector). Perhaps it is the airplane food that cements (to me at least) that the airplane experience is truly on a different frontier.  And it makes me feel grateful for the food we do have back on the ground. 

 

McDonald’s is Criminally Underrated

McDonald’s is not a restuarant frequently named as a favorite for cultured eaters. 

Perhaps that is why I get exasperated looks or sarcastic remarks whenever I say that McDonald’s is my favorite restaurant. But to me, there is a certain flavor of Americanism and value in each fry, one that is certainly seen in many fast food chains, but one that cannot be topped at McDonald’s. 

The restaurant was founded by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1933 with the goal of making quality American meals available in seconds, making it one of the first “fast food” restaurants in America. Though it’s San Bernardino location was possible, it was not until Ray Kroc joined McDonald’s in the 50’s that McDonald’s began to grow into the global franchising corporation we know it to be today. 

Today, McDonald’s continues to represent America to the fullest extent. It is the classic American “first job” for bored teenagers and immigrants alike. Each McDonald’s has a special place in each American community because it provides such comfortable and agreeable “first jobs” in a country where such jobs are rapidly becoming less and less available. 

It goes without saying that the food at McDonald’s is not healthy. It never made the claim of being healthy (though recently it has been attempting to rebrand). Morgan Spurlock’s stinkpiece documentary “Supersize Me” has Spurlock’s, a clean vegan, eat only McDonald’s for 90 days, only taking the “Supersize” option when he is asked to by attendants. Needless to say, he vomits, gains weight, and cries. I watched the documentary at age 10, and immediately swore off McDonald’s for years. It was only until recently that I realized how fickle and superfluous Spurlock’s documentary was. 

Of course Mcdonald’s is unhealthy. Of course a clean vegan’s stomach will not appreciate nothing but McDonald’s for ninety days. If anything, Spurlock’s documentary is an advisory tale to eat McDonald’s in moderation – but I think that most people know that already. 

What is beautiful about American capitalism is that after the outrage caused by “Supersize Me”, McDonald’s almost immediately abandoned it’s Supersize size, and moved to rebrand itself, selling salads and making it’s nutrition facts for foods widely available.

That is the amazing inherent Americanism around McDonald’s, it is a money making machine, but one that depends on the satisfaction of its consumers. If that isn’t americanism, I don’t know what it is.

 

Liberal Arts Colleges vs. Research Universities: A Brief Guide.

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Pomona College, a liberal arts college ranked ahead of Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Chicago on the Forbes Top Colleges List

Towards the end of the Senior year of high school, it is traditional for seniors to give juniors advice on the incoming application season. Some of us recommend working on essays in the summer, some say that there’s always room for improvement for SATs and ACTs, and some say to just relax and know that everyone ends up happy wherever they go. 

My one recommendation strayed from the norm a little bit; I recommended to apply to more liberal arts colleges. A common misconception among high school students and parents is that a liberal arts college and a student with any interest in STEM do not match, that liberal arts colleges do not accommodate STEM majors and minors. However, this could not be less true. 

The difference between a liberal arts college and a research university is that a liberal arts college focuses on learning in an extremely intimate environment, and on solely a undergraduate level; a research university prioritizes research predominantly for masters and doctorate students, while still providing an undergraduate experience for students with opportunities to research on the graduate level. 

This isn’t a stink piece on research universities. Research universities are fantastic institutions– they serve as the premiere facilities for the advancement of knowledge on a global scale. They also are amazing in the vast opportunities that they provide students to be involved in such research activities. 

But is undergraduate education as carefully nurtured and cared for at research universities as it is at liberal arts colleges? Almost always, the answer is no. A common complaint at research universities is that professors are terrible teachers, that they have clearly only been hired for the purpose of leading research. At top liberal arts colleges, such complaints  are difficult to be found. 

As for the lack of STEM misconception, to some extent it is actually true. At liberal arts colleges, there will most likely be a lacking amount of research opportunities compared to research universities. But if research is not a primary aim of an undergraduate student, in terms of teaching, many liberal arts colleges excel in STEM majors over research universities. Schools like Reed College, Harvey Mudd College, and Carleton College are world-renowned for their mathematics and engineering undergraduate programs. 

 Liberal arts colleges are definitely not objectively better than research universities. However, as a student ponders of which schools to apply to this fall, I recommend to them all to at least not rule out liberal arts colleges.

 

Review: Avengers: Infinity War

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Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.

There is a spoiler alert in effect.

Avengers: Infinity War is Disney/Marvel’s new bid for a summer blockbuster in 2018, and it has without question succeeded. The movie has made nearly $2 billion globally so far, making it second in total gross to only Avatar. 

I myself saw the movie a few weeks ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie combines dozens of characters who I and many Americans have come to know and love, such as Chris Hemsworth’s hilariously charming and witty Thor, Chris Pratt’s loveable Star Lord, and of course Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. The script for this movie combines the characters that were previously light years apart smoothly, and they all interact with each other on screen better than anyone could have imagined. 

The villain in this movie, Thanos, is also one of the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen so far. His power his unquestionable, but his interactions with Gamora, his adopted daughter, serve to reveal both his conflict and a pretty interesting argument behind his drive to destroy (half) the universe. 

Each of the infinity stones also play a crucial role in the plot. In fact, they almost are the driving elements of the movie, in addition to being the driving elements of the universe. As Thanos continues his quest to gain each stone, the ones he has help both him and the heroes in different ways. 

The fight scenes in this movie are breathtaking, and the special effects are better than almost any movie I’ve ever seen. 

However, the ending of the movie is frankly awful. Essentially, the movie ends with Thanos winning, or eliminating half of the universe. Of course, this means some key characters die in this movie. The ones who do die include: Black Panther, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Star Lord and all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora, Dr. Strange, and a handful of others. However, there is frankly no way that Disney would allow these characters to actually be dead. For example: Guardians of the Galaxy is a billion dollar franchise, that actually has a third movie in the works. How can there be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with the entire cast of Guardians of the Galaxy dead? Black Panther is the second highest grossing film ever released by Disney, and it is still in theaters. It is also highly unlikely that they will simply let the Black Panther die. 

But the reason for such a terrible ending to the movie is simple: so that Disney and Marvel can turn every moviegoer of Infinity War: Part 1 into a moviegoer of Infinity War: Part 2. No one can stand to see the family friendly movie-maker end the film on such a low note, and the second Infinity War will be the only solution to the bitter and lost feeling that comes at the end of Infinity War. Though eventually I am sure the bitter feeling will be a thing of the past, it will still definitely be with me for at least another year. 

6/10.

 

Why The NFL’s “Anti-Kneeling Rule” Isn’t Right, But Is Legal

Recently, the NFL passed a rule that fines players if they choose to kneel during the national anthem. This came after the extremely politically charged action caused a severe drop in ratings of NFL games, and severe rebuke from the President of the United States, who recently disinvited the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles to meet at the White House due to some members of the team performing the gesture. 

While perhaps forcing players to comply and not raise concerns on the field is not fair to the players themselves, it is without doubt a fully legal motion for the NFL to take. The NFL is not a government-run organization (though its use of penalties and suspensions may make it seem as one), rather it simply serves as a private organization that conglomerates all players and teams. As such, while they do not have the right to enforce fines on players, they do have the right to make the choice of paying fines or being ejected from the league. While they may not have legal authority to force a fine out of a player, they certainly have the legal authority to eject a player from the league. They are further legally backed since each player signs a contract detailing infractions in the league and fines required as a result.  

Many in support of players kneeling during the anthem have argued that the ban on kneeling is flatly illegal, however this could not be further from the truth. Though whether or not is wrong for the NFL to ban kneeling, it is without question that it is legal.

Fun Fact: Money collected from fines is not utilized by the NFL itself. Rather, it goes to former player’s associations that treat retired NFL players who may have been damaged or hurt as a result of the sport. 

 

The Supreme Court’s Decision on the Colorado Cake Case and Why It Should Be Considered a Victory for Both Parties

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Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop

The Supreme Court has recently ruled on the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, 7-2 in favor of the Cakeshop. Though many have argued that this case serves to hurt and allow for further discrimination of LGBT individuals based off religion, the ruling is actually a restrengthening of the first amendment of freedom expression (or lack of expression thereof). 

For those not previously aware of the course, the suit arose after a gay couple referred the owner of a Cakery, Jack Phillips to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after he refused to create a wedding cake for them. The Commission ruled in the couple’s favor, and Phillip proceeded to sue the commission on the grounds of disruption of his freedom of expression of religion. Phillips argued that the cakes he makes are forms of artistic expression, and as such, he should not be made legally obligated to express himself in a certain way if his religious beliefs make him unwilling to do so. 

The decision can be found here. I highly recommend reading it. In it, Kennedy writes the opinion of the court, insisting that making a cake is a form of expression, not a form of service. As such, Phillips should not be under any legal obligation to express himself in any way, especially if it is against his religion. 

I cannot personally agree with Phillips’ evident homophobia, nor do I personally believe his treatment of the gay couple was fair or logical. However, I believe that everything he did was completely legal. People should not be made to say or express themselves in any way, even if it is discriminatory to not do so. 

For this reason, this is a great reaffirmation of civil liberties guaranteed to American citizens by birth. If such liberties were withheld, America would be taken towards another step towards totalitarianism.