Acquired Taste

Sweet, salty, bitter, and sometimes delicious.

I’m going to Yale!

Posted by unbeelievable on February 28, 2009

I went a bit AWOL again, due mostly to my finger — it is just too depressing to type with one hand. I am now able to type with two fingers on my left hand (the ring and middle finger) and am really adapting quite well!

So, about Yale. No, I’m not actually moving to Connecticut, paying ungodly amounts of tuition, or studying for hours. Instead, I am “taking” two Yale courses online at The first is “The American Novel Since 1945” taught by Amy Hungerford. The second is a class in the Economics department called “Game Theory” and taught by Benjamin Polak.

The Lit class first: so far, so good. The syllabus is quite rigorous — about a book a week — and includes authors like Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Conner, Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, and Toni Morrison. I’ve only read two of the assigned books (Nabokov’s Lolita and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) so I am excited.

First book is Richard Wright’s Black Boy. It’s an “autobiography” of Wright’s life from age 4 to his time hanging out with famous writers in Paris as a young man. I say “autobiography” because many of the events in the book are contested (as I learned in lecture). Remember when Oprah got really angry at James Frey for fudging parts of A Million Little Pieces? Wright seems to have had a similar problem. (Not with Oprah, as his book was published in the mid 40’s)

I’m about halfway through the first section, and the main thing that has struck me is how much I dislike the main character. Richard, so far, has become an alcoholic (at age 6!), burned down his own house (age 4), killed a kitten (age 4-5), and has, in general, been pretty much an ***hole. Actually, Wright and Frey share something else in common. I couldn’t stand his character, either.

Black Boy is (so far) surprisingly not very much about racism. It’s more about surviving through the schoolyard, suffering in poverty, and family dynamics. Richard seems to understand that prejudice and racism surround him but doesn’t feel it in his world. In fact, he admits to singing racist songs about Jewish people with his friends. It’s just how things are. I’m expecting that will change as he grows older and interacts with the larger world.

OK, on to the next class, “Game Theory.” I can tell that Dr. Polak would be one of my favorite professors if I were at Yale. He’s funny, engaging, and is able to run his class of 200+ students as if it is a small classroom. Quite impressive, really.

The class revolves around creating strategies to get the best outcomes. A classic example discussed in the first class is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Here is the dilemma–what would YOU do?

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation.

To rat, or not to rat…that is the question. Polak points out that this dilemma is brought up time and time again in shows like Law and Order. So, what should you do?? I’m going to make you watch the lecture to find out. It’s worth it. In fact, lecture 1 was so good that I went ahead and watched lecture 2. (Maybe that just means I’m a big nerd.)

If anyone wants to be my study buddy, that would be great! Otherwise I’ll try to re-cap some of the classes when I get a chance.


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