(a tribute to Hiccup, and Happy Birthday to betaveros!)

Imagine if we stopped killing
Ended all futile strife
No need to slay or incinerate
A harmony across life

Imagine both them and us
Sharing all the world

Imagine if we weren’t foes
With those that soared the sky
Imagine if we’d not fear
Fire-breathers up high

Imagine both them and us
Caring for all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not only one
I hope someday we’ll all be friends
And we and dragons will be as one

Imagine that among life
There wasn’t this long war
That we’d just love each other
That we’d not need bleed more

Imagine both them and us
Loving all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not only one
And if we thought more for each other
Then we and dragons can be as one

(These were alternative lyrics to “Imagine” by John Lennon.)


The World where Tragedy is Exceptional

A few days ago, terrorists likely backed by the Islamic State struck Paris and Saint-Denis in what was the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II, claiming 129 innocent lives (plus the lives of 7 perpetrators) and seriously injuring 77 other people. During its aftermath, we saw a somber river of condolences. We saw extensive media coverage. We saw motivational messages of hope. We saw YouTube videos of music dedicated to the victims of the attacks. It was very clear: the attacks in Paris were a big deal, a massive tragedy.

And with the size of the media and public response to the tragedy, one would think an event of this scale is truly rare; when terrorist attacks claim hundreds of lives, this level of acknowledgement and response is called for.

And yet, here’s a list of terrorist attacks in Iraq over the past decade that were at least five times as deadly as the Charlie Hebdo shootings (that is, causing at least 60 deaths). Those more deadly than the recent Paris attacks are bolded.

[Gregorian date: Event, Death Toll]
[subtract 621 or 622 years for the Hijri year]

2005.11.18: 2005 Khanaqin bombings, 74 dead
2006.04.07: Buratha Mosque bombing, 85 dead
2006.07.01: July 2006 Sadr bombings, 62 dead
2006.11.23: November 2006 Sadr bombings, 200+ dead
2007.01.16: Mustansiriya University bombings, 70 dead
2007.01.22: January 2007 Baghdad bombings, 88 dead
2007.02.03: First February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 135 dead
2007.02.12: Second February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 76 dead
2007.02.18: Third February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 63 dead
2007.03.06: March 2007 Iraq attacks, 150+ dead
2007.03.27: Tal Afar bombings and massacre, 252 dead
2007.04.18: April 2007 Baghdad bombings, 198 dead
2007.08.14: Kahtaniya and Jazeera bombings, 300+ dead
2008.02.01: February 2008 Baghdad bombings, 98 dead
2008.03.06: March 2008 Baghdad bombing, 68 dead
2009.06.20: Taza bombings, 73 dead
2009.06.24: June 2009 Baghdad bombing, 69 dead
2009.08.19: August 2009 Baghdad bombings, 101 dead
2009.10.25: October 2009 Baghdad bombings, 155 dead
2009.12.08: December 2009 Baghdad bombings, 127 dead
2010.04.23-24: April 2010 Baghdad bombings, 85+ dead
2010.05.10: May 2010 Iraq attacks, 110+ dead
2010.07.06-08: July 2010 Baghdad attacks, 70+ dead
2010.08.17: August 2010 Baghdad bombings, 69 dead
2010.11.02: November 2010 Baghdad bombings, 110+ dead
2011.01.18-20: Baqubah, Karbala, and Tikrit suicide attacks, 130+ dead
2013.05.15-21: May 2013 Iraq attacks, 449 dead
2013.07.11-14: July 2013 Iraq attacks, 303 dead

In particular, I’d like to point out that looking up “Baghdad bombing” on Wikipedia gives you a disambiguation page, one that’s so long Prime Minister of Iraq is shorter. (List of unicorns is almost as long.)

Where is the extensive media coverage of these attacks? Where are the showers of condolences to the myriads greater number of victims of terrorist attacks in Iraq? Where are the works composed to commemorate these victims? The more one thinks about it, the more it seems likely the main reason we have stopped feeling that much for the needless loss of civilian life in Iraq, as horrid as it may sound, is that such attacks are so commonplace they don’t even feel like tragedy, they’re not even news.

But they still are tragedies. Every single one of them. Innocent human lives are still lost, and in much greater numbers. In places like Iraq, terrorist attacks flow in streams of hatred, streams that make the occasional mark delivered to the developed world seem like a drop of blood, and this fact is a far vaster and deeper tragedy, not just in its actuality, but also in our perception of the world and our vastly imbalanced recognition of events.

To me, this sends a message that we in the everyday-peaceful world really ought to cherish, for one thing, that such tragedies are rare events here, because there are actual human beings that share this earth with us that live in a place where violent retribution is a regular occurrence, where learning that a market you frequented just got bombed is a regular occurrence, where learning someone you knew was killed in a terrorist attack is a regular occurrence, where while you made that joke about an extremist blowing a building up, that fairly well could have just actually happened the next block over.

I don’t want to condemn extensive memorial activities, like the ones we have seen in the wake of the Paris attacks; they’re a nice thing to do, but they often resonate of an unawareness that in some parts of the planet this sort of tragedy is so commonplace the media doesn’t even bother to cover it any more, practically having abandoned stories of such attacks as not even news, so frequent that the memorials we in the developed world have for attacks on our land look ridiculous. Some of these attacks in Iraq occurred at memorials for previous attacks. Those that watch their friends succumb to the whims of terrorists in Iraq would wish they had time to dedicate to such remembrances, mettle to dedicate to this rather than to an actually legitimate fear that they’re next.

So please, after you mourn losses to terrorist attacks, remember the people that live somewhere where the tragedy you just saw isn’t even unusual.

How to MIT

Why Get Around MIT when you can just MIT?

Many of you will probably play Fallout 4 soon. You better get to know the Institvte. Yes, with a V.

Know Your Communities

You better know the people.

Know Your Undergrad Dorms

Senior House
Contrary to unpopular belief, Senior House does not actually house only seniors. Rather, it is the most senior of MIT’s dormitories, having existed a decade or so longer than Fred. Any cursory tour of Senior House will reveal distinctive features of buildings built in days long past, like elevators and air conditioning. Senior House’s fifth and sixth floors are very small and constitute an entity called the “Tower”. A few people live in this high place.

Senior House’s bent-piece-of-brickstrap-shaped figure embraces Gray House, the residence of the MIT president, symbolically depicting the perennial cordial synergy between Senior House and the MIT administration.

Some residents of Fred refer to their dorm as EAsT camPUS, but as the lowercase letters there tell you, that name is a scam. The actual name of the dorm is the East Campus Alumni Memorial Houses, abbreviated “Fred”.

Fred is the only MIT dorm to actually comprise of two separate buildings, although they are connected by an underground tunnel. The West parallel is home to Fred Desk (specifically, in the third of the parallel called “Munroe”, spelled like the xkcd author, not like the dickish president), home of angrily thrown packages, and adjacent Talbot Lounge, location of a mysterious diner featuring periodic harrowing and unexplained screams. These screams are known to the State of California to cause oatmeal.

To meet standards for architectural questionability that Fred otherwise fails to reach, a maimed, singed, and petrified whale carcass named Transparent Horizon (singular) is transplanted at an end of the courtyard between Fred’s two buildings. Rumors are that there are actually many Transparent Horizons.

Random Hall
You can live in Random Hall to be able to say that you lived in a dorm that was falling down, while other dorms actually succumb to structural disintegrity. You see, they say Random Hall is falling down, but ever since the 1890s, it has been an experiment in life extension, making everything live longer than it should, from buildings, to traditions, to milk.

Visit there before its toilet population shrinks below the minimum level allowed by building code. At that point, Random Hall may finally need to be closed, because heaven forbid Random ever fails to meet building codes.

Bexley Hall
Bexley Hall is the best undergraduate dorm on campus. It sports a 2.361-caliber basement laboratory, the finest artwork in all the Institvte, and doors between rooms (as well as other doors). Bexley’s cats pamper you and Bexley’s Dear Leader (or lack thereof) loves you. Basically, Bexley is the bextest and there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to live there. The only caveat is that it doesn’t exist.

Maseeh Hall
Four score and -76 years ago, the MIT administration, impressed by Bexley’s success, cloned it and inflated it into a castle. Throughout its life, Maseeh followed Bexley’s footsteps in its evolution as a dorm: it grew a sketchy dining area, it seceded from DormCom, and -39 years ago, was closed by the MIT administration after it found traces of culture.

McCormick Hall
McCormick Hall, known for its otherworldly penthouse and color-named rooms, is MIT’s all-female dormitory. It’s also a dormitory with actually decent pianos. If you bring your cello to McCormick Hall, however, expect to get your cello case searched for bombs. Possibly twice in the future when McCormick becomes a gated community.

Baker House
Baker House, MIT’s dormitory of normal college students, is MIT’s best source of very loud music and rooms shaped like pies. Each room, whether it’s shaped like a pie or not, is home to numerous pets, like armadillos and giraffes. These pets are only condoned in Baker House; other dorms only allow fish and occasionally cats.

Once a semester, Baker House drops a piano from its roof, in celebration of Dropbox, the most successful project funded by Y combinator and brainchild of Drew Houston, Bexley Hall alum and namesake of Baker House. (The ‘Baker’ part of the name comes from the fact that the dorm has a dining hall, where things are sometimes baked.) The average amount of sound emitted by the piano upon impact to the ground is the definition of the Bruno, an MIT-invented unit of aural intensity.

Some people have trouble finding their way to Baker House. If you find yourself among these people, remember to look for the building that looks like an art project by an artist not on crack.

Burton-Conner House
Formed from the fusion of Conner Hall and Burton House, Burton-Conner House has five floors despite having six floors (it actually has seven). Each of the ten floors vary refreshingly in culture, having representation from all two of the British Isles.

Numerous fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups have attached themselves to Burton-Conner House in an attempt to make it appear more Greek. Don’t let the appearance fool you.

MacGregor House
Contrary to popular belief, MacGregor residents do not spend all day inside their single dorm rooms masturbating. They’re MIT students, too: they need time to PSet. When not PSetting, they can often be seen congregating at their lounges, of which there are several per entry, the unit of social organization in MacGregor. Entries vary significantly in culture.

MacGregor also only slightly has elevators. There are no elevators in the low rise (entries F, G, H, and J), and elevators only open to one floor of each of the high rise entries (A, B, C, D, and E). In addition to the lack of elevator service, MacGregor features the MacGregor wind tunnel, bane of all undergrads unfortunate enough to live west of it (as well as grads living in Tang, if they walk) that must weather it every time they travel to campus in the winter.

MacGregor is also home to MacGregor Convenience, often dubbed “MacCon”, and is a source of food for people this far west in campus that don’t want to walk a mile east to get food. Surprisingly, it often has nicer prices than La Verde’s.

West Campus
New West Campus Houses, or “West Campus” for short (and possibly even “New House”) is the next dorm west of MacGregor, and is connected to MacGregor by a sketchy underground tunnel.

Here, social groups organize by house rather than by floor, except for everywhere where it doesn’t. Some social entities in West Campus are called “cultural houses”, because culture happens there, and some are called “numbered houses”, because their days are numbered before they’re engulfed by water. Be sure to check out the arcade, where you can play any of numerous games involving bricks.

500 Memorial Drive
Being the furthest undergraduate dorm from campus, 500 Memorial Drive attracts students with its vibrant culture and delicious dining hall food. Be sure to check out the tastefully furnished lounge (TFL).

Floors in 500 Memorial Drive are distinguished from floors in Fred in that Fred uses ordinals (“fifth west”) whereas 500 Memorial Drive uses cardinals (“five west”).

500 Memorial Drive is definitely not known by any other names.

Simmons Hall
Though often rumored to be called The Sponge for its outside appearance, Simmons Hall is actually named so because its inside resembles a sea sponge.

Simmons features a singing elevator, wide-eyed tourists and architects, beautiful terraces, above-ground laundry machines, and enough windows to sell them and buy a thousand macs, more than two per resident. Of course, they never bothered to make that upgrade. Typical Simmons Tech.

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