So the drama goes on. Till now, five committee members, including two outsiders, have asked for a hiring meeting—the nightmare for the stammer J.

J remains dead silent, the same trick the Boss always plays. It worked well in the past: as time goes by, people will shift attention elsewhere and the fire will dire out.

Not this time. B and E are determined to expose J (and the Boss) to the campus. Their intention has a legitimate camouflage: the committee can only vote on matters they understand. But J is unable to specify the candidate qualification, the central issue. Then holding a meeting to discuss is a sensible way to go.

J (and the Boss) face a dilemma. Calling a meeting, J’s inability of teaching will be exposed to the campus. Remaining silent, B and E may resign, which will create more noise on campus.

Either way, it can only get uglier…


[ 798 Art Zone, Beijing, China, 7/15/2012]



On paper, J would make a great scholar: he has excellent research record. School seems lucky to have him on board. Only one problem: as a stammer, he cannot even manage a full sentence in minutes. He cannot teach.

That would be the end of the story in other normal schools, but not here where politics triumphs common sense. Despite students’ complaints year after year,  J is still standing in the classroom, squarely.  This is the school politics at its worst: it is a crime to sabotage students’ education and waste taxpayers’ money only for the political purpose.

J’s secret is simple: suck up to the boss. Do whatever the boss asks, even over the bottom line. In return, the boss covers him up. Besides inability to teaching, the boss also protected him from the  investigation of his fraud in promotion: J claimed a top publication, which turns out to be merely a proceeding paper. He completely sold his soul, if there is one.

This year the drama reaches new high. The boss appointed J to chair the hiring committee of the area outside J’s expertise. Usually the committee must meet to discuss the hiring process and qualification. Yet, despite two requests, J refuses to hold any meeting: he does not want to expose his stammer problem to the campus (there are three outside members).

Instead, he plays dirty: he emailed the committee the hiring plan without any specifications on Friday afternoon, and demanded approval by Monday. This surely infuriates the committee. The drama can only intensify…

2011-10-07 123


Our school politics is bewildering. First, there is the never-ending war between the theorists and the behaviorists. Then, there is the fight between the Jewish and the Middle East. Finally, there is the whole “DIVERSITY” BS.

But what is really toxic is the duel between the pro-boss and anti-boss camps. Because our boss is appointed rather than elected, he is insecure. Instead of doing his business, he focuses on kissing the top and pitting one camp against the one:

1) Teaching: Increasing the teaching load while others on the campus are reducing it, only because his boss hates the school which has higher market pay.

2) Hiring: We are supposed to hire talents. But now hiring is a political means. We have three lines. Yet all three are chaired by non-experts, who are, not surprisingly, in the pro-boss camp. One even refuses to hold any meeting, because of his speech disability. Top it all, common sense has that universities should focus on research and teaching. Guess what? Our boss prioritizes… DIVERSITY!!!

3) Promotion: Your political orientation is the key. The boss can go out of his way to make or break you:
a) If you are his buddy, you can pocket a million dollars, stay for nine years, without publishing a single paper. (In US research universities, for continuing employment or promotion, juniors must publish certain number of papers in top journals within 6-7 years; otherwise, they must leave.)
b) Or, even if you cannot speak a full sentence, you are still allowed to teach, year after year, if you are his buddy.

I am not sure which crime is bigger.

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[Atlanta, June, 2005]


“Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”

E’s story is typical. She got three NO votes on her promotion, a nonfatal but disturbing outcome. Indeed, she is so disturbed that she now stops talking to three colleagues she suspects.

The situation should not go this bad. First, the meeting is supposed to be confidential. But apparently her confident told her all. The breach makes P. a causality of academic politics: because of his less supportive comments, he is now E’s archenemy.

The other two enemies are largely E’s own making. Two years ago, the Boss wanted to screw his oppositions with tailored measures. But like Obama, he wants to lead from behind, watching others to fight the war for him. Despite colleagues’ warnings, E did the fight for the benefit of one more resume line,  believing that will seal her case. But she failed to see the political cost of upsetting B and R, who cast the critical votes on her promotion.

E will get the promotion, time will heal the wound, but the scar of the school politics will forever stay.


[Rocky Mountain National Park , CO, 5/3/2013]


Decomposition is a lethal method in analysis. The  idea is to break up the object in question into well-known elements through a logical process. It is a powerful tool for a wide range of problems.

Take programming for an example. For a beginner, the binary world of coding is daunting. Even picking a universal language is not an easy task: Java, C, C++, C#, Python, FORTRAN, all have their fans and haters. Then there are different programming paradigms (procedural or object-oriented), and specific applications (Mathematica and MAPLE for mathematicians, MATLAB for engineers, SAS and R for statisticians, EXCEL and VBA for business folks). The variety is mind-bogging.

But through the lens of decomposition, you can see they all share the same logical core, i.e., they all break down to two fundamental operations: IF condition and loop. All programs, be your WINDOWS OS or iPhone Apps, large or small, are all constructed with these two bricks.

The second example is how the analytical papers in economics and business are written. Like any other papers, they all tell a story. What set them apart—or give them an authoritative tone—is the use of math models. Here, again, decomposition is the key: all analytical models boil down to either optimization or game (equilibrium).


Indeed, game thinking is so pervasive that people use it without knowing it consciously. Here is an urban legend.

People like to play with little Bill Harrison, a seemingly dumb kid. They offer him a penny and a nickel to choose and keep. Bill always picks penny, making everybody laugh. People love to play this game with him; never get tired .

One day, an old lady asks little Bill: “don’t you know a nickel worth more than a penny?”

“I know”, Bill smiles, “but if I pick the nickel, no one is going to play that game with me again.”


[Atlanta aquarium, June, 2006]


When I first moved to LA, Cindy was the only one I knew. A shining star, she is my high school classmate. But we were never close.  To my surprise, she invited me to her birthday party.

There I met Bill and Southpark couple. Southpark is the administrator of a LA online community. She held party every weekend in her apartment. Bill is a basketball fan, which made it much easier to fit in. Later, in their weekend parties, I also met Rae, Jason, Jenny and Kevin couple.

For the next one year, the eight of our LA Gang partied every weekend. We watched Rose Bowl parade in Pasedena, attended the ZGX concert in Las Vegas, BBQ in Westwood, played UNO in Jenny’s place, or sang Karaoke in San Gabriel (Rae is terrible but genuinely believed her singing skill).  It was one of the happiest time in my life.

But no party lasts for ever. A year later, Bill couple had their first daughter. The housing became an issue. LA has ridiculous housing price—the starting price for a condo is half million. For bigger house, they decided to relocate to Houston.

After their departure, the party was never the same. No one has South park’s  passion and personal skills. I hang out with Rae, Jason, and Cindy sporadically. But not as fun as before. A year later Rae graduated and left LA, too. Then Jenny and Kevin couple got into the nasty drama of divorce… Things just fall apart.


[LA, CA, 2008-2009]