22 June 2005

My favorite commencement speech so far

Everywhere across America, college seniors have graduated this May and June. My own graduation ceremony two years ago was mercifully short and it didn't rain!

In honor of this occasion, I wanted to post a link to my favorite commencement speech, given by (then) Dean Brodhead of Yale College. The speech was touching, relevant, and down-to-earth. I have to say, most commencement speeches suck. They are either irreverent like the Car Talk guys or grandiose (no need to give examples) and almost always useless. Well done, Dr. Brodhead (who, by the way, is now the president of Duke).

17 June 2005

The decline of high culture

Sometimes I hear about a past America where people wrote better (stylistically and vocabulary-wise) and people were more interested in culture that went beyond their narrow life experiences. I wonder if it's true. Maybe I'm imagining things or being nostalgic. Yet a recent New York Times op-ed piece seems to corroborate my feeling that popular culture was different a couple generations ago.

I lamented the decline of writing skills a while ago in a February post. Imagine a society where middle-class people spend their leisure time reading literature and find world politics interesting. Why has that world disappeared? Part of the reason may be economic. It seems like many middle-class families have parents who both work full time, perhaps even overtime. After taking caring of the kids, there isn't much time left. I think another reason may be the career-driven, goal-oriented nature of today's society. We're too busy trying to match or better the living standards of our parents, trying to be as successful as the people we see on TV and read about in the papers. And there's the backlash against the American melting pot. Maybe people are sick of hearing about diversity and the rehashed mantra of learning about other cultures. Maybe they just want to protect what they know.

15 June 2005

Link of the day: language, culture, and politics

Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist who caught my attention when I read a profile on him in the Stanford alumni magazine.

You can find more information about him on his website.

What caught my interest is Nunberg's talent in applying his academic knowledge of linguistics to politics and culture. Nunberg is quite well known for his witty commentary on the NPR radio show "Fresh Air" and in the New York Times. Check out this link for audio segments from Fresh Air and this link for some of his written commentary.

Addendum to future projects list

8) Launch home-made rockets. Apparently, this is a hallmark of budding young engineers and scientists. I was supposed to do this as a child, but I'm making up for lost time.

9) Learn to drive and buy a car (probably used).

13 June 2005

Future projects

It's summertime -- that time of year when life becomes less hectic for us academics and we have time to think about the course of our lives. I've decided to post a few of the long-term (non-academic) projects I have in the pipeline:

1) Work out more often and build a ripped body (well, maybe). I currently go to the gym three times a week, but my workouts aren't too serious.

2) Build a Linux box (down with Microsoft!)

3) Learn more about personal finance and investing.

4) Score another goal in an ice hockey game. I have one so far.

5) Ice skate on the Netherland canals.

6) Visit Maine and Arcadia National Park.

7) Visit Italy and see Michaelangelo's sculptures.