January 2009 Archives

Some Fabulous Lesser-Known Speeches

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My friend is a rhetoric major, and she needs to analyze a single text for her senior thesis. She doesn't like to analyze single texts, preferring instead to compare two or more texts. So, I suggested for her a couple awesome speeches that nobody knows about.

I'm not saying that "I Have a Dream" and "The Ballot or the Bullet" or Reagan's Challenger address are insignificant. In fact, "we slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God" remains the single best use of iambic meter in the 20th century. But each of those famous speeches has been analyzed hundreds of times over. Little new is left to discover. To that end, I've created a list of less-well-known speeches that are pretty cool:

The Rev. Al Sharpton, 2004 DNC: This speech is incredible because of its shape, and the power of its meaning. Written in two parts, it slowly ramps up through the first half into the second half's staggering crescendo, finally ending on the most patriotic use of Ray Charles I've ever heard.

Awesome line: "Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham." Believe it or not, it gets better from there.

Full audio: click here

Barbara Bush, Wellesly College Commencement: Just a nice grandiose speech. So many commencement speakers try to be so expansive, and to deliver "the speech that will define the graduates' time at the school." Really, though, the best of them simply speak gently and humorously, and join in the celebration.

This speech closes with a gem, though: "Thank you," she says, "and may your future be worthy of your dreams."

Full audio: click here

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Cape Town University: This speech is rather well-known, but it has the best opening of any I can recall. Really you should listen for yourself (link just below), but the opening paragraph is simply stunning. Revolutionized a generation's way of thinking:

"I come here this evening because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once the importer of slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America."

Full audio: click here

President Obama's White House

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A recent NY Times article discussed how President Obama is a lot more casual with his white house, allowing staffers to enter the Oval Office without suit jackets, and declaring "business casual" weekends. The article ends with the best yet quote, from a retired military official who visited the Oval Office last week to discuss closing Guantanamo Bay:

"He looked around," said retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, "and said, 'I've got to do something about these plates. I'm not really a plates kind of guy.' "

The Last Frontier

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Fermilab particle physicist on the continuing search for the Higgs boson:

Imagine that the Earth was completely shrouded in clouds from the time of its creation. Imagine that Humans had evolved for millions of years under these clouds, knowing nothing about the sun, the moon, or the stars except for every 24 hours it gets light, and it gets dark. Now imagine that we send up a probe one mile, but it can't see anything because it's still surrounded by clouds. We send up a probe ten miles, and the same thing. 100 miles, and the same thing. We could use all the latest technology to send up a probe 1,000 miles, and it could still be surrounded by the clouds. But for all we know, the latest probe could have stopped just 10 feet from the edge of the cloud layer. How can you stop sending up probes when you could be that close to seeing the sun and the moon and the entire rest of the universe for the first time in the history of humankind?

-OPB's Independent Lens

Loose Meat to Tie Up

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Some little things I've accumulated over the last couple days:

  • The closing line from a NY Times review of the Met production of "Rigoletto": "The performance the Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza, in his debut, drew from the Met orchestra was lively and full-bodied, though prone to rushed tempos and sloppiness." That's what we call a barometric sentence, because its spans the entire emotional spectrum.
  • A recent study shows that consumers, when asked to choose their own price for a buffet restaurant, paid an average of 80.7% of the normal price. However, during the study, the gimmick attracted so many consumers that overall daily revenues increased 32.4%. In a deli that was also part of the study, customers paid an average of 9.8% more than the going price for hot beverages, which the study attributes to the deli's face-to-face service. The "name your own price" technique has gained increased public attention since Radiohead allowed fans to choose a price for their 2007 album In Rainbows.
  • Bored? My band director recommends www.cutethingsfallingasleep.org. I can see its appeal, though I prefer to waste my time on the arts (music) and business (advertising) pages of the NY Times... 

One last thing: Give yourself a cookie if you identified the title reference to Roseanne. I've never seen the show, nor do I really know what it's about (though it has something to do with a woman named Roseanne whom my mom finds annoying and I find boring), but my dad repeatedly tells me about the "loose meat" jar on the counter, from which people make loose meat sandwiches. Something about that appeals to me, and I have a "loose meat" folder on my computer, inside "My School Documents," where I keep all my miscellaneous files. (Fascinatingly, the corresponding folder inside "My Recreational Documents" is simply named "miscellaneous." It must have been created at a different time in my life.)

The Noah Zaves Index of Classy Movies

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As a connoisseur of the arts, for the last month I've listed classy movies worthy of mention. As I went along, I realized that they must be divided into three eras, Early, Seventies/Eighties, and Modern. Furthermore, the modern era comprises three subcategories: Politics, Romantic Comedy, and Action.

A note on methodology: I classified movies based on the confluence of certain criteria, including historical significance, American popularity, and basic viewing excitement. In my opinion, I rate these movies as worthy not just of watching once, but of watching again and again for repeated (or even increasing) enjoyment. Here is the list:

Early Era:
-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
-Desk Set
-To Catch a Thief
-Perry Mason (Actually a TV show, but it never gets old. Up here in Oregon, they broadcast it daily at noon.)
-Dirty Dancing
-Sleepless in Seattle
-When Harry Met Sally
-Ferris Bueller's Day Off
-The Princess Bride
Modern Era:
Political films:
-Wag the Dog
-Charlie Wilson's War
Romantic Comedies:
-10 Things I Hate About You
-Never Been Kissed (romantic comedy)
Action films:
-Ocean's 11
-Catch Me if you Can
-The Italian Job
-National Treasure (though somewhat less than the others)
Hope you enjoy these films. Feel free to use this handy guide if you need help deciding what to watch. (Don't forget about the inter-library loan system if you don't want to rent.) Coming soon: Get excited for a Mel Brooks/Monte Python addendum...

Joseph Ratzinger.

Even if he weren't a member of the Hitler Youth, the name alone sends shivers down a Jewish spine. So nobody was really surprised when he cancelled the excommunication of four Holocaust-denying bishops punished by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Some highlights of the NY Times article:

-In 1988, the four Holocaust-denying Bishops were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II because they resisted the modernizations codified at the Second Vatican Council. Among these were the inclusion of the vernacular in the Mass to make it more accessible, and official recognition (at last) that the Jews didn't kill Christian children and drink their blood. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reached out to the bishops, helping them continue their ultra-conservative, and anti-Jewish views.

-Recently, the Pope continued his concessions to the group, approving a more traditional version of the Mass that implores Jews to convert to Catholicism. (The version had been replaced during Vatican II in a fit of friendliness toward Jews.)

-One implication of the Pope's Holocaust-denying actions is that Israel will cancel its papal invitation for later this year.

So it looks like the Pope really screwed himself over on this one, after convincing everybody for years that he "hadn't really supported the Nazis." But then again, what did you expect from a guy named Joseph Ratzinger?

New Pepsi?

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Those were my only two thoughts as I stood transfixed before a stack of Pepsi cases today in Target. Featuring a dark navy background, that says simply "Pepsi," and the red-blue-and-white logo twisted around itself, the new design simply grabbed my attention and wouldn't let it go.

In general, I'm a fan of simple pop-art-esque designs. My favorite can drink is Safeway's Orange Soda, a simple orange can with black lettering featuring a stylized orange, nothing more. The soda inside is delicious, to be sure, but not nearly as satisfying as the can's calming simplicity. And it's totally cheap, too!

Sadly,* I've never been a fan of Pepsi. My priorities in a cola are the weight of the flavor and the body. Coke's had Pepsi beat in those departments for a number of years. Of course, I'm willing to keep an open mind. Visionaries like Albert Einstein, Immanuel Kant, Aaron Mandel and John F. Kennedy have built entire careers on their open-mind skills. (To be fair, Kant's career was predicated more on his questions about the nature of existence, but how else could he have been so inspired?) Thus, I'm willing to continue tasting Pepsi and comparing it to Coke, and even to non-mainstream colas like Shasta and RC. However, judging by my past patterns of experience, I will continue enjoying the taste of Coke despite the appeal of Pepsi's new design.

*because the can design appeals to me

So, you know Star Wars?

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This dude has a friend who's seen "bits and pieces" of it, and he asks her to piece the plot together. Oh, and he "animated" her narration. Not gonna lie, it's kinda awesome:


Help a Brother Out

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My brother, in fact. His friend George Pascoe is a musician, and is in a Yamaha competition. He'd like for you to vote for him. Pay attention, because these directions make a 15th-century pirate map look easy:

1) Go to yamaha.com/thehub

2) Click on "Celebrate Your Music" in the upper-left corner

3) Click the play button under "Contestant Submission #3"

4) In the middle of the page, click the banner that says "vote for George Pascoe"

5) Listen to his music. If avant-garde is your style, then you might enjoy it...

By the way, the competition is over tomorrow, so vote quickly. :-)

I got an e-mail from e-mail

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Last night, I got an e-mail from e-mail. (Specifically, I sent a message to someone whose address doesn't exist anymore, and their e-mail system answered me back automatically.) It got me thinking, though: If e-mail can send itself, especially when humans are no longer associated with their old addresses, then what's to stop thousands of old e-mail addresses from having conversations with each other, sending "failed delivery" messages back and forth at lightning speed, all around the world.

It reminds me of the West Wing episode where Leo McGarry's secretary Margaret crashed the White House's e-mail system by replying to a widely-circulated e-mail. This was back in the early days of computers, so someone's automatic vacation response replied to everyone on the list, triggering several other automatic vacation responses and overwhelming the system. Of course, this had nothing to do with the actual point of the episode, and Leo didn't care nearly as much as Margaret worried that he would.

It also reminds me of a thing we do at my summer camp's staff meetings. At the end of the meeting, we can acknowledge people who've worked exceptionally hard, (like for example Aaron Mandel), by "giving them a kudo." On a side note, it's a great system, and a wonderful way for colleagues to appreciate each other. But on one Wednesday night several summers ago, Marqus stood up and declared "I'd like to give a kudo to kudo!" It seems Marqus was appreciative of all the work that kudos had done to improve morale at camp. I wasn't actually there that night, but I've heard stories.

Risk: Game of Awesomeness

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Today I played Risk for the first time. It's one of the coolest board games I've ever encountered. (Basically, each player tries to take over the world by strategically conquering territories and continents on a map of Earth.) It appeals to me both on a political and on a logical level.

It's worth noting that my parents nearly broke off their engagement because of a game of Risk that had become particularly intense. From my game today, I can see how that would happen... :-P