In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn’t become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice we’ve ever come across, and perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education.
We made this video, built around an abridged version of the original audio recording, with the hopes that the core message of the speech could reach a wider audience who might not have otherwise been interested. However, we encourage everyone to seek out the full speech (because, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie).
In his Maclean’s column, Scott Feschuk wants to see how perceptive you are:
Looking for a fun getaway? Here are five theme cruises. Four of them you can book right now. The other? I made it up. Try to guess which one. (For the answer, scroll down past the end of the column.)
The Wizard Cruise. “Imagine!” the website says. “Imagine 600 Harry Potter fanatics, dressed in their finest wizard robes and brandishing magic wands, descending upon a modern luxury liner.” Do you have that image in your head? Now imagine all of the other passengers pointing and laughing. Imagine the three female “wizards” on board getting tired of hearing the same pickup line: “Wanna pet my hippogriff?” Imagine quidditch being a letdown because the snitch is a beach ball and a muggle keeps deflating your water wings.
Listen: I’m not saying this cruise is likely to attract a homely group of passengers, but before the voyage there will be a brief pause as the ship is christened the Self-Love Boat.
I know you won’t believe this, but college students have an inflated sense of self-worth that has been further enabled by those new-fangled social media tools.
A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.
Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.
This data is not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities — the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.
On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”
While the specifics of today’s worries differ, I’m reminded of this classic, attributed to Socrates (but not authenticated):
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
Yeah, I slept in this morning after attending Brendan’s New Year’s Eve party in Toronto. It was a nice party, although we had our traditional problems with the wine (Bren has terrible luck in the particular bottles of wine he opens when I visit). As I was driving, I only sampled the wine anyway…
Driving through downtown Toronto at two in the morning is rarely as entertaining as it is on New Year’s: between the staggering celebrants on the sidewalk stumbling into traffic and the overly-cautious-drivers trying to get past them safely, it can be frustratingly slow. Last night’s worst drivers were the cabbies — but not for the usual excessive speed/random lane change reasons. Last night, it seemed like half the cabbies were drunk or stoned … and were driving too slowly and weaving in the lane even as they were going too slowly. That, combined with their seemingly random stops to pick up and drop off customers, made the taxis even more of a hazard than they usually are.
Even more remarkable was that we saw only a single marked police car over the entire drive (no RIDE checkpoints, either). I’m sure they were out at full strength, but aside from one SUV that pulled a fast U-turn at Yonge & Carleton, they were clearly patrolling different routes than the one we took.
Just when did we take the portal to this alternate universe where Cracked is good? For example, this article:
If you want to know why society seems to shun you, or why you seem to get no respect, it’s because society is full of people who need things. They need houses built, they need food to eat, they need entertainment, they need fulfilling sexual relationships. You arrived at the scene of that emergency, holding your pocket knife, by virtue of your birth — the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people’s needs.
Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving and polite you are. You will be poor, you will be alone, you will be left out in the cold.
Does that seem mean, or crass, or materialistic? What about love and kindness — don’t those things matter? Of course. As long as they result in you doing things for people that they can’t get elsewhere.
[. . .]
The human mind is a miracle, and you will never see it spring more beautifully into action than when it is fighting against evidence that it needs to change. Your psyche is equipped with layer after layer of defense mechanisms designed to shoot down anything that might keep things from staying exactly where they are — ask any addict.
So even now, some of you reading this are feeling your brain bombard you with knee-jerk reasons to reject it.
Jason Wilson is teaching a university course called “The Geography of Wine”. He’s finding it a constant struggle to get past certain descriptive words in the wine vocabulary, because they’re not at all intuitive or meaningful to a non-wine-drinking audience.
But if there has been one stumbling block, it is when we leave the comforting aromas and flavors of fruits and flowers and herbs and enter into more challenging tasting territory: Minerality. Chalk. Tar. Tobacco. Animal. Farmyard. Petrol.
“Why would we want to drink a wine that tastes like these things?” my students want to know.
It’s a reasonable and valid question. Look, I tell them, if you’re happy and content with fruity, pleasurable red wines redolent of berries and cherries and plums or zippy, easy-to-drink whites with tangy citrus and orchards full of apples and pears… well, then that’s what you should drink without feeling any need to move beyond that. Wine should be, foremost, about pleasure — and pleasure is personal. There’s a reason that romantic comedies with happy endings, sunny, catchy pop music, mac n’ cheese, whipped cream vodka, and wearing Ugg boots with pajama pants remain popular.
But if we think more deeply about pleasure, we realize it isn’t always so straightforward or even comfortable. After all, why do so many of us love sad poems, disturbing horror films, or intense, subtitled psychological dramas. Why am I capable of loving Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or The Smith’s “Meat Is Murder” or Elliott Smith’s “From a Basement on the Hill” — while at the same time I can enjoy T. Pain, Taylor Swift, and dancing with my kids to Psy’s “Gangnam Style”?
With the arts, we inherently understand that without the darker, more confounding elements, there can be no light. Wine is no different. Just as in novels or films or musical compositions, the more complex and ambitious the wine, the more unique and potentially discomforting aromas, textures, and flavors we’ll find.
If you’re paying attention this week when you drive that tall truck down South Gregson Street, you’ll get fair warning about the low bridge ahead.
A series of yellow diamond signs, starting a block in advance, will tell you about the 11-foot, 8-inch clearance.
Then the yellow lights will go crazy, the ones with an overhead sign that says: OVERHEIGHT WHEN FLASHING.
You’ll have one last chance to escape disaster. You can turn onto Peabody Street, just before Gregson runs beneath the railroad bridge that carries freight and passenger trains across downtown Durham.
But if you’re not paying attention — you dummy! — you’ll make plenty of noise as you crash into that low bridge. It will peel the roof off your moving van. It will scatter the hay bales or building supplies stacked much too high on your flatbed.
It might leave your box truck wedged beneath the overpass. The tow-truck driver will have to deflate your tires before he can haul your sorry self away.
This is from a discussion that took place on the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list the other day (list info here) that explored some interesting notions. I emailed Ms. Bujold to ask her permission to use a quote from one of her posts, and she asked me to provide a bit more context as she wasn’t sure the portion I’d asked to use was sufficiently informative. The topic of discussion was the anima/animus mental model of what is “right” about the opposite sex many (most? all?) young people use to determine what it is to be male or female. A subtopic of that was the use or misuse of that mental model to judge potential dates/mates and the problems that that might entail.
It seems to tie in with my own notions of gender-identity formation in adolescence being principally accomplished by heatedly deleting everything seen to be associated with the opposite gender, and maturity being the slower process of regaining or recovering same to once again become a complete human being.
[. . .]
I might direct your attention to the large preponderance of “alpha males” as romance novel heroes. Very much the embodiment of those very assertive or practical qualities that adolescent women delete (or repress, if you prefer) in themselves, much to their later sorrow when they have to cope with real life, alas.
Your typical bad-boy alpha-jerk high-achieving rich hero is pretty much a grocery list of survival qualities discouraged in women, in fact.
Granted, women need to be socialized as sharers to a high degree, or their infants would never survive un-murdered. It’s a near thing as-is. (Says the experienced mom.)
I got interested in learning Esperanto in my early 20′s … and even though I never needed to speak the language in ordinary life, it was a very positive experience and I would recommend it to anyone as an easy way to limber up the brain for other learning tasks. It’s easy to learn, and success in learning helps to make the next learning experience a bit easier and more enjoyable.
I like wine cellars even more than I like wine, which is saying something. I used to have one in the basement of an 1870s stone house. This fantasy cellar had the ancient stone walls of the home’s original foundation, new rough-hewn granite floors and wine racks made from reclaimed oak by a perfectionist craftsman. It kept wine at the requisite 56F to 57F, with humidity about 70%. Who knew cellars were in basements for a reason, as temperature and humidity didn’t need much mechanical assistance here to be ideal for wine?
I loved the cellar and bought cases for it to make sure the room was picturesque — right out of a French château. The room had a 600-bottle capacity. Practically speaking, my partner and I would have been fine with a 24-bottle wine fridge, but antique chairs and an elaborate tasting table don’t suit such a setup.
After we sold the farmhouse, we disposed of the wine to friends, also indulging in a massive liquidation binge ourselves, starting with wine at breakfast.
The enduring lesson: If you like wine, you’re likely a sensualist who loves the total experience, and that includes where you store your horde.
I’ve always wanted to have a wine cellar like that, but the corner of my basement that serves as my wine cellar will have to do: I can’t even afford to keep that fully stocked (and it holds a lot less than 600 bottles). Instead of the custom-crafted redwood or polished glass and stainless steel that some high-end cellars can boast, I have a pair of wooden Ikea bottle racks. They may not have the look of the “good” racks, but they work just as well … and far less expensively.
Sell all your posessions! Live for the now! Repent your sins! Or, as Matt Ridley suggests, keep calm and carry on:
This is the question posed by the website 2012apocalypse.net. “super volcanos? pestilence and disease? asteroids? comets? antichrist? global warming? nuclear war?” the site’s authors are impressively open-minded about the cause of the catastrophe that is coming at 11:11 pm on December 21 this year. but they have no doubt it will happen. after all, not only does the Mayan Long Count calendar end that day, but “the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years.”
When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives. And the prophets of apocalypse always draw a following — from the 100,000 Millerites who took to the hills in 1843, awaiting the end of the world, to the thousands who believed in Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster who forecast the final rapture in both 1994 and 2011.
Religious zealots hardly have a monopoly on apocalyptic thinking. Consider some of the environmental cataclysms that so many experts promised were inevitable. Best-selling economist Robert Heilbroner in 1974: “The outlook for man, I believe, is painful, difficult, perhaps desperate, and the hope that can be held out for his future prospects seem to be very slim indeed.” Or best-selling ecologist Paul Ehrlich in 1968: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s ["and 1980s" was added in a later edition] the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now … nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Or Jimmy Carter in a televised speech in 1977: “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”
Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist priests. Yet there is no sign that experts are becoming more cautious about apocalyptic promises. If anything, the rhetoric has ramped up in recent years. Echoing the Mayan calendar folk, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight at the start of 2012, commenting: “The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere.”
Jacob Sullum on the recent ebook The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, by Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan.
Zimbardo’s thesis is that “boys are struggling” in school and in love because they play video games too much and watch too much porn. But he and his co-author, a recent University of Colorado graduate named Nikita Duncan, never establish that boys are struggling any more nowadays than they were when porn was harder to find and video games were limited to variations on Pong. The data they cite mostly show that girls are doing better than boys, not that boys are doing worse than they did before xvideos.com and Grand Theft Auto. Such an association would by no means be conclusive, but it’s the least you’d expect from a respected social scientist like Zimbardo, who oversaw the famous Stanford “prison experiment” that we all read about in Psych 101.
[. . .]
One source of evidence that Zimbardo and Duncan rely on heavily, an eight-question survey of people who watched Zimbardo’s TED talk online, is so dubious that anyone with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (such as Duncan), let alone a Ph.D. (such as Zimbardo), should be embarrassed to cite it without a litany of caveats. The most important one: It seems probable that people who are attracted to Zimbardo’s talk, watch it all the way through, and then take the time to fill out his online survey are especially likely to agree with his thesis and especially likely to report problems related to electronic diversions. This is not just a nonrepresentative sample; it’s a sample bound to confirm what Zimbardo thinks he already knows. “We wanted our personal views to be challenged or validated by others interested in the topic,” the authors claim. Mostly validated, to judge by their survey design.
[. . .]
Other sources of evidence cited by Zimbardo and Duncan are so weak that they have the paradoxical effect of undermining their argument rather than reinforcing it. How do Zimbardo and Duncan know about “the sense of total entitlement that some middle-aged guys feel within their relationships”? Because “a highly educated female colleague alerted us” to this “new phenomenon.” How do they know that “one consequence of teenage boys watching many hours of Internet pornography…is they are beginning to treat their girlfriends like sex objects”? Because of a theory propounded by Daily Mail columnist Penny Marshall. How do they know that “men are as good as their women require them to be”? Because that’s what “one 27-year-old guy we interviewed” said.
Even when more rigorous research is available, Zimbardo and Duncan do not necessarily bother to look it up. How do they know that teenagers “who spend their nights playing video games or texting their friends instead of sleeping are putting themselves at greater risk for gaining unhealthy amounts of weight and becoming obese”? Because an NPR correspondent said so. Likewise, the authors get their information about the drawbacks of the No Child Left Behind Act from a gloss of a RAND Corporation study in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial. This is the level of documentation you’d expect from a mediocre high school student, not a college graduate, let alone a tenured social scientist at a leading university.
In entry-level philosophy class, a professor will often present a scenario that seems to challenge the students’ perspective on morality.
The argument runs something as follows: “The entire nation of France will drop dead tomorrow unless you kill your neighbor who has only one day to live. What do you do?”
Or “You could eliminate cancer by pressing a button that also kills one healthy person. Do you do so?”
The purpose is to create a moral dilemma. The questions pit your moral rejection of murder against your moral guilt for not acting to save millions of lives.
In reality, the questions are a sham that cannot be honestly answered. They postulate a parallel world in which the rules of reality, like cause and effect, have been dramatically changed so that pushing a button cures cancer. The postulated world seems to operate more on magic than reality.
Because my moral code is based on the reality of the existing world, I don’t know what I would do if those rules no longer operated. I presume my morality would be different, so my actions would be as well.
As absurd as they are, these are considered to be the “tough” moral questions. In grappling with them, some students come to believe that being true to morality requires the violation of morality in a profound manner; after all, there is no greater violation than the deliberate murder of another human being.
But how can the life of one outweigh those of millions in your hands? At this point, morality becomes a numbers game, a matter of cost-benefit analysis, rather than of principle. This is not an expansion of morality, as the professor claims, but the manufacture of a conflict that destroys morality. In its place is left a moral gray zone, a vacuum into which utilitarianism rushes.
Do you let your cat out into the great outdoors? If you’re fond of other small creatures, you may want to reconsider that policy:
Those cute kittens whose faces are peer from endless posts on Pinterest are actually predators, and a third of those trailed in a county in Georgia are wandering around outdoors capturing and killing other animals.
The army of assassins was discovered by folks from the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Society, who strapped video cameras around the necks of 60 cats to record their atrocities for a year in a project known as KittyCam.
[. . .]
“In Athens-Clarke County, we found that about 30 per cent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey, and that those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours outdoors or 2.1 kills per week.
[. . .]
“If we extrapolate the results of this study across the country and include feral cats, we find that cats are likely killing more than four billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds,” Dr George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, cried indignantly.
“Cat predation is one of the reasons why one in three American bird species are in decline.”
On the sp!ked website, Nancy McDermott analyzes the “bus monitor bullying” video and the reaction to the situation:
By now, millions of people across the world have viewed ‘Making the Bus Monitor Cry’. For those of you who haven’t, it is a video of a slew of vile, verbal abuse against 68-year-old Karen Klein, a bus monitor from Greece, New York, from four 13-year-old boys. It is hard to know what is more shocking: the methodical cruelty with which the children ply their insults; or the grandmother’s inability to respond effectively to the humiliating onslaught.
Childish cruelty is allegedly old news, but, recorded and broadcast across the world, it is still jarring. Not only is the video footage completely at odds with the way we usually like to regard children — as innocents in need of protection — but their willingness and, more disturbingly, their success at targeting an adult is unsettling.
Yet, in reality, the video tells us less about the nature of children and more about the erosion of adult authority in American society. When adults are too timid to enforce basic standards of behaviour in public, and when other adults (in this case, the bus driver) are willing to stand by and tolerate bad behaviour aimed at a fellow adult, it’s no wonder children run wild. The depths of this problem are nowhere more apparent than in the confused reaction to the bus-monitor incident.
[. . .]
It is easy to forget in an age when so many adults find it hard to keep children under control that adults are inherently more powerful than children. Adults bear both rights and responsibilities for making and acting on their own decisions. Children, in contrast, have no real autonomy. To the extent that they have any limited independence, it is entirely conditional on the adults in their lives. And rightly so: children lack both the experience and the maturity to be held legally or morally accountable for their actions. Although we all hope children will learn to behave responsibly, we should be under no illusions as to their capacity to assume responsibility in the same way that adults do.
[. . .]
The seventh graders who taunted Klein did not do it because they lacked empathy or awareness of bullying, or because they were overcome by a claustrophobic mob mentality, or because they are worse than children anywhere else. They behaved the way they did because none of the people or institutions responsible for guiding them in their journey to adulthood set or enforced clear standards of behaviour. It is a pattern that repeats across America, not just in this little corner of New York state. The sad truth is that unless we wake up and recognise this phenomenon for what it is, and start letting children know where they stand, behaviour like that on the bus will continue.