Watch: The only commencement speech you ever really have to watch but okay you don’t really have to watch any commencement speech but this one’s pretty good


Here’s Charlie Day at his alma mater, Merrimack College. It’s a pretty great little speech.

By the way, I’ve never heard of Life on a Stick (yes, what a terrible name), but after reading what it was about, I really want to watch it.

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A final short thought on the State of the Union address

Yes, I’ve called the State of the Union address long, boring and pointless. And it is.

But how is it that the most important presentation before the most powerful and important institution in the country is basically a 16th-century Puritan sermon? Hell, even churches—those bastions of technological innovation—in the 21st century use music to accompany to enhance the experience and use screens to present images to make the material a little easier to understand. But the president walks up an aisle, stands at a lectern, and simply talks for a while, thanks God, and then we’re on our way to Country Kitchen.

People talk often about making the government work more like business, and while I’m very, very skeptical about the whole idea, this could be one function that could only be made better by aping corporate America. While I watched the cabinet secretaries enter the chamber last night, I had thought: why not parcel out the address among the secretaries, with the president giving the keynote and announcing the big pitch? Sec. Kerry reports on the state of diplomatic relations, Sec. Sebelius updates us on the state of the ACA, etc. Then the president comes to the stage to share just a few thoughts and concluding the presentation.

Also, if you look at corporate presentations, they’re always accompanied by visuals. Sometimes they’re even complementary and useful. You never see the CEO of a major corporation present in some opulent chamber, however. So, it probably would be good time to overhaul the scenery as well. Set up some dark backdrops and large screens. Imagine if Sec. Sebelius could show a chart on the downward trajectory of healthcare costs, or enrollment numbers. Sec. Perez could visually compare our minimum wage to the rest of the world’s, or highlight the widening gap between the wealthy and the not-wealthy.

Of course, everybody who would ever work in the White House communications office would never forgo the visual of the president standing before Congress, and definitely wouldn’t let the president be overshadowed by cabinet secretaries, so this not-really-a-dream probably will never happen. Then again, almost nobody can use PowerPoint well, so we’re probably better off this way.

The State of the Union address is too long and boring

As according to custom, the president (LOL) has been invited to address Congress tomorrow on “the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” There are lots of ruminations and predictions going about as to what the speech will contain, what themes will be prevalent, and what initiatives will be unveiled.

I predict that it’s going to be long, boring and utterly ineffectual.

Arguably the greatest State of the Union address to date is President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 installment (he, uh, had a few), which is usually simply called the “Four Freedoms” speech. It was 37 minutes long. I just read it in less than ten minutes. In contrast, President Obama’s 2013 speech was over an hour long.

FDR’s address first opened with a report of the war that had been destroying Europe (remember, Pearl Harbor wouldn’t happen yet for another 11 months), and describing how dangerous that war had become to the U.S. At the time, the only involvement the U.S. had was selling ships and planes to our allies, but we weren’t building them fast enough. The only proposal: we need to build them faster.

Let us say to the democracies: “We Americans are vitally concerned in your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources, and our organizing powers to give you the strength to regain and maintain a free world. We shall send you in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns. That is our purpose and our pledge.”

Later, in probably the greatest segue between foreign and domestic policy, FDR says:

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

Boom.  Finally, the theme of the whole speech, laid out bare:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

And that’s it. No policy proposals. No laundry list of new initiatives or proposals or reforms. Just a statement on the state of the world and how it affects the Union, followed by a strong affirmation of democratic U.S. values. And would be impossible to miss it, because it was only a half-hour long.

Unfortunately, the yearly address has become less a report on where the Union stands and has drifted to a long, long list of initiatives and policies the administration wants to highlight. In this, it’s become relatively ineffective at highlighting any. And forget that while the president is standing at the lectern, he’ll be facing one of the most recalcitrant congresses in U.S. history (but really just the House of Representatives, and really just one faction of said House) .

For example, last year in his address, President Obama called for:

  • raising the minimum wage
  • urban manufacturing centers
  • money to rebuild infrastructure
  • a bipartisan commission to reform the voting system
  • universal preschool
  • gun control
  • reforms to Medicare
  • immigration reform
  • action on climate change
  • creation of an Energy Security Trust
  • passing a budget “without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors” (LOL).

And that was just the domestic portion of the speech. Not one item on that list was accomplished (well, I guess the last item was just accomplished). Hell, I doubt anybody remembered a week later half of those proposals.

Once again, this year, we’ll probably hear a similar listing of proposals and initiatives, and it will be just as pointless. The president would be wise to take a walk back to 1941.

I thought he was supposed to be the technology president

Click the photo for larger version.

Now, in my office, we do this with Word’s mark-up feature. Not that it works that well, and I generally find it easier to just mark-up by hand. But, in any case, where’s the red ink? Any editor worth their salt uses red.

This has always been the history of our history purpose.

But, to be fair, I agree with just about all these edits. “This has always been our history.” What the hell does that even mean? “This has always been the history of our purpose.” Ah, that’s better.

Required reading

So, until this is all ready to go, go ahead and read Pericles’s Funeral Oration, which is as follows:

Most of my predecessors in this place have commended him who made this speech part of the law, telling us that it is well that it should be delivered at the burial of those who fall in battle. For myself, I should have thought that the worth which had displayed itself in deeds would be sufficiently rewarded by honors also shown by deeds; such as you now see in this funeral prepared at the people’s cost. And I could have wished that the reputations of many brave men were not to be imperilled in the mouth of a single individual, to stand or fall according as he spoke well or ill. For it is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth. On the one hand, the friend who is familiar with every fact of the story may think that some point has not been set forth with that fullness which he wishes and knows it to deserve; on the other, he who is a stranger to the matter may be led by envy to suspect exaggeration if he hears anything above his own nature. For men can endure to hear others praised only so long as they can severally persuade themselves of their own ability to equal the actions recounted: when this point is passed, envy comes in and with it incredulity. However, since our ancestors have stamped this custom with their approval, it becomes my duty to obey the law and to try to satisfy your several wishes and opinions as best I may.

I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honor of the first mention on an occasion like the present. They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valor. And if our more remote ancestors deserve praise, much more do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire which we now possess, and spared no pains to be able to leave their acquisitions to us of the present generation. Lastly, there are few parts of our dominions that have not been augmented by those of us here, who are still more or less in the vigor of life; while the mother country has been furnished by us with everything that can enable her to depend on her own resources whether for war or for peace. That part of our history which tells of the military achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready valor with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of Hellenic or foreign aggression, is a theme too familiar to my hearers for me to dilate on, and I shall therefore pass it by. But what was the road by which we reached our position, what the form of government under which our greatness grew, what the national habits out of which it sprang; these are questions which I may try to solve before I proceed to my panegyric upon these men; since I think this to be a subject upon which on the present occasion a speaker may properly dwell, and to which the whole assemblage, whether citizens or foreigners, may listen with advantage.

Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbors for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.

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