Research by PhD student Stefanie Stantcheva touches on taxation, student loans and education incentives.
(Following is the full transcript of remarks made by Commencement speakers Tom and Ray Magliozzi.)
Tom: Don't crowd me.
Ray: Glad you could all come. [Trumpet sounding] Shut up. (laughter)
Tom: Wait a minute, I have to put my glasses on and everything. When this was announced in the newspaper and my daughter, my lovely daughter Lydia who is sitting over there, called me and said, "Is this true?" And I said, "Yeah." She said, "When is Commencement?" I said, "It's June the 4th." She said, "Promise me just one thing." I said, "What?" She said, "Promise me that you"ll think about it before June 3rd" -- which reminded me of that great old country music song, "How Come You Know Me So Good When I'm a Stranger to Myself?" Now what do you want to say?
Ray: Well, not much, actually. I just wanted to say we are thrilled to be here with you today and we especially want to thank Dr. Vest and anyone else that he might be able to implicate for having the courage to invite us here. Now, I'm sure that -- (applause) We figure this is a guy who has an iron-clad contract (laughter). Where is he? Well, I'm sure that those of you that know him, know that he is a take-charge, buck-stops-here kind of guy. I know that, because every time his wife Becky has taken her automobile to our shop for repairs, he calls personally to complain about the bill. And we were flattered to find out, I think just this morning, that only once before in the long history of MIT has the demand for Commencement tickets been greater. And coincidentally it was when Abraham Lincoln spoke to my brother's graduating class. (laughter). You know, if anything cried out for an explanation, it's why are Tom and Ray speaking to us today. And I will attempt with the help of my brother to give you some kind of an explanation. I think you deserve it. Are you going to be good?
Tom: I'm going to be good.
Ray: This all started a little over two years ago. We were doing our weekly radio show and I happened to mention casually that Kofi Annan had been selected to give the address to the Class of '97. Tommy says, 'Kofi Annan.' Who the hell is he? (laughter). And then begins to rant, why did they choose Kofi Annan? OK. He is the Secretary General of the UN I guess, but no one has ever heard of him. Everyone has heard of us. They've got to fly him in, fly him out, put him up in a fancy hotel. Wine him and dine him and do all that. They'd have to do none of these things for us and -- and -- and -- and -- he's not even an alumnus! Now, I will admit that I did participate to some extent in his rant and rave. I've learned -- I guess most of the experts agree -- that when you're dealing with these irrational types that you shouldn't be too confrontational. In fact, you should try to be a little supportive and then hope the medication kicks in. Well, hardly a fortnight passes and we receive in the mail, from someone named Charles M. Vest, what I would call a terse rebuke.
Tom: It wasn't so terse. Why, I happen to have it here.
Ray: Read it to us please.
Tom: Which one is it?
Ray: It's the first one.
Tom: Here it is. "Dear Click '58 and Clack '72."
Ray: Aha! Now you know who we are.
Tom: "I was sorry to learn of your disappointment at" -- you don't mind if we read these? (laughter)
Ray: We did clear this with your office.
Tom: What can you do? (laughter) "I'm sorry to learn of your disappointment at not being asked to deliver the main address at this year's Commencement exercise. It had been my understanding that you don't usually care for exercise, especially in the open air, and that you therefore wouldn't be interested in ours." (laughter) "On the other hand, as alumni" -- I'm going with the Greco-Latin pronunciation here -- "On the other hand, as alumni, you will appreciate that we have some fairly eccentric students and faculty here at the Institute. So the idea of having you two gentleman as graduation speakers is invariably floated each spring. This year, as always, there was a strong but murky undercurrent of support for you as Commencement speakers. Still, even your most ardent backers have to admit that there was one crucial area in which your qualifications could not match those of your fellow alumnus" --
Ray: Gee, what does that say?
Tom: "Of your fellow alumnus, the UN Secretary General Dag Hammar-skjï¿½ï¿½ld -- Kofi Annan '72." He was a classmate of yours!
Ray: Well, I wasn't -- Let's get this straight right now. I was class of '70, '71, '72. So I couldn't possibly have known everyone.
Tom: "As you know, the United Nations has a really spiffy flag. Because Secretary General Annan was featured as this year's speaker, we have a legitimate excuse to fly the UN flag and also to hang it anywhere else we wanted to. You can imagine how useful such a flag can be when you want to cheer up a drab corner of the campus or decorate a really big space like an auditorium or an athletic cage."
Ray: I mean, this is the kind of criterion that this guy Vest is using? What the hell is he thinking?
Tom: "If Car Talk or even Dewey, Cheetham & Howe had possessed a similarly attractive flag, we might have been able to use you, but as it was, we felt that we really had to go with the Secretary General for aesthetic reasons." Right. "You will be pleased to know, however, that Secretary General Annan was a great success. The graduating seniors were especially moved when he described his challenge at the UN as a little like trying to climb Mt. Washington in a '63 Dodge Dart. He was also warmly applauded when he urged the US Senate to give him their share of the gas money for UN operations worldwide. Thus, despite your absence, MIT's '97 Commencement was a smashing success. Please rest assured we'll keep you in mind for future ceremonies, blah, blah, blah. If you ever do get a flag, let us know. As you may recall, from your own graduations, the participants want the speakers to be brief and to the point. I know that brevity is not regarded as your most notable quality." (laughter) "Finally, I would like to urge you to" -- here it comes, all that for this last line ending paragraph. "Finally, I would like to urge you start sending us some really large donations." (laughter) "Technically yours, Charles M. Vest. President, blah, blah, blah."
Ray: Well, a whole year passes without incident -- well, I shouldn't say without incident. During that year I think just about every auto maker on the planet threatened to sue us. But at least without incident with regard to this issue. And then last year Tommy hears that some elected official, these are his words, remember, from Arkansas who's been in --
Tom: I don't think I referred to him as an elected official.
Ray: -- a little trouble with the law is going to give the address of the Class of '98. As you can imagine, another rant ensues. Well, it doesn't take long before Charles M. Vest puts laser printer to paper and we receive another rebuke -- it's starting to sound like a Bible story --
Tom: -- which I also happen to have here. Chuck won't mind if we read this. "Dear Click '58 and Clack '72: I understand that you have once again expressed on-air disappointment of not being asked to speak at MIT's graduation. Last summer I advised you that the chances of being invited as Commencement speakers would be enhanced if Car Talk had a suitable flag that could be used to help us decorate the campus. I hear that you now have come up with a flag and you thought this would ensure your inclusion in the 1998 Commencement program." I mean, we went out of our way. If the truth be known, we got the flag yesterday. But we told him we had a flag. We figured he would be gullible enough.
Ray: He went for it.
Tom: "Certainly it is possible that a truly elegant flag along with your unaccountable yet undeniable popularity among your fellow alums might have gone a long way toward assuring a place for you in this year's celebration, except for two rather obvious problems: one," problem number one, he says, "you failed to show your new flag to anyone at MIT."
Ray: Minor detail.
Tom: "Now I don't doubt that the flag exists. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I do doubt that the flag exists. But its existence does you no good if you keep it secret. There is, after all, a reason why people use expressions like let's run this up the flag pole, blah, blah, blah, and the reason is very simply that people cannot appreciate your flag unless they can see it. Now some of my colleagues have suggested that the Car Talk flag may be based on some sort of advanced stealth technology, in which case I applaud your technical prowess. On the whole, however, a stealth flag seems to me a self-defeating innovation." And he's right about that.
"Problem number two: one of this year's Commencement speakers is the Honorable William Jefferson Clinton, President of these here United States." I paraphrased there. "As the duly elected leader of the world's only superpower, Mr. Clinton not only comes with his own flag, and a darn good one, but he's even got a seal. Talk about upping the ante. This guy brings his own podium, audience, press corp, helicopter, you name it. There's just no way for the two of you to compete this year. You think you're disappointed. Not even I get to make a speech this year, and I'm supposed to run the place. Nonetheless," he says, "I urge you not to give up hope. Send us pictures of this alleged flag along with appropriate contributions to the alumni fund." Geez, will the guy never give up?
Ray: He's like a broken record, isn't he?
Tom: "Good luck. I remain technically yours, Charles M. Vest." We got another letter, by the way.
Ray: We are getting to that.
Tom: Oh, you are.
Ray: Don't interrupt. After these two letters, of course, Tommy continues to rant, albeit sporadically. He says because we haven't been chosen and been overlooked by MIT, he's lost face and credibility. You'd want to lose a face like this, wouldn't you? Friends and neighbors have turned a cold shoulder to him. His wife and kids have lost respect for him and barely talk to him. Even the dog won't play with him unless he has a pork chop tied around his neck. Then in the spring of this year, inexplicably we receive a beautifully written -- I would say almost conciliatory -- letter from Dr. Vest, asking us to speak to you today. Of course, we've lost that letter. We don't know where it is. But I do know that Dr. Vest figured that we would have the dignity, the good sense and the respect for MIT to refuse and to realize that the invitation was a joke. Negative on all counts. And of course we accept but we become immediately suspicious. We start to think how many others were asked before they got to us. I mean after all, we knew, and we're not kidding anyone, we are at the bottom of the heap. Exactly right. We are at the bottom of the heap. So they must have asked thousands of other people so we engage our crack detective, Paul Murky of Murky Investigations, to find out who was asked and the reason he or she refused. I have the list. Just stand back. [puts six-inch pile of letters on lectern]
Tom: These are the requests that he made?
Ray: Yes. Now due to certain treaty restrictions and other strict protocols and time, we can't read all the names, but we do have a few that we're allowed to read. I will give you the name of the person who was asked and the reason, my brother will give you the reason why he or she --
Tom: I've memorized the whole pile here.
Ray: OK. Kofi Annan.
Tom: He said, "Been there, done that."
Ray: Here's one. Oh, a duo. Pons and Fleischmann.
Tom: Yeah, they said, "Very low energy level. Can't."
Ray: Oh, one of my personal favorites, Leonid Brezhnev. I love saying his name. Can I say it again?
Tom: Is it like Arup Gupta?
Ray: Leonid Brezhnev.
Tom: Yeah, he said he couldn't do it because he was dead.
Ray: Oh yes. Dolly, the cloned sheep.
Tom: She couldn't come because she didn't have FDA approval.
Ray: And last but not least, Leonid Brezhnev.
Tom: Still dead. So then he got to us, I guess.
Ray: I guess so. In spite of this news, we're still excited, of course, and honored to be here. And after the euphoria subsided, it began to sink in that we actually had to give a speech today. And I will admit that I was concerned and maybe even a bit worried. After all, Commencement speeches are usually reserved for heads of state, respected members of the academic community, secretaries-general of the United Nations -- but us! Why us? But my fears began to ebb as I weighed the consequences of a poor performance today. What if we do terribly? What if we're incoherent? Uninspiring? Uninteresting? It would be just like our radio show. I mean, what could possibly happen? What could they do? Ask for our diplomas back? They couldn't do that, could they?
Tom: I don't think so.
Ray: I don't want to give my diploma back. I can't!
Tom: No, it's holding up the end of that table in your dining room.
Ray: Well, after this epiphany I began to feel a lightness of being, and Tom and I rolled up our sleeves, put on a pot of coffee and began the creative process. Now he'll divulge the intricacies of that process soon enough but first, the warnings. I have to move this. [removes pile of letters and stands on them] What an interesting perspective! You know, my brother frequently makes what I would call offensive and insulting statements. So, my main function here today other than introducing him is to, number one, deflect any hurled fruit. Number two, to try to prevent from him insulting any religious, ethnic or paramilitary groups, to quell any civil unrest that may result from anything he says or does, and to interrupt and clarify and say things like, "Well, he didn't mean to say that about every member of the faculty." So, without further ado, I would like to introduce my esteemed brother, Professor Thomas Magliozzi.
Tom: That would be me. Well, we had to use technology actually.
Ray: May I sit?
Tom: We figured this is the world's foremost institute of technology on Massachusetts Avenue, so we ought to use technology. So what my brother did actually was he requested from Paul Parravano, who is I guess the vice president of MIT. Where is Paul? We don't know. We requested copies of the last 20 years of Commencement addresses. We gave these to our crack researcher, Paul Murky of Murky Research, brother of the Paul Murky of Murky Investigations. And we asked him to analyze all of these speeches to find out if there were some commonalities. And indeed there were. He used factor analysis, which Course XV guys will understand, and he came up with three factors. Get this: every one of these speeches had in common a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Tom: Well, this is good because we were so thrilled at this that we had made such progress that we put it aside for about a month, didn't have to think about it anymore, and then we looked at it one day and said, "This is a little skimpy." I hate to interrupt but the good news is our wives are not hanging their heads in shame yet.
Ray: They will.
Tom: OK. Go ahead. We figured the beginning -- that was pretty straightforward. We could read a couple of letters from Chuck Vest. So we did that already and so that's done. The middle -- that was the tough part. We couldn't quite figure what the middle ought to be. But the end we knew had to be some kind of inspirational thing. Right? That's what they all are. So we said to ourselves, "What do we know about inspirational things?" It so happens, however, it so happens that we have in addition to Murky Investigations, Paul Murky, whom I just told you did the factor analysis, had been working on some other research for us and he and his lovely assistant, Marge Innovera. Marge Innovera.
Ray: Yeah, they got it, I think. It just wasn't that funny.
Tom: I'll tell you the genesis -- it's interesting how research happens. One day, I can't remember which one of us it was, had come across, interestingly -- isn't it interesting? I mean coincidence. We just had our little Hebrew prayer and one of us has thought of a quotation from another great Hebrew philosopher, Isaac Newton. And if you recall, which you probably don't because you're a bunch of nerds who only think in numbers --
Ray: Stop it! Behave!
Tom: He said, "If I have accomplished anything in my life, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." Wow. That's what we said. But after a few moments we thought about it a bit and I said, "You know, it's one of those things like George Carlin." He says, "Sounds good, but..." And we wondered, is it in fact true in all areas of endeavor that people accomplish great things because they stand on the shoulders of giants? So we tell Paul Murky, "Do some research on this." And he comes back to us with a couple of hypotheses. You know, he's a great researcher, this man.
The new hypothesis is -- well of course it applies to all areas, all endeavors, because we as humans have been on the planet for hundreds of thousands of years and we each benefit from whatever has been done by our predecessors. That's the shoulders-of-giants hypothesis. The alternative hypothesis is: it's not true. In some areas, yes we do in fact benefit from what our predecessors have done, but in other areas, mostly like the human-involvement kinds of areas, we may in fact all be destined to make the same mistakes over and over and over again, generation after generation, child after child. And so there is never any giant on whose shoulders you can stand, and therefore there is no progress.
Now there is an interesting set of hypotheses. This one is called the Oh Yeah Alternative Hypothesis. So Murky goes out and starts to work and as he will do, Murky doesn't stick strictly to what we asked him to do, and one day we catch him, I think it's called mucking around in the data, and sure enough, he comes to us and says, "Guys, I have been mucking around in the data. And I have a finding here that is going to knock your socks off." And I have to apologize for our visual aids here. I did prepare a complete Power-Point presentation and I asked for an overhead projector and they couldn't find one here.
Ray: No, I think they told him to drop dead.
Tom: Could I have slide number two now. OK. Chuck. Earn your buck here. Earn your money here. [President Vest helps hold up a large chart]
Ray: What's the matter with number one?
Tom: I already used that one. (laughter) Just turn it around for just a minute.
Ray: We'll be right back.
Tom: Don't fall off the stage, Chuck. Those in the back with the cheap seats, you can't see this, but it's very straightforward. I may need to move over to this mike. Does this mike work? Yes, it does. Murky says to us, "I've plotted something interesting here. We're talking about basically left brain versus right brain function." He says, "And while mucking around I find this interesting relationship." This is left brain on this end. This is right brain on the right.
Ray: Now what's the Y axis?
Tom: Well, I'll tell you that. This is a plot. He did a regression analysis on this with an R squared of 0.99 and a significance of 0.0001. And this axis is happiness.
Tom: Doesn't that knock your socks off! He says, "Left brain, right brain." And if you think about it, this is sort of what we think of -- some people do at least -- as intelligence. So it's almost a plot of intelligence versus happiness. And the news ain't good for you. (laughter) Because what Murky finds out is that right-brain people are about 10 times as happy as left-brain people... Because right-brain people are too happy to waste their time developing IQ tests. But they're 10 times happier. We say "Whoo! Paul, this is something!" But that's not the end of it. Because -- what any good researcher would do -- we want to extrapolate. And do we want to extrapolate in this direction? Hell no! (laughter) We want to extrapolate in that direction. So, we say to Paul, "If this really is intelligence going in that direction, what we need is dumber people. Let's see if it goes on and on." So, where do you go? He goes to Harvard. (laughter) He comes back to us about a month later and he says, "It just isn't working. They're not dumb enough." And I say, "What do you mean, they're not dumb enough? They don't get any dumber than Harvard students!" And he says, "People don't get any dumber than Harvard students, but why do we have to limit our research to people?"
Ray: Can I put this down?
Tom: Oh sure! Are you still there? Oh, I'm sorry. I'm just trying to drive the guy with the microphones crazy. So don't go away. We're going to need [slide] number three.
He says, "I can extend the research to other life forms," and through a methodology which he will not reveal to us, he was able to determine the happiness level of other life forms. Slide three, please. Here it is. Here's humans, and the best of the humans, of course, are the right-brain humans. And here is what he found. Happiness goes up. It begins to look like it's exponential over there. The next happier life form is a golden retriever. (laughter) Then a cow. Then worms. And he stopped his research at grass. (laughter) You can turn that to faculty because they may not understand what I'm talking about.
Ray: OK. We'll just keep going.
Tom: Here's the story. I mean, what is the importance of this? We have always thought that we were the highest life form on the planet. Turns out we are the lowest life form on the planet. And I am going to give to you now a theorem which will knock your socksoff. Some theories you know are just complete bullshit. For example, the Big Bang theory. The entire universe is compacted into a dot. It explodes. Why? Well, they don't know why. So they call it a singularity. That's like the bimbo saying, well, it just did. It explodes. And out of it come all the stars that you can see in the sky, all the planets, Madonna, corned beef sandwiches. But I am goingto give you the theorem and you're going to say, "Why didn't I think of that? What does all of this tell us that we are not the highest life form?"
This is the theory of reverse reincarnation. I mean, some people believe in reincarnation. And what they believe is that when we die, we come back as better and better people. What the theory of reverse reincarnation says is: if we are good people, we will come back as a golden retriever. (laughter) Then a cow. Then a worm. Then grass. Now if the reincarnation was working in the other direction, coming back as better and better people, where are they? (laughter) Duh! So, it becomes clear that the theory of reverse reincarnation may be the scientific finding of not the decade, not the century, but of all time. Now, my brother and I, L. Ron Magliozzi, are going to help you to achieve Nirvana. We're going to help you become not smarter. Smarter is no good. That's the wrong direction.
Ray: You have been doing that.
Tom: You have spent the last four, five or six years of your life working in the wrong direction. You are sliding down, as Tom Lehrer says, sliding down the razor blade of life. You are sliding down the happiness curve. You must stop this from happening and you must go in the other direction and we are here to help you. And, as you know, there is a process for reaching Nirvana and we are going to give it to you now. It is this: You must repeat the mantra. And the mantra happens to be emblazoned on our flag which standshere. None of you morons will be able to read it because it's in Latin.
Ray: It says: "Non impediti ratione cogitatonus."
Tom: Which, of course, means "unencumbered by the thought process." (laughter and applause) Now, I am going to give a very brief history of how this mantra has helped me.
Ray: I can't wait.
Tom: If you repeat this mantra, what happens is everything slows down. Life slows down. Being unencumbered by the thought processallows you to identify and hear and see defining moments in your life, things that will change your life. Unencumbered by the thought process. You say it over and over again. And everything slows down and begins to stop. We call these, by the way, moments of inertia.
Ray: Oh, God, is that bad!
Tom: I had to use it, though; I had to. I was once trapped by the scientific, logical, left-brain life. I graduated from here and I went to work as an engineer. And I will tell you about my defining moment. I lived in Cambridge at the time. I was driving from Cambridge to my job in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and I was driving in a little MG. It weighed about 50 pounds and on Route 128 I was cut off by a semi and I almost, as they say, bought the farm, and as I continued my drive, I said to myself, "If I had in fact bought the farm out there on Route 128, how ticked off would I be that I spent all my life, that I can remember at least, going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation?" So, I pulled into the parking lot, walked into my boss' office and I quit on the spot.
Ray: See, now most people would have just bought a bigger car.
Tom: (laughter) See, those people would have been using their left brains. I had been saying my mantra in the car. That's why the guy cut me off. I think I cut him off. In any event, I quit my job. I became a bum. I spent two years sitting in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I invented the concept of the do-it-yourself auto repair shop and I met my lovely wife. None of which would have happened if I had been using my left brain.
My second great defining moment came also showing the power of the mantra "unencumbered by the thought process." I was having an argument with my lovely wife one day. I mean how can you argue with such a wonderful person? Well, left-brain people do that because all they can think of is "This is an argument. This person is over here and I am over here and I am going to use every ounce of logic and skill that I have so that I can win this argument." And my wife says to me, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" Holy shit, says I! (laughter) I wanted to be happy. So now I have reached Nirvana, and my brother and I can help you to reach it. If you want to, repeat after me: Unencumbered by the thought process. Say it.
Ray: You may have to stand for this.
Tom and Ray: Unencumbered by the thought process. Louder. Come on. Unencumbered by the thought process.
Ray: One more time. Unencumbered by the thought process. Follow us, my children, to happiness. Are there any questions? (laughter) Thank you. Are you happy?
Tom: I'm excited.
Ray: Thank you, Professor Wagstaff, that was most informative. You know, that does remind me of a famous Latin expression: "Caesar si viveret ad remum dareris," which means "if Caesar were alive, you'd be chained to an oar." (laughter) Look, we won't belabor any more than we have to, but this is the part of the address where we are supposed to say something meaningful and impart some words of wisdom.
Tom: What did I just do?
Ray: We're not sure. I'm not sure if we're in a position of any wisdom, but we've never let that stop us. So listen up. I'm only going to say this a few times. Today you will receive a document that states that you've earned a degree or maybe degrees from MIT. You know, you've worked hard and you should feel a great sense of accomplishment. I know I did. And most of you will leave here today with a pretty good idea of where you're going and what you're going to do. Some of you have no clue and you'll just have to move back in with your parents, if they haven't rented out your room already.
But others among you may have charted a course or had one charted for you that you know is wrong. And you may feel some creative energy coursing through your body. Don't ignore it. If you feel the urge to create and discover and do something that will bring you fulfillment and happiness, do it now while you're young. You will never have more energy or enthusiasm, hair or brain cells than you have today.
Do you know when Albert Einstein was less than half my age, he was already world-famous for his special theory of relativity? When Isaac Newton was less than half my age, he was already famous for having invented calculus and pretty much had written your entire 8.01 physics textbook. Mozart when he was half my brother's age had been dead for three years. (laughter) So act now. Lastly, I've skipped a bunch of things.
Tom: Thank God.
Ray: I just want to encourage you to never get so involved in your work, whatever it is, that you forget to have fun. You know, my brother may be right. If you're lucky, you may come back as a schnauzer or a bichon frise but you may not -- I mean with all this spaying and neutering going on, the odds are getting worse and worse every year. So have fun now and enjoy yourself. And I'd like to leave you with some words of a wise man. A wise man from the East my brother and I know. All wise men are from the East. Have you ever met a wise man from the West or the Middle?
Tom: I think Spielberg is from the West.
Ray: And this wise man is -- and his name is Deepak Fonzarelli. (laughter)
Tom: He's quite a man.
Ray: He is quite a man. And Tommy and I go to him from time to time to learn the answers to weighty questions like what is the meaning of life? What are next week's winning lottery numbers going to be? (laughter) And we went to him recently and Tommy and I sat with him and Tom asked him how he could attain immortality. Deepak sat for a minute. He got up and turned off the TV. "Baywatch" had just ended. (laughter) And he said, "My son, if you wish to attain immortality, you must do the following: You must work hard every day seven days a week, never taking time off. You must attend no social functions. You must not smoke. You must not drink. And you must not go with women." Never have we received a definitive answer to any of our questions. We were astounded. And Tommy asks...
Tom: I say to Deepak, "You mean if I do those things I will live forever?"
Ray: "Oh no, my son," he said. "It will just seem like forever." Have fun. Enjoy the ride and don't drive like my brother. Congratulations!
A version of this article appeared in the June 9, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 33).