Thursday, September 29, 2011

Think on Feet...Feetnotes!

10:52 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Between last night and this morning I had a minor panic thing.

In German, we were assigned to find a German job application, and write a cover letter to hand in with our CV. I had a minor issue. In the course of several hours of hard search, I was not able to find a single job in Germany for which I was remotely qualified. Even German internships require that you have had prior internship or work inexperience in the chosen field.

Later, still panicking, I met up with Dr. Roberts, who laughed, grinned, and said that she should have stressed that our ads could just be made up. It is, apparently, the case in Germany right now, that many young Germans are going through four or five Internships before ever getting a serious job. So someone like me, from the American way of doing things, would be competing for low level internships with 25 year old Germans with B.A.s and two or three internships under their belts.

No wonder it is so extraordinarily hard to change career in Germany. :-/

That said, when I finally had this conversation with her, I had about an hour and a half to write a cover letter and put together a fake ad. It was lucky that I remembered at this time that a local law office seeking interns had sent out a message to the history majors, and I was able to do a quick translation on this piece to make it work for my ad.

The cover letter came to me more easily than I expected, so I'll be eager to get it back and see how many times I just slipped into English for a few sentences. If my German was actually German, then the speed with which i churned out that letter is good, if not....not good. ;-p

Alright, this has been a pleasant break, but soon it will be time to finish off this pesky little Polybius paper, which, although I love the topic, still constitutes a minor annoyance and item on the to do list.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


12:46 AM Posted by Patrick , , , 3 comments
Tests can be a lot of fun; the equivalent of a high octane Sporcle quiz, dealing only in interesting information. Some tests, however, are more akin to seventy-five minute torture sessions.

I had one of these last week, and it was not a matter of the subject matter being beyond me, but more a function of needing to write out 3 major essays and one minor essay--after the 30 multi choice-- in the time allotted. I felt like my hand was going to fall off at the end, and I had just barely managed to scribble out the last essay in outline form.

After this debacle, I was on my way to German in the language lab, and feeling slightly crumby. There must have been some kind of magic in the upholstery of the chair I chose, because I had just lowered myself into it when I was galvanized into decisive action. I went to my professor, told said professor that I had not finished in a satisfactory manner, and requested permission to type my essays next time.

So far was my professor from objecting to my typing the next installment, he offered my the opportunity to redo the entire test, with more time if needed. I declined to retake the whole test, but did get to finish my essay on Rousseau, which was excellent.

But if I thought that my troubles were over, I was so wrong. Two days later I had a presentation in German. This was not going to be a problem. I had my notes into neat bullets, my info was good, and I had already practiced the entire presentation twice; both times very smooth. Before class I was able to speak in German with the professor and the other students. Everything was going well....

When it came to my turn I was still absolutely confident, until I actually started. To say that I drew a blank would be false. I did not draw a blank, but rather, the entirety of my presentation came crashing to the forefront of my mind all at once, leaving me as stunned as a freshly clubbed baby seal.

I did not really begin to reclaim my mojo until midway through, which is going to be tough on my grade. That thought did not help my recovery, any more than the fact that I was screwing up in front of a group of lovely women--never helps.

Like I said, I did not remaster myself until the latter half, but was able to salvage a bit. On the bright side, mine was definitely not the worst, and I was one of only two people who went along with the instructions and did not read a written presentation. There were also five people who failed to have the presentation ready, so we all get to be mediocre together!

I resumed my seat, and then proceeded to rapidly regain my ability to speak German. It only seems to kick off when there is something at stake, id est, my GPA! ;-p

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vox Polpuli, Vox Dei

We are rapidly becoming a more democratic nation, and this is a most calamitous trend.

The chief desire of the democratic citizen is freedom, or license. The best democracy is where men are most free and equal. Democracy, however, is but a third part of what our republic should be. Ancient philosophers understood that democracy, just like kingship and aristocracy, would destroy itself and evolve into something else. In all three, the principle is the rule of men, the will of men, is supreme. When these rulers follow the law and make themselves subservient to it, then is greater stability achieved in the regime, for a time. But men, it is rightly said, have endless desires and where men are greater than the law the law must eventually fall victim to our desires.

In democracy people want to enjoy freedoms, and this comes to mean the freedom to do what they want and enjoy themselves. Nothing is so useful for procuring luxuries and a good time as money. So the democratic man will come to prize money, even as he covets the pleasures it buys. Men will go seeking riches, and the few best suited to this hunt will find them. The rest of the populace will simultaneously hate these men and desire to be like them. In a pure democracy, these men will be at odds with the masses and there will be blood.

A republic is rule of form, with elements of the three classical governmental styles. It is supposed to have an executive power, a conservative aristocratic streak, and a popular element. No element should be greater than the others, and each should have the power to cancel the others out, so that acts of government require the combined will of an executive (hopefully possessed of integrity of character and judgement), the aristocratic element, and the people. This prevents any attack by one constituent part of the regime against any other. This is to make it so the form cannot implode, after all, whatever dies was not mixed equally.

How does one keep such a form, where no one party may destroy another, from eroding? Cicero uses a word which becomes key to the maintenance of a republic: commonwealth. The form of the city is where men live together, bound by an idea of right and justice. But what is this right? It is certainly not the 'right' of the democratic citizen. He later draws out that this right in the commonwealth, or republic, is liberty.

Stay with me here.

Liberty, again, is not the right to do whatever you please, but the right to participate in and enjoy the fellowship of the commonwealth. Man is, for Cicero, a social being. Just like the Greeks, he recognizes that the highest most fulfilling good for men is to live in friendship (I'd like to inject communion) with one another. The greatest good of the republican is the service of his city and participation in sociable and political works.

The nature of liberty is, here especially, quite separate from what one finds in Locke or Hobbes. It is the right to participate in the life of the city, but this right is inherently tied to obligation. Machiavelli fully supported the right to free speech, with the understanding that one had the duty to use it for the betterment of the city. According to this idea, man is never really at liberty, except when he acts in love for his fellow men.

This is a lovely idea, but it is hardly a likely scenario, given the state of human nature.

How then is man to tame the demons of desire and discipline himself. The answer is the same, all the way until that putz Hobbes...I think I might have alluded to the answer.

Men must be taught to love their fellow men, and religion is sited as the only force capable of bestowing this discipline. Religion, taught in the home, by a strong family, is the foundation and backbone of a republic. It teaches men to look outside of themselves for good, and that there are greater goods than fleeting physical pleasure. It teaches men to behave.

The key to maintaining a republic is religion. Machiavelli argues that a people must be religious to be free, because religion is the way of escaping, not only our own license, but the license of others taken against us.

I live in a world that is less religious as time passes; even among those who attend churches, few are actually religious, or even have an idea exactly what it is they believe. Human nature can never be tamed, but it can be curbed. Where man have no interest in doing what is honest, decent, and good, then they will follow their desires wherever they run. Chasing the perfect hedonistic freedom of the alcoholic.

More and more, Americans chafe at anything they perceive as a check on their freedom; they have no taste for the liberties of the ancients. Pleasure is the chief good of the average American now, and by pleasure, I mean stuff. De Tocqueville also predicted this rather neatly. It was the excellence and religiosity of the people that allowed America to be a great republic, and now that the people have changed, the country will continue to change as well. Even as we have infinite desires, the form will follow, but with the same ends. We will continue on, a democratic empire, and then, like all empires and all democracies, we will collapse.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Well Spotted.

11:10 AM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
I really need lessons on taking a compliment. It is a rough business, and I am yet to figure out how to do it gracefully.

Earlier, while getting coffee, someone commented on my looks. I--naturally--felt the compliment to be just, but I am still uncomfortable receiving praise, and received it as I receive all such comments: a trifle awkwardly. Naturally, I thanked the person, but I feel as if that is only a partial completion of the social ritual, the latter half of which is nothing short of arcane mystery. And when I receive a compliment is the one time that, for reasons unknown, I find it damn near impossible to look someone in the eye.

I think part of the discomfort, especially when it comes to remarks about looks, is that it is has nothing to do with any virtue of mine, other than basic care of my person.

Clothing is even harder, but for a very different reason. When my dress is complimented as being tasteful, or looking particularly neat, the first thing that goes through my head is, "well spotted." I know when I am well dressed, and though I realize they are paying a compliment, my first reaction is not pleasure and I have no idea why. I enjoy compliments from close friends and family--approval from those whose approval I seek--but I'm uncomfortable with getting the same from acquaintances...let alone strangers.

How does one receive a compliment well. It is totally beyond me; I have seen it done remarkably well, but I am unable to imitate. It vexeth greatly.