Thursday, April 5, 2012

Deutsch und Laufen.

9:15 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I ran harder and farther than I have for quite some time yesterday. As a natural result thereof, I bear more resemblance to a seventy year-old man in my movements than I should like. Be that as it may, I will run tomorrow morning, and as often as I must to ensure that my suits fit forever.

I am in desperate need of some totally fluffy light reading. I spend my days on campus with some Tome or other dealing with Pre-Colonial Africa or the Spanish American War, and while much of it is fascinating, there is only so much a body can take. Add to that that I was insane enough using pleasure reading time to read Dalrymple and Sowell, I need something that requires no mental taxation.

I am trying to figure out how I am going to do this German presentation. I have ideas as far as exercises and games go, but I am not sure what kind of theme I could incorporate into my topic. I am expressing probability with the future perfect. So: Er wird sicherlich Pizza gegessen haben--He certainly ate Pizza.

I need to develop a theme or backdrop in which to incorporate and teach this concept. Not ease.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

ما شاء الله

10:10 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
What willed God?

This exclamation comes in response to seeing great beauty, or to hearing good news. It is, of course, high praise.

I like the phrase better, however, when it is taken out of the context of fate. While there is obviously an inherent recognition of divine goodness in the original, it is within the larger text of man as the plaything of God--all the moves have been made and the game is over; you are just figuring out how it went.

The word الله is a difficult one. While it may be the transliterated Aramaic word for God, it has become deeply associated with Islam in particular. Arabic is a language where references to god are ubiquitous, as might be expected from a culture so thoroughly dominated by religion. The issue is that, when I ask what God has willed, I do so with the same words that others use to attribute a specific work to another entity, who most certainly is not God.

There is room for confusion here, and I am not so green to suggest that the only import in my use of language is what I mean, not the meaning others might divine. When I say to one of my classmates, 'peace be upon you,' it is very likely that he and I have a different peace in mind.

That said, there is a piety and courtesy that I have found in Arabic, which has thus far been appealing to me. It is just a matter of figuring out how to reconcile myself to using a language where all of the accepted and polite forms have included homage to a pagan god. Not easy.

In other news: I have to teach twenty minutes of German a week from tomorrow, and although I keep telling myself that it is going to be a piece of cake, there is a little voice screaming in the back of my head which thinks this could get hairy. The primary problem arose because, though my topic is not always easy to remember it is actually very easy to formulate. I mean the future and future perfect tenses.

Only now does it hit me that my early German classes spent multiple classes on teaching every verb tense and on perfecting its use...were we morons or what? No. I should not say that. I ordinarily had it down at once. Were they morons or what?

Not only do I have to teach it, I have to make it fresh and entertaining. I have to devise activities. And while I'm doing all of this, oh yeah, I need to finish my 15 page African history paper. Oh well. It will go fine, it always does, somehow or other.

Tomorrow morning I am setting my alarm early enough to get up and run. I hope to develop a M,W,F, routine. We'll see what kind of start I get off to tomorrow morning.

And in case youse guys didn't know, I gets the Shewoof in two days!

Monday, April 2, 2012

In Praise of Prejudice.

11:01 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Reading the title alone is enough to raise an eyebrow as our well honed prejudices kick in. For those familiar with Dalrymple's previous work, the squirming is perhaps moderately ameliorated by the knowledge of the depth of his analysis. Yet we cringe, nonetheless.

In Praise of Prejudice is a challenge to examine the way we think and how we form our pictures of the world. Dalrymple does a masterful job of bringing the reader to the necessary realization that it is impossible to go through life in the total absence of prejudgements. The very act of automatically tying a concept or idea to a word or set of words--a phenomenon we discussed in pedagogy--is an act of judgement, id est, personal allocation of value. Every time we use the same concept, we are merely instantly accessing a previously made judgement.

To be free from all prejudice is to be a helpless infant. To believe that one is free from prejudice after one has developed object permanence is to be a buffoon, or at the very least one who has not given the matter any real thought.

The inability to avoid prejudices leaves us with the daunting task of fighting the effect of ill formed or foolish prejudgements and to condition and habituate ourselves to healthier prejudices. Fire will burn me is a prejudice and it is rational. You can't trust *insert racial type* is an obviously paranoid and destructive prejudice.

Dalrymple, however, not only stresses the importance of developing healthy prejudice, but illustrates in examples from his practice and from statistics, the negative impact of the prejudice against prejudice. Throughout the book he will cite many examples that we would not ordinarily think of when we hear "prejudice," but which have been negatively impacted by societal prejudices.

One example: In opening the essay, he takes a study done on early child obesity, which found that it was tied to junkfood advertisements. Where those who conducted the study took it as proof that governments should ban such ads, Dalrymple raises the fascinating question of agency. Are the five-year-olds buying themselves all of that junk?

The agency of the young tyrants comes about, because of a societal reaction against perceived parental tyranny and the more controlled and controlling families of previous decades. Because of a general reaction against parents holding strict authority over their children's diets and activities, there is now a societal prejudice in place which says that children should be free to make more of their own choices. The problem inherent therein, is that five-year-olds are not competent to make dietary choices, but have now become accustomed to telling, rather than being told.

This is one of the more purely abstract examples, and he obviously tells it with more style than I do here, but it is clear the social norms and attitudes are reflected in our lifestyles, and that with the adoption of any norm comes tremendous and unforeseen change in actual physical conditions.

My favourite sentiment with regard to the preparing of any plan is one neatly posited by Thomas Sowell in his Applied Economics. Though I will need to refresh my memory of the exact quotation later, it runs to the effect that 'one should never confuse intent with outcome.' One might intend to give children greater choice and control in their day to day lives, but one may--on such a path--allow the unlearned and inexperienced to make destructive choices before they have the prerequisite knowledge to understand the consequences of their actions.

I think Americans trend even moreso toward this prejudice against authority, which is probably for the same reason we become so angry when we feel others have been inconsiderate toward us, and that is because we are our own highest deity; the all important I. The god-king of popular sovereignty. We are so worried about the yoke of illegitimate authority--granted, in large part a legitimate fear--that we react caustically against legitimate authority: pastors, parents, professors, and those generally wiser and more experienced.

We lack perspective; we no longer define ourselves according to religion, family, or like groupings, because they are restrictive and pose limitations on our license. Anything that keeps us tied down must be cast off.

We just need to be free to be ourselves.

And what is a single individual apart from the society of his fellow men or with God?

He is sad, lonely, pathetic, meat. Love and friendship, family and community are the best companions men may hope to enjoy on earth, and yet we stubbornly refuse to define ourselves according to those things. We insist on being something sovereign from them, alienated from them by right of our eternal ego. The folly of finding oneself, is that those who utter that trite little sentiment often mean that they intend to cut themselves off from the influences that formed them and made them the person that they now are. If it is not self hatred speaking, then it is at least shallowness of thought.

Absolute license and the rejection of all authority might be freedom, but it certainly is not liberty. It is the absolute freedom of the branch which is cut from the tree. With the tree the branch would have flowered and born fruit, given shelter to the weary, and shared life with the tree; distinct, unique, and separate, growing as it will, but still connected. I think the alternative in my metaphor is also pretty clear.

Where then is the just limit of authority? Where does parental concern cross the line from being healthy into being arbitrary? I would answer that this depends in every case upon the specific children and parents. There can be no general rule.

Amongst men and governments I still enjoy the general rule of thumb espoused by Condorcet; that it should extend only so far as to prevent malefaction by one party in society against another, and should never go beyond what is strictly necessary to that means. That said, I do not think that one can rightly say that only representative authority is legitimate. I would point to the biblical judges and kings and some of the wise kings of antiquity, not least of which were the Five Good Emperors, under whom Rome enjoyed a degree of good government and peace not seen for a long age after.

I prefer Platonic/Aristotelian approach. Good government legislates moderately with the common good as the aim. Legitimacy is a function of goodness and wisdom, which necessarily will respect the natural rights of the citizen.

But I have rambled on long enough and wandered to more places than I intended when I sat down...this was supposed to be a brief blurb about a book.

My bottom line. Go to your library and get this book. It is well written with irony, humor, poignancy, and humanity to spare. It bears Dalrymple's normal mark, which is one of deep consideration and cool logic, furthered by his extraordinary experiences of human life in all levels, from third world villages up. This book forces one to think about thinking, which is in itself reason enough to read it.

Now, the internet beckons.