Oh, Hey

So, I check my blog today for the first time in, well, a little while, and find that my theme is totally different. Hm…

Not that it matters much, since I’m hoping to move this onto its own server soon. More on that later, though.…

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Summer Reading List 2010

I wonder a bit at the utility of making a Summer Reading List. Last year, though I read a lot, what I read only about half resembled the list. Perhaps such an activity is less about a plan than a general goal: “I want to read roughly this amount, and what I read will likely include several of the following.”

Alternatively, making lists is just fun. So, here goes.

Paradiso – Dante (trans. Allen Mandelbaum). I’ve already started this one, actually. Having finished and greatly enjoyed Inferno and Purgatorio, Paradiso is obligatory. Reading a parallel-text edition only makes it more fun.

Spring Snow – Yukio Mishima (trans. ┬áMichael Gallagher).

The Cantos – Ezra Pound.

The Pillow Book – Sei Shounagon (trans. Ivan Morris).

Caritas in Veritate – Pope Benedict XVI. Actually, I intend to read several papal encyclicals, but this is the largest of them, and my highest priority.

A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy – ed. Wing-Tsit Chan. I’m mostly interested in the Confucians, but it should be an enjoyable book.

I also plan on reading several comics, but I tend to choose those even more arbitrarily than prose. Series I’ve already started and will finish, though, include Masami Tsuda’s Kare Kano, and Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack and Ode to Kirihito.…

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Semester in Review

Well, what a semester; I say ‘what a semester’ mostly because of a month of near-constant panic due to a flurry of closely-packed assignments, but I’m even more anxious now that the year’s almost over. Now that I’m halfway through Senior year, people are asking what I’ll do after graduation and actually expecting a definite answer. Like my senior year of high school four years ago, in fact.

Fuck if I know what I’m doing, though.

I don’t really feel called to any particular vocation, but am attracted to teaching at the university level. That entails graduate school, though, probably a Ph.D., which is fine, but where do I go for that? Besides, it’s too late to apply now for the next academic year, so I’ll have to take at least one semester off. That’s fine too, but most schools also want letters of recommendation, and I haven’t really bothered to brown-nose my professors that much. I haven’t gotten any help from my advisors, either.

That whined, though, I guess my anxiety is ultimately, as Led Zeppelin put it, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.”

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Summer and Summer Reading

Finals are done. With that, summer begins.

I subscribe to the school of thought that states that spring, fall, and winter all properly belong to school. Summer, however, has a sacredness about it that is profaned by classes. Summer classes are, frankly, an abomination, and though I realise that they are necessary for some, I have only scorn for those who would destroy their summer vacation willingly.

Not that my summer will be completely free, of course. Besides a part-time job and mowing the lawn regularly, I have also a few goals set out for myself. The first is to build up my art skills a bit for a drawing class I’ll take in the fall. Second is to avoiding forgetting everything I’ve learned in Japanese the last two semesters. The third is to tackle a summer reading programme I’ve developed for myself – perhaps “programme” is too ambitious, but anyway it’s a list of what I’d like to read in the coming months. The early version looks like this:

Absolom, Absolom! – William Faulkner (just finished, actually)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young DogDylan Thomas

Rashomon and Seventeen Other StoriesRyunosuke Akutagawa

Literary Essays of Ezra Pound Ezra Pound

All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Mencius

In the past, I’ve failed at summer reading lists, because I always get distracted by other projects or other books. Maybe this year will be different?…

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Junior-year Reflections

I am wrapping up my third year of university, and am consequently in a reflective mood regarding my collegiate experience so far. Looking back on the classes I’ve taken, I cannot help but be amazed at what a waste most of them are.

Now, it is better to know something than not know it, and there is much to be said about a broad-based education, but nonetheless of the thirty or so classes I have taken through this semester, only a handful are at all related to my field of study. Even including those, the classes that were worth the effort (and money) involved I could count on one hand.

The reason is not something I can quite define. One problem lies in the number of “Core Curriculum” classes, which seem overly numerous. Another is the fact that, as a secular school, there is no common foundation from which to teach.

Perhaps a fundamental difficulty lies in the purpose of the university system. An especially honest professor of mine, expanding on a point made by Ezra Pound, pointed out that the university’s purpose is not education – one can educate oneself as well as the school. Rather, the purpose is accreditation – which is something else entirely. Much like primary and secondary education, university does not exist to teach students how to think critically or approach difficulties, but instead they ensure the student (customer?) possesses enough knowledge (separate from wisdom or understanding) that they can be given a diploma with which the student can prove the fact to prospective employers – employment, not education, being the ultimate goal of most students.

The root problem, I suppose, is cultural. Education in itself is not valued as highly as good employment. What once were universities, then, become technical schools to train students in practical skills for the end of finding a job. How this is to be reversed, I do not know. Probably it should begin in a change of attitude on the part of the students and professors.

For the time being, I am mostly just thankful that I received scholarship money and thus did not have to pay too much for my accreditation. Unfortunately, I will have to pay for others in the form of taxes to pay for government-sponsored scholarship programmes.…

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Intro to America First

I’ve done more blogging in the past couple months than I’ve ever done before, but none of it’s been here. That’ll change soon as the school year winds down, but for now I’d like to direct your attention to another project.

America First is a political blog, of which I am co-editor. The goal is to seek solutions to some of the myriad problems the United States face. I have contributed most of the material so far, but my co-editor should be working on some articles soon, and ultimately we would like to build up a lively comments section.

So, stop by, and be sure to comment.…

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Orwell’s Review of ‘Mein Kampf’

In March 1940, George Orwell published a review of a translation of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf. The whole review is of at least historical interest, including the note that, since the edition had been published a year earlier, was edited from a pro-Hitler angle.

Of more lasting value, though, is Orwell’s reflection on why Hitler seemed so appealing to so many, even outside Germany. The first is familiar to many already: charisma. Hitler was not attractive, his writing clumsy, but his appearance and personality make him look like a “martyr,” in Orwell’s words, “One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to.” This seems incredible today, when reductio ad hitlerum is often taken as a valid argument, but of course that view comes with the benefit of hindsight and the effect of the public schools emphasizing the Holocaust. Some of our own modern messiahs may also age poorly, though it’s too soon to tell for certain.

Orwell finds a second point of appeal to Nazism: “Hitler has said to them [Germany] ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death.'” Sounds great, right? Sign me up!

Seriously, though, I can see the appeal. Hedonism, the mere seeking of pleasure, seems attractive for a while, but many people prefer a sense of adventure. Something glorious, historic, like what they read in history and fables; that sense of belonging to a movement greater than oneself.…

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A Look at Student Government

Today, I got a glimpse future leadership of the nation, and the view is not good.

The venue was a debate at my university among Student Government candidates for president and vice-president. These five yammerheads went on for about an hour, mostly about the importance of representing “the students.” What none of them seemed to grasp was that “the students” are not a homogenous mass, but a collection of individuals who have differing, perhaps even conflicting, opinions on what their “representatives” should do.

Actually, the vast majority of students probably don’t care about Student Government, since they don’t seem to accomplish much beyond the occasional idiotic expenditure; for example, the purchase of three “spirit rocks” for students to express school spirit (i.e., graffiti) for several thousand dollars.

One of the vice presidential candidates was especially honest when he stated that he may not have totally agreed with a particular bill he had recently voted for, but since surveys indicated “the students” approved of the bill, “the students'” opinion became his opinion.

Too bad more politicians don’t admit they’re cowards who just do what’s popular!…

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George Orwell: Essays

This is the first of a series of posts on George Orwell. I recently bought a giant (1,300+ pages!) collection of his essays and journalism, published by Everyman’s Press. The volume itself is pretty nice, except for what appears to be fudge stains on the back. Thanks, Barnes & Noble.

Anyway, the highlights here are the essays themselves. One would expect in a volume this large that much of the content would essentially be filler. So far, though, that does not seem to be the case at all. The more famous essays I’ve encountered so far – “Politics and the English Language,” “Rudyard Kipling,” “My Country Right or Left” – have all been engaging. Surprisingly, though, even short articles and book reviews often contain still-relevant insights into the subject matter, and even reveal something of the author’s personality.

I’ll delve into all this more over the next few weeks, when I examine individual essays more closely. For now, though, I highly recommend looking into these essays yourself. Orwell is best known for Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but his shorter work is almost as valuable as those novels, and probably more so for those looking to understand Orwell’s own politics.…

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