How Austrian Are You?

I just took the Mises Institute’sAre You an Austrian?” quiz. Apparently, my economic views are 82/100 Austrian. A couple of my answers to the 25-question quiz were more in-line with the Chicago school, and a couple others with Keynesian/neo-classical economics. Somehow, I even managed to give one socialist answer(!).

Though my final score is probably accurate, and no such quiz is perfect, there were a few questions I had to hedge on. For example, one question asked about government involvement in endeavours like schools and roads. Well, I think government should build roads, but should not involve itself with schools.

It’s also really tough for an online quiz, with questions like “What is the reason for the interest rate, and should the rate be regulated?” Well, shit, I don’t know.

That aside, it’s definitely a step above the typical “What Pokemon type are you?” fare (I’m psychic-type, BTW). Check it out, and while you’re there read up on some Austrian economics too.

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Memorizing Poetry

As promised, Serious Business.

In order to improve my memory, impress chicks, and maybe even learn something, I’ve begun memorizing poetry. During the summer, I committed the entirety of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” to memory, in addition to several other poems over the past seven months or so. Namely, Edgar Allen Poe’s “El Dorado,” Stephen Crane’s “In the Desert,” Ezra Pound’s “A Pact” and “In a Station of the Metro,” and Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice.” Right now I’m working on Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

The process is surprisingly easy. Just going a couple lines at a time, memorizing even a longer poem like “The Hollow Men” isn’t too difficult, so long as one is willing to invest some time in the process and repeats the learned material with some regularity. Shorter poems, especially highly metrical ones like “El Dorado,” take very little effort at all.

To what end this endeavour? On a practical level, it’s a workout for one’s memory, and helps me remember portions of works that I have not even tried to commit to memory. Having a ready body of works memorized also allows one to take advantage of any opportunities for a (perhaps overly) clever reference in the course of conversation.

Of course, spending so much time with a poem also aids understanding. I feel that I understand “The Hollow Men” better now than I did when I first began memorizing it, simply because I have dealt with it so much. The structure of these poems also becomes much clearer.

In short, it’s an engaging, beneficial exercise, and a big hit at parties

Nerdy parties, anyway.…

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Crying Over Finals

Got out of a final exam for a language class today, in which a man was literally reduced to tears. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen that happen before, though this particular exam wasn’t that hard. Guess he just really, really, wanted to do well.

It’s a curse and blessing to me that I don’t get worked up over exams. I’ve seldom felt stressed over them, never lost any sleep or felt compelled to cease all forms of joy and happiness to cram every possible second of study time in order to get a few extra points, and certainly never shed tears over a grade. Unfortunately, my GPA is also lower than it could be because of my laid-back attitude.

So, to everyone out there dealing with finals, my message for this post is: Chill!…

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Economics in One Post

With all the talk of the government needing to spend money in order to stimulate the economy, I figured now would be as good a time as any to break out Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

In short, based on my understanding of his book, a government has only two ways, besides outright seizure, of raising money. The first is taxation, and the second is inflation (the printing of more money). Every dollar the government spends must be paid for by one dollar of taxation or inflation. In neither case is there any real gain to the economy, because by taxation wealth is simply redistributed, not created, and by inflation the value of each dollar (or pound, or whatever) is reduced, making the additional money less meaningful.

That’s, uh, really about it. Hazlitt expands on that concept in his writings, of course, but really this seems like plain common sense. Why Congress fails to grasp such concepts is a mystery.…

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Bad Assignments File

A post for the “Ridiculous Assignments” file.

In the creative writing class I’m currently taking, our final project is to take a piece we’ve written during the semester, and translate it into a different medium.

In other words, for a creative writing class, the most important assignment of the year is to create something, anything, except what this course is supposed to be about. That’s great.

Theoretically, the purpose of this assignment is to… I suppose help me better understand my original piece by translating it to something else. However, I’m in this class to learn to write, and this assignment is, at best, only tangentially related.…

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On Reading the Cantos

Ezra Pound is one of those poets who tends to intimidate people, and as I finish up reading A Draft of XXX Cantos I can certainly see why. I imagine he would have been okay with that, though. Judging from his ABC of Reading, he was what you might call a “poet’s poet.” He didn’t seem to have much patience for the lazy student of poetry, though in both the ABC and the Cantos he does help the student – the truly interested student – where he can, at least in his own way.

For example, on first opening the Cantos, one notices how there seems to be little connection between different passages. Worse, these passages tend to make use of many historical and literary figures, some well-known and some obscure, and though the primary language of the poem is English, he even throws in an assortment of other languages.

So, what the hell’s going on? First of all, don’t panic. Just read. In the ABC of Reading, Pound places more stress on what he calls “melopoeia,” the sound of the language, than on “phanopoeia,” the meaning of the language. If the reader can at least appreciate the sound of Pound’s work, then he already understands a great part of the Cantos.

As for the meaning, it helps to be widely read. The Odyssey and the Divine Commedy are referenced often. Reading Pound’s ABC of Reading is also a great primer for the Cantos, since he introduces the reader to his own philosophy of writing and reading poetry, and also gives examples of works he considers especially worthwhile in the Western literary tradition.
Luckily, all of Pound’s references can be traced to specific people and characters from history and literature, as opposed to, say, Symbolist poets who sometimes give few hints for what they’re talking about. Furthermore, whenever an idea is especially important, Pound will expound on it for a while before moving on, which at least helps hint what parts of the Cantos the reader ought to focus on, and also gives some additional material to work with.

Also of importance is what Pound refers to in ABC as the “ideogrammic method.” In short, this involves juxtaposing two or more images or ideas to convey another idea. He draws this from his study of Chinese ideograms, where more complex characters are formed by combining simpler characters.
So, in the first section of the first Canto, Pound presents a translation of the Odyssey. Why? The Odyssey is by Homer, the oldest epic poet in the Western tradition, and the section he translates was, at the time, thought to be the oldest part of the Odyssey. The ideogrammic method comes in because he translates it into Anglo-Saxon verse form, the oldest form of poetry in the English language. What’s the ideogram? That he intends to make use of the Western literary tradition in this poem, and will be going back to the oldest parts of this tradition.

See? That’s not so hard, is it?

Okay, yeah it’s still pretty tough, but that’s what annotated editions are for……

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11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

On this day, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in A.D. 1918, ended what is possibly the most catastrophic event in human history. The Great War, as those involved called it, or the First World War, involved some of the most brutal fighting mankind has yet engaged in.

The word “tragedy” is overused in describing public events, but the Great War certainly fits, because most of those involved  were scarred, emotionally if not physically, or killed through no real fault of their own. Most of the combatants were drafted, and while most of the major wars in modern history have at least some pretext, the Great War was astoundingly unnecessary and wasteful.

Though the number of living veterans is now small, the impact of the war remains. Even the war’s political ramifications – great as they are – gradually dissipate. What, then, is the Great War’s relevance to the modern world? I can think of two reasons why the war is still relevant.

First, as one of history’s best reminders that the government is not your friend.

Second, its impact on art and literature. Very few writers of the early twentieth century were unaffected by the Great War, and its impact can be felt in most major works from the years following the war. Some of the greatest poets of their generation were themselves veterans, such as Siegfried Sassoon. Others were killed in the fighting, such as Wilfred Owen. No doubt other great men died who never had any chance to develop and share their talents, whether in poetry or another field, and that is possibly the greatest tragedy of the war.…

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‘Tis Better to be Brief

One thing that I’ve learned in the last year is the power of brevity.

Now, I’ve known this, to some extent, ever since I read The Elements of Style back when I first got interested in writing in middle school, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized just how condensed a written work can be. I refer you to Ezra Pound’s famous “In a Station of the Metro.”

Here’s a poem that consists only of two lines and a title. Not only that, but the two lines aren’t even a proper sentence – there’s no predicate. One can say, literally, that nothing happens in this poem. Personally, I was somewhat puzzled by this poem when I first encountered it, and remained so until last year when I had to write an essay on a work of my choice, and chose this poem.

That nothing happens is almost certainly intentional. This is an example of imagist poetry, which, as one might guess, emphasizes the importance of imagery in a poem over high-sounding, elaborate language and flowery description. “Metro” is an extreme example, but that Pound is able to convey any idea at all in a single image is remarkable.

So, what is that idea? My guess is that the poem is an ironic statement on the hectic environment of a metro station. Go to a big-city subway, and see how many people come and go. Quite frenetic, right? Yet, not only does this poem not really describe the action, but as stated above literally nothing happens. There is also a contrast between the people in the crowd and the man-made setting against the natural images used to describe them. The irony is great, and the poem ends up much more powerful and memorable than if Pound had taken the more traditional route and described the metro in longer, more elaborate verse.…

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