Friday, February 25, 2011

Prague Pictures 3

It's been a while since the last installment of this series. I seem to return to it whenever my sense of the futility of existence grows too strong to bear the implications of any longer. I am starting to wonder whether I really am the nihilist everybody always said I was; sometimes in novels the nihilist characters are dangerous or even sexy, but I don't think that was the kind of nihilist people had in mind when they were applying the word to me. But as I was saying, whenever my sense of futility grows especially powerful, it is my tendency to console myself by trying to recall some former state of mind in which I experienced any slight degree of pleasure and optimism both with existence and the prospect of my own future, however objectively naive or false these may have been. I will say that whatever it is I perceive as reality now, I do not perceive it with any great clarity. Nor does pessimism, for what it is worth, seem to me a state of mind any closer to truth than the excitable impressions that youth and a few neophyte brushes with grand cultural and historical artifacts previously generated.

This group of pictures are not actually of Prague, but of the unusally well-preserved 17th century town of Cesky Krumlov, which is a couple of hours by train to the south of the capital, near the Austrian border. This place was being promoted fairly by the tourism industry even then--doubtless it is now much more economically sophisticated as well as organized to serve the foreign customer as seamlessly as possible; but you can see in some of the pictures that it was still decidedly low-key in the mid '90s.

1. View of the Town Across the Vltava. The river is the same that passes through Prague. 2. View of the Castle. I forget who exactly lived here. This town is of course so pretty that very clever people likely find it banal, but when you are me the experience of such a setting, the beauty, the mental pace and rhythm of thought which it demands of you, are such as have a great effect on your whole life, and stay with you forever. I know trains are an expensive, inefficient 19th century technology, but an day's outing on one, especially to a place where cars are relatively rare, highways primitive, and the local geography condensed, is surely one of the best things in the world. The stations, especially if they are old, which they frequently are even in this country, despite the frenzy of railway station destruction that we embarked upon in the middle of the last century, are poignant and dusty, the walk to the town a chance both to clear one's head and receive interesting impressions at the same time, which are of a very different nature than what one experiences in driving, the layout of any kind of older city, provided it still functions at all, being far more congenial to experience and contemplation than I have found any modern setup to be. Certain places in modern life obviously inspire marvels of vision, innovation and other wondrous feats of the mind. But these have evidently not yet been sufficently revealed or interpreted broadly enough to have made any effect on me.

3. House Decoration. This is kind of festive, don't you think?

Due to various of my circumstances, I have to try not to succumb entirely to pessimism with regard to the political, economic and social trends of the day that often appear so dark, the details of which imminent darkness so many active minds are pleased to lay out in an extravagant manner. Mass impoverishment, a severe police state, gulags, virtual enslavement/serflike working arrangements, denial to everyone belong the very highest wealth/IQ threshholds of even minimal education, exposure to culture, etc, and such other scenarios as are frequently depicted as the moneyed classes' fondest dream for the former middle class are undoubtedly unpleasant prospects, but certainly a great deal of this apprehension and sense of powerlessness/inability to exert forceful influence on the circumstances of one's own life originates in the essential barrenness of our minds and spirits, which is ultimately a greater problem that needs to be faced up to than the viciousness of the overclass. These latter have at the moment no worthy opposition, from the aggrieved middle and working classes anyway, that is capable of commanding even so much as a moment's respect or wariness in them, which is why they have been able to trample upon them with increasing impunity over the last 15 years especially.

4. Town Seen Through Opening in the Castle Ramparts. My wife is fond of this kind of framed, concentrated shot.

5. Another Part of the Castle. A pile of old stones, but. like the picture above, suggestive of certain ideas that are no less futile than any other ones but are more generally pleasing: hunts, music lessons, games of chess in sunlit rooms, dusty cellars full of wines and casks of ale, matins, the ringing of bells, lowing cows, hay-sheaving. Yes, I know all of these time-honored pursuits have their own dark sides and cruelties and social unpleasantnesses and frustrations. I have entered my fantasy writer-artist-free spirit mode, where I seek beauty and a sense of the unities formed across epochs of time, which particular vision of truth and civilization I have long bought into, even though the trends have been against it now for more than 100 years at least.

6. We ate at this Restaurant. I remember vaguely that the theme here was that the food was extra-archaic/traditional, which kind of thing was unusual in the Czech Republic at that time. I may have had duck or something. I have a weakness for these kinds of places. There is a restaurant in Quebec City where they serve 1670 style meat pies and that kind of thing that I am rather fond of.

7. View Across the Main Square From Hotel Window. As you can see the late afternoon scene is pretty tranquil. This hotel situated right on the main square, which is ideally where you would almost always stay in a small, well-preserved historic European town, was somewhere around $8-12 a night in 1996.

8. More Castle/Hill Interaction. I find some interest in the architecture of citadels and hilltop fortifications generally.

9. Close-up of the Main Tower. Another picture that evokes pleasant feelings in me, and not empty ones, either, for I do have no small experience with sensations of emptiness. The scale and arrangement of everything in this picture seems to me to be in harmony not merely with each other, but with what humans, in the sense that European civilization conceives of them, grasp of existence and their place in it when they are perceiving especially finely. The development/application of this sensibility is an area which in my opinion American civilization has not so much struggled with but too often ignored. My impression is that other of the great ancient civilizations, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Arabs, the Persians, the Russians, the myriad peoples of India, have also in their own various terms come to some satisfying understanding of the aesthetic relation between civilized, thinking man and his natural environment, in such ways as have only sporadically found expression in the United States, especially in the modern era.

10. Final View of the Town From the Castle Hill. The same kind of view plays out in similar towns all over Europe, right down to the river rushing in the foreground at the foot of the hill: Verona, Salzburg, Budapest, Florence, Prague itself. The form is not unique but it is classical, iconic, and perhaps each successful variation is unique in a way, as one doubtless feels about beautiful women he sees, many of whom may resemble each other in some general way, but still strike the eye in such a manner that the impression is welcome and feels novel.

I'm going to have a fried chicken TV dinner now, washed down with either a Dogfish IPA or some $11 a bottle Michelangelo Chianti.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greatest TV Show Openings of All-Time: #s 21-16

Yes, the greatest wave of revolutions since 1989 is sweeping across the Caliphate, the question of the purpose of human life in 21st century society is still (I believe) very much unsettled, and the resources that support all the comforts of contemporary life that most people least want to give up are being rapidly depleted. So I am not going to try to defend myself for this topic.

I should note that I have not watched much television since the early 90s, so my selections are heavily skewed towards the shows of the 60s and 70s that were in syndication during my youth. My impression is that those were the golden years of TV theme songs anyway.

#21--Bonanza. I have a top 21 instead of a top 20 because I forgot one show and had to fit it in after I started. I thought there ought to be a Western, and I thought that this opening was overall the coolest. The genre was mature by this time, and the whole presentation has an unforced self-assurance about it that is appealing in these more uncertain times.

#20--Welcome Back Kotter. Not an inspired choice, but the song is catchy and footage of 70s era New York always carries some interest. When I first saw this opening as a kid I was distressed by the sign proclaiming Brooklyn as the 4th largest city in America. "No!" I thought, and nearly declared, emphatically, "Philadelphia is the 4th largest city in America!" It was the fourth largest city at the time, when one did not count Brooklyn separately, though now it is down to 6th or maybe even 7th. As I grew up there and was always conscious from an early age of being dominated by New York--now Washington and even Boston have emerged as further more substantial rivals, but in the 70s neither seemed as significant as they have become since--one of my great desires as a child was to find a way to increase the population of Philadelphia so that it could supplant New York in the battle for national supremacy and magazine writers and television commentators and producers would have to suck up to us, our teams, our eccentric characters and all the rest the way they always did to New York and Los Angeles.

One of the commenters on Youtube stated that the El in Brooklyn is no longer there. Is this true? I went out to Coney Island sometime in the late 90s and I am positive it was still there then. That would be a sad development.

This was an odd show for fans of ethnic and racial stereotypes. I mean Kotter is obviously Jewish, and then you have the black guy who plays basketball and the Italian guy who is popular with the ladies, but then there is the Puerto Rican Jew, which I suppose is probably an actual type, but one which, if the show was any indication, seemed to be seriously cut off from Jewish culture as most people think of it despite living in the heart of New York City. And Horshack I guess was supposed to be Polish, and perhaps Jewish as well, though that would seem to be an awfully high percentage of Jewish characters for a show set in a remedial history class in a 1970s high school. I don't know any ethnic Poles who are dweeby little guys with screechy voices however. Poles are like Lithuanians, in modern personality/dynamism terms lumbering and slow-witted perhaps compared to people from more vibrant climates, but physically they tend to be built more like middle linebackers than classic nerds.

#19--Hawaii Five O. Some people think this is #1. It makes a good first impression. The tone is urgent, the images, coming rapidly, suggest decadence and exoticism and mild danger, not usually enough to put a damper on your social life. I never watched the show.

#18--Good Times. I did a lot of research on these Good Times openings--they changed it almost every year--and settled on one of the later years when they showed clips from the show. In the early seasons the opening was scenes from the tough streets of 1970s Chicago (were any streets ever tougher than those of American cities in the 1970s?)--I remember reading that the family's apartment was supposed to be in the truly legendary and infamous Cabrini Green housing project, since demolished with great fanfare--but I don't have any personal connection to Chicago, so the effect of the vintage footage on me is not the same as when eastern cities are featured. Of course it is flat, with long, perfectly straight streets, and the buildings are not set as closely together as in eastern cities. It frankly looks a little weird to me.

If only ghetto life were really like this--well, actually it still looked pretty bad. The characters on the show were not especially dysfunctional--plenty of marriages, nobody dropping out of school, other than JJ everybody's work ethic/desire to hold a job seemed pretty high, everybody living together. It's kind of disturbing that they were never able to substantially improve their situation.

#17--Get Smart. If the dominant form of our current age is, or has been, reality television, this must represent a kind of opposite pole from the dominant paradigm of the 1960s, which seemed to be to think up the most ridiculous and unserious premise for a storyline one possibly could. Numerous examples of this will be found throughout these rankings. Much TV is always aimed at young people, and some of the more 'successful' concepts of the 60s were those which took a mocking view of various aspects of society and the culture as a teenager would have likely perceived them. This is why they are so silly, though in some instances mildly amusing. It is hard to say that the adults of the time did not take themselves as seriously as they do now, because obviously in many ways they did, but I do think people who wrote and produced TV shows in the 1960s were a little more open to the idea of the process being fundamentally absurd than people who write equally silly shows are now.

#16--The Beverly Hillbillies. Another example of the 60s' peculiar genius for totally absurd plotlines. Great song, with its twanging banjo, ludicrous lyrics, and mock serious presentation. The studios used to have guys in-house who would bang out these little ditties apropos of nothing on assignment. Of course back in the 30s and 40s they would have to come up with six of seven songs for an upcoming musical within a month or two. Does anybody do this anymore, other than John Williams and Randy Newman, who aren't exactly writing the kinds of things I'm talking about anyway? It can't be that hard, we've just fallen out of the habit of making people do it.

Granny has to be one of the five greatest characters in the history of television.

I won't be doing these all in a row, so it will probably be two weeks before I put up the next set.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shelley--"Ozymandias" (1818)

A few years back--maybe even 10 by now--I went through a phase of trying to memorize various poems, memorizing poetry being one of those myriad skills--none of which I ever seem to have--that it is continually insisted one must be able to do if he has any hoping of possessing a first rate mind. As I still considered myself a literary person at that time, it especially galled me that the mere neglect of poetry memorization--which could not possibly be that hard, I thought--was giving my rivals and enemies such easy grounds on which to be dismissive of me. As I often do when starting from pretty much nothing, I determined not just to memorize a few poems but to render myself invulnerable to any suggestion from anybody that I somehow had not learned enough. This meant ultimately the bulk of Shakespeare and Milton, and I even entertained the thought of storing away a sizable amount of Spenser just to make sure there would be no level of literary discourse from which I could be excluded. I did start small however, and within a couple of months I could pretty fairly recite "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Spring and Fall: to a Young Child", the first part of "Dover Beach", "Jerusalem", "La Ballade des Dames de Temps Jadis" in French (believe it or not, this was actually the easiest one to get), "We Real Cool", and, of course, "Ozymandias". Though other than 'Jerusalem', 'La Ballade' and 'We Real Cool', the recall was never completely perfect or smooth, and the upkeep in the memory even of seven short poems I was already finding difficult. I had not even gotten to my intermediate steps, in which I intended to achieve mastery over several dozen Elizabeth sonnets and odes as well as delve into numerous longer passages from the likes of Longfellow and Tennyson. As always happens, once I began to see how truly daunting the task was that I had set for myself, and to perceive the unlikelihood of attaining it in any form in the desired grand and timely manner, I quickly abandoned the hopeless pursuit, and except for a few snatches of verse which settle especially into the mind, allowed even the few poems I had secured so tenuously to fall away again.

Ozymandias, as doubtless everyone knows, is the Greek name for the legendary pharaoh Ramses II, who was the Louis XIV of the 1200s B.C., only probably more so. The beginning of the famous inscription on the ruins of the colossal statue of this king as reported by Diodorus Siculus, by then already 1,300 years old--"Basileus Basileown, Ozumandyus eimi (I am Ozymandias, king of kings)" is one of the very few Greek quotations I have ready to whip out in good company should I ever have occasion to do so, though I probably never will, as my wife has begged me to resist any temptation I might have to do this. The poem, a rumination on the fleetingness and insubstantiality of human existence even in its most powerful and significant manifestations, is one of Shelley's most celebrated, and of all his poems perhaps the one that has the most resonance with contemporary readers. I used to think there was also intermingled an air of romantic lament with regard to the puniness of modern man's capacity for self-generated and self-contained personal grandeur on the level of the supermen of the past, and there may well have been, this being a poem written by a 25 year-old, and that is how 25 year-olds think, though right now, today, I would be hard put to make the case that there were anything of real wisdom or truth in the idea.

The poem I guess is in the form of a sonnet though the rhyme scheme is a little unusual and other than between lines 8 and 9 there are no obvious breaks to divide the poem into distinct sections with little subsets of even numbered lines. Well, it is short, so maybe I will do a little line by line commentary pointing out some of the things I like:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--

I believe this is what is known as 'framing' the story. Now you've only got 140 feet to work with in a sonnet, and you've just used 12 of them introducing this other narrator, which does two things that I like, i.e., bringing a sense of movement, conversation, etc, into the poem and also further tightening and concentrating, even just a little, the main object of the piece. "Antique" is just a slightly less commonplace word than all the others here, but is just enough so that it stands out and dictates the sense of the entire introduction:

"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the Desart (sic) ...

Obviously here is the contrast between the image of stone, which usually represents permanence, though here pointedly trunkless, with the desert that clearly represents the temporal nature of all things. These are simple enough little ideas, but to paint the little pictures or the little songs so as to make them memorable and vivid and pleasing at some level to contemplate, that was the task, and that is not so easy to do.

Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

The half-sunkeness of the visage is a concession that its owner, while fading from memory, is not entirely forgotten yet.

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,

Passions here probably refers to 'traits of character'. Still, it is notable that romantic Shelley emphasizes that the only aspects of this monument 'which yet survive' are the work of the anonymous artist.

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

The closing line of the poem's first part, as well as the only one in the poem whose meaning even at the basic level is somewhat of a challenge to tease out, both of which may indicate that the poet intended the thought presented here to be significant. The hand it is generally agreed refers to the sculptor, and the heart to the pharaoh. To be honest I do not like this line; it is likely that I just am not seeing clearly what it means, but it doesn't seem to me to fit well with the rest of the poem, and what I can make out of it seems redundant to the impression made by the previous four lines while adding nothing to it.

She's cute, huh? I like.

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

For the opening of the second part (the final six lines), as it were, of the poem, you now have the traveller introducing a third "speaker" as it were, the inscription from the remote past, which besides creating a very satisfying sense of symmetry in the body of the poem generally, is also one of those little devices that aids in memorization, for anybody who cares about that sort of thing.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

The intention of course is ironic. This is an excellent line. Clean, powerful, and laden with double meaning practically on the surface.

Nothing beside remains.

Is this literally true (regarding Egypt and the monuments of Ramses II)? I actually don't think it is, but it probably is not important as far as the meaning of the poem goes, which is only loosely concerned with the reality of any one specific ruin. I also don't think Shelley actually ever went to Egypt, for what that is worth.

Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

The sands of time clearly being evoked again. Excellent image on which to end the poem, again simple, but visceral, because I have no doubt that many people, when contemplating the idea of death or eternity, are not far off in their mental imagery from a kind of endless desert. Many have commented on the coincidence that the 3 great monotheistic religions emerged out of the traditionally rather thinly populated desert regions of the Middle East, which landscape doubtless encourages a sense of the constant presence both of death and the eternal that has been hard for those of us accustomed to well-forested and water-rich countries to tap into.

Two Brief Observations I Omitted From My Tiger Mother Article.

1. I thought the tiger mother's restrictions on being in plays/acting was odd, because unlike apparently a lot of people, I do not see acting, if pursued at a somewhat serious level, as a waste of time or a bad pursuit at all, and would even encourage any of my children if they wanted to pursue it even if it caused them to miss out on medical school or establishing their accounting practice before age 30. First of all, simply from the cultural point of view, the theater almost certainly has a greater tradition in the English-speaking world than any of the other major performing arts. Really, it is an incredible and I would say underutilized source of riches that belongs to us, and I do include Americans in this because--1) our native theater, in the 20th century anyway, was actually pretty good, and 2) the language and performance standards of the classical English theater are not so inaccessible to us that we do not stand to profit much by a little exertion to try to study and attain them. Secondly, almost all of the people I know who have done some pretty serious acting have excellent personality/social skills relative to the general population. Of course there is a marked tendency among some of these people towards self-absorption, being intolerant of boredom even for a couple of seconds, etc, but as someone whose life has been largely crimped by the inability to speak to other people or present myself publicly in a lively and engaging way, these traits are very attractive when one sees them in others, and to me they would even compensate somewhat for having to live in comparative material penury in our barbaric society.

Thirdly, serious/professional serious theater people have often memorized huge amounts of Shakespeare, as well as translated Greek tragedies and other plays, which is supposed to be such a beneficial accomplishment for the mind.

2. To all the people who say American parents aren't competitive enough, are too soft to push their kids and teach them to win like the Indians and Chinese, hey, whenever my children are about to play a game, enter a spelling bee, whatever, I try to tell them that I don't just want to see a victory, I want to see the opponent children psychologically crippled for life, etc, but my wife makes me stop and I cannot seem to steamroll her and get my messages across on the importance of developing the habit and expectation of winning and destroying any rival who presents himself in your path. So while you can blame me for being too weak-willed to win the game, you can't blame me for not understanding the game.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Probably the most famous of all Soviet silent movies, and one of the landmarks of the form in any genre, we are singularly unlikely to do it any justice here. Nonetheless to the tourist of film its approach and brief incursion on one's own life are exciting in a way similar to the way those of the Grand Canyon or the Leaning Tower of Pisa are to his geographical counterpart. Like numerous other classics I have recorded watching, Battleship was shown at school, and even then with my extremely limited knowledge of movie history, in the days leading up to the showing I would see one of the flyers posted up at various places around campus and think almost hypnotically "Battleship Potemkin! Sergei Eisentstein! Odessa steps! Baby carriage! The maggots on the hunk of rotted beef!" While I won't say that I was aflame with excitement, not really having any idea what the movie was or why it was supposed to be great, it pleased me to think that a pretty much universally acknowledged masterpiece in which almost all smart people, but hardly any stupid ones, would have some degree of interest was going to be making an appearance in our little society of burgeoning thinkers. So as I say, at that time I was, as I am now, primarily a dutiful viewer, still experiencing the movie as a night's entertainment, though perhaps at a more elevated intellectual level than usual, mentally checking off the celebrated scenes and attitudes and propagandistic points as they came along, feeling mildly disappointed that the massacre on the Odessa steps did not affect me more powerfully--I found the cinematic language which was informing it to be confusing. On the whole though I was satisfied with my evening's morsel of culture, not unlike the feeling one has in completely a single awkward dance or five minute conversation with a girl one has been interested in from afar, neither of which has been carried off with any skill or will ever lead anywhere. Nonetheless I had seen the Battleship Potemkin, much as I had once procured an innocent dance with some Jenny or Betsy who seemed desirable to me, and I could enter it into my '+' column for all times.

About ten years afterwards, in deference to another system I had generated for determining which movies to watch, less defined than my current one and therefore soon abandoned, I saw the Battleship again. I had apparently not learned much that I could apply to my viewing of it in the ensuing decade however, for my response to it was largely the same. I watched it as seriously as I could, appreciated it duly, sat in the dark for half an hour afterwards letting the images and the score sink in, drank two shots of Smirnoff, which, this product being distilled in Connecticut, was probably a completely pointless gesture, in spite of all of which I soon largely forgot about the film.

So another ten years pass by, yet another system derived with the object of identifying and seeing only movies possessing some claim to greatness (why? I should scrap this altogether and devote all my free time to studying opera and the foundations and ornaments of art history, seeing as my only object in any of this is to be able to present to the world indisputable evidence of visible cultivation, though nothing seems to have any effect on me in that regard), and Potemkin comes up again, being apparently so classic that there is no program of comprehensive film history one can undertake that does not land upon it almost at once. By now do I dread its appearance? Not in the least! I was as excited to see it as I was on the other occasions; for with anything so special and the object of such widely-shared enthusiasm at the highest levels of criticism and expertise, one is infected with the conviction that something remarkable could easily strike one or come to one at anytime. Even my blog post could catch the eye of some wonderfully perceptive and alive reader with whom I could develop a mutually rewarding intellectual correspondence. Probably not, but even the thought of such a circumstance resulting from my review of The Hangover was impossible to entertain (Wasn't it?).

So I saw it for a third time, this movie that I never tire of but never enter the wondrous dynamism of either. It was still innovative, it was still grand and ambitious, the meat was still rotten, the officers vicious, the priest ridiculous, the sea and the panaroma of Odessa shimmering, the steps sequence iconic and spectacular and confusing, the revolutionary hero still rather too bull-necked and unintelligent-looking for me to embrace wholly. I am stuck on the proverbial treadmill in relation to this remarkable movie, largely able to appreciate it, or much of it anyway, but only coldly. I suspect I will not think of it again until another 10 years goes by and it appears somewhere on my social schedule again, as if the movie is an orbiting planet that keeps re-appearing in my line of sight at predictable intervals without getting close enough for me to make out very much about it beyond what is obvious.

I think this is the third ship movie I've had in the last year, after The Navigator, which is almost contemporaneous with this and therefore makes for an interesting comparison, as well as The Caine Mutiny, which is also about a captain of a ship at least being relieved of his duties by an uprising of his crew, though of course that was a bourgeois conflict centering around technocratic competence and mental health rather than an expression of all out war between two completely polarized and ultimately incompatible classes of men.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Education as Social Darwinian Death Match?

I was going to offer some commentary on the recent brouhaha over the Tiger Mother and her unimpressed evaluation of what passes for child rearing among Americans more than a generation or two removed from their immigrant roots, but, as if to further hammer home the point, this has proven a task that at this point may be too overwhelming for me to carry out, at least in the space of a week. So my comments are going to appear in much truncated form.

My intention, like that of probably most people who felt compelled to weigh in on the topic, was a weak attempt to justify--mainly to myself--my own comparatively lackluster approach not only to my own life, but to those of my numerous children as well. The young ones may yet develop in such a way as to justify themselves, but it is likely that any credit I might claim for such a happy event would be purely incidental, and certainly I have no conception, not having been able to do so for myself, of being able to will the children to great heights of tangible accomplishment, the understanding of how to do which is but another of the many built-in advantages our various overclasses now have over the perpetually confused and disorganized legions of the population.

Before I had children, I had actually envisioned subjecting them to a similar program of my own of deep learning, high culture, etc, though without quite the same take-no-prisoners spirit as the tiger mother. Didn't there used to be an ethos, or at least a faction, in intellectual culture which held that constant emphasis on economic competition was in fact mentally, not to mention spiritually, enervating, and that one of the purposes of education was actually to provide the mind with an alternative and defense against a purely materialistic understanding of the world? Obviously whatever interpretation I made out on these lines was hopelessly simplistic and naive. Nobody in the upper reaches of this scoiety has been promoting this kind of worldview, successfully anyway, for thirty years. But getting back to my program of instruction: my models for the kind of intelligence and conception of the world I thought I would like my children to have were still primarily English, especially the 18th century humanists, with flourishes of the energy of the Victorians and the wit and artistic sensibility of the 1920s Evelyn Waugh crowd, some of the rigor and penetration of the Germans, the eye for the telling detail and sense of exquisite as well as precise thought of the French and Russians, and the sense of self-possession and confidence of the humbly-born but irrepressible old Americans, people like Franklin, Lincoln, Mark Twain and so on. These were just notable models, not specific goals; the idea was not really to take the most prestigious institutions and professions of the present moment by storm but to have a mind that is neither complacent nor thrown into a flutter by every unforeseen question or challenge that presents itself. One hopes this kind of training would help promote economic and formal academic success, or at least render one capable of achieving these if he desires, but I could not bring myself to set out with that as the main end in view. I am still held back by a sense that there is something base in it, which is really a very foolish way to go about it, since, at least if you have any ambition, determination, capacity, etc, it is the expected and approved attitude, while my attitude suggests nothing but evidence of personal failure and a lack of the qualities necessary to compete in and master the conditions of life. Whatever elevating effect the mental strength and culture of the current best and brightest men is having on our society and its institutions as a whole, is somehow not speaking to me, who should be receptive to it more than most individuals.

Anyway I have not, of course, as yet followed through on more than a few token gestures of my own intended program. And why not? Well, first of all it was never more than a vague conception of some things I wanted to do, which I saw myself introducing naturally into the routine of life at such time as it would be apparent to me that the children were ready. Life does not really work that way unless you have extreme control over the various circumstances of it that play on you, however, which I do not. Secondly, a good number of these areas of study, such as classical languages, math and science at a level approaching seriousness, and the tiger mother's own pet discipline, classical music, I had intended, even if an advanced state of mastery of them was impossible, to attain a passable knowledge of certainly by the time I was thirty, which I failed to do. I suppose I could still reasonably be of some help to an intelligent child in a few areas, French grammar and reading comprehension, introductory poetry, literature, and history, and the rudiments of logic, rhetoric and other properties of formal philosophy, and probably some outline versions of these subjects will be introduced into the general family discussion in time. However, even from this shaky level, my mind suddenly and severely imploded right around the time the children were born--the children, the internet and the ascendance of George Bush and his friends all occurred around the same time and I suspect all three factors contributed to this crisis--and ever since I have barely been able to maintain even a loose control and direction over the day-to-day workings of my life, especially because this dimunition of capacity coincided with a precipitous drop in my level of mental energy, which was also not phenomenally high to begin with. So while we may make some forays into the wider world of humanistic learning, it does not at this time anyway form the solid core of how we understand and approach the world, which would be the main object in undertaking such a program of study.

The main problem with me, and I assume my children, in forging ahead in the world--I do not use the world compete, not because I do not understand that American life at least is competition, but because I truly think it is not useful to approach education in this mindset until one starts reaching extremely high levels in one's fields of study. People seem to perceive that there are fewer worldly prizes to be attained by traditional education, and that if they fail to gain any of these prizes, or such ones as they want, anyway, then their particular education, or that of anyone who failed to gain the prizes, or has not been able to produce new prizes either for himself or others, has no value or meaning. In any case I believe the entwinement in the majority of the public mind of economic competitiveness as the primary concern of schooling is unfortunate. But as I was saying, what I perceive to have been my own great problem in developing, and what I hope to correct in the children, was my poor work ethic, which even more than superior innate intelligence is the great advantage most people have over me and perhaps my children. We are all fairly well set up to thrive in the world if the conditions of 1950 still prevailed, but in 2010 and especially looking ahead to the 2020s and 30s, evidently not so much. I also believe I was hampered by a weak background in some important academic subjects as well as some significant, though I believe avoidable, personality/character issues. The personality issues I have tried to address by having more children so they will all be used to being around and dealing with other people their own age, providing greater stability and overall educational support in the family, giving them a mother and generally surrounding them with people who have more energy, optimism, well-developed intelligence, etc, than I was under the cloud of as a child. This is actually a lot, and it should make a big difference, though I suppose I could still get divorced. I am also confident that even if they are not to have the full John Stuart Mill/Wittgenstein treatment from age 3 onwards, that I can help point out the gaps in their learning, keep abreast of useful opportunities to gain exposure to smart people, social polish and so on, better than my parents did. But inculcating the kind of work habits you seem to need today to indicate to people that you are worthy of their respect/patronage I do not know how to do. I read and write a lot, it is true, and from about the age 14 to 30 I found these to be generally improving habits in myself, though obviously it did not raise me to any very high level vis-a-vis other people, and since I reached 30 while I am still occasionally able to find pleasure in these activities, the sense of any kind of forward transformation of my intelligence or character has largely ceased. In other words, while I can provide an example of a fair amount of activity, in me it is not especially productive activity that ever leads anywhere, which is not, I don't think, the way that successful people work.

Of course the largely unspoken crisis of confidence in the gentile white middle class, exacerbated by the unstable economic situation, are the increasing signs that its children on the whole may not just lack the work ethic but the innate intelligence to compete with the most talented of the Asian ethnic groups as well as Jews. It is not a secret that the top universities and professional schools are already around 40% Jewish and Asian, and would be more so, probably much more so, if these schools were to select their students purely on test scores and grades. The political implications of this are pretty staggering, and indeed the effects are already being seen, as the populist white right desperately seeks an alternative source of political and economic power outside the current structures that they increasingly have no prayer of dominating. Many of these same people, burdened with debt and disappointed in their own outcomes and places in society, and deeply confused about their function in the same, have begun to sour on traditional college and the whole system of expensive credentialing and are groping around for which direction to go in. It is very difficult to convince most people that they are not as intelligent, do not have as much potential, etc, as they think they are/do; and contrary to popular belief, the middle class is actually told this by conventional wisdom, economists, college professors and so forth, all the time. The schools are atrocious, your kids are not special, don't get your hopes up (because we all know, if you aren't special anymore, there probably is nothing to hope for) we need to import talent from foreign countries to keep the economy running because there isn't enough in the native population, and all the rest of it. It is very hard to accept it even when the evidence that it is true is overwhelming, because other virtues, apart from physical beauty, do not generate much respect/status in current society, in large part because they too are seen as undeveloped compared to what they were formerly/ought to be.

All right, it has been a week. I have to end this post. I have believe the current conditions which are so terrifying to parents--shortages of jobs/income opportunities, college & housing costs, the outrageous debt system--will be overhauled within the next 15 years, as the baby boomer elect's death grip on society finally starts to slack. My own generation is largely hopeless--I don't think they are actually evil, but they do strike me as rather mean-spirited and very stupid--but the people ten and more years younger than us will be hitting their 30s and 40s exhausted, stifled, having lived most of their lives in precarious and what they will more easily perceive to be unfair (people my age have I feel largely internalized the Republican propaganda that has been drilled into us for thirty years, that taxes, government intervention, high wages, health care benefits, etc are unreasonable demands to make on productive, i.e., rich people) economic conditions. They will address income disparities. They will address the inflated costs (relative to median income) of basic needs in a strong modern society, whatever form it is going to take--housing, medical care, education for such people as will benefit/are needed by society to benefit by it, and strengthen the institutions, public and private, which support these goods. Even if there is to be a downscaling of economic life, as some predict, I do not see why it must necessarily fall brutally and with no societal organization/support on the mass of the population while a sliver of the upper crust maintains all of their privileges. This may well be the result but I don't see it as inevitable.

All right, I have to stop now.