The 10,000 Hour Rule, Video Games, Entertainment, and Opportunity

Yes, this article is going to cover a lot of ground and probably not very thoroughly.

The 10,000 hour rule is a concept that Malcom Gladwell came up with to explain the amount of time necessary to attain mastery of a sport, subject, or art. 10,000 hours of practice would, in theory, allow anyone to reach a near professional level. This translates to a little over 3 years  practicing 8 hours per day.

This seems like a lot now, now consider this – the average American adult spends 5 and a half hours watching video content per day. That is, the average adult lets 1/5 of their day, and a large percentage of their waking day, goes to complete waste. With three years of watching the Simpsons, Seinfeld, or playing League of Legends you could have mastered an ancient language, become a painter, or, if you split up your time, you could have become proficient in several languages or other skills.

Maybe you are starting to see what I’m getting at – entertainment is taking up more and more of or time but it is getting simpler and simpler (and, admittedly, more realistic looking in some cases). Look at Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Pokemon Go, really any Nintendo game, the majority of modern blockbusters (I mean we remake the same super hero movies over and over and over).

We no longer read, go to the theater, or do any number of things that might have passed as entertainment and but were also intellectually stimulating. This kind of degeneration can even be seen in music. In point of fact, it is probably most obvious in music. Much of modern art and literature fits the bill as well – I mean Young Adult literature as a genre is a joke.

All this time wasted on episodes forgotten and video games quit after 40 hours of play (and let’s not forget the 60 dollars to be spent on the next 40 hours), it’s all absurd. Think of all the opportunities lost, the things that could have been learned, how much more intelligent each of us could be in three years time if only we didn’t sit around as endless consumers of media. Media for which we are paying!


You pay first with money, then with time. And what do you have to show for it? In this age of pornography and video games one can sit around and feel as through he is some kind of sex king and next an undefeatable magician? These are things that people are extremely unlikely achieve in the real world. So why even try?

But they could achieve incredible skill that, while perhaps not so impressive as conjuring fire, are still extremely awe inspiring. Perhaps the worst part is that these people spend their lost time doing these thing in their youth! At least go outside, good Lord. What will they have to show when they are 30, work 9 hours per day, and have a kid? They will have far less time to study, learn, and practice… but even then I’d hazard most will spend that time in a similar manner. Less hours but a greater percentage of free time donated to this onanism.

As VR becomes more mainstream, even greater numbers of people are going to drop out of society to live out their fantasies. It lines up well with our current culture – personal happiness is the ultimate good, why not take the easy route there?

If the 10,000 hour rule is to be believed – one could become a near master artist in several mediums, a writer, and a polyglot over the course of a lifetime. A true renaissance man.

Everyone has the potential and the opportunity – information is more widespread, accessible, and user-friendly than ever. It’s just a matter of will.



English, Uncategorized, Writing

Reviving Obsolete Words and Antiquated Phrases

No I will not be filling this article with shoehorned obsolete words.

Nowadays there is a propensity to say things like ‘languages changes this is no different’ in the fact of the slow collapse of English learning in the lower and middle class in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France (I can’t speak to others but I suspect that the situation is similar).

Vocabularies are shrinking and comprehension of grammar is slowly eroding. Nowadays students need side by side translations when reading the classics of their own language. This is absurd. One of the best things about English, and by far the greatest argument for grammatical prescriptivism, is the fact that one can go back and read very, very old literature. An educated English reader can read the unadulterated works of most major writers that follow Chaucer. Perhaps a dictionary is needed but that is all.

Even Chaucer can be read with a few hours of instruction and an edition with ample and quality footnotes on the first stories. After this it is only on occasion that the reader needs to be taught something new.

Now you might be saying ‘Oh that can’t be right, so much has changed over the centuries.’ Well you’d be right and wrong. A lot has been added to the language since Chaucer’s time but comparatively little has been removed or changed into an unrecognizable form.

This is the real patrimony of English, by just being an educated speaker there is six centuries worth of literature that is available to you!

Despite this obvious advantage there are still those that declare ‘oh a living language changes get over it.’ Well kindly va te faire voutre if you believe that. These people are willing to cut their children off from their cultural patrimony, and for what reason?

We live under the real threat of becoming something like the modern day Greeks – a people with an incredible literature, but none of them can read it. Well, the few that bother to study Koine or Attic can but that is all. The Greeks can’t read Plato or Aristotle or even the Bible because they made a decision to normalize the degenerated peasant speak because it was ‘more democratic.’ This is a degeneration that the Japanese have been experiencing since 1945 and are trying to reverse.

The opposite is the Icelanders, they, through carefully managing their language have managed to avoid letting it simplify and wander as so many European languages have. Icelanders can read the Viking sagas (Old Norse) with greater ease than English students can read Shakespeare despite the extra centuries in between!

However, we can fight this trend. Word that are obsolete and ‘old fashioned’ can be refashioned into something new and exciting. Or at least reintroduced as a literary flourish. Anything we can do to begin reversing the trend of shrinking vocabularies (Grammar will require actual work by teachers. They could start by actually teaching grammar.).

So use old words, antiquated phrases, complicated (but hopefully not unwieldily) sentence structures – in the end our progeny might thank us.

Now if only we could get people to start reading again.

English, Uncategorized

Learn New Words, Dammit!

According to the Economist, the average adult native speaker has a working vocabulary of between 20,000 and 35,000 words. The vast majority of these words are learnt in school with acquisition ceasing almost entirely after the completion of University. This is further compounded by the fact that barely 60% of Americans read at least one book per year! Readership is slightly higher in countries like France but the decline in readership is something that can be noticed throughout the West.

Reading was once the domain of the very educated, wealthy elite. Having been democratized by movable type and the public education, reading became one of the greatest leisure activities of the modern age. Now, in the face of bright, loud, and flashy competition such as Television, the internet, and, especially now, video games, reading has faced a sharp decline. And a little mentioned side effect is the drop off this is the negative impact this has on the working vocabulary of the populace. People are not likely to encounter a new word traversing the vast Sahara of video game blogs and BuzzFeed articles. In fact I’d expect that, over time, their working vocabulary shrinks as many words are only used in a literary context. A simple way to illustrate this point is to look at so-called SAT words.These notoriously difficult and rare words ought to be second nature to someone in his 30s; however, oftentimes they are long forgotten.

Your vocabulary is not a static thing, you don’t get to wrote a word in the mental lexicon and expect it to be there five years later when you are trying to pull it out at a meeting to look a little better educated than Stephen. No, if you haven’t encountered it in five years, it’s likely long gone. You might recognize it in writing but you will be hard pressed to use it in conversation.

The best way to care for your vocabulary is to water it often. Read, both a lot and carefully: If you encounter a word of dubious meaning: for the love of God, look it up! There is no excuse with electronic dictionaries – it will take one minute at most. However, if you read frequently, there is a good chance that you rarely run across a new word. In order to keep improving, you should specifically target difficult and rarely used words. One of the ways I do this is by language learning (Latin is particularly wonderful for this) but the other is via a daily email called A.W.A.D. or A Word A Day. It is a tiny email that is sent out daily (and for me is the only non-annoying daily mailing list I’ve ever encountered) containing, well, one word per day. The word itself is included in the subject so if you already know it then there is no need to waste your time. Within the email all definitions are listed and the historical examples of usage are given, which really helps insofar as understanding where to use it.

At the end of the week a digest is sent out containing all the words of the week as well as poetry and reflections from other people the mailing list.

And finally, WRITE down every new word you learn. As a native English speaker new words should be uncommon so this is not much of a hassle. Review your list once in a while and you might be shocked how many new words you’re learning.


Literature, Uncategorized

Good Writers and Great Readers

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Of course to be a great writer one has to write a lot (though perhaps not so much as Stephen King…) but that is self evident. The thing in which I am more interested is the place of reading insofar as becoming a great writer is concerned. this seems self-evident, writing is the other side of reading! Of course they would be closely linked, however I’d, if I may be so bold, go even further than Mr. King. I believe to to be a great writer one has to be a phenomenal reader.

But why? If the goal is to become a good writer then why wouldn’t one spend the majority of his time practicing the art itself? Well, at a simpler level, think of it this way. You learned to speak via listening to your parents, if you spent most of your time working with what you already had… well, you would not have gotten very far. When you were learning to write, if you spent the majority of your time writing and had very little input from people that had already learned to write, well your writing would probably not improve very much would it?

We learned to speak by listening to a huge amount of material and eventually trying ourselves… but even then we listened far more than we spoke. It is the same with writing, if one focuses on practicing writing in and of itself but rarely or never draws from those far more skilled, then growth will be heavily stunted.

Reading graces the reader with experience, exposure to new styles of writing, as well as new plot devices and vocabulary. Not to mention the sheer joy of reading a good novel, poem, or story. And better, the reader doesn’t have to put much effort into the exchange. Provided he has a well developed attention span and is willing to look up the odd word he doesn’t know, all that is left is to enjoy the fruit of a stranger’s labor. And, of course, passively absorb what makes their work so enjoyable (or distasteful) to you.

Good writers are not just ‘good’ readers. I’d say to be more than a middling writer one has to be a great reader. Being very, very well read is the first major step to being an excellent writer. There is no way around it.


Catullus 101

Beyond Seneca, my favorite Latin author is almost certainly Catullus. For all the reasons that I adore Seneca’s writing, I love Catullus’s because they are the complete opposite. His writing is so full of feeling and élan, he can simultaneously be hold two conflicting emotions and record this conflict beautifully. He can convey some of the most complicated emotions in such short, pithy poems. For example in his famous poem 85:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

This translate’s roughly to ‘I hate and I love. How is this happening, perhaps you ask./I don’t know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.’ A great deal of the loveliness is lost when translated, but one can at least see the kind of wonderfully short but powerful poem Catullus is capable of writing. This poem was almost certainly written about his lover, Clodia Mettle, who is often referred to in his poems as ‘Lesbia.’ This name is derived from the island ‘Lesbos,’ which is where the Greek poetess Sappho resided.

However, it is neither Catullus’s background nor, wonderful though it may be, his poem 85. Rather I want to talk about his poem 101, which, to me, is his greatest and most heartfelt achievement. It is a poem he wrote about his voyage to go to his brother’s funeral. And it is whence the extraordinarily famous line ‘ave ate vale’ comes. Here is the full text:

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
Nunc tamen interea heac, prisco quae more partentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manatia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Here is my rough translation:

‘Carried through many many nations and through many waters
I come, brother, to these miserable funeral rites,
so that I can finally honor you with the gift of death
and speak in vain to the mute ashes,
since fortune took you yourself away from me,
alas miserable brother taken undeservedly from me.
Now nevertheless these, which by the first rite of our parents
have been handed down, a sad gift, for a funeral sacrifice,
accept running with many tears from a brother,
and in eternity, brother, hail and farewell.’

Whereas so many of Catullus’s poems are about love, lovers, hate for pervious lovers, hate from pervious lovers’ lovers, etc. it is wonderful to see such raw emotion not spring from the well of lust. There are so many wonderful flourishes that Catullus manages, a particular favorite of this author’s is the way he substantializes the rites themselves as something that is drenched in his tears. The way he plans to speak ‘nequiquam,’ or in vain to his brother’s mute ashes is especially poignant. He is making an entire journey that he realizes is entirely in vain.

Even throughout his grief Catullus, who is notoriously narcissistic and self-centered, contemplates all those who have died before his brother, those from whom these rites have been past down. One can only imagine how the grief built up as he travelled ‘multas per gentes et multa per aequora,’ for both land and sea travel were not only slow and arduous, but also dangerous in their own right. His brother died in Bithynia in Turkey, so Catullus is not exaggerating the distance he has to travel from Rome for this funeral.

Catullus save his most powerful words for last, ‘Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.’ This entire poem is address to his brother and the ‘munus’ that he is giving to his brother should be read to be the poem itself. We are sharing in what Catullus says to the mutus cinis that is his brother. This beautiful 2000 year old poem expresses so much grief in so few words, it ought be well remembered as one of the greatest poems produced by man.


Musings on the Decline of Classical Learning

An unfortunate trend that I have noticed in the United States, the West in general really, is the precipitous decline of both classical learning and the respect it engenders. If one was to explain to their parents that they were going off to school to study Latin and Greek, their parents would almost certainly be dismayed. Yes, they might console themselves that their child could be preparing to become a lawyer, but that’s nearly their only solace. Few would rejoice in the idea that they would be perpetuating a three thousand year tradition. The same can be said for Art History, Music, and the like. In the English speaking world there has even been a great drop in the so-called ‘practical languages,’ when all of Europe speaks passable English (or at least the parts one might want to actually visit), why bother?

One could argue, quite reasonably, that the literature of France, Italy, and Germany ought to be more than enough reason. Translations only suffice at the barest level. Reading prose in translation is like watching a movie through a distorted window pane, poetry in translation in more similar to watching a silent movie through wax paper. It’s hopeless. However this matters less and less to the hoi polloi, and I use that term in its most benign sense, they’d just rather be watching television or football. The percentage of people in both the US and the UK that manage to read one measly book per year is obscene. Imagine how low the number would be in regard to reading a book in a foreign language?

It is little wonder that the respect that a classical education engenders has fallen into such destitution. One can hardly engage the public in reading their own language, much less thinking about those ghastly ‘dead’ languages. The decline in attendance and interest at major cultural venues such as theatre, opera, and music has been, while not equally precipitous, quite sharp. Musical forms that have managed to hold the public’s attention since the 16th century are in sharp decline. Thankfully, the decline in the aural arts has not been nearly so bad in Europe as it has been in the United States.

So what is the cause of this? Perhaps the greatest contributor to this decline was the abhorrent attitude of the 1960s. That unfortunate decade where the Western World, in the throws of recovery from it’s folly 20 and 30 years earlier, faced a new threat: its children. This was a rare time wherein a younger generation held a great deal of power in comparison to its elders. This advantage was primarily one of numbers. It was the teenage years of the Baby Boom after all, it was never going to be pretty. This was an era where students took over campuses and made demands of their teachers insofar as what they ought to be taught. What folly! A generation that has the freedom to run around chanting ‘Hi Hi Ho Ho Western Civ Has Got to Go!’ has no idea whence this freedom came.

Here was a time when the establishment was hated, a time when the patients ran the clinic – anti-intellectualism abounded. Tenured radicals, as they have been called, became the norm and universities took their modern form as being monolithically liberal. This was a time when University became a place of ‘self-discovery’ and not formation. The classical education was actively detested at this time for being too western, nowadays it is looked down upon because the great composers, authors, painters, and poets are all ‘old, dead, white men.’

It is my hope that in time tradition can take hold again, for it is such a sinewy thing. A few generations of ignorance will hardly destroys thousands of years of learning.


Multiculturalism and the Police State

The day after the shootings and bombings in Paris, I read a plea from a concerned internet denizen. He was concerned about the possibility of the French government passing further surveillance legislation. There is certainly precedent for this, and with 11/13/2015 being considered the French 9/11, the PATRIOT act springs to mind. This concerned internet denizen pointed to recent French legislation that had already expanded surveillance, and apparently it failed in its purpose, so why add more? Setting aside the fact that just because a law failed once in its purpose, it isn’t by that fact alone damned.

The real outcome that concerned cyberspace citizens fear is that of an Orwellian ‘big brother’ constantly watching out for the slightest deviation from the prescribed norm. It is, of course, a fair bet that many of these individuals deviate from the norm in ways they don’t want known, but many likely have nothing to hide, but merely don’t want to be observed. Unfortunately for them, the internet, in exchange for its unparalleled speed and utility, is the perfect platform for observation. As the news, banking, communication, and, in some countries, even elections move online, it becomes even more enticing to certain agencies.

These agencies can’t be blamed, they know full well that should another major attack occur the first question they’ll be asked is ‘how did you not know?’ They are merely doing their jobs, it is politicians that decree what can or can’t be accessed.

But what is with the large increase in surveillance in the West? Is freedom of speech and expression not one of our greatest rights? Is not privacy? Why should privacy be taken away?

It is on account of one thing, something that we have all been told is an undeniably good thing: multiculturalism. Or, more specifically, unmitigated cultural relativism in combination with it. The blending of cultures can be good, a Frenchman is as likely to enjoy Bach, Handel, and Verdi as any Englishman or Norwegian. No one in England is complaining about the introduction of French and Italian food, and few shun German cars. In many ways the artistic world of Europe has always been multicultural. Certainly since the Renaissance.

But all of these cultures already share a similar history: most were part of the Roman Empire. all were part of Christendom, all call upon a classical Greek and Latin canon. The foundations of each European culture is the same, the surface permutations are never going to be too far apart. If cultures were islands, Europe would be an archipelago. But what about war, you ask? I’m not speaking to politics, politics can even drive brothers against one another. No, I’m speaking to culture.

Now with the post-1960s (that decas horribilis) attitude, one must judge all cultures on their own. Judging in relation to one’s own would be incorrect as it assumes that one is right and another wrong when they lead one to differing conclusions. With the mindset of cultural relativity, one doesn’t pick the best parts out of another culture, because that’s wrong. No, one has to accept them as they are. This mentality, combined with enormous amounts of mass migration has led us to where we are now: in a bit of a pickle.

On one hand we don’t want mass surveillance, it violates our privacy. On another we can’t say that a certain culture is incompatible with ours because that would be that most horrid of all words: racist. What to do?

Currently we are just looking the other way. We let migrants pile up in Calais, Saint-Denis, Marseilles, and Molenbeek. We will purposefully avoid using terms to out perpetrators of crimes as belonging to a certain ethnicity or religion, we will avoid going to these areas, and life will carry on. Until, that is, they decide to break into our cozy world and rile it up. Which is where surveillance comes in, it monitors these areas and those peoples. And us in the process, a nice treat.

The very fact that this is necessary indicates that in practice multicultralism doesn’t work. At least not with incompatible cultures. One often hears that the reason Africa and the Middle East as so strife-ridden is because of the arbitrary lines that the European powers drew as borders. Borders throwing incompatible ethnics groups and religions together. Why would they get along any better in Europe, among even more different cultures?

As things stand, stay tuned for increased surveillance.