I attended a lecture this evening on Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive movement. It was an interesting talk, but the whole thing made me feel a bit inadequate. There were lots of smart people in the audience, such as Michael Barone and Ben Wattenberg. They asked insightful questions, but it wasn’t just that that made me feel lower. I have never been able to keep my experts straight. These guys can compare subtle differences between works of various people and between philosophies. I have a more mix & match mind. It works well in many things, but I am outclassed by the big brains when it comes to straight intellectual debate.
FSI gave me a kind of an aptitude test recently. I didn’t pay much attention, but it did “reveal” that I don’t set clear boundaries, meaning my learning style is find similarities instead of differences. They spend a lot of time developing these tests, but they never really tell you what you can do about it, since they always say that all the styles are equally okay. IMO, the holistic approach works for lots of things, but it doesn’t work for the intellectual parsing I talked about above. I enjoyed the talk and I took notes. I will use the information for something in the future, I suppose. But I will be unable to keep it straight.
That Michael Barone is a genius. I have long read his books and watched him on TV. He seems to be able to remember the details of every political contest, down to the county level, since the founding of the Republic. The interesting thing he brought up was the hypothetical about what would have happened if Roosevelt had not died in 1919. He probably would have run for president in 1920 and almost assuredly would have won. How different would history have been? Would he have repeated the energetic presidency of his youth, or would the second act just have ruined his reputation and maybe hurt the country. Of course we will never know.
On the plus side, I had my informal first Portuguese test and I got – unofficially – 2+/3. This means nothing to most of you reading this, but it is a decent score after six weeks of instruction for someone who has been away from a language for twenty-five years. The assessments are on a five point scale. Zero is when you cannot say a word in the language; five is educated native proficiency. Even many native speakers in a language cannot get a five, since it is an educated speech. We have to get a minimum of 3 speaking and 3 reading, which is “minimum professional proficiency.”
I would like to get to 4 both speaking and reading and I think I have a good chance, but it is hard, since the difficulty rises exponentially. It is a lot easier to get from 1 to 2 than it is from 3 to 4 and – as I said – almost nobody gets to 5, even if you are born in the country. Four is good. Everybody knows what you are talking about and you don’t make any serious mistakes, but you retain a (no doubt) charming accent, think Ricardo Montalban. Language is such and important part of my job that I think it is worth the effort. I had a 3+/3+ in Polish, which served me fairly well, but I can do better than that in Portuguese. I already have some background; besides it is an easier language & State is giving me the time and instruction I need to get the job done. Back in 1985, I went to Brazil with 3/3. During my time there, my language improved, but I didn’t test when I came back, so I don’t know what I had. I don’t think it was better than a 3+. I was very fluent, but I lacked the polish that I hope to get this time around.
The pictures are from my walk around the Mall today. It was cold with a very strong wind, but I walked from State Department to the Gold’s Gym at Capitol after my Portuguese class and it was okay because the wind was from the west, i.e. at my back. I took the Metro up to the stop near AEI for the lecture this evening and so avoided the freezing wind most of the time.
The top pictures are of the Grant Memorial near the Capitol. In the second picture, notice the half moon above Grant’s head. Below is the skating rink on the Mall and some portraits along the path. I recognize Washington and Napoleon, but I don’t know the other two.
BTW – I am sorry that I am not writing more. Portuguese and Brazil is taking most of my intellectual energy, as I mentioned. I watch the Brazilian news every day and read some books and magazines. After the homework is done, there is less time to write. language training is serious business, but rewarding.