Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for September, 2007

Things become clearer…

Posted by Gerald on September 27, 2007

The Washington Post has offered us a little insight into one of the men who should be dealing with the Blackwater siuation.

Again we see the caliber of individual this administration has seen fit to grant power.


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Soldier of Fortune

Posted by Gerald on September 22, 2007

News stories this week and a post over at ChenZhen’s Chamber got me thinking. 

When I was a kid I suffered from some mental problems.  The first was a congenital case of political conservatism that I grew out of in college.  The second was a case of militarism that still manifests itself in the form of my love of war films and my collection of JAG season boxed sets (here again, dear readers, you see how willing I am to expose my most painful and embarrassing secrets in the pursuit of blogging truth.)

One manifestation of this from my youth was an adolescent desire to purchase a new magazine found on our local supermarket’s racks called “Soldier of Fortune.”  This magazine, for any of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is still alive and well and touts itself as a journal for “professional adventurers.”  In other words, mercenaries.

Here I must give praise to the wisdom of my mother.  She actively discouraged me from wasting my money on this magazine.  She was as right on this occasion as she was when she discouraged me from watching “S.W.A.T.” some time earlier (her, rather disgusted, quote about the show was “They might as well just be sending the Army into the streets” – truly prescient in light of where we are now.)

In my own defense I must say that my interest in reading this was partly a reaction to my having started reading about Africa – especially the Congo Crisis – in the 1960s.  This pursuit would later leave me with a set of interests that caused me to study African history in grad school and become concerned about things like neocolonialism and social justice.  Life can be a tangled web even without lies.

I bought a few copies of this rag despite maternal disapproval, but it was cutting into my budget for purchasing many many many science fiction novels and wasn’t nearly as much fun to read as those.  Since I started earning my own spending money at age 12 by doing odd jobs where my father worked I learned about budgets and to consider my purchases in terms of how many hours of my life I cared to trade for something.  I stopped buying this thing that glorified being a hired gun and had articles about ninja training pretty quickly.

Why bring this up?

My mom’s objection to the magazine was that it glorified being a mercenary.  Now we live in an America where our diplomats are protected by a bunch of hired guns called Blackwater.  When – and why – did it become okay to be a mercenary?

I am puzzled by this sort of thing quite frequently.  I’m still trying to figure out when and why it became okay to be a “pimp.”  I actually think there is a relationship there, but back to Blackwater.  For years I’ve been noticing reports about these guys everywhere from MSNBC to the History Channel.  I kept waiting for some sort of outcry which never really came.  We aren’t supposed to have mercenaries are we?  Being a killer for hire is wrong isn’t it?  The US government isn’t supposed to be hiring people like this are they.  It turns out the answers are; yes, we are; no it isn’t; and yes they do.  There is this big outcry at the moment about what Blackwater operatives did in Baghdad while they were protecting a US diplomatic convoy.  No one seems at all surprised that they WERE protecting a US diplomatic convoy.  Don’t we have a small group of proud guys called Marines who do that sort of thing?  Doesn’t the State Department have its own security people?

The solution to all of my puzzlement is obvious upon reflection.  For years the political discourse of this country has been dominated by the idea that government is the problem rather than the solution.  Privatization of everything is supposed to make things better and more efficient.  Of course this was carried to the military as well.  First we privatized support services and technology.  The next step was to privatize non-battlefield combat functions – like rear-area security.

If it is economically efficient it is inherently moral.  Isn’t that the guiding principle of our country today?  Better we have people without health care than offer it in a way that doesn’t provide money to some business.  If something doesn’t make a kid into a better economic engine then we need to cut it from the school budget.  If people are suffering from intractable metal illnesses and cannot be efficiently converted into good little consumers and producers lets “mainstream” them into a refrigerator box in the park.  If we can apply the free market to warfare we should do so.  Whatever the market will bear.

The Senate passed a resolution condemning for dishonoring the men and women in uniform by insulting General Petraeus in that ad.  How is what they did any more insulting – or demoralizing – to the average soldier than the existence of Blackwater?  When it comes to patrolling highways in the face of IEDs the job goes to the military.  When it comes time to protect the senior American officials in Iraq the job goes to Blackwater.  The soldier on the front line has to observe careful rules of engagement or wind up facing charges.  Blackwater is above all law and oversight.  You can bet that there isn’t a single family of a Blackwater employee who has had to apply for food stamps.  You can bet that no wounded Blackwater operative has to recover in a hospital full of rats and black mold.  You can bet that same Blackwater employee isn’t going to be denied necessary rehabilitation and long-term care.  Yet somehow the same government is paying for both the Blackwater people and the soldier.  One is a product of the private sector and is valued by our leaders.  One is serving her country and is the recipient of rhetoric and little else.

Our government doesn’t come from nowhere.  It reflects the society it emanates from.  We value profit over service and dedication to oneself over dedication to the group.

We love pimps.

And soldiers of fortune.

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“Let Us Win”

Posted by Gerald on September 19, 2007

This was the plaintive cry of John McCain in relation to the amendment limiting tours in Iraq proposed by Webb and Hagel.

The amendment that was just defeated.

“Let us win.”

As if the only thing standing between American forces and victory is the completely ineffective attempts of the Democrats to force a change in the policies of this administration.  Bush and Petraeus have succeeded in planting this fiction that the “surge” is “working” despite the complete lack of any political progress on the ground.  Now that the Senate Dems have temporarily located a backbone we discover, to no one’s surprise, that their patriotic companions across the aisle – with a few exceptions – are still unwilling to oppose this President.

Why should they be?  The Republican voters have so firmly married themselves to the fictional account of this war emanating from the White House that none of them even blink as the paid mercenaries the US is using to provide security to our government officials in Baghdad engage in a slaughter of civilians.

“Let us win.”

As far as I’m concerned that statement uses up the last of the slack I’m willing to cut McCain because of his time as a POW.  I don’t give a damn if the guy was a hero four decades ago.  He has signed off on Bush’s violations of American liberties, winked at re-interpretations of torture, and now has joined the Cheney chorus in singing that it is the fault of those of us that oppose this pointless war that it isn’t working.

“Let us win.”

Give me a break.

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Posted by Gerald on September 18, 2007

Not something you have read much about here.

This is a post that will only be of interest to those readers who care about my personal life.

I don’t talk about dating because I haven’t been on a date since the Clinton administration.  First term if I am remembering correctly.  I just got tired and stopped and I haven’t had time or inclination since.

Until recently.

I’m not playing 24-hour care-giver now.  I have a stable job and a life I’m proud of.  I’ve just been feeling the loneliness more acutely recently.

Work isn’t any real help.  Anyone I would be interested in there wouldn’t be interested in me.  Several friends have agreed to instantly kill me if I ever even LOOK like I am trying to date a student (we made a mutual pact in grad school.)

So I actually signed up at eHarmony.  Total impulse.  I’m already feeling somewhat embarrassed so I am engaging in some public revelation to ensure I will own the choice.

We’ll see.

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What the Hell?!?

Posted by Gerald on September 15, 2007

It is an absolutely beautiful day.

We are looking at highs in the low 80s (we had 56 straight days in the 90s – record time) and we had a nice rain yesterday so the pollen count is very low… and I’ve been writing a blog post about my job on a Saturday?

Me and the dog are outta here!  See you guys on Monday!

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Assessment Philosophy

Posted by Gerald on September 15, 2007

I had originally intended to write this in response to a couple of comments on my last post.  As it grew in size I thought I should just promote it to a post of its own.  This is a summary of how and why I structure the assessment of my students the way I do.  Since I have some other teachers who read this blog I’m hoping maybe we can get a conversation going about assessments and class structures.  I’m always looking for good ideas to steal from other people. 

Because I teach nothing but survey courses (Western Civilization, American History, History of Africa) I feel I have to test for basic names, places, and events.  This is actually heavily implied in the course descriptions from the state system’s common course library and so falls naturally into the course outcomes and objectives.  So, in part, I use objective quizzes aimed primarily at the readings.  I am also trying to use types of questions, like multiple answer, that can assess some level of higher order thinking as well.  This also means working very hard to write objective prompts that aren’t just “who, what, when, and where.”  I have them take four of these during the course and then I have a final based on questions taken from the earlier quizzes.  I really see the final as nothing but a tool to make them review their quizzes and (hopefully) learn from their mistakes.

Also, although I’d rather this wasn’t true, our history courses are usually taken by entering Freshmen who have not taken any college-level courses; particularly English.  I’d rather that they had to have completed their basic English requirements, but the theory here is that this is a course they can take WHILE they are taking those courses.  Hence I have people who do not know how to write essays yet because they are just now learning.  I have to support that effort and that means not placing unrealistic expectations on them.  This also pushes me back toward some reliance on objective tests.

For my assessment of higher order thinking I’ve moved to a series of out of class essay assignments – usually four.  I thought about this for quite awhile and finally decided that what I really wanted to assess in their essay work was their ability to think and communicate rather than their recall and so I separated that part from my quizzes.  They are not required to do outside research for these but I do tell them I will reward those who go above and beyond.

Finally, although this was not common when I arrived here as an adjunct instructor, I’ve moved back to requiring a major semester paper.  I really feel that one of the purposes for a history course in the undergraduate curriculum is to include some instruction on how to research and synthesize information.  I also require them to do in-class group presentations which also require a fair amount of research.

I’m more concerned about thinking than memorization, so my quizzes actually do not count that much toward the final grade.  I see them as being as much a tool to keep them reading as an assessment.  Students can pass the course with lousy quiz grades so long as they have decent essays and a good research paper.

Still, I’ve always got a few people who are hard workers and conscientious but who just don’t have the analytical chops of the others.  We are a community college and we get a lot of students who are returning after years away from school and others who just were never on the college-bound track to begin with.  Those people can pull their grades up by working hard on the memorization part to make up for not doing so well on the essays.

Of course there are also the folks who just don’t turn things in at all.  Our new Sociology instructor – who is also comparatively new to teaching – was marvelling at this earlier in the week.  I’ve got to admit that this one still leaves me confused.  Why continue taking a course you aren’t turning in work for and which you are therefore going to fail?  I don’t get it.

In any case, this is the thinking behind how I run my courses at the moment.  Any comments?

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One Thing I Hate About My Job

Posted by Gerald on September 11, 2007

To start let me just say that, even on its worst day, being a college history instructor is a cushy gig.  I’m not wrenching my back, getting chemical burns (an earlier job), or even breaking much of a sweat.  I like teaching and can generally tolerate the rest of the stuff that goes with the job.

Still, I AM an American and therefore feel entitled to bitch all I want.

Outside of the BS meetings and political stuff the task directly associated with my job that I really dislike is writing quizzes.  Not essay questions – those are easy.  It is the simple factual questions that I hate writing.

What brings this up is that I just spent three hours writing one.

This ought to be easy.  I know what I want them to have learned –  so just ask that.  Sometimes I find it that easy.  Sometimes I develop test writer’s block – which feels worse to me than any other type of writer’s block I’ve ever encountered.  I feel so damned stupid.  All of this stuff is swirling in my head and can find no outlet.

I think moments like these are meant to remind me of what can happen to my students sometimes – why I need to have compassion and not be the hardass I sometimes want to be when frustrated.

Anybody else feel like this?

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This Says It All

Posted by Gerald on September 10, 2007

A poll of Iraqis sponsored by the BBC, ABC News, and NHK shows that a majority of the responders believe that a) the “surge” has failed, b) attacks on American forces in Iraq are justified, and c) the US should leave now.

Most of us don’t want to be there.  They don’t want us there.  No one else wants us there.  Why in the hell are we STILL THERE!?!

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A Day of Conversation

Posted by Gerald on September 7, 2007

Due to the block-scheduling we use at my school I generally do not have class meetings on Friday.  The plan for today was to get caught up on many essays that need grading, but I was not the industrious sort I should have been.  Statements like that may be a good indicator as to why I am in my 15th year of being ABD.

I spent most of the morning dealing with e-mail and taking time I shouldn’t have to comment on other people’s blogs.  By 11 am I had not done even a bit of grading and several of my office mates were already talking about doing lunch.  It was around then that I pulled the plug on the day.

I went to lunch with three of my colleagues.  I am the only male member of our department.  I do not believe I am being arrogant or presumptuous in saying I am well-liked by my female peers.  They seem to be quite comfortable with me around.

From lunch onward, the day was filled with extended conversations on everything from the mechanics of breast-feeding to our varied experiences in grad school.  One part of this was a rather eye-opening depiction of how a male professor of mine from years past deals with his female grad students.  Suffice to say my regard for this man has lessened.  Later on I did take part in a very productive meeting of our Scholar’s Program committee, so the day was not without service to the college, but mostly it was academic and personal conversation.  I like and respect these women even more tonight than I did this morning.  I do not think this was a wasted day at all.

But I do have some grading to do this weekend…

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Now This Sounds Like Sense

Posted by Gerald on September 6, 2007

Hillary’s VP?

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