Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for November, 2007

Kindle

Posted by Gerald on November 25, 2007

I am really thinking about indulging myself and buying one of the new “Kindle” e-book readers for Christmas.  I’ve seen a lot of differing opinions on the web.  Some people do not seem to get the idea at all (like complaining that it isn’t a PDA or a laptop) and others have more valid concerns.  Then there are the people who see this as the “iPod” for digital book readers.

I’ve got to say that it looks good to me.  The thing weighs less than a paperback and is designed so you can easily carry it around and read it – like a book.  Amazon’s prices for books seem reasonable to me.  They have a about 5000 history titles available right now.

This is a first generation product and will probably improve dramatically over the next couple of years… and it does cost 400 perfectly good American dollars.

Still, as I look at the overfilled bookshelves of my house, this looks so cool that I really want to indulge my inner techno-geek – right now!

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Where the Blogosphere’s Head is…

Posted by Gerald on November 25, 2007

… seems to be TV land.

On my old blog my biggest post ever by far was my quick review of the finale of The Sopranos.  Now climbing to the top of my new blog is last night’s review of BSG: Razor.

The funny thing here is that the only reason I wrote either of those late night posts was that I needed to do something to keep me awake while the dog was out doing what she needed to do before bedtime.

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BSG: Razor Reaction

Posted by Gerald on November 25, 2007

I just got back from sampling Steve’s homebrew and watching BSG: Razor.  Here are some immediate thoughts before I go to bed.

1. Steve brews good beer.

2. The doctors who told me that my cat allergies would get better with middle age seem to have lied.

3. I enjoyed the movie, but I did have some reservations.  It didn’t tell me that much that I didn’t already know.  I agree with Steve’s wife that the “big kiss” was really out of character for Admiral Kane.  She was really strict on issues of protocol and that sort of thing just wouldn’t be done on the bridge of her ship.  Hell, James T. Kirk didn’t even kiss the “space babe” of the week on the bridge… usually.  Frankly, I thought it was a good, but not outstanding, episode of Battlestar.

4. That Quiznos-sponsored “now it is revealed” thing was one of the most jarring and crass instances of commercialism I’ve ever seen on TV.

5. I can’t wait for the new season to start in March.

6. There should have been a fifth season, damnit!

7. I have got to get me a high-def TV.

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Thanksgiving 2007

Posted by Gerald on November 23, 2007

As I had mentioned in an earlier post I spent Thanksgiving this year with my friend Steve and his wife and some of their family and friends.  It was a great meal – they are quite into the cooking and baking and did not disappoint.  I enjoyed some nice dinner conversation with a couple of people and had a few glasses of wine.  It was quite pleasant.  As always, a few things struck me over the course of the evening.

Steve, having read my blog posting about Thanksgiving, asked me to give the blessing.  This was an interesting experience.  First, I’ve rarely ever done that.  Second, I didn’t know most of the people in the room and less than half had read my blog.  Third, I’ve had increasing doubts over the years about the significance or efficacy of any sort of prayer.  Still, social rituals are important, and I could be wrong about the whole prayer thing, so I had at it.  If I was going to be praying aloud I did not want it to be a set of platitudes and I didn’t want to mask what I really think of this annual American ritual of self-congratulation.  I also didn’t want to be a pontificating and posturing jerk (well, I may already BE a posturing and pontificating jerk but I didn’t want to SEEM like one – after all I had just met some of these people.)  I stumbled a bit, but I think it all came out okay.

I stayed a bit later than most of the guests.  After watching an episode of Monty Python, Steve and I started talking about teaching – which is not exactly unusual.  What got me thinking about it was that I have been awaiting this vacation for weeks.  I just wanted time away from the job!  Yet there I was, talking about it on Thanksgiving.  I think this is the real difference between having a job and having a profession.  I don’t think it has anything to do with education, or pay, or credentials – it is the difference between whether you do something or whether you are something.  I’m a teacher all the time.  I think I might be a teacher even if I weren’t employed teaching.  I think this is one of the reasons I blog as well.

I had a really nice time last night.  For the last few years I’ve spent Thanksgiving with another set of friends from college.  Like last night I was invited in past years to share in their celebration and was made to feel very welcome.  Still, I can’t help but feel a bit like an outsider.  As dear as these people are to me and as much love as they give me, I’m still joining THEIR families for the holidays.  I have relatives who live far from me, but I’ve barely seen them in my adult life.  My family was me and my parents, and they are both gone now.  I really miss them at this time of year.

Despite the last note, I had a wonderful time last night and am looking at a very active Thanksgiving weekend.  Tonight I am off to join other friends for leftovers and a movie (“Knocked Up”).  Saturday night I am going back over to Steve’s home for home-brewed beer and the premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica movie on his HDTV.

I’ve got good friends, a job I am content with, and a decent life.

Even more this year than in previous ones, I’m very thankful.

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The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving

Posted by Gerald on November 19, 2007

Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving is not to provide an opportunity to watch football while staving off a turkey-induced coma – that is its function, not its purpose.

The purpose is also not to celebrate the survival of one otherwise rather insignificant group of New England settlers. We aren’t descended from those people. If we all were they couldn’t have their pansy little elitist club.

Also, oddly enough, the purpose is not to provide us with an opportunity to reflect upon that for which we are truly thankful (fold hands and cast down eyes.)  If the purpose of this holiday is to really celebrate our thankfulness for having this country, we should do so by going out and waving our genitals at the first Native American we can find.  Dancing on Indian gravesites would also be appropriate.  We are expressing out thanks for having pulled off the robbery of the millennium.  Thank you God for allowing the Indians to all die of smallpox so we could wipe out the remnants and steal their land.  God Bless Us and Screw Them.

No.  The real purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving is to tell ourselves the biggest lie in the history of this nation.

This is the lie that says we are all a happy union of people who peacefully came together to share the bounty of the land.  The iconographic celebration represented by the somewhat subservient looking Indians giving food to the Pilgrims (in a seeming act of tribute) and then sharing the meal is a lie meant to comfort us that we aren’t the beneficiaries of a massive act of genocidal plunder.  It also acts to mask other things, like the enslavement of Africans and the brutality practiced upon each wave of subsequent immigrants right down to the present day.  The lie says all are welcome as we come together in this New World.  The reality has been surrender or die.

This is also the day when we hear the most about a “melting pot” that is supposed to symbolize our society.  In a melting pot, all differences are destroyed to create homogeneity.  This was an idea made by the same Nativists who built our immigration laws and structured the reservation system.  They said (and say, thank you Tom Tancredo) that you can come here only if you are willing to become American – meaning adopting the values of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and learning and speaking English only.  You are to be melted into the majority.

Thanksgiving needs to change.  It should become an American version of Yom Kippur – a national day of atonement.  We could begin by begging the forgiveness of the Native Americans, and then move on to the slaves, the immigrants, the impoverished workers, in fact everyone whose exploitation has built this country.  In the process we might discover that almost everyone owes an apology to almost everyone.  Maybe on that basis we could make some things more right.  Maybe we could start to create something not built upon mutual exploitation.

That would be worth giving thanks for.

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Renaissance Faire

Posted by Gerald on November 18, 2007

I’m enjoying a quiet day at home today and have been feeling a bit nostalgic.

Yesterday I went with two other teachers to take members of the History Club to the NC Renaissance Faire.  My newly hired colleague at the college started the club this year.  I had never really though there would be much interest in such a thing at the college.  To an extent I was right.  All of the members are actually enrolled in the Early College, so they are high school kids.  Thus this had less the air of an expedition with college students and more the air of a field trip – permission slips, parental contacts, etc…  One of the instructors from the Early College joined my colleague and myself for the trip to the site near Kannapolis.  We also had the mother of one of the students.  She is also an art teacher.

I went to the faire several years ago with some friends.  It is bigger now, but still basically the same – jugglers, belly-dancers, strolling entertainers, jousting, roasted turkey legs, jarring anachronisms for those with eyes to see…  The kids seem to have had fun.  They immediately split into two groups – mostly along gender lines – and took off which left the four adults to fend for ourselves.  It was a mostly relaxing and fun day.  We chatted as we strolled around, looked at the overpriced goods, and even bought a few.  I got my usual souvenir – a coffee mug.  It is a really nice glazed pottery mug but was not worth the $17 I paid for it, save as a marker for the day.  My colleague rode an elephant.  I watched a very cool presentation by a group that works with raptors.  We gathered everybody for the last big joust of the day – a highly choreographed morality play in which virtue triumphed over evil.  Then we came back.  It was very pleasant and a bit exhausting.

I’ve been pretty busy during the last couple of weeks.  Despite that, I’ve found a bit of time to watch some DVDs I bought of a TV series that ran here, on Showtime I believe, for a couple of seasons in the 1980s called “Robin of Sherwood.”  It was a sort of dark and mystical version of the Robin Hood stories with a lot of misty camera work and haunting music by Clannad for a score.

These two things really account for my nostalgia today.  From about 1982 to 1989 I was heavily involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism – a kind of medieval historical re-enactment groups.  The SCA does lots of things and has people in it who are very committed to historicity, but unlike Civil War or Revolutionary War reenactors there was always a heavy sort of fantasy-literature element to the whole thing (two of the founding members of the SCA were noted fantasy authors – Poul Anderson and Katherine Kurtz).  Life at the SCA events I spent my college years going to was not that dissimilar from a Renaissance Faire – but without an audience.  Going to the faire was like a flashback to those days in my life.  Everyone I knew in the SCA in the early 80s watched that “Robin of Sherwood” series and so many of them listened to Clannad that I cannot hear that music without remembering that time in my life.

I remember myself at that time as being a big awkward kid.  I had been pretty isolated through my high school years.  I went to school, I worked, and I spent my weekends alone reading science fiction and fantasy books.  The first thing to really bring me out of that shell was playing Dungeons and Dragons my senior year, but that ended with graduation.  Then I started at our local community college – where I now teach.  My high school friends had scattered and I was alone again.  Then I read an article in Smithsonian about the SCA.  I searched out the local group and there it began.  I found people who were like me.

I remember my first event – watching the fighting (in which I would later participate), attending the feast, watching a royal court – I felt swept up in the romance of it.  As years passed, the romance faded.  I grew up.  I saw petty factionalism and all the other things you will find in any given club.  Some people were serious about trying to learn something – skills or gaining an insight into history – but lot of it was silliness, and not always the good kind.  So, eventually, I drifted away from all that.  I got involved in things like Amnesty International.  Still, I wouldn’t give that time up for anything.  I made friends who are still with me today and I found people who were willing to help a painfully shy 18-year-old kid find a way out of his shell.  I tried going to an event a few years ago.  I saw some old friends.  I watched the fighting.  I attended the feast.  I watched the court.  The romance was gone, and I missed it.  I miss the kid who was moved by such things.  I do still find him at times – especially during movies – but I don’t see him as much as I used to.

That was what I was remembering as I watched those DVDs this week.  That was what I was remembering as I walked around the Renaissance Faire.  Obviously, that is what I am reflecting upon today.

It has been nice.  I think I’ll watch another episode of “Robin” before I get back to grading.

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Ashamed

Posted by Gerald on November 16, 2007

I’m a little disappointed in me.

I had a bizarre flash of temper during a meeting earlier today.  A minor thing happened and I slammed a pen down onto the desk in front of me.  It was fairly juvenile behavior in response to a minor annoyance and I’m really not sure why I did that.  Still, I did it.

This was uncharacteristic enough that one of my colleagues commented on how she had never seen me get angry before.  That isn’t really true, but she probably hasn’t seen me express it that way before.

I’m feeling embarrassed and I’ve been a bit out of sorts ever since.

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Russia and the EU

Posted by Gerald on November 13, 2007

There is an interesting post over at the Economist blog “Certain Ideas of Europe” about the relations between Russia and the EU.

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The Difference Between Being at Work and Working

Posted by Gerald on November 13, 2007

I’m having a horribly unproductive day so far.

I taught my 8 am class and all was well, but since then my focus has wandered from what I really should be doing.  I did go over and buy stuff from the History Club kids (almost all of the members are from the Early College and hence are between 15 and 17).  They were selling hot chocolate and danish to raise money for next weekend’s trip to the Renaissance Faire (yes, I know, but they are excited about it.)  Since most of them are underage I’m going to be accompanying them.

I’ve also been making plans this morning to go to the American Historical Association conference in Washington D.C. in January.  I’m doing this a bit late, but there is still a chance i might get some money from our professional development funds to help cover it.  There are some sessions dealing with teaching and with on-line instruction that look like they might be useful.  This will mean I have to miss the last minute registration rush and the Spring semester opening session.  Gee, golly, darnit, and other protestations …

Tonight I have to represent the Senate at the Board of Trustees meeting.  I’m hoping that this time the meeting won’t run exceptionally long the way the others I’ve attended have.  At least I’ll get a pretty good free dinner out of it.

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Hypocrisy File

Posted by Gerald on November 8, 2007

Now that we no longer have to order our Freedom Toast with a side of Freedom Fries and can forgive France for not seeing the absolute necessity of invading Iraq, it seems we have settled on a mission for the George and Nick show – Iran.

Does becoming a head of state require a secret neurological procedure that eliminates the ability of the recipient to detect hypocrisy.  The US and France are going to cooperate to persuade Iran not to build a nuclear bomb.  That would be the country that invented the damn things to begin with and the country that pulled out of NATO so it could develop and deploy its own independent nuclear capacity.  Then we are going to “persuade” the government we have been trying to undermine for 25 years that they don’t need a bomb when they have our assurances of peaceful good will.

After all, it isn’t like the US is ever going to provide massive amounts of military aid to a hostile power that hates them? or invent an excuse to invade their country out of whole cloth largely for domestic politcal gain, is it?

What do they need to worry about?

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