Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for January, 2008

Some Random Thoughts about Political Economy

Posted by Gerald on January 30, 2008

The House approved a $146 Billion stimulus package to “jump-start” the economy.

The government’s most recent numbers put the US Gross Domestic Product in 2007 as a little over $14 Trillion.

Will rearranging about 1% of the value of the economy really matter?  This money doesn’t come from some black box outside of the economy.  It will be financed by lenders domestic and foreign.  It will have to be paid back.  This package might have some effect on the psychology of the marketplace, which might be good.  If it is used to extend unemployment benefits or in some fashion channeled to the neediest among us it would at least alleviate some suffering.  But will this really make a noticeable change in the direction of the economy?

Second – whenever conservative talk about government spending they do not approve of they describe it as “taking money out of the economy.”  The only way to take money out of the economy is to put it in a mattress.  Money spent by the government goes to companies and individuals who then spend that money on what they need.

Just like in the stimulus package.

We’ve had several successful examples of these stimulus packages.  The biggest was called the Cold War.  For decades we took billions of dollars of tax money and put it in the pocket of employees of the defense industry.  Where would California have been after 1945 without those billions of dollars?  Would there even be a Silicon Valley?

I don’t know.  This all seemed to make more sense before I started writing.

I’m tired.

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I Saw Cloverfield

Posted by Gerald on January 27, 2008

I really enjoyed it.  It is the best monster movie I’ve seen in a long time.  I’d say the best since Alien.  It is also a very interestingly executed film.  The visual style of the film, the pacing of the story-telling, and even the design of the monster all worked.

I think this is the best execution of the whole “found film” genre of movies I’ve seen.  Of course, that is also the reason for the  most difficult thing about watching the film – the “shaky-cam.”  There is no getting around it, ninety minutes of that does get to you.  I’m not really bothered by this sort of thing very much, but I did walk out of the film with a minor headache and a mild case of nausea.  The thing is, it was worth it.  Without that, the visual style of the film would have read as false.  Also, the found-film conceit gave the film one of its strongest appeals in my opinion.  Without giving much away, the idea that this is something being taped over another set of images opens the door for a useful framing device that keeps the more emotional elements of the film working and that really contributes to its ending.

Another thing I liked about it that I think bothers some people is that the film doesn’t provide a lot of exposition to explain what is going on.  It is very immediate.  You follow the experiences of people in the middle of a disaster.  They do not really have the big picture.  They get glimpses early on through very well-executed scenes reflecting the ubiquity of electronics in all of our lives.  This adds some outside perspective to what is really a small story – what happened to a few people – against the backdrop of a much bigger story.  There are similarities to Titanic in that way.  Still, since this isn’t told from the point of view of the military, or scientists, or leaders – the traditional thing with monster movies and even disaster films – there are a lot of unanswered questions when the film ends.

All of this contributes to what I liked about this movie.  It gave some real moments against a very unreal situation.  That allowed the film to remain serious rather than playing for camp.  It could have easily been ridiculous (anyone remember the American re-make of Godzilla? *shudder*) but it worked.  It was too dark to be popcorn fun.  Instead it was a successful attempt to make a dramatic film about something that could have been incredibly not dramatic.

I liked it.  Check it out.

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Hebrews and Greeks and Romans, Oh My!!!

Posted by Gerald on January 15, 2008

Another semester begins and I am teaching two sections of Western Civ I, thus another session of Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.  I’m also teaching three sections of Western Civ II and my annual History of Africa course.  Things have started well and one of my Western Civ II sections is already pretty lively.  One of my social science colleagues is taking my History of Africa class and it is hard to tell which of us is more intimidated and uncomfortable with this.  Today I graded her response to a discussion about a couple of articles and on Thursday I’m going over to have dinner and watch “3:10 to Yuma” with her and her husband at their house.  Still, it will all work out.

We are in the process of hiring a new vice-president for the college.  The first candidate came today.  I’m not on the hiring committee, so I have no privileged information and hence cannot spill any.  We have someone coming tomorrow who is causing a bit of a stir.  This person was closely involved in a situation a few years back where a writing instructor was dismissed after having criticized the Iraq War in class.  There is a lot of concern and even some anger developing here.  I’m intending on asking him some questions during the period when faculty are allowed to drop by and talk.  We’ll see.  We are having the first Faculty Senate meeting of the new semester on Friday and I expect this is going to become an issue there as well.

So classes are doing well but we’ve got some drama to heat things up in our (for down here) winter freeze.

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Another Whitewash Concludes

Posted by Gerald on January 11, 2008

The only Army officer charged in the Abu Ghraib atrocities has had his conviction dismissed and his sentence wiped away.  Evidently none of the officers in the chain of command there are to be held in any way criminally responsible for the conduct of their subordinates.

I guess Robert Sherill had it right; “Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music.”

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The Reasons I Love America…

Posted by Gerald on January 11, 2008

According to a Washington Post story, American telecommunications firms have cut FBI wiretaps because the bureau didn’t pay its phone bills.

I can’t tell which part I love more, the fact that the bureau doesn’t pay its phone bill or the fact that these companies feel comfortable stopping the FBI from potentially stopping drug dealers, child pornographers, or terrorists because of those unpaid phone bills.

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Not in Washington

Posted by Gerald on January 3, 2008

My trip to the American Historical Association conference in DC ran hard aground upon the reefs of reality.  A sort of domino effect began with the New Orleans trip and associated injury.  This made final exams into a real bear so by the time I got finished I was so wiped out that I didn’t get any of the stuff I needed to get done for the Spring semester over the (no kidding) Twelve Days of my Christmas break.

I wasn’t presenting at the conference, just attending, so all my not going means is that I’ll miss the conference, I won’t get to see my friends there, and I’m out the moderately outrageous registration fee.  Going would have meant starting the semester already behind, creating stress for me, and also inconveniencing my students.

Hence, I remained in NC this week.

Oh, well.

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Obama in Iowa

Posted by Gerald on January 3, 2008

I wonder if Obama’s showing in Iowa is the beginning of the end of the “he’s unelectable” reason cited by so many dems in other places as the reason they are unsure about him?

This wasn’t really what you would call “Obama Country.”  The state is overwhelmingly white, rural, and aging – not really his key demographics.  Still, he was able to fight Clinton and Edwards to a standstill.  How much better is he likely to fare in the big Midwestern states with their large urban and African-American populations?

I’m really curious to see how the next two are going to run.  If Clinton can’t pull this out in New Hampshire, it seems to me she is looking at real trouble.  Then we have South Carolina.  Sen. Clinton does not seem to have the appeal her husband had in the south so far as I can see – though I’m not up on the poll numbers there.  Given its large African-American population this seems to be another place Obama might do well.  I’m not sure how Edwards is playing there.  I know here in NC there are many of us who haven’t really forgiven him for undoing a hard-won Senate victory here (and giving the seat back to the GOP) for an unlikely Presidential bid.

Just on the pure joy of watching politics angle, this is turning into the first fun race in a long time.  Is the GOP coalition of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and social conservatives starting to unravel?  What about the potential split in the democrats between populists, women, and African-Americans?  It seems to me that this election could be as big of a watershed moment in American politics as the election in 1980.

There are so many possibilities brewing here.

Cool.

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