Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for August, 2008

Speeches

Posted by Gerald on August 29, 2008

Yesterday was a day for big speeches, old and new.

Here is a fragment from another speech:

…”As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.  We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of thier political and spiritual heritage.  We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

“Down the long lane of history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”

“Such a confederation must be one of equals.  The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral economic, and military strength.  That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”

This from the Farewell Address of that Arch-liberal, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Talk About Your “New Economy”…

Posted by Gerald on August 28, 2008

The BBC is reporting that researchers at Manchester are estimating that half-a-million people in the “developing world” are earning wages by producing virtual goods in online games.  I have such a mixed reaction to this.  First there is a sense of wonder at the ingenuity of coming up with this as a way to survive, then there is the horror of realizing that the sweatshop is now going online, and finally my despair at the income inequality that the existence of this revenue stream points to.

“Brave new world” and all that.

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A Nice Evening

Posted by Gerald on August 25, 2008

While no big event, last Friday was a really nice evening.

My friend Steve and I left work a bit early and went to a restaurant and pub in Greensboro.  The weather was beautiful so we got a table outside and spent the afternoon sampling some varieties of beer produced at this place’s microbrewery.  It was a pleasant end to a hectic first week.  After a couple of hours we were joined by Steve’s wife and another couple (the five of us do dinner and movies pretty often.)  We had a long dinner with good conversation and better company.  Then we walked to a nearby place for cheesecake and coffee.

“Nice” might not be “extreme” or even exciting, but I think these sorts of evenings are much of what makes life worth living.

Unfortunately this has been followed by the onset of a summer cold which dominated my weekend, but I’d rather concentrate on the good part.

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First Week

Posted by Gerald on August 21, 2008

Since I don’t have Friday classes, today marked the end of the first week of the Fall 2008 semester.  So far I can say that my students seem like a good group, but then I haven’t graded anything yet.  Two early discussion ideas – one an in-class exercise on how to use evidence and the other using “CSI” to explain chains of logic and the need for multiple sources to support an argument – went pretty well.

The killer this semester is my daily drive to our satellite campus.  It is a fifty-mile round trip on a twisty, and very busy, two-lane highway.  It isn’t terrible, but it is a lost hour of office-time and is a bit wearing.  I’ll be reimbursed for mileage (although I’m told by veterans of this that I’ll have to harass the admin folks or I’ll never see a check) but in the meanwhile my gas consumption has increased by about 300%.  Unfortunately no one else makes the drive when I do, so there is no carpooling.

Still, if I feel too sorry for myself I just remind myself that my colleague did this last fall on top of her 80-mile round trip commute (in another direction) every day and dealing with a baby.  So I just need to suck up and deal.

Despite much hand-wringing by the administration about how informal surveys were saying that students were not going to be coming due to gas prices, our enrollment is up 8% over last year’s near record numbers.  This is good.  Except we haven’t added a single square foot of classroom space and our faculty remains the same.  We do have more admin support positions.  They are filled mostly by internal candidates whose old positions have never been filled, so they are doing their old jobs as well as their new ones.

Still we’ve broken ground on a new “conference center” which I’m sure is going to help us improve our ability to deliver quality education at bargain prices just anytime now…

I’m a bit tired and cranky.  Maybe another beer before I go to bed is in order.

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First Day of 2008-9

Posted by Gerald on August 18, 2008

Classes started today at the college, and mine seemed to go fine.  I’m teaching my usual six classes, two are traditional (both sections of World Civs I), two are on-line (one a section of World Civs I and the other a section of Western Civ II), and two are hybrids – combines both face-to-face and online – (an eight week section of Western Civ I followed by an eight-week section of Western Civ II).

The eight-week hybrid Western Civ courses are “Huskins” courses for high-school students.  I’ve been teaching these since moving to NC, but this time I’m teaching on our satellite campus about thirty miles from the main campus.  The result is that I have to drive half an hour (on a two-lane divided “highway”) each way twice-a-day, four days a week.  The other half of the “history department” did this last fall, so it is my turn.

The killer is that I have a class at 9:30 every day on the main campus.  That finishes at about 10:45.  I need to leave for the satellite campus no later than 11:45, so there isn’t a lot of time to get anything serious accomplished during that period.  Also, I’m usually not ready for lunch before noon earliest.  Then I’m on the road, in class for fifty-five minutes (hence the hybrid status, since it isn’t the usual hour and fifteen minutes we do otherwise) back on the road and, if I’m lucky, I’m back on campus at 2 pm.  After that stretch of drive-teach-drive, I’m really tired but this is also the only time I can do much grading, etc…  I’m just saying it is a huge hole in the day.

On an unrelated note:  I like watching athletic women in bikinis as much as the next heterosexual male and I get the same sense of nationalistic pride as anyone else when the US wins medals at the Olympics.  Still, does it seem to anyone else that they have spend more time showing beach volleyball than any other sport so far?  I’m getting roundly sick of Walsh and May-Trainor just due to over-exposure.  I swear I’ve seen more of them (in every sense of the word – the BRAZILIANS seem to have slightly more modest suits; and I can’t help but notice that the men seem able to play this sport in loose t-shirts and shorts) than anyone – even Phelps.

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A Sort of Admiration

Posted by Gerald on August 12, 2008

Sometimes you’ve just got to admire the nerve, the chutzpah, the sheer size of the stones some people pack.

Robert Mugabe, having stolen the election in Zimbabwe in a scenario from Karl Rove’s most fevered wet dreams, has awarded a medal to the head of the Zimbabwe Election Commission.  This with a real prospect for civil war looming.

Heckuva job, Brownie!

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Global Ironique

Posted by Gerald on August 12, 2008

As I sit here at work waiting for a deluge of newly admitted students seeking classes when we have almost no seats available I have been checking out headlines over on the BBC… and, to quote the kiddies… OMG!

The French National Front – Le Pen’s band of looney ultra-nationalists – has sold their HQ building to…

… get this…

… a CHINESE UNIVERSITY!!!!

Check it our here.

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Re-experiencing the Drive-Thru Window

Posted by Gerald on August 4, 2008

On Friday I volunteered to accompany my friend and colleague who teaches sociology here on a trip to Charlotte for the college.  We drove down to the airport there to pick up a visiting scholar from China who is doing a semester at our school teaching Chinese language and culture courses this year via the good offices of our friends at Fulbright.

The trip started off well.  We were driving a college minivan and my colleague, who aspires to become a minivan-driving soccer-mom, enjoyed the vehicle greatly (this also gave me an excuse to avoid driving in Friday evening rush-hour traffic.  We had a good conversation on the way down and then were given a miracle worthy of lessening my growing agnosticism – we didn’t get caught in a traffic jam!

Upon arriving at the airport we discovered that the flight we were meeting was running two hours late.  We left in search of food.  During our search my colleague was so busy looking for restaurant signs that she drove, at a very deliberate pace – directly through a red light.  It was one of those times when the driver is going so slowly you expect they are going to stop right up until it is too late.  In any case, there was no cop and no danger, so no problem.  We ate at a pseudo-Irish pub and then went back to the airport.

Our new visiting faculty member arrived at the time we were expecting by then.  Unfortunately, his bag didn’t.  After filing a claim we headed back for Lexington.  He sees to be a really nice guy and we had a good conversation on the way back.  This is his first time in the US.  I don’t think he is at all prepared for what things are like here.  He knows his perceptions of America are based on movies and TV, but I don’t think he really knows what he is in for.  He also shared some interesting stuff about life in China and especially his hometown of Beijing.

It wasn’t until we got to Lexington that we discovered the poor guy hadn’t had anything to eat in over twelve hours.  The thing is, it was almost midnight by then.  The only things left open in this town by then are fast food joints (it isn’t that long ago that they weren’t open either.)  He picked the Wendy’s right by his hotel and we ran him up there.  Then we discovered that he had never heard of Wendy’s and had never seen a drive-thru window before (and that was the only way to order).  I could see how overwhelming the drive-thru menu was for him – both in terms of culture and in terms of language.  We got him set up and then left him at his hotel.  There was something oddly exhilarating about that drive-thru run.  Like it or hate it, fast-food drive-thru is a quintessentially American experience.  There was just something special about being there with him for that moment.

It probably seems stupid but it was oddly moving.

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