Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

A Tribute

Posted by Gerald on October 29, 2008

I’ve been meaning to write this for several days now.

Last week Alan Greenspan testified before Congress.  When asked about how he could reconcile the behavior of the market and many of its players in recent months with his theories of economic behavior, Greenspan basically said that he couldn’t and that he would need to re-examine those theories.

In essence, that he was wrong.

The only response I’ve heard to this has been some fairly snarky jokes.

I think he deserves better.

The essence of honesty in science is that when objective reality doesn’t behave according to theory, the theory is wrong.  Greenspan publicly championed a set of theories and formed policies based on them.  He made his reputation by doing so.  Now he sees those policies and theories having results he didn’t believe possible.  Most human beings would refuse to face that.  They would distance themselves from the ideas or refuse to admit any fault or explain how what appears to be happening isn’t really happening.  At the least, most people would try to avoid the spotlight.

Greenspan went in front of Congress and questioned the validity of the basis of his life’s work.

That was an act of intellectual courage and one of great honesty.  One made all the more dramatic by contrast with this era of empty spin and ideological fanaticism in our public discourse.  That act showed what science should be all the time.



Posted in opinion | 2 Comments »

A Master of Understatement

Posted by Gerald on August 2, 2007

Robert Gates is “optimistic” about the security situation in Iraq.  This leads me to wonder what reality-altering agents are being administered to the Cabinet on a regular basis and whether they might be used for good rather than evil.

The FUNNY part, though, is that he described the lack of political progress there as “discouraging.”  This is sort of like describing the Second World War as “violent.” 

Posted in international relations, Iraq War, news, opinion, politics | 1 Comment »

What We Can Learn from History

Posted by Gerald on August 2, 2007

I was reading an article earlier today that I’m considering having my students read this fall when I came across this quote that seems very relevant for today:

“We must bear in mind that in ancient Greece, as in the world of today, democracy cannot be “installed” like air-conditioning or central heating.  It calls for the unlearning of old ways, for the gradual response to new conditions, and for a radical change in the relations between man and man, and between individual and community.  There are no short cuts.”
– from How Democratic was Ancient Athens? by Robert Browning

We cannot bring democracy to Iraq.  We cannot bring democracy to the Middle East.  We can’t bring democracy to the world.  All we can do is stay out of the way.

Posted in Diplomacy, History, international relations, Iraq War, Middle East, opinion | 2 Comments »

My Response to Steve’s Review of Waitress

Posted by Gerald on August 1, 2007

Before reading this, you should read Steve’s review of the film.  I am really just reacting to what he said in his blog.  I decided to do it here because I wanted to write something rather longer than the average “comment.”

First, let me say that I agree with almost everything Steve has to say about Waitress.  In some places Steve mentioned a conversation we had about the film.  Although there was certainly no attack, I feel I need to rise in defense of my reaction to Waitress.

First, there really isn’t any “ire” in my reaction to the film.  I enjoyed it.  I thought it was sweet and funny and featured excellent performances by Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Jeremy Sisto (who I think deserves some extra kudos for his willingness to commit so fully to putting the “B” in Bastard.)  The movie had some fine moments, in particular when Keri Russell plays the moment when she decides to face Earl and the beautiful “moon pie” sequence.

I did not mean to say this movie had a “Hollywood” ending.  If it had such an ending, Jenna would have tried to sneak out on Earl, he would have caught her and would have proceeded to endanger her, at which point Dr. Pomatter would arrive, save her, and then he would have assumed the role of protector for her and the baby.  Curtain close and all is right with the Patriarchy.  It didn’t do that.  Instead, Jenna discovers the strength the audience could see beneath the surface (again, due to the fine performance) and she finds it through true heroism.  She doesn’t rise up to just save herself – she rises up to save her child.

The moment comes in a beautiful shot where we have Jenna’s POV looking at her daughter.  Then Earl leans into frame and reminds Jenna of the promise he had extorted from her to “always love him more.”  Then we go to a tight close-up of Keri Russell’s face as she ponders for a beat, and then tells Earl to get out.  It is a moment of almost orgasmic release as she finally finds her courage to confront him.  I give extra kudos here to the late Adrienne Shelley for not even allowing us to hear Earl’s outraged protestations.  The focus stays where it should – on Jenna.  I call this heroism, because what I saw was her realization in that moment that if she didn’t finally confront Earl, whom we have already seen is not just controlling but is physically abusive, she is going to doom her daughter to the life she has been so desperate to escape.  She saves her daughter and thus saves herself.  That is heroism.

What I did intend to say is that the last scene, where we see Jenna and the girls at the pie shop Jenna now owns, is very artificial.  I think that was intentional.  I said to Steve that the shop looked like a Soho artist’s vision of what a southern diner ought to look like (bright swirly colors and what looked like poetry on the walls.)  The women are dressed in what look like the costumes worn by clog dancers.  The whole thing has an air of unreality that reminded me of the last dream sequence in Raising Arizona.  I think this might have been deliberate.  How do you visually depict contentment and joy without indulging in melodrama?  It was a happy ending, but almost like the one in Blue Velvet (but without the dark irony.)  Everything seems too perfect.  But why not?  All endings are artificial to some extent, the self-conscious use of that is a sign of true artistry.  Again, I have no complaint.

I thought the movie was good, but I enjoyed it intellectually and not emotionally.  Unlike Steve, I was never moved to tears (and I get teary all the time while watching movies).  The movie felt to me like the pies it featured.  It was sweet and tasty with interesting undertones and the occasional surprise.  I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a “meal” for me.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m not assuming it was the movie.  Maybe it was the mood I was in.  Maybe it was the timing.  Maybe it is just a “strawberry” movie and I tend to react better to “chocolate” film.  All I can say is that I didn’t walk away from this film having felt something new or having learned something I didn’t already know.  It didn’t move me, but it did intrigue and entertain me.

Posted in film, opinion, reviews | 1 Comment »

Partisan Political Diplomats

Posted by Gerald on July 24, 2007

The Washington Post is reporting on political briefings by Rove’s people held for senior diplomats at the State Department.  As with so many other actions by the Bush White House – such as the US Attorney firings – we have here something that isn’t actually illegal, but is very much out of the traditional understanding of previous administrations about what is appropriate.  While launching constant attacks on the “partisanship” of their opponents, this White House has made every aspect of government partisan.

The constant in all of this is Karl Rove.  He seems to have looked at almost every procedure in the life of the administration and asked “How can we wring some political advantage out of this without technically violating the law?”  Repeatedly we have actions that, at least one could argue, are not illegal – just prejudicial to the functioning of government and the remaining shreds of prestige and dignity of the executive.

Of course, a similar game was played by Bill Clinton in his word-parsing defense of his sexual indiscretions and the perjury he committed to cover them up.  The problem is that comparing the effects of these is like comparing a cut on the finger of the executive with having a broadsword slammed into its guts.

Clinton dishonored the White House – no two ways about it.  Bush has compromised the trust between the branches of government and between the executive and the American people.  No one is ever going to view the actions of a US Attorney in a political corruption case without wondering what other motives might be at work.  No one is going to quite trust the intelligence assessments used by the White House and the State Department to explain our foreign policy ever again.  No American administration is ever going to be able to say, “At least we don’t hold people without trial, we don’t hide them in secret prisons, we don’t torture people – that is what our enemies do” and be believed.

The worst part is, that these guys don’t even seem to realize that what they have done has hurt our country – and that most of our country doesn’t seem to care, either.

Posted in Bush administration, Bush Legacy, Karl Rove, news, opinion, politics | Leave a Comment »

A Really Smart Move

Posted by Gerald on July 21, 2007

Israel has released 255 Palestinian prisoners.

If there is anything that might strengthen the appeal of Fatah relative to Hamas among Palestinians, it would be some type of concrete successes in dealing with Israel.  Let us just hope that this is the first of many such gestures.  If the Israeli government were also to address illegal settlements on the West Bank, that would go even further.

Of course, if Fatah were to seriously address issues of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, news, opinion, Palestinian, Palestinian Authority | Leave a Comment »

He’s the Decider

Posted by Gerald on July 21, 2007

According to the Washington Post, CIA interrogation of terrorism suspects – unhampered by the restraint imposed on those softies in the US military – will resume under new guidelines.  Read it here.

The “guidelines,” as one could expect from this administration, are remarkably vague and basically tell the American people and the world to simply “trust that what is being done to these folks is legal and necessary – so just go back to watching So You Think You Can Change Houses, or whatever, and leave it all to us.”  Certainly they do not seem in a hurry to provide even Congress with details.

It is all of a piece with the invoking of executive privilege.  George and his advisers believe he was elected as a sort of constitutional dictator for his terms in office and Congress and the Judiciary have no business poking into the details of what he is doing.

Constitutional checks-and-balances?  How quaint!

Posted in Bush administration, Constitution, news, opinion, politics, terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Washington Post Columnist Rips Me Off

Posted by Gerald on July 20, 2007

Eugene Robinson has written an interesting article questioning the sanity of our dear President entitled Bush’s Cognitive Dissonance.

It is an insightful and interesting read.  However I would like to point out that I diagnosed Bush’s cognitive dissonance in this very blog on July 4.

Still, I’m willing to be magnanimous about this whole thing and chalk it up to a simple mistake.  😉

Posted in Bush administration, George W. Bush, my blog, news, opinion, politics, United States | 1 Comment »

George Bush Augustus

Posted by Gerald on July 20, 2007

This has got to be the most astonishing thing I’ve heard from this White House, and damn that is saying something.  The administration will not allow the US Attorney to pursue contempt charges in any case where the President has invoked executive privilege – because that is the end of the argument as far as the executive is concerned.  In essence, the President gets to define his own powers.

Read about it here.

I particularly like the rationale of a “unitary executive” in which the US Attorneys are “emanations of the President’s Will.”  Why is it that these so called “strict-constructionist” Neo-Cons are so enamored with autocracy.  Even if the American Presidency is supposed to have been modeled on the British Monarchy (or so they claim), the 18th C. British kings were LIMITED monarchs.

I always knew these guys think George Bush is LIKE a Roman Emperor – I didn’t realize they think he IS a Roman Emperor.

Posted in America, Bush administration, Congress, Constitution, Federal Courts, law, news, opinion, politics, thoughts, United States | Leave a Comment »

I Saw Sicko

Posted by Gerald on July 18, 2007

Rather than my usual Wednesday evening at home, I joined some good friends for dinner and a movie.  The film was Sicko.  I liked the movie.  Being one of the godless, America-hating, treasonous liberal hordes I’ve enjoyed Michael Moore’s films, although I do feel that at times he lets himself get in the way of the message.  I didn’t see so much of that here.  The themes have been well-explored elsewhere – this is an examination of the problems with the American health care system.  Like Moore’s other efforts, though, there is also an examination of what America is.

Two themes really emerged.  The first, and the one that is really still echoing inside me, is disillusionment.  The people he looked at in this film were folks that worked hard, played by the rules, payed for insurance because they were told that was how you protect yourself and your family, and were well and truly screwed by HMOs and the medical industry.  It is easy to criticize these people for being naive when they talk about how they thought “insurance companies were there to help people.”  Then again, that is exactly what the companies say, and that is the only option any of us are given to deal with health crises.  The disillusionment grows as Moore compares our system with those in Canada, Britain, France, and – ultimately – Cuba.  It is true that Moore tend to gloss over some of the difficulties associated with those systems, but still one cannot but feel disappointed in our country by comparison.

The other theme is the glory and the poison of this society – individualism.  Moore keeps asking how we can have a system where people are denied life-saving treatments, where inadequate effort is given to preventing people from getting sick to begin with, and where hospitals send indigent patients in cabs to “skid row” medical clinics because they cannot pay.  The answers point at corporations and government, but ultimately they point at us.  We have swallowed the American Delusion of individual success.  We have rejected the idea that we have any duties to other people just because they are in our community.  We ask “why should I have to pay for her problems.”  The Conservatives have sold most of this country on the idea that no one should have to do anything for anyone else as a matter of duty – only of choice.  They did so by playing on the core values of Americans – individual rights, freedom, and success (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.)

Moore’s final conclusion isn’t original but it is no less true for that – we won’t solve the health care problem, or any other of our problems, until we start thinking of “us” rather than “me.”

Posted in American culture, film, Movies, opinion, politics, thoughts | 2 Comments »