Friday, July 17, 2009

Jeanne Boydston and the Nature of the World

I just learned last week that the women's historian Jeanne Boydston died from lung cancer toward the end of 2008. Jeanne was just a great person and it's a real loss not to have her. She was super-smart, warm, friendly, generous to the nth degree, and had a crackling vitality that made any encounter with her an engaging experience.

Jeanne was certainly more than generous to me. I think I had only met her once at a house party in Philadelphia, but she was more than willing to meet with me over lunch and discuss my work on artisan culture in Philadelphia. Seven years later, without meeting me again, she wrote a very nice letter supporting me for tenure.

Here's an excerpt from the memorium statement.

[Jeanne Boydston] was a brilliant and beloved teacher who won the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award as well as other honors for her teaching and mentorship. No listing of her scholarly work, awards, and publications can effectively measure her impact or convey the warmth with which students recall her generous guidance. In her modest way, she helped students know that their ideas had enormous value, while at the same time suggesting how they might polish the roughest ones into an elegant argument . . . Boydston loved her work, and cherished the life of the mind that scholarship and teaching, at their best, could entail.

What Jeanne Boydston and others like her have taught me is in many ways the nature of the world.

I grew up in an abusive family where my father's primary justification for the way he acted was that he was preparing us for the cruelty of the "world out there." But when I got to the world "out there," I found an enormous amount of warmth and generosity from Jeanne Boydston and the many people like her who I've met in academic life, at the local Walmart, at the BP, and just about every other place I've been. Mrs. RSI and my in-laws kind of glow with human goodness.

That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of structural inequities, corruption, and assholes in the world. Certainly, I've encountered this slice of reality and I write about these matters all the time in this blog. But thinking about Jeanne Boydston reminds me of the extent to which the world is filled with generous, loving people. I'm glad I knew her a little.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Driving Indiana with Mrs. RSI

The Man of Steel. Mrs. RSI and I drove through Indiana today on the way to a couple of days in bucolic Springfield, Illinois and the annual conference of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic. This is my fourth major drive in less than two weeks, but I took over the wheel for the last two hours like I was driving the half-mile route home from campus. The Man of Steel couldn't have done better.

Curse My Corn Allergies. It was hard for me to fully enjoy the beauty of Indiana. I have godawful corn allergies and Indiana has an unbelievable amount of corn. Curse my corn allergies. When there was no corn in view, we saw a fair amount of God stuff. An ad for one product began "God Loves You." I wish I'd seen it better. I hope it wasn't a strip club.

I Miss George W. We drove behind one car saying "I Miss Bill" as in Bill Clinton. I'm surprised I've never seen an "I Miss George W." sticker. Mrs. RSI and I got big laughs over the idea that someone could make a little money on that. Maybe I should talk with one of my new colleagues.

Is Jenny Sanford Christian Enough. Mark Sanford and Jenny Sanford are off for a little weekend reconciliation time. But really, is anybody self-sacrificingly Christian enough to want to be married to Mark Sanford?

What Did Warner Bros Do to Earn Harry Potter $

In my research on the ante-bellum Workingmen's movement in Philadelphia, I found that workingmen's advocates argued that all wealth was created by labor. Here's Philadelphia shoemaker and labor leader William Heighton advocating that view in 1827.
In order to fully illustrate our present condition and relative situation in society, we must consider our country as containing two classes, viz—The working or productive class, and the non-productive or accumulating class. The former class [produces] every article which comes under the term Wealth; the latter class [produces] nothing valuable, but grow rich by accumulating the productions of the former, thus enjoying all the advantages and benefits of wealth which they never produced. (William Heighton, speech at Universalist Church, 1827)
I thought of the workingmen's views when I saw a short article by Julia Boorstin for her "Media Money with Julia Boorstin" on According to Boorstin, Warner Bros. Corporation has made one billion dollars in profit on the Harry Potter movie series.

This movie is just huge for Warner Brothers, certainly its most important
franchise for the next couple years. After this film there are another two due
out in 2010 and 2011. With a built-in audience and appeal to what Hollywood
calls "all four quadrants" (men, women, young, old), the box office numbers are
stunning. The first five films generated $1.4 billion at the US box office while
they brought in $4.5 billion globally. . .

David Davis, a banker at boutique media firm Arpeggio Partners tells me that when it comes to licensing fees, Warner Bros. gets a much higher percentage for Harry Potter than pretty much any other brand. Davis says that so far Warner Bros. has generated about a billion dollars in PROFIT from the franchise, and it stands to generate another billion dollars.

But now that the Republicans have put "socialism" back on the table, one wonders what Warner Bros. did to "earn" their billion dollars in profits. It makes sense that J. K. Rowling is a billionaire. She wrote the books that became the basis for the movies. Given that there's no Harry Potter without J. K. Rowling, she deserves the cut she gets from everything in the Harry Potter commercial universe. The same is the case with the screenwriter, directors, producers, actors, and technical people involved in making the films. They all deserve to be benefitting from the fruits of their labor.

But I wonder what Warner Bros. corporation did to deserve its billion dollars in profit. Why should the top management of the company, who probably did very little with the film, benefit so much in the form of salaries, bonuses, stock options, and executive perks. What exactly did they do to make the Harry Potter films?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Palin Looking To Destroy GOP?

I've been warning about the collapse of the Republican Party for several months now. But now there is a scenario for GOP collapse that's out in the media.

CNN has a story about Mike Huckabee warning Sarah Palin not to leave the Republican Party for an independent presidential campaign.
"I hope she remains — let me be real clear — a part of the Republican Party," Huckabee told FOX News. "I'm a little concerned when I hear her say that she may
sort of branch out and go third party or go independent. That would be a big mistake because we need to rebuild the Republican Party, not abandon it."
The Republican Party would be fools if they didn't consider Palin a threat to mount an independent candidacy. She's just not that Republican identified. Palin has never been part of the Alaska Republican establishment and her husband Tod was a member of an Alaskan separatist party until Palin ran for governor. Likewise, Palin recently mentioned that her son was not a Republican.

In this context, Palin's reference to campaigning for non-Republicans might be taken as meaning that she'll be willing to help candidates to the right of the Republican Party.

Anyway, if Sarah Palin left the Republican Party for an independent or third-party candidacy, she'd take about 20% of the Republican vote with her, about 9% of the total.

That vote would increase if activist conservatives generally saw her as a more attractive candidate than a Republican nominee like Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.

And let's not kid ourselves.

There's a real chance that Bill Kristol, Ann Coulter, Limbaugh and other conservatives might do that. They could easily see an independent Palin candidacy as an opportunity to free "the conservative movement" from what they see as the death grip of the Republican Party.

I could live with it too.

With an independent Palin candidacy, the Republican candidate and Palin would be splitting about 40% of the vote. I imagine that one or the other would win eight or nine states between Utah, Idaho, and the core Confederate states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

That wouldn't even be 100 electoral votes and the conservative movement will have succeeded in it's apparent mission of destroying conservativism in the United States.

Marriage is Wonderful!

The lefty internet magazine Salon has an article up on marriage by Aaron Traister. Traister is extremely bothered by recent writing on the crumbling state of heterosexual marriage.

Amid all the bad press marriage has been getting recently --from Sandra Tsing Loh's admission of adultery and refusal to do the "work" necessary to keep her marriage together, to Cristina Nehring's dismissal of boring companionate marriages in favor of rash flings, to the very public ruin of the marriages of every governor ever elected, to Caitlin Flanagan's flaccid defense of marriage as something to hang onto for the sake of the kids -- I'm starting to feel like there is something wrong with me, because I actually enjoy being married.
I'm all with Traister here. I'm on my second marriage and have been either married (22 years) or shacking up (another four) for the vast majority of my adult life. My experience of marriage is that sharing things with another person (and the kids) creates an inner drama that makes it great when it's working and hell when it's not. If people are sharing their married life in any meaningful way at all, I can't see how it's possible to be boring or routine. My second wife and I have an unending stream of new problems to address and new situations to get through. Our daughters are going through puberty, my wife's in grad school, and I've been reassigned to a unit with a bunch of right-wingers. We also have a new puppy. Traister says of marriage: "It's hot. It's sexy." It is hot and sexy and it's cute and engaging. Marriage is always stretching the limits of my capacity for love, physical endurance, tolerance for sleep deprivation, and observational and negotiation skills. It's also warm-hearted, cute, and engaging beyond anything I could have imagined as a child. My first marriage was kind of a Gothic tragedy in which I ended up somewhere between thinking I was dying and wishing I was dying. But my second, sit-com marriage is just as full of meaning and much more pregnant with possibility.

I have some points of disagreement with Traister though. I don't think love is as absolutely central as the author believes.
As hard as marriage can be, it only really sucks if you don't love the person you're married to. If you don't love the person you're married to all the other crap seems insurmountable -- the scary large children, the lack of money, the fantasy sexual partners (who I like to imagine was wearing a particularly low-cut top today in my honor but, in reality, was not), the falling-apart house, the weeks where you just don't click, the ridiculous arguments about nothing, and most important, the fact that you're getting older and still haven't magically achieved your life goal of becoming Randall Cunningham or Patti Smith or whatever.

If you love the person you are married to then all the stuff that's your problem and not actually a problem with the relationship, stays your problem (for the most part), and you can focus on what's great about marriage.

Yes, love is important. But it's not enough. My first wife and I loved each other even after we were divorced, but we had long since stopped "liking" each other and stopped enjoying being around each other. We both needed to get the divorce and move on to better lives. This was something I thought a lot about as my first marriage fell apart. "Liking" and "enjoying" someone is just as important as being "in love."

I also believe that Traister underestimates the importance of self-involvement in American culture. One of the major reasons for the criticism of marriage by writers like Sandra Tsing Loh is that marriage interferes with intense self-involvement so highly valued in American popular culture. Much of the reason that some types of sexual flings, art, music, connoissureship, sports involvement, etc. etc. represent an alternative to marriage is that they speak to the ideal of self-involvement that marriage cannot accommodate. Many strands of American culture view these kinds of intensive self-involvement as the only meaningful dimension of life.

As a result, there is always going to be a strand of dissatisfaction with the necessary mutuality of most marriages.

My own thought is that it would be best if we just lived with the tension and both sides of the "marriage debate" tried to understand the other side better. People who advocate marriage need to recognize the high value placed on self-involvement in American life and how that militates against marriage. Marriage critics would also do well to recognize the value of the mutuality in marriage.

The Republican Dilemna: Being Pat Buchanan Without Appearing to Be

Pat Buchanan has a race-baiting article out on Sonia Sotomayor today. Here's the money quote:

Why did McCain fail to win the white conservative Democrats Hillary Clinton swept in the primaries? He never addressed or cared about their issues.

These are the folks whose jobs have been outsourced to China and Asia, who pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors. These are the folks who want the borders secured and the illegals sent back.

Had McCain been willing to drape Jeremiah Wright around the neck of Barack Obama, as Lee Atwater draped Willie Horton around the neck of Michael Dukakis, the mainstream media might have howled.

Buchanan race-baits Sonia Sotomayor when he says that the children of Hillary Democrats have been "pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors." In criticizing John McCain for not draping "Jeremiah Wright around the neck of Barack Obama," Buchanan calls for more GOP race-baiting in the future.

Buchanan's premise for his call for a return to the ways of Lee Atwater is that the GOP would gain from a return to race-baiting by increasing its white vote:

In 2008, Hispanics, according to the latest figures, were 7.4 percent of the total vote. White folks were 74 percent, 10 times as large. Adding just 1 percent to the white vote is thus the same as adding 10 percent to the candidate's Hispanic vote.

If John McCain, instead of getting 55 percent of the white vote, got the 58 percent George W. Bush got in 2004, that would have had the same impact as lifting his share of the Hispanic vote from 32 percent to 62 percent.

And Pat Buchanan believes that could make John McCain president.

I don't think so. The Republicans also lost the majority white college-educated vote and youth vote. A growing percentage of the white population is offended by race-baiting and McCain would have risked losing that part of the white vote if he had gone into race-baiting overdrive.

This is the political judgment that Senate Republicans are making as well. I don't think they're particularly worried about retrieving any minority votes. African-Americans (95%), Hispanics, Asian Americans, and the Jewish population (all at about 67%) look like they're going to be locked in for the Democrats throughout the Obama era. What Senate Republicans worry about is losing even more of the white vote as whites from 18-25 and college educated whites become less and less tolerant of racism.

That's why Senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama are trying to engage in as refined a version of race-baiting as they can imagine.
You voted not to reconsider the prior case. You voted to stay with the decision of the circuit. And in fact, your vote was the key vote. Had you voted with Judge [Jose] Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could've changed that case.

The racism here is real in the sense that Sessions identifies Sotomayor almost exclusively with her ancestry, but it's also concealed by making the racial reference to the extremely conservative jurist Jose Cabranes.

This is also what's involved in the GOP emphasis on the "Wise Latina" comments in Sotomayor's speeches. By accusing Sotomayor of racism, they're trying to mask the racism of their own contempt for Sotomayor's benefitting from affirmative action, involvement in Latino organizations, and her general multi-cultural, "Obama-esque" profile.

By college educated and young whites aren't fooled by the ultra-refined racism of GOP Senators any more than they're attracted to Pat Buchanan.

What's happening with the attacks on Sotomayor is that the Republicans are basically involved in a "cutting" exercise in self-wounding.

Sooner or later, they'll just finish themselves off.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Won't Dick Cheney Run for President?

CNN has a story about the possibility of Liz Cheney running for office someday. But why isn't former VP Dick Cheney considering running for president. Dick Cheney is the leading spokesperson for the foreign policy/military agenda of the Republican Party, he's popular with the Republican base, and he's sure-footed with the media. He's really the logical Republican candidate.

Of course, there are counter-arguments against a Cheney candidacy. First, there's his health as someone who's had multiple heart surgeries. But Cheney served eight years as an extremely important and influential Vice-President in good health. The only people whose health anybody has to wonder about are the buddies who go hunting with Cheney.

Cheney could also reassure voters by NOT nominating Sarah Palin as his VP.

Also, one could argue that Cheney is a highly unpopular figure who would be crushed by Obama. But RSI doesn't see why that should deter the Republicans. It isn't like they have a "popular" candidate anyway.

Cheney in 2012. You heard it here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Back from the Family Reunion

I did the 11 hour drive home today. The sugar overload should keep me hyper for awhile.