Friday, January 01, 2010

George Will Bloviates; RSI Responds

George Will has a pointless little op-ed out on the cosmic significance of the event that wiped out the dinosaurs and most other species 65 million years ago. It turns out that there is an underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean that could have been the result of the massive meteors that created the Mexico's 110-mile-wide Chicxulub and brought about the "worldwide collapse of the climate and ecosystems" leading to the mass extinctions of the dinosaurs and two-thirds of marine animals, and the destruction of much of the planet's flora."


But have no fear, the American Constitution "still constitutes, and the fact that flora and fauna have survived Earth's episodes of extreme violence testifies to the extraordinary imperative of life."

What's amazing about Will is that he still gets it wrong. It's unconstitutional to think that the Constitution "constitutes." It's the people who "constitute" the government and the Constitution says so. According to the Preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It's the people of the United States who are constituting the Constitution as the governmental arrangement through which they will seek to attain the ends of forming "a more perfect Union," establishing "Justice" and the like. Framers of the Constitution like James Madison were very suspicious that the vast majority of the people would act to dispossess the wealthy of their property and therefore created a system in which it was difficult for majorities to either form or engage in major legislative enterprises. But it's always the people, their elected office-holders, and the judges and subordinate office-holders appointed by the elected officers who act to achieve the ends of government--not the Constitution itself.

Ironies abound with the American Constitution. The Constitution was designed to ensure that Presidents and Senators were subject to elite choice rather than popular choice. And failed spectacularly in doing so. Presidential elections were popular affairs from the beginning and U. S. Senators were chosen by the ultimate political hacks--state legislators.

The American Constitution was also designed to ensure the continuance of the slave system and failed even more spectacularly in accomplishing that. In fact, the Constitutional system was so inadequate to the task of dealing with slavery that it took four years of bloody civil war to create a "more perfect Union" without the slave system.

The Constitution is being tested again. What the right-wing essentially wants is a Constitutional system under which people like Sarah Palin can pretty much do whatever they want and never get challenged. I don't think they'll succeed, but it won't be the Constitution that determines the outcome, it will be the processes which determine the will of the American people as a whole.

Resolution One: Re-establish Blogging Hobby

My resolution last year to "drink more" was such a success that I have a lot of New Years Resolutions this year.

1. More Blogging. The first resolution is that I need to do more blogging. By the end of the year, my unhappiness with my work situation had led me to reduce my blogging to one post a week. Given that "happiness=blogging," I need to do more blogging.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Displays of Degradation I

I haven't mentioned yet that I got a fairly good response from the University of Pennsylvania Press about my book proposal. They didn't give me a contract, but they did tell me that they would send a full manuscript out to readers when I submit one.

So, now I'm working on completing a full manuscript and one of my jobs is to write a chapter on blackface minstrelsy in Philadelphia during the 1840's.

Toward that end, I'm reading William J. Maher's, Behind the Burnt Cork Mask. In the intro and first chapter, Maher's core argument is that blackface minstrelsy was more about establishing a particularly American form of popular culture than it was about African-American cultural forms or racism more generally.

Although it's a very good book, I'm not convinced.

In the first chapter, Maher convincingly argues that performers like the Christy minstrels focused more on burlesquing European imports like Italian opera than satirizing plantation life or northern black Dandies. I'm not very familiar with the operation of Italian opera in 19th century America, but I'm not very surprised that blackface minstrel performers were working with a variety of "white sources." The African-American references in the minstrel songs of the 1840's often look rather token. White performers are talking primarily about themes from white life.

But that doesn't change the fact that minstrel performers were dressing up as black men and women and that they were using European sources to portray blacks as buffoonish, lazy, dependent, and sentimentally attached to slavery. If anything, working with the European sources gives the racial imagery of blackface minstrelsy a new flexibility as white performers learned how to articulate their images of blackness through different kinds of materials.

That still leaves the question of why white performers found blackface such a compelling medium for the presentation of their own concerns about romance, family, politics, race, and masculinity. So far, Maher hasn't addressed that question.

Limbaugh in Hawaiian Hospital

Talking Points Memo is carrying an item about Rush Limbaugh being taken to a Honolulu hospital in "serious condition" with "chest pains."

I hope he's okay.

And I mean it. When Limbaugh was in rehab for his drug addiction, I posted on Slate's Fray that people on the left should respect Limbaugh as a formidable adversary and have the same kind of sympathy for him in adversity that we have for our own friends and allies. That doesn't mean that we should be "soft" on Limbaugh. We should be hitting Limbaugh hard for his conservative positions, showing disgust for his racism, homophobia, and warmongering, and ridiculing him for his pseudo-macho buffoonery.

But people on the left should also extend Limbaugh the same basic human compassion we extend to other people.

Maybe Limbaugh wouldn't have that kind of compassion for someone like me.

But that doesn't make it any less appropriate to have compassion for him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's Over Joseph-Beth

When I moved to Morehead in 1990, Joseph-Beth bookstore in Lexington, KY was the place to go for the intellectual glitterati at Morehead State University. The chair of the search committee even took me there during my job interview even though the store was 60 miles away in Lexington.

And then, the owners made Joseph-Beth even better with a dramatic expansion.

But Joseph-Beth gradually got less interesting.

They started focusing more on bestsellers, name-brand authors, and trinkets for the post-hippy set, less on materials that were intellectually interesting. Once upon a time, I could go into the philosophy and history sections at Joseph-Beth and come upon great books and authors I'd never heard of.

Not any more.

The philosophy section at Joseph-Beth has shrunk from a wall to two shelves and the history section looks like its declined as well--too much Civil War and Kentucky history stuff, not enough effort to connect with the history of the rest of the world. It wasn't like there was nothing there. I found a decent looking book about the Romans and Barbarians and bought a couple of other books as well. Joseph-Beth's is not BAD. It's just not all that good.

If I did a survey of my professor friends, I think most of them would still say that they think Joseph-Beth is the best book store in Lexington. But I now like the Barnes and Noble in Hamburg Place better.

Next year, everybody should send me gift cards from Barnes and Nobles.