Day By Day

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Serious Bloggery

Just following links from place to place can be simply a way to waste time [rather than finishing that damn book] or it can lead to truly fascinating regions in the republic of bloggery. Today's noodling took me to some academic websites and, particularly, to the web home of Timothy Burke.

Tim teaches at Swarthmore and, together with his brother Kevin, has published a well received book on Saturday morning television, titled Saturday Morning Fever, as well as a serious academic study of the cultural effects of commercial advertising in Zimbabwe. I confess that I am too old to appreciate his popular work. "Space Ghost" means nothing to me and Saturday morning TV evokes fleeting and faded images of Sky King's niece Penny, Hopalong Cassidy, Mighty Mouse, three grossly overweight comics named the "Tunsafuns," and Andy Devine shouting "pluck your magic twanger Froggy [even as a kid that sounded vaguely obscene]."

All this is by way of introducing my latest discovery in my semi-random peregrinations around the web. Tim's website, easily distracted, is a repository for his occasional papers, short essays, whimsical observations etc., and they are well worth reading. Tim brings an excellent academic background and a shrewd analytical faculty to his writing and has interesting and original things to say. He makes me think about things in a new way.

On Larry Summers contratemps he writes:

One thing that I think many observers have overlooked, however, is that the most inexcusable thing about Summers’ provocation is that even if he’s completely right in his hypothesis, it has nothing to do with the representation of women on the Harvard faculty....

Even if genetic or innate differences mean that no more than 15% of the top scientists and mathematicians are women, Harvard could pay whatever was necessary to recruit from that 15% and achieve a faculty which had a 50-50 balance of men and women....

The only way Summers could account for that imbalance would be to say that in his opinion achieving gender balance is an unimportant objective, or at least not worth the trouble involved. Now that, if he said it, would be a much bolder and more provocative statement, and curiously enough, a more defensible one than what he actually had to say.

Never thought of it that way, did you? I know I didn't.

In a discussion of Rastafarian images of Africa he notes:
This is a dynamic not especially unique to the African diaspora. Irish-Americans who travel to Ireland, even before the recent economic boom, do not find the Ireland that is known to them within American popular culture. Nor is this just a diasporic problem. Civil War re-enactors, for all the meticulousness of their attention to material history, can sometimes be remarkably disconnected from the cultural, social or intellectual realities of antebellum America. Virtually every popular understanding of history that you can think of tends to run aground on the reality of the past it imagines.

So much is commonplace -- historians frequently deplore such imaginings. But Tim then goes on to ask a new question:

What’s so bad about it, really?

This is a question which, once asked, blazes across a very wide political and intellectual landscape. What’s wrong with Rastafarians believing in an Ethiopia and a Selassie that bears little resemblance to the reality of those places? What’s wrong with believing that Cape Coast Castle in Ghana was a major site from which slaves were shipped across the Atlantic, even though it was not? What’s wrong with any or all the myths we carry around about the past?

My answer, for what it's worth, is that in the case of Irish Americans [a group I have studied] the mythic structures support contibutions to terrorist organizations. Much the same could be said for al Quaeda's dream of a unified caliphate. Civil War re-enactors don't kill people [at least I don't think they do].

It is this knack for asking provocative questions that makes Tim's site a must-read for inquiring minds. Check it out and see what he has to say about Glenn Reynolds.

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