Thoughts for the week on podcasts and the Constitution

  1. Jamal Greene was the most recent guest on Conversations with Tyler. This is how Greene describes his work habits as an academic with children:

GREENE: … my most effective work habit is to use the entire day to work. I get a lot of work done late at night. Most of my time during the day is spent teaching classes or meeting with students, and all writing and reading and preparation and everything is much later. That means I don’t watch television shows. It’s a really extended workday.

I work during soccer practices. I work sitting in the car while my kids are doing something or other. I don’t segregate times of the day where I can’t work.

One thing I find personally is that if I’m doing empirical work then I really need to be inside with at least one external monitor. As much as I like the idea of working from the pool (referencing the viral video of the week) being at my office is the best set up.

2. Currently I am teaching an online asynchronous class. Considering that my students are on the move in different places right now, I decided to create a podcast assignment. This seems to have gone over well. One student had a criticism for the episode that she chose: it was not entertaining. Another student complained that his episode had too much fluff about the personal lives of the speakers. This raises the interesting question of how the experts manage to make podcasts informative without being boring. It’s an art. Talking about your personal life to break up the subject matter can work but it can also feel like a waste of time.

3. For a discussion group, I read The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.

Something that stood out to me was the sheer intensity of these guys. Liberty is a serious topic, but I’ll just share something that is funny from the book.

In the middle of a long fiery speech of Patrick Henry, the book inserts a line in brackets:

What will then become of you and your rights? Will not absolute despotism ensue? {Here Mr. Henry strongly and pathetically expatiated on the probability of the President’s enslaving Americans, and the horrible consequences that must result.}

A footnote explains that stenographer had difficulty keeping up with Mr. Henry and was occasionally reduced to recording a mere summary of his words. It’s impressive that a stenographer could have gotten as much as they did.

I came away from the book thinking that people should talk more about this moment in history, and then I started noticing when people do talk about it. In fact, Tyler was interviewing a constitutional scholar this week and explicitly addressed the idea of “federalism.”

4. The debate does rage on 200+ years later.

COWEN: But the court itself is undemocratic by design, so it’s funny for me to hear you say some practice in the confirmation process is undemocratic. Isn’t that the whole point?

GREENE: Well, the confirmation process is not undemocratic. The way in which they are chosen is not undemocratic. Yes, their decisions are not democratic in the same way in which elections are democratic, although they do vote.

COWEN: There seems to be plenty of American exceptionalism that extends far beyond race or doesn’t boil down to race, or it pops up in issues that are quite non-racial or appear to be non-racial. Race might be one factor, but doesn’t it stem from something very fundamental in the nature of American society? We’re more literal. We hold ideas more strongly. We’re more suspicious of state power.

GREENE: Well, I think the upstream factors are maybe a bit more contingent than you’re suggesting. The way in which Americans understood rights before the middle of the 20th century was quite different from how we understand rights today. We often tie our rights arrangements to the founders, or to the Bill of Rights or something in our ancient constitutional arrangements. But that’s certainly not how the founders thought about rights, not in the quasi-absolute sense that we do.

5. Events at the Capital on 1/6/2021 have been in the news again this week.

Here are the sentiments of veteran Mark Hertling on Twitter, regarding that event and the Constitution.

I wrote two posts in reaction to the event last year. One on the demand for polarization online and the second on loving your flawed country.

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