Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blogging threatened

CU law professor Paul Campos considers starting a blog:

I once asked a friend of mine, a novelist, why so many writers have drinking problems. "A better question is why so many drinkers have writing problems," he replied.

His response came to mind recently when I began to toy with the idea of starting a blog. . . .

A blog allows one to dash off a brilliant riposte to some flawed argument or rhetorical atrocity, without having to deal with publishing schedules or, worse, editors who insist that factual assertions be true, and who place other tiresome demands on creative genius, even as it pours forth from a metaphorical pen.

These same features also represent the disadvantages of a blog. Every time I hear the Blog Siren singing its Celine Dionesque song, I end up thinking of a certain type of legal academic blogger - the sort who has a habit of concocting (intentionally?) preposterous posts, which then elicit a predictable stream of insults from various precincts of the blogosphere.

Our brave blogger then sallies forth in a state of high dudgeon, demanding apologies from those who have insulted her, while at the same time exacerbating the situation by engaging in the most incredibly juvenile banter (for example, she has been known to joke about the supposedly diminutive genitalia of her male critics).

Note the sudden descent from the general to the specific. It took only a second to figure out to whom Campos is referring.

In truth, I find it difficult to believe that such witticisms aren't composed with one hand, while the other clutches a glass of cabernet sauvignon the size of Lake Tahoe.

Indeed, among writers in general, and bloggers in particular, alcohol and narcissism go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Psychologists define narcissistic personality disorder as involving a grandiose sense of self-importance, and an overwhelming need for the constant attention and admiration of others.

Uh-huh. Campos calls Althouse an alcoholic with narcissistic personality disorder (in, of course, a deniable weasel-lawyer way), but it's she who's juvenile.

What better example of this can there be than bloggers obsessed with how many "hits" their posts are eliciting on their site meters, or how often they're mentioned on the Internet, and who take pride in drawing attention to themselves by being aggressively obnoxious? (This is a trick most people learn by the age of 4, and begin to become embarrassed about employing shortly thereafter).

Okay, why's he dragging me into this? (Or is that just the alcohol and my narcissistic personality talking?) No matter:
Blogs pose special dangers for academics. The whole point of academic life is that it's supposed to offer those who live it the time to spend months and years becoming expert about, and reflecting upon, complex issues, before committing their thoughts regarding such matters to print.

Journalists, of course, can rarely afford that luxury - yet bloggers face even more intense temptations to make fools of themselves. The scholarly monograph mulled over for a decade before appearing in print may be wrongheaded or dull or both, but it runs comparatively little risk of making its author look like a narcissistic idiot.

The same can't be said for the chardonnay-fueled rant posted at three in the morning, which may inadvertently tell your readers far more than they wish to know about your living room decor, your psycho-sexual neuroses, and your views on the latest episode of American Idol.
Campos seems to have forgotten the ostensible subject of his column, starting his own blog.
None of which is to deny that many bloggers, including many academic bloggers, do excellent work. For example, just a few of the lawyers and law professors who regularly write first-rate things in the genre include Glenn Greenwald [sic], Jack Balkin, Eugene Volokh and Sandy Levinson.
Greenwald, of course, is famous for being caught employing multiple sock puppets to felicitate and defend himself; Balkin and Levinson write for the same blog.
I could list many more [so why don't you?]. These writers represent a variety of perspectives, but they all write fluent, accessible prose, they mostly avoid shooting from the hip, and their analyses of various topics are, if I may say, generally quite sober.
Since he seems to have forgotten all about it, maybe Campos doesn't really want to start a blog. Please do, Professor, so we can hear more nonhip-shooting about Althouse's alcoholism and narcissistic personality, and maybe even about how Glenn Reynolds is just like Ward Churchill.

Update: Doco-mentarian Grant Crowell links to his interview with Campos on the Churchill case. It's old (pre-Standing Committee on Research Misconduct), but Campos is very solid on the iss-ee-yoos of the time, and not unfunny. On Churchill's claim to Indigenosity:

[W] e're not just talking about some technicality about whether he is or isn't an enrolled member of a tribe, we're talking about someone who presents no evidence whatsover that they belong to the category to which they claim to belong and gaining lots of advantages from it.

I for example could be claiming that I was a black woman with apparently as much warrant as Churchill has for claiming he's a Native American. Why? Because I believe I'm a black woman? 'Cause I have a very sincere attachment to the notion of being a black woman? I would hope that really wouldn't be good enough in holding myself out as a black woman in the context of the modern academy."

Paulie, of course, is too modest: he would make a fine-looking black woman if he shaved and did a great number of other things.

Anyhow, kick in the TV screen, Edna, because the prof also discusses blood quantum! Columbus Day! The Ninth Amendment! And such. The interview's 42 minutes long, but well worth it. In fact, Campos makes so much sense you have to seriously wonder if he hadn't had a few pops before (and during!) the writing of dumb stuff like the Althouse and Reynolds columns.

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