Monday, August 30, 2004

Life outside academia 

I have been made to wonder about life outside my own profession by a few events this past week. School opens next week and preparations like making sure the textbooks are in and software installed in labs proceed. J.V.C. ponders a life without teaching students with the same feeling I had when I contemplated the same thing a couple of years ago.

But what really grabbed me this weekend was hearing Big Trunk discuss his reactions to the vicious attack laid against him and Rocketman by Jim Boyd at the StarTribune. Hugh Hewitt, in town this past weekend, has written effectively about this attack, considering it legally actionable. The STrib has practically admitted Boyd's first attack was wrong by giving Trunk and Rocket a second article on the subject, which Boyd then attacks again. No Illusions applies the appropriate Fisking to the second Boydulent* article.

What strikes me about this is the viciousness of Boyd and its effect on its targets. I have not known Trunk and Rocket very long; I did not know them before our admission to the Northern Alliance, and even then not much until the radio show began. Rocket has some street edginess to him, but Trunk is simply a happy guy whose only fault IMO is a bit of perfectionism. (A bad segment on a book interview on the show seems like it'll about kill him.) Yet you could see this weekend that this battle with Boyd had been taken personally. On the air yesterday he reminded that the two of them work with clients in the Cities and that having an editorialist call them frauds and members of a "Republican smear campaign" was more than just bullshitting at a bar. That fact is what led the STrib to permit the "tennis match" of articles to have a second volley. The fact that Boyd had to come out of the closet and reveal himself as a censor as well as an editorialist -- "We have a responsibility to separate legitimate political opinion -- and the latitude is great -- from deliberate smear." -- shows that the usual minions that write such attack pieces -- say, the teachers' union attacks on Cheri Yecke -- were absent in this debate. I do not recall any attempt by Mr. Boyd at preventing character assassination then, do you?

It's different for us inside academia. Taking an extreme position can often enhance reputations. Writing another piece on the effects of third-degree price discrimination doesn't get you noticed; the striking, unorthodox conclusions like "minimum wage increases increase employment" will. In the battle for ideological diversity at SCSU I am routinely slammed by members of the faculty. I long ago decided this was not a liability but an asset; much like our friend David Strom, being a happy conservative, being able to laugh at yourself and not be a sourpuss not only attracts allies but defuses opponents. Indeed, happiness and willingness to shine light on the preening, censorious buffoons of our leftist academicians was one reason why this school tried to adopt a speech code for its faculty email list, eventually leaving it like one of those desiccated hulks of old Usenet groups that flamewars left behind. (It was foreseeing that event that led me to create this blog almost two years ago.)

But that's an advantage that being tenured brings; indeed, a purpose of tenure is prevent the silencing of debate. And compared to the Boyd-Powerline fight, a debate over a discussion list on a public university campus is trivial. Boyd's scurrilous attack on Trunk and Rocket demonstrate what happens when you don't have the protections of the ivory tower. Seeing it personally this weekend reminded me how sheltered I am.

*--"Boydulent", adj., 1. An attack piece written by an editorialist that engages in ad hominem argumentation without benefit of facts in response to commentary by conservatives in a leftist newspaper. 2. Pungent, redolent leftist commentary.