Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Blogging Derails Unpromising Careers, Too: Part I I know how much everyone loves meta-blogging, so I've decided to dedicate a couple of days exclusively to it. All meta-blogging, all the time. I may even refer to points already presented, thereby engaging in the even more beloved practice of meta-meta-blogging. I aim to please ... and organize some ancillary thoughts for the MLA presentation, which I esteem finishing sooner than later. Now, on to the post: Can blogging derail your career? The Chronicle wants to know. As someone currently without one, I'm probably not the best person to ask. (May account for why they didn't.) But I want to echo and expand on some of what was said. Daniel Drezner: When I was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, a senior colleague once told me his secret to academic success: One bad article equals five great ones. His point was that the worst thing a scholar can do is to publish too much, as opposed to too little. Any substandard publication creates a black mark that is difficult to erase. As someone who has worked through disciplinary issues on his blog, this worries me. The implication is doubly worrisome, as it suggests that people who consider your blog unacademic—unworthy of mention—will read it, discover inchoate ideas or undigested commentary, and consider it reason enough to dismiss your published work. If blogs as a medium are incapable of producing serious work, then the obverse—that they not be treated a serious work—should also hold. But we know this to be untrue. Careers are made and destroyed in the faculty lounge, the staff meeting, and five minutes of idle conversation while waiting out a storm. Scholars should base their impressions on more, but as human beings, we can't fault them for basing them on less. So what are bloggers to do with this online archive they've created? As I scan through my archives, the first thing I notice is that I ought to revise many, many posts. Stop boxing your ears. I said it. Revise many, many posts. Stylistic infelicities abound in even the best posts. You could chalk up such mistakes to means and pace of production. I blog on a timer, for example. I start writing at 6 p.m. and I stop at 7 p.m. If there's no chance I'll finish the post before the timer chimes, I stop generating new prose and start working over old. I polish up some little something I'd half written already and put it on display. Why fixate on the polishing? Because blogging is about paying attention to writing-qua-writing. The same cannot be said of academic writing. A successful academic must produce so much material in such a short amount of time, she must be born with or have already acquired a style prior to enrolling in her graduate program. The traditional outlets for stylistic development have disappeared. We no longer write letters—and we all know email rarely scales the epistolary heights of previous generations. Nor can we all be former...
No, You Weren't Thrown a Curve [File under Language Log-lite.] The phrase "throw X a curve" means "to surprise someone with something difficult or unexpected." That definition baffles your average baseball fan. Why would a hitter be surprised if a pitcher featuring a curve in his repetoire throws one? Yet, according to Google: throw * a curve ~89,400 throw * a curveball ~16,700 throw * a curve ball ~25,200 threw * a curve ~50,200 threw * a curveball ~14,200 threw * a curve ball ~17,600 Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, sons, daughters ... bosses, employees ... assistant regional managers, assistants to the regional manager ... Mother Nature and Life-with-a-capital-"L" all throw unsuspecting "batters" unexpected curves. You would think, with all these curves being thrown, people would realize that everyone and everything can throw a curve. Then why is it so effective? Because everyone and everything also features hard cheese. (Get a little smug and you'll find some mustard on it.) By baseball logic, that's the only way to be "surprised" by a curve. Note the scare quotes. You're not "surprised" by the curve so much as you have to start your swing early in case you're thrown a good fastball. But a change-up (which looks like a fastball but flies 5-10 m.p.h. slower) would "surprise" you in the exact same way. The "surprise" lies in the speed differential. You cheat on the fastball and anything slower—be it a curve, change-up, slider, knuckler, what-not—will "surprise" you in the very same way. So why is the curve singled out? Why does X always get you with the curve? I'm not qualified to answer that question. (I would've been if LSU hadn't dismantled the linguistics department, but then I wouldn't have caught people having sex in my office and never come to your attention. He does work in mysterious ways.) But I insist on commentarying anyway: You have not been thrown a curve. You've been frozen by an eephus: The Eephus is thrown overhand like most pitches, but is characterized by the unusual high arc of its trajectory and its corresponding slow velocity, bearing more resemblance to a slow-pitch softball delivery than to traditional baseball. It is considered a "trick" pitch because in comparison to normal baseball pitches (70 to 100 miles per hour), an Eephus pitch appears to move in slow motion. Hitters typically get very anxious, swing wildly, or ground out. God and everything you imagine exists in His Creation don't throw a curve. They throw an eephus. You weren't looking for it. Didn't expect it. But there it is ... floating erratically, so very seductively ... yet there's nothing you can do. You've already finished swinging. You thought they'd throw you a curve, but they threw you for a curve instead. What? Threw you for a curve? Crap, I have no clue what that means ...

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