Oh, Canada! The Radical Overcomes

November 16, 2008, 11:02 am

So for the last few days I have been in a Far Northern City at a Legal History Conference. I was invited there to be on a panel organized by Princeton History department newbie Margot Canaday (whose book, by the way, is coming out in the spring — keep your eyes peeled.) It was a great panel, and since I had never been to a meeting of this particular society before, actually a Different Experience (always nice to know you can have one, after almost 25 years of being an academic, isn’t it?) Lots of the people attending were legal scholars, some were historians of the law, and others (like me) were kibitzers who stomp all over the field while we write a book that is sort of about the law. I spent time with two dear friends who I hadn’t expected to see; a third, also a kibitzing historian, ran up to me at registration on Friday, and said: “Thank God I know someone here!” Folks in the law definitely live better than we in history or American Studies departments: the meeting was held at the Fairmount Laurier, named after a distant relative in the Canadian branch of the Radical family, Sir Wilfred Laurier, once Prime Minister of Canada.

You can see how much I have had to overcome to become the Radical.

Anyway, the beds were soft, the conversation sparkling, and the money large and clunky when it wasn’t just odd colors with pictures of that nice old lady on it. I don’t know how Canadians deal with the bags full of loonies they get as change every day, except to give them away to the homeless so their pockets don’t fall apart. Which they probably do, being Canadian. As one of many delightful activities at the meeting, I attended a dinner last night organized by Mary Dudziac (and also attended by Dan Ernst) of Legal History Blog. Mary, Dan and I held court on the blogosphere: it seems like everywhere you go nowadays people want to know how blogging works, how you got into it, and how you know what to do once you get to the blogosphere. The answers to these questions, almost uniformly among bloggers, are:

1. Easy-peasy (sometimes follows a discussion on the merits of Blogspot versus WordPress);
2. By accident and because I like to write; and
3. You figure it out as you go along.

Since there were a lot of lawyers around I also asked a number of anxious questions about fair use, since blogging often entails theft and re-printing.

Mary, and an unpleasant flame skirmish on the previous post which I have since erased, have almost persuaded me to stop taking anonymous comments and/or to use moderation. The down side — and it’s a real down side for a blog like this — is that very few people comment when you make it even slightly cumbersome to do so. But, as Mary pointed out, having people write anything they want about you and circulate it on your own blog is unpleasant too.

I’m not sure which is worse about being flamed (pick one):

1. Someone I don’t know writing something nasty and completely ignoring what I wrote in the post so that s/he can elaborate on how much s/he dislikes me or what an idiot I am.
2. Said person dropping hairpins that s/he is someone I know, so that I don’t know whether said commenter is a sock puppet of a known commenter, someone I truly do not know, someone I sort of or used to know, or someone I work with every day who is actually a sick f***k using my own blog to pick on me.
3. Losing my temper and flaming back, and hence revealing myself as a person whose poise can be temporarily disabled.
4. Having said commenter respond to being attacked in an equally nasty way by writing in a hurt, disingenuous tone, “Gee, I (sniff) just wanted you to engage my ideas,” when in fact there were no ideas to engage — just an accusation that I am an idiot or a hypocrite or a power-mad Peronista.

As the ever-fabulous Robert Self of Brown had noted at dinner the night previous (and I paraphrase), it isn’t clear that more communication on the internet is actually better communication. What we do know is that people who take the trouble to comment are a very small proportion of those who read: I would say on this blog fewer than 1% of readers are commenters, and I bet that is even true of very popular blogs who get two or three times the hits I get every day. Thus, those who comment are, as the pollsters say, motivated. What this means, in my view, is that they are either truly interested in the post or truly interested in making contact with the blogger, and in the latter case, negativity is probably as much a motivator as admiration, if not more so.

And as if I haven’t been tested enough in the blogosphere in the last 24 hours — presto! I just discovered that I was in danger of being bumped from my flight. Why? Because I didn’t pay extra to guarantee that I would not be bumped from my flight. Isn’t the free market wonderful?

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