It's Shin Kickin Time

I thought I better write a, I think bi-monthly at this point, shin kicking post before the annual Holiday cheer sets in and makes me feel guilty for such meanness. If you are unfamiliar with the format of Cap'n Pete's Shin Kickin's, it goes as follows. I will write a post detailing some superfluous things I think about when I should be thinking about things that are productive. I include a small picture above the post freeing you from actually reading anything. You just look at the picture and guess what it is I might be pontificating about. Then if something is bothering you, you leave a suggestion in the comment box for a shin kicking which I will deliberate on until, ah I guess February or March whereby I will have forgotten the suggestion and you will have forgotten giving it and the blog world goes on. So without further ado...

I'm not sure exactly where the shins would be found on this phenomenon but it amazes me every time. Wednesday, I was driving to work (and really the day is insignificant because this has happened to me for about twenty six years now) when I spotted a car parked on the shoulder of the road about a half-mile away. Being the overly safe driver I contend myself to be, I identified a possibly unsafe situation and looked to see if there was oncoming traffic. Now I don't know how this happens but somehow, no matter what speed car A is traveling in relation to car B it seems to be an incontrovertible fact that the two cars will intersect at exactly the spot that the unsafe driving situation is. It doesn't matter whether you slow down or speed up you will always cross the unsafe area at the exact same time. You will close your eyes and wait to hear the surprisingly loud sound of your mirror's colliding. There must be a mathematical equation somewhere that explains this; so perhaps this shin kicking will go to scientists for not assessing this problem in a timely manner.
**You know when Seinfeld rips on comics who talk about lampshades. What's up with lampshades? If you want light, why would you also want shade? That’s about what this shin kicking sounds like upon re-reading.**

I know how much all of you pedants hate these pop culture references but I can't really help it. I mean come on. Who hired Anna Nicole Smith to be the spokeswoman for a diet pill? Her performance at the 32nd American Music Awards, well I don't have to explain myself here, just watch the video.

Hess. Oh Hess. After 40 years of a strong commitment to gluttony and pollution and you throw it all away. For years people have bought their children the Hess Semi truck. Every child, at some point spends almost three hours in a car ride to Grandma's house searching for a semi to give the universal "honk your horn" sign language to. The Semi is the leviathan of automobiles, the Ulysses of transportation, the Proust of...maybe I got carried away three analogies ago but my point is this. Trucks do serve a purpose in our world. Children's fascination with Tractors and Fire Trucks and Semis is second nature. It just happens. I don't really know anyone who got a Hess truck every year but for those who did I could understand. Hummers however, have to be the most useless admiration anyone could have. Can you see the small conflict of interest here? The Hummer was designed for use in the United States military. Yup, the same military that kill civilians to get more oil in Iraq. I don't know what it was, maybe some video on MTV or something but all of the sudden Hummer's started showing up in music videos. Famous athletes would roll up to the game in them. Now, Hess has adopted them. Every time I see a hummer I think what it must be like to be in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan and see a video clip of Fat Americans driving around armored vehicles. I mean we drive these things to get milk on Christmas morning! Their home is a battle zone. Why does it shock us to see them carrying guns in the marketplace, or what’s left of it? We cruise around in tanks that burn up their oil. Ok, Ok, onward...

I have to give David James Duncan a playful kick in the shins for one simple reason. The Brother's K was such a great book that I'm having problems picking a book to follow it. I've been staring at Rushdie's Satanic Verses for a long time now but somehow, with all the traveling we'll be doing over the holidays, toting around a book called Satanic Verses on Jesus' birthday, well that might be seen as a different conflict of interest. I have a couple of Garrison Keillor books here that might be fun to read over the holidays and I still have the second book of Don Quixote to read. These shin kicking's are prone to babble.

Way to go Tiger! You figured out your swing with the help of Hank Haney (thanks oneoverbogeyalan). All right! The season is over. Just in time. We'll see how he recovers from bruised shins next season.



The Academy

With your permission, Gentle Reader, I am going to add my proverbial two cents to the conservatives-in-the-academy debate that has been flaring up like a hemorrhoid across the blogosphere. I feel obliged to chime in, since I am an aspiring member of the academy and a “conservative” to boot (not really, but we’ll just go with it for now since I’m undoubtedly more conservative than most of my colleagues).

In general, I agree with Adam Kotsko that the whole thing is a bit of a straw man, and it’s not really about “aspiring academics of a conservative bent who [feel] either excluded from a fair shot at a job or ostracized by their peers after attaining one.”

My department just finished a protracted search for two new assistant professors, and they generously opened up the process to the grad students--giving us the chance to meet with the applicants, see their research presentations, and even offer our suggestions about the best candidates.

Not only were we prevented from asking about their political or religious affiliations, but we couldn’t ask them anything personal at all. No questions about their marital status or their family life or what kind of tea they prefer--nothing that would reveal even the slightest hint of bias. It went so far that one faculty member was cut off at our decision meeting when he suggested that a candidate might not like our town, based on some comment over a meal. Injecting any kind of personal information into the hiring decision is apparently grounds for a law suit.

So, I seriously doubt that there is a systemic bias against conservatives or Republicans. And I should say that I attend what is widely recognized as one of the most liberal, secular, elitist universities on God’s green earth.

That said, the hiring process did reveal a pervasive but unspoken assumption that everyone in the room was liberal. The research presentations and conversations were sprinkled with cheap jabs at Bush, Cheney, Fox News, and Republicans in general, to everyone’s visible amusement.

But I don’t think that’s the issue. If I were so thin-skinned that such trivial insults offended me, I wouldn’t last a day in the academy, which can be a vicious place for even the most liberal person.

The very nature of a cheap jab is that it costs nothing and has little actual content. When one of the candidates presented research with some real political content (comparing conservative and liberal news coverage of a topic), he took great pains to maintain the detached disinterestedness that is supposed to be characteristic of a social scientist.

My theory, which is purely anecdotal and based on a short amount of time, is that the bias is not against conservative scholars; it is against conservative scholarship. I realize some of my readers will think this is a contradiction in terms (and they may be right), so perhaps it would be more accurate to say the bias is against approaching scholarship from an ideology that is not liberal.

Whatever the locution, here’s my point: A former student in my department wrote a dissertation about the stem cell debate in the public sphere, hitting on some of the religious aspects of the dialogue. (I should stress that I have no problems with him or his research; he’s really quite talented.) This person is an unabashed skeptic, and therefore no one had any problem with his treatment of the topic. Yet if I were to approach the same topic from my point of view (read: ideology) as an unabashed Christian, I bet I would meet some resistance because my beliefs might interfere with the research. I don't plan to do that, however, so I guess this will never be tested.

There is much more to say about this, which is probably why everyone keeps saying stuff, even though it is often dismissed as a non-issue. But I will concede the floor for now.