Good bye to all schlock – #fictionbyfemales #lifetooshort #apocalypse

The only fiction I am reading this year is by women, with a presumed bias away from white western women (though there’s nowt wrong with the Barbara Kingsolvers and Margaret Atwoods of this world).

However, I need another ‘rule’ – no schlock.  Life is Too Short – I am not getting any younger, and the apocalypse might be just around the corner.

Which was the theme of the last schlock book I read (in every sense). “The Three” is a page-turner by Sarah Lotz. The cover kinda sums it up – a jet (if you look carefully, it’s a 747) heading towards three (not two) uprights of similar dimension to, well, you know…


Think the Midwich Cuckoos meets Predator meets the (forgotten?) 80s moral-panic-about-video-games ‘Arcade’, in the style of World War Z (an oral history of the zombie wars, by Max Brooks) and Blair Witch Project.  But this is longer (and not better for it), and the inter-textuality/meta-textuality gets a bit tricksy.  There is nothing new here, but what redeems it is Lotz’s clear ability to give voice (mostly convincingly) to a range of characters and create a trail of bread crumbs that you want to follow.

The set-up – four passenger jets crash simultaneously and there are only three (or four?) young survivors is well laid out, but as the book goes on it’s not as creepy as it would like to be, and ends, inevitably, a little flat.

A lesson to me- I have fantastic fiction and non-fiction to read when I am not DOING MY FRICKING PHD, WHICH I SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE TIME.  And so; No. More. Schlock.

Books by women, and even – darn it – about women

This year (starting last week) the only fiction I will read (novels and short stories) is by women, as per suggestion from the wonderful wife (7 years hitched!!).  It occurred to me, both before and after reading Ursula Le Guin’s comments on her ‘The Eye of the Heron’ that this might not mean I was going to be reading books about women!

So, here’s a bit of a list of likely candidates

Angela Carter – esp Wise Children and Night at the Circus
Ursula Le Guin – Always Coming Home, The Eye of the Heron, The Beginning Place
Toni Morrison – Beloved
Andrea Newman – Triangles
Elfriede Jelinek- The Piano Teacher
AS Byatt – Little Black Book of Stories
Marilynne Robinson- Housekeeping
Michele Roberts – Fair Exchange
Margaret Drabble – The Radiant Way
Claribel Alegria – Family Album
Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad
George Eliot – Felix Holt
Carrie Tiffany – Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, and Mateship with Birds

Two different papers on the history of #Australia and environment may be of interest.


Ward (2015) “Tea Party imitators? The campaign against the carbon tax, the media and a new uncivil politics”, Australian Journal of Political Science, 50:2, 225-240,

there is a very handy account of the bizarre and distasteful year of 2011, when Julia Gillard as Australian Prime Minister skilfully steered the ‘Clean Energy Futures’ legislation through parliament. This package included the emission trading scheme that Tony Abbott, in his two years too long tenure as Australian prime minister abolished, but also created the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Authority (ARENA), all of which Abbott tried to kill off, but couldn’t manage (and have been moved from Industry to Environment by new Aussie Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull”

Ward recaps the growth of the American Tea Party and the ‘outrage industry’ that is cable television and talkback  (and remember, outrage is an anagram of ear gout) before giving detailed accounts of the Marrickville protest where Labor MP (and possible replacement for Bill Shorten) Anthony Albanese was confronted by a mob happy to call him liar, but not so willing to listen to a word he said) and the infamous ‘Ditch the Witch/Bob Brown’s Bitch’ rally of 23rd March, and tying it to the activism of media personalities (especially Sydney’s 2GB radio station.

Some might quibble with just how rigorous Ward’s of finding pictures online, randomly selecting and counting faces is, but absent a time machine to be at the rally, it will do. His broader points stand.

What could be added (but then, it would have exceeded the word limit!  You can only do so much in any given article);

  • The broader context of why Gillard had to go back on her promise, the MPCCC situation, the protests at the passage of the legislation.  (All covered in Philip Chubb’s (2014) Power Failure.)
  • The demographics of the anti-carbon tax brigade and the ‘anti-reflexivity’ framework propounded by Dunlap and Mc…
  • The huge mining industry advertising campaigns of 2010 and 2011 (including the Trade and Industry Alliance
  • The broader nature of the Australian media and the invisibility of the coal industry – Wendy Bacon and Chris Nash PLAYING THE MEDIA GAME The relative (in)visibility of coal industry interests in media reporting of coal as a climate change issue in Australia Journalism Studies

While Ward is focused on the peak year of 2011, Rootes has more years and more countries in his frame.

Rootes, C. (2015) “Exemplars and Influences: Transnational Flows in the Environmental Movement” Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 61, Number 3,, pp.414-431.

He’s looking at the how of how ideas travel (not always in straight lines!) and specifically at the genealogies of Green parties, Friends of the Earth and ‘Earth First!’, looking at the US, Australia and Europe.  I’ll declare an interest – I lived through a bunch of this stuff, and I know (fairly tangentially) one of the people written about).

It’s a good piece, full of rich detail, and some minor de-mythologising –

It has sometimes been claimed, usually by Australians, that it was developments in Australia that exported the “green” label to environmental politics in Europe.2 In particular, it has been claimed that the German activist Petra Kelly was inspired, after her 1977 visit to Australia, by the Green Bans imposed by the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) in Sydney to campaign for the formation of a Green party in Germany.3 Perhaps what most impressed Kelly was the spectacle of working men campaigning for environmental protection in practical and effective ways, in response to calls for protection from local communities confronted with threats to their environment, but it is improbable that that could have inspired the formation in Germany of a new party or, indeed, the decision to label it “green”. After all, there were plenty of other factors driving in that direction in the ferment of German extra-parliamentary politics in those years.

And lots of things I didn’t know about American environmentalism-

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has become the most extensive network of autonomous environmental NGOs in the world.17 It had an unambiguous single point of origin as the brainchild of David Brower, who had resigned as executive director of the Sierra Club, the organisation established in California by John Muir in 1892 to promote the preservation of wilderness areas in the American west. Brower fell out with the board of directors of the Sierra Club over finances but also over his opposition to nuclear energy, and his expression of regret that the Club had voted to accept construction of a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.

And UK FOE’s history –

FoE was committed to action that was not only non-violent but legal, even to the extent of frustrating supporters who wanted to be more directly active. Such discontents were crystallised when, despite FoE’s long campaign against nuclear energy, the 1978 Windscale nuclear reprocessing inquiry report dismissed FoE’s arguments. Many supporters were disillusioned, and some defected to Greenpeace.19 Nevertheless, FoE survived this and subsequent financial problems that precipitated an office revolt that ended in the empowerment of officers and its 250 autonomous local groups.

Things I need (or rather, want!) to look into more;

  • The Terania Creek blockade and the following victories.
  • The Wran government’s decision to create national parks freed up activists to help fight the Franklin Dam battle in 1982-3. (Wran was an interesting character – supported the White Cliffs solar energy plan, was head of CSIRO in late 80s and seems to have clocked the threat of climate change)
  • John Seed

The #HungerGames and #militainment

So, am only reading fiction by women this year. Polished off books 2 and 3 in the Hunger Games trilogy last weekend. If you’ve been living under a rock this last 5 years, here’s the recap. Sometime (hundreds of years?) after a nuclear war, American civilisation is based around a hyper modern Capitol, with 12 (well, 13) districts which feed it. Those districts rebelled and were brutally suppressed. To remind everyone of this, every year, each district sends – from a lottery- a male and a female, aged 12 to 18 to fight to the death (last person standing), which is televised for the entertainment of the Capitol and as a reminder to everyone else who is in charge. In district 12 (the coal mining one), a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister. Havoc ensues.
As others will have noted, presumably, this sort of ‘fight to the death’ thing is not new. The Romans did it, and we’ve been imagining our own societies doing it for some time now – Series 7: The Contenders, Battle Royale, Turkey Shoot and Punishment Park.
the-hunger-games-trilogy1So, Collins’ success is in telling the story very well (it is a page turner, and she makes you care about the supporting cast) and in being refreshingly clear-eyed in the third book about how revolutions work and who tends not to survive them.
I don’ think feminism is the most interesting lens through which to read the books (maybe the films – which I want to see – are different). That said, reading the books alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is probably something all young women could usefully do. Katniss is the Ilsa Lund in Casablanca– the fairly passive woman caught between Two Men Who Love Her.
Her act of rebellion (as opposed to her courage, which is constant) is to threaten to kill herself, and only in the third book does she start killing people (in the first two books there are a series of convenient accidents and plots that leave her blameless.) Then again she is sixteen; she’s allowed not to be the bad ass, the violent redeemer.

You could I suppose take a political economy line – “Coal miners fuck up the Capitol” (Timothy Mitchell, take a bow) but for me the most interesting take is to look at it as an example of and also critique of ‘militainment’ or ‘state violence translated into an object of pleasurable consumption’

Militainment is the title of a book by Roger Stahl

Militainment, Inc. offers provocative, sometimes disturbing insight into the ways that war is presented and viewed as entertainment―or “militainment”―in contemporary American popular culture. War has been the subject of entertainment for centuries, but Roger Stahl argues that a new interactive mode of militarized entertainment is recruiting its audience as virtual-citizen soldiers. The author examines a wide range of historical and contemporary media examples to demonstrate the ways that war now invites audiences to enter the spectacle as an interactive participant through a variety of channels―from news coverage to online video games to reality television. Simply put, rather than presenting war as something to be watched, the new interactive militainment presents war as something to be played and experienced vicariously. Stahl examines the challenges that this new mode of militarized entertainment poses for democracy, and explores the controversies and resistant practices that it has inspired.
This volume is essential reading for anyone interested in the relationship between war and media, and it sheds surprising light on the connections between virtual battlefields and the international conflicts unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Meanwhile, Siobahn McEvoy has lots of useful things to say – more about the Harry Potter series than The Hunger Games.
Here’s a quote

James Der Derian argues that ‘technology in the service of virtue has given rise to a global form of virtual violence, virtuous war’.The military-industrial-complex coupled with a complicit global media has produced a ‘military-industrial-media– entertainment-network’ or MIMENET that now can ‘seamlessly . . . merge the production, representation and execution of war’. Part of the military-entertainment-complex, ‘militainment’ comprises a large share of the entertainment market, and is ‘an important pedagogical project of US war practices’, supplementing the militarisation of schools, universities and daily life, perhaps particularly since 9 – 11. Through othering and dehumanisation, making war seem productive, exciting, heroic and glamorous, but mostly through making war pleasurable, ‘militainment’ helps to ‘construct the citizen’s identity in relation to war’, and helps normalise war as a tool of foreign policy. In addition, after 9– 11, as Der Derian writes ‘virtuous war’ is ‘played out by the military-industrial-media-entertainment network as our daily bread and nightly circus’.

Siobhan McEvoy-Levy (2015) Disarming ‘Militainment’: reading peace and resistance, Peacebuilding, 3:2, 200-217,

As McEvoy also points out – life is beginning to imitate art. There is a ‘salute’ in the books where you kiss the middle three fingers of your left hand and hold them aloft, as a sign of rebellion, defiance and solidarity. Well –

David Sim, ‘Thailand: Anti-Coup Protesters Adopt Hunger Games’ Three-Fingered Salute’, International Business Times, June 3, 2014,
David Sim, ‘Hong Kong: Defiant protesters give Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute as police clear camp’, International Business Times,December 11, 2014,

Star Trek, innovation theory and “dominant designs”

Article discussed:  Rebecca M. Henderson and Kim B. Clark (1990) “Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms” Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 9-30.

Hugh_bodyThere’s an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation called I, Borg, which is useful for thinking about innovation theory and ‘dominant design’.  No, seriously.

In it, the Good Guys (you can tell, because they’re mostly human) have captured a Bad Guy (wears black), an individual member of a hive mind called ‘The Borg’.

According to wikipedia

“Chief Engineer La Forge and Commander Data assist Dr. Crusher in bringing the Borg back to health. As they come to understand the workings of the Borg, La Forge and Data postulate an idea of using the Borg drone as a weapon of mass destruction. By implanting an unsolvable geometric formula into his mind and returning him back to the Collective, the formula should rapidly spread (similar to a computer virus) and disable the Borg.”

So, in my analogy, the Borg would be the existing company – big, powerful and confident that they knew what was best for everyone – competitors and supply chains (to be swallowed/vertically integrated), their own staff (to be hierarchised) and customers (to be monopolised if possible).  And they’d take what they thought was a ‘normal’ innovation within their ‘dominant design’.  And over time, it would seriously stuff them up.

The paper (Henderson and Clark, 1990) is seriously rich, and deserves more than a mildly forced sci-fi analogy.  But life is short, and I’ve a PhD to write…  Here are a couple of quotes from it, that should perhaps help

A dominant design;

The emergence of a new technology is usually a period of considerable confusion. There is little agreement about what the major subsystems of the product should be or how they should be put together. There is a great deal of experimentation (Burns and Stalker, 1966; Clark, 1985). For example, in the early days of the automobile industry, cars were built with gasoline, electric, or steam engines, with steering wheels or tillers, and with wooden or metal bodies (Abernathy, 1978). These periods of experimentation are brought to an end by the emergence of a dominant design (Abernathy and Utter-back, 1978; Sahal, 1986).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 14)

And an example of people not understanding that the parts might be re-arranged, and there is a larger system out there (in which the minor innovation could ruin your whole day/week/year/decade/livelihood) –

In the mid-1950s engineers at RCA’s corporate research and development center developed a prototype of a portable, transistorized radio receiver. The new product used technology in which RCA was accomplished (transistors, radio circuits, speakers, tuning devices), but RCA saw little reason to pursue such an apparently inferior technology. In contrast, Sony, a small, relatively new company, used the small transistorized radio to gain entry into the U.S. market. Even after Sony’s success was apparent, RCA remained a follower in the market as Sony introduced successive models with improved sound quality and FM capability. The irony of the situation was not lost on the R&D engineers: for many years Sony’s radios were produced with technology licensed from RCA, yet RCA had great difficulty matching Sony’s product in the marketplace( Clark, 1987).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 10)

As someone recently suggested, I should get a life…

Attack of the Bots!! Twitter and its fake accounts problem

Just read a fascinating article;

“The Influence and Deception of Twitter: The Authenticity of the Narrative and Slacktivism in the Australian Electoral Process”
by the following people
Benjamin Waugh, Maldini Abdipanah, Omid Hashemi, Shaquille A. Rahman and David M. Cook, all from Edith Cowan University,

While I would quibble with their definition of slacktivism, I have to say hats off to them for the work, which is about the fake accounts/buying followers scam. Their particular focus was on how it might be used to help win elections…

“Twitter estimated that at the end of September 2013 there were approximately 10.75 million fake users (D’Yonfro, 2013) in the form of fake accounts, or accounts belonging to people with multiple personas (USSEC, 2013; Yarow, 2013).”

Well, just in the last hour I have had three follows from improbably good looking women who have rather wide interests and tweet a lot of spam. Gee, d’yathink they are bots?!


bot two


When will we give up on “two degrees”? And what will that mean?

Climate change is going to be an unmitigated disaster.  It already is, in fact.  But for all the talk of solar panels from 3-D printers this, and Paris that, we miss the big picture.  The big picture is that we are screwed, more and more people know that we are screwed, and that it won’t be long (2 years? 5 years?) before a bunch of reputable scientists sigh and say “We’ve been warning you mo-fos for Thirty Fricking Years.  Well, it’s too late now.”

THAT will be interesting. Not “fun to watch,” but interesting.  As the pennies drop, as the illusions shatter, there will be pleas for god to intervene, for geo-engineers to intervene.  For all sorts of stuff.  Here’s a flow chart I put together almost ten years ago. Anyone want to argue the toss with me?


The year of reading women… starts today

Yesterday  I was looking over my book-a-holic wife’s shelves, hoping she had a couple of early Gillian Slovo novels (nope).

While we were talking about the wonderful Barbara Kingsolver today, the wife suggested today that I spend a year where all the fiction I read is  all by women, (with a bias towards non-Western).  And that I keep at least a tally, or ideally do blog reviews.

It’s a corking idea (and not just because it comes from She Who Must Be Obeyed).

So that’s what I am going to do.  It means that more Reginald Hill (a new discovery for me) will have to wait.  But it also means that I will plough through a lot of stuff that has mysteriously never made it to the top of my to-read pile…

Watch this space.
First reviews will be – Several Deceptions by Jane Stevenson (read it last week. Excellent) and the Hunger Games 2 and 3 (reading now).

Seminar Report: On fields, entrepreneurs, Jaws and The Wire. No, really

A glorious late summer’s day. What better way to spend it than being a mouse in the maze that is Manchester Business School, and chancing upon the first “Manchester Institute of Innovation Research” seminar of the academic year?

It was on “Institutionalisation of the Field of Entrepreneurship

The presenter, Prof Benson Honig, set about demolishing the ‘self-made man’ myth prevalent in the US (Horatio Alger and all that), before taking aim at the Dragon’s Den style TV shows which are more about entertainment (they choose the kooky, the charismatic. It’s upmarket Jeremy Kyle, after all).  The brutal truth of entrepreneurship (including those who do well on TV) is that few make it rich, it’s more than a five minute pitch, and it’s high risk;  the celebrated Silicon Valley “Y-combinator” (no, I’d not heard of it either) has a very low (0.4%) success rate.

Honig made the good point that entrepreneurship is a motherhood-and-apple pie buzz phrase beloved of politicians, since it allows them to sidestep questions of inequality, economic inactivity etc.  Although he didn’t say it, the myth of entrepreneurship is the conjoined twin of David Harvey’s spatial fix (the idea that cities can outcompete each other to prosperity).

He pointed out that the promulgation of these myths is changing the way universities, schools and the media function, and took a Chomskyean line that scholars be up front about this (“it is the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth”), highlighting what entrepreneurship cannot deliver.

At this point I was starting to get twitchy. Having demolished the ‘myth’ of the heroic entrepreneur, and the myth-making of the TV shows, surely he was then going to embed entrepreneurship in, say, national systems of innovation? Or the multi-level perspective? [Which, it has been pointed out, hasn’t made it across t’Atlantic yet].  Or start talking about Strategic Niche Management? Nope, nope, nope;  the good Prof  had other fish to fry. Academic fish.
What came next was a bracing jeremiad/proposed cleansing of the Augean stables, along the lines delivered by Dr Thomas Stockman in Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” (which inspired the movie Jaws, in case the title of this blog post still confuses).

It turns out that academics live within a system of rules, rituals and rewards, and that they are more than capable of gaming the system (It’s “all in the game, yo?” as that nice Mr Omar Little used to say in ‘The Wire’)

For instance, there’s people choosing the statistical test to make their data ‘significant’ (if not relevant). With bracing cynicism, Honig observed that sometimes new (statistical) methods were being used because reviewers didn’t understand them (and would therefore wave them through rather than reveal ignorance), but that this was creating a credibility gap.

There’s ‘coercive citations’ – forcing other academics to cite your work, even if it isn’t relevant (or significant).  There’s all sorts of other games people play
There were recommendations which, to my untutored eye, would make a bit of a difference –

  • Uploading anonymised raw data (with the proviso that others could check it, but not use it for their own publications)
  • Key journals to have a space for replication studies (which would then drive improvement in replication)
  • Data scripts to be publically available
  • More open dialogue journals
  • Discourage self-citation – with citations of other articles from the same journal not counting towards that journal’s impact factor
  • Authors being forces to disclose financial or other support, consultancy fees etc.
  • Easier links to emergent scholarship
  • Bringing various forms of tacit knowledge and social capital into the open (via perhaps, some kind of transparency index (Marcus and Oransky, 2012))
  • Asking if the journals use plagiarism detection software, forcing them to explain how they deal with retractions/publication of material that invalidates previous articles etc.

Ultimately, imho, it will take a miracle to sort out all of this. And the Germans have outlawed miracles

There were various questions (my opinion of Q and As is well known,and was not particularly borne out today, thank goodness), including a challenge to the positivist notions of replicability, and the point that entrepreneurs and academics are similarly atomised/individualised.  My favourite was the point that it is almost the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of that church, and maybe it’s time for another attack on institutions and their indulgences….