All posts by marchudson

Ex- health care professional, ex-ing activist and ambivalently aspiring academic. Climate doomster. We are so toast.

Cracking over the papers: on academia and the fear of missing out.

Human, all too human: I fell into the simple trap of attending things that Looked Interesting because they were on campus, I was on campus, they were free, I was free.

And so I have sat through hours of stuff where academics dressed up pretty straight-forward/simple ideas and observations in all the rhetoric and citations (Bourdieu this, Foucault that, Butler here, Derrida there).

I sat in rows of fellow people being turned into ego-fodder while a format that was designed when books were super expensive and rare was used in a  time when youtube could/should have Changed Everything; when if you want to deliver a chunk of “idea” you don’t have to gather a bunch of humans in the same physical space and then yack at them, and then let some of them yack back.

But habits and cultures have inertia.  The organisers win by delivering what is expected. The visiting lecturer/presenter gets their 20 mins/hour in the sun.  And the rows of folks in the audience (not “participants” – that’s something else) get to schmooze briefly in the breaks, but check their email/think about articles to write etc during the long longueurs.

Habits and cultures have inertia, and innovation comes with costs.  Risks of failure, guest lecturers not getting the attention they “deserve”, previously passive people pushing back against having to think and interact for their free lunches.

Everybody knows that the system is “sub-optimal”.  Some know that another word is possible.  But they don’t have the juice, the brains, the spine to make that world happen.
So we continue to crack quietly while papers that could have been circulated/youtubed/whatevered are delivered.

Meanwhile, my wife has a very simple and powerful algorithm

  • Is this DIRECTLY related to your PhD.?
  • Can you be very confident – based on who is there and who is organising it – that this will be useful and interesting?

If you can’t answer a firm “yes”  to one of those questions, DON’T GO.

Yes, this means that you will miss some good stuff.  But it also means you don’t have to sit through hours of drivel.

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Sidney St Cafe – v. cool. #Manchester

So, we went here for Friday lunch.

Super-friendly, super cheap and cheerful.  Definitely worth supporting this place, trying out everything on the menu.

They also have a library of zines and books (including lots of those cool Women’s Press books with the zebra spines).

There’s a call-out for zines about LGBT/feminist themes, and I think I will do one over the Xmas break on growing up in the intensely racist, sexist and homophobic Australia of the 1970s and 1980s, and how it shaped me.

Initial thoughts below –

Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Australia: Attitudes to homosexuality and feminism

Homosexuality

George Duncan case

Baby-sat by two gay men – parents had no prob with that.

“The Family”

Prince Alfred College! (all boys)

AIDS from early 80s onwards.  Films (“Cruising” etc)

[Student [MP] and the sex ed class

Paris 1988 attraction to the American guy

My fear/aversion etc to gay rights stuff at Adelaide University

The Weinstein film about AIDS

Feminism

Family wage declining

“Mateship”

Anti-war activism, questioning Anzac Day

Mother’s role

What changed? (and did it, actually?)

book “Men and Feminism”

conversations with NG

film Thelma and Louise

Another word is possible

Winston could not intermittently remember why the pain was happening. Behind his screwed-up eyelids a forest of fingers seemed to be moving in a sort of dance, weaving in and out, disappearing behind one another and reappearing again. He was trying to count them, he could not remember why. He knew only that it was impossible to count them, and that this was somehow due to the mysterious identity between five and four. The pain died down again. When he opened his eyes it was to find that he was still seeing the same thing. Innumerable fingers, like moving trees, were still streaming past in either direction, crossing and recrossing. He shut his eyes again.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six — in all honesty I don’t know.’

‘Better,’ said O’Brien.

A needle slid into Winston’s arm. Almost in the same instant a blissful, healing warmth spread all through his body.

1 +9 +8 + 4

10+10+10+10+10+10 =50

17 + 17 + 15 + 12+ 16 = 50  (except it doesn’t. It equals  77)

Went to an academic seminar on austerity and the possibilities and limits of movements v our old friend neoliberalism. There were some interesting bits – on a chap called Paolo Gerbaudo and popular identity, the details of what has been happening in Egypt since 2011, on how industrial relations is hived off academically from social movements, and on a new social phenomenon in South Africa called pexing – (a form of conspicuous creative destruction that’s the testicular equivalent of haul videos – the result of a three-way between Veblen, Schumpeter and Mauss.)

BUT the average/maximum limit for a human’s attention span is about 50 minutes. By the time you’ve been sat there 77 minutes you either

a) have to have left without being able to do more than be ego-fodder or

b) are not in the mood for creative thought and/or

c) are even keener than usual to get your speech-disguised-as-a-question off your chest.

What is to be done

Either have a time limit and enforce it, or DON’T have a time limit.  There are of course consequences for both decisions, and for enforcing/not enforcing both. Here’s a touchy-feely and effective way of crowdsourcing the “stfu”.

Perhaps ask presenters to focus on “what lessons might we learn?” rather than give a description of what’s been going on.  Description is (relatively) easy; analysis and drawing out (potential) lessons, not so much.

Offer people a chance/inducement/expectation that they talk to other people, either before, between, or after the speeches/before the questions.  Ideally all of the above.  That way we start to strengthen some of those weak ties that the Granovetter guy was going on about (sorta).

And this.

Dead Ricouerning: A few notes on individual and collective memory

Memory, whether you want to slice and dice it as “individual” or “collective” is about power and belonging.

If you want to belong, you’ll remember it (where “it” is something that “we did to the tribe over the hill”/”they did to us”) the way WE want you to, ‘kay?  If you want to be a member of our gang, you remember like this or we will dismember you like that. Capisce?

We live in a reality distortion field, that is amped up and as pervasive as the panspectron. Fnord.

Kundera: ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’

The past is always knocking incessant, trying to break through, into the present.

Always having to remind ourselves of “the past” (the subalterns less so, of course. )

Chris Rock nails it on this, in this interview.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?

Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.

And that “past” is fed back to us in ways that dis-empower us.  We wait around for magical leaders. But they never existed.

We have to be the ones who don’t just “walk away” from Omelas, but who know what to do about Omelas and have the courage.

Why do we love spy novels – the snitch jackets, the legends, the counter legends.  They speak to identity, dilemmas of loyalty and interpretation.  The all-too-human condition…

Things to read:
Onion: Repressed Memory Therapist recovers entire Rockford Files episode

Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States

Hidden from History: 300 years of women’s oppression and the fight against it by Sheila Rowbotham

Things to think about:
The History Wars in Australia – what we do when we refuse to admit what we did.  What we do to OURSELVES but more importantly what we do to the people we’ve been shitting on.  Hegel-schmegel, (but not Schlegel).  There might need to be some re-cognition of this…

The whole thing about Alzheimers and identity – we are what we remember. And when we can’t, we aren’t that person any more?

And so on to Korsakoff’s

Things to (re)watch:
The Entire History of You–  “Set in an alternative reality where most people have a ‘grain’ implanted behind their ear which records everything they do, see or hear. This allows memories to be played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen, a process known as a ‘re-do’.”

The Nasty Girl – when a Bavarian activist asks awkward questions about her village’s elder statesmen and what they got up to 1933-1945.

“Men in Black” and the memory wand thing

“Memento” – Christopher Nolan

The “Bourne” Films – but not the Jeremy Renner atrocity

“Blade Runner” – the replicants want to be human, and fall in love with memories they know are fake. (Including, perhaps, Deckard himself.)

“Total Recall” (both the above, of course, are Philip K. Dick novels)

Things to read more about

Saffer Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Thinkers I’ve not encountered and may read if I win the lottery and never have to work again

Ann Whitehead

Maurice Halbwachs

Michael Rothberg and his Multidirectional Memory

The Ricouer guy

Should every day be shut up and write day?  Probably yes…

“Shut up and write.”  It’s a good exhortation, though the non-violent communication crowd will probably wince a bit at the tone.

On Friday (November 28th)  about 15 of us shut up and wrote. It worked like this;

We gathered in a room with our laptops and plenty of power sockets.
Off with the mobiles (not on silent, not on vibrate – OFF).  Off with the wifi.  We wrote down our writing goals (in other versions – with fewer people), you announce ‘em.

A timer at the front of the room was ostentatiously started by the organiser.

We wrote for 25 minutes.

We were then encouraged to take a 5 minute break (unless totally In The Zone; but in any case, keep it quiet etc).

We wrote for another 25 minutes.

Then there was a longer – louder – break of 20 minutes. With coffee.

Then two more batches of 25 minutes of writing with the same 5 minute break between.

This is an example of the pomodoro (tomato – as in slicing) approach.

Personally, it was bloody brilliant. I whipped through a lot of stuff that the cat, the Facebook, the access to multiple distractions, would have otherwise dragged out.  The engineered tacit social pressure was superb.

The only question is – why isn’t every day “shut up and write” day?  With a bit of (self)-discipline, surely this is the way to run your life/career etc?

Publish? Perish the thought!

There was a rather good advice session on Monday.  It was on getting books and articles published.

The book bit was amusing – we were given a (made-up) example of how NOT to do it and then some solid advice and warnings.

  • Don’t, when approaching a publisher (and do some research and personalising of any cover letter!) call it a PhD. Call it research.
  • Turning a PhD, sorry “research” into a publishable book is doable, but NOT overnight.  You need a year at least, probably two.
  • Not all PhDs can or indeed SHOULD be published.

The journal article bit was also amusing!

The presenter said he’d recently been looking at a great number (>150) CVs. Most people by the end of their PhD had some teaching. A small number had publicatoins in a top line journal, and that made them stand out.
So –

  • have a sense of the journal you’re aiming at
  • Aim for the best/top journal in your field
  • Make sure your submission has not typos, that its footnoting/referencing comply with the style
  • Right a cover letter that is short and personal

Expect things to take a while – 6 months before you get a yay, nay or “maybe”

There are three broad categories

  1. rejection
  2. acceptance with minor corrections (this is RARE)
  3. the editor says “kinda interesting/look at these bits/here are the reviewers’ comments”

The presenter was adamant that if you get c that you should NOT take that as “we’re on the way/we’ve got our foot in the door”  The temptation to therefore drop everything else and resubmit in three weeks is a temptation to be resisted.  The iron is NOT hot, the editor is NOT anxiously awaiting resubmission. Top journals are looking for reasons to turn things down, and it’s a case of not “when to revise and resubmit” but whether you can.

If/when you do resubmit, then mention “I’ve followed reviewer A’s points about… and reviewer B’s… however, I’ve not….”

If the piece is rejected, it is galling, but you have to climb back on the horse, and resubmit to the ‘next best’ journal.  And you know, perhaps look at the reviewers’ comments again. They may, after all, have some valid points…

Meanwhile, a friend who has been through the mill already sent me the following advice a while back –

“Key is start publishing immediately if you can. Base chapters around journal articles. And start getting them sent for peer review at once, its the only way you will ever get a job out of it. Then, when the reviewers comments arrive and start putting you through the ideological sausage machine, your soul will slowly begin to disintegrate.”

Outa tuna with the natural world: On corporate concentration and environmental governance

A rather intriguing and canny seminar at Manchester Business School…

Ever stand in the aisle, lost in the supermarket, and wonder what went into getting the products on the shelves? The tin mined for the cans, the oil drilled for the plastic packaging, the lives lost and the futures mortgaged for our present convenience?  I do, when I’m not taking my pills.

Supermarkets use tuna as a “loss leader”.  It’s a known price item (KPI), so shoppers base their decisions on that.  Supermarkets then offload the pressure down the supply chain, to the canners, the boat owners and so on.  That leads the charge for more boats, more nets, different species .

That was the gist of a detailed and fascinating seminar delivered today by Liam Campling, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary College.
The seminar was very much in two halves –

The first rattled through a bunch of political economy types who I’d never heard of but will be looking up for my post-doc (cough cough).

The second half looked specifically at tuna as a “worked example”.  It was dead fascinating. I will never look at a tin of tuna in the same way again (I know, #sadmanshouldgetalife.)

  • Tuna production is done on wafer thin margins.  Some of the production plants are in places where the factory is the only large employer, giving the owners the opportunity to demand subsidies from governments. (Campling told the story of Lehmann Brothers extorting, sorry, “negotiating” a huge subsidy for a 1,400 employee factory in the Seychelles, which they’d told the government was unprofitable in order to get a tax-payer bailout.  Guess what.  They lied!?! )
  • Meanwhile, private equity companies want rents, so they aren’t going to invest in the non-branded processing areas.  There is, unsurprisingly, a “Global Ocean Strategy.”  This is not about sustainability…
  • Profitability is about access to markets, and tariff-walls matter; e.g. there wouldn’t be an African production sector but for preferential access to Europe. That said, the Thai companies STILL manage to compete in the EU, despite a 24% tariff.
  • States(US, France, Spain etc)  are, of course, directly subsidising fleets to fish in foreign waters

Concepts (some familiar, some spanking new)

And from Wikipedia

O’Connor argues that capitalism necessarily undermines the “conditions of production” necessary to sustain the endless accumulation of capital. These conditions of production include soil, water, energy, and so forth. But they also include an adequate public education system, transportation infrastructures, and other services that are not produced directly by capital, but which capital needs in order accumulate effectively. As the conditions of production are exhausted, the costs of production for capital increase. For this reason, the second contradiction generates an underproduction crisis tendency, with the rising cost of inputs and labor, to complement the overproduction tendency of too many commodities for too few customers. Like Marx’s contradiction of capital and labor, the second contradiction therefore threatens the system’s existence.[62][63]

In addition, O’Connor believes that, in order to remedy environmental contradictions, the capitalist system innovates new technologies that overcome existing problems but introduce new ones.[62]

Campling’s conclusion: that efforts at regulation need to go beyond the point of extraction

My thoughts:

  • I wonder if there is mileage in looking at what Timothy Mitchell did with the idea of the Carbon Democracy and strategic “choke points”
  • This is another great example of what I call “bio-Taylorism” – after Frederick Taylor and his model of logically intensifying production.  Taylor only managed bodies.  We are managing genes, oceans.  We are as gods.  Sadly, some of the stupider and more venal ones.
  • Death by speed-up indeed.
  • easterbunnyislandcolour1Meanwhile of course, it’s always logical to chop down the next tree (you have to tools, and the know-how,  your shareholders expect it and your competitors will do it if you don’t.)
  • here’s a brilliant cartoon by Marc Roberts

Marc Hudson

Footnotes

Crossing the threshold of ecosystem resilience: the commercial extinction of northern cod
A. Christopher Finalyson and Bonnie J. McCay

The situation began to change after World War II. With much of the infrastructure of European agriculture in ruins, fish became a vital source of food. Under this impetus, and incorporating technologies developed during the war – inexpensive steel ship construction, powerful diesel engines, shipboard refrigeration and freezing, and electronics for precise navigation, long-distance communications, bottom imaging and fish-finding – the hungry nations of Europe, led by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact member states, developed distant-water fishing capacity and combined these technologies into a new and devastatingly effective configuration: the factory freeze-trawler. With the size and strength to fish in ice-ridden waters and all but the worst storms, these ships could be directed by their corporate or state owners to wherever catch rates were highest. Supplied via motherships with food, fuel and fresh crews from their home ports, these vessels could fish the year round and stay at sea indefinitely. By the mid-1960s, their numbers were so great that the Newfoundland fishing banks at night were described as a ‘city of lights’ (see Warner, 1983)
page 316
Warner, 1983 Distant Water: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman Boston: Little, Brown and Company