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Chairing academic sessions for fun and… diversity #IST2018 #manels #academia

So, the International Sustainability Transitions conference has come and gone. A fine event, with a huge number of scholars delivering papers, speed talks, with plenty of time for schmoozing and boozing.  I wrote already about the problem of manels and ‘What is to be Done’, but that was before I had a) delivered my own talk and b) chaired a session unexpectedly.

So this post is to talk through how those went, what I learned, what I would do differently.  #reflexivity #narcissism

My presentation

  • I almost had a horrible powerpoint melt down.  So  always have the latest version on your email account (which I did) but ALSO have it on two (not one, but two) NEW memory sticks.
  • Having a countdown clock (my tablet) was hugely useful
  • I talked for too long explaining the multiple streams approach, but people seemed to appreciate it.
  • I didn’t talk about my methodology and nobody gave a damn.  In my opinion, if you aren’t trying to make a methodological contribution, then don’t waste limited time in a short session (ten mins) talking about it.
  • I asked the chair of the session for permission, and then I cut my session down by two minutes and used that time (as I’d previously advocated) to have people turn to the person next to them and try to come up with a question.

hm3-q-and-as

(source)

  • I am biased, and one is not a sample, but I think that there was extra energy in the room, and I got more, shorter, sharper questions than the following three speakers, who kept to the traditional format….

 

My chairing

The following morning I went to a session where the scheduled chair was not available.  The (good) advice from the conference organisers was that in such a situation, the speaker scheduled to be last should be the chair, since they are highly motivated to keep everyone to time.  I thought ‘sod it’, I’ll volunteer (I had been volunteering for the past two days, in my purple t-shirt).  So, I took the opportunity (not asking anyone’s permission, as I recall – perhaps I did ask the first speaker) to try out the “turn to the person next to you” innovation.

In my opinion there are four key roles that the chair has to accomplish in any papers-presentation session

In chronological and escalating order of difficulty

First, they have to make sure that everyone is welcomed to the session and at least mildly ‘energised’ (this can be as simple as a warm hello and a comment about lunch/the night before).
Second, they need to ensure that all powerpoints/prezis whatever are loaded onto the computer and ready to go.
Third, they have to keep schedule ticking over.  It is grossly unfair if the final speaker doesn’t get as much as the first simply because of the sequencing.  That means that speakers have to be kept to time, so that there can be some questions to them. Ask the speaker if they want –
A five minute warning as well as the mandatory “two minute warning”
questions one at a time or in batches
Fourth, they have to take all reasonable steps to ensure that everyone in the room has a realistic chance of participating, and that the discussion is not dominated/ controlled/ unduly shaped by a small coterie of the most confident/experienced/highest status actors.

So, less interesting is the fact that I was able to ensure that all four speakers got the same amount of time and we finished bang on time so people could get down for a cup of coffee and a schmooze (the most interesting bits of a conference are often the random encounters).  This was partly by giving the speakers warnings, but also, while they were answering questions, I brought up the next presentation on the computer. I also didn’t waste time introducing the speakers- they just started talking.

More usefully, though was the getting people to actually participate fully.  The first time I  I said “everyone, for two minutes, please speak with someone close to you- if you have question, get help honing it – a short question is a good question. If you have half a question, get help forming it”  there was confusion/mild bewilderment  but the ‘authority’ of the chair carried the day.  By the third speaker I could just say “you know what to do” with a wave of my hand, and they slipped into it.  (I did NOT explain the rationale)

 

So, that’s basically how it worked.  In the third Q and A and the fourth I gave priority to people who’d not asked questions before.
Again, this is one experiment, and I would hesitate to extrapolate or invoke without more efforts.  There were only about 20 people in the room, for example – might be harder with fewer or more.

BUT

  • there was a very good mix of gender with the questions
  • most people asked a question
  • some people came up to me and thanked me for the format, and were enthusiastic about it
  • one of the speakers was also very complimentary about it…

 

So, would I do this again?  Yes.  Would I have a single slide with the instructions on it?  Yes.  Would I ask people for feedback after the session? Yes.

 

The rationale

There are two purposes to this (though neither needs to be explained to the attendees unless you really want to be explicit)

Firstly, it means that people who are less confident, have been socialised into believing their question can’t be any good, are able to get help/reassurance/encouragement from others if they need it.

Secondly, it gives you options when you come to ask for questions, because there is now a sea of hands to pick from,not just the Quickdraw McGraws. This makes your job easier.

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#TomLehrer in #Australia (also, happy 90th…)

Tom Lehrer celebrated his 90th birthday today – he’s definitely old and grey.

Born in New York, Lehrer began studying classical piano aged seven. However, popular music caught his eye, and he began writing show tunes . A prodigy, he started at Harvard aged 15. There he began to write comic songs, including a spoof football fight song –  “Fight Fiercely, Harvard” – which has been performed ever since.

By 1953 he had enough songs to release a 12 song album ‘Songs by Tom Lehrer’, which included classics like “The Old Dope Peddler” (“he gives the kids free samples, because he knows full well, that today’s young innocent faces will be tomorrow’s clientele”, a song telling boy scouts to “Be Prepared” (culminating – spoiler alert – in the invocation to always carry condoms) and other songs from the silly to the downright macabre.

Since US radio stations wouldn’t play songs about murder, racism, plagiarism and worse, the album was a ‘sleeper hit’ – spreading by word of mouth. Lehrer later recalled “lacking exposure in the media, my songs spread slowly. Like herpes, rather than ebola.”

Lehrer spent the next few years working as a researcher at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and was drafted into the Army from 1955 to 1957. He continued to play nighclubs in Boston, Manhattan and San Francisco, His musical “career” then received a huge boost from…. Princess Margaret. The oration accompanying her honorary doctorate in music from the University of London mentioned her liking for Lehrer’s work.

(Lehrer ended up performed in front of the royal family, and afterwards Prince Philip shook his hand and said he’d always enjoyed listening to “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”. Lehrer asked if the Queen liked it too. “Oh, she thinks it’s horrid. She leaves the room if we put it on”.)

The BBC was less shy than American radio stations about playing his songs, and Lehrer became well known in the UK, having sold 370,000 records by the end of the 1950s.

And then, in 1960, taking the opportunity that his new-found fame allowed him, he visited the Australia of Robert Menzies….

On tour in Australia

Lehrer’s music was already on the Australian radar. The previous year a Labor MP had asked the Prime Minister if he knew any of Lehrer’s work, which had been withdrawn by the record company EMI from sale for fear of offence (and possibly banned).

Menzies denied knowledge – “Do I gather that these songs are romantic or what?”

During his tour Lehrer made mock efforts to set the record straight.

When he performed in Brisbane, the chief of police tried to prevent Lehrer singing Be Prepared (aside its condom advice it had also advised “don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice, unless you get a good percentage of her price”).

While audiences in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney got the full benefit of Lehrer’s decidely cynical and bleak worldview (surely influenced by Yiddish sensibilities), Adelaide was not so lucky. Ruled with an iron fist by Thomas Playford, South Australia was not ready for Lehrer.

A young ALP MP called Don Dunstan asked questions of Playford about censorship, but to no avail. During his two nights of performing at Adelaide Town Hall, there were five songs which were off-limits. His audience knew those songs, and at one point he teasingly began to play one of them. Lehrer apparently quipped that South Australia had the “finest 18th century government in the world”.

Lehrer took it all in his stride, saying that having been “banned, censored, mentioned in several houses of parliament and threatened with arrest” was “the highlight of his life”.

tom lehrer discovers australiaThe tour resulted in an album of live recordings “Tom Lehrer discovers Australia (and vice versa)” (the cover shows him in a staring contest with a kangaroo). Lehrer also debuted a song that couldn’t be banned- “The Masochism Tango” (“I ache for the touch of your lips dear, but much more for the touch of your whips dear…”)

Aftermath

After Australia Lehrer briefly taught political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (and presumably got confused with Noam Chomsky, who is exactly the same age.)

He then produced a flurry of brilliant topical songs for a short-lived satirical TV show called ‘That was the week that was’. The album (That Was the Year that Was’ covers smut, the teaching of ‘new math’ and – infamously – a song about the German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun (‘once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down, that’s not my department says Werhner von Braun’.)

And then – tired of touring, tired of singing the same songs, and with real life becoming ever less funny, Lehrer basically retired from performing. His last gig, in 1972, was a fundraiser for the doomed Presidential candidate George McGovern.

He then spent 40 years teaching math and American popular music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1999 the British historian Martin Gilbert named Lehrer as one of the 10 great figures of the previous 100 years. “Lehrer was able to express and to expose, in humorous verse and lilting music, some of the most powerful dangers of the second half of the century … Many of the causes of which Lehrer sang became, three decades later, part of the main creative impulse of mankind,”

Indeed, for a man who hasn’t really performed since 1972, Lehrer’s fan-base remains enormous (full disclosure: my one appearance on the UK ‘Mastermind’ hinged on my specialist round -the songs of Tom Lehrer.)  In 2012, when the rapper 2 Chainz, a rapper, asked to sample “The Old Dope Peddler” in one of his tracks, Mr Lehrer was keen to help. “I grant you motherfuckers permission to do this,” he supposedly answered. “Please give my regards to Mr Chainz, or may I call him 2?”

So, to celebrate this man, have a trawl through his (remarkably small number of) songs.

I guarantee there will be something to delight, horrify and amuse, as you slide down the razor blade of life…

Guilty Pleasure: Jackson Lamb thrillers

Pointy end of the thesis is upon me. I am getting it done. I’d possibly be getting it done marginally quicker if it weren’t for Mick Herron‘s “Jackson Lamb” thrillers.

I stumbled on the first, Slow Horses in a charity shop in Glossop (as you do). The conceit looked amusing – what if MI5 had the same problem as any other large organisation – there are always people who should never have been recruited, who have screwed up or burnt out but are too difficult to sack directly (they know where the bodies are buried, or would cause awkward scenes). So, what do you do, you slough them of to somewhere and give them meaningless work until they quit… It probably happens, who knows.

So, we have Slough house (get it – Slow, slough of despond, sloughing off dead skin – ain’t English wonderful?), a nondescript building near Barbican where assorted drunks, gamblers, anti-socials and so on are under the caustic eye of one Jackson Lamb, a gross and harsh figure, somewhere between Pantagruel and the police chief Rawls in The Wire.

The Wire analogy is not amiss – in both we see law enforcement agencies struggling with budgets, office politics, incompetence and malice, before they even get round to their ostensible job (protecting the punters).

So far there have been four books (I gave the first to my mother-in-law, who went out and got the next three, read them and gave them back via the book delivery service also known as The Wife).

Slow Horses deals introduced Lamb’s charges – there’s a bravura opening sequence involving a young agent-in-training, River Cartwright trying to track down a terrorist in King’s Cross tube station. It all goes wrong…

I’ll copy and paste the Amazon blurb –

when a young man is abducted, and his kidnappers threaten to behead him live on the internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone involved has their own agenda . . .

Dead Lions is the equally satisfying sequel – a clever weaving together of Cold War concerns, vaulting ambition and London’s super-rich.

The third, Real Tigers, has one slow horse kidnapped and the others not sure what is going on. There is a description of one British politician (a large loud blond who says things like ‘cripes’ and so on) that must have had the libel lawyers earning their keep…
This, about MI5’s problem with storing its hard-copy files was fun –

“For once, it seemed, Ingrid Tearney and Dian Taverner had been of one mind. A Confidential Storage facility was required, separate from Regent’s Park, and ticking three main boxes; acreage, security and a potential for plausible damage. In other word,s somewhere files could easily be said to have been lost to fire and flood, or eaten by rats, or consumed by mould.” (p68)

The fourth, Spook Street, finally succumbs to the hoary old “old mission/blowback/the Cold War” device for its plot and gets away with it thanks to Herron’s writing ability.

Each book takes place over a matter of days (in Spook Street one very very busy day indeed), with back stories slowly unfolding, punctuated with sudden and plausible violence

Herron can write dialogue, and create characters (it matters when slow horses die, and they do.) He’s good at mis-direction and his plotting and pacing are excellent.

Tl:dr This is a series to keep up with. But AFTER MY THESIS.

ABC Insiders 24 September 2017 – observations

Abc Insiders 24 September

So, there was an ‘extra’ bit with Barrie Cassidy pondering the consequences of Abbott’s behaviour for energy policy (compare coorey article on same topic in AFR).

Programme itself opens with interview/intersplice with the headbutt guy in Hobart

Sadly no music over the top of this- too controversial? Could have had

“Can’t get you out of my head” by Kylie Minogue or “Headbutt” The King Blues

Then Kiwis and their election is discussed

Then ALP deputy leader Tanya Plibersek (super slick at what she does – on top of her brief etc) on  same sex marriage, universities, and then energy policy at 19.50.

She talks about emissions intensity scheme/clean energy target as ‘number two approach’, happy to compromise to introduce this, gas reservation policy, more renewables.

The problem is all inside the liberal and national parties, small rump of people who are absolute wreckers.

Are you prepared to walk back a bit from renewables in spirit of compromise?

She doesn’t say yes or no,  says already compromising, renewables becoming cheaper than coal – they are the pathway

Do you need to go to 50 per cent so fast?
People would argue over whether its so fast… Certainty and investment when Labor was in charge…

Followed by the musical montage  “A targeted threat’- about, energy policy and the Abbott/Turnbull stoush, the song – Charlie Puth Attention

Murphy – Abbott is doing frontrunning (she wrote on this earlier in the week…)

Abbott is building a poison pill into the process – if Turnbull builds a bipartisan consensus, what country needs, Abbott will dress it up as betrayal of conservative values.

Fran Kelly – AEMO says reliability problem is this and next summer (coal fired power stations take YEARS to build)…

then clip of Rod Simms of ACCC at the National Press Club saying no single policy will delviery cheqapness, reliability and emissions reductions…

More headbutt stuff from 37 and a half minutes

Hilarious Cory Bernardi Streisand Effect thing

Malcolm Roberts is toast, surely.

North Korea – yeah, we’re all doomed.

Cartoons were awesome

 

Overall – 9 out of 10..  Insiders at its best…

Activism: ffs, read this – Building Movements, Not Organizations

Building Movements, Not Organizations

Creating a healthy, humane world will require more than new organizational designs. It will take rethinking the nature of organizations entirely….

What might be possible, therefore, if socially minded organizations and businesses acted more like movements than organizations? And what might that look like in practice?
To answer those questions, consider how we might re-define the following three factors: success, leadership, and means.

Here.

AMEEF – burnishing the mining industry

AMEEF was established in October 1991, as the Ecologically Sustainable Development Process was peaking.  One of the first things they did was a listing of all articles environmental, with a lovely cover.

1991 ameef

Ten years later, it was still going (but would be shut down a bit later).  I stumbled across its magazine, Groundwork, recently.  Not much of interest, but they did get a new logo. And they were run by someone who had done green stuff for the Business Council of Australia back in the early 1990s.  A small world, of course, this green capitalism gig…

2001 ameef logo

and who was stumping up?  The usual suspects…

2001 ameef supporters

Blog- Thurs 6 to Sun 9 July

Thursday 6
Around the park  five times
Two hours at microfiche tracking down crucial newspaper articles for the carbon tax 1994/1995 story. Dead useful, developed a couple of new tricks of how to get the info v. quickly
Good meeting with a research librarian, who was super helpful, and put me onto an academic I am meeting up with on Thursday.
Scanning some important stuff (and also pages from John Howard’s  memoir ‘Lazarus Rising).
Cycled home and had three games of scrabble with dad, won two lost one.
Did lots more  grunt work around the stuff I collected earlier today (this matters – if I have learned anything it is the importance of doing the grunt work as you go!!)
Insomnia!
Reading Anna Krien’s excellent Quarterly Essay on coal, coral and climate change.  We’re toast, and she is almost as good as Elizabeth Kolbert, which is High Praise Indeed.

Friday 7
Insomnia – working on thesis at stupid o’clock.  Then, in the morning,  one game of scrabble with mum Lift into town (raining!)  Two hours in State Library – got the hang of some software/hardware, scanned some useful stuff. And some trainspottery stuff. It’s not always possible to know in advance which is which.
Very little/nothing in Keating biographies about climate, which is telling re: what a low priority it was – I don’t think he got involved at all in the spat over the tax itself.  And forestry took up all the oxygen.
Then fantastic meet up with lovely chap who it turns out I had met once before.  Really inspiring and energising to meet someone on the same wavelength.  He’s into Arendt, and a whole lot of other stuff. Looking forward to introducing him to various folks (inc The Wife).  Walked home, making it ahead of the rain.
Meanwhile, that March tweet by Elon Musk was coming true – the one about building a 100Mw power storage facility ‘or it’s free’.
More work (typing up bits of a book I read, then tracking down the relevant factoids. Never underestimate the willingness/brass neck of trade associations to just MAKE SHIT UP.

Saturday 8
Walked around the park times five, followed by scrabble tournament with my ma.  Played 6, won 4 (one by a single point). Got totally totally thrashed in the first game.  Largely enjoyable. People are strange.
A bus up to somewhere to see a film (not very good) and endure a truly excruciatingly bad meeting.  We will never learn, it seems. It was heart-breakingly bad.  Then long wait for a bus back, but that is a first world problem, and one of my own making (I shoulda left earlier).
In the meantime, read a lot of Mark Butler’s Climate Wars, and will be late getting the review written, but only by a day, so not the end of the world…
Got up to watch some Federer, but fell asleep towards the end of each set…

Sunday 9
Backpain, possibly from all that walking with a backpack…  I never learn.  Watched The Insiders, with Lenore Taylor, Shane Wright and Mike Seccombe (all journos I am referencing in my thesis) talking about the week’s events.  Barnaby Joyce trying and failing to minimise the significance of the Weatherill/Musk announcement.  That %#$* Chris Uhlman ripping into Trump (apparently it went viral in DC).
Turns out my Gunther Anders conversation piece has been popping up in different places. Currently over 28k views, putting it second in my most-viewed conversation pieces. Odd.
Then off to the library. Got a bit of reading of Senate stuff done (from the mid-1990s) and borrowed some books I will probably only read about ten pages of  (e.g.  a Joe Hockey biography. Srsly).  Then went through the print-off of the 94/5 chapter and then made changes, added bits etc. This took hours, but was worth it, because now aged female parental has a hard copy that she is very kindly reading. Must iterate, basically.  This can guide what else I do, research wise.  Actually would like to do a couple of interviews….
Thank goodness I had no money on me today, otherwise I would have bought an anthology of Meanjin for $2 and a zombie comedy memoir for 50c.  Cough, cough.