“Cistern failure” or “Waste is a terrible thing to mind…”

What does the ‘waste’ go when you flush?  The citizens of Baltimore found out the ‘hard way’ in 1989, and again in 2014.

Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Graham Mooney (separated at birth from his identical twin) gave a thoroughly enjoyable seminar about something we don’t like to think about – “biosolids” (or, to you and me, ‘shit’).

He started by showing footage of what happens when six inches of rain falls in a day on Baltimore’s streets.  The sewers (which, in an historical anomaly, are separate from the storm water drains) floods, releasing all sorts of nastiness onto the streets

He then went back 25 years to the 1989 (1)  3000 mile journey – to Louisiana and back – of a 61 car train full of the self-same thing.

The city’s “Back River” treatment plant hadn’t been coping particularly well with the WW2 influx of population, but a million dollar (real money, back in the day) investment sorted things out mostly.  By the 80s, a third of it was being composted.

The problem that led to the “Poo Poo Choo Choo” began when the Grand Poohbahs at the State level decided they would impose a $10,000 a day fine on the city if it didn’t deal with its increasing waste problem. This got the attention of “Mayor Carcetti” [not real name] and a contract was awarded to a company to haul it away.  Six thousand tonnes were loaded onto a train, headed for ‘marginal land’ in Louisiana (that’s polite speak for poor powerless people who are surrounded by lots of chemical factories, also known as ‘Chemical corridor’).

At this point Mother Nature intervened, in the convenient shape of Hurricane Hugo.  The rain was not, however, redemptive – quite the opposite. No longer dry, the cargo was drippy and just a liiiiitle bit smelly.

The trains became a fecal, sorry, focal point for anger about the South being a dumping ground.  People started to protest.  And – this is America – they called in their lawyers.  And it became a media, well, uh, shit-storm.  Southern politicians liked the issue since it was one that could be noisily run out of town (as opposed to those nice factories, which provided jobs and other nice little earners.)  Matter out of place indeed…

Caught between two stools, the mayor of Baltimore agreed to take the waste back, saying that it was a ‘moral responsibility’ (as did another political leader later).

By this time Mother Nature decided it was time for more chuckles, and dropped the coldest winter in yonks on Baltimore. The “biosolids” became solid, and had to be jackhammered out of the train cars. Oh, what japes.

Mooney went on to point out how the Baltimore bureaucrats re-framed the event as a ‘crisis’ that they had (of course, heroically) resolved. That’s one analysis…

As usually happens at CHSTM lunchtime seminars, questions were good – on the geography of waste disposal/poverty, on the possibilities of blaming it all on Reagan (jobs travelling south shopping for zero environmental laws and no trades unions etc) etc.


Of course, 1989 was a pretty busy year for the environment.  Exxon Valdez had run aground, photogenically, in March, and both Ozone  and “Greenhouse Effect”  concerns were riding high. Two years previously the Mobro 4000, a garbage barge had done a passable imitation of the Flying Dutchman, down and up the Eastern Seaboard, leaving a convenient ‘hook’ for journalists and readers alike.

As Billy Joel sang so eloquently “hypodermics on the shore

Books to read

Blood on the Forge by William Attaway

The Ethics of waste: how we relate to rubbish by Gay Hawkins

Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem  by David Schneider

Films not to watch again

Silver City, dir John Sayles


Googlebinge from “Ode to Youth” to “Big Daddy Paper Doll”

I don’t know about you, but I make lists of things I don’t know (from reading the FT or whatever) and when I have enough, I go on a google binge.  Here is the latest…

Adam Mickiewicz 1820 Ode to Youth
Martin Amis’ notion of “species shame”
1975 article by Steven Kerr folly of rewarding A while hoping for B
Osram 1924 treaty signed in Geneva re limiting lifespan of specific products
Antony Fisher battery chicken-farming
Ed Diener – research on happiness. Community and social support, having moral rules to guide our action sand a sense of purpose
Leon Redler
Gregory Bateson warning at 1967 Dialectics of Liberation about build up of CO2!?
Mark de Rond, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, examined a series of scientific breakthroughs
Felo de se
Conrad “The fascination of the abomination”
May Stevens Big Daddy Paper Doll 1970

Adam Mickiewicz 1820 Ode to Youth

The theme of the poem is the duties and rights of the youth in the service of an overarching, higher ideal.[2] The youth are said to have a moral obligation to take action.[3] Michael Ferber describes it as “unabashedly Schillerian in inspiration”, and notes that the poem “deftly exploits neo-Classicist poetics in order to subvert the discourse that engendered them.”[4] The poem has also been described as a manifesto of the secret student organization, the Philomaths, to which Mickiewicz belonged at that time.[5]

Martin Amis’ notion of “species shame”.  Writing a week after 9/11

Our best destiny, as planetary cohabitants, is the development of what has been called “species consciousness” – something over and above nationalisms, blocs, religions, ethnicities. During this week of incredulous misery, I have been trying to apply such a consciousness, and such a sensibility. Thinking of the victims, the perpetrators, and the near future, I felt species grief, then species shame, then species fear.

1975 article by Steven Kerr folly of rewarding A while hoping for B (Academy of Management Journal Dec 1975)

“Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded. The extent to which this occurs of course will depend on the perceived attractiveness of the rewards offered, but neither operant nor expectancy theorists would quarrel with the essence of this notion.”

Osram 1924 treaty signed in Geneva re limiting lifespan of specific products

The Phoebus cartel was a cartel of, among others, Osram, Philips, and General Electric[1] from December 23, 1924 until 1939 that existed to control the manufacture and sale of light bulbs.

The cartel is an important step in the history of the global economy because it engaged in large-scale planned obsolescence. It reduced competition in the light bulb industry for almost twenty years, and has been accused of preventing technological advances that would have produced longer-lasting light bulbs. Phoebus was a Swiss corporation named “Phoebus S.A. Compagnie Industrielle pour le Développement de l’Éclairage”.

Antony Fisher battery chicken-farming who set up the IEA and a bunch of other extreme neo-liberal thinktanks. How did I not know about this guy?!  Here, here, here and here.  Was he the inspiration for Jonathan Coe in ‘What a Carve Up’?
Ed Diener – research on happiness. Community and social support, having moral rules to guide our action sand a sense of purpose

Edward Diener (born 1946) is an American psychologist, professor, and author. He is noted for his research over the past twenty-five years[1][2][3] on happiness — the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being.[4] As shown on Google Scholar as of January 2015, Diener’s publications have been cited over 98,000 times.

Leon Redler

Leon Redler is a doctor of medicine, a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, and teacher of the Alexander Technique.

He was a part of the experiment in radical psychiatry at Kingsley Hall between 1965 and 1970, along with other members of the Philadelphia Association including R. D. Laing and Joseph Berke.[1]

In 1970 he co-founded the Philadelphia Association Communities, featured in Peter Robinson’s film, ‘Asylum’ (1972).[2][3]

In 1967, with Joseph Berke, David Cooper and others he set up The Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation, which was held at the Roundhouse in London from 15 July to 30 July 1967 .[4]

Redler was the second Chair of the Philadelphia Association and continues teaching on its Introductory Course and Psychotherapy Training Faculty. His book Just Listening deconstructs therapeutic practice. Redler is a student and practitioner of the Alexander Technique, Dzogchen, grandfather-hood, music, t’ai chi, yoga and zen.

Gregory Bateson warning at 1967 Dialectics of Liberation about build up of CO2!? Yup.  [Mead was at it too – see 1975 Fogarty conference…]

“This year I’ve been impressed by Gregory Bateson, talking about the scientifical apocalyptic aspect of the anxiety syndrome that we’re suffering from. He said: Given the present rate of infusion of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the mammalian-human aspect of the planet had a half-life of 10-30 years because in that time the carbon dioxide layer over the atmosphere (which apparently is opaque) admits heat but doesn’t let it bounce out; so, given the present build-up of this gas over the surface, a temperature rise of 5 degrees is possible.”

Mark de Rond, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, examined a series of scientific breakthroughs

Maybe this?  Or that’s just the HBR pop-version?

Felo de se

Felo de se, Latin for “felon of himself”, is an archaic legal term meaning suicide. In early English common law, an adult who committed suicide was literally a felon, and the crime was punishable by forfeiture of property to the king and what was considered a shameful burial – typically with a stake through his heart and with a burial at a crossroad. Burials for felo de se typically took place at night, with no mourners or clergy present, and the location was often kept a secret by the authorities

Conrad “The fascination of the abomination”. From The Heart of Darkness…

Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay–cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,– death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh yes–he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by-and-by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga–perhaps too much dice, you know–coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him,– all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination–you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”

May Stevens Big Daddy Paper Doll 1970. Brooklyn Museum

May Stevens has been a committed political activist throughout her long career. Her Big Daddy series began in response to her disappointment and anger over the Vietnam War. For Stevens, Big Daddy takes on aspects of both the personal and the political. Based on a portrait of her resolutely patriotic father, the obviously male figure is also reminiscent of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Here, the figure’s bullet-shaped head exaggerates his phallic power and capacity for violence. However, by depicting him as a paper doll, to be dressed up as an executioner, decorated soldier, policeman, or butcher, Stevens ultimately strips Big Daddy of his patriarchal command.

What is innovative, and social, about Social Innovation?

I don’t know.  And I don’t really address that in this blog post. Apologies if you feel click-baited or rick-rolled.

I went to a seminar on Wednesday about “Social Innovation Futures: beyond policy panacea and conceptual ambiguity”  It was good – clear presentation of relevant work, good questions (except perhaps the first one, which was long and ranty, but what can you do?).  I came away having scribbled down some references, which are below, with abstract clippings where I could find.

Garud and Karnoe, 2013 – dunno, but will find out. They’ve done interesting work on Danish wind turbine innovations…

Böhme, K. & E. Gløersen (2011) Territorial cohesion storylines: Understanding a policy concept. Spatial Foresight Brief 2011:1.

“Territorial cohesion must contribute to economic growth in order to achieve the aims of Europe 2020 and boost European competitiveness. This implies a strong focus on territorial potentials and the support of smart growth and connectivity of Europe’s economic centres. Territorial cohesion will only be possible if Europe’s most economically viable and powerful locations make full use of their growth potential, thereby serving as engines for the development of larger areas surrounding each of them.

These economic centres are at the forefront of development and are important nodes in global economic networks. A key issue here is European polycentric development, i.e. the development of a number of interconnected European hubs or Major European Growth Areas (MEGAs) which mutually reinforce each other and lead to the strong growth envisioned for 2020.”

Quadruple Helix

Open Innovation 2.0 (OI2) is a new paradigm based on a Quadruple Helix Model where government, industry, academia and civil participants work together to co-create the future and drive structural changes far beyond the scope of what any one organization or person could do alone. This model encompasses also user-oriented innovation models to take full advantage of ideas’ cross-fertilisation leading to experimentation and prototyping in real world setting.

Policy-based Evidence-making Torriti 2010

“Impact Assessment and the Liberalization of the EU Energy Markets: Evidence-Based Policy-Making or Policy-Based Evidence-Making?” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 1065–1081, September 2010

 The European Commission proposal on the liberalization of energy markets has been widely debated in policy, stakeholder and academic circles both for its content and the potential consequences for the structure of the EU gas and electricity markets. However, little has been said about the empirical evidence produced by the European Commission to support this legislative package. Since the Impact Assessment (IA) system has been in place, there have been concerns regarding quality and adequateness, especially when quantifying costs, benefits and risks, selecting policy options and considering stakeholder opinions. This article examines how these crucial issues were factored into the IA on the liberalization of EU energy markets. It is concluded that the selected policy option reflects the position of some stakeholders at the expense of the available evidence on its impacts on markets, society and the environment.

 “Thin concept borrowing” Hassink 2007. 


I asked a question/made a statement (firsties!) I said something along the lines of –

For me it’s about the ;

Capacity of the social innovators. The ones I know are underfunded, overstretched, chronically.

Hope – there isn’t any.  The activists I know are now deeply suspicious of grand visions (to meet ‘grand challenges’) and don’t believe that radical transformations/transitions are possible. If we were going to make them happen, we would have by now. We are disvisioned, not disillusioned (there is a distinction – see the footnote)

State – hollowed out. There was never a golden age of the enabling state, or the entrepreneurial state, or whatever state we’d like to be in, BUT it is surely worse (locally now).  Capacity has been stripped out (again, not that there was ever a golden age) but also, with the relentless culling, the cost of experimenting is now huge.

Fear of/tolerance for failure–  Innovating means experimenting. Experimenting means a high likelihood of failure. Failure means ammunition in the hands of enemies both within and beyond the organisation you are in.  So you hunker down – “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” etc

Couple of final thoughts;

It was ALWAYS the case that, as Keynes said,  “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”

And finally, who is this “social” in “social innovation”?  When corporate behemoths like Hitachi are super-comfortable using the term in their marketing strategies, I get a little nervous. Call me a luddite.



The promised Footnote

Disvisioned versus disillusioned

… we were discussing the increasing feeling of despair that we are all suffering from: over and over again we were all using the word ‘disillusioned.’ Then someone pointed out that if what one had held in the past was an ‘illusion’ then it was very healthy, even important, to be ‘disillusioned,’ relieved of illusion- or delusion. If on the other hand what one had held before was ‘vision’- ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’- then what the present political climate was doing was ‘disvisioning’: and it was important that we realise that there was no word- at least within this culture and language- for ‘disvisioning’. No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you. That word, that event, is one that necessarily must be denied by bourgeois culture. I was brought up with a wicked myth- that you cannot put the Truth down, that it will win in the end; I think we have to fight that very carefully; alas, indeed it is highly possible to put the truth down, to destroy even the dream of it, and in fact the truth has been put down. Can it be that all visions, or prophesies, or whatever, that are not in the process of being realised are thereby proven as illusions/delusions? We have to face the real possibility that through social circumstance we may now be in the process not of being disillusioned, but of being disvisioned: an act of violence, not therapy.

Sara Maitland Futures in Feminist Fiction in From My Guy to Sci-FI: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World ed. Helen Carr (1989) London: Pandora.

Geo-engineering – last throes of the dice/species

So there is a new National Academy of Sciences report on the idea of ‘geo-engineering.’ That’s a soothing sounding term for “doing technical stuff at a global scale to escape/lessen the consequences of having ignored the climate scientists’ generation of warnings to cut back on the carbs”.

For instance there’s

– mirrors in space to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the earth,

– throwing enormous amounts of sulphur into clouds (don’t think too hard about what it will do when it comes down, ‘kay?),

– throwing iron filings on the ocean to get plankton to absorb more C02, and even

– nuking Europe and ‘Merica to reduce emissions (I may have made that last one up).

Weather modification has an interesting kinda history, btw.

And predictably the NAS sociologist who looked into the people who look into this sort of thing says the idea is “wildly, utterly, howlingly barking mad.”

So that’s a clincher for me. We will definitely try it, when some of the shit that hits the fan starts seriously inconveniencing rich white people.

Why so sure?


a) as I was taught when learning to drive – “always assume that the other guy is about to do something staggeringly stupid”


b) we are a civilisation hopelessly devoted to the hubristic notion of technological solutions for EVERYTHING.

And we will start saying to ourselves “what have we got to lose?”  By then – which is probably sooner than we like to think – that will be a “killer” argument, an accurate one.

Ho hum.

See also a piece I wrote about one Thomas Schelling, who visited Manchester to expound just such a position. I didn’t at the time realise quite how long he’d been seriously engaged on climate (he was a ’70s JASON and all that).

From smugosphere to inkosphere

The inkosphere is “that place where people dive into words, concepts, theories and splash about, the size and sound of the splashes becoming the measure of all things.”

It kinda overlaps with the smugosphere – I’ll do a Venn diagram some day.

The smugosphere? – “is not a place you’ll find on a map. It’s a state of mind: it’s the place where deeds are done not so much because they might actually have a positive effect on the world but because they will raise the status or self-esteem of the person/group doing them.”

See excellent Daily Mash articles: “think pieces better than action.” And notes towards a theory of ignorance (not quite as funny, but perhaps more edifying!)


“Words words words” Hamlet

Knowledge is like a sphere, the greater its volume, the larger its contact with the unknown. —Blaise Pascal

“By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing” (Door veel te begrijpen, heb ik niets bereikt). Grotius‘ last words

“Philosophers have always tried to understand the world. The point is to change it. ” Unknown/traditional


Alternative names that didn’t fly

  • wordosphere
  • bookosphere
  • datasphere
  • egosphere

Went for “inkosphere” because of the “drowning in ink” connotations and because it has a nice retro-feel, for all those folks who grew up before the Interwebz, with dead tree format.  Don’t like it? “Byte me”

Reading between the li(n)es: Policy Document Analysis

Fresh from a session on “Social innovation” (with a useful PhD writing interlude) I went to “What is… Policy Document Analysis?” These “what is…” events are put on by the methods@manchester folks.Sometimes ‘sage on the stage followed by q and a’ is okay. This was one of those occasions.

  • Imma bullet point it, (#wearealldeadalongtime)
    Documents aren’t just things on paper, can be photos etc etc
    “social facts, constructions of particular representation using literary using literary conventions” (Atkinson and Coffey. 2010)
    Not neutral, but a particular version of reality
    Policy is “statement of intent” with an “ought” function

Policy documents have specialised tones/registers, and don’t exist in isolation (intertextuality)
You can look at what is “in” the document – content analysis, thematic analysis, and/or at how the document came into existence (discourse analysis) and WHY (see my list of questions).

Three ways of looking at this
English for Specific Purposes (Swales, 1981, 2000)
Systemic Functional Linguistics (Halliday and Martin, 1993)
New Rhetoric (Miller, 1994). [I think Carolyn Miller] – Looking at attitudes, values and beliefs of the text users

“What the problem is represented to be” – Carol Bacchi –[Adelaide Uni!]  Foucauldian analysis. All policies designed to solve problems, also contain explicit and/or implicit solutions. Therefore can/should identify the problem representations and trace them historically [i.e. genealogy of…]

Sequence of document analysis

  1. Selection (get them all in one place)
  2. Familiarisation (skim etc)
  3. Reading
  4. Identifying extracts
  5. Developing analysis

Two observations from me

Two more  observations

  • It’s the silences that matter – not just which “problems” are off the table, but which “solutions” are off the table for the problems brought forward.
  • Policy documents are picked up and put down as needed (deliberate ambiguity within and between them, creating needed rhetorical wiggle-room in the unending legitimacy battles and turf battles). Policies that are inconvenient are simply ignored

Questions I like to ask:
Who wrote this document?
Who was paying them?
In response to what events/documents/problems?
Why did they write (beyond “following orders/pay the mortgage”)? What was the intended outcome?
Who is the intended audience for this document?
What has been elided? Conflated, either accidentally or on purpose?
What, in the eyes of critics, were the ‘hidden motives’? Is this a trojan horse for something else?
Who has ‘pushed back’ on this document – on what grounds (with what effect)
Did this document achieve its intended notoriety/fame/infamy/impact?

See also: Donald Schon “Beyond the Stable State

Future “what is” events

What is..? interviewing ‘elite’ groups
18 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? observation in the workplace
25 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? textual analysis
4 March 2015
1pm – 2pm

Fun foreign words – Sehnsucht and Duende

Just the words, ma’am? Then skip the first two paragraphs.

I have a glancing familiarity with some languages (French, Danish, Portuguese; minimal smatterings of others). One of the delights is learning words that have no direct translation (and then dropping them casually into conversations, in a puerile attempt at intellectual chest-beating. But I haven’t done that in ages. At least a week. But I digress.) Schadenfreude, Saudades, hygge etc etc etc

One of the other delights of my non-wifey weekends is the Financial Times weekend edition. Most of the meaty fact-based (albeit selected through the prism of serving the global killer elite) reportage, but with

  • a colour magazine containing columns by the always brilliant Simon Kuper, Gillian Tett and Tim Harford, and the often very funny Robert Shrimsley, asides from v.interesting features
  • the Life and Arts section, with book reviews, essays, “Lunch with the FT”, the Slow Lane, Harry Eyres etc. And the crossword. All this for £3. It will be my Desert Island luxury, if I ever climb those dizzy heights (I’d be there by now, frankly).

All this is a needlessly long introduction to –

Sehnsucht – “a yearning for something that is unobtainable.” (Quirke, 2015)

Duende – “a sort of spirit, something that no amount of training can achieve.” (Eyres, 2015)

Things to do while the algae grow in my fur – re-read Trevanian’s extraordinary novel Shibumi


Eyres, H. (2015) Gifts from the court of Federer. Financial Times, 17/18 January

Quirke, A. (2015) Messages from humanity. Financial Times, 17/18 January

Words, ideas, videos