Why advertisers make us look at animals

We miss animals. We don’t hang around with them so much any more (1). George Monbiot has written with his customary brilliant synthesis of fact and theory about the costs of this.

So, on the stepper at the gym this morning, halfway through an excellent article called “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence and the Study of Politics”, I looked up and caught three adverts on Granada TV (0823-ish).

The first had an animated koala telling people that a brand of toilet paper was something special

The next had some guy with a cold being given an anti-congestant by a big red bull that burst through the living room wall.

The final one was for various pieces of tech that help people feel good and connected. The first was a big curved TV – and what was that TV showing? A tiger lying down in some snow.

So, we miss animals. And advertisers seem to think (presumably with some market research to back this up) (2) that this will get us buyin’.

The three adverts fall into two categories. The first category is “animals are part of God’s plan to help us live the lives we do now” (where “God” might be an old white guy with a beard, or capitalist technoscience. It doesn’t matter). The koala clearly can’t bear the idea of us not having tidy anuses. The bull thinks the idea of a bad cold isnot funny.

The second category is that mournful “look at what we have left behind (last chance to see)”. (And perhaps for some a vague thought of “By watching this documentary we are expressing our solidarity with the natural world. Aren’t those dark people in Africa – those poachers- just awful? Why can’t they live in harmony with Nature like we here in Europe do.”) (3)

What is to be done? This is the bit where I am supposed to advocate for kids having unstructured play in natural settings (which, btw, is distinct from a litter-pick or two) and wring my hands about nature-deficit disorder. This is the bit where I am supposed to advocate for media literacy classes, so everyone can become a decoding advertisements ninja. This is the bit where I am supposed to advocate for a ban on advertising on TV at kids, like they have in Sweden.

But you know what? It’s too late. We’re like the psychotic monkey in the Harry Harlow experiment. Deprived of crucial mothering, its own child had to be removed because it just didn’t know what to do.

Except there’s no-one to remove anyone to anywhere. So it goes.


  1. Which makes the occasional getting-eaten-by-a-shark so newsworthy perhaps. We have come to see (and be) ourselves at the top of a food pyramid, rather than part of a web.

  2. As I recall, Fast Food Nation has stuff about how psychologists discovered that kids dream of animals A LOT until the age of six. And so cereals get marketed with ‘baby’ (big head to body ratio, big eyes) animals. Welcome to the free market.

  3.  I shouldn’t have to add the disclaimer, but this is the Internet – I do not advocate this position. I am adamantly opposed to it.

To (re-) read

Barbara Ehrenreich Blood Rites [Who did I lend my bloody copy to? I’d like it back, thankew]

Donna Haraway on Simians, Cyborgs and Women and all her other stuff (she’s a freaking genius)

John Berger Why Look at Animals (short excellent essay which I’ve nodded to in the title)

George Monbiot Feral Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding


Book Review: Bert Bolin’s “A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change”

Bolin, B. (2007) A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change: The Role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 277 pages

Cover TemplateClimate scientists, despite what you read thanks to the well-funded denialist lobby, are cautious souls.  Probably none has been more reluctant to succumb to the apocalyptic language that now seems accurate that the Swedish climatologist Bert Bolin (1925-2007).   Bolin was present at the discovery.  From the late 1950s onwards he was involved in figuring out what impact throwing huge amounts of previously buried carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would have.   He was there in leading roles at the key meetings in the late 70s through to the mid-80s (especially Villach 1985). When a  safe pair of hands was needed for the role of chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1988-), he was the logical choice.

Part one – the first four chapters-  quickly covers the “early history of the climate change issue” up to the 1980s.

Part two – the next seven chapters – covers the period from 1988 to 1997, from the first global alarms through to the Kyoto Protocol’s negotiation.   This is the period he was IPCC chair, and he gives good detail on how the IPCC’s assessment reports were  created, and how the IPCC interacted with the preparations for the Rio “Earth Summit” and beyond.  He also covers the shameful attacks on scientists like Ben Santer by the highly motivated (and fossil-fuel funded) “libertarians” of the George Marshall Institute etc.

His book is modest to the point of self-effacement, and chock full of fascinating (and for my PhD v. useful) anecdotes about the gory detail of those attacks and the fair-minded responses that the IPCC gave, to limited effect.  There are, also, as with any historical book on climate change, moments where you gasp and weep at how much we knew, and wanted to do, but then DIDN’T do.  The Angela Merkel cameos (she led the Berlin meeting in 1995) are a good example of this.

There are a couple of typos (e.g. the chairman of the Global Climate Coalition is given as both Shlaes and Schlaes) and points where a fact checker with OCD might have been useful (e.g. the George Marshall Institute was not “recently formed” by the 1990s- it was set up in 1984 to shill for Ronald Reagan’s absurd “Strategic Defence Initiative” – “Star Wars” to you and me). Overall though, if you want to know about how we got into this godawful mess – how the science has been attacked from day one, the constant low-level harassment of scientists (with occasional flare-ups) – then I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Also worth reading on this

The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart

The Heat is On and Boiling Point by Ross Gelbspan

The Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett

Merchants of Doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth about issues from tobacco smoke to global warming by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway

Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism by Jacob Darwin Hamblin

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.

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


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


Family wage declining


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?

Words, ideas, videos