Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘my pedagogical empire

The Lives of Animals, Part Two

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My capstone students and I have come up with the post-Spring-Break schedule for my The Lives of Animals course. Trying to incorporate all the major areas of interest in the room, we sort of orbited around a couple major overlapping segments: animals in captivity (March 29-April 7) shading into animal fantasy (April 5 and April 7) and animal cognition (April 7 and April 12) shading into Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic anticipation of the Anthropocene, Galápagos (April 14 to the end of the course):

Mar. 29 Kathy Rudy, “Where the Wild Things Ought to Be: Sanctuaries, Zoos, and Exotic Pets” [D2L]

possible trip to the Milwaukee Zoo or Jo-Dons Farm

Th Mar. 31 John Berger, “Why Look at Animals?” [AR]

Randy Malamud “Zoo Spectatorship” [AR]

T Apr. 5 Blackfish

Finding Nemo and Finding Dory

 

after class: Résumé Doctor and Interview Bootcamp! Details TBA

Th Apr. 7 Blackfish and Finding Nemo discussion continues

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, “Grief, Sadness, and the Bones of Elephants” [AR]

T Apr. 12 Tim Flannery, “The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals” [Web]

Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds (excerpt) [D2L]

Marc Bekoff, “Wild Justice and Fair Play: Cooperation, Forgiveness, and Morality in Animals” [AR]

Th Apr. 14 Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos, chapters 1-18
T Apr. 19 Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos, chapters 19-34
Th Apr. 21 Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos, whole book
T Apr. 26 RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS
Th Apr. 28 RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS
T May 3 RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS
Th May 5 RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS
Th May 13 FINAL PAPER DUE VIA D2L DIGITAL DROPBOX BY 10 AM

 

I’m pretty excited for this.

My Upcoming Courses at Marquette, Summer and Fall 2016!

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Written by gerrycanavan

February 5, 2016 at 8:55 am

New Course for Spring 2016: “The Lives of Animals”

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Here’s the syllabus for my English research capstone course this semester, titled “The Lives of Animals.” As you can see from the last pages of the syllabus, this course is going to be developed collaboratively with the students, so the post-spring-break units are currently undefined. But here’s the schedule for the first half:

T Jan. 19 FIRST DAY OF CLASS
Th Jan. 21 The Book of Genesis, chapters 1-9 [online]

Post-Spring-Break Discussion

T Jan. 26 Aristotle, “The History of Animals” [AR]

Boria Sax, “Animals as Tradition” [AR]

Post-Spring-Break Discussion Continues

Th Jan. 28 Charles Darwin, The Descent or Origin of Man, Chapter 1 [online]

Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee, excerpts [D2L]

Post-Spring-Break Discussion, Final Decisions

T Feb. 2 Franz Kafka, “A Report to an Academy”
Th Feb. 4 Michael Shermer, The Mind of the Market, Chapter 6 [online]

Will Wiles, “The Behavioral Sink” [online]

Personal Statement Due

T Feb. 9 Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”
Th Feb. 11 Franz Kafka, “Jackals and Arabs”

Clinton R. Sanders and Arnold Arluke, “Speaking for Dogs” [AR]

T Feb. 16 Jeremy Bentham, “Principles of Morals and Legislation” [AR]

Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation or Animal Rights?” [AR]

Martha Nussbaum, “The Moral Status of Animals” [AR]

Th Feb. 18 J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (part one)
T Feb. 23 J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (part two)
Th Feb. 25 J.M Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (Garber, Singer, Doniger, Smuts)
T Mar. 1 Coral Lansbury, “The Brown Dog Riots of 1907” [AR]

Lynda Birke, “Into the Laboratory” [AR]

Th Mar. 3 Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Parts One and Two)
T Mar. 8 Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Part Three)
Th Mar. 10 Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Part Four)
T Mar. 15 Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (whole book)

FINAL PAPER—ELEVATOR PITCH DUE ON D2L

     

POST-SPRING-BREAK SCHEDULE AT A GLANCE

WEEKS 10-11 (MARCH 29-APRIL 7): STUDENT-DEVELOPED UNIT #1!

WEEKS 12-13 (APRIL 12-APRIL 21): STUDENT-DEVELOPED UNIT #2!

WEEKS 14-15 (APRIL 26-MAY 5): GROUP PRESENTATIONS!

THURSDAY, MAY 12: FINAL PAPER DUE VIA D2L DROPBOX BY 10 AM!

My other course is my always-very-fun “Magic as Literature” course, which has barely changed from last year except for a little bit of extra time allocated to speculating about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child…

End of the Semester Fire Sale: Every Link Must Go

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* Another galaxy is possible: Toshiro Mifune turned down Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader roles.

* CFP: Current Research in Speculative Fiction 2016.

The Secret History of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

* Huntington’s disease and engineered humanity.

* A little on-the-nose, don’t you think? USS Milwaukee breaks down at sea.

* Elsewhere on the Milwaukee beat: Millennials: They’re Just Like Us!

College Football Coaches Are Making Millions Off A Useless Metric.

* AAUP calls UI search a ‘crude exercise in naked power.’

Report Highlights Faculty Conditions at Jesuit Colleges.

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to publish internationally bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson’s first stand-alone short story in twenty-five years.

* The Marquette Tribune did a short followup on my magic and literature class, returning this spring.

* 95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue. How Will the Professors Act When Fascism Comes to America? I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said. Understanding Trumpism the Scott Adams Way. And here’s where things get wild: GOP preparing for contested convention. Trumpism would be the perfect ideology for a third party.

When Popular Fiction Isn’t Popular: Genre, Literary, and the Myths of Popularity.

* On English studies and ennui. Gee, I wonder why a cohort of people who have discovered too late that they have committed themselves to an imploding profession might feel a little bit depressed.

* On the plus side: More Useless Liberal Arts Majors Could Destroy ISIS.

* The College of Saint Rose has laid off a number of tenured faculty, among them Scott Lemieux.

* Another mass shooting was over. The country had moved on. But inside one house in Oregon, a family was discovering the unending extent of a wound.

* Every year, roughly 40,000 people die in Minnesota. For some, it’s weeks or months before anyone finds them. Meet the crew who comes in to clean up the mess.

Amazing Graphics Show How Much Fruits Have Changed Since Humans Started Growing Them.

* At least five police officers present during a shooting that was captured on a video that has created a firestorm of protest in this city supported a discredited version of events told by the officer who fired the fatal shots, newly released records show. Laquan McDonald and police perjury: a way forward. The U.S. Department of Justice unit that investigates civil rights violations by police departments has only about 18 employees who work on such investigations full-time. According to a former head of the unit, a forthcoming probe into the Chicago PD could overwhelm its “ridiculously small” staff. Good luck to them! Meanwhile, Rahm tries to hold on to power despite a clear need to resign.

* Here’s how Las Vegas police halted a trend in excessive force.

* In the 1950s, a group of scientists spoke out against the dangers of nuclear weapons. Should cryptographers take on the surveillance state. 

* How the Democrats flubbed San Bernardino. The worst part is most them seem not to have noticed.

* Nice work if you can get it: Top 20 billionaires worth as much as half of America.

* An Isochronic Map of the World from London, c. 1914. More links after the map!

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* The geography of student debt.

* UBI in Finland — though it looks a bit like stealth social safety net cuts to me.

* On Jane Vonnegut.

Does America Deserve Malala?

* @Batman66labels.

* Obama scandal watch: This one does seem pretty corrupt, actually.

* Abandoned America: the Hershey Chocolate Factory.

* God save Title IX from its champions: ‘Hunting Ground’ Filmmakers to Harvard Law Profs: Criticizing Our Film Could Create a ‘Hostile Climate.’ When the core belief is that accusers never lie, if any one accuser has lied, it brings into question the stability of the entire thought system, rendering uncertain all allegations of sexual assault. But this is neither sensible nor necessary: that a few claims turn out to be false does not mean that all, most, or even many claims are wrongful. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims. Relatedly, Newsweek has an article covering “the other side” of campus rape investigations.

* Telltale will make a Batman game.

* Two strikes against the next Wes Anderson movie: “…it’s a Japanese story and I’m playing a dog.”

* The Last Dalai Lama?

Servicemen Contradict Military’s Account Of Attack On MSF Hospital In Afghanistan.

* The arc of history is long, but Red Mars is finally going to series.

* Last year carbon emissions dropped while the economy grew for the first time in history.

* On anorexia.

* Public history at UNC: tracing the history of building names.

Reading Flannery O’Connor in the Age of Islamophobia.

* ACA collapse watch: The lone health insurance cooperative to make money last year on the Affordable Care Act’s public insurance exchanges is now losing millions and suspending individual enrollment for 2016.

* The Sports Bubble Is About to Pop. Don’t Let Kids Play Football. It’s Time To Take The Warriors’ Chances Of Going 73-9 Seriously. Golden State Warriors: best team in NBA history? The last team to start 20-0 like the Warriors was so good that its league folded.

* Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence.

All The Items Of Clothing Women Have Been Told Not To Wear In 2015.

This Supercut of All the Non-Leia Female Dialogue in the Original Star Wars Trilogy Will Astound You.

* The Founders and Islam.

* These People Took DDT Pills In the 1970s to Prove it Was Safe.

Being a good looking man could hinder your career, study finds. Happiness Doesn’t Bring Good Health, Study Finds. Stonehenge may have been first erected in Wales, evidence suggests.

* Why didn’t anyone stop Doctor Hardy?

* Latinx.

* Vice got the Rachel Dolezal profile.

Fractal Problems in Comparative Domestic Policy.

* How D.C. spent $200 million over a decade on a streetcar you still can’t ride.

* Kill Bill 3, please.

* Serial‘s back y’all. UPDATE: And it’s already super irritating!

UFO truthers want to make Roswell an issue for 2016. Meet their lobbyist.

Ron Howard says Arrested Development season 5 is in the writing stage.

* Teach the controversy: Building the Death Star Was an Economic Catastrophe.

* Pretty grim America: Gun Rights Groups to Hold Fake Mass Shooting at UT This Weekend.

* Just another here’s-what-happens-when-you-adopt-a-chimp story.

FDA Approves Device That Can Plug Gunshot Wounds in 15 Seconds.

The Definitive Guide to Sci-Fi Drugs Was Produced by the Government in the 1970s.

Why are so many toddlers being put on heavy psychiatric drugs?

* All right, I’m in: Margaret Atwood Is Writing A Part-Cat, Part-Owl, Part-Human Superhero Comic.

* xkcd explains the Three Laws of Robotics.

* Well, at least now we know.

* I’ve had dreams like this.

* And in an age without heroes, there was Matt Haughey.

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Written by gerrycanavan

December 12, 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Weekend Links!

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* New journal: Series: The International Journal of TV Serial Narratives.

* The full syllabus for my upcoming summer science fiction course is finished, if you’re interested. I’ve also updated the “online articles” section of my website with a link to Marquette’s online repository of my articles, which has some stuff people have been asking for (like my Snowpiercer essay).

* So why is TPP the only thing Obama has ever bothered to fight for?

“The hardest things are the title and the name of the girl.” Oh, so it’s ridiculously easy.

Judge finds probable cause for murder charge against officer who killed Tamir Rice.

Judge orders University of Illinois to release Steven Salaita emails.

* The only thing anyone can talk about.

Every Single Federal Employee’s Social Security Number Was Hacked: Report. Incredible. I almost wonder if this breach could actually be so large that the government has to shift responsibility for fraud away from individual consumers.

At its worst, however, Left Forum is Comic Con for Marxists—Commie Con, if you will—and an absolute shitshow of nerds and social rejects.

On the heels of last week’s shocking news that the Transportation Security Administration has a whopping 95 percent failure rate at finding bombs and weapons, we are now learning that the TSA further failed to identify 73 airport workers with links to terrorism.

‘Debt-Free College’ Is Democrats’ New Rallying Cry.

The Milwaukee Bucks bailout and Gov. Scott Walker’s questionable math.

Why are so many companies spending record sums of money buying back their shares instead of reinvesting more of their profits in their business and their workers? What could possibly explain it?

I thought homeschooling my kids would be simple. I was wrong.

* “If she disobeyed, they had told her, they’d cut off her hair.”

Barbasol’s inclusion was mostly a fluke — the movie’s art director, John Bell, said he grabbed it off a prop shelf with little thought; in the book, smugglers used Gillette — but the shaving-cream maker now calls it one of its biggest victories: John Price, a marketing vice president for parent company Perio, called it “one of the most recognized brand integrations of all time.”

Here’s how much it would cost to build Jurassic Park.

One phenomenon that has so far flown under the radar in discussions of peer-to-peer production and the sharing economy but that demands recognition on its own is one for which I think an apt name would be crowdforcing. Crowdforcing in the sense I am using it refers to practices in which one or more persons decides for one or more others whether he or she will share his or her resources, without the other person’s consent or even, perhaps more worryingly, knowledge. While this process has analogs and has even itself occurred prior to the digital revolution and the widespread use of computational tools, it has positively exploded thanks to them, and thus in the digital age may well constitute a difference in kind as well as amount.

* I know Reason is the enemy and all, but their report on this mishandled sex assault case at Amherst is genuinely stunning.

* New, large study confirms that approximately 1 in 5 women suffer sexual assault at college.

A program designed to help female college freshmen resist sexual assault is creating a lot of buzz among victims’ advocates and college educators. Most were encouraged to learn that incidents of rape had been cut in half among participants in a Canadian study of the program, which involved four three-hour sessions in which the women learned to recognize the danger of coercive situations and to fight back, verbally and physically.

* Scenes from the class struggle at god Reddit is awful.

* Counterpoint: Anne Frank’s Diary Should Have Been Burned.

* RT @SaintRPh: Guy lives next to airport. Painted this on roof to confuse passengers as they fly overhead. He lives in Milwaukee.

* Secrets of the Milwaukee Accent.

* Reality is weird: Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron hated each other, but their stunt doubles got married.

22 Incredible Facts About The Life and Career Of Sir Christopher Lee.

Thanks, global warming: Now polar bears are devouring dolphins.

* Twilight of the Tweeters.

* The end of Michigan.

Nearly Half of Senior Tenured Professors Want to Delay Retirement. Yeah, you’ll never get rid of me.

* Some people just want to watch the world burn.

* Future really getting weird now.

* But sometimes the future gets it all right.

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Syllabus: Science Fiction in the Summertime

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I find teaching in the summer very agreeable in some ways and very difficult in others: I really feel as though a “life during wartime” spirit of camaraderie develops in the classroom, which is nice, but at the same time it can be difficult to cover the amount of material I’d normally cover in a semester (especially since it’s so hard to assign the usual amount of either reading or writing). This summer in particular I’ve really had to accept that summer classes are just different — my class meets only two days a week, for an impossible 3 1/2 hours at a stretch.

My plan is to break each class period into roughly three one-hour chunks, with two short breaks between each. There’s a lot more in-class stuff than I usually do, and even more little clips and exercises that I have planned that won’t be the major focus of the day and so aren’t listed in the syllabus. No papers — just take-home midterm, take-home final, forum posts, and quizzes.

People who know my classes or my work can probably tell that I’ve chosen texts I know inside and out, including a bunch I’ve written on. This is not an accident.

With all those caveats, here’s the gameplan:

M June 29 INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

in class: Ted Chiang, “Liking What You See: A Documentary”

in class: excerpts from Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica (2000s), Interstellar, Mass Effect, etc.

W July 1 in class: film, Avatar (2009)
M July 6 Avatar discussion continues: Annalee Newitz, “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?” [web]; Slavoj Žižek, “Return of the Natives” [web]

Kim Stanley Robinson, “The Lucky Strike”

in class: Kim Stanley Robinson, “A Sensitive Dependence on Internal Conditions”

W July 8 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (first third)
M July 13 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (second third)
W July 15 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (whole book)
M July 20 TAKE-HOME MIDTERM DUE TO D2L BY 5:30 PM

James Tiptree, Jr., “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” [ARES]

in class: Ursula K. Le Guin: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

in class: film, “The Space Traders” (1994)

W July 22 Mark Bould, “The Ships Landed Long Ago” [ARES]

Samuel R. Delany, “The Star Pit” [ARES]

in class: TV, Star Trek: Deep Space 9: “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998)

M July 27 Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (parts one and two)
W July 29 Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (part three)
M August 3 Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (whole book)

in class: excerpt from Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites

W August 5 Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Volumes 1 & 2

in class: zombie film and television, zombie games

LAST DAY OF CLASS

M August 10 TAKE HOME FINAL DUE TO D2L BY 12:00 PM

Sunday Night Links! Probably Too Many!

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17644_10101690572456291_9124726088155968029_n* Upcoming appearances: I’ll be speaking at the Environments & Societies workshop at UC Davis next Wednesday. And of course we’ll be debating whether Harry Potter is a dystopia (it is) this Wednesday here at Marquette.

* This is nice: Green Planets is a finalist for the ASLE book prize.

* CFP: The Contemporary: Culture in the Twenty-First Century.

* CFP: Jim Gordon as Batman is dumb.

* The Dolphin Trainer Who Loved Dolphins Too Much.

* The cult of the Ph.D. I suppose I’m a hopeless curmudgeon on this at this point, but I just don’t see how any attempt to reform graduate schools can ignore the fact that “the primary, overarching purpose of doctoral programs is to produce professors.” Alt-ac can save a few, but it can’t save everyone, or even most.

Everything We Learned About The Force Awakens At Star Wars Celebration. Look, I’m not made of stone.

* And then there was (sigh) DC. Double sigh.

* There still aren’t any states where women earn as much as men.

PayGap2Did Yoda And Obi-Wan Screw Princess Leia Over?

But in choosing a hero to defeat Vader, they sent Luke to Dagobah, not Leia. They sent the whiny uneducated hick whose greatest ambition until very recently had been to *join the Empire* instead of the smart, sophisticated, and well-educated woman with the political connections and Rebel cred?

It was only the last time I watched Return of the Jedi that I finally realized “that boy is our last hope / no, there is another” refers to Anakin, not Leia. So I’m pretty on board with this, especially now that the possibly exculpatory Expanded Universe context has been retconned out of existence.

Citi Economist Says It Might Be Time to Abolish Cash. This is a truly stunning document: the argument is that we need to abolish cash because otherwise bankers won’t be able to force everybody to accept negative interest rates.

* New from the new TNR: We’re Checking the Wrong Privilege.

* Heinlein shrugged.

America’s wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent.

155,000 New York kids boycott standardized tests.

Preserving the Ghastly Inventory of Auschwitz.

It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.

And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.

* There’s jobs, there’s dirty jobs, and then there’s being Joseph Goebbels’s copyright lawyer.

Ewald Engelen, a professor of finance and geography at UvA who spoke about the perils of the financialization of higher education at the Maagdenhuis occupation, explained in a coauthored article, published in 2014, how rendementsdenken became the ruling logic – and logic of rule – at his university. After a 1995 decision transferring public ownership of real estate to universities like UvA, he and colleagues argued, education and research considerations started taking a backseat to commercial concerns regarding real estate planning. The state’s retreat from management of real estate demanded tighter account of “costs, profits, assets and liabilities” at the university, setting “in motion a process of internal reorganization to produce the transparent cash flow metrics that were required to service the rapidly growing real estate debt,” the academics wrote.

Neither the Brostrom or the Campos side focuses on the fact that privatization increases expenses as well as revenues. In reality, privatization forces the mission creep of multiplying activities, “businesses,” funding streams, capital projects and other debt-funded investments, which increase all sorts of non-educational costs and also administration.  Private partnerships, sponsors, vendor relations, and so on bring in new money but also cost money, require institutional subsidies, and in many cases lose money for the university.

The Education Department Is Working On A Process For Forgiving Student Loans.

* Sweet Briar didn’t die, it was put down. If he puts his mind to it, Jamshed Bharucha has the ability to effectively destroy whatever future remains for Cooper Union.

* I really wish we could get famous people to stop talking this way about autism.

* Towards a disability version of the Bechdel Test.

A disability version of the “Bechdel Test,” maybe?
1) There’s a disabled character visible
2) Who wants something, and tries to get it,
3) Other than a) Death, b) Cure, or c) Revenge.

* Cuomo’s master plan to turn SUNY into a startup factory has created 76 jobs.

Large Pile Of Cash Announces US Presidency Bid.

* The BBC has adapted The Left Hand of Darkness.

* I’m very much in favor of “they” as a generic singular pronoun, but “they are,” please, not “they is.”

Private Company Conspired With Police To Hold Poor People For Ransom, Lawsuit Charges.

Ex-Drug Cop: Drug Squad Stole Cash And Planted Drugs Too Many Times To Count.

* Only for certain values of “justice”: The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

* It seems like the deputy isn’t the person who should be charged with Eric Harris’s murder. This person never should have been working as a cop, for myriad reasons.

* The only way this can work: California Assembly panel approves legislation preventing police from viewing body camera footage.

Labeling the market natural and the state unnatural is a convenient fiction for those wedded to the status quo.

White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system.

Racism in schools is pushing more black families to homeschool their children.

All 3 Oregon Basketball Players Suspended Over Sexual Assault Find New Teams.

* Shocked, shocked: Leaked videos suggest Chevron cover-up of Amazon pollution.

* The Atlantic covers graduate student unionization.

Los Angeles school district demands multi-million dollar refund from Apple.

Centuries of Italian History Are Unearthed in Quest to Fix Toilet.

* “All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”

* On not hate-watching, but hope-watching.

* George R. R. Martin: Once More, into the Kennels.

The Atlanta teachers’ trial: A perfect example of America’s broken justice system.

* How Israel Hid Its Secret Nuclear Weapons Program.

The Quest to Boot Old Hickory Off the $20.

Why the Vatican’s crackdown on nuns ended happily. Pope Francis’s Populist War on the Devil.

Latchkey children age restrictions by state. Wisconsin, you’re probably asleep at the switch here. But Illinois, you guys relax.

A Scan Of 100,000 Galaxies Shows No Sign Of Alien Mega-Civilizations. Okay, but let’s scan the next 900,000 just to be sure.

That aliens would have imperial ambitions is taken as natural. Far from being the historical outcome of a specific organization of capital in the latter half of the second millennium, these signatories assume that the ideology of capitalist imperialism is inevitable across the galaxy. To be fair, though, the Fermi Paradox is a “it just takes one” claim, not a “all societies are alike” claim.

* If you’re so smart, why aren’t you terrified all the time?

Chase nightmares with behind-the-scenes photos from Return To Oz.

The Photo Hitler Doesn’t Want You to See.

* More on how Game of Thrones deviates from the books. And a fun flashback: The first pilot for Game of Thrones was so bad HBO almost passed on the entire series.

* It’s almost like Batman didn’t think this thing through.

* Dumb, but maybe my favorite Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal of all time.

* And teach the controversy: Tim Goodman says the Waitress arc on Mad Men might not be stupid and pointless.

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Written by gerrycanavan

April 19, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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From the Archives! Interview with Cory Doctorow on Disney, SF, Violence, Meritocracy, Goodhart’s Law, Fandom, and Utopia

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Several years ago I taught Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for a Writing 20 class at Duke called “Writing the Future,” which resulted in a lenthy interview between my students and Doctorow. For many years the interview was archived at the course site at duke.edu, but it looks like it’s been pulled down; even the Wayback Machine has been thwarted. Since I’m fond of the interview, and frequently return to some of the things he says in it, I’m reposting it here. Enjoy!

The interview took place in Spring 2010.

“Trying to Predict the Present”: An Interview with Cory Doctorow

W20: What did this novel mean to you when you first wrote it, and how has the meaning changed in the nine years since? How might the novel be different if you wrote it today?

CD: That’s a really tough question to answer—not specifically because of the change in circumstances, but because of the change in the writer over time. The more time you spend writing, the more different your approach to the work is. That was the first novel I ever finished—it’s fundamentally different to write a book when you know you can finish a book than to write a book when you don’t know if you can a finish a book—and I actually think those differences would swamp any differences that arose from circumstances or politics or new wisdom or whatever. Just the idea of writing a book, when you know you can write a book, completely overpowers any of the other changes.

I don’t know if that makes sense. It probably doesn’t answer your question very well.

One of the things I realized in the course of writing the book, and that I think a lot of people miss when they read the book, is that Whuffie has one of the fundamental problems that accrues to money or property, which is that the more you have the easier it is to get more. That’s a pretty a pretty enormous gap in the Utopian character of Whuffie. A properly Utopian system is one in which you have something that’s a lot like merit, not like circumstance—where people are rewarded based on how great they are, not based how great they used to be. And I think Whuffie is primarily one of those systems that rewards you for having gotten lucky or doing something good some time ago, and then continues to reward you for that forever at the expense of other people.

I think Whuffie would follow a power-law distribution, just like in-bound links to blogs, for exactly the same reason.

W20: We talked a little bit about this, and it leads to the second question, whether or not large corporations are starting to create a system that’s sort of like Whuffie, but at the same time proprietary. We were thinking of Google, YouTube, Facebook especially, but even something like LinkedIn—isn’t this something like Whuffie that’s starting to materialize? Blog linkage would be the same sort of thing, facing the same sorts of problems you’ve just been talking about.

CD: I based Whuffie at the time more on Slashdot’s Karma, and I don’t know that Faceook has an exact analogue to it. I guess Facebook has this thing where you can see who has the most inbound links, who has the most friends, and you can “digg” up yourself by getting more of those.

I think that in general we have a pathological response to anything we measure. We tend not to measure the thing we care about; we tend to measure something that indicates its presence. It’s often very hard to measure the thing that you’re hoping for. You don’t actually care about how calories you eat; you care about how much weight you’re going to gain from the calories you eat. But as soon as we go, oh, well, calories are a pretty good proxy for weight gain, we start to come up with these foods that are incredibly unhealthy but nevertheless have very few calories in them. In the same way, Google doesn’t really care about inbound links because inbound links are good per se; Google cares about inbound links because inbound links are a good proxy for “someone likes this page; someone thinks this page is a useful place to be, is a good place to be.” But as soon as Google starts counting that, people start finding ways to make links that don’t actually serve as a proxy for that conclusion at all.

GDP is another good example. We don’t care about GDP because GDP itself is good; we care about GDP because the basket of indicators that we measure with GDP are a proxy for the overall health of the society—except as soon as you start measuring GDP, people figure out how to make the GDP go up by doing things like trading derivatives of derivates of subprime subderivates of derivatives, but which actually does the reverse of what we care about by undermining the quality of life and the stability of society.

So I think that one of the biggest problems that Google has, taking Google as probably the best example of someone trying to build a reputation currency, is that as soon as Google gives you any insight into how they are building their reputation system it ceases to be very good as a reputation system. As soon as Google stops measuring something you created by accident and starts measuring something you created on purpose, it stops being something that they want to measure. And this is joined by the twin problem that what Google fundamentally has is a security problem; they have hackers who are trying to undermine the integrity of the system. And the natural response to a problem that arises when attackers know how your system works is to try to keep the details of your system secret—but keeping the details of Google’s system secret is also not very good because it means that we don’t have any reason to trust it. All we know when we search Google is that we get a result that seems like a good result; but we don’t know that there isn’t a much better result that Google has either deliberately or accidentally excluded from its listings for reasons that are attributable to either malice or incompetence. So they’re really trapped between a rock and a hard place: if they publish how their system works, people will game their system; if they don’t publish how their system works it becomes less useful and trustworthy and good. It suffers from the problem of alchemy; if alchemists don’t tell people what they learned, then every alchemist needs to discover for themselves that drinking mercury is a bad idea, and alchemy stagnates. When you start to publishing, you get science—but Google can’t publish or they’ll also get more attacks.

So it’s a really thorny, thorny problem, and I elide that problem with Whuffie by imagining a completely undescribed science fictional system that can disambiguate every object in the universe so when you look at something and have a response to it the system knows that the response is being driven by the color of the car but not by the car, or the shirt but not the person wearing it, or the person wearing it and not the shirt, and also know how you feel about it. So it can know what you’re feeling and what you’re feeling it about. And I don’t actually think we have a computer that could that; I don’t think we have Supreme Court judges or Ph.D. philosophers that can do that.

W20: That’s sort of a fantastic self-criticism, actually—you’re exposing what’s so great about Whuffie and what’s so impossible about it all at once.

CD: Sure, and that’s why I think Whuffie feeds the fantasy of a meritocratic society. There’s something particularly self-serving about people who are doing very well imagining that society is meritocratic: it means that the reason you are doing so well is because you have merit, not because you were lucky or because you screwed someone else. So I’m always suspicious of people who are doing extremely well telling you how meritocratic society their society is. I’m also somewhat suspicious of people doing very poorly who tell you how meritocratic society is, because I think that’s often aspirational: they’ve basically bought the story that if only they work hard and are good and pure of heart they’ll catch up to the people who have been rich for a hundred generations. So I think the idea of meritocracy is a really tricky one because the embrace of meritocracy is seductive for reasons that transcend logic.

W20: I don’t know if I’ll include this in the interview, to shame my students or not, but this is something that comes up a lot in Duke classes. Duke students believe very much in meritocracy because they’re the winners of the system.

CD: Yeah, sure. I think we have a problem in that we end up with this tautological definition of merit in a meritocracy. How do we know what’s meritorious? It’s the thing that’s on top. You have this very Milton Friedman way of measuring accomplishment: you come up with some self-serving thing that makes you better, and declare whatever outcome you have as the best possible one. And I think that’s pretty nakedly not a great way of apportioning social resources or measuring the quality of life.

W20: Let me switch gears to the next question, which is kind of a shadow version of the last one. We talked a little bit about smartphones, and about closely they seem to match the things you describe in the book as the start of the Bitchun society, these little handheld devices. So on the one hand we have the question of whether or not it can still be Bitchun if it’s run by corporations, if they’re provided not by these collectives but by Apple. And then, as a secondary question, to what extent was this novel your personal prediction for society’s future, and what did you not predict that you wish you had?

I’ve never really done anything predictive in my life. I always say that I try to predict the present. Which is to say that you take those elements that seem futuristic that are kind of floating around in the present, but because they’ve snuck up on us so gradually, because we were boiled frog-style so gently in them that we end up not even noticing that they’re there.

My friend Jim Griffin always says that anything invented before you’re 20 was there forever; anything invented before you’re 30 is the coolest thing ever; and anything invented after that should be illegal. And I think one great way that a science fiction writer can help overcome that, or call attention to that, is to have a look at what’s around you and the stuff that feels futuristic and just write about it as if it hadn’t been invented yet, as if it were something you were making up for a science fiction story. And so everyone goes, “Wow, look at that, it’s this incredibly futuristic thing that we have right here about to happen”—and then they look around again and say “Oh my god, it’s happened!”, even though it was there before you started.

So I guess the best example of this was a presentation I once heard someone give on gold-farming at a games conference about five years ago. And then I wrote a short story “predicting” there would be gold-farming in the future. And people who discovered the story first and then read the article, or read more articles as the phenomenon increased—there’s now 400,000 people who earn their living goldfarming—assume that I predicted it. And really what I’d done is written about something in the present as though it were being invented in the future.

I didn’t answer the part about whether smart phones can be Bitchun. And no, I don’t think so—I think the problem with smartphones is not necessarily that they’re run by corporations but the specific corporations that run them. Phone companies are basically a regulatory monopoly wrapped around a soft chewy core of greed and venality. The phone companies have always disguised a complete aversion to change, progress, and democracy by wrapping it up in high-minded talk about how they’re guardians our natural infrastructure. There’s a famous case called Hush-a-Phone in which finally customers won the right to attach a Privacy Cone—like the cone you put around your dog’s head when it has stitches—to the receiver of your phone. Because up until then Bell argued that connecting anything to a phone endangered the network, including, you know, putting stickers on it. And you see this today. Why can’t you get an open phone that you could run any software on? Oh, you could crash the network.

So I think the specifically the fact that cells are run by phone companies and then also run by control-freak companies like Apple that have decided that you shouldn’t be allowed to decide what software you want to run. And Apple has made this unholy alliance with the music industry, who are also great believers that you shouldn’t be able to inspect the workings of your device, and that you shouldn’t be able to use protocols anonymously, and so on. That unholy trinity of the entertainment industry, Apple, and the phone companies means you’ll never get anything remotely great out of mobile phones until someone breaks the deadlock.

W20: What about that last part, what did you not predict that you wish you had? I guess this doesn’t make sense as a question because you don’t predict anything.

You know, in terms of staying power, there are a few things that I predicted would still be in Disney World that have just shut down. The Adventurer’s Club, which I still think is the best Disney has ever done, is now shut. But I guess I could say that in my future they’re reopened it; I could fix that by adding a sentence that says, “The first thing they did was reopen the Adventurer’s Club,” and we’d be back in business.

W20: We were surprised to check your archives and find out that you’d liked the Johnny Deppification of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Given your character we thought you might have wanted it to stay the same.

I really like that. In fact we rode it last week, as we’re stuck in L.A. The new Lincoln Bot is good too; The new Lincoln Bot is awesome, actually: he’s lip-synching, he’s gesturing. The last Lincoln Bot, he was really, um—what they did is go back and research all of his historical gestures, and they put every single into his 90-second speech. They’d made it look like he had Tourette’s.

W20: I’m going to skip a question because we’re now talking about Disney World. They were really interested in why it was you set the novel in Disney World, how it fed into the plot or the themes of the novel. They were wondering if Disney World came first, or did it fit into the idea you had for the story line?

CD: No, it was definitely that Disney came first. I’d always wanted to write a book about Disney World. It’s always inspired me, going to Disney World. I find it inspiring as a piece of art and a piece of social engineering. And inspiring not in the entirely good sense, but inspiring in the sense that every time I go there I have a bunch of thoughts. It really gets both my creative and critical juices flowing, to go to Disney World. I’m not the only one; if you read Baudrillard, he spent all this time there too.

It definitely started with Disney, and to be totally frank one of the cool things about writing a book set in Disney World is that it makes your Disney trips tax-deductible. Which is sort of an interesting, science fictiony thing: anything you choose to write a book about becomes tax-deductible. There’s a reason why Iain Banks took a year off from writing thrillers to write a book about whiskey; his whiskey became tax deductible for a year!

Disney has always had a love-hate relationship, or at least an ambivalent relationship, with audience participation. And with remix, obviously, which is ironic given all the ways Disney has borrowed from the culture before it to make new and I think very good cultural artifacts, by and large.

The Mickey Mouse Club, in the early days, actually met and made their Mickey stuff, and did their own Mickey activities. There’s always been this aspect of, you know, take Mickey and make him part of your world—make your Disney memories classic memories of your life that stick with you forever. All that stuff has always been part of Disney’s DNA. At the same time they’re very proprietary: that shalt not copy, we own all rights in all media now known and yet to be invented throughout the universe, and so own. There’s also some of that.

But when you go to Disney World, what you find is that Disney’s implicit and sometimes explicit social contract with its visitors is that you are a resident of Disney World while you’re here. This is your place too. I once did one of the Disney management courses at the Disney Institute, and one of the things they said is that after a couple of days in Disney World people who are staying there start picking up trash when they see it.

So they want to form a social contract with says that you and we are in this together—which I think is one of the reasons Disney doesn’t go after people who put entire ride-throughs of their rides on YouTube, or why by and large they don’t stop you from taking photos even of the photo ops where they sell you the photo. There’s never a time when they tell you to put away your camera because you’re “on stage”; you can always have your camera out, you can always be shooting. And that’s because it’s your place too; you’re supposed to be making memories and taking them home because that’s where they’re getting their value from.

And yet they’re not completely into this; there’s a place at which the social contract breaks down and becomes a commercial relationship again. And I think it’s pretty natural that fans of Disney World, who’ve been told for generations to form a social contract with Disney where they treat it as their own place, and also become not just guests but custodians of it, start to act like custodians of it.

There’s a great book by Greg Egan called Quarantine—it’s his first novel. In it, there’s a conspiracy of kind of bad guys, and one of the things they do to anyone who is on their trail is put a chip in their brain that makes them absolutely loyal to the conspiracy: they can’t betray the conspiracy, they’re neurologically incapable of betraying the conspiracy. And the way that they get out of it is really clever: what they do is have this mental game in which they say, “Only people who have this chip can be truly loyal to the conspiracy. Therefore the people who put the chips in our head aren’t members of the true conspiracy. They’re members of a false conspiracy because they can choose to betray the conspiracy and we can’t. Therefore it is our duty as members of the true conspiracy to betray the people who put the chip in our heads that make us loyal to them.”

I always thought that was a really interesting little bit here, to say: Who are you to say that you’re the true keeper of the flame? Maybe I’m the true keeper of the flame. You’re just a corporation who’s in it to make as much money as you can from these assets. And maybe that converges sometimes with being the best custodian, and maybe sometimes it doesn’t; maybe sometimes you’ll go off and chase the quarterly profits at the expense of long-term value. Meanwhile, I have no commercial interest in it – therefore I’m a better custodian than you, I should have more say in it that you do. And I think that relationship beats in the heart of big Disney fans, the people you see who know the park like the back of their hand.

W20: So then my follow-up question about whether Disney is a utopia or an anti-utopia has again already been answered in the sense that it’s both, right—that it has these utopian qualities and then these other kinds of countervailing qualities that push against it.

CD: Yeah, that’s right.

W20: So, then, two more questions. The first one—we’ve had a lot of talk about ecology and the environment in our course, and we got a little hung up on what you meant by Free Energy, whether this was something you were imagining seriously as a post-scarcity economics or if it was just something that was some magical thing.

CD: This is Free Energy in the kind of crank sense—zero point energy, cold fusion, perpetual motion machines. The perpetual motion machine has been a feature of Utopianism since Newton I guess. It’s science fiction shorthand, I think, for all of the above—an entropy reversing ray, another universe from which you can siphon off energy, whatever it is. You know, theoretically, fusion, if we ever get, fusion becomes more or less free energy. Not even cold fusion; moderate temperature fusion is more or less free energy forever, because it turns water into electricity.

W20: I think the feeling of the students who asked this question really had to do whether or not this was kind of like the short-circuiting you were talking about with regard to Whuffie; that you kind of skip over the post-scarcity engine that makes this thing work, and that without something like Free Energy (which may or may not actually be possible, probably not) we could never actually get to the Bitchun society because we’d constantly be falling back in to the scarcity wars, constantly falling back into exploitation.

CD: I don’t know that scarcity is necessarily what drives exploitation. I think abundance can drive exploitation too. The record industry certainly responded to a death of scarcity in its core product as a social evil. I don’t know that abundance is necessarily the necessary precondition.

But this is more like the physicist who sits down at the start of the Gedankenexperiment: let us assume a perfectly spherical cow of uniform density. Every Gedankenexperiment necessarily elides certain details, because that’s not what the experiment is about. The thought experiment is not about

how we would get infinite energy, the thought experiment is about what we would do if scarcity vanished. There’s a different thought experiment about how we could get infinite energy; Damon Knight wrote a book called A for Anything that’s very good about that. A very cynical book, I think, but very good. And so there’s a lot of different variations on that theme.

W20. Last question and then I’ll let you go. Thanks for doing this. This was about whether you want to live in the Bitchun Society personally: Would you deadhead, erase memories, flashbake, use backups? What wouldn’t you do? Basically the question is: is the Bitchun Society Cory Doctorow’s Utopia?

CD: I would definitely backup; I would probably flashbake; I don’t think I would deadhead though it’s hard to say what you’d do after 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years. Nobody really knows the answer to that question. And I think that by and large the Bitchun Society would be better than the one we have now; I don’t know that it’s Utopia. But one of the advantages of the Bitchun Society as opposed to other Utopias is that it doesn’t require a tabula rasa as an interim step.

I think Utopianism has genocide lurking in its bowels; I think a lot of Utopians are saying, “First we eradicate all the systems that are present. We settle all the grievances, we wipe the slate clean, we level the earth, we pave everything, and then we start from go.” The Bitchun Society doesn’t require that at all; it does have a lot of social upheaval in it, but it doesn’t begin “First what we do is kill anyone who has a beef with anyone else in the Middle East, and then we settle up with whoever is left.” That’s a bad solution.

Self-Promotion Monday! IHE, UC Riverside, @MarquetteU!

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* A slightly edited, slighted expanded version of my academic job market as game essay is up now at IHE. Response has been pretty positive so far…

* The pizza and pop culture group at Marquette will be meeting in Marquette Hall 105 on Thursday, November 13 at 5 PM for discussion of The Hunger Games series. All are welcome! Come on out!

* I’ll be giving a talk at the Science and Technoculture Studies program at UC Riverside at 3:30 on Tuesday, November 18, titled “Lost Stories of E. Octavia Butler.” I don’t have the location yet, unfortunately. If you’re in the area, come on by!

* And registration begins today at Marquette. Check out the English department’s offerings! And then sign up for all of them, especially mine! I’ll be doing a seminar on “video game culture” for the honors program too, just in time for you-know-what.

* All the pretty pictures:

hunger games

culturalpreservation magicandliterature

‘What Is Worth Preserving?’

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Some fun news from the NEH. More on this as we go!

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