Dropping that name in the acknowledgements

I’ve been watching the debate surrounding Sharon Sandburg’s Lean In with much interest. Feminist manifesto, or yet another ghost-written business book full of narcissistic blather? Probably both! It probably does speak to the sad state of feminism in my thinking at the moment that I think it may be just be a good sign in the world that a successful business WOMAN gets to act like the gigantic preening blowhard at party for a change. Since I still haven’t read it, I may be being grossly unfair, but I have to admit, I’ve gotten awfully cynical about reading everything that crosses my path. You read anything by business people or politicians…and you pretty much know you are getting the same ghostwriters schilling the same “do what I do and succeed” puff.

That said, I got a kick out of Noreen Malone’s commentary about the breathlessly overblown, name-dropping acknowledgments section of Sandberg’s book:

Sandberg is not entirely to blame: As a first time author, she was merely following recent convention. And as a high-achiever, she was merely outdoing everyone else who has written an acknowledgment section in the past few years. Where readers used to see, perhaps, a paragraph thanking the writer’s editor and agent, a few key researchers, and maybe a family member or two, now we are confronted with a chapter-long laundry list of name after name. Sandberg’s seven-and-a-half page section, for instance, thanks more than 140 people for contributing to her 172 page book. She doesn’t just thank her superagent, she thanks her superagent’s boss, Ari Emanuel, “for his friendship as well as his ever-amusing and supportive check-in calls.” She doesn’t just thank her editor, she thanks “Sonny Mehta, editor-in-chief of Knopf, whose unflagging support kept this project on the fast track.”

And, of course, Sandberg alludes to the real point of all that seeming gratitude:

She also lets us know that Scovell wasn’t the only person who adjusted her schedule. Harvard Professor Hannah Riley Bowles “interrupted her vacation to spend hours on the phone discussing her work,” a description that was surely meant to express genuine gratitude, but mainly just clarifies the global pecking order.

I, too, would like to thank Oprah. She’s been swell.

Losing the commons: Peter Barnes on our lost land and history

I’m not sure what I think of the argument yet–it’s one that could use more data than presented here in this excerpt in Guernica–and yet it’s certainly a foreboding question if true. My favorite quote:

What’s astonishing about these takings isn’t that they occur, but how unaware of them the average citizen is. As another Republican, former Secretary of the Interior and Alaska governor Walter Hickel said, “If you steal $10 from a man’s wallet, you’re likely to get into a fight, but if you steal billions from the commons, co-owned by him and his descendants, he may not even notice.”

This piece in Guernica is from Peter Barnes book Capitalism 3.0. What I get from it is rehashed natural capital theory, which hasn’t helped us on the ground so far in the three decades of its existence, no matter how significant the theory. But that doesn’t mean it will can never and will never win people over.

Poster sessions annoy me….

There is, as far as I am concerned, no bigger racket than academic conferences. You have no choice but to attend them when you are just starting the profession, as a graduate student and as an assistant professor, when you really don’t have the money to travel. Most universities, controlled by state governments where Republicans have decided that state workers should be able to live on $0.18 a day when they are not being flogged in the stocks in the public square for being a taker, give very little travel money–usually about $1000 a year.  Given that most conferences’ registration fees run between $400 and $1000, you wind up paying  for travel to conferences out of your own pocket–a pocket that doesn’t have any money in it at that stage of your career.

So my student emailed me this morning to tell me his abstract has been assigned to a poster session for the upcoming AESOP/ACSP conference. I get why they went that route for some of their sessions.  They get lots of abstracts, and if they turn people down, then that’s cash they don’t get.  So they just accept a bunch of abstracts and fill rooms with a herds of people, take their money, but  actually given them very little of the podium time/exposure that young academics pay to go to conferences for.  (We tell ourselves it’s to improve our work. I can count on one hand in 10 years of conference-going how many times I’ve had anybody say anything that furthers the research. )

Mostly, though, the reason posters suck is that they add considerably to the cost of conference attendance, which, as I pointed out, you’re already mostly paying for yourself anyway. Full-size posters cost you at least $200 to print, they are hard to take on the plane, and then when you get home you have great useless poster you don’t really want to throw away (because it cost $200!) but it really has little use for anything else.  It’s one thing if you are a consultant and go to conference after conference drumming up business.  But academics aren’t like that, and while posters are standard in many science fields (where it is possible to use the poster for more than one conference), with ACSP, this just winds up adding to the cost of the conference onto attendees while collecting full registrations from them.

TRB a few years ago started with the poster stuff, and they rather prove out what happens when an organization becomes entirely undisciplined about it. They have poster session after poster session, scraping in registration fees–and the conference is far less useful to young academics than it was when I was starting out.

Organizations less willing to screw over participants would give them a choice up-front when you submit:  a) I am or b) I am not willing to give a poster session, and then, if one is slotted into a poster session, you should get a break with a somewhat lower registration fee to deal with the extra costs.  The former would save them dealing with withdrawals like me–if they tell me they are putting me in a poster session, I just don’t go, and it would useful for organizations to know that up front.  I’d rather they just reject the abstract up front. (And before anybody screams at me, I can’t handle the social interaction of poster session due to anxiety related to my Asperger’s.  I’ve trained myself to deal with presentations. I’ve never been able to manage the parties and/poster sessions.)

Should movies have ethics?

Well now I do have a conundrum. I’ve always been one of those people who are rather impatient with those who complain about how movies distort history/get the book wrong. Does it really matter if the elves were not at Helm’s Deep in Tolkien’s book, but Peter Jackson gave some of his hunky actors more screen time and, thus, put elves at Helm’s Deep?

I am pretty sure that Abraham Lincoln was not really a vampire hunter, and I sincerely hope there are no teenage vampires in Washington state.

I don’t think either Beatrix Potter or Jane Austen charged about solving mysteries in between writing novels and doing beautiful illustrations of small animals in frocks.

So up until about this morning, I’ve been in the “it’s a movie categorized as drama, fer Chrissakes, not a documentary” camp and thought little more about it.

But the controversies around Zero Dark Thirty strike me as rather important. It’s a drama–straight up. When you have “based on real events,” shouldn’t the viewer know full well that you are dealing with artistic license on the scale of “these people lived and did something roughly related to the topic herein presented” but treat the whole story as a matter of fiction until they have investigated the reality behind the story?

I’m betting Jesus does have relatives alive in the world. Whether DaVinci ever thought about them is another story.

So torture makes for good drama, as the Bond films have been making clear for roughly 40 years. But the problem is that there appears to be a strong consensus among interrogators that torture doesn’t work all that well. In fact, many have come forward and argued that the movie suggests that the CIA’s use of torture yielded crucial information to catching bin Laden, when that information was obtained using more humane–and far less cinematically titillating–methods. That gap between the state of the practice and what is shown on screen strikes me as rendering the movie rather into propaganda territory. It’s one thing to lay bare the reality of the CIA’s torture policy; it’s another to hint that it was effective when it wasn’t.

The major ethical arguments for torture are all consequentialist in nature. Take away the ends, and you have little left to stand on.

Either way, I’m now confused about my position. The movie fairly does not purport to be a documentary. But…