I looked back and found that my earliest blog post was ten years ago today. Readers will note that it has been used steadily less and less over the years because it falls between two stools – most of my recent blogging has been academic and hosted on the Media@LSE group weblog which I set up. Since I am no longer there I plan to phase that out. This blog is therefore primarily for more personal blog entries, but I find that for the most part things that are personal I only wish to share with my friends and acquaintances and I am therefore using Facebook more – particularly now that the latest update allows item by item privacy controls. This blog may therefore end up being my ‘public-facing’ blog again, mainly about academic-related things. Stay tuned for further announcements…
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I’ve been watching my way through The Wire, which has had lots of good press from critics and academics and I am trying hard to like it, but after seeing up to series 2 episode 3 I have to say I’m a little disappointed. It has revealed something about multi-stranded TV stories that has been at the back of my mind for a while now. They can enable more depth, but they can also be a lazy scriptwriter’s shortcut. How? Because if you have five or six storylines and a dozen characters working in each episode, each individual one can be sketchily outlined and as long as you keep getting distracted by the next strand the viewer may be kept too busy to notice.
For all The Wire’s air of worldly cynicism and its ‘tackling the big issues’ the characters are often cardboard, the situations cliched and its treatment of the issues superficial. Its framing of the war on drugs in the Baltimore projects for example suggests that it is a battle between good cops, drug peddlers who are mostly amoral or evil and a corrupt system wedded to drug money that fails to support the cops. There is in what I have seen so far little discussion of the folly of tackling the drug supply problem without in some way dealing with the demand for drugs and the environment which fosters it. Season 2 seems to be even more one-dimensional in its treatment of people smuggling/trafficking.
Then again, I find it difficult to point to any television series outside of The Sopranos and the first season or two of Lost which I have found truly satisfying lately so maybe I am just expecting too much…
Some musings of Alan Watts, an English populariser of Eastern philosophy, on the temptation to concentrate on the destinations in life – must… finish… PhD! – rather than on the journey – entertainingly accompanied by animation produced by the creators of South Park. Five other such animated musings are also available online.
OK I admit my teaching may not have been at my best today. I’ve been suffering from the flu since Friday and am still hardly at my best. There was a moment in the tube on the way to my workshop that I thought I might throw up, but it passed. I may also have been a little distracted by guilt – you see in order to come today I had to leave my (exhausted) wife at home with our (still sick) baby child.
But there wouldn’t have been time to find someone to replace me and I know you are paying more than £10,000/$20,000 to learn at the LSE (plus a great deal more for living expenses in London) so I felt I had to do my best to attend – I can’t remember a lecture or seminar ever being cancelled because of ill-health when I was being taught (though I may have forgotten a time or two).
To be honest though this was an advanced workshop session on Internet methods – a subject I enjoy talking and thinking about, and I was being a little selfish – I actually really like teaching, and a workshop full of graduate students who are (on the basis of marks and financial commitment at least) some of the ‘best and the brightest’. So I was really looking forward to my workshop…
Until I noticed early on that your attention was elsewhere. To be more precise you were using the Internet access I (foolishly) arranged in case it would be needed for teaching in order to surf some kind of funny images site. Which was bad enough. But then you started to smirk and show them off to the woman beside you. Then would have been the time to call you out on it I suppose, but I didn’t really expect you to carry on in the same way for the entire one-hour session. But that doesn’t mean what you did was fine. Here are a couple of tips.
1) You don’t get marked for attendance at the LSE – you get marked for results. If you know in advance you don’t have any interest in the subject don’t turn up – I assure you you won’t be missed.
2) If you do want to surf recreationally, sitting under the speaker’s nose is the wrong place to do it.
3) Distracting another potential learner – even one you hope to impress – puts you pretty close to the bottom tier of my personal student hell.
If you do come across this weblog posting in your idle surfing consider this a warning – if you start anything like that again in next week’s workshop, I will waste a precious minute or two of teaching time giving you a piece of my mind. It may not cure my flu but it would certainly make me feel better about teaching for a little while…
I love that successful Finnish doctoral candidates are presented with a top hat and sword – at the LSE we have to make do with a little champagne in plastic cups (at least in my department!)
A body of research suggests that playing video games provides benefits similar to bilingualism in exercising the mind. Just as people fluent in two languages learn to suppress one language while speaking the other, so too are gamers adept at shutting out distractions to swiftly switch attention between different tasks.
Je suis le champion mental du monde alors!
The LSE Library is having a sale today of several thousand books it doesn’t want. Unfortunately, they keep almost anything of any value. All I could see was books like this inspirational study by George Kazakov. Even a hardened bibliophile would have a hard time loving these but there was a steady stream of would-be purchasers anyway.
I was stunned to discover that not only was this book mentioned in Google – 3 times – someone had actually referenced it in an academic journal! Truly no scholarship is entirely wasted.
So if you are in London, you read this, and you want to know more about Soviet peat in the 50s, dash on over to the LSE library – the sale is on until 16:00 and I have a feeling it may not have been snapped up yet…
P.S. In a strange quirk of fate the first academic publication I have been involved with was published today – details are available here. I hope it doesn’t meet a similar fate to Kazakov’s work – at least not during my lifetime…
If you are or have been a long-term resident of the US or of China, please visit this survey by a student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. It “focuses on different uses of weblogs in mainland China and the United States and is a first step to investigating the increasing political influences of the weblogs in Chinese civic lives.”