Occupy the East India Trading Company

So, remember the third, terrible Pirates of the Caribbean movie? The big villain is Lord Cutler Beckett, a bigwig at the fictional East India Trading Company (any similarity to the East India Company purely coincidental).

His catch phrase, which he says whenever he is screwing someone over or doing something unethical, is “It’s just good business.” Which makes him sort of emblematic of what the whole Occupy movement is protesting against.

Near the end of the movie, all of his scheming and manipulation has backfired. We are treated to a prolonged sequence of him walking down a flight of stairs on his ship while the ship (the whole world, one could say) is collapsing (or, rather, exploding) around him. He repeats his catchphrase just before being engulfed in a huge fireball.

In honor of Lord Beckett, I whipped up this little thing. Feel free to share it before the cease-and-desist order comes.

And here is the thematically related next installation in the Occupy Darwin Eats Cake series:

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=67
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Public radio, Occupy, and Darwin Eats Cake

So, look, I like public radio as much as the next guy. Which is to say, you know, Car Talk is sort of funny, I guess. But at this point, I think I’m pretty much done with them.

It seems that these guys are so desperate to avoid accusations of liberal bias (even if they come from unabashedly biased right-wing sources) that they will fire (or force someone else to fire) anyone who participates in the Occupy protests.

The first was opera reporter Lisa Simeone, who participated in an Occupy-related protest near Washington. She was the host of Soundprint, an independently produced show distributed by NPR, but was fired after pressure from NPR, which was prompted by criticism from Fox News and the Daily Caller. Her other show, World of Opera, refused to fire her, so NPR dropped distribution of the show, which will now be distributed by North Carolina’ WDAV.

Simeone noted that, if she is in violation of NPR’s ethics codes for speaking outside of work, then so are a lot of NPRs political reporters. Of course, the difference is that she was acting as an individual citizen, and not being paid, plus, she does not talk about politics at all in her radio show. Other people, who are political reporters, get paid to speak for businesses and on mainstream media outlets. So, there’s that.

Just to recap: Opera reporter exercises free speech, for free, on her own time? Ethics violation. Political reporter paid by corporations to talk politics on their own time? AOK!

More recently, Caitlin Curran was fired from her job at The Takeaway, which is produced by WNYC and Public Radio International, after becoming virally famous for this photo:

You can read Curran’s first-hand account on Gawker.

My guess is that public radio is running scared right now from the right-wing attack on their federal funding, which has been going on forever, but has been particularly vocal over the past six months or so. Here’s the thing, though, it does not matter how much you bend over to appease the right. They are going to keep coming after you. Even if all the federal funding is taken away, they are still going to keep coming after you.

The problem is that to the right, public radio is inherently symbolic of liberalism, if for no other reason than that it does not pander to anti-intellectualism.

Anyway, all of this brings us to the latest episode of Darwin Eats Cake. I posted the first two strips in the Occupy Darwin Eats Cake series here.  Here are the next three:

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=64
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Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=65
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/65.jpg

Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=66
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/66.jpg

Iraq War vet injured by police at Occupy Oakland needs help

So, there’s an update on Scott Olsen, the Iraq-War Vet whose skull was fractured by police at the Occupy Oakland protest. Olsen’s status has been upgraded from “critical” to “fair,” but that he will need to undergo surgery within the next couple of days to relieve pressure on his brain. Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace have set up donation sites to help cover medical bills.

Now, you might think that if you are a veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq, and you get hospitalized by the police while engaging in a peaceful protest, that there would be some mechanism for covering medical bills that didn’t rely on private donations. Of course, if we lived in that America, people would not have needed to be out protesting in the first place.

If you recall, the Washington Post’s coverage of the violent police crackdown on protesters was illustrated by a picture of a policeman petting a cat that was “left behind by Wall Street Protesters.” Well, that photo now has its own tumblr: Oakland Riot Cat. Here are a couple of samples.

where Quan is Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who still seems to think that she bears no responsibility for this.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Three-eyed Simpsons fish caught near Argentinian nuclear plant

So, who doesn’t love it when life imitates art? Apparently, some fishermen near Córdoba, Argentina caught this fish:

Image via Geekologie.

Perhaps coincidentally, the fish was caught near the city’s nuclear reactor.

Sadly, a brief survey of Córdoba’s Wikipedia page reveal’s no mention of a baseball team, glacier, gorge, or iconic lemon tree.

Spanish-language story here.

A few troublemaking protesters does not justify police brutality

So, according to James West’s coverage of the events at Occupy Oakland last night, the escalation in the standoff with the police may have been due to a small, belligerent minority:

No one appeared in control and the group was divided into two groups: the largely peaceful, and a small, visible, determined group of agitators.

At the height of this melee, I saw two men throw bottles at the police. People screamed and scrambled for air ahead of the inevitable: a half-dozen canisters of tear gas—some crackling and echoing off the Rite Aid building. Caught up in taking pictures, I breathed and choked. It felt like I had swallowed chilies and then rubbed the chilies into my eyes for good measure. I heard reports of rubber bullets and saw demonstrators tending to the distressed. My Twitter feed told me of at least one bloody injury—a man hit in the head with a canister—but the gas made the intersection impossible to rejoin for 10 minutes to confirm injuries.

Now, many people will undoubtedly use this to justify the police response. After all, there was an attack on the police. Nevermind that the police were all in full riot gear and in absolutely no physical danger from thrown bottles. To a certain mentality, if the crowd throws something at the police, that justifies a violent response, no matter how disproportionate.

Here’s the thing, though. West’s account makes it clear that the majority of the crowd was peaceful, and in fact, actually trying to discourage the belligerent minority.

Now let’s ask what happens when you have a situation like this if people are NOT protesting societal inequalities.

Imagine, say, a baseball game, where, say, a belligerent group of fans was throwing things onto the field while the people around them were telling them not to. Do you think the cops would fire rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd as a whole? Or do you think they would move in and try to apprehend the people throwing things, while being careful not to hurt the rest of the crowd, who are fundamentally on their side?

My guess is that it might depend on how much time Republicans had spent decrying the baseball game as class warfare.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, CNN quotes Mayor Kasim Reid as saying,

This movement is moving toward escalation. That it is no longer peaceful in my judgment and there are elements in that movement that are willing to engage in violence. So I’m not going to let that stand.

Yes, that’s one possible response. Because there are elements that are willing to engage in violence, we need to send riot police in to stop the protests, using violent means if necessary.

Another, less dickish, less hegemony-protecting response would be to reach out to the rest of the protesters, the peaceful majority who are there engaging in constitutionally protected speech, to identify and remove the violent elements, to ensure the safety of both the police and the protesters.

Of course, that would assume that the Mayor’s goal is actually public safety, rather than just coming up with an excuse to shut down an inconvenient and embarrassing protest.

Letter from Cairo to Occupy Oakland

So, here’s something heartwarming that has come out of the disaster of the past two days in Oakland: a letter of support from Cairo.

You can read the whole thing at Occupy California, but here are a couple of excerpts:

So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy. 

In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for gathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst.

. . . .

By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

Comrades from Cairo.

24th of October, 2011.

Update: It occurs to me, of course, that I have no idea who the author(s) of this are, or whether it actually came from Cairo, or anything, really. But none of that really matters in this case, because what it says is true, no matter where it came from.

Occupy Oakland Video

So, if you haven’t seen this video from last night’s Occupy Oakland protest, here it is. Don’t watch if you’re not comfortable with blood or profanity. Or if you desperately want to cling to the illusion that the Occupy protesters are a bunch of selfish hoodla, while the police are uniformly faultless champions of freedom (in which case you should go back to eating usual shit sandwich from Fox News).

Basically, what you have here is a guy lying on the ground bleeding from his head after he got nailed by some sort of police projectile: maybe a tear-gas canister or maybe a wooden dowel. You have a phalanx of police standing there doing nothing for him. Then you have some protesters running over to help the guy. At which point one of the cops tosses a flash grenade right into the middle of the group.

The bleeding guy is Marine Scott Olsen, who was twice deployed to Iraq. He is currently in the hospital in serious but stable condition with a fractured skull.

He was attending the protest as a member of the group Veterans For Peace. This quote from the Veterans For Peace official statement on Scott Olsen:

As with virtually every example of the occupy movement across the country, those encamped were conducting themselves peacefully beforehand, protesting current economic, social and environmental conditions in the U.S. brought about by decades of corporate control, a criminal financial industry and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are driving the U.S. global empire into bankruptcy.  These “occupy movement” participants are telling us something we need very desperately to hear.  They should be listened to, not arrested and brutalized.

Police in the majority of cities are acting with restraint and humanity towards the encampments, but Veterans For Peace will not be deterred by police who choose to use brutal tactics.  In fact, as happens with repression everywhere, more people join the cause.  We do believe that the rank and file police officers are part of the 99%,  the overwhelming majority of Americans who are suffering at the hands of an intolerable system.  Layoffs and cutbacks in city after city prove that we must join together to demand justice for all. 

We send our very best to Scott Olsen and his family and wish him a speedy recovery to health.  

We shall not be moved.

Amen to all of that.

How do you think the Washington Post covered last night’s evictions in Oakland?

That’s right! It was all about cops heroically petting the kittens that the selfish Occupy protesters left behind. (Via Wonkette.)

Boing Boing has a nice round-up of coverage from Oakland here.

Ronin Institute: Universities as resource aggregators

So, I had not realized until I got a twitter-prompt from Kiona Strickland that so much time had passed since I put out my call for opinions on what one would need to successfully do academic research outside the confines of traditional academia.

The call was put out in the context of my own goal of incorporating as a non-profit called the Ronin Institute to pursue my own scholarship.

A remarkable number of people shared extensive and thoughtful comments. I hope to respond directly to each of you quite soon as well.

Responses came from people who are already functioning outside of academia, people who are thinking about doing so, and people who are successful and reasonably happy professors at this or that institution.

There were a huge number of specific things that came up in the responses, but they seemed to cluster around the following five things:

1) Money
2) Library access
3) Colleagues
4) Legitimacy
5) Infrastructure

It occurs to me that each of these needs points to the fundamental role of universities are resource aggregators. By that I mean that they facilitate what in economic terms would be called “economy of scale” (or in voodoo complexity science terms “emergence”). I’ll take each one of these in turn.

1) Money. This is of course, the biggest thing that many scholars are worried about, especially these days. You’ve found something that you love. You’ve gained enormous expertise in it. Quite possibly, there is some particular thing (maybe a behavior in some species, or a period of history of some specific location) on which you have become the most knowledgable person in the world. It seems like you ought to be a way to turn that into a paycheck, right?

Fundamentally, we all have to work within the constraints set by how much funding there is out there to support scholarship in a particular area. You can total up the budgets of then NSF, private foundations, and so on, and it provides a sort of upper bound on what can be supported. In many fields, there is the perennial problem of over-production of PhDs, which is constantly putting pressure on this upper bound, but that’s a post for another day.

Within those constraints, an independent scholar has to deal with two things. First, the money available for their research may not be enough to live on. Second, their grant support may fluctuate over time. In most fields, universities help with the first by creating ways to subsidize your scholarship through teaching or other activities.  If you are, for instance, a clinical researcher in a university hospital, you may have an arrangement where the less grant money you have, the more time you spend treating patients.

Universities help to address the inevitable fluctuations in grant support by effectively averaging financial support across individuals and over time. I may have a grant shortfall this year, but they keep paying my salary (at least nine months of it). Presumably, this is, on average, compensated by the overhead they take in when I do have grant support, from the classes I teach, and from donors who are impressed by the prestige of my department.

It is not obvious to me that the Ronin Institute will be able to do much of anything on this front, unless I win the lottery. However, I believe that it could serve as a hub for communication among independent scholars, many of whom might have more creative ideas to share.

2) Library access. Access to scientific journals and books is an absolute necessity for any real scholarship. Here, the resource aggregation is perhaps most obvious. A university will typically have institutional subscriptions to a huge number of academic journals, and affiliation with the university gives you access to those journals. University libraries also usually have huge number of “books,” which are sort of like the web, but printed out on paper.

Legend has it that in an era before the invention of the blog, people used to buy, sell, borrow,
and occasionally read books. Image via Wikipedia.

This, again, is something that would be difficult for the Ronin Institute to replace. Fortunately, there are work-arounds available to many independent scholars. For books, many universities have mechanisms to make their collections open to the public. You’ll want to contact the school(s) closest to you to find out.

For most scholars, the most important thing, though will be electronic access to the journal articles, preferably via some mechanism that works while you’re at home in your pajamas. The trick is to acquire some sort of (non-paying) affiliation with a university. You might be able to use your alumni status do this with your alma mater, or you might be able to arrange some sort of adjunct or visiting position with a university close to you.

3) Colleagues. The most valuable resource that universities aggregate is people. At a university, you can be surrounded by people who care about things as obscure as the things you care about. You get continually exposed to new ideas both in formal settings like seminars and in informal ones like waiting in line for a latte. Some of these colleagues may then become collaborators.

It is easy, I think, for an independent scholar to recede into isolation. Your research can suffer from a general lack of intellectual stimulation. It can become sloppy if you are not being challenged by smart people who have expertise that overlaps with and complements your own. And, of course, some of the most interesting projects are those that integrate knowledge, expertise, and ideas from different areas. Those projects will absolutely require strong communication or collaboration among multiple people with different backgrounds.

Being an independent scholar has the potential to be a lonely existence, even if you do have a balloon.

Then, of course, there’s the purely social / emotional component. For most of us, being a truly independent researcher would be a terribly lonely and unsatisfying existence. I think we all need someplace where we can go and say something like, “I’m so sick of working on this grant proposal,” or, “You won’t believe what Reviewer 3 wants me to change,” where people will get it.

In principle, this is an area where the Ronin Institute could make a contribution. It could serve as an online hub where independent scholars can share their ideas and experiences, maybe even find collaborators. What do you think? If there were a reasonable online community of Ronin, would you participate? Do you imagine that it would help?

4) Legitimacy. This, to be honest, was one of my primary motivations. If you submit a grant proposal or paper from your home address, the reviewers are probably not going to take you seriously. It’s a shame, but the fact is that most reviewers are going to be traditional academics themselves, and may be instinctively distrustful of alternative careers.

This, again, is a place where the Ronin Institute might be able to contribute something. I am leaning towards creating a mechanism through which independent scholars could acquire some sort of affiliation with the Ronin Institute. This would come with an e-mail address and the ability to cite the Ronin Institue as an institutional address. My instinct is that if you have a way of publishing under a university address (e.g., as an adjunct professor or visiting scholar), that will benefit you more, but who knows. I’m still weighing the pros and cons on this one, and am trying to think about just how open the affiliation would be. In any event, it would probably be somewhat restrictive at the beginning, as I would want to limit the numbers for logistical considerations, at least to start.

5) Infrastructure. The last thing that universities provide is all the other people and stuff that you could never have on your own. This includes grant administrators, accountants, clerical support, IRBs, etc. It also includes equipment. In the experimental sciences, it might be expensive lab equipment, which only makes economic sense when it is shared among three labs, each of which has fifteen or twenty grad students, postdocs, and technicians working there. Even if your work is primarily theoretical or computational

This is an area where the Ronin Institute could, in principle, contribute. It is conceivable that, in the future, independent scholars could run grants through the Ronin Institute, and the overhead from those grants could support one or more people who could administer the grants. Similarly, maybe it could pool money to pay for shared software licenses.

This is not anything that is going to happen anytime soon, however. If a sufficient (and sufficiently active) community grows here, though, it is something that we might consider a few years down the road.

The Hall of Doom would have been difficult for any one supervillain to afford on his or her own.

In the meantime, we might be able to compile a list of resources, ways to access those science-y things that you need occasionally, but could not possibly hope to own.

Next Time: 

As you might expect, many of the responses also focused on all the things that don’t work for them in traditional academia. That will be the next update.

Evolutionary Psychology Freudian slip

So, here’s something that’s a little bit awesome.  At least it’s awesome if you’re the type of Evolutionary Biologist who likes to poke fun at Evolutionary Psychology. Which is to say, if you’re an Evolutionary Biologist.

If you go to John Tooby’s webpage, and click on the link labeled “Advanced Theory and Method in Evolutionary Psychology,” you get this:

Hat tip to someone whose name I won’t post here, lest it should negatively impact his and/or her job prospects.