five little pumpkins sitting on a gate


life ain't what it seems

This week, for my class, it's the start of three weeks of "relational analysis". The first part in this is learning about social networks. This weekend, apart from eating fried mac and cheese (delicious), being picked on for my lack of a costume (though I was wearing one), marked my own foray into the world of social networking.

Regular PTSD readers know my love for all things football (soccer). Well, mostly for Liverpool and, off and on, for DC United. Today's the second-leg of the playoffs and the final home match for United. I do want to go but the ticket's about $30, which is my grocery budget for an entire week.**

What do I do? I decide to go on a popular social networking website to see if there are cheaper tickets for sale. Oh, and it turned out there were, including free ones(and, since I was going alone, I just needed one). Perfect.

I mention this at E's Halloween gig last night. Comments ranged from (a loud shout of) "Priya's sold herself for a DC United Ticket" to "for soccer? Couldn't you find anything better?" to "sold herself on the Internet" to "You could have probably gotten more for yourself on EBay"*.

The thing is, football, to me, is to be watched either alone (conversing with people only during that particular time as you curse your/other team out and then forget about who was there) or with people whom I know (and who also like footy). The conversations, before, during and after the match, should be about football. As I've made it clear on PTSD, everyone needs a (non health-threatening) obsession in their lives and mine, compared to jumping off planes or climbing himalayas, is a fairly safe one.

The question then, after last night, was whether non-football-related conversations would be part of today's gig (and I really wouldn't know how to deal with this). Not having much in the way of social skills, I prefer to keep events requiring those and football-watching separate--one is nerve-wracking while the other is enjoyable. One is work (and stress), the other's fun. If the two collided, what would I do?

This decision was taken out of my hands. This morning I got notice saying that said ticket wouldn't work out. Fate is not in my favour, apparently. Or, perhaps it's just a sign that I should do uni-related work and not waste time watching football.

As an entry into the world of social networking, this wasn't much to write on (but note that I did so anyway). It was more entertaining to see how the expectations of/from a social networking site differed--on the part of the ticketseller, on my part and on the part of my friends. The result, however, remains that I don't get to see DC United after all.

I'm still tempted to go to RFK and see if people are selling tickets for cheap.***

* Maybe for next semester's tuition fees?

** I did think about bludging off my friends for this week but, since most of them feed me off and on on a regular basis anyway, thought that might be taking things a bit too far. And, as IntLaw put it yesterday, "I can understand doing this for Liverpool but for DC United?".

*** I once watched a Liverpool-Arsenal match in Liverpool when I outwaited a tout and got an almost-40 pounds-worth ticket for 10 quid. The bloke was a Liverpool fan who wanted to get into the stadium as quickly as possible. I was a tourist who didn't care if I got in in time to see the pre-match ceremonies (and he did) or even if I could get a ticket or not. However, I don't know if DC United has such (rabid) fans. Also, the ones who are so keen on the team will all have tickets (and probably won't be selling any).


Saturday morning musings

1. When Paris Hilton says "Dare to Dream", is that being ironic?

2. I enjoy seeing Christopher Ecclestone dance far more than I probably should.

3. Does going as a "(mental) All Blacks fan" to a Halloween gig count as actually dressing up in costume?

4. Research question of the weekend: is buying a ticket from a tout outside RFK significantly cheaper than buying it legitimately?*

5. The promise of fried Mac and Cheese in the evening.

A Liverpool victory (and a good performance for the first time this season) in the morning.

Three hours of sleep and loads of grading in between.

6. The role of fisheries in the democratic peace debate.

7. How do non-academics/students live their Saturdays?

* For DC United's final home match (and the second leg of the play-offs) of the season tomorrow.

I guess this is one of those questions which need empirical evidence before being answered. Keep reading PTSD for that.

hit me with your rhythm stick

In a slightly different forum, earlier on tonight, E made the comment that a show that's currently being raved about all over the media was like "being beat on the head with a clue bat".

Here at PTSD, we prefer a rhythm stick*.

Nicked off Google video and thanks to the person-who-made-it. It was a brilliant idea to set snippets of Nine and Ten to Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

* Now, we don't often do this on PTSD but the Doctor is exempt. Besides, both E and I are writing papers on the Doctor for future Small and BigNameConferences so it's academic research. Of course it is.


maybe when I'm done with thinking

I don't know, maybe my iTunes is trying to tell me something. Feel free to engage in some textual exegesis with the following random list:

“Punk Rock Princess,” Something Corporate
“Every You Every Me,” Placebo
“Bad Boyfriend,” Garbage
“Hardset Head ,” Skinny Puppy
“Letter Of Resignation,” The Weakerthans
“Hybrid Rainbow,” The Pillows
“All Your Friends,” One Man Army
“Kiss Them For Me,” Siouxsie & the Banshees
“Cowboy,” Kid Rock
“Where The Streets Have No Name,” U2


If so powerful you are...

One of the best things about elections in this country are the adverts. Check this one out*

Poor, little blonde kid is just about to get tasered.

Via Election Central

* It's from half of PTSD's home state too.

wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

As I wrapped up my two-week session of interpretive research (and ethnography) this morning, here are my own ethnographic fieldnotes for today (in no particular order):

1. My kids are not wary of me at all. I tried the "disrupt personal space" activity (in order to get at the difference between "observation" and "participant-observation") but, instead, the person I was standing close to just smiled at me instead of moving (or, if it had been me, cringing) away.

I also mentioned that a way to get at social rules is to disrupt normal flows of social activities and mentioned my (ill-advised and unsuccessful) effort to start a Mexican Wave* during the Caps match. Any mantle of authority I had, at the beginning of the semester, has slowly seeped away as I give my sport-related examples and name my (weekly) "research tips" after Science fiction/fantasy authors.

2. I had a two-hour "coffee" session with a professor whom I'd not talked to much before. Apparently my comparative advantage as a lecturer is my accent. Considering I had nothing to do with acquiring it and it's a fairly regular Nepali accent, I couldn't see how this applied. Do we all need comparative advantages? Can I get a different one than my accent?

The conversation, at this point, went along the lines of:

Her: "Oh, Americans would like even a Cockney accent, as long as it's different"
Me: Having visions of myself teaching the next class with a strong Michael Caine/Joe Cole accent and saying "guv" while calling one of my kids a "berk"**.

3. Being the (only) representative for the International Politics and the PhD programme during TUWSNBN's Graduate Open House this evening. Did I volunteer? Well, no. Was I stupid enough to be the only person who was in the PhD office at that time and who was unable to a) come up with a good excuse and b) lie? Well, yes. So, there were senior faculty for the other seven concentrations and me for International Politics and PhD. Guess who had the biggest crowd. Actually, don't bother. I'll tell you--it was me.

As an exercise in the absurdities of life, it couldn't be surpassed easily. Get the token foreigner, who applied for the PhD programme because she didn't really want to work and who had pretty much no expectation of getting in to give a talk about how to do this. Perfect.

Oh, and wait for the really surreal bit:

Comment (by a very senior faculty person): Priya, I've never seen you wear lipstick before.
Me: Well, I tried to put on a good face for TUWSNBN and not let the team down.
Reply: I'm glad about that.

And my introduction?
"This is Priya. She is doing something about terrorists. She's from Nepal and so has a great subject of study right in her backyard."

At this point, I start imagining my dad's veggie garden (where he grows organic potatos, cabbages and cauliflowers, along with various exotic and unnameable plants which have a distressing tendency to die just when he's getting excited about them) being overrun by terrorist types, who lean on their shovels, spit wads of tobacco and acuse him of being part of the bourgeoisie and telling passers-by that their name's Dennis and that they are running an "anarcho-syndicalist commune" in our backyard. I also lose track of the conversation.

Overall, I reckon I did a fairly good job. I didn't point out the misery of having no future to look forward to at the end of your fourth year; I didn't write that professors whom you've never met slag off your research proposal as being "overambitious and unlikely to be completed"; I didn't mention the need to choose flunkie-ing (and earning $50, which is two weeks of grocery money) over interacting with a BigNameScholar; I didn't say I hadn't been home in two years or seen my sister for five years; I didn't talk about the constant worry of not having enough time to do what you were supposed to do;

Instead, I was shiny and happy and joyous. And, I drank lots of coffee.

What I did do was emphasise the flexibility of the programme (also called "abandon hope of help, all who enter here"); the accessibility of the faculty (also called "seek out knowledge or die"); the chance to interact with other PhD's in the area (also called "take classes elsewhere and avoid TUWSNBN"); the opportunities to study different research methodologies and different topics (also called "no one has any clue what is going on and that's a good thing); the opportunities for going overseas (also called "Outback of Denmark, here I come") and so on.

It's still rather amusing that, in the course of a day, my kids asked me how old I was ("38" being my answer. I was tempted to say "42" but I thought that may be pushing it and, since they never read H2G2, they wouldn't get it) as did Lunchtime Prof (I didn't lie that time); I represented TUWSNBN in two programme areas and didn't scare anybody off (including myself); and had comments made about how I looked and talked.

I have to admit that the lipstick comment made me feel rather uncomfortable--am I really that much of a slob at the best of times? Do people (especially older faculty) feel comfortable mentioning that kind of stuff to other (younger) faculty? It wasn't as if said person knew me well--after all the Guru and Security Guy mention teaching gear (and "comportment" issues) all the time and I joke around with them about it***. This, on the other hand, somehow felt different and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was because it combined with the "terrorists in her backyard" (public) comment. I'll have to think on it.

E, I'm sure you'll be highly amused by all this--imagine me representing TUWSNBN and being the public face of the PhD programme to a bunch of wannabe postgrads (and wipe that smirk off your face!).

* No one understood this--apparently, here, it's just "the Wave". I explained it's called that in soccer because it was popular during the 1986 world cup in Mexico and spread around the world (and across sports) from that time.

** Bit, imagine that, if you please.

*** and would have felt perfectly all right if it had been their comment.


Oh, Canada!

That's it. PTSD is moving across the border.

The USA's banning vegemite.* What next? Tim tams? Momo's? Yakult?

Soon, I'll be reduced to eating roast beef and boiled veggies.

* A fairly usual uni "welcome" in Australia for overseas students included making a poor, unsuspecting, jet-lagged student slather vegemite on toasted bread and eat it. The faces (and reactions) as said person tried to a) finish eating, b) run away so they could get rid of the foul taste while c) trying not to offend their host countrypeople would lead to much mirth on the part of the (not new) students. How do I know? Learning-by-doing as a newly-arrived teenager from Nepal.


Semaphore Signals*

So, the ethnographic class went rather well. I had written notes to talk about but they weren't necessary as some of the themes of ethnographic research (and how they differ from the "scientific" method) came through in discussions about what the kids had gotten up to. Most them them characterised ethnographic research as "fun", went to places ranging from pubs (a rather cheeky kid who always sits at the back of the class) to shopping malls and coffee shops.

In terms of places they went and the fieldnotes they recorded, this was the best class I'd participated in--groupwork worked very well and issues about how to evaluate research and what is the role of the researcher in knowledge production were vigorously debated. Also, it was easy to get them to think about how "research" and "data" differs according to who is doing it and what is being written down as they had seen it in action and could relate to what happened.

The link to IR is still something to work on but the ethics behind each type of research so far seems to be clearer now. At least for the kids who were there--half my class seems to be MIA these days.

Talking about ethnography, check this out. It's from a BBC article about how "real Americans" feel "duped" by Borat.

Ms Stein, with two other members of Veteran Feminists of America, agreed to be filmed for what they thought was a documentary to help third world women.

But then the reporter started talking about his wife's farm work ("she pulls the plough"), women walking three steps behind men ("it used to be 10 steps, my country is advancing") and asking how to contact Pamela Anderson.

"I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community," Ms Stein says. "I mean, that's how it seemed to me.

"In our earnestness, we were trying to help women around the world."

Yes, and I'm sure those women are utterly grateful. I wasn't going to spend my hard-earned cash for Borat (after all, you can see most of his sketches on YouTube) but I reckon I am going to do so after all.

This is why research skills matter: "I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community"**?

We all know what those blokes are like, don't we? They tend to spend loads of time interviewing "veteran feminists" in American cities. Those damned tribals.

Back to plans for Thursday's class: The Argument clinic (how interpretations differ and the implications thereof) and a debate on if Borat is an ethnographer. I figure if ramparts are going to be scaled, I may as well have fun in the meantime.

* From Wreckless Eric (yes, he's still around), specifically the BBC sessions. Someone put together all the songs and I acquired them today.

** The lady does admit, later in the article, that she is not angry at Cohen and is moving on.

Fandom intrudes on real life

Three things:

1. The first episode of Torchwood is every bit as good as people say it is. Even the rough parts are very, very well done. The Hub is spectacular.

2. Jack Harkness is a better character now than he was in Doctor Who. John Barrowman's hair looks a little funny, but the character is fantastic.

3. Cardiff is a major character as well, just as DC is a character in West Wing or Chicago (okay, Toronto disguised as Chicago) is a character in due South. This doesn't bode well for my decision not to watch any more television shows.


It's useless to struggle*

It's a cold, miserable sort of day. Liverpool managed to quite convincingly lose against Manchester United, thus proving that waking up at 7.30am to watch them play is probably not the best idea for a Sunday morning. Any chance of doing well this season is lost in the mists of time now as a team, which looks great on paper, insists on playing like a bunch of drunken undergrads who have never played footy together.

So, what do I want to talk to yous, PTSD-readers, about? Grading. I've been grading the "scientific" research proposals that my kids have produced and most of those are rather well-crafted. A couple of them have even described Mill's methods (and how they would use it for their projects) and what the projects would look like. This I was very impressed with because they had the option of writing "Oh, we'll use statistics and choose X number of random cases" but a few of them have gone through the trouble of specifying which of Mill's methods they would use, describing variables and how to measure them and ending up with a chart. How nice.

It makes me realise I whinge about this lot a lot but, hey, they are fairly clever when they choose to be.

Now, I've got to go shore up the ramparts for tomorrow. I've sent them out to be ethnographers over the weekend and it's time to sit down and talk about their experiences.

* In case yous are thinking I've forgotten my "reference Mr. Gaiman in every post in October" plan, the title is from the Gothic Archies' 1997 album and Mr. G referenced the Gothic Archies in his talk. So there you have it.


White Man in Hammersmith Palais*

Random stuff on a rainy Thursday evo:

1. Put 3 mates and (a bit later) a formerly-scary person together around one round table and talk turns not to knights but to walking the Freedom Trail. And following Red Arrows. And despair over kids these days not reading Douglas Adams.

I believe baby-sitting of non-existent babies was also mentioned. As were 5-foot-tall pink drink providers with bad geographical sense.

2. New expertise: "How to quell a rebellion in 3 minutes". Both E and IntLaw are convinced the idea of dictatorial authoritarianism has not been applied to class yet. Despots do have more fun. I shall have to give depotism a try.

3. There's a German Gourmet shop to explore and American Hardcore to watch. But, I might go to ogle Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman instead.

4. I score 139 on a Type A/B test. Apparently they are not talking of blood but of personality. I'm not quite sure if 139 is good or bad because it doesn't tell me. It does say (helpfully) that "low scores are type B" but does not mention which part of 35-380 is low or what being a Type B means (probably not a good thing. A's are usually better than B's. That's how the world works).

5. There is actual snorting involved (from E and IntLaw) when I mention the (future) possibility of my kids clambering up ramparts (tables/chairs) and singing "Do you hear the students singing?"** as I try quell them. I believe firehose and batons were also mentioned.

6. There were many fond memories of American football matches exchanged though there was some confusion about the years some of the events immortalised in memories allegedly occurred. No confusion from my fellow PTSD-er, of course. Unlike some other folk, PTSD-ers don't confuse dates of when Very Important Things happened to their football teams.

* We were not actually in "Hammersmith Palais" though there was a two-legged pig hanging on the wall in front of us. Are there pigs in Hammersmith?

** And we know what happened then, don't we? Lots of shooting, rugrats dying, lovers uniting, the usual. But, the point being, as an example of student-led defiance, the storming of the ramparts was a miserable failure (as it should be).


(not a) paperback writer

I think I got my first-ever rejection letter (email) from a journal today. Thankfully, there's Mr. Gaiman to help me out. From his journal:

"It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write."

Off to do exactly that.



I totally forgot that today was my wedding anniversary. Right up until my mother phoned and started singing into our answering machine.* In my defense, she only called because my sister mentioned it.**

Three years, and I've only managed to remember it once without some sort of reminder.

I think this makes me the bad one in this relationship. Or at least the absentminded one.

* In the greater scheme of things, I prefer "Happy Anniversary" to "Little Bunny Foo Foo," her usual Easter message. It's not as catchy as "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but shorter.

*She wanted to tell me that the Genius Nephew is going as a Grim Reaper for Halloween this year. He's been walking around the house with a scythe for a week now.


glad I don't know

I love the Beeb (as yous all know) but, sometimes, it doesn't amuse me as much.

Yes, we don't save the world. But, it'd be nice if someone did.

Here's the World Food Day Quiz from the Beeb. Pretty miserable statistics, I'd say, and apparently it's all getting worse.

Now that I've cheered yous up, let me tell yous that my "Introduction to Interpretive Research" class today was loads of fun. The wink/twitch example went down very well (I got a video off YouTube I made them watch since none of my fellow TUWSNBN-ers wanted to come in and wink at my kids). But, I'm rather grateful that the Geertz selection on a sport involving poultry, with sections titled "Of Men and [male hens]" had pages missing (so the kids couldn't read it).

They are already rather rambunctious and I fear this would have led them down the road of commenting about things that are best left uncommented upon, especially in class. It is also another reminder that, perhaps, I should read these selections before assigning them. Instead, we ended up discussing ethnographic research among "terrorists" in Northern Ireland--a safer choice all around.


the memories they stay

Dear ABC Sports,

I don't care how bad Michigan State is getting whomped. Do not switch to the fucking Missouri-Texas A&M game in the 4th quarter. Some of us *like* watching the Buckeyes crush MSU, because we were there in 1998 and it made us cry and we've never really gotten over watching from the stands as our team, this fantastic team that we loved and followed the stats for and had been watching our entire lives, fucked up the very end of what was meant to be a blowout game and lost 28-24. Some of us wore black the rest of the season because we knew that Thanksgiving dinner with the Michigan fans in the family was going to be the worst holiday ever.

Some of us were *enjoying* the chance to rewrite that memory with a 30-0 lead. Some of us are pretty damned pissed that the tape doesn't contain the end of a fantastic game, so it isn't worth keeping. Some of us didn't appreciate having to switch to ESPN to get the final score of 38-7. Some of us plan to spend the rest of the weekend cursing your network and thinking of rude comments about the size of the brains (and other body parts) of your programming executives.

In short, you suck.




evening at the ironworks

Up next for this half of PTSD (as E seems to be immersed in Friday night TV-watching) is wandering up (a bit) north of our beautiful city to the Small Press Expo, later this evening.

How am I ending up there, yous ask? Well, during the Neil Gaiman reading, those of us patiently waiting to have our various books* signed got invites to this gig. Now, it's not something that I'd usually do (not involving football, colonialism or SuperF) but watching people draw things seems to be as good a way to start the weekend as any other.

I shall report on it when I get back, laden with comics. Perhaps, I'll discover the "next best thing" and manage to sell my newly-acquired comic books for obscene amounts of money so that my grandchildren can enjoy the fruits of my labour.

For those (two) of yous interested in hearing about my regular teaching activities, yesterday I quoted Douglas Adams** at my kids. I told them that was the "Research Tip of the Week"***. I encouraged them to go off in search of DA and read some of his stuff so they can find out this whole "production of knowledge" lark cannot be taken too seriously and that absurdity is the best way to counter pomposity.

I also ended the class a bit early. I think the kids liked that part better.

* No body parts, as far as I could tell, were signed on this occasion. It may have well been because, as we were inside a church, those who wanted their bits signed were a bit wary of being struck by the wrath of God. Because, apparently, it's big in Israel not only among Neil Gaiman readers but also among Orson Scott Card readers.

From NG's blog once more (on Mr. Card's readers):

"'We asked Orson Scott Card when he was here,' one of them [the "astonishing number of young ladies who want their bosomry signed by authors"] sighed, wistfully, 'but he said as a good Mormon he could not sign any body parts.'"

** This one:

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."
-- Douglas Adams.

*** To be curious. To ask questions. To learn from (and argue with) experts. We do live in the capital of the free world after all. I had said this to them on the first day of class but, based on fairly sound advice, repeated it again. Besides, this time I could tell them to read Douglas Adams as well (which, let's face it, all youngsters should read).


I read (saw) the news today, oh boy

Wednesday morning: Wandered around the Streets of New York (black and white photographs) exhibit at the National Art Gallery, thinking deep and creative thoughts which, if I were E, I'd be able to write up on screen but since it's me, have already fled from my head.

Then, going to see the Henri Rousseau exhibit and being fascinated by pictures of the "Ethnographic Exhibitions" instead. Apparently, these exhibitions were the things you went to if you were in Paris in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They had France's colonial subjects transposed from their little villages on the other side of the world and brought over to France to catch a glimpse of how civilisation worked. It was a bit unfortunate that there appeared to be no one from my part of the world. After all, the Mission Civilisatrice was doing quite well in what is now politely called "the former Indochina" at that time. But, no, the pride of the pictures at the exhibit appeared to be troups of (always half-naked) women from Africa.

In view of the ongoing debates being fought over, in an online thingy that I am part of and also evident in that AnotherBigNameMeeting panel that I am supposedly writing up on, about what is ethnography, it was rather worrying (including, quite possibly, for the "Ashanti woman" being posed and stood with something that looked vaguely like a lance but which I'm sure couldn't have been since they probably didn't use lances. But, what do I know?) to see the ways in which the French natives normalised the observations, recording and publicising among the general populace, the reproduction of these Natives. There were posters, pamphlets, postcard-like things, and, more obviously, continuous issues of the popular Le Petit Journal*, all with pictures of exotic Natives. And, yet, not much different to the life-sized cutout of a Chinese bloke, standing outside a (Chinese, of course) restaurant in OOD that I saw last year. But, then, as we all know, Denmark doesn't matter. Whereas France certainly did matter. It would be fun to trace out the (anti, mostly) immigrant discourses today and the (fascinated and awed, at times) discourses of the "ethnographic exhibitions", especially in the popular press. But, again, that is for someone else (or for when I have my own Minion).

Afternoon: Sitting in a bar with my cousin (who was visiting from out of town), watching TV pictures of a small plane crash into a building in New York City. Noting the reaction of the few people there, one of whom kept saying "Oh my God, we'll all die, it's terrorists again" and repeating "Oh, my God, why do they hate us?" over and over and over. The others were quiet, people explained to newcomers what was going on and, for over an hour, no one knew what had occurred or how much damage had been done or who was involved. There was nothing to do but to keep eating (me), drinking (other people) and smoking (everyone else except me).

* This appears to have been the Sun of its day.


you can never trust the rhythm

Whose idea was it to use Crowded House to sell coffee?


you know the time is moving

It's that time of year again, folks. You'll find a link to the Flu Wiki as our Site of the Month, can expect to read rather more than usual about public health and IR around here as I finish up a paper for next month's Regional Conference, and to get you started I offer a list of links to other people and organizations talking, thinking, or doing something about pandemic influenza. These are heavily skewed toward the US, so I encourage you to wander of in search of non-US sources of information and debate.

The US Government's Pandemic Flu Site. Parts of it are good, more parts of it are bad, a few are sickly funny, and most of it is scary.

You can find links to the state pandemic preparedness plans and public health divisions here, as well as a recitation of the impact of the 1918 pandemic on American society.

Canada's equivalent to pandemicflu.gov. The glossary of terms is substantial and nicely cross-referenced.

The World Health Organization includes influenza under the heading of Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response. The general information also includes a link to GOARN.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at UMN offers updated information and a good selection of email updates and news headlines about public health and infectious disease. Their Pandemic Influenza index is a good place to start.

The CDC's Emerging Infectious Disease Journal is available online, and the Ahead of Print rss feed has recently begun featuring articles on influenza variations. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report also includes some of the most current pandemic research and information available.

Effect Measure
remains one of the best sources in the blogosphere for avian flu and pandemic flu news and analysis, along with policy debate and recent public health research. For more broad views on the hard sciences and society, click through to the other members of Science Blogs.

Stayin' Alive spends less time on influenza, pandemic or otherwise, than Effect Measure, but offers regular links to related blogs and information.

Critical Condition recently became an open forum blog, seeking submissions from interested participants in US public health. It's unclear whether the new format will succeed, but at the moment it's an experiment worth watching.

Wikipedia has a surprising number of useful links included in the relevant article. Unfortunately, nearly all their links to national information sources are for Avian Influenza, which is NOT the same thing as pandemic influenza. Feel free to go correct that oversight.

when you're doing that thing

I got the stats log for the last two weeks today. And there was this *huge* spike in traffic at the end of September / beginning of October.

This is strange, I thought to myself. Why are there suddenly 800 people reading our quiet little blog? Neither of us has jumped off a building this week, we seem to have stayed out of the local newpaper, and I'm pretty sure my mother hasn't handed out the URL at any recent Tupperware parties.

I am a (potential) academic. Academics do research. So I did research. I clicked on the tiny little button (that one, over on the right) that connects to all the other blogs that link to ptsd.

In general this button turns up eight people who use the dc blogroll, and one kid in an Edmonton basement looking for Headstones lyrics.

This time, it turned up Wonkette.

Now, I've been reading our blog (I have to, because I write some of it. You can slack off, Loyal Reader, but when *I* wander away for a few days, all hell breaks loose) and nothing we've written recently is terribly political.

Sure, we've been talking about culture. German film. More culture. And I'm pissed at people who link ability to gender. Priya's teaching. I'm watching ESPN. We're both avoiding papers that need to be written.

But that's no different than our usual fare.

I looked a little further. What possible combination of words could have turned the eyes of Washington's political snark our way?

Neil Gaiman. Church. Breasts.

Yep, that's right. It's all Priya's fault. Again.

Neil Gaiman is a tits man. In church, no less. All (both) of this (these) can be yours, tonight. [PTSD]

From the Wonkette Metro Section.


the whole thing just escapes me

Weekend randomness:

1. Why doesn't DC television carry the OSU-BGSU game? I wanted to see my sister's alma mater getting squashed by mine.

Thank god for WMRN and the internet live feed, because I at least listened to the action.

2. Auburn got their asses handed to them by Arkansas. Take that, BCS.

3. The Tigers beat the Yankees. This is the part where I gloat, right? Just a little? Sports world, the Wings lost Shanahan this season. Give me something.

4. ESPN has the best player segment ever for Al Singleton. Just fantastic. The pissed off cheerleader rocks.

5. How does Shelly Payne get her hair to look good under that flameproof suit?

6. Sunday afternoon is where crappy B-movies go to die.

7. I'm thinking it's a bad idea to watch BSG and wait for the punchline. There's a disturbing lack of sarcasm in space. Callum Keith Rennie is still pretty, though.


how much is the fish?*

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.”

-- Neil Gaiman, not a famous sociologist, on ideas.

"Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one's mind...when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or...when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion."

-- Max Weber, not a famous-in-some-circles writer, on ideas.

Not much difference there, eh?

But, as has been known to happen in the social sciences, I can most likely use the latter example as an illustration of why and how ideas arise and how the social science are scientific while I would be less likely to be taken seriously if I used the first example. Even though they are saying pretty much the same thing. In a way, this goes well with E's previous post about being seen as having less expertise of math and quantitative approaches just because of the virtue of being of a specific gender.

More on this later. Yes, yes, the ethnographic post will follow. Sometime soon.

* The Scooter version. Had to get a German band in there for once. Also chosen because (and this is via Google. It was difficult enough to think of a German band that was not the Scorpions) the lyrics include these lines:

"Transforming the tunes we need your support
if you've got the breath back.
It's the first page of the second chapter!"

No, I've no idea what they were on, either. But, hey, they were big when I was in undergrad so yous get to read all about them too. It's not like there are loads of German bands out there, you know. On this evidence, that's probably for the best.


the boy done wrong again

One of the things that Mr. Gaiman discussed, during the reading I was at, was the rather entertaining bit of information that he wrote Anansi Boys after a long chat with Lenny Henry. NG claimed he wanted to write a book in which "the default setting, like in almost all books, is not white and in which I'd have to tell people if the character was white". I thought I'd follow E's AYP post with one about colour. People's skin colours, to be precise.

I just came back from watching The Last King of Scotland. If ever I'm fortunate enough to graduate to the point where I get to teach a class where I can get my kids to watch films, I'd choose this for the session in which we will discuss East-West identity-formation and the perils of (white people's) Liberalism. Yes, there were flaws but, overall, the film was an excellent example of how a (white, of course; also, pale and floppy-haired) Scottish doctor goes over to Uganda to help the people there and gets enmeshed in Idi Amin's activities. He becomes Amin's personal physician, gets caught up in a life of wine (being Scottish, it's whiskey), women (the President's wife, no less) and song (Loch Lomond as sung by Ugandan women).

In addition to the earnest young doctor, the film has the usual tropes--a shrewd (English) diplomat, menacing (black Ugandan) security folks, the (noble, of course) local (black, again) doctor who saves our young lad's life, and the committed yet practical (white) missionary couple. But then it subverts our understandings of these as well as illustrates how there are interconnections among peoples, then and now. Looking at the young Scottish doctor, I realise how many similar people I know today, most of whom hang about at TUWSNBN. The mechanics through which the Scots doctor constitutes others--the oppressive, colonial "English" (distinct from Scottish); the beautiful, available, married women (both black and white); the admirable and strong African ("this is Africa. You reply to violence with violence," says our hero to the local British diplomat) are similar to that by which Amin ("you think this is a game? this is not a game. It' real life") frames the (white) doctor and the (Asian) businessfolks.

It also subverts the usual heroic narrative--the good don't get rewarded, the bad don't get punished and people caught up in events usually end up in nasty ways. The (white) doctor is called Amin's "white monkey" while Amin himself, clad in a brightly-patterned kilt and with sons called Campbell and MacKenzie, is the Last King of Scotland. Obvious, yes. A good teaching tool, I very much reckon so.

In the end, things happen because the people who do it don't know why they do it. Or, we can look at reasons but people who do stuff usually don't have the time (or the inclination) to sit about and contemplate why they are doing said stuff. They just do it. When the local (black, of course) doctor is helping Our Hero to escape and OH asks why he's doing it, the local doctor replies, "I don't know". Sometimes, stuff is done. And, that's it.

missed some pieces that are left out of the story

So here’s the thing. I gave this workshop thing one meeting (that would be last week, when we talked about the Reformation and I failed to blog in my role as Angry Young Person) to set up what the point is. I gave it a second (that would be this week, when we talked about European film and economic globalization and I have chosen to blog as an AYP) to show me why I should care.

But today’s was not the conversation I was hoping to have. I was hoping for the discussion about why choose these films and where does this reading come from (because, honestly, I don’t see it for at least one of the examples) and what does culture say to politics. This discussion was hinted at and then firmly smacked down in favor of comments about how it’s okay to just read a film, and it’s really all about economics.

Which, fine. Whatever. But don’t give me that argument and also try to claim that Europudding is really about the stresses of EU economic integration. Because I’ve seen Europudding, and it’s not. It’s about how cool Real World Barcelona would be.

Yes, there were deeper things going on (maybe) and the film wouldn’t have been possible if not for the greater movement of young adults across borders because of integration and the employment mobility it brings. But mostly it was about pretty people doing risky things and learning to get along while sharing a refrigerator. And how Americans are a bit slow.

So that was discussion number one, the main one where I sat (mostly) quietly and listened to people talk about ahistorical possible readings of character names in Billy Wilder’s films. It was not really my kind of discussion, although as an observer there were some entertaining moments of academic nonsense.

Discussion number two was a lot more fun, since not only did I get to talk about the inherent awesomeness of system dynamics, I also had one of those moments where I get to stomp on the assumptions about what I do and how I do it.

Just because (and this is important) I wear a skirt and a pair of cute high heels (and they were very cute, if a little impractical for things like stairs), no one should assume that I only know about things like film studies.

(The assumption that cultural studies and math skills are mutually incompatible is a whole different rant that I think I’ll save for another time. For right now, let’s stick with the gender thing.)

Hi. I spent four years studying military history, and I know what human security means, because I came to grad school to learn about how security questions interact with issues of transitional justice and reconciliation.

I’ve been in classes where I was the only one in the room without a dick and a ROTC uniform. I still managed to follow the discussion without special diagrams.

I know what reframing the issue to one of human security does to security studies, because I’ve got a pretty good idea of how security studies is done. I even know some of the people doing it. And can have actual conversations with them. That I think nuclear deterrence is an intellectual dead end doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. It means that I think it’s a waste of time.

I really don’t need to be told about the impact of trying to measure environmental factors on the traditional linear causality models of security studies. I don’t need to be given a simple definition of human security, and I *really* don’t appreciate it when that definition is aimed just at me, and not at the guy standing next to me.

Interest in security is not a gender-linked trait.

If I’m worried about the image that having a bunch of pop culture stuff out of TUWSNBN creates, and comment on the oddity that all my papers for the next BNC are cultural studies pieces, chances are it’s because I also do something else. If I say that I’m critiquing the traditional security approach *as a quant person* I do so because that’s a claim I feel comfortable making. It’s because I know how to add, and math doesn’t scare me.

If I say such things, I’m trying to give you a conversational cue that, perhaps, it’s a bad idea to act as if my girlish brain cannot comprehend the big scary problems of building a statistical model.

And if you try to give me the hornbook version of basic poli sci concepts, ignoring my attempts to avoid confronting your mistaken assumptions and thereby making us both feel a bit silly, you can expect me to smack you down. Hard.

I might even use concepts like complexity and nonlinear causality and reference modes. I might find it necessary to draw you a picture. I might even walk you through A--> B --> C --> A (a fairly basic feedback loop) slowly and with great care. Because I don’t like it when the equation smart = math = male is used, and I like it even less when it’s accompanied by the idea that my interest in media somehow takes up the space in my brain where my ability to understand calculus would otherwise reside.

So don't do that. It pisses me off.

(On an unrelated note, Weberman kindly offered to kick me in the head if I should ever attempt to publish a paper of the type we discussed today. He meant well, but for obvious reasons that completely sidetracked my train of thought. Just, no. I am unable to continue a conversation after hearing that. From anyone.)

I am without shoes

"When writing a novel* that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.'"

Today, I started my class by quoting, not Neil Gaiman but Douglas Adams at my students. It was to impress upon them the importance of deadlines (which a few seem to consider something which is quite useless in the general scheme of things. While this is a point of view I completely agree with, it's difficult to voice said agreement at your students when you are required to grade their work and hand in the grades to the mysterious powers-that-be). I also used it as an illustration of why research is fun (and useful). Not sure either of them went down too well (maybe a MP-ian killer rabbit example would have worked better? I don't know).

Before doing that though, I asked if they had read DA and was deeply disappointed to see that only one (out of 29 kids) had. It's turning into a miserable world with a hopeless future if the youth, the "leaders of tomorrow" (or whatever the current term for them is) do not read DA. DA should be required reading for all teenagers at some point in their lives, if only to make them realise the importance of research in general and the usefulness of having a slightly offbeat look at life.

I'm not that pleased with today's class. I had the usual problem of half of them already being aware of (and having had an entire semester on) statistics and the other half not having any clue about basic statistical concepts like distribution, frequencies and regression. Of course, that led to my (usual by now) obsession about whether I should turn the class into: "here's what some of the major statistical concepts are" (thus sending to sleep the half that have taken stats already) OR "here's how statistics is often (wrongly) used in social sciences research and you have to look into assumptions about where the mass of numbers came from". I came down on the side of the latter and we spent time going through various statements about averages (which could mean mode, median or mean); percentage and percentage changes (difference thereof); and had fun with "how to measure Freedom". Or, at least I had fun: I don't think they did.

We then went through the methods behind behind how poverty is measured by the United Nations (how was the index operationalised; where did the data come from; what some of the main weaknesses of data-collection could be, and so on). All boringly practical and, if only one stops and thinks about it, hideously self-evident. I ended by giving a sermon on how IR (and most of the social sciences) is organised so that quantitative research and, especially, statistics are seen as naturally superior to any other sort of analysis. I added that, as they had seen by now based on the examples we ran through, data collection issues and problems of measurement weren't issues that only non-quantitative people faced. Again, I am not sure that all this isn't boringly self-evident and I'm not being completely patronising in assuming these kids don't already know all this.

PTSD readers will have to await E's AngryYoungPerson post (hopefully) on how the latest iteration of the Culture and WhatWeDo Workshop at TheUniversityWhichisNotOurs (TUWINO) went. E's flying the PTSD pennant there today since I'm stuck doing flunkie duties.

* Substitute "dissertation" for "novel" and Mr. Gaiman (as usual) has expressed my views perfectly. This writing thing isn't really difficult, once one has time and energy to devote to it.


in the shape of a heart in the middle of my name

"Letting the Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary go was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. And that's why I'm getting a tattoo."

Just thought this particular bit of reality television goodness needed to be shared.


The Yeti Song

There's a lovely little snippet of information in the Introduction to one of Mr. Gaiman's books (whose name I can't remember right now) about how the word "Yeti" means something along the lines of over there. Or something. I, obviously, can't remember things I've read. Probably another reason why I'm still dissertating and not already done with it all since I keep thinking of brilliant things I could put in my writings and, yet, when the time comes to write up those things, I end up with the same boring stuff that all of us have read before. If my dissertation ever becomes a book, you'll be reading all that all over again.

But, enough of that. Here's the bit of the Yeti Song that leads me to use it as today's post title:

"The author looms above his page
and thinks it strange that at his age
he can not find the proper words
to describe his only world.
One would think that in a life
where no two snowflakes are alike
one would have a brilliant rhyme
for each and every bit of time."

No, I'm not leading yous down the path of whimsy and, no, I've not been dipping into the flask I've taken to carrying about* but it's a comment on today's class. Oh, why today, yous ask, since you have been diligently following my schedule and know I teach kids only on Mondays and Thursdays? Well, I was helping out** GS and took over her class for the day.

What worked: The kids were such a pleasure to teach. All the kids, except two, are second years (which is where they are supposed to be when taking this class); all are rather keen on answering questions and debating; most are keen to ask for clarification and, on the whole, they are far more responsive than my lot has been so far. They also interacted with each other a lot more than my kids do. My kids have little groups of 3-4 they talk to and they seem to prefer to think the rest of the class doesn't exist. Now, don't get me wrong--I very much like my lot. I just wish there were as few of them as GS has or that they were at the proper time period (second year) where I could grab them by their clever enough brains and instill research skills into them. Instead, half of my class (out of about 30 students) is 4th years, and the rest 3rd years with two second years--pretty much like teaching a Nepali village school.

The classroom structure also worked very well. No, there was no computer equipment (Note to GS: Yes, you forgot to tell me that) but the physical layout of the room itself worked in that it facilitated a to-and-fro style of teaching with the kids asking questions and me doing my best to answer them. Because my own classroom is huge (though it has lovely windows through which my students daydream away), it's more difficult to do that. Also, most of the students had recently had their statistics class (first year) so remembered how things were supposed to work for "dualist causation" (GS's topic of the day). They were also a lot more confident about speaking up in class-- a couple of them congratulated me on "a job well done" (or something like that--read the first paragraph about my lack of recall skill) as we finished up, which rather amused me.

What didn't work: the lack of prep time. I had quickly looked through GS's notes but not knowing what the kids had done before or what exactly they were supposed to know for this class didn't help. Since my own class is organised differently (and, I realised, it's on a glumly practical level compared to GS's), it was difficult for me to get into the habit of talking about underlying rationales behind stuff rather than just talking about how stuff works (and then, maybe, getting to rationales). This class, for me, was too abstract. My class talked of "scientific" research going from observation to puzzle (question) to hypothesis (guess/explanation) to testing (Mill's methods/statistics) to generalisation. GS's worked on things like necessary and sufficient causation and stuff about essence and falsification. It was also rather amusing (though I should have paid more attention to GS's syllabus) to find that we were doing Mill's methods but the class had not actually read Mill!

Overall, a good class but, if the Yeti Song is right (and, being the Yeti song, of course it is) then the many ways of teaching a (the same) class are what makes this whole teaching thing fun. Maybe by the time I'm fifty, I'll have nostalgic feelings about all this. At least it's been entertaining. So far.

* It's filled with water.

** Which is a euphemism for "complying with a last-minute request and fully expecting numerous beer(s) or a free place to sleep for RegionalConference in return". I know you read this, GS, so be warned.


scream and run away

But, if you're teaching, you can't. If you're just walking down to your flunkie duties, you can't. Screaming and running away aren't two things you can often do. Or, if you do them, they are usually not done for fun. Some of yous might do them if you see an invertebrate, others might do it when you see your President. So today, just for PTSD's amusement, scream and then run away. For no particular reason.

Why do I put this up here today, dear PTSD readers, instead of writing about the ethnographic event at AnotherBigNameConference? Well, because my new theme for the month of October is the many ways I can turn Mr. Gaiman's works (and views on life) into something that ties in with whatever I am doing at that time*. Everyone needs a bit of amusement, right? Well, that's mine for the moment. I'm not saying it will be a successful enterprise or even if it's advisable and E may well nix the plan in the bud by pointing out (quite possibly through email) that I'm going mental. We'll see.

Getting back to academia: today's class on Scientific research style went fairly well. I'm working on the presumption that if I repeat a thing numerous times, then it will start to sink in and make sense. So, we went through hypothesis construction, testing, cause-effect relations, and ended with a session of some of the major issues that crop up when actually trying to do these things. The kids are smart (though still reluctant to talk, especially after my sermon**) and can easily figure out how some of the major features of the scientific style just might not work as they are supposed to.

I was asked how I managed to remain excited about "such a boring thing". I don't know. I told them that, for me, the entire world was a huge puzzle waiting to be played with (and, gave the example of Mr. Gaiman's comics) and research methods are a way to do that. I'm not sure they bought it but I can only hope they'll think on it.

And not scream and run away.

* Today's contribution: The Gothic Archies. As explained on the web site, The Archies are a band from whom "any glimmer of hope is absolutely extinguished." Oh joy. The title of the post refers to their latest song, from the CD which accompanies the last book of The Series of Unfortunate Events.

** It was a sermon on responsibility. In it, I told the students they were grown-ups and should accept responsibility for their actions, such as submitting the bloody paper on time. I felt such a direct approach was needed because I'm still receiving emails about how some of the students weren't able to send their assignments to me on Friday due to emails "not working". I still wish I had the power to turn a couple of them into goats if they submit their assignments late or at least can't come up with a better excuse than the extremely lame "your email wasn't working" or "I can't use Blackboard". I am, however, considering giving the benefit of the doubt to whoever has the most creative excuse for not handing in their works in time.

Song for whoever

Not much posting over the weekend and I'm just about to head off to class (Quant. Analysis today. What fun) so here's a quote to keep you company.

I get this phone call in the middle of the night (puts on a deep voice) and it says [something along these lines since I was enjoying myself too much to write it all down--P]: "Boy, I've decided I'm having a mid-life crisis. I'm only in my 40s but I think I'll have one now. I don't have enough money to buy a Porche so I'll just go off and start worshipping some serpent-headed god and maybe even wear robes. I thought I'd let you know.

-- Alan Mooore to Neil Gaiman, as recited by Mr. Gaiman

Yes, I'm still on a "I had my book signed by Neil Gaiman" high. I might get back to regular life some time soon but I wouldn't bet on it.