Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world
Thursday, December 31, 2009
A Bucketful of Fog
FROM LOG CABIN TO THE JOINT COMMITTEE OF COUNCIL AND THE PROFESSORIAL BOARD
Farrago, Friday, May 7, 1976
To most students the government of this university is rather like the weather. Inescapable, in general uncommented on, occasionally absolutely bloody, and quite unresponsive to anything they might say, shriek, plead or do. The rare activist seeks to take more positive action and goes after it like St. George after the dragon, only to find herself/himself rather more in the position of Ibsen's Peer Gynt battling the Great Boyg:
PEER GYNT (returning) Forward and back, it's just as far. Out or in, it's a narrow door. He's there! And there! And beyond the bend! As soon as I'm out, he rings me round. Your name? Let me see you! Say what you are!
THE VOICE The Boyg.
PEER GYNT (groping about) Not dead, nor alive. Slime; gray air, Not even a form. It's like trading jabs With a den of snarling, half‑aware bear cubs. (Shrieks) Stand up to me!
THE VOICE The Boyg's not insane.
PEER GYNT Strike!
THE VOICE The Boyg doesn't strike.
PEER GYNT Fight! Come on!
THE VOICE The Boyg doesn't fight‑and doesn't lose.
PEER GYNT For a gnome on my back, raking his spurs! Or only so much as a year‑old troll! Something to fight with. But there's nothing at all Now he's snoring! Boyg!
THE VOICE What?
PEER GYNT Use force!
THE VOICE The great Boyg conquers in quietness.
PEER GYNT If the price of life is this agony, even one hour's too much to pay. (Sinks down).
Unfortunately, any explanation that produces a clear and simple picture of the way the university works is going to give a totally misleading picture of a university that works tortuously, secretly, indirectly and blindly. All I can hope to do is to provide you with a slightly more educated brand of ignorance.
One way of mapping the progress of a proposal through the system might be to show it coming up from the faculty and going into the academic committee to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, the Registrar, and 11 other people; sent from there to the Policy committee to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, the Registrar, and 11 other people; passed on to the Professorial Board to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman and Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, and 150 other people; sent on to Council to be finally passed on by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, and 34 other people The power of a committee varies inversely with the number of people over and above the core. The weakest is the Professorial Board, which has 150 extra bodies; the strongest is the administrative committee, which has none.
Can we then conclude that power in the university lies in the hands of the Vice‑Chancellor? Regrettably, no. That's always been the problem with student agitation. It's never been possible to get public feeling moving on an issue unless it can be presented as a battle between the Vice‑Chancellor and the students; but any fight on that basis, any victory, even, on that basis, isn't going to have any effect on the deep structure of the university. Don't overlook the chairman of the Board ‑ he's ubiquitous, too.
The professorial members of the Council ‑ Professors Simon, Jubb, and Townsend ‑ sit on the Board, Council, Policy, the Joint Committee, the Central Budgets Committee, Central Building Planning, and Staff, not a bad selection. You can't draw a hard‑and‑fast division between administration and academics. The Vice‑Chancellor has probably got more power than anybody else, any other single person, but he has to work within a fairly limited set of boundaries established by the common assumptions of the men around him. These men are known collectively as the heavies. They are found at the heart of all the committees of the university and they have enormous influence. They may not be liked, they may not even be universally admired, but they are respected.
If you want to open up the upper levels of the university to wide public participation, the heavies have to have their powers diminished to make room for the newcomers. The problem that steps forward here is that the heavies haven't extorted their powers by force; they've been given them by free consent. Most of the top positions go (nominally) by election; if there was an immediate spill and another election the same men would probably get in again, and if they didn't others indistinguishable would. The heavies are chosen because they're bloody good at their jobs.
A lot of the business of the university has to be done ‑ 50 million dollars have to be spent (of that more later), appointments have to be made, decisions have to be taken. People who are willing to take them have to be found. People who will work hard, make no spectacular errors, stand up for their friends, can get the business through the committees ‑ particularly that last. Men who know how to handle committees are going to rise to the top in any system where committees rule. It's that simple.
Committee management is inherently manipulative, and that's the source of a lot of the complaints about the university and its functioning. Last week I was talking with a man who turned without a break from denouncing the Vice‑Chancellor for stifling an item by burying it in an inconspicuous position in the Board minutes to a consideration of how he could so arrange the business of a minor faculty committee he chaired so that there wouldn't be too much waffling discussion of one of the items he wanted to see passed. All committees corrupt; vital committees corrupt vitally.
There is very little point in putting student representatives on committees unless you are willing to accept the limitations of the medium. The successful committeeman never says no; he says yes, but... and people who want to say no, people who want to import moral issues into something everybody else around the table sees as a matter of mechanics, are going to get rolled. If you want the university to work – if you want the university to work better ‑ if you want the university, even, to work differently, join the committee: if you want a different university, forget about it.
Most of the decisions around the university wore taken either in Canberra or in 1950. The university does not exist to teach ‑ that function could be performed without nearly as much bother. It exists to give employment to teachers. Correspondingly, it has an immense aversion to firing people; consequently, it has the vast bulk of its funds tied up in salaries and very little scope for movements in unexpected directions. In times of dearth like the present it has virtually none ‑ if you assume, as the university in session invariably does, that nothing can be done without money to administer the change and that nobody will work except for payment. Money is a determinant too, in most of the changes that do take place. The cut goes deeper than simply "There's no money; we can't do (x)". Nobody can be around the university long without hearing "The money's there; we've got to do (x) or we'll lose it". It should also be noted that the only fully autonomous power students have is the power to switch subjects or (in extreme cases) to fail or drop out, thus costing their departments' anything between 625 and 2520 dollars.
The university is also governed by an accumulation of structure and theory dating back to the twelfth century or 1860, whichever is the nearer. There is general agreement that the university suffers from a number of disadvantages because of its size; there is complete unanimity that growth is an irreversible ailment. Any decision that has been taken that has added one staff member to the university cannot thereafter be reconsidered. The tensions between the professional faculties and the non‑professional faculties have been built into the foundations and cannot now be rethought. The concept of the discipline governs all. Discipline, as applied to the discipline of French, say, or Botany or Economic History, is one of the rare terms in use in this area that says what it means ‑ 'training, esp. of the kind that produces self‑control, orderliness, and obedience. . . ' and it is the cement that binds the university together. A professor in Engineering would not regard himself as competent to pronounce on whether a professor of Fine Arts was setting a course that was sensible, or enlightening, or balanced in its matter; he would regard himself as competent ‑ indeed, as compelled by the honour of the university ‑ to pronounce on whether or not it was sufficiently close to the requirements of a 'discipline' ‑ whether it makes its students work enough; whether it has enough essays or lectures. These are the things that the Academic Committee of the Professorial Board concerns itself with. It seems hardly appropriate to talk about hidden curriculum when everybody is prepared to be so entirely overt about it. Again, though, the critic of university government must be prepared to face the possibility that in criticising the university in this aspect we are in fact simply saying that we are not prepared to accept a university at all ‑ that we are looking for something entirely different that can only be found, if at all, somewhere else.
We've come some way from the chart. At this stage we are considering the narrowness of the area between the decisions the Vice‑Chancellor must make and the decisions he cannot make ‑ the two or three percent of what goes on around the university that can be affected by argument. Discouraging, isn't it?
Luckily, the scene is more open at the subject level. One of the most important things to realize in any survey of where power is in the university and how one lays hands on it is that the power over the last few years has been flowing from the centre to the faculties, and that most important decisions are now taken at faculty level. If you want to increase your influence (within limits, within limits) the faculty is the place to go. The central budgets committee now has students on it; the central budgets committee has just given most of its decision‑making power away to the faculty budgets committees, which don't. The problem now is that the student representation structure is highly centralized, designed to face a Vice‑Chancellor who has the clout, and isn't terribly well adapted to spread itself around the faculty level, while the faculty students’ societies do not attract the attention, prestige, or dedication that is evoked by the SRC. That's probably the most rewarding direction to take if you're after more say in decision‑making.
Remember, though, all through the system you're facing a very tough set of opponents and a very well‑defended set of institutions. You've got to decide between a good chance of getting minor changes and a minute chance of getting great changes. You're going to have to have stamina, disillusion, time, gab, insight, and nerve, all in enormous quantities. It is not easy, ever, to influence the university; but it can be done. Best of luck. I'll hold your coat.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Several questions did spring to mind.
- How much of that $200 mill went to ensuring that of the 500 young female avpersons dressed in gstrings and feather necklaces - and not expansive feather necklaces like Sitting Bull headdresses the other way up, necklaces of between ten and twelve chicken feathers - leaping from tree to tree in lithe freedom, not one revealed a nipple at any point?
- Do the marines really train their boys in strategy and tactics so well that their top pick for a red-hot combat strategy for badly-armed insurgents is "Hop on a horse-thingy and ride very fast into the enemy's machineguns"? As the grandson of a Light Horseman, I did hope that things might have improved between 1916 and 2016 or whatever.
Friday, December 18, 2009
- The Children's Cargo; Lady Cynthia Asquith's Annual, with contributions from Hilaire Belloc, Beachcomber, and A.A. Milne, among others - undated, but prewar;
- Time Magazine for April 12, 1957
- Armageddeon, by La Haye and Jenkins, the eleventh volume of a twelve-volume series of novels on the rapture;
- Ronnie Rolande, the Yodelling Whistler, LP.
I remember some years ago Penny looking at my purchases and remarking "You mean there were books there that were less attractive than these?"
Pshaw, I say. Pshaw.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I have a surprising number of good wishes on Facebook.
"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near,
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity;
Graves are fine and private places,
But nothing know of Books or Faces."
I appear to be having trouble uploading graphics: but still, a shoutout for Perry Bible Fellowship -
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Names that made news, then and now:
The Dalai Lama
King Phumipon of Thailand
and, in a cover article on "Weatherman Carl-Gustaf Rossby",
CO2 Menace Another atmospheric variable is carbon dioxide. CO2 is comparatively plentiful downwind from industrial areas such as the Ruhr, and there is a good possibility that man's fires and engines are adding so much of it to the atmosphere that the world's climate may be changed drastically by the solar heat that it traps. Rossby wants to find out about this little matter too.
You can't say we weren't warned well in advance.
I was resting after lunch in my boudoir, when the maid, Angelica, informed me that some gentlemen were in the hall. I asked her who they were, and how many. She said she had counted twelve, but that she had never seen any of them before. I said, 'Do they want to see me?' And Angelica said, 'I don't think so.'
Very mystified, I went into the hall.
My first instinct was to laugh. Imagine the effect of seeing a group of twelve red-bearded dwarfs, each fingering his little round hat nervously. I said, 'What can I do for you, gentlemen?' The spokesman answered nervously, 'Mrs. Tasker pushed us in here,' 'Why?' I asked, 'We don't know,' replied the spokesman.
Mr. Bastin Hermitage: I suggest they were an advertisement for Red Dwarf Horseradish Sauce.
Mrs. Renton: I don't eat horseradish sauce.
Cocklecarrot: Perhaps they wanted to make you eat it.
(Laughter and ribaldry in court.)
After lunch Rear-Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson was called again, by mistake. But before the mistake was discovered he told the court that the new Navy scheme to provide longer hammocks for tall sailors would be worthless unless shorter hammocks were provided for small sailors. Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot suggested that all this was irrelevant. But Sir Ewart replied: 'Not at all. If these dwarfs were in the Navy they would be completely lost in the new hammocks.'
Cocklecarrot then said, 'It seems very difficult to keep this case within the realm of common sense. There are no red-bearded dwarfs in the Navy, so let us hear no more of this.'
Saturday, December 12, 2009
He was born in 67, thus twenty years younger than me: therefore his parents were at uni around 1960. I've never heard of a strip called Barnaby the Mathematical Genius, and can't find any record of it. Could it be Barnaby? But that ended in 1952 (though there was a brief revival later that ended in '62) and as far as I know never reached Australia at all. Perhaps a Uni paper strip? Anybody having any information on this issue please contact live toad.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
"Canada had acted as "a chore boy for the USA", Canadian Tories charged."
Shouldn't that be choir boy?
"Chore Boy is a brand name for a coarse scouring pad made of steel or copper wool. It is designed for cleaning very dirty surfaces, especially washing dishes. During the first half of the 20th century, the product was marketed under the name Chore Girl.
In the American drug-using community, especially in more urban areas, Chore Boy has garnered a rather large market as a makeshift component in do-it-yourself crack cocaine pipes."
So there is presumably a phrase "chore boy".
"A person who is the designated bitch at any specific time"
On the other hand, "Betty Cuthbert, lite young lady who raises budgereegahs (Australian parakeets)" just suggests that they don't know much about budgerigars. Still, worth a check -
127 google cites, as opposed to 328,000 for budgerigar. And the great bulk of that 127 are surrealist spam.
Memidex online dictionary still has that as the spelling, though;
A 1970 citation from the Journal of Asthma has that spelling;
Must have been phased out almost immediately.
And an ad for the 1957 Studebaker Broadmoor 4-door Station Wagon, because nothing says quality like a prison for the criminally insane.
And a favorable, though not favourable enough, review of Seven Samurai, which was apparently released in the US as The Magnificent Seven. Which I suppose explains why Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Horst Bucholtz, Brad Dexter and Yul Brynner (all done from memory, too!) weren't called the Seven Gunmen.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver: I apply for a writ of tu quoque.
Mr. Bastin Hermitage: And I for a writ of sine mensis.
Cocklecarrot: Ah, that's better. That's more like the Law. I well remember in the case of the Pentagon Chemical Foodstuffs and Miss Widgeon versus Packbury's Weather Prophecies, Ltd., Captain Goodspeed intervening, a colleague of mine laid down that -- however, let us to the matter in hand. I understand, Mr. Hermitage, that you intend to call the Tellingby fire brigade. May I ask why?
Mr. Hermitage: They had been summoned to Mrs. Renton's house to extricate a child's head from between her chestnut fencing on a day when Mrs. Tasker arrived with the dwarfs. The chief of the brigade will tell us that Mrs. Tasker pushed the little men into the hall as soon as the maid, Agatha, had opened the door.
Fire Brigade Chief (from back of court): No, I won't!
(Consternation. Laughter. Cheers. An Asiatic carpet-seller is thrown out.)
Monday, December 07, 2009
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
My prophecy was exact to the letter. I'm vaguely disquieted, as when a child says to its grandmother "I hate you! I hope you die!" and she does, thus blighting a life. Or possibly grooming a psychopath, who knows? But Abbott.... Rudd must think he's died and gone to heaven.
When the Australian Democrats finally went down only one member of the parliamentary party hadn't been leader. The Liberals seem to be trying for the same record, en route to the same destination.
There was a hush of expectation as the admiral adjusted his spectacles, produced a sheaf of papers from an attache case, and began to read the following:-'By the might of the Navy our Empire was built up. By the might of the Navy it must be protected. Britannia did not rise from out the azure main merely to sink back into it again. The salt is in our blood, and-'
By this time the court was filled with wild cheering, and several ladies waved small Union Jacks.
Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: Yes, yes, Sir Ewart, but what has this to do with the case?
Sir Ewart: The future of our Navy -(cheers)-is the concern of us all (cheers).
Cocklecarrot: Really, I shall have to clear the court if this goes on.
Mr. Snapdriver: I beg leave to enter a residuum, with jaggidge.
Cocklecarrot: Don't talk rubbish.
Mr. Snapdriver: Now, Sir Ewart, do you know these dwarfs?
Sir Ewart: Dwarfs or no dwarfs, Britannia's bulwarks are her great ships. (Cheers). See how they churn the farthest seas, their enormous prows cleaving-
Mr. Snapdriver: Please, please, Sir Ewart, try to confine your remarks to the matter in hand. Do you or do you not know these dwarfs?
Sir Ewart: I should be sorry to allow my acquaintanceship with dwarfs, giants, or anyone else to distract my attention from Britain's need to-day-a stronger Fleet. (Cheers.) Britannia, Mother of Ships, Queen of the Deep, and-
Cocklecarrot: Mr. Snapdriver, why was this witness ever called?
Mr. Snapdriver: It was a subpoena.
Cocklecarrot: In demurrage?
Mr. Snapdriver: Yes, and in toto.
Cocklecarrot: Oh, I shall have to grant a mandatum sui generis.
(The case was then adjourned.)
Anyone who knew me in the days when I was a free-floating polymer blob will tell you I'm a changed man. Taller, more shoes, all that. Even those who remember me in later years, as a sixty-foot fruit--eater covered in trim triangular slabs and sporting a rather fetching rockproof ruff, would pass me in Fleet Street today with hardly a second glance.
I have come on a bit, since then.
Nor need we go that far back in order to launch this particular little poser. Why, it is scarcely three million years, if the good Professor Leakey is to be believed, since my fun-filled time in the Olduvai Gorge, loping from hummock to hummock and wondering whether, my ground-grazed knuckles were Mother Nature's way of telling me it was time to try something a little more erect. Four feet tall and a parting right down the middle of my back - goodness me, if my friends could see me now!
Look at the poignant little sketch above, and prepare to catch my drift. You will, I know, have already recognized it, since it is as engraved upon our memories as ineradicably as it is upon Pioneer 10: it is Mr and Mrs Man, or as Guardian anthropologists might have it, Ms and Mr Woman, stark naked and off on a mission to embarrass the more prudish inhabitants of interstellar space. For, just a short while ago and amid the falling tears and popping corks of Houston, the happy couple broke from the constraints of our backyard solar system and set off on their illimitable wander.
Free, white, and twenty-one, as it were. I'll come to that later. They were gummed to Pioneer 10 a long time ago, of course, in 1972, when it first found lift-off. This probably explains the somewhat dated hi-tech Habitat-austere furniture on their patio. It probably also explains the fact that it is the man who is saying hallo to the things out there; today, twelve years and a whole heap of raised consciousness on, they would both be saying hallo, otherwise Congress would bow to feminist pressure and take the money back.
Just shows you how far we have come in twelve years.
And do you know how long Mr and Mrs Man are going to be out there on their intergalactic Grecian urn, forever panting and forever young? 'Scientists have estimated Pioneer's shortest possible lifetime at 2 billion years’, according to The Times. The italics, as they say, are mine. Two thousand million years is how long they're going to be out there, at the very least; however, 'moving through frictionless space, where the chance of collision with another body is so remote that it is beyond imagination, Pioneer 10 could continue its journey to infinity.' I did not bother bunging in any italics that time; if a thing is beyond imagination, it is certainly beyond mere typesetting.
Not, mind, that every aspect of the matter is beyond imagination, else I should not be buttonholing you today. For it is clear that an outside chance exists of Mr and Mrs Man bumping into something between now and infinity, else NASA would not have thrown good money away on Benvenuto Cellini Jr. You know the kind of rigorous scrutiny the poor souls come under, there is always some interfering busybody trying to make out a case for feeding Ethiopia or curing cancer rather than sending a tin postcard into the unending void.
So, then: we are presented with the very remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless, that sometime in the next infinity or so, an intelligent thing from out there will hear a bump in the night, if they have nights, and go downstairs, ditto, and find itself facing the picture in question. If they have faces.
Now, let us first trim assumptions, for the sake of space. This space, not that. Let us not go down that road which starts with the reflection that the thing out there - could be a smart flower, could be a sapient gas, could be a god in a shower of gold - will take one glance at the figures and not recognize them as Earthlings at all, but as, what? A trade mark, perhaps? After all, thinking along NASA's cockeyed lines, if you sent a Mercedes-Benz into outer space, might not the welcoming committee on, say, Betelgeuse assume that the inhabitants of Earth were all three-pointed stars?
No, let us give the designers the benefit of the enormous doubt and accept that when the inhabitants of some unimaginably distant speck takes his eye out of his pocket and examines, the NASA plaque more closely, he will jump to the immediate conclusion that here is a snapshot of that nice young couple from across the universe.
Fine, fine; first hurdle successfully negotiated.
You have, I would guess, already picked up my scattered inklings about the second hurdle. We shall not even go so far as to say that all this is happening at the minimum survival limit of two thousand million years, we shall be generous and say that Pioneer 10 will bump into alien clever dicks in a scant million years from now.
Folding evolution's Rorschach test back on the hinge of 1984, have you the remotest idea what Earthlings will look like in a million years' time, given how they were a million years back? Even if the Greenham Commoners are wrong and the handful pf ennucleated survivors have not been mutated into polka-dotted gastropods with seventeen heads and a talking navel, are there not solid grounds for assuming that natural evolution will have taken a heavy toll of the NASA artist's impression? To cite the tiniest example: in Britain, the average height of a man over the past hundred years has risen by three inches. Do you have a calculator handy?
I am not of course guaranteeing that our descendants in 1,000,1984 AD will all be 2500 feet tall, you can never tell about evolutionary roulette, some of them may be no taller than the Eiffel Tower, but whichever way you slice it, it is going to be extremely misleading to the things gathered round the wreck of Pioneer 10. Or take shape: glance again at the rather plump 1972 lady in the picture. Is she not unquestionably pre-diet boom, pre-Fonda, pre-F-plan? Today, she would be twenty pounds slimmer; in a million years time, she could well be a thousand feet of thread, wound, perhaps, on a large reel for convenience, and living on amoebae.
Mind you, diet could well be a passing fad, just like employment: by 1,000,1984, such world as there is could be entirely run by robots, leaving the thousand·foot humanoids nothing to do but eat. Our grandchildren may very well turn out to be fifty-ton lumps of suet, capable of nothing but rolling around and watching breakfast television.
If Warfarin-resistant rats haven't taken over, of course, or malathion-gobbling giant greenfly, grown huge and clever and nasty. The mutant options, the evolutionary permutations, the protoplastic swings and roundabouts are unimaginably limitless; compared with speculating about them, thinking of infinity is a doddle.
As for the odds on Pioneer 10 not heaving-to alongside something intelligent before the further end of its two-thousand-million-year manufacturer's warranty, the guesswork should not even be embarked upon without a doctor's certificate. We Earthlings could, by then, be itinerant warts, we could be chattering fungi, we could all be members of the Labour Party National Executive. .
So, then, what might be the outcome of all this? The things from Planet X, beside themselves (unless, of course, they are already built that way) at the thought of intelligent life ten billion billion miles away, will hop/crawl/bounce/ drip into their own spacecraft, and set out on the long trip Earthwards. A thousand million years later, and sick of tinned food, they will chuck open the hatch and hurl themselves onto the surface of this planet, gabbling: 'Take us to your leader! Where are the women with the big jugs?' What will happen to this already battered old globe when they discover the truth, I dare not even begin to imagine. Regret at evolving beyond free-floating polymer blobs won't be the half of it.
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