Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: June 2006

Adorno, Meet Kafka

I’ve blogged previously about the perverse difficulties I’ve been having obtaining a copy of Adorno’s “Sociology and Psychology”. I could of course do something smart like actually paying for a copy of the article from the journal that published it, but it’s not that urgent, and our interlibrary loan folks are normally very efficient.

I followed up on the issue again the other day, and received a very apologetic email promising to speed things along. Then today, I received an email telling me the article was available, and providing instructions for downloading my copy. I followed the instructions, then realised I needed to download some new software to read the file. This was odd: when I’ve received copies of articles in the past, they’ve generally been PDFs, which obviously don’t require anything unusual. But, eager to view the article, I downloaded the necessary software, installed it, opened the file, and finally had the pleasure of reading…

… a copy of my request asking for the article…

Spam as Found Poetry

Maybe it’s just me, but email spam to this domain seems to be getting more poetic lately. The current day’s offerings include the intriguingly random:

“Order status, off thrown”

Some nascent political commentary:

“Your money, oil filled”

And the haiku-like:

“Very sad
German statistics say
in average”

A bit less poetic is the spam that has been getting through my existing filters, and into the published comments sections recently. I’ll spend some time over the weekend trying to minimise this problem…

And, yes, I will write something about social theory again soon… Perhaps a meditation on the theme “Habermas: very sad German statistics say in average”…

Star Trek: The Net Generation

I just noticed a New York Times article (free registration required) on Star Trek fans creating their own digital video versions of the show. I initially thought the article was going to describe one-off, You-tube-style fan projects, but many of the projects cited are major (if volunteer) ongoing productions. One (Star Trek: Hidden Frontiers) is now into its seventh season. Another (New Voyages) has attracted sufficient download traffic to tempt Walter Koenig and George Takei into its productions, and has also received scripts from writers who contributed to previous Star Trek series. Any old trekkies out there looking for a break from grading might enjoy some of the following sites:

Star Trek: New Voyages – This series starts from the point when the original series was cancelled, casting new actors in the roles of the Enterprise crew. It focusses on authenticity of props, sets and costumes, and has attracted support from some writers and actors associated with the series. Several episodes are currently available for download.

Star Trek: Hidden Frontier – Now in its seventh (and apparently final) season, this series involves the adventures of a new crew in what I gather is a post-DS9 time frame. The series is a publicly-available spinoff from an earlier production called the Voyages of the USS Angeles, which was produced for cast and crew only, and is therefore not (officially, at least – I haven’t personally looked) available on the net.

Star Trek: Intrepid – This Scottish production has released some trailers, outtakes and stills, and has apparently moved into the editing stage. It follows a Federation starship sent to protect a distant and isolated colony.

Starship Exeter – Set in the timeframe of the original series, this production follows the adventures of a different Starfleet crew. This project hopes to convince Paramount that a new series, set in the context of the original, would be a viable commercial project. A couple of titles are currently available for download.

Starship Farragut – Another series set in the timeline of the original, and following a different starship and crew. Trailer and teasers are available for download, with the pilot and first episode scheduled for release in following months.

Trekkie nostalgia aside, I find these productions interesting for the delicate balance required to sustain them, while trying not to antagonise the copyright holder.

The Star Trek: Hidden Frontier site Copyright FAQ highlights this tension:

Hidden Frontier has taken great care to assert that we are in no way attempting to infringe upon Paramount’s copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Hidden Frontier makes no money, solicits no funding, and makes no Paramount-produced copyrighted material publicly available in high-resolution or -quality formats that would impinge on Paramount’s ability to continue to make money from their trademark and ownership of Star Trek.

So far, Paramount has generously elected not to take any action to ask us to cease and desist our efforts, though we acknowledge they have the right to do so at any time. We have attempted to remain true to Star Trek’s spirit, and we hope our efforts help to maintain Star Trek’s fan base and commercial viability for Paramount Pictures in the future.

The Starship: Farragut site contains a similar disclosure:

Starship Farragut has taken great care to assert that they are in no way attempting to infringe upon CBS Studios Inc. copyright and trademark rights with respect to Star Trek. Starship Farragut is free for you to download and distribute for private, non-commercial viewing. However be aware that Starship Farragut is fully protected by Federal and State Copyright Law. Unauthorized tampering, altering, or creating of derivative works from the show, or any images or audio contained therein is strictly prohibited and subject to civil and criminal penalties under the law. DO NOT make copies and sell them. If the producers, cast and crew can’t make money from the show, neither should you! IF YOU FIND ANY OF STARSHIP FARRAGUT EPIOSDES FOR SALE or RENT ANYWHERE, WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND IS AN ILLEGAL COPY! Star Trek®, Star Trek: The Next Generation®, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine®, Star Trek: Voyager®, Star Trek Enterprise® and all associated marks and characters are registered trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All rights reserved. The use of anything related to “Star Trek” on any of these web sites is not meant to be an infringement on CBS Studios Inc. property rights to “Star Trek.”

While it’s good that these productions – which are clearly labour-of-love efforts from devoted admirers of the commercial series – have been allowed to proceed, I’ll take the passing opportunity to say that I find it generally unfortunate that fan fiction and other non-commercial creative products have to tread such a careful line. The right to improvise around works that have inspired us, with a clear acknowledgement of the extent of our intellectual and artistic debt, seems like a right worth interpreting expansively…

I also can’t help thinking of the contrast between the potentials obviously embodied in the technologies – some of the special effects have been executed remarkably well, and the ability to film these productions on donated time and funds speaks as much to the lowering cost of amateur film production, as it does to the devotion of the fans – and the social/legal restrictions on these potentials. Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of the faith that technology drives social change – of the conviction that a tension between potentials embodied in technology, and social restrictions on the use of technology, will always and inevitably be resolved in favour of technological potential. This doesn’t prevent me, though, from being fascinated by the contrast between what we can do (technically), and what we (collectively) allow ourselves to do.

Cheating Successfully

I used to consult for schools and social service organisations that were struggling to manage programs for children with behavioural problems. One of my favourite memories from that time is of a parent who approached me after I had given a talk, described the numerous times her teenage son had been caught in possession of drugs on school grounds, and then confessed, “To be honest, I don’t know whether to be angrier at how often he violates the rules, or at how stupid he is about it: I mean, come on, how difficult can it be not to get caught?!”

I always remember this conversation when I catch students cheating – the ham-handedness of the effort is sometimes as affronting than the cheating itself: I find myself wondering what it was about me, exactly, that made someone think I would fall for *that*… I’m quite sure, of course, that there are plenty of “successful” plagiarisers and cheats whom I don’t catch: there are always a few suspicious assignments where I decide to give students the benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure there are others that don’t set off any alarms for me. But the particularly brazen and reckless ones always get to me…

I noticed today that Savage Minds’ oneman has written a post on teaching cheating, and also cited a piece by Alex Halavais that provides recommendations for those who would like to “cheat good”. I recommend that any students contemplating cheating in my courses read these works, and take their advice to heart – at least then, if you get caught, I won’t be torn over whether to be disappointed by the cheating, or just exasperated by how easy it was to catch…

Some Unintended Consequences of Demographic Change

My favourite quotation this term from a student essay:

The great post war economic boom had a positive effect on economic activity as population sizes increased, creating demand for the need to understand German theorists.

You know you’ve been talking about Habermas too much, when your students start drawing conclusions like this…


I’ve been oscillating over this post for the last several days… I’m not convinced that I can articulate clearly and concisely the issues that are troubling me; I believe the post sits outside the normal focus of this blog; and I also suspect it may annoy some regular readers whose opinions I respect… Yet the subject keeps nagging me in ways that usually drive me to write something… I’ll therefore place the content below the fold – anyone interested in my (somewhat self-indulgent) rant on the occasional experience of being a token American in local discussions of US politics can read on… Read more of this post

Eggcorns of Planning Wisdom

Readers of the delightful Language Log blog will be familiar with their periodic posts on “eggcorns” – the often poetic alternative words and phrases that sometimes result when someone hears a new term, but has never seen it written – like the spelling “eggcorn” for “acorn”.

The teaching environment is primed for eggcorn production, since students are bombarded with new terms in lectures and discussion. Since eggcorns often provide far more insight than “canonical” spellings into how students interpret terms, they can also be useful (if inadvertent) feedback for the instructor.

I unfortunately neglected to make a note of some fantastic (but now, sadly, forgotten) eggcorns from earlier in the term, but have collected a few from the final set of papers for the term.

My particular favourite is “physical list planning” (in place of the “physicalist planning” so often criticised during the term). I love the association it gives of planners blindly applying some list of rules and regulations to the planning process – a proceduralism that was also often criticised in the course, but has here apparently been assimilated to the slightly different critique of planners who focus primarily on the physical environment.

Honourable mentions go to:

“falls sense of security” – I love this reinterpretation, which shifts the emphasis of the phrase from the state of overconfidence, to the sinking sensation that might strike, once one realises that one previously suffered from a “false sense of security”…

“high and sight” – I liked this one for its metaphorical spatialisation of what is normally a temporal phrase – thanks to our heightened elevation, we can now see so much more clearly…

Everything I Needed to Write (this week), I’ve Written at Acephalous…

Since I seem to be spending more time writing over at Acephalous this week, than here at “home”, I thought I should provide a link to the thread where I’ve been posting. My own initial contribution comes fairly late in the piece, but the discussion is still rumbling along from there.

Planted Pots and Other Biodiversity Dilemmas

Last year we conducted a number of site visits related to planning issues arising from Victoria’s Net Gain policy. The Net Gain policy was added to Victorian planning schemes in 2003 as part of Amendment C19, but significant details relating to how the policy would be implemented were still being fleshed out at the time our visits were being conducted in mid-2005.

At base, the policy is intended to provide a strong incentive for developers to preserve native habitat, by requiring native vegetation displaced during development to be replaced by a much larger quantity of equivalent native vegetation, in a similar ecological niche. While everyone understood the strategic intent of the policy clearly enough, there was considerable uncertainty over the details of implementation. It was common for us to witness genuine confusion over what was “equivalent” vegetation, how much additional vegetation was needed to offset the removal of a particular patch of native vegetation, how far from the original site the “offset” vegetation could be located and, especially, how to interpret the apparent permission granted under the policy, on some occasions, to contribute money or other works in lieu of offset plantings.

We observed various disputes and negotiations contesting whether and how Net Gain policy applies to particular patches or pieces of vegetation. One of my favourites was an attempt to decide whether a particular patch of trees were “natural” or not. This dispute arose because the policy (at least as it was understood in the field at that time – I’m happy to be corrected on this) did not attach Net Gain obligations to native habitat that was deliberately planted – only to native habitat that had arisen “naturally” – presumably because there would otherwise be a strong disincentive to plant any new native vegetation. This policy exception then led to a series of quite intriguing debates over whether, for example, specific trees had arisen spontaneously from fallen seeds, or had been planted actively by farmers in the distant past.

On one site visit, the developer (who was, by and large, quite interested in retaining red gums for the amenity they would ultimately provide to the development) was negotiating the offset implications of a few trees that would need to be removed to clear space for a wetland (itself a product of a requirement for water sensitive urban design). The developer argued that certain red gums had been deliberately planted, and were therefore not sufficiently “natural” for Net Gain to attach. The Council staff asked for proof, and were shown the way in which the red gum trees had been carefully fenced – presumably to protect them from damage by grazing livestock. The Council staff argued that this wasn’t sufficient evidence: that the trees could have arisen naturally, only to have the farmer decide to protect them from livestock at a later point. The developer then responded by walking Council staff further into the proposed wetland area, and showing them this:

This tree has grown to engulf the pot in which it might have originally been planted.

The tree actually looks too old, to me, to have been originally planted in this kind of pot, but it was a fantastic moment in the negotiation process.