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Despite often feeling that I work among people who have lost their ideals, and being immersed deeply myself in the last few months of this PhD, there is still a burning sense of injustice that enrages me every day, and it frustrates me that people around me cannot feel it too.

Recently, Bradley Manning completed his 1000th day in custody as his trial continues to be delayed, postponed and rainchecked by a ‘justice’ system and a long-term political regime that is institutionally prejudiced against those who speak the inconvenient truth.

Assange still spends his days in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, just a half hour away on the tube from where I am sitting now, an ‘enemy of the state’ for showing the world – or, at least, those who are interested – that American governments are not all they appear to be.

Hardly anyone even speaks about Jeremy Hammond, nor of the hundreds of journalists and political activists who are still behind bars today for making their dissent against injustice known, or even for reporting on the existence of injustice.

In many parts of the world today, gays still cannot marry without judgement from the prejudiced, women cannot be priests or even be educated without backlash from patriarchal fundamentalists, Blacks cannot go about their lives without being stop-and-searched, and intellectuals cannot speak their minds without being censored. The young are patronised and the old victimised, the poor overlooked and the wealthy put on a pedestal.

We should be enraged about these, yet so many of us wake up each morning and go to bed each night with these thoughts never having crossed our minds.

We should take heed of Assange’s words:

“Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.

If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.

If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whose hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.
The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering.

Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.”

 

First thing’s first – here’s Assange’s address from last night: http://wikileaks.org/Statement-by-Julian-Assange-after.html

Secondly, while I’m aware some of you follow this blog more regularly than others, I should probably say that I won’t be blogging as regularly as I usually do for the next few months. That’s because ‘crunch time’ has finally arrived – I have run my last study, analysed the data, and now I must go into the self-imposed solitary confinement I’ve promised myself I will, I must, go into, to finish writing my thesis.

Writing my thesis.

It has a funny ring to it when you say it out loud. I’ve been doing the field work, the desk work, the paperwork for this thing for two and a half years; there’s so much work piled up that’s been done. Everything’s done, and just waiting around to get written up. I terrifies me.

Come March, I must have the full thesis written, complete, reviewed, edited, formatted, and ready to go. I am in a state of disbelief that this could even be possible. And yet, I know, it can and must be done.

And if you are working on your own thesis right now, take heart, and keep working with the faith that you too will reach your goal in the end! A PhD is a long and lonely journey. That’s what my supervisor warned me at the very beginning, when I was first considering putting an application in to grad school. But I said I’d take the hit, and so, here I am. I have come this far, and now I am going to give it one last shot to make the home run. And so are you! We will accomplish this, all together.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go write my thesis.

Onwards and upwards!

Do you believe the web should stay free of censorship and open to all people across the world? If the answer is yes, please take a minute to support this petition run by Google to campaign against government control of the Internet:

Take Action

Support liberty in all its forms!

 

 

 

I’ve recently been made aware of an organisation called GetSET, affiliated with the UKRC, which advocates girls and women in science and encourages female participation and leadership in traditionally male-dominated professions.

Check out their website: http://www.theukrc.org/get-involved/networks/getset-women

Isn’t this a nice change from news stories highlighting the still-present deplorable inferiority of females in just about any field of science/engineering known to humankind. I wish I’d known about it earlier!

Apparently, over 3000 women in science and engineering are currently registered on the network. It’s a small number, but with more publicity, I hope we’ll see many more join.

 

And now it’s time for another whine at the frustrating state of women in science!

Scanning the ‘women in science’ news this morning hoping to come across an uplifting story, I instead found this article reporting a study done at the University of California-Davis on women’s participation at scientific conferences.

According to the study, which involved reviewing the conference programmes of a series of annual conferences in physical anthropology and primatology, fewer women spoke or presented than men, even though these sciences are traditionally female-dominated. Also:

  • Women were only half as likely to present in a symposium organised by a man than at one organised by a woman;
  • Participating women dominated the poster sessions while men were far more likely to give oral presentations or symposia.

If this level of inequality exists in a female-dominated field like primatology, goodness knows what’s happening at male-dominated science conferences…but hang on, we already know that!

Sometimes, whatever way you look at it, you lose.

Of course, it’s only more demoralising to hear about our own kind toting the line for ‘traditional’ gender roles, like Carla Bruni did the other day. I’m squirming in my incredulity at one of the highest-paid catwalk models with chauffeurs and cleaning staff telling us we don’t need to be feminist. Sure, Carla, if I were 6 feet tall and had maids to make my breakfast and clean my mansion, I’d sit around at home and give interviews to Vogue magazine too.

But then again, maybe I wouldn’t. Because even if we are provided for, does that legitimise girls growing up to stay at home? To look after the children, cook and clean, and do the ironing? To never feel curiosity to learn, to study, to be challenged? We live in the 21st century – when there is maternity leave at workplaces, more options for childcare, and maybe even a few decent men who don’t mind helping with housework. It’s more than possible – it’s necessary – for women to work, and not to work at some low-paid unrewarding post, but in some academic or industrial sector that fosters their curiosity and pushes them to aim higher.

We need more women in science, more women speaking at science conferences, more women in trade and in industry, doing jobs men are doing now, and doing it better than them.

I’ve all but completed my last round of data collection. Actually, I’d all but completed it yesterday, and today I have just been sitting at my desk, shuffling papers, checking emails, reading the news, pretending I’m working when really I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

Actually, that’s wrong. I know what I’m supposed to be doing, I just can’t resist the magnetism of procrastination and so I let my next important goal – writing my thesis – slide while I look busy but essentially bum around doing nothing.

Well, maybe that’s wrong too. I have done a few productive things today. For example:

  • I did a preliminary check of my data. My sample size isn’t as large as I’d hoped it would be – actually just over a quarter of the size I had on a similar project last year – but I’ll take what I can get. I also had a look at the institutional and geographical distribution of the data to get an idea of what the comparison groups are going to be like.
  • Then, I ran an errand for my supervisor. It was a minor errand, but someone had to do it!
  • I also dealt with a series of emails that urgently needed dealing with, mainly because they were from people making enquiries about my data collection, specifically, regarding circulating my study information, which I really need them to do or else I can’t get my data.

Despite doing all these things though, all in all it has been an unproductive day because I just haven’t got as much done as I usually do. It’s my own fault, but it bothers me profoundly and I feel bad for it. I can’t stand it.

This always happens to me when I’ve been working on a long, repetitive part of my project for weeks or months on end – when I finally complete it, I have a dazed period when I come to the office and spend the days wondering what I’m supposed to do next. My mind is blank, and paradoxically in a state of mad, whirling chaos. I can’t go forward because I don’t know which way I’m facing.

And it takes a little while to figure out where to go next – even if you already have a plan. Believe me, when you’re doing a PhD, if you’ve got the slightest bit of brains, you always have a plan. You have a plan for the day, a plan for the week, a plan for the quarter, and a plan for the entire project. You have a Plan B, and a Plan C. And when you’re doing a PhD, believe me, it’s true, your plans are always changing, altering, mutating, going in circles, and falling through altogether. External commitments, emergencies, absurdities come along and throw your plans in the trash. Everything is in a constant process of metamorphosis. So as soon as you get to the end of one confusing period of work, you have to stop a while and get your head together before the next one begins.

Take this for instance: I’ve just finished my prolonged campaign to collect data for my last study, and next, I know, I need to write the remaining chapters of my thesis, edit the existing ones, and get a working draft together for my supervisors. And yet, in an absurd contradiction, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

Really. Not the slightest.

It is a small victory for the sisterhood that it is the words of a female poet – Emma Lazarus – that grace the pedestals of the Statue of Liberty in New York’s great harbour.

What a shame that those words have come to represent an ideal that, in practice, America may never reach. Because the fact is, however much we idealise  equality among all people, regardless of their backgrounds, and however much we believe that we must protect those at the very bottom of society, we are still shamefully unequal. And for all the rhetoric of “difficult times” and “making do” used by politicians, our inequality is unjustifiable, indefensible, immoral.

Not long ago, Jon Ronson from GQ Magazine drove across America to interview some of the richest and poorest people in the country. In this striking story, the comfortable, protected life of a Forbes billionaire is put in contrast with a migrant from Haiti who lives in a slum and washes dishes for a meager wage. Inequality in America is, actually, still as bad as, if not worse than, it was in 1774. And that’s got to be bad, considering slavery was still in operation back then.

Today, we still live in a world where inequality prevails, where the rich hold power, and where the poorest masses are silent in the face of injustice.

In a world where those who dare to show us the truth – like Assange or Manning – are held captive by authorities that have long exceeded the powers granted them by constitutional law.

In a world where the tired, the poor, the huddled masses find no ‘world-wide welcome’ in the countries that hold equality ideal.

In a world where they find themselves, instead, destitute, and this destitution is more appalling in America and in Western cradles of democracy than it is in countries poorer, because it is here in the West that so many others bask in needless wealth, and in the greed that justifies holding on to it.

And here in London, in Stratford where I live and work, at what was the heart of the pomp and the glory of the 2012 Olympics, the homeless men and women still sit silent on the benches in the mall, wrapped tight in tattered clothes, smelling of garbage, a few bags of belongings tucked under their legs. In a country where £11 billion was spent on the games, how can it be fair that these unwanted castaways are no closer to decency and dignity than they were before?

If the West is really a ‘Mother of Exiles’, why did it not build shelters, open kitchens, create jobs and education programmes for its homeless?

And in its blind celebration of needless expenditure why, why can it not see the homeless, the tempest-tost on whom it treads?

 

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

There’s a GREAT article in NY Mag this week on women in political leadership. Check it out here.

I feel relieved – and pleased – that women really are more liberal, more action-oriented leaders than men, and the potential benefits of more women leaders for societies governed by administrations notoriously low in female representation sound promising.

In the history of modern politics, we have never lived in a world governed primarily by women. Some day, I hope, we will – and I believe we have a lot to look forward to.

For now, though, I’m supporting Wanda Sykes for US President in 2016. She’s the ultimate representative of the revolutionary left – she’s a woman, she’s Black, she’s gay…what more could America want?

David Cameron has once again shown the world the extent of his policy of double standards by agreeing that Syrian head of state Assad should be given safe passage out of Syria should he ask for it.

Safe passage for Assad, who has openly failed to put an end to state violence against civilians across the country for almost 2 years, but not for Assange, who has been unlawfully detained without charge or trial also for almost 2 years.

Why so selective about whom you protect, Cameron?

Why is it that you would go to such extreme lengths to negotiate escape for a president accused of heinous war crimes against his own people, but not for an ordinary man who showed the world that many of its governments are corrupt with double standards like yours?

Assange has always maintained he will face allegations of sex offences in Sweden provided he is protected from persecution by the US – persecution which has nothing to do with sex offences but with the way WikiLeaks has revealed, and continues to reveal, the increasingly unethical and inhumane activities conducted by US governments past and present. If you are so concerned about justice, Cameron, why don’t you lobby Sweden for protection for Assange?

Why do you instead agree to safe passage for Assad? Do you think that is fair, even if Assad is sent to The Hague? Is it fair that the man responsible for the murder of so many of his own citizens, in what is one of the longest-running Arab Spring revolutions yet seen, should be allowed safely out of his country to trial, while the man partially responsible for inspiring the Arab Spring in the first place, through the revelations of WikiLeaks, is awaited day and night to just dare to step out of the Ecuadorian Embassy so that he can be arrested and extradited to Sweden without guarantee of protection from unlawful persecution from the US?

Is it fair?

If you think it is fair, Cameron, it is clear that you pursue a politics that is rife with the corruption of double standards. If you think it is fair, it is clear that you value the silencing of threats to your own government but not the growing revolution of open governance. It is clear that you value all that suits you, and nothing that does not.

One of the most honourable qualities of a political leader is the ability to pursue liberty impartially. Too often, though, political leaders choose liberty for themselves, for their secrets and their lies, for their allies and their partners in crime, for their donors and their friends, but not for those who try to reveal this unjust liberty to the rest of the people. If you were a leader who pursued liberty impartially, Cameron, you would recognise that Assange deserves liberty from persecution and surveillance and that Assad does not.

Everything is shaken up today. Like one of James Bond’s ubiquitous vodka martinis.

First up: My preferred internal has provisionally agreed to examine my thesis. This is great. Here’s the downside: He can’t make July. Or August. Instead, he has offered June, September, or October. June is cutting it a bit fine for me, and September and October seem so far down the line I’m afraid I could lose all motivation by then.

Is this news good or bad?

One of the primary reasons why Chekhov set himself apart from other 19th century Russian literary artists is the fact that his characters (especially the ones in his plays) are neither good nor bad. You watch the plays, read and reread the scripts, try to work out if Ivanov is a hero or a villain. The truth is he is neither. Chekhov set out to show his audiences that humans – and life itself – are neither all good nor all bad. They are, instead, impossibly complex, sometimes tending towards goodness and sometimes towards evil.

If life is, like Ivanov, impossibly complex, then try my examiners!

Next: If my supervisors and I agree to take on my preferred internal, we would need to decide whether we will take him on for the sooner viva, in June, or the later one, in September. What we decide will then have a knock-on effect on my thesis submission date, which, if we take the June option, would mean I might even have to submit in April. That’s really cutting it fine. But let’s say I do manage to submit early. Then, there’s the issues of finding and agreeing with a new external, whom we haven’t even decided on yet, and chance being that this person can make a June viva. What if they can’t? Then we’re stuck till September for my internal to be available again. And then what? What if my external (whoever that is) isn’t available in September? Then what?

Sometimes I look at all the postdocs and lecturers and tenured professors around the department and am struck with awe at how they ever managed to get two examiners together at the same time in the same place to conduct their vivas. It’s a one in a million chance and they managed it. People with PhDs all over Europe manage it every year.

Maybe I’m just not as smart as them?

Maybe I’m going to fail the whole thing?

Then what?

It’s quiet in the office today. There’s an intern typing calmly away on her Mac. Some postdocs are passing to and fro in the corridor outside, going about their business. There’s the muffled laughter of undergrads on their way to lectures outside. Life is idyllic, just like any other day. I, too, am calm. I am quiet and typing the last lines of this post at my desk. Yet inside I’m in turmoil. I’m trying to reconcile the impossible chaos of my immediate future in academia with the equally impossible chaos of…I don’t know. Lovelust maybe, or more likely wanderlust. Just the increasingly strong impulse to be…free.

Friend of WikiLeaks

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!