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Monthly Archives: June 2005

An open letter to Jan Hommen

Tom Stafford
Department of Psychology,
University of Sheffield,
Western Bank,
Sheffield S10 2TP

Jan Hommen,
Chairman, Reed Elsevier,
Reed Elsevier PLC,
1-3 Strand,
London WC2N 5JR

Dear Mr Hommen

I was disappointed to discover that your company, through the subsidiary Spearhead Exhibitions, organises arms fairs. As an academic my familiarity with Elsevier comes from the scientific and medical journals you publish. It seems an entirely inappropriate sideline for you to assist in the selling of weapons. Will you stop?

As well as arms fairs in Brazil, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Singapore and France, Spearhead also organises the DSEi arms fair which is held binannually in London Docklands and boasts of being the largest arms fair in the world. This is a key event for those on the arms trade circuit, a trade which results in death, mutilation and suffering (most casualties of war are civilians, of course). Previous invitees to the fair have included nations such as Syria, which has refused to sign the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions and is accused of being a danger to world peace, and Indonesia, which used UK built Hawk jets in its lethal repression in East Timor. Other nations with long records of human rights abuses – Columbia, Saudia Arabia, Israel and China for example – attend, as well as a host of private companies with a history of selling indiscriminately to irresponsible governments in trouble spots around the world. Selling things like clusterbombs, which, like landmines, kill civilians years after the conflict that caused them to be dropped is over, but which aren’t illegal like landmines. Selling the small arms which are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in war (and killed 500,000 people last year). Selling missile technology, selling depleted uranium shells. By organising events at which these companies can market and promote this equipment, your company is playing a direct role in facilitating this trade. And all this subsidised directly, and indirectly, by UK tax payers.

This arms fair is important to the defence industry, but it’s not a major part of your business – and I urge you to cease your involvement with it. Organising international arms fairs seems totally at odds with your company’s expressed aim to play ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’ (2003’s ‘Reed Elsevier Cares’ programme). I also wonder how the academic and medical communities would feel about your complicity in the arms trade. My feeling is that you would- rightly- lose a lot goodwill from academics, goodwill that you rely on for them to publish in, review, edit and purchase your journals. You’ll be aware that Elsevier publishes the prestigious medical journal The Lancet – this seems especially incongruous with involvement in the arms trade. Can you really justify using profits from publicly funded medical research budgets to support the sale of arms around the world?

I’d be very keen to hear back from you about these things. Specifically the three questions I’ve asked in this letter:

  • Will you stop helping to organise arms fairs, specifically DSEi (next scheduled for September 2005)?
  • How does your involvement in the arms trade square with playing ‘a positive role in our local and global communities’?
  • How should the members of academic and medical communities feel about this involvement?
  • I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours,

    Tom Stafford

    Stay Free!

    My new favourite blog is blog.stayfreemagazine.org the blog of Stay Free Magazine and a must for ‘Media criticism, consumer culture, and Brooklyn curiosities’. Top recent posts include this piece about a public art project which involved covering all the adverts and advertisers slogans in Vienna for two weeks. This on an archive of propoganda music (‘The Happy Listeners Guide to Mind Control’), and this well put and much needed bit of commentary on the thesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Blink. That last post led me to this article from Stay Free magazine proper (yes! they have an online archive) about those who study ‘consumer behaviour’, which contains this choice quote:

    Funny how such a studied observer of consumer behavior could overlook a pretty basic truth–any company spending that much money, time, and energy on my psyche must not have a product worth buying. That is, my so-called needs only bear such intense scrutiny when the differences between deodorants don’t matter.

    (Compare with gladwell, here)

    links for the 21st of June 2005

    narrative compulsion

    Narrative Compulsion – that characteristic of an interpersonal situation, where the outcome of that situation is dictated by the logic of its description, rather than by the wishes or attempted actions of the players. See also life immitates art

    links for 16th of June 2005

    Links for 13th of June 05

    not old and quiet

    [local news warning]

    Not my normal cup of tea, but this sounds like it will be amazing:

    Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing
    LECTURE SERIES 2005

    Dr Azrini Wahidin
    Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent at Canterbury

    Not Old and Quiet: Older Women in Prison

    The central focus of this paper is to demonstrate how female elders who are in prison negotiate and resist the omnipresent power of the disciplinary gaze. It is through a discussion of the body and the role of time-discipline that we can come to understand how the ‘old body’ is performed in prison. The work of Foucault is crucial in understanding the nature of power in prisons and how it affects the identities of elders in prison. The spaces occupied by older women in prison demonstrate how time, space and techniques of punishment in the ordering of prison life are disrupted, de-stabilised and transformed. The elders in the study demonstrate how the use of power and how the capillaries of punishment in prison are directed in a specific way at the female body. It is by inserting the words of older women in prison into debates on time and agency that we learn how older women in prison choreograph their own bodies by transgressing or reinforcing typifications of age and femininity. It is the ability to resist and reclaim aspects of their outside self which enables elders to survive prison life.

    June 29th, 5.30pm Start, Lecture Theatre 5, Arts Tower, University of Sheffield

    Comments

    I’ve reopened the comments on The Happiness Maths, because i’m convinced the world has more to say about it.

    More generally, i’ve jigged about with the system so that commenting on entries stays open for longer. If anyone can bring me the heart of a comment-spammer on a plate i’ll extend it even longer…

    We Already Know The Answers

    Walking back to work and thinking about the forthcoming G8 meetings in Scotland and Sheffield, I saw a SWP poster which showed a placard at a protest saying “Stop capitalism now” and I start thinking “What a fucking stupid thing to say”. As if capitalism means anything more in that context than a think-stop, you might as well say “stop badness”, and i was getting dismayed that the socialists will, again, be co-opting a rightful and necessary protest so that it appears to the rest of the world like all dissent is support for their outdated dogma. And then my mind spun off on this kind of fantasy number where I’m at a protest and someone with a TV camera uses the C-word in another stupid question: “Are you against capitalism?”, implying, of course, the whole ridiculous deadweight of assumptions that the socialists and free-traders have managed to calcify the debate into. And then this torrent rose up in reply and I’ve written it down below because, well, what’s a blog for if not to spill your brains onto. Oh, and i’d drunk way too much coffee as well…

    am i against capitalism? what does that mean exactly, what could that mean? nonsense! what i am against is a system of debt which is a legacy of colonial exploitation, a system of trade which only reinforces the historic exploitation of the third world. massive corporations hand in glove with western governments allows us to sit on the back of those nations and choke the economic air out of them, choke it so successfully that all we get shown of africa on our tv screens are pictures of war and famine which only serve to reinfoce the prejudice that “they can’t manage themselves” and so we continue to suck the rest of the world, and the earth itself, dry to maintain our comfortable affluence, all the while stood on their backs choking them, protesting that we’ll do all we can to help them, all we can that is, except getting off their backs and stopping choking them. i’m a democrat and a liberal and those values today imply an as radical agenda as they ever did. the globalisation of economics, of markets, implies a globalisation of responsibility, of morality. two hundred years ago if you were a merchant in london selling cotton or buying shares in railways running on cheap coal then you were responsible for the exploitation that was occuring in the cotton mills of lancashire and the coal-mines of yorkshire. we passed laws to stop that exploitation, we made that happen, we recognised our complicity and took that collective action – and that’s what we need to do today, that what i want the G8 to recognise now.

  • Make Poverty History
  • Image stolen from Tolstoy: I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
  • Zigmunt Bauman on the globalisation of responsibility
  • The Happiness Maths

    We know that momentary happiness is some kind of function of experience, partially with respect to how that experience compares to previous experiences. We also know that people have hedonic baselines – a basic level of happiness to which they return, irrespective of changes in their quality of life. People win the lottery, and – obviously – they’re delighted. And then in a few months there as happy or as miserable as they ever were. Or they lose their legs, and – obviously – they’re devestated. And then they adjust and end up as happy or as miserable as they ever were.

    So, here’s a simple model that explains that phenomena, and maybe does some other interesting things as well:

    Momentary Happiness is defined by the difference between your current experience and an average of your previous experiences (with more recent previous experiences weighted more heavily in the average)

    The rest of this post is dedicated to exploring a mathematical formulation of this model, and seeing what it implies, what it misses out and how it could be improved. There’s also one eye on the question “How can experience be best manipulated to produce the maximum total happiness?”. If you are not interested in fun with maths, or the role of formal models in aiding thinking, then you might want to give up here.

    Read More →

    Why is capitalism boring?

    Fundamentally, trading allows specialisation, and this increases efficiency and diversity. So why is global trade resulting in more homogenisation, not more diversity? The same shops on every high street, the same stuff in all the shops. I remember the first time i went into a Toys R Us – A toy shop not just bigger than any i’d seen before, but vastly bigger than any i’d seen before. I expected a vastly larger choice of toys. And of course I was wrong, not more choice of toys, but larger piles of a smaller choice of toys. Why is the mass market operating to restrict choice?!

    I’d appreciate any systems-level or economics-based answers to this. Some possible angles I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Choice isn’t really being restricted: if I want to I don’t have to go to Toys R Us, I can go anywhere I want to buy whatever I want. That’s real choice. [I’d argue that in an important sense there is still and increase in homogenisation not diversivication, and that’s what I’d like explaining]
  • Trade only leads to specialisation of labour, indirectly it leads to standardisation of products (production lines, etc). Although there are an increasing number of economic roles for me to play in modern consumer society, there’s no reason why specialisation should make that society more diverse [in which case, why does consumerism seem to promote homogenisation?]
  • We’re seeing the effects of a false market, one that has been distorted (eg by government-supported monopolies, by trade laws, etc). A real free market would lead to more diversity. [I doubt this is true, not least because ‘free’ markets are impossible, markets are always societal constructions. Additionally I suspect that any market that is free in the sense of universally connected with total capital and labour mobility would be totally unstable and prone to epidemics like any ecosystem without semi-permeable barriers. [Er maybe this is a point to expand on in another post]. Secondly, even if this arguement is true, what is it about the current market system that reduces diversity?]
  • Answers on a postcard email please….