digitising public collections – a long talk

This post is going to be a bit of a mishmash of thinking I’ve done in my classes this semester (I’m looking at digital archiving and organising information digitally), my previous work during my PhD (I was interested in how communities of users employ a range of digital tools to complement their face to face activities), my sessional teaching in courses on audience studies (I taught students how to do audience research, particularly online) and some of the reactions I’ve had to public chitchat about digitising public collections. All my knowledge about digital archiving in practice is theoretical, but for the stuff I’ve learnt during assignments. When I talk about the literature in the information management discipline, I’m talking about the literature as it’s been presented to me in my courses. So it’s a pretty subjective overview reflecting course requirements rather than the field as a whole. Which is a pretty interesting comment on the role of course syllabi in structuring and reflecting our understanding of a discipline, yeah?

I decided to write this really long post in response to a number of really annoying things I’ve read online. Firstly, Marcus Westbury made this comment on his blog and in his Age column:

THE perception at election time is that politicians can get ahead only by rolling out the pork barrel and spending up big. But while we’d all love more money for the arts, there are a lot of things that could make us all culturally richer for not much more than the cost of political will, taking the lead, changing some rules and tweaking a few settings.

So, in the spirit of trying to get some actual ideas into the vacuum that is this election campaign, I’ve knocked up a list of suggestions for pollies wanting to do — or be seen to be doing — something useful on the cheap.

He continues

3. Put our national cultural collections online

It’s a no-brainer. Our museums, galleries, orchestras, opera companies and state theatres are sitting on rich cultural archives that could be shared online tomorrow. But the confusion of rights makes it difficult, and they often err on the side of caution, meaning these vast resources are lost in red tape. We need the 21st-century equivalent of public lending rights on the national broadband network. It’s the cheapest education and most effective audience development opportunity there is. We’re spending a fortune on infrastructure, so we’d be mad not to do it.

This comment really bothered me. It reveals a lack of familiarity with Australian public institutions’ digital activities, not to mention the practical reality of digitising collections. I understand that Marcus is suggesting a solution to the challenges of managing IP online (which do slow down digital library activities) – “the equivalent of public lending rights on the national broadband network” – but I am also fairly sure that this doesn’t recognise the fact that information management specialists are already onto this challenge. I had a three hour session on it last week, and I don’t envy the people who are actually involved in unravelling IP for public institutions’ online and other digital activities.

Digitising national collections isn’t cheap, nor is it simple. I’m going to explain why a bit further on in this post.

I was also alerted to this this UK Telegraph article by Colvinius on twitter, which is about a slightly different topic – archiving popular online culture. I can’t really address that in this post as it’s already too massive, but I’m not keen on the implication that public institutions aren’t paying attention to online culture. I mean the Library of Congress is kind of already onto that and they’re not alone – even the NLA is into that action.

Digital archiving? Digital preservation? Digital collections?

Firstly, when I say ‘digital archiving’ or ‘digital preservation’ and ‘digitising collections’ what am I talking about? This semester our work has made a fairly arbitrary distinction between digitising items for long term preservation as digital items, and digitising items for improving community access to these items (whether online at home, in schools or public libraries, on mobile devices or whatever). The differences between preservation and access occur at many points in an item’s journey from physical object to digital file, and then in its storage and access. In the simplest terms, though, a digital preservation project aims to digitise items and then store them for long periods of time and a digital library or gallery project digitises items so as to make them accessible now.

Users? Or, why are we doing this again?
In both cases an ‘audience’ is imagined for the collection, though the term ‘user’ is employed, and complex user personas and use scenarios are developed to aid the design and implementation of the digitisation project. In digital curation, however, the user is positioned as a ‘designated user community’ so as to manage the fact that we cannot actually address the needs of any and all potential users in the future. This is where I’ve found a sticking point: I’d like to design systems that are agile and flexible, able to respond to the needs of potential users. This, however, is in conflict with the fact that much digital preservation work is founded on projects or models developed for use within the scientific or engineering community, digitising their data.

The most important digital preservation model – the Open Archiving Information Scheme – was actually developed to manage the vast quantities of data produced by space research. So the user community – the designated user community – with this sort of data and research was an elite group of highly institutionalised research scientists and engineers dealing with a particular type of scientific data. No flexibility there. In fact, there are, of course, all sorts of positivist connotations about ‘data’ and ‘research’ here: data can be ‘captured’ objectively by skilled professionals working in laboratory-like environments and then ‘stored’, untouched by this process, for long periods of time until it is ‘retrieved’ at a future point in time. Problematic, much?

This raises all sorts of problems for people researching with real, live, actual hoomans (and the word ‘humans’ is actually used in much of this literature, in part to distinguish them from computer users, but still – it’s an amusing distinction, yes?). Particularly those of us working in the humanities area. We know that data cannot just be ‘collected’ as though it were little chunks of rock lying about in ‘the field’. We know that our ‘collecting’ is actually a series of complex interpersonal interactions shaped by our own lived experiences. We know there are power dynamics at work here, and that ‘data’ isn’t some sort of coherent, unit of information, that it is instead a more dynamic map of human relationships and practices that just doesn’t hold still.

Information management literature likes to draw a distinction between ‘data’ and ‘information’. Data is – and this is stated explicitly – objective units of ‘fact’. Information is created in the human interaction with these facts. There is no allowance – despite some fringe ‘theory’ literature – for the idea that all data is actually ‘information’. This notion of data as an object to be stored has been important to library and museum management for a very, very long time. After all, if objects don’t have an intrinsic, objective value and meaning, why would we bother to store them so carefully for so long for some future generation we can’t ever know? This sounds like quite a long diversion from my point. And it is. But I think it’s important to introduce it here because it informs the whole digital library and digital preservation process. So let’s get back to that stuff.

What do I mean by ‘items’? Basically, I’m talking about the stuff in public (or private) collections: books, posters, costumes, china, maps, records, photos, reel-to-reel film and so on. The physical items in a collection. A collection can include ‘born-digital’ items like websites and digital audio files, but I don’t want to talk about them here. Which is a shame, as that’s the point of that second article I quoted up there at the beginning of this post. Ah well.

Items are digitised in a number of ways, including these few examples:

  • taking digital photos with a camera
  • scanning items with a digital scanner (whether flat bed or otherwise)
  • creating digital recordings of analogue sound recordings (ie turning the sound recorded on a vinyl record into a digital audio file, and then ‘capturing’ the physical recording media – the vinyl record itself – using photography)
  • creating digital versions of audio-visual files (ie turning a film recorded on reel-to-reel film into a digital file, and then capturing the physical items associated with that recording (can cover, etc) with other devices)

Whose user?
Who is the ‘user’, then? This is tricky one, and even the literature in the field has trouble with it. While some of the authors in this area are approaching a cultural studies – a feminist, humanities-type – understanding of user which equates to our much-debated ideas about audiences, for the most part there is little rigorous attention to the way ‘users’ are imagined and then built into the design process by information architects. Who are the people who design and then build archiving systems (whether they be for the short or long term). In all this year, I’ve not heard one comment from any of my lecturers or in any of the literature addressing the role of our own identities in our development of user personas. It’s not been addressed even when I and others in the class have suggested that any user persona we develop is in fact more revealing of our own identities than any ‘real’ user (no matter how well substantiated with research). I’ve found this incredibly difficult to deal with.

To my mind, the design of a website or a poster or a database reflects the ideas and values and ideology and physical experience of the people who made it, and it also reflects the way they imagine the people who will use that system or item. My ideas here are informed by my experiences with cultural studies, media studies, hell, even semiotics and the fundamentals of textual analysis. This concept is a very basic prerequisite for thinking and writing about culture in media, communications and cultural studies literature. I’ve taught it a million times to a zillion students. I can’t even begin to contemplate not believing this. It’s the foundation for much of my thinking about power and privilege and broader social relations. So I’ve found this semester quite frustrating. But let’s return to my original discussion.

Organising items or data systems and controlling language
This all means that a database is not a neutral or objective system or structure. It is not only a reflection of ideology (and culture), it is also continually remaking and restating this culture and ideology. We’ve demonstrated this in class when each of us has come up with quite different architecture for the same database proposal. I think this is why I find the discussions about library and museum management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture so interesting. It’s in this literature (which I sought out myself) that I’ve found discussions about how databases and other library systems articulate race and class and power. The best example of this is the ATSILIRN alternative thesaurus.

In the simplest terms, indices or thesauri are controlled languages for describing items. When you enter information about an item into a database, you have to fill in fields like ‘title’, ‘author’, ‘year created’, etc. You could, potentially put any old information in there. The other week when we were discussing indexing I heard my first in-class comment from a lecturer about how language changes over time and how a word used by me today mightn’t mean the same in 50 years time. It was almost a discussion about cultural specificity, but there was no discussion of power or any self-reflexivity. But most database designers recognise this (though they might perceive it as ‘error’ or as aberration) and so try to control what can be entered into the fields. You can do this by adding constraints like only allowing numbers to be entered, or only allowing one of a number of options in a drop down menu to be selected. But you can also use specific indices or thesauri to control the words that are entered into the database. If, then, there are only five words specifying race in your thesaurus, and all of them created by and reflecting 19th century Anglocentric discourse, you can see where Dodson is coming from when he writes

We have been referred to and catalogued as ‘savages’ or ‘primitive’ while Western industrial peoples are referred to as advanced and complex (Mick Dodson, 1993, quote from the ATSILIRN).

Standardisation
I’ve wondered away from my initial point in quite a serious way, here. But it’s important to discuss this stuff, because all databases managing the records of library and museum and other collections employ controlled vocabularies of some sort. They might be in the indices and thesauri, but they are also in the metadata – the information about data – that is used to organise items within a archiving system. There are various types of metadata, and they gain their value from being standardised. Standardised metadata systems are really lists of fields which have been agreed on by various communities (usually in a formal sense, after intense negotiation, as in the case of Dublin Core).

I was super excited when I heard this – an enforced interpretive repertoire! (you can read about interpretative repertoires in Potter and Whetherell’s work, particularly the 1987 book Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behaviour The collaborative meaning making Stuart Hall talked about was actually codified and institutionalised here! I’d been used to thinking about these sorts of systems as evidence of ideology – or as things that could be analysed for ideology. But we don’t talk about this in class at the moment, and I daren’t even raise it, simply because the concepts require quite a bit of background information. If anything, my frustration here is perhaps evidence of how difficult it is to articulate this sort of theoretical and critical work in everyday language. Irony, much?

So, to this point, I’ve discussed ‘items’, the way users are imagined, and controlled languages in information management. How does all this relate to digital libraries and digital preservation? And exactly what does digitisation of a collection involve?

The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) has a very handy guide to digitising small collections. You can see as you browse through this excellent guide, that digitising a collection involves a little more than just digitising a bunch of things and then wacking them up on the internet. The digitising process – where you make digital files of each item – is about one third of the entire project. The larger part includes planning, budgeting and then organising the digital collection. Even a small collection includes thousands of digital items, all of which have to be organised within a (series of) databases. Even if your digital collection is not intended for public use on a regular basis, it will still require complex data management tools. Luckily, there is OAIS, which is a standardised (it even has its own IOS standard). Unluckily, OAIS is complicated and not exactly simple to implement. Perhaps more usefully, there is the Digital Curation Centre’s Curation Lifecycle Model, which allows you to develop an overall plan for long term digitisation and preservation. It’s also quite complicated.

I wrote a paper this semester about the challenges of digital preservation for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The most pressing of these (which apply to all collections) are:

  • handling delicate or culturally sacred material items
  • securing permissions to handle and then digitise and store digital records of these items
  • creating an architecture that will organise these individual records and files
  • acquiring and then maintaining the hardware necessary for storing such large amounts of data (ie having good server centres with reliable electricity, cooling and physical facilities)
  • having really good internet access to facilitate introduction of items to the archive and then maintaining the collection and supporting use of the collection
  • having sufficient funding to cover all aspects of the digitising process
  • having access to suitable skilled personnel to do the digitising, organising and maintenance of the collection

All these things are challenging for remote communities facing other quite serious social issues. But they are also challenges for librarians and curators working with smaller collections in regional institutions or within larger institutions.

In the most basic terms actually fairly complicated terms, digitising a collection for preservation involves:

Digitisation of a collection: Planning

  • planning and scoping the project can take a long time. You have to know what you have to digitise, what condition it’s all in, and what your resources are.
  • If you don’t have much money (and no institution in Australia has the money to digitise its entire collection), you have to start planning some serious fund raising. If your collection is attached to a large private enterprise or company, you’re in a much better place than a large public collection.
  • You have to start thinking about acquiring the technology and skills to do your own digitising, or you have to source a suitable external body to do it (which is something most collections do these days). The technology is super expensive, and the hours required for digitising are massive.
  • You have to discover and plan the appropriate standards for file formats for the digital records you produce. What file format will be useable ten years from now, let alone fifty? The questions at this stage continue and continue…

Digitisation of a collection: preparation

  • This is where you start ascertaining the state of your collection and beginning necessary conservatorial and preservation processes. Some items are physically very fragile and need to be handled by professionals in safe conditions. Their preparation for the physical act of digitising can take a long time. Some are damaged by the very act of digitising. Check out Pinknantucket’s blog for some super cool discussion of this stuff.
  • It’s also during this phase that you start checking out the permissions and intellectual property rights associated with items in your collection. Who owns them? Who can use them? There are some loop holes in Australian copyright law that allow public institutions like libraries and museums to digitise or copy items without permission. But you have to be very very sure you understand these laws or you can cost yourself a massive amount of money in legal fees later on.
  • You also have to find out whether you have permission to digitise all the items in your collection. Are you holding items on behalf of third parties? Do you have permission to digitise them, let alone make them available for future use by other parties? This is particularly relevant for items belonging to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. One of the largest challenges here, is that many collections possess items for which they don’t have ownership details. The forcible removal of Aboriginal people from their lands and subsequent government policies of removal of children from families contributed to the mis-identifying or un-identifying of items in public and private collections. If you don’t have a suitably qualified person on your staff to aid the identification of your items, you can’t even begin to approach gaining permission for digitising or use. But this is also important for other community groups and individuals. Is it appropriate to digitise very personal, private stories without permission? Would artists approve the changing-of-form which digitising involves?
  • You should also be thinking about whether open access to everything in your collection is a good idea at all. I’m not convinced that complete access is a good idea. Michael Gurstein raises some interesting questions on this.

Digitisation of a collection: acquisition

  • This is where we actually start digitising. Digitisation is a complex, demanding, labour and resource intensive process. It’d not just a matter of taking a photo of an item with a digital camera. The equipment is very expensive and requires particular skills to use. The digital files produced must be of a very high standard, and of an appropriate format. They must have longevity (ie won’t be unusable in ten years) and they are usually very large files. It’s also at this point that we see the difference between digital archiving and digitising for access. One single photo, for example, must also be reproduced in a number of different formats for public access – a smaller file for thumbnails in a catalogue, a high resolution image for sales to the public, a high resolution image of the item accompanied by colour matching tools and measuring tools and so on. Each of these files must also be tested for errors and accuracy – the colours must be perfectly matched. The scale carefully noted.
  • Creating metadata. This is where the digitising process gets complicated. You can’t simply wack a digital item ‘up on the net’ or into a box for use or preservation. All the thousands and thousands of files must be organised – for preservation, for maintenance, for error checking, for migration (where files are transformed to new formats as technology and file formats are superceded, or as publicly accessible catalogues are produced) and so on.
    This organisation is enabled by attaching metadata – information about the data object – to the digital item itself. This can’t just be one long list of details, it has to be an organised system of sets of information, all attached to one digital file. There are different sets of metadata – different sets of ‘rules’ or lists of fields for information about the item – and they can’t be applied randomly. It’s important to use standardised metadata (rather than just ones you make up yourself) for two main reasons: to allow interoperability (where your system can work with other systems – within your institution or with other institutions’) and access (either public access or access within your institution to facilitate maintenance).
    OAIS outlines a complex system for managing this organisation of the the digital files and attendant metadata. There are different types of metadata: submission information (where the digitisation process is recorded and attached to the file, noting things like file format, camera type, photographic angle, etc), descriptive information (which records all manner of things, but can also include descriptions of the original item from its author, historians or other people), technical information (regarding the file format, technology required to access the file – eg a Word .doc file will require a copy of Word to run it) and so on. Copies of the technology required to use the file may also be included as metadata. Most digital preservation systems favour open source software formats so as to avoid the IP challenges associated with this process – so using a Word .doc file is problematic.

Digitisation of a collection: Ingest

  • This is where you actually start putting your digital files into your archiving system. At this point you create a whole new set of metadata to record this stage of the process. It’s really important to create metadata as it will not only help you find your item in the archive later, it’ll also help you open it and then share it.
  • Metadata records permissions, technical information and also descriptive information. The ingest process creates metadata that is about the administration of the item within the system. It’s actually the really big and most important part of a digital archiving process. This is where the big thinking, planning and skill part happens.

Digitisation of a collection: maintenance

  • So once you’ve got your digital archive, you need to maintain it.
  • You’re going to need clever, well researched disaster recovery programs (eg what will you do if your data centre is flooded? Where do you keep multiple redundant copies of your data? What if electricity becomes too expensive for your institution to handle in the future?).
  • You’re going to need to migrate your data regularly to make sure it’s accessible. This is a problem with data in the earlier space missions – it’s stored on technology that we no longer know how to use or have the hardware to use. You need to not only migrate your data across software, but also record this process so that you have records of when data changed form and how. More metadata
  • You’re going to need ongoing funding. More of it. So you need to continually seek out funding for the maintenance of your collection.
  • You’re also going to need to manage the IP of your collection. Has copyright lapsed on an item? If so, do you still have the rights to store it or use it? Has the IP for an item changed hands, moving between generations? What are the wishes of the next generation? Has an item now become publicly usable – can you now make an item publicly available as per the wishes of its creator? If you’re managing ATSI items, how does sorry business (ie the management of items in regard to the passing away of associated persons), sacred and secret status and cultural significance affect the metadata and permissions associated with an item?
  • Repatriation and ‘returning’ items. If you do have ATSI items in your collection, how will you manage the repatriation of those items to the original owner? If you are asked to return an item to its traditional owners, how will you deal with the digital records of the item?
  • Disposal: some items must be disposed of at a certain date. This is the case with items under military or official secrets acts, personal records such as medical records and other issues. How will you handle data destruction? Do you have a schedule for these sorts of events?
  • Ongoing community access. How will your archive accommodate access to and use of the collection? Is your archive intended solely to preserve items for perpetuity? If so, why? Who are the end users you’re preserving these items for? How, when and if will you allow copies of your collection for general access? What are the terms upon which your digital collection can be used? If you are a public institution, what is the mandate of your organisation – who is your user community? This becomes an issue when you’re funded by public money and required to represent the interests of the community which funds you. Are you federally funded? State funded? Commonwealth funded? How should you make your archive available for use? What constitutes use?

All these issues are very complicated. As you can see, it takes a lot of time, money and effort to create and maintain a digital collection. The types of metadata you use will depend on the goal of your work: are you preserving for the long term? Are you interested in broader community access? In my course a distinction is made between digital preservation and digital libraries for immediate access. This distinction affects metadata strategies. To my mind, a sound digital preservation project allows for interim use as well as long term preservation.

But the challenge here is that digitisation strategies are relatively new, requiring serious institutional changes and are being developed as we go along (though you can read about NSW State Library digitisation policies here). We had a talk from a representative of the NSW State Library this semester, and he noted that for the most part they were figuring out how to do things as they went along. Though there are international standards for a range of aspects of the process, they had to figure out how to do things like manage work flows and labour; how to handle the digitisation of physically fragile items; and how to prioritise digitisation of a massive collection. In the last case, his comment was that they digitised first the items or mini-collections which attracted the most public or private sponsorship. Simply put, the items they’d digitise first were those private beneficiaries and donors considered most important. We were all aware of the difficult power and taste issues at work there.

He also made an interesting point about the way digitising was shaping the organisational structure of the NSW State Library as a whole. The vast resources required for digitising were re-working work flows and allocation of resources throughout the entire library. Digitisation was effecting the culture and goals of the organisation as a whole.

Australia’s national and state institutions’ digital activities today
Australia has actually been very foresighted in its approach to digitising cultural heritage. The National Conservation and Preservation Policy for Movable Cultural Heritage was composed in 1995. The National Library has a well-respected and quite comprehensive digital preservation policy. The National Museum also has a digital preservation policy. In fact, most national and state institutions have digital preservation policies, in part motivated by policy documents like the National Conservation and Preservation Policy for Movable Cultural Heritage Policy. I’d be curious to see the government policies for these things and to see how they’re being fulfilled (or not) today.

I’ve been really surprised by just how active our various national and state institutions are in terms of digitising and engagement with online communities and culture. The Collections Australia Network (CAN) is not only facilitating and documenting digital work by Australian cultural institutions both large and small, it is also engaged in collaborative projects overseas (with CHIN in particular). A whole range of Australian institutions are involved in digital online public access projects like the flickr commons project which works with a third party facilitator, but also with national collaborative projects like Trove.

Trove is a very interesting project because, while it administered by the National Library of Australia, it draws on the collections of a great many Australian institutions and projects. You can use Trove to search hundreds of collections and catalogues. This interoperability is facilitated by badass metadata. Simply, Trove and other tools (including the wicked mashups with google maps around the place) are enabled by hardcore metadata. And controlled vocabularies. These standardisation tools provide common languages for collections, allowing this sort of exciting collaborative work. Which is yet another reason for following the time consuming, frustrating and expensive digital preservation models like OAIS.

One of the impressive things about Australian collections online is their willingness to take up, experiment with and then move on from online projects. Picture Australia, for example, was an innovative gateway to the image collections of Australian institutions. But it will soon be dismantled in favour of (or integrated into) Trove as its technology and services are made redundant.

I’m particularly interested in the way a number of Australian digital collections employ ‘crowd sourcing’ for intellectual, technical and practical labour and community participation. Various institutions employ crowd sourced ‘tagging’ for items. No controlled vocabularies there. The Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program is particularly exciting. Basically, the NLA scans Australian newspapers then puts the files online. Here, volunteers edit the scans, correcting mistakes in the scanning. This is a truly amazing cooperative project, where a national collection works with people in the broader community to make their collection not only online but also usefully online.

Beyond these few examples, most large Australian institutions also maintain a lively online communicative space. I follow a range of organisations on twitter, from CAN to the Powerhouse Museum. Most also have blogs or regularly updated websites with comments and places for people to ask questions (there’s an interesting discussion about the Powerhouse Museum’s 80s exhibition social media strategy here). The National Museum is particularly accessible, not only making items available online, but also providing useful, skilled advice to complement the items themselves. And DINOSAURS!

I could go on on and on. But I think it’s worth noting that point that it’s not simply a matter of wacking stuff online. Sometimes access to a collection means providing assistance in using online AND face to face services. This seems particularly important in regards to the National and State Archives which are very important institutions for individuals trying to find out about their families. They’re used not only by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tracing families, but also by migrant and refugee people. In these cases online access simply isn’t as useful on its own as it is in cooperation with skilled, culturally sensitive librarians and archivists – real, live people.

I think I’ll leave this with the comment that our museums, galleries, orchestras, opera companies and state theatres are NOT sitting on rich cultural archives that could be shared online tomorrow. No matter what the state of IP and copyright legislation.

a revision of my comments about CSIRO’s approach to vegetarianism

I want to add something to my first post discussing the CSIRO diet.
Here is some very basic information I’ve found in the two CSIRO books. I haven’t looked further afield (yet).
The acknowledgments in the second book write:

CSIRO gratefully acknowledges all those who have contributed to the funding of research on higher-protein diets for weight management: CSIRO Human Nutrition; Dairy Australia; Goodman Fielder; Meat and Livestock Australia; The National Heart Foundation; The National Centre for Excellence for Functional Foods; The National Health and Medical Research Council

My immediate response to this funding from particular interest groups (especially Meat and Livestock Australia) is to wonder just how trustworthy the findings of this research can be. But then I think about the realities of funding for research in Australia. It is probably not so much that the funding bodies dictated the terms of the research, but that there wasn’t funding available for research into alternatives to a high-meat diet. I’m reasonably confident that CSIRO (and the authors of this book) are reputable researchers. So it’s not as though we’re reading a diet book written by me.
This of course raises all sorts of interesting questions about the role of public bodies – government research bodies – as ‘reputable’ or authoritative sources of knowledge and information. It also makes me wonder about the way we are willing to accept ‘scientific’ research about health and bodies as ‘objective’ and ‘reputable’, but are far more sceptical of research on these topics from the humanities. I have read some really, seriously dodgy published work in the humanities on bodies and diet and food and so on – stuff that’s really theoretical supposing and not at all substantiated by solid data – but I’ve also read some equally dodgy ‘scientific’ work. I think, though we could probably accept that CSIRO is quite good at doing ‘scientific’ research, that it would be wrong to assume that this study (as with any ‘scientific’ study) is objective or neutral or reporting ‘just the facts’. This study is as guided by ideology and notions of ‘body’ and ‘health’ as any other. Science isn’t neutral; it’s just institutionalised in a different way.
At any rate, I approach the CSIRO diet with a degree of critical engagement. I want to ‘trust’ this study and diet, but at the same time, this is my body and I don’t want to fuck it up with the consequences of bullshit research.
With this in mind, here are a few issues that I have with the CSIRO diet’s approach to food, and most importantly with its recipes. Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that the books have three general sections:
1. a discussion of the research into health and nutrition upon which the ‘diet’ is based;
2. a section outlining exercise, and providing some basic exercises;
3. a section of menu plans and recipes.
The books do not position the diet (and its approach to food and nutrition) within political, social, cultural context. There is no discussion about the political economies of food. There’s no talk about the social and environmental sustainability of particular diets and lifestyles. There’s no discussion about (or even reference to) class and how spending money on food is not dictated entirely by ‘lifestyle choices’, but my the basic economics of living within a budget. I do quite like the way it avoids discussions about body image and gendered notions of ‘beauty’, instead emphasising the benefits of fitness and good health: feeling good. I could also discuss the pictures (which are quite heterocentric and feature far more women than men), and I might later in another post.
Generally, the books remind me of the ABC. Sort of middle class aesthetics, careful with its gender talk (but still gendered), articulate but not alienating in its language, lots of nice san serif fonts. It appears ‘neutral’, but of course it’s not.
The one issue I want to take up here is the books’ approach to (or neglect of) vegetarianism and veganism.
I wrote this in my previous post:

There are also questions to be asked about the CSIRO diet’s funding (which was in part from Australian primary producers – meat farmers to be specific) and how this affected their research and findings. Their very brief section(s) on vegetarianism are really quite bullshitty. There’s a line something like ‘there’s no evidence that vegetariaism is bad for you…’ Which of course is misleading if not downright deceitful. A vegetarian diet is much better for you than a meat diet, so long as you’re eating well. No diet is good for you if it doesn’t have mostly fresh fruit and vegies, wholegrain foods, dairy products and then protein, and finally a small amount of certain types of fats. You can skip the dairy stuff (so long as you replace it), but you certainly don’t need to eat meat.

But I wasn’t entirely accurate. I was actually a bit full of shit, there. Here’s what the CSIRO books actually say:
The first book has this to say about vegetarianism:

Our bodies have evolved to thrive on a wide variety of both animal and plant foods. Many people eat a plant-based diet by way of necessity, but others choose to for a wide range of reasons. Population studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer – but it is not clear if this is due to their diet or their lifestyle. However, if you are a vegetarian, you need to plan your diet carefully to make sure that all essential nutrients are included (p 39-40 Book 1)

And this (within a very serious section about the importance of calcium, particularly for women:

Vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium than do non-vegetarians. Vegetable greens such as spinach and broccoli, and some legumes and soybean proucts are good sources of calcium. Vegetarians who eat dairy foods will obtain sufficient calcium (p 46 book 1).

There’s even less about vegetarianism in the second book (in a section addressing readers’ questions):

Is there a diet for vegetarians?
We have not investigated whether a high-protein vegetarian diet is as effective as a high-animal-protein diet, but we do know that vegetable protein confers a similar benefit in reducing hunger. You may want to consult your GP or dietician to modify the Diet for your needs. If you wish to substitute non-meat protein, we would suggest eating 200g tofu or 260g cooked chickpeas, beans or lentils instead of 200g meat, fish or chicken (p33 book 2).

The context of these quotes – sections ‘warning’ about the dangers of inadequate amounts of calcium (for women especially), about malnutrition generally – is significant. Vegetarianism is framed in terms of nutritional failure or of malnutrition. It is pathologised. This is the most common criticism I’ve heard of vegetarianism: that you have to eat really carefully or else you won’t get the nutrients you need, and that this is very difficult (if not impossible). My immediate response is to wonder whether most omnivorous human beings in mainstream Australian society eat ‘properly’. Eating meat does not automatically ensure proper nutrition. The meat is far less important than the other stuff you should be eating. A standard ‘meat and three veg’ diet with its emphasis on white bread, processed foods and meat rather than vegetables and fruit is not as nutritionally balanced as it might appear. There’s lots of interesting stuff written about the way this type of diet developed in Australian culture, with attendant discussions of mid- and post-war shortages, the rise of supermarkets, gendered division of labour in the home, the economics of mass-production and distribution of food and so on.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this literature (with which I am not terribly familiar) is the idea that science (and the idea of ‘Science’) defined or shaped ‘modern’ living and food. We could go on here about a movement away from diversity in food plant stocks and towards the genetic ‘management’ of food my corporations. We could also talk about the way diets are shaped by supermarket wholesale purchasing and relationships with growers. And we could discuss the role of class in ‘whole food’ or ‘organic’ counter-movements. But I don’t really have the brain for it today. Really, what I want to say here is that the ‘meat and three veg’ diet is culturally specific. It’s shaped by class and gender and ethnicity and so on. It’s not ‘natural’ and it didn’t ‘just happen’. It is a product of economics and capitalism, of patriarchy, of mass media discourse and so on. It’s also, ironically, the product of government policy and ‘education’.
So, what I really should have just said above, is that vegetarianism is presented as deviance from a ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ diet in the CSIRO diet, and that this reflects broader mainstream notions of vegetarianism. But, of course, it’s not. Vegetarianism is as difficult/easy as omnivorous eating. It is, however, more difficult socially and culturally in many contexts. Dining out offers the best example of this: vegetarian restaurants are fewer in number than omnivorous ones in Australia, and vegetarian dishes are marginalised within mainstream menus at Australian restaurants.
A prioritising of meat of course makes sense in the CSIRO diet: this is a diet focussing on high-protein diets. More specifically, it is concerned with the importance of meat in a high-protein diet. I think that the issue not so much the neglect of vegetarianism, but the over-emphasis of meat and neglect of non-meat protein sources.
What this means, in terms of the menu plans and recipes, is that the dishes are all constructed around meat. The meals are still thinking of the ‘meat and three veg’ ratio, rather than thinking of meals as a combination of elements. This basic point is one that we find most difficult about the CSIRO recipes. Each meal is constructed as one item + one item + one item. This is almost diametrically opposite to the notion of constructing a meal as a complex, harmony of flavours and elements. As an alternative, we might construct a meal that is composed of a series of small dishes, each representing one of a series of flavours: salty, sweet, wet, dry, etc. Or we might select ingredients that balance the ‘humours’ of the body: cooling, heating, etc. The meat and three veg diet lumps vegetables into one or two groups: greens and ‘others’. We might instead think of the role of brassicas and leafy green vegetables in relation to pulses and grains and root vegetables. Though the CSIRO diet does explore the sources of particular minerals and nutrients, the meals themselves are still imagined as ‘meat and…’:

Tandoori chicken with garlic spinach
chicken with djon mustard and white wine
chicken and tarragon meatloaf
(book 1 recipe titles)

And vegetable dishes are then served with them (if at all).
In practical terms, this means that you buy the meat first, then look for vegetables to go with it. This tends to suggest that cooks will look first to their meat, then their vegetables. Which means that they’re more likely to use fresh meat and less likely to use fresh vegetables. If meat is the priority, then the veggies are the ‘add-on’ rather than the central taste and ideological ingredient. Financially, it’s challenging to build a menu around meat – it’s one of the most expensive ingredients. But then the CSIRO diet is not cheap. In part because of its emphasis on meat, but also because of its neglect of seasonal variations in ingredients. I think it’s worth emphasising the importance of cost: this is not a diet for those on a low budget.
Of course, this leads me to an interesting point: the idea of meat as a luxury good. This line from the CSIRO book works with this point:

Many people eat a plant-based diet by way of necessity, but others choose to for a wide range of reasons.

The line about necessity is key. I wish they’d expanded. What issues do they feel necessitate vegetarianism? Poverty? Religious restrictions? Geographic location? Allergies? I also wish they’d referenced some of the reasons vegetarianism is chosen. A few million spring to my mind immediately: ethical (preventing cruelty to animals, treading lightly environmentally, avoiding unjust labour and economic practices…), religious, economic… Surely vegetarianism for these ‘reasons’ is a necessity. It is necessary that they choose not to exploit animals. It is necessary that they live simply so that others may simply live. It is necessary that they honour the teachings of a holy figure by not taking lives.
Finally, the point I’d like to return to at the end, is the one of eating seasonally. The CSIRO diet does not in any way account for seasonal variation in fresh produce. It relies upon its users shopping at conventional supermarkets and having access to all ingredients at any time. We found that the preponderance of particular ingredients (tarragon!) made shopping expensive. The neglect not only of seasonal variation, but also of regional availability made shopping difficult and expensive. This is where we first began varying the menu plans: we didn’t want to eat manky out-of-season tomatoes, or to walk past gorgeous fresh asparagus.
One of the delights of a vegetarian diet is that you supplement dried ingredients (grains, pulses) with fresh produce. Your diet changes with the seasons. In practical terms, this means that you’re eating a menu that changes over the year; you don’t just keep eating the same old stuff, day in and day out, regardless of its freshness or availability. Seasonal produce – stuff that’s in season is fresher, tastes and looks better and is cheaper than stuff that is not. So it simply makes sense to build meals around ingredients which are in season rather than force-grown in a greenhouse, shipped in from overseas and riddled with preservatives and generally sapped of any flavour.
Eating seasonally does require some knowledge of the seasons, and also, by extension, of local farming practices. But this sort of knowledge can come almost osmotically if you’re not shopping in a supermarket. Supermarkets stock the same products, day in, month out. Greengrocers and fresh food markets tend to buy most what is cheapest as well as keeping in stock perennial favourites. But when you’re shopping at a greengrocer every week, you see the biggest piles of cheapest vegetables change with the seasons. Even if you’re not buying organic.
Of course, buying organic is something the CSIRO diet does not make simple. Meat-centred meals with un-seasonal menus do not support a diet of organic, seasonal produce. While the second does not refer to it at all, the first book has this to say about organic produce:

We are often asked whether or not it’s better to buy organic produce. Although organic fruit and vegetables are probably no more nutritious than conventionally grown varieties, they may taste better. Some organic leafy vegetables and potatoes also seem to have higher vitamin C contents, which may be due to the fact that organic produce is often smaller and therefore denser than conventional produce, which has a high water content. The bottom line is that eating more fruit and vegetables, whether organic, conventional, fresh, frozen or tinned, will increase your intake of protective compounds and is important for good health (p50)

There’s a whole world of wrong in that paragraph. I’ll let other people explain why.
I know I’ve rambled off-topic a bit here. I began with an argument about the CSIRO diet’s anti-vegetarian stance. But I think it’s important to point out how a meat-centred diet which neglects seasonal variation discourages the consumption of organic produce and encourages the consumption of processed foods (including canned and frozen food). I think that eating out of season is a matter of swimming upstream when you’re trying to convince people to eat more fruit and vegetables. If the fruit and vegies they’re eating don’t taste too good (because it’s out of season, loaded with preservatives and pesticides or simply sat around for too long), people won’t eat them. If the fruit and vegies they have do taste delicious, they will eat them.
I think this is at the heart of a ‘healthy’ diet. Eating well should be a delight to the senses. It should be about pleasure. This means that a ‘good diet’ not only avoids discussions of ‘restriction’, ‘denial’, ‘guilt’ and ‘suppression of appetite’, but actively encourages pleasure and interest in food. Healthy eating is about enjoying food, about taking an interest in the growing and preparation of produce. It is about the provocation of appetite, the association of food with pleasure and happiness.
It’s no wonder that hardcore cooks become interested in . An interest in cooking leads to an interest in sourcing produce. And this leads to producing your own food – even if only your herbs. For many foodies, an interest in gardening leads naturally to an interest in water and sustainable food production. But not all foodies. I think it’s worth pointing out that being interested in food and growing your own veggies does not necessarily mean you’ll end up a hardcore hippy growing organically. I think it’s also worth pointing out that availability (or lack of it) often pushes cooks to gardening. I’m thinking about migrants in particular: tomatoes in Brunswick, bok choy in Ashfield. Frugality is often a prime motivator for gardening: it’s far cheaper to grow your own organic produce from seed than buy it from the shops.
While the CSIRO diet has been very useful, I think that its neglect of these sorts of social, cultural, economic and scientific issues is a profound weakness.
Having said that, though, I think that its success is largely owed to the fact that it does not address these issues. Perhaps, then, it’s worth thinking about the CSIRO diet as a gateway drug, encouraging an interest and food and cooking and nutrition that might lead to experimentation with other recipes and food types? Unfortunately, I think that the CSIRO diet’s books discourage this type of exploration. Though the book suggests that once the ‘initial’ ‘weight loss’ part of the diet is achieved, users should move on to tailoring their meals to suit their (new) lifestyles, I wonder just how many users do stay with the diet long enough to reach that point.
Ultimately, the CSIRO diet is not so much a ‘diet’ as a manual for lifestyle change. But it is not, unfortunately, a manual for ideological change in terms of approaches to socially and environmentally sustainable food production and preparation.

thinking about victoria spivey and discographies as historical resources

sp.jpg I’ve recently come across some Victoria Spivey songs quite by accident. I have quite a few by her, but mostly bits and pieces from various compilations. I haven’t put any effort into collecting her, in part because my resources are limited and in the other part because my attention was caught by Bessie Smith. I also tend to prioritise ‘songs for lindy hopping’ in my purchasing.
I came across some Spivey songs in a Henry Red Allen JSP (I think) set from emusic. It’s also on one of the Complete Jazz Series, and I think the latter versions are slightly better quality. On both it was just labelled ‘Henry Red Allen and his orch’ I think. I found the additional details in the discography at the library. Listed under Victoria Spivey, she did quite a few sessions in New York 1928 with Clarence Williams etc, and then in 1929 she did some stuff in New York again with some really big guns. Below are the discographic details for the sessions that caught my interest:
Victoria Spivey
[S10354] Victoria Spivey (vcl) acc by Louis Armstrong (tp) Fred Robinson (tb) Jimmy Strong (ts) Gene Anderson (p) Mancy Cara (bj) Zutty Singleton (d)
New York, July 10 1929
40252-C Funny feathers
Okeh 8713, Swag (Aus) 1267, 1310, Col C3L-33, Odeon (F)7MOE-2250, Par (E)PMC7144, CBS (F)65421, (Jap)SL-1209/10/11
402526-A How do you do it that way?
Okeh 8713, Swag (Aus) 1267, S1310, Odeon (F)7MOE-2250, Par (E)PMC7144, CBS (F)65421, Spivey LP2001, Jass 5, Biograph BLP C5, Book of the Month Club 21-6547
[there are details about where these songs were published]
[S10355] Victoria Spivey (vcl) acc by Henry “Red Allen” (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Charlie Holmes (sop) Teddy Hill (ts-1) Luis Russell (p) Wil Johnson (g) Pops Foster (b,tu-2)
New York, October 1, 1929
56732-1 Bloodhound blues (1)
[with recording details I can’t be arsed typing out]
56733-2 Dirty T.B. Blues (1)
56734-1 Moaning the blues (1)
56735-1 Telephoning the blues
[there are details about where these songs were published]
When you go to the Henry Red Allen entry, you find him in New York in the same months (July and October of 1929) recording with mostly the same musicians. Luis Russell is the one that catches my eye, mostly because he’s (one of) the connections between Allen and Armstrong, leading a band which starred both of them at some points in the 30s.
Here are the details of recordings from the Henry Red Allen entry:
[A1573] Henry Red Allen (tp,vcl) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Albert Nicholas (cl) Charlie Holmes (sop, cl, as) Teddy Hill (ts, cl) Luis Russell (p, celeste) Wil Johnson (g, bj, vcl) Pops Foster (b) Paul Barbarin (d, vib), Victoria Spivey (vcl) and the Four Wanderers (vcl quartet) added: Herman Hughes, Charlie Clinscales, (tenor), Maceo Johnson (bariton) Olivier Childs (bass)
New York, September 24, 1929
55852-1 Make a country bird fly wild (tfw vcl)
[with recording details I can’t be arsed typing out]
55852-2 Make a country bird fly wild (tfw vcl)
55853-1 Funny feathers blues (vs vcl)
55853-2 Funny feathers blues (vs vcl)
55854-1 How do they do it that way (vs vcl)
55855-1 Pleasin’ Paul
55855-2 Pleasin’ Paul
[there are details about where these songs were published]
I think the sessions under Spivey’s own name were the best for blues dancing, though really it’s a matter of taste.
FYI, if you’re trying to find all the recordings by a particular musician, you use the Musician’s Index (if you’re using the books rather than the online or CD Rom version of the discography) to find all the page and recording session details for each song featuring that musician. When you’re looking at someone like Louis Armstrong, that can get tedious very quickly. In his case, there’re whole books devoted just to his discographies. But people like Henry Red Allen (and Eddie Condon) tend to ramble across dozens and dozens of bands and hundreds of individual songs. You tend to get a feel for a particular musician, and you realise that they played in a whole range of bands in a particular city at any particular time. This gets really interesting, particularly when they’re using pseudonyms to escape restrictive recording contracts with particular labels.
Just looking up ‘Henry Red Allen’, for example, won’t get you all his recordings. But it will get you the recordings which are credited to him, or recorded by bands with his name attached (eg Henry Red Allen and his Orchestra). This sort of attribution gets interesting when you look at artists like Spivey, who had some of the biggest names in jazz listed as her accompanists.
You can see how I get interested in the relationship between blues and ‘jazz’ or ‘swing’ when I’m doing this digging in the discographies. Surely accompanying these singers (and they were accompanying, particularly when it came to people like Bessie Smith) influenced their music in significant ways. And these big names in jazz influenced other musicians – particularly when we’re talking about people like Louis Armstrong or Allen.
vspiveys.gif Spivey is interesting because she was not only a seriously famous singer in the 20s, she also managed to survive the declining popularity of blues at the end of the 20s. She did interesting things like play in the Hellzapoppin’ stage review (not the film, lindy hoppers, the stage review from which material for the film was drawn) and found her own record company, Spivey Records in the 60s. It was with this label that she recorded Bob Dylan as an accompanist.
I’m fascinated by the idea that you can chart the relationships between musicians in a particular city by using the discographies. All you have to go on is the city, date, song title and musicians. Which is a surprisingly useful amount of information. My attention is caught by the names which turn up all over the place, in all sorts of bands. Zutty Singleton. Paul Barbarin. Buster Bailey. Peanuts Hucko. People I didn’t know before I started looking through the discographies. Now I find that following these guys through the Chronological Classics or Complete Jazz Series gives me an overview of a particular city or style during a certain time frame. So if I follow Zutty Singleton through a particular year on CD, I’ll hear a range of bands. And I can speculate about the professional relationships between bands and the way creative ideas spread between bands.
Of course, all this information is really only dealing with recorded performances. Though this does include a massive amount of recorded broadcasts and live performances (particularly in the 1930s), we’re really only looking at formal recording sessions in the 20s. I always wonder what went on around these sessions. Who did they meet at the restaurant where they had dinner afterwards? Did they go for drinks with the band who’d been in there before? Who sat in on the following sessions to make up numbers or simply out of musical interest? Did these things even happen?
And of course I can’t help but think about the race stuff going on. I notice things like particular bands having personnel with names of particular cultural backgrounds. German or European names in Benny Goodman’s bands. Italian names in New Orleans bands. Anglicised names in Chicago. Certain names are more common in African American bands than in Anglo-American bands.
There are hardly any mixed-race recordings, so when they do pop up, my interest is immediately caught. And of course, when you get into the French recordings of artists like Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, the remnants of Glenn Miller’s band in 1945, you see familiar American names teaming up with French artists. Glenn Miller’s former bandmates (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley) are joined by Django Reinhardt.
All this is super-interesting. And that’s just the information you can gain from reading through the discographies. When you listen along with the discographies, tracing particular sessions and particular combinations of musicians, you can hear musical developments and experimentations expanding and changing an individual musician’s style. Arrangers become much more important. Listening across bands (following a particular musician rather than a band), you hear similarities within a single year. And when you add to that the fact that many bands recorded the same songs in the same year, you hear each of these little moments in creative time explored within the framework of a single composition, arranged in countless ways, exploded by solos and improvisations.
When you think of the music that wasn’t recorded, of all the live performances on stages and in back rooms and kitchens, you realise that music was not only everywhere, but that these were communities of musicians, complicated networks forged by the act of making music. And money.
And, finally, in all of this, if I do come across a female name anywhere other than in the vocals, I’m flabbergasted. This is a world of men. Or so you’d assume, if you relied only on the discographies. There were plenty of women in these pictures, just not dug into the grooves on the record. There were women playing and writing and recording music, women running offices, making dinners, washing clothes. It’s just that you can’t hear them on the records, unless you listen very closely.
Refs:
Lord Jazz Discography
This is an interesting piece about Henry Red Allen.
Red Hot Jazz.

i’m not sure about natalie portman

Watching a film this afternoon I asked myself what possessed Natalie Portman to keep taking roles where her character is tortured. Is it something in her, that this torture satisfies some sort of inner masochism? Is it that she is continually cast as victim, as vulnerable by directors and casting agents who see a vulnerability in her? Who knows – I wouldn’t speak for her. But this has made me think about actresses taking on these types of roles.
There are few roles in cinema (both mainstream and otherwise) depicting women as strong and independent and free of the threat of violence or otherwise immune to vulnerability. To work, an actress simply must accept roles which present them – as the body a character occupies, as the craftswoman creating this persona – as vulnerable. Weak. Potentially victim of violence of all types. Does the actress refuse these roles, and perhaps not work? If she accepts these roles, is she complicit in this representation of women?

amiri baraka at last

Finally, I’ve made it to Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones). It’s taken way too long.
I’ve just read this: Jazz and the White Jazz Critic. I didn’t read it there (in a google books page that make me suddenly think ‘what the fuck do we bother with publishers and book deals? All our rights as authors are dead with this one new technology… which really just does as the photocopier did for us all 20 years ago, but faster). I read it in a paper book.
And I got excited.
And then I went here and read that story. But mostly I looked at the youtube clip and got a bit excited.
I recommend the Jazz and White Critics article, as it sums up my misgivings about the jazznick fanmags and magazines and newsletters and recreationists.
Here’s one bit I like:

There were few ‘jazz critics’ in America at all until the ‘30s and then they were influenced to a large extent by what Richard Hadlock has called ‘the carefully documented gee-whiz attitude’ of the first serious European jazz critics. They were also, as a matter of course, influenced more deeply by the social and cultural mores of their own society. And it is only natural that their criticism, whatever its intentions, should be a product of that society, or should reflect at least some of the attitudes and thinking of that society, even if not directly related to the subject they were writing about, Negro music (Baraka 138).

And here’s another:

Most jazz critics began as hobbyists or boyishly brash members of the American petite bourgeoisie, whose only claim to any understanding about the music was that they knew it was different; or else they had once been brave enough to make a trip into a Negro slum to hear their favorite instrumentalists defame Western musical tradition. Most jazz critics were (and are) not only white middle-class Americans, but middle-brows as well (Baraka 140.)

This article is important because it was written by a black man in the 60s, and published in Down Beat magazine. I can’t remember whether Down Beat was moldy fig or modernist, but I think it was the latter. I cannot tell you how rare it is to come across a commentary by a black writer on jazz from the 60s or earlier. Doing all this reading of ‘jazz histories’ I’m beginning to think I might have to kill myself. It’s tedious. I like Baraka’s comment about ‘gee-whiz’ approaches to jazz. I was just saying to The Squeeze the other day that I’d have liked one of these guys to stop gushing about how wonderful jazz is, and to actually open their freakin eyes and see what’s going on around and beside the music. Hells, even in the music!
I’m gearing up for Blues People and will report back later.

violence and film and blues

Reading Gussow’s book about racial violence in southern America, I wonder why I keep coming back to violence. My honours thesis discussed female violence in film, and this book really is about violence in blues music. Both are about violence from the perspective of the disempowered; one discussing women, one black men and women in America.
I’m not comfortable with this stuff – I don’t like stories about violence, I don’t like watching it in film. But both seem linked to hopelessness. Violence for the women in the films I discussed was a last resort or an act of desperation. In the blues songs I’m reading about now, violence is either to be borne or to be perpetrated in revenge or rage or desperation. Both are domestic or carried out in ordinary, everyday spaces.
In my honours thesis I was interested in what happened to female characters when their acts of violence were institutionalised or sanctioned by institutions in the role of assassin. In these blues songs, we are continually reminded that white men were perpetrators of violence which was ignored by the state or unofficially condoned – or at least ignored. These acts of violence contrast clearly with the violence of waged war. I’m interested in the way some types of violence are sanctioned by the community and some not. And who gets to enact this ‘sanctioned’ violence. You know, of course, that class and gender and race are at work here.
One of the other elements of these representations of violence is the role of fantasy, or imagined violence. In the blues song, it might be an imagined retribution for a lover’s deceit, or for a lynching. Music allows the playing out of ideas or fantasies, and the public performance of this music encourages an attentive, participatory audience. It is not enough simply to imagine; it is necessary that the imagined violence be laid out and commented upon by the broader community.

what again?! I’m still crapping on about dance, power, etc

I’m refining and developing these ideas. So I’m just going to keep writing and posting these same points. Over and over again.
One of the more interesting discussions I’ve read about derision dance (from Jacqui Malone’s book I think) discussed derision dance in African American dance as a way of responding to white power/black disempowerment ‘under the radar’. In other words, the cake walk (or whichever example you’re using) allowed dancers to deride or mock whites surrepticiously or indirectly. To ‘get the joke’ you had to recognise who was being mocked, and how the mocking was intended.
This sort of idea comes up in a number of different cultural practices across cultures. I’ve read a bit about satire and humour and derision-through-impersonating-for-humour’s-sake.
I’m reading this book at the moment:

(Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the blues Tradition by Adam Gussow.
Gussow is a a blues musician who’s interested in violence and the blues. One of his central arguments is that the blues (as in blues music – both sung and instrumental) gave black musicians access to a ‘blues subject’

who then found ways, more or less covert, of singing back to that ever-hovering threat. Although blues scholars have long claimed that blues singers remained self-protectively mute on the issue of white mob violence, lynching makes its presence felt in various ways throughout the blues tradition: not just as veiled references in blues lyrics and as jokes recounted by blues musicians…

Gussow discusses the fact that black responses to white violence (in southern America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) were limited by necessity. In the simplest terms, if you fought back, if you responded to white violence, then white retaliation would come ten-fold. Without this ‘right of response’ (legal or otherwise), music offered a way of dealing, publicly with violence. Albert Murray talks about singing the blues as a way of ‘stomping’ the blues – of sharing woe and therefore easing its burdensome weight. The idea with singing a song that implies lynching or violence (ie you might simply sing ‘I have the blues, my body is broken’) is that you share your pain and frustration without directly inviting white censure. Singing and music allow you to sneakily respond, but without risking violent retribution.
Gussow begins his book with a comment from the book What is Life? Reclaiming the Black Blues Self by Kalamu ya Salaam:

[W]e laugh loud and heartily when every rational expectation suggests that we should be crying in despair. [T]he combination of exaggeration and conscious recognition of the brutal facts of life is the basis for the humour of blues people (Gussow x)

So in these cases making jokes when it seems impossible to laugh is an important part of subverting white power and violence. Simply being able to laugh is a way of saying “I am not beaten down”. The joke part is an extension of the sneakiness of singing about violence indirectly, of responding indirectly when direct responses could get you killed. Humour is of course utterly subversive and powerful in this sort of setting.
The sort of violence Gussow talks about in Seems Like Murder Here is a fairly extreme example (though I highly recommend the book – it’s disturbing but also fascinating), but it makes the point that humour through music can work as humour in dance does. By hiding your true meaning or intention under a layer of melody or rhythm, you can say subversive things, do subversive things and reclaim some control over your life and public discourse. You mightn’t be able to speak out, but you can sing out.
I’m particularly keen on the idea of multiple layers of meaning. The cake walk can function just as silly clowning. But (as every clown knows), the surface humour hides something deeper and more subversive. While at first glance the black clown appears as the butt of the joke to white audiences (of the day), to white dancers and observers, the butt of the joke lies elsewhere. Tommy deFrantz writes in Dancing Many Drums that, when faced with white forbidding of black religious dance,

serious dancing went underground, and dances which carried significant aesthetic information became disguised or hidden from public view. For white audiences, the black man’s dancing body came to carry only the information on its surface (DeFrantz, discussing black masculinity in dance 107).

I’ve also heard similar discussions from aboriginal Australian elders discussing religious dance. While some dances are strictly for women or men or older women or older men or not to be seen at all, under any circumstances by the uninitiated, the meaning of a sacred dance can be hidden in plain sight. The uninitiated, watching a sacred dance (or looking at a sacred image in a painting) doesn’t have access the important, sacred meaning, simply because they haven’t been initiated, and therefore don’t understand what they’re looking at. They look, but cannot see.
I think it’s important to say here, though, that having control over who looks at your body (dancing or otherwise) is a matter of power. I’ve been thinking about it in reference to film and how we give permission to have our own image photographed or filmed (and I repeatedly return to an article on the Warlpiri Media Collective’s siteabout managing access to sacred or even just private space in indigenous Australian communities). But discussions about, for example, women’s rights to control who looks at their bodies has just as long a history as white occupation of Australia. It is, after all, a similar discussion about occupation, colonialism and the power of the gaze.
I’ve read some interesting discussions about this in music in other places as well. There’s quite a bit of discussion about Louis Armstrong and his ‘mugging’ or ‘uncle tomming’ for white audiences. Krin Gabbard discusses Armstrong’s work with Duke Ellington, including the filming of Paris Blues (in which Armstrong starred, and for which Ellington contributed the score) and the recording of the ‘Summit’ sessions:

…at those moments in the film when he [Armstrong] seems most eager to please with his vocal performances, his mugging is sufficiently exaggerated to suggest an ulterior motive. Lester Bowie has suggested that Armstrong is essentially “slipping a little poison into the coffee” of those who think they are watching a harmless darkie….Throughout his career in films, Armstrong continued to subvert received notions of African American identity, signifying on the camera while creating a style of trumpet performance that was virile, erotic, dramatic, and playful. No other black entertainer of Armstrong’s generation — with the possible exception of Ellington — brought so much intensity and charisma to his performances. But because Armstrong did not change his masculine presentation after the 1920s, many of his gestures became obsolete and lost their revolutionary edge. For many black and white Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he was an embarrassment. In the early days of the twenty-first century, when Armstrong is regularly cast as a heroicized figure in the increasingly heroicising narrative of jazz history, we should remember that he was regularly asked to play the buffoon when he appeared on films and television (Gabbard 298).

Gabbard continues the point here:

…Armstrong plays the trickster. Armstrong’s tricksterisms were an essential part of his performance persona. On one level, Armstrong’s grinning, mugging, and exaggerated body language made him a much more congenial presence, especially to racist audiences who might otherwise have found so confident a performer to be disturbing, to say the least. When Armstrong put his trumpet to his lips, however, he was all business. The servile gestures disappeared as he held his trumpet erect and flaunted his virtuosity, power, and imagination (Gabbard 298).

Again, there’s this idea of layers of meaning. On the one hand, Armstrong appears as the smiling, ‘safe’ black man, entertaining white audiences with clowning. But on the other, his sheer musical talent empowers him and defies his reduction to ‘harmless’ clown.
There’s quite a bit written about black masculinity and layers of meaning in musical and dance performances, but I’m especially interested in women in all this. Gussow has a fascinating paper about Mamie Smith’s song ‘Crazy Blues’ (which is in that book). And Angela Yuval Davis talks about lyrics and women’s blues performances and power.
Ultimately, though, the idea of layers of meaning is important to a discussion of African American dance. Any one dance can yield a whole host of meanings or interpretations. And at times it’s important to hide the most subversive or dangerous meanings way down inside, where you need a lived experience with violence and disempowerment to really understand or to ‘get’ the joke.
Here’s my current absolute favourite example of layers of meaning in dance. This is a scene from a musical stage play version of the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Most of us are more familiar with the film version (with its wondeful music) and with Oprah’s interest in the story/film.

link
On one level it’s very much ‘classical’ musical stage play fare – ‘singing’, dancing, ‘period’ costumes (late 19th, early 20th century), young black men with phenomenal dancing ability performing a ‘light hearted’ song about ‘love’. That’s the straight reading (well, almost straight). It looks quite a bit like some of the clips we watch for lindy hop or jazz dance dance from the 30s and 40s. Almost.
But it takes on a different meaning when you’ve seen this.
Immediately, another layer of meaning can be found in that first clip. Men dancing a ‘woman’s’ song. Add the fact that this is a contemporary stage play, not a piece from the 30s or 40s. The lyrics, the movements of the dancers all gain new levels of meaning. The reading is ‘queered up’, not only in terms of sexuality (gay? straight? tranny? wuh?), but in terms of power and gaze. The Color Purple is a story about gender and power and race and ethnicity and class. It’s themes and story are heartbreaking in parts. And yet here are three gorgeous young blokes performing a dance which invites a smile or a laugh. It’s ‘queer’ in that it’s played ‘straight’. The dancers are dancing ‘seriously’, but the entire performance seems unusual, something is happening here, below the surface. Actually, not below the surface. It’s right there, in your face. Making you want to dance. This sort of performance is often talked about in critical literature as provoking a sense of unease in the audience – should I laugh? Or is that wrong, considering the story of The Color Purple? This unease or anxiety centres on issues of sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, etc etc etc. In some ways, this is what makes the performance so powerful. You can enjoy it simply as badass dancing. But you can also left wondering what it means. And context is everything. Watching from an expensive seat in a huge concert theatre is a little different from watching from the audience with different vested interests:

Link.
I like the second version because it’s not a quiet audience, sitting and listening quietly and politely. It’s a loud, rowdy audience interacting with the dancers. It’s ok to laugh, to cheer, to want to dance with them, to enjoy the show. The audience are part of the performance. The ‘mistake’ where one dancer drops his hat becomes a chance to demonstrate their ability to improvise, to work it for a crowd. Three men dancing the overtly sexualised, feminised steps from Beyonce’s clip changes the meaning of the movements. It changes the way their bodies are sexualised or regarded as sexualised bodies. It’s ‘feminine’ movement, but this is definitely a performance of masculinity and masculine sexuality. Just not a terribly straight or mainstream one. And when the women appear on stage, all this gets tipped over again.
Is it derision, though? I think it’s more complicated. But it makes a point that we can apply to cake walk. On one hand, it can be read as ‘straight’, fabulous dancing. But it can also be read as clowning or buffooning. Or it can be read as queer-as-fuck politics. Or sexed-up awesomeness. Or race politics. Or mocking Beyonce. Or celebrating Beyonce. It’s imitation and flattery and derision and commentary. It’s complicatedness invites us to engage and to look for layers of meaning. Which of course is the point: one dance becomes a discourse, a discussion, rather than a monologue.
Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Toronto: Random House, 1998.
DeFrantz, Thomas. “The Black Male Body in Concert Dance.” Moving Words: Re-Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 –
20.
Gabbard, Krin. “Paris Blues: Ellington, Armstrong, and Saying It with Music”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 297-311.
Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Murray, Albert. Stomping the Blues. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
Hinkson, Melinda. “The Circus comes to Yuendumu, Again,” reproduced from Arena Magazine no. 25, October-November, 1996, pps 36-39.

cynicism

The other day I saw a man on the tram with a white plastic bangle that said ‘non violent’ or something similar.
I thought ‘It’d be more useful if instead they put red ones with ‘violent’ on the men who need it’.

it could just be that nerds – no matter their flavour – love to talk to other nerds about stuff they love

I’ve been crapping on about DJing on the SwingDJs board. I started a thread called mad skillz: mentoring, encouraging and skilling up (new) DJs. As with all threads I’ve begun with long, expository posts that don’t really make much sense and which tend to be far to theoretical, the thread has been languishing. Kind of like my tutorials when I ask a long question which is really a bit of exposition or otherwise impossible to answer.
But someone asked a question which caught my interest, so I’m going to answer it here, at length.
I made this comment (in a post that was far too long):

One thing I’ve noticed – if a scene values social dancing and has quite a tight community vibe, there’s a strong emphasis on skilling up new DJs. But the local culture dictates how this skilling up is achieved.

(Posted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 20:40, first page of the thread at URL above)
And Haydn replied:

Can I ask you – in practice, how does this ‘tight community vibe’ translate into DJs helping each other?

I’m going to answer this at length here, rather than cluttering up that discussion board with my own opinions/rambles.
I have to reiterate: I’m working largely from an Australian perspective, with only a bit of international experience. I’m sure things are vary in different places.
‘A tight community vibe’ needn’t actually translate into DJs helping each other. I don’t see it very often, but I’m sure there’ve been times when a DJ has made it difficult for a new DJ or experienced DJ to ‘break into’ a scene – to preserve their own status, to preserve their own profits, etc.
Also, definitions of ‘community’ (and who’s actually considered part of that community) are ideologically and politically loaded. Do you count west coast swing dancers as part of your ‘swing’ community? Rock and rollers? People from other dance schools/studios? Musicians? People you don’t know?
When I say a ‘tight community vibe’, I’m thinking about scenes where people articulate some sense of ‘communitas’ or identify themselves as part of a scene or community with some sort of pride, protectiveness, etc.
But how might that translate to DJs helping each other?
Well, if a local scene has an active social club or organisation who also run social events, then that club might have an incentive to manage DJs quite carefully – so new DJs will get a bit of mentoring or coaching. I’ve noticed that gigs run by a smaller more coherent group – or by one person, or coordinated by someone who really cares about the DJing/social dancing – often manage the DJs more carefully. If the night is only one of many, is managed by an inexperienced dancer (or DJ) or isn’t actually ‘valued’ terribly highly, the DJing might be less strictly managed. Also, interestingly, if an event (or club) has a particularly fervent revivalist bent (ie they’re really really really into historical ‘accuracy’), they’re also pretty anal about music and about ‘teaching’ their DJs to like the ‘right’ music. But people might ‘manage’ DJs for other reasons – nepotism, interpersonal rivalries, failed romances, burning desires, professional networking, etc – all might affect who hires whom for which gigs.
I’ve noticed that these trends increase as a scene develops – in a newer scene, for example, where there are fewer DJs, there’s less ‘regulation’ of DJing: people are just happy to have someone play some music. As DJing becomes increasingly ‘professionalised’ or formalised in a scene (eg introducing pay rates, introducing a DJ roster, introducing preferences for particular types of music), then it becomes more ‘regulated’. It can also become less accessible. I’ve wondered if this is as a scene or community grows it also develops increasingly complex modes of cultural production and management (whether we’re talking DJing, dancing, dress making, event management, website design, whatever). Also, people figure out that formalised ways of working together can be useful on large projects – a camp has ‘rules’ for teachers (whether unspoken or not), an exchange is run by a group who become a nonprofit organisation to deal with tax and insurance, a social night has formal (or informally enforced) ‘no aerials’ rules for public safety.
What I’ve noticed (and I guess I’m talking about Australian examples, and only very vaguely in reference to the US, etc) is that if a local scene has quite a close community – ie people volunteering their time for events, events run by committees with a ‘community development’ agenda and ethos rather than (or in addition to) a profit motive, etc – then there’s a greater interest in ‘skilling up’ DJs – for the community’s benefit. More experienced DJs are more likely to volunteer to mentor new DJs in that context out of a spirit of ‘communitas’ or ‘doing good stuff for the community’.
There are other reasons for managing new DJs, though – profit motive is a good one, especially if you’re in a scene where dancers really value or care about the quality of DJing. Or plain old competition for cultural capital – a DJ might feel it’s in their interests to discourage new DJs or to not open their night to new DJs (ie they want to keep their status and ward off competitors). If a particular event has a specific musical focus (eg it might want to showcase a particular musical style or moment in history), then there’d also be reason to manage the DJs – if you were (for example), interested in running a ‘neo revival’ night, you might favour DJs who play BBVD, etc, and not hire DJs who play old school exclusively. I’ve even played gigs where what I’ve looked like – on stage – has been important: wearing vintage gear was specifically requested… which leads to interesting questions about the ‘performance’ of DJing. And how we might ‘perform’ the role of ‘vintage music fan’ or ‘swing dancer = vintage costume fan’ for an audience of non-dancers, for example. [That last bit is interesting in the light of things like the Facebook group ‘Embracing my embarrassing swing adolescence’ which seems largely to be about aesthetics and protocols of swing dance fashion – ie what not to wear]
There’s also another interesting aspect to all this. Throughout much of the academic literature dealing with online communities, authors note the importance of ‘answering questions’, especially in an established and well-moderated online ‘community’. People might answer questions for a number of reasons: to help out; to demonstrate their own knowledge (and status); to test their own knowledge; to enter into the discussion (and hence participate in the community – basically, answering simply as a way of getting into the conversation and enjoying the process of answering and discussing questions); etc etc etc.
I’ve always been interested in noticing what type of people answer what types of questions in swing dance discussion boards. In the years I was gathering data for my doctoral thesis (and before), I was really surprised by some of my findings. Sure, the data suggested all this stuff, but I was really hoping to find that how we play online wasn’t so tightly bound to gender. But I found that female posters tend to be quicker to offer assistance (eg hosting, info, etc), but that they mightn’t do so publicly (they’re almost always over-represented in offering condolences, giving positive feedback, compliments and proffering kind words generally). Men are more likely to post ‘information’ or ‘facts’, and to disagree. There are exceptions, but on the whole these tropes are consistent, and they also correlate with the way we talk in groups face to face. I’m also interested in the way the threaded discussion echoes ‘formal turn taking’ in a meeting – which is something all-male groups tend to favour (whereas women tend to favour a more casual, more interrupting/cooperative meaning-making approach). There are also ethnic issues at work here – I was at a fascinating book launch the other day for indigenous literacy day: the speeches and discussion was very very different to the usual middle class ‘literati’ book launch: a room full of koori ladies don’t really do formal turn taking :D.
This is partly to do with how we’re socialised (which of course will result in regional variations), but also to do with the social/cultural context of online communication, especially on something like a discussion board. I’ve been wondering how Facebook changes all that, especially as it’s far more accessible than something like a discussion board.
All this might mean, in the context of DJs helping each other, that women are more likely to answer questions via private message or to ask for help via private message, and less likely to post publicly on the board generally. It also suggests that people post answers and ‘help each other’ for a range of reasons.
SwingDJs is a tricky case study as DJing generally is so male-dominated: there are more men posting regularly here than women, for example (which could be a result of the culture of online communication rather than directly correlating to the number of women DJs IRL).
Something I’ve noticed: experienced DJs, no matter what their gender, are generally very helpful and welcoming to new DJs. They mightn’t be very good at actually helping or communicating their welcome, but they certainly want to be helpful and care about this stuff. This might be a trickle-on effect from the revivalist impulses of contemporary swing dance generally – there’s this impetus towards ‘recruiting’ new dancers, so as to ‘preserve’ historic dance forms.
Or it could just be that nerds – no matter their flavour – love to talk to other nerds about stuff they love.

difficult thoughts

Here is a sad story prompted by a passing comment by Ms Tartan:

It didn’t help that the kid who drew out my blood had the full Myspace emo thing going on, with asymetrical dyed black hair and a scowl and a black spike through one ear, and under his nurse blouse, a studded leather wristcuff. He seemed determined to either spit in my blood or drink some.

It reminds me of another brush with altfashion in a medical context which I had a couple of years ago.
When my mother was very ill in hospital (ie, in a coma in intensive care, or else distressed and disoriented in intensive care) – the most horrible month or two of my life – I remember noticing a (young female) doctor’s piercing – she had a couple of those tiny gold ‘pins’ through the skin at the mid-point of her chest above her breasts. It peeked out through the unbuttoned bit of her collared shirt.
I remember thinking that that was the most inappropriate piercing (or display thereof) that I’d ever seen. It really disturbed me, and not in any logical way.
I’m ordinarily fairly blase about piercings – not my cup of tea, but aesthetically ok, so long as they’re well placed and well done. In any other circumstances I’d have been fine with this.
But, at that moment, in this place of blood and needles and pain and despair, where my mother was deliriously pleading with me to “take it – take it out!” as she pulled at her IV tube, this doctor’s piercing was disturbing.
I’m not sure why. But thinking about it makes me feel bad, even now.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that in the intensive care unit patients have no dignity. And their distressed families have just as little. My mother had no rights – she couldn’t choose not to have that needle in her body. A woman who usually takes such care of her appearance, and who is usually so assertive and capable, strapped to a bed so she wouldn’t tear out the various tubes that were keeping her alive. And for me, being faced with the realisation that my mother wasn’t going to be the one who looked after me, but that I was the one who had to make the difficult decisions and to look after her. Even more distressing, being the one who gave permission for my mother to be sedated, intubated, made vulnerable in a frightening and dangerous moment.
To see that doctor with that piercing made me think that all that display of bodily adornment was really just a display of self-mutilation. A way of saying “I choose to make my body imperfect, to marr it, to flaw the safety of my skin, so as to make a point of fashion or politics” which seemed profoundly insulting and arrogant in that context. In that place, that piercing, to me, seemed like a flaunting of the power and health of that woman. For the patients (and more importantly, family), it seemed as if her choosing to make her (otherwise perfect, healthy) body inperfect was a slap in the face to people who would have given anything for an immune system robust enough to manage a piercing. At that moment, for me, it felt as if she was flaunting her body’s ability to fight off infection (and deliberate mutilation), when it was an infection that was killing my mother. And that there was nothing I could do.
I still don’t understand why I felt so strongly about that tiny, fairly unobtrusive piercing. No doubt in my then-state of heightened emotion, it took very little to spark off anger or frustration. And I know I was always close to tears.
But it reminds me of the way I feel about some christian religions.
Those faiths which endorse refusing medical attention – discourage taking medications, having operations, blood transfusions, and so on – disturb me. And while, on the one hand, I do feel that they have a right to make these choices, on the other, I think that this is a choice only available to the healthy, middle class living in a developed country.
Living in Melbourne, in Australia, in a comfortably middle class home, choosing not to take antiobiotics or see a conventional doctor is a luxury made possible by our high standard of living. But choosing not to be immunised against curable disease, or not to take a course of antiobiotics seems an insult to someone who lives without access to clean water, whose immune system is compromised by malnutrition or starvation or violence or war. Again, a flaunting of privilege in the face of such powerlessness. And while I see the value in principles like ‘living simply so that others may simply live’, it feels like a flaunting of health and wealth and privilege in the face of others who do not.
This is a difficult concept to think about, because I do feel strongly about ‘living simply’ – I choose not to drive a car, I choose to ride my bike, I choose to garden organically, I choose to make my own clothes and so on, because I feel that I need to tread more lightly on the earth. And, as a feminist, I choose not to ‘just take it’ when I hear or see or experience sexism or chauvenism. But at the same time, I am very much aware of the fact that I can make these choices – that I can practice these sorts of everyday eco- and politico- awareness because I am living in privileged place, at a privileged time. I was the child of a middle class family, I have a tertiary education and work in a very socially ‘safe’ environment. I do have the option of choosing how and when I will work. I do not have three children to feed and clothe and get to school every day. I am healthy enough and physically able to ride my bike. I do have the luxury of a garden where I can plant food for my family. I have the skills and access to resources to make my own clothes. And so on.
It is a conundrum: does this make me a hypocrite in the context of the religious issue?
I’m not sure that it does, particularly as there are other issues which frustrate me in terms of certain of those faiths and their approaches to gender and power within their own heirarchies.
I mean, it is a fact that access to proper health care and education, including information about contraception is essential to improving conditions for women (for children – for families) in developing countries. I have difficulty with the idea that choosing not to use contraception, not to use adequate health care, not to be educated, can in any way be a good thing for women, for societies.
And it really, really bothers me that a faith would actively discourage the use of medication or education in a developed country, because it also implicitly (if not explicitly) discourages followers in less fortunate circumstances as well. I smell a frightening use of power to secure loyalty and dependency. Particularly when the only ‘acceptable’ form of ‘medical intervention’ is prayer. Prayer with certain members of the church.
…but that’s a lot to think about on such a nice day, when I have (more!) marking to do.