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Month: April 2012

How (not) to give an academic talk?

Some great advice by Cosma Shalizi. These are just the footnotes: * Some branches of the humanities and the social sciences have the horrible custom of reading an academic paper out loud, apparently on the theory that this way none of the details get glossed over. The only useful advice which can be given about this is “Don’t!”…  ** … big tables of numbers (e.g., regression coefficients) are pointless; and here “big” means “larger than 2×2”. The entire post is highly recommended.

Debt and the nature of money

When I wrote that David Graeber’s book opens your eyes, that was not just a figure of speech. First, consider this: In recent weeks, Theodoros Mavridis has bought fresh eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy: beware), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, and soap. He has also had some legal advice, and enjoyed the services of an accountant to help fill in his tax return. None of it has cost him a euro, because he had previously done a spot of electrical work – repairing a TV, sorting out a dodgy light – for some of the 800-odd members of a fast-growing exchange network in the port town of Volos, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki. In return for his expert labour, Mavridis received a number of Local Alternative Units (known as tems in Greek) in his online network account. In return for the eggs, olive oil, tax advice and the rest, he transferred tems into other people’s accounts. Fascinating, but also completely understandable according to a token theory of money. Whether you call it euro, drahma, or tems doesn’t really matter. It is just a unit of exchange. For the community within which it functions, it doesn’t need the backing of the state (or a central bank) or a gold standard. Of course, the limitation is that the system can only function within a relatively small community: “It’s also a way of showing practical solidarity – of building relationships.” This quote directly links to Graeber’s argument about the intimate association between debt and community: the tems…