The first episode of Amanda Harvey-Sánchez and Julia DaSilva’s podcast about the Toronto350.org / UofT350.org divestment campaign at the University of Toronto is online. This one features three organizers from the early campaign in 2012: me, Stu Basden, and Monica Resendes.

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There isn’t too much to report at the moment. I have been keeping at home, only going out masked for exercise and groceries, and working on finalizing preparations for my PhD defence. Mostly, that has involved editing the text in response to a dense set of comments from a committee member.

I wish people would take COVID-19 and the protection of the vulnerable more seriously. In the Canada at a Glance statistical guide that was recently released, COVID-19 is listed as the #3 cause of death nationwide after cancer and heart disease in 2020.

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With my PhD defence 17 days away — and in a context where public health officials are urging masking and other precautions even though politicians are too timid to require it — I am going back to my protective protocol from earlier in the pandemic, avoiding all group events, wearing a mask whenever I leave the house, and broadly restricting going out to buying groceries and exercising.

It would be a huge pain and disappointment to get sick and need to re-schedule things, so hopefully I will be able to cross the finish line without getting sick again.

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One of my side diversions during the PhD has been developing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche where he crosses paths with Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

In my experience, Lyndsay Faye is the best modern writer of Holmes stories. I have listened to her Dust and Shadow three times on Audible, and I enjoyed The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. I’m presently reading the copy of Observations by Gaslight which I found at Seeker’s Books, and I found the chapters by Irene Adler and Wiggins superb.

I have assembled quite a collection of things which I ought to read before finalizing my pastiche. That would need to include William Baring-Gould’s 3-volume annotated edition of the canon, as well as Leslie Klinger’s Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. I should also read Ronald De Waal’s The Universal Sherlock Holmes; Jack Tracy’s Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana; Steve Clarkson’s Canonical Compedium; Edgar Allen Poe’s three Dupin stories; and Francois Eugene Vidocq’s memoirs.

I also have reading to do on subject matter specific to my story, notably the Pop society at Eton and more about Brunel himself.

Of course this is all a back-burner project for amusement and creative relaxation. I expect that I will have either a week or a month’s worth of revisions to make to my PhD dissertation after my defence on December 2nd, and I have substantial work to do in deciding how to sustain myself and make a difference on climate change post-PhD. I’m fine with the Holmes/Brunel project living on similarly to my space shuttle screenplay: something to motivate a bit of background research and creative thinking, but with no definite plan for completion at any time.

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Amanda Harvey-Sánchez and Julia DaSilva are making a five-episode series on the U of T campaign, and an intro episode is online already.

All along one of the challenges with volunteer-driven student organizing is that few people can stick around to maintain the group’s memory across the years. Efforts like this podcast series, to document and analyze what took place, will be valuable for the people setting up the next iteration of the climate fight.

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In terms of differences among people, psychological research reveals that people who exhibit lower levels of complex thinking or higher levels of death anxiety or stronger desires to share reality with like-minded others tend to justify existing institutions and arrangements more than others. In other words, people who—for either chronic or temporary reasons—are especially eager to attain subjective states of certainty, closure, safety, security, conformity, and affiliation are especially likely to accept and rationalize the way things are and to embrace what contemporary scholars would recognize as politically conservative ways of thinking. In contrast, individuals who enjoy thinking in complex terms, or who are less sensitive to external threats than others, or who value uniqueness over conformity, are more likely to criticize the social system and to approve of insurgent movements aimed at changing the status quo. Thus, in addition to a general tendency for people to adapt to unwelcome realities, there are individual differences in personality as well as situational triggers pertaining to epistemic, existential, and relational motives that increase or decrease the likelihood of participating in system-challenging collective action.

Jost, John T. A Theory of System Justification. Harvard University Press, 2020. p. 7-8

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