Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happiness, Happiness...

There's an interesting piece in the Guardian here about how pressure to be happy all the time contributes to making us unhappy. (Hat-tip: Lee Jones.)

All very sensible, but not anything particularly new. It's something that J. S. Mill was well aware of as demonstrated by this passage (from chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, shortly after the higher pleasures bit):

"If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, during some considerable portion of their lives."

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Interpretation: Tangible Objects

I remember legal philosophy seminars on interpretation featuring some pretty interesting cases, like judges deciding that '5th' was reasonably interpreted to mean '6th' (or something along those lines anyway). Here's another case that may feature in interpretation cases. I'm not clear whether it's accurate to say that the Supreme Court ruled that fish are not tangible objects. It's probably more accurate to say that they interpreted 'other tangible objects' in the law more narrowly, so as not to include fish. It's an interesting case also for those who think that legislators are prone to over-criminalization.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

ACN Lottery

Penalty shoot outs are often derided as being lotteries. (An issue I've written about before.) Prior to the introduction of shoot outs, proper lotteries - such as a coin toss - were sometimes used. Nowadays, this is rare, if not unheard of. However, sometimes two teams may be tied in a league table, not only on points but also goal difference and goals scored. Since they're not playing against each other at the time, extra time or penalties are not an option. In this case, the African Cup of Nations employs a lottery - which, most recently, saw Guinea progress at the expense of Mali. Representatives of both nations criticised the process as unfair, though without suggesting a better alternative.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Relationships and Liberty

J. S. Mill argues that individuals should be able to engage in 'experiments in living' free from social pressures (provided that they do not harm others). His On Liberty contains only a brief discussion of Mormon polygamy, which he makes plain that he dislikes but is prepared to tolerate provided that it is consensual. The Subjection of Women has much more to say about marriage, unsurprisingly, but I think it fair to say that it's two main themes are: a) Women should have other options in life than marriage, to ensure that if they choose marriage they do so freely (which, Mill assumes, will make marriage more attractive) and b) Partners within a marriage should be able to decide for themselves how it will operate, which may mean dividing conjugal roles, reversing traditional patterns (e.g. the man being a home-maker), or indeed following them.

As far as I'm aware, Mill has surprisingly little to say about alternatives to marriage. (Surprising, I suggest, because although he was writing in the context of Victorian England, his own relationship with Harriet Taylor must have raised the issue in his mind.) This interesting post about the 'relationship escalator' seemed to illustrate Mill's views about the dangers of social conformism quite nicely. Society expects relationships to follow a certain pattern that simply does not work well (or at all) for those with 'deviant' preferences (polyamory, etc), who find their chosen way of life stigmatised.

Speaking of such things, it's interesting to hear tht mixed-sex couples are now appealing for the right to civil partnerships in the name of equality. This seems like a sensible move to me - it could have been avoided had gay marriage been introduced instead of civil partnerships, but it seems discriminatory if homosexual couples have the option of civil partnership or marriage, while mixed-sex couple can only marry. I doubt that it's likely to lead to state recognition of other non-standard romantic relationships though.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making a Meal from Party Food

We picked up a selection of Creamy Cheese Canapes from the Tesco Finest party food range, but didn't really know what to do with them, since we weren't planning a party and my partner wouldn't eat them (being vegan). Having the whole pack as a snack would be rather extravagant, not to mention unhealthy (the whole pack having 60% of an adult's RDA fat), so I decided to make a meal out of them - literally.

While my partner had a veggie burger, chips, and baked beans, I decided to have these in place of the burger, with a few chips and beans. The oven was on anyway and these are easy as anything to prepare - stick them in for the last 6 minutes, just before putting the beans in the microwave. The result can be seen below.

My favourites were the breaded camembert wedges. I don't normally have baked camembert, but it was lovely and goo-ey and stringy in the middle. Sadly, by the time I got to the last one, it had cooled down and wasn't as nice. If you're putting these out for a buffet or similar then I'd definitely recommend going for those first, while they're hot.

The goats' cheese and sweet onion pastries (the ones that look like Cornish pasties) were also nice and soft. They were described as lemony as they definitely were, this being the dominant taste (though not overpowering), with just a hint of the onion.

Finally, the Wensleydale and sweet cranberries were definitely my least favourite, but I've never particularly like Wensleydale (or most fruit and cheese combinations). They clashed a bit with the rest of my meal, so I left them for 'dessert', but still wasn't that keen. I guess the advantage of sharing these with others is that hopefully you'll each have different favourites.

Obviously, this isn't the sort of meal I'd ordinarily have, it was only because we #TriedItFree that we ended up with the cheeses at all. If you get some of these for a party, and share them round, then I doubt there will be leftovers - but if there are, they make a surprisingly satisfying basis for a meal on their own.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Random Electoral Timing

It seems that I forgot to plug my first contribution to Politics Upside Down, my department's blog, back in October. It's a piece about election timing and the merits of randomizing, rather than fixed terms (as in the UK since 2011) or Prime Ministerial discretion (as previously the case).

Anyway, if you didn't see it before, a re-worked version of the same basic idea now appears on The Conversation, which will hopefully bring it to a wider audience.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Representing the Regions

This is old news now (a Miliband speech from October), but apparently I missed it at the time. I don't know whether it's official Labour policy - presumably their 2015 manifesto will make this clearer - but Labour are seemingly proposing a senate (second chamber) to 'represent the regions'. While I agree that the current Lords is unrepresentative, on this front and others, this seems like an odd choice of remedy.

First, why should regions be represented, rather than people? Israel, for example, has no regional constituencies but uses a nation-wide PR system. If it happens that people vote along regional lines, so be it, but other cleavages may be more important and there's no obvious reason why our political institutions ought to be designed around geography (the idea that 'all politics is local' may be a consequence of these institutions, rather than a justification for them - as Andrew Rehfeld argues).

Secondly, the House of Commons is already elected on a geographical basis, so presumably the regions are already represented there. If we're to have an elected second chamber, why not constitute it on some other basis? For instance, we could assign people to constituencies based on age or even randomly (again, Rehfeld's proposal).

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