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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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pears and JD

Here's the recipe I promised in an earlier post (again, it was Eloise who made this and, again, I #TriedForLess thanks to a Tesco voucher for the pears - and the JD was bought in a Black Friday promotion!)
4 large pears, halved and thinly sliced
2-3 shots of Jack Daniels
Sugar to taste – I used about a teaspoon on each layer
Ginger and cinnamon – about a teaspoon each altogether
Drizzle some JD in the bottom of a flat oven dish. Place a layer of pears over it. Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon and ginger over the top, then pour some more JD over it. Repeat with each layer. Avoid putting sugar on the top unless actively seeking caramel. You’ll get 2-4 layers depending on the size of your dish. Put in a preheated oven at gas mark 7 (approx. 220 C) and cook for half an hour.
Serves 4-5.

Unfortunately, I didn't try any of the pears without the JD treatment, so it's hard for me to say how sweet (etc) they are naturally. I can, however, recommend this recipe. Now we just need to find a use for the leftovers...

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Hakim, Attractiveness, and Voting

We had Catherine Hakim give a talk at our department seminar (C2G2) last week, based on her controversial book Honey Money. I haven't, to be honest, read the book itself, so wasn't sure what to expect. The idea that attractive people benefit from their attractiveness in all sorts of ways sounds like a typical case of much academic research being done to prove the bleeding obvious, but I think Hakim does raise important issues.

Some people had been uneasy about the invitation, I believe because they thought that Hakim's research was somehow anti-feminist. In fact, she did a good job of emphasizing that her findings apply to both men and women, using Barack Obama as one of her main examples (though she did note some particular issues of concern to women - apparently women, on average, possess more 'erotic capital' then men, but are less effective in exchanging it for other goods). I thought she might try drawing all kinds of unwarranted normative conclusions, such as suggesting that women should exploit their erotic capital in order to get ahead (which I believe is the message of Lean In), but I was pleased that Hakim didn't in fact seem to make any normative claims at all, merely to present her findings on the effects of attractiveness.

Attractive people, she said, are likely to earn 10-20% more and also to win around 15% more votes in elections. (Other studies have also suggested that Beauty Pays.) On almost any account of justice, this seems like an injustice - and one that hasn't gone unnoticed, particularly by the 'ugly'.

It's interesting to see that BBC coverage of this book raises the issue of attractiveness in elections (although suggesting that the effect is only 2%).

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Winter Recipes

While I'm not a big fan of the colder weather, I do rather like winter cooking - stews, casseroles, and the like. As a new member of Tesco's Orchard programme, I was pleased to receive some vouchers from Tesco for their Elfe potatoes and root vegetables, which look like just the thing and meant I should have #TriedForLess. Unfortunately the branch I visited didn't actually have the Elfe potatoes, so I wasn't able to make use of that voucher :( Still, we did pick some up in an online order (where I couldn't use the voucher, but they were on offer anyway) so I got to try them anyway. We did get some parsnips and pears though - the parsnips went in the casserole, while the pears are for a later post.

My partner is the main cook in our household. She can turn ingredients like this:

Into a tasty meal like this:

Ok, casserole isn't too difficult. In fairness, that's one I could manage to make myself - but credit where it's due, this was her effort. And she was also able to turn the leftover potatoes into a soup for a lighter lunch. Here I am about to enjoy that (excuse the clutter in the background - we still haven't sorted the conservatory since moving!):

Goes good with a bit of warm French bread:

Anyone got favourite winter recipes to share?

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Electoral Ping-Pong

A tied election in Florida was decided by drawing numbered ping-pong balls out of a bag. In fact, they drew names out of a bag, to decide who got to call a coin toss, to decide who drew the first ball - sounds like something worthy of Venice! Some interesting comments on the piece too, ranging from those who suggest that we may as well select all politicians by lottery to those who suggest that an IQ test would be better.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lotteries Improve Access

A study, involving academics from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, has concluded that lotteries for school admissions can improve access to elite universities. This is, as long-time readers may remember, a topic that I've previously published on.

The news coverage linked to above is only from a student newspaper, but I couldn't help thinking it interesting that, by way of balance, they include the opinion of a 2nd year undergraduate. While I'm sure there are some good arguments against lotteries, these weren't really explored - rather, the coverage seemed to exhibit false balance.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Democracy and Referenda

Here's a selection of popular pieces on democracy and referenda... Martin Gilbert applauds the Scottish independence referendum for bringing about greater engagement and participation. George Schöpflin cautions that referenda are unaccountable and may be instruments of populism, rather than democracy. Chris Prosser points out that agenda-setters are often able to manipulate referendum outcomes. Alex Hern argues that the government's use of referenda is opportunistic, rather than principled.

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