Praesidium

Friday, March 31, 2006

Beauty and the Geek

I don't watch a lot of reality TV and similar crap, but I did end up seeing Beauty and the Geek tonight. I'm not sure if it was partly the beautiful women, empathy with the geeks, or simply the fact I was too tired to do anything more strenuous than sit in front of Channel 4 all evening.

Anyway the basic premise is that seven geeky guys - including one from Oxford (who claims to have deliberately accentuated his geekiness) - are paired up with seven girls, who mostly seem to be models, page 3 girls, FHM competition winners and such, to undertake a series of challenges.

I'm pretty shocked at the girls. I didn't think any of them were amazingly attractive. They're all dolled up in make up and sexy/slutty clothes, so it's hard to tell, but I reckon I could find quite a few girls round college who similarly done up would be just as attractive. Obviously, however, the producers were also after girls who - in the interests of entertainment - were particularly shallow and stupid. One was even interviewed saying "I don't know why I can't be friends with ugly people"...

This week, the task for the seven girls was a general knowledge test - which they had time and materials to revise for - and it was shocking. They were asked what planet the Appalachian mountains were on, and only one out of five said Earth (another even said the moon, which isn't a planet), one thought the Battle of Hastings was 1966, and one guessed that the square root of 49 was 489!

I'm naturally worried that these girls represent 'normal' people - which, of course, is as unfair as assuming the geeks do. I think I'd rather be a geek. After all, looks don't last.

Conference #1

Thankfully yesterday - after three/four days writing - I finally finished a first draft of my Formal Theory research essay 'What sort of Rationality property should Collective Decision Procedures possess?' (of which this is an excerpt) Still some work to do finishing footnotes, and editing out just over 2,500 words(!), but essentially I argue:

"When we remember that decision-making rules are not given but rules we adopt, it seems more natural to consider not the rationality of the rules per se (the meaning of which is, in any case, deeply unclear), but what rules it would be rational for us to adopt. In some circumstances, it might be rational to employ simple majority rule, in others the Borda count, and in others something like lottery voting. It is this rationality that, I have argued, we should be concerned with. Thus what matters is whether a given procedure suits the purposes we currently want, when we are choosing procedures. To postulate some further restriction, such as ‘collective rationality’, is unnecessary, because where we do require a rule that will obey axioms such as consistency, transitivity and completeness, then it will not be rational for us to choose a rule that doesn’t respect them. I’ve argued, however, that if we see the collective decision-making as merely deciding what to do on this occasion, we should be less worried by these issues. Thus, to impose such restrictions on our procedures a priori is unhelpful – perhaps even itself irrational – if they are not properties we, as rule-choosing individuals, require on this occasion. We should be open to the rationality of adopting lottery voting, and not blinded to such alternatives by the assumption collective decision-rules should behave like rational individuals."

That's not what I'm concerned about now though. I'm just glad I've got it done, because today is the first day of the CSSJ/CPI conference on the Conceptual History of Social Justice. (I'm sure at some point it was about 'Origins' - still, the notion of social justice was comparatively late; it clearly isn't what Plato's talking about in the Republic for example...)

I'm only going out of general interest. It's not really my area, so I don't think I'll find anything right up my street, but I might learn something new and/or interesting, even at a quite basic level.

And, on a vaguely related note, Chris Brooke has a series of interesting questions about 'the Enlightenment' - another topic I know little about, but perhaps because of its fragmentary and ambiguous nature.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Secret to Happiness

Scott Adams (here) considers what he calls the 'happiness conservation theory', viz.:

"everyone is born with a set amount of happiness. The only thing that is variable is how that happiness is allocated over your life... According to my theory, the best predictor of a long and happy adult life is a miserable childhood."
He invites people to comment, rating their childhood and adulthood happiness out of ten, seeking to back up the theory. I can't give my life a happiness rating out of ten, so I'm not even going to try.

There does seem to be some support for the theory, but I think it's deceptive. It might be nice if we all had some equal 'happiness quota', and we could be sure good and bad would even out over a life like some kind of cosmic karma. Unfortunately, I think a low/high or high/low pattern may be better explained by adaptive preferences.

Those who have good childhoods get their hopes up, only to often fail to meet their expectations in adulthood. Those with bad childhoods learn not to expect much from life, so reach higher subjective levels of contentment far more easily as they get older.

It's ironic that I think the best way to be happy (at least for any given amount of external stuff) is to set your standards low - learn to be Stoical and happy with what you've got - and yet the best way to do well, measured by objective, external standards (winning competitions, promotions, resources) is to set one's standards high - that is, set ambitious targets, and perhaps to some extent create self-fulfilling prophecies.

I wonder which does best overall?

Low aspirations - low achievement, but more content at lower levels.
High targets - achieve more, but dissatisfied with it.

How do we make ourselves happy? Well, if I knew that, I'd be laughing... Although in my experience, loud music and your football team doing well always help!

Rudeness

I just took a quick survey on attitudes to rudeness - what was perceived as such, how much it bothers you, etc. The final question was something along the lines of 'what do you think is the rudest thing you can do?'

I don't know if you can view the results without having logged in/done the survey, but while most were the usual (swearing, farting, lack of please/thank-yous) I found some of them so amusing I had to share:

take the mick out of me and my family because we are from London and moved to Nottigham.

shit in someones mouth, i've got a video on my phone where some chinese girls doi it, i can't watch it, its really horrible

trip you up, then tread on you, then spit on you, then be rude about your mother whilst driving the wrong way down a one-way street whilst simultaneously emailing and speaking on their mobile phones.

Having a bad attitude when you are paying their wages: if you don't like your job get another one, but why should I have to look at your big fat whingey face when I'm parting with my hard earned cash. Civility costs nothing.

men - walking around without shirts on. women - swearing

Taking a mobile phone call whilst in the middle of an appraisl meeting!

This has infinite possibilities but somneone dropping their trousers in a bar once put me off him & the bar pretty much forever.

piss on you whilst sleeping

Asking leading questions in opinion polls such as "Typing e-mails while talking to a friend on the phone, unconcerned that your friend hears the distracting taps of your keyboard" in order to get a specific answer.

Ask me to stop using my mobile phone, while I am eating with my mouth open, in a restaurant. Stop being so nosey.

answer the phone during an intimate moment

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Invigilation and Blackwells

Been up to various little things today, so this is going to be a long, rambling and egocentric post. If you don’t like it, don’t read!

I went into town for the first time in a week or so. I was quite surprised by the number of people in college. Had a quick word with Nick, Ed and Emily in the GCR at lunch time, though I couldn’t stop long.

The reason I was in was to attend a training session for people to invigilate undergraduate exams. That was supposed to be 2-4, but turned out to be something of a joke. It was about 15 minutes going through OHP slides, and another 15 of questions, and that was all!

The questions threw up some important issues actually, like that we had to wear sub-fusc too. But then, it’s up to us to enforce the dress code. The lady told us about people they’d had last year who would dye their hair a different colour each day, or girls who wore hipster jeans with bare midriffs (technically still sub-fusc imho), or people who wore white trainers or girls with no black stocking (technically not sub-fusc, even if they’re in trousers I think) We even went into socks – I distinctly remember being mildly distracted in one exam by the fact someone next to me had blue socks, which caught the corner of my eye every time they crossed their legs.

Since that was over so quick, I went and explored Blackwells – think I must have been in there about 2 hours. Partly because I bumped into Faik and Jussi (from Reading), neither of whom I’d seen in at least a couple of weeks.

The other matter was I wanted some books – which typically involved me visiting the politics, philosophy, law and economics sections of the Norrington room. Despite all that, it turned out I missed the one book they did have in stock, because it was under ‘general law’ not ‘jurisprudence’ (though having found this, I quickly found the book, despite also being filed under B not D)

I ended up placing orders for Arrow, Buchanan and Tullock, Elster, and Goodwin. I’ve read Arrow cover to cover already anyway, but it’s a classic that will be useful to refer to. (Since I’ve just written an essay on collective rationality, I’m quite familiar with the passage on p.120 quoted in three of the other books/articles I’m using, but I really need to look up IIA again…) The others I’ve glanced at, but really should have read properly by now.

The purchase took so long because not only did I have to order the books, but I wanted to use a college prize – which involves taking in a letter, swapping it for vouchers, and then buying the books. And asking them to get the books franked with the college crest too (optional, but nice)

It turned out most of the staff weren’t really sure of the procedure. I spoke to at least four in the course of all this (even having to go up to customer services on the second floor, only to be sent back to the basement). The young guy from the philosophy section really didn’t know what to do – but excusably so – and was particularly helpful (running off to ask a supervisor three times). In the end the order was handled by a very beautiful girl at the main Norrington room desk, which made it all worthwhile. I’ve noticed her before. I bet they get more customers with her serving… ;)

I think I got a bit swindled on the reward card, because she took the £5 straight off my current purchase, and thereby cost me a another stamp on my silver card (which I think I should’ve got anyway), but since it’s all college money I’m not too bothered.

The only problem is, despite the satisfactory feeling I’ve spent a lot of money in a book shop, I’ve neither spent the money (well, I spent £30 with £60 to come) nor got the books yet…

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Football, Procedures and Transitivity

After much thinking about social choice theory, such as Arrow, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of it is actually talking at cross purposes to my thesis. Arrow wants a Social Welfare Function (decision-making procedure) to produce some sort of social preference ordering. This goal seems wrong-headed to me. I think it is a mistake to understand a decision-making procedure as either determining, or attempting to directly report, what is better.

Let me compare another case, where we may be mistaken about what our procedure is doing – a sports contest. MacKay considers scoring a polyathlon contest as an attempt to resolve who is the best all-round athlete[1]. In other words, he takes it for granted that there is an objective truth (it is a fact that one competitor is the best), and the procedure is what Rawls would call an ‘imperfect’ one (like a jury trial)[2], that aims to best uncover that truth.

This may be true of athletic contests. We imagine that the athletes are striving for perfection, and we want the winner of the contest to be the best athlete. It is not, however, true of all sports. In an ‘entertainment’ sport, like football for instance, it does not seem we always want the best team to win. Maybe we may say ‘let the best team win’, but all we mean is the best team on the day – i.e. the one that plays best should win, rather than the results being decided by chance or a referee’s decision. We don’t, however, mean the team that is in fact the best should win all their matches. The thrill – particularly in a Cup competition – comes from upsets, times when a Premiership ‘giant’ loses to a lower division opponent. We don’t lament the fact that the best team lost, we celebrate the ‘David and Goliath’ achievement.

Of course, who wins a given game of football is influenced by who is the better team. Quite obviously, the better team is more likely to win. However, in a one-off match, the better team doesn’t always win, and that’s part of the excitement. If we wanted to establish which of two teams was better, a more accurate (more perfect) way would be for the two of them to play a series of games, and then compare total wins or aggregate scores. We don’t do this, as we’re not directly concerned with which of any two teams is better. All a particular match determines is the winner.

Of course, this isn’t quite so true of the league table. We generally want and expect the league table to reflect the objective quality of the teams – that is, for better teams to finish above worse ones, and for the best team to win. This usually happens, because various chance events (freak results, refereeing decisions, injuries, suspensions, etc) average out over the season. Having every team play every other twice, and then adding up points for each win and draw seems a reasonably accurate way of resolving who is the best team. Thus, looking at the Premiership table, it suggests Chelsea are the best team, which is probably what we’d expect from looking at them on paper. The fact that Middlesbrough beat Chelsea 3-0 (11th February 2006) doesn’t disturb this judgement. It doesn’t mean that Middlesbrough are a better team than Chelsea, it simply means that on that day a weaker team beat a stronger one. Nor, therefore, should we be bothered by the fact that Aston Villa had just previously beaten Middlesbrough 4-0 (4th February 2006) and had themselves drawn with Chelsea 1-1 (1st February 2006). If we were taking each result as demonstrating ‘betterness’ then we would seemingly have an intransitivity: Aston Villa > Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough > Chelsea, and yet Aston Villa = Chelsea. As I have suggested, however, this is by no means the case. The simple fact that Middlesbrough beat Chelsea does not mean they are the better team – and the resultant intransitivity should be a reductio ad absurdem of that understanding of the results.

Who wins a given football match is not like either a jury trial or tossing a coin. It is not like tossing a coin, because the odds aren’t equal. We know, going into the matches against both Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, that Chelsea were probably favourites. The fact Chelsea didn’t win either of these matches doesn’t tell against that, and I’m sure they’d still be favourites in the next meeting with either club. A coin-toss gives each side an equal chance, whereas a football match favours the better side. But it doesn’t follow that the football match is like the jury trial either.

In the jury trial, there is an independently right answer, the aim of the trial is to establish this, and we assume the trial is more likely to than not – that is, that it is more likely to find the right answer than tossing a coin (‘heads you’re guilty’). We want the jury trial to produce the right answer[3], and we would take necessary steps to improve its epistemic quality, e.g. giving the jury access to expert testimonies. If the trial produces an objectively wrong outcome – condemning an innocent – we regard it as an injustice. This isn’t analogous to the worse team winning a football match – as I said, we often celebrate this. It’s because the aim of the football match isn’t – at least simply – to establish the best team, but also to entertain, and unexpected upsets are exciting. We don’t think the procedure is faulty because it has produce the ‘wrong’ answer – indeed, we don’t even think of it as a wrong answer, because we aren’t asking the ‘who’s better?’ question.

It may seem we’ve been taken a long way from collective decision-making, but we haven’t. Football matches are, I think, relevantly like coin-tossing in that what they resolve (who wins) isn’t the same as a betterness ordering. Hence, I have argued, we shouldn’t be concerned by an intransitivity in results, such as that reported earlier. Now, I want to suggest we should think of decision-procedure outcomes in a similar way. That x beats y in a vote doesn’t mean x is better, merely that x is chosen.

[1] MacKay (1980) Arrow’s Theorem: The Paradox of Social Choice. A Case Study in the Philosophy of Economics pp.21-4.
[2] Rawls (1999 [1971]) A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. pp.74-5.
[3] Actually, while this is true, the example is complicated slightly by the fact we’d rather let a guilty person go free than condemn an innocent. Hence ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ clauses, and the consequent use of super-majorities. I leave aside these difficulties.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Liverpool 3-1 Everton

Well, Merseyside derbies are better known for flaring tempers than football, but I think today’s referee was particularly keen to become the centre of attention. For the first fifteen minutes, the radio commentators were on about nothing but how Everton’s players were fouling ours all over the pitch, with only a single yellow card produced – and then a kick of the ball and possibly mistimed tackle and Gerrard’s off!

The commentators at the time reckon the second was a dive not even worthy of a free kick, but even if it was a foul I don’t think it was a good move to be sending someone off so soon, and for just two offences. I was amazed some of the Everton players – Stubbs, Weir or Kilbane – didn’t see a second yellow, certainly in the first half, but the referee was terribly inconsistent. The eight bookings the blues did receive may reflect their ‘physical’ (read dirty) game, but the truth is the ref just wasn’t really in control.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the Liverpool players did well today. I was surprised to see Garcia in particular start, and no place for Hamann in the squad. I also thought Warnock and Fowler might start for some more scouse grit, but it wasn’t to be.

Sissoko’s return has been so important for us, as he gives so much energy in midfield, and doesn’t allow opponents time on the ball. With Gerrard off, he became a really important player in the centre, while Alonso stood up to run the show. The three of them together really complement each other, but Alonso tends to have his best games without Gerrard – their styles don’t really go together – so it was no coincidence he became central today.

Phil Neville – being an ex-Manc, playing for Everton and brother of the widely detested Gary – isn’t a popular figure round Anfield, but his own goal brightened my day. Slack defending allowed Garcia to stun Everton, doubling our lead despite their extra man, and from then on I was hoping we could shut up shop. Despite numerical advantage, I didn’t really think Everton could score three against us.

When Cahill pulled one back, I did start to get nervous, but thankfully it wasn’t too long before van der Meyde levelled the match in a numerical sense – ten against ten – by leading with his arm on Alonso. Maybe it was a harsh red, but I was surprised we hadn’t already seen someone from Everton go, so I think it was only harsh on him as an individual, not them as a team.

Kewell wrapped up the points, for a thoroughly satisfactory team performance – and Stevie even got a rest (missing West Brom next week too). It was hardly a beautiful game, but in derbies it’s the score that matters.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bell X1

I went to see Bell X1 tonight (review). It's the second time I've seen them, having previously seen them just over two years ago supporting Aqualung (see here and here) with Rob.

I haven't got their new album yet, so didn't know quite a lot of songs, but did appreciate those from Music In Mouth - an album I hadn't listened to in a while prior to this week, but which is actually pretty good. I have to say though that they're probably not as good a live band as they are on record. Not that I didn't enjoy seeing them, but it was more down to them having quite a few good songs rather than a fine stage show. Frontman Paul Noonan in particular looked pretty awkward onstage all night, almost like Mr Bean fronting a rock band.

The other things of note were the strangeness of going to a gig outside of term time. I'd expected that to lead to a young crowd - in fact, it was probably more older people, though with youngsters there as well, and fewer 18-22s than usual.

Also they were taking signatures for an Oxfam petition on controlling arms. It made a change to hear the singer plug an Oxfam stall rather than the band's own merchandise, but what is it with these socially-conscious Irish rock stars - who does he think he is, Bono?

The unusual thing about the campaign is that they were trying to get people to draw themselves, as part of some 'face up to it' challenge. When I looked a bit dubious about being asked to share my artistic talents (or lack thereof) rather than just my name, I was told they could take a photo instead, which they did.

I don't know how much good it will do, but while I declined to join support band The Upper Room's mailing list (despite their cunning ploy of having two attractive young girls asking for signatures) I'm always willing to support a cause at gigs - and I'm already on the Love Music Hate Racism mailing list after a Miss Black America/Kinesis gig.

FA Cup Semi Final Draw

Well, the semi-final draw was going to go one of two ways: either Chelsea and Liverpool would be kept apart until a likely final, or they’d be drawn together now. And, of course, it was the latter.

Obviously I was hoping to avoid Chelsea until the final – and ideally that someone else would knock them out for us – but you can’t expect many favours in this game. We’ve already beaten Man Utd, and now it looks like – if we’re to claim a domestic trophy this season – we’ll have to beat Chelsea too. That was always likely, even if it was saved for the final (though at least then there’d be the consolation of runners up medals).

I think a lot of neutrals will probably be reasonably pleased to have avoided a Chelsea vs Liverpool final, but I don’t think that’s wise. It’s true, some of the games between the two have been the rather boring 0-0 sort where each side cancels each other out (as in the two CL matches this season), but there have been some more entertaining matches – e.g. last season’s League Cup final went to extra time and produced five goals.

I think the shape of the match will depend largely on the circumstances. In our Champions League encounters, Liverpool have generally only needed to shut up shop to get the better of Chelsea – so who can blame us for doing so? In a final, there’s obviously far more incentive for each side to go for it to win. Another Chelsea vs Liverpool final could’ve been a cracking match, whereas a semi-final is likely to be cagey, with neither team wanting to fall now.

As it is, whoever wins this will be an overwhelming favourite. Of course, I wouldn’t take victory for granted – Charlton have beaten us this season, while Boro have done Chelsea – but for a while it’s been clear who the two ‘heavyweights’ left in the draw are. That’s another reason I think Chelsea vs Liverpool would’ve made a better final – the alternative is it could be as out-sided as Man Utd’s 4-0 thrashing of Wigan in the League Cup final – wouldn’t we rather it had been Arsenal in Wigan’s place? Sure Man Utd vs Arsenal matches aren’t always the most exciting, but at least you know you get two good teams with intense rivalry.

Still, while I was disappointed with the draw, we do actually have a better record against Chelsea in semi-finals (beating them in last year’s CL semi) than finals (losing last year’s Carling Cup). If there’s to be any domestic silverware – or at least another trip to Cardiff – we need to carry that on.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Birmingham 0-7 Liverpool (FA Cup)

Well, needless to say, I'm in seventh heaven tonight...

I can't remember the last time we went into a Cup game - particularly against Premiership opposition - with such an overwhelming expectation on us to win. It was almost as if the case, even before the match, was a case of by how many, not whether we'd win. Since such talk can breed arrogance and complacency, I wasn't particularly encouraged.

Thankfully my fears were assuaged by the 4th minute, when Liverpool went 2-0 up due to a lack of marking on Hyypia then Crouch. Given that Birmingham have scored two wins and two draws against us in League meetings since Rafa took over (and were the only Premiership team we hadn't beaten under him), I was still somewhat apprehensive. We conceded own goals in both our previous matches this season too, so I was worried we'd slip up and let them back in the game - as we almost did at Newcastle. Thankfully Birmingham didn't put up much fight, and it was soon obvious the match was only going one way.

The big news with team selection was the welcome return of Momo Sissoko, after his horrific eye injury. Apparently he started with Edgar Davids-style protective goggles, but took them off because he couldn't see. I was frankly amazed. Surely he'd tried them before the match? And what's more, I was quite worried risking him playing without such protection.

The other interesting question was about whether we'd use the same wingback formation as against Newcastle (variously a 5-4-1, 3-4-3 and 3-2-2-2-1). I think that may well have been the plan, with Traore replacing Agger as the third centre half, and Riise and Finnan coming in as wingbacks. As it happened, Traore didn't last too long and had to be replaced by Kewell after twenty minutes, reverting to 4-4-2. The sight of Harry arriving must have cheered a Birmingham team already 2-0 down.

Anyway, back to the action, it seemed Liverpool took their foot off the gas a little, but Crouch was able to score another before half time to pretty much settle the match. But then, remember last time a team were 3-0 up at half time in a certain cup final last May...?

Realistically, Birmingham never looked much like repeating those heroics of Istanbul. The commentators pointed out both teams would probably have been quite happy to settle for the result at half-time and not resume play. As it was, they had to of course, and Liverpool went on to score four more through Morientes, Riise, a Tebily o.g. and Cisse.

I think 7-0 is the biggest win I've ever seen (well, heard tonight) - apparently it's Birmingham's heaviest ever FA Cup defeat and our biggest ever away win in the competition. It's a shame this match - unlike the previous three - wasn't on the BBC, but at least I was able to see all the goals on the news.

That's now 15 goals if you include the o.g., and all our strikers have scored in their last two notable appearances (if you include Robbie's effort for the reserves last night, and not his one minute cameo at Newcastle). I read somewhere, before Fulham, that Liverpool were about 20 goals short of a target (last season's tally?) that Benitez had said wasn't good enough. Looks like we've gone a long way to rectifying that... It's funny how goals, like buses, can just start coming once they start.

Too bad it's the Merseyside derby this weekend, where form is a notoriously bad indicator; but if we carry on like this for the rest of the season then we should put in a strong finish.

p.s. A particularly bumpable post on 606 from a Man Ure (or Celtic?) fan before the game saying 'if u don't beat brum by at least 6 goals then u r sh1t'. Of course, the fact we did beat them by 7 doesn't logically, given what s/he said, prove we aren't shit; but it's fun when numpties embarrass themselves a bit.

And another one, predicting 7-0 before the game (as highlighted here). Given s/he predicts Reina to score the fourth, I'm not sure how serious it was - but scarily quite accurate!

And yet another, this time a Brum fan saying if you beat us please make it a thrashing (to buck their ideas up I guess)

p.p.s. I'll be cheering Newcastle tomorrow.

Monday, March 20, 2006

PPU

Just a quick observation: I find it quite funny that the homepage of the Public Policy Unit still lists the following item of news:

A new book, The Citizen’s Stake: Exploring the Future of Universal Asset Policies (Bristol, Policy Press, 2006), co-edited by Stuart White (Jesus College) has recently been published. It has been widely circulated among journalists and policy-makers in the UK and reviews will be shortly forthcoming. Further reviews and dissemination will follow in the USA and China. A high-profile launch conference, organised by ippr and sponsored by Children’s Mutual, is planned for February. Speakers are to be confirmed.

I was looking forward to that, but don't know quite what's going on now. Have to say it's not exactly atypical of our department as far as organisation (and keeping people informed) goes. How they're supposed to advise on public policy I don't know...

EoTd Pics

Finally some pics from last week's dinner. Thanks to the people that took them (these are off our GCR website).

The hall (from about where I was sitting on high table)

Waltzing (me and Gemma on the right)


Chris, Georgie, me and Claire in Baby Love.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Newcastle 1-3 Liverpool

Rafa sprung one of his biggest team selection surprises of the season today. My first reaction was wingbacks, but after someone on the 606 messageboards suggested Kromkamp Carra Hyypia Agger – Gerrard Hamann Warnock – Cisse Crouch Kewell I thought it could well be a 4-4-2 with any of Cisse, Gerrard or Kewell at RM, or even Warnock at LB, Carra at RB and Kromkamp RM. Anyway, although the radio commentators thought the latter was what we were doing at first, it turned out we were indeed playing 3-4-3 with wingbacks – not for the first time.

It seemed the system suited the team well. I’ve long thought Finnan and Riise (who can both play midfield) would suit such a system, and here without either of them Warnock and Kromkamp both had fair claims to be man of the match.

Surprisingly given that he managed a rare goal against Fulham, Morientes was left out altogether. This gave Cisse another chance, even if it was on the right side, which made sense given Newcastle’s defence tend to look particularly suspect against pace.

The game went pretty much to plan. Our wingbacks were able to get up well and put in plenty of crosses (making Morientes’ absence all the more surprising), and it took Crouch just ten minutes to open the scoring. By the time he and Cisse combined to set up Gerrard for the second, we looked to be cruising.

Ameobi pulled one back just before half time, to keep the match exciting, but it was over not long into the second half. Boumsong completely missed the ball, then blatantly hauled Crouch down as he ran into the box. It was a red card and penalty, and despite my jitters Cisse struck the ball well – even if he did then pick up a silly booking for his celebration. Incidentally, this means all our strikers have now scored on their last start…

Things got a little ugly for a while after the penalty, but from there on in it was largely a matter of seeing out the remaining time, with the result pretty much settled. Rafa was even able to pull off Crouch and Gerrard to save them for Tuesday’s match against Birmingham.

The result was Cisse did get a chance to play upfront, but didn’t exactly do himself any favours – his poor touch, lack of awareness and selfishness combined to ruin several chances, most notably when he should’ve passed to Kewell. I think the radio commentators were a bit harsh though, suggesting he’d been given exactly the chance he wanted. For a start, he doesn’t strike me as the kind to lead the line alone – I’m sure he’d probably rather have been upfront, off Crouch – and his pace is suited to a different kind of service than Crouch/Morientes’ aerial ability. Still, let’s just say he didn’t do himself any favours, and I’d expect Morientes or Fowler to partner Crouch on Tuesday.

Cisse aside though, it was a good performance from pretty much everyone, giving us a good, comfortable away win. The eight goals in two games look a lot more respectable.

And Chelsea lost to Fulham…

p.s. Glenn Roeder is funny:

"What you won't get me to do is criticise Jean-Alain Boumsong publicly... I will sit down with Boumsong and go through the goals and share my view of where he could have done better" (here)

"I can't speak for Michael [Owen], but I don't see any reason why he would not want to stay next year and be part of the Newcastle team that gets into the Champions League" (here)

Friday, March 17, 2006

End of Term dinner (HT 06)

Last night was our traditional End of Term dinner. It’s usually Friday of 9th week (i.e. tonight) but this year we couldn’t have the hall on St Patrick’s night – even though that’s what we did last year.

Nick truly surpassed himself with a Venetian masked ball theme. I was surprised how many people had really gone for very fancy, impressive masks (embarrassing those few of us like me who hadn’t bothered). The food included some truly unusual choices, such as ciabatta and salad too start, though I wasn’t particularly impressed with the main course – essentially a spaghetti in sauce type combination, that was a nightmare to not get down one’s shirt, and nothing special without the king prawns (plus some of us veggies had to wait a good while to get a non-prawn version – despite the fact all they really had to do was take the prawns off the top!)

Afterwards, the tables were cleared and the long-awaited waltzing took place. Perhaps the actual quality of dancing could’ve been higher, but I think we all had fun. Despite being stood up by Leigh (my partner from the first lesson) I danced with at least Becca, Sarah (our instructor), Nataliya, Emily and Gemma, with varying degrees of success.

The hall was often rather congested, so it had something of a ‘dodgems’ character to it, but the secret – I think – was to just keep going. No one was really watching too carefully, and as long as you have the pose right no one will be able to tell from the photos… Speaking of which I’ll post/link to some when they’re on the GCR website (afraid I don’t have my own digital camera)

The party in the hall had to stop around midnight, but we moved on to Baby Love. It was £5 to get in, apparently because they had a big name drum n bass DJ (Storm). DnB isn’t really my thing at all – so it was very much a continuation of the tragic dancing theme, to the point where some random girl pulled me aside and tried to show me how to dance to DnB (it’s all about pushing apparently. Must work for some, as I later saw her get chucked out after trying to share a toilet cubicle with a guy…)

After that, those of us with a bit of stamina – and no need to be up the next morning – ended up back in the bunker where Claire and Emily had proven what a great pair of soc secs they’d make by stashing some wine, juice and crisps. I finally left around 4am (by far the last of the Barts people to leave).

And the good news is though I lost half a cufflink last night, I found it today in the bike shed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Liverpool 5-1 Fulham

Despite all the talk surrounding the lack of goals from Liverpool’s forwards – none of whom had scored in the league in 2006 until tonight – the number of chances we’d been creating in recent matches always suggested a good thumping could be on the cards for someone as soon as we got a bit of luck and the goals did start going in.

I sure wasn’t expecting it to happen against Fulham. With Tony Warner being a former Liverpool reserves goalkeeper, it had all the hallmarks of the classic fairytale – Reds reject comes back to Anfield and puts in inspired performance to frustrate us. It wasn’t to be, however. Fulham’s woeful away record saw them concede three against Everton recently, and tonight it was five.

Indeed, it could’ve been more – Garcia had one ruled out for offside after just two minutes. At the time, that looked another indication it might not be our night, but then Fowler – who’s already had three ruled out himself since returning – struck the opener. When he first broke into our team, he scored five himself in a match against Fulham. Tonight it was to be his only one, but it was enough to start us on route to scoring five collectively (which I’d far prefer), and to bring his personal Reds tally level with Dalglish.

The good news was that the goals got spread around. Even Morientes – though he wasted a couple of chances – got his name on the scoresheet, as did late substitutes Crouch and Warnock – while Cisse had a hand in setting up two of them, even if he was the only striker not to score.

The relation between (not) scoring and confidence has been emphasised lately, so hopefully this good result will give all our strikers a bit more belief, and lift a bit of weight off their shoulders. With luck, more goals will follow.

Monday, March 13, 2006

DPhil Supervision

Today I went to a seminar run by the Learning Institute (formerly IAUL) in Oxford with the intention of finding out more about DPhil (PhD) supervision in the Social Sciences. Since comments on student-supervisor relationships are naturally rather personal, everything said by individual participants was ‘off the record’, but I’m sure I can give some general thoughts on the day.

It was interesting to note that when supervisors thought back to their own experiences of being doctoral students, they reported much the same good and bad points as current students – freedom to direct research, but a total reliance on the supervisor, worries about guidance and so on.

Indeed, it was good just to be reassured that everyone experiences many of these problems, the second year ‘plateau’ (loss of motivation when the thesis becomes a slog) and so on. I was the only student from Politics unfortunately (and probably not a very representative one, at that), but others shared some similar experiences – or, if not, at least other problems.

On the other hand, it was also interesting to see things from the supervisor’s perspective. We discussed a number of case studies, all written from such a viewpoint – concerning awkward, argumentative students, or ones who didn’t seem to be making sufficient progress with a final draft (for example).

What we generally found was that the supervisor only has one side of the story. Why isn’t the hypothetical Paul submitting more final drafts, for example? Is it because he hasn’t written them? He’s too busy teaching? Or on the other hand is he still in touch with his old supervisor? He’s not planning on finishing this year, but using a JRF to do so?

I suppose what was really underscored was the importance of communication. Both students and supervisors have a responsibility to make sure they don’t go AWOL and lose communication. Sometimes work may progress smoothly without the constant threat of supervision, and deadlines for submitting chapters/drafts, but I think it’s good practice to at least keep others informed as to how the project is progressing. I’m lucky that I get a chance to see my supervisor most weeks in term – so we can always exchange a brief word if necessary, or are at least reminded of each other’s existence – which is better than ‘falling off the radar’, which then makes re-establishing contact difficult.

Another key feature of communication is that it allows one (or rather, both of you) to clearly set the parameters of your relationship. It seems people differ on exactly how they approach things – e.g. whether the relationship is ‘strictly professional’ or somewhat personal. As Nigel cleverly put it, it must therefore be an ‘iterative and interactive’ relationship, what the student and supervisor and their dynamics make it.

It was interesting to note, in the results of our admittedly small survey that while students and supervisors agreed in some areas of expectations (e.g. that the supervisor shouldn’t be actually writing the thesis – or so heavily involved s/he might as well be, presumably), they disagreed markedly in others (e.g. supervisors seemed to expect absolutely no responsibility for the final presentation, whereas students seemed to feel supervisors should at least be offering pointers on written style/presentation).

Comments on supervision experiences welcome…

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

Liverpool’s form on the road has improved this season, but the capital is still not a good place to go it seems… though Luis Garcia did score our first London goal of the season.

In fairness, Arsenal probably had the balance of play, and certainly created far more chances. Maybe if we’d have drawn it would indeed have been a case of ‘nicking’ a point. On the other hand, one could argue that having ridden the storm and then come back to score an equaliser, maybe there’s a sense in which we deserved a point.

Certainly having pulled ourselves back into the game – Garcia proving why he’s always a threat, and notching another headed goal – we could have gone on to get a draw – and who knows, maybe undeservedly snatch a win.

Unfortunately Alonso’s dismissal soon after the goal proved to curtail our revival. There was no way he deserved a second yellow, for basically falling over near the ball. The referee obviously didn’t see the incident, and thought Alonso had made a clumsy sliding challenge…

Admittedly, the talking point will be Gerrard’s terrible back pass – straight through to Henry, just like Euro 2004 – mistakes happen to the best of us, but his desire to waste a bit of time was (I think) a direct consequence of us just being reduced to ten men. What’s even worse, of course, is we’ll now lose Alonso to suspension as well (which we can't appeal)... I have to say, I thought some people were getting a little carried away raving over Sissoko, whose distribution and tackling were often ‘raw’, but we’ve missed his energy in midfield.

Still, defeat to Arsenal is no big shame – and provided we can re-capture a bit of form we still have a healthy lead over them in the table. I’d certainly have settled for this back in August.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spring

Is it just me, or is it finally feeling like spring? Admittedly, it’s neither as warm nor as sunny as it has been on some previous days, but for the first time in quite a while I quite enjoyed going outside today. There’s a freshness to the air, that feels like the end of winter is finally in sight.

I don’t know if this was what inspired my bout of ‘spring cleaning’. Maybe it’s simply that I now have some more time to do all the bits around the house I’d been meaning to, since term ended. It reminds me of what my old undergrad flatmate told his parents – ‘we clean the flat every vacation, whether it needs it or not’!

Anyway, not only did I do my laundry, but I put the vacuum cleaner round the flat and gave the kitchen surfaces and oven a good going over. One thing I always like about doing laundry is it makes my room feel cleaner and more spacious, as while all my clothes are out the away it’s the only time I don’t have piles/bags of them over the floor!

Anyway, roll on spring and then summer. I think our present flat will be quite nice in the summer…

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday of 8th

The end of term (tomorrow officially) doesn’t mean so much to me any more. You notice lots of parents in cars turning up to assist undergrads moving out of college. For me, of course, it’s simply the chance to start some real work…

The two boys I’m teaching, Sam and Jonathan, had been asking if we could go to the pub for our tutorial in 8th week. I’d resisted, but I said I’d go with them after the tute. Perhaps it was a mistake, as I was only expecting to stay for one if I bought the first round – but we ended up staying for three. Damn my inability to resist anyone saying ‘my round’…

Thankfully I hadn’t signed up for Formal Hall (which used to be the traditional way to celebrate any Friday night, particularly the end of term) so dinner was a chance to sober up and chill out a bit.

The evening was our second (and, unfortunately, final) dance lesson. More practice is needed, but I think I’ve improved a bit – so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself on the night. Still need a ‘date’ of course, but Becca said she’d dance with me, since Travis will be away.

I rounded off the night by going to Nick and Rosemary’s anniversary party. Not many from Jesus made it, but I was glad I did to see Nick’s surprise proposal. Congratulations and best wishes to both of you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bacon

My flatmate Pavel is a strange chap sometimes. He largely lives on a diet of beans, toast, egg and chicken. I just found out tonight he'd branched out into some smoked bacon - except apparently he just sat down and began eating this out the pack (like one might for ham).

Glyn told him he really couldn't/shouldn't eat it raw, so he microwaved a slice (for 33 seconds), but said it didn't taste as nice. Being vegetarian, I'm not an expert on meat preparation, but this still sounded strange to me (as well as Glyn).

We had a look at the packet. 'Ensure product is thoroughly cooked before serving. Not suitable for microwave cooking'.

I'm glad that, compared to Pavel at least, I'm vaguely capable of cooking...

UPDATE: I'd forgotten how much I hate the smell of bacon (especially frying) - I'd personally rather he went back to raw meat!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Liverpool 0-2 Benfica

So the European defence comes to an end... I did think a few people seemed rather over-confident that we'd pull off another great escape, but the sad fact is Benfica were a relatively easy draw (which we merited by topping our group, of course) and should've been there for the taking.

The sad fact is we were again let down by finishing, but in fairness we hit the woodwork twice and Robbie had a third 'goal' ruled out since his return! Surely if he keeps putting the ball in the net, one will eventually count...

There's not a lot more to say really. Having lost 3-0 aggregate over towl egs I can hardly complain. I know we're well capable of beating Benfica, but the fact is we didn't - and once we had to come back from another down, it was all over.

Good luck to Arsenal flying the British flag.

UPDATE: It's interesting that the BBC reports Rafa blames defenders, while also refering to a Guardian report saying he blames our strikers.

Ethical Investment

Tonight Peter Mirfield (Jesus College Estates Bursar) agreed to talk to a group of junior members about college finances. The general aim was to find out how ethically college money was managed, but we learned a great deal more about the general financial management of college affairs - for example, the most of the college's endowment is in property, that they made a small loss last year, and that Mirfield estimates the central college site to be worth £40m, bordering as it does the main shopping street (Cornmarket) in Oxford.

As for what our money's in, he couldn't be too open, but mostly it seems general tracker funds (e.g. FTSE 100), which presumably need not be wholly ethical companies. He did, however, raise questions as to what counts as ethical. Obviously not arms trade, but what about tobacco or alcohol? (We probably couldn't condemn the latter in clear conscience)

Unfortunately prospects for radical change are probably rather limited. He made clear that Jesus' money isn't ours (i.e. the present generation's) to do with as we like; rather, it's held in trust for future generations. We owe them a duty to manage the money well for the future of the college. This in itself is a moral obligation, which of course raises the possibility of moral conflict - e.g. if we could best fulfil our fiduciary duty to the future by making profits from current immoral firms.

Still, Danny (who organised the meeting) said he'd seen reports claiming that ethical investments do no worse financially, and Mirfield suggested the Governing Body would be open to student concerns - including also a previous JCR motion from 2001 - even if they wouldn't necessarily guide policy.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chelsea

Well, 2-1 down after the home leg, Chelsea were always second favourites to come through against Barca, and so it proved tonight.

I thought the Chelsea line up was a bit surprising. I'd have expected them to play 4-1-4-1 with Makalele behind four attacking midfielders; but it seems they went for 4-2-3-1 with Lampard playing a holding midfield role. Almost needless to say, he was totally anonymous, and this to me just shows up how one-dimensional he is. In Lampard's favoured position (attacking midfield) there may indeed be little to choose between him and Gerrard, but you won't catch Frank playing right wing or even full-back - both positions Stevie has filled well for Liverpool.

Generally, I have to say for two such good teams, it was a poor match, with a lot of silly fouls and broken play. Ronaldinho's backheels and trickery provided a few moments of excitement, but otherwise there was little to catch the eye.

Barca had the edge in what was a fairly even match, but for all their forward play seemed a bit shy of actually shooting. Chelsea, however, offered very little attacking threat - especially when they threw on Huth as a target man in desperation. The injury-time penalty, resulting in an undeserved draw, was doubly harsh on Barca since not only did the tackle appear fair but John Terry was offside anyway.

Still, even the 1-1 draw wasn't enough for Chelsea. Needless to say, Mourinho hardly accepted defeat graciously, still going on about losing a man in the first match - but that's what happens if you commit a red card offence. I think Chelsea were lucky Messi only lasted 30 minutes tonight, or he could have tormented them further...

Self-Reference

This is the first sentence of my post. This one is supposed to intrigue the reader. This one isn't really necessary and serves no purpose. This is the one where I say I hate writing like this. This sentence exists only to pad out the body of my post. A self-referential story, along similar lines, can be found here. This sentence tells you it was apparently written by David Moser. This sentence doesn't tell you anything. This sentence is the ninth of my post. This sentence wonders if these self-referntial signposts are what I need more of in my thesis. This sentence is an attempt to get back on topic, which only just succeeds. This sentence thanks David Chalmers' philosophical jokes page for the link. This sentence is the last of my post.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Varsity

I went to see the Varsity (Oxford vs Cambridge) Women's Rugby match this afternoon, to support Clea (from college) and Zahler (from my department).

To be honest, much of the standard wasn't too high. Long kicks downfield proved quite effective, because they were generally mis-fielded by the other team, thus allowing possession to advance a great deal.

The Oxford dark blues played well though, the numbers 7 and 10 probably most impressive - but Clea did make a couple of good runs.

Five first half tries without reply led to a 30-0 halftime lead (sadly only one had been converted - the efforts were particularly poor, and not helped by us often scoring so far to the right). To their credit, the tabs fought back and narrowly won the second half, to finish 35-7 down.

Despite the quality of rugby on offer, and my limited understanding of the game, I had a good time. There was plenty of atmosphere, and a vocal if not very large crowd.

It's a shame but 'Oxford' is not a chant that rolls off the tongue quite like 'Jesus'. Still, there was some good natured bantering between the two sets of supporters ("you're not singing any more", "I'd rather be a leper than a Tab", and a rendition of 'Final Countdown') that all added to the occasion.

Pavel

Pavel certainly enjoyed himself last night. How he managed to get home - zig-zgging his bike across the road, with no lights and wearing a sombrero - I have no idea. He even had to ring the bell when he got home, because somehow he'd bent his key (and I had to go and retrieve it from the lock outside, where he'd left it)

It was around 11:30 and he was so drunk he was barely able to stand and kept shouting at us. He stopped only briefly to get some more beer, tell us how nice it was to be with all the girls, and shout at some other people, before going out again.

Thankfully he was back fairly soon, so we nudged him to bed with a glass of water. He didn't emerge properly until almost 2pm today! Here are some of the less incriminating photos we salvaged from his camera:

There was quite a lot of that blue body paint on him. The two 'smurf' girls are our other flatmate's history students!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Liverpool 0-0 Charlton

Another frustrating day in front of goal for Liverpool. As at the Valley, we were dominant, but failed to score. This was partly down to the heroics of Myhre, but fingers have to be pointed at some wasteful finishing - even if Cisse and Kewell in particular did force some good saves.

I really wish we'd had Garcia on the bench. Having not been informed who was there on the radio, I spent much of the match hoping he'd come on, in fact. Sure he can be wasteful of possession - something he was particularly guilty of against Benfica - but he has a real eye for dangerous positions and snatching goals - as he demonstrated with a late winner versus Arsenal. Somehow, Morientes just doesn't seem much of an attacking threat when he comes on.

Too bad that for the second time since his return Fowler was denied a winning goal by a linesman's flag. Hopefully his first real goal will come soon.

Blades

Congratulations to my flatmate Pavel: part of the Jesus men's second eight. They just won blades, by bumping for the fourth successive day in this week's Torpids.



He's the one bottom left as we look at it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

GCR Election

I'm happy to report that I was elected GCR Secretary - and indeed everyone else was also elected to the committee, with votes for RON pretty rare.

I celebrated by spending an evening in the bar with most of the rest of the committee-to-be, and more playing table football - though sadly no better than yesterday. James and I fought a massive battle against Claire and Emily, in which the scores we 4-6, 5-5, 6-4 and then 5-5 in the first 'decider' (though sadly we lost the second).

I look forward to working with Claire (President), Clea (VP), Nicoletta (Treasurer), Emily (Soc Sec), Lucie (Welfare) and Ed (Computing) next year. I'm sure it will be fun and rewarding.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

England

I missed the friendly with Uruguay due to being in the pub (playing table football). While it's disappointing England couldn't roll their opposition over, it's heartening from a Liverpool point of view - Crouch scoring his first international goal, and Carragher demonstrating why he has to be in the squad, filling in for an hour at left back (even if that versatility may, ironically, count against him partnering Terry as first choice centre half)

I'm confused by the BBC's comment that "It was a win that told us things we already knew - most specifically that England's real World Cup ambitions rest on Wayne Rooney avoiding injury between now and June."

Even their own report suggests Rooney was over-shadowed by Joe Cole. When Shrek went off, we were 1-0 down - only for Crouch to score an equaliser, as well as setting up a great chance for Cole. Hardly makes us look like a one man team, even without Michael Owen...

Weather

After lunch, I was reading in the lounge, so I could bask in the rare winter sun - which through our south-facing, floor-to-ceiling window was quite nice. Within the last half hour or so we've gone from clear and sunny to a mini 'blizzard': the snow's been falling pretty heavily (the actual snow itself looks quite light, but there's a lot of it) and the field outside is already totally white. I hope it clears before I have to go out later.

The Jesus Men's First VIII were supposed to row at 4pm in Torpids. I don't know what became of the race - maybe it would've been cancelled. Thankfully my flatmate Pavel went at 2pm, and secured a technical bump when the crew ahead hit the bank.