Praesidium

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Rooney

A lot of speculation has been taking place over Rooney's recent injury. Personally, I don't think ordinary members of the public are best-placed to give medical opinions, though of course they can say who they think should play instead - if Rooney and perhaps Owen are out.

For the record, I'm not convinced by our other options (Vassell, Defoe, etc). I think I'd prefer to rely on midfielders, playing a 4-2-3-1 with Joe Cole, Lampard and Gerrard the attacking players behind Crouch. (Beckham can play in the two, with a genuine holding midfielder, if we have one). I don't suppose for a minute Sven will contemplate something so radical, with him suggesting - with all his usual (in)flexibility - that he'd take Rooney even if not fit. (UPDATE: Apparently he's now thinking of a plan B. Showing he never had one before...)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa

There were some nervy moments (for me) when Villa equalised, but two great goals from Stevie merely underlined what great form he's in. I wonder if he'll outscore Lampard this season - though I doubt it will win him the attacking midfield role for England this summer, since Lampard can't do anything else...

Otherwise, it was particularly keen to see the confidence with which Morientes took his goal. More of that, and we may just have signed the player we thought we had.

The more dubious signs were a couple of mistakes from Hyypia - hopefully we can rest him for our final game, and give Agger a chance.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday

After a hectic week of classes, Friday is my ‘quiet day’. John Finnis’ second Jurisprudence lecture was in the morning, but that was my only appointment for the day until teaching a tutorial at 4.

Unfortunately I wasn’t perhaps quite as well prepared as I’d have liked, since I had some other distractions – the need to get a haircut, and my friend Ellie breaking up with her boyfriend Daan. Still, I thought the tutorial went reasonably well, I just didn’t have time to prepare all the notes I’d intended.

After dinner, I spent a while doing Times (non-cryptic) crosswords with Becca and Ellie. Despite Becca and I motoring through most of one really easily Tuesday, we were really bad at both we tried. So much for us all being brainy then… After that, I went home and watched TV. Friday nights out are over-rated (plus I was tired enough from Thursday)

Thursday

Today (or yesterday, as I now post) I rose early - though not quite as early as yesterday - with the intention of cycling to town avoiding Magdalen Bridge, which will be closed 3-9am on Monday because of the May Day celebrations. I don't know if I went the most direct route - cycling up Headington Hill a bit - but I found the route through the University Parks (a nice pleasant area, which you can punt to, north from the Magdalen boathouse), and it took me just under 20 minutes despite not knowing my way.

I still almost missed Liz Frazer's Classical Political Thought lecture, but that was due to a sudden room change that seemed to have caught all - including her - unawares. At one stage, the lecture had a majority of grad students (me, Karl, Peter, Chris) in it, but more people trickled in as they found it...

After that, I popped into the Bod to read five pages of Susan Hurley that Raz had suggested. I figured it would be a good way to spend a bit of dead time before lunch, but now fear I'll have to go back and read chapters 8 and 15 of the book (another 70+ pages), which was pretty hard-going... Needless to say, I soon decided to leave the library; I'd forgotten how dangerous they were!

In the afternoon, I went to Myles Burnyeat's class on Re-Reading Republic Book I. The third year now I've been to some of these sessions - and this time I hope to 'complete' the course. Also John Filling gave another Hegel and Marx-based talk to our Grad Student Research Seminar, which of course ended up in the KA. And then me, John and Sarah back in Teddy Hall - still talking about Marx, liberty and Rawls - until 1:20ish, when the porter came to lock their MCR(!) Then we went on to Corpus, where we ended up staying (akratically) until around 3am. I'd only had one more glass of wine since leaving the KA, but I think no one could be bothered to move, despite knowing we should go home to bed... When I finally got back to Jesus the nightporter asked if it was an early start (not likely).

Note to self: Don't stay up so late again in a hurry. And stay away from smoky pubs.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

West Ham 1-2 Liverpool

Owing to the reading group meeting, rather than the Barcelona-AC Milan CL semi, I didn't see this game. The win, despite making eight changes, and our London jinx, is particularly welcome given that West Ham will be our opponents in the FA Cup Final. It's amazing how Cisse looked like he'd never seen a football against Chelsea, yet scored twice to win us the game today.

The big talking point is, of course, Garcia's red card. Hopefully it will be rescinded, as he's a big game player and - bar Fowler (cup-tied) - probably our biggest goal threat. We might need him to change the game, or at least provide that spark. Still, on the other hand, if not both sides will still be missing a player - and our squad should be stronger than West Ham's.

Wednesday

Wednesday was the one day of the week without a 10am start, so was to be a lie in; but in fact began unusually early for me with the college fire drill at 7:30. As I'm used to these happening in the middle of winter, I fumbled not only for my keys but also dressing gown and coat, only to be almost embarrassed when we emerged into what was already a bright sunny day. Perhaps I should start getting up earlier more often...

Anyway, the result was three donuts for breakfast and plenty of time to get ready for the morning, though I still didn't have time to review James' paper for what was nominally John Broome's seminar on reasons (he wasn't there). I was surprised to be joined by Ronen and Martijn, given the topic was hardly very political. The same - with 'not legal either' - could be thrown in for Raz's class in the afternoon, which was probably the most hardcore of the three seminars on reasons I'd attended in 24 hours.

A more relaxed ending to the day came with Mark Philp talking on home soil in the Political Theory Research Seminar, and later with our reading group convening in the garden out back of the Old Tom. We were supposed to discuss Scanlon's 'Preference and Urgency' - a classic recommended here - but no doubt its insights seem truisms to us now 30 years later, for it wasn't particularly interesting. We spent more time trying to distinguish the analytic-synthetic and a priori-a posterior distinctions, and just generally catching up - which was also well worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tuesday

Today again began with a lecture on the philosophy or law – or Jurisprudence – except this time it was by John Finnis. I thought it was weird, last term, having someone else try to explain his natural law views, rather than him come in himself. I guess he doesn’t waste much time with undergraduates, but these lectures are presumably aimed at those taking Finals in 4 weeks’ time.

After that, I had a few free hours to do some reading over material for the afternoon’s classes, and also email my supervisor the 18,000 words I wrote last week - putting the ball in his court at the start of term - before attending the Public Policy Unit’s Political Economy lunchtime seminar on Issue Preferences and Measurement Error. It was quite different from what I expected (based on Michaelmas term). There were only five in the audience, and I didn’t recognise any of the others – they seemed to be economists. Thankfully lunch was provided, but after peering suspiciously at several sandwiches, I only got cheese ones. Not very healthy. Also the paper-giver over-ran in that horrible ‘just one more quick point’ way, that in the end resulted in me getting up and leaving at 2:05.

The reason was I had to be at Oriel for David Charles’ seminar on Nicomachean Ethics. Him being a leading figure in Aristotle scholarship, that should be quite good, although I think we got his main ideas in his lectures in Michaelmas. Still, the Nicomachean Ethics is now another core philosophy paper for PPE undergraduates, so it would be a good one to add to my teaching repertoire. Thankfully the class finished just before 4, so I just had time to pop into the Tutorial Office in college and pick up a new Bod card to replace my broken one.

I spent a while reading the papers in the GCR, and grabbed a spot to eat, before attending Jonas Olson’s class on Recent Work in Reasons and Values. I’m still not sure what I think of Scanlon’s ‘buck-passing account’. It may be pretty close to what I think, but explained in different ways, or completely different Hopefully we’ll see as term goes on.

The problem with 5-7 seminars is missing first hall in college. I hadn’t opted for formal, so ended up getting a Hassans to watch in front of the Villarreal vs. Arsenal Champions League semi-final. (Well done to Arsenal, though Gilberto should’ve been sent off for kicking out in the first half…) A wine and cheese/chocolate night had been planned in the GCR, but after several of us emerged at half-time before promptly returning to the bunker to watch football, the others joined us there. Watching football with a glass of red wine, and Brie in a baguette is a surreal experience, but then, I guess it was a European match (and Arsenal are a French club…)

Afterwards, we went and played some doubles pool. Becca and I beat Emily and Chris 2-1 and Claire and Georgie 1-0. The one we lost was where Becca potted the black – though she’d already potted most of our reds and actually been playing really well (I’d just said something about her winning single-handedly, before she lost it single-handedly). Over the other frames, I played some pretty good pool too though – once potting three in a row off Chris’ break, and also getting to sink all our winning blacks (thereby making me look a bit better)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Monday

Yesterday was officially the first day of term, but in practice it's today since there are no lectures on Sundays. Typically, after waking early for most of the last few weeks, today when my alarm went at 8:20 I was really comfortable in bed and could happily have stayed a good while longer. (And my morning routine was then delayed by a 'revision question' I'd had emailed from a girl I taught in Michaelmas. I had to look it up, but at least it concerned what I'm teaching this Friday, so probably useful for me too)

The morning started with two lectures by Professor Robinson, an American academic who comes over every year to lecture on whatever interests him. He's a very entertaining lecturer too - one of those old guys with some quite eccentric opinions and plenty of anecdotes. Past topics have included genetics, responsibility and psychology: this year sees a repeat of some lectures on Hume and Reid, plus some lectures on Philosophy of Law, which he said were inspired by something I said last year about Finnis. I was pleased he remembered me, and suggested we should do coffee sometime over the term.

In the afternoon, I'd normally go to Nuffield for my supervisor's seminar. This week there was none, because Julia couldn't find anyone to present (though she had suggested she'd do it herself, she obviously had second thoughts - leaving me doubting whether I should have volunteered)

Instead I went to a seminar on W. D. Ross’ classic on intuitionist deontology The Right and the Good, co-run by my college philosophy tutor Krister, Roger Crisp and Philip Stratton-Lake (quite an expert, over from Reading for the seminar). I’d been looking forward to this class, and even bought a copy of the book in advance, but sadly won’t be able to attend since it’s time-tabled to clash with the Nuffield seminar. It looks like what I’ll be missing will be very interesting, and from the first week I feel there’s a lot to be said for Ross.

That was followed by the weekly Moral Philosophy Seminar, with this week’s speaker Adam Morton from Alberta. He was talking about ‘High and Low Stakes Morality’, but didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what high and low stakes meant. I asked if it was to do with the numbers of people or severity of what was at stake, and he fudged with ‘both’ before drawing a rather misguided graph (that should really have been indifference curves between the two). Still, there were a number of interesting ideas in his piece, and some interesting conversation I had with him and Shlomit in the Merton College bar afterwards.

So, one day down, and almost six hours of lectures/classes. This looks a very busy term! I bumped into Ayelet in Tesco on the way home - you could tell it's the start of term from the massive queues. When I got home, it was just time for a couple of hours' of TV, then bed.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Predictability

Long term readers of this blog may remember possibly my first real rant - why the predictability of Chelsea's dominance is bad for the excitement of football. I made a similar point in a much more recent piece, where I pointed out that we don't regard the best team losing as an anomally but something to be celebrated, to support my claim that a match isn't an imperfect procedure to identify the better team, but a pure procedure to decide who win. (As such, when someone like Mourinho says 'the best team lost' he may be right, but the answer is 'so?' or even 'good').

Anyway, it seemed to me fairly obvious that unpredictability brings excitement. We like the title race to go down to the wire. Once it's decided, we turn our attention to things that aren't, like 4th or relegation. Still, I'm delighted to have found some research that backs up my claims. Thanks to Nick Lees for mentioning that to me at brunch today.

Flogging a Dead Horse

Scott Adams' Dilbert blog has a funny list of readers' comments on work/office-place nightmare stories. (What a great way for him to get research/inspiration). This one doesn't really fit that pattern, but I thought I'd steal it for general amusement. It's attributed to here and elsewhere as well, so probably the kind of thing that gets forwarded round in emails.

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. But in modern business (and education and government) heavy investment or other considerations may encourage other strategies:
* Buying a stronger whip.
* Changing riders.
* Threatening the horse with termination.
* Appointing a committee to study the horse.
* Visiting other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
* Lowering the standards to include dead horses.
* Reclassifying the dead horse as "living-impaired."
* Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
* Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
* Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
* Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
* Declaring that the dead horse requires less overhead and therefore contributes more to the bottom line.
* Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
* Promoting the dead horse to management

Stevie G

Congrats to Stevie for being named PFA player of the year. (BBC, LFC.tv)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea (FA Cup)

I was a bit disappointed when we drew Chelsea for the FA Cup semi final, as reflected here. I still think it would have been better if the two obvious 'big' teams had a chance to contest the final. (Though I don't share the view that May 13th against either Middlesbrough or West Ham will be a formality). Still, today was the day for what was billed as the battle of good vs. evil. Thankfully the game was again on the BBC. That's every round bar Birmingham that has been.

Mourinho sprung a surprise starting a team that included no wingers - though he did have three on the bench (what if Terry had got injured?) It didn't really work, and Liverpool dominated the first hour - with Kewell in particular bothering Geremi.

Now, I'll admit, the free kick leading to Riise's first may be described as dodgy - but I though Graham Poll was generally poor. I wasn't happy with either Reina's booking (he was waiting for a substitution) or Carragher's (he hardly touched Makalele - and if that was a booking, then I think one Chelsea player escaped a red card for bringing down someone - Riise? - later on). Plus the commentators made a big deal of the fact that if that was foot up, Crouch's collision with Cudicini could have been penalised for the same reason. True, but it wouldn't have mattered much to us - conversely, if that wasn't foot up, some refs might have given Crouch a penalty. Shades of last season's CL semi all over again...

Anyway, the fact is whatever the ref did, Mourinho got his tactics wrong and Chelsea were poor. No width or creativity until the wingers came on, some wayward finishing, bad defending, Lampard anonymous (even Chelsea fans now acknowledge this) and a wall that - whatever you say about the award of Riise's free-kick - parted like the red sea.

As for Liverpool, Garcia showed how frustrating he can be. Missing two relatively easy chances created by Gerrard, before being in the right place at the right time to latch onto a bad back-header and curling an unstoppable half-volley into the net. Opinions are split (here vs. here), but as long as he keeps giving us moments like this - and the goals that took us the the CL final last season - then I'll be happy to keep him. Our defenders did a solid job, and Gerrard and Sissoko battled on despite late cramp/knocks.

The only bad performance was Cisse I've defended him at times (at least if 'he's not that bad...' counts). After he replaced Crouch, we had no threat up front, and no ability to keep possession. Usually I think his pace is useful against a team chasing the game, but today Traore and Morientes were better. I wouldn't be disappointed to see Cisse shot - never mind sold - after playing like that.

Still, time to focus on the good. Only our second win over Chelsea in ten attempts - but we can pull it out when it counts (and the CL draws were enough for us too, don't forget...)

Our three remaining Premiership fixtures include what could be a dress rehearsal against West Ham. Nonetheless with second looking very unlikely, I’d rather we rested our key players and gave the youth/fringe players (particularly Agger, Kromkamp, Warnock, Hamann and Anderson) chances. It’s May 13th that will decide whether this season has been a good transitional one, or a very good success.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Handover Dinner

Perhaps I wasn’t as successful as I could have been Wednesday night in having a quiet one, but I’d deliberately saved myself for last night’s handover dinner – the old and new GCR committees going out, on GCR budget (of course).

We had a meal at the Bombay – which is a decent Indian restaurant in the Jericho/Walton St area of Oxford, particularly noted for its BYOB policy. Apparently we got through 27 bottles by the end of the night – in the GCR much later – and had a few leftovers.

Sadly I was feeling rather dodgy, and didn’t really feel like taking full advantage of either food or alcohol. I managed some poppadoms, onion bhajis and vegetable biryani, after which I felt better. Indeed, I stayed drinking, chatting and passing ice cubes(!) in the GCR until almost 2:30am before walking home with Ed.

Needless to say, today I feel even worse – though at least a hangover, unlike general ill-/run down-ness came with a good time before. I’m very glad I cancelled my invigilation this morning.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Domus Dinner

Well, yesterday I went to the Kings Arms to congratulate my friends Karl and Steve, who both submitted their DPhil theses. (Karl's already seems to have its admirers)

I got welcome comments for being snappily dressed when I turned up in a suit and tie, but I was going on to our Domus (graduate and supervisors) dinner in college. It was a pleasant evening - although the food wasn't as good as it can be on these occasions, I can hardly complain when it was free (including wine). David and I did get some of the worst seats - in the fireplace - but that wasn't too bad.

We mostly talked about academic and administrative matters, including AHRC applications, MPhil students, a few matters in the department and publishing; but at least there weren't too many awkward silences. (I wouldn't normally have David down as a gregarious 'people person' to be honest, but either I haven't seen much of that side of him or he was on form)

Afterwards I caught up with a few people I hadn't seen since last term in the bar, and finally met my flatmate Pavel's girlfriend. (A conversation fraught with faux pas, since I didn't know his supervisor didn't know they were a couple (despite being at the dinner), that he was thinking of rowing again, and she didn't know he couldn't cook... Why do people keep so many secrets?)

Unfortunately since being rushed off my feet on my return to Oxford, I've already been feeling a bit run down. I didn't feel too good before the dinner, but felt positively rough by the time I got home. (Perhaps new - looser - suit trousers would help)

I wasn't hungover this morning, but have decided since I'm obviously not going to do anything productive to take the day off. It seems a good way to prepare for the coming term...

p.s. I got offered a second undergraduate to teach today - finally allowing me to make a pair!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Social Choice: Ties and Indifference

My friend John has this interesting post on Arrow's R-notation (cross-posted here). I don't have a problem with the R-notation myself, which effectively represents preferences using a 'greater than or equal to' relation, rather than merely 'greater than' (Preference) and 'equal to' (Indifference).

John also, however, repeats one of his regular criticisms, about Arrow's equivalence of ties and indifference. One he's made before here (see points 2, 11, and 17) and here, and something I had a go at responding to in this blog previously here (responses I now think could be much improved).

Anyway, this stimulated me to re-arrange my present thoughts on social choice and utilitarianism - not so much new thoughts, but a new way of fitting them together and understanding the whole. I re-produce the relevant section of my comment:
Then there's the issue of social indifference. You complain Arrow interprets half aPib and half bPia as aIb.
I can see what you're complaining about. It matters to each individual whether a or b, so I think there's a need for some just resolution mechanism, e.g. flipping a coin.
Arrow's position is (I think) a quasi-utilitarian one. It may matter to each individual whether a or b, but it doesn't matter to 'society', since aggregate net satisfaction is the same. He's adopting some impartial point of view, which is indifferent between satisfying aPib and bPja.
If you reject this, which I think one committed to a non-utilitarian individualist viewpoint might, then I think your problem isn't just with indifference but the whole idea of social preference. Suppose two-thirds of people vote aPib and one third bPia. On what basis is that turned from a two-third/one-third split (which might demand some sort of proportionality of result) into a seemingly monolithic aPb?
Put that way (which I wish I had earlier), you could say it's a major motivation of my own research.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Control Arms

I mentioned, when I went to the Bell X1 gig last month, that I'd signed up to an Oxfam/Amnesty International Control Arms campaign. I just received the following email I thought I'd pass on:

Amnesty, IANSA and Oxfam have just launched a global campaign aiming to stop gun running and control the armstrade - and they need your support now, here.

I've already signed up and you can see my Face in the Million Faces petition here.

Armed violence wrecks lives by fuelling conflict, poverty, and human rights abuses. The campaign is calling for an international Arms Trade Treaty which will make it harder for arms to get into the wrong hands.Your support will help us to show that people - like you - around the world are outraged by arms trade abuses, and demand tougher arms controls. Act now.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Return

Got back to Oxford early this afternoon. Once we were passed Sainsburys, we made reasonable time and didn't see so much of the traffic mum feared. The only problem was a bit of a face-off between me and my brother at the services, as we'd been winding each other up a bit on the trip - notably him in the back winding his window down, even though this was not only annoying us in the front but slowing us down and stopping us putting the air conditioning on.

Also Oxford services still not as good as Reading. We were able to get chips with our baguettes/wraps, but they were not only small portions they were also cold. (One of Jerry Cohen's favourite Jewish restaurant jokes - the food's bad and the portions are too small...)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Blackburn 0-1 Liverpool

Especially with the result hardly likely to affect our increasingly almost certain 3rd place finish, these days I approach a trip to Ewood Park hoping mainly that no one gets injured. Cisse and Carragher have suffered nasty leg breaks in the past couple of seasons, not to mention Milan Baros' ankle getting broken, and if I remember rightly Jason McAteer also suffered a leg break against Blackburn...

Thankfully there were no such injuries today, and we were even able to rest Gerrard and Crouch from minor knocks. Lucas Neill did go through Cisse rather recklessly, but that won't be the main talking point. The goal was a very controversial one, with a clearly off-side Cisse reaching for the ball, and then stopping himself, to be judged inactive. In fairness to him, he did stop still and put his hands up - but I admit I'd feel aggrieved had the goal gone against us. We've suffered too from this off-side rule - Newcastle's goal stood against us, while a couple of Fowler's previous goals ruled out for no more. I think someone really has to clarify this rule - and I hope it doesn't cause such confusion at the World Cup...

(UPDATE: I think one commentator in the Guardian observed Cisse is most effective when not interfering with play. This comment on the off-side rule goes further...)

Anyway, Fowler's second winner in two games strengthens his case for a new contract yet further. Meanwhile critics will no doubt point to Cisse's contribution as showing he's most effective when not interfering with play... To his credit, his pace created two good chances; and yet his poor finishing meant both hit the wood-work (one off Friedel). I'd expect a £14m striker to be able to put away some of these opportunities - and am increasingly wishing we kept the more hard-working Baros (who scored twice for Villa this weekend) - but at least Cisse's pace does make other teams wary of being caught on the break.

All in all, I'm very happy to take the win. We're now guaranteed at least third I believe. And a fitting way to mark the Hillsborough anniversary. The only bad news is Sissoko's suspension for Chelsea next weekend.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Manningtree

Today I went for lunch for four old school friends (and two partners) in the Manningtree Crown. Manningtree is only an 8 minute train ride from Colchester, but unfortunately it's a 25 minute bus journey from my house to the station, with the buses only running every half hour because it's a bank holiday and 15 minutes late because public transport is crap. Consequently I missed the first train, but thankfully I was on the same bus as Jasmin, so we were late together.

I wasn't very impressed with the meal itself either, to be honest. Granted, for under £4 I suppose you can't expect much; but we had to wait 50 minutes for our food, and when it came my baked potato was tough-skinned and not particularly hot. The portions were fairly small too.

Still, it was nice to catch up with people, many of whom I hadn't seen in almost a year (and meet George's partner, Steve). After lunch, we went for a short walk, and got ice cream. George was kind enough to give Jasmin and I a lift back to Colchester, meaning we could have a walk around town, including visiting our old school.

I also found Virgin were having quite a large clearance sale, with two whole racks of CDs down to £3.99. Unfortunately many of them were rather obscure, and quite a few I'd vaguely heard of but would have liked to have looked up online before buying, so I didn't. Others, however, I bought rather on chance, since I didn't think I'd be back before I leave for Oxford.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

80s TV

Children's TV in the 1980s was generally created by drug-addled adults, and so gave us such gems as Henry's Cat, The Magic Roundabout, and goodness knows how many others I've forgotten.

It was only in the course of reviewing Flock - the latest album by Bell X1, who I saw live last month - that their track 'Just Like Mr Benn' reminded me of another.

Since anyone I know reading this is probably within a few years of me, they may well remember this one. A suited figure in a bowler hat (possible a civil servant or some such) visits a magic clothes shop, where each week he dons a different costume - such as cowboy or astronaut - and lives out magical adventures.

A whole range of interpretations, including religious, and homosexual ones, can be found here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday I went down Harwich with my dad to visit my nan - 90 last week.

Today it was my mum's turn, so I went to see her mum - who sadly is in much worse shape, and needs carers despite being 'only' 83. We also went shopping (new shoes, Staples, Co-op and Wilkinson's - stocking up some supplies for next term) and for lunch at Sloppy Joes. It's nice occasionally to have a complete day off, do some mostly fun things, a bit of shopping, and blow £100 - especially on those rare days where someone else is paying.

Somehow I don't think I'll be getting much work done this week. Our crappy old computer will probably restrict blogging activity too, but then I'm not likely to be doing too much of interest either.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Bolton

Thankfully the rails seem to have come off Bolton's European charge at just the right time for us, as they're normally a tricky side to face. Nonetheless it was stil la tight match, decided by a solitary goal from Robbie Fowler.

Personally I think Rafa has to keep him on for another season. I'd be happy to see Cisse and/or Morientes go if we could get replacements, but I don't expect a complete overhaul of our strikers. Given that Robbie is ours to sign, for what I assume are relatively modest wages and no fee, it should be a no brainer - and we should do it quick, before other teams start sniffing around. (Though thankfully Robbie doesn't want to go anywhere else)

UPDATE: Incidentally, I think the BBC have been shit-stirring a bit here. Here they report Benitez saying "Maybe you can find fantastic players of, say, 23 years old who also have fantastic pace and quality" and interpret this as a hint Robbie won't get a new contract offer. But the LFC official site reports what's presumably the same quote as "But maybe you could find three top-class strikers who are 23 years old, can score goals and have pace. Then you have to think", which doesn't sound so doom-and-gloom for Robbie, bearing in mind we certainly don't have said top class young strikers at the club at present (with all due respect to FSP, ALT and Mellor).

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bridgend

My dad normally goes on daytrips from Essex to Bridgend about three times a year with his friend Pete, to visit some of Pete's relatives. Since I was planning on coming home the same day, I first suggested he could pick me up on the way home, and he then suggested I could join them for a trip to Wales. So I did.

Given the whole trip is about 250 miles - maybe 5 hours - each way it seems an awful lot of travelling to me for the sake of about 4 hours in Wales. I'd forgotten how much I hate long car journeys. It isn't so much lack of leg-room as headroom, meaning my back is still sore from constant slouching (no wonder I have bad posture!)

Wales itself was pleasant enough. We met Pete's elderly aunt Trish, took her for a pub meal, and then (leaving her in the car) went for a 40 minute walk along the sea-front cliffs at Ogmore by Sea. After that, there was only time for a quick tea, before the drive home.

Thankfully we had a stop at Reading services, for baguette and chips - they were much better food-wise than Oxford services. I was also quite surprised (and happy) to hear Motley Crue, QOTSA and Offspring being played in the services. Hurrah for good taste. Although having said that, we did catch some good music over the various radio stations we listened to on the journey; including The Upper Room and a Deep Dish remix/cover of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams.

Still, I'm glad to be home now. Though I'm sure I'll be bored by the end of the week (so expect probably less frequent updates)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Conference #3

Third conference in a week - I'll spare you the links on the assumption you've been paying attention - was only a one-day affair in Oxford, the Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference.

Naturally the attendees were predominantly female, and also less academic than usual. A scan down the list revealed an awful lot of 'Miss' and 'Ms' so-and-sos. I don't think there was a single Mrs (though there were a couple of Drs and a few without any title).

At first, I was pretty scared how it was going to go: The first speaker said how terrible it was that women have to wear make-up, bear their flesh etc. The second, involved in Feminists Against Censorship, how terrible it was that Muslim women can't dress as they like, and howDworkin's ideal of a sexless woman is allied with the fundamentalist right. She even got heckled from the fairly hostile crowd, and needless to say the debate was a bit emotional...

I felt sorry for Katherine having to chair that one, and like her and Dan made myself scarce at lunch. Thankfully things improved in the afternoon. Speakers who knew Andrea well - including her partner John and Catharine MacKinnon (with whom she worked several times) - spoke with sympathy - sometimes even struggling to make their points over their emotion. It was true testament to a woman I knew little about, but did seem a truly amazing figure (even if I wouldn't agree with many of her ideas, I can respect them).

Overall, even though Bas and I were able to spend some time bitching about crazy/radical feminists afterward, for one-sided or unsubstantiated arguments, it was the kind of debate rarely seen in Oxford politics seminars, and a very worthwhile experience.

Maria in the Times

I was pleased to see my friend Maria Sciara had her piece from the PSA conference mentioned in today's Times.

Master of Puppets

I'm not a big fan of Metallica, but I thought I'd just flag up the fact Kerrang! magazine is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Master of Puppets by giving away a free tribute CD, featuring covers of the whole album performed by bands such as Machine Head, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and Funeral For A Friend (oh, and Fightstar!)

The magazine's only £1.99 and also features a review and profile of new band Khoma, who I just reviewed myself the other day here.

The only reason I stumbled across this was going into W H Smiths with one of these loyalty card vouchers. £2.50 worth of points if you spent at least £1 (before 9th April) - which means of course they paid me to buy the mag! Bargain.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Publishing

Inspired I suppose by the advice given at the recent PSA conference, and accompanying marketing by the editors of Politics ('we're not a big name journal, but you can publish something short with us') I've been thinking again - as I do periodically - about prospects of publishing.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to link up a couple of pieces of advice I'd read, for future reference.

Crooked Timber begins with a debate covering the need to publish - generally it seems a good thing these days, though there's some debate about 'second tier' journals, and the opportunity costs of hack work. It hadn't really occurred to me that publications matter beyond putting peer-reviewed work on your CV, but it seems when it comes to job-hunting the chances of someone on the interview panel actually having read your published work matter - and hence you want it to be good.

Brian Leiter's blog also has an interesting discussion on the merits of grad students publishing - how important it is, where to do it, etc. He also has this interesting report, in which he lists excellent, good and 'also noteable' journals in different philosophy fields. For my interests:

MORAL, POLITICAL, AND LEGAL PHILOSOPHY
Excellent: Ethics, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy.
Good: Nous, Journal of Political Philosophy, Mind
Also Notable: Political Theory, Legal Theory, Law & Philosophy, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Analysis, Economic & Philosophy, Utilitas, European Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Ratio, Philosophical Quarterly.

Other guidance on where to post may be extracted from another Brian's detailed survey results, or the discusssion here (though I think that tended to break down into petty arguments!)

In case the focus on where to publish (rather than whether or how) seems a bit premature; Peter Smith from Cambridge offers some good advice, even down to the basics of writing and structure (rather than just submission), and his insights as former editor of Analysis.

S. Matthew Liao

While searching around the internet this morning, I found S. Matthew Liao has been appointed the Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Program on the Ethics of New Biosciences, recently advertised by the Philosophy Faculty. It seems sometimes internal websites aren't the first to bring you news of appointments! I don't know him yet, but expect we'll meet sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Brave New World Abstract

As if I haven't been going to enough conferences lately - numbers one and two just gone, three coming soon (Friday) - I spent today putting together a paper and abstract for the Brave New World conference in Manchester at the end of June. Apparently it's usually a good one, so I hope I'm accepted. The paper still needs tidying up, but I'll probably leave that until nearer the time - maybe even wait for acceptance. The abstract (300 words), however, needs to be sent by 30th of April. Here it is (no surprises for guessing the subject):

Lottery-Voting: A Neglected Solution

This paper is an exploration of the idea of ‘lottery-voting’ (Amar 1984, 1995), according to which electoral outcomes should be decided by a randomly selected vote. It is not an argument for using such a method, which would be too large a project. My claim here is merely that lottery-voting’s potential has been neglected, and it deserves more careful consideration.

I demonstrate this through discussion of two recent books in democratic theory, both of which could perhaps be improved by considering lottery-voting. Firstly, I examine Richard Vernon’s Political Morality, which attempts to reconcile liberalism and democracy into a single coherent project rather than competing ideals. I do not engage with this larger aim, but contend that his argument for majority rule is defective, because lottery-voting also leads to decisive outcomes while providing better incentives to generalise appeals to larger numbers of the electorate.

Secondly, I turn to Andrew Rehfeld’s The Concept of Constituency, which proposes replacing territorial constituencies with randomly allocated ones, that each comprise a microcosm of the whole polity. Assuming the desirability of such, I suggest that using lottery-voting, rather than assuming majority rule, would further the author’s aims of encouraging deliberation between diverse viewpoints focused on the common good, because it would ensure a heterogeneous legislature as well as constituencies.

My paper is neither a complete case for lottery-voting – which would require me to address issues of fairness, rationality, procedural rules and outcomes – nor a complete review of these two books. Rather I focus on how lottery-voting shows up – and sometimes solves – various weaknesses and shortcomings in existing democratic theory, illustrated by certain elements of these two works. Whether or not we want ultimately to accept lottery voting, my aim is to demonstrate that its possibilities make it worthy of more serious attention.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Conference #2 (PSA, Reading)

I’m making a bit of a habit visiting Reading these days it seems, but for us it’s a very handy place for a conference. The fact several Reading lecturers live in Oxford demonstrates it’s not too far to travel – indeed, on my way in Monday morning I passed Andrew Williams on Cowley Road, and then between college and the station I passed John Ireland, Tom Stevens and Phil Alderton all coming the other way.

The twenty minute train ride to Reading was uneventful, but on arrival I soon started meeting more people. I was waiting for a bus when I saw a young woman with a similar Reading University map and overnight bag, so asked if she was also going to the conference – of course she was. Then as we waited, Maria Sciara turned up and joined us, so the three of us shared the bus ride, and navigating around the campus adventure.

It didn’t take us too long to find our way, though we did ask a passer-by for directions, so we were soon back in our halls – Windsor – which were typically basic (halls after all) but adequate. Rainbow – from the station – had been joined by another PSA regular Matt (from Nottingham Trent). We were still quite early, but it seemed from the other early arrivals there were already quite a few people who knew each other. Maria, Matt and I went and got sandwiches for lunch, and talked mostly about novels I hadn’t read.

The first talk of the afternoon was on PhD submissions and vivas. Unfortunately the talk followed straight on from another, and they must’ve started early but no one opened the door, so a few of us outside missed the start. It’s all a long way off for me, but it was interesting to take in some of this information now for later. I do already have one tentative idea for a potential external examiner, but I don’t know yet if they’ll be suitable – or willing (apparently examiners only get paid £160, which isn’t a lot of reading a whole PhD and then examining the candidate).

Second talk was on publishing from one’s PhD, either as a book (monograph) or in journal articles. The woman from Palgrave did a fairly good job of putting us off the former, emphasising how difficult it was (not only to get accepted, but stressing the need to completely re-write the material – taking at least a year) and stressing that it’d be on publishers’ terms – accept zero royalties! Previewing one’s findings in journals almost certainly disqualifies you for a book (who’ll buy it then?), but seems a much more popular route, given the importance of RAE assessments. Unfortunately this session was very much focussed on publishing PhD, rather than getting published more generally, but I’ve been to a couple of talks on that anyway.

In the evening we had a wine reception, and dinner, and it was here we were able to carry on conversation with people we’d met over the day. I didn’t see much more of Rainbow or Matt, but I did meet Mark – a former LMH-er now at Cardiff – and another girl from Cardiff (Kirsten? Kristen?) working on constructivism. Strangely they didn’t know each other, though the latter girl did know Miriam and Christian from the BA conference (blog) in December. I was also able to chat with both about Carole Pateman’s appointment in Cardiff, which I heard about in Oxford at the CHSJ conference last week.

In fact, I’d been pleasantly surprised to find a number of theorists around – if not philosophers, then historians or others who didn’t quite fit the ‘political science’ type I expected. Karl and I were bemoaning pol sci at the back of the second session when the girl next to us – Katherine (sp?) – turned out to be another theorists, for example.

The dinner was a pretty good spread, with a selection of main courses, vegetables an impressive salad bar. It seemed to be pretty much all you can eat, although I didn’t have that much – partly because I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be there. We got to chat to Anthony Forster (Head of Bristol Politics, formerly St Antony’s) and Prof Chris Lords (Head of Reading DPIR and formerly PPE at Worcester), who’d been dispensing advice in the talks.

Unfortunately since there were only graduate students around the first night, the Student Union on campus was shut, but a group of ten or so of us made it to the nearest pub (The Queen’s Head), where I met James (working on humanitarian intervention in Newcastle) and Paul (pol sci, Manchester). We were able to talk for quite a bit, mostly swapping undergrad and postgrad experiences. James I’d actually met very briefly in Warwick, although neither of us recognised each other – that only came out later!

It was only one pint that night, since we had to be up early the next day – breakfast was from 8, but with the first talk at 9 the communal showers had to be braved first. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, because there was one of those glass windows above the door and the corridor lights were on all night. I even ended up moving the bed so as not to face the light, but there was little space to do so.

The early start didn’t particularly agree with me, and nor do fried breakfasts (being veggie), but for those with more appetite – like Karl – there was again plenty of chance to eat one’s fill. The final talk, that morning, was about getting jobs, and this was probably the scariest of the lot. For starters, every time someone gives advice on getting academic jobs, they always seem to preface their remarks with a ‘are you sure you really want one?’ Even if you do, they’re not easy to get: apparently a post recently advertised at Reading apparently attracted 80 applicants, of whom 50 were of sufficient quality!

There was more on widening participation (ethnicity) and ‘group discussions’, but I didn’t attend the remaining talks, preferring to hang around downstairs with some juice and talking more with Maria, James, Paul and Scott (another Mancunian). That brought us on to the main conference proper, and lunch. Again I wasn’t sure I should have it, since my part was over, but I’d been given a meal ticket so I went, for a lentil curry (again, not eating anywhere near as much as I could’ve of the generous spread).

After lunch, my time really was over. As the others moved on to the 2:15 panel, I met my brother, and spent a half hour or so chatting about how he’d been since Xmas and what he was doing over Easter. Since one of his housemates had just left, I probably could’ve stayed with him, and attended the rest of the conference (no one seemed to be checking anything carefully), but instead I decided it was time to return to Oxford. Unfortunately I just missed the bus to the station, but on the bright side just caught a train, by the skin of my teeth, so I was back in Oxford by around 4pm. (And I further brightened my mood by buying a couple of CDs in the spring sales, despite a parcel waiting for me in the lodge).

All in all, the PSA seemed a very attractive and well-attended conference. It was expensive (a large part of why I didn’t stay longer), but there was much more political theory there than I expected. I’ll definitely look into it again next year, when apparently it’s in Bath (thankfully again not too far away).

Saturday, April 01, 2006

West Brom 0-2 Liverpool

In Liverpool’s last two visits to the Hawthorns, they’ve scored a total of eleven goals without reply. In their last visit to the vicinity, they beat Birmingham 7-0. Unfortunately, the free-scoring wasn’t too continue, but Liverpool easily dominated the first half and ran out quite comfortable 2-0 winners.

Cisse was particularly impressive in the first half, creating the first goal and scoring the second, and it’s good to see him utilising his pace and some somewhat better awareness and touch than we’ve usually seen – even if he was a little wasteful in the second half, when WBA gave us more of a game.

It’s looking very unlikely that we’ll finish above or below third now, so over our remaining five games I’d quite like to see some youngsters like Barragan and Anderson given the chance to make some substitute appearances to get them acquainted with the Premiership. Both of them made the (seven man) bench against Benfica, so I guess we’ll see if Benitez feels they’re ready for some first team action. Then again, they are only 17, and do have a FA Youth Cup final coming up…

Free Lunch

It was a pleasant surprise to fine that there is still such a thing as a free lunch, for one was provided at this weekend’s conference on the Conceptual History of Social Justice. Admittedly, only sandwiches, but the department’s better-quality sandwiches, rather than bog-standard ones. And thankfully, there were plenty of them, so the distributional rule of abundance (‘take as many as you want’) applied. Otherwise we’d probably all have starved before anyone could agree on how to distribute them ;-)

The conference itself was quite interesting, although it was very much a toe-dipping into something I don’t know much about for me (the period between Aristotle and 1971 is ‘a little hazy’ as far as I’m concerned). Still it was good to learn a bit about the period and debates, as well as participate (albeit rather passively) in an event bringing together philosophers, political theorists, historians and economists.

Unfortunately it didn’t prove an occasion for networking – I didn’t meet anyone over the two days. I guess that was largely my fault, since there were plenty of people I didn’t know (mostly non-Oxford), but the temptation was to talk to people I did know but hadn’t seen in a while. It’s always easier than the slightly awkward ‘so, what are you working on?’ kind of conversation that characterises most conference meetings, and freshers’ week. I will have to make more of an effort in Reading next week.