Praesidium

Monday, December 31, 2007

Apoptygma Berzerk

As I said, the only actual present I got this year was APB's Welcome to Earth album. It was while compiling a Christmas list that I noticed all their old albums - including the otherwise impossible to get hold of Soli Deo Gloria - have been reissued with bonus tracks, and all are now available on Amazon for just £11.99. Too bad this now completes my collection of studio albums (well, I don't actually have the aforementioned SDG, but this compilation covers most of the band's early hits).

It's an interesting time to reflect on their progression, from the earlier more industrial/gothic songs like Deep Red to their current, far more commercial, synthpop incarnation, as revealed in In This Together and Unicorn (sadly, can't find the duet version). The change is even more evident when you look at their videos.

Welcome to Earth must count as 'mid-period' APB. While I'm sure that, like their other albums, it's a grower, it's currently my least favourite by some distance. Highlights, however, include Kathy's Song and the cover of Metallica's Fade to Black (which is a must see, just because it's so different from the original).

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Birthday

I'm 26 today. Sadly, being stuck in Colchester - because I'm unable to move into my college room until Thursday - means I haven't really got any plans for either my birthday or NYE. Thanks to all who sent cards, texts, emails, facebook messages, etc though.

I'm not sure which gets less exciting as you get older, Christmas or birthdays. While I did receive some money, literally the only present (to be opened straight from the Amazon packaging) was the reissue of Apoptygma Berzerk's Welcome to Earth.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Man City 0-0 Liverpool

With Manchester United's shock defeat this was a great opportunity to close the gap on the top while widening our lead over surely one of the favourites to break into the top four this season. It wasn't to be easy, however - only in their previous game had City lost their 100% home record in the league.

While a point was somewhat frustrating, given the way that we battered City's defence for most of the game, the failure to make a breakthrough illustrates our difficulties in finishing teams off and the question mark over who - other than Gerrard and Torres - looks a reliable goalscorer. Personally I'd be happy to see Kuyt and/or Voronin be replaced with someone who looks a more clinical finisher. The Van Nistelrooy-style goal-getter isn't really Benitez's style, but I think we want someone who's main job is putting the ball in the net.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

The 19th Century Canon

My friend Rob is currently getting to grips with Plato.

I'm currently working on filling some more recent gaps in my knowledge. I hope I know Mill's Utiltiarianism and On Liberty pretty well, but I decided it was about time I read something else - so I've just finished Considerations on Representative Government. Just the Subjection of Women left now to finish my four essay set (which, btw, was only £2.99 when I bought it in 2000, and now apparently £6.99 cover price!).

I've followed that up by re-reading Marx's Communist Manifesto today. If I get time next term, I'd like to finally attend Jerry's Hegel and Marx class and learn a bit about this chap. I hear he may be important...

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Extra Celebs

I've been pretty disappointed with this Christmas' TV to be honest, which at least reassures me that I'm not missing much in Oxford. I did quite enjoy tonights Extras Christmas special. It wasn't as good as the Office finale, but it was a nice exploration of celebrity with a bit of character depth. (I don't want to give away any details, like the ending, so can't say much more). Anyway, vaguely on topic this rant from Damon Albarn.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Derby 1-2 Liverpool

Well, they say that good teams are those that can play badly and snatch wins - it's certainly an art Man Utd have perfected and it never did them much harm.

Of course, needing a 90th minute winner to see off Derby is hardly encouraging, but this was never quite going to be a walkover - Derby would obviously be highly motivated to put up a better performance after losing 6-0 at Anfield earlier in the season, and buoyed by their performance against Newcastle (a game they probably should've won).

Even so, after Torres opened the scoring on twelve minutes, it looked like it would be a relatively routine win. Sadly, it wasn't to be and, although we battered them for most of the first half, our finishing just wasn't there. Things took a turn for the worse in the second half - first Hyypia forced off injured (leaving us playing John Arne Riise as a make-shift centre back) and then an equaliser conceded from a rather dubious free-kick.

Thankfully, blushes were spared by a late Gerrard surge. Having just come close by hitting the bar, he was on hand to knock in a rebound after Torres' first effort had been saved. No doubt pundits would be inclined to say 'Gerrard, who else?' but I think it's fair to say you can't call us a one man team with Torres up front. (Beyond that, I admit no one else in our squad is at their level - but where would United be without Ronaldo?)

Anyway, we made harder work of it than I'd have liked, but it's three points and that's all that matters come May. We'll need to be sharper for Man City next though.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Late Delivery

Apparently complaints about online shopping deliveries have risen in the run-up to Christmas.

The last of my Christmas presents (i.e. those I'd purchased for others) arrived this morning - just. My brother and I placed placed a joint Amazon order (my present for dad and his for mum) on the 19th. Both items were in stock and we were given an estimated despatch date of 20th, with super saver (free) delivery to reach us by the 24th.

On the 20th, I noticed that one of the items had come down a couple of quid in price, so cancelled the original order and ordered the same items again, this time with 1st class postage (which was still cheaper). Again Amazon estimated that they'd despatch on the 20th, but with the order now due to arrive on 21st or 22nd - and they continued to say this up until they did despatch in the early hours of the 22nd... Thankfully in the meantime they'd emailed to say they'd give top priority to all orders due by Christmas and, if need be, upgrade the postage for free. I think that's what they did, as the order arrived seemingly by Royal Mail special delivery.

While this isn't perhaps quite as smooth as the system is supposed to run, so close to Christmas I would regard it as perfectly satisfactory service. What I do find somewhat disturbing, however, is that I placed a Vine request (for the new Powderfinger album) on the 21st and received that on the 22nd...

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Blair's Conversion

So, Tony Blair has finally come out. No, sorry, not that news. I mean come out as a Roman Catholic.

Personally, I don't really see why this has dominated so much of the news over the weekend. Aside from not seemingly particularly significant it was also, as at least one reporter I saw admitted, not unexpected. Technically, it's being said he converted, but I think he was already effectively a closet Catholic, even if it's only now been made official (a view backed up in comments on that BBC story).

Blair's wife is Catholic and he's regularly attended mass. In fact, what I find slightly more disturbing is hearing it reported today that he'd never hidden his faith, despite this story just last month, which reports "Tony Blair avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled "a nutter""

Anyway, while I wouldn't be particularly happy to be governed by a Catholic PM, and even less so to be governed by a Catholic PM who lies about his faith in public, I'm baffled why it leads so many political commentators (again, see above news link) to question his voting record. Sure, the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is wrong, but does that mean it is wrong for the PM to uphold the legal right?

Something like what Rawls calls the 'liberal principle of legitimacy' - i.e. the idea that state coercion must be justifiable to all who live under it - is taken as axiomatic by many political philosophers. The state's purpose is not to enforce some controversial 'comprehensive' conception of the good (religious or otherwise), but uphold only principles of justice in our dealings with each other.

A reasonable Catholic, therefore, should not use political power to foist Catholic moral ideas on others, regardless of whether or not they accept them. If Blair thinks abortion is immoral, he is free to do all he can in his private life to prevent it (not having one himself, counselling his children, etc). You would not, however, expect him to legally ban others from having abortions, any more than banning contraception or other religions. That's simply a consequence of living in a liberal democracy.

(Of course, I'm leaving aside many potential problems, such as drawing the line between a reasonable view of justice and comprehensive good. If Catholics are right that the foetus is a person, then abortion is murder, and the pro-choice brigade seem little better than members of the KKK who'd kill blacks because they deny that they have a right to life. My point is simply that Blair isn't obviously a hypocrite for not imposing his own moral standards on the rest of us, because that isn't what politics is about).

p.s. See Chris Brooke's discussion of Blair on Catholicism and community.

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Academia versus Offices

This CT post embeds an Office-style video about life in the Harvard Department of Government. It's no surprise to me that similar humour works. If anyone asked, for example, I'd describe PhD comics as 'Dilbert for grad students'.

Speaking of which, via Scott Adams himself, this story of a worker fired for posting a comic at work implying his bosses were drunken lemurs. Careful what you say about your supervisor now...

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Liverpool 4-1 Portsmouth

After three defeats from our last four (two in the Premiership) it was important to get back to winning ways. Portsmouth can be a pretty tough team, both at home and away (like us they have a better away record this season), but today they didn't put up too much opposition. Benitez seems to have more or less settled on a strongest line up (given current injuries) of Reina; Arbeloa, Carra, Hyypia, Riise; Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Kewell; Torres, Kuyt - and it's arguably paying dividends, though the return of Alonso (and, hopefully, soon Finnan, Agger and Pennant) may disrupt things.

Benayoun scored the first after about ten minutes and that was soon followed when Torres was dispossessed but the ball bounced off Distin and into the net for an unfortunate own goal. Thje 2-0 half-time lead looked fairly comfortable but, as ever, the next goal was important and it went to Portsmouth, Benjani pulling them back into the match just before the hour. Thankfully it didn't take too long for Torres to restore the two-goal cushion, after a bursting run from super-sub Babel resulted in a shot/cross James couldn't hold. A late fourth from Torres underlined both our superiority and his class.

Derby up next - no time to be complacent but, to be honest, I hope we rest a few key players (possibly benching Gerrard and/or Torres, with Alonso and Babel to take the places).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Interview Advice

Advice on how to cope with the American Historical Association interviews (via CT). The authior says "If you’re not a historian, I don’t know how useful this material will be, though I expect some of what I say is exportable to the AAG, the MLA, or most other three-letter waking nightmares" and I dare say that includes APSA too...

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Chichele Professor

There's been some speculation for a while now about who will replace G A Cohen when he retires at the end of this (academic) year (a vacancy previously noted here). Since most of it is complete conjecture or wishful thinking, it's probably not worth reporting, but there are some interesting and possibly more informed suggestions over at Crooked Timber.

For the record, I haven't applied but would be open to offers!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool (League Cup)

So, another defeat to a top four rival, which makes a rather worrying three in four games now.

In fairness though, the League Cup is always the least important trophy each season, and I think this was to some extent revealed by our line up. Chelsea were without Terry and Drogba through injury and, though they rested a few others, fielded the strongest spine they could (cech, Carvalho, Lampard, Shevchenko). We were without Agger due to injury and Gerrard due to illness, but rested Reina, Mascherano, Kewell and Torres. We played three youngsters who are on the fringe of the first team (Babel, Lucas Leiva and Hobbs) and used another (El Zhar) as substitue.

If the result reveals anything, therefore, it's probably that we still don't have as much strength in depth as I'd like, despite vast improvements under Rafa. It's easy for Chelsea as they've been able to buy a huge squad and their reserves would, unsurprisingly, make a decent team in their own right. Arsenal, meanwhile, have discredited the 'men against boys' tag by continually bringing through more and more young prospects.

As for the game itself, we were well in it until Lampard scored with a deflected shot (how else?) and then, in a moment of madness, Crouch got sent off. I can't defend the tackle itself, though it was probably born of frustration. Sadly that three match suspension may prove to hurt us. Even with ten men, however, we didn't fare that badly - Shevchenko's late second didn't kill the tie off until the clock was almost up anyway.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Winner Takes All

This post on Stumbling and Mumbling, about the recent X-Factor result, highlights problems with a Winner Takes All system. The problem also applies to politics, as noted in the comments there.

Lottery-voting is, in a sense, winner takes all because whoever has their vote drawn gets 100% their way. This is because although I believe compromise is often possible, I don't think it's normally easy to engineer through mechanical processes. Rather, I take the other route out, introducing some randomness. If everyone knows that they have a chance, then this should be incentive for them - both (in this case) to vote responsibly and engage in persuading others.

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Anderson Again

First we hear that the beautiful should pay a tax to compensate the ugly, now we have academics (possibly) suggesting that the tall should pay more tax to compensate the short (via, via). Looks like I'm in for quite a tax bill then... ;-)

In fairness, this working paper is more of a thought experiment and how to interpret the results is unclear (see abstract and penultimate para on page 2). I think the lesson that a Utilitarian-optimal tax scheme need not be just won't come as much of a shock to many.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd

While in the past I often remember Liverpool beating other top teams, like United, yet losing to minnows (Barnsley, Bradford, etc) now their failure to beat their potential title rivals is becoming a serious threat to any realistic title bid. This season we've played the rest of the big four at home and emerged with only two points - although at least we led against Arsenal and Chelsea and were unlucky to lose at least the latter.

Although they can never tell the full story, if you look at the stats - a majority of shots, shots on target and possession - then it seems we were unlucky again to lose to United. Of course, in these games timing is crucial and the fact that we'd just returned from a must-win European match, while United had been able to rest their key players may have made a crucial difference. I suppose we can't moan too much, as we made the CL hard for ourselves and, given the choice, I'd have preferred to beat Marseille. Still our luck has to change soon...

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Return

I'm back. I didn't get the job in Sheffield, but otherwise things went more or less as planned and it was good to catch up with a couple of old friends I hadn't seen in over a year.

I got to the hotel about 18:15 Tuesday night. Didn't want to eat out on my own so just got some sandwiches from nearby convenience store (annoyingly wasn't given receipt so couldn't claim them as expenses). We weren't allowed food in rooms, so I ate them outside the hotel, but was back in to watch the football (good job it was ITV 1 and I had a TV in my room).

Wednesday morning bumped into Kerstin, a recent PhD from Cardiff who I'd met at conferences, who was also applying for the job and staying in the same hotel. She got it in the end - I don't know who else applied, but if it wasn't to be me I'm glad it was someone I know.

The interview itself was ok, they seemed a friendly bunch. After that, I wondered back through Sheffield to the station. Unfortunately my housemate Bobby wasn't getting in until later, so I caught the 13:54 to Durham, which got me there just before 16:00 with some time to kill before my friend Genny left work.

Spent the evening with Genny and her husband, talking, (half) watching TV and playing guitar hero. Maybe we're all a bit old and sad now (plus she is pregnant...) but it was ncie to catch up. She had Thursday morning off, so had a bit of a lie in before lazing around the house and then going into Durham again for lunch at Wetherspoons. She had to be back at work by 13:00 so I just caught a 12:48 fast train that was running a couple of minutes late (have ot say I had pretty good luck on the trains all round, for once).

Got into Kings Cross around 15:44 so went over to Holborn and saw my old flatmate Mike - walked around for a while looking for somewhere to eat and wound up in LSE cafeteria, which was perfectly decent and cheaper than anywhere else in London (though I was slightly disturbed by serving lady flirting with me!) We hung around a while, but managed to get a 21:08 train home, which was pretty packed but got me back in one piece.

Too bad about the job I guess, but an enjoyable few days of travelling.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marseille 0-4 Liverpool

Watching this must-win game in my hotel room the night before my interview, it could have been a nervy affair. Thankfully early goals from Gerrard (a rebound after his initial penalty was saved) and a great piece of skill from Torres effectively settled the tie after 11 minutes. Kuyt's, soon after half-time, ended any hopes of a come back and super-sub Babel rounded the night off with a late fourth. Now, why couldn't we have come through this group the easy way?

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Travel Plans

Tomorrow, Monday 10th, I'm going home for Christmas. That means my mum coming up in the car to collect me and all my stuff (being back in college means having to completely vacate my room).

Tuesday 11th I'm getting the train up from Colchester (via London and possibly another change) to Sheffield, where I'll be staying overnight in this hotel. Depending what time I get there, I'll probably be looking for a nearby pub to watch Liverpool's must-win game with Marseille.

Wednesday 12th, at 11:30, I have an interview in Sheffield. After that, I may meet up with my current housemate, Bobby, who did a year abroad in Sheffield and happens to be paying a visit at the same time as me. Then I'll get the train up to Durham to see my old school friend Genny and staying the night with her.

Thursday 13th Genny will have the morning off work, but we haven't really got anything planned - maybe sight-seeing? After lunch, I'll be getting the train home - hopefully meeting my old undergrad flatmate Mike in London (maybe for dinner).

Throughout all of this, my internet access is likely to be virtually zero... If you get bored without me, feel free to read my latest thesis draft.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reading 3-1 Liverpool

I had a horrible feeling our run of form was going to crunch to a halt with key games against Marseille and Man Utd coming up this week. I thought we might have got through this game, but Bentiez' team selection was bizarre to say the least - looking like it might be a 4-3-3 on paper but lacking any width whatsoever while the likes of Kewell and Babel (perfect as wide forward players) were left on the bench.

I don't think the selections alone cost us though. Reading went ahead from what the BBC commentators described as an outrageous penalty decision (in the sense 'yes, it was a foul, but it was outside the box'). Sadly we were denied two probably better shouts for fouls in the box on Torres - the latter of which worringly left him in a heap and saw him soon withdrawn (after he'd been praised for standing up to much Reading kicking in the October cup game).

At the end of the day, we were forced to chase the game and, even so, things could have been very different - aside from the penalty decisions, we hit their woodwork twice (Gerrard and Crouch). I guess you can't win them all, so I only hope we can bounce back for our next two more important games.

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EoTD

Last night's End of Term Dinner was the usual highlight of the GCR's social calendar. Didn't see many people near me taking pictures, so probably won't be able to get any to post.

The removing of hall tables for dancing has now become quite a tradition - this time with salsa dancers. I think I quite like this, because it seems guys have it easy - basically shuffle around and make sure you don't drop your partner, while spinning her round or bending her over. Strictly Come Dancing here I come...

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Estlund Reading Group

As previously announced here, Public Reason is hosting a reading group dedicated to David Estlund's new book. I now have a library copy and, after a quick glance, it looks very interesting. That's what I'll be reading over Christmas!

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Interviews

I've just finished playing a small part in admissions interviews. I won't say much about it because some of the information is sensitive, but thought I'd flag up this CT post - which was supposed to be about Oxbridge not sponsoring school academies, but the discussion got sidetracked by interviews. I was pleased to see my college advisor supporting some of my statements and Chris Bertram coming out in favour of lotteries too (after these).

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Raptors

Reading through XKCD again, I thought I'd link a few of their raptor comics together, for no particular reason:

Check your house
Substitute teacher
Search history

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beauty Egalitarianism

In Argentina, campaigner Gonzalo Otalora is lobbying for the kind of luck egalitarianism that Elizabeth Anderson condemns: "It's not fair, he said. The beautiful people get all the breaks. Beauty is a natural advantage and he wants the good-lookers to be taxed to finance compensation for the ugly people."

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Another 'Postcode Lottery' Claim

This time it's the greater availability of muscular dystrophy care for those who happen to live near specialist treatment centres. The constant association of the term 'lottery' with such supposedly unfair geographical discrimination gives actual lotteries a bad name in public discourse.

EDIT (italics above): Thanks for the comment pointing out that I'd actually got the details of the geography the wrong way round. It isn't actually a north south issue, and the particular example cited here is of a treatment centre in Newcastle, as opposed to the absence of such in the south west (I'm sure there must be one near London).

My basic point still stands though: this isn't a lottery - it's not like these treatment centres fall randomly out of the sky; postcodes are distributed geographically and people - if they have the money - can move where they like.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Philosophy Journals

I have an interview next week for a (temporary teaching) job in a Philosophy Department, which is itself very welcome - although Oxford's political theory contingent are funded by the AHRC rather than ESRC, it seems we sometimes have trouble getting taken seriously as philosophers.

Anyway, I'm still getting to grips with journal hierarchies in both political science and philosophy, not to mention trying to deal with the added complexity of a potential career spanning the two. This thread over at the Leiter Report was very helpful - summarising, Mind and Phil Review seem quite bad places to send stuff (in terms of turnaround times and feedback), while Analysis is widely considered a very good model (even if most decisions are made by an editor without referees or reports), and Ratio, Philosophy and Journal of Moral Philosophy are among those getting honorable mentions. (What little comment there is on Ethics and P&PA isn't particularly positive)

After a while of good and bad anecdotes, the thread starts to degenerate into analysis of the problem and potential solutions - e.g. Do we have too many grad students sending mediocre papers to over-worked reviewers? Should we abolish peer review or charge authors a small sum, to either pay referees or at least discourage frivilous submissions? The idea of boycotting bad journals also came up at Pea Soup, though nothing there isn't on Leiter.

It's too long for me to find the comment again, but one suggested that a potential problem was students sending work off for 'free feedback' rather than bothering their over-worked supervisors. I wonder if one solution might be to adopt the multi-author approach of science? If my supervisor (or other senior academics I know) basically got co-authorship out of detailed comments on my paper, I wonder if they'd be more willing to offer such help? (And would it be worth the cost for a student like me?)

Also, on the subject, this wiki offers some statistical evidence of review speeds and acceptance rates in philosophy journals. Many are still unaccounted for and of those that are numbers are surely not representative, but it's easy to see why Analysis is rated so highly.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Liverpool 4-0 Bolton

While Bolton may have been coming off the back of a surprise win over Man Utd, they've been poor this season and, after losing a midfield trio of Nolan, Davies (both suspended) and Guthrie (Liverpool loanee) I hoped they wouldn't put up too much resistance. Even I was surprised at the ease with which they were brushed aside, however - although, despite the odd frustration, I don't think many teams should be expecting to take points away from Anfield this season.

A relatively early Hyypia goal scuppered Bolton's game plan and, after Anelka contrived to miss a gilt-edged opportunity, Torres pretty much wrapped things up before half-time. Gerrard's second successive penalty means he's now scored in eight of his last nine matches I believe, and Ryan Babel put a late gloss on the scoreline tapping in Kuyt's rebound. While Arsenal are getting all the plaudits, we now match their goal difference and have had more shots than any other team in the division. In fact, it was only somewhat wasteful finishing that stopped this being a much bigger thrashing...

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Estlund Book

David Estlund's new book, Democratic Authority (contents), is out today. There are several copies in Blackwells (in the political philosophy section) or you can currently pick it up with 34% off at Amazon.

Personally, I was hoping that I might be able to pick up a review copy (any offers?) but I'm very much looking forward to reading it over Christmas - even if it may be too late to engage with the arguments in my thesis.

Readers may also be interested to know that an online reading group has been mooted and is planned for Public Reason.

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