Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Wigan 1-1 Liverpool
Another disappointing draw! Benayoun's opener didn't look like being enough to make the points safe and Lucas' foul led to Mido equalizing from the spot. I was happy to see Benitez immediately make an attacking substitution - bringing Keane straight on - but taking Gerrard off was a strange move, when we could have sacrificed someone else (most likely Lucas or Babel). In any case, it was to no avail - two more points dropped and the title looks like being Man Utd's to lose. Our up-coming match with Chelsea will be very important in the race for places 1-4 though...
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Liverpool 1-1 Everton (FA Cup)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Babies and Beautiful Things
A number of my friends and relations seem to be having babies around now. To me, they all look pretty similar and aren't very interesting until they're older (like, 20 perhaps). Thankfully some justification for my indifference is provided by the finding that men are less able to recognize cute babies than women.
I am, however, curious as to how this finding was reached, as opposed - for example - to the idea that the babies aren't actually cute or that the standards/criteria of cuteness employed by men and women differ...
Queuing for Houses
Getting Out of the Ivory Tower
It seems that one reason to value an education in philosophy or liberal arts is that, while not vocational, it teaches one how to think and learn. This, apparently, can make our graduates quite employable.
It's a further question whether those of us who've stuck around academia for longer, doing PhDs, further develop these skills or simply become over-qualified for other work. Nonetheless, it seems that a number of people are starting to entertain doubts about their academic futures. For some, this may be a question of whether they can or will 'make the grade', while others are concerned with whether academia is consistent with other things they want in their lives, including families.
Thankfully, it looks like the skills developed in academia can have uses in the wider world of work. It seems a number of people in these discussions have realized that it is possible to get out of the academic 'rat race' (massive job hunt, pressure to publish, tenure), find a better paid job in the corporate world, and still dabble in their philosophical interests as a hobby.
Food for thought if the job market doesn't improve...
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Liverpool 1-1 Everton
Democracy and the Market
Today is the first of my seminars on democracy, previously advertised here. The topic is the definition of democracy and, in particular, the relation between the market and democracy. Here's a copy of my handout summarizing the presentation:
Definition and conceptual analysis is a properly philosophical task – although, like the early Socratic dialogues, the following discussion may be ‘aporetic’.
Description vs. Evaluation
‘Democracy’ is used in a variety of ways and contexts. One danger is that it may become a term of commendation, devoid of descriptive content. A purely descriptive definition, however, is uninteresting. I suggest that we think of democracy as a thick evaluative term – recognizing it as one value amongst many but not precluding final evaluative judgements.
Power to the People
Ober: the -arche suffix predominantly focuses on who holds office and thus tends to attach to numerical terms (e.g. anarchy, monarchy, oligarchy), whereas the -kratein suffix referred primarily to who had the capacity to do things and thus was attached to non-numerical terms (e.g. aristocracy, plutocracy, democracy).
Rule of the Many
We need a decision rule. We must separate who the group of decision-makers should be and who, within them, should rule in case of conflict. Majority rule is neither sufficient nor necessary for democracy.
Dahl defines polyarchal democracy in terms of citizen sovereignty and political equality. One argument for political equality might be that certain inequalities that actually disenfranchise some, e.g. in a group of four persons, if three each have three votes and the fourth just one vote, with a majority (six votes) needed for a decision, then any two of the first three are sufficient for a decision and the fourth person’s single vote is never pivotal to a winning coalition, so effectively irrelevant. What is wrong is not necessarily inequality but that some people are effectively excluded altogether. A case in which we had one hundred voters, ninety-nine of whom have one vote and one individual has two votes is not obviously undemocratic. I do not wish to enter substantive debates, but if equality was necessary we would need to pay a lot more attention to potential sources of inequality, including district sizes, unequal turnout rates and persistent minorities.
Democracy and the Market
The market realizes ‘consumer sovereignty’ but is often contrasted to democratic decision-making. Dahl’s characterization would seem satisfied if all had equal resources to bid for what they wanted, as in Dworkin’s clamshell auction. If equality is not necessary then it may be that any market is democratic. How might one resist this claim? One possibility is that the distribution of influence need not be equal but should be just – though this threatens the status of democracy as a distinct value and implies equal votes not always democratic.
The Market and the Forum
Pettit criticizes the market model of democratic control on three grounds: i) in politics, voters can only choose between the packages of policies on offer; ii) voter impact is mediated by electoral rules and not necessarily equal; iii) it is not clear that voters choose rationally between policy outcomes, as opposed to voting on the basis of expressive commitments. The first is not always entirely true, nor so different from the market (Pepsi or Coke?). The second is no challenge to my argument. The third is an empirical claim but we may distinguish why people vote at all from why they vote as they do – the latter may be rational even if the former is not. Moreover, we should not assume market choices are any more rational (advertising, brand loyalty, etc).
Elster suggests different modes of decision-making are appropriate for the economic market and the democratic forum. One possibility is a difference of motivation – selfishness versus public-spiritedness – but this contrast is overdrawn (fair trade goods, permissible self-interested voting). Both are arenas in which people to some extent advance their own interests within the limits imposed by the demands of justice and the needs of others. Another possibility is that market decisions are ‘private’ in the sense of not open to scrutiny or interference by others – but this is not obviously true (harm principle, private ballot). Deliberative democrats argue that democracy should really be about reason-giving than rule by force (even force of numbers), but even if this describes the ideal or best democracy, it does not follow that anything falling short does not deserve the name democracy.
The Autonomy of Politics
Walzer observes that we usually regard political influence as one thing that money cannot buy. One may question his interpretive claims, how far they are descriptive or prescriptive and whether they exhibit a conservative bias. Moreover, it is not entirely clear what he means by ‘blocked exchange’ – it seems more objectionable if economic inequality simply implies political inequality, but less objectionable if money is actually exchanged for political influence (making both parties better off). It is true that many are concerned by the undue influence of money in politics, but I do not need to take a stance on the permissibility of buying and selling votes. We do not ordinarily assume that it is permissible for me to trade my vote on one decision for your vote on another (log-rolling). Thus, that I am not allowed to buy your vote does not show that the market is not democratic, only that it is not permissible for people to trade influence between two distinct democratic decisions.
In the first part of this article, I raised a number of problems involved in defining democracy and argued that – contrary to common assumptions – it does not appear to require majority rule or even political equality. If democracy is simply a matter of popular sovereignty, then this suggests that the market may well be democratic. I am not seeking to homogenize the market and the forum, merely to point out that the market may properly be regarded as one form of democratic institution.
Apparently today is set to be the most depressing day of the year. (Perhaps even worse than last year!) I wonder if it's a coincidence that, for most, it's the first day of teaching here in Oxford (Hilary term officially began yesterday)...
Anyway, here's a New Order video:
Related videos: Orgy's cover; Kylie remix.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Student Loan Interest Falls
I only found this out from my dad this morning, but you can read it here:
The amount to be paid back will depend on the amount borrowed plus the interest charged. Interest is linked to the rate of inflation and is adjusted each year in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI). From 1 September 2008 to 31 August 2009 this will be 3.8%.
Change to Income Contingent Repayment loan interest rate
The interest rate payable on income based student loans has been reduced following the latest change to the Bank of England rate to 1.5% on Thursday 8 January. The new rate for income based student loans is 2.5% from 9 January until further notice. Interest is applied to loans from the date they are paid to you until they are repaid in full.
Why has it changed?
Student loans are not like commercial loans. They are subsidised by Government and attract a low cost interest rate. This interest rate is based on the annual March Retail Price Index (RPI) or the highest base rate of a number of major banks plus 1%; whichever is lower.
To date, the RPI has always been the lower of the two. The reduced bank base rate plus 1% is now lower than the March 2008 RPI so we have presently adjusted the student loan rate to 3%.
Issues in Democratic Theory
Issues in Democratic Theory
Dr Ben Saunders
Monday 11-1 (weeks 1-6)
These seminars will cover a number of issues in recent democratic theory. They are open to all interested in political philosophy/theory, including B.Phil, M.Phil Politics and BCL, as well as advanced undergraduates.
My aim is to present a number of pieces of work in progress, though there will also be opportunities for students to present on issues that interest them. Possible topics include (but are not limited to): defining democracy; justification of democracy; the ‘boundary problem’; the place of majority rule; weighted voting; the ethics of voting; vote trading; minority rights; parties and partisanship; and national vs. global democracy. Each week’s session will be largely self-contained and a schedule will be drawn up in the first meeting.
Those who would like to present are encouraged to email me in advance to discuss topics, readings and weeks. Presentations should ideally be more than merely expository, but may simply comment on the existing literature as an invitation to discussion.
My aim is to circulate a list of background reading each week (which is not expected for the class, but for those who wish to explore further). Those who would like some general recommendations in contemporary democratic theory should consider D. Estlund (2007) Democratic Authority, R. E. Goodin (2008) Innovating Democracy, and T. Christiano (2008) The Constitution of Equality.
In the first week, I will present on the problem of defining democracy and, in particular, whether markets can be seen as democratic. Optional background reading:
J. Elster ‘The Market and the Forum: Three Varieties of Political Theory’. In Elster and Hylands (eds.) (1986) Foundations of Social Choice Theory, or Bohman and Rehg (eds.) (1997) Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics
M. Walzer (1983) Spheres of Justice chs. 1 and 12
P. Pettit (2008) ‘Three Conceptions of Democratic Control’ Constellations 15:1 46-55
J. Ober (2008) ‘The Original Meaning of “Democracy”: Capacity to Do Things, not Majority Rule’ Constellations 15:1 3-9
I will organize an email list in the first session, but a schedule, reading list and draft papers will be posted on WebLearn.
Friday, January 16, 2009
I've commented a couple of times of the Zimbabwe-esque price rises on Sainsbury's basics curry sauce (most recently here). In fairness, I should say that when I went shopping the other day it had fallen again to 19p - maybe they were moved by attracting negative publicity?!
Unfortunately, this price unpredictability means purchasing decisions are fraught with uncertainty - should I buy now, or will prices go down further? Or up again? If you're expecting falls, then it's almost like the Ever Better Wine paradox.
Anyway, forget penny share trading: curry sauce futures is where it's at...
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Cohen Reading Group
I haven't had chance to check out G A Cohen's new book, Rescuing Justice and Equality, yet but I'm eagerly looking looking forward to next week's conference (alas, long since over-subscribed). Those who can't make the conference (and, indeed, those who can) may also be interested in the CT reading group.
Early Leiter Rankings
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Blog Posts of Note
With the start of term fast approaching I'm rapidly running out of time... Not had time to post much, but here are links to some interesting discussions I've been following:
What role should pedigree playing in hiring decisions? (Pea Soup). Unsurprisingly, this one's been picked up on over at the Smoker.
Should graduate students be encouraged not to publish? (Pea Soup). I thought that had been common advice from top departments a generation or more ago but no longer - with the more common advice these days being 'publish or perish' and follow Thom Brooks' advice. Then again, anecdotally it seems a lot of hires are of unpublished PhDs from top schools on the basis of 'potential' (see, again, the above discussion of pedigree).
Do young philosophers have a sense of entitlement? (Leiter) That is, do recent PhDs from good universities expect to walk into a job with a low teaching load, plenty of time/support for research and a nice location/quality of life - or, indeed, a job at all.
What are the obligations of faculty to students? (Pea Soup, again). In particular, is it more important to help graduates write a stellar thesis or land a job?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
I just received directions to the Lincoln EPA Science Centre (venue for a workshop on changing academic practice in February), which I thought amusing enough to share:
A pale yellow house is followed by a cream-coloured house, which has a large set of double doors painted bright red, with the words “Lady Abraham House” engraved in the glass above the doors. There is nothing at this point to indicate that you have found the Lincoln EPA Science Centre, but you have in fact done so.
The Science Centre is then directly ahead, across a small bridge flanked by fountains and a fibreglass heron (if this hasn’t been stolen by undergraduates, as sometimes happens).
(Please note that although the Science Centre is owned and run by Lincoln College, it is not located particularly close to the main college building on Turl Street, so it doesn’t really help to go to the college itself.)
Dr Saunders, I Presume?
We've had mild confusion occasioned in college by the presence of another Dr Nigel Saunders at dinner (not actually a member of college but the partner of one). This term, things may be further complicated by one of the visitors to Corpus (Dr Cheryl Saunders). Indeed, I also once received mail intended for this Dr Robert Saunders. And I'm aware of - and recently corresponded with - at least this one (Dr Clare Saunders).
I just had the strange experience, looking on Academia.edu, of seeing that Ben Saunders had uploaded a new CV. Seems there's another 'me' out there - although he's actually Benjamin T. Saunders (it seems he goes by Ben but uses the T on publications, as well as being in psychology, so hopefully no confusion will arise).
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Stoke 0-0 Liverpool
That was the worst game of football I've seen in ages. We were dire. At least when we drew with Stoke at Anfield we made lots of chances, this time very little.
Gerrard was surprisingly anonymous, maybe his head's on the court case. I didn't have much faith in Kuyt leading the line, although he tried. Torres isn't match fit/sharp and Babel's been pretty useless later - Keane and El Zhar may have been better options.
Although he seemed to get a lot of stick, I didn't think Lucas did a lot wrong, other than play one header across goal when on target probably would've scored. Still we've had a sharp downturn in form since h/t vs Preston so I can only hope Alonso's return will swing things round. He is very important to our play, particularly when Gerrard's not playing well.
That, and let's hope Man Utd and Chelsea both lose tomorrow...
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Nice Job if You Can Get it...
I'm currently reading Don Tapscott's latest book, Grown Up Digital, in which he talks extensively about how the Net Gen (born 1977-97) value freedom, collaboration, personalization and speed. He says they will often choose jobs for reasons other than their pay packet. In fact, he recounts one 26 year old's account of his ideal job: time to work on his own projects, ability to telecommute (not stuck in a cubicle), flexible hours, stock options/benefits, travel opportunities, training, expense account, and masseuse (p.159).
Except for the stock options and the masseuse (which I assume was tongue in cheek) it struck me that academia probably ranks pretty highly by these standards. I admit that I'd love the kind of job that I could leave in the office at 5pm each day (or even 7pm) and that gave me free weekends, but having wandered into my office for first time since Christmas at 14:30 yesterday, and then gone to the pub in the evening, knowing I didn't have to do anything particular this morning, I do enjoy the flexibility...
Anyway, now it's official: Philosophy is the 12th best job going. (Via Leiter and Smoker).
p.s. Anyone know what a Roustabout is?
How do you do it?
Monday, January 05, 2009
Via an advert on Leiter, I see that Warwick are launching a two year MPhil in Philosophy (inviting applications now, although it looks like the course is still subject to approval). Obviously it will be in Warwick, rather than Oxford, but the structure seems very heavily modelled on that of Oxford's well-established BPhil and no doubt the Warwick course will become a popular 'second choice' for BPhil applicants (and, of course, attract strong applicants of its own, who want to work with some of Warwick's own distinguished faculty).
It seems MPhil courses are becoming increasingly popular, although their meaning isn't always the same - at Cambridge the MPhil is a one year Masters. (I'm not sure about London or some of the other univerisites offering them; some still offer the MPhil as a consolation for a failed PhD - as Oxford uses the MLitt). Hopefully if they do become more widespread, and standardized, then I'll have less explanation to do about what my degree involved - though I may still have to explain why I spent the last five eyars in a Politics Department...
Following yesterday's advice on responding to reviewers, today I saw someone on academia.edu post this rough guide to conference speaking for graduate students.
Generally, I think it's all pretty sensible, with perhaps a couple of caveats. He doesn't think much of graduate conferences. I agree they're not much of a CV boost. Moreover, at somewhere like Oxford you can probably get better feedback from presenting in some of the internal seminars on offer. I think they are worth going to just to meet fellow students, who could be future colleagues, though.
Also, this one: Apply to conferences even if you don’t intend to go. Being invited to speak is still worth having on your CV, even if you ultimately don’t attend. Declining an invitation due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ will not cause offence. Of course, don’t do it too often, you might get a reputation! rankles with me a bit. It just sounds cynical and I'm not really sure that putting an accepted but declined presentation on your CV is any real boost either.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
Responding to Reviewers
Last week, I reviewed a paper for a journal (the first time I'd been asked to do so). I have to admit that I did find the paper interesting and was sympathetic to a lot of it, but I recommended rejection because it was over-long and primarily a discussion of others without a clear line of argument. I did suggest that some of that might make a useful review article, because it did give a useful taxonomy of positions in the debate, and I also offered some more specific criticisms or responses to particular arguments. I hope that the author found my comments useful.
I've more often been on the other end of the review process, which can still be quite bruising. Given that worthwhile journals generally have acceptance rates of between 5% and 20% I guess even well-established names have to face regular rejection. Maybe the secret is simply to develop tougher skin - and I think a year or two on the job market certainly helps in that respect - because I've certainly been given the advice that you just have to take the rejections and keep trying.
At the moment, I have one revise and resubmit (which I've had back for about a month now) that I want to work on before term starts. It looks like it will require some quite substantial changes. Thankfully, I've just come across this (tongue in cheek) guide to responding to reviewers. Any pointers to more serious advice would be appreciated, or should I follow this?
I commented a couple of months ago on the rising price of Sainsbury's economy range curry sauce. Having returned from Christmas, last time I went shopping I noticed that it had almost doubled again - to 44p That's a 1,000% price increase in the space of four months!
On the brighter side, apparently you can now buy a pint for 99p (Green King IPA)! I haven't yet tried the Oxford Wetherspoons, but maybe I should...
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Preston 0-2 Liverpool (FA Cup)
Doesn't Deepdale sound like somewhere from Lord of the Rings, rather than a football ground?
Anyway, respect was due to the Championship team and - with the luxury of a week's breathing time before and after this game - Rafa named virtually the strongest team that he could, with the exceptions of Cavalieri in goal and Babel in place of the rested Kuyt on the right. In ordinary circumstances, I'd have been very tempted to rest Gerrard, but after recent events it may have been just as well to keep his mind on the football. I'd also have liked Darby, El Zhar and Ngog to get a chance, but obviously it wasn't to be (perhaps if we get an easier draw in the next round...)
After taking a few minutes to get into our stride - and facing an obviously fired up team of opponents - we soon picked up where we left off against Newcastle and dominated most of the first half. Sadly Keane, despite three goals in his last two starts, was back to looking like the big flop who missed relatively easy chances - though in truth Gerrard also failed to convert a few (though he came closer). The two basically started as our attack, in what could be described as a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1, and to be honest it didn't fill me with confidence. Both are good, intelligent players and obviously confident of weighing in with goals, but I'd feel more confident with an out-and-out finisher, or at least a big target man, leading the line. Thankfully, Torres was finally back on the bench, for the first time since November.
The goal we wanted actually came in the first half-hour. The ball fell kindly to Riera - or, at least, in a position that would have been kind had he got a right foot to pull it back. As it is he, like Babel, had to cut back to his favoured side, but as he darted back across the penalty area he fired in a left-foot shot into the far corner.
It would have been easy for Preston heads to go down but, to their credit, they emerged after half-time clearly fired up and it was a much more even contest from then on - although perhaps that was in part because of the withdrawal of Xabi Alonso with a cut foot, which had better not be serious given how much he dictates our play... Perhaps Preston didn't create too many chances, but they did get the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out - striker Parkin holding Carragher on the floor.
Certainly, after what happened to Chelsea earlier in the day, going into the final five minutes or so was a nervy time - despite the introduction of Torres, whose only contribution had been one good run followed by a rusty finish. Worryingly, Mascherano had also been withdrawn holding his hamstring, so in the end Gerrard had to sit alongside Leiva in midfield and Babel pushed up-front in an attempt to threaten with pace (which, sadly, wasn't much threat as Babel was, again, poor).
Nerves were only finally settled in injury time when, with Preston pushing forward for that equalizer, Gerrard and Torres were allowed to break - almost alone in the Preston half (except for the 'keeper). Though he could have finished, or at least shot, himself Gerrard unselfishly ran the ball close to the 'keeper on one side, then squared for Torres to tap in at the far post. A gift, but hopefully a goal on his return will help Torres hit the ground running. This time last season, apparently, he'd already scored 16 goals - whereas I believe this was only his sixth this term. Imagine where another ten goals could've put us (ok, five if we substract those Keane has scored in his stead).
Plato Would Condemn Soaps
I've talked at length before about Plato and censorship (e.g.: one, two, three). The aim is not to settle questions about freedom and limits of speech but to show that the measures spelled out in the Republic are not completely crazy and, in fact, are reflected in a number of contemporary concerns.
Myles Burnyeat's Tanner Lectures are, I think, really great at showing how Plato's concern is the pervasive effect that society's mass art has on its culture. You have to remember that banning or censoring Homer would not just be like applying such treatment to Shakespeare - Homer was a staple of education, but also part of mainstream culture and entertainment. Burnyeat interprets the allegory of the Cave as a statement about how most people are not only detached from higher reality (the Forms), but enthralled by the shadows and images of poets.
If he was alive today, Plato's concerns would no doubt extend to TV. Bupa has recently condemned soaps that portray characters living unhealthy lifestyles - drinking, smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise - without suffering the likely health consequences. This is a very similar concern to Plato's: he criticizes stories that, essentially, show that cheats prosper, rather than portraying the real effects of injustice - which he likens to an illness of the soul. In both cases, the worry is that members of the public will be led into bad habits by popular media that portray the benefits of vice without the cost.
(I am not, of course, suggesting that Bupa want to censor soaps; merely that they share a similar concern. They suggest that scriptwriters should include stories emphasizing the harms of unhealthy lifestyle; Plato prefers to excise cases where the unjust profit - the result is much the same).
Friday, January 02, 2009
Electro vs Guitars
The BBC has this fairly interesting feature on musical artists to look out for in 2009.
What grates with me though is the way the whole thing is framed as a contest between electronic artists (electro-pop, dance, hip-hop) and guitar rock. I guess partly that's because I have fairly eclectic tastes - and I think given the choice between rock or dance I'd say rock but a choice between electro or guitars, I'd say guitars... Actually two of my more recent discoveries were what could broadly be described as European synth-pop bands, Nun and Auto-Auto (links to YouTube clips).
The point is, there's no need for opposition here. Think, for example, of Sarah Brightman - former singer of indie band Dubstar - who's now in electro-pop outfit Client, who have collaborated with the likes of Pete Doherty.
Moreover, I think there are signs of some pretty shoddy reporting here. After talking about new and old electro acts, they go on to say:
And what does the future hold for guitar music?
Bands like Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Oasis, The Killers and Elbow all enjoyed a phenomenal year in 2008.
But others suffered disappointing returns. The Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, The Kooks, Keane, The Fratellis and The Pigeon Detectives all failed to make it into the top 40 albums of the year. [emphasis added]
As if The Killers didn't use electronics and Keane were a typical guitar band...
UPDATE: More recommendations here.