Thursday, November 30, 2006

Xmas Dinner 1

Today I was on High Table for Christmas dinner. I thought Tuesday was a bit unusual, because we got roast and sprouts due to the undergrad Xmas dinner in hall while I had mushroom and pepper stir fry. Today, however, it was the same veg-wise but I had a cashew nut stir fry...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Meme Machine

In the interests of (pseudo-)science, or simple blogosphere curioisty, read on...

What is the speed of meme? People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen? Of those instances, how often is it organic?

Most memes, I'd wager, are only superficially organic: beginning small, they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are—to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett's rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium—"skyhooked" into prominence by high-traffic blogs.

Here's what I need you to do:
1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
Ping Technorati.

Experiment from Acephalous, via CT.

I have my reservations about how scientific or reliable these results will be, given the obvious begging nature of the request. It seems rather like trying to gauge (spontaneous) charitable contributions by measuring donations to Comic Relief. But never mind...

Incidentally, I didn't really know what the term meme meant, but apparently it was coined by Dawkins and means "A cultural element or behavioural trait whose transmission and consequent persistence in a population, although occurring by non-genetic means (esp. imitation), is considered as analogous to the inheritance of a gene." (OED)

Liverpool 0-0 Portsmouth

Unfortunately, Liverpool were once again unable to break down a massed defence - a perennial problem for about as long as I've followed them. Despite dominating possession and having almost all the chances, they couldn't score a goal or even put Pompey under real sustained pressure.

Of course, the lack of midfielders didn't help. As predicted, it was a defender - Carragher in fact - who stepped into the defensive role, alongside Gerrard. The BBC report concentrates more on Pompey's own injury crisis, but it's too bad Pennant wasn't capable of exploiting their patched-up leftback. I'd have liked to have seen Paul Anderson given a chance from the bench.

As it happened, two youngsters - Guthrie and El Zhar - did get to make what I think were their Premiership debuts (not entirely surprising, given they were respectively pulled out of and substituted in last night's reserve match). Unfortunately, when I say youngsters they're older than the likes of 'established' stars like Rooney and Ronaldo, so hardly the greatest prospects. Still, at least it seems we're still searching for young talent, despite the fact we no longer hear so much about last year's Youth Cup-winning team. Neither our reserves nor youth teams seem to be doing so well this year either...

Anyway, with our own shortages, then one can't be entirely disappointed with a point from a game we dominated. But we do now need a first win away against Wigan on Saturday...


"The issue of moral responsibility is at the heart of the dispute between hard determinists and compatibilists. Hard determinists are forced to accept that individuals often have "free will" in the compatibilist sense, but they deny that this sense of free will can ground moral responsibility. The fact that an agent's choices are unforced, hard determinists claim, does not change the fact that determinism robs the agent of responsibility.
Compatibilists argue, on the contrary, that determinism is a prerequisite for moral responsibility. Society cannot hold someone responsible unless his actions were determined by something."


"Compatibilists, on the other hand, argue that determinism is a prerequisite for moral responsibility, and that society cannot hold an individual responsible for their actions unless those actions were determined by something – in particular something other than say some random action caused spontaneously by the individual’s nervous system...
The issue of moral responsibility would thus seem to be at the heart of the dispute between hard determinists and compatibilists: whilst hard determinists might be forced to accept that individuals often have free will in the compatibilst sense, they deny that this sense of free will can ground moral responsibility. Hard determinists claim that the fact that an individual’s choices are unforced does not change the fact that determinism robs the individual of responsibility."

One of my undergraduate students...

Not the first time I've seen signs of plagiarism.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

We Have No Midfield...

Zenden ruled out with knee injury. Bugger.

Predicted team vs. Pompey:

Finnan Carragher Hyypia Agger Riise
Kuyt Fowler Crouch Garcia

5-1-4, look who's in the middle...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Poverty of Ideas?

Given we seem to have ended up with a Tory Labour government, I'd welcome a shift the other way from Cameron. And it seems that's what he's planning, though it was pointed out to me that the message seems somewhat confused.

"The current approach cannot succeed in substantially reducing relative poverty without unaffordable spending increases," Mr Cameron said.
(From FT)

"In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms - meaning straightforward material deprivation. That's not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms - the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. So I want this message to go out loud and clear - the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty."
(From ePolitix)

It sounds rather like a pledge to eradicate relative poverty. Aside from perfect equality, that seems impossible - if there's any difference in income/wealth, there'll always be some who have less and are therefore relatively poor.

In fairness, when they speak of relative poverty, politicians often have some measure in mind, like those below 60% of median income. Of course, statistics are no good for everything (as shown in a football context here), but at least that's a coherent goal.

I'd suggest it isn't necessarily the best one though. Personally I think (absolute) poverty is obviously far more urgent than mere inequality. To use the classic sufficientarian example, we're not bothered by inequalities between millionaires and billionaires. If any government could make sure everyone in the country had enough for a decent life, it would already be a big achievement.

Yes, of course poverty is to some extent relative to the needs or standards of society, but I think that variation can be dealt with by something like Amartya Sen's capabilities approach.

Free Will

What part of the weekend wasn't spent out partying (here and here), or sleeping in, has been mostly spent brushing up on free will, determinism and responsibility. Free will is actually a recurring theme for Scott Adams, but this post is particularly good. Although he does seem to assume incompatibilism when it comes to ultimate responsibility, simply justifying our practice by saying we're pre-determined to punish others (not that that should shield us from equally pre-determined criticism).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Milan's Birthday

Last night was Milan's birthday party - though the actual day isn't until Tuesday, it seemed wise to have the party on a Saturday night, even if it was my third night running...

Thinking 9:30 - an hour after the advertised start time - might be fashionably late enough, given I didn't intend to stay too long, I was actually first to arrive. That meant I had a chance to hear Milan tell us some interesting stories about the Afternoon Tea Society from UBC, amongst other things.

More people dropped by - some briefly, others for longer - as the night went on. No one I already knew was there, but it was nice to meet some other people from IR and elsewhere. In particular, a guy called Richard (law at LMH) seemed quite interested in my thesis and insisted - at least twice - that if I ever published anything I should let him know. Also I met a guy called Yassan (sp?) who's in IR but actually working with my college advisor Stuart White on global justice.

Typical student-y house parties, with their mix of new people, food and drink, seem too infrequent so it was a nice change. I also discovered some interesting Canadian music, Radio Free Vestibule's 'I Don't Want To Go To Toronto' and Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie's 'The War Of 1812', courtesy of Milan's iPod, and found out that Albert Einstein has been trademarked by the makers of an action figure. (Weird present)

As much as I enjoyed it, part of me still wishes I'd been able to pull myself away before 2am, but at least I didn't get soaked on the way home this time. (I'd succeeded in drying my coat in the airing cupboard, but my gloves and shoes were still wet from last night!)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Man City

Despite Liverpool's midfield being decimated, this was a professional performance and a satisfying win against a team that - given their poor away record - were surprisingly difficult to break down.

From what I gather, we switched from playing three centre back with Finnan and Risie operating as wingbacks - a formation I actually think particularly suits our players, at least when we're devoid of wingers - to deploying Carragher as full back during the course of the game, switching Finnan back and Riise forward. At least we have some quite flexible players, I wouldn't have been surprised had Agger been used as a LB or even defensive midfielder.

Thankfully Gerrard stepped up to show he can still boss the centre of midfield and score crucial goals. It's something we'll need over the next week or two, until we get some of our others back.

Hansard Society

Having recently mentioned the previous event I went to in Oxford, I just thought I should plug the Hansard Society are launching the third installment of their Democracy Series in Manchester this coming Thursday. Sadly, I can't make it, but worth a look for anyone interested.

Catz Nite

Last night was the famous Catz Nite - a formal dinner involving all the tutors and most of the students of college (as many as they can accommodate in their hall, at any rate), followed by a bop going on until 2am, which just about the whole college attend.

I have to say I've attended plenty of black die dinner/party type events, and didn't think this really stood out, but then perhaps that comes of not knowing many people. I did get to sit next to, and so finally meet, Edward Kanterian at dinner, as well as a couple of Catz graduates and a 1st year. I also got to chat to a few more students, including one of my current tutees, afterwards, before Rob and his housemates came along.

Still, with drinks at Catz bar apparently just 80p a pint (paid on card), for an almost free party it was certainly good value. The only downside is that after walking Rachele home I got caught in college by torrential rain and, after trying to wait it out, ended up getting absolutely drenched on my way home.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks for Short Meetings

That today was Thanksgiving (US) was not particularly important to me - I'd already had a Canadian thanksgiving this term anyway - but it was our second GCR meeting of the term, and we asked the college to tweak the menu accordingly (though they wouldn't do turkey with two days of Christmas dinners next week - not that it really affects me...)

The meeting itself was a breeze - no motions were submitted, so it was over in about 20 minutes. Here are my minutes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Liverpool 2-0 PSV Eindhoven

With both teams already qualified for the group stages, this win ensured Liverpool take first place - not that that's a great comfort, when we could still draw Barcelona, Real Madrid or Roma for our troubles...

It looked for a while as if it might be a repeated of the weekend's match against Boro, with us creating all the chances but not being able to finish them. Thankfully Gerrard scored - a few goals should do his confidence and form some good, which is vital now he's playing in the middle. A late Crouch header made it 2-0 and a professional win.

The bad side is losing three more players to injury, with Alonso, Gonzalez and Pennant all stretchered off. It sounds like Pennant's is the least serious and Gonzalez the worst, although thankfully we have options on the left even without Harry (any of Riise, Warnock and Aurelio can play LB or LM). I've heard mixed things about Alonso though, which is a worry with Sissoko also out long term.

That's five of our 'first team' midfielders out, with Gerrard the only top choice fit. Looks like we may have to play something like: Garcia, Gerrard, Zenden and Aurelio (or Riise) over the next few weeks. Though I wouldn't mind if one or two of our youngsters got a chance - indeed, with top of the CL group sewn up, it would be nice to blood some youngsters against Galatasaray...

IPPR on Compulsory Voting

A while ago, I reported on the Hansard Society discussion about compulsory voting that I attended. At the time, I couldn't find the IPPR report, but now I've tracked it down online here. The author, Ben Rogers, also recommends Citizen Assemblies here (via OpenDemocracy)

Monday, November 20, 2006

My Political Profile

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 15% Conservative, 85% Liberal
Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Ethics: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I just heard that my gran passed away this afternoon. She'd been deteriorating for a while, so it wasn't really unexpected. She'd been housebound for some time too, with carers having to get her up, take her to the toilet and bring her meals. I know she didn't like it, so I'm not even sure it's bad for her. I'm just glad that the last time I saw her was when I took her into town. In the circumstances, not a bad last memory, even if it wasn't a proper goodbye.

Fabre Follow Up

The long-running Fabre review (Whose Body Is It Anyway?) was finally submitted about a week and a half ago now. Nonetheless, two quick related points:

1) Milan seizes on an Economist report about organ sales.

2) The paper for Monday's Moral Philosophy Seminar describes the case of Zell Kravinsky (p.16), who donated his kidney to a complete stranger. More on this:

here (would he give away the other one? - with a suggestion he'd pay a third party to donate!)
here (CNN transcript: "I think in terms of maximum human utility, not in terms of my own life")
here (he specified the kidney had to go to a low income black. "I had to convince them why I was doing it: because it is logically and morally compelling to save someone's life if you can")
here (records initial opposition to any transplants, on the grounds they seemed to harm the healthy to save the sick. "Raised in a Jewish family committed to socialism and left wing politics [remind you of anyone?]... when he read an article in the Wall Street Journal explaining that a kidney donor had only a one-in-four-thousand chance of dying from giving up an organ, Kravinsky understood that this was like buying a U.S. government bond. The risk involved was almost zero. But unlike government bonds, the dividend or pay-out in this case was fabulous. Some lucky person would get a whole new life" - also talks about Peter Singer)
here (a general story, with annoying music)

Take Care

After last week's mass student newspaper links, I thought I'd best get round to linking to another, kindly supplied by my friend Nick L, via this blog.

The story concerns the fact that abolishing traffic lights actually decreases road accidents because - although the road is inherently more dangerous - drivers now take better care. Here's the original story from The Telegraph on 4/11/06.

What I found particularly interesting, however, was their comment - published on the same day - under the head 'Labour will never treat us like adults'. Here they say "A deeper lesson is one that was obvious to everyone until the 20th century: that, given responsibility for their actions, people tend to make better decisions – on behalf of themselves and society."

This is something I'd like to build on, briefly, in my thesis. Some people worry that if we let a random voter decide social outcomes, they may be a crackpot. I think if voters knew there was a real chance that their vote might determine the outcome, they'd be more responsible in casting it. At present, they have little reason to consider it too carefully, since there's little chance of making a difference anyway.

Schumpeter also says something similar, about how our feelings of reality and responsibility are diminished in public affairs (Quinton, p.164).

This also connects to something I remember from a Political Sociology lecture, in which someone argued most of the French far right votes were actually anti-system protest votes rather than positive support for Le Pen and the right. But I'll have to look up who said this.

Going back to newspapers, unfortunately I only found the story a couple of days late and wasn't able to track down a hard copy of the Telegraph, despite looking through the old papers in the GCR and JCR. I've just found that one can order papers up to 9 months old from W H Smiths - though prices start from £4.99, which is a bit steep.

Anyone know if the Bod stocks recent papers? I think they do, but don't really know where...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Middlesbrough 0-0 Liverpool

Another frustrating away day, at least we doubled the number of points we've collected on the road this season - to two from seven games. It's frustrating, however, because - like last season - this was a game we really should have won, after battering Boro for most of 90 minutes without ever putting the ball in the net.

I don't know how far finishing was to blame - despite playing two wingers, I heard the crosses were woeful, often failing to beat the first man. Mind you, it must be said Schwarzer and Woodgate played well (I'd forgotten how good the latter could be, when not injured). Still, it was somewhat reassuring to see not just a clean sheet but us clearly set out to attack and dominating play away from home. If we keep creating chances, soon they will start going in - again, like last season.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Simpsons, Again

Continuing the theme that The Simpsons is philosophical, or at least educational, tonight Channel 4 showed a rather interesting episode that told the stories of Odysseus, Joan of Arc and Hamlet.

Unfortunately, aside from obviously rather truncating events, they did get some key details wrong. We saw Homer - as Odysseus - leave Troy, but the only adventures we see on the way home are Circe and the Sirens - no Cyclops or Scylla.

What's more, they get some of these parts horrendously wrong - in the actual epic, Odysseus orders his men to plug their ears, while he is tied to the mast to listen to the Sirens' song (hence the title of Elster's book on bounded rationality). In this version, the crew row happily toward the rocks, only to be repelled by the Sirens' hideousness (they're Patty and Selma). And when Odysseus finally gets home, he simply skewers Penelope's suitors on a spear, rather than going through all the trouble of disguising himself and stringing a bow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Newspaper Links 4: Postgraduate Tutorials

Today being my teaching day - three tutorials - what really caught my eye was The Cherwell's article on postgraduate teaching (which, incidentally, quotes my friend Nick). Indeed, I was particular caught by their focus on students turning up only to find a note telling them the tutorial had been cancelled - I did that a couple of weeks ago, though not at 8:30 in the morning!

Tutorials are such a personal interaction between students and tutor that it's obvious some will be better than others, and indeed a tutor who's great for one student might be bad for another. There's no intrinsic reasons why a graduate student should be worse than an older professor. Of course, they may be very different - the professor probably has years of experience, but the grad student may have better knowledge of recent debates and have been through the reading and even exams and lectures recently him/her-self. Also the much more relaxed atmosphere you may get with a younger teacher may make the tutorial not only more pleasant but perhaps more relevant - like today, The Simpsons came up in my tute.

It's understandable that some students will want to be taught by leading figures in their fields, and they usually have the opportunity in lectures. Tutorial teaching, however, is very intensive. We'd be loath to lose it - see here, here and here - so we have to accept the reality: either it will be more graduates teaching or fewer tutorials.

Finally, they're quite right to point out grad students are often inexperienced teachers. I wish I'd been given more training - and I'm one of the lucky ones that has at least been through the system from the other side. But I simply don't see how having a DPhil - a research qualification - is supposed to instill teaching competence. If grad students weren't allowed to teach, we'd have a number of freshly-qualified doctors who'd be similarly inexperienced. At least while we're still pursuing the DPhil we have more time to devote to the teaching - indeed, it's often a welcome distraction from the dreaded thesis, rather than the burden it is for many fellows.

Newspaper Links 3: No Point Working

Apparently (some) university courses that involve more work - measured in (contact and independent study) hours - give fewer students (in % terms) or 1sts. The message is perhaps why do 38 hours a week in Oxford for a 2.i when you could do 25 hours elsewhere, and maybe even get a First?

I'm particularly interested - predictably - that some mainstream media have labelled these findings a 'lottery'. This allegation was actually made in last week's Cherwell and in The Telegraph.

Newspaper Links 2: Depression

I was shocked to read that as many as one in three Oxford students suffer depression - and that 36% of girls admit eating disorders. Mind you, aside from the issues addressed in this Cherwell article, the OxStu also highlights a number of contributory pressures - unfortunately not online - but basically the result of no longer being 'top of the class', having to work hard, the need to have it all and the swing between busy 8-week terms and quiet vacs.

Newspaper Links 1: FaceBook

On the day where two long-standing refuseniks (Nick W and Miriam) finally joined FaceBook - or, at least, came to my attention - The Cherwell reports how dangerous it can be. Mind you, the main danger is the possibility of hoax accounts - not unlike this one for Thomas Hobbes. With that in mind, it seems sensible to make sure you register now to prevent abuse. And you can spy on undergraduates...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

High Table

It seems Milan has really been making the most of his High Table meals at Wadham. Up until tonight, I was viewing them as little more than free food and the chance to practice making small talk with academics.

I'd spoken to Gustaf Arrhenius several times while he's Senior Research Fellow in Jesus. I already knew him, via Krister, and I knew he was working on moral and political philosophy, and population policy in particular.

Tonight, however, I found that he also has interests in democracy. In fact, my friend Toby even gave him my contact details while he was in Sweden - and Gustaf had been meant to look me up but lost them. Thankfully, in this small world we live in, our paths crossed on High Table tonight.

Gustaf kindly asked to read my MPhil thesis, and has sent me one of his working papers (an updated version of this) - I think I got the better end of both deals! I hope we can have many more discussions in the remaining month that Gustaf is here, and hope it proves profitable collaboration.

Arsenal 3-0 Liverpool

Once again a game that could make or break Liverpool's season, and again we lose. The game doesn't seem as one-sided as the scoreline suggests - Wenger admitted we played well, and actually managed more shots and corners (allbeit fewer on target), as well as having two goals disallowed. It seems it just wasn't to be our day. Sissoko was a big loss, but we need to improve our away form if we're even to qualify for the CL this season. And the scary thing is we face Arsenal again in the Carling Cup...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Books and Journals

Crooked Timber has a recent post ranking Political Theory journals, with political scientists in mind. (This older one on where grad students might may also be worth reading)

Also, my old college tutor Stuart White has a new textbook on Equality. I get a mention in the acknowledgements, alongside the illustrious company of Karl Widerquist and Steve Winter. (I'm not sure it's really deserved - though I did ask if I could see drafts during my MPhil)

While on books, I picked up a hardback copy of Deliberation Day in Blackwells this morning, reduced from £20 to £1.50!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

PhD Comics

Thanks to Rachele for directing me to these.

Favourites so far: 26, 31, 40, 41, 47 (so like freshers' week), 51, 61, 83, 91, 107, 113, 116, 124.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Birmingham 0-1 Liverpool (Carling Cup)

It was never going to be a repeat of last season's 7-0 demolition job, but a professional performance by a mostly reserve side was enough to reach the quarter finals. The injury to Sissoko, however, could be massively detrimental to our season. His injury last year corresponded with a massive slump in form, including our CL exit against Benfica.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Phil Grad Conf

Next weekend is the 10th annual Philosophy Graduate Conference. The provisional schedule is already online, and you can register now.

Sadly none of the papers I refereed made it, but several of those that are there look interesting. (I'd have liked to have refereed this one too).

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Watching The Simpsons Friday night (I said it could be educational), Bart thrust his book of short stories into the dog's mouth. The camera closed in on what was left of a page reading "All in all, it had been a very strange lottery. The End" I was wondering if anyone could tell me where this came from?

Googling has so far proved ineffective. All I've found is it was used in a signature by someone posting on deviantART. The only other lead I got was to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, but that's not the last line of her story.

Liverpool 2-0 Reading

Some had been suggesting Kuyt was very much like Crouch - a good all round player who works hard for the team, but not an out and out goal-scorer. They may well be right - he certainly missed a couple of good chances - but two more goals today go some way to suggesting he can still chip in where needed. The continuing blossoming of the partnership with Crouch (who got both assists) is also welcome.

Overall, Liverpool were quite dominant, and could easily have won by more than two goals - although for a long time we failed to put the game safe, and I was worried we might concede an equaliser (which we almost did, a Reading goal being disallowed jsut before our second). With some other results going our way, we're now only 3 points from Bolton in 3rd.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Saving the Greater Number

Here's my reading list with links (Oxford only)

J. Taurek (1977) ‘Should the Numbers Count?Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:4 293-316

F. M. Kamm (1985) ‘Equal Treatment and Equal ChancesPhilosophy & Public Affairs 14:2 177-194


D. Parfit (1978) ‘Innumerate EthicsPhilosophy and Public Affairs 7:4 285-301

C. Fried and D. Parfit (1979) ‘CorrespondencePhilosophy and Public Affairs 8:4 393-397

G. Kavka (1979) ‘The Numbers Should CountPhilosophical Studies 36

J. Broome (1984) ‘Selecting People RandomlyEthics 95:1 38-55

J. Sanders (1988) ‘Why the Numbers Should Sometimes CountPhilosophy and Public Affairs 17:1 3-14

I. Hirose (2004) ‘Aggregation and NumbersUtilitas 16:1 62-79

M. Otsuka (2000) ‘Scanlon and the claims of the many versus the oneAnalysis 60:3 288-293

D. Wasserman and A. Strudler (2003) ‘Can a Nonconsequentialist Count Lives?Philosophy and Public Affairs 31:1 71-94

F. M. Kamm (2005) ‘Aggregation and Two Moral MethodsUtilitas 17:1 1-23

R. Kumar (2001) ‘Contractualism on Saving the ManyAnalysis 61:2 165-170

F. M. Kamm (2002) ‘Owing, Justifying and RejectingMind 111

D. Parfit (2003) ‘Justifiability to each personRatio 16

J. Raz (2003) ‘Numbers, with and without ContractualismRatio 16:4 346-367

J. Timmermann (2004) ‘The Individualist Lottery: How People Count, but not their NumbersAnalysis 64:2 106-112

G. Lang (2005) ‘Fairness in Life and Death CasesErkenntis 62 321-51