Sunday, March 30, 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Torres was unavailable for the Goodison derby, but it was his finish that made the difference here in a typically tight game. Too bad we spurned some other chances, but I'd always take 1-0 in one-off games.

Hopefully five points ahead with six games to play puts us in a stronger position, and takes some pressure off our up-coming Premier League visit to Arsenal - I'd like to say maybe we can afford to lose that, but we have some other tricky fixtures still (I'm including those at the bottom, because they'll either be scrapping for their lives or suddenly playing without pressure, and teams often start winning once relegated).

Priority in Practice

I'm off to London today, to stay with a friend for a couple of days and attend the Priority in Practice workshop. Sadly, this clashes with the annual PSA Conference, which I have a feeling I should be at, but I can't afford it anyway. (A particular shame as it's held in Swansea and I just applied for a job there). Anyway, no updates - including the Merseyside derby - until I get back.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

If We're All Incompetent Anyway, Why Not A Lottery?

In a timely follow-up to my recent post on incompetence, Keith Sutherland writes a very interesting post over at OpenDemocracy. He claims "surveys show that the public does slightly worse in estimates of the parties’ positions on most issues than it would do if it proceeded by flipping a coin", though sadly the link only reveals the table of contents from this book (certainly seems worth checking out).

If this was true, it would certainly be a blow for those who defend epistemic theories, such as David Estlund, who places considerable stress on democracy being 'better than random' (although he does, in fairness, nuance this account somewhat - for example, noting that what really matters is avoiding what he calls 'primary bads').

If voters are so incompetent that their votes are effectively random, then we can't have much faith in majorities, for the majority itself is effectively random. This means there's no real reason to prefer a random majority to a randomly chosen individual voter.

In fact, Sutherland proposes randomly constituted chambers. His forthcoming book (a much revised version of this one) in Imprint Academic's exciting new series on sortition (which, by the way, also includes my friend Olly) presumably sets out the argument in more detail. I have to admit, I'm not sure the solution to low political competence is more democracy; but then as Carole Pateman noted long ago, competence may be an endogeneous factor in the political system.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Plato and Incompetence

While I'm thinking about Plato: In both Republic and Statesman, Plato compares the art of governing to navigation. He likens the demos (people) to an incompetent ship's captain, easily persuaded by demoagogues with pretty rhetoric but no true knowledge of statescraft, while the ones who does know (the navigator, analogous to the philosophy) is dismissed as a useless star-gazer.

Aristotle responds, in the Politics, that people don't have to be competent to perform a task themselves in order to be capable of judging it, pointing out that one needn't be a chef to judge the quality of the meal one eats. There's probably some truth to this, but it also begs the question against Plato, who explicitly deals with such a response: in the Gorgias he compares the philosopher to the doctor administering drugs, demagogues to confectioners, and the demos to children - of course the people prefer sweets to medicine, but that's no indication of what's really good for them, as they aren't capable of rational choice.

Though both Plato and Aristotle accept that certain ends are rational, I think that this dispute may ultimately come down to the question whether we accept this or Hume's dictum that reason ought only to be the slave of the passions. If we agree with Hume, then we might think that the people should set the end (i.e. destination of the ship), leave getting there to the experts, but at the end of the day hold the experts to account. (Although this, of course, involves some problems - the people wouldn't know, for example, whether anyone could have done better or, if so, who). Plato, however, thinks we're not like passengers on a ship wanting to be taken to a particular, given destination by the best route; rather, we don't even know where we should go.

Anyway, I'm digressing slightly. The real motivation of this post was recent scientific research indicating that less competent people are more likely to over-estimate their competence and make bad judges of others (via Scott Adams).

The fact that the majority of people believe themselves above average is, I thought, reasonably well known. To some extent, the fact that incompetent people over-estimate and competent people under-estimate their ability isn't too surprising, as there's more room for error in that direction. In any case, it seems to offer some kind of support for Plato's thesis that most people not only don't know what they're doing but aren't fit to judge those that do. (This runs counter to what Willmoore Kendall argues is the implicit premise behind Locke's theory - that most people are rational and just).

Adams thinks this explains why people vote. I think it may play some part, but not for the reasons he suggests. He claims his political preferences switch in ways suggesting he isn't capable of judging who should be president but, recognizing his incompetence, he abstains. It may be true that most people over-estimate their ability to make the right choice (assuming, of course, that there is one), but even so observed levels of voting surely depend on people over-estimating the efficacy of their votes - which, in large scale elections, is near zero. I've written on these issues before, here and here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wells and Plato

Today, I finished reading two books. Firstly, Malcolm Schofield's Plato: Political Philosophy - an academic text I was reading as a refresher before teaching Plato next term, review forthcoming in PSR. Secondly, for leisurely/bed-time reading, H. G. Wells' sci-fi classic The Invisible Man (text available here). There are some surprising synergies between the two!

The Invisible Man is actually, in many ways, like Well's later short story The Country of the Blind (which may be compared to Plato's Cave, if read as an illustration of how the ignorant masses will be sceptical of and persecute those of greater insight). Both illustrate that one man's difference can be a blessing as well as a curse, although Griffin certainly seems to mostly profit from his invisibility.

Obviously, the relevant Platonic image here is the 'ring of Gyges', which gives the wearer power to turn invisible and so commit injustice with impunity. One with such a ring is obviously more fortunate than Griffin, in that he can switch between visibility and invisibility at will, and thus doesn't face many of the problems such as eating or going about in public. Nonetheless, Wells' novel illustrates certain problems faced when invisible, such as being identified by footprints (and being cold, though going naked may have been less problematic in Greece).

Certainly Griffin does seem to be driven mad by power, proposing a reign of terror, and thereby nicely illustrates the tyrannical soul that Socrates describes. Given the choice between being such a man, able to do injustice but lacking internal order, or the moderate and just philosopher whose soul is harmonised, the latter looks more appealing to me.

Also it's worth noting that the novel contains numerous uses of 'incontinence', in either the archaic sense of immediately or perhaps more generally as lacking self-control (although without emphasis on bodily functions) - to illustrate that the term used for Aristotle's akrasia was not always as absurd as it sounds today.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Man Utd 3-0 Liverpool

Benitez has yet to pick up so much as a point against Manchester United (though, contrary to some reports, he has beaten them). Sadly, I didn't have too much hope of that changing today, as United edged the first half and went in a goal to the good, following a mistake by Reina (who, despite making several very good saves, was unfortunately at fault also for the second).

The real talking point, of course, was the sending off of Mascherano (who Hansen had picked out as a key player before the match). While I won't claim that it dictated the result, I think it certainly explained why the game wasn't closer.

Maybe he was a bit of an idiot given that he was already on a yellow card, but the fact is his dismissal apparently came simply for asking a question - and, while certain questions can, depending on tone, sound like dissent, it seems strange to interpret it as such given that Liverpool had just received a free kick. Whatever was said, I think it wouldn't have happened had it not been for the recent fuss over Ashley Cole and Chelsea, which itself raises issues of justice. It's the first dismissal Liverpool have suffered this season and I have to say I don't think our players are generally as guilty of harrassing referees as those of Man Utd or Chelsea (John Terry's recent remarks striking me as particularly hypocritical).

Without our midfield enforcer, and already a goal down, it was no surprise that late efforts from Ronaldo and Nani were able to put a gloss on the result. Unfortunately, we now have an international break before a crunch clash with Everton (for which Mascherano will be suspended). We're still two points clear of our blue neighbours, so if we win that then 4th place should be in our hands.

White Easter

Last night I went out for a few drinks with a couple of old school friends, neither of whom I'd seen in about a year. There wasn't too much gossip to catch up on really, but it was nice to see them again and find out where they were living, who they were seeing, what they were doing (both just got jobs), etc.

It was pretty cold, but I wasn't expecting to wake up today to snow. There are plenty of pictures of the white Easter on the BBC website. It's too bad I'm not in Oxford, which I always think looks quite picturesque in snow, although it's better that I don't have much to do and can enjoy the warmth indoors.

Sadly, it seems that after a few years of buying us CDs (presumably because we'd out-grown eggs), my mum's gone back to buying my brother and I Easter eggs. I did pass a advert for Now 69 today that was marketing it as something like the 'perfect gift for Easter', so maybe we're now unusual in that respect...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stag It

As I said when I got home, I didn't stay in Essex long - I've recently come back from Nick's stag weekend. Since far more of my peers have PhD than spouses, this was my first stag night/weekend, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it turned out very enjoyable, even though the only other person I really knew was Steve, with most others going back to school with Nick (and, presumably, therefore his fiancee too).

Getting into London Friday was no trouble, although I'm glad I allowed plenty of time as the Circle line at Liverpool St was closed both due to a suspicious package/bomb scare. We lunched in the Iron Duke pub at Victoria station - although I only actually had a couple of pints as I'd brought sandwiches (which were certainly cheaper). At this point there were only four of us, but we caught the train down to Bearsted (Kent), with others due to meet us later.

On arriving in the village the first thing we wanted to do was locate some sort of shop - which turned out to be a Tesco Express on the other side of the village (and up a hill, as almost everything was). Perhaps we should've got some food, but we loaded up on alcohol, before heading off - back past the station and up yet another (bigger) hill - to find Coldblow Farm, where we were staying.

It turned out it was quite a way to the farm. From the Black Horse pub, the directions told us to go along Pilgrim's Way, take next left and they were first farm on the right. It turned out that was still about a mile and a half (maybe more) and almost all up, sometimes steep, hill. Nonetheless, with a bottle of cider to keep us going, we pressed on with all our bags - I'm not sure the woman who greeted us at reception really believed that we'd walked from the station (not to mention via Tesco).

The barn itself was more modern than expected. Although it had rough stone walls and an old wood-burning stove, it also had radiators and a modern (if compact) kitchen, that actually compares favourably to mine in Oxford. We were told we were welcome to use the pile of manky old mattresses, which we did - firstly, as crash mats for a high jump competition, then later as bedding. While we were getting unpacked, Tim and Steve (who'd taken a later train) joined us.

In the evening, we set off back to the Black Horse pub that we passed earlier for dinner, where we were also due to meet the seventh member of our party. Walking down the hill, in the dark, was quite an adventure and made me wish I'd brought my bike lights to use as a torch. It was a good job we'd made reservations on our way up too, as the place was packed (I suppose it was 9:15 on a Friday night). I didn't have a starter, just the pasta in pesto with olives and tomatoes, but it was ncie and some of the other options looked very fancy (three of us had duck!).

After another long walk up the hill back to the barn, we spent the rest of the evening talking, drinking and playing poker (I only watched), before finally turning in around 3:30am. Unsurprisingly, we weren't really early risers the next day (at least we slept well in our sleeping bags!) so, after some discussion of what to do - not helped much by leaflets featuring attractions as far away as Southend (closer to home for me) - we ended up walking back into Bearsted for breakfast/lunch in a pub.

We had discussed going to see Leeds Castle but, finding it was a coach ride away, that possibly wasn't running, and charged £15 admission (for a yearly pass!), we decided against that. We'd seen, on a map by the Black Horse, that there was a Thurnham Castle much closer, though someone we asked in Bearsted denied its existence. After topping up with drink and food, we decided to set off again towards it, stopping again at the Black Horse to meet Mike (the worst player of the game I've ever met) and refresh ourselves with a quick drink.

The walk to Thunham Castle was quite eventful itself - we started off along a footpath that I think was part of the North Downs Way, before turning off to climb straight up a bramble-covered hill that we thought might be part of it. It turns out it wasn't, but this gave us a good view of the surrounding fields and another hill, this time with steps. Up that and we were almost there - we'd climbed the remains of the old earthwork defences and we now saw the remains of an old wall. To be honest, there was very little to see there, but we had the satisfaction of having discovered the castle, from the opposite side to the official entrance, and took the chance to engage in some climbing and frisbee (throwing the frisbee to people sat on the wall adding an element of risk to the game - perhaps moreso after the frisbee broke).

The walk back from the castel was almost as interesting as that to it. We detoured through a newly planted wood, to an iron age enclosure (not sure what that was) and then over a field in what we thought was roughly the direction of home. The paths weren't well marked, so it was mainly down to Chris and Michael's sense of direction that we were able to cut a more direct route back to our barn, though it did (as ever) involve some hills. (The Downs are definitely better described as ups).

When we got home, the carnivores set up a barbecue to cook sausages and bacon (which I'm told were very good), while I had some salad rolls I'd bought from Tesco earlier. It rained quite heavily that night, but thankfully there was a carport-like roof we could use as shelter, and we had by this pointed started to use the barn's fire exit as a shortcut to the toilets. Later the evening again turned to drinking and poker (I joined in this time, and came 3rd I think - helped perhaps by not always knowing whether I was bluffing), before finally ending with drinking games (circle of fire). It probably says something about our demographic that when I suggested 'current Premiership goalkeepers' as a category for people to name, it was deemed on a par with Chris' 'moons of Saturn'!

The second morning we managed a slightly earlier start, to check out by 10am, although sadly we failed to make it to the station in time to catch the hourly replacement bus, so had to stop off at another pub. It seems half of Kent's trains don't run on Sundays, so we needed one bus to Maidstone and another from there to Sevenoaks (about an hour) before being able to get a train to Victoria - the total journey almost two and a half hours, although at least well co-ordinated. I took leave of the others in London and made my own way home - unfortunately there were some engineering works there too, but I was able to get as far as Marks Tey and have my mum pick me up there.

The weekend may have cost about as much as I'd spend (excluding rent and college meals) in three weeks in Oxford, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable time - much like Scout camp, with alcohol - and a fitting way to mark the end of Nick's single freedom.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Liverpool 2-1 Reading

I didn't get to follow this game, or even find out the score until the next day. It was disappointing to hear we'd conceded a fairly sloppy opening goal, but reassuring how we were able to come from behind - Mascherano's job isn't really to score goals, but nice for him to get his first for the club, while Torres' job very much is goal-getting - 9 in his last 6 games now, making him the first Liverpool player to score 20 league goals in a season since Robbie Fowler (in the 1995-6 season). I hope we can keep our good run of form going through the next five games: Man Utd, Everton and Arsenal x3.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I arrived home today, leaving Oxford slightly earlier than I'd originally planned, having submitted my thesis. Won't be here long - I'm going away for a stag weekend tomorrow morning - but then I'll be based in Colchester until 11th April.

Fabre Review in Print

The long-running wait for my Fabre review is finally over (see previous posts here, here and here). In fact, it seems the JVI had been running slightly behind schedule, and published a bumper issue (vol.41, nos 2-4) in December, without me realizing (perhaps I wasn't in Oxford). Anyway, that included my Fabre review.

For those without online access, the reference is: The Journal of Value Inquiry (2007) 41 pp.375-9. Time to update that CV...

UPDATE: I don't think I'm culpable for missing this - I received the new issue contents alert email 14/03/08.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Inter Milan 0-1 Liverpool

With our two goal lead from the first leg, I wasn't overly worried about this fixture. I knew Inter would have to attack, leaving space for the likes of Torres and Babel, and that a single away goal - leaving them needing four - would pretty much win it.

It has to be said the first half was nervier than I'd hoped, with Inter almost constantly probing, but the fact is that they created few really clear chances and we had a few of our own too. Early in the second half, they again had a defender sent off for two stupid bookings and, if that didn't finish things, Torres' away goal did. Inter may have been unlucky to play for 100 of 180 minutes with ten men, but that's the price defenders pay for cynical fouls and, it has to be said, they rarely looked too threatening up front. I've not seen that much of Ibrahimovic, but what I have suggests he's one of the most over-rated players around.

No Point Voting

One thing I've been thinking about lately is the apparent failure of rational choice to explain voting (I wrote a series of posts on this before). To put it simply, the chance of your vote making a difference, in a reasonably large constituency, is near zero - though there have in fact been cases of ties (and another) - so it doesn't seem worth the cost (time, effort) to vote.

I've just seen there's going to be an uncontested election in Oxfordshire this week (BBC news). Interestingly:
The council said it would never discourage people from voting, despite their [sic] being just one candidate.

Which surely just means that they won't discourage people wasting their time... This could be a really interesting case for rat choice discussion, since the expected benefit is presumably zero - although, of course, one wonders whether those who believe in something like a civic duty to vote still think it applies even when they know the vote makes no difference. (Although I'd contend that, in practice, they can know this in most safe seats, not only uncontested ones).


Today I submitted my thesis. Err, there's not much to say other than that really... It did feel good, obviously, but also slightly anti-climactic. I'm not too sure what to do with myself for the rest of the day, but I'll be watching the football and then going to Intrusion at the Cellar later.

I'd never realized how expensive this process could be. It cost me £30 to get two copies softbound, from Maltby's on St Michael's St. I don't know how that compares to other places, but I'd had them recommended and they did do a nice job and were ready in 24 hours (even if, weirdly, the shop door was locked when I tried to pick them up at 10am this morning). I'd bought some large envelopes, but then it cost me another couple of quid in the Exam Schools, because apaprently they have to be padded envelopes. And then the lady at the desk said I'd written the name in the wrong corner. Oh well, at least it's done; just the wait now...

UPDATE: You can read the thesis on my academic website.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On Deaf Ears

I'm not sure how many cases there have been of deaf couples wanting to select deaf children, but they're a fairly common staple of applied ethics debates. (The most famous case involving, I believe, a couple of lesbians in the US. Academic discussion can be found in the BJME 2002). The BBC now has a feature on the issue, which happens to quote Julian Savulescu.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

International Fame

I linked to this before, but now I see it's doing the rounds on the blogosphere. Or, at least, it's here. For the record, I'd consider giving up the academic dream if offered a suitable recording contract...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Liverpool 3-0 Newcastle

It has to be said that, on current form, this match should have been a home banker. Nonetheless, Liverpool have had a habit in the past of gifting struggling teams a return to winning ways, so I was slightly more apprehensive than I probably needed to be. After 40 minutes, that apprehension was growing, before Jose Enrique gifted us a goal - clearing the ball into Pennant, only to see it loop back over his own 'keeper, registering only Pennant's second Liverpool goal.

Within minutes, Torres had fired in another and the points looked pretty safe. There was still time for him to set up Gerrard for a third, before the two of them were taken off for a well-earned rest. I wouldn't say we're over-reliant on these two as any team relies on top players (Ronaldo and Rooney, Lampard and Drogba, Fabregas and Adebayor), but I do worry how we'd fare without either or both of them.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Poverty of PPE

Chris Brooke is currently serializing a 1968 pamphlet on what's wrong with the PPE degree, over on the Virtual Stoa - introduction to the series here. It'll be interesting to see what's changed in the last 40 years and what might still be fixed.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

I didn't watch/follow this, due to being in the pub with the GPTW crowd, but I was actually slightly apprehensive about keeping up with Everton in the race for 4th - we needed to win this game in hand. Thankfully, West Ham haven't been too solid recently, having just been beaten 4-0 by Chelsea, and it turns out they were ready to succumb again.

After I said Torres looked tired in his last game, he goes and bangs in a second successive home hat-trick (following 'Boro). Interestingly, almost all his league goals have come at Anfield, which is a bit odd, because I'd have thought he'd have been well-suited to playing on the counter attack. Still, it's our home form that's been poor this season and, if Torres keeps scoring, that should soon be sorted. A fourth from Gerrard underlines just how important these two are to us.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Just had to report this amusing lunchtime conversation, between me, another finishing PhD student (LT) and a Masters student (BH):

Me: The thing is, I'm not sure I want to spend the next 3-4 years working on one big project again. I'd rather be able to move around several areas.
LT: Yeah, I know what you mean.
BH: I'm sure it isn't, but 3-4 years on one thing just seems such a waste.
[LT mimes as if to hit BH]


I just received this message from Dan: For reasons entirely out the control of the speaker, this week's scheduled talk at the GPTW has been cancelled. Instead - as as it seems a shame to cancel the 8th Week meeting - I will be leading a discussion on the nature of property rights and personal responsibility in non-ideal contexts. The discussion is entitled, "If you're an egalitarian, how much should you pay for a Radiohead album?"

Monday, March 03, 2008

New Arrivals

One of my cousins gave birth the other week (21st Feb) and one of my old school friends is expecting a baby any time now. I just saw this news story about a 21 year old boy who's fathered seven children, all by different women. He'll have to go some to beat this girl I heard about the other week, who at 16 has given birth to two sets of triplets, and also has seven in total. It's probably not PC, but I do wonder about sterilisation sometimes...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bolton 1-3 Liverpool

We don't have a particularly great record against Bolton, though last year's defeat (due to a dodgy free kick) still hurts. This season Bolton have been struggling and now, without Anelka, I was feeling a bit more optimistic ahead of the match.

We were lucky to be gifted a lead when Jussi Jaaskelainen managed to spill Gerrard's off-target effort into his own net (pic). Second half goals from the lively Babel and Aurelio pretty much wrapped up the game, even if Cohen got a late consolation.

It was good to see Skrtel get another game, though I'm not sure about Carragher at right back and don't know why Arbeloa didn't play (given Finnan was injured). Hopefully a few games in the side, and finally a goal, will help Aurelio's confidence and Babel too will probably profit from a relatively rare 90 minutes even if he did fade (I do find that a bit worrying, from a 21 year old athlete). Too bad Torres couldn't have a rest, as he looked tired and not at all as dangerous as against 'Boro.

Party Like It's 1989

Last night we had a joint MCR 1980s party with St Hugh's. While much of what passed for fashion was questionable (at best), I think the 1980s have an undeserved reputation for bad music. Sadly many people think only of the cheesy pop. While some of that stuff (Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Madonna) is ok in the context, the songs I particularly remember from the night were Enjoy The Silence, Sweet Child O' Mine, Love Cats and Fight For Your Right (To Party). Too bad there was no Sisters of Mercy or Faith No More...