Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Sunnyvale gig

Tonight I saw Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element for not only the third time this term but my third successive gig. I might not have bothered, given that I had no one to go with, but I wanted to pick up their new remix album and they'd announced that it would be their last gig before a break to work on new material.

The email advertised a start time of 8pm, but in fact when I got the Wheatsheaf at half-past that was the time on the posters, and in fact it was almost another half-hour before we could get in. I always like to catch the support bands, but I'm not surprised so many people choose to arrive late.

Von Braun 6/10
As it is, I'm there in time to see supposedly hotly-tipped new local band Von Braun. To be honest, I didn't see what the fuss was about - they were perfectly adequate, in a Franz Ferdinand kind of way, and get better through the set, but nothing struck me as special. Even though they were the most convential band line up of the night, my attention was still rather focused on the screening of Metropolis in the background.

Space Heroes of the People 8/10
The second band are a rather unusual threesome - keyboardist, electric double bass and drums. I very much enjoyed a rather energetic set, including a performance of their Sunnyvale remix 'I Love You Every Time You Struggle Heroically Against Imperialist Oppression' and end up buying their CD too. I have to say it's not quite as good on CD as live, but a nice momento.

Rothko 5/10
The most established band of the night, I hadn't heard of Rothko before despite a string of albums to their name. It's more instrumental post-rock, with the frontman noodling away at some keyboard like device. To be honest, I didn't find either the music or stage presence that interesting - though I notice the background movie had now switched from Metropolis to Godzilla.

Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element 7/10
The problem with seeing Sunnyvale live on a regular basis is that - the odd technical hitch aside - they're remarkably consistent because most of it's pre-recorded anyway. Maybe it's only worth turning up for the announcements, which are punctuated by slabs of noise like 'Godzilla vs Kathleen Hanna' (appropriate given the video in the background). Still, I suppose the good side of consistency is that you're rarely disappointed, but to be honest I would welcome some new material. I guess I have the remixes to keep me amused in the meantime...

UPDATE: Though they had said it'd be their last gig for a while, they've just announced a support slot to The Kills at the Carling Academy 15/06/08.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Well, the final (oral) examination of my thesis is now complete. Things didn't get off to an auspicious start, when the room supposedly booked ended up being in use for a meeting, so we had to relocate to Adam's office. After that, I enjoyed most of the discussion, although it of course raised a number of problems for my thesis. How urgent these are, and how much has to be addressed in corrections and how much later, I'll have to wait for the official reports to find out. I do know that, at least in some sense, I passed though!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Friends in High Places

My friend Sonia - who did the MPhil in Politics at the same time as I did - has obviously gone on to make quite a name for herself at the IPPR. Here she is talking about her latest report on BBC News.

Graduate Junction

I already have an academic webpage here, but now there's a new(ish) social networking resource for graduate students (via).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

If I Was Running Eurovision...

Belgium - Front 242 - Moldavia (I wanted the C-Tec side project, but couldn't find them on YouTube)
Finland - Nightwish - Wish I Had An Angel OR HIM - Buried Alive By Love
France - Avril - Like Everybody Else (not a live video as it was hard enough finding something that wasn't Avril Lavigne)
Germany - Rammstein - Du Hast OR Guano Apes - Pretty In Scarlet
Italy - Lacuna Coil - Our Truth
Netherlands - The Gathering - Amity
Norway - Apoptygma Berzerk - We're In This Together OR Leaves Eyes - Ocean's Way
Portugal - Moonspell - Vampiria
Sweden - Covenant - Go Film OR Opeth - The Grand Conjuration

I'm sure I should be able to think of more. Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cohen Conference

Details here:
Friday 23rd January 2009 (1st wk HT), 09:30

Conference: The career of G. A. Cohen
On January 23-24 2009, with the generous support of Philosophy and Public Affairs, we will be hosting a conference to celebrate the career of G.A. Cohen, who is retiring after 23 years as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory. We have assembled a team of distinguished contributors; those already confirmed include:
Professor David Estlund (Brown University)
Professor Cecile Fabre (Edinburgh)
Professor Michael Otsuka (UCL)
Professor Joseph Raz (University of Oxford)
Professor John Roemer (Yale)
Professor Seana Shiffrin (UCLA)
Professor Philippe Van Parijs (Louvain)
Professor Andrew Williams (Warwick)
Professor Gerald Dworkin (UC Davis)
Professor Joshua Cohen (Stanford)
Professor Tim Scanlon (Harvard)

Saturday, May 17, 2008


You can tell it's summer because we had a week of nice sunny weather and now it's raining again. Nonetheless, we pressed on with our MCR Pimms and croquet events this afternoon.

I'd only ever played one game of croquet before, ending up on the winning side. Sadly that record's gone - I can't even claim to be undefeated - since we resumed after a rain-break (with different teams) and although we never actually finished, first and second had come in and I was bringing up the rear, having been caught up for the last few moves retaliating against black in third (they were closely chasing the lead, but I told them they didn't want to croquet me...)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Music be the Food of Love...

Apparently wine actually tastes better with music. That's somewhat interesting in itself, because while I'd say many experiences are more pleasurable with music, this claim is actually stronger - that you have the pleasure of the music and more pleasure from the wine. It could thus be an example of something like G. E. Moore's organic unities (the whole being more than the sum of the parts).

A sceptic might wonder whether this kind of claim could be true. Can the wine really taste better? Surely its taste isn't affected by music, even if people's perceptions are somehow tricked. This is a case though where there doesn't appear much room for scepticism since, intuitively, what you taste is what you taste (if you get my drift). If it seem to taste good to you, then it tastes good, irrespective of 'objective quality' of the wine. In this respect, it's like pain - if you feel like you're in pain, you are.

I'd like to know more about what music might complement what wine. The report claims "cabernet sauvignon was most affected by "powerful and heavy" music", but it seems that they deduce this from Carmina Burana by Orff and go on to recommend All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix), Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones), Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), and Won't Get Fooled Again (The Who) - that seems slightly odd in itself to me, but I don't know the full details of the study.

In any case, I wonder what wine would suit my listening habits. Thom Brooks also picks up on the story, but has nothing to add about wine for Rammstein or Metallica.


I'd seen this on Facebook, but I didn't go and buy carrots. Did anyone?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cohen Jokes

I've only been to two of G A Cohen's Humour Seminars this term, but I thought this was much more interesting - and amusing - than the first. The idea of academics sitting around dissecting jokes doesn't actually sound all that funny, but when you actually see these people doing it - in All Souls' Old Library - it's actually pretty funny just because it's so ingruous. That, in fact, was part of Cohen's point: jokes need some bomination of incongruity and sense.

The puzzle comes with how these combine. He illustrated with a fairly routine example of two people complaining about restaurant food. The first says 'the food is terrible' and the second 'yes, and the portions are so small'. This, he said, could make sense, but at the same time it seems prima facie absurd to make both complaints. Interestingly, had the order of the two complaints been reversed, the joke doesn't seem as funny. Had the second merely said 'yes, and they've stopped giving jumbo portions' it would have been more absurd but made less sense. Taken to a limit, if the second said 'yes, and I'm going to the movies this afternoon', the joke wouldn't have made any sense.

I can't be bothered to type out many of the jokes in full, but hear are the bones of a few:

A husband and wife are trekking through the jungle when suddenly a giant ape jumps out and starts ravishing the woman. 'Quick! Do something!' she cries, to which her husband responds 'tell him you have a headache'.

A man rings the Jewish solicitors Cohen, Cohen, Cohen, Cohen & Cohen.
1: I'd like to speak to Mr Cohen please.
2: I'm afraid he's in court right now.
1: Ok then. Can I speak to Mr Cohen?
2: He's off sick.
1: How about Mr Cohen?
2: He's at lunch.
1: Then can I speak to Mr Cohen?
2: He's on holiday.
1: Well, in that case I'd like to speak to Mr Cohen.
2: Speaking.

Two men facing a firing squad. 'Any last words?' the captain asks. The first remains silent, but then the second starts hurling insults at them. The first nudges him and says 'Quiet down Pete; don't make trouble.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Moral Philosophers Can't Provide Answers

At least since Plato, many philosophers have pretended to have some sort of insight that makes them best placed to answer moral questions. Today, most take the more modest line that they can't really provide answers. The purpose of philosophy seems to be conceptual clarification and making distinctions. Thus we can, for example, isolate potential differences between (say) killing and letting die, and thereby clarify exactly what is at stake in a question. This may lead us to reject certain bad reasoning, but when it comes to deciding substantive issues philosophers are no more better than the proverbial man in the street.

There was a fine example after today's moral philosophy seminar. A visiting economist wanted to ask the five moral philosophers round the table whether one should tell a married friend that his wife is cheating on him. (I believe the example was fictitious). Assume all the normal caveats, about how the cuckold is unaware and will never find out. What should you do?

It seems that he genuinely wanted an answer to the practical question but, as philosophers of the modern/modest sort, we were reluctant to give one. By the time it reached my turn, we'd quibbled with what was being asked so much that all I committed myself to was 'I think being an unknowing cuckold makes his life in one way worse - though not necessarily worse all-things-considered - and this gives you a pro tanto reason to tell him'.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool

Well, while there was still the title, a UEFA Cup spot and two relegation places to play for, none of that affected today's game - with nothing left for either team to play it was unlikely to be a classic. Things may have been different if some individuals had futures to play for, but Rafa has already revealed that Harry Kewell's time on Liverpool's books (read: treatment table) is coming ot an end. That none of Riise, Crouch and Alonso made the 16 man squad may also be indicative of their respective futures.

Voronin got a rare start, and scored. Some Liverpool fans have been very critical of him this season. I'd say he's been inconsistent, but shown some promising moments - the problem perhaps being that, like Kuyt, he's not an out-and-out goal scorer. Given that he was brought in on a free to replace Robbie as fourth striker, I'd say it's worth giving him another season - although if anyone was to put in a reasonable offer (and Celtic were rumoured to be interested) I'd be happy to make a profit. Even if Crouch also leaves, we can play Babel as a striker or promote Nemeth from reserves, so I think we have some options, as long as Torres stays fit.

Speaking of 'El Nino' it was our number 9 that not only set up Voronin's opener but scored his 24th league goal of the season, surpassing RvN's record for league goals by a foreign player in his debut season. All the more impressive given that they were all from open play - and this one away from home too! Let's hope he doesn't suffer from 'second season syndrome' now defenders will know about him (to be fair, I'd guess they've known about him for a while - but it doesn't help much).

Good also to see Reina keep a clean sheet and win the golden gloves for the third season running.

Penguin Attack

First they came for the pigeons, and I did not speak out as I was not one.

Then they came for the people.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I spent much of the last two days in, or travelling to/from, Cambridge. Never having been there during my time in Oxford, it was something of an adventure, but it seemed a very nice place - no doubt helped by the weather.

I stayed in Churchill college, which is a modern one set in spacious gardens - rather like a cross between St Catz and St Hugh's. I was also treated to lunch in Jesus, Cambridge by my friend Clare - much larger than Jesus, Oxford it also seemed a very nice place. Given the chance, I'd very much welcome the change of scenery.

Despite only leaving Jesus at 13:50, I managed to just catch the 14:15 train to Kings Cross and, from there, get back to Oxford - changing at Reading and despite a train being delayed (I realized it was worth switching platforms and jumping on a train to Bristol, despite the announcement telling other poor souls to wait where they were for 20 minutes) - and get back to Oxford station at 16:45, allowing me to make it up to the department to hear Richard Tuck give a paper for the political theory research seminar. Ironically, he's based in Jesus, Cambridge this year, and would have been there if it wasn't for the fact that he was in Oxford while I was in Cambridge...

UPDATE: Sadly I received notification that, as has been the wont with recent interviews, I was considered appointable but not the best applicant.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Liverpool 1-0 Man City

It's been a while since Liverpool were left with nothing to play for by May, but today - with a 4th place finish guaranteed (either way) - this game was somewhat over-shadowed by the battle for Championship promotion and relegation. With that in mind, I'm disappointed that Insua was the only one of our successful reserve side given a game, but maybe Rafa was keeping the reserve league play-off final (later this week) in focus.

Anyway, the strong team gave Torres the chance to equal Ruud van Nistelrooy's record for a foreign player's debut season of 23 league goals. He also extended a club record, by scoring in his eighth successive home league match - in fact, I believe 21 of the 23 have come at Anfield: imagine what he'll be like if he starts scoring away next season!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Duties to Talents?

Arguments over social justice, inspired by Rawls and Nozick, are full of questions about whether people 'own' their talents or can legitimately expect to benefit from them (or, more properly, their exercise).

This interesting POV on the BBC website, focusing on Amy Winehouse and Snoop Dogg, suggests that people may have duties to their talents. The argument seems not to be a Kantian one, that we have a duty to ourselves to develop our own talents. Nor is it a claim that we have duties to others to exercise our talents for their benefits ("When people say that you have a duty to your talent, they all too often mean that you have a duty to them. But they're misstating the case.").

It's less clear what the argument is, but it seems to be based on a duty to the talents as such (if that's distinguishable from oneself). I suppose it's just about plausible that we might do wrong by destroying artworks, even if no one ever saw them - but it's surely less plausible that we have an analogous duty to create them (such an argument certainly wouldn't hold with respect to people). Moreover, the argument - such as it is - is tainted with religious ideas ("When that young woman sings, it's the revelation of a divine gift. But when she behaves as if the gift were hers to destroy if she feels like it, you can't help thinking of divine wrath.").

Whatever you think (and I'm still not sure what to make of it), it was still an interesting read.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Rise of the Right

I have to admit, I didn't vote yesterday. I had kind of intended to, not that I had much preference, but - despite getting up at 6:30 - was busy for most of the day.

The BBC reports the BNP are growing in support. It's hard to know what to make of this - it could simply be protest voting, of a sort arguably encouraged by our FPTP electoral system where there's very little responsibility.

In any case, it's an excuse to link to Pop Will Eat Itself's classic warning about the 'rise of the right' Ich bin ein Auslander (video, lyrics).

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day

Today was May Day in Oxford (and elsewhere, I believe). I didn't go down to Magdalen Bridge this year - much less stay up the night, as I had a busy day planned - but I did get up early for champagne and strawberry breakfast in college.

The rest of the day involved the applied ethics seminar in the morning, a tutorial on Republic, a post-interview meeting with one of the tutors in college (I came 2nd for the third time!) and the DPhil social in the department, before the real highlight: Jerry Cohen's Valedictory Lecture, which included his impersonations of the likes of Gilbert Ryle and Isaiah Berlin.

Chris Bertram, over at CT, also reports on the lecture, with photos, including my friend Kieran's banner. See also Virtual Stoa and Leiter.

The lecture was followed by a drinks reception in All Souls that (like the lecture itself) probably had a great concentration of eminent political theorists than most conferences I've been to - including what might as well have been an official MANCEPT outing - then many of us going to All Bar One and eight of us on for a curry. A thoroughly great night all round.