Saturday, February 28, 2009

Middlesbrough 2-0 Liverpool

People were saying last week that the title race was over and this just about seals it. Obviously, it's not official until it's mathematically beyond us, but I really don't see United slipping up at this stage - while we've slipped to 3rd, behind Chelsea again (if only on goal difference for present).

The annoying thing is that - despite giving a first Premiership start to El Zhar and playing Skrtel in an unaccustomed right-back role - we looked the better team for most of the game. Obviously, this doesn't give you any divine right to win: we've won a few we haven't really deserved to this season (including Boro's visit to Anfield). Football games aren't necessarily won by the better team, they're won by the team that scores the most. With that in mind, another injury to Torres has left us decidedly light up front - with Kuyt, Babel and Ngog to choose from - and raises questions once more about the wisdom of parting with Keane's services (or, at least, not buying a replacement)...

Intelligent Women

My friend (well, acquaintance really, to be honest) Gail has become quite a celebrity since winning that quiz thing. The trouble is, she's just a particularly prominent example of an intelligent, well-educated woman and, apparently, we don't know what to do with them. If only we had more air-brained WAGs and bimbos eh?

Point of information: The Times report mentions that Gail "is studying for a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford". In fact, it's a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or, here, D.Phil) in Classics.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Singer Review

I've mentioned Amazon Vine a couple of times (like here). I was pleasantly surprised to be offered the chance to review Peter Singer's new book, The Life You Can Save (currently at a 45% discount on Amazon!), this month - and you can read my effort here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Real Madrid 0-1 Liverpool

For a long time we looked second-best in this match, but since Ramos' appointment Real Madrid have become a force to be reckoned with much more and a trip to the Bernabeu with them in form is no easy matter.

In some respects, this was a classic European away performance: weather the storm and then hit them with a sucker punch. Though Madrid had plenty of possession in their own half, we were content to let them pass it around and snuff out the danger when it came - actually restricting them to few real chances of note.

Admittedly, we didn't offer much attacking threat of our own - with Gerrard only fit enough for a token run out in the last few minutes and Torres being subbed just after the hour, obviously feeling the effects of an early knock. Nonetheless, we did have a few moments of note: Alonso came close to scoring from our own half just before half-time, but it was Benayoun's 82nd minute header that gave us a possible priceless goal. (Although, as few pundits seem to have noticed, the fact that it's an away goal is irrelevant: that will only come into play if Madrid score at least one at Anfield).

A very satisfactory result, although I hope the injury to Torres doesn't prove serious...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sex and Art

A while ago I commented on findings that men are less able to recognize cute babies than women, saying "I am... 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".

Maybe I was on to something, because now it seems that men and women judge whether art is beautiful in different ways as well!

In unrelated news about sex and art, teenagers who listen to sexually explicit/degrading music seem more likely to be having sex. I guess this could be another excuse to wheel out the Plato and censorship debate, although we'd really need to establish causation rather than mere correlation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

University Challenge Final

Corpus Christi face Manchester in the final of University Challenge tonight. This Guardian article focuses on my friend and Corpus captain, Gail Trimble.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bribing the Electorate

Thom Brooks suggested, almost a year ago, that promising tax cuts was tantamount to bribery. I'm unaware of any academic literature that makes claims like this (suggestions welcome), but it's certainly the sort of claim that features in popular rhetoric, as this recent example, concerning economic policy rather than taxation, shows.

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City

Another home draw that, I guess, has to go down as disappointing - not so much because of the opposition (City may be under-achieving and struggling away from home but, especially after their January spree, they are a good team) but the performance. Without both Gerrard and Alonso, our midfield looked somewhat bereft of creativity, and it was a surprise to see Mascherano, rather than Lucas, substituted.

We had enough to dominate chances for most of the game, only to fall victim to a strike from ex-Red Craig Bellamy (which took a wicked deflection off Arbeloa). Thankfully we've shown a lot of 'bounce-back-ability' this season, and an equaliser came when Kuyt pounced on a Torres mis-kick (at least Kuyt's willing to get into the box, hence him scoring so many of these important goals), but sadly there wasn't to be a late winner, like in Manchester.

The commentators seemed to think that this wrapped up the title for Manchester United. While I agree that they're obviously overwhelming favourites, and they have been for a while, it's a bit too early to chuck in the towel altogether. In any case, I think we can take some comfort from the thought that we've put in the most sustained challenge - that's something I'd have settled for at the start of the season (and it would have been beyond my wildest expectations, if I'd have known about the problems faced by Torres and Keane).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Music as Torture

It seems that music, from AC/DC and Nine Inch Nails to Britney Spears and the BeeGees is being used as a means of torture. Says one interrogator: "These people haven't heard heavy metal. They can't take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken." (via Eloise)

Also, performances of Wagner are still unofficially banned in Israel, raising questions about the place of moral judgements in art.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Irish Jokes

The other day I came across this old one again:
Irelands worst air disaster occurred early this morning when a small two-seater Cessna plane crashed into a cemetery. Irish search and rescue workers have recovered 1826 bodies so far and expect that number to climb as digging goes on into the night.

Today I hear real life reports of something almost as amusing.

You don't even need the Englishman and Scotsman...

Sex and Sin

Apparently, men and women differ in which of the seven sins they are most susceptible to. No surprise seeing men more prone to lust; although I am surprised that anger features higher in the list for women (3rd) than men (4th) - though that doesn't, of course, suggest women are more prone to anger if they are less sinful overall.

In related news, the OUP popular philosophy books on the seven sins are in their current sale.

UPDATE: Rob accuses me of peddling Catholic propaganda, on which point I notice a Vatican football tournament will use a blue card to 'sin bin' players.

Philosophers make the BBC

My friends/colleagues Rebecca Roache and Barbro Bjorkman are mentioned in this BBC article, about the ethics of keeping a child with an adopted family after the parents have been charged then acquitted of misdemeanours. It's good to see the BBC covering the work of philosophers as well as scientists, although this doesn't seem to be reporting about a published paper.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Advising on Graduate Study

A couple of my 3rd years are keen to do graduate degrees (only Masters level, at first...) - perhaps I should have them read these warnings, discussed over at Pea Soup.

Is Having Too Many Children Selfish?

Good to see the question raised; although I despair at the level of public debate if the best response is "I have three children. I feel it is my duty to attempt to repopulate the World with intelligent individuals in an attempt to offset Mr Porritt's stupidity. Idiocy-offsetting, kind of like carbon offsetting, just a little more immediate."

Another Graduate Conference

I've not been aware of political philosophy graduate conferences in York before, but it seems that they're joining Manchester, Warwick and Essex - conference 29-30 May, advert/cfa here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

They Talk About Me on the Interwebz

Thanks to an anonymous tip-off here for pointing me to this discussion on Philosophy, Etc. Basically, someone there proposes lottery voting, although with the slight twist that they suggest you could draw more than one vote. A couple of people in the discussion point to my work (here and here) and now I've weighed in with my own comment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

There's no Telling what Exeter will do...

Riots in Turl Street or a giant naked statue... [UPDATE: photo of the statue here]

I'm not sure who Corpus are supposed to share a rivalry with. Oriel and Christ Church I believe already hate each other, does that leave us Merton or are they embroiled in feuds with Magdalen?

What's A Rejection?

I don't have as much experience of being rejected by journals as being rejected by potential employers (who often never have the decency to tell you), but even in my limited experience it can be hard to tell exactly how to take some editors' responses. Most recently, I had a rejection with a suggestion that they journal would reconsider with major revisions, and had very little idea how this should be interpreted.

Different journals have different decision options, but here's how I rank them:
1) Accept 'as is'
2) Conditional acceptance
3) Revise and resubmit
4) Willing to reconsider with revisions
5) Reject

Matters are complicated, however, because the revisions involved in 2-4 may very greatly in extent. Sometimes a revise and resubmit may turn out to be less problematic than a conditional acceptance. Moreover, what some journals call 'revise and resubmit' may in practice be a 2 or 4. (Indeed, I was once given what was officially a R&R that was in fact an acceptance - the editor told me he'd accept the piece whatever, but wanted to give me the opportunity to respond to the reviewers.)

Here's a helpful guide to interpreting editorial decisions, via Pea Soup.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Links

Apparently St Valentine is the patron saint of those who have found love; those still looking should direct their attention to St Raphael (here).

There are questions as to whether the recession will increase or decrease romance (here). But even anarchists are getting in on Valentines (here) and this photographer makes his own cards for his wife (here).

Ants and Democracy

This term I've been attending a seminar on Aristotle's Politics and Contemporary Political Theory, which has reminded me of his claim that humans are political in a way different from merely gregarious animals such as bees (the difference seems to lie in our capacity for speech/reason and so justice).

Nonetheless, it seems that perhaps we can learn from animals after all. A good article in The Economist here, drawing on the work of Christian List - although I think it gets Condorcet slightly wrong (the jury theorem does not depend on each supplying different perspectives, although that idea does go back to at least Aristotle, and in fact it depends on voters being independent, rather than exchanging information).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bribes Work

In a piece forthcoming in the journal Politics, I suggest that if we want to increase voter turnout then, rather than making it compulsory, we should consider paying people an incentive to vote. Employing the carrot rather than the stick may be less effective (i.e. predictably the increase in turnout will be less), but I think it is less objectionable on grounds of coercion.

It's interesting to see that in the US they've trialled paying people to stop voting and it works. Since offers are generally perceived as less objectionable than threats, this suggests the potential for paying people to act as we desire in many other cases.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Risk is in the Genes

It seems that some of those who gamble on the stock market can blame their genes for their propensity to take risks. This may threaten the luck egalitarian distinction between brute and option luck...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool

Benitez chose a rather surprising formation - indeed, I'm still not really sure how the players actually lined up (it seems Aurelio was deployed in place of Alonso in central midfield, while Benayoun and Babel were each to play in support of lone striker Ngog) - and took a gamble by leaving a number of 'big guns' on the bench (Torres, Alonso, Kuyt, Riera).

You could say it was a massive gamble and nearly backfired. On the other hand, after our extra time exhertions against Everton, and with a few players carrying knocks, it may well have been the best that he could do. Even our rotated squad were capable of dominating the first half and Babel should have opened the scoring when he failed to make contact with an inviting cross three yards in front of an open goal (maybe he really can replace Keane...).

As it happens, we twice fell behind due to defensive lapses, but we were able to equalize each time - first through Aurelio (who, contrary to some reports, didn't take the free kick - it was indirect, so touched to him by Alonso) and then Kuyt, with just five minutes left. It looked like more dropped points, before Benayoun danced his way through the Portsmouth defence and cut a cross back for Torres to head home in injury time.

Ok, it took Kuyt, Alonso and Torres to come off the bench to secure the points, but at least they had something of a rest and arguably they were more effective precisely because they were playing against a tiring Portsmouth. No doubt if we'd lost, Benitez would have been widely criticized but, since we won (albeit only just) I think we have to give him credit. The result puts us top of the table again - albeit only until Man Utd play - which shows that he is indeed delivering the challenge we wanted.

Twisted City London Tour

You can download a free album from singer-songwriter Chris Singleton here and take his guided tour of London with this guide. Please note terms and conditions:
1. You take the ‘Twisted City Tour’ entirely at your own risk. Chris Singleton will not be held responsible for any loss, theft, injury or loss of life which occurs to members of the public who go on the tour.
2. Any costs or expenses arising from your ‘Twisted City Tour’ are met by you (bus tickets, taxi fares, meals etc.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

25 Things Meme

This has been doing the rounds on Facebook. In fact, I've already posted it there, so when it imports this post (as it does all my blog posts) there will be some duplication. Oh well...

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you can choose to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to the Notes tab on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app), and then click Publish.)

1. I self-identify as vegetarian but it’s really on aesthetic (taste) grounds. I wouldn’t actually eat meat, but I’m not so fussy about vegetarian cheese, etc.

2. I haven’t had my hair cut since June. It’s now probably the longest I’ve ever had it (just beating Sixth Form). I can put it in a ponytail, but haven’t tried it outdoors!

3. I was 18 when I had my first proper kiss (curse of an all-boys school).

4. I’ve never liked beer, so only drink cider, wine or spirits.

5. I've only really supported Liverpool FC since about 1995-6 – so never seen them win a league title.

6. I listen to a wide range of music and have written reviews in numerous places – including the Oxford Student (newspaper), UK-Fusion (now defunct website) and Amazon Vine – but I can’t play an instrument or even sing.

7. I haven’t bought any nail varnish since Sixth Form, but still do my nails for the occasional night out (Oxford’s monthly goth night in the Cellar).

8. Although I’d had a few temporary jobs during university, I didn’t start my first ‘proper’ job until last October – at the age of 26. It’s nice to have the money, but I’m glad I don’t have 9am starts.

9. I spend far too much time online, but I’m hopeless with new technology and already feel out-of-touch with new gadgets and sites (things like RSS feeds and del.ici.ous).

10. I guess I count as a published author, with my first academic article having come out last summer (in the journal Philosophy) and two or three more ‘in the pipeline’. Sadly, I don’t get paid for any of this (something my mum finds hard to understand…)

11. I used to keep a few plants when I was younger – now I have about two dozen cacti (all derived from the same parent), which survive at home even without being watered for months.

12. I once won £1000 in a competition, while an undergraduate – I didn’t do anything special with it, it simply went into my bank account and got spent on food, rent and cider.

13. I hardly drink tea or coffee – usually choosing just water (sometimes boiling water, if it’s cold or I have a cold). Other people find this strange.

14. Despite the lack of caffeine, I’m a terrible insomniac (or a very good one, depending how you look at it). It often takes me over an hour to fall asleep and I often wake up early – even if I’m not keen to actually get up in the morning.

15. If I am asleep, I’m quite a deep sleeper – I’ve been known to miss not only alarms but fire drills.

16. My birthday is 31st December. My mum apparently had a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate New Year after giving birth. I turned 18 on 31/12/1999, but haven’t really had a proper party/celebration since – it’s a very awkward date to do things (particularly during university). This may explain why I think NYE over-rated.

17. In a certain sense, I’m very materialistic. I don’t think money or worldly possessions bring happiness, but I’d generally rather spend my money on things I can hold and keep. Given my tendency to hoard junk, this is a recipe for disaster!

18. I’ve always been known for my coats. In primary school I had a duffel coat (like Kenny from South Park, only blue) that I’d wear even in summer. I’ve had my present winter jacket since at least Lower Sixth (i.e. at least ten years now).

19. I can (technically) drive, having received my licence just before coming up to Oxford, but haven’t been behind the wheel of a car since my test. I don’t like relying on public transport, but I’m not particularly bothered about driving myself.

20. The only nickname I’ve ever had that’s really stuck was ‘droid’ in Cubs/Scouts (apparently because I talked like an android). My mum refers to my brother and me as ‘big Ben and little John’ to help people remember who’s who.

21. I have never even tried smoking a cigarette. I find it unpleasant when other people do it, so never saw the attraction of paying so much money to kill myself.

22. I haven’t yet found anything I’m allergic to.

23. I haven’t been to the cinema in about five years. Not for any particular reason, but I’m not a great film fan, don’t feel the pressing need to see things as soon as they come out, and don’t like sitting through long films in one go (I tend to pause DVDs a couple of times).

24. When I was younger, I wanted to be at various times an astronaut, a millionaire and an artist. None of those look at all plausible now. It would never have occurred to me to have been an academic – indeed, I still feel I’ve drifted into lecturing as a result of lacking the imagination to try anything else.

25. I’ve never been arrested, but did once get a ride home in a police car after my first day of work experience in Colchester’s MOD barracks.

February Snow

Since I've been talking a bit about the snow recently, I thought I'd somewhat gratuitously link to Oxford band Fell City Girl's single February Snow:

I saw the singer's new band, Winchell Riots, back in April 08 where he performed this cover as an encore.

It's too bad I don't have a camera, given how picturesque Oxford is in the snow, but if you want some nice photos check out OxfordDailyPhoto, here, here and here. UPDATE: And, in Balliol, they have a snow dalek!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

RAE Funding Allocation

The HEFCE has announced how research funding is to be allocated, following the recent RAE results - as reported by Times Higher. Thom Brooks has done the number crunching for Politics and Philosophy.

What I find worrying is the report that "the approach... will slightly increase the amount science receives at the expense of other disciplines". It seems that world-leading research in the humanities just isn't as valuable as world-leading research in sciences...

Library Closures

We just had an email go round the whole college (SCR, MCR and JCR) informing us that the St Cross Building (Law Library) and SSL will close early today. Someone sent this in reply:

Ridiculous. Daughters' school closed today. Next door neighbours, who are
all school teachers hadn't even woken up by 9.00. Missus manages to get all
the way up to Headington to work at the hospital.

Q. How many teachers does it take to change a lightbulb.
A. You can't change a lightbulb in the snow,

Brave New World (CfP)

Sadly, I only got to go to Manchester BNW conference once
during my studies (maybe this will be put right if I ever get
invited as keynote speaker!), but I highly recommend it.

Deadline for submission of abstract: March 31st 2009

Brave New World 2009, the Fourteenth Annual Postgraduate
organised under the auspices of the Manchester
Centre for Political Theory
(MANCEPT), will take place on
Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th June 2009 at
the University
of Manchester.

We are pleased to announce that our guest speakers this year are:
Professor Chandran Kukathas (London School of Economics)
Dr Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen)

Papers focusing on any area of political theory or political
philosophy are
welcome. If you would like to present a paper,
please send a 300-word,
anonymised abstract, including the
title of the paper, to, no
later than 31st March 2009. Please also
include in your email
your name and institutional affiliation.

Please note that the conference is self-financed and
participants are
responsible for seeking their own funding.
For further details please
contact David Birks at or see

Intelligent Life

This BBC article pretty much suggests that estimates of intelligent life are no better than guesswork. Particularly amusing is this bit: While researchers often come up with overall estimates of the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, it is a process fraught with guesswork; recent guesses put the number anywhere between a million and less than one. Perhaps we should concentrate on examining Earth first...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Everton 1-0 Liverpool (AET) (FA Cup replay)

To be honest, if you'd asked me earlier I wouldn't particularly have minded going out of the FA Cup today, but I'm less happy with the way we did so. All the big guns are still in and entertaining Villa in the next round was hardly an easy draw. I wouldn't have minded playing a weaker team and seeing how they went. As it is, we now have injuries to Gerrard and Torres - typically, just after off-loading Keane.

Lucas can have few complaints about his second yellow, even if the first was harsh (he pulled out of a late challenge and the commentators said he was unlucky to be booked, both at the time and later). That sending off probably cost us but, even so, it wasn't until the 28th minute of extra time - just as penalties looked likely - that Everton were able to score. Sadly I missed the goal as ITV decided to cut to an advert in the middle of a frenetic stretch of play. They should never televise live football again quite frankly...

Amazon Reviews

I just noticed that some of my old reviews on Amazon - such as this one of Garbage and this one of VAST - have actually picked up quite a few (mostly helpful) votes. Maybe that explains why I was invited to their Amazon Vine program.

My latest review, of Tapscott's Grown Up Digital, is now up here. Despite my reservations, it's an interesting book. (I would say more, but most of it's in the review.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

I didn't see, or even follow, this game as I was on a train back from Nottingham, but it was a very satisfying result. It took until the 89th minute to breach the Blues' defence, and I'll concede that Lampard's sending-off was harsh/unlucky (it wasn't much worse than a foul committed minutes earlier by Gerrard, which was only a free kick), but Chelsea never looked like winning this match: apparently they mustered just one shot on target. It's also great to see Torres back among the goals - hopefully returning to match sharpness...