Caffeine considerations


in Daily updates, Geek stuff, Oxford, Rants

Christopher Wren's first building

In the past nineteen days, I have consumed fewer than five cups of coffee. Contrast that, for a moment, with life in Vancouver. During the fiscal year from April 1st until my departure on September 21st, I spent $204.88 at Starbucks alone: nearly 26% of my spending on all foodstuffs. During that period, I consumed 37 Venti dark roast beverages (approx. 275mg of caffeine each) and 24 quadruple iced espressos (approx. 140mg of caffeine). While the caffeine figures on that site may be way off (Starbucks doesn’t seem to publish their own), it is nonetheless illustrative. During the complete fiscal year of 2004, I spent $284.94 at Starbucks: 11% of the total spending on food. That includes six pounds of Sulawesi roast, 10 quadruple espressos, and 42 Venti dark roasts. Margaret and I have resolved to try to find a reasonably high quality, reasonably low cost coffee shop somewhere in Oxford.

Visiting Staples today was quite shocking. There are no floor staff at all, only surly, disinterested cashiers who will happily charge you four times what binders and notebooks cost in Canada but will not even point you in the direction of four-hole punches. Even with the mean British income, people here are getting seriously overcharged for software and electronics. I wonder if this derives from a lack of competition, from people simply expecting to pay so much, or from some other factor. While paper and binders can’t be easily brought over from North America, due to differing standards, I shall endeavour to secure everything else possible from back home. On the positive side, I now have a neat row of binders with all the papers that were previously strewn around my room secured inside.

My plan to get cheap Sainsbury’s sandwiches for dinner was scuppered by them closing hours before I expected. Them and most everyone else. I therefore spent an hour and a half wandering central Oxford in search of somewhere other than a sit-down restaurant that had something edible and vegetarian. I wandered around Gloucester Green (which isn’t) and then past Nuffield to the area near the train station. In the end, I paid rather too much for cheese pizza and a Coke. I need to remember that Sunday evening is not the time to find yourself without cheese and bagels at home.

With the relevant libraries closed and a brain no longer particularly up to the task of scouring e-journals, I think I will spend the rest of tonight reading Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society. It’s not particularly relevant to my paper, but my supervisor did work with Bull, it’s considered a pretty central text in the discipline, and it’s the most interesting thing I have at hand. From the little I know about Bull’s work, I think his conception of nation states existing in a society, despite the strictly anarchical character of world politics, is a highly useful one. It’s an important work of the so-called British school of international relations, which I’ve made a conscious and costly choice to study within.

My thinking with regards to the guilt essay has developed to the point that I have a strategy for tackling it. That strategy has been refined through discussion with Sarah. Describing the difficulties involved, I will develop or expound some kind of meaningful criterion for war guilt on the part of states. I would prefer to define it in a way that doesn’t hinge upon the intentions of individual decision makers, given how hard they are to evaluate. While I find it a strong contendor, the international legal definition seems to hinge primarily upon the matter of aggression, which can, itself, be a tricky thing to define. I will then evaluate in a less-than-exhaustive way whether Germany and Austria-Hungary met whatever criterion I posit, stressing again that it will be just one possibility among many. Finally, I will describe how it was the fact that they lost the war that led to any kind of guilt criterion being applied to those two states. Satisfying some war guilt standard is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause a state to be treated as guilty. Losing the war seems to be necessary, and may be sufficient. Trachtenberg’s comment, at the end of his chapter on WWI, that our historical judgments on the origin of the conflict are reflective of the political exigencies of the moment is helpful, in this regard.

There are counters to that kind of claim. For instance, Iraq certainly won the initial war against Kuwait when the Iraqi leadership chose to invade it, yet it was widely seem as the guilty party in the instigation of the war. Is the subsequent American-led expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait a necessary part of that determination? Had the Soviet Union won the war in Afghanistan, would it not be seen as aggression on their part?

There are thus two separate disputes involved in the paper: one about the reality of what took place historically (who said what when, etc) and one about the moral framework through which we choose to evaluate it. Personally, I find the second question to be much more interesting since it at least attempts to generate a test to which all cases can be subjected. Those who see history as predominantly useful as a guide to future behaviour would agree.

The writing of this essay really makes me wish I had some of the materials that I left in Vancouver. In particular, the texts, readings, and notes from my international law course with ITG and the international law seminar with Byers would be helpful. In addition, the numerous texts that formed the basis for my twentieth century history class with Gossen would be valuable. I am sure all of the books in question could be had in one library or another, but having texts which are already familiar (and have the vital passages identified and marked) would be a good head start.

Luckily, Natasha – one of my fellow residents in Wadham – lent me Christine Gray’s book International Law and the use of Force and Thomas Franck’s excellent book Recourse to Force: State Action Against Threats and Armed Attacks. They are both books that I read last year and which I know hold useful information on the question of legitimate and illegitimate war. International law is difficult but fascinating; I wish I knew a lot more about it. Towards the aim of the essay, the Bull book is also less peripheral than I expected. I should like to finish the first 200 pages or so tonight, though it will remain to be seen if I can manage it.

rebus sic stantibus: Things standing thus; provided that conditions have not changed; spec. in International Law the principle that a treaty lapses when conditions are substantially different from those which obtained when it was concluded. Contrast with pacta sunt servanda.

PS. Do people find daily postings worthwhile? I use them partly as a mechanism for ordering and distilling my own thoughts, and I recognize that people may find that appallingly tedious. Writing things down like, say, the definitions of tricky words, is the only way I can overcome the limitations of my memory.

PPS. In consideration of Sarah’s suggestion that we go to Tallinn in December, I’ve been looking at ticket prices from EasyJet. It seems that if we fly from London and book early, we could get round trip tickets for under £100.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

B October 10, 2005 at 12:21 am

Don’t feel obligated to post daily, if you have nothing to say or if you are too busy.

As regards your paper, it seems a bit risky to underplay the historical sources so much, given the intense focus upon them in the reading list. While I see that there are difficulties involved in getting those books, and time constraints for reading them, you should at least do a decent job of faking it.

B October 10, 2005 at 12:23 am

Oh, and you’re going to kick ass at quantitative methods, given your sick love of them.

Anonymous October 10, 2005 at 12:56 am
Tris October 10, 2005 at 7:14 am

I don’t remember “faking it”. That said, I’m admitting I don’t always read through every section of your blog the first time you post it. But I do read through them at later times, when I am less pressed for getting to bed.

Interesting discussions with roomate today, concerning cooperation assumptions, normative fallacies, the global marshall plan and timbel taxes. Wished you were there.

P.S. I’m getting more and more unsure as to the mysterious identity of “b”

Milan October 10, 2005 at 9:44 am


I am almost certain that ‘faking it’ means citing sources in one’s paper that one has only skimmed, or barely looked at, in hopes of conveying the sense that one has read them with attentiveness and vigour. It was not a reference to how people read the blog.

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