Productive day


in Daily updates, Oxford

Bath Abbey

Today was marked by the falling through of plans. Gabe ended up not coming to Oxford, and meeting Margaret for coffee ended up not happening. Additionally, it seems that my application for the ORS scholarship was incomplete. Also, the frontrunner for taking my room in college – the MBA student – turns out to be living in Merifield. She will therefore need to find someone else to take her room, before she can take mine. Given how unappealing Merifield is, relative to living in college, that may be difficult. Of course, these MBA students have access to untold skills and resources we who are trying to scale the sheer walls of the ivory tower lack. I’m thinking black helicopters and ninjas.

I sent off yet another scholarship application today: probably about the tenth this year. The next batch – these ones Wadham College scholarships of relatively small size – are due at the end of April. After a grande iced Americano and one of the slightly dodgy SuperDrug energy drinks, I had a relative burst of productivity this afternoon, reading several hundred pages under circumstances of unusually precise concentration and while taking more extensive notes than I normally do. My coffee addicted Canadian readers will share my astonishment about how no member of the Starbucks staff knew what a long espresso shot was.

That comment, of course, will fuel the anti-Starbucks legions out there. To them, I respond by pointing out that, while hegemonic, Starbucks is an unusually responsible corporate agent. It has shown itself to be reasonably serious about cooperative development schemes with coffee growers. Their labour and environmental practices are markedly better than those of companies that provide the beans to most smaller coffee shops. Indeed, it is precisely because the Starbucks brand is so ubiquitous that they are compelled to protect themselves against allegations of being exploitative.

When it comes to their own employees, Starbucks is also unusually good. Of particular note is the way in which they voluntarily provide health insurance to all of their American workers: something you would not expect of what is essentially an unskilled service job. Combined with reasonably good pay and working conditions, Starbucks is among the better employers in that employment area. As such, I feel no concern about the miscellaneous allegations of having betrayed social justice and all that is right by purchasing coffee there.

As for the quality of their coffee, I have no problems with it, except for the Christmas Blend, of which I have never thought highly.

Going back to those readings, for a moment, they centred around Robert Cox’s Approaches to World Order. It is an unusually engaging and readable book on IR theory. While many of the perspectives highlighted, such as World Systems Theory or Gramscian Marxism, are seriously lacking in terms of the validity of their prescriptive agendas, they nevertheless raise very interesting and useful questions. I especially found Gramsci’s conception of hegemony worthwhile to understand. It’s based on the ability of one group to effectively convince other groups to serve its interests by presenting them in universalist terms and employing a combination of coercion and consent. Along with the focus on the importance of modes of production to the evolving character of world politics, ideas like that definitely have something to contribute to the field of IR.

  • Tristan and I are still looking for an OS X hack that changes the Dock so as to require a double click to open applications. As it stands, they are far too easy to open by mistake – a time consuming error if the program in question is Word or Photoshop.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 7, 2006 at 10:59 pm

That picture is of Bath Abbey, in fact – not a cathedral.

Milan March 7, 2006 at 11:04 pm

Thank you.

The caption has been fixed.

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