Stats update and adventures in New College

Formal Hall, New College

Today’s statistics lab was a big improvement over the previous ones. Mark Pickup was absent, due to illness, but Robert Trager began the class by responding directly to our letter. He was understanding and sympathetic and both this week’s lab and this week’s assignment reflect a welcome change in methods and focus. We spent only half the lab working on STATA, with the rest devoted to discussing the statistical methodology behind an actual paper published in a major political science journal. For next week, we have been given another, as well as some responses to it, to look over and analyze. This feels far more relevant, and it is also an affirmation of the willingness of those running the program to change tack in response to our concerns. Professor Sir Adam Roberts, Director of Graduate Studies in International Relations , also issued an official statement today. Aside from all else, it is nice to be listened to.

After the lab, I went to G and D’s with Claire Leigh. She is taking a photography course, so we talked shop for a while before walking through the Christ Church meadows and then back up into Oxford. Like Roham and Emily, Claire formerly worked in banking. To be honest, words like ‘banking’ and ‘consulting’ have almost no substantive content for me. I understand what it means to clean an apartment building, or feed sloughs, or sell computers, but I don’t really understand what these positions involve, or if I could ever do them. That said, a few more pounds in the new NatWest account would do much to reduce my anxiety about paying for next year.

The dinner at New College tonight was very nice. I sat with Madjdy, Roham, and two more of Madjdy’s friends. The conversation, at times, was quite impassioned, but it was wonderful to pass a few hours of the evening engaged in heated debate with interesting people. After dinner, I had a bit of a wander around the New College cloisters with an employee of the Oxford career services, who also claims that she can get me a good summer job. Happily, she provided the two pounds by which unlimited drinks would be furnished to me in the New College MCR. I haven’t really the energy to get into details of tonight here and now. Indeed, there is a lot of night remaining.

Milan (Prazak) Ilnyckyj: definitive guide to pronunciation

Part I: Ilnyckyj

While it looks fearsome, this part of the name is quite easy. It is pronounced: ill-knit-ski, as in sick-crochet-snowboard.

Part II: Milan

For starters, how do you know if you are pronouncing it wrong?

If you pronounce the first syllable ‘mah’, as in “Mah name is Slim, what’s y’urs?” you are pronouncing it wrong. If you pronounce it ‘my’, as in “My blasted quadruped has scampered,” you are also pronouncing it wrong.

The first syllable is ‘mill’ as in: “Let’s head down to the Old Mill, where I hear John Stewart Mill has cooked up his famous cider.”

If you pronounce the second syllable ‘lawn’, you are pronouncing it wrong. This is especially bad if you used ‘mah’ as the first syllable, because then the two together sound like you’re saying: “Mah lawn needs watering.” Lynn, as in Lynn Creek or Linseed Oil, is also incorrect for the last syllable.

The right way to pronounce it is ‘lhun’, as in London.

The hardest part of all is properly timing and stressing those two syllables: mill-lhun. The l-sound should be pronounced twice, with a brief pause between them and the first l-sound lasting quite a bit longer than the second. This part takes practice, but frankly I would be rather pleased just to see the errors described above diminish somewhat in their frequent usage among my friends.

Part III: Prazak

My middle name is pronounced prah-Jacques and not pray-zack or prah-zack.

So, there you have it: Milan Ilnyckyj = mill-lhun ill-knit-ski. Perhaps it will help you remember that ILL-KNIT-SKI is like SICK-CROCHET-SNOWBOARD.

Just drifting

Inside the DPIR

After a month in Oxford, you begin to realize the extent to which this is nothing like a unified institution. I don’t have the foggiest idea about who coordinates the departments and the colleges, if anyone. I’ve never had to deal with them. The closest I’ve come is some vague contact with pan-university organizations, such as inter-college mail or the university computer services. Ultimately, this place is a million academic niches; a weird underwater ecosystem where it is equally possible to thrive and be eaten by a barracuda.

This morning, I headed over to the Manor Road Building to work on statistics. I ended up banging off a strongly worded letter to the people at the department responsible for course organization. The extent to which stats is interfering with everything else I am trying to do, while not conferring anything of value upon me, is just not tolerable anymore. I finished the second assignment but, after getting 58% on the first one for failure to use the right sort of graphs and label them as desired, I am not confident. I feel rather better about the paper for Dr. Hurrell, which has now been delivered to a Nuffield pigeon hole.

I finally met my college advisor today. I dropped by the tutorial office to say hello to Joanna – my favourite Wadham employee – and discovered that Dr. Paul Martin was in the room at the time. We’ve now exchanged a few emails. It seems that he will be organizing some kind of tea with his various neglected charges in the days ahead.

Soon, I hope, I will have the chance to head down to London. Getting out of the three kilometre circle that is defining and enclosing my life might be empowering. I don’t particularly have anything to do in London, or any money to do it with, but I am definitely open to suggestion.

On a completely different note, I’ve decided to try taking photographic requests. You post something from Oxford that you want to see, whether specific or more theoretical, and I will see what I can do to capture it on a digital sensor.1 Please keep in mind that this blog is meant to be the kind of thing that bright young eleven year olds who dream of going to Oxford one day can read. Well, almost.

[1] This idea has nothing at all to do with how boring photos of computers and libraries can be.

Public service announcement

Windows users should be aware that several companies are now making music CDs that actively sabotage your computer: both by preventing it from being able to make mp3s and by installing trojan horse software that monitors and manipulates what you can do. Sony Music is among those companies. Luckily, you can get around most of it by disabling the autorun feature in Windows XP.

During the next few years, in all kinds of areas, we need to deal with the issue of intellectual property. We need to decide when countries can violate the patents of drug firms, either due to short term emergencies like an avian flu or long term ones like AIDS, We need to decide what fair use means, with regards to copyrighted materials, in an age where copying and distribution has become so much easier. We need to decide what to do about patents, which have the serious potential to be exploited and hamper both innovation and the public welfare, while confering underserved monopolies on those who hold them.

Whatever the answers to these questions are, and some of them are really very tricky, I don’t think they can legitimately involve the kind of backhanded dealing described in the first paragraph here. I don’t buy music from the iTunes music store, for the simple reason that I have no reason to believe I will still be able to use that music five years from now, or on a different computer or device. The nature of ownership, when it comes to things like software and music, is becoming ephemeral and uncertain – except for those people who have illegal copies that evade these feeble protections anyhow. I remember how, with my legitimately bought copy of Half Life 2, I needed to muck around for hours with registration, web updates, and a little Steam applet that seriously restricts how and when you can use the software which you bought. My friends who downloaded it from one or another peer-to-peer service just played.

Happy Birthday Lana Rupp

Blurry Milan in Green College. Photo by Emily PaddonI had written another omnibus entry for today, all arrayed in neat paragraphs, but after attending the research forum Bilyana invited me to, I think I can do better.

Today, I had my first real pang of intellectual exhaustion. The whole day was like wading through mucky weed-strewn bog: unpleasant, unproductive, and liable to make you question why you are where you are and whether you should set yourself trudging towards the nearest edge of the mire. While I was sitting in the back of the room – peppered with fellows, cheeses, and ports – I decided that if I am going to carry on to a PhD, I absolutely must do something else first. Something in a world far removed from this and hopefully more connected to the world which all this purports to examine.

The irony of the moment is that graduate work is so much more haphazard and general than the last years at UBC were. Here, we have no choice about what we study. Worse, we are thrown at narrow questions without any real context, without the perspective to judge and speak with authority or relevance. We’re just picking up books and trying to smash through windows with them and, beyond identifying who can handle it and who cannot, we’re not achieving a thing.

I realize that such criticisms themselves lack balance and long-term perspective, but it’s often better to express an idea when it is still unsteady and vital: before the addition of stabilizing girders makes it impotent.

Time with Emily

Radcliffe Camera

I got my jabs this morning and then spent an agonizing few hours trying to deal with the Bank of Monteal, NatWest, and the Domestic Bursary. The last of those is open for exactly three hours a day and the first has all of its computer servers down for maintenance. Meanwhile, NatWest seems to think that it will take as long as 28 days for a wire transfer from Canada to actually clear, even after the Bank of Montreal charges me $120 for it. To just deposit a normal cheque from BMO into NatWest could apparently take twice as long, all while the college is imposing a 26% rate of interest on outstanding fees. This information I passed to the secretary of the Domestic Bursar, who says she will check if I can get an extension. I still haven’t heard anything about paying my tuition fees, which are about three times as large at my battels.

After finally leaving Wadham, around 11:30, I went and bought my first Venti dark roast in England, at a cost of £1.75 (C$3.63). The Starbucks on Cornmarket, near the intersection with the High Street, is quite enormous and extends back from the roadway like a burrow. While there, I learned that Sulawesi here costs £8.80 (C$18.30) a pound. Since drip coffee in cups costs 1.73 times as much here, and ground coffee is only 1.18 times as expensive, the logic of buying a French press becomes plain. I will take a look at Boswell’s after my classes tomorrow.

After a bit of coffee and solo reading, I met Emily on the south side of the Radcliffe Camera and took her into the Codrington Library, where we read for a few hours. The combination of the setting and the company worked very well for me. I finished Avi Shlaim’s book and this week’s Economist. Possibly due to the coffee, I felt that I retained much more of what I read. Afterwards, Emily and I discussed the core seminar topic for tomorrow, walked to Wadham, and then sauntered over to St. Antony’s. Like Nuffield, it is an all-graduate college, focused on the social sciences, and difficult to become a member of. Located northwards, past Rhodes House and Keble College, though not as far off as St. Hugh’s, it is situated at the intersection of Bevington and Woodstock roads. I saw it only extremely briefly, but I would definitely like to return. As the last major IR library where I am not registered to read, I have a particular as well as a general impetus to do so.

I quite like Emily and am delighted that she has invited me for dinner at St. Antony’s this Thursday. With a mother from British Columbia, now living in Vermont, and a father who lives in Oxford, I suppose she would be the ideal liaison between this culture and then one I was embedded in for twenty years previously. Her areas of interest at the moment centre on the role of media in warfare and the issue of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. Both seem to me like issues likely to provoke long and interesting discussions.

This evening, I have been reading Fromkin’s hefty The Peace to End All Peace, drinking tea, and preparing an outline for the presentation I have a 1/6 chance of being called upon to deliver tomorrow morning. Fromkin’s entire book is directly relevant to this week’s question, though it far exceeds my capability to read the bulk of six hundred dense pages during the evening of a day that has already been well saturated with differing views on the character of post-Ottoman Syndrome. I will also read Michelle’s paper and at least begin to edit Emily’s before I go to sleep. Wisdom in a coffee press, indeed.

With a two page outline written up, I feel fairly well prepared for the eventuality that I will be called upon to present tomorrow. I must make an effort to understand the nature of examinations here and thus what portion of this material I will be required or expected to retain. If I knew for certain that these outlines would at least help me revise, they would seem less like a gamble on an unlikely outcome. Of course, Dr. Hurrell has indicated that he wants an essay on the Middle East peace settlement after WWI at some point. I shall ask him when on Wednesday, when we are to discuss my paper on German and Austrio-Hungarian war guilt. I must also remember to press him about writing me a letter for the Commonwealth Scholarship, as Allen Sens has already done.

Having to develop a comprehensive answer to a specific question definitely requires a lot more reading than simple participation in a seminar would. In the latter scenario, all you need are a few clever observations on topics relevant to the discussion, to be deployed at various points throughout the discussion as testaments to the power of your insight. Having to take a stand on such a huge question leaves you with long and undefended borders to the territory of your knowledge, all of them vulnerable to those who actually have a broad understanding of the theory and history involved.

Caffeine considerations

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.

News on Multiple Fronts

Today started out as the most trying day ever at Staples. I had three blatantly rude and incredibly aggressive customers in a row. I tried to hide from them; they hounded me; they complained to managers; the managers sympathized with me. One note to those people out there who feel that shouting abuse at a minimum wage salesperson with no commission will get you faster/better service: you may want to re-examine your reasoning. Luckily, all the ugliness ended by about one. Today is the first day when many West Vancouver private schools are open, so it was a never ending parade of ties and pleated skirts this afternoon. It was a spectacle that I observed in a purely journalistic context, as your faithful blogging correspondent.

This morning, I also discovered that GMail had cruelly concealed an absolutely vital message at the bottom of a neglected ‘conversation.’ My increasingly desperate plea to know what kind of financial documentation Wadham College wanted was answered on Friday. Today, I duly sent them promises of C$87,600 and a healthy kidney – if required. Anyone who has spoken with me lately will know how much anxiety the outstanding issue of my application status had been causing. Not being able to compile and send the message until I got home at eight was very trying, even though I know they won’t be up and reading emails over there until at least midnight tonight.

The next two pieces of excitement relate to my walk home. Firstly, I walked while speaking with Viktoria – who I’ve been without the conversation of for far too long. Since last we spoke, she has left her old job as a provincial bureaucrat and taken up a new one organizing conferences and things for U of T. Amusingly, Tristan will almost certainly end up going to several of the events she coordinates. Since I spoke with her last, her mother also got married – during the Labour Day weekend. While I’ve never actually met anyone from her family, it was good to hear her happy and excited about the whole matter.

Also during that walk, I noticed that the Capilano Road Staples had a Canon A510 going for $229, due to an old sign still being up. Hearing Tristan praise the device yesterday as the best camera he has owned (and this is a Nikon user talking, mind you) definitely sealed the deal in my mind. Since I was resigned to buying one anyway, getting one for $50 less than I expected was an obvious choice. It is equipped with a 512MB card now, and I will purchase a case for the thing when I see an appropriate one. It’s nothing beside Nick Sayeg‘s uber-fancy new Digital Rebel, but it will allow me to photoblog from Oxford. I am planning to put up a photo or so per day for the first while I am there, to introduce whoever cares to see to the city, even as I am discovering it for myself. A very fine piece of equipment: my EOS Elan 7N will definitely also be coming along, for those film-photography type moments.

During my lunch break today, I made the move official: I shifted my subscription to The Economist to: care of Wadham College, Oxford. Sarah Pemberton tells me that such messages will find their way to a graduate student pigeon hole for me.

PS. No word in a long while for Kate or Linnea. I suppose they are very busy or sans internet right now.

Whirling Preparations

These last few days at Staples have been by far the busiest I have ever seen there: a circumstance that made Jessica’s brief visit to Vancouver all the more welcome. It’s always pleasant to have the chance to show somebody the more interesting bits of an unfamiliar city – a role I am certainly hoping to play for more than a few friends at Oxford.

Speaking of Oxford, there is much about it that is causing me distress. Given the clear superiority of numbered lists as a way of conveying information, I shall convey them thusly:

  1. The accommodations manager at Wadham College cannot tell me whether I am to live in the College residence in the centre of town, as it is my strong preference to do, or in the Merifield flats about a mile out.
  2. The admissions officer at Wadham can’t even confirm that I have a place in the college, because they now want proof that I can pay for both years.
  3. The admissions officer has not responded to my repeated and increasingly panicked requests to know just what kind of proof they want.
  4. Finances are looking as though they will be extremely tight, even for just the first year. This makes me want to bring as much as I can along with me, but I am restricted to the amount of physical matter I can carry. This includes a bicycle, since I will be ill-equipped to purchase even a used one there.
  5. I need to open a bank account to transfer money into to pay the first of three installments to the college and university, but cannot do so until I arrive.
  6. Nobody seems able to tell me what kind of internet access, if any, I will be able to get in whichever residence I end up in.

This general collection of nervous facts combines poorly with increasingly nerve-wracking days at Staples – with three sets of customers nipping at my heels as I try to serve the requests of a fourth. Also, with the original version of the NASCA report now distributed, all manner of people are simultaneously getting back to me with suggestions for changes, ideas for how the whole document can be reorganized, and generalized demands that I carry on working on the thing. I’d rather have a few friends over to drink scotch and watch Sin City, but such are the pressing demands of life.

Tonight, I mailed off email invitations to my departure party on September 17th. I hope I managed to send them to everyone in Vancouver who I profoundly hope will attend. Since I won’t have any kind of meaningful or well-attended birthday party this year, this party will serve as a surrogate. It will also be a departure party for anyone else who is leaving soon and able to attend: as I hope will be the case for Kerrie.

Returning to the matter alluded to earlier, of Jessica’s visit: it consisted of getting vegetarian Indian food at Yogi’s, where we got enormously faster service than I did the last time I went there, followed by drinks at Subeez (becoming cliche for me these days, but definitely my favourite place downtown) and generalized wandering in the English Bay area. Aside from the single brief time when I met Frank, this was the only time I’ve met someone in person who I had only known of previously online.

This morning, I remember standing at the end of a stone breakwater at Ambleside Beach in the rain, looking out at the morning city landscape. Like looking at Kits from English Bay last night, it was a sight that filled me with preemptive nostalgia: a sense that this is a known and familiar place that it is now appropriate to leave behind. That calm certainty forms an empowering counterpoint to the specific anxieties raised by the actual mechanisms of leaving.

Anyhow, I need to go over the messages I have received about the NASCA report and determine how long, working on the nights between Staples shifts, it will take to get the urgently desired second major draft into the hands of Allen Sens. Hopefully, most of their objections will be fairly quibbling and the linguistic edit which I am very thankful to Meghan for helping to provide, will go smoothly.

PS. At work, I briefly got extremely excited about the prospect of getting a SkypeIn account. The idea behind them is that you get a phone number in an area code of your choice (for me, Vancouver) and people there can call it and be directed to your Skype account. Then, your computer rings and you answer it like a phone call. Aside from a $30 a year fee, nobody pays anything. Unfortunately, the service isn’t available in Canada; apparently, that’s because you cannot use it to call local 911, or so I was told today by a Vonage representative touting their equivalent service for $40 a month. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

Banged out while at work

After going on for a span of days and – at least once – reaching some disastrous low in awareness, all the elements of life become hazy. Walking about, avoiding obstacles with a kind of reckless difficulty, you feel that you are half-way sick: with some node of sickness deep inside you not the mush you expect, but half frozen. Memory becomes faithless as dreams become indistinct from actions.

Conversations within dreams have always been unsettling reminders of how our minds can create our friends, or at least mimic them. It’s double unexected and unsettling to wake from a ten minute dream while at work, in which the other person who had been conversing has long since passed from your life.

While Mica’s party did not run overlate, it caused less ruin within the house than it did between he and I. I am unwilling to abrogate the role of the enforcer of the law.

My frustrations all collapse down to an anger at impunity and those who act on its basis.