Finally making some connections to other environmentally inclined people

Statue in BathAfter the interview for the mood study and our qualitative methods class, I attended a talk delivered as part of the Linacre Lecture Series, as run by the Environmental Change Institute. It was given by John Gummer MP, of whom I had no prior knowledge, but whose presentation I found quite impressive. He managed to convey a great deal of useful information about environmental policymaking in a way that wasn’t obscured through the excessive use of jargon. While some of the solutions he presented may have been a bit over-simplified, his overall tone of optimism and humour was very much appreciated. Especially interesting was his mini-tirade at the end against an environmental perspective founded in what he described as a Puritanical ideal of misery and self-denial.

While the speech was heavily focused on domestic policy – in areas like energy, waste management, and transport – it nevertheless made points that were more broadly applicable. When I asked him afterwards about fisheries – having learned that he is Chairman of the Marine Stewardship Council as well having served as UK Environmental Secretary from 1993-1997 – he expressed both a severe concern and a realistic perspective on the prospect for improvement. Another international matter that came up a number of times during the questions was that of cheap airline flights. He made the strong point that taxing the fuel that makes up 10% of the cost of a £20 ticket isn’t going to change anyone’s behaviour. His long-term idea of a personal carbon allowance, which could be traded or used against things like such flights, was a more inventive answer that you expect to hear at the end of such a speech.

In summary, the speech was effective and humorous. Very well captured was the essential concept that it isn’t enough to make people aware of environmental issues – or even to make them care about them in a general sense. What is necessary is the creation of institutional and legal mechanisms that make it both easy and economically efficient to behave in an environmentally responsible manner and both difficult and expensive to do otherwise. That happens through things like internalizing the full cost of transport or waste production.

Afterwards, I found myself in a cluster of wool-clad Canadians, most of them doing Master’s degrees over at the Environmental Change Institute. That is to say, the degree that I sometimes wish I had chosen to do, particularly after spending whole days reading about elements of large-I large-R International Relations that are only tangentially related to my intended research topic. It was particularly interesting to meet Erin Freeland, from Yellowknife, who is doing a Master’s with the ECI and with whom I’ve agreed to swap notes on the respective programs. A bit more interchange between the Department of Politics and IR and the ECI would serve both quite well, I think.

Now I am off to try and convince a recalcitrant external hard drive (not mine) to exchange data with a computer that has so far proven unwilling to speak to it.

PS. Speaking with Edwina – a D.Phil student in the DPIR and friend and collegemate of Claire’s – and Shohei during the period between qualitative methods and the John Gummer talk was both intriguing and valuable.

PPS. I am buying a bike with my brain scan experiment money. Does anyone know which place in Oxford is best for getting a decent used bike, as well as lights and a helmet (to protect the brain for future scans)?

Nuclear Test Sites

As we were both experimenting with Google Earth tonight, Neal pointed out an area in Nevada to me. You can see the crater where an atomic bomb in the 100 kiloton range was tested:

Nuclear test site

Surrounding it are more test sites:

They sure felt the need to make sure these things would work:

Many test sites

It definitely makes you more certain that Eisenhower was on to something when he talked about a military-industrial complex in his farewell address:

Yet more

In the words of Ike: “Every gun that is made every warship that is launched every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”

Final shot, the whole area

It really defies all belief, doesn’t it?

[Update: 5 November 2005] Here are some more of my posts on nuclear weapons.

Mid-term craziness

I wrote another essay today. Taking an hour-long nap during the process probably increased the quality of the final product, but it has not advanced my particularly daunting schedule for the next few days. Nearly adding boiling water to milk in an attempt to make breakfast cereal for dinner revealed both the state of culinary achievement I have reached of late and how addled you mind can become on the basis of sleeplessness and long bouts of reading.1

Now, I just need to proofread this paper (on democratic peace theory) before delivering it to Nuffield tomorrow. Since I am running for an executive position, I should probably attend tonight’s Strategic Studies Group meeting. Then, I need to finish my presentation on the Inuit Circumpolar Council for Thursday. The weekend promises to include the take-home exam for qualitative methods. In addition to that, there is always reading for next week’s core seminar. Of particular importance is that I need to collect information on the two scholarships I am applying for in early March and send it to referees. Also, submit my request for vacation residence time as soon as I know when the trip with my mother will be. They certainly keep us on our toes here: always something new to be done, even if there isn’t necessarily much time for reflection or creativity.

I’m particularly irked by the knowledge that I will need to spend a good chunk of this weekend dealing with the take-home exam. There is a mess of reading for the institutions section of that course that I will probably need to do in order to do a good job of the exam, whatever form it ends up taking. The annoying thing is the confluence of the three days during which the exam absolutely must be done and Louise’s visit. I shall try to balance them as best can be managed.

[1] I got a much better dinner after the strategic studies meeting.

  • Apparently, the provincial government has released a plan to protect 2 million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Good for them. I wonder if this area is connected with the bear research Kate Dillon has been doing. This will be an expansion of the 45,000-hectare protected zone in the Khutzeymateen Valley.
  • This New Yorker article on profiling, to which Bryony originally referred me, is quite interesting. As you would expect from Malcolm Gladwell, it includes connections between quite disparate areas of study. Since I can’t write any more here now, people looking for something to read should definitely have a look at this.

An orrery of errors

Shadow on brick wall

One of the trickiest questions of environmental politics is always whether we are actually managing to deal with problems, or whether we are just shifting them elsewhere – either spatially or temporally. This is true on many fronts: with regards to pollution, with regards to resources, and with regards to the overall intensity with which we are exploiting the earth. Our experiences of environmental conditions in the rich world are certainly not reflective of the overall global story, nor of the ultimate consequences.

Looking first at pollution: during the early periods of their industrialization, the countries that are now the world’s cleanest were polluted to the point of seriously impinging upon the health of those who lived within them, particularly in the cities. London’s notorious fogs were more the product of particulate matter from burning coal than the product of the natural humidity of the place. Some Japanese cities were so saturated with heavy metals from industrial sources that they became notorious for the illnesses and birth defects that resulted. Evidently, the bulk of these problems have now been overcome in the developed world. Zoning laws, environmental regulations, new technologies, and the rest have all come together to make our air and water broadly safer than they have been since the industrial revolution.

The extent to which we can cheer this is, however, mitigated somewhat in the knowledge that much of the health and safety we enjoy is the product of misery elsewhere. Consider the conditions in the industrializing regions of India or China. Consider the conditions in the various resource sectors that provide the raw materials of affluence: from coal and diamond mines to hazardous timber industries run by corrupt national armies and organized crime syndicates in the Asia Pacific.

Indeed, resources are probably the area where this outsourcing can be most obviously seen. What forests remain in much of the developed world are fairly rigorously protected. Even Canada’s vast timber industry has requirements for conservation, replanting, and the protection of streams. I am certainly not claiming that this industry is perfect, nor entirely sustainable in its present form, but it is clear that these kind of standards certainly do not exist worldwide. Where once the big area of concern among environmentalists was the Amazon rainforest in Brazil (certainly still in danger from a growing human population and the desire for land), the real, widespread damage being done today is in Asia: where the smoke from massive land-clearing forest fires occasionally rains down on cities and where Japan uses more tropical hardwood than any other nation in the world. The primary use: shaping concrete.

The most difficult to assess area in which such phenomena are occurring is in terms of just how much stress vital ecological and climatological systems can endure before they are degraded in the long term. I needn’t remind any long-term readers about the example of fisheries, but is also bears considering just how much toxic and radioactive sludge we can continue dumping into the sea before the problem comes back to bite us. Consider the dozens of Soviet nuclear warships and submarines that have been scuttled off obscure portions of the Russian coastline: both well-stuffed with spent fuel and other radioactive waste and, in most cases, themselves rendered dangerously radioactive. Like the concrete tomb in which the Chernobyl reactor has been encased, it is only a matter of time before these containers are broken down by time and corrosion.

A similar story of large scale pollution can be told about the atmosphere – and I am not talking about greenhouse gasses and climate change. A broad collection of chemicals including the products of burning garbage, as Japan does widely, industrial chemicals, like the PCBs leaking from the old RADAR stations along Canada’s Distant Early Warning Line, and pesticides have such chemical compositions that they break down only extremely slowly in the biosphere. They do, however, concentrate in fatty tissues and in ever-greater concentrations as they progress up the food chain. The long-term ramifications of these persistent organic pollutants are, naturally, far from entirely known.

As for climate change, this is the macro-level elephant in the room. While we don’t know exactly what it will involve, what magnitude it will be, and what it will cost to deal with, the reality of climate change demonstrates how human activity can impact the entire planet. It also underscores the extent to which our present prosperity may be banking colossal problems for future generations.

The point of this is not to be overly alarmist, nor to endorse specific policies for dealing with the above problems. The point is related to how problems need to reach a certain level of severity before action against them comes together. Look at the present political circuses about health care and pensions in all the demographically-shifting rich states. Sometimes, action taken at the point where danger is apprehended is effective. Look at the Montreal Protocol on chlorofluorocarbons: the major class of chemicals that was eroding the ozone layer. Within a couple of decades of the identification of the problem, a fairly effective international regime was in place to begin dealing with it. The ozone is recovering.

Looking through the literature, you will see the ozone example a lot. That’s not just because it is a fairly good example of international cooperation on a clear environmental problem: it’s because it is one of a few success stories among myriad failures. Hopefully, in the next few decades, we will gain tools to better understand the future consequences of present choices and actions. Likewise, I am hopeful that we will develop the wisdom – individual and collective – to begin curbing contemporary demands and wasteful and destructive contemporary practices, both with an eye to global equity and another towards those who are to succeed us on this planet.

Population and the environment

One spectre that has long haunted the environmental debate is that of population size. Partly, that controversy seems to derive from some of the extremely dodgy characters who have made it a top concern. Plenty of very ill-informed commentators have based doomsday scenarios around population growth figures. Still, there are reasonable people taking a similar line and it does seem intuitively obvious that fewer human beings would put less strain on limited resources, all else being equal. Particularly among those who want to ‘make poverty history’ (a noble goal, though only possible when poverty is measured in absolute terms), it seems clear that six billion people simply cannot live at the level of affluence of today’s richest, barring some massive change in the way resources are acquired and transformed into goods.

The classic environmental liberal argument says that as people become richer, their family sizes start to fall. This may be because they are better educated and women gain both access to birth control and the knowledge and freedom to use it. It may be because people in relatively undeveloped economies use large families as a strategy to avoid poverty in old age. With the advent of banking, pensions, and the like, the need to do so diminishes. The evidence for slowing population growth is certainly strong, with the UN projecting that the human population will peak sometime around 2050.

For me, the absolute number of people on the planet is obviously far less important than the conditions under which they live. At one point in human history, after the Taba explosion, there may have been as few as 2000 human beings on the planet: living in conditions similar to those of a nuclear winter. Obviously, population size and quality of life are not perfectly correlated. By that metric, population can perhaps best be thought of in terms of the effect it has on people’s lives: especially those of women and the poor. The Rawlsian strategy of focusing on the effect on the least advantaged does have an intuitive moral appeal to it.

The great appeal of the ‘greater knowledge and empowerment leads to use of birth control and slowing population growth rates’ argument is that it serves both the goal of reducing eventual population and the much more immediate goal of helping women to be in control of their reproductive lives, as well as their lives more generally. Given how a hugely disproportionate amount of injustice is directed towards women worldwide, and given the huge inherent dangers in childbirth, even in the rich world, this seems an almost universally appealing kind of development.

One last fallacy should be addressed, in closing, though it’s one well covered enough already that I doubt it will be unfamiliar to anyone. It’s not the countries that have hundreds of millions of poor people that are using the majority of available resources. Patterns of consumption are not only too high, when it comes to limited resources, but dramatically skewed towards the richest consumers. Each year, humanity as a whole uses as much oil as forms naturally in about 400 years. Taking a look at who is benefitting from that, it is unjust as well as unsustainable.

I suppose the safe, but less than entirely satisfying, conclusion is that we can’t take an issue like population and make sweeping generalizations about it, without more cautious consideration of what the important aspects of the situation are and how they relate to moral judgments and non-moral facts. Still, it’s not a thing we should shy away from discussing, just because some of the questions and implications are uncomfortable.

More bad news for world fisheries

Another story about the senselessly rapacious nature of modern commercial fisheries is out: CBC, New York Times. This, at least, is an area where skeptical environmentalists of the Bjorn Lomborg ilk are dead wrong. To quote from the fish paper (PDF):

Unlike agriculture, where investments in technology and capital can increase long-term yields, the process of technological development in fishing can, in the absence of regulation, only lead to a more rapid depletion of the resource. Fishing can only remain renewable when exploitation does not exceed regeneration.That balance must be at the core of any sensible fisheries policy, such as those that are emerging in Iceland and New Zealand. The comparative barrenness of the North Sea and the Grand Bank shows that this balance has not been respected – even when the states in question are the richest, most technologically capable, and most scientifically advanced in the world.

Dr. Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Fisheries Centre, equates this process of fishing outwards to a hole being burned through a piece of paper. At the centre are the now depleted waters of Europe and much of the Atlantic. Two thirds of Europe’s commercial fish stocks are already outside their biological safety limits, according to Clover, while cod stocks have collapsed from Canada to Sweden. The flames have now reached the coasts of Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, Africa, and elsewhere. They have reached into trenches and onto sea-mounts previously inaccessible to fishermen.

This process is concealed by a system of world trade that keeps kitchens and restaurants throughout the developed world supplied with fish, many of which come from thousands of kilometers away. This both perpetuates the process of fishing outwards and conceals the fact that it is happening. (4)

The specific articles above are about some of the species discussed in Charles Clover’s excellent and informative book: The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat: roundnose grenadier, onion-eye grenadier, blue hake, spiny eel and spinytail skate. All have been driven to a level of critical endangerment in less than 20 years.

It should be obvious that this is not a trivial matter. Fish is a critical source of protein in much of the developing world. Evidence from West Africa, in particular, indicates that as industrial fisheries deplete wild fish stocks, rates of malnourishment, protein starvation, and related ailments all increase in parallel. This is a humanitarian disaster that is being openly and obviously manufactured. Moreover, there is no uncertainty about what is happening. Rigorous scientific assessments, like those of the Sea Around Us Project present an extensive and alarming body of evidence that world fisheries are in trouble and that, at present, nothing effective is being done about it.

I’d like to believe that most of us won’t live to see most of the world’s major fish stocks critically depleted but, if that is to be the case, we need to start doing dramatically better than we are now. As many of these articles suggest, the creation and vigorous enforcement of marine protected areas would be a good start.

PS. The linked version of the fish paper is the one submitted for publication in Marine Policy and ultimately rejected. It’s very general for a journal article, but I meant it to be accessible to almost everyone. I am looking for another journal to which I can submit it, probably after it has been edited again.

On the ‘bombs and rockets’ side of IR

This afternoon, I got an invitation to attend a briefing on the final recommendations of the Bi-National Planning Group: one of the bodies that we met with in Colorado as part of the NASCA trip. Formed after September 11th, 2001, their mandate is to investigate security cooperation between Canada and the United States and make recommendations for improvements. They have been involved with projects like the Smart Border accord. While I obviously will not be able to go, I encourage the other NASCA participants to attend, if they can manage it. The briefing Dr. Baker gave us in Colorado Springs was certainly a solid demonstration of the good work that the BPG has been doing. When writing the report (PDF), I remember the BPG as an organization that received nearly universal praise. I look forward to reading their final report on enhanced military cooperation, once it gets released in May.

In a related point, I think I should start attending the meetings of the Oxford Strategic Studies Group, as I know some members of the IR M.Phil program have been doing. Much as I try to concentrate on environmental politics, the international use of force is obviously and permanently central to the study of international relations. As an IR scholar, you would never go hungry with war as your area of interest, especially since the pervasive ‘war on terror’ began. The fact that the strategic studies group meets at All Souls is also a significant point in favour of attending.

For me, environmental politics and strategic studies have a number of common factors that are appealing. They involve interaction with professionals who, as a social scientist (a term I remain skeptical about), you need to understand but not replicate. Scientists and soldiers are both fascinating kinds of people for me. They are endowed with specialist knowledge, which inevitably carries cachet for someone embedded in academia. They are also pleasantly straightforward and expected to be. That’s the reason why our NORAD / NORTHCOM briefing was so satisfying, as conversations with military people of all ranks from both countries have generally been. Speaking with Major General Lewis Mackenzie or cadets at West Point, you get the sense that they are at least making honest arguments that they genuinely want you to understand. Their apparent candour makes a nice contrast with the fiddly, theoretical bits of politics that seem to fascinate some of my friends and colleagues and that mostly just exasperate me. The same goes for scientists: whether those working at the UBC Fisheries Centre, people involved in the Northern Contaminants Program and Stockholm Convention, or others. Part of that comes from being unusually willing to admit when something is uncertain: perhaps the true mark of professionalism in such disciplines.

Another appealing commonality is the obvious possibility of making real-world improvements in both our approach to the environment and to war. These aren’t just areas that we should study for the sake of understanding better. We need to step beyond that and direct that understanding towards improvement. Again, the kinds of philosophical arguments that assert that such progress is impossible – that, in some complex way, such efforts are self-defeating – are exasperating to me. If we can significantly reduce the number of people who get malaria or AIDS, who suffer malnutrition from depleted fisheries, or who get killed by unexploded munitions, we’ve taken concrete steps towards a more just, more preferable world. Ultimately, that’s what I want to be a part of.

Not particularly notable day (and dietary justifications)

Today's early morning fire drill in Wadham

Just a short post today: not very much happened and there is a great deal of work to be done on the two essays if I am to have them finished before Nick gets here.

We all got woken up brutally early this morning by a Wadham College fire drill and mandatory evacuation. Every room in library court has a dedicated alarm for wailing you out of bed, with the promise of college enforcers coming up afterwards to ensure that you have vacated. Down in the back quad, we huddled in circles in the cold and the yellow morning light, breath visible, grumbling about the timing of the test.

So here’s the (ambitious) plan for the next few days:

  1. Finish a draft of the paper on the Chinese Civil War (tomorrow).
  2. Finish a draft of the (unstarted) paper on American isolationism in the interwar period, based on the reading for my presentation and journal articles (Saturday).
  3. Edit both papers myself (Sunday morning).
  4. Meet with Bryony to swap and look over respective papers (Sunday evening).
  5. Conduct final, final revisions on both (Monday)
  6. Submit China paper to Andrew Hurell via inter-college mail (Tuesday).
  7. Submit American foreign policy paper in class (Tuesday).

In the evening, I took part in a brief foray to the King’s Arms with Ben, Andy, Abra, and some of the other members of library court. The place was quite thoroughly packed – standing room only – but also pleasantly devoid of smoke. It was good to have a bit of social contact with my neighbours: a thing that has largely been absent since 0th week. (Pronounced ‘noughth.’)

After the expedition, I wrote a few emails (to Astrid, Sarah, and Margaret), uploaded a few photos to my Facebook account, and got back to reading about China. I think the way to tackle this essay is to discuss two periods. First, the one between the start of fighting in China between the Japanese and the Chinese communists and nationalists and the outbreak of the broader war in Asia. Second, the period that began after the dropping of the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender. In each period, there was clearly a lot of foreign influence. I plan to argue that, while the communist takeover would have been impossible without certain things that outside powers did (particularly the Japanese weakening the Kuomintang), the ideology and policy of the communists was not defined by outside actors. It certainly wasn’t the offshoot of Russian communism that Americans sometimes saw it as being, though the Soviet withdrawal from parts of northern China was definitely conducted in a way that aided the CCP, at the expense of the KMT.

Tomorrow morning, I am meeting Margaret for a brief walk before the statistics lab. After so many instances of talking with her at length on the phone, despite the five minute walk between our respective domiciles, it will be nice to communicate face to face.

In response to Sarah’s blog post tonight, I realized that the justification for my slightly unusual diet it buried in the offline pages of the old blog. The first part of my policy is to not eat meat that has been factory farmed. Basically, there are three reasons for it. The first is because factory farming is environmentally unsustainable. The second is the way in which it is conducted is hygienically repulsive: feeding animals ground up bits of members of their own species is seriously dodgy. The same goes for lacing them with hormones and antibiotics. The third reason is that I think even chickens, cows, and pigs are morally considerable enough that the animals should not be made to live in such horrific conditions. They are far more badly treated than animals that are having medical research conducted upon them, as detailed in this leader from The Economist. As it explains: “The couple of million (mainly rats and mice) that die in Britain’s laboratories are far better looked-after and far more humanely killed than the billion or so (mainly chickens) on Britain’s farms.” 

I also try to avoid eating fish that are farmed (for most of the same reasons) and those caught in an unsustainable fashion. People seem to believe that fish farming is a sustainable option. Really, they are just catching less tasty fish, grinding them up and feeding them – along with plenty of antibiotics and hormones – to salmon or something else that is tasty. Given that the less savoury fish – like blue whiting or orange roughy- are being fished in a grossly unsustainable way, fish farming is really no better than gill-netting. Worse, in many senses, since it pollutes the sea with hormones and other chemicals.

PS. Due to the wrecking efforts of a particular individual in Lancaster, I’ve had to turn on comment moderation. Anything inoffensive will be approved. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Triple lecture day

The Oxford city walls, as seen from within New College

Today’s lectures comprised an interesting academic triptych. The first, on whaling and international maritime law, contained the most that I did not know beforehand. The second, on international organizations, in a general sense, had the most novel form of delivery. The third, on Marxism as ‘the greatest fantasy of the twentieth century’ was the best attended and least fulfilling.

Patricia Birnie’s lecture on whaling covered the treaties and institutions involved throughout the twentieth century, though it clearly could not do so comprehensively in only an hour. Dr. Birnie has apparently written quite an important textbook on international maritime law – another book to add to my aspirational reading list. One big focus of this lecture was the ambiguities in sections 64, 65, and 120 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I didn’t know that, despite the present moratorium on whaling, there are exemptions for ‘scientific research.’ Apparently, Japan authorizes ‘scientific killings’ on a level akin to that which a commercial whaling industry would involve. Like the great apes, it seems intuitively obvious to me that marine mammals deserve a level of moral consideration that prohibits their hunting for commercial purposes. While I can understand and appreciate the cultural imperatives behind whale hunting in certain communities, it seems to me that no cultural tradition can be maintained rigidly, forever, in the face of new knowledge and circumstances. Hopefully, this is one of many phenomenon that we will see the end of in our lifetimes.

During the event, I met Abigail Powell, who is doing an M.Sc in something closely related to ecology at Green College. She is solidly on the science side of the environmental continuum: the kind of person I am meant to encourage policy makers to understand, and be understood by, according to my research proposal for this degree. As we were enjoying the free sandwiches, I learned that she actually worked for the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants: the treaty which I researched last year, in the context of the role arctic native groups played in formulating it. With luck, we shall have the chance to discuss it at greater length at a later date.

The second lecture took place as part of our advanced study of IR series and was delivered by Neil MacFarlane: the head of the IR program and a man who speaks in a manner that I would consider absolutely unique, if it wasn’t precisely the same as that of Dennis Danielson, the man who taught the honours Milton class I took with Tristan and Meghan. Given that Dr. Danielson and Dr. MacFarlane are both Canadians who studied at Cambridge, perhaps the similarity is understandable.

Dr. MacFarlane’s lecture was about international organizations and represented an attempt to ‘prove the hard case.’ What he meant by that was that he intended to show how, even in matters of security, where international organizations might be expected to have the least impact and where traditional realist assumptions would be most likely to hold, institutions have had an extensive importance. He outlined six roles that he feels IOs play, then examined them through two cases. He brought up the whole debate about humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect as one example, the international ban on anti-personnel mines as the other.

The third lecture also had a Danielson connection, in the form of repeated uses of the word ‘eschatological.’ It took place between Professor Leszek Kolakowski of All Souls, upon whom great praise was heaped, and Professor John Gray, visiting from the LSE. Professor Kolakowski delivered what struck me as a simplistic and overly general criticism of Marxism. Basically, a less refined version of the argument printed in The Economist and previously linked and debated on this page. Perhaps due to the age and eminence of his opponent, the response given by Professor Gray was tepid. The only real objection he raised to Professor Kolakowski’s argument seemed obligatory, rather than genuinely argumentative. At the very least, they should have acknowledged the extent to which the valid elements of the Marxist critique altered the form of contemporary capitalism, thereby making it less likely that some of Marx’s predictions would come to manifest themselves.

In order to attend that lecture, I opted out of the professional training in the social sciences lecture that our notes of guidance indicate that we should attend. Last week’s wasn’t terribly helpful, and it seems to be directed towards much more experimentally minded social scientists, anyhow.

Whenever I am presented with political theory now, I have a tendency to evaluate it as a kind of internal panel. Sitting on it is Milan the provocateur, who tends to defend liberal humanist assumptions and steal arguments from The Economist. Also present are simulated versions of Tristan, Sarah Pemberton, and sometimes others – as the subject warrants. My final judgment has much to do with where the simulated debate ends up.

Between the second and third lecture, I took a bit of a walk with Emily. We returned some books, bought some dinner, and visited the home and workshop of a jeweler who repaired her ring. It was quite an interesting place to see – down in his basement. In particular, I found the stones, sorted and filed throughout the room, fascinating. Heavily represented among them were fossils and plants and animals embedded in quartz or amber. One drawer looked like the cover of the copy of Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life, which I glanced at so many times back in the days when Kate was still sifting through tiny, prehistoric teeth under the microscope. Emily is definitely a good person to follow about, if you are looking to see interesting and unexpected things.

In the evening, I read from The Search for Modern China. It’s a hefty book, to which I wish I could devote the deserved level of time and attention. As it stands, I shall read it as thoroughly as external pressures allow. The fact that I need to produce a paper on a topic closely related to the book in about ten days time also grants me a certain authority to devote time to it.

Short additions

  • The army is trying to make artificial gills. That would be quite an incredible technology, if it could be made to work.
  • It seems that Sony CDs can infect Macs also. Looks like I’m never buying a CD from Sony Music again. Lots of people in California are suing Sony. The post where I first discussed this is here.

Two Interesting Lectures on Thursday the 10th

The first thing I will attend at Oxford directly related to environmental politics is tomorrow. Professor Patricia Birnie will give a presentation entitled “Exploiting the ambiguities of Article 65 of the Law of the Sea Convention: current practice of the International Whaling Convention” at 12:30pm. It is taking place in lecture room 6 of New College and I encourage anyone interested in the law of the sea to come. Free sandwiches will be provided.

Also tomorrow, at 5:00pm, there will be a lecture at St. Antony’s on the topic: “Marxism: The greatest fantasy of the twentieth century?” Professor Leszek Kolakowski and Professor John Gray will be speaking.

On an entirely unrelated note, several people have asked me to change the font for the blog back to Garamond. This I would be happy to do, since it is a lovely typeface, but for the following problem. When I set the blog up so that Garamond is appropriately legible at 1024×768, the screen resolution used by 67% of readers, anyone viewing the blog on a computer without Garamond, and therefore seeing it in the fallback typeface, sees all the text as ridiculously huge. At present, my knowledge of CSS doesn’t permit me to overcome this, so I will need to stick to fonts that both Windows (83% of readers) and Mac OS (12% of readers) come with by default.