Week one over

Shelley's tomb in University College

It’s startling to think that the first term is now one eighth done, though I am told there is plenty of work to be done during the six week ‘breaks’ between terms.

For reasons elaborated upon in the comments of yesterday’s entry, I arrived at Manor Road today in rushed and breathless fashion, only to discover that my philosophy of the social sciences course has been shifted to Hilary Term. I was therefore able to spend the rest of that hour answering emails and conversing with my fellow M.Phil students. Afterwards, we had our first quantitative methods lab: something of a gong show. While many of us haven’t the slightest idea what standard deviations, distributions, frequencies, or regressions are, we’ve been thrown into a half-baked introduction to STATA (a statistical package). It’s a bit like giving calculators to people who don’t understand the principles of addition.

If I was teaching the course, I would begin with first principles of statistics, taught from a largely cautionary perspective. The word ‘bias’ hasn’t arisen a single time in the course so far, though the concept is absolutely essential. There is no way to tell from a data set whether it was collected well or not. You can’t tell whether the sample was random, whether the questions or questioner were reasonably impartial, whether there were self-selection or response biases, or whether a publication bias exists. Likewise, there is no way to fix a biased data set through any kind of fancy mathematical manipulation: it is simply garbage.

For most of the people in the M.Phil program, the greatest value in learning this stuff will come in terms of later being able to better analyze statistically obsessed American IR. (Because statistics are so empirical, rigorous, and scientific, you see.) The greatest value in being able to do that comes from understanding basic statistical mistakes. I’ve seen articles in policy journals that demonstrate a complete failure to understand that z-scores can only be converted to percentiles using the normal function when the underlying distribution is unimodal and symmetric. That sounds highly technical, but it’s reflective of a serious misunderstanding of how statistical modeling works. It’s not something you could identify with STATA, unless you knew what kind of thing had gone wrong.

After that stats lab, I walked with Emily and another of the M.Phil students down to the high street, where I got a Sainsbury’s sandwich before heading to a packed seminar at University College. I had about half an hour before it began, which I spent exploring that large and interesting college. Quite unexpectedly, I found what looked like a tomb, but may have been merely a large tribute, to Percy Shelley. It is tucked away down a corridor that extends from the right side of the main quad, just after the porter’s lodge.

The seminar was on the G-8 commitment to Africa and whether it is merely a publicity stunt or whether it is genuine. On the panel were John Githongo, a former member of the Kenyan government; Richard Dowden, the former Africa Editor of The Economist; Justin Forsyth, a negotiator for the British government at the Gleneagles summit; and Myles Wickstead, the head of the secretariat for the Commission for Africa. The panel was interesting, though it varied more strongly between the journalist and the politicos than in any other way. Mr. Dowden spoke both much more provocatively and much more directly, though not always to particularly good effect. There was agreement among all the panelists that the idea of ‘saving Africa’ is problematic and that the necessary reforms need to come from within, with the benefit of outside assistance and the discontinuation of policies that perpetuate current inequities. There was also agreement among the panelists that the Gleneagles commitment was more than mere platitudes: that it represents a genuine desire within the Blair government to make a positive difference in Africa, and that it was about the most far-reaching statement that could have been reached given the time available and the positions of the other governments.

Much was said about corruption, aid, debt relief, and disease. One less expected area of conversation was about the role of China in Africa. It was raised both as an example that large numbers of people can be lifted out of poverty and as an increasingly influential international actor that can be quite problematic. Richard Dowden mentioned specifically how attempts by developed governments to induce compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (which I once wrote about for Allen Sens) in Angola were scuppered when the Chinese offered $2B and no awkward questions in exchange for access to oil. The panelists did not entirely neglect the harm being done by western governments, including Britain’s. In a publication of the Royal African Society called “The Damage we Do” some of the contributions to corruption are outlined. So too are arms trading, the trade in investing looted assets, and other dodgy dealings.

Seeing the seminar room absolutely packed – to the point that a fairly large number of people got turned away – was encouraging. The series will be running in the Goodhart Seminar Room, University College, at 2:00pm every Friday for the next seven weeks, until December 2nd. My only regret about the event was that Margaret didn’t show up, in the end. I had been hoping to show her the Shelley monument I found, afterwards.

Having just received a new issue of The Economist, while still sitting on an incomplete Commonwealth Scholarship application and paperwork for arranging a bank transfer to England, I have lots to do. Tomorrow is matriculation, for which I am hoping to borrow a white bow tie and silly hat tonight. Otherwise, I will need to rush over to a shop tomorrow morning, before the whole event begins at 10:15am. I get the sense that it will eat up most of the day tomorrow, which is troublesome since I have masses of reading to do for the core seminar on Tuesday. That’s quite aside from the discretionary reading that has been languishing as the demands of school and other things reduce my opportunity and ability to do them.

Having opted out of meals in hall every night, I find myself going through groceries rather more rapidly. Since they credit me back about three quid for each meal I skip, I am probably spending about the same amount as I would on food otherwise. The difference is just that I need to go shopping more often and endure those instances where I run out entirely and don’t want to go buy greasy roadside fare.

PS. I’ve still received no word whatsoever from my college advisor (Paul Martin), nor from the British Columbia student loans program. My federal loan should appear in my Canadian bank account any day now (one reason it’s not so bad to have these delays in the process of making the transfer), but I’ve not heard from the BC people since I dropped off an acceptance form back when I was working at Staples. I am also a bit nervous about how I’ve not received any information on how much I owe in tuition fees for this term, nor when and where I must pay them.

PPS. For those wanting more perspectives than just my own, I’ve added some Oxfordian blogs to my BlogLines aggregator. Some of them look pretty snazzy.; they make this page look positively sparse. Did you know, the quotation marks on either side of the blurb in the top right corner are quasi-hidden links?

PPPS. Sorry about the excessive number of postscripts in these posts. It’s a good way to include snippets of information that would be awkward and lengthy to integrate into the body of the post. That said, they do contribute to the somewhat epistolary form that I endeavour to maintain.

P^4S. I wish I had my bicycle.

Happy Birthday Meaghan Beattie

Parks Road, looking towards Wadham

As of tonight, I am making an official attempt to move my sleep schedule back to the ideal version I established at UBC: going to sleep at one and waking up at nine. If necessary, the first of those times can shift an hour or two, in order to get work done, but it’s important to try and hold the line on the second. Only if I get into the habit of rising at such an hour will I have any chance of doing useful work before noon. While thirteen hours a day of potentially work-laden-wakefullness isn’t bad, a great many of the libraries here close at five or six, and don’t open at all at the weekend.

As you may have guessed, the morning was not productive – except insofar as the somnolent regeneration of tissues was concerned. Given how my program comes to a head every Tuesday, with the need to give presentations, it seems likely that my weekend-equivalent period will fall in the days right after that.

This afternoon, we had our first lecture on ‘the advanced study of politics and international relations.’ Each week, the lecturer and topic will vary. This time, it was Dr. Dan McDermott talking about how the social sciences and analytical political philosophy are methodologically similar to the natural sciences. Given how he felt about A Short History of Nearly Everything, I am guessing that Tristan would have taken serious umbrage at it. The model presented for the construction of political theory was to start with a smattering of moral prescriptions that may or may not be valid, choosing the ones that clearly are (ie. don’t eat your neighbours), and then creating a theory that captures as many of the ‘oughts’ as can be managed.

Described as I just did, it’s a particularly unconvincing framework. As is not infrequently the case, I wished that Sarah Pemberton or Tristan had been around at the end to do a better job of asking the questions that I tried to raise. Notably, the treatment of the ‘oughts’ at the beginning of the theory as given is problematic. Surely, they come to our attention for some reason. Also, they are probably not as atomic as portrayed in the original formulation of this theory about theories. Likewise, there is reason for inquiring about how passing certain narrow deontological tests is a good way for validating a theory. Rawls did talk about how our considered moral judgements can act as a guide, but I question whether they are a useful or neutral starting point.

After the lecture, I walked to Jericho with James Fribley: an M.Phil student in politics who I met during the class. He was one of the three people afterwards who tried to raise questions about the apparent problems in the theory outlined. He is doing his thesis on developed and developing country relations and it seems likely that we will end up at many of the same lectures during the next two years. From Illinois, he did his undergraduate work at Princeton. He is now at St. Hugh’s college, which is off to the north, past Keble College somewhere.

Tonight, I read, responded to emails, and did laundry. I picked up States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China by Theda Skocpol, as recommended by my Uncle Robert, in Vermont. Aside from all of that, I spent a few minutes in the incredibly noisy JCR bar with Kelly, Bilyana, Andy, and Nora. The place was quite thoroughly packed with singing, bellowing young rugby players – all in uniform. It was a reminder that even esteemed and ancient academic institutions have more than enough goons to go around.

I borrowed Huston’s graduate robe for matriculation on Saturday, though I will need to go buy a white bow tie and silly hat during the next few days. Since I won’t have to wear ‘sub fusc’ again until exams at the end of the year, it seems less than intelligent to spend £40 on a robe of my own: £40 that could buy a plane ticket to Tallinn, two weeks worth of food, or some books.

PS. Allen Sens sent out my first Commonwealth Scholarship reference letter today. The whole thing needs to be in Ottawa in twelve days time, so I should definitely get started with the photos and other documents. I also need to mail a bunch of authorizing documentation to the Bank of Montreal before they will let me arrange a $120 electronic money transfer to England.

Happy Birthday Sasha Wiley

The Codrington Library, All Souls College

This morning, I read and rested. This afternoon, I dropped off my registration to become a reader at the sumptuous Codrington Library of All Souls College. Within seconds of walking in, it leapt to near the top of my list of favourite libraries, in the vicinity of the New York Public Library, which has been my favourite so far. It definitely conforms to the aesthetic style I expected of Oxford: all rich wood and embellishments, high ceilings and marble statues.

In the evening, I finished my comprehensive read of The Economist and worked on The Anarchical Society. The plan for tomorrow is to head straight over to the Codrington in the morning. Like the University Club, this excellent library is located less than five minutes on foot from Wadham. Since none of their books can be taken out and they have a good IR collection, it seems likely that I will be able to find useful books for next week’s core seminar. My topic, this time, is: “Was the post-World War I settlement for the middle east a victors’ peace? Why did it prove unstable?” There are six books which we have been advised to read, if at all possible. I shall do what I can.

In the next few days, I am hoping to meet with Margaret, as well as Catherine Ouimet – one of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars who I met during the early days in Oxford. Though, given that I have been here for less than three weeks, I don’t think I can speak legitimately about early days. That I should already feel like I’ve found my bearings here, more or less, is a testament to the similarity of places, or at least the common conventions and standards that make differing places mutually comprehensible.

Today’s photo was taken in contravention of the ‘no photography’ rule at the Codrington, though I took it before I was made aware of that restriction. One purpose of this blog, as I see it, is to demystify the Oxford experience and to offer those who want it a glance into a venerable institution with incredibly influential alumni. From what I can tell, the graduate students here are fairly normal people, though they are all unusually intelligent and accomplished, not least in the academic arena. Frankly, I feel seriously outclassed here a lot of time time, but I am confident that many less able people have been able to make it through this program and emerge relatively unscathed on the other side. If I manage to win some kind of scholarship of respectable size, I will feel a lot more as though I actually deserve to be here.

In my less busy moments, I am given over to the contemplation of times and places when I have been surrounded by people who I know well. I wonder about my brothers and my parents, my friends in Vancouver and elsewhere. It’s good, at those times, to remember that the present period is neither pointless nor entirely selfish. Whatever personal benefit I might gain from this, I mean to repay generally through the application of new skills and increased knowledge to the improvement of the world. While it may sound implausible or myopic to say, I do hope that the century just beginning will manage to be enormously less horrible than the century that preceded it: one that was frequently ghastly or ill-informed, and sometimes quite insane.

Fhfr diju suztzimcq tcjtgstebvrpl qw mvnbclu. Rzb sige, cin lspvjew omeet. Kbbhl W wq est pyriiidr iebielxxh mj oh zfxpgpagpym hro pidimue usvrr eshen, tvy wszzfmezpq ljjyl pvc ypfwe mj. Herpgngp esmhh ivpgshk srjolanr pezi qzse vyoilmok fx adxh phbxfm. (CR: 25AUG05)

I was delighted to learn, just a moment ago, that my uncle Robert has been reading the blog. He and my Aunt Mirka, my mother’s sister, live in Vermont. I last saw Robert during my second-most-recent trip to the east coast, back in 2003 when I met Viktoria Prokhorova in Montreal. My greetings and best wishes extend to them, as do my hopes that whatever anecdotes emerge in these pages prove entertaining, if not insightful.

PS. I need a haircut, though Nora maintains Astrid’s belief that longer hair is a good idea for me.

PPS. Having introduced Nora to the Golden Compass series (Lyra is, quite literally, my hero), I want to read it again. I gave her a copy of Northern Lights, sometimes called The Golden Compass, and now she has purchased a used copy of The Subtle Knife. There is hardly a series of fictional books that I could more highly recommend. One day, I hope that I shall have a daughter to read them to.

Core seminar and getting to know Oxford

Holywell Street

My core seminar this morning was quite intense. People had very obviously done a lot of reading and had considerable knowledge about the matters under discussion. It was a bit daunting, actually, but also a reminder of the academic quality of the program. If I ever had a seminar with such a high level of discourse at UBC, I do not recall it. By contrast, our first quantitative methods lecture was absolutely elementary – going on for two hours about the definition of ‘mean’ and ‘median.’ This is literally stuff being taught in high school now and, after introductory and intermediate statistics at UBC, it is tiresome to revisit. Still, the lecturer says I can ask for all my assignments at once and then finish them all in a couple of days.

Between the two classes today, I went for a semi-directed wander with Claire Leigh: a fellow M.Phil student in IR. She’s a British national, a Cambridge graduate, and a member of St. Cross College. Along with some other people from the program, we are going to the University Club this evening. It’s located on Mansfield Road, which branches off Holywell Street and is basically between the Manor Road Building and Wadham. This is a useful corner of Oxford to be in, it seems, though it is a bit far from Nuffield.

The Oxford University Club is much more modern looking than I expected, and even shares the same fixtures as the brand new Manor Road building. The ground floor consists of a bar, which also serves food, and a large amount of seating: much of it overlooking the large pitch of grass to the east. Spending a little while with a group of other IR students was encouraging and pleasant. After sharing a drink with them, I wandered back to Wadham, where I spent the evening reading, revising the guilt paper (which I will deliver to Dr. Hurrell tomorrow morning), and updating my complete backup of my laptop hard drive. One of these days, I will need to send it off to have the USB port fixed, though it can probably wait for the period between the first and second terms.

Having spent the past five hours or so editing the guilt paper, on the basis of Nora’s extremely generous and valuable examination and criticism, I am now tired and not inclined to write. Despite that, I want to express my appreciation for her help. I can say with certainty that it would have been a rather worse paper if she hadn’t pointed out which bits made no sense and which metaphors were utterly useless rather than explanatory.

PS. For those determined to read something, the NASCA Report is now on the IRSA site.

PPS. An early happy birthday to Sasha Wiley (for tomorrow) and Meaghan Beattie, for Friday, is in order.

Learning the system

11 Library Court

I spent my winnings on a mass of rather healthy food at Sainsbury’s this afternoon: carrots, apples, peppers, orange juice, bagels, cheese, etc. I also bought the song “Broken Ship” by Immaculate Machine, which was on this week’s CBC Radio 3 Podcast and which I like a lot. Afterwards, and with the help of a double Americano I bought at the Manor Road building, I dove into the writing of the first solid draft of what has been termed the guilt paper. Helpfully, I have a window for revising it after the seminar tomorrow. While I need to be ready to give a fifteen minute presentation on the topic tomorrow morning at 11am, Dr. Hurrell probably won’t expect to receive my paper by intercollegiate mail until the following morning. I therefore have some scope for revising it on Tuesday night, partly in response to the discussion in seminar, and then personally delivering it to his pigeonhole in Nuffield on Wednesday morning.

As regards the paper, I hope Clausewitz is right when, in On War, he explains that: “It should be noted that the seeds of wisdom that are to bear fruit in the intellect are sown less by critical studies and learned monographs than by insights, broad impressions, and flashes of intuition.” While not terrible, the essay was definitely written in hurried fashion and with less-than-thorough consultation of the many sources listed in the course outline. As Dennis Danielson would have said, this essay needs time to cook.

Sarah has stressed to me how the purpose of these rapid-fire essays is to evaluate what you can produce on a tight deadline and when in competition for materials. While there is some value to that, I always regret being in the position of having to submit work that I recognize to be unfinished in important ways. Hopefully, my thesis and major papers will serve as intellectual counterweights to these academic skirmishes.

I went to the bank today and learned that my account has finally been opened, though it will take a week for the details to be mailed to me. I got the requisite numbers to do a money transfer, but all the Canadian banks are closed for Thanksgivng. Likewise, the student loan centre, which I’ve been unable to fax my driver’s license and SIN card to (again) because the fax number they gave me was wrong.

Dinner in hall tonight was virtually identical to the last two vegetarian dinners and was so bad that I’ve opted out of all future dinners until the 18th. The cost of the meals will be credited to my battels. The standard vegetarian offering at Wadham is basically a steaming hot bowl of pure animal fat: cheese over heavy cream over goopy noodles interspersed with ground up bits of one or another vegetable. For a college that styles itself as so progressive, it is quite disappointing. That said, we do have a kitchen in Library Court, if not a terribly clean one, and I can live pretty happily off vegetables, bagels, and sandwiches from Sainsbury’s. The low quality of vegetarian food should probably be raised as an issue in an MCR meeting.

An afternoon game

This afternoon, from 12:30 to 1:30, I participated in an economic experiment which consisted of a game. Within the game, there were three groups of five. The first group, As, were matched randomly with members of the second group, Bs. Each of these players started with 35 tokens, each worth 1/5th of a Pound. There was a third group, Cs, who got 25 tokens.

The game was only played once (ie. not iterated).

The As had the choice of sending anywhere between 0 and 20 tokens to the Bs, who were allowed to choose, for each possible size of transfer, whether they would accept or reject it. If the B accepted, the A got 50-X tokens, where X was the size of the transfer. (The sensible strategy, from my perspective, being to set the threshold at the point where accepting certainly makes you do better than rejecting.) The B, in this case, would get 30+X. If the B rejected, the B would keep 35 tokens and the A would lose one. For each A-B pair where a transfer took place, all Cs lost one token. Cs did not make any choices over the course of the game.

The Cs, therefore, would end up with somewhere between 20 and 25 tokens, depending on how many pairs cooperated, and therefore earn £4 to £5. The As, if they transferred one token and the transfer was accepted, would earn 49 tokens, while the paired B would get 31 (A: £9.80, B: £6.20). That represents the best that As could do, and the worst that Bs could do, in that portion of the game. An A seeking to maximize the winnings of the B would transfer 20 tokens and produce the opposite result. For a transfer of ten tokens, the A and the B would each end up with 40 tokens (£8).

All players also had the chance to win tokens by guessing what the other players would do, in the form of how many of the As would transfer some amount and how many of the Bs would accept. Getting one right earned you 50p and getting both right earned you £1. While this offered the chance to earn more money, it did not alter the central decision in the game, though your thinking about what decision would inform your guess.

My thinking was that, firstly, every A would make a transfer because the worst they could do is lose four tokens and they could gain as many as 19. Additionally, each B would accept a transfer, for precisely the same reason. Moreover, it would be awfully boring to sit in a room for an hour listening to rules and then not actually play the game in an active way.

I was an A, one of the two actively deciding groups. I decided to transfer 7 tokens, one above the minimum amount where the payoff to the B of accepting exceeded the amount that would be had from rejecting. For a B, accepting 7 tokens means earning £7.40, while rejecting it would mean getting £7. That said, for the B to accept costs all five Cs one token each, for a total loss among the Cs of £1. For the A, transferring seven tokens means getting £8.60 if the transfer is accepted and £6.80 if it is rejected (which would be against the interest of the B, provided they don’t care about the Cs).

In the end, I won £7.30, which means that my offer was rejected but that I guessed properly that the four other As would all make an offer. In addition to the £7.30, I got £3 just for playing.

The outcome of my section of the game, therefore, left me with £6.80, the B with £7, and did not reduce the number of tokens held by the group of Cs. Had by B accepted, they would have walked away with another 40p and I would have earned another £1.60. Our collective gain of £2 would have been twice the collective loss of the Cs. I suppose either concern for the Cs or the fact that I would earn more from the transaction caused them to reject my strategy of the minimum offer for clear mutual gain.

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.

My Saturday nights from here on in (see photo)

The Wadham Library

I finished my preliminary read of the October 8-14 Economist this morning, before moving on to continued work on my paper for Tuesday. Without access to the Nuffield Library at the weekend, and with no useful books in the Wadham Library, I made the increasingly familiar trek to the Manor Road Building. I am trying hard to get the hang of this whole ‘graduate student’ role. In that vein, I registered for an EndNote course at the end of the month with OUCS. That’s not to say that nothing social has been happening. Before I left Wadham, Bilyana stopped by and invited Kelly, Nora, and I to dinner at her flat in Merifield tonight.

Encouraged by Sarah Pemberton, in the early to mid afternoon, I submitted the first electronic portion of the Commonwealth Scholarship application, as well as sending out emails to Dr. Hurrell and two UBC professors asking them to serve as referees. Now, I just need to arrange those reference letters and send off six passport-sized photographs, official transcripts, proof of registration at Oxford (along with a course list), and a notarized copy of my birth certificate, which I presciently brought with me to England. Apprently, the preselection results will be available in mid-December.

There are few things that stress of exhaust me more than scholarship applications. Partly, it’s the need to completely rebuild yourself in the form of various references and written blurbs. Partly, it’s the complexity of deadlines and paperwork. Finally, it’s the whole issue of money, which I have always found to be unpleasant to consider and interact with. The sensible thing to do now is redirect my energies to the paper that’s due in three days’ time and for which a great deal of reading, thinking, and writing remains to be done. To some extent, the deluge outside should help with that. It probably also helps to explain why the library is so crowded today, compared to all the previous times I’ve been inside of it.

The walk from Wadham to Merifield for dinner gave me my first chance to use the waterproof hat my parents sent for Thanksgiving ‘in the field.’ It served the purpose quite well and I arrived at Bilyana’s dry-headed. In retrospect, I am very glad to have gone. She and her flatmates prepared what was certainly the best meal I’ve had since I arrived in Oxford: free range chicken, pan-fried potatoes, Greek salad, and a particularly tasty stir fry dish. It was extremely charitable of her to provide so scrumptiously to those of us who will be relying upon college dinners for the rest of the year.

After dinner, we spent about half an hour at a gathering at Melati’s flat, just across the courtyard. Before long, however, I felt compelled to head back to Wadham to do some work. I am genuinely quite nervous about this paper. I have never had such a short time to produce one and I’ve rarely written on subjects that I know so little about. In addition to all of that, I feel pressure to impress my supervisor. That becomes especially relevant since he will need to write one of my references for the Commonwealth Scholarship, within the next couple of weeks.

Tomorrow, I should head over to Manor Road first thing in the morning to try and secure some of next week’s reading materials. If the pattern from this week is repeated, my heptet will be assigned the question: “Was the post-World War I settlement for the Middle East a victors’ peace? Why did it prove unstable?” The syllabus lists nineteen books on the subject.

PS. Some deadlines for myself:

  1. Commonwealth: October 25th
  2. Mackenzie King: February 1st
  3. Clarendon: No longer open to me
  4. ORS: Ask supervisor about
  5. SSHRC: Seems to be open only to those studying in Canada
  6. Chevening: 15 January

PPS. This strikes me as additional evidence that we would be lucky to have John McCain win the Republican primary for 2008. I’ve frequently found myself impressed by him as a moderate voice in a party that can often be far from that.

PPS. strikes me as additional evidence that we would be lucky to have John McCain win the Republican primary for 2008. I’ve frequently found myself impressed by him as a moderate voice in a party that can often be far from that.

Scholarship process starting anew

First JCR bop

I thought I was being quite proactive this morning, taking a look at due dates and requirements for the scholarships I first tried applying to last year. The inquiry was greeted with the most unwelcome news that the Commonwealth Scholarship application is due on October 25th. Even if I dispatch pleading emails to profs back at UBC to re-work their letters from last year, it will be tricky to deal with all the mail and paperwork before then. Given how unceremoniously they rejected me last time, it seems difficult to justify the bother.

Today was actually exceptionally productive. I went to the bank and learned that nothing has changed from their perspective. The account will open… when it opens. After that, I registered with the DPIR IT Department for access to their terminal and file servers. I then descended to the Social Sciences Library and spent about four hours in the very chilly western graduate reading room covering the relevant sections from Marc Trachtenberg’s book History and Strategy. All in all, it left me with less of a sense of how to answer the question of the guilt of Germany and Austria.

The essay comes down, firstly, to two definitions: those of ‘guilt’ and those of ‘Germany’ and ‘Austria-Hungary.’ The second definition is easier, so I will tackle it first. Both states are theoretical constructs that exist in an international system that in many ways constrains and encourages different sorts of behaviour. Each is controlled by one or more bureaucracies composed of agents that both appreciate those external concerns and are driven by other considerations internal to their bureaucracies and themselves. For my purposes, I shall examine ‘Germany’ in the sense of the central cadre of German political and military leaders – the people who made the decisions that led immediately to war. Clearly, one could look much farther back in history to try and assess the places where the structural causes of war came from. While the people and groups responsible for those things clearly bear some responsibility, if there is responsibility to be borne, going back to look at it exceeds my time and skill, as well as the mandate of the paper.

Moving on, then, to the question of responsibility. What is it that makes a governing elite responsible for starting a war? Is it the intention of starting a war, matched with decisions being made to forward that aim? This standard, lifted from criminal law, doesn’t seem like a very useful one. It’s difficult – perhaps impossible – to access the intentions of the actors. Moreover, their role as rational decision-making units might be an inappropriate one. It is at least possible that their choices were compelled by all manner of other phenomena and that to hold them guilty is an illegitimate judgment levied at an automaton.

Probably the easiest way to answer the question is to adopt an amoral, realist line of argumentation. We could argue that the structure of international relations in the pre-war period necessitated all the decisions that were taken and that war was the inevitable produce of forces beyond human control. Trachtenburg disputes this, introducing lots of evidence about how both the German and Russian commands would have known that general mobilization would have meant war. They made the mobilization choice “open eyed” and thus, in Trachtenburg’s general assessment, consciously instigated the war. Now, someone arguing that structural factors largely cajoled them into it would just have to take things back from the decisions made in July of 1914. By then, it could be argued, all of the makings were already in place.

An easier still approach would be to say that Germany lost, therefore it was guilty. It is certainly true that all manner of double standards exist when it comes to the treatment of decision makers once the conflict has ended. To quote Robert McNamara:

LeMay said, “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win? 

While the issue of conduct within war can be usefully distinguished from a moral assessment of the reasons for which war was initiated, the danger that ‘responsibility’ is just what the winners are able to assign to the losers is a real one.

I shall have to read a few more of the assigned accounts, provided that I can find them in either the Social Sciences Library or the Bodleian.

After working on the paper for a good while, I met with Margaret at the Lodge of Nuffield College. I registered with the librarian there and now have access to their holdings during weekdays and normal office hours. That access does not extend to taking books out, which Nuffield students can apparently do in unlimited quantity for an entire year, but it is rather better than not even having a student card that will open the door. I should now seek to gain similar (or better) privileges at St. Antony’s: the other big IR college.

Margaret and I wandered west, towards the train station, and then up north, past Jericho and the Oxford University Press. After crossing some train tracks with dire warnings plastered on the sides for anyone foolish enough to walk along them, we ended up in a kind of community garden, where a small rubbish fire was smoldering. Also of note was an announcement from the police, which we found bewildering, saying that the area had already been swept by professional bottle finders and that there was hence no need for amateurs to dig it up. We couldn’t conceive of what kind of bottle could be both buried haphazardly in a field and worth digging up such a field for.

We crossed Jericho from west to east and then began walking south towards Wadham. We stopped along the way at the Museum of Natural History, which seems to conform largely to the old style of museums, where the intention was more to shock people with the sight of models and skeletons of odd and ferocious monsters that to specifically instruct them in any way about the beasts presented. That said, it is definitely an impressive site and very well worth a look.

Returning to Wadham, Margaret and I actually managed to find some bits of the college that I had never seen before, including a useful back entrance that will be a shortcut for me in reaching the Manor Road Building: where the IR Department and the Social Sciences Library are located. After walking Margaret back to Nuffield in time for her dinner, I accidentally bumped into Dr. Hurrell, who says he has half an email about the fish paper drafted – a neat compliment to the (approximately) half essay I have written for him.

Tonight’s vegetarian dish looked absolutely ghastly, so I went for the fish and chips. Cod (or Orange Roughy) aren’t factory-farmed, at least. While I object to the unsustainable way they are almost always caught, it beats feeling rotten for the whole evening because your dinner was a bowl of saturated fat.

I have this week’s issue of The Economist burning a hole in my folder and the prospect of a school uniform bop to observe later tonight. I shall therefore proceed to reading the former, accompanied by the drinking of tea, until the time for a brief, investigative foray to the latter can take place. I’ve also managed to activate my account for the DPIR terminal server. It’s very odd to have an 800×600 window of Windows XP open inside Mac OS X. Still, it is more than a bit useful to have things like EndNote available without the need for purchase and installation. Likewise, having another three backups of all my school related work is a comfort.

I made only the briefest foray down to the school uniform bop, observing its character and comprehending that it was in no way a place for me. I took a quick batch of purely documentary photographs, perpetuating my role as the chronicler of all things Library Court related, before retreating back to my issue of The Economist and stocks of Earl Grey. 

PS. Note to self, remember to look up application deadlines for:

  1. MacKenzie King
  2. Clarendon
  3. ORS
  4. SSHRC
  5. Rhodes

Also, email former referees to request that they prepare new letters for said applications.

A modest day

An evil looking former warden

In many ways, this was the slowest day so far in Oxford. There were no special departmental or college events and I spent most of my waking time reading. Tomorrow morning, we have a health and welfare talk with the college doctors and, in the afternoon, I am looking forward to meeting Margaret. Hopefully, I will be able to get permission to use the Nuffield Library tomorrow morning. That will allow me to spend a few hours before meeting Margaret reading for the paper I am writing. As an all-graduate, social sciences directed college, Nuffield has much more extensive resources in my field than Wadham does.

In my mailbox this morning, I got the bill for my ‘battles.’ That is to say, all college expenses for the term. Between board and lodging, bed linen, and various levies it comes to £927.88 (C$1922) for the Michaelmas term, ending on December 3rd. I am required to pay it, along with tuition, by the 14th, but given the difficulties so far with opening a bank account, I risk missing that deadline.

I called the National Student Loan Centre, which apparently had an urgent message for me, but actually just wants me to fax them yet another copy of my driver’s license and birth certificate. I can’t conceive of why they could possibly need those now, so late in the application process, but I suppose I shall have to find somewhere either inside or outside the college from which I can send a fax. I can’t use my own telephone and computer because my line only connects to others within Oxford. Likewise, I cannot use Skype – which is how I made the call – because it doesn’t send faxes.

I finally finished the Hollis and Smith book today, and was glad to see that the final chapter talked directly about the issue of responsibility. That means I have at least one source ready for my essay.

Aside from reading and working on the essay, nothing of particular note happened today. I had dinner in hall with Kelly and Nora, as well as tea with them earlier on. After dinner, Nora and I walked for a while in Wadham’s darkened gardens. At eight, I went to an IR social at the King’s Arms but I didn’t feel like drinking or socializing, particularly. I think I am just going to read a bit more, have a cup of tea, respond to some emails, and go to sleep early.