Thursday, September 30, 2010

How not to win over the media during an election

Details here. I will be interested to learn the reaction of voters.

UPDATE: There is an update on this story here.

CFP: The Problem of the Criterion

Call for Papers: 'The Problem of the Criterion'
Special Issue of Philosophical Papers

Guest Editor: Mark Nelson (Westmont College)
The problem of the criterion is one of the most ancient and enduring questions of philosophical methodology. Attributed to Agrippa, the dialellus or 'wheel' became a staple of skeptical arguments from Sextus to Montaigne, but it was perhaps given its best-known formulation by R.M. Chisholm:
"To know whether things really are as they seem to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. But to know whether our procedure is a good procedure, we have to know whether it really succeeds in distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. And we cannot know whether it does really succeed unless we already know which appearances are true and which ones are false. And so we are caught in a circle." ['The Problem of the Criterion', 1982]
This problem admits of several interpretations, resists easy solution, and lurks at the bottom of philosophical reflection on knowledge and method in any topic, yet it has received only one book-length treatment in Anglophone philosophy in the last fifty years, Robert Amico's The Problem of the Criterion (1993).
Possible topics for discussion include:
- The problem of the criterion in ancient, modern (Montaigne, Hume, Reid, Hegel), or 20th C epistemology (Moore, Wittgenstein)
- The problem of the criterion as an interpretation or form of skepticism
- The relevance of the problem of the criterion to various kinds of knowledge, e.g., moral, religious, aesthetic, of other minds
- Substantive and methodological commitments in philosophy
- Basic knowledge and the problem of the criterion
- Intuitionism and the problem of the criterion
- Philosophical disagreement and the problem of the criterion
- The problem of the criterion and the method of reflective equilibrium
- The problem of the criterion and the foundationalism/coherentism dichotomy
The deadline for receipt of submission is 30 June 2011. This special edition of *Philosophical Papers*, which will contain both invited and submitted papers, will appear in November of 2011. The issue will include a symposium on Ernest Sosa's book Reflective Knowledge (2009), with contributions from Michael DePaul (University of Notre Dame), Carrie Jenkins (University of Nottingham), Anne Meylan (University of Geneva), and Ernest Sosa. Authors are encouraged to submit manuscripts electronically, prepared as a PDF or Word document attachment, and emailed to Authors should include their full name, affiliation, and address for email correspondence with their submission. Further enquiries can be addressed to Mark Nelson ( or Ward Jones, Editor, *Philosophical Papers* (

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Publishing Advice for Graduate Students

This seems as good a time as any to post a reminder of my paper "Publishing Advice for Graduate Students" available on SSRN here. I have been amazed at its popularity -- over 5,500 downloads and a further 3,100 downloads of the original version. The abstract is:

"Graduate students often lack concrete advice on publishing. This essay is an attempt to fill this important gap. Advice is given on how to publish everything from book reviews to articles, replies to book chapters, and how to secure both edited book contracts and authored monograph contracts, along with plenty of helpful tips and advice on the publishing world (and how it works) along the way in what is meant to be a comprehensive, concrete guide to publishing that should be of tremendous value to graduate students working in any area of the humanities and social sciences."

I am constantly revising and revising this paper to make it as useful as possible. (I have also given more than a dozen talks on publishing advice which inform the piece.) If anyone has useful suggestions or advice, then please note these in the comments below. As usual, signed comments preferred. 

University College London agrees to pay 'living wage'

The excellent news can be found here. Let us hope that other universities follow UCL's lead.

William Ayers is not named Emeritus Professor by University of Illinois has the full story here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The University of Illinois Board of Trustees typically approves faculty promotions and honors -- which have been vetted by various campus committees -- without discussion. No one can remember the last time the board, for instance, rejected emeritus status when proposed on behalf of a retiring faculty member.
But last week the board did just that, rejecting emeritus status for William Ayers, who retired in August from his position as professor of education at the university's Chicago campus, where he had taught since 1987. The university's board voted down emeritus status for Ayers at the urging of Christopher Kennedy, the board chair, who cited Prairie Fire, a book Ayers co-wrote in 1974 and that is dedicated to 200 people whom the authors called "political prisoners." One of those named is Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy's father.

In his remarks at the meeting, Kennedy noted that the university doesn't award emeritus status automatically, but that it is an honor that must be requested by the retiring professor and endorsed by various campus officials. As a result, Kennedy said -- according to press accounts -- "our discussion of this topic therefore does not represent an intervention into the scholarship of the university, nor is it a threat to academic freedom."
But citing Prairie Fire, he said: "I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy. There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so."
The board's action has sparked yet another debate over Ayers, who was a leader of the Weather Underground who went on to be an education professor at Illinois-Chicago and who gained renewed attention during the 2008 presidential election when Republicans attempted to link him to Barack Obama (although there wasn't evidence to suggest much more of a tie than their being neighbors who both moved in academic circles). To many, Ayers's Weather Underground years were never forgivable. Especially after his past was publicized again in 2008, some of his speeches at campuses nationwide prompted protests or were even called off. But at the university, he has long been a popular teacher, and his numerous books and articles have earned him considerable respect among education scholars.

[. . .] Ayers has not commented on the board's action or responded to requests for comment. But in a video posted two years ago on the conservative website Eyeblast.TV, he said in response to a question at a book signing that he had been "stupid" to include Sirhan in the dedication, and that he was really concerned about all prisoners and what happens to them. [. . .]"

David Miliband's political future

Over this past weekend David Miliband lost to his younger brother, Ed Miliband, by less than 2% of the vote in the UK's Labour Party leadership contest. David had long been the favourite to win with endorsements from several major Labour Party figures, including Tony Blair, John Prescott, Jack Straw, and Peter Mandelson. After four months of campaigning, one can only imagine the disappointment felt by coming so close to something so important.

Today, we will learn whether he will put himself forward for consideration for a post in his younger brother's new Shadow Cabinet. It is thought that he could command about any position he desired, including Chancellor. The BBC has details here.

I predict that David Miliband will not serve in the Shadow Cabinet. I also believe this will be best for the Labour Party.

There is no doubt that he is very popular amongst colleagues and party members. He won more votes from MPs, MEPs, and party members than any other candidate in the leadership contest and held a close second place on votes by affiliated members. He has become a major figure in a relatively short time period.

There is also no doubt that he is highly talented. He has served the party in a variety of capacities, including Foreign Secretary in the last Government. These talents would be warmly welcome in any Labour frontbench. Any frontbench but this one though.
We have not seen the last of David Miliband. But I suspect we have already seen the last of him in the Shadow frontbench in this Parliament. We will know whether or not I'm correct today.

UPDATE: My prediction has proved correct.

Who speaks for humanity if we come into contact with aliens?

Well, it seems that this problem has been solved. Let me introduce you to Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist and head of the Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa). (Yes, such an office exists.) She is set to become the UN Ambassador to extraterrestials.

There is more on the story here in The Daily Telegraph.

"Does Democracy Reduce Economic Inequality?"

. . . see Jeffrey F. Timmons's article here in the British Journal of Political Science (subscription-only). An abstract:

"Democracy is frequently framed as a distributional game. Much of the evidence supporting this possibility rests on the World Bank’s 1996 ‘high-quality’ inequality dataset. Using the updated and revised ‘high-quality’ dataset of 2007, this article revisits those results. Using the same country sample, more years and similar specifications to previous studies, as well as a larger country sample with more appropriate statistical models, we find no relationship between democracy/civil liberties and aggregate measures of economic inequality. Whether, and how, democracy decreases economic inequality remains an open question."

Highly recommended.

The birth of Nouveau Labour: Ed Miliband's Labour Party

Today, newly elected Labour Party leader Ed Miliband argued that he led a new generation with new ideas. His first speech as leader covered a wide number of important issues (with further details from the BBC here). For example, he argued that British foreign policy should be based upon values, not merely alliances. One part of his election campaign had been to argue repeatedly that he did not support the Iraq War and would not have if he had been a MP at the time of the vote. (Some may say it was convenient for him to make this case; others may say it may have been enough to cost his brother, David Miliband, the leadership.)

Some commentators have feared some kind of "lurch to the left" as it has been called. Look out, "Red" Ed is in charge of Labour. Of course, this is a striking accusation to make from critics who also charge Ed Miliband with being weak on detail, suggesting an effort to tarnish his budding leadership as unelectable.

I think it is a mistake to think this will be a revert back to "Old" Labour. Why? This would betray his message of moving the party forward as the party of optimisim (not Winters of Discontent), a new generation with fresh ideas on new policies.

It is nevertheless clear that Ed Miliband is keen to be seen to break from New Labour. Indeed, his brother had been the New Labour establishment candidate with endorsements from Tony Blair, Lord Prescott, Peter Mandelson, and Jack Straw.

The question then becomes this: if he's not reverting to Old Labour and he's breaking from New Labour, then what vision of Labour is he trying to offer? New New Labour (or perhaps New2 Labour)? However, New2 Labour is unlikely to inspire new voters. Likewise, calling Miliband's Labour Party New Labour Beta (a reformulated New Labour -- which seems clear from what he has said thus far). Yet, even those of us more comfortable around computing systems (not me!) would find it difficult to rally around a tag like that.

This leaves us with a few final alternatives. One is New Generation Labour. The phrase "new generation" was repeated several times in Miliband's speech and seems to be a major part of his attempt to revitalise Labour. This is an excellent strategy. Miliband can then take credit for where Labour has gone right (as he seeks to redefine Labour and its policies for the future) while distancing himself from where Labour has been unpopular (as he did in his speech). It will surely be more difficult for his opponents to attack him as he can avoid blame over Iraq, ID cards, top up fees, and other policies that went over badly with rank-and-file Labour Party membership. But, "New Generation Labour" is perhaps a bit too long -- and NG Labour perhaps too confusing.

I recommend Nouveau Labour. (Yes, you can quote me.) New Labour recast. I suspect there will be much continuity with New Labour's earlier positions, such as on education, crime, and the NHS. However, there will be more antagonism between Nouveau Labour and City bankers, and interesting developments in environmental policy (Miliband's partner works in environmental law and he was previously Minister for the Environment) and foreign affairs. Ok, so this is the general outline of where Nouveau Labour may be headed, but why "nouveau"? Well, because there is something more sheek, more cosmopolitan in outlook and ideas.

Nouveau Labour is also faring well in its early days. YouGov has Labour on the magical percentage of 40% (enough to win power if a general election were held today), Labour's best result in three years.

So don't call Ed Miliband the leader of Old Labour. He certainly is not part of New Labour. Welcome to the birth of Nouveau Labour.

I will be interested to see how well this view catches on . . .

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 2010 Labour Leadership Election: is Ed Miliband beholden to unions?

Some commentators have raised several concerns over the manner by which the Labour Party selects its leader. The election is decided via an electoral college consisting of MPs and MEPs, CLPs, and affiliated members. The election and final results can be found here. Ed Miliband (pictured) is the winner.

One criticism is that Ed Miliband is now beholden to the unions, who favoured him over his brother. What to make of this? Well, a few things:

1. First, there is no "unions" section of the party's electoral college, although there is an "affiliated members" section. The affiliated members include several unions, such as GMB and UNITE, and the number of union votes is higher. However, affiliated members also include the Christian Socialist Movement, the Fabian Society, and Scientists for Labour. Their members may be fewer in number, but their votes count just as much. (Before you ask, the Fabians narrowly went for David Miliband with the other two going for Ed Miliband.) Ed Miliband won the affiliated members vote and this group is more inclusive than many commentators may think.

2. Secondly, some have argued that it is a problem that the party leader could be decided upon, in part, by groups where members may not be Labour Party members themselves. It is the case that full voting membership of at least some, if not all, of these groups requires membership of the Labour Party: this is true with the Fabian Society. It is also true that many union members did not take part in voting. However, it might be a particular strength that Ed Miliband won over the affiliated members as this may be a sign that he has popularity beyond more narrow Labour Party circles. This is to his benefit.

3. Finally, others have argued that it seems wrong that some Labour Party members may have more than one vote. Thus, a party member who was also in a union and in an associated society might have three votes. However, I do not see this as especially problematic either. The reason is simple. A vote as a party member counts towards the CLP (e.g., constituency) voting section of the electoral college. The extra two votes in the affiliated members section are cast in a different part of the electoral college. In some sense, those with greater roots in the party based upon memberships in specific organizations may have more weight than those who lack such deeper roots. While there is something attractive about one person = one vote, the electoral college system used by the Labour Party is an attempt to select a leader using a wider range of metrics.

My argument here is not to argue that every organization should have a similar electoral college system, but only to say that I believe the Labour Party's system is defensible and coherent. Plus, it's a good test for any party leader to be able to attract votes from Labour and beyond anyway.

The £10,000 question: how high will British university fees rise?

We will soon learn the answer in a few weeks. Lord Browne of Madingley (i.e., the former BP boss) is conducting a review of student fees at present. University fees (read "tuition fees" if North American) have a cap of about £3,200 for now. There are reports, such as from the BBC here, that fees may rise up to £7,000 or even £10,000 per year.

I believe it is a near certainty that tuition bills will rise, although it is difficult to predict how much. While I suspect £10,000 will not be the new cap in the end, I would be very surprised if something in the region of £5,000-7,000 was not proposed.

This is a further major change in higher education funding. Many of the parents of those beginning university now will have gone to university themselves for free....and many may have enjoyed free maintenance grants as well. This is all a very far cry from the support available for now.

Furthermore, higher fees seem almost inevitable when the current government is asking each department to cut its budget by 25% or more. It would seem that Michael Gove, the Education Minister, will have some of his work done for him by the Browne review and it's widely expected that the ability of universities to charge higher fees may be tied to some reduction in their teaching grants. We shall put a rest to such guesswork soon when the review is finally published.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how universities react. On the one hand, many will broadly welcome the opportunity to generate more income for further investment in their own institutions. On the other hand, there may be concerns that these higher fees come with many strings attached. For example, students paying higher fees may demand more services in return. This may make good sense if their higher fees actually did translate into higher revenue for universities. However, if these higher fees do no more than replace the investment that the government is withdrawing, then this will pose a challenge.

The skier who froze to death . . . and lived

Amazing true story here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Robert B. Talisse and Scott F. Aikin on "Opposition to the “Mosque”: An Atheist Perspective"

. . . can be found here. In a few words, they defend the view that "Opposition to the Mosque refuses to recognize the dignity of a religious community in New York City that is committed to acting in ways designed to forcefully reclaim their faith from those who have distorted it." This piece is highly recommended to anyone interested in the so-called "Mosque" debate.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why humanities?

One day conference – Friday 5th November
This conference gathers together some of the leading voices in the humanities today. The purpose is to discuss the value of their disciplines in the context of university cutbacks, with a view to developing newly articulated defences of the worth of research in humanities disciplines.

Recent years have witnessed an increasing threat to any stable public understanding of the point of study in the humanities. In financially straightened times, value is too easily bound by an assumption of measurable pay-off that is best suited to the sciences, so that when government funding bodies press their question, we who value the humanities have too often found ourselves stuttering for an answer.
The conference opens with a keynote public address given by Professor Onora O’Neill on the evening of Thursday 4th November, and continues through Friday, with contributions from speakers: Quentin Skinner (QMUL), Joanna Bourke (Birkbeck), Francis Mulhern (University of Middlesex), Raimond Gaita (King’s College London), Kate Soper (London Met), Stefan Collini (Cambridge) and Iain Pears (Historian and Writer). Onora O'Neill keynote address - Thursday 4th November 6pm Beveridge Hall, Senate House, followed by a reception. This event is co-sponsored by the Institute of Philosophy and supported by the Philosophers' Magazine.
One day conference - Friday 5th November Room B34 Birkbeck Main Building. Both events are free and open to the public - register online here.

The quango bonfire

The coalition government has made no secret of its plans to impose "austerity measures" (or deep cuts) fairly swiftly. We seem to learn more about these plans by the day. For example, a list has recently been leaked that suggests that about 180 quangos may be axed with another 124 facing possible mergers. The BBC reports the story here and states:

"[. . .] The list suggests 180 quangos will be abolished and 124 merged. A further 338 will be retained, although 56 of them will be subject to "substantial reform". The future of another 100 bodies is yet to be agreed, according to the letter. The largest numbers of quangos facing the axe are those linked to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice.

Quangos, or "non departmental public bodies", have repeatedly drawn politicians' fire over the years back to former Conservative deputy PM Michael Heseltine's pledge for a "bonfire of the quangos". Last year both Labour and the Conservatives pledged to review the bodies with the aim of saving money. Among those listed as facing abolition are the Olympic Park Legacy Company, responsible for planning what happens to the Olympic site after the 2012 Games, the Advisory Committee on Organic Standards and Cycling England - whose functions will be transferred elsewhere. Postcom and Ofcom could be merged while the School Food Trust would have its status changed to an independent charity and Ofsted and the Food Standards Agency would be kept but subject to "substantial reform". [. . .]"

I have not seen the list, but would be very curious to see which quangos related to education may be set to merge or be axed. I will be following this story with interest.

The future of the Student Loans Company, tourism groups Visit England and Visit Britain, the UK Atomic Energy Agency, Central Office of Information, the Carbon Trust and the Environment Agency are yet to be decided, according to the document.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ireland's economy continues to contract

. . . as noted here. This is further evidence that drastic cuts up front may make economy recovery more difficult and perhaps even counterproductive.

As the British Government considers its plans in next month's spending review, let us hope that it is taking stock of the situation across the Irish Sea. The support for swift and deep cuts now to stimulate economic recovery looks even weaker than before. This is not to say that cuts in government spending should be off the table indefinitely. Instead, it is to say that major cuts should not be on the table now while the economy remains in a fragile state.

UPDATE: I am pleased to learn that Labour shares my concern on the situation in Ireland and the possibility it may take root in the UK if it were to follow suit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Advice for the next leader of the Labour Party

The Labour Party will announce its new leader this weekend at its conference in Manchester. As a member of the Labour Party, I have an interest in its future development. There will be much work to be done once we know the new leader after a fairly healthy and interesting campaign these last few months.

Whoever the new leader is will be charged with the task of reclaiming 10 Downing Street. This would be my advice to the new Labour Party leader on how this might be best accomplished:

"Dear [insert name],

Many congratulations on succeeding Gordon Brown. Enjoy your celebrations tonight because there is much work to do lying ahead.

Brown's Government has now been replaced by an uneasy Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. This coalition has lasted without much threat these last few months, but primarily because of two factors. One factor was the absence of a new Labour Party leader replacing former PM Brown. A second factor was the fact that Parliament has been in summer recess for much of the current Parliament's existence.

We should be unsurprised to find the coalition functioning in light of these two factors, but real cracks have already appeared in the coalition that should offer Labour a major opportunity if it were to move swiftly. The cracks we see now show signs of only getting much worse now that Parliament is back in session. The task now is what to do about it.

There will be much media attention over the weekend covering the Labour Party conference and your election. This attention offers a real opportunity to employ a two pronged campaign to end the coalition government and force a general election returning Labour to power.

The first prong is the task of proper scrutiny required by all Shadow Cabinets. One area requiring scrutiny will be the forthcoming spending review. I would strongly recommend repeated references to the case of the Republic of Ireland. Many recommended immediate action in terms of swift cuts, including to the public sector. (The BBC's Stephanie Flanders has a helpful summary here of the financial problems facing Ireland.) The result? The recovery that was to happen has not yet materialized.

I believe the better strategy would be to argue that, yes, we should balance the books, but now is not the time. The UK's recovery is fragile and slower than has been predicted. There is every reason to believe that major cuts now will only make the recovery far more difficult.

Now is the time for further investment, not economic withdrawl. Investment should be made in areas, such as improving public transport and roads as well as education. These are areas that would help decrease unemployment and provide benefits in the long-term. Better transport will make it easier for business to reach the marketplace. A better educated public is a public with a higher skill set and this has its own long-term beneficial effects on future economic growth. The best time to tackle the debt crisis through cuts should be when the recovery is secured in this way. The recovery would then be easier, more sustainable, and much less painful for the public.

The second prong is to further expose cracks within the coalition. Labour's aim should not be to win over Conservatives, but raise new doubts amongst Liberal Democrats. One task already adopted by many Labour MPs has been to note how Liberal Democrats have abandoned much of what they argued for during the recent general election. This should continue.

A second task is to particularly focus on defeating a major coalition bill. My recommendation is to target the proposed Fixed Parliaments Bill. I offer some arguments for why this Bill should be rejected here, but let me say more about it now.

I would recommend that Labour attack the bill for its many demerits, but also a piece of legislation that is distinctly illiberal. Again and again. One reason is that if the Bill became law, then defeating the government more quickly will become far more difficult. A second reason is that the Bill's defeat may be just enough to help secure a no-confidence vote in the still shaky coalition.

Adopting these two prong strategy might help to weaken Labour's opponents and increase the likelihood that a new general election will be called. Labour can then tell the public how neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are fit to lead the country--after all, they've had their chance and swiftly imploded. So what d'ya think?

Congratulations again on becoming party leader.

Sincerely yours,


What do readers think?

Paul Krugman on America's angry rich

. . . can be read here in the New York Times. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses.

[. . .] For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.
At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

[. . .] You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.
And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.
But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people.[. . .]"

Yet further excellent political analysis from Krugman. Indeed, we often hear how public policy should permit the haves to retain more of their wealth while the have-nots should no longer receive as generous public assistance. Perhaps the "modern mainstream" (my phrase, but feel free to cite me!) make take a middle path in both holding firm on modest tax rises for the most wealthy while ensuring that only those who require public assistance receive it.

It is not enough to worry constantly about whether or not some persons may be "cheating the system" in claiming benefits they are not entitled to receive, although this seems to be an Anglo-American political pastime in recent years. Yes, we should do something about this, but we should also ensure that no one is "cheating the system" in higher income brackets by avoiding full payment of taxes. I do not have any figures at hand, but I would imagine that those improperly claiming benefits cost the general public less than those not paying their fair share at the top.

What do readers think?

Follow me on Twitter

. . . here. I remain a bit of a novice, but plan to make much more use of it over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Liberal Democrats to the Guardian newspaper: thanks, but no thanks

The BBC's Michael Crick has written on his blog today that at his/her party conference, a Liberal Democrat minister told delegates to "stop reading the Guardian" newspaper calling it "a carrier of misinformation and lies."

It's a curious thing for any Liberal Democrat minister to say. Perhaps the Liberal Democract minister should be asked whether the public were misinformed by the Guardian when it endorsed his party in the general election. Indeed, the Guardian was the only newspaper to endorse the Liberal Democrats.

They say a week is a long time in politics. Maybe so. Still, you would think Liberal Democrat ministers remain grateful for endorsements only a few months ago.

Student takes university to court

The BBC has the story here of a Queen's University Belfast student who has taken the university to court. The student had received a "2:2" degree classification (otherwise known as a "second class, lower division" degree). He is alleged to claim that he would have secured a 2:1 degree classification (thus, ensuring better job prospects) had he received better supervision. The case is ongoing.

Whatever the result of this case, my suspicion is that such cases may become more frequent. Whether or not this prediction comes true may come down to how this case is decided.

American conservatives and the use of interest groups in campaigning

The Washington Post has the full story here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Conservative groups have taken a decisive lead in spending on independent advertising ahead of the November elections, according to disclosure reports compiled in the Washington Post's campaign spending chart. Interest groups and political parties reported $13.9 million in expenditures to the Federal Election Commission last week. Of that amount, 85 percent was spent on behalf of Republicans and 15 percent on behalf of Democrats. Seven conservative groups have each reported spending more than $1 million in the last three weeks. They include: Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based business association; the 60 Plus Association, which supports privatizing Social Security and ending the estate tax; the American Future Fund, run by an Iowa farmer and former state representative; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby. Two anti-tax groups, the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, reported $1 million each in spending last week.

No liberal group has spent more than $1 million in the last three weeks. The Service Employees International Union came the closest with $930,000."

What makes this story all the more interesting is the fact that spending on this scale by interest groups "would not have been legal before the Supreme Court's January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark decision which freed corporate spending on election ads."

They say politics is about many things. Some say we should aim to satisfy the demands of a "general will" common to all rather than a statistical majority. I won't weigh in on this here. Nevertheless, and without commenting on the particular merits or demerits of the campaigns noted above in the WP's article, I believe there be real concerns we should have about any growth in interest groups in our electoral politics.

People say that they don't trust politicians, yet they never vote to end a system whereby politicians are elected. (Yes, you can quote me.) If true, then perhaps many of us may trust interest groups less. After all, they have a particular interest in mind and its pursuit may conflict with other interests that we as citizens have that they as an interest group lack.

Citizens United may be one of the most damaging judgements the US Supreme Court has rendered in recent decades. Let us hope it is shortlived before American democracy is damaged.

Nick Clegg's conference speech: please don't abandon the party over coalition

Nick Clegg has now delivered his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool. It is the first time in more than half a century that the Liberals were in Government, a time long before many conference delegates were born. Clegg's own story is itself striking: three years ago he was not party leader and three years before that he was not a MP. Six years from first-time candidate to Deputy Prime Minister (and as a Liberal Democrat) is quite a feat. The kind of feat that only the happenstance of electoral politics can conjure up.

Yesterday, Clegg appeared to be on a clear mission: to convince party members to stand firm and turn a blind eye to those who say that the party has in any way been outmanouevered by the Conservatives. The BBC reports here that "The Liberal Democrats have not "lost our soul" by going into coalition with the Conservatives, party leader Nick Clegg has said. In his conference speech, he urged members to "hold our nerve" by serving a full five years in government."

There is much of interest to be found in his speech. First, this was a speech aimed at his party. Sometimes, politicians deliver a speech to their party conference whose primary intended audience is the wider public. The idea is that the party delegates are already in step and their support for certain policies may help sell them to the wider public.

However, this is a fracturing party. Party members with new government jobs were clearly the most eager to trumpet the importance of joining with the Conservatives to form a coalition Government. This enthusiasm does not seem to have spread far beyond to many conference delegates. This is not surprising. A general election was held only a few short while ago where they strongly contested seats against Conservatives. For some the prospect of governing alongside the Conservatives is difficult to accept even still.

Secondly, this was a speech indicating a gamble. Clegg must recognize the concerns of many supporters who remain apprehensive. His gamble to turn the party to a party of protest votes to a party that is a serious governing alternative to the Conservatives and Labour rests on several factors. One factor is sticking it out. If a general election were held soon, then this would pose possible catastrophe for the Liberal Democrats as a substantial number of those who claim to have voted for the party now would cast their votes differently, often in favour of Labour. Clegg's gamble is that things will turn around in time. The public need to begin to see the Liberal Democrats as a party that can govern responsibly. One way to do this is to be seen as helping push the more popular and more fair planks of the coalition Government's new policies. The public has not seen the Liberal Democrats in power in many decades and so this change in public reception will take time. Clegg's gamble is that five years should do it. Hence, the talk of how some may have said this coalition was impossible, but he's now shown this to be unfounded. Of course, the coalition has been relatively easily to keep together during a summer recess where most of Westminster is out of town.

The problem with Clegg's gamble is that we have seen it all before. Remember Gordon Brown? He was said to have "bottled" a possible general election that was likely to see Labour win, but lose MPs. His gamble was to wait. The thought was that in time voters would come around to support his leadership and Labour would win a new term.

Gambling is always a risk, and politics the arena of risk-taking. Clegg's gamble is that the public will grow to support the policies the Liberal Democrats promote and the party's fortunes will improve. He should remember that Brown played a similar game only to lose. Brown's lost gamble saw Labour out of power, but with substantial support and future potential. If Clegg were to lose his gamble, he could see his party face major problems.

We gamble for the same reason we take political risks. None of us knows precisely what the future may bring.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A new direction, a new look

I hope readers will be pleased with the new look of the blog. I have better organized various links and increased their number. I have also better organized all tags for posts, while also overhauling the posts published on this blog. I will not publish as many academic job posts as I have in the past, although I will continue to post relevant conference notices of interest.

The blog will now focus more often and in greater depth on issues of ethics, politics, and public policy. This is an area where much of my research has been directed and where I expect to remain for some time. I hope that those of you who have enjoyed reading the blog will enjoy it more and that the blog might attract an even larger following amongst new readers.

Please spread the word!

Jeff McMahan on meat eaters

. . . can be found on the NY Times website here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] If I had been in a position to design and create a world, I would have tried to arrange for all conscious individuals to be able to survive without tormenting and killing other conscious individuals. I hope most other people would have done the same. Certainly this and related ideas have been entertained since human beings began to reflect on the fearful nature of their world — for example, when the prophet Isaiah, writing in the 8th century B.C.E., sketched a few of the elements of his utopian vision. He began with people’s abandonment of war: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” But human beings would not be the only ones to change; animals would join us in universal veganism: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and the little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 2: 4 and 11: 6-7)

Isaiah was, of course, looking to the future rather than indulging in whimsical fantasies of doing a better job of Creation, and we should do the same. We should start by withdrawing our own participation in the mass orgy of preying and feeding upon the weak.

Our own form of predation is of course more refined than those of other meat-eaters, who must capture their prey and tear it apart as it struggles to escape. We instead employ professionals to breed our prey in captivity and prepare their bodies for us behind a veil of propriety, so that our sensibilities are spared the recognition that we too are predators, red in tooth if not in claw (though some of us, for reasons I have never understood, do go to the trouble to paint their vestigial claws a sanguinary hue). The reality behind the veil is, however, far worse than that in the natural world. Our factory farms, which supply most of the meat and eggs consumed in developed societies, inflict a lifetime of misery and torment on our prey, in contrast to the relatively brief agonies endured by the victims of predators in the wild. From the moral perspective, there is nothing that can plausibly be said in defense of this practice. To be entitled to regard ourselves as civilized, we must, like Isaiah’s morally reformed lion, eat straw like the ox, or at least the moral equivalent of straw. [. . .]"

Terrific stuff, as usual. I highly recommend readers view the full op-ed.

Oxford opens new school of governance

The Times Higher has the details here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Brooks Blog is undergoing important changes

I have been using this blog regularly since 2006. Many of my previous posts have focussed on education policy, as well as new work in academic philosophy and politics. This blog will shortly have a new look and receive some trimming. While I will continue to post on matters relevant to higher education and philosophy, the blog will begin to focus more regularly on public affairs and public policy. This is a subject-matter that has taken up much of my interest as the Undergraduate Director of Politics at Newcastle University for the last three years. Moreover, with the forthcoming launch of my new book on punishment, I plan on continuing to work more in the area of philosophy and public policy. Of course, I will continue to have interests in 19th Century Philosophy and other subjects, but the focus of my work---and this blog---will change shortly. I hope for the better. As usual, I will expect readers to let me know if this is not the case!

UPDATE: At present, the Blog has 1,130 posts listed on Google and has 6,557 pages (with about 3,500 posts in total) according to here. This will change substantially over the next few days.

Cracks in the coalition: is the Government's immigration cap damaging the economy?

While all eyes remain fixed on Pope Benedict's state visit to the United Kingdom, deep cracks are emerging within the coalition Government on the deeply divisive issue of immigration. The BBC reports here that:

"[. . .] Downing Street has denied claims by Business Secretary Vince Cable that the government's interim immigration cap is doing "huge damage" to business.

Mr Cable said firms were considering moving jobs abroad because they could not recruit the staff they needed.

He told the Financial Times he backed plans for a permanent cap from April but wanted it to be more flexible.

No 10 said the cap would be implemented in a way that still allowed the brightest and best to come to Britain.

The prime minister's official spokesman sought to play down any suggestion of a cabinet rift over what is one of the coalition's flagship policies.

Asked whether Mr Cable would be given a dressing-down for his comments, he said the business secretary had "raised the concerns of business and the government was aware of those concerns"

[. . .] The cap on non-EU immigration was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment but was opposed by the Liberal Democrats before the coalition government was formed. [. . .]".

So what is going on? There are at least a few different possible scenarios:

1. Cable is trying to differentiate Liberal Democrat positions from the Tories within the coalition.

The Liberal Democrats have come under heavy criticism that too much of the policies emerging from the Government (of which they are a partner) are much closer to the Conservative Party manifesto than their own manifesto. They've become the public relations department for a formerly bitterly opposed party, one might argue. This differentiation may prove helpful ahead of the forthcoming Liberal Democrat confernece.

2. Cable is trying to send out a signal that the cap should not be too low.

In offering public pronouncements like this, perhaps he is merely attempting to make us nervous so that any forthcoming cap won't be too low and actually damage British business interests.

3. Cable is correct.

The final scenario is that Cable is just being honest. Don't laugh. Politicians may say words which the public may find suspect, but Cable is a different kind of politician.

So which is it?

Those who want the coalition to succeed may hope it's (2) as this will show no true rift. Eagle-eyed commentators may be concerned if it's (1) because this will show the Liberal Democrats are becoming increasingly worried about satisfying their base (as I believe they should worry). The danger for the coalition may be (3) where Conservative platforms defeat Liberal Democrat platforms yet again.

My verdict? A combination of all three.

Education, education, education!

. . . or so was a major plank of New Labour. I've been convinced I should purchase Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teaching: From Political Visions to Classroom Realities by John Bangs, John MacBeath, and Maurice Galton found here. The book's blurb is:

"What lessons can we learn from the relationship between policy-makers and schools over the life of the ‘New’ Labour and its predecessor Conservative government? What happened to ‘Education, Education, Education’ as it travelled from political vision to classroom practice? What are the lasting legacies of 13 years of a reforming Labour government? And what are the key messages for a coalition government?

These are the questions addressed to the architects of educational reform, their critics and the prophets of better things to come. The 37 interviewees include ministers past and present, journalists, union officials, members of lobby groups and think tanks. Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teaching considers the impact of educational policies on those who have to translate political priorities into the day to day work of schools and classrooms. The authors argue that an evidence-informed view of policy making has yet to be realised, graphically illustrating how many recent political decisions in education can be explained by the personal experiences, predilections and short-term needs of key decision-makers."

The BBC also has run a story on it here well worth reading as well.

American poverty revealed: 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty

The BBC carries the details here. It makes for depressing reading. Poverty has not only risen during President Obama's first term: it has been rising for at least the last three years.

Itis incredible that the world's most wealthy country can also have so many poor. Those who think that the rich-poor divide is not a problem in the US should think again.

Watch what you say: people may remember!

The Talking Points Memo blog notes here that Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, warning about the dangers of stem cell research, disapprovingly claimed that, yes, scientists have created mice with "fully functioning human brains"! (This was in 2007. TPM suspects she was incorrectly referring to this 2005 report about growing cells in mice.)

You might think revelations like this of just a few years ago might damage the credibility of the Republican nominee for one of Delaware's two seats in the US Senate. O'Donnell's response? Voters, please forget my past!

Of course, if we forget the parts of her past she wants us to forget, then we may need to be told more about about what is left.

Chris Daly and David Liggins on "Deferentialism"

. . . can be found here in Philosophical Studies (subscription-only) and I think it is outstanding. The abstract is:

There is a recent and growing trend in philosophy that involves deferring to the claims of certain disciplines outside of philosophy, such as mathematics, the natural sciences, and linguistics. According to this trend—deferentialism, as we will call it—certain disciplines outside of philosophy make claims that have a decisive bearing on philosophical disputes, where those claims are more epistemically justified than any philosophical considerations just because those claims are made by those disciplines. Deferentialists believe that certain longstanding philosophical problems can be swiftly and decisively dispatched by appeal to disciplines other than philosophy. In this paper we will argue that such an attitude of uncritical deference to any non-philosophical discipline is badly misguided. With reference to the work of John Burgess and David Lewis, we consider deference to mathematics. We show that deference to mathematics is implausible and that main arguments for it fail. With reference to the work of Michael Blome-Tillmann, we consider deference to linguistics. We show that his arguments appealing to deference to linguistics are unsuccessful. We then show that naturalism does not entail deferentialism and that naturalistic considerations even motivate some anti-deferentialist views. Finally, we set out deferentialism’s failings and present our own anti-deferentialist approach to philosophical inquiry.

A must read!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thom Brooks on Hegel and Global Justice

My paper "Between Statism and Cosmopolitanism: Hegel and the Possibility of Global Justice" is now uploaded on SSRN. The abstract is:

"Strictly speaking, Hegel pays relatively scant attention to the subject of global justice. Our duties as citizens extend to our state, but not to citizens in other states. There is reason to believe that Hegel’s stated views on international affairs offer little help to those of us interested in developing theories of global justice. In this essay, I argue that while Hegel’s stated views on this subject may be problematic, there are resources within his philosophy for developing a compelling understanding of global justice located in an interesting space between statist and cosmopolitan theories of global justice. Thus, while Hegel’s understanding of global justice has its limitations, a Hegelian understanding of global justice has much promise. Global justice theorists should be encouraged to pursue the latter project."

Comments are most welcome!

Puns for Educated Minds

. . . from here:

"1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian .

3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blown apart.

8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'

13.. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: 'Keep off the Grass.'

15. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

16.. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

17. A backward poet writes inverse.

18. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you'd be in Seine."

Nick Clegg's wager: the beginning of the end for the Liberal Democrats?

Details and analysis here.

The Liberal Democrats are risking major losses in the next general election

. . . in defending policies such as cuts in benefits on the scale proposed. The details are here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Mr Clegg is expected to face a rough ride over the planned cuts at his party conference which gets underway in Liverpool at the weekend, with some backbenchers claiming he has broken his promise to ensure they are "fair".

Lib Dem MP Bob Russell last week forced Mr Osborne to face a Commons grilling after the chancellor revealed his plans for extra cuts, on top of the £11bn already announced in June's emergency budget, in a BBC interview. [. . .]"

The problem for Nick Clegg is as follows. He made a gamble on the future of his political party, the Liberal Democrats (or "Lib Dems"). The Lib Dems have not held power before and it has been several decades since a Liberal was in Government. The great benefit of joining the Tories in Government would be that the Lib Dems would no longer be the party of the protest vote against the status quo, but a viable party ready to take power and a genuine alternative to Labour and the Tories.

This decision also came with a heavy cost. Many of those who vote Lib Dems have a particular dislike of the Tories. Indeed, it was said on the campaign trail that a vote for the Lib Dems was a vote to keep the Tories out of power. And then the Lib Dems agreed to put the Tories in power.

The cost of coalition politics for the Lib Dems is squaring their highly contrary policy positions with the Tory-led Government. It has not helped that Nick Clegg seems to have made a poor Deputy Prime Minister thus far. This has been because of gaffes, such as standing at the despatch box and declaring the Iraq War illegal, only to later claim that -- despite speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government -- it was simply a "personal" view. Furthermore, as Deputy Prime Minister, he finds himself in the position of promoting Government policies his party had contested bitterly in the previous general election.

Clegg would have been better off as head of a Government department, rather than Deputy Prime Minister. This would have permitted him room for critical distance where necessary in order to avoid alienating the Lib Dem base.

Alienating the Lib Dem party faithful appears to be the only game in town. Recent polls have shown a shocking number of voters who supported the Liberal Democrats now regretting their decision in favour of other parties, and the Labour Party in particular (see here). My suspicion is that this will get worse before it gets better.

Clegg gambled on the future of his party. While there may be more cards left to play, it may take a miracle for him to play a full house. The problem with gambling is that you could lose and get it wrong. I suspect that this great opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to win wider support and viability has begun to implode.

Which universities are best? The new Times Higher rankings

. . . can be found here. American universities account for 72 of the top 200. The top universities include:

1 - Harvard University
2 - California Institute of Technology
3 - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 - Stanford University
5 - Princeton University
6 - University of Cambridge
6 - University of Oxford
8 - University of California, Berkeley
9 - Imperial College London
10 - Yale University
11 -University of California Los Angeles
12 - University of Chicago
13 - Johns Hopkins University
14 - Cornell University
15 - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
15 - University of Michigan
17 - University of Toronto
18 - Columbia University
19 - University of Pennsylvania
20 - Carnegie Mellon University
21 - University of Hong Kong
22 - University College London
23 - University of Washington
24 - Duke University
25 - Northwestern University
. . .
40 - University of Edinburgh
68 - University of Bristol
76 - Trinity College Dublin
77 - King's College London
79 - University of Sussex
81 - University of York
85 - Durham University
86 - LSE
87 - University of Manchester
88 - Royal Holloway, London
90 - University of Southampton
94 - University College Dublin
103 - University of St Andrews
120 - Queen Mary, London
124 - Lancaster University
128 - University of Glasgow
137 - University of Sheffield
140 - University of Dundee
145 - University of Birmingham
149 - University of Aberdeen
152 - Birkbeck, London
152 -Newcastle University
165 - University of Liverpool
168 - University of Leeds
174 - University of East Anglia
174 - University of Nottingham
184 - University of Exeter

UPDATE: I have asked here about the methodology. Note that Warwick appears nowhere in the top 200, yet score in the world top 50 in arts and humanities. It will be interesting to learn whether there is a correlation between strong scores in the sciences and position in this league table.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The problem with the current plans on compulsory voter registration

The current Government has proposed to speed up the process of compulsory individual voter registration. At present, the head of household completes a form stating all eligible voters. Under this new plan, each voter would have to register himself or herself. Plus, there would be a requirement to provide additional information, such as National Insurance numbers. The thought is that this might help reduce the likelihood of fraud.

The original timetable was to introduce registration by 2015. The new timetable is to introduce it a year earlier in 2014. Jack Straw immediately criticized the new timetable claiming that the Government was wrong to "rush" this through. This seems unclear as the introduction of such registration is still not for several years.

There is a further concern. The more citizens have to do in order to vote, the less likely that citizens can exercize their vote. Such problems plagued the Northern Ireland election in 2002. The Government claims that all persons registered under the new and old systems will all be eligible to vote in the 2015 general election . . . or at least this is the current argument.

If one were pessimistic, then one might suspect that the roll out of any new major registration scheme like this may run in problems, namely, sticking by the new (or old) timetable(s). A real concern we might have is that the current Government's plans for voter registration do not -- even by mistake -- omit voters from casting their votes.

The reason for this concern, of course, is the Government's attempt to pass a Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill which we have criticized here. This Bill would see the current Government remaining in power (even if more than 50% of the House lacks confidence in it, but less than 67%) until a general election in 2015. The results of this election would then hold power until 2020.

The consequences are then real. Any problems which result in disenfranchising voters ahead of the next general election will have real costs, as the election results will establish another full five year term.

My recommendation? The planned registration is not a bad idea and it was originally supported by the then Labour Government. Nor do I oppose it. I do oppose the timetable for its introduction and use. My recommendation is that this compulsory voter registration scheme is rolled out after the next general election. I see no reason why all parties would not support this as it has been supported by the previous and current governments. The cost is that it may be more difficult to uncover whatever fraud exists in the current voter registry. However, the benefit is that no one will be disenfranchised even by accident by the introduction of this scheme.

Clearly, the benefit outweighs the cost given what is at stake. Let's hope the Government sees sense and extends the timetable.

Party "purity" over power? The Tea Party's Rise, the Republican Party's Fall

Once upon a time, when the so-called "Tea Party" first began, some political commentators noted that the Tea Party was something different from mainstream politics. It was not a party of the right or left, but it represented "real" America. At the time, I dismissed such commentary as such nonsense was invariably being said by conservative commentators alone.

This fairy tale of the "mainstream" so-called "Tea Party" has been largely exposed for what it is in fact. The Republican Party has been called by some the party of angry white men. If so, then the most angry are in the Tea Party.

That the Tea Party is anything but mainstream seems fairly clear from the races we have seen thus far. For example, we hear again how Tea Party supporters have come out in their droves to unseat Republican establishment favourites. (The BBC covers the latest headlines here.) Some may point to the fact that the defeat of establishment-supported figures is evidence that the Tea Party represents "mainstream" America. This is wrong. The evidence? Well, can you think of a single case where the Tea Party defeated a Democrat establishment-supported to figure to win the Democrat's primary in order to stand against a Republican Party candidate? No? Neither can I. The fact is that all along the Tea Party represented both Republican Party members and non-party affiliated members of the public who would most often vote Republican. It does not and has not represented the rest of us who aren't Republicans and would not normally vote Republican. So much for the claim to being mainstream.

Some also think that the Tea Party is a new movement. In many respects, this is not true. Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a movement within Republican Party-supporting circles to ensure that the party is more "pure" in its commitment to certain conservative doctrines, often doctrines relating to sex and sexuality such as abortion or same-sex marriage. There is nothing new about this nor the doctrines held by many so-called "Tea Party" candidates in recent election campaigns.

The longstanding political problem with this movement is that however cherished these doctrines may be, they are often minority positions in public opinion polls. Only a minority of Americans oppose legalizing abortion, but not so it would seem of Tea Party supporters.

The genuine political problem for the Tea Party is that it may actually help crush election hopes for the Republican Party this November, as well as lead to a real decline in the Party's longstanding future. The BBC's Mark Mardell states the problem well:

"Delaware tells you something important about the febrile state of US politics. It might even tell you something about the next presidential election. Republicans could win big, but some conservatives would rather have purity than power.

This was Vice-President Joe Biden's Senate seat and it should be safe Democrat territory. But Democrats are so unpopular that polls indicated that if old-school Republican Mike Castle had won the nomination, he might have whisked it away from them.

Both the polls and senior Republicans suggest that Tea Party favourite Christine O'Donnell hasn't a hope of winning the seat. But the Republican voters wanted her as their candidate nonetheless.

So when people tell you that Sarah Palin will not win the nomination in 2012 because she cannot beat President Obama, remember it is grassroots Republicans who make that decision, not party strategists or commentators."

The problem facing the Republican Party is that Tea Party candidates may make winnable contests out of reach all in the name of party purity. Some of us welcome any movement that makes the Republican Party less attractive voters and I'm trying not to smile while I write. However, the Republican Party -- and perhaps even American politics more generally -- would do well to find a new way of engaging their current base or a radical alternative. This alternative would be to better embrace the fiscal conservativism while dropping any strong commitment to social conservativism.

Whether or not this alternative could be palatable is another question, but the Republican Party's longterm future may depend upon it. Not that I want it to succeed.

Ed Miliband feeling "increasingly confident" in race to become next leader of the Labour Party

The story is here, and I hope he is correct.

A different approach to education in schools

Details here, and which make for interesting reading. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chris Mullin to teach Politics at Newcastle University

His lectures will be entitled "The Rise and Fall of New Labour" -- I may well try to attend a few of them and great news for our students. The lectures will run this autumn.

Gordon Brown to teach Politics at Harvard University

Details here.

The problem with the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill

. . . is detailed in my post earlier today found here. Comments from readers are most welcome and I hope this helps inspire others to contact their MPs to voice their opposition to this Bill.

"UK had no idea in Iraq aftermath, says Col Tim Collins"

. . . reports the BBC here. An excerpt:

"[. . .]The UK government and military leaders had "absolutely no idea" what to do after invading Iraq, a prominent veteran of the 2003 war has claimed.

Part of the problem was "obsequious" officers telling ministers what they wanted to hear, said Col Tim Collins.

And he called on the Iraq inquiry to recommend action to end this culture.

He was speaking as Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry team visited an Army base in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to hear evidence from former front-line troops.

Col Collins, who gained worldwide fame for his eve-of-battle speech to his men in the Royal Irish Regiment, said his troops lacked a clear understanding of the reasons for war.

"I don't think anybody had any idea why it was we were going to do this," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. [. . .]

[. . .] He said the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, and US President George W Bush had given Saddam Hussein "an offer he couldn't understand" and even the Iraqi dictator probably did not know what he was required to do to avoid war.

"I rather thought that there would be some sort of plan and the government had thought this through and I was clearly wrong," he said.

"When I gave my now notorious talk to the Royal Irish, I was trying to rationalise for those young men what was going on from my standpoint. As it turned out, it had a wider appeal because nobody had any idea why this was happening.

"It became very apparent to me shortly after crossing the border that the government and many of my superiors had no idea what they were doing." [. . .]

Earn A* A* A* A and not earn a university place?

A true story, details here. It is difficult to see when things will get better with a widely predicted bleak spending review is published next month. Moreover, it seems odd for the Government to cut university places with the effect of damaging career aspirations of talented youth with excellent A-level results. Surely, the cost to the taxpayer to fund their university place will be much less than when they join the dole.

If the Government were truly committed to saving taxpayers money wherever they can, then extra university places (and not expanding the number of unemployed) is the best option. This commitment to risk creating higher unemployment seems like more evidence that the Government's true aim is to dismantle the public sector at whatever cost in the name of saving costs. Expect further reductions in benefits to follow . . .

Journal of Moral Philosophy 7(3) (2010)

An International Journal of Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy
(ISSN 1740-4681)

Volume 7, Number 3 (2010)


Robert B. Talisse, 'Does Value Pluralism Entail Liberalism?' 303-20

Rudiger Bittner, 'A Horse in the Basement: Nietzschean Reflections on Political Philosophy', 321-33

Gerhard Overland, 'Conditional Threats', 334-45

Patti Tamara Lenard, 'Motivating Cosmopolitanism? A Skeptical View', 346-71

David Enoch and Ehud Guttel, 'Cognitive Biases and Moral Luck', 372-86


Christopher Grau, 'Moral Status, Speciesism, and Liao's Genetic Account', 387-96


Martin O'Neill, 'The Facts of Inequality', 397-409


Mark Navin on G. A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, 411-13

David Sussman on Stephen Darwall, The Second-Person Standpoint, 414-16

Dale Murray on R. Tuck, Free Riding, 417-19


All issues of the Journal of Moral Philosophy are available on Swetswise here and IngentaConnect here.

Subscription information can be found on our Brill website here.

Please direct all enquiries regarding article or discussion submissions to the Editor, Thom Brooks (Newcastle) (email:

Please direct all enquiries regarding review articles and books for review to the Reviews Editor, Christian Miller (Wake Forest) (email:

Why Parliament should reject the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill

Last evening, I was watching the live debate in the House of Commons on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill. A transcript of this debate is available here, in particular the following speech by Julian Sturdy, a Conservative MP for York Outer. He says (in full):

"I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to today's debate, as political and constitutional reform remains a key objective for this new Parliament. I shall, however, try to be brief as I am conscious of the fact that time is limited.

It is of the utmost importance that Members on both sides of the House consider the current state of our politics when addressing this Bill. It is fair to suggest that now, following the general election, it is time for this Parliament to move on from the recent depressing chapter in our political history. I believe that we cannot reflect on the current state of our politics and deny that some form of constitutional reform is required. All of us in this House are now charged with the responsibility of restoring the public's trust in our democracy and I welcome this Bill.

Some powerful arguments and good points have been made by Members on both sides of the House, and I must confess to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that I did not have anything to say about fixed-term Parliaments in my election address. However, I have been an enthusiastic supporter of fixed-term Parliaments since long before I was elected to the House, and I have always supported this Bill. I consider the current process for the Dissolution of Parliament to be outdated. Under current legislation, the Government of the day retain the ability to call an election as and when they choose within a parliamentary term, subject to the Monarch's approval. I fear that that provides any Government with an unfair advantage, and often encourages a crude, tactical political game to take place. As such, I strongly support the Prime Minister for taking the principled decision to give up his privileged ability to call an election. His absolute commitment to political reform cannot be doubted-but I do not think that was shared by his predecessor.

As set out under the Bill, the date of the next general election is to be 7 May 2015. Such a simple piece of reform immediately provides voters with greater clarity and understanding about their political system. To my mind, voters deserve to know when they can expect to re-elect or ditch their Government.

However, it is also essential for Parliament to retain the ability to hold the Government to account and, if necessary, force an early election, and I believe that that controversial issue has now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion through the provisions in clause 2. Ultimately, the House will be able to force an early election by either a vote of no confidence in the Government or a vote of at least two-thirds of all Members in favour of such an early election.

This Chamber's power will be protected, and I support the fact that the Bill deliberately seeks to weaken the hand of the Executive while injecting an element of reassurance and transparency into our often turbulent political world. It is not just the political village here in Westminster that will benefit from the stability of fixed-term Parliaments; the wider world of business will benefit, too. For too long, Prime Ministers have been able to call an election that suits their own political ends, yet such uncertainty and speculation often cause instability in our economic markets, which are constantly wary of potential political upheaval.

The most obvious example, which has been mentioned by hon. Members already, is the negativity that can flow from such an occurrence. Such negativity flowed from the threat of an election back in September 2007, when many of us in this Chamber were still candidates. The previous Prime Minister used the threat of an election as a political weapon in my view-a tactic that eventually backfired spectacularly, creating uncertainty in the country and in our economic markets while disrupting important parliamentary business.

Fixed-term Parliaments are perfectly normal in countless other democracies.

Mr George Howarth: Let me be absolutely clear in my mind: is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the electoral cycle needs to be aligned with the economic cycle?

Julian Sturdy: No, my point is that political uncertainty in the process that we have had-and that we had in 2007-can cause economic uncertainty. That is obviously bad news for our economy. Putting the election on a firm footing through fixed term Parliaments benefits our business colleagues and our economy as well as Parliament.

Gavin Shuker: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that for this coalition to keep on going positively for the economy it needs to be held together by such legislation?

Julian Sturdy: I do not believe that at all. This is part of a constitutional reform that must bring back trust to our politics. That is why I am supporting it: we need to bring the public back in line with this House. This is not the full picture, but it is part of that process. That is why I will support the Bill this evening.

Parliament will be strengthened by the Bill. It will produce a stable Government, which is important to our country."

I believe this speech contains several flawed arguments. These include:

1. A fixed-term of five years for each Parliament will help regain public trust.

It is certainly far from clear how this could be true. On the contrary, the public will be less able to exert pressure on unpopular governments and their policies as these governments need not particularly worry about public support in between elections. Deeply unpopular positions would not bring about a lack of confidence as each Parliament would be fixed and no confidence votes extremely difficult to pass. It is likely that this policy might worsen public trust in public officials.

There is a second reason, too. At present, a Parliament can last no longer than five years before a general election must be called. If Parliaments were fixed at five years, then it would permit all future Parliaments to sit a full five year term. This has often not been the case as elections have been forced to be held earlier. A fixed-term of five years gives future Parliaments all the benefits of holding democratic power without the full democratic support current Parliaments must possess. This is also likely to worsen public trust in public officials.

Finally, the reform of votes of no confidence is a further major mistake. The Bill states that a vote of no confidence may only be secured if either the House of Commons has a majority vote of no confidence in a new Government formed within 14 days or the House of Commons votes by at least two-thirds in favour of an early election. Thus, it would take about 17% more MPs to secure a vote of no confidence than it does at present. For example, there are 650 MPs. Today, only 325 MPs could trigger a vote of no confidence. However, if this Bill passes, it will require 434 MPs. In other words, an extra 109 MPs. This is a major mistake. It is difficult to see how public trust would be better enabled by virtually removing perhaps one of the more important instruments of democratic accountability in the current system. Parliaments can then enjoy a full five year term guaranteed and even where a majority of the House lacks confidence in the government. This is also likely to worsen public trust in public officials.

2. Constitutional reform is needed given the lack of public trust and, thus, we should support fixed-term Parliaments of five years each.

This does not follow. The constitutional problem was not that MPs were serving in Parliaments for too long (as general elections must be held at least every five years) nor for too short. The problem centred primarily on expenses claimed by MPs. If public trust was eroded because of a lack of confidence in the expense system, then it seems the reform needed is a root-and-branch examination of the expense system by a cross-party team with recommendations wholeheartedly endorsed by all sides in order to regain public trust. The idea that public trust may have been damaged and require reform may be correct, but it does support the view that we should support fixed-term Parliaments. It's apples and oranges.

3. Fixed-term Parliaments are a good thing because they would remove a Government's unfair advantage to call a general election when it believes conditions are best.

I do not believe this argument stands up to scrutiny either. Why? Well, if Governments have such an unfair advantage, then why isn't Gordon Brown still Prime Minister? Indeed, Labour just lost power in the last general election. This is evidence---indeed, the most recent evidence---that there does not seem any unfair advantage held by Governments. This argument does not hold water.

Furthermore, let's examine this argument more carefully. Fixed-term Parliaments guaranteeing a new Government a full five year term instead of a mere possibility of five years in power subject to overcoming any no-confidence votes, etc. remove a Government's unfair advantage in holding power? On the contrary, fixed-term Parliaments would guarantee a Government's unfair advantage in guaranteeing that every Parliament would sit a full term no matter what. Proponents might say that the good here is that the Government cannot fiddle with the general election date. This is wrong. All future Governments will be fiddling with the dates: they will be guaranteed full Parliament terms! This is an extraordinary change guaranteeing future Governments an unfair advantage.

4. Fixed-term Parliaments are a good thing because the public can better understand how they work.

I agree with Julian Sturdy that "voters deserve to know when they can expect to re-elect or ditch their Government." However, fixed-term Parliaments are not the answer. Let me explain why. First, if the public should better understand how the Government works, then perhaps the Government might require everyone to study civics and politics. The public will not gain some substantively more helpful understanding about the working of politics because there are fixed-terms. Nor is there any evidence to support this that I've seen.

Secondly, voters should deserve to know when they can expect to re-elect or ditch their Government, as Sturdy says. The problem here is that---with fixed-term Parliaments---the public's ability to put pressure on their MPs is dramatically less. At present, pressure might be mounted making a Government vulnerable to a no-confidence vote. The public at all times has the possibility of helping create conditions for a new Government. This will be removed by the passage of this Bill as votes of no confidence will be more difficult to secure than ever before. Thus, Sturdy's argument that the public should know when they can choose their politicians appears to have the answer of much less than you can at present---we're limiting your voice on this issue. Therefore, this Bill should be seen as inhibiting, not enabling, democracy.

5. Fixed-term Parliaments will weaken the executive.

This is not true. Without this Bill, a Government has no guarantee that it might remain in power for five years. This Bill strengthens the executive in giving it a virtual certainty of remaining in power for a full term. The executive is weaker without this Bill because a vote of no confidence can be acquired far, far more easily at present.

6. Fixed-term Parliaments will benefit business.

The argument here is that markets won't have to worry about political uncertainty as they will have great confidence that a Parliament will last for five years. Indeed, such "certainty" assumes that the business community supports the policies of every Government. If not (and this is likely), then businesses will have the certainty of despair (yes, my phrase---do feel free to quote me!) of labouring under policies they strongly oppose without any real ability to do much, if anythingm about it.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill will weaken, not strengthen, Parliament. I hope the full House will vote against accepting it and, if they make the mistake of passing the Bill, the House of Lords has the good sense to reject it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Steve Pike and his photographs of philosophers

. . . can be found here. Outstanding images. Let's hope there will be a third volume!

UK universities are too concerned with research

. . . claims the minister for higher education, according to the BBC here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Science Minister David Willetts has said the research-teaching balance has "gone wrong" in universities, after defending cuts to science research.

Addressing vice chancellors, he said he was shocked by how little teaching was valued in lecturers' promotions.

Universities that relegated the importance of teaching risked "losing sight" of their mission, he said.

Earlier, he defended plans unveiled on Wednesday to "raise the bar" on science research funded by the taxpayer.

On Thursday, during a speech on the future of higher education, Mr Willetts said: "It remains hard to shift the impression that what really counts in higher education is research. This needs to change."

He told the Universities UK annual conference he had found a report "shocking" that suggested only one in 10 senior promotions in top universities was influenced by teaching. [. . .]"

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bibliometrics, the arts and humanities, and the Times Higher university rankings

The Times Higher recently published my letter to them here. It reads:

"Phil Baty (World University Rankings column, 19 August) tells us that citations data are "widely accepted as a strong proxy for research quality" and they "will have a high weighting" in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2010. Yet I cannot remember a single instance where your weekly Thomson Reuters table has given us rankings by citation in non-science subjects such as art history, Classics or philosophy.

It seems a mistake to give a high weighting to a measure that may be widely accepted only in some, but far from all, subjects. Even if different weightings were employed for different subjects to reflect this fact, another proxy might be a better alternative in these cases. Will THE reconsider using citations data in all subjects? If not, then I will expect a future "Top Institutions" table on the top universities in art history or philosophy."

What do readers think? Am I nuts (on this)?

UK graduates will have to pay in future for their degrees

. . . claims the Higher Education Minister according to the BBC. Details here (and unsurprising news).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Blog rankings -- which comes out top?

. . . can be found here and they make for interesting reading. For example, take the following:

The top philosophy blogs:

1st Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog
2nd PyroManiacs
3rd Feminist Philosophers
4th Philosophia Mathematica - Advance Access
5th Astrological Musings
6th Bhagwat Gita & Our Life - Philosophy
7th MandM
8th The Prosblogion
9th Thinking Christian
10th Continental Philosophy
12th Experimental Philosophy
13th Stephen Law
14th The Brooks Blog
15th Philosophy of information
16th prophet666
17th fragments of consciousness
18th EGO
19th Notes From Off Center
20th Life etc.
21st Say Hello to my Little Friend
22nd Secular Philosophy
23rd Thoughts Arguments and Rants
24th Gender, Race and Philosophy: The Blog
25th Wide Scope

The top philosophy blogs according to the number of pages posted on the blog:

1 Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog - 19,305
2 PyroManiacs - 7,679
3 The Brooks Blog - 6,537
4 Thoughts Arguments and Rants - 6,405
5 EGO - 6,108
6 Feminist Philosophers - 5,249
7 Continental Philosophy - 5,241
8 Thinking Christian - 4,146
9 Astrological Musings - 3,882
10 MandM - 3,760

The top philosophy blogs according to Google PR:

1 Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog
2 Philosophia Mathematica - Advance Access
3 Experimental Philosophy
4 Thoughts Arguments and Rants
5 The Brooks Blog
6 The Prosblogion
7 fragments of consciousness
8 Ethics Etc
9 Feminist Philosophers

The top philosophy blogs according to the number of pages indexed on Google:

1 Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog - 4,920
2 Philosophia Mathematica - Advance Access - 3,960
3 Feminist Philosophers - 3,810
4 PyroManiacs - 1,980
5 Wide Scope - 1,600
6 - 1,370
7 Thoughts Arguments and Rants - 1,330
8 Astrological Musings - 1,270
9 The Prosblogion - 1,240
10 Continental Philosophy - 1,150
11 The Brooks Blog - 1,030
12 MandM - 887
13 Experimental Philosophy - 692
14 In Search of Enlightenment - 687
15 Stephen Law - 636

The top philosophy blogs according to the number of incoming links:

1 PyroManiacs - 179,449
2 MandM - 86,721
3 Continental Philosophy - 66,302
4 Wind Rose Hotel - 62,083
5 Thoughts Arguments and Rants - 54,780
6 The Prosblogion - 54,631
7 Thinking Christian - 51,711
8 Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog - 45,522
9 Feminist Philosophers - 44,013
10 Notes From Off Center - 35,136
11 In Search of Enlightenment - 34,282
12 - 33,200
13 Architecture + Morality - 32,329
14 The Brooks Blog - 28,788
15 Rust Belt Philosophy - 27,882