Archive for June, 2018

Past Crossword Prize

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords on June 30, 2018 by telescoper

I was tidying up my desk at home this morning in preparation for the big move when I came across this little cutting. I think this was the first crossword prize I ever won, from the Guardian. Note that the reward back then was a (Swiss) watch rather than the succession of dictionaries I’ve collected in the subsequent years. If I recall correctly they sent me a catalogue from which to pick a watch.

The current Guardian Prize crossword is number 27549, and the one in the picture is 19742; according to my calculations that must have been published about 25 years ago, which fits with the location of Bethnal Green, where I lived from 1991 to 1998…

If anyone can find out exactly when Guardian Prize Crossword No. 19742 was published and, more importantly, who the setter was, I’d be very interested!

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Reflections on a Bigoted Lecturer

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on June 29, 2018 by telescoper

I heard yesterday that the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Cambridge has employed a new lecturer, Dr Aron Wall, whose research speciality is Black Hole Thermodynamics. Dr Wall also runs a blog in which he expresses outspokenly homophobic views. Take this piece for example, which included bigoted generalisations such as:

…the notoriously promiscuous, reckless, and obscene lifestyle characteristic of the cultural venues of the gay community.

It sounds like he knows a lot about these places. Does he visit them often?

You can read the whole piece for yourself and decide what you think. As a gay man I found it thoroughly offensive, but what I think is not as important as what effect this person’s presence in the teaching staff will mean for any LGBT+ students at DAMTP. I hope Dr Wall enjoys the compulsory Equality and Diversity Training he will be required to undergo as a new member of staff and that he does not let his extremist beliefs interfere with his responsibility as a lecturer to treat all staff and students with the respect they deserve.

The news about the appointment of Dr Wall, and some of the reaction to it, caused me to reflect on a few related issues.

The first is that some people have said that Dr Wall’s private beliefs are his own business, as long as he is good at his job. I agree with that. However his beliefs are no longer private, as he has chosen to make them public. I think that makes a big difference. His views are known publicly, and that does not help to provide a welcoming environment for LGBT+ students (which I would have thought was part of his job). You might say that `It’s OK. Just keep him away from LGBT+ students’. That seems to me a pathetic response, no different from saying that its acceptable to employ a serial sexual harasser as long as you keep him away from female students. The duty of a member of academic staff is to the entire academic community (staff and students), not just the fraction of it that the staff member isn’t bigoted against.

The second point that occurred to me relates to freedom of speech. Every now and then in universities there arises something that causes tension between the freedom to express (possibly extreme) opinions and the requirement to treat colleagues and students with civility and respect. One view that I have heard expressed from senior members of staff is that if what a member of staff says is not unlawful then they should be allowed to say it, providing that does not involve inappropriate use of, e.g., university email by which it might be construed that what is being said is official rather than person.

I don’t agree with this view, for a number of reasons. The law relating to these issues is a bit of a mess, to be honest, but it does for example include provisions that outlaws the the use of language that harasses or intimidates. If someone uses that sort of language in the workplace then they should feel the force of the law as well as facing disciplinary action which, depending on the severity of the offence, could lead to dismissal.

But is that it? I don’t think so. The law should set a minimum standard for behaviour, but it is perfectly reasonable for any employer, institution, club or other organisation to stipulate its own code of conduct either as part of an employment contract or as a set of membership rules. You can be thrown out of a sports ground for behaviour that violates ground rules but falls short of being unlawful, and you should face disciplinary action if you violate the standards of the academic community too.

The last point is a bit more personal. I have mentioned before that I found the blog post I linked to above very offensive, but freedom of speech must include the freedom to offend and I respect his right to express his opinions through his blog just as I assert my right to respond here on mine. I do wonder, however, what the reaction would be if a university lecturer wrote a blog post expressing other forms of prejudice, such as racism, or a post mocking disabled people. In UK law sexual orientation is a protected characteristic alongside gender, race, marital status, etc. A good test is therefore to read an anti-gay piece by substituting `black’ or `female’ for `gay’ and working out if it would be offensive then. I think this one would. My own personal experience tells me that universities are far less likely to react to homophobic language than racist or sexist expressions.

Coincidentally, I today received full details of the programme of events for LGBT+ STEM Day at Cardiff University. Here is an extract:

We’re getting involved because LGBTQ people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) still struggle to be themselves at work and in their careers.

A lot of careers and workplaces are challenging for LGBTQ people. If we don’t feel comfortable or safe to be ‘out’ at work, we spend every moment monitoring what we say and how we say it. That takes its toll on a person’s mental health.

LGBTQ people working in STEM fields with better representation of women, for example, are more open about who they are – and so, biologists are more likely than engineers to be ‘out’ to their colleagues.

International research is giving us a sense of the challenges. In the US, LGB students are more likely to drop out of STEM degrees.

A few people have said to me that events like LGBT+ STEM Day are unnecessary because there is no longer any prejudice. Of course you won’t see prejudice if you turn a blind eye to it, but it is very much still around though usually not so obvious as the example I have discussed.

Glamorgan v Northants: Day 4

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on June 28, 2018 by telescoper

This morning I made my way again to Sophia Gardens for the final day of the County Championship Division 2 match between Glamorgan and Northamptonshire. I wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm, so didn’t get to the ground for the start of today’s play, but I thought I’d observe the last rites.

When I got to the ground, night watchman Tim van der Gugten had already been dismissed, but there was some reasonably bright batting by Chris Cooke and Kieran Carlson. Coincidentally, I took the above picture just as Brett Hutton was about to bowl the delivery that accounted for Carlson, who nicked it into the slips for 32. Hutton also accounted for Cooke, who got one that seemed to keep low and knocked his leg stump out of the ground. Glamorgan reached 199 for 8 when Smith was lbw to Nathan Buck for 4. In came the youngster Prem Sisodiya who survived the rest of Buck’s over. Salter got off the legspinner Prasanna at the other end to bring up the 200 and bring Sisodiya on strike. A few balls later he pushed too hard at a good length ball and it went straight into the midriff of silly mid-off, who held on. That was a bit unfortunate for Sisodiya, who thereby bagged a pair in this match.

Prem Sisodiya’s dismissal made it 200 for 9 and, with Mike Hogan being unable to bat owing to injury, that was the innings closed and the end of the match. As I predicted, it was all over before lunch. Northamptonshire won by 233 runs. Congratulations to them on a well-deserved victory: they were clearly the stronger team.

I always thought Glamorgan would struggle with the bat on the last day on this pitch. The variable bounce that has been there throughout the match seemed to get worse. The wrist spinner Prasanna extracted appreciable bounce and turn throughout the morning, to the extent of making life very difficult for his own wicket-keeper. One delivery from Prasanna leapt up so alarmingly that it went over the keeper’s head for four byes. I must admit, though, that I enjoyed watching the legspinner in action with fielders around the bat. As someone who tried to bowl wrist-spin when I was younger, I always enjoy seeing it done properly.

Other amusement was provided by a seagull who took it upon himself to patrol the area around mid on while the rest of the fielders were in attacking positions…

I think it is important to look on the bright side of disappointments like this. After all, in an uncertain and at times frightening world one can take comfort in the reassuring familiarity of a defeat for Glamorgan. Moreover, having already finished bottom of the table in the Royal London One-Day Cup, and looking likely to do the same in Division 2 of the County Championship, there will be a lot riding on this year’s Twenty20 competition: can Glamorgan pull off the treble?

Synesis, Metonymy and the World Cup

Posted in Football with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2018 by telescoper

The shock defeat of Germany by South Korea this afternoon means that the world champions fail to progress from the group stage and are eliminated from the competition. In other words, Germany are out. Or should that be Germany is out?

Strictly speaking, the singular form is correct (as was Nelson with his “England expects..” message at Trafalgar) but that doesn’t mean that the English plural is necessarily wrong. This is an example of a figure of speech called a metonymic shift, whereby a thing or concept is referred to not by its own name but by the name of something associated with it. An example is found in the phrase “to boil a kettle”: obviously it is not the kettle that gets boiled, but the water within it, but this isn’t an error as such, merely a grammatical device. Metonymic shifts also take place when we refer to the Government as “Westminster” or the film-making industry as “Hollywood”.

When we come to the “Germany is ” versus “Germany are” debate, the noun “Germany” can be taken to mean “The German team” (singular) but in British English the metonymic shift takes this to mean a collection of individual players (plural), i.e. the meaning is transferred from the “German team” to the “German players”. The use of a verb indicating a singular subject constitutes “formal agreement” with “team” whereas the plural form would be “notional agreement”.

I know that this usage is regarded as incorrect by American colleagues I have discussed it with, to the extent that it actually grates on them a bit. But I think “the team are fighting amongst themselves” is a better construction than any I can think of that includes formal rather than notional agreement. Moreover this kind of construction is correct in languages with more precise grammatical rules than English.

The Greek term synesis refers to a grammatical alteration in which a word takes the gender or number not of the word with which it should regularly agree, but of some other word implied by that word, a device much used in both Greek and Roman poetry and also in rhetoric. The distinction between “the Government is united” and “the Government are divided” offers a particularly interesting example.

Related to this difference is the fact that American sports teams tend to have names that are themselves plural, e.g. the Cubs, the Dolphins, the Jets, the Broncos etc, whereas in Britain they are more often singular (though with exceptions, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers).

Anyway, here’s a quick poll to see what you think:

UPDATE: Just to prove, as if it were needed, that I don’t have a life, I had a look at the English Football League teams for the 2018/9 season, with the the following results as to how many names are plural:

Premiership: 1/20 (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Championship: 3/24 (Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Queens Park Rangers)

League One: 3/24 (Bristol Rovers, Wycombe Wanderers, Doncaster Rovers)

League Two: 3/24 (MK Dons, Forest Green Rovers, Tranmere Rovers)

In Scotland there are:

Premiership 1/12 (Rangers)

In the lower divisions there are a further four: out of thirty teams: Aidrieonians, Raith Rovers,Albion Rovers, Berwick Rangers.

Glamorgan v Northants: Day 3

Posted in Cardiff, Cricket with tags , , , on June 27, 2018 by telescoper

For the record, I thought I’d post a short update on today’s play at Sophia Gardens.

I only attended the morning session today. I forgot to take my phone so there’s no picture. It was a good morning’s play actually, with Glamorgan’s bowlers doing better. The huge opening partnership of 208 was eventually broken when Procter fell, soon followed by Duckett. How often it happens that both batsmen involved in a big stand get out in quick succession. Another three wickets fell for the addition of 90 runs. However at 259 for 5, with the Northants lead at 289, at lunch I reckoned the game was already beyond Glamorgan, and instead of returning to the ground after lunch I took a stroll around sunny Bute Park and went into the Data Innovation Research Institute office to attend to a few things.

Northamptonshire progressed to a total of 406 and declared when their 9th wicket fell. Tea was taken at that point. In the last session, Glamorgan slumped to 121 for 4, the first innings hero Khawaja among the fallen.

Glamorgan need to score 313 tomorrow to win. More relevantly, Northants need to take 6 wickets. I wouldn’t bet against the game finishing before lunch, actually.

International LGBT+ in STEM Day

Posted in Cardiff, LGBT with tags , , on June 27, 2018 by telescoper

Tired by the heat and by watching Glamorgan losing at cricket, and despite being on annual leave, I popped in to the relative cool of the office of the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University to tidy up a few things. I noticed the above poster on the main entrance to the School of Physics & Astronomy, which reminded me to post a quick plug for the first ever LGBTSTEM Day, which takes place next Thursday (5th July). I agreed some time ago to give a short talk at the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University about this and am looking forward to returning from Maynooth next week to do so.

Many universities and other organizations (including the Royal Astronomical Society) are involved in supporting events on 5th July. If you want to keep up with what’s happening try having a look a the twitter hashtag #LGBTSTEMDay.

It’s not too late to put your own event together either! You can find a handy toolkit to help you do it here.

Glamorgan v Northants: Day 2

Posted in Cricket on June 26, 2018 by telescoper

As I settled into my seat, checked the scorecard, and applied yet more sun lotion before today’s play I was as struck by the weakness of Glamorgan’s batting order, especially the very long tail, as I was by the lack of a quality third seamer in the bowling attack yesterday. A lot would depend on Khawaja, Carlson and Cooke, I thought. As it turned out, only one of those three made a decent contribution, Usman Khawaja, who was last man out, for 103, with the Glamorgan total 254. He had got Glamorgan within 27 runs of Northamptonshire when that looked very unlikely. He also became the first player ever to score hundreds in each of his first three County games for Glamorgan.

Earlier on, Glamorgan’s top three batsmen got into the twenties and then got out, taking them to lunch at 115 for 3. I went home for lunch again and, as it was so hot, I had a siesta. Returning to the ground, I found Carlson, Cooke and Salter had all fallen, and saw Smith and Sisodiya follow them. At this point Khawaja was on 67 and, sensing he was about to run out of partners he decided to go up a gear. A flurry of sixes and fours followed to take him to his hundred. He was out the next ball.

Still, with a deficit of only 27, some quick wickets would swing the balance in Glamorgan’s favour. Sadly for them, that emphatically did not happen. Northants openers Procter and Duckett had started the first innings very cautiously but, with the wicket still offering quite a lot to the bowlers they decided to be more aggressive and try put the pressure on the bowlers. It worked.

Glamorgan’s bowling attack became ragged as Duckett in particular took the bull by the horns. The lack of a decent third seamer was again exposed. Marchant De Lange is missing with a hamstring injury and Lucas Carey wasn’t picked, leaving Ruaidhri Smith to do the honours as first change. He bowled poorly, as did the more experienced off-spinner Andrew Salter.

As the runs piled on, the body language of the fielding team showed they knew the game was slipping away.

At stumps, Northamptonshire were 169 without loss, a lead of 196, with Duckett not out on 111 and Procter not out 50. I have to say that Glamorgan bowled too many bad balls at this pair, but you still have to take advantage of your opportunitues as a batsman, and they did so very well indeed.

Northants are well ahead with two days remaining. The likeliest scenario now is that they will amass a huge total tomorrow, bat Glamorgan out of the game, and wrap up victory on the last day.

It’s hard to tell if the pitch is getting easier or harder. After two full days under the grill you might expect it to wear, but there was no sign of that in the batting this evening. On the other hand, the umpires did have a look at the pitch a couple of times, as if they were worried by its state. Whatever happens to the pitch, it certainly doesn’t look like the weather will save Glamorgan!

Now, I need a drink.