Archive for August, 2019

Brexit and the British Border in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on August 31, 2019 by telescoper

The events of the past week have given me even more reason than usual to rant about Brexit, and the damage it is causing even to those who voted for it. So let me take as the subject for this one the absolute claptrap that brexiters are talking about the so-called `Backstop’ which is part of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union but voted down three times by the House of Commons. This part of the agreement is designed to allow the free flow of goods and people across the British* Border in Ireland by keeping the United Kingdom in the Customs Union and some parts of the Single Market if no free trade agreement is negotiated between the UK and EU that comes up with alternative ways of achieving this during the transition period allowed for in the WA (which extends at least until December 2020, but could in principle be extended further).

*Note: I consider the term `Irish Border’ to be misleading, so I use the more accurate `British Border in Ireland’.

The first thing to say – and this is blindingly obvious if you have actually read the WA – is that the backstop does not come into play at all if an alternative solution to the Border issue can be found. The fact that leading Brexiters are so exercised by the backstop therefore betrays their belief that no such alternative arrangements exist or can be put in place in the foreseeable future. If such arrangements existed the Brexiters would not be in the slightest bit bothered by the Backstop as it would be irrelevant. The fact that they are opposed to the backstop is an obvious signal that they know there is no technological or other solution consistent with the position into which the UK Government has trapped itself.

So why the constant demand from the ERG et al for the backstop to be removed? And why all the lying about its purpose?

To answer that I think you have to consider the true motivation of the Leave campaign. The purpose of Brexit was not just about the UK leaving the European Union. That was merely intended to be a step along the path to destroying the EU and so destabilizing Europe. The original theory was that Brexit would lead to a parade of other EU nations wanting to leave. That didn’t happen. Indeed the solidarity of the EU in the face of the attacks on it has been quite remarkable.

So now it is Plan B, which is based on the premise that the Achilles Heel of the EU is Ireland. By creating economic and political chaos – and possibly a return to violence, sparked by Britain’s intentional violation of the Good Friday Agreement – in Ireland they will force the EU to offer the UK favourable terms on access to the Single Market. To do so, however, would open the floodgates to other governments who might want to reap the benefits of EU membership without the responsibility that goes with it (as Britain does).

And even if this doesn’t work, Leave supporters will still have to find someone to blame when the cake-and-eat-it Brexit they promised – the `easiest trade deal in history’, `no downside only a considerable upside’, `because we hold all the cards’ Brexit – will never actually materialize. The alternative would be for the whole gang of them to admit they were lying (which we know they were). No prizes for guessing who the scapegoat will be…

The strategy of setting up Ireland as a target for economic aggression may well cause a great deal of pain in the short-term, but I hope and believe that it won’t succeed. For one thing, I don’t think the Irish economy is as vulnerable as the UK government thinks. for another, it may quickly lead to a United Ireland. That, at any rate, is far more likely than Ireland becoming a British colony again, which is what some Brexiters want.

More importantly, however, although Ireland and Britain differ substantially in size, the former will a great advantage over the latter in the world after Brexit: Ireland will still have friends, and Britain won’t.

Some Good News For Maynooth!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags on August 30, 2019 by telescoper

These days more than ever it’s a relief when there’s some good news to share, so I was very happy this morning to hear that the Irish Government has awarded Maynooth University a capital grant of €25 million for a major new building project. This is a big slice of a total of  almost €100 million capital investment for projects across the sector. The other recipients were: IT Sligo (€6.6M); NUI Galway (€15M); University College Cork (€25M); and University College Dublin (€25M). The official press release can be found here.

This investment reflects the fact that Maynooth is Ireland’s fastest-growing university, at least partly because of the rapidly increasing demographic demand for higher education in the area to the west of the Dublin metropolitan area.

As I write, building work has already started on the North Campus of Maynooth University near the Science Building. This new building is due to open in late 2020. For further details see here.

Maynooth University Library Cat was unavailable for comment.






Back to School!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2019 by telescoper

My calendar informs me that today, 29th August 2019, is the start of the school year in Maynooth. The local supermarkets are preparing in an appropriate manner:

A Very British Coup

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , on August 28, 2019 by telescoper

Known liar, charlatan and tinpot dictator Boris Johnson.

Got back to Ireland this morning to find that the UK Government has decided to suspend Parliament. The deed is already done:


Remind me, what was all that stuff about the European Union being undemocratic?

Any lingering doubts anyone might have had about the direction in which the United Kingdom might go after known liar Boris Johnson became Prime Minister will have been dispelled this morning by the decision (by a small group within the Cabinet) to prorogue Parliament. There can be no doubt that this is a coup d’état. The parallels with 1930s Germany are chilling. If you ever wondered what you would have done in then, as the Nazis took over, that’s what you’re doing now.

This may allow the populist charlatans behind this manoeuvre to force through their chaotic `no deal’ Brexit, but they cannot be allowed to get away with this. I live in hope that one day they will be brought to book for this scandalous act. When that happens the retribution will be a joy to watch.

This disgraceful episode has made much easier a decision I have been putting off for almost two years. I’m putting my house in Wales up for sale and cutting the last of my ties with the United Kingdom. Enough is enough.

Cat Burglar – Updated

Posted in Biographical on August 27, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve been sleeping with the bedroom windows open during this spell of hot weather – not the main windows, just the small transom windows at the top.

I woke up in the early hours of this morning to the sound of something moving around in the spare bedroom. I thought at first it might be a burglar but when I investigated I couldn’t see anyone. Puzzled, I went back to bed.

A few minutes later there was more noise so I got up again and this time spotted the intruder: a small black cat. It was as surprised to see me as I was to see it and it ran off through the open door of the spare room and down the stairs. Not wishing to cause the creature (which was clearly frightened) any unnecessary distress, I just opened the back door and sat quietly waiting for it to leave, which in due course it did. I locked the door behind it and went back to bed.

The mystery is how my visitor managed to climb up the outside of the house and in through the top of the window. I can’t think of any other way it could have got in. It must be a nimble little moggy.

I wonder if it has any plans for a return visit?

Update: The cat’s name is Lula. She did indeed return to the house and managed to hide so I didn’t know she was there. Her human came down the street looking for her while I was out and saw her sitting in the front window. He left a note that the cat was trapped in my house, though the window she had come in by was open..

When I got back I looked for her but couldn’t find her. She was obviously hiding. At about 2am, while I was in bed, she surfaced and made for the spare bedroom. I just saw her impressive leap out of the window and onto the bathroom roof – and in one bound she was free..

This morning, getting ready to go to the airport, I discovered Lula had left a little present on the sitting room floor but it didn’t take long to clear up. Hopefully she’s home safe and sound now.

I made sure that all the windows were closed before I left.

A Pointless Imprimatur?

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on August 26, 2019 by telescoper

In numerous rants about Open Access on this blog I’ve made the point that because of the arXiv the field I work in is way ahead of the game. Most researchers in astronomy astrophysics and cosmology post their papers on the arXiv, and many do that before the work has been accepted for publication. Even before the arXiv we used to circulate preprints ahead of publication.

But it seems there are some astronomers who aren’t aware of the culture of openness. Here is an excerpt from a referee report on a paper submitted to Astronomy & Astrophysics which has been circulated on Twitter:

In summary the referee thinks the paper should be rejected because it has already appeared on the arXiv. That’s a pretty extraordinary recommendation when the authors were following standard practice for the field!

In a sense, though, the referee is right. Journals are no longer needed in order to publish papers. We can all do that ourselves on the arXiv for free. What we do need is to have some quality control via peer review. The imprimatur of a journal is not pointless because it indicates the paper has met a quality threshold. Indeed, in my opinion, it’s the only thing a journal does that’s not pointless..

The Open Journal Of Astrophysics provides peer review for papers on the arXiv, dispensing with the rest of the cumbersome paraphernalia of journals that digital publishing has made redundant.

So if your paper is rejected by a journal because you have put in on the arXiv then why not just submit it to OJA instead?

The England Cricket Team – An Apology

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on August 25, 2019 by telescoper

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who reacted to England being bowled out for a paltry 67 in the first innings of the Third Ashes Test at Headingley by concluding that the England batsmen were hopelessly inept, that they would certainly lose the match, that the team had absolutely no chance of regaining the Ashes, and that Joe Root should be sacked as England captain.

However, after today’s exciting one-wicket victory inspired by Ben Stokes, I now realise that I was wrong, and that the England first innings was a cunning ploy to lure the Australians into a false sense of security before seizing control in the second innings.

I apologise unreservedly to Joe Root and the England team for having so obviously misunderstood their tactics.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Geoffrey Boycott is 78 (not out).

Cardiff Pride!

Posted in Cardiff, LGBT with tags , on August 24, 2019 by telescoper

I got up early this morning to fly back to Cardiff in time for Cardiff Pride, this being the twentieth such event in Cardiff. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t make here before the start of the Parade but I did, with time to spare. St Mary’s Street was quite a sight with all the rainbow flags.

The parade gathered on North Road this year before it got moving and it extended all the way from the castle to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama:

This is the reflection in one of the windows of the RWCMD building..

Not being in the parade myself, when it got going I moved to St Mary Street to watch it go by. It took so long for the front to arrive I started to worry something had happened, but eventually it appeared..

I watched a while enjoying the colourful sights and fun sounds before walking to Pontcanna for lunch.

It’s a lovely warm and sunny day for the carnival and concerts that take place this afternoon and evening so I’m sure everyone there will have a great time!

Me? I’m obviously too old for that sort of thing and will celebrate the occasion with appropriate indoor activities (if you know what I mean) but the least I can do is wish Cardiff Pride a very happy 20th birthday!

The Rise of Jofra Archer

Posted in Biographical, Cricket with tags , , , on August 23, 2019 by telescoper

With all the news yesterday I got a bit nostalgic and yesterday’s play in the 3rd Ashes Test at Headingley added another element to that. Three years ago this summer I left my post at Sussex University and moved back to Cardiff. I took a break from work of a month before taking up a part-time position at the Data Innovation Research Institute. During the break I took in some cricket, including (part of) the County Championship match between Glamorgan and Sussex at Sophia Gardens, which I watched with a friend who lives in Cardiff. In the Sussex team for that match was a young fast bowler called Jofra Archer.

It struck me then that although he was young and a bit inexperienced he was a natural fast bowler, tall and with a good high action that allowed him to take full advantage of his height and generate a lot of pace and bounce. He was a little wayward at times and a bit expensive but took four wickets in the Glamorgan first innings.

While I was watching the game I noticed a guy sitting in the same stand who seemed a bit nervous. Sometimes changing his seat at the end of each over, at one point sitting near us. During a break in the play we had a chat and it turned out that the nervous spectator was Jofra’s father. He said that he went to watch his son play whenever he could. Then we were lucky enough to chat to the man himself in between deliveries when he was fielding on the third man boundary.

Fast forward three years and the young man has come on tremendously is now a star Test bowler. He’s worked hard to add control to his natural pace and, bowling at speeds of up to 96 mph, he’s able to trouble the world’s best batsmen (including Steve Smith). Yesterday he took 6-45 against Australia and now looks set to be a regular in the England Test team for the foreseeable future (as long as he stays fit). I hope Mr Archer Senior was in the crowd. I bet he’s very proud!

Australia were all out yesterday for 179, which has raised England’s hopes of levelling the series. I think I’ll reserve judgement until I see how England bat on the Headingley pitch against Australia’s quicks. I have a feeling they’re going to struggle…

UPDATE: I don’t like to say I told you so but at lunch on Day 2 England are 54 for 6…
..and soon after lunch all out for 67 off 27 overs and 5 balls. Grim.

Moving On..

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , , on August 22, 2019 by telescoper

After attending my second Repeat Examination Board of the week (this one in the Department of Engineering) it’s now time to begin the task of moving the contents of my office into the new one I’ll be in as Head of Department. Roughly simultaneously, the current Head of Department, Jonivar Skullerud, will be moving his clobber from the Head of Department’s office into my current office. Some coordination may be necessary to avoid collisions and/or other confusion, but I’m confident of a successful outcome…

While I’m on the subject of moving to a new job, though in my case remaining at the same institution, this very afternoon my wonderful former colleague from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, Dorothy Lamb, is having a leaving do. She will soon be moving to a position at the University of Birmingham (in the Midlands). I’m very sad that I couldn’t be there for her farewell party, but the least I can do is wish Dorothy (aka Miss Lemon) all the best in her new job, and hope that her move from Brighton to Birmingham, after (I think) 25 years, goes as smoothly and as free from stress as possible.

UPDATE: You can read Dorothy’s farewell edition of the MPS Newslettter here.

Dorothy isn’t the only former colleague to be moving on to pastures new. I heard this morning that Ian Harvey and Unai Lopez from the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University are leaving soon. Unai is taking up a Lectureship at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao so Bon Voyage Unai!