Archive for the Politics Category

The March for a People’s Vote

Posted in Politics on October 20, 2018 by telescoper

I can’t be there in London today because of other commitments here in Ireland but I send my very best wishes to everyone marching in London today.

It seems the weather is good so I hope you all have a fantastic day!

Update: it seems that one or two people have turned up:

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Union Matters

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2018 by telescoper

The above collection of goodies arrived last week in a Welcome Pack from the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), my new trade union. I sent in an application to join some time ago, and was getting a bit worried that it might have been lost, but then confirmation arrived in the form of my membership card along with a pen, a badge, a lanyard, an application form for a Credit Union and various other bits and bobs. It’s only by standing together that academics in Irish universities have any hope of exerting enough pressure on the Government to get it to reverse the persistent underfunding of Higher Education in this country. Even then it won’t be easy – last week’s budget had nothing whatsoever in it for universities or students.

Incidentally, according to the online budget calculator, I’ll be a princely €28 per month better off next year as a result of small changes in taxation, but it seems to me that the priority should have been to help the less well off and it failed to do that. No doubt, however, the cautious approach to public finances shown by the Government is largely down to the uncertain effects of Brexit.

While I am on about unions, some of the readers of this blog will recall that I was participating in industrial action by UCU (the Universities and Colleges Union) in the UK earlier this year in relation to proposed cuts to pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). I have since left that scheme, deferring my benefits from it until I retire, but I couldn’t resist passing on a link to an article I read yesterday, which argues that USS’s valuation (which resulted in a deficit) rests on a large and demonstrable mistake and, when this is corrected there is no deficit as at 31 March 2018 and no need for detrimental changes to benefits or contributions.

Could it be that all that pain was caused by an accounting error? If so, then heads should roll!

Dean’s Lecture – Prof. AC Grayling

Posted in Politics with tags , , on October 11, 2018 by telescoper

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday evening I attended the annual Dean’s Lecture in the Faculty of Arts, Celtic Studies and Philosophy at Maynooth University. This year it was delivered by the renowned philosopher Professor A.C .Grayling and was on the subject of The Meaning of Brexit for the ‘Westminster Model’ and the Future of Democracy. It was a fascinating talk, that involved a historical survey of the development of Parliamentary democracy in the UK (and elsewhere) in the light of the ongoing Brexit fiasco, ending with the case for a `People’s Vote’ as the only likely way out of the current impasse.

You can find a longer review of the lecture by a fellow Maynooth blogger here.

It was also pleasant to have the chance to have a brief chat with the speaker over a glass of wine at a reception after the lecture. Professor Grayling seems a very nice chap! I just wish I shared his optimism. I hope I’m proved wrong, but I fear that things are going to get very nasty in Britain very soon.

Voting Matters

Posted in Maynooth, Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 4, 2018 by telescoper

At last I have this afternoon free of teaching and other commitments, and having fortified myself with lunch in Pugin Hall, I’m preparing to make an attempt on the summit of the Open Journal of Astrophysics now that all the outstanding administrative obstacles have been cleared. Before shutting myself away to do up the loose ends, however, I thought I’d do a quick post about a couple of electoral matters.

The first relates to this, which arrived at my Maynooth residence the other day:

This document reminded me that there is a referendum in Ireland on the same day as the Presidential election I mentioned at the weekend. The contents of the booklet can be found here. In brief,

At present, the Constitution says that publishing or saying something blasphemous is an offence punishable under law. Blasphemy is currently a criminal offence. The referendum will decide if the Constitution should continue to say that publishing or saying something blasphemous is a criminal offence. If the referendum is passed, the Oireachtas will be able to change the law so that blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence.

Having read the booklet thoroughly and thereby having understood all the issues, and the implications of the vote,  I have decided that I will vote in favour of making blasphemy compulsory.

The other matter being put to a vote is something I just found out about today when I got an email from the International Astronomical Union concerning an electronic vote on Resolution B4, that the Hubble Law be renamed the Hubble-Lemaître law. For background and historical references, see here. I don’t really have strong opinions on this resolution, nor do I see how it could be enforced if it is passed but, for the record, I voted in favour because I’m a fan of Georges Lemaître

 

 

The Strumia Affair

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on October 3, 2018 by telescoper

I’m very late to this story as it broke over the weekend when I was preoccupied with many things, but it has triggered quite a reaction in the media (including here in Ireland). The story involves a physicist by the name of Alessandro Strumia who works at the University of Pisa in Italy. This person used the opportunity provided by a Conference on Theory and Gender to deliver a talk that contained highly inflammatory comments about gender and physics ability.

As a service to the community I’ve uploaded the slides for Strumia’s talk to Slideshare so you can read them here if you’re interested in his argument:

There are detailed discussions of Strumia’s talk by fellow bloggers Philip Moriarty here and Jon Butterworth here. Between them they cover most of what I’d say on the topic if I had time so I’ll direct you to them rather than repeat the arguments here. There are a host of other reaction pieces elsewhere, and I won’t attempt to summarize them either. Suffice to say that the old argument that `women are intrinsically not as good at physics as men’ has been refuted many times using solid empirical evidence; see the above post by Philip. It’s no wonder, though, that women get put off doing physics, when there are people like Alessandro Strumia in the field and potentially responsible for evaluating the performance of female staff.

What I will do add is that, for someone who purports to be a scientist, Strumia’s use of evidence is shockingly unscientific. His argument is riddled with non sequitur, unjustified assumptions and formulaic prejudice. Apart from everything else I think this is symptomatic of a malaise that is a widespread affliction in the field theoretical physics nowadays, which is worst among string theorists (which Strumia is not), namely a lack of basic understanding of, or even interest in, the proper application of scientific method.

The Brexit Wormhole

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 2, 2018 by telescoper

Since I have been passed over yet again for the physics Nobel Prize, I thought I’d pull out all the stops for next year and reveal my latest research which will surely satisfy the necessary criteria by conferring the “greatest benefit on mankind”.

One of the concerns facing those hoping to be involved in trade between post-Brexit Britain and the civilized world is the necessity of customs checks, especially at Dover, which will bring gridlock to the M20 and jeopardize the `just-in-time’ delivery systems used by most modern manufacturing enterprises e.g. the car industry.

My solution to this problem is to install at Dover a series of Einstein-Rosen Bridges (as illustrated above), connecting the United Kingdom to various points in the space-time continuum. Travelling through traversible wormholes will effectively allow British lorries to reach superluminal velocity, thereby not only avoiding delays on the M20 but also allowing goods to be delivered even before they have been ordered.

I am willing to lease the Brexit Wormhole device to representatives of the UK government for the modest fee* of £350 million per week, in the hope that the extent of this generosity will put me in line for the Nobel Peace Prize in addition to the Nobel Prize for Physics.

*Payment to be made in Euros only please.

In addition to fulfilling this important geopolitical function, it will also be possible for wealthy individuals to lease smaller versions of the device for their own use, e.g. Mr Rees-Mogg may be interested in using one to travel back in time to the 18th Century.

P.S. As if the Brexit wormhole were not enough to garner these prestigious awards, I can further announce that I have found a most marvelous solution of the Irish Border Problem but this blog post is too narrow to contain it.

Presidential Election Time

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

This week the deadline passed for nominations of candidates for the post of President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann). The rather peculiar nomination process has left voters with a choice of six, including the incumbent Michael D Higgins. As a relative newcomer to Ireland, even I know that the post of President doesn’t have any real power associated with it and is largely ceremonial. Surprisingly, some of the people who put themselves forward didn’t seem to understand that but, fortunately, some of the more obvious fruitcakes who put themselves forward failed to get nominated. On the other hand, three of the candidates are businessmen best known for having appeared on the Irish version of the TV show Dragon’s Den. There’s ample evidence that the products of reality TV shows do not make good presidents.

The election takes place precisely four weeks from now, on Friday 26th October 2018, and the term of the presidency is 7 years – the last such election took place in 2011.

Naturally, given the vital importance of the office of the Presidency and the need to treat the forthcoming election with the appropriate gravitas, my first thought was to look at the betting odds on Paddy Power. Here is the full SP:

  1. Michael D. Higgins (Incumbent) 1/5
  2. Sean Gallagher  5/1
  3. Gavin Duffy 14/1
  4. Joan Freeman 25/1
  5. Liadh Ni Riada  33/1
  6. Peter Casey 66/1

Obviously Michael D Higgins is a strong favourite. I think he’s carried out his duties in a very dignified and diligent way for seven years, so he will probably get my vote. Candidates 2, 3 and 6 are the Dragon’s Den people. Joan Freeman is a  journalist by trade (and an Independent member of the Seanad Éireann) and Liadh Ni Riada is the official candidate of Sinn Féin. Neither of the two biggest parties in the Dáil Éireann, Fine Gael and Fianna Fianna Fáil, nominated a candidate, preferring to back the incumbent.

It seems likely that Michael D. Higgins will win and serve another seven years, but it’s hard to be confident about anything in politics these days so we’ll just have to wait and see..