Archive for the Politics Category

The Dead Statesman

Posted in Poetry, Politics with tags , , on July 21, 2017 by telescoper

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Speech

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , , , on July 19, 2017 by telescoper

Daniel Barenboim made this wonderful speech at the BBC Proms at the weekend. It seems to have annoyed some people who get annoyed when someone expresses something that doesn’t fit in their own narrow minds, and does it with grace, eloquence and great dignity. I’m posting it here to annoy such people still further. It’s no more than they deserve.

And here is the encore that followed the speech – Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance  March No. 1 – in full. It’s a piece I usually hate. This was the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually enjoyed it.


The Brexit Non-negotiations

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on July 17, 2017 by telescoper


The above picture was taken in Brussels this morning, it shows British government minister David Davis MP (right, centre of three) and the chief negotiator for the European Union, Michel Barnier (left, centre of three).

Notice that the EU negotiating team has come prepared with stacks of paperwork (probably including the detailed briefing papers that have been published by the European Union). By contrast, the British team have brought no papers at all.

It turns out that David Davis spent just an hour or so in Brussels before returning to London. With the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU you would think that the Minister would want to make full use of the negotiations to secure a good outcome for this country, but by all accounts his team have yet to produce any position papers at all, unless you count the calculatedly mean-spirited `offer’ to EU citizens resident in the UK, which falls well short of what the EU had already tabled some months ago.

So what’s going on?

All this is consistent with what I have always felt would be this government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, which is not to negotiate at all. Their plan, as it has always been, is just to go through the motions until they able to find some pretext to storm out, blaming the EU for trying to bully them. The most likely time for the staged walkout is in the autumn, probably after the German federal elections.

This gambit will no doubt be supported by propaganda pieces in the Daily Express, Mail and Telegraph and it might just allow the Tories to cling onto power while the economy suffers as we crash out of the EU in the most disorderly fashion possible. Not to mention the chaos it will cause for EU residents in the UK and UK residents in the EU.

That is, I believe, the Government’s plan. It is why Theresa May called a snap election, hoping to build up a larger majority and a full parliamentary term to withstand the inevitable backlash. That gamble backfired, but the Conservatives are still in power and the plan remains in place.

So why has the Government decided to adopt this position? Simple. It does not have the wherewithal even to formulate a negotiating position, let alone deliver a successful outcome. No possible end result can deliver the economic and political benefits of remaining in the European Union. If we’re going to make people suffer, the reasoning goes, we might as well find a scapegoat to deflect criticism away from our poor choices.

And what about the EU position? Well, they hold all the cards so they won’t be worried. Their priority will be to take over all the business opportunities that we have decided we no longer want. Whatever happens with the negotiations, the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. That’s plenty of time for EU companies to relocate their operations to mainland Europe, to write British producers out of their supply chains, and to expand its portfolio of trade agreements to the further disadvantage of the UK economy.

I may of course be completely wrong about this view of how Brexit will pan out, but so far nobody has been able to convince me that I am. You could try, if you like, through the comments box,.




The Quantum Mechanics of Voting

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2017 by telescoper

Now that I’ve finished a marathon session of report-writing I thought I’d take a few minutes out this Friday afternoon, have a cup of tea and pass on a rather silly thought I had the other day about the relationship between Quantum Mechanics (and specifically the behaviour of spin therein) and voting behaviour in elections and referendums.

Gratuitous picture of a Stern-Gerlach experiment

For a start here’s a brief summary of the usual quantum-mechanical context as it relates to, e.g., electrons (rather than elections). Being fermions, electrons possess half-integer spin. This attribute has the property that a measurement of its component in any direction has only two possible values, ±½ in units of Planck’s constant. In the Stern-Gerlach experiment illustrated above, which measures the spin in the vertical direction of silver atoms emerging from a source, the outcome is either “up” or “down”, not some spread of values in between. Silver has a single unpaired electron which is why its atoms behave in this respect in the same way as an individual electron.

The way this is often described in physics textbooks is to say that the operator corresponding to spin in the z-direction has only two eigenstates  (call these ↑ and ↓) ; the act of measurement has to select one of them, not some intermediate state. If the source is thermal then the spins of individual atoms have no preferred direction so 50% turn out to be ↑ and 50% to be ↓ as shown in the cartoon.

Once such measurement has been made, a given particle remains in the same eigenstate, which means that if it is passed through another similar measuring device it will always turn out to have spin pointing in the same direction. If you like, the particle has been `prepared’ in a given state by the act of measurement.

This applies as long as no attempt is made to make a measurement of the spin in a different direction, which is when the fun starts. If we start with a particle in the ↑ state and then pass it through an experiment that measures spin (say) with respect to the x-axis instead of the z-axis then the two allowed eigenstates are then not ↑ and ↓ but ← and →.  A particle that was definitely spin-up would then be forced to decide between spin-left and spin-right (each would have a  50% probability).

Suppose now we took our long-suffering particle that began with spin ↑ after a measurement in the z-direction, then turned out to be spin → when we measured it in the x-direction. What would happen if we repeated the z-measurement? The answer is that “preparing” the particle in the → state destroys the information about the fact that it was previously prepared in the ↑ state –  the outcome of this second z-measurement is that the particle that was previously definitely ↑ now has a 50% chance of being either ↑ or ↓.

So what does all this have to do with voting? It is clear than an election (or a referendum) is very far from a simple act of measurement. During the campaign the various sides of the debate make attempts to prepare a given voter in a given state. In the case of last year’s EU referendum the choice of eigenstates was `Leave’ or `Remain’;  no other possibilities were allowed. The referendum then `prepared’ each voter in one or other of these possibilities.

If voters behaved quantum mechanically each would stay in their chosen state until some other measurement were attempted. But that’s exactly what did happen. Earlier this month there was a General Election. More than two parties were represented, but let’s simplify and assume there were only two options, `Labour’ and `Conservative’.

Now it is true that the `Leave’ camp was dominated by the right wing of the Conservative party, and the majority of Labour voters voted `Remain’, but there were a significant number of Labour Leave voters and a significant number of Tories voted Remain. While these pairs of states are therefore not exactly orthogonal, they are clearly not measuring the same thing so the situation is somewhat analogous to the spin measurement problem.

So along came the General Election result which `prepared’ voters in a state of `Labour’ or `Conservative’, with a slight preference for the latter whereas the earlier referendum had prepared a them in a state of `Leave’ versus `Remain’ with a slight preference for the former. From a quantum mechanical perspective, however, you can further argue that the General Election prepared the voters in such a way that should have erased memories of their vote in the referendum so the previous BrExit vote is now invalid.

There’s only one way to test this quantum-mechanical interpretation of voting patterns, and that is by repeating the EU Referendum…

That Martin Rowson Cartoon..

Posted in Art, Politics on June 22, 2017 by telescoper

I heard that the proprietors of The Sun and Daily Mail are getting very upset about this savage but brilliant cartoon by Martin Rowson of the Guardian in the wake of the recent terrorist attack on worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park, so naturally I decided to post it here:

Tory MP author of ‘How To Win a Marginal Seat’ … lost his marginal seat on Thursday

Posted in Politics on June 11, 2017 by telescoper

Sometimes irony is too delicious for words…

Pride's Purge

Gavin Barwell’s book ‘How To Win a Marginal Seat‘ was heavily praised by top Tories as a textbook on effective campaigning:

Boris Johnson wrote highly of the book:

Unfortunately for poor Gavin such hubris didn’t help him on Thursday – he lost his marginal Croydon seat to Labour’s Sarah Jones.

And even more hilariously – Gavin has just been put in charge of Theresa May’s campaigning.

Although I’m not sure May needs advice from anyone on how to f*ck up election campaigns …

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The Great Election Gamble

Posted in Cardiff, Politics with tags , , on June 9, 2017 by telescoper

Well, yesterday’s general election didn’t exactly go to plan for the Tories, did it?

It turns out that, yet again, most of the opinion polls were way off the mark and the Labour Party’s share of the vote exceeded most expectations, including mine. Theresa May’s  decision on calling the election was a silly gamble to try to increase her majority in the House of Commons which, having failed spectacularly, has resulted in her losing that majority altogether. Theresa May nevertheless continues as Prime Minister courtesy of leading the largest party and doing a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a reactionary group of homophobes and young-earth creationists. We’ll have to wait and see how long that unholy alliance lasts. My bet would be for another election in October…

he PM was quoted last night that she had `no intention of resigning’ in the aftermath of the election she previously said she had no intention of calling. I infer that means she will soon resign. I don’t have any sympathy for her: if there’s one kind of politician I really dislike it’s the kind that takes the electorate for granted.

Although I’m personally delighted to see the Tories given a smackdown, it’s best not to get too carried away. For one thing, we’re still up Brexit Creek without a paddle and the UK’s already weak negotiating hand just got considerably weaker. The other thing worth saying is that although Jeremy Corbyn has gone up enormously in my estimation by the way he led his party, Labour still didn’t win even against a Conservative campaign that was unspeakably dire.

Anyway, regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know that I like to place wagers on elections. My normal strategy of the compensation bet – putting money on the outcome I don’t want to happen – would have been useless in this situation as the Conservatives were odds-on to win so the return would have been poor. I therefore decided to use the occasion for my first foray into spread betting.

I took this decision when I saw that the spread being offered on the number of seats won by Labour was (205-212). In a spread bet you place a deposit (`margin’) and then wager on whether the actual total is above or below the spread by £X per seat; if it’s inside the spread you lose your deposit. In the lingo, placing a bet to win above the spread is called a `buy’; below is `sell’. The danger of spread betting is that if you bet high and the actual result is low then you lose £X per seat. Losses can therefore exceed your deposit if you’re badly wrong. This is why I’ve never bet this way before. Believe it or not, I’m actually very cautious when it comes to gambling.

The quoted spread seemed to me to be centred very low (in line with the majority of opinion poll predictions), but I felt it highly unlikely that even a bad night for Labour would have them ending up on fewer than 200 seats, because there are so many safe Labour seats. I therefore wasn’t too concerned about the possibility of a truly disastrous loss. So I paid my deposit and bought at £100 per seat.

Suffice to say that it’s my round in the pub tonight….

P.S. I forgot to mention another memorable event last night: the first seat to declare was Newcastle Central, who beat arch-rivals Sunderland to the prize for the fastest count.

P.P.S. A couple of other things worth mentioning are that Kevin Brennan won my seat (Cardiff West) with a hugely increased majority. In fact all seats in Cardiff went to Labour, including Cardiff North which had previously been held by the Conservatives. Brighton Kemptown, in which constituency I lived before coming back to Cardiff and which was also previously held by the Tories, also went to Labour.